Archive for July, 2010

July 12, 2010

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.

July 6, 2010

Ben More on the Isle of Mull – a short video

by backpackingbongos

It takes me a while to write up trip reports.  All that deciding which photos to use and then stringing sentences together to go with them.  Currently working on a report of the ascent of Ben More via the A’chioch ridge.  A superb day out with a little bit of exposure thrown in.  At one point I was suitably impressed to press the record button on my camera and do a short video sequence.  It really did look much better through my eyes but hey technology is not that far advanced yet.  In the meantime it will just have to be a quick pan from my camera.  Well a 180 degree pan because I had a big wall of cloud behind me that was not going anywhere.

July 5, 2010

Dun da Ghaoithe (Isle of Mull)

by backpackingbongos

Ok expensive regimented campsites are not really my thing.  Rows of large motorhomes and caravans give even wild places an air of domesticity which I seek to escape from.  The site overlooking the ferry terminal on Mull isn’t too bad and I did have a very magical experience there.  I was sitting in the Bongo with the side door wide open.  The view was good and I could see right down Loch Linnhe towards the mountains on the mainland.  To my side was a large expanse of scrub which was teeming with bird life, especially around the feeder right next to the van.  Suddenly movement caught my eye and a large stag with massive antlers stepped out of the scrub and slowly sauntered through the grass right past me.  A totally enchanting minute or so watching him slowly pass looking from side to side for danger.  He was soon out of sight before I realised that I did not get my camera out!

The reason why I spent a couple of nights in an expensive regimented campsite?  I was able to do a circuit of the Islands only Corbett peak straight from the door, so to speak.  Also it is nice to have a shower when the weather is hot!

11.3 miles with 1,080 metres ascent

Stocked up with water as the day looked like it was going to be a scorcher, I left the campsite and walked south to the edge of the village.  Just past the speed limit sign there was a cottage with a track leading past it.  Not sure if it was a right of way I gingerly passed the cottage, hoping that it was the track marked on the map.  It was and a fine mile long walk followed to Torosay castle, through large moss covered trees.  A splendid way to start a walk, flat and easy and under cool dark shade.  I was soon back on the main road but left it after a couple of hundred metres to ascend up a lane towards the bird of prey centre.  As I gained height I could glimpse the hills on the mainland through the trees which seemed to be having a competition as to who could be the greenest.  Once again I felt like I was in the tropics rather than off the west coast of Scotland.

The bird of prey centre seemed to be a figment of the map makers imagination as there just appeared to be a house.  Instead of a visit I nervously eyed up the track that snaked its way up the hillside towards the mast on the hill.  Even though it was only located at 430 metres it looked a long way to climb, a major problem when you ascend a hill from sea level.  I also knew that once I reached the mast there was still a long way to go.  I often break down long climbs or walks into easily manageable chunks.  Seems to make it easier taking one small step at a time (mentally speaking).  Anyway the track was a trudge in the shadeless sun and I felt embarrassed for myself when I had to sit down after reaching the 200 metre contour.  The view to the mainland was a gem though, I could see the whole length of Loch Linnhe to the snow flecked Ben Nevis.

It really is a tale of plodding, sweating and swatting horseflies.  I passed the first mast, celebrated and then plodded some more to the second mast where I celebrated again.  I was now off the track and on mountain proper.  The view to the ridge spurred me on and I felt my energy come back (after a nice sit down obviously).  The views had really opened up.

I did find myself looking at and considering climbing Sgurr Dearg, a Graham separated by Mam Lirein, a 500 metre pass.  A descending contour followed by an ascent would only add a couple of hours to the day.  However I knew that the peak has a ‘bad step’ just below the summit which is meant to be ok going up but be a little tricky coming down.  I was not in the mood for tricky.

The trig point is just a rouse to make you think you have reached the summit, a ploy to make you return the way you have come without climbing the true summit.  It’s there to ensure that you return home and have one of those ‘duh’ moments when you realise your error.  Just like I did all those years back when I climbed the Saddle above Glen Shiel or rather failed to get to the true summit.  It was misty that day so I sort of have an excuse.

Anyway the true summit of Dun da Ghaoithe is about a kilometre to the north west along a rather lovely ridge.  All the mountains on Mull were showing their full glory and I could see the small Isles with Eigg being pretty prominent.  The really spiky jagged hills in the far distance, maybe they were the Cuillins on Skye.

Another few hundred metres in the same direction and I turned right down an easy craggy slope to the ridge that cradles Coire na Circe.  Short cropped grass made the going easy.  I hit the 500 metre contour then took a direct line down to the stream, passing patches of pretty purple flowers.  If anyone knows what they are give me a shout.

Once down in the valley the going definitely was not as easy as the vegetation began to assert itself.  My aim was to make a beeline for the fence further down but combined with contouring round the hillside.  It sort of worked and I eventually got down to the 250 metre contour and found a nice large boulder to sit on just below a lone tree.  Big mistake.  The midges must have spotted me from a mile away, I was soon enveloped with my sweaty skin covered in the little buggers.  I never got to do the sitting down thing, instead I cursed and moved on.

