Thursday 27 June 2013

Munro Bashing in The Mamores: Day 3; Disaster

Woke this morning to low cloud, drizzle and even more sore quads.  The usual routine was followed: shower, breakfast and Ibuprofen for the quads before launching off up the valley once more, parking at the far car park.  It being a mild, still, drizzly morning, the Scottish midge was out in huge numbers and was voraciously looking for blood.  Consequently we booted up and headed off up the gorge as quickly as possible.  The plan today was to mop up the remaining four Mamore Munros.  That sounds easy but we had plotted Cameron McNeish's route into the Garmins which came up with a horizontal distance of 16 miles.  Knowing that the actual distance would be at least 20 it was with some trepidation that I put my best foot forward.  As it happened two miles in and with not much climbing it was patently obvious that the legs weren't up to it so I made the decision to abort.  It meant that Peter could travel more quickly and I could have a lazy day.  Turning round I pottered back down the valley, indulging in some photography on the way and then retired to Fort William to research new winter day/short trip backpacking rucksacks.  Currently I am favouring the 38L Osprey Kestrel.  If anyone reading this has any suggestions I would be happy to hear them.  After the fleshpots of Fort Bill I headed round to Corpach for lunch beside the lake and went to explore the lock ladder (is that the correct term?) at the beginning of the Caledonian Canal.  I arrived here just in time to catch the Jacobite steaming its way towards Glen Finnan and Mallaig.  I also found a good patch of northern marsh orchids here.  Nice, as we only get the southern at home.
Soon it was time to head back up the glen to see if my 'bruv' had returned yet.  We had made rendezvous for 4.30 and 7.30 depending on whether he completed the round or cut it short.  As it happened he turned up just after 4.30 muttering "Ill murder that b****y Cameron McNeish!"  It turned out that the river crossing suggested in the route descritption was unrealistic and so he spent five hours flogging up boggy, tussocky terrain and still had not bagged a summit.  Only KIMM (OMM nowadays) competitors can know what Scottish tussocky, boggy terrain can be like!!  Eventually, finding some sort of path he did manage to get up one Munro before heading back to the car having covered 17 miles.  Anybody who knows my brother will realise that for him to abor,t the going must have been tough in the extreme.  At least we live to return and fight another day but next time we shall tackle it from Kinlochleven.  And those who know me may have heard me state "Just you lot wait till next year when I am fit and two stone lighter.....!!!" - a regular battle cry these days!!

Ah well beer o'clock called!!!!

The next day it was time to pack up and head back south; at least it was a wet day so we weren't tempted to stay on!!   After a long drive home to Peter's in Lymm, Cheshire, it was magnificent to be warmly greeted by Linda and to relax with a beer (well it was beer o'clock!) and an excellent meal!

What will it be next year??

Walking back down the glen with the pressure off allowed me to concentrate on photographing the flora.  The wet conditions made them even more attractive.  As someone once said, "There is no such thing as bad light or good light - just light."  To a certain extent I agree with that and if conditions are grey and wet close up and macro shots work a treat; and there is nothing worse than a bright blue sky for landscapes.  I loved the richness of the ferns in the forests and the Nevis Gorge - so rich and verdant.  The stream and waterfalls, ferns mosses and rich green colours in Scotland are amazing, but of course to get this there has to be rain; and lots of it!!!
Fern Glen Nevis.

Foxglove, Water of Nevis.


Fragrant Orchid

Heath Spotted Orchid.

Lousewort, a parasytic plant.

Wood Cranesbill.

The falls of Steal with cloud down on The Mamores.

Locks, Caledonian Canal.

Northern Marsh Orchid.
Loch Lomond on the way home.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Munro Bashing in the Mamores: Day 2 Mullach nan Coirean and Stob Ban.

Once on my feet early on Wednesday morning it became apparent that my quads were suffering from the previous days exertions.  Undaunted and a hot shower, breakfast and 600mg Ibuprofen tablet later we were again driving up Glen Nevis, this time to park at Achriabhach where we would descend at the end of the day.  No road walk at the end of today's trek!!!  Once parked up we followed a small path through the forest along the Allt a' Choire Dheirg until we reached the forest fence and then the path turned at right angles and went directly uphill to the ridge coming down from Mullach nan Coirean from 300m to 650m in 600m horizontal distance.  No zigzags, just up!!!  I thought yesterday's descent was something else; this was just inhuman!!  Fortunately though, this was the worst over and the remainder of the day was a total delight; coninuous high level ridge walking with fabulous views until a pleasant valley descent down the Allt Coire a' Mhusgain, directly to the car!!  The day was made even more perfect by the fact that the cloud base remained above the summits (apart from the Ben, whose head remained resolutely in the cloud), and the sun cam out.
The ridge up to our first Munro of Mullach nan Coirean was mountain perfection: an excellent ridge giving good views on all sides leading to the rounded, plateau-like summit.  Unlike most of the Mamores which are capped with gleaming quartzite, Mullach is composed of red granite and the juxtaposition of red against the gleaming white is fascinating.  In fact the quartzite reappears right at the end of an excellent unnamed ridge just before Stob Ban.
Panorama looking south west from Mullach nan Coirean.  Ballachuilish hills, Loch Linnhe and the  Ardnamurchan Peninsula.

The red granite of Mullach from the quartzite of Stob Ban

Quartzite reappears at the end of the ridge.

The quartzite tip to the red granite ridge; 'The Ben' in the background.

Quartzite capped Stob Ban and Sgurr a' Mhaim from the red granite of Mullach.

Looking towards Stob Ban.
From Mullach it was a delightful high level walk around the corries to the start of the climb up Stob Ban.  We stopped for lunch at the bottom of the final ascent expecting it to be a severe pull but as it happened it was much easier than anticipated.  The views from the summit were unrivalled.  We could look along the whole length of the Mamores ridge, south to Loch Leven and Glen Coe, north to Glen Nevis and 'The Ben' and south west over Loch Linnhe to the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.  The descent down the knife-edge ridge from the top looked formidable but, although exciting, turned out to be much easier than it appeared, only requiring 'hands on' at a couple of points.
Descent ridge from Stob Ban.

The descent from Stob Ban.
Once down the ridge we wandered over to Lochan Coire nam Miseach tucked below the Devil's Ridge to Sgurr a'Mhaim.  This would make an excellent wild camp.
Stob Ban from the Lochan.
Glen Nevis from the outfall stream.
All that now remained was the descent down the easy angled path back to the car; unusual in an area where all ascents and descents would seem to be ferocious.
Birch tree on the descent path.
As we had plenty of time in hand and the sun had put in an appearance we elected to drive further up the glen where we could cross the river, explore the gorge and photograph the beautiful ancient Caledonian pine trees in the afternoon light.
Dead Scots Pine, Glen Nevis.

Scots Pine, remnant of the forest of Caledon, Glen Nevis.
Wildlife highlights of the day include again the many wonderful examples of the local flora: wild thyme and wood cranesbill in the forest, tormentil, thrift, alpine lady's mantle and dwarf cornel higher up.  I love alpine lady's mantle; with its delicate leaves and tiny yellow/green flowers, it is a more compact form of the bullying garden variety, Alchemilla mollis, which spreads rampantly through our garden, insinuating itself into every nook and cranny, including the brickwork of the house.  Nonetheless Alchemilla mollis is a very attractive plant, especially whebn drops of water nestle in its leaves; I would rather be with it that without it.  We were really pleased to find the dwarf cornel high on Stob Ban; a shy miniature member of the dogwood family that lives high on heaths and mountains.  Birds of note included tree pipit, ravens wheeling and craking high above us, a single female ring ouzel and down in the valley, grey wagtail on the river.  Peter also came across a lovely golden ringed dragonfly when we were exploring the gorge; an excellent find.
I know a ban where wild thyme grows.

Alpine lady's mantle, Alchemilla alpina.

Dwarf Cornel
Heath Spotted Orchid

Golden Ringed Dragonfly.

Golden Ringed Dragonfly
Images below show the gorge of the River Nevis.

Lower falls.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Munro Bashing in the Mamores: Day 1, The Ring of Steall

Up early this morning before the alarm and a quick look outside confirmed that the cloud base was high and our summits were clear; looking good.  Rucksacks packed and breakfast over we set out for the car park at the head of the glen.  As we drove past the car park for the lower falls the road became single track with passing places.  We both remarked on the fact the this must have been where Peter had had his photograph taken with a highland cow when we were children.  It didn't take long to get to the road head and park up.  The route initially took us up through the impressive gorge of the River Nevis.  As this comes to an end the valley suddenly opens up to a wide flat plain with mountains towering on either side and The Water of Nevis meandering through it.  It is here that we obtained the first views of the impressive Falls of Steall that plunge down from the hanging valley high above.
First glimpse of the Falls of Steall
Steall Falls

The Falls of Steall plunge down from the hanging valley high above.

Not long after we emerged from the gorge into the open valley we arrived at the infamous wore bridge over the River Nevis.  The two of us last stood on this bridge together and were photographed by our parents 52 years ago.  The bridge has been replaced over the years and is now a bit of a white knuckle ride.  An emotional moment though.
We last stood here together 52 years ago.

The wire bridge.

Peter approaches the wobbly bit!
Once over the wire bridge we had to cross the river again at the base of the falls and then it was all down to the climb up to the first Munro of An Gearanach.  The climb was unrelentingly ferocious and I was wrecked when I reached the summit.  All of the route descriptions tend to gloss over the ascent and descent of these routes, something which always needs to be kept in the forefront of the mind when planning.  Having reached the top, however, we then had the pleasure of wandering along the wonderfully high level, airy horseshoe ridge of the Ring of Steall ticking off four Munros en route.  We were fortunate that the cloud base remained above the summits all day and the views from the ridge were stunning, with mountain range on mountain range disappearing into the distance.  Close by was Ben Nevis and its near neighbour Carn Mor Dearg, joined by the famous knife edge arrete, whilst to the south, Bidean Nam Bean dominated above Glen Coe with the famous Anoch Eagach Ridge in the middle distance.  On either side of us stretched the main spine of the Mamores.
After several miles of delightful ridge walking and negotiating the Devil's Ridge we summitted on the amazing quartzite capped summit of Sgurr a'Mhaim.  From this lofty peak we were able to see the car less than a mile away, separated from us by a mere 3000 feet of vertical distance.  Anyone who has negotiated steep mountain descents will sympathise here.  It was unrelenting and knee wrecking.  Soon my legs were reduced to jelly and I was stumbling down in a rather unsafe manner.  Eventually, however, we reached the valley and all that remained was the mile and a half walk back along the road to the car.  Sounds simple but was tough in the extreme, especially as it was uphill.  Am I getting too old for this type of thing?  Most definitely not - I just need to be fitter.
Wildlife highlights included, again, heath spotted and fragrant orchids in good numbers.  Higher up lousewort, a parasitic plant, was common as was the stunning blue of milkwort.  The insectivorous butterwort was seen in good numbers and also starry saxifrage.  This plant has similar flowers to the larger, meadow saxifrage common at Messingham but has smaller flowers with a red centre.  Bog ashpodel was beginning to come into flower and it was a pleasure to find several clumps of moss campion.  Whilst wandering back along the road to the car we were both excited to find a basking slow worm, always a pleasure.  Once back at the hostel we enjoyed watching a buzzard being harried by a pair of gulls.  We last saw them over the slopes of \Ben Nevis.


Fragrant Orchid

Heath Spotted Orchid

Petr on Am Bodach, Ring of Steall.

The Devil's Ridge.

The Devil's Ridge and Sgurr a'Mhaim.

Slow Worm.

The DEvil's Ridge.

The Ring of Steall.

The Ring of Steall.

An Garbhanach from An Gearanach.

Looking north to Ben Nevis.
Aonach Beag from the lower slopes of Sgurr a' Mhaim.