18-19 October 2014
Fire road to start, hmm, kit check, no hat, no glasses, a micro fleece, trousers, hiking boots… That’s not right… Wait where’s my bike? I’d had a pretty miserable ride home from work the previous Wednesday so the bikes were at home, no 3 pronged attack on the 3 routes to the Rest and Be Thankful, and no exploring the woods on wheels, it was time for a “rest”…
Plans were hatched in the hostel on the Friday night based on the abysmal weather forecast, these involved either Munro Ben Cruachan and an optimistic ridge walk or Corbett Beinn Bheula. Cruachan sounded too optimistic for me at this point so I opted for the easier sounding of the 2. A stormy night brought flashes of lightning and roars of thunder, but the morning was surprisingly calm. We set off to Lochgoilhead with a bit of logistical assistance for Alec and Hannah who were doing another route that needed bike access dropping a bike off at the Loch Fyne Brewery (a story for Alec to tell perhaps), and shot off up the Hell’s Glen road before diverging to Loch Goil.
An easy start on fireroad turned into a mucky trudge in an area of work before we cam across our first challenge, the night’s rain had turned every burn into a raging torrent, and we found the first we needed to cross. This was accomplished after some scouting, before crawling through windfall in the forest to reach Lochan nan Cnáimh, now we were on a wind swept muir between loch and ben, and more importantly it was lunch time. We hunkered down in a crease to scoff sandwiches and Kinder bars before setting off up the hill, after a bit of climbing we could see over to Loch Eck, within seconds an approaching cloud had turned 5Km of visibility into 5m. Enough visibility though to work out the route round to the summit if not find the summit itself, views out to Lochgoil were briefly available but not for long so we went from false summit to false summit until we eventually spotted the cairn surrounding the trig point poking through the mist… A short stop for a summit photograph in the mist before taking a bearing to a sensible route down then skirting the side of the mountain down to the outflow of the Curra Lochain where we discovered our 2nd river crossing challenge of the day. Where we met the river the water was flowing fast, a fence looked like it may have provided a crossing point but it was quickly discounted as too shonky, at the rope bridge put in place as part of the Cowal way the water was still far too fast and deep to cross safely, eventually right at the outlet of the loch we found somewhere shallow enough and slow enough flowing to wade across the river. From now the walk back to the car was uneventful until a stop to admire the raging torrent on the Sruth Ban waterfall resulted in Andrew spotting some wooden stakes, that resulted in Dr Van Helsing and Count Dracula being transported to the world of a John Buchan novel. Back at the car we had an hour and a bit to spare before the hostel re-opened so a trip down to the end of the road and Carrick Castle was made before returning to the hostel for Hunter’s Chicken Cacciatore.
The remarkably mild weather continued and after a sunny Friday I arrived from Port Appin/Lismore, Tom from 5 dry days on Skye and Berenice/Andrew from Morvern… and a carload or two from Dundee. A very wet night followed but by breakfast it was dry. The group split four ways for activities of varying degrees of endurance and I went with Hannah for the bike and walk I had planned up Glen Fyne and then Bheinn Bhuidhe. With help from Andrew we got the bikes to the start of the flat glen and tootled off for the few km cycle, taking in a cache on the way, and. more importantly noting the brewery shop at the start of the glen… more later. Fast moving cloud, the sun almost always glinting on hillsides that we were not on. Leaving the bikes, there was a short walk to Inverchorachan and then… and then.. what seemed like an almost vertical scramble through bracken, mud, rocks, bog, more bog, more rocks on and on and on. It took us an endless 4+ hours to reach the summit (including bike ride) though I expect Hannah could have done it considerably quicker on her own. Luckily a path all the way and lots to enjoy – torrents rushing down, waterfalls, distant deer, the tiniest frog ever seen, a huge dome of a summit ridge, an autumnal hazy view from the saddle and an easyish ridge walk to the top. Lots of chat and some moments of daftness… a sudden hail shower had us crouching in Hannah’s wonderful survival igloo at the very moment that the only other walker on the mountain came past. I don’t know who was more surprised, him or us, but we all acted as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. By the time we descended – knee and thigh achingly careful stepping over slippery rocks and mud – the showers were getting beefier and the cycle back was into the wind, but lo and behold… remember that brewery shop at the start?? well it was open, populated and really just a bar, where we collapsed in front of a delicious selection of beers, most notably a peat-smoked Fynebank. Magic!! Back to the dry and warmth of the hostel, the marvellously crafted individual custard portions, the whisky tasting, and the sally out to the George for a Saturday night with the locals. So that was that, and as promised Sunday morning dawned with massive showers and rain, putting paid to any further activity.
Tom was keen to do the Ben Cruachan ridge, so I joined him along with Caya and Ian. We parked at the Falls of Cruachan railway station and headed up the path. Greg had given us some wise words on which path to take which we forgot, so the ascent up to the dam required scrambling up a steep muddy slope and climbing a fence. After admiring the dam we followed a stream up to a Bealach, then on to the summit of Ben Cruachan and panoramic views of the mist. We followed the ridge to Drochaid Ghlas, and after a detour along an interesting looking ridge we found the path to Stob Daimh, still in the mist. As we descended back below the clouds Loch Cruachan and Loch Awe came into view, then it was back to the dam and the sensible path back to the road.