The fence was reached and it then went really Pete Tong.  The way ahead was simply infested with Bracken, a carpet of green as far as the eye could see.  Not any old bracken this stuff was head high and hiding some pretty rough and rugged ground.  I did lots of cursing as I pushed my way through before becoming confronted with a deer fence which luckily had seen better days.  The bracken lasted an eternity until on my final push towards the Scallastle river it got even worse.  A forest had been clear felled and they had left loads of stuff to rot into the ground.  I was confronted with a strange raft of rotting wood stretching ahead of me which did not want to support my weight.  I lurched, crashed, thrashed and swore.  That ended and was followed by more bracken, then finally to top it off some nice bog which filled my boots.  I could have kissed the track next to the river when I reached it.  Possibly the most traumatic half mile I have ever walked.  I floated up that track wondering if a promised bridge I had read about when researching the route existed.  It did which meant I was where I was meant to be.

It was then I noticed a tick crawling up my base layer, then another, then another.  Loads of  them in all shapes and sizes.  It looked like that bracken was not a good place to go crashing about in.  I sat down on a rock next to the river and spent a good 30 minutes picking them off my base layer and a couple of rogue ones crawling across my belly.  It’s amazing how small some of them are.  The massive black and red ones are nasty to look at but at least they are easy to spot  At the same time that I was de-ticking the midges were having a field day munching on my bare back.  Sometimes I just hate the Scottish wildlife!

A track that is not marked on the map ascends the hillside on the other side of the river and heads in the general direction of Craignure.  I noticed something on the path which turned out to be a slow worm.  This one was about thirty centimetres long and it really was slow, it took ages to cross the path.  Slow worms are lizards rather than snakes and are definitely not worms!

The lush track took me back to the road speedily and with ease, passing a few signs describing the regeneration of the forest from alien species to native trees.

I was keen to get in the shower when I got back to the campsite to make sure I had picked off all the ticks I had collected.  A check of the weather forecast later that evening gave me the confidence to plan an ascent of Ben More the following day.  I was keen to do the scrambling route via A Chioch which I felt may benefit from being able to see where I was going!

July 3, 2010

Beinn na Croise (Isle of Mull)

by backpackingbongos

There is no getting away with it, Nottingham to Oban is a long way to drive.  The boredom of the motorway was broken up by setting off after work on the Friday and spending the night next to a reservoir in Weardale.  The next day I really thought that I was not going to make it, whilst driving up the hill to Killhope cross (at over 2000ft) the temperature gauge shot up.  It turns out that I had lost coolant and it was a nervous Bongo driver that was stopping every now and then to check things out and top up the radiator.  Three litres later everything was ok and the van got me onto and around Mull and back home without incident.  However the Bongo is now in hospital having a new radiator fitted as the leaky old one was the culprit.

The ferry to Mull leaves from Oban, a bustling tourist town which satiated my desire for fish and chips.  These I sat down to eat by the harbour when I suddenly felt a massive whack to the back of my head, followed by a gull almost getting my fish.  I have to say that I was rather nervous after that each time a gull got anywhere near.  Bloody hooligans they are and I had a lump on my head for the rest of the week!

The ferry to Mull takes less than 45 minutes and I was soon disembarking and turning left whilst most other vehicles were turning right to Tobermory.  The main A849 soon turned to a single track road with passing places until I turned off onto a rougher even narrower road that wound its way along Loch Spelve.  The scenery was simply sublime and I was pleased with myself when I found a disused quarry just before Loch Uisg where I parked up for the night.  A night that never really came being so far north and west during midsummer.

8.3 miles with 625 metres ascent

The views had all but disappeared when I opened the blinds the next morning.  A fine drizzle was falling and the hills were shrouded by low cloud, down to below 100 metres on some hills.  I had known that there was the possibility of a weather system coming through but had hoped that it would not as I planned to climb the two shapely and very rugged mountains of Ben Buie and Creach-Beinn.  Not particularly high but not hills to be wondering about on in thick mist, plus the reason to climb them was the outstanding views they are meant to have.  I was left pouring over my map that morning trying to plan what to do.  In the end I decided to drive down to Lochbuie and walk along the coast to the deserted farmhouse at Glenbyre.  If the weather picked up I could climb the hill Beinn na Croise to check out the views.

The ‘village’ of Lochbuie was not exactly teeming with life that Sunday morning, just a few very tame birds looking for the possibility of scraps.  I followed the public road to its end and scratched my head for a bit at the start of the track to Cameron farm.  It said that it was strictly private which pissed me off a bit as the track also continues past the farm onto open country.  I ignored the sign and passed the farm without incident, stopping to admire the very green scenery around me.


