Nigel, Harry and I travelled to Fort William together on Friday. Pitching our tents in the Ben View field at the campsite was like setting up camp on a manicured lawn compared to the stony site at Shieldaig! The contrast didn’t end there, flush loos, showers, scullery facilities, shop, bacon rolls from a van on site, a choice of eateries just along the road – and minimal street lighting. Around the table in the bar we discussed plans for Saturday – Dave and Rob were planning to tackle Ledge route on Ben Nevis and Harry and Nigel and I were heading for the Ring of Steall.
After breakfast we bade farewell to Dave and Rob as they were going home after their climb. We three drove up to the lower glen car park near Polldubh, admired the swollen waterfalls under the bridge and reflected that the wire bridge was going to be essential to our day. Nigel texted Mike details of our location on the camp site and told him our route for the day and estimated time of return. Then we were off up the riverside path. It was quite humid and we soon had to pack away outer jackets. On reaching the upper car park we observed that a number of people had arrived before us, though of course they were not all bound for our hills. We overtook a few walkers on the way through the gorge – then we emerged at Steall and I reached for my camera to record the scene
Now for the first challenge of the day – the wire bridge – Nigel and Harry were up and away while I was still puzzling how to get me and my rucksack off the ground. Luckily a kind observer came to the rescue and passed me my sack once I was on the beam. Then it was a straightforward walk along the wire to the other side of the river.
Whew! Now we can get on with the walk... well, not quite. The falls were so full that it was impossible to cross by the usual route. We searched up and down to find some-where to cross without either having to take off our boots or risk a soaking. Eventually Nigel found some semi-submerged stepping stones and, with the aid of a handy over-hanging tree into which we climbed, we landed on the far side of the burn dry-shod and were promptly faced with the choice of crossing a boggy meadow or skirting a rockfall by following a rough path over boulders among the trees – I chose the latter, which took longer than the bog, but my feet were still dry.
At last, we started on the steep zig-zag path that would take us onto the hill. As we climbed we had fine views up the glen and across to the slopes of Ben Nevis. Just before we reached cloud level we had sight of a lovely rainbow which spanned the glen; then it started to rain and the wind rose.
On top of An Gearanach we stopped for some food and then pressed on along the airy ridge – interesting walking on An Garbhanach, but perhaps it was as well we could not see too much. Down to the col and then another steep and bouldery climb to the top of Stob Choir’ a Chairn, Munro number two. I was finding the pace punishing and had already voiced concern about our rate of progress, so when Nigel suggested that I miss out Am Bodach and traverse across the scree slopes while Harry went up over the top to meet us further along the ridge I readily agreed. In retrospect I think I’d probably have coped better with the full ascent, as we had missed the proper path, some distance below, and had to invent our route across some pretty rough stuff. However, we reached the ridge and Nigel ran ahead to reassure Harry that we had not come to grief but that we were not on the path he was anxiously scanning.
As time was rushing on and the weather was not improving, we decided to miss out the Devil’s Ridge and Sgurr A’Mhaim – they’ll still be there for another time – we turned west from the top of Sgurr an Iubhair and made our cautious way along the ridge (I skidded on some wet rock and fell. I was relieved to suffer no ill effects.) Soon we found the stalkers path that wends its measured way down Coire a’ Mhusgain and, dropping below the clouds at last, were relieved to find a brighter day – with the sun shining on Fort William in the distance. At Polldubh the midges were out in force!
Back at the campsite, Mike had arrived and pitched his tent beside ours. After we had all enjoyed hot showers, Mike, Nigel and Harry headed off for the pub at Achintee and I set up my stove and heated some long-dreamed of lentil soup.
As night fell I was amazed at the stream of glow-worms that appeared on the Ben path across the glen. There were dozens of head lamps wending their way off the hill and there were still lots of them descending when I retired to my tent about 11pm. It must have been difficult to see where to put their feet - at least it was a fine night.
On Sunday morning, kit was packed and damp tents were rolled up and stowed and we drove to Kinlochleven. The cars were parked at Kinlochmore and we set off up a steep path for an ambitious circuit of the four easternmost peaks in the Mamores. It was not long before I made a decision and the next time I caught up I asked for a set of car keys and informed the others that I would be aiming for only one hill – Sgurr Eilde Mor – at a moderate pace.
As I toiled up the wet path over boggy hillside above Loch Eilde Mor I was able to pick out the others heading across the slopes above. By the time I reached the lochan they were well up the ridge and soon they reached the summit and headed off for their next hill. I picked my way up through the screes and over some rocky outcrops in a gusty wind, and soon reached the top - about an hour behind (which pretty muchl matched the timings in the SMT Munros book – so I can’t be too unfit!)
I headed a little further along the ridge and then gradually wended my way downwards, avoiding the worst of the screes. I picked up a path that took me round the northern side of the lochan and it soon joined another path which skirted round the base of Sgurr Eilde Beag. I decided this was preferable to descending beside the waterfall to Loch Eilde Mor and in due course I rejoined the outward path as it reached the landrover track from Mamore Lodge.
As I headed back towards Kinlochmore the views of the high and distant hills had disappeared and even the Pap of Glencoe was cloud topped. The afternoon light over Loch Leven dulled and it began to rain The worst of the rain was reserved for the half hour I spent sitting in Mike’s car – I just threw my kit in and jumped in after it as the heavens opened. The others were not so lucky and got rather wet on their final descent, but at least we were heading for home, not for a damp campsite!
It was a great weekend, but the B team needs bolstering up – so next time come on out to play and keep me company! Go Ape? Nah, been there, done that.... let’s just go climb another hill, there are lots to choose from.