Monday, March 13, 2017

Spidean Mialach

It was wonderful to be back down the long dead-end road from Loch Garry through Tomdoun, Loch Quoich to distant Kinloch Hourn. It is almost a year since I have been in these parts, and my last drive down this long narrow, single track road, will forever be remembered as the day a car tyre blew out! On that wintry day I managed to climb Gleouraich, a lovely hill on the North side of Loch Quoich; but didn't attempt the steep descent across a heavily corniced ridge to its sister Munro, Spidean Mialach. This weekend I travelled north primarily to meet up with all my friends as Fort William Baptist Church on Sunday; who also kindly put me up for the night so that I could enjoy the hills on my way up to them. My initial thought had been to cross the Quoich Dam, and climb Gairich, a shapely peak on the south side of the loch. A neighbour strongly advised against that plan however, pointing out that she had done it in fairly dry conditions and even then, it involved wading through knee-deep bogs. Heavy rains in the Highlands over the preceding days would have reduced the path to a quagmire, a route better left for a drought, or a big freeze. My plan duly abandoned I struck North, between the dam, and the bridge which carries the Kinlochhourn road over the northern extension of the loch; created when its size was massively increased with the addition of the dam in the mid-1950s.

The path, which is clearly marked on the OS map, is very clear once on the hill, but its first 50metres or so are overgrown with rhododendrons. If it were not for a little cairn and a fallen post, at the side of the road, it would be almost impossible to locate the start of the path.
Once through the jumble of leaves, the path opens out and gives easy, rapid access to the hills. It bears right, under the power lines, and below a rocky bluff called Meall nan Carn. The path continues to bear eastwards, with the gradient easing across wide, wet peat, finally abruptly terminating at the bifurcation of the river, exactly as depicted on the OS 1:50 000 map.

From here, the obvious route is to continue to bear eastwards, climbing gently until Loch Fearna becomes visible behind the unnamed hillock at 614m. From there, it s direct line of assault up the unrelentingly steep and slippery slopes of Spidean Mialach. The summit, is graced with a small cairn and a spectacular drop off it's North side, an edge that was enhanced by some lovely cornicing. 

Sadly the top was shrouded in thick cloud the whole time I was there. The sun faintly appeared through it, along with the occasional path of blue sky - hinting that it might burn off the light the day up; open up the views, or even provide a spectacular inversion. Optimistically, I trudged over to the smaller top on the summit, put all my warm gear on, and snuggled down under the wind for a pleasant doze. I waited half an hour or so; but it there was no sign of any clearing of the cloud at all; so I reluctantly retraced my steps.

While I hadn't needed my (borrowed!), ice-axe; crampons were essential for the top of the hill, as the icy-slush on the steep sides was impossibly slippery without them. I kept the spikes on for as long as I could; following bands of snow and ice down the hill. As soon as I dipped back under the clouds, wonderful views appeared the length of Loch Quoich, over to Gairich, and down towards Knoydart and the Glen Dessary hills. My neighbour's warning about bogs on Gairich was almost certainly well-founded. The burns were in full spate on Spidean Mialach; one of which was very hard to cross. Rising water levels, fuelled by melting snow, made my concerned that my descent would be blocked, so I reluctantly used a bulldozed hydro track back down to the road; the car, Fort William and food. Once in Fort William, my friends up there were able to help me with the correct Gaelic pronunciations of all the places I had been!

This was a small Munro walk with which to kick off 2016. I am now itching to get my boots on again.

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