One of the finest but least visited mountain areas in Scotland is the vast tract of land comprising Ardgour, Sunart and Moidart which sits between Loch Linnhe and the A830 road running from Fort William to Mallaig. The main reason it is relatively unfrequented is because the height of the mountains never exceeds 3,000 feet and is accordingly ignored by those solely on a Munro bagging quest. It does though contain many of the best Corbetts in the country and this was the attraction of the region to the Club’s members who attended our Meet on 14th and 15th October.
Our accommodation was the excellent Ariundle Centre bunkhouse located a couple of kilometres north of the village of Strontian by the shores of Loch Sunart. The Centre is run by the redoubtable Kate and a couple of others and includes an excellent restaurant only yards from the bunkhouse.
Jim Aire, Bill Dallas, Deb Dallas, Raymond Evenden, James Fraser, George Henderson, Susan Henderson, Rowena Hepple, Paul McGrandles, Ian Millar, Alan Orr, Ian Pollock, Norrie Shand, Alastair Shaw.
Donna Fraser, Dave King
Friday morning saw George and Susan pick up Norrie and head up to Fort William. The initial target for the day was the Corbett of Stob Coire a Chearcaill from the south shore of Loch Eil. However, when they arrived at the start point, the boggy trudge looked very unattractive in the drizzle and they took the decision to drive around to Garbh Bheinn to see if conditions were better further south and west. The three had first climbed this stunner of a mountain from the north back on a glorious summer’s day in 2002. That day had involved some adventurous and intrepid incidents – there were demons to be exorcised.
This time around a safer and more conventional route up the south-east ridge was chosen. The conditions were indeed much better than earlier in the day and a very enjoyable ascent up the ridge was savoured with the autumn colours providing a spectacular backdrop. Unfortunately, the last few metres up to the summit were clagged in but there was no doubt that the correct decision had been taken to change plan and revisit this gem.
A short journey along to the bunkhouse followed and soon they were settled in, with Norrie cunningly baggsying a bed in the non-snorers quarters. During the course of the evening the others arrived and the kitchen was busy as suppers were prepared and eaten – though nobody successfully passed the Masterchef audition.
Paul had brought along a friend and neighbour, Dave as a guest. Dave had never climbed any hills previously and was only slightly nervous about climbing the Pinnacle ridge of Garbh Bheinn the next day. Dave was also a guitar player in a band but hadn’t brought his instrument along to add his efforts to the evening’s entertainment. He couldn’t borrow one either – his feeble excuse of being left-handed was reluctantly accepted this time. Nevertheless, an enjoyable evening ensued with several whisky bottles suffering serious damage before everyone turned in.
In the morning, Raymond, Jim, Paul, Ian Millar and Dave set off for Garbh Bheinn to tackle its entertaining Pinnacle Ridge – a fairly difficult scramble/moderate rock climb which could certainly take the unwary out of their comfort zone. Fortunately, there are bypass alternatives nearby which offer a more straight-forward ascent from that side of the mountain.
They ended up having a great day with some of them tackling the pinnacles head on whilst a couple avoided the more potentially perilous crags. The summit gleefully attained, they wasted no time in shooting down the “tourist route” and heading along the road to quench their thirst in the wonderful Bothy Bar at the Strontian Hotel.
There were even more demons to be exorcised that weekend though and George, Susan, Norrie, Alan, James and Ian Pollock drove a few miles west to take on Beinn Resipol, another of the area’s jewels. An overweight and under hydrated Norrie had had a very undignified clamber up this hill on St Andrew’s day 2002 – at times on his hands and knees and this was his opportunity to get that monkey off his back.
Starting from the camp site (which fortunately had a supply of ice-cold Irn Bru) they headed up through the woods on a decent track – a slightly different route than that taken by George, Susan and Norrie previously. Very sadly, after a couple of kilometres Alan’s dodgy knee ensured that was unable to continue and he was forced to hobble back to the car. Fortunately, his car had been driven around and he was able to return to the bunkhouse and disturb Donna’s peaceful reading and coffee morning.
The others continued up, following the path by the burn until (after a break for a natter with a couple of other guys) they reached the summit ridge and a short walk to the cairn. The plane was to head west and walk for 5k or so back to base – although there were to be different interpretations of “base”. The moody atmosphere, the gorgeous autumn colours and the spectacular outline of mountains in all directions made the walk back a very pleasant one.
George, Susan and James made their way back to the bunkhouse whilst Ian and Norrie set their compass for the Bothy Bar where they met up with the Pinnacle Ridgers. Some welcome refreshment was enjoyed before they headed back in Raymond’s new superbly equipped camper van.
Everyone was happy to go and sample the food in the restaurant for a change. George and Susan’s hunger pangs were irresistible and they headed up before the others. As most of the others made their way up for their dinner there was still no sign of Bill, Deb, Ally and Rowena. They had set off well after “Group 1” also with the intention of tackling the Pinnacle Ridge of Garbh Bheinn. Fortunately, they finally arrived whilst the main group were half way through their meal.
They also had had a great day on the ridge and had taken the opportunity to practice some “proper mountaineering” with ropework and abseils featuring on the trickier bits. Deb had their two dogs with her and was able to scuffle up a gully with them and wait in the cold for the climbers to meet her before making for the summit.
The meal in the restaurant was exceptional and the evening continued back in the bunkhouse where another resident Dessie, from County Down via Musselburgh who was visiting with his family joined in the singing and whisky drinking – for a time at least.
The weekend’s session of demon-exorcising (or perhaps the extra strength cider) resulted in George throwing in the towel at an early point in the evening earning him, for the first time, the McHandleless Cup, as he set off for his bed. The singing and playing was very enjoyable but the highlight of the night was definitely James’ epic tale of his and Donna’s trip to Spain on a bus – one or two even managing to stay awake until the end.
Gradually, everyone drifted off to bed to sleep what was left of the night – Paul looking particularly comfortable as he slept on the floor with his head in the bedside bookcase.
The next morning, Ian Pollock enjoyed his “full Kilsyth” breakfast which no doubt set him up for the day as he headed back down the road with Alan, Jim, Ian Millar and Paul.
Bill, Deb, Rowena and Ally, missing their weekend diet of Munro bagging got packed up at headed up to Gulvain from the northern shore of Loch Eil. They enjoyed the long, but easy angled walk initially through the forest, then up onto the main ridge. Of course, they didn’t make the schoolboy error of assuming that the OS pillar on the 961 point was the actual summit – and continued to the higher top a kilometre to the north east.
In the meantime, Raymond and George had decided to hunt for a “lost bothy” somewhere on the western shore of Loch Linnhe – Raymond had previously spotted it from the far side and had “heard stories”. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, they were followed by James, Donna, Susan and Norrie having parked the vehicles opposite Lochan na Criche on the B8043. Finally after a trudge over the moor and a traipse along the shore, the bothy came into view – curiously named Kufagower. There were a couple of European visitors ensconced in the excellently constructed bothy. It really was in a fabulous spot – though not one that appeal to many hillwalkers. It even had its own “high drop” toilet situated a safe distance from the hut itself.
At that point the excitement of the weekend was thought be finally over. Unfortunately though Raymond’s van picked up a puncture on the way to the ferry and a wait for AA assistance in Onich ensured they would get home a bit later than planned.