Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Rough Bounds of Knoydart, Mar'15

We'd organised a weekend of hiking up the peaks in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart. This is a wild area in the west of Scotland, involving long walks to reach the remote summits. The weekend attracted a fair number of people, so much so, we had two guides in place - Al Ewen and myself.

I picked up a few of the group on route and we met up with the others at the end of the long and narrow rollercoaster of a road that hugs the northern shore of Loch Arkaig. A cold morning greeted us, slightly overcast, but the MWIS predicted clear skies and our spirits were high. Gear checked, crampons adjusted and off we went.

A pleasant walk along a track took us to the house of Upper Glendessarry, this gave everyone plenty of time to chat and get to know one another. Beyond the house, we left the track behind and on a narrow rough path we continued to the ground south of Garbh Chioch Mor's crags. Now on grassy terrain, much of which was frozen, we aimed uphill and into the gully that separates Garbh Choich Mor from it's neighbour Sgurr na Ciche. Hands on, a bit of fun was had scrambling up the gully, over boulders and blocks of snow and ice. Up to the col, the views opened up - the cloud had now lifted and everyone's jaws dropped at the awesome panoramas we were taking in !

The section from the col to the summit of Sgurr na Ciche is short, but today was also fairly well covered in snow and ice. So ice-axes were readied, but we had the luxury of leaving our packs - stories of ravens breaking into rucksacks stealing food abounded, so most sacks were fastened securely and turned face down ! Uphill the sun reflected on the snow, warming our faces as we quickly reached the summit crest. Wow, the vista from the summit cairn was spectacular ! We sat and took it in, snapped merrily with our cameras and enjoyed the glow of the sun.

After 15 minutes or so, we reluctantly about-turned and retraced our steps to the col, some of us enjoying a wee slide en route. After a brief lunch-stop, it was off up our second Munro, Garbh Choich Mor. Lots of snow to contend with, though nothing tricky. We seemed to be onto the summit in minutes, debating which rock marked the true highest point. More superb views to take in.

Keeping to the crest as we progressed eastwards was fine for the most part, some care was needed on the way, but we managed without the need for our axes or crampons. The wall that travels along the spine of this mountain poked through the snow and had mist been present, it would have made navigation a doddle. Down to the col below Sgur nan Coireachean (some more fun sliding around) and we gathered in the sunshine for a break to take in some fuel before the last ascent of the day.

The shoulder of Sgurr nan Coireachean that we were aiming up was well lit in sunshine and had no snow or ice to hold us up. We swiftly hiked up the rough path that zig-zags to the summit and took in the surround landscapes from the small cairn perched there. Time was getting on, sun was beginning to drop, so we decided not to stay long. Originally the plan was to head directly south from the summit, but instead we decided to retrace our steps to the col and descend out from there. Moans in the ranks - 'we could have left our rucksacks at the col' - sorry folks ! We reached to safety of the path as the last just as the last rays of light bounced of the summits, returning to our cars as twilight fell.

Our second day began from the same spot. With a shorter hike planned, we enjoyed a 'lie-in' - we started an hour later. Blues skies from the off, we headed along the track. When we reached Dessarray Lodge, we left the track behind and traced a faint path heading north toward Glen Kingie. Normally this path would have been wet and soggy underneath, but today the cold temperatures meant for firm and dry ground underfoot.

We plodded up to the high moorland above Glen Dessarry, then dropped back down 100m to the floor of Glen Kingie. Over the River Kingie was suprisingly much easier than expected (I brought a pair of Crocs, but didn't need them), then it was up the grassy slopes of Sgurr Mor. Oh, this was a trudge, a case of getting the head down and putting the thigh muscles to task ! But once up to the col between Sgurr Mor and Sgurr an Fhuarain, the effort was worth with the views giving the wow-factor !

We debated about the route from here, with Al and myself independently working out a circuit around Sgurr Mor, An Eag and Sgurr cos na Breachd-laoidh taking too long to fit into the remaining daylight. So we opted for a 'there-and-back' up Sgurr an Fhuarain (a shapely Corbett) and Sgurr Mor. Vic decided he would just have an hours snooze in the warm sunshine while the rest of the gang headed up and down the Corbett, stopping on the way to figure out what animal had left the tracks in the fine layer of snow.

Picking up Vic, we all headed up Sgurr Mor together. Sunshine had melted away most of the snow on the crest, so an easy hike was all that was needed to gain the summit. Simply stunning were the views. We took it all in, putting together the jigsaw of the surrounding landscape, even spotting some of Skye in the haze.

An about-turn and we began the journey home. On the way we met a group heading up, Rachael from one of our first Fisherfield wilderness trips was leading the group - she now only had Ladhar Bheinn and Bynack Mor to 'compleat' ! The trudge down Sgurr Mor's slopes was expected, with the rest of the journey back being suprisingly enjoyable taking in the views ahead as the sun began to drop.

A great weekend with excellent company !

More photos are on our Flickr site.