Sron Chona Choirein - 923m
Stuchd an Lochain - 960m
Meall an Odhar - 815m
Sron a' Choire Chnapanich - 837m
Meall Buidhe West Top - 824m
Meall Buidhe - 932m
Saturday 28th March 2009
Weather/Conditions: Beautiful day with snow above c. 600m, blue skies, sun and cloud above the summits. A particularly strong wind blew on Stuchd an Lochain although calmed as the day progressed. Wind had scoured the slopes leaving partially covered slopes and drifts.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 22km / 1500m / 9h 15m
Accompanying: U.A.M. MC / Dave beyond Stuchd an Lochain
Stuchd an Lochain
I travelled up to Glen Lyon with Dave, meeting the other folks and seeing some new faces too. The weather hadn't been very pleasant on the way up and was bitter at the Ben Lawers Visitor Centre. I doubt I've ever sat shivering in the car before, it was vile. By the time we arrived beneath the Giorra Dam at Gleann Daimh, conditions had improved, the sun was out and wind had dropped. Six of us set off, heading for Stuchd an Lochain first. We crossed the bridge, and headed up the track leading by the side of the dam. A path cut off up Stuchd an Lochain's initial steep slopes (the turn off marked by a cairn) and we ascended upwards. As we gained altitude, snow drifts and ice covered traces of any path, so I headed up, following wherever my feet took me.
Higher up, views opened up to the Nevis region, Glen Coe and Black Mount. More locally, down to Glen Lyon and the hills surrounding Loch an Daimh. It was turning into a beautiful day, and at this height, the gradient of the slopes eased off. At 750m we crested the east ridge. Having been on the north side of the mountain, only now did views open out to the south. Stunning they were too. This was my first visit to the area and so the mountains around about were almost all new to me. I believe that it was also my first visit to Glen Lyon, itself a beautiful glen, somewhere I wish to visit more often.
It was nice to have the other guys around. I was glad to be sharing this occasion and found happiness in being able to enjoy it with others. Having taken a break at this point on the ridge, we headed up to the first top Creag an Fheadain, where we got the first views of Stuchd an Lochain, a sharp peak and under snow, one with an Alpine 'feel'. The wind had picked up by this point, and although it wasn't bitter as it had been in the morning, it was unpleasant to walk through.
From Creag an Fheadain, we headed westwards across to Stuchd an Lochain via. the Munro Top Sron Chona Choirein. The wind was battering across the ridge from a northerly direction and this discomfort was combined with the glare and intensity of light bouncing back off the snow. My eyes felt beaten and the temptation was to stand still, back to the wind with eyes shut. However, I'd been keeping some cheap ski goggles in my rucksack that I'd been given by a friend and they took all the strain off my eyes. To my mind, I've found them to be like crampons: you'll really need them when you do need them, otherwise they're extra weight in the rucksack.
From the Munro Top Sron Chona Choirein we headed up the final steeper slopes to the summit of Stuchd an Lochain where more panoramic views awaited. The wind persisted but in the shade it was fairly pleasant to sit and relax. Stuchd an Lochain was my 23rd Munro but at this time I didn't think Meall Buidhe would be in the question. The other guys seemed to be inclined to head back which was still fine by me. But, along came Dave's idea...
I said before that most people climb Meall Buidhe and Stuchd an Lochain by doing one, descending back to the car then doing the other independently. In one of Cameron McNeish's guides he says that a circuit of Loch an Daimh is possible. This adds on a lot more ascent and distance, but along the way there's also a Corbett (Sron a' Choire Chnapanich) and more scenery than just popular routes up the two Munros.
Dave suggested this circuit to everybody, as he also hadn't climbed Meall Buidhe. I guess my ears perked up when the idea first came up because I wouldn't turn down a longer route if it could be done. But what to consider? It was a long way still just to get to the head of Loch an Daimh, including a couple of reascents before we even got there. Then we'd descend almost to the elevation of the car where we'd be at the head of the loch. If we couldn't do more walking for whatever reason, whether it be our own lack of energies or lack of light, then we could make a quick exit along the loch side. There would be one more large ascent up to the Meall Buidhe plateau and then we could pass by the tops and make a beeline for Meall Buidhe.
The other consideration for me was time. We'd arrived at the top of Stuchd an Lochain at 12.35pm and it would get dark around 7pm. I saw it possible to reach Meall Buidhe before darkness and so I having given the prospect some evaluation, I was up for it. It was a big task to take in but I applied what else I'd learned from my longer routes: as long as we keep to schedule, go the first bit, then the next little bit and then the next. And after a few small chunks, the finishing line really isn't that far away. At 1pm, Dave and I left the others and headed westwards.
Sron a' Choire Chnapanich
We descended Stuchd an Lochain and headed over Meall an Odhar, another top of Stuchd. We'd considered bypassing Sron a' Choire Chnapanich but we were following schedule well. To get to it, it was quite a detour to get onto the southern flank, but we descended to the Bealach a' Mhaim and then began the long gradual slog up to the summit. We reckoned maybe 40 minutes or so up there, it looked a fair distance up.
I was getting quite warm as the sun was fairly high up. It was a slog so I got into a rhythm, putting one foot in front of the other, repeating this over. As time progressed, we made some good progress. The gradient we were climbing eased off towards the top and we arrived at the summit soon after - 2.15pm. I took another panorama, took in more views and now we were almost at the half way point.
