Easter in Glen Kingie   14 comments

I don’t get up to Scotland as often as I’d like to since I moved to Herefordshire and the kids arrived. However for the last couple of years I’ve been able to use the Easter weekend as an opportunity to head north for some backpacking. This year it was just me and GM and after the usual debate about where to go we settled on Glen Kingie. There were a couple of new Munros for me and several new Corbetts for GM. The forecast sounded excellent so we headed up on the Thursday night and stopped off at the Roybridge Bunkhouse for a cheap bed and a few preparatory beers.

Day 1 – The walk in and Sgurr Mhurlagain

Gairich from the Dam on Loch Quoich

The weather was glorious, sunny and hazy and after a hearty Little Chef breakfast in Spean Bridge we drove up to the Dam at the end of Loch Quoich. We had considered starting from the far end of Loch Arkaig as the walk in was much shorter but anyone who has driven it can tell you the road along the side of the Loch is a rollercoaster of bumps and sharp bends for 20 miles and no fun (especially as passenger when I’m driving).

As we packed the dawning reality of a heavy rucksack with far too much food in it was lightened by the spectacular views unfolding. The early mist was clearing to leave wonderful smoky views of Gairich across Loch Quoich.

Gairich from the Loch Quoich dam

As we set off it was turning into a perfect day for walking, warm and sunny but not hot enough to be a problem. I had thought about walking in over Gairich but as soon as the pack was on my shoulders I ditched that idea. I’m way past such foolishness.

GM crossing the Loch Quoich dam

Apart from the first mile where the path is submerged under the loch the way into Glen Kingie was easy going.

GM crossing the trackless bog towards Glen Kingie

The views across the Loch were replaced with equally fine ones along Glen Kingie. We followed the river towards Kinbreack bothy rather than the stalkers path. The valley floor is nearly flat so the river is broad and extremely deep and would represent a real challenge to cross it other than a few isolated shallow spots.

Me alongside the river Kingie, Fraoch Bheinn behind

Once we had passed the point where the river that flows past the bothy enters the Kingie we found a quality campsite next to a shallow crossing point. Just as well as we’d both had enough of carrying the packs by then. Time scatter our gear over an acre of riverbank and start to consume the large quantities of food I’d lugged in.

GM at Base Camp, Fraoch Bheinn behind

Someone has to make the tea!

After a leisurely lunch, brew and tent set up it was still early afternoon so plenty of time to get a summit in. We chose Sgurr Mhurlagain behind the bothy that involved 350m of really steep grass that I found really hard work, probably a result of carrying my extravagant supplies for 8 miles. GM too pity on me and helped reduce my load scrounging most of my leftovers. Scotch Pies aren’t so appetising when cold and stale but GM will eat any old crap. I prefer them the traditional Scottish way – deep fried.

Once we reached the NE ridge the going was much easier and we reached the summit by 5pm

Approaching the summit of Sgurr Mhurlagain

A picture of weariness...

It’s a really interesting mountain with a line of broken cliffs below the summit and expansive views across to Knoydart although it was hazy. Looking east along the length of Loch Arkaig made me feel vindicated in my decision not drive along it again. Proof that smaller hills are often better than the big ones

GM on the summit of Sgurr Mhurlagain

Me on the summit of Sgurr Mhurlagain!

We headed down the SW ridge and then turned down the W slopes to reach the stalkers path down past the bothy and back to the tent.

Gairich and Kinbreack bothy

Crossing the Kingie back to base camp

It was still a warm evening so GM convinced me a swim was in order. It was as cold as you’d expect but really refreshing, first time I’ve swum in Scottish river for over 20 years

A refreshing dip at the end of a long day

We dined in relative luxury on stir fry with noodles and watched the sun set after a day of 12.3 miles and 2,300 feet of ascent. As we climbed into the tent for the night our thoughts were around how we were going to cope with another full day in the hot sun tomorrow. 30 minutes later it was raining.

Shorts over thermals - straight off the catwalk

Sunset over Glen Kingie

Day 2 – Sgurr Mor

We woke to a typical Scottish day, wet and windy, but after a lie-in and leisurely breakfast the weather looked better so we headed for the main ridge to the north so I could bag Sgurr Mor. There is an excellent stalkers path that heads up the valley and then turns to head up to, and along the ridge. As the local terrain is rough and grassy it’s a real bonus to follow a well-made path especially with weary legs after the previous day’s efforts. The weather was still damp but with occasional bright spots and only a couple of really heavy showers.

