Footprints Across Scotland
Why not make a few of your own!
11th & 12th August 2012
A long walk up Glen Elchaig to enjoy a high camp on Aonach Buidhe (Yellow ridge) before returning over Faochaig (The Whelk) and Sguman Choinntich (Mossy Peak).
With one thing and another (the number one thing being the weather) I hadn't managed an outing into the hills for what seemed like a long time so I was pleased to see the weather forecast offering up a good opportunity for a weekend trip to the west coast. My plan was to have a high overnight camp in the hills starting out from the small outpost of Killilan at the end of Loch Long. My outward path would take me up glen Elchaig, a glen I had dropped into on more than one occasion en-route to or from the Falls of Glomach, on this trip I would get to walk its entire length. There is a good track all the way up the glen and the surface is tarmacked most of the way and even the stonier parts would allow for ease of access by bike.
It is a lovely glen and the long walk up the track to Iron Lodge was very pleasant in the warm sunshine and light breeze, although I'm not sure that the hard surface would have been very welcome on the feet during a long walk out!
Carnan Cruithneachd from Glen Elchaig
The glen has a good reputation for offering up plenty of wild life as well as the normally not so wild highland cows, although a bit of care is required when calves are about!
Loch na Leitreach
Above me a couple of Kestrels squabbled in the trees before heading over toward the river to take up their more accustomed hovering position. Just after I noticed something on the track and thought I was going to have another encounter with an adder as on my last trip out; but on closer inspection the small snake like creature taking in the sun revealed itself to be a slow worm.
Slow Worm - Sun bathing
Further on a group of young stags had other ideas about sun bathing and were enjoying the shade offered up by a small strand of pine trees.
I’d been going for a couple of hours by the time I reached the end of Loch na Leitreach near Carnach and so decided it was now time for a wee break and a bit of brunch.
Carnan Cruithneachd & Loch na Leitreach
A little further near the head of the glen is Iron Lodge which sits on the site of what was previously a small settlement, one of many in the area that were vacated during the clearances. The highland cows and calves that I’d been expecting to see were to be found penned in a field adjacent to the shooting lodge. After leaving the lodge behind the track began to climb and I now started to feel that I was heading into wilder country.
After reaching a fork in the path I branched right to ford An Crom Allt via a new looking foot-bridge before continuing on up through the pass that separates Aonach Buidhe from Carn na Breabaig.
The pass between Aonach Buidhe from Carn na Breabaig
Nestled between the hills sits Loch Mhoicean and stopping just short of its sandy beach at the north end I decided it was good opportunity to go for a cooling swim. Refreshed I then headed down into the boggy confines of Coire nan Each.
Entering Coire nan Each
The old pony track through here was a little indistinct at times but allowed for steady if rather wandering progress as I tried to avoid the more watery sections. There were plenty of wild flowers on show and a number of frogs and lizards put in an appearance.
The wind died almost completely at times in the sheltered glen and gave more than a gentle reminder that this was indeed midgy season, so encouraging me to keep on the move. The right side of the glen is walled by the gullied slopes of An Socach which marks the west end of Glen Cannich. On the opposite side are the similarly steep sided slopes of my proposed route onto Aonach Buidhe, the nicely defined ridge of Aonach Cas.
As the ridge dipped its nose toward the river I made a crossing via some stepping stones to pick up a stalker's path that I hoped would ease my way onto the hill. The path was starting to show signs of disuse but the covering vegetation was low lying and of no real hindrance. A nice line was taken as it worked upwards winding its way around some of the bigger crags that adorn these slopes. The engineered path eventually ceased abruptly but by this time I was already at a good elevation and just a little short of the main ridge. The rocky lines of the ridge were interspersed with a mixture of grass and moss's, a consistent feature of the hills during my walk back over the tops. As I worked my way onto Aonach Cas I enjoyed wide views north over the Gead Lochs and the bogs around Pait toward Lurg Mhor and Bidian a'Choire Sheasgaich while Maol-bhuidhe bothy could be seen standing white in isolation near the foot of the hill.
Lurg Mhor and the summit of Bidian a'Choire Sheasgaich left
An Socach dominated the view back over Coire nan Each.
An Socach from Aonach Cas
The ridge over to An Creachal Beag was a little uneven with a bit of a hump in the middle but there was little rise in elevation as I made the crossing.
