Monday, 28 September 2015

Rough Bounds of Knoydart, Sept'15

One of our regular hikers, George, was nearing compleation of his Munros and had the peaks in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart to bag before his last two Munros on An Teallach. George asked if we could organise a day to get Sgurr na Ciche and neighbours and we gladly did. John Walker was the guide for hike in late September, here's his tale....

This weekend I was working for Steven Fallon Mountain Guides on the Rough Bounds of  Knoydart, picking off the munros of Sgurr na Ciche, Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr nan Coireachan. These were the last ones George needed before he could plan his final 'Compleation' date, (which he has chosen as the two summits of An Teallach, an unusual choice, but a wonderful mountain!). We were joined by Neil, Scott and Leanne, all suitably braced for a long day, as is required for these prized Munros.

We met at the end of the long, long road along Loch Arkaig, which takes an hour to drive yet is less than 20 miles from Spean Bridge. It is a tortuous roller-coaster of bends, blind summits and potholes, and we all joked we had done the hardest part of the day already! The route starts with a track along Glen Dessarry, then a rough and boggy path, and finally onto the hillside properly at the foot of Garbh Chioch Mhor. The SMC and Walkhighlands route suggest ascending the steep, boggy and relentless SSE ridge of Sgurr nan Coireachan, but we think this is a grind, so prefer to continue clockwise, and ascend via the splendid ravine of Feadhan na Ciche.

The views begin once you attain the higher ground above Coire na Ciche, and you can see down above Sourlies bothy and Loch Nevis and out to Eigg, which was visible despite the haze. The ascent is really enjoyable, enclosed as you are in the steep-sided ravine, which brings you out at the bealach between  Sgurr na Ciche and Garbh Chioch Mhor. From there were many gasps of delight as the view opened up North and Eastwards across Loch Quoich, with Sgurr Mor dominating the foreground. I promised even better as we turned to ascend Sgurr na Ciche, and sure enough, the views to the rest of Knoydart, Glen Elg and Kintail were spectacular.

After many photos, and a brief lunch, we made our way eastwards. The way is now relatively easy to follow, as you hand-rail an incredible dry-stone dyke, which winds, weaves and perches all along the steep NE edge of the ridge. The man-hours and effort that must have gone into it beggars belief. The path is usually obvious, but very rough indeed, typical of Knoydart, and involves some very easy scrambling in places, much enjoyed by the group. You do have to be careful not to be complacent though, as one of us took a wee tumble whilst not paying attention - Isn't it always the case when your guard is down? Indeed we had only just been discussing what it would be like to slip onto a particular rock we had noticed across the route!

At the summit of Garbh Chioch Mhor, there were questions indicating that the team were feeling the effort of the approach, as they asked 'which one is the last one', dearly hoping it wasn't the more distant hills, which of course it wasn't. The only issue was that Sgurr nan Coireachan could only be gained by more rough descent, so we set about it resolutely, buoyed by the ever-changing light enhancing the boiler-plate rocks of the Garbh Coire and beyond.

We took a short break at the final bealach, to be joined by 'John', on his way from Mam Barrisdale to Glenfinnan. He had a two-day pack, but also a collapsible canoe for the paddle across Loch Quoich! We tried to make conversation, but it was clear John preferred his own company, and left us sharply after gleaning some information about the various bothies.

We despatched the final pull up to the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan, and had our triumphant high-fives and a photo, before starting the knee-jarring descent. Once across the Allt Coire na Uth, the path is no longer steep, but still rough, and it was with some relief we regained the track at Upper Glendessarry. We stopped for quick snack and to compose ourselves for the march out, when the occupant came out for a chat. 'Great' we thought, 'he's going to offer us a lift'. No such luck. Though perfectly pleasant, he obviously thought he'd be insulting such hard-core walkers with such a thing, and we were too polite to ask! Doh!

The hour long march out was given some interest watching a stalker and his posh client after stags in the glen, and we jumped as the shots rang out loudly. He wasn't a good shot though, and they put-putted past us in the Argocat without offering us a lift either. Boo!

We got back to the cars at Srathan just as we lost the light. 11hrs, which is a respectable time for such a long route. George was most pleased he was on the last leg of his Munro campaign, and the rest of us with the satisfaction of a hard-won group of hills on such a good day. Now all we had to do was drive along THAT road......... ;)

More photos are on our Flickr site.