Scottish Hills (10) – Beinn Ime

Narnain boulders

The Narnain boulders

This will be my last “Scottish Hills” post, at least in this series. And not before time; five months have passed since I climbed Beinn Ime (pronounced ee-muh). It was not on the climb-list I made before leaving home. In fact, I had never heard of it until, with one hiking day left to me, I was looking online for a suitably located summit to target. At five months’ distance, putting together this post has been an exercise of memory. Photographs and maps got me started, then stuff flooded back. I can’t vouch for the exact time I was out, nor for where I ate breakfast. But, really, who cares?

DATE: Wednesday, October 10th, 2018.
START & FINISH: Walker parking beside the A83 just west of Arrochar, Argyll and Bute region (GPS 56.206040, -4.750913). At the time of my trip, there was anger and talk of boycott over a rise in parking fees steeper than the side of any ben. Even as a probably one-time visitor, I resented putting £6 plus into the meter. If Arrochar was my weekly outing to the hills, I’d go somewhere else in future.
ROUTE: Forest and moorland paths broadly NW into the glen between bens Narnain and Arthur. Then, leaving Narnain and Arthur behind, path north to summit of Ime. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: About 8½ miles.
TIME: Roughly 5½ hours (9:30am to 3:00pm).
TERRAIN: Start is at sea level, so you climb all of Ime’s 3,317 feet. The trails are good-to-excellent as far as 2,000 feet, then wet and rough on the ben’s south flank, drying out nearer the summit.
MAP: Ordnance Survey map downloaded to my tablet.

WEATHER: Dry; cloudy early, then partial clearing as the day progressed; summit in and out of mist. Summit wind, but nothing like Dumgoyne yesterday!
WILDLIFE: Nothing that I recall.

BREAKFAST: It may have been McDonald’s in Balloch.
LUNCH: Sheltering from the wind behind Ime’s summit rocks.
UPS: The incredible rock formations of Ben Arthur being gradually revealed as the afternoon cleared.
DOWNS: A light cold and chills.
KIT: It was a cap, not a wooly hat, day.
COMPANY: Not much until the last hour when hiking parties began to take advantage of the clearing skies to head for Arthur and Narnain.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Scottish Hills (9) – Dumgoyne

Dumgoyne and Campsie Fells

Distant Dumgoyne in September 2011

I first saw Dumgoyne on a late-September afternoon seven years ago:

“ … I saw the Campsie Fells to the southeast, half in faint sunshine, half in shadow. The hill called Dumgoyne stuck up from the sunny half, like an upturned, chinny face on the prostrate body of the other fells.”

For the next ten miles of my hike across Scotland, this distinctive hill kept me company, changing shape as I plodded toward Glasgow; first that distant chinny face, then—closer up—a lump, and finally a shapely hill among others.

Dumgoyne seemed to belie its modest stature, a mere 1,401 feet. It looked bigger and full of feature in the hazy sunshine. Returning to Scotland last autumn to climb hills, I of course had to put Dumgoyne on my climb-list—the lowest and most southerly hill to get the accolade. It turned out to be a tougher climb than many a bigger ben.

DATE: Tuesday, October 9th, 2018.
START & FINISH: Where the West Highland Way crosses the B821 west of Blanefield, Stirling (GPS 55.987395, -4.352850).
ROUTE: West Highland Way as far as side-trail to the A81 at Glengoyne Distillery. Trail beside distillery toward and up Dumgoyne. Return more or less by same route (see DOWNS).
DISTANCE: About 7½ miles.
TIME: Under 4 hours (9:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: The West Highland Way was good track; the path up Dumgoyne was clear but steep and slick in places.
MAP: Ordnance Survey map downloaded to my tablet.

WEATHER: Bad to foul. Down below, merely wet. On the hill, a blow-you-down wind and a rain of stinging pellets.
WILDLIFE: Cowering somewhere, I expect.

BREAKFAST: Continental at Ardoch House B&B.
LUNCH: On the leeward side of the hilltop.
UPS: Despite the downs described below, just being outdoors and active after a couple of mostly indoor and sedentary days.
DOWNS: Where do I start? I was developing a cold; the wind on Dumgoyne was a torment; I slid six feet down the hill on my ass; and, finally, on the return leg, I decided to cut through a pinewood, where I scraped my head on a low-hanging branch and ended up climbing a deer fence to return to the obvious and tested route.
KIT: Full rain gear.
COMPANY: Two or three West Highland Way hikers; an underequipped school group giving up on Dumgoyne; an old guy in shorts on the summit (I decided he climbed Dumgoyne every day).

