Beinn an Aodainn (887m)
Meall a' Choire Dhuibh (740m)
Saturday 10th December 2016 - Monday 12th December 2016
Weather/Conditions: Quite dark but calm weather generally. Soaking wet on the Aden day, but otherwise essentially dry. A serious lack of light, overcast conditions.
Distance/Ascent/Time: Day 1 - 14.8km / 330m / 3h 50m // Day 2 - 18.9km / 1300m / 6h 15m // Day 3 - 15.6km / 600m / 4h 35m
49.3km / 2230m / 3 days
Day 1 - Walk in to Loch Nevis
In December, I had the desire to head off into some wild lands of the far Western Highlands. This was something I'd intended a couple weeks earlier, but in the abscence of a map I opted for Beinn a' Bheithir then instead.
But I also had that December lethargy going on (it happens sometimes) and inaction led to cutting down on plans bit by bit. Still, I drove to Loch Arkaig in the evening, driving in the darkness bound for Loch Arkaig. It was pretty late by the time I arrived and I wound up sleeping in the car Caonich; I'd drive the final miles in the morning.
Despite the intentions of an early start, I took my time in getting up and as time passed my plans for a hill day were quietly shelved. I drove to the Arkaig road end parking, and set about packing. Fitting three days worth of stuff in a small rucksack wasn't easy! I left the car and set off westward, bound for a bothy a long way off, and essentially on the edge of Knoydart.
In my visits, I've often found Glen Dessary an odd place; slightly desolate. It looks like it's been grazed bare, planted in block conifer forestry, and left to the nibbling of the deer. Add to that an out of place mansion riding up on the hillside, and the land begins to take on the look of a play-thing of the estate; an asset to be abused. This might be unfair on them, but it certainly feels touched by the hand of man compared to some of the areas I was about to traverse on my way to Sourlies.
Some spits of rain came down by Upper Dessary, and I left the good track for a small path, which would remain boggy for a large percentage of the way to my day's destination. Glen Dessary then becomes swallowed by forestry, a contrast to the mighty mountain walls around about. Gleann an Lochain Eanaiche looked impressive backlit by the pale December sun. It was as much sun as I would see really. The place felt dark in the middle of day and it was only a few short hours before darkness.
Beyond, the pass to Sourlies takes on a magnificent character. I became aware I was leaving land that had been softened by humanity, and immersing myself among land that seemed unchanged since the glaciers left them. The walls close in around, the light was dull, the cloud putting a cap on the situation. All was closing in; crags towering, mountains climbing into cloud. I was in awe, looking up at the steep walls.
I passed the high point of the terrain; strangely imperceptible among all the humps and hillocks. A view to Lochan a' Mhaim opened up. The name of this pass is Màm na Cloich Airde and it is wild with cliffs, tottering scree and not even much of a path to guide the way. There is no filter; no barrier against the wild reality of the remote Western Highlands in December.
Beyond Lochan a' Mhaim, the glen twists and turns on it's way to the sea at Loch Nevis. The approaching darkness put an edge in my pace, and each corner would bring a solelm river winding through this craggy hole in the hills. The glen wound in circles and the pace became confused. The map would come out; where exactly am I going here? The light continued to dim.
I was getting desperate for something human to cling to, when at last that wild, contorted glen spat me out, presenting a winding vista down to Loch Nevis. It was almost a gentle picture, yet awesome in it's scale. Stalkers paths of some substance existed once again. And at the bottom of this last glen lay my bothy; the nights refuge.
I reached Sourlies a bit before darkness and set about making myself confortable. I hauled up firewood, put on food, and set about cutting logs. The fire was a non-starter, but I had a good night.
Day 2 - Beinn an Aodainn
I don't really know when I decided to climb Ben Aden (Beinn an Aodainn to use the correct Gaelic). Many of my other mountian plans had got lost in a haze of inaction and apathy, but Ben Aden represented the ultimate in rugged Western Highland desolation. I felt it would be insane to come all this way and not go for it. I'm searching out the unknown, and I like to be humbled in the mountains. There's something in the climbing of a mountain that breaks it's spell. The unknown comes into your sphere of knowledge, and is somehow diminished for it. Thus Sgurr na Ciche was a 'known', but Beinn an Aodainn around the corner... well there was something even more special.
I left Sourlies at low tide and in flat light. Rounding the top of Loch Nevis, Ben Aden came into view. But just as quickly as I'd become glad of a dry day, the rains moved in and Ben Aden disappeared behind curtains of mist. If there was any hill I'd want a view from it was this one, but you can't always get what you want either.
