Bidein a' Chabair - 867m
Sgùrr na h-Aide - 859m
Saturday 29th December 2018
Weather/Conditions: Quite nice in the morning, then cloud closed in with mist and drizzle over the twin swummits - which cleared as soon as I descended. Overcast back out to A' Chuil and nearly dark but dry back to the car.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 24.5km / 1200m / 6h 25m
In the previous two days, I'd been across the trio of Corbetts north of Glen Dessary, and then the Sgurr na Ciche trio of Munros. The rest of the guys were heading home, but there was no way I could leave with one outstanding itch to scratch. Bidean a' Chabair was one of my last hills in the area and I wasn't leaving without it completed.
That's not to say I got up early for it. I didn't leave A' Chuil until 11am, and I took the bike back up the glen just like the previous day. I dropped it off in the same place and followed the track along the top of the forestry. But this time I cut off the track and went toward Meall na Sroine, a broad foretop of the Bidean, and very much guarding the main summit from sight.
After a couple days on the go, I felt undernourished and under-hydrated. It didn't seem to matter too much, but I definitely felt I was earning my hills. At A’ Chuil, I never trusted the burn water. Everything was boiled first. But cups of tea aren't best for hydration; they are too slow to drink. So my tank was not full today. Over the successive days I felt my appetite deepen as only it does with back-to-back hill days.
I came over Meall na Sroine, and took a bit of wandering to get the highest point. On the north side of the Sourlies pass, the great landslip at Lochan a’ Mhaim was plain to see - a unique vantage point. I wondered if I'd see it so clearly again any time soon, so made sure to get photos. Ahead, Bidean a' Chabair was bloody impressive; a high fang of a mountain. I had to check on the map because it seemed I had miles to go. In retrospect I think it's one hill that looks even bigger than it really is. I headed up the front through gullies and across little rock walls. The final ascent below the summit is relatively steep, but it’s not really a scramble.
In a good case of sods law, the mist and drizzle pushed in just below the top and denied me any views. I'd wanted to climb its twin peak Sgurr na h-Aide anyway. That would be an excuse to see if the drizzle washed over. The intervening ridge gave a couple hands-on moments, but it was primarily pleasant ridge walking. There were traces of a path, even all the way out here. I climbed Sgurr na h-Aide, then backtracked to Bidean. But the mist didn't abate at all. Nevermind. I'd love to climb these hills from Morar, and follow the massive rising ridge from Tarbet. So there's a good excuse for a return, if one was ever needed.
And then to rub it in, I descended for ten or twenty minutes to see the mist blow off the top and find the summit exposed again. I'll be back, no doubt! I descended south into Gleann an Lochain Eanaiche, just for a bit of variation. This is a quiet glen if I ever saw one. It links the head of Loch Morar with Glen Dessary, massive empty walls crashing down to an empty glen. The map is replete with place names, but there appears to be nobody home; not even a path through the upper glen.
The glen tightens in its top reaches to a curious constriction. This gets two names on the map: Ròd nan Daoine and An Cumhann. The former is hard to make sense of: the ròd of the people. What is a ròd? Surely not a road, which I presume is a modern translation. An Cumhann is obvious: this is the narrow - a fitting description for this miniature glen-in-a-glen. At one moment I felt very isolated from the Glen Dessary I knew, but in truth the forestry was just beyond. I was just approaching from a different angle. I bog-hopped and waded the river among the conifers: following the watercourses took me straight back to my bike.
One back at the bike, the car didn't seem far. But the light was beginning to fail. At A' Chuil I stopped and repacked my stuff: it still took 20 minutes to do this, but I wanted to get away. With a full rucksack on my bike and panniers, I might have got back to the car quicker except the panniers failed. Don’t try to stick them together with gaffa tape. It doesn’t work! I ended up with the pannier bag slung over my head and rucksack! It was not comfy, but it would do and I should remember to bring a shifting spanner next time. That'll save me a lot of hassle...
I was at the car for very last light, back to a change of clothes, heat and music. It had been a great trip and to be honest I climbed everything I wanted to: three bothy nights and three great hill days, all in reasonable weather. But I was starving. The Arkaig road was a roller coaster as ever, and reminded me just how far we'd actually been from the Fort and civilisation. I went straight to the takeaway, downed a pizza, then into Wetherspoons for a full meal with sides. It was worth it.
With the weather breaking down from the west, I made plans to escape east, and drove to Nethy Bridge to stay with family friends. The following day's plans were Lochnagar, a plan I changed when I saw the wind battering across the Lecht the following morning. Thus my last hill of the year was the humble Brown Cow Hill at the Lecht on the 30th December and the day before Hogmanay.
(0.00) 10.57am A' Chuil
(2.03) 1.00pm Meall na Sroine
(2.56) 1.53pm Bidean a' Chabair
(3.11) 2.08pm Sgurr na h-Aide
(3.28) 2.25pm Bidean a' Chabair (again)
(5.14) 4.11pm A' Chuil
(5.34) 4.31pm A' Chuil (left)
(6.25) 5.22pm Arkaig road end