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Scottish Hills (8) – Buachaille Etive Mòr

The Beuckle--Buachaille Etive Mor

Buachaille Etive Mor from the West Highland Way

Anyone who has arrived at Glen Coe from the south—on the A82 road or on foot on the West Highland Way—will have noticed Buachaille Etive Mòr. It is the unmistakable conical mountain that dominates the entrance to the Glen. I took the picture to the right on my 2011 “The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain” walk but did not climb the peak. But I climbed it last October, and the ascent was special for near-perfect weather and magnificent views from beginning to end. The peak’s Gaelic name means The Great Herdsman of Etive, but the mountain is sometimes called, more simply, The Beuckle.

DATE: Saturday, October 6th, 2018.
START & FINISH: Beside the A82 3.5 miles west of Kingshouse Hotel (GPS 56.661463, -4.916200).
ROUTE: Glen-floor path (SW) into Lairig Gartain; after about 1.5 miles, left turn onto path (S) climbing to mountain ridge; ridge path (NE) over Stob na Doire to Stob Dearg, the highpoint of the Buachaille Etive Mòr ridge. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: About 8 miles.
TIME: 7 hours (8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: About 2,400 feet net elevation gain, more considered cumulatively. The section from the glen floor to Stob na Doire is steep, even a scramble here and there. Getting onto and off Stob na Doire is steep, but the ridge-walk is otherwise straightforward.
MAP: Ordnance Survey map downloaded to my tablet.

WEATHER: Mostly sunny, clear summits, little wind. Cold early, with ice atop Stob na Doire (3,317 feet) on the outward leg.
WILDLIFE: I recall a bellowing stag early and, on the summit, a very well-fed crow (see THE HIKE IN PICTURES).

BREAKFAST: Coffee and shrink-wrapped muffin from a Glencoe Village gas station.
LUNCH: The usual trail rations—on Stob Dearg.
UPS: The whole outing, beginning to end.
DOWNS: Given the above, none, obviously.
KIT: The usual stuff.
COMPANY: There is a shorter route to the summit than the one I took. I had read that this Coire na Tulaich path was precarious in places and opted to avoid it. However, when I arrived at the top of the corrie, a stream of bolder hikers than I was emerging from it ready for the easy last leg to Stob Dearg. These hikers were a cheerful bunch; or at least a bunch cheered, like me, by the magnificent day and scene. “Aw, I wish I’d just stayed at home in front of the TV,” I remember joking with one guy. On the summit, even bolder climbers emerged—true mountaineers who had scaled Buachaille Etive Mòr’s NE face.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Scottish Hills (7) – Ben Nevis

the route up ben nevis (scotland's highest peak) is an immaculate trail

The path from the youth hostel meets the Mountain Track

When, last summer, I was making a list of Scottish hills to climb on my upcoming trip, I picked those that had intrigued me when I hiked beneath them on my The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain journey in 2011. I chose handsome hills, remote ones, and summits likely to command magnificent views. Two hills made the list because I had once begun to climb them and now wanted to finish the job.

Ben Nevis doesn’t really fit with any of these criteria. Handsome? Perhaps, but more like bulky. Remote? No. It’s right next to Fort William. Views? Far more often than not The Ben is wrapped in cloud. I certainly didn’t catch even a glimpse of its upper reaches on the days I spent nearby on my 2011 adventure. No, I put Ben Nevis on my list simply because it is the highest peak in the British Isles, the highest for 400 miles in every direction in fact. We are drawn to superlatives.

I arrived at the foot of The Ben on Thursday afternoon, and as I looked at its lower slopes through the panorama window of the youth hostel, I developed two concerns about the climb. Would the weather really clear? It was pouring with rain now and cloud sat low on the mountain. Secondly, even if the weather were perfect, Ben Nevis is a long climb. The youth hostel—my starting point—sits more or less at sea level, the summit of The Ben 4,406 feet higher. The high mountains of the US Northeast are loftier than Ben Nevis, but you usually start your climb 1,000 feet or more above sea level. Would I have the stamina for The Ben?

DATE: Friday, October 5th, 2018.
START & FINISH: SYHA Glen Nevis hostel, 2.6 miles from Fort William.
ROUTE: Up and down the Mountain Track, aka the Tourist Track.
DISTANCE: 9-10 miles.
TIME: 6-7 hours (starting around 7:45 a.m.)
TERRAIN: A very good path for much of the way but, higher up, rougher—a mere route through rubble and scree. Even so, I found the climb relatively undemanding and stamina was not an issue. I reached the summit in under three hours.
MAP: Ordnance Survey map downloaded to my tablet.

