Ben More scramble via A’Chioch (Isle of Mull)

by backpackingbongos

I was pretty keen to escape from the domestic confines of the campsite in Craignure.  My plan was to spend the next three nights ‘wild’ camping in the van with days spent comfortably striding across the hills in brilliant sunshine whilst being caressed by a gentle breeze.  I managed the three nights camping wild in the van bit which was nice, but the days were either spent staggering up hills or stumbling across damp misty hillsides, all the time in a hot sweaty mess.  The word striding is a word that does not accurately describe how I hauled by arse around Mull.

In terms of mileage the south shore of Loch na Keal is not that far from Craignure, but it does take a fair while to reach.  For one the scenery is rather special and secondly most of the roads anywhere on the island are single track.  This means frequent stopping to let another vehicle pass.  In some ways it is nice because you get to wave at every passing driver, but it gets annoying after a while.  And then you get the odd driver who ignores single track road etiquette and blasts past you in a swirl of dust and gravel with a stoney face and no sign of a thanks.  Some people eh?

7.9 miles with 1,100 metres ascent

I parked the Bongo next to the Abhainn na h-Uamha on the other side of the road from Loch Na Keal.  A superb spot amongst spectacular scenery and one which I had decided that I would spend the night.  As usual I was aware that it was getting late in the morning, I wanted to get to the summit of Ben More before promised low cloud came later in the afternoon.  As I set off from the van I felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension as today according to guidebooks was going to include a spot of scrambling and a little exposure.  I very rarely venture onto terrain that involves using hands as I am more often at home backpacking across bleak open spaces.  I was therefore not sure what to expect as the description of the A’Chioch route varies so much, this shows how subjective any route in the mountains can be.  All I really knew was the fact that Ben More is a big hill and I had to climb all of it as I was starting off at sea level.

A path sets off along the right bank of the river at a gentle gradient, the river itself disappears into a shallow gorge within a short distance.  After about a mile the contours gather closer together and a waterfall appears with Beinn Fhada as a backdrop.

I had spotted the narrow summit cone the day before whilst walking the Dun Da Ghaoithe ridge, it looks like it would make a great round if tacked onto Ben More.  However although still sunny it looked like the promised cloud was lining up on the horizon.  Time to try and summit Ben More and get a cloud free view.

It’s a long slog up through the valley and I would imagine under most conditions would be pretty boggy.  However the ground was dry and the bogs had a bit of a crunch to them.  The only hindrance was the muggy heat and some very determined horseflies once again.  Once the 300 metre contour is reached the path becomes steeper as it climbs to the head of the valley.  The view back is through a perfect V to Loch na Keal with Eorsa and Ulva providing an Island background.

A’Chioch (to the left) and Ben More also start to dominate the view across the Coire.

It was with some relief that the bealach between Beinn Fhada and A’Chioch was reached.  Although at less than 550 metres I felt that I was now up in the mountains.  The steep north ridge of A’Chioch was ahead of me with tiny figures scrambling up its rocky spine.  Unfortunately the summit of Ben More started to pierce the lowering cloud base.

However to the south and east it was still sunny and I could see the route I would be taking in a couple of days across the pointy peak of Cruachan Dearg.

Beinn Fhada soon began to shrink in size as I made rapid progress up the increasingly steep ridge.  This was beginning to become hill walking at its best.

Towards the top of A’Chioch hands need to come out of your pocket, although there is no scrambling in the real sense.  The ridge does become quite narrow but before you know it you are perched on its narrow summit.  The cloud suddenly came out of nowhere almost blotting out the ascending ridge.

Strangely the clouds would not pass the ridge that I was standing on.  To the north there was a great wall of the stuff extinguishing all views whilst to the south a few tendrils would escape before dissipating.

Ahead of me was a fairly easy descent followed by a narrow ridge before a very very steep climb to the summit.  It was pretty atmospheric watching the mist blow across the ridge.  Once again the scale of the scene was brought home when I spotted a couple of figures walking along the crest of the ridge, unfortunately lost in the photos below.

There is actually a path that contours to the left of the ridge but it looked like it crossed scree and loose slopes.  I found it pretty easy going to stick to the crest where there were some spectacular views, the ones directly down made me feel a little giddy.

Looking back up at A’Chioch.

The summit of Ben More began to take on more of a conical appearance the nearer I got to it.  I managed to stick to the crest of the ridge until it joined the main bulk of the mountain where very steep slopes led direct to the summit cairn.  Here I found was the only real scrambling of the day although at no time was it too difficult.  There were less steep slopes to the left but they looked really loose and not much fun.

