Easter in Ardgour Part 2 – Carn na Nathrach & Sgurr Dhomhnuill   17 comments

We were awake at 7am, a gentle dusting of frost tinkling down from the frozen inner to accompany our initial stirrings. It was perishingly cold but it looked like it might be quite nice outside. I poked my head out to scene of unmatched glory.

Glen Scaddle, Stob Mhic Bheathain

Early morning splendour

I was up and about in minutes, keen to get outside to savour the scene. You just can’t waste a morning like this indoors (or in-nylon). GM was slightly less enthusiastic as it was well below freezing in the tent but he was soon out in the sunshine. I spent a happy 10 minutes just shaking my head in wonder and snapping heaps of photos. The snow-capped mountains under the blue sky looked magnificent

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Beinn na h-Uamha

Sgurr Dhomhnuill & Beinn na h-Uamha

Glen Scaddle, Meall Dearg Choire nan Muc

Sunlight over Glen Scaddle

The frozen streams were starting to crack in the bright sunlight

Glen Scaddle, Gleann an Lochain Duibh

Frozen river Gleann an Lochain Duibh,

I’m not taken to musicals or singing as anyone who has had the misfortune to catch me attempting it when under the influence of alcohol but “Oh what a beautiful morning” came very close to a rendition. Fortunately for GM my need to eat and warm up with a cuppa took preference and the morning was complete with a freshly made bacon butty (made easier with the purchase of a non stick frying pan for my Trangia)

Glen Scaddle, Stob Mhic Bheathain

Breakfast time

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Beinn na h-Uamha

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill and Beinn na h-Uamha

Find me a better place to enjoy a fried breakfast and a brew – just magnificent

Glen Scaddle

A tent of two halves

We were underway just after 8am which is a pretty miraculous achievement for us. Faffing about is now the norm as we all enter middle age so an hour to get up have breakfast and get ready for a walk is pretty impressive. Our route for today was a grand circuit of Gleann na Cloiche Sgoilte, taking in the Corbetts of Sgurr Dhomhnuill and Carn na Nathrac (or Carn Anthrax to give it’s new name!)

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

7.2 miles, 4,450 feet of ascent

Now the sun was up it was relatively warm in the sunshine and pretty much perfect walking conditions. It looked a relatively short walk up to the first summit but once we left the path the going was rough over heather, tussocks and frozen bog with some short steep slopes that made for slow tiring progress. The views however were still sensational.

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Carn na Nathrach

Under way for a big day

Carn na Nathrach

Taking it all in

I wasn’t long before the previous day’s exertions took effect and my feet were in trouble again. As we hit the ridge proper I pulled over to take off my boots for some more running repairs to my feet. Pain was tempered by the amazing views and the birds eye view down the length of Glen Scaddle was particularly fine as was the massed ranks of the western highlands spread before us

Glen Scaddle

Across Glen Scaddle to the Southern Highlands

Ben Nevis, Mamores

Ben Nevis & The Mamores

Progress along the short cropped grass on the ridge was much easier and drew us quickly to the snowline. The snow was firm but the angle was easy so need for any steel-work

Carn na Nathrach

GM on Carn na Nathrach

Ardgour

GM with northern Ardgour behind

Walking along a the crest of a ridge on firm snow under a blue sky is about as good as it gets. Here, in the midst of the wild and rocky mountains of Ardgour it was near perfection.

Carn na Nathrach

GM approaching the summit of Carn na Nathrach

Carn na Nathrach

GM takes a breather

Whilst not exactly narrow, the swoops and curves of the ridge, accentuated by the snow were wonderful. There were enough little short steep sections to keep things interesting and it was almost a disappointment to reach the summit

Carn na Nathrach

Carn na Nathrach summit ridge

Carn na Nathrach

Snow work

The views from the summit were superb and we sat for a late second breakfast on the summit at around 11ish. Some light cloud had drifted in through the morning but it just added to the splendour. All around the peaks were almost too numerous to identify. Our next target, Sgurr Dhomhnuill was dominant in the foreground as were the hills towards Glenfinnan. Gulvain also caught the eye with it’s shapely curves as did Beinn Resipol in the west with the Rum and Skye Cuillin and Ben More on Mull also visible. It’s hard to tear your self away but the fresh breeze and another Corbett had us on our way

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Sgurr Dhomhnuill & Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Ben Nevis, Mamores, Carn na Nathrach