WEATHER: Changeable! Mostly cloudy to about 3,000 feet. There, I entered the clouds and it began to snow. There were no other climbers here and I wondered if I should turn back. I didn’t, and completed the climb in snow showers and mist. On the way down, the mist cleared (again at about 3,000 feet) to reveal a bright afternoon.
WILDLIFE: Do sheep count?

BREAKFAST: The SYHA’s continental option.
LUNCH: Trail food as I felt the need.
UPS: After 50 years with Ben Nevis on my radar, finally climbing it.
DOWNS: A clear summit would have been nice.
KIT: More even than other Scottish hills, the summit of Nevis is a different world from its base—waterproofs and warm layers.
COMPANY: When it started snowing, I thought I was the lead hiker on the mountain today. But, nearing the summit, I met a group climbing for charity (the highpoints of Scotland, Wales, and England in 24 hours). I took their Ben Nevis group photograph for them. Thereafter, a steady stream of hikers arrived at the summit, and I met an even steadier stream as I walked down. These climbers may have enjoyed a better view than I did as the day improved.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Scottish Hills (6) – Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan

The track into Glen Affric

The track into Glen Affric—“sun and showers”

Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan (skoor nan ker-uh-van, approximately) is a remote peak, no road winding conveniently close to its base. Unless you are an athlete, it is a two-day project. But since the approach to the Sgùrr passes through one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens, the trek to “basecamp” is anything but a chore. Basecamp is the Glen Affric youth hostel, open from April to sometime in September, but closed for the season by the time of this hike.

I had planned to pitch my tent beside the hostel huts, where there is smooth grass and shelter from the wind. But, arriving at the hostel on a cool and showery evening, I found a dorm room—the women’s—left unlocked as an emergency shelter. There was no power or other amenities, just bunk frames and a mattress or two. I had no emergency, but what harm could I do staying here? I decided to save myself the task of taking down a wet tent in the morning, and spread my sleeping gear out on a mattress in the dorm. As far as I could tell, there was no one else for miles around.

In the middle of the night, I was woken by a sound like someone scraping a stick along railings. I became immediately alert and thought at first that some idiot of a nocturnal hiker would soon push open the dorm door. But the noise ceased and nobody came. Next I decided the din was likely deer scraping their antlers on the walls of the main hostel hut—a short distance away—as they grazed or tried to shed velvet. The sound resumed, now directly outside. I considered leaving my bed to look outside and check my hypothesis. But what if it was not deer? Since I could think of no other benign explanation, I decided to keep to my theory and my warm bed.

In the morning, I was in for another surprise. When I reached the mountain ridge behind the hostel and looked west toward the Sgùrr, the high ground shone gray-white above the moorland greens and browns. At first, I thought it was frost or even an effect of the light. But easing upward along the ridge, it became clear that snow had arrived on the summits with October.   

DATE: Sunday/Monday, September 30th/October 1st.
START & FINISH: Walker parking at eastern end of Loch Affric, 11 miles SW of the village of Cannich on a single-track road. Cannich lies 12 miles west of Loch Ness at Drumnadrochit.
ROUTE: Sunday: Track west to Glen Affric SYHA hostel (closed for season). Monday: Footpath north—a bit elusive higher up—to mountain ridge; ridge path west to the top of the Sgùrr; return to start by outward route.
DISTANCE: Sunday—8.5 miles; Monday—about 16 miles.
TIME: About 28 hours (noon Sunday to 4pm Monday).
TERRAIN: Track to SYHA hostel sticks mostly to the glen floor, and ups and downs are modest. The track itself is puddled or muddy here and there (see DOWNS for a burn-crossing). Climb from hostel to ridge is 1,750 feet, accomplished over a mile and a half on a rough, but mostly visible, path. The ridge-walk to the Sgùrr is up-down-up, ascending a net 1,000 feet.
MAP: Ordnance Survey map downloaded to my tablet.

WEATHER: Sun and showers—mostly showers—on Sunday. Monday, overcast but drier, cloud descending at times to cover the summits. Light snow cover above 3,000 feet.
WILDLIFE: A roaring stag on a vast evening hillside.

