Friday, March 30, 2012

Sgiath Chuil & Meall Glas

Once again, the summer in Scotland has been moved back from its traditional point in the fixture list in June-August, to its new location March-April. Whether the schools will eventually follow-suit and move the long summer break to the Easter holiday remains to be seen. What is certain though is that even the slightest glimmer of fine weather sends Scotland's hillwalkers scurrying for their boots and rucksacks and making for the mountains.

One of my neighbours is a Munro-bagger like me, and the happy co-incidence of the prospect of sunshine and his need to 'use or lose' annual leave before the end of the month - saw us heading West from Perth towards Killin. 
Sgiath Chuil & Meall Glas are two hills which lie between Glens Dochart and Lochay, between Killin and Crianlarich, in an area known as the Mamlorn Deer Forest. "Forest" is an interesting word to use to describe Mamlorn - an area now completely deforested, but still technically a "hunting forest" apparently. The Mamlorn hills have received a less-than-enthusiastic reception from the writers of hill-walking guides, who routinely describe them as uninspiring, or lacking character. 

I suppose if you went looking for the rugged grandeur of The Cairngorms, the Tolkeinesque intrigue of Assynt, or the rugged spectacle of An Teallach - Mamlorn would indeed disappoint. However, if appreciated on their own terms, Mamlorn's hills are full of interest. For a start they are big. While not the highest of Scotland's hills by any means, the long walk-ins required and the distance between Munro's means that long-days out are required to appreciate them.

While some ranges, like The Mamores, pack a huge number of peaks and ridges into a comparatively small area, the areas around Sgiath Chuil & Meall Glas provide wide panoramas up long glens to distant peaks. While there is undoubtedly a thrill in clambering across splintered rock, there is also a joy to be found in striding across springy fresh grass on high ridges, which Sgiath Chuil provides in abundance.  

These hills can be climbed from Auchessan in Glen Dochart from the South, or from the end of the single-track road up Glen Lochay to the North. There are issues with access from either side. At the main road in Dochart, parking is limited to a few spaces only, which might rule this out on a sunny Saturday or Sunday, unless you were prepared to arrive early. In Glen Lochay, while the estate has provided a free car-park for many vehicles, they have also restricted access further up the glen, and you can no longer drive as far as Kenknock farm as suggested in older guidebooks. Heading in from this car-park at Glen Lochay, it took us half and hour to make the start of the climb at the newly refurbished cottage at Lubchurran. A landrover track strikes southwards into the hills above the Lubcharran Burn, which we followed for a kilometre or so, before bearing Eastwards, across the stream by tiny a Hydo-board  dam, and up onto the long, long  ridge and then summit of Sgiath Chuil, via two subsidiary tops.

The descent between these two hills is steep and awkward. The dry weather meant that the grass was grippy and crunchy, the descent in the wet would have been a slippery affair. There seems to be no obvious line of descent, other than to avoid the steepest section in the centre of the cleft between the peaks. The climb from this pass, the Lairig an Currain, up to Beinn Cheathaich (a top) is steep, and required navigating around some snow-fields lying high in the corries. In the absence of rain, these great sheets of ice were feeding the streams and rivers below as they gently sweated in the afternoon sun. The undulating ridge between Beinn Cheathaich and Meall Glass is a lovely piece of mountain scenery and provided us with a path - for perhaps the only time in the day.

Cameron McNeish recommends the ascent of these hills from the North, but suggests descending the NW ridge back to Glen Lochay. This seemed like an unnecessary addition to an already lengthy day, so we opted to retrace our steps, but descend/traverse round underneath Beinn Cheathach, towards a track we had previously seen above the Lubcharran Burn, which is on the 1:25,000 OS map, but not on the 1:50,000 version. We hit the track without much difficulty which led us back down to the cottage, the road and our walk back (through herds of cows) to the car.

These hills may not be the prettiest in Scotland, but the views were quite magnificent. They also provide the walker with a real sense of achievement, my aching knees confirming that the mapping software's estimate of 19.5km/1300m of ascent is about right! My other achievement of the day was to reach 200 Munro's again. I say again, as I had reached 200 last year before they declassified one in Glen Carron which I had been up the year before! 

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