John was leading a hardy group into the Rough Bounds of Knoydart.....
'Hills of character'. That was how Catherine, (one of our intrepid group for this challenging weekend) described these Knoydart hills, and I can think of no better description.
We had planned on the longer day of Sgurr na Ciche, Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr nan Coireachan on the Saturday, and the 'shorter' day of Sgurr Mor on the Sunday, but the weather had different ideas. Saturday was forecast rain and murk all day, so we switched, and it was a stoic group of Catherine, Mark and Susan who set off from Strathan bound for Glen Kingie.
It was good to get going after the endless single-track roller coaster of a road to the end of Loch Arkaig, and after a wee detour to check out the new large lodge at Glendessary (my story and I'm sticking to it....I mean, how was I supposed to see that tiny cairn in all that bracken! ;), we were soon over the bealach and into Glen Kingie. After contouring around and crossing the Kingie easily, despite the rain, we took the excellent stalkers path that weaves its way cunningly up the improbable slope and on to Sgurr Beag. This is infinitely preferable to the shorter 'straight up Route One' approach to this hill, and after a quick lunch break, we made our summit. Unfortunately the weather meant that the summit photo was most typically Scottish, (as were all subsequent ones), and as ever, we could have been anywhere!
It was a reflection on the mettle of the group that we still elected to take in the Corbett Sgurr an Fhurain before descending back to the Kingie and making our way back to Strathan. On the way back, we met a large family group who turned out to be the owners of Strathan itself - We think they may have it as a second home, as no self-respecting country folk would have chosen to have gone for a walk in that weather!
Shame we didn't get any views, but we had hopes for a better forecast Sunday.
On Sunday we were joined by Catherine's husband Paul, and set off sharp at 08:30, our teeth gritted into the drizzle, but with an expectation of an improvement to spur us on for this 11hr day.
It soon came, and as we skirted the forest and forded the Allt Coire nan Uth without needing the hidden bridge, jackets were off. Hurrah! We had seen another party miss the footpath at Upper Glendessary, and then forge back up hill to meet us at the corner. After a few 'hi's', they then went for the guidebook route, the reverse of ours. I must admit I cannot see how the slog up the South ridge of Sgurr nan Coireachan and then subsequently a descent of the wonderful Feadan na Ciche is preferable to the other way around, but each to their own. We wondered where we'd meet them en route.
We continued up the glen towards the flanks of Garbh Chioch Mhor, and making use of the stalker's track, soon gained the base of the Feadan na Ciche. (On the way we found a watch, and this will be posted on UKHillwalking, ScottishHills.com, Trail and Walking Forum. Contact Steven if you think it may be yours). It was my first time there, having previously done the route from Sourlies bothy, and what a wonderful little gully it is. We all put any fatigue from Saturday to the back of our minds as we skipped up, criss-crossing the burn, and taking the inevitable Timotei picture under the water falls.
Sgurr na Ciche was kind to us as we lunched, and we got a view for a short time, which was predictably splendid, out to Eigg, the rest of Knoydart, Loch Hourn etc. It soon closed back in though, and we picked our way along the wall to Garbh Chioch Mhor. There we met the other party, who looked quite weary after their ascent. We exchanged pleasantries, and then off we went, over typically rough Knoydart ground, marvelling at the effort that must have gone into building that wall.
We kept the drizzle and cloud until just before the bealach between Garbh Chioch Beag and Sgurr nan Coireachan, when it opened to give us a wonderful view of Coire nan Gall. What a coire, with huge plates of glacier-scoured rock, glistening in the shafts of sunlight. That spurred us on to the final summit of the day, where we took another misty cairn shot. Then, at last, finally, as we started the descent, the sun came out! That made the steep but easy descent back to the Allt Coire nan Uth far more pleasant that it would otherwise have been, and we made the long march back to Strathan in good order.
We did the route in 10.5hrs, which we were pleased with. And whilst it's not a competition of course, we had a wry smile that the car of the other party was still there, so hoping that they hadn't had any issues, we felt vindicated in our route choice.
This group of hills are not easily accessed, and feel all the more sweet because of it. They feel remote, and you have a real sense of satisfaction when you complete them. They are indeed, 'hills of character'.
More photos are up on our Flickr site.