View east from Carn na Nathrach

As we headed east, we were given our first reminder that this was still winter and conditions were still not to be trifled with. There was a short steep pitch off the summit down to the easier grassy slopes, steep enough to warrant facing inwards to kick steps and whip the ice axe out for security (one heavy item needed, one pair to go). The surprising little difficulty added some excitement to what was already turning into a classic Scottish winter day

Carn na Nathrach

Descending the short steep pitch on Carn na Nathrach

The ridge west was as good as the route up and we were both enjoying the easy high level stroll across the snow

Carn na Nathrach

Looking back to the summit of Carn na Nathrach

Beinn Resipol

Looking west over Beinn Resipol

That joy was soon cut short as we now had a 350m, very steep and grassy descent down to the col. In my youth is used to run down slopes like this. 30 years on my dodgy knees have put a stop to such nonsense and I’m forced into a slow steady pace supported by walking poles. Our route of ascent, the rocky ridge of Sron Doire Nan Cabair, was looking pretty steep and intimidating but was clearly foreshortened. Having to drop down to 350m before re-ascending up to nearly 900m was not my idea of fun but the thought of gaining the summit by a wild, remote and rocky ridge that probably sees very few ascents was ample compensation

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Our ascent route to Sgurr Dhomhnuill the ridge of Sron Doire Nan Cabair

We took lunch in the col to build our spirits for the next climb (and yet more blister repairs for me). It was a wild place full of outsize erratic glacial boulders with deer trotting through at intervals, watching us with careful eyes

Gleann na Cloiche Sgiolte

The head of Gleann na Cloiche Sgiolte

The ridge was superb. The bottom section was slabs of clean dry rock that were just the right angle to walk up.

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Ascending the slabs on Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Perfect rock

As we ascended the ridge became steeper twisting and turning through small rocky outcrops that gave some interesting scrambling and still more sensational views, the view down the broad and perfect U-shape of Glen Scaddle was especially fine.

Glen Scaddle

Glen Scaddle

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

GM poses for effect

About two-thirds of the way up there was a short 5m wall that presented a slightly more tricky challenge. GM picked his way up carefully, I followed and then promptly lost my footing and fell off. Only a couple of feet but I did fall onto a snow slope and slide a few extra feet into the bargain. GM looked a little concerned but it was just a little lost pride and a wet ar5e for me. Memories of Rum from a few Easter’s back!

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Scrambling the mid section

From there we were up to the snow line and the situations, seeking out the patches of snow and turning the rocky sections, were sublime and the summit of the subsidiary peak was in sight. The sun lighting the snow clad northern corrie was majestic. We’d carried the bloody things for miles so we thought it was time to don the crampons, especially if we came to any awkward sections

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Up to the snow line

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Winter conditions

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Perfect snow

We walked off the ridge to try and find a snow slope to the summit. This was the highlight of the whole weekend. A broad couloir with perfect crisp snow just the right angle for an easy yet exhilerating climb. The blue sky above turned that deep colour that you only see on crisp clear winter day. It was sensational and we lingered over its delights, taking pictures of each other in various poses

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Awesome snow slope

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Moment of the trip

It was almost alpine in character and the pity was it was over all too soon. For 10 minutes we were both lost in that wonder that comes from winter mountaineering in sunshine. Those 10 minutes will live in my memory for a very long time indeed

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Alpine

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

This is what it’s all about

We emerged onto the nameless top grinning insanely at the magnificent ascent. Stick that ridge in the Lake District or Snowdonia and it would be a classic. Here in remote Ardgour we had the whole thing to ourselves in perfect conditions. Lucky? To paraphrase Gary Player, the more often I go out into the mountains the luckier I get

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Ben Nevis, Mamores

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Ben Nevis and the Mamores

Up at over 800m the snow cover was more continuous and was pretty much all snow to the base of the final climb to Sgurr Dhomhnuill. It looked pretty steep from below looking all its 888m in height. We’d been following a set of footprints (the only sign of life we saw all day and in fact all weekend).

Rois Bheinn, Rum

Rois Beinn with Rum behind

I decided to follow them up to the top but they seemed to seek out a mix of very steep ice and very deep mush. It was pretty tough going and in one or two places relatively serious, enough to make me glad I brought the crampons and axe

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Steep final climb to Sgurr Dhomhnuill

We were now over 4000 feet of ascent for the day and I was starting to feel it. I made a pretty good hash of the climb with some poor route finding decisions.

