Geal Charn - 804m
Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh - 826m
Meall na h-Eilde - 838m
Saturday 8th December 2018
Weather/Conditions: Wet and windy conditions on the hills - wetter than hoped for (but probably about on the forecast to be honest...) and almost at freezing. They're the worst conditions, really, getting soaked through from the outside in air temps that are just above freezing - worst of both worlds. Still, not a bad day really and we got blown over from west to east.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 22.8km / 1350m / 6h 20m
Accompanying: Struan and Andy
It was a dark and drizzling morning and we drove up to Arkaig. In spite of having brought two cars we left them both in the one place and did a few miles of road walking to get going: tarmac pounding from Achnasaul to Muick. The hills were grey and the light was reticent to penetrate the glens. The lochside road was not a bad way to get the legs moving though, because we'd soon turn off right, and up to our first hill Sgurr Choinnich.
Sgurr Choinnich is a whalebacked hill rising from the mointeach north of Loch Arkaig. From the lochside it is essentially invisible, but it's northern aspect reveals a slender sharp ridge that drops toward Glen Garry; one feature that perhaps justifies the 'sgurr' in the name.
The access for Sgurr Choinnich is all the Allt Mhuic 'Butterfly Reserve', clearly signposted by the Forestry Commission. We followed the trail up the east bank, using the bridge higher up to get onto the broad open slopes of the hill. Sgurr Choinnich is one of those hills whereby it doesn't really seem to exist while you are on it: it rises as flat, boggy moorland with any prospect of the summit far out of sight. And because of the terrain and the angle of slope, any altitude is quite hard won as well!
It felt hard work this morning: with the cool temperatures and incessant light rain, we were all resigned to getting a cold soaking. This led to an uncomfortable freezing chill creeping in with sweat coming out from the inside. But it had to be beared! On the upside, Loch Arkaig looked moody with light rain showers and shafts of morning light breaking out here and there. The south bank was crowded by Beinn Bhan and Druim Fada; hard to believe the gentle bustle of Corpach and the Fort were just on the far side of this hill. By comparison, everything is very quiet out by Arkaig.
Sgurr Choinnich relented in time, and we found our way onto the summit, which was cairned with views breaking open to the north. Most prominent are the wind farms encircling Meall Dubh. I really think it a shame this hill has ended up with these; like a bit of a middle finger to the atmosphere of the North-west. Dropping quickly off Sgurr Choinnich, I made sure to follow it's defining feature, that little north-eastern ridge.
We went down to the broad saddle below as hundreds of deer thundered off. From a distance you could hear the roar and pounding of their hoofs as they made their escape. And ahead, our next mountain, Geal Charn.
Geal Charn to Meall na h-Eilde
It's a funny hill. From surrounding summits, it is obvious enough, but I can't recall being so unaware of a summit before. It's nearly invisible from any road, or it's overshadowed by greater summits. Scrubby ochre slopes fall away from a trigpointed top, a reticent hill if ever there was one.
Struan, Andy and I crossed the saddle east from Sgurr Choinnich and onto the broad slopes of this, another Geal Charn. Ahead were a clutch of brown rolling summits, it seemed we still had a long way to go! But in truth, getting up Geal Charn was breaking the back of the effort. It was nice as well, to be back on these hills. In April 2015, I did a big loop from the Lochy Munros which crossed Meall na h-Eilde (our last hill today), and always thought about returning to this area again. Though today the weather meant no stopping, and meant leaving out Meall Tarsuinn, one summit I will go back for.
We took five on top of Geal Charn for a snack, and then moved on. The continuing route was less moorland and a bit more mountain ridge. Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh breaks out prominent, drops off again then rises to Meall na h-Eilde. The legs felt a bit drained, but I was enjoying this. The rain fell light but cold, though we seemed to be on a weather boundary. While it fell perpetually out west, the north-east view to Glen Garry was usually clear.
Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh was a great whaleback of ridge I insisted on seeing the top of (The guys might have gone past it?). Ahead was Meall na h-Eilde, just a 100m drop down to the saddle and a little more up again. It was great to be back, not often I've been on a sub 3000er twice; and great to see the massive whalebacked Munros ahead that I'd combined it with before.
Back to Achnasaul
The way back was long, but it should all be downhill - that was until we got tangled up trying to cross Allt Tarsuinn and did a bit of re-ascent over the 440 saddle. Our way back to the cars was south-west to pick up the glen of Allt Dubh. This has a track running through most of its length. After a few short hours of light, the day was drawing in again: typical December, Loch Arkaig blue and moody, disappearing west into the barrier of rough mountains that were cloaked in mist and rain.
Hydro tracks eased the final descent, but they are hard on the feet! It had been a day of moor and subtle tops; little in the way of grand reveals of great corries or ridges. But this is why we were on the lower hills, to find more terrain unseen rather than go over the Munros again. I enjoyed it a lot; a more subtle pleasure in these rolling areas.
In the future (and ideally soon), I would like to get the triple Corbetts at the western end of Loch Arkaig climbed. In this case, I'll have climbed most hills in the area this year. 2018 has been a great year for getting into Ardgour, Glen Finnan and Arkaig. I know these hills well and I always enjoy going back. I'm at the point now that I have enough to go back for to enjoy the chase: sometimes when you are actually finished it's a bit of a shame to have run out!
Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh
Meall na h-Eilde
(0.00) 9.27am Achnasaul
(0.39) 10.06am Muick
(2.11) 11.38am Sgurr Choinnich
(3.28) 12.55pm Geal Charn
(4.16) 1.43pm Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh
(4.42) 2.09pm Meall na h-Eilde
(6.20) 3.47pm Achnasaul