Loch Linnhe to Loch Ericht


The Mamore Loner

If Binnein Beag was a human it would be one of life’s loners. Stuck their in the corner of the playground with its bigger brother Binnein Mor back turned to ignore him, keeping the smaller Beag at arms distance. Why pay any attention to Beag when you can talk excitedly to all your other interesting mates in the Mamores. It’s easy being a mountain when you are the largest in the class. Even the neighbouring bulk of Sgurr Eilde Mor stands to one side a looming, lurking mountain, one you can’t quite trust like the class bully. One moment full of smiles and pats on the back, your best friend and the next a raging temper and pokes in the eyes as you become his sworn enemy, his latest object of spite.

Having larked around with the more interesting boys in the Mamore playground I had seen Binnein Beag from a distance but never up close. I was intrigued, I wanted to get closer, wanted to begin to know this shy, retiring mountain, what makes it tick. My task was to go and introduce myself to this elusive mountain and try and start a relationship. Binnein Beag was not going to make this an easy task. I had a long walk into remote country to even catch a glimpse let alone get up close, but the walk along a fine, airy, stalkers path high above the lonely Loch Eilde Mor makes for a quick, unseen approach. Tip-toeing around Coire an Lochain I get my first glimpse of Binnein Beag ahead of me, trying to hide itself behind the broad shoulder of Binnein Beag My pace quickens, eagerly pushing forward to get closer. Who said this encounter was going to be easy?

Binnein Beag 001 There before me opens the grassy hollow of Allt Coire a’Bhinnein blocking any quick progress towards my target. It is though a deep, fortified moat full of untold horrors has been thrown before me to thwart my onward journey. Not being disheartened I press on, soon descending via zig-zags to the river below, briskly fording it via stepping stones to the path beyond. All the time my goal remains before me.

Perhaps, I have been noticed by my lone quarry as it attempts to hide its face with a scarf of wispy cloud, although it is only a momentary mask soon dissipating to reveal the summit again. There’s no hiding from me now, firmly in my sights I stride on to the high bealach separating Beag from Mor, finally ready to introduce myself.

Hang on a minute, am I rushing things? No loner will appreciate a hasty, over-confident approach – softly, softly is definitely needed on this occasion. I paused awhile on rocks beside a small lochan, to contemplate, over lunch, the life of a loner. I thought this quiet contemplation would be ruined as I saw a group of fellow walkers paused upon the lower ridge of Binnein Mor, but they were to ascend rather than join me in my quiet space. They obviously recognised that today, like the mountain behind me, I was a loner as well.

Close up my quarry doesn’t make it any easier, the shattered slopes of ankle-breaking blocks scattered carelessly in order to catch out the unwary. I am determined though, such defences will only slow but not deter. I make speedy progress nimbly avoiding the loose scree slopes strategically placed to slow and dissuade. The barriers are breached as I reach the small summit plateau and introduce myself to my conquered prey.

Binnein Beag 02

And now I realise that there are sometimes benefits to being an outsider. Binnein Beag’s solitude gives an opportunity to appreciate things from a distance. Those other mountains that you take for granted up close take on a different persona from this angle. The mighty bulk of Ben Nevis dominates Glen Nevis stretching back along the Grey Corries. Straight ahead, the other Mamores snake off into the distance. Glancing behind, you look straight in to the dark barren depths of Rannoch Moor. At this point, as you stare transfixed into miles of nothingness, you understand that perhaps loneliness is all relative.

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A substantial gap between weather fronts on Sunday meant that I was able to get up into the mountains and enjoy a long walk without the prospect of getting wet. That is always a bonus when you live in the Highlands.

