Saturday 18th January 2014
Weather/Conditions: Strangely desolate conditions. Maybe it was the mindset. Overcast weather from the beginning, with a high snow line and all thawing a bit. Heavy rain hit us on the summit of Carn Mor and continued all the way to the bothy where we could dry out. The following morning was just dull, overcast and dark - so we just walked out!
Distance/Ascent/Time: 22km / 950m / 5h 10m + 1h 40m
Struan and I went for a Corbett trip into this region, which also hosts and bothy or two. I picked him up and we drove north, stopping by Fort William for breakfast. It was a cold grey morning, and I sat looking out the window of Morrisons thinking of the trip to come. We were going into that great empty area north-west of Fort William, and it excited me but also made me think about the long empty miles ahead.
Loch Arkaig was a pleasant surprise, but I'd steeled myself for the tedious lochside journey. It wasn't as bad as expected (and the Dark Mile was really nice!) and thus I just enjoyed the mountains passing by. Behind us, the final rounded contours of the Monadhliath were disappearing to the horizon. At the other end of the loch and in front of us were naked, wild mountains. What a place. And how nice to be humbled like this...
We parked at the road end, packed and began walking. The first few miles were pretty easy: forestry tracks make the walk to A' Chuil unproblematic, if a little dreary compared to the kind of landscape you find in the rest of the area. We passed a couple of houses, then some estate workers out for a day on the hill; then we disappeared into the forest.
A' Chuil arrived after some painless miles, and we used the opportunity to make ourselves at home, drop sleeping kit, while letting the smell of waccy dissipate, not ours! Left by a couple of guys who were leaving just as we appeared! "What's that smell...", I asked as we walked in. "It wasn't us, honest!" was their blindingly clunky reply. "Aye..."
But we eventually left the bothy for the long slopes of Carn Mor. It's not the highest of altitude, but it is a long way in distance. I'd never seen the glens in the area before: Dessarry, Pean... Looking to the head of Dessarry, it was an odd thought that Sourlies should just be over the other side. I felt so hemmed in, stuck in this dark fold in the hills, on a dull January afternoon, that the thought that the sea should be just over the Mam was quite a thought and in some way unbelievable.
Things stayed dry and relatively pleasant all the way to the top. We passed the snowline and walked along the top of the huge landslip that falls down the upper south face of Carn Mor. After a hard effort, the summit arrived thereafter, a wintry landscape with the cloud just down on the summit to wipe out any views.
We'd planned to climb Bidein a' Chabhair on this day too, but a combination of time and weather conspired against that plan. As the weather closed in on the summit of Carn Mor, we descended the way we came. Soon after the rain began, then hammered down hard. The bothy couldn't come soon enough, and I put my head down, walking until we finally got there, having had a drenching for our efforts. We had the bothy to ourselves.
A' Chuil wasn't quite the place I'd imagined it to be. We were in a bothy on a very dark afternoon in January, the bothy itself in the shade of a steep north-facing hillside. The only natural light into the main room was a tiny north-facing window. It was dark early, the door wouldn't shut, and the fire wouldn't start. A long night!
We'd planned to climb the three Corbetts north of Glen Dessarry the following day, and we felt we could do them on the way out. But in the morning, the will wasn't to be found. There was snow on the tops, but there was no inspiration to be gained. Everything just looked thawed, dripping, and very, very wet.
Glen Dessarry is a bit of a ravaged glen. The carpet of forest on one side is set against the complete desolation elsewhere. The sole buildings in the glen are strange gasps at extravagance in a place where they don't really seem to belong. Their dimensions were just dwarfed by these mountains. I couldn't bear the thought of hours of uninspired slog, I think Struan felt similarly, so we fled to the road end and traded a day at Dessarry for the freedom to chose our mountain. We went south through Fort William and eventually found ourselves at the foot of Beinn a' Chrulaiste on Rannoch Moor. A good choice for a Sunday, all things considered.
Meall nan Spardan
(0.00) 10.45am Arkaig road end parking
(2.00) 11.55am Arrived A' Chuil
(2.00) 12.40pmA' Chuil
(2.20) 2.40pm Carn Mor
(2.00) 3.55pmA' Chuil
(2.40) 10.05am Left A' Chuil (19th>
(3.20) 11.45am Arkaig road end parking