Druim a' Chùirn - 822m
Fraoch Bheinn North Top - 854m
Fraoch Bheinn - 858m
Sgùrr Mhurlagain - 880m
Thursday 27th December 2018
Weather/Conditions: Nice day - the hills thawed and in autumnal condition, some sun, some shifting mist and wind on the summits. Sometimes a pretty spectacular combination!
Distance/Ascent/Time: 5.7km / 130m / 1h 10m
22.6km / 1960m / 6h 52m
Accompanying: Alone - met Kev, James and Andi at the bothy after
I've enjoyed walking in this area particularly in the past six months or so while my hillwalking undergoes a bit of a surge. But it runs deeper than just enjoyment. Through the hills I feel a hell of a connection to this area. I always know because the hills become greater than the sum of their individual parts. I love the outback feel of the mountains here, to arrive on the summits and see west to the sea, Skye and the islands. And then on Loch Arkaig itself, to know the stories of the past, the many people who used to reside here, which is a reality far-removed from the emptiness now.
Since I’ve been making a point of spending time around the end of Loch Arkaig, it was only a matter of time before I got onto the three Corbetts lined up along the north side of the glen. I'd had plans to climb these once or twice before, but the time was never quite right. Not until now. I've been over all the Munros in the area, a lot of the Corbetts and a lower summit or two, as well. These three Corbetts were turning into a glaring omission and climbing them would be a great finish to my year.
The previous evening I cycled in (well, pushed the bike, sort of…) and had a cracking bothy night with Brad from Mallaig, and Nick. Conversation was wide ranging and the fire was healthy by the pile of logs from my panniers.
Sgùrr Còs na Breachd-laoidh
I left A' Chuil the following morning, with my first intended hill straight across the glen, an unrelenting wall, steep and trackless, of over 2,000 feet. I crossed the mega bog in the centre of Glen Dessary and started up the other side.
It's a pretty ‘immediate’ way to do this hill; the hill is Sgurr Cos na Breachd-laoidh. That's an interesting name, and I don't know what it means. In the end, the summit cairn arrived without too much trouble, though I was feeling a bit knackered after that. I continued over Druim a' Chuirn; this ridge gives some nice walking and a subsidiary top en route. There is a rock outcrop sitting mid-way along the ridge - it's sort of conspicuous as you pass by, but it's even more obvious from low in Glen Dessary, appearing as a 'nipple' sticking out of the ridge. I passed without pause and went over the top of Druim a' Chuirn as the wind blew cloud into tatters and the morning sun shone through, penetrating the dullness with rays of bright light.
Views broke open on the way down to Fraoch Bheinn, and the day became fair. Sgurr Mor appeared to my left, sun dappled and benign. Sun broke across the wastes that separate Sgurr Cos from Froach Bheinn; Feith a' Chicheanais. On the other side was another steep and long uphill: these Corbetts can be hard work… I paced it out, almost feeling knackered again, headed into mist once more and onto the twin summits of Fraoch Bheinn, first to the north top, then to the main south summit.
One hill was left; Sgurr Mhurlagain. It is named after the settlement at its foot; Murlaggan on Loch Arkaig. It throws long embracing arms down to Glen Kingie when seen from Gairich and I recall the wildness of this hill from 2013, as Dougie and I tramped out past the foot of Gairich at 11pm on a pissing wet evening. But the hills looked atmospheric and mysterious that night, and I never forgot Sgurr Mhurlagain. This beautiful peak is also well-viewed from the foot of Loch Arkaig. Its long slopes and little crowned summit dominate the far end of the loch. It is another exceedingly beautiful hill, but why so, I'm not entirely sure. Once again, it’s greater than the sum of its parts – I must just love this area.
The actual climb was little more than a moorland plod, and I arrived just prior to the summit at the lip of a small coire. A short stony ridge walk brought the summit cairn, from where the cloud would open and close, revealing then concealing a broad view down Loch Arkaig. To my south were the stacked hills of Gulvain and Glen Finnan, and impressive scene and essentially all climbed.
Back at glen level, it was odd to hit the road and trade rough ground for tarmac. I stopped by the car and packed a few more provisions (comforts!) for the bothy, then walked west back to A' Chuil for the night. The day dimmed again and I knew James, Kev and Andi were in the glen. I'd meet them at the bothy. What was also strange was I felt entirely fresh at the car park, but by the time I got to A' Chuil I was pretty knackered – something about walking forest tracks really takes it out of you.
We had the bothy to ourselves for the following two nights and they were a fantastic two nights. The following day: the Sgurr na Ciche trio.
(0.00) 4.15pm Loch Arkaig parking
(1.10) 5.25pm A' Chuil
(0.00) 9.38am A' Chuil
(1.34) 11.12am Sgurr Cos...
(1.57) 11.35am Druim a' Chuirn
(3.20) 12.58pm Fraoch Bheinn North Top
(3.27) 1.05pm Fraoch Bheinn
(4.45) 2.23pm Sgurr Mhurlagain
(5.43) 3.21pm Loch Arkaig parking
(6.52) 4.30pm A' Chuil