So I headed off to one of my nearest mountains, Mam na Guillain, that stands beside Loch Leven, to write a walk route for the walkhighlands website. Having not been hill walking for over six weeks,  I was amazed that I had lost a considerable amount of hill fitness in such a short amount of time. After the long walk along the West Highland Way to the beginning of the ascent from the Callert stalkers path, I struggled up the steep grassy incline towards the summit. The warm autumn sunshine did nothing to ease the feeling of fatigue and with great relief I collapsed at the foot of the triangulation point at the top.  Mam na Guillain

Refreshed with a flask of tea and my spirits lifted by views deep into the Glencoe moutains to the south and way beyond the Nevis range to the north, I headed along the ridge towards Kinlochleven. Ahead of me was Beinn na Caillich, “the old man” that towers above the village guarding the upper regions of the loch. This is a far more interesting mountain than the Corbett sized Mam na Guallain. Beinn na Caillich can be seen from all points of the village as it Beinn na Caillich beside Loch Levenbeckons you to put on your boots and head for the hills. In no time I was at the summit and with the last rays of daylight beginning to streak down the loch behind me I headed down the long descent back to the West Highland Way.

I did something foolish during this walk, I only stopped once for something to eat, and I began to regret that on the descent. I started feeling slightly dizzy and light headed, but with the gathering gloom I kept walking. Eventually, I forced my self to stop, devouring a bar of chocolate and a bottle of sports drink. I am sure if I had proceeded much further I would have passed out. Fortunately the peaty shoulder upon which I was walking would have cushioned any fall but elsewhere I would have landed on rocks. This would have been extremely serious as I was walking on my own. The lesson from this walk is to listen to my body when it begins to scream, stop, and rest. Above all I should always carry a quick energy solution in my pocket so that I don’t have to decide between stopping or pressing on.

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Starting point: Mamore Lodge Hotel (NN 186 629)

Mountains Climbed: An Garbhanach, An Gearanach, and Na Gruagaichean

Munro Count: 2

Corbett Count: 0

Purists may argue that driving your car to the Mamore Lodge Hotel and starting your walk at 200m is cheating. Instead they would advocate starting in the village and climbing through the woods beside the Grey Mares waterfall up to the land rover track heading for Loch Eilde Mor. Let the purists argue that if they wish, I however will continue to make use of the car park at the Mamore Lodge for my forays into the Mamore range of mountains. All of these mountains have a long approach and starting from the village needlessly extends these approaches.

So ignoring the purists I set off on a warm, sunny day along the land rover track skirting around the edge of the Stalkers Cottage before head up Coire na Ba. This is local territory for me, I can see the beginning of the coire from my living room window with the double summits of Na Gruagaichean towering above. The coire is a large bowl with the crags of Am Bodach on one side and the slopes of Na Gruagaichean on the other, at its head the pyramid of Stob Coire a’Chairn. Many days are spent looking out the window longing to be walking along the path that takes you all the way to the ridge line.

The path leading up Coire na Ba
Am Bodach from Coire na Ba

Once on the ridge you are treated with a panorama of some of greatest mountains starting with Ben Nevis and stretching across the Aonachs and then on to the fine ridge of the Grey Corries.

I skirted around the back of Stob Coire a’Chairn to a small col and the path that heads up the steep and rocky slope of An Garbhanach where the fun starts. Barely 400m long this airy, exposed ridge provides a fine scramble for hill walkers. For those of a gentler persuasion you are able to bypass the scrambling by following a path, but in one place I found this to be equally exposed with a tricky steep section on loose gravel and rock. On my return along the ridge I stuck to the scrambling with no particular problems. At the summit of An Gearanach you can savour the Glen Nevis vista before you over your sandwiches and flask of tea.

Ben Nevis from An Gearanach

The path continues down the northern ridge into the glen and the wire bridge at Steall, this makes a fine through route from Kinlochleven. However, I returned to the main Mamore ridge and headed up the scree slopes towards Na Gruagaichean, on first ascent you are deceived by thinking you are nearing the summit only to find it is a minor top and you still have a small dip to negotiate before reaching the true summit. This small dip is indeed tricky, steep and loose gravel call for gravel but once past it is an easy clamber up and over large rocks to the summit. Here another panorama is before you, to the east the shimmering Loch Eilde Mor and Blackwater reservoir with the bleak Rannoch Moor. Then to the west Loch Leven stretches out bathed in early evening sunlight framed by the Pap of Glencoe and Man na Gualainn with the Morvern hills beyond.

You can backtrack to the col and the Coire na Ba path or continue down the southern ridge, as I did, to meet the land rover track that will lead you back to the Mamore Lodge much to the purists disgust!

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