A Long Walk in the Mamores
Several months ago I made a passing comment at an Air Na Creagan Mountaineering Club (http://www.craggy.org.uk) club night about how I had always fancied doing the entire Mamore ridge. It seemed like such a good idea at the time but less so when we were struggling up the final two Munros, Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean in the torrential rain! But back to the beginning…
Surprisingly I wasn’t the only club member to have a long held ambition of doing all ten Munros on the ridge. Kathryn also expressed an interest and in the end another four, Kenny, Stuart, Gael and John, made up the team. A support team of Elaina, Irene and Eleanor also volunteered to assist with providing additional liquid…but more of that later!
Most of the few routes I could find on-line were of people doing the ridge from Glen Nevis. However we decided to go for a Kinlochleven start and finish mainly because the thought of having to drive back to wherever our accommodation was at the end of a long day didn’t appeal. We also knew that we could find a good range of accommodation in Kinlochleven including Bob and Chris’s bed and breakfast (http://www.kinlochlevenbedandbreakfast.com/) and the MacDonald Hotel cabins (http://www.macdonaldhotel.co.uk/campsitecabins/).
The next decision was whether to go for an east – west or west – east crossing. Normally it would be best to walk in an easterly direction with the prevailing westerly wind behind you but the thought of having to do the two outlying Munros, Sgurr Elde Mor and Beinein Beag, at the end of such a long day made us opt for the east to west option. In the event this turned out to be a stroke of good fortune as we had a south easterly wind behind us for the entire ridge.
I’ve done all the Mamores