Normal Scottish weather service resumed

Local wildlife

Looking back down Glen Kingie

With the path leading us up, we made steady progress over Sgurr Beag and on to Sgurr Mor (Munro 213 for me).

GM heading for Sgurr Mor

Sgurr an Fhuarain

On the stalkers path up Sgurr Mor

The weather was still promising so we decided to carry on to the Corbett at the end of the ridge Sgurr an Fhuarain. On the way down the East Ridge we had the best spell of weather with some pleasant sunny spells and much clearer views across to the Corbetts to the south and over Loch Quoich to South Kintail.

Fraoch Bheinn

Sgurr Mhurlagain and Fraoch Bheinn

Loch Quoich and South Kintail

The weather out west still looked threatening so we headed back to the tent after another pretty long day of 8.5 miles and 4,000 feet of ascent. No swimming tonight but the evening was lightened by the discovery that Anchovy Carbonara, despite looking pretty awful is a high quality backpacking meal – big thanks to EWO for the Anchovy tip! We also heard a very unusual sound like a small helicopter. Was it a bird? Was it a bat? We needed ED with his vastly superior nature knowledge as me and GM are pretty hopeless with such things. It drove us nuts every night trying to wok out what it was. It wasn’t until we got back that we discovered it’s likely to be a member of the Snipe family. As we turned in, you guessed, it started to rain

Rainbow over the glen

Day 3 – Fraoch Bheinn

Heavy rain through the morning kept us in the tent, eating granola, drinking tea and playing lateral thinking puzzles, but by lunchtime it stopped and patches of blue sky appeared (I’m turning into the EWO these days). We headed off up Fraoch Bheinn the prominent pyramid directly across the river. First obstacle are the huge tussocks that proliferate the valley. GM calls them babies heads – I thought they looked more like Critters from that crap 1980’s movie.

Attack of the killer tussocks...

It’s another steep climb but with plenty of rocky patches to keep the interest going.

Fraoch Bheinn NE ridge

Sgurr Beag & Sgurr Mor

Once over 600m the NE ridge narrows into an excellent, broad, rocky crest with excellent views in all directions. I doubt the ridge gets many ascent and we certainly saw no-one today.

GM admires the NE ridge of Fraoch Bheinn

It’s another quality small mountain and possibly the best in the area (Sgurr Mor by comparison is a little bland). The summit is broad flat and stony and after a brief lunch on the summit we headed back down, following the extremely steep N ridge before heading right into Coire a Chaorainn picking up shallow rocky ridge which broke up the steep descent and gave some interest on the way back to the tent

GM on the summit of Fraoch Bheinn

After a chilli and a fun session trying to burn the rubbish we turned in and planned an early start the next day to head home with another 4.4. miles and 2,300 feet of ascent completed

A well earned chilli

Glow in the dark

Day 4 – Gairich and home

We breakfasted early, packed and were away from the campsite by 7:30am. We picked up the stalkers path towards Gairich where it climbs steeply up the W flank. I wasn’t looking forward to hauling my sorry ass and pack over a Munro. However the Victorian estate workers had done us proud again with a quality stalkers path that took us most of the way to 700m and from there it was a lovely high level walk under improving weather and clearing skies to the top.

On the stalkers path on the west slopes of Gairich

GM approaching Gairich from the west

GM approaching Gairich summit

We were on the summit by 10am and I don’t mind admitting I was pretty pleased with myself. We celebrated our achievement (Munro 214 for me) with a pretty squalid 4 day old rhubarb pie but 4 days into a backpacking trip you have to take what small pleasures you can.

The summit reward - a 4 day old Morrisons rhubarb pie!

Gairich is a high quality summit, its isolated position giving fine views across Knoydart and across Loch Quoich to Kintail and South towards Glenfinnan and Moidart.

