Meall an Tarmachain - 826m
Beinn Gharbh - 825m
Sgurr Thuilm - 963m
Sunday 9th December 2018
Weather/Conditions: The beginning was worst, starting out in the rain which then cleared to give sun on the rise to the first Munro. Mist breaking to intermittent views on the summits and ridges, and a dusk descent and night-time ride out to Glen Finnan
Distance/Ascent/Time: 24km / 1450m / 8h
The Glen Finnan horseshoe takes in two Munros, both of which I first climbed individually. The latter was a bit of an epic with Kev McKeown, reaching the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan near darkness in December 2011. I'd only been back once, in 2013, as part of my summer Munro round. On that occasion, the rain pissed down and I didn't see much at all.
Accordingly, it's been a while since I was there, and these hills were due a revisit. Because I climb and walk so often out the Mallaig road, I pass them all the time. But I'm also glad I waited for James to go back and do them. Sometimes it's better to wait for company to expeience something again, and I'm glad we did.
Sgurr nan Coireachan
We set off in pissing rain which optimistically looked like it would pass. At some point it did, but in the meantime we pulled on waterproofs and gloves for the cycle up to Corryhully. Progress was good on a tarmac road, I was recalling all the subtltites of the glen I'd forgtten since. Passing the bothy, it occured to me it's been so long that my outlook has totally changed since I was last here.
When Kev McK and I stayed at this bothy I remember being overawed at the wildness of the enclosing mountains. I felt like I was on a diferent planet to normal civilisation. Once again, I know these hills well enough that this awe has faded and is replaced with knowing the place more deeply. As always, you lose the thrill of the wild. We pushed bikes up the steep hill behind the bothy and left them at the signpost for Sgurr nan Coireachan. Brighter conditions emerged, almost too warm in direct sun as we did the long climb to Sgurr a' Choire Riabhach. That's no complaint in December! But the chat was stellar as always and time passed quickly.
Heading up the first Munro
Sgurr a' Choire Riabhach is a stunning foretop to the higher Sgurr nan Coireachan, identical in roughness and rock. I was impressed with it in 2011 with Kev McKeown, and it was impressive again - perhaps not nearly so frightening though. Cresting the top of this sgurr, we went into mist and snow. Just missing the cairn, we made our way toward the Munro, which after a long wander relented to a trig point on top.
Third time here and no view. That'll be another Munro panorama I haven't shot - one of very few now. This is the case with Driesh and Derry Cairngorm: repeated visits haven't yielded a view! Some day soon, though.
We went east on the ridge to Sgurr Thuilm. Conditions were calm and a drop in altitude brought us some views. I realised that we were looking into Glen Pean, down to Arkaig and most notably into Gleann an Obain Bhig which looks immense with cliffs, boulders and landslips cropping out all over the place. It occured to me I hadn't got this view before. The Glen Pean pass is one I just have to walk some day soon, but for now that glimpse into those shaded recesses were good enough.
We went over the tops of Meall an Tarmachain and Beinn Gharbh. Sgurr Thuilm edged ever-closer. This is another stunning, prominent mountain. It's well-seen from the end of Loch Arkaig where a ridge rises from the glen floor in a 3,000 foot climb to meet the summit. This hill along with Streap to the east, creates a massive V-notch in the mountains which is a useful route from Arkaig to Loch Shiel. No doubt it was used for centuries. In these quiet Highland days you'll be more likely to find a Cape Wrath Trail walker here.
James on the ridge to Sgurr Thuilm
Sgurr Thuilm gave James and I another cairn in the mist. For James it was Munro #199. Number 200 would be for the following day, on Gulvain. We were also pressing up against darkness at only 4pm. Going south, we dropped down the long ridge to Glen Finnan holding out against headtorches with a dusky sky ahead and the ground turning to grey inkblots on black.
Back at the bikes, the stars were out and the night was quite calm. Having got the bikes up here in the morning we got an great freewheel down past the bothy - I was tucking in close to James' bike light to see at all. Then we hammered out on the tarmac and back to the main road.
Back at the bikes at night
A great day and nice to be back on these hills again. It's been a few years!
That evening, we went to An Gearasdan and booked into the Travelodge which was both better than the hostel, and cheaper. Wetherspoons for dinner and takeaway pizza back in the room. Being in Fort William almost felt like a holiday, strange because I've spent nearly two years living here!
Photos: Sgurr nan Coireachan
Ridge to Sgurr Thuilm
(0.00) 10.25am Glenfinnan
(0.35) 11.00am Bike drop
(3.00) 1.25pm Sgurr nan Coireachan
(3.33) 1.58pm Meall an Tarmachain
(4.12) 2.37pm Beinn Gharbh
(5.20) 3.45pm Sgurr Thuilm
(7.27) 5.52pm Bike pick up
(8.00) 6.25pm Glenfinnan