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Steep snow work on Sgurr Dhomhnuill

My frustration at not finding the same nirvana I’d found 30 minutes earlier and my tiredness made me a little grouchy for a few minutes. Once over the worst and arriving of the summit that soon dispelled and after a couple of minutes gazing at the views I was at one with the mountains again

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

GM on Sgurr Dhomhnuill summit with NW Highlands behind

Glen Scaddle, Lochaber

Glen Scaddle and the Lochaber Mountains

As expected of the highest mountain of the trip the views were fabulous. We sat for a snack and whole load more photos (we took hundreds between us that day). I remembered that I’d made a vague plan to possibly meet with James Boulter from Backpackingbongos so I checked my phone. He’d sent me a text saying he was in the next valley/hills to the north, that he was having a superb time (of course) and that he hoped to see me the next evening. I replied with our own happy thoughts and that we’d meet up tomorrow

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Glencoe

Zoom shot from Sgurr Dhomhnuill to Glencoe

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Garbh Bheinn

Garbh Bheinn from Sgurr Dhomhnuill,

Alas we’d reached that point where you need to head down. The snow from the summit led us easily down and some of the little micro-views across shadowed snow slopes were again just inspiring. I was pretty shattered but with the snow on the upper slopes and the easy angled grass slopes lower down the first part of the descent was a pleasure

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Homeward bound

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Reflections on Snow

I settled into my steady plod and GM settled into a much faster plod interspersed with waiting for me. I told him I was happy enough to saunter down on my own and that he should race on down and have a brew ready for me when I got back which to his credit he did. By the time I got back the skies were clearing again and we settled down for another glorious, sunny but cold evening in our private Scottish glen, nourished by the finest backpacking meal that a hiker could wish for, anchovy carbonara 🙂

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Beinn na h-Uamha, Gleann Mhic Phail

Beinn na h-Uamha and Gleann Mhic Phail

Glen Scaddle

Suburbs of our wild camp site

Apologies for a very photo-dominated post but such a day demands reminders of each and every classic moment. I was hard pressed to edit out all the photos so I’ve been indulgent in creating a 9 minute slideshow. I enjoyed every minute of putting it together and every 20 times I’ve watched it through since. What a day!

17 responses to “Easter in Ardgour Part 2 – Carn na Nathrach & Sgurr Dhomhnuill

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  1. Those photos are absolutely fantastic. Certainly looks like a wonderful area for a spot of wild camping!

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    • Thanks Chrissie. Superb spot, and we had the whole valley to ourselves, just the sound of James snoring in the next glen:)
      I was really pleased with the photos although it’s pretty hard to take a bad one on a day that glorious

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  2. You lucky, lucky b…..ds. That one of you on top of Dhomhnuill is a cracker by the way

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    Deutschland Jim
  3. Great photos and splendid scenery. Looked like a great backpack !

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  4. Abosolutely lovely stuff… the classic trips… to be savoured. 🙂

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    northernwalker
  5. Enjoyed that Andy, good to know what you were up to in the neighbouring glen (pretty much the same as me but on different mountains!). Still can’t believe how lucky we were with the weather.

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    backpackingbongos
    • I was wondering most of the weekend what you were up to and which tops you were on. It was amazing how quiet it was. A couple of absolutely stunning valleys with magnificent rocky summits and we saw one person in 4/5 days between us. Long may the crowds avoid these wild areas

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  6. The weather looked perfect! I especially liked the zoom shot from Sgurr Dhomhnuill to Glencoe. What awesome views you had!

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  7. Gorgeous landscapes and terrific photos. Snow was surprise to me.

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    • Thanks Matti, easy to take great photos on such a magnificent day. There was actually a lot more snow in other parts of Scotland. Here there was just enough to make the views complete

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  8. Hello Andy, I’m enormously pleased by the picture of that huge plate of dinner in part 1 – ataboy! Sod lightweight backpacking if ye dinae have enough dinner. Anchovy carbonara sounds tasty, but personally I reckon venison steaks/burgers, veg and rice (and a bouteille of Chateau-Poop du Naff) take some beating.

    Oh yes, the mountains sure look purdy. Lived here six and a half years and not been to Ardgour yet, so I’ll have to follow your’s and JB’s example. Some cracking pics and wonderful conditions. Some country, Scotland, eh?

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  9. Hi Pete. Glad you liked the feast, can’t be doing with lightweight mushy food. I have a 14 stone frame to feed. No sense in heading out to the hills and not eating well. I’m up for burgers now.
    Ardgour is magnificent, just as grand as the big boys on the doorstep but none of the crowds. Crammed full of rocky ridges and wild glens, picture perfect and we lucky to see it at it’s best. Some country indeed 🙂

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  10. Pingback: Sea Kayaking Scotland - Moidart Matt.

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