Me gazing out to the east

It was too cold to linger so we headed down the surprisingly steep and rocky E flank and then across the broad eastern flanks to pick up our route in and back across the dam to the car. Another 9 miles and 2500 feet of ascent completed

Heading home

The home straight

"Can I take this bloody pack off now"

A top quality trip even though the weather wasn’t quite as good as we’d been led to believe (the rest of the UK including J, D, and L at my parents caravan in Wales was still basking in an April heat-wave). I’d recommend Glen Kingie for a weekend trip as classic, remote and little trodden glen. We only met two people at the bothy and passed a few day walkers on their way up Gairich while we were coming down. In total, 34 miles and 11,000 feet of ascent and I was especially pleased that my knee stood up to challenge without any real problems.

Both me and GM have put together a compilation slideshow so they are both below. As usual my full set of photos can be found here on Flickr

Roll on Easter 2012!

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14 responses to “Easter in Glen Kingie

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  1. Looks like you packed a lot in to your few days!

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    beatingthebounds
  2. You should get a pass and join us next year – off to Jura to bag some remote corbetts and explore the coast – lots of raised beaches, caves, arches etc

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    • Like the idea – I’ll put my mind to a suitable strategy.

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      beatingthebounds
      • Right – your committed now – no going back – you’re on the Jura team. I’ve actually found a Cicerone guide to Jura and the coast looks amazing, albeit pathless and hard going. I’m looking forward to it already

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  3. This looks like a great place for wild camping. I need to persuade Neil (hubby) to agree and to head in there for a 3-4 day trip. I did Gairich on a solo trip one day a few years ago. A few pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swan-scot/sets/72157600313838372/

    The start of that path is very boggy – at one place I sank up to my thighs in thick, goppy, smelly bog! But otherwise, it’s lovely, practically empty land.

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    • It’s really interesting to see someone else’s photos of the same mountain on a completely different day. The path from Loch Quioch wasn’t too boggy – I think we benefitted from the previous dry weather but I can imagine it being nasty after a wet spell – the rest of the walk in pretty easy with a heavy pack. The camping in Glen Kingie was superb and despite the proximity of the bothy a very quiet spot. I doubt it gets many visitors – I found only a few web entries mentioning it and most of those were the usual day trips to climb Sgurr Mor from Loch Arkaig. I strongly recommend it for a 3/4 day trip – make sure you don’t neglect the Corbetts – they are superb hills

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      • I’m going to look into this for a back-packing trip myself – it looks excellent. Sounds like a good mix of low-level, Munros and Corbetts, with a nice remote feel, and a river to swim in to boot!

        I enjoyed your trip report a lot – liked the photos (except the one of the stale pie!)

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  4. Can’t recommend this area highly enough – barely saw a soul all weekend even though it was Easter – looking forward to a trip report. Don’t forget the anchovies. The pie was better than the previous year – I sat on them on the walk in turning them into a amorphous pastry/rhubarb/packet/bag combo. Still ate em though!

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  5. Excellent stuff Andy, this is another area I want to return to.
    Intend doing a few of the Corbetts in the area, maybe en-route to knoydart from Glenfinnan as I did a few years ago.
    http://paul.sammonds.com/glenfinnan.html
    I bet you enjoyed that pie, after a few day backpacking there’s not much that doesn’t seem edible!
    Cheers,
    Paul

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    • Hi Paul
      Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for the comment. Glen Kingie is remote and little walked and Fraoch Bheinn is a cracking little mountain that I doubt gets many ascents other than Corbett baggers but the ridge we ascended was top drawer (if a little steep at the bottom). Your trip through looks a classic. A trip into Knoydart by ferry to Inverie and camp in a similar spot to you is also on the cards for us this Easter.
      The pie was a little past it’s best but I’m like a dustbin – eat any old crap. Highlight was the Anchovy meal – a revelation :). I’ve been through some very poor backpacking meal experiences (mostly Beanfeast releated although Noodles in dried cheese sauce was a low-point) so finding a good one is a treat
      Cheers
      Andy

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  6. Fantastic trip and great photos. Glen Kingie is very quiet isn’t it? I fancy a round of Mhurlagain from there but taking in the two long ridges.
    Carol.

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    • Hi Carol
      The Corbetts up there are excellent, there are loads of smaller hills in that part of Knoydart that are well worth a climb. I have really good memories of this trip, rekindled after your comment 😀
      Andy

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