Lochailort to Arisaig over Gnarly ground with a Summit Camp. 30th-31st March 2019

Date: Saturday – Sunday 30th-31st March 2019
Distance: 13 + 15km
Ascent: 1130 + 500m

At last – proper weekend camping weather on the cards. With a forecast for a mixed Saturday running to a clear, still night and a great Sunday we were digging through the route folders.

We decided, given higher windspeeds running into Saturday evening, to take a lower route. We have a few routes in the South Morar area and we decided to use the Mallaig rail line to give us a linear walk.

Parked up at Arisaig to catch the 0619 train, getting off at the request stop at Lochailort.

Walked east along the quiet A830 for 1.5km to Arieniskill. There’s a reasonable path running up from here and over the bealach to Meoble – we came down that at the end of our Glenfinnan to Lochailort camping trip in 2012.

The path nips under a railway bridge and then above the B + B and then away uphill.

Above Arieniskill

As we ascended Allt na Criche we noticed a memorial cairn to our left (missed that last time). Wandered over and found this to be a Memorial to a Shackleton air crash from 1967.

Shackleton crash Memorial:

Carried on, with improving views across to An Stac and the Rois-bheinn group. A dusting of new snow had fallen on Friday night.

H and An Stac:

The path to Meoble crosses over the pass at about 300m, we started uphill towards Creag Bhan. There’s a good view of Loch Beoraid from here – one of a few tucked away lochs hidden from roads in the area.

Loch Beoraid:

To the north and east the hills were in a lot more cloud, and occasional snow. Meall Buidhe was picked out briefly.

Snowy Meall Buidhe:

We plowtered along, with not much distance planned for the day we could stop and enjoy seeing the views.

Loch Beoraid:

We skirted Creag Bhan on it’s north flank. We were up this hill a few months back. Passing about 100m below the summit we carried on to weave through the gnarly terrain round to Beinn nan Cabar.

To the west were two linked lochs even more reclusive than Loch Beoraid – Loch a Creige Dhuibhe and Loch Mama.

Loch a Creige Dhuibhe and Loch Mama:

Weaved around the rough ground to the summit of Cruach Thoraraidh with a view on to Beinn nan Cabar.

We heard a few skeins of Whooper Swans heading towards Iceland.

Beinn nan Cabar:

From Cruach Thoraraidh we headed along the old estate fence line to Beinn nan Cabar. Although less jumbled the underfoot conditions were wet and quite slippy, not a recipe for rapid progress.

Heading up Beinn nan Cabar there were some areas of dry grass, much beloved by Common Lizards – happy to spot my first of the year.

First Lizard of 2019:

Up to the summit we sat and had some food. Progress had been fairly slow, a combination of relatively poor fitness, gnarly ground and heavy packs. Still, we weren’t in a hurry anyway.

It clouded over a bit on the summit. Layered up in the cool air and ate our lunch.

To the NE was a jumble of hills around the west of Loch Arkaig – a few old favourites in there.

NE from Beinn nan Cabar:

Planning the route onward to Sidhean Mor meant plotting a route off Beinn nan Cabar. Given the rather slippy, wet ground we tried to minimise the slope by heading north to Maman Odhar before curling west towards Sidhean Mor. A partial success, although the terrain was still peppered with microcrags and obstacles needing a lot of weaving, sidestepping and back tracking. Navigating this in mist would be a work of no small skill.

We were entertained by a couple of curious ravens, one of whom had an unusual vocalisation.

Descent off Maman Odhar:

Off Maman Odhar we then headed west towards Sgurr Nighean Mhic Choinich, spotted a Golden Eagle circling near Beinn nan Cabar.

We took the gap just south of Sgurr Nighean Mhic Choinich through to Lochan Feith a Mhadaidh. A very large herd of deer were less than impressed to see us.

Across the loch was a view north to Ladhar Bheinn.

Lochan Feith a Mhadaidh and on to Ladhar Bheinn:

From there we were glad to head across the last kilometre or so up Sidhean Mor and our planned camp site. The summit of the hill is comprised of a lot of rock plates. Nice walking surface.

Nearing Sidhean Mor summit:

The summit ridge eventually reaches a twin top – one with a cairn the other with a trig point.

The normal 45 minutes or so finding a pitch site with a decent view, we plumped for a spot south of the western end of the summit.

The day had cleared nicely for us, although cloud and snow showers continued to pile in across the hills to our NE.

We had a lovely view of the Ardnish Peninsula – we had a great walk there on New Year’s Day.

Ardnish peninsula:

To the east Ben Nevis caught the sunshine for a short while.

Ben Nevis:

The main attraction of Sidhean Mor was the prospect of a sea view out to the Small Isles – the air had been quite hazy but as the sun sank we got a decent view of Eigg and Rum.

Rum and Eigg:

The wind had picked up briskly as we pitched the tent, but as the evening progressed it swung north and we were nicely sheltered by the summit.

Scarp:

Cooked up our evening meal and ate as the sun set behind Rum.

