I’ve now made three attempts at doing this route. First time, I turned up in stalking season and decided I didn’t like the idea of getting shot by a toff with a rifle. The second time, I ignored the forecast and drove up to find crazy winds in the car park at 400m, I didn’t fancy finding out what the situation was on the summits. Still, both times weren’t a total loss, the drive up/down Glen Lyon itself is worth the fuel money.
I’d first read about this route in Cameron McNeish’s ‘The Munros’, where he suggests this route rather than doing Stuchd An Lochain [960m] and Meall Buidhe [932m] individually. It would make for a long day, but I’ve no interest in list ticking anyway, I do this for the solitude, so a halfway camp at the head of the loch [mh=vee, so pron. Dive] was in order.
A late night on Saturday had ensured a late start, last minute packing and map printing, saw me leaving the house at 10:00am. I didn’t manage to reach escape velocity until nearer 11am, due to pissing about trying to get fuel and assorted roadworks and traffic lights taking the piss. Of course, the closest petrol station was having problems processing card transactions [the same place regularly runs out of diesel, as if somehow they don’t realise their primary role is to sell the stuff], so I had to take a not insignificant detour past Tesco instead.
I picked a route up the steep loose slopes of Coire Ban, stopping often to let my lungs catch up. I passed a few folk coming back down, but was pleased to be the only one going up, the idea of walking to the other end of the loch and having to share it with some interloper did not appeal! 😉 As I climbed it became apparent that there would be no view from the summit of Stuchd an Lochain. As I climbed the steeper sections to the summit with the mist swirling below, I got a bit of vertigo, but I knew it was all in my head, so rationalised it and pressed on. I had a similar [but worse] experience on Beinn Narnain a few years back in the mist. Looking down and not being able to see anything seems to be worse than looking down to see a significant drop to the corrie below.
Once I dropped over the other side of the summit, the views open out again of the loch below, I could see the wooded island about halfway along and up ahead to the proposed camp site. As I followed a line of rusty fenceposts along the broad ridge toward Meall an Odhar with mist enveloped the tops again. Eventually, I dropped out of the mist again to see open peatland ahead with McNeish’s suggested route up and over Sron a Choire Chnapanich back toward the loch. I looked at the map and back to the hill, the contours over the far side were spaced as close as those on the side in front of me. Was McNeish suggesting I roll or bounce down the other side? I know from experience hills usually seem less steep once you’re actually on them, but I decided to skirt down toward the loch from the bealach regardless.
The off camber traverse along the lower slopes of Sron a Choire Chnapanich was doing my ankles in, I was glad to reach the loch and skirt the shore to the campsite. I dumped the pack and scouted out a dry and flatish bit of ground, on a mound between the shore and the copse of pine. I pitched up and went for a wander with the camera. On closer inspection the copse is now only about a quarter of it’s original size, stumps remain and run down to the shore, the rotting trunks lie piled to the south. It seems strange that someone would go to the effort of felling the trees only to leave the timber to rot.
Back at the tent a whipped up some culinary delights with my battered Caldera Clone. It was nice to be back into the season of lighter packs. Pack weight including food and camera equipment was about 7.4kg. Skin out was just under 10kg. There’s room for improvement, but not without significant outlay. The PHD Minimus Vest was great over a windshirt, one or twice when the wind got up I fantasised about the hood and sleeves on my Rab Infinity, but I wasn’t cold. The new POE Peak Elite AC, courtesy of Phil was great, and much less bulky than the Alpkit self-inflating mat it replaces. Unfortunately, even on the slightest of slopes, it would slide down the Contrail’s groundsheet, so I’ll need to have at the Contrail with some SilNet to rectify the problem. One other slight issue is due to being raised that extra inch or two from the ground, there is less clearance between the foot of the sleeping bag and the Contrail. As it happens, there was no condensation issues, thanks to a stiff breeze and the
draughty well ventilated Contrail, but I’d pulled my waterproof jacket over my sleeping bag, just in case.
I settled into the sleeping bag with Simon Singh’s excellent ‘Big Bang’ – so far, I’m at Einstein’s Cosmological Constant. It’s interesting to read how the cumulative chain of scientific discoveries going back over hundreds of years and in some cases back to the Ancient Greeks contribute to our current understanding of the universe. Well worth reading.
The previous late night and day’s exertions saw me falling asleep without even putting my iPod on. I woke a few times, for reasons unknown and fought with the sleeping mat on slippery floor, but it was good to wake in the morning without the usual shoulder pain induced by being a side sleeper. The new mat works a treat!
I had a quick breakfast and packed up. Looking back up at Sron a Choire Chnapanich, I still couldn’t see the route than McNeish was getting at. It was dry, but cool and breezy. I headed for the steep slopes of Meall Cruinn picked a slow but direct route up through the heather. I saw another deer carcass about halfway up, this one was particularly smelly, so I picked up the pace to escape it. It must’ve been a hard winter for them.
It was overcast, but the summits were clear and I had better views across the loch to the previous day’s summits. As I climbed, I managed to get my bearings in relation to some of the distant hills. After making the cairn on Meall Cruinn, the views opened up all around, and the cloud began to give way to blue sky, although the haze of the past week remained to some extent.
I was reminded how lucky I am to stay so close to these hills. Below and to the north was Rannoch Moor, I could see across the the vast open moorland to Buachaille Etive Mòr at the head of Glencoe, the Mamores and the unmistakeable bulk of Ben Nevis beyond. The hills of Breadalbane to the south. I sat for a while had some food and took in the view.
From the cairn I could see I had uninviting prospect of picking my way through the peat hags which stretched out before me all the way to Meall Buidhe. In reality, it wasn’t so bad, the recent dry spell ensured they were much less soggy than I was expecting. Three deer appeared on the distant Meall nan Aighean and watched as I headed east and downwind of them. I took a compass bearing and picked a distant waypoint to head for, weaving through the peat, I probably walked, jumped and squelched through 2 miles worth of walking to make one 1 mile of actual forward progress. To my surprise a second check of the compass in the midst of the peat revealed I was still right on target. Climbing up out of the peat, I followed an indistinct quad bike track and eventually picked up the line of cairns as promised by the 25k map, the final climb to Meall Buidhe was punctuated by regular breathers and intake of views.
I swung past the summit, not bothering to touch the summit cairn, the hill was done, no need to touch a pile of stones to prove the point. The broad ridge swung back toward the loch, covered in mica glittering in the sun. I passed two hill runners coming the other way.
The top half of the descent was a joy, soft peat cushioned each downward step ensuring my knees would be in better shape than would have otherwise been expected. I still seized up somewhat after driving back home though. The loch came into view, and further down the path became steeper and rockier. I was putting off stopping for the last of my food until I got back to the car, but the view back along the loch opened out and I eventually stopped and ate what I had left whilst sat on a rock. The cloud had mostly cleared, leaving blue skies and warm sun.
Back at the car, I changed into some clean clothes and took the long drive back out of Glen Lyon toward Aberfeldy, and then the tourist route back to Crieff. Back home for 5pm, a shower, homemade pizza and a bottle of Arran Blond to round off the day.