Backpacking Ardgour – the Cona Glen Corbetts pt2

by backpackingbongos

Day 3 – 9 kilometres with 800 metres ascent

Day three

After another very cold night I enjoyed festering in my sleeping bag for a couple of hours whilst the morning sun warmed the tent.  There is something deeply satisfying about not having a schedule when in the hills, you can make things up as you go along.  One of the benefits of backpacking solo.  Especially when you prefer the slackpacking approach like I do.

I thought that I did pretty well, eventually getting up at 9.30am.  However there was some initial confusion when the time on my mobile disagreed with my watch.  I then remembered that the clocks had gone forward and it was in fact 10.30am.  Now that’s not so good.

I just about managed to pack up and set off on the morning side of noon, heading back towards the diggers.  Despite the dry and crunchy ground I still managed to find one well camouflaged booby-trapped bog.  I left a trail of black goo in my wake as I crossed the Cona River and made my way up towards an un-named bealach.

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I passed the only person that I would see all weekend as he descended towards the Cona Glen.  A brief chat and we went our separate ways.  With no pack on I wondered if he was wild camping nearby as the nearest road was a few hours away.

Upon reaching the rugged bealach my intention to meet up with Andy in Glen Scaddle fell by the wayside.  I heard a trickle of water and found a patch of flat ground that had been exposed to the sun.  I made a spur of the moment decision to pitch and then climb Druim Tarsuinn without a full pack.  With tent up and water collected I cooked a hot lunch and lazed around for half an hour.  I then packed a few essentials before heading up grassy slopes, careful to look back and pinpoint where the tent was pitched.

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Route finding was easy up the broad grassy ridge, two sets of old fence posts leading the way.  Behind me Stob a Chuir looked much bigger than the 717 metres on the map indicates.

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To get to Druim Tarsuinn I had to cross the subsidiary summit of Meall Mhor, a few metres lower.  The snow on the summit was extensive, good firm stuff which allowed my boots a solid bite.  Crampons were not really necessary as the Meindl’s sole provided an astonishingly good grip.  I was careful to avoid slopes where a slip could be dangerous.  Once on the snow I yomped along, enjoying the satisfying crunch underfoot.  Even the subsidiary summit of Meall Mhor had a subsidiary summit.

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It was a steep clamber down the west ridge before the final climb of a hundred or so metres to Druim Tarssuinn.  The sun was getting low in the sky, painting my surroundings with a soft glow.  I sheltered behind the summit rocks and gazed out towards the west.  I could clearly see Ben More on Mull amongst an array of peaks that I could not identify.  If it had not been so cold I could have sat there for hours taking it all in.

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Much more pressing than the cold was the fact that the sun was about to set.  It had taken me longer to get to the summit than originally anticipated.  I did not want to be wandering these craggy snow-clad hills in the dark.  I started descending, coming face to face with Meall Mor which I would have to climb once more.  It looked huge, capped by the setting sun.

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Steep slopes mean that height is gained quickly and I was once again close to the summit.  Looking west I caught the sun just before it disappeared behind a bank of cloud, its rays doing little to penetrate the sub-zero temperatures.

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Crossing a large patch of snow I started to hear a strange noise and had the feeling of being followed.  I nervously continued and then stopped, looking over my shoulder.  There was nothing there and the noise stopped when I stopped.  I repeated this several times, each time I stopped the noise stopped.  I then realised that my right boot had developed a bit of a squeak.

After the sun had gone down the sky took on a strange pink and purple hue.  Once again I was transfixed but aware that time really was not on my side.

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I made it back to the tent literally moments before I could no longer see without a torch.  Although another cold night, camping above the glen stopped the temperature plummeting so low.  After eating I settled down with my kindle to be sucked into a strange world conjured up by Haruki Murakami, where two moons hang from the sky.

Day 4 – 12 kilometres with 165 metres ascent

Day four

The previous evening I had decided that mountains would be off the menu today.  Instead I would have a nice leisurely stroll down the glen to find a pitch not too far from the car.  Because of this it was on the afternoon side of noon when I finally packed up.  However before doing so I took the opportunity to photograph the Scarp1 in a wonderful location.

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Prior to pitching the day before I had a quick glance at my route down into Gleann an Lochain Duibh.  I have to admit that it had made me feel a little nervous as the slopes appeared to be almost vertical grass.  It was therefore with a little trepidation that I set off on a course following the stream.  It was indeed steep but I managed with unhappy knees to get to the glen floor in one piece.  Not a descent to do in the wet.  The scenery was as usual spectacular, first with views along upper Glen Hurich.

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And down to the frozen Lochan Dubh.

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There was a curious optical illusion when I thought that I was almost level with the loch.  It turned out that I was still over a hundred metres above.  The leveling out of the ground after such steep slopes led my brain to believe I was walking on level ground.

The shore of the loch was a fine place to sit, sheltered from the breeze it was only the ice that gave the game away that summer had not yet arrived.

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The path that is marked through Gleann an lochain Duibh failed to materialise on the ground until I was half way along it.  I can’t imagine that it gets much foot traffic, therefore the surrounding bogs must have swallowed it up.

