The Great Glen

Munros since diagnosis #193 and #194

The Lochy Munros via Gleann Cia-aig

13:00 – Sròn a’ Choire Ghairbh (M239), 3074ft, 937m

14:45 – Meall na Teanga (M276), 3012ft, 918m

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It was cold. Sleep no longer diverted my attention from the failed intention to get up early, before the sun, and see the day breaking as I walked up the glen. My body did not want to emerge from beneath insulating down, where it was warm and cosy.

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Light returned to the edges of the sky at about seven, after which it became easier to stir myself. I dressed and packed away the bed of the campervan, telling myself I would get going when I got myself together. I was in no hurry and despite slight indigestion, I’d had a good night’s sleep. But it was cold. Outside there was a layer of ice on the windscreen. Inside, the heat from cooking breakfast gradually heated up the air and moved my blood.

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I was on the way before nine, steeply at first to the start of a well-engineered, but not very pretty, access track for a hydro installation and ongoing tree harvesting. The lower slopes of the glen to the left of the track had all been felled, their trunks now piled high by the track awaiting collection. There were clear views to the hillside opposite and the route beyond the forest. None of the mountains I could see ahead were anything I would be climbing, but they gave a view of what was to come, and I could already hear the grunt and roar of stags, intermittently echoing from the high corries. The final short section of forest path remains unimproved, used only by walkers, stalkers and ATVs. I reached the edge of the trees at about ten, passed through a gate and took a style over a solid deer fence following a path up the glen towards the opposite bank, rejecting an ATV track over the moor leading slightly upwards to my right on this side of the fence. I was following a path marked on the map. The next time I come this way I will follow the ATV track, and I thoroughly recommend to anyone reading this and thinking of coming this way to do the same.

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This was a path in the old fashioned sense of the best line taken by many feet in the same general direction. In this sense, the best paths are often left by animals, and all are determined primarily by topography. Less than a kilometre following the riverbank through tussocks and exposed peat, pockmarked by submerged stones and black puddles, I came upon a bridge, on the other side of which the path was visible again wending a way through a tumble of moraines. On the way through these, I found stable animal paths taking the best line, in places the musk of stags hung still in the air, their bellowing always not so far away, up high. Perhaps if I had not had to concentrate my eyes at every step entirely on the ground, I might have noticed their movements on the mountainsides. Once through the moraines I came out with a clear view ahead of the bealach between the two mountains. On the ground was a clear line made by many boots through the bog, which I followed until again I had to find a way through complex lumpy ground, now predominately peat hag, through which a number of mountain burns were cutting deep gullies. The same fence I had crossed using the style when I came out of the forest continued to display no signs of further styles or any gate. I plodded happily along and spotted a little falcon sitting on a rock ahead. It flew up quickly, inspecting my approach then fluttered towards me, looking down as it took a circle right round again to land somewhere unseen behind my back. Eventually I crossed back over the burn and found a thicker corner pole on the fence, braced into the ground by two diagonal struts, which I used to enable my clambering. On the other side, I found a line towards the bealach again, on the side of the mountain to my left, I could see the old path from Tomdoun to Lochy, and initially climbed towards it, but found the way blocked by a substantial ravine cut through peat and rock by the burn. Instead, I traversed a bogwood forest and found a gentler spot for late elevenses in preparation for the last push to the bealach. As I sat, I saw another human being, plodding up the other side of the glen following the idea of a path above a steep gully. As I started up again, the figure had already made it to the bealach and could no longer be seen. The ground did not become any easier and the path I sought elusive, until its final stretch, steeply to where it blended into the well trodden hard surface of the path up from Kilfinnan, and the two walkers’ paths up the mountains.

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Immediately I turned left towards zigzags on the way to Sròn a’ Choire Ghairbh. What a relief it was to be walking again on solid ground. The gradient was easy enough too. At the start of the path I met two blokes who were now on their way down, having left camp at four in the morning hoping to catch the sunrise, which they had just missed. Up ahead I could see the same figure who had overtaken me. Rising up I began to see the extent of the morass through which I had just ploughtered; pointy mountains peeked over the round shoulders of Meall na Teanga and the hills of Loch Arkaig.