Looking back along the ridge line of Aonach Cas
The saddle between An Creachal Beag and Aonach Buidhe was to be my campsite for the night and after a little searching I found a suitable pitch on some dry mossy ground.
Camp between An Creachal Beag and Aonach Buidhe
After the tent was up and I’d had a wash in one of the small lochans it was time to sit back, relax and enjoy the evening sun. I took a wander upon onto the top of Aonach Buidhe as the dusk approached and found myself in the company of some deer intent on settling down for the night. Others could be seen on the far ridge silhouetted against the fading light in the western sky. I ambled back to camp enjoying the scene as the sun set behind the peaks of Applecross and Torridon.
The wind died unexpectedly overnight and the tent door was extremely damp as looked out on a crescent moon at a little after four. I decided to stay awake in the hope of a nice sunrise so made myself a mug of hot chocolate while waiting for the new dawn. It was a little disappointing, the colour dampened by banks of mist and cloud cloaking the vista to the east. The grey and hazy skies also dampened my enthusiasm for an early start and I drifted back to sleep ‘till seven. A leisurely breakfast and unhurried packing had me up and away about an hour and a half later. I retraced my steps from the previous evening onto Aonach Buidhe to find the deer were also up and out of their beds.
Aonach Buidhe's summit ridge
Following the high level ridge I skirted round the top of the northern corrie before descending with increasing steepness to the pony track crossing the bealach between Aonach Buidhe and Faochaig.
Faochaig from Aonach Buidhe
I followed the burn Allt na Sean-luibh north but initially had trouble locating the start of the stalkers path onto Faochaig but eventually picked it up above a raised bank on the right side of the burn. As the previous day the path followed easy lines onto the hill before fading out higher up. Emerging from my climb onto a rocky knoll I was presented with a large grassy plateau and the summit cairn atop another knoll just a few hundred meters away. Views into the impressive corries of Sguman Coinntich opened up as reached the cairn.
Sguman Coinntich from Carn nan Searrach
After a slight detour to visit Carn nan Searrach I started to head over to Sgumain Coinntich, pausing on the way for a spot of lunch.
Sguman Coinntich from Faochaig
As I sat enjoying a sandwich I could hear a persistent bleating sound, not that of a sheep but I thought maybe that of a young deer? Soon enough a doe came into view not far below my vantage point and sure enough she was followed by her noisy youngster. Maybe the calf was aware of my presence and although the doe hadn’t seen me she was certainly a bit hesitant when moving forward. They were a little way up the hill as I continued on my way but my movement alerted the doe and she began a gentle trot to increase the gap between us. I crossed the broken peaty ground of the connecting bealach and began my journey around the edge of some wild and impressive corries. It was an undulating grassy ridge peppered with small rocky outcrops that led onto Sron na Gaoithe before dropping toward a wider peaty bealach. A gentle rise onto a rounded grassy mound had me overlooking a large herd of deer as they emerged from the depths of Coire Shlat, their gentle amble soon becoming a more hurried gait as some of the group became aware of my presence. After waiting for the passage of the traffic I continued on my way only to realise I had dropped my drinking flask. Leaving my pack I headed back trying to retrace my steps and luckily found it just below the top of Sron na Gaoithe.
Sguman Coinntich from Sron na Gaoithe
The incline continued steepening for the final pull onto the eastern end of the Sguman Coinntich’s main ridge with its grandstand views into the yawning depths of its many corries.
Faochaig from Sguman Coinntich
I began working my way over the broken slopes onto the slender ridge and soon found myself standing at the trig point, something which the marker may not be doing for much longer as it is only just supported by the legs of its metal frame. After snacking I continued my traverse heading down the knobbly ridgeline before working over boggy grasses toward the ravine in which Allt a’ Choire Mhoir flows.
Loch Long from Sguman Coinntich
The way steepened as I neared the burn and I was more than happy that it was dry underfoot. Crossing the burn I joined a little crossroad with the main track leading back to Killilan but opted for a smaller path that kept closer to the river. This had proved a nice option on a previous visit but this time I found it to be very over grown especially the last few meters through the trees were bracken threatened to block the way completely. However I did make the estate track emerging near the village hall and the red phone box. Feet already hot from the final steep descent complained slightly on the tarmac but fortunately it was only for a short while as I was soon back at the parking area.
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