Across to the Meall Buidhe plateau
Still, walking the entire circuit still seemed like a huge prospect. We set ourselves the next task of getting down to the loch side and if we didn't want to go on, we could return by the loch, or we could go back up high and walk across to Meall Buidhe. Sron a' Choire Chnapanich is a steep sided mountain on all but south facing slopes so we walked southwest from the summit, hoping at some point to cut down to 'Feith Thalain'. This river eventually flows into Loch an Daimh, but we found a route down and descended steep, tussocky ground.
I pondered over how many people come down here. This place felt remote: the head of a glen which led out to the head of Gleann Daimh, which itself is just about as inaccessible. We descended to the river, a quiet spot. A little exhausted already, I found a flat grassy spot and lay resting for a couple of minutes, and in sheer delight too. We hadn't even reached the half way point but I was delighted with our progress and felt so damn good about myself too. This enclosed glen was such a place too see, where there's nothing but the wind and the sound of running water. It was one of those 'moments' that occasionally occur. We then followed the river down to the head of Loch an Daimh, where there were some sheep, but more notably herds of deer up on the hillsides. It was a wonderful place, tranquil, quite obviously unfrequented but full of life. Beautiful and wild life. The place certainly felt nothing like the 'tourist' routes up these two Munros.
Dave and I both felt good so far, and I certainly felt positive about going for Meall Buidhe. We both knew that we were almost back at the elevation of the car, but we didn't voice it much. We were alright for time, perhaps a little late in the day, and agreed to go for Meall Buidhe. Looking to the slope ahead, we planned to climb straight upwards, in as direct line as possible. We'd get high quick and then work on gaining the horizontal distance to the summit.
The ascent was very tedious and rather unrelenting. I knew that once we were up, we'd have done the bulk of the ascent, and so we'd better just get it over and done with now. I was glad that we'd gone on, and was feeling that as we'd started, we may as well finish the task, hammer the last nail in, so to speak. But this direct ascent meant we gained height quickly and meant we got high up fast. On the upper reaches, the terrain eased off and flattened to the plateau that would eventually lead to Meall Buidhe. We'd climbed back up the snowline again and over the first rise, Meall Buidhe came into view, the highest point of undulating ground. But it was still a long way off and it would take a lot of effort to get there.
I'd also become aware that the sun was dipping lower in the sky. Both Dave and I were feeling pretty tired by this point but I still felt that Meall Buidhe was achievable. Besides, why come this far and not finish it off? The walk over the plateau didn't appear to take long, and once we were in a rhythm, we took on each rise bit by bit. We bypassed the subsidiary tops aiming as directly as possible for Meall Buidhe, although did climb the 824m west top on the way.
Nearly, there, the final climb to the Meall Buidhe's summit felt like hell. I was out of steam and was rationing food by this point. (I'm still learning to bring more food...) The slopes went on and on and the more I walked, the more frustrated I became while enjoying myself less. I had to get to that summit though. The sun was lowering straight behind the Black Mount and Glen Coe and while we climbed, it eased towards the horizon a little more with each passing minute. It'd occurred to me that we may reach Meall Buidhe with perfect timing to witness the sun set and in due course it would turn out just so. Still, I felt shattered and with one last push, running on empty, I got to the summit ridge, where it was a 50m walk along to the summit cairn.
And so we'd finally made it! I sprawled myself out beside the cairn, delighted that we were done and there was only descending left to do. We spent five minutes at the top, watching the most beautiful of sunsets unfold behind the Glen Coe mountains. I felt damned lucky to be there, feeling tired, but also feeling well about myself. I also became aware that I was very cold, probably a little too much.
We left the summit in a bid to get down before darkness arrived. My fingers were numb all over, and I breathed into them continually to restore at least some feeling. I wrapped up well and made sure I was warm. But when my fingers had feeling up again, I'd take another picture and they'd get cold once again. The wind was now nowhere as fierce as in the morning but a steady, chilling wind blew from the north and kept it me from being warm.
As we descended the wind died down and Loch an Daimh came into back view, sitting still and in silence beneath the twilit skies. In growing darkness, we picked up the track and got back to the car 7.45pm, just as darkness set in. We drove home via. Ben Lawers Visitor Centre and back down the A82. I met dad at the BP in Milton and from there continued home.
What I only realised after the walk was that while I'd attempted a long route the weekend before in Crianlarich, on this day I'd done a substantial walk without really intending. There wouldn't have been a better winters day to have done it and Dave and I had clocked up some fairly big mileage. I still intend to go back to Crianlarich and get the five Munros but this day around Loch an Daimh was my longest yet and the first time I'd broken the nine hour barrier. Yet another top-notch day.
Additionally, concerning the cold: I woke up the next morning realising a few of my fingertips were still numb from the day before. I did a bit of reading up and put it down to mild frostbite (2017-04-13 note - frostnip!). There was no change of colour of the skin, just semi-numbness and a slight feeling of toughness of skin at the tips, so I figured that it wasn't urgent. A week on and they seem to be getting better. A mixture of bad gloves and photography contributed to this, but it's something I'll be thinking about more in future.
Creag an Fheadain
Sron Chona Choirein
Stuchd an Lochain
Sron a' Choire Chnapanich