It was early evening as I drove past Lochan na Lairige after a day on Ben Lawers. Even with the sun making slow progress towards the horizon the van was like a furnace. I was certainly being given a gift by the Scottish weather gods.
Close to a small roadside hut there is a parking area for a couple of vehicles. With the roof of the bongo up and just a fine mesh to fend off any marauding midges I enjoyed a cooling breeze as I cooked dinner. I find it strange that after a hot day in the hills the wind picks up around dusk before dropping completely after dark. This happened that night.
After dinner I loitered around the van with a coffee in hand, eyeing up the Tarmachan ridge to the south. My plan for the following day was to pick a route around Coire Riadhailt. The fact that I could not find any reference to it in guidebooks would guarantee a bit of solitude.
10 kilometres with 760 metres ascent
One of the joys of using a camper van in the summer is that it is much cooler than a tent. I can also black out the windows which means sleep is not interrupted by a ridiculously early dawn. I think that’s the reason why I did not wake up until 9.00am, unthinkable in a tent. It was already hot outside as I sat on the step and ate my breakfast under a cloudless sky. I traced my planned route around the Coire, marvelling at just how green the mountains were looking.
I made my lunch , packed my sack and headed off towards the river that runs through Coire Riadhailt. I filtered a couple of litres as it was running a little warm and sluggish, hopefully enough to keep me going for the day. Across the footbridge I headed up rough trackless slopes. The ground was surprisingly dry underfoot but it was clear that it would usually be a boggy slog.
Once on the wide grassy ridge I lounged against a boulder, the short climb in the heat had knackered me out. A couple and their energetic springer spaniels soon passed by, they had been gaining ground shortly after I left the van. I was content to just sit and enjoy the breeze for half hour, I was in no hurry with the long hours of daylight.
Back on my feet, as height was gained the vegetation became easier, soon turning to short-cropped springy turf.
As I approached the Tarmachan ridge, Meall Garbh began to loom ahead, its actual summit a small rocky pimple as seen in the photos below. I stood for while and watched a few people progress along the ridge and onto the summit. This gave a sense of scale which is impossible to capture in a photograph. I could also make out the rocky scramble across its flanks, visible as a faint line to the right of the second photograph below.
I hit the ridge just to the east of Beinn nan Eachan where I picked up a good path that led me over a small un-named summit. At the col below Meall Garbh I looked up towards the rocky scramble half way up its slopes. I picked out what looked to be the best line and then started up the steep path. It turned out that the scramble was not too bad to be honest and it only lasted a couple of minutes. I would probably give it a wide berth in icy conditions though. At the top I had a good view back towards Beinn nan Eachan.
The ridge to Meall Garbh is about as good as they come and sadly very short-lived. Nice and narrow and without any scrambling I would be happy for it to go on for miles.
I was soon at the tiny little summit where I spent over an hour sitting, eating, drinking and generally enjoying the fabulous airy position. Good company was provided by a couple and their dog Rory. They were heading west so I hope the dog got down the scrambly bit ok. As much as I would have liked to sit there all day I was running out of water and it was hot. The route to Meall nan Tarmachan was clear and obvious.
I was tempted to strip off and have a swim in the lochans half way but a group was having their lunch there. Climbing up the lower slopes of Meall nan Tarmachan I got a good view of Meall Garbh’s pointy little summit.
I was keen to drop down to the glen and get some water so I did not stop very long on the summit of the only Munro for the day. I had noticed some crags along the north-east ridge, so to avoid them I headed north and contoured round.
The stream that I followed down into Coire Riadhailt was bone dry until a few metres before it joined the main river. Even that was running very low. I came across a small concrete dam that was diverting water into a tunnel underground. The water was waist deep there and I wasted no time in completely stripping off and submerging myself in the icy water. Once past the initial shock it was rather pleasant in the peaty water. I did not have a towel with me so after getting out sat on a rock and let the strong sun dry me. Fully dressed it was an easy walk along a grassy track back to the camper van.