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Close to where the Gleann an lochain Duibh meets Gleann na Cloiche Sgoilte I spotted a lush patch of vegetation that was sheltered on two sides by a rocky outcrop.  It looked a perfect spot to sit and cook some lunch.  Sitting there in my base layer I felt very pleased with myself.  However that feeling did not last very long.  You may have noticed that I have not used the word ‘tick’ once yet in this write-up.  Due to the cold weather and frozen ground they had been completely absent.  However sitting there in that very warm microclimate I picked up my food bag and noticed that its surface was crawling with the little critters.  In fact everything that I had dumped out of my pack was.  What was meant to be a leisurely break was spent moving elsewhere and then flicking each and every one off.  They were at the nymph stage so absolutely tiny.  Thankfully I only found one latched onto my leg in my tent that night, and I was given the all clear the following day when I presented my naked self to my wife.

With lunch finished I continued down the glen, trying to work out where Andy had spent the last three nights camping.  It certainly was a lovely location with green swaths of grass close to where the two rivers met.  The path turned into a landrover track, the going easy.

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The bothy of Tighnacomaire was firmly locked and shuttered, a sign pointing the way I had come for overnight shelter.  I had passed a tin hut but had not explored as I assumed it was an animal shelter.  Probably not somewhere I would willingly spend a night.

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The walk along Glen Scaddle has a bit of a sting in its tail.  The path that follows the river is meant to be rough and hard going, leaving a forestry track as the main option.  This climbs up the hillside, views hidden by the trees.  Despite this it gave pleasant walking and shelter from the sun.  A clearing gave views up to the head of the glen.  I would image this would get the pulse racing in anticipation if coming the other way.

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Clear of the trees, a snow-capped Ben Nevis was visible, a great bulk of a mountain.  I started to scout around for a spot to pitch for the night, I did not want to get too close to civilisation on my final night in the hills.

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I found a good spot right next to the river.  For once it was still early, the sun shining on my side of the glen.  I enjoyed its warmth, knowing that cold air would soon be enveloping me once more.

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I had my best nights sleep of the whole trip.  I remember at one point before drifting off thinking just how warm it felt inside the tent.  It was only -1C, which gave me a false sense of security.  I failed to bring my water inside the tent and wrap it in my pot cosy.

Day 5 – 5.5 kilometres with 60 metres ascent

Day five

My alarm woke me before dawn and I sat up to a flurry of ice crystals.  My outer bag had frozen solid and everything had a coating of hoar frost inside the inner tent.  I measured -7.5C, so it was probably the coldest night I have slept in a tent.  The platypus in the porch was a solid block of ice.  Although my boots were dry, they were also a solid block of ice, which sucked all warmth out of my feet.  Fully dressed in a down jacket and with coffee in hand I walked up and down the track for a bit in an attempt to warm up.  The worst thing was taking the tent down, the cold made my hands numb and then burned when they finally warmed up.

I was glad to get walking and once the sun filled the valley, the frost was chased away with the shadows.

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It was a short walk back to the car, once again in glorious weather.  I really could not believe my luck, it’s not often that I have got five days in a row like this.  Let’s hope the sun shines for two weeks whilst 300 people walk across the Highlands in May.

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14 Comments to “Backpacking Ardgour – the Cona Glen Corbetts pt2”

  1. Looks like it was a great trip James.
    Something very satisfying about just having a vague plan and making it up as you go along.
    A great spell of weather but quite a cold bite with the over night temperatures.
    Hope you get another decent spell during the challenge!

    • If only all mountain days were like these Paul. Lets hope that the TGO Challenge gives proper May weather rather than the rain and gales of the last couple of years.

  2. “Love is – scanning your partners naked body for ticks” 🙂
    What a trip. What was clearly a very tough decision between a night spent high in the mountains and meeting me and my smelly mate was justified. Those photos were from that evening are just magnificent, very jealous. Nothing better than a late evening spent high on the summits

    Fascinating to read your account of Glen Scaddle (we were camped right next to the junction of the two valleys just upstream of the shelter – more a skanky hovel really). Such a superb trip and an area well worth extensive exploration. Superb write up as ever

    • I’m sure that checking me for ticks is one of the highlights of being married for Corrina. It’s a shame that we did not meet up but that high camping spot was too good to miss. I did try to guess where you were camped, looked a good spot at that junction. Lots more to do in that area.

  3. Good read James. Except the ticks. Photo’s are fantastic. Good luck with the chally.

  4. Briliant trip, and brilliant photos to accompany it. Really enjoyed!

  5. Great tent shots, it sounds sad but i can always imagine being there when there’s a tent in the shot.

    • Cheers Simon. I get what you mean, I always like other people’s photos when they show a great wild camp. Makes me want to get out there.

  6. I think we’ve all been really lucky with the weather recently! Amazing piccies and superb camping spots in a beautiful looking area. Tilly had one tick too, last week. I was surprised, I thought it was too cold for them!

  7. Top trip that James and lets hope May is as good.

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