The track climbs up and away from the shore winding its way around a beautiful landscape of trees, streams and rocks.  It eventually enters an open boggy area and it was here that the negative effects of being in Scotland in summer took hold.  The horseflies were out in force, hunting me down.  They are deviant creatures, you only have to look at them when the settle on you for them to fly away.  For some reason they really like the backs of the hands.  There was much slapping but somehow I got away unscathed without a bite.

My map showed that a path ascends the shoulder of Beinn nan Gobhar and contours high above Glen Byre.  The drizzle had now stopped and the clouds were slowly clearing, time to head for the hills rather than dropping back down to the coast.  However there was one small problem, the path simply did not exist on the ground and the bracken was out in force.  I had made a decision so was going to stick to it, so finding what looked like a good line I bashed my way uphill until I broke free of the damn stuff.

Above me the cliffs surrounding the summit of Beinn nan Gobhar were impressive, for a small peak it looked pretty impenetrable from this angle.  Once free of the bracken I still could not find any vestiges of a path and had to make do with a rough rising traverse towards the head of the valley.

The next section would have been a bit complicated in mist as I contoured around the southern flanks of Beinn nam Feannag to reach Mam an Trotanaich, a wide pass with a small lochan.  I image that the views to the north would be good on a clear day but the island was under a blanket of low cloud.  I could just make out a glint of sea and the eastern end of Loch Scridain, the long sea loch that separates the Ross of Mull from the wild and rugged Ardmeanach peninsula.

It is then an easy climb to the summit of Beinn na Croise which gives a great impression of being pretty much being in the middle of nowhere.  At only 503 metres it is well off the radar of most hillwalkers.  I wondered to myself when it was last visited?  However I was pleased when looking it up on the internet when I got home to find out that it is a Marilyn, so I get a tick in my book.  Ok that may be a bit sad, but it keeps me out of mischief!

A last bank of low cloud drifted by and suddenly a great view opened up.  The peaks that I had originally planned to climb were now completely free from cloud and looking rather grand.  I was kicking myself a bit for missing out, however I was still pleased to have got up into the hills.

I debated whether to continue along the wide ridge to the coast or drop down and follow the burn through the scoop of Glen Byre.  I could remember the bracken covered slopes spotted whilst traversing the other side of the valley, which I was keen to avoid.  I therefore decided to descend the steep grassy slopes at the head of the valley.

Glen Byre was a delight to walk through.  I initially found some animal tracks that let me contour above the river before descending to some old ruins beneath a long cascading waterfall.

As I approached the coastline my heart dropped a little.  In the distance was a long line of people with absolutely massive backpacks.  Most of them had bright orange pack covers on which made it look like they were carrying dinghys on their backs.  This could mean only one thing, DofE students out on an expedition.  I found a rock to sit on and admire the scenery whilst they receded into the distance ahead of me.  The old farm of Glenbyre is in a great position, overlooking the calm blue waters of Loch Buie.  It’s a shame to see buildings such as these fall into ruin.

The track back to the car hugs the coastline and gives a very pleasant and easy walk, with the sun shining and the dense vegetation it felt like I could have been in the tropics.

I soon passed a small splinter cell of the DofE students who stopped me politely and asked for their photo to be taken with their camera.  It’s a shame that whenever you meet DofE groups that they are nearly always very white and middle class.  I feel that a week in the wilds would do many youngsters a great deal of good.  I wish they could ship the teenagers that skulk around where I live into somewhere wild and remote.  I am sure it would be a good character building excercise.

As I approached where I had left the van there was a large encampment of DofE teenagers on a grassy patch by the shore.  Looked like they were having a great time, the only supervising adult was hiding out at the mini bus a few hundred metres away.  The Bongo was parked up in a really idyllic spot and it was tempting to spend the night there.

The weather was now absolutely stunning and it was forecast to stay that way for a couple of days.  Instead I drove back to the village of Craignure and the rather expensive regimented campsite there.  Not my cup of tea but it meant that I would be in an ideal spot to climb the Corbett of Dun da Ghaoithe direct from the door the following morning.

July 1, 2010

Another body part fails me

by backpackingbongos

Damn it I am not even forty yet and my body is beginning to fall apart.  I have suffered the indignity of an underactive Thyroid gland for a while now which basically means that hills are starting to look much bigger than they did a couple of years ago.  One side effect being a new comedy belly which has made me start thinking about doing some sit up type things to make it go away.  Bit of a catch 22 because a major symptom is trying to muster up energy to get up off my arse.  It’s not that long ago that I was a wild eyed eight stone dreadlocked creature that ate hills for breakfast.  I now seem to spend more time looking at the view than eating up the miles…….

…..except that those hills have been looking just a little bit blurred of recent.  The optician has told me that I need to wear some sort of contraption on my face that stops things looking blurry.  Can’t remember what she called them now but they probably make me look like this…..

Although I am sure my partner will actually see this……