I was greeted at the summit cairn by an American woman telling me, “That is a really stupid way to come from”.  I was a little dumbfounded at the statement and did not really say anything back, although moments later I started to regret not telling her she had a stupid face.  This was mainly down to her annoying voice disturbing my lunch from the other side of the cairn.  There was no view to enjoy so rather than listening to her prattle on to her rather quiet partner I packed up and headed down the main path which descends the north west ridge.  Although easy going down it must be a long long slog coming up this way.  It was nice to finally come out of the mist which was now down to less than 500 metres.

The path crosses the Abhainn Dhiseig where I found a collection of rather nice yellow flowers.  If you could name both the flower and the bug that would be good!

From the river crossing it is a simple descent across easy moorland to Dhiseig where you join the driveway to the house.  There is a car park on the grassy verge here as it is the starting point for the main path up the mountain.  It was then a simple case of a good stomp back to the van along the narrow road, although there are often nice grassy verges to soften the blow to tired feet.  Even the passing traffic does not detract from the splendid scenery along this stretch of the coast.

Back at the van I spent a very enjoyable evening in a location that is just about as good as it gets.  I relaxed with a pile of TGO magazines I had been saving, stuffed my face with food and watched the light change as the sun descended towards the horizon.  All from the comfort of the trusty Bongo.  I started to think about what I would do the following day as the weather forecast was promising a cloud base down to sea level.  Not sure if that could be right I decided to wait and see what the morning would bring and plan around that.

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15 Responses to “Ben More scramble via A’Chioch (Isle of Mull)”

  1. Aaaah! Great post, lovely images James. I look forward to following in your footsteps in the not too distant future; looks like a great route. Did the American woman and her partner climb the same route as you? Maybe she was a bit stressed .

    The flower might be birdsfoot trefoil, but I’m not sure. The insect is definitely a lesser-spotted wee critterbug. Honest.

    • Hi Pete, thanks. I definately recommend that you follow in my footsteps it is a great route. The American woman definately did not come up the same route as I did, she was not stressed just a bit rude (maybe Americans are a bit more direct than us?). I was thinking that the insect was a greater-spotted wee criterbug but you may be right there…………

  2. Yes , Birds foot trefoil – I think it has a common name of bacon and eggs. It fixes nitrogen as far as I remember which may make it a member of the pea family. Mull is great and is a great place on a bike.

    How much effort did it take to build this site? I am off round the world on my bike at the end of the year and like the format for a blog I will do.

    • I love Mull, loads still to do and an Island I would go back to. Saw loads of cyclists on the island, looked like a great way to get around. The blog took much less effort that anticipated. Simply sign up for wordpress.com, pick a template and off you go. The hardest bit is the writing of posts. Would definately be interested in following you journey round the world!

  3. Nah, definitely the lesser-spotted. I always hope that there’s some kind of mitigating circumstances when people are rude or crap that might explain their behaviour. Deep down I know it’s true – there are a few rude and crap folks out there and that’s all there is to it. Happily, only a few R+C’s ever seem to roam the hills,

    • I will put a tenner on greater spotted! At least this womans rudeness was not nasty, she was just a bit forthright if you know what I mean. Luckily most people in the hills are lovely and fluffy and all that……………………..

  4. Another fantastic route, there is obviously much excellent landscape to explore on the islands. I like those ridges that are rocky and narrow but not graded scrambles, about the right level for me these days.
    Whenever I see people ahead (which isn’t often!) I’m wondering if they are going to say something rude or dumb, whereupon I can’t think fast enough to come up with a smart and snappy Churchillian answer!.
    Incidentally I’m not receiving notifications of comments despite ticking the box below, on other blogs as well.

    • Hi Geoff, there is definately some great backpacking potential on Mull. I am not sure if the Ben More ridge is a graded scramble or not but I would be happy doing it going up with a light backpacking sack (but not if very windy). At least most people in the hills are not rude or dumb!? Have you checked your spam to see if comments are going in there?

  5. Great photos, James. Looks like a place worthy of a visit =)

  6. I don’t have any spam filters or mailboxes set up. I’m not receiving notifications from other WordPress blogs either.
    It all started a while ago when every single time I posted a comment, I would receive an irritating email asking me to click a link to be forwarded via my browser to a WordPress page just to confirm it. I must have unset something in there in my futile attempt to leave notifications switched on but NOT receive those confirmation emails. I don’t know how to get back to the correct situation now!.

  7. Came across your blog planning this route for tomorrow. I was feeling a little nervous about the ridge, but fully reassured now! Great description, thank you! Shame about that judgemental american, eh?

    • Hope that you had an enjoyable day Charlotte, it really is a great mountain. And yes a bit of a shame about the rather loud person on the summit.

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