Rum and Eigg:

Scarp sunset:

Sunset behind Sgurr nan Gillean:

The only snow shower of the day for us decided to pass through about 1 minute after the sun disc vanished so we jumped into the tent.

Sat up and watched as the light faded out. Camping high along the West Coast is one of our favourites, with distant lights on ships and islands coming into view.

The air temp dropped rapidly, but we were snug under our duvets, woke up at about 2300 to realise that we’d conked out leaving the tent door open – happily no more showers had arrived.

As forecast the wind had died completely – wandered out to look at a moonless starscape and identify lights.

Spotted Skerryvore Lighthouse blinking away to the SW.

Decided not to set up the tripod this time and went to sleep instead.

Had a good night’s sleep and woke before dawn. Boots frozen and covered with a layer of ice took a bit of getting into but I was up to see the sun rise from behind Streap.

Sunrise from behind Streap:

The tent was nicely snugged away – a great view to Loch Ailort and on to Ben More on Mull.

Scarp and Loch Ailort:

Took our time getting up, having breakfast and getting going.

Small Isles:

A lovely, sunny, windless morning meant we could air the duvets on the rocks and wander round the summit. Although the air temp was cool, the direct sun meant we were warm in our gear.

We had a clearer view of the Cuillin than the day before – across the gnarly ground of Morar.

Across gnarly ground to Skye:

One of the advantages of camping on a hill is having hours to enjoy it.

H enjoying the morning:

The tent eventually was in the sun and the frost in the fly melted and mostly evaporated.

Scarp and on to Mull:

The sea out to Ardnamurchan was flat calm. We had been identifying hills on Mull and the islands of Coll and Tiree out that way.

SW to Ardnamurchan, Mull, Coll and Tiree:

Having packed up we had a last visit to the summit a bit past 1030 (BST) – it was nice to look at some of the complex ridges and hills we’ve visited on view. Sgurr na Ciche in particular stands very prominent.

Sgurr na Ciche:

To the east Ben Nevis was glowing white.

Snowy Ben Nevis:

All good things come to an end so we shouldered the packs and headed onwards. We had a bit of ground to cover to get back to the car at Arisaig.

Dropped west to the little lochan above Coire an Easa Bhain – the landscape was peppered with little mirror lochans on such a nice morning.

Lochan below Sidhean Mor:

K and lochan:

At the west end of the lochan was a mass of frog spawn, still with mating activity ongoing.

Mating frogs:

…and the view out to the islands wasn’t bad either.

Small Isles:

If we weren’t so prone to summit camps this lochan would have been a decent pitch site.

Sidhean Mor:

Dropped into Coire an Easa Bhain from the NW on a steep grassy slope. A bit hard to get a picture of the eponymous waterfall into the sun.

Coire an Easa Bhain:

From there 1km west to the Borrodale Burn and a meadow with old shielings/ruins and some lovely pools…..another lovely place to put a tent.

Old shielings and meadow:

We took the Borrodale-Scamadale path north from here. This is mostly well-formed and weaves round various crags and hummocks to the high point just under Carn a Mhadaidh-ruaidh.

We headed up to the summit of Carn a Mhadaidh-ruaidh for a look and some food.

This hill was undoubtably the best viewpoint of the walk – superb views to the Small Isles and Skye, north to Knoydart, east along Loch Morar to the hills at the head of Loch Nevis and south to Ardnamurchan and Mull. A few great tent pitches too…..we both had the same thought.

Carn a Mhadaidh-ruaidh view across Loch Morar:

Carn a Mhadaidh-ruaidh view NE:

Carn a Mhadaidh-ruaidh view to Small Isles:

Sat for an hour or so and enjoyed the view. A few ravens investigated us as we sat.

Headed onwards down the path to Scamadale. The path down is sketchy at best, often muddy, but a reasonable route. The good views of Loch Morar persist.

Descent to Scamadale:

The last 150m descent through the forestry and to the lodge is even muddier and we were glad to get feet on to the track back to Arisaig.

Did spot an adult Sea Eagle flying by – adequate exchange.

From there it was a 6km track walk – after a weekend of very slow progress it was nice to be able to stroll along in a straight line at a decent pace!

The Mointeach Mhor between Loch Morar and the sea is odd for the area – completely flat.

Mointeach Mhor:

The last few km were made rather pleasant by the sound of hundreds of Redwings calling and singing from the vegetation – presumably a mass staging point for their migration to breeding grounds. Lovely to hear.

Crossed the A830 and made our way along the quieter streets of upper Arisaig to get back to the car at the Railway Station….and then the drive home – stunning in the NW and hard to leave.

Fantastic to get out with the tent again – having set the bar low with distance I’m glad we did. Gnarly terrain is an understatement and being able to take it slowly was well worth it.

Roll on the next camping weekend!

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2 thoughts on “Lochailort to Arisaig over Gnarly ground with a Summit Camp. 30th-31st March 2019

  1. Nice one Kinley, a decent weekend and good to see you got the tent out. The weather was gash when i was home there for a couple of weeks.

    Like

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