Munros since diagnosis #191 and #192
14:00 – Binnein Mor (M027), 3707ft, 1130m
15:00 – Na Gruageachain (M074), 3465 ft, 1056m
For the years that I have been ticking off the Munro boxes, I have often surveyed the Mamores from the summits of surrounding mountains in complete awe and a little trepidation. Despite tales of excellent stalkers’ paths and grassy flanks, they appear very steep and pointy with many airy ridges. I do not really know why it has taken me so long to get into this amazing mountain range, but I am glad now to have started.
After three weeks ago giving up before the ascent of Beinn Fhoinnlaidh, it took me a while to recover and to convince myself that I would be able to get up mountains again. One of the most crippling mental consequences of a cancer diagnosis is always to react as if any change for the worse is the beginning of the final decline. Thankfully, I am aware of this and use these reactions (as far as I can) to motivate me to do something to prove the reaction wrong. Like deciding to climb the highest mountain I have yet to climb. Martyn was also up for it and brought along his daughter Amelia and her young man Arthur, who were visiting from down south and had expressed a desire to walk along ridges.
We arrived at the spacious carpark beside the Scottish Episcopal Church in Kinlochleven in swarms of midges. As we booted up and prepared for the walk we were eaten alive. I was glad of my midgie net. Normally I prefer to find other ways of discouraging these wee monsters because it is hot and stuffy inside a midgie net and makes a person look evil. But not today. I wore it with pride and I suspect the others were secretly jealous. As we danced about, or walked to and fro fending off these minute invisible dragons as best we could, a group of parents and children walked past on their way to school, wafting frantically. Coll the dog was becoming a bit impatient because inevitably preparations took a little longer, but not much, and we were walking up the path towards the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall at 9 sharp.
The first section follows the Loch Eilde Path, rising quite quickly through mixed woodland onto a long finger of bare moor between two deep gullies. I removed my midgie net once the wind penetrated the trees. After a couple of kilometres, the path crosses an estate track, traverses a moor and climbs slowly round the underside of Sgur Eilde Beag, before zigzagging up its southernmost shoulder. Cloud had been down below the tops when we started, and it was cold with intermittent spots of drizzly rain. All the way up I was aware of having to keep to my own tempo, particularly over steeper sections, always conscious of my heart rate and still struggling with medically induced temperature fluctuations and the correct combinations of clothes. I was pleased to note that my legs are still up to the task, even if my heart and lungs sometimes struggle. As we rose it became much colder.
Emerging onto the summit of Sgur Eilde Beag, we were out of the cloud. We watched it blowing off and swirling on the ridge ahead. Binnein Mor was still shrouded, but this did not detract in any way from the exhilaration. We were all in the zone, all in awe of this place. Incredible views were emerging in every direction from under rising cloud, of the Glen Coe mountains, of the eastern ridges of the Mamores and the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor. The Nevis Ranges were still obscured by the mountain ahead.
By the time we reached the nameless 1062 meter summit at the start of the spur to Binnein Mor, the cloud was lifting nicely. From here there is a slight dip, then a gentle rise north to the summit of Binnein Mor, which is anything but gentle. The summit is a narrowing steepening cone of sharp angular rocks, randomly piled against each other. A single pyramid shaped stone, placed on the highest block by way of a cairn, wobbled in the wind. We were no longer in cloud, but squalls were whipping past from the north. Somebody noticed that a little further along there was another pile of sharp boulders piled randomly against each other that might be higher than this. Others were not sure. But we all teetered through the rocks along a narrowing arete, passing by deep clefts into nothing, looking down upon the vast boglands in the upper reaches of Glen Nevis and the relatively tiny Binnein Beag. Coll the dog snuffled about as usual getting far too close to edges for my comfort. We took photos and returned the way we had come, back to the little nameless peak.
From here we turned southwest, dropping to an altitude of only 950 meters before another gradual ascent to the summit of Na Gruagaichean. On the way the sky opened to the north and the cloud rose form the Nevis Ranges to reveal more spectacular panoramas. At the lowest point, Amelia and Arthur, keen to burn off the energy they had saved by keeping to the tempo of two old blokes, yomped off ahead to continue along the ridge and bag the next Munro, Stob Coire a’ Chàirn. Martyn and I continued at our old blokes’ tempo. The summit of Na Gruachaichean is also approached over piles of random stones, but it is flatter on top. Here three ridges come together while Binnein Mor is the highest point on one slender ridge. It was now raining slightly and it was bitterly cold. The views were intermittent but spectacular. We did not hang about and decided to seek shelter somewhere on the way down.
The others had continued northwest off Na Gruageachain, we came down the southern shoulder along a well used walkers’ path towards Leachd na h-Aire. It stopped raining and the sun began more consistently to pierce the clouds, although squalls continued to blow past, casting brilliant dances of shadow and light all the way down Loch Leven to the Pap of Glen Coe, Beinn a’ Beithir and beyond. We had our usual conversations about which mountains were which. I do not believe I have ever seen so many familiar peaks along horizons. From Schielhallion, the Glen Lyon hills, and Ben Lawers in the east to Ben Starav, Ben Cruachan and Beinn a’ Beithir in the west. The Buachailles, which are most often seen from the road as single sharp pointy peaks are seen from here in profile as great ridges of many peaks. The Aonach Eagach and Bidean nam Bian also appear long and serrated.
From the end of the shoulder we turned west following a deteriorating walkers’ path through complex boulder fields and slippery grass. We sat for a while for second (or maybe it was third) lunch looking over to the ridge where the others were walking, trying to see if we could see them. And yes, there they were, two figures apparently now on their way back down to the bealach and the start of a descending stalkers’ path into the corrie. The path had by now more or less disappeared. A friendly scouser walked by asking if we knew the way down, expressing disappointment that we had stopped, for now he had nobody to follow. We replied that we were waiting for him to pass so we could follow his route down. As we chatted, the wind dropped and we were swarmed suddenly by midges. He went on ahead promising to indicate difficulties.
It was sometimes complex navigation past intrusions of boulders and avoiding the steepest slopes, but there were no real difficulties. It was just hard work on knees, calves and thighs. I slipped at one point on a loose stone hidden under the grass and landed badly, twisting my left leg. After taking a moment, I walked on carefully with no obvious damage, relieved that it might have been worse. At length we emerged onto the estate track, followed it briefly and turned right and through a gate to another bare moorland and more mixed woodland, and finally steeply through a dense forest above a gorge, which we presently discovered contained the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall.
We arrived back at the car almost exactly nine hours after we left it and no more than a few minutes before the others, who had very considerately hurried along in the same way that Martyn and I had considerately dawdled, so nobody would be waiting for long at the car. We packed up quickly and went in search of food. After a round of burgers we hit the road. I was home just before eleven.
What a day out that was! Of all the awesome days out Martyn and I have enjoyed, this must rank as one of the very best. And it was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of Amelia and Arthur. I am quite sure that Coll the dog had a great day out too.