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I was at the summit a little later than I expected, but I had made good time considering the conditions. I was a little overwhelmed. The air was clear. I could see Ben Wyvis by Dingwall and Ben More on Mull, The Cairngorms and Schiehallion to the east and the Cuilin Hills to the west. These two little mountains are not high, but they are prominently placed between the two great masses of mountains on either side of the Great Glen.

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The Nevis Ranges are mostly obscured by Meall na Teanga, but the Grey Corries look particularly splendid from here and the vistas to Morvern, Knoydart and Kintail are second to none. 

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Chatting to the man who had overtaken me, who came from Bristol and had parked just after I had left, he described a bit of a path up the right of the glen and seeing me ploughtering about in the bog. He said he was going to follow the ridge round on the way down. I confirmed that this was my intention too. Before he left, two women turned up chatting continuously, followed at some distance by a disgruntled Welsh Terrier who shared a name with the man from Bristol.

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I did not hang around much longer and returned down the zigzags, looking towards the path up Meall na Teanga, which seemed to be very steep and to involve near the top a bit of exposure on the traverse to a sharp final ridge to the summit. I was trepidatious,  but I just put one foot in front of the other, enjoying the views.

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From the bealach the initial ascent was indeed steep, but it is sensibly zigzagged and leads quickly to a gentler traverse to the high col between Meall na Teanga and Meall Dubh, after which a steep section is again made easier by zigzags. There is a traverse of a steep slope to the crest of the summit ridge which is indeed a bit exposed, but it is well trodden and stable. After this the ascent is easy to the long broad summit from which views of the Nevis Ranges and down Loch Linnhe are pretty much in your face.

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This is one of the lowest Munros and it is dwarfed by Ben Nevis, which appears to be but a stone’s throw away. The man from Bristol and the two women with the Welsh Terrier, who was not looking any happier with his lot, were relaxing in the still air. I chatted awhile, before heading southwest towards what appeared to be rather a sharp ridge to a minor peak at the edge of a grassy plateau over which the descent back to Glean Chi-aig would be a doddle in comparison to retracing my steps.

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I left the summit before the man from Bristol but he caught me up on the way along the ridge. He too had been a little trepidatious about the traverse, particularly a section up an exposed crag, which turned out to be less steep than appeared, but nonetheless exposed. The bit that had troubled me most from a distance was a final gravelly chute to the summit, but again this turned out to be much less steep and also hardly exposed at all. Once onto the plateau there was a clear path due west over grassy slopes with views south past Ben Nevis to thickening high cloud over Argyll.

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We followed the path chatting. He introduced himself and I discovered that not only was his surname the same as the Welsh Terrier, his first name was the same as my surname. How much of a coincidence is this?! It was a pleasant walk down, but as the ground became steeper and more lumpy, we had to choose our routes carefully. Inevitably our paths diverted but my companion was waiting at the bottom, just where the path emerges from the trees.

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We were glad of the company at the end of day and were back at the carpark not long after five, making the time for the round trip slightly short of eight and half hours. I put on the kettle and changed out of my sweaty clothes. I ate well before driving home through lowering light. It had been a successful experiment. Instead of doing all the driving to a mountain and back in one day, I drove to the start in the campervan the afternoon before. I think next time, I might drive back the next day, spend a second night in the campervan to recuperate. But we’ll see. I am getting rather close now to two hundred summits, which is making me both greedy to get there and utterly amazed that I have already made it this far. Nearly eight years since I was told I would live no longer than three. Now only six more Munros ’til two hundred. I find it difficult to wrap my head round this ….

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Duncan Spence

Mountaineer, retired bicycle messenger, philosopher, wordsmith, Dutch translator.

One thought on “The Great Glen”

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