Meall Ghaordaidh - 1039m
Beinn Cheathaich - 937m
Meall Glas - 959m
Meall a' Churain - 917m
Sgiath Chuil - 921m

Saturday 17th October 2009

Weather/Conditions: Total darkness on Meall Ghaordaidh, with clear skies, and mountains silhouetted against the black. Rather atmospheric, but without head torches, it would be impossible to see a thing. Bitterly cold on the summit, where we stayed for about an hour. Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil brought darkness, then sunrise, then a clear and crisp late autumn/early winter's day. A couple of small inversions down by Crianlarich. Stunning. The afternoon was quite warm, but a little windy.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 25.4km / 2080m / 16h 35m
Accompanying: Michael

On Friday evening, I found myself heading up the A82 in Michael's van, looking out of the window to the starry skies above, Marillion on the CD player. I'd been at a music rehearsal earlier, headed home then organised my gear until Michael arrived. It had been a hectic day, but it seemed on the A82 like there was no better place to be. The destination was Glen Lochay, and we had about 24 hours to climb. We'd walk as soon as we arrived beneath the mountain on Friday evening. The plan was to climb through the night, sleep away the early morning and walk again in time for dawn. Beyond Crianlarich we pulled into a lay by on the A85. With interior lights on we scanned the maps, pondering over which hill to visit. We could go for Beinn Heasgarnich, Meall Ghaordaidh, or Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil. I suggested Meall Ghaordaidh, knowing that even in darkness, navigation would be unproblematic. Meall Ghaordaidh is a rare case among Munros where you can navigate from the bottom to the top on one compass bearing - it's simply a case of being accurate.
Meall Ghaordaidh

Glen Lochay was cold and nowhere to be hanging about. Wearing everything at ground level, our rucksacks were almost empty though I carried a tripod. If the ideal occasion arose where the moon illuminated the landscape, I would never forgive myself for leaving it behind. Although the moon didn't appear this time around, it was invaluable to have the tripod for a couple of shots.

We left the van at 9.30pm, taking an accurate compass bearing that would lead us to the summit. Unable to park up at Tullich, we drove back in the direction of Killin for a couple of hundred metres before we could find a passing place big enough to accommodate Michael's van. From the van, we crossed a fence into some fields, then walked through the trees and began the long toil up the southern slopes.

The terrain never changed from moderately angled grassy slopes. The following 600 vertical metres blurs into my memory although individual points stand out. When we'd gained some altitude, we began to get views south to the red glow of the cities. Cars occasionally drove down Glen Lochay and at other times, we were startled by pheasants bursting into flight metres away from us. Such a fright is bad enough in the day, but night it's worse when your senses are so heightened. It was an eventful night, even if the terrain remained unchanged on this otherwise dull Munro.

Above all else though, I won't forget the vast grandeur of the night sky, or the meteors and satellites. Now navigating following the North Star (an awfully romantic thing to say...) we arrived at the final summit slopes and the trig point followed soon after.

Our navigation had been immaculate and we were pleased as anything because of it. We spent the following time taking summit photos, trying to take pictures of the stars and lying on the ground looking upwards, sucking in the atmosphere. We sat behind the trig point to keep out the wind, though it was hardly warm. When we could take no more, we left (1.45am) and with nothing to do but get down, we started the long toil into Glen Lochay. It would be a long way back to the van below, and the glen was visible only as a vast black pit with no sense of scale to suggest at how far down it went. In the darkness, sense of scale diminishes and you must keep working to determine your location. This would be easier with the presence of the moon, but there was no such thing tonight and nothing for the eye to focus upon. Only the light of our torches, the sodium glow of distant cities and specks of light in the valley to see. That asides, just walls of black all around and dim, nebulous formations glowing in the night - perhaps a lochan or cloud bank that reflected a little more light. It's so atmospheric and something worth seeing.

But as incredible as the night was, the descent just dragged on, able only to see the ground immediately ahead of us. The glen went further down than I could have imagined. We just kept descending and when the mountains became black silhouettes above us, we guessed that we were close to the bottom.

I was on the phone to home long after 3am to say we were down, but unsure of where the end actually lay in respect to us. (Parents were appreciative of the fact I'd phoned them to say I was off the hill, even at this hour) As I spoke, nothing less than the house Tullich appeared in our torch beams. More good navigation on our part! And although we almost (and accidentally!) walked through their garden, we were onto the road in no time and back to the van at 3.45am.

Part II: Meall Glas

Time for the next part of the walk. We'd settled on Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil, so drove to Kenknock at the head of the Glen Lochay road where we parked in the darkness. We got ready again, I got a few minutes sleep (or maybe more?) and we set off again, aiming for a good track that would take us as high as about 650m.

We followed the track from Kenknock for several hundred metres before we crossed the river and got onto the track above. We passed Lubchurran where I stopped to see to some developing blisters before carrying on up the steep track. This would take us a large way towards the top, but it was steep and relentless. Around about, the sky was lightening, stars disappearing and dawn breaking.

The sky changed colour first, through dark blues to golds and reds appearing here and there. Sadly, hidden behind Sgiath Chuil, we missed the moment of sunrise, but could see the peaks around about changing colour as they were hit by the sun. We left the track and continued up the last grassy slopes to Beinn Cheathaich's summit.

Although the going was tough, the views were magnificent and around each corner, more scenery awaited us with mountains spreading out in every direction for miles. The air was just so clear. It had the feeling of being a cold winters morning, although there was no snow on the tops and it was only October. It just felt so good to be out today and a pleasure to be out with such good views.

At Beinn Cheathaich's summit, we continued across to Meall Glas where we arrived at 8.30am. We stayed for five minutes then headed back, taking a break just before Beinn Cheathaich. Where the wind wasn't too strong, we sat down for a break. Wisps of cloud curled around the base of Ben More which was an extra reward and in no time, I'd fallen asleep.

Sgiath Chuil and Descent

I awoke feeling cold, but happily drowsy in the calmness, watching the still morning. We didn't even care about walking, and spent ten more minutes there before setting off towards Sgiath Chuil. When we'd got going, we walked back to Beinn Cheathaich, contoured it's side then descended a steep gully to Lairig a' Churain below.

It was a warm day down in the Lairig - warm enough to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It was a long climb back up the other side of the hill though, and slogging up the grass slopes brought us onto the broad summit ridge, where various cairns crowded the top. We followed the path south across the ridge where we were met by the summit cairn and with it, my 60th Munro.

The wind made it a bit cold on Sgiath Chuil, so we left within minutes. The path took us back to the north end of the ridge and then down towards Glen Lochay. Here, we heard a couple of gunshots, suggesting that people were out stalking today. We left the ridge and followed the NW slopes to the track below. Ten minutes of walking along the glen brought us back to the van, where we arrived at 2.05pm, the end of a great walk in beautiful weather. We headed across to Tyndrum's Real Food Cafe for chips before driving back to Glasgow.

360° Panoramas

Sunrise from Beinn Cheathaich (180°)

Beinn Cheathaich

Meall Glas

Sgiath Chuil
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 9.30pm (16th) Glen Lochay
(2.50) 12.20am Meall Ghaordaidh
(4.15) 1.45am Meall Ghaordaidh (left)
(6.15) 3.45am Glen Lochay

(7.20) 4.50am Kenknock (Glen Lochay)
(10.20) 7.50am Beinn Cheathaich
(11.00) 8.30am Meall Glas
(11.20) 8.50am Break on Meall Glas' ridge
(12.30) 10.00am Ended break
(13.30) 11.00am Lairig a' Churain
(14.30) 12.00pm Sgiath Chuil
(16.35) 2.05pm Kenknock (Glen Lochay)

Written: 2009-11-10