ACCOMMODATION: Hostel dorm room left unlocked as winter shelter (see above).
SUSTENANCE: Trail rations—pita bread, cheese, mini-pork pies, peanut butter, nuts, high-cocoa chocolate, etc. After the hike, Fort Augustus fish & chips consumed in the car.
UPS: Finding snow on October 1st; mist-scapes; 24 hours of solitude.
DOWNS: A burn that is usually easily crossed but, on Sunday, was in flood. I spent a lot of time and energy going up and down its banks looking in vain for a dry crossing place. Finally, I returned to the track and waded across in bare feet.
KIT: I should have packed “burn-wading” footwear.
COMPANY: A few groups circuiting Loch Affric but, beyond the loch, naebody.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Scottish Hills (5) – Ben Lomond

Ben Lomond

Ben Lomond — two thirds of the way up

These Scottish hill-walks are becoming ancient history. This one is two months old. Others, by the time I post, will be even older. But ancient history is just as interesting as what happened yesterday, so I post without apology.

On Thursday afternoon, I climbed Stob a’ Choire Odhair and afterward spent the night in Crianlarich (the SYHA hostel). I rose before dawn to reach the Ben Lomond trailhead—a 52-mile drive—still early. I wanted to be off the Ben by lunchtime to give me plenty of time to drive to Ayrshire, find a room and a meal, and clean up for an evening event. The event, at Tidelines Book Festival, was a chat by Cameron McNeish, a huge figure in the Scottish outdoor scene. Cameron had been kind enough to give my book a nice review, and I wanted to meet and thank him, and find out about his new book, There’s Always the Hills.

But back to Ben Lomond: In 2015, I attempted a winter ascent. It fizzled out in deep, wet snow, wind, and ice a third of the way up the mountain. Today’s hike could hardly have been more different.

DATE: Friday, September 28th.
START & FINISH: Ben Lomond parking area just north of Rowardennan, east shore of Loch Lomond.
ROUTE: Straight up the Ben Lomond path and back.
DISTANCE: 7 miles.
TIME: About 4 hours (8:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A 3,196-foot ascent, but on excellent trail and seldom very steep.
MAP: Ordnance Survey map downloaded to my tablet.

WEATHER: Clear and cold (near freezing) to start; clouds increased but it remained fair.
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note.

BREAKFAST: Trail food at the parking area.
LUNCH: Some time after the hike—Burger King in Port Glasgow. Does it get better?
UPS: (1) Loch and ben views, (2) completing a climb I began, in a sense, four years ago.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: Layers and hood definitely appreciated on the summit.
COMPANY: Generally, plenty, especially hikers coming up when I was going down. Specifically, I was joined on the summit by Archie and we nattered all the way down. Archie, 40s, was an ex-soldier truck driver from Paisley with a love of the hills.

A FEW PICTURES:

Scottish Hills (4) – Stob a’ Choire Odhair

Burn flowing off the Stob and Beinn Toaig

Burn flowing off the Stob and Beinn Toaig

On Tuesday, it stormed all day long. I drove around Skye in search of the Gaelic tongue. On Wednesday, the clouds stayed thick and low and it rained intermittently. I took a low-level hike in Glen Arnisdale and afterward went in search of Gavin Maxwell’s Camusfeàrna, both outings on the mainland adjacent to Skye.

The lousy weather continued overnight and through Thursday morning. But it was forecast to break around lunchtime, and I was determined to be in place when it did. I could have headed for any number of hills, but I wanted to be in Ayrshire for Friday evening, which made south the way to be heading. Friday’s weather looked good too, and my plan became Stob a’ Choire Odhair now and Ben Lomond on Friday morning before driving down to Ayrshire.

So, Stob a’ Choire Odhair (stop a hoy-yer oar, very roughly):

DATE: Thursday, September 27th.
START & FINISH: Parking area just south of Victoria Bridge, near Inveroran, which is in turn a few miles from Bridge of Orchy, Argyle. (Parking GPS: 56.536887, -4.814138)
ROUTE: There is no point in my describing what someone else describes very well. I followed stages 1-3 of this Walkhighlands route, out and back. (I did not go on to Stob Ghabhar for lack of daylight.)
DISTANCE: 7.5 miles at a rough guess.
TIME: About 5 hours (1:30 to 6:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Flat, smooth track beside the Abhainn Shira (river); then a rougher path for the climb beside the Allt Toaig (stream); finally a sometimes heart-pumping ascent of the Stob’s south side to the 3,100-foot summit.
MAP: Ordnance Survey map downloaded to my tablet.

WEATHER: Dry, cool, decreasing cloud (though only gradually and erratically).
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note.

BREAKFAST: Well before the hike but, for what it’s worth, coffee and croissant in Fort William.
LUNCH: An early burger & fries at the Clachaig Inn, Glen Coe.
UPS: Moor and mountain views from the summit.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: The summit required extra layers.
COMPANY: Not a soul.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES: