Carn Dearg - 941m
Sgor Gaibhre - 955m
Sgor Choinnich - 929m

Thursday 20th January 2011

Weather/Conditions: Beautiful, warm weather - great for January! Firm hard snowfields topped off with a few inches of bone-dry powder and glistening snow crystals. Brilliant blue skies, not a cloud above us with mist in the valleys. Another spectacular weather day.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 22.7km / 1000m / 7h 45m
Accompanying: Colin

If anywhere seems like some last post of civilisation between Glasgow and the Great Glen then it's at Corrour, which is exactly why I was pretty glad to be there. Better still, it was the first of three days that I spent in the Highlands. This trip came about when Colin replied to a club-distributed email, and we agreed to get to Corrour for early-morning. I got the sleeper from Westerton station, he would meet me at Bridge of Orchy having driven from Fife.

Travelling Up

When I need to get up early, I kip on the couch. The alarm was set at 4.45am though I didn't see sleep until the early hours. With breakfast down and gear packed, I walked the half hour to Westerton and sat waiting at the station platform. The cold air had sunk into the lowlands which brought frost and more importantly inversion conditions to Glasgow. I got on the train just prior to 6am, out of the cold and into comfort. I never slept, but listened to music and rested my eyes - Dalmuir, Dumbarton and Helensburgh passed by in a daze of empty streets and haze-shrouded lampposts.

The train climbed out of Garelochhead and climbed high onto the bank of Loch Long, where it climbs to about 150m above the sea. And here I climbed straight out of the mist and above the cloud, funnelled as it was into the groove of Loch Long. The full moon, dead ahead, was setting on the western horizon, illuminating the tips of the cotton wool cloud below. Face pressed against the window, I sucked up the scene although taking a photo would have been hopeless and way too difficult to try. I could only have tried if the train weren't moving. Some scenes exist in memory alone.

At Tarbet, the train crawled back to sea level and into the mist again. At Bridge of Orchy I waited expectantly on the train for Colin and was glad when he stepped on - him and another guy who was also heading to Corrour to walk up the lochside. He said he wasn't on the hills anymore because of shot knees. Toward Rannoch, we went in and out of mist banks, observing the frozen moor in passing from the train. Surrounding peaks fired up into the most surreal pinks I have ever seen.

No matter how hard it is to get up in the morning, I always know why I come back here.

Carn Dearg

We stepped off at Corrour into a bright and silent morning. I finished my free cup of tea and stashed away my camping gear, which I ended up not using on this trip anyway. The guy we chatted to on the train had told us the woman who ran the Corrour cafe moved to Lismore and started up business there instead - for now the cafe was closed but possibly only for the winter.

Heading toward Loch Ossian, I couldn't help but blurt out about all the different mountains coming into view. When I'm planning a trip, I seem to put up my own physiological barriers against going as far out on a limb as somewhere like Corrour, but now here in front of me were all these big and remote mountains, so close you could grab them, so suddenly accessible. There is a lot of untapped potential in this area and when I've done a trip once, it opens the floodgates to go again.

Without a cloud in the sky, we walked to the Youth Hostel and beyond, cutting up towards 'Peter's Rock', a stone above the loch bearing the memorial to a Peter J. Trowell, who died in 1979, six months short of the age of 30. We missed the plaque on the day, but it's at a junction with a couple of tracks. We headed south along one skirting the side of our first Munro, Carn Dearg, deciding after a while it'd actually be better to cut up the mountainside instead of contouring. Lower down, snow lay among clumps of heather but above, we found reliable snowfields consisting of a toughened base covered by a couple of inches of bone-dry powder. It was a complete joy to walk in with the stability of the lower snow pack, kicking the shining crystals out the way with each step, a more delicate version of scuffing your feet along a shingle beach.

And what to say about the views? Well, simply among the best either of us had ever seen. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the creases of mountain chains weaved their way around the horizon and the southern valleys and Rannoch Moor were coated in a layer of sunken cloud. I haven't found anything like the experience of seeing these conditions in the mountains. They're often make my best hill-days.

The wind picked up at the final stretch to the summit of Carn Dearg and we stopped in the shade of it's enormous cairn. I got something to eat, took a panorama (or four!) and then we headed off again this time towards the second Munro Sgor Gaibhre, out of the wind once more.

Sgor Gaibhre

It also struck me how close Ben Alder looked from here. I harboured an ambition to, at some point, walk over the mountains from Corrour to Culra bothy on the far side of this monstrous Ben Alder. On a day like today it did look achievable. Colin was quite right to add something along the lines of it looks so close because it's so big, and quite right because the mountain was actually still 8kms away.

Sgor Gaibhre, by comparison, was quite easy going. We descended to the saddle known as Mam Ban, past the snowed up peat hags and onto the summit. Like Carn Dearg, this hill wasn't really about the summit but what could be seen and experienced from it. List ticking is fun and all - not to mention extremely addictive - but often we're shown that it's so much more than an egotistical pursuit. Today was a temporary paradise on Earth.

Sgor Choinnich and Descent

But if you claim 'BS' about the idea it's not about list-ticking then you'd be right too, because I scooted up Sgor Choinnich (Munro Top) alone and met Colin on the other side. I phoned home on the way up and let mum know all was going superbly. She said it had been cloudy in Glasgow but was breaking up now. I also texted and phoned Dougie and made plans for the evening - Dougie would leave work and catch a train to meet me at Bridge of Orchy. It all worked out as well and we did Beinn Dorain the next day.

And with my phone calls made, I got to the top, took a quick panorama and thought I'd better run down to catch Colin again who was literally on fire - no time to hang around today. Just only the descent to come, I found myself in a situation where I was in my own wee version of paradise, but knowing that now I had to get back to reality. I realise that this stuff can sound pretentious, but I'm stupidly romantic about the mountains and make no apologies!

Corrour Lodge to train station

The mist was down at Corrour Lodge. We were a bit knackered by the time we got down and with climbing Beinn na Lap out of the question, all we needed to do was walk the miles along the loch to the train station. Time wasn't an issue, (we had plenty), but the miles would probably be long. We stopped by the lodge for a few minutes, had a look at the architecture (money was invested in this estate big-time a few years back, and the 3-dimensional glass-arrow window indicates such)

The walk along the lochside was nice, but only nice and nothing on what we'd seen above the mist. Covered in sheets of ice, it was interesting to hear the loch crack and groan. Otherwise the walk was quite uneventful and makes me think it's probably better on a clear day with views.

Darkness was falling when we got on the right track back to Corrour and the station appeared gloomy through the mist. The walk was done but we'd have to wait a while for the train. I pulled the stove out and got tomato soup on the go which was a life-saver - I would have been miserable without. We met a guy who'd walked from Dalwhinnie with an overnight at Culra the night before. He was more than happy to take me up on my offer of soup and it was that cold, I would have done the same. When the soup was finished, the stove was still handy for heat. (Something to remember for future winter walks) With Corrour absolutely freezing, it was odd to think that the summits of the mountains were warmer thanks to the inversion.

When the train finally came we were all understandably grateful for it's heat. Fellow MunroMagic'er Pete Dorrington recognised me on the train and we got chatting. (We'd known we'd be on the same train though) He'd been at Tulloch station on the easterly Loch Treig Munros. But Colin and I got off at Bridge of Orchy, Colin headed home and I booked into the hotel bunkhouse, for an extortionate £18 a night per person. They'd just painted the bunkhouse hallway floor green and it was still sticky so if you see footprints in the paint, they're mine. I still don't like that hotel and avoid it like the plague (unsuccessfully - b******ds).

Oddly enough, the train station bunkhouse charged also £18 a night, or would have had they not been shut by broken heating and a burst pipe. It makes more sense to undercut the hotel's prices rather than simply equal it when the rest of Scotland's bunkhouses settle on £15/16 a night. Nevermind.

Anyway! Dougie arrived on time, I met him at the station and we had some drinks before bed. The next day we climbed Beinn Dorain.

360° Panoramas

Carn Dearg 90° NE - Creag Meagaidh, Beinn Eibhinn, Ben Alder, Tilt, Tarf and Pitlochry

Carn Dearg 90° SE - Rannoch, Glen Lyon, Ben Lawers and Breadalbane

Carn Dearg 90° SW - Mamlorn Hills, Orchy, Rannoch Moor, Blackmount, Glen Coe, Leum Uilleim

Carn Dearg 90° NW - Mamores, Ben Nevis, Aonachs, Grey Corries, Loch Treig, Creag Meagaidh

Sgor Gaibhre 180° South

Sgor Gaibhre 180° North

Sgor Choinnich 360°
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 9.20am Corrour station
(2.35) 11.55am Carn Dearg
(4.00) 1.20pm Sgor Gaibhre
(4.30) 1.50pm Sgor Choinnich
(5.50) 3.10pm Corrour Shooting Lodge
(7.45) 5.05pm Corrour station

Written: 2011-01-09 & 10