I enjoyed the kilometres up the glen; quite humbling to be in this remote corner of Scotland alone, have put in all this effort to reach this mountain, and yet still be at sea level! Coming all the way around Sgurr na Ciche had left me feeling out-there.
Beinn an Aodainn is known for being pretty much ultimate in ruggedness, and in low visibility, the navigation started early, ticking off streams, buttresses, and river junctions. I headed up the glen to it's south.
I stayed conservative in my route selection. The last thing I wanted to do was get tangled among monster schist cliffs in the mist, all the way out here. My route gained the high slopes of the hill a kilometre or two east of the summit; with good visibility I could likely have cut a direct line a lot closer to the top.
Once on the top slopes of the hill (yet still some way from the summit) the navigation became intense. I don't get a feeling of intensity so much these days, but it took time, consideration, with a hard damp wind that chilled me. Concentration was high. The ground was so contorted that it precluded any attempt to walk on the straight line of a bearing. I checked off features, up a scree gully, onto a ridge crest, pass a great tower; then shortly after the summit itself arrived.
There wasn't much to see, but texts poured in with my first mobile reception for 24 hours. In the shade of the wind, I took ten minutes for some food and photos, then set off.
Meall a' Choire Dhuibh is another remote heel of rock between Beinn an Aodainn and Sgurr na Ciche. It is relatively prominent, and having reversed my Aodainn route of ascent, I found myself not so far from it's top. Despite the threat of darkness, I knew I had to do it. I would regret it back home if I didn't go for it now! So more compass bearings brought me to it; first to it's north top then shortly after it's (almost identical height) main summit.
There was nothing for it now but to take a bearing and set off back into my approach glen. This is a steep place and I splashed down bogs and through streams. My waterproofs were giving up, and as the mist peeled back near to sea level, I could not have been more wet below the waist. It had ended up being a pretty saturated day, but such is to be expected from this part of the world in winter.
I plodded back down the glen, a place that in the morning had felt a bit 'frontier'. Now it was a place of comfort and sanity, and with the rain pulling back and the day done, I found myself quite happy to enjoy this place while I was still here. Despite my soaked state, home was just around the corner. In dull light and at high tide, I climbed over the sron of Loch Nevis to reach Sourlies as to not get any more wet. There is a path here which I was not aware of before, and it dropped me out right behind the bothy: home for the night, with everything I needed to be warm, dry and comfortable.
That night produced a good fire; another night entirely by myself. I chopped sufficient kindling that the wood caught this time and with candles burning, cooked up a good meal. I spent the rest of the evening in front of the fire drying soaked gear, reading Prebble's 'Culloden', then when the fire died out to embers, blew out the candles and lay down to sleep in the calm silence.
Day 3 - Back to Loch Arkaig
The third morning was dry. I had breakfast (dry granola) and tidied the bothy. It had been left in a good state by the previous occupants, so I tidied, brushed the floor and cleaned out the fire. The air was cooler today, nippier. With damp clothes, I chose not to go high and so would return the way I arrived two days before.
I felt dehydrated now and the walk up from Loch Nevis was hard work. I laughed at my previous thought of climbing Bidein a' Chabair: those long slopes were too much for me today!
I found Màm na Cloich Airde not as oppressive at it had been two days previously. I enjoyed the place, and in more pleasant weather it felt just gently isolated. A sense of exploration sent me climbing the massive landslip above the loch, but the thought of the miles to go until Arkaig pulled me back just shy of the top. I continued on my way out. So slowly, the conifers of Dessary came into view, and one by one the inland mountains were revealed. Under perpetually grey skies, I was convinced the rain would start to fall any moment. Otherwise I enjoyed the walk out. The walking was long at times, but automatic. Passing the forestry, I dropped to Upper Dessary and changed into sandals for the final walk out to the car. I still had over 4kms to go, and with the head down and comfortable footwear, the walking was a pleasure. When I got back to the car I felt I could just just keep going and going...
Unfortauntely a migraine hit me at the end, which led to some unpleasantness on the drive home. Nonetheless, I'd had an exceptional trip into the middle of some pretty remote contry.
(0.00) 11.50am Loch Arkaig parking
(2.15) 2.05pm Mam na Cloich' Airde summit
(3.50) 3.40pm Sourlies
(0.00) 9.45am Sourlies
(2.30) 12.15pm Beinn an Aodainn East Top
(3.10) 12.55pm Beinn an Aodainn
(4.15) 2.00pm Meall a' Choire Dhubih
(6.15) 3.55pm Sourlies
(0.00) 10.45am Sourlies
(2.25) 1.10pm Mam na Cloich' Airde summit
(3.30) 2.15pm Upper Dessary
(4.35) 3.20pm Loch Arkaig parking