It was supposed to be France, in the Ecrin or the Pyrenees this year. But that couldn’t happen for obvious reasons. It was supposed to be in the van, but we have sold it and the new one isn’t converted yet because suddenly every man and his dog want a van. So we dug behind the sofa for loose change, smashed the piggy bank and booked an air bnb near Loch Earn in Perthshire for a week.
Blessed with fair, slightly damp and windy autumnal weather we made the most of the location to hit the Munros. Throughout all the following we were accompanied by the call of red deer stags, a magical sound echoing across the mountains. The first two, Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin starting almost at the door of the cottage had to be first. Already covered in detail - see https://www.yorkmc.org.uk/ben-vorlich-and-stuc-a-chroin/ The slog up to Vorlich is virtually paved now but the views remain amazing and the stride down and across to Chroin is far more interesting and beautiful, with an enjoyable short scramble through a boulder field and up a gully to its top. The return on the Westerly flanks of both hills was easy going but very boggy, leading us to think that this would be a much better route to complete in Winter.
As an easier second day we trudged up the huge track that leads most of the way to the top of Ben Chonzie, a Munro quite correctly known as one of the dullest. Very strong winds with some sleet and hail made the walk along the grassy shoulder to its top more interesting than the hill deserves; the most notable event being a red squirrel running across the track on the way down.
To get the weather and rest window right, and to avoid the crowds on the hills, we spent a Saturday exploring the local area. Comrie the nearest village has everything you need plus a campsite and tracks to run or bike on in the local woods. For the epicureans amongst you the deli in the village was excellent, if pricey, but the local honeycomb honey and locally roasted coffee blend were worth the investment.
The day after, with the conditions looking good, and the warm up work done, we headed to Glen Coe and Aonach Eagach ridge. We left Alfie the Westie behind for this, but he didn’t seem to care as he had made friends with the cows in the field behind the cottage and they and Alfie spent hours watching each other through the conservatory at the back.
To get around the logistics of the ridge we parked the van at the Clachaig Inn, a short walk from where we would descend. We then biked to the small parking spot at Alt na Ruigh immediately adjacent to the start of the path up the South Eastern buttress of Am Bodach. After locking the bikes to the cables of the crash barrier we made easy, but steep, progress up the path. This had been extensively improved since my last visit in Dec 2016. There is a small amount of hands-on at one or two rocky steps along the path that act as a good opener to the main event. The ridge proper starts with a steep down climb immediately after hitting the first of the two Munros on the route, Meall Dearg.
At this point the cloud base was just below the 1000m mark and, with the light breeze, wisps of cloud moved around and beneath, revealing and then obscuring the route and the view. This lifted as the day progressed and although slightly wet with a light breeze, but intermittent cloud and sun, the conditions were superb throughout. The exposure increases as you progress with various easy scrambling and down climbing. Notable points included an eight metre chimney/gully climb, but the best part is near the end where you weave across and through the pinnacles. Route finding here can be confusing at points where the polished damp rock and the exposure may tempt you to seek a way around, many seem to have tried, but these are inevitably wrong and the best plan, as with all ridges, is to stick to the high ground and the crest. Frankly it is all over too soon with a steep walk up to Stob Coire Leith and a wander across the ridge to the final Munro, Sgorr nam Fiannaidh. The path down to Glencoe isn’t that exciting but the views are spectacular and were improved by a stag running across our path as we descended.
After another rest day wandering the beautiful hills around St Fillans and Comrie, we headed back to Glen Coe and another first for Penny, Curved Ridge and the two Munros of Buachaille Etive Mor. The walk in which passes the SMC hut at Lagangarbh to the foot of the climb is easy; only becoming steep as you zig zag up scree and paths to the start point. Its easy to take the wrong path, especially when deterred by a 10m rock wall weeping water over moss, which in the end is easily crossed, onto the rocky shoulder at the start of the ridge. The damp mass of Ranoch wall looms to your right, home of some classic climbing routes such Agags Groove, as you scramble over great rock with plentiful holds and options as height is gained. The famed corner/groove crux was easily dispatched to reach the end of the route within 40 minutes of starting to scramble upwards. Nipping across the gully and up a scrambly crack in the wall behind Crowberry tower you can peep down into Crowberry Gully , home of an amazing winter route before heading left and, within minutes, hitting the top of the first Munro, Stob Dearg, and its wonderful views of Rannoch Mor. Now the walking really began, staying high across two intermediate peaks to the second Munro, Stob na Broige. It only achieved this status in the 90s and we couldn’t help wondering why it did but Stob na Doire, at 1011 metres, that you cross to get there and with quite a haul up and down to it, didn’t make the cut. But the views from the Munro over loch Etive were worth the push. The return via the well-constructed and repaired path to Lairig Gartain and out along the river coupall passed many great swimming spots worth noting for hotter days.
For our last day we visited a Munro noted as possibly one of the easiest but with the prettiest name, Schiehallion (fairy hill of the Caledonians). Its popularity is reflected in the very managed and prepared paths and landscape, but that doesn’t spoil it and in fact, despite the rocky broken walking at the top, the mix of people there added almost a party atmosphere to the place as we stared back across Rannoch moor – this time from the other side. It was a suitable end to the trip and we jogged back down the gentle slopes to the van and home.
- In case conditions turned out to be icy, wetter or windier than expected, for both scrambles I took a light 20m rope, a large sling each, some smaller slings, a few large screw gates, and a prussic each and on Curved ridge added three nuts and two cams of small to medium size. We didn’t get any of it out of the bag. Before you ask, I would have tied in on the rope as we didn’t take harnesses.
- We used approach/trail shoes for all of the routes apart from the first two where boggy conditions were expected. My 5.10s fell apart after Aonch Eagach but were rescued by glue from the brilliant hardware shop in Comrie (think 4 candles).
- Maps used: BMC Ben Nevis and Glen Coe, BMC Southern highlands, BMC Schiehallion and Land Ranger 51 and 57.
- Guidebooks used: Scotland’s Mountain Ridges (Cicerone), The Munros (A Walk Highlands Guide), Scottish Rock Vol 1 South. This has a description of Curved Ridge (grading it Mod - it isn't) but we also wanted to sports climb at Dunira Crag near Comrie, which it also contains, but conditions were never suitable enough to try it.