Sgorr Dhearg (Beinn a' Bheithir) - 1024m
Sgorr Dhonuill (Beinn a' Bheithir) - 1001m
Monday 5th December 2016
Weather/Conditions: Stunning, stunning weather. The hill was snowless, the sun was out, but soft, and
the hostilities came to nothing more than a cold breeze coming around
the mountainside. The scrambling on Sgorr Bhan was cool, dry and solid.
Really hard to believe it's December.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 12.9km / 1350m / 5h
In spite of my intentions to get an early start on such a good forecast, the funny Spanish family I'd been chatting to the night before were away before me and I went for breakfast just to see them driving out the hostel. I had a good chat with Keith, then headed off to the top end of Ballachulish where I parked in a convenient car park.
The morning was still and cold, with a soft light you'd only find in December. Ballachulish was as cold and dark as it would get, the high mountain slopes sunlit, and the cold air pressed down into the valley bases.
I headed south out of Ballachulish, rising above the chilled air pretty soon. Above, the ENE Ridge (Schoolhouse Ridge) of Sgorr Bhan was cut against the sky; despite having been up Beinn a' Bheithir a few times, it would be my first time up this little craggy ridge.
The beginning was a heather plod, and I soon picked up a track. With exception of the lack of light, it was hard to believe it was December; so settled and calm. It was a day of soft light and dark mountain profiles carved against the sky. Ben Cruachan appeared on the southern horizon, silhouetted and backed by a banded winter sky.
The ENE Ridge is lovely once it starts to open out. The path narrows, the ridge gains definition and a grand sense of elevation becomes apparent. Today it was temperate, the rock cool and dry. The conditions could not have been more enjoyable, bar the occasional cold wind blowing around the hillside. Looking back down, the ridge took on the form of a little arete, sunlit on one side, and sweeping into the shadows back to Ballachulish from where I'd come.
Sgorr Bhan arrived in time, the summit that shattered quartzite with a cairn perched on top. I'll never forget my first trip here in 2009, when the first snows of winter had fallen and sweeping inversions cradled the hills. That was one of the most magnificent days I've ever had on the mountains.
It was chilly on the tops, but the wind hadn't the hostility of yesterday on Schiehallion. I continued to Sgorr Dhearg, a walk which was mostly snow free, and from here I had probably the best view I've had from these hills altogether. The weather calm enough to stand and take it all in.
I noticed as I descended Sgorr Dhearg, that the rock had been changing: my traverse of Sgorr's Bhan and Dhearg had, within a realtively short space taken me over four rock types: slate (?) on the lower reaches of the ENE Ridge, schist on the upper ridge, quartzite on the summit slopes, and now granite on my way to Sgorr Dhonuill, of which this latter hill is itself composed. Sgorr Dhonuill was a nice plod up a snow-spattered path, and I enjoyed pushing into the climb, making it hurt a little. As the angle eased off just prior to the summit, I met two guys up from Glasgow. They'd caught the weather and said it was one of their first hill days. They'd also come from Ballachulish, but their northward descent would leave them miles down the road from their car. I suggested the southern glen, but they weren't having it. This however would be my descent; a useful 'back door' into Ballachulish, and a new bit of terrain which I always appreciate.
I also had a look at the steep summit buttress of Sgorr Dhonuill; a bit vegetated and short, but there is perhaps a winter route or two in here to be done. As with Sgorr Dhearg, the summit panorama was absolutely top notch. I enjoyed the location. Beinn a' Bheithir is a real favourite of mine.
Then as the sun fell to the horizon, I headed back off the ridge and down fiery slopes to the south. This was a wonderful, quiet and secluded part of the glen. I wondered for a moment if I'd see Taigh Sheumais a' Ghlinne, but on a second thought I reckoned not from here.
The lower glen brought pines of the forestry, and I crossed to meet an older track which would take me to Ballachulish. From the junction cairn, I had a look for Mam Uchdaich path; I could see nothing though satellite imagery does reveal it, so it's obviously there.
As a result of my recent reading, I thought of this as Stewart-land, but the forestry and the felling is a reminder of a land now so changed in it's use. And back in the shaded, chilly Ballachulish, there is no Gaelic in the streets to be heard either. I was back at the car in the evening light. It had been a fine trip and so worth the diversion from the east. Days of such clarity aren't given so often in winter, this was felt none moreso than on this occasion, as the following month has transpired to be primarily damp mist and thaw.
Sgorr Dhonuill Detail - 180° North
(0.00) 10.33am Ballachulish
(1.39) 12.12pm Sgorr Bhan
(1.52) 12.25pm Sgorr Dhearg
(2.42) 1.15pm Sgorr Dhonuill
(5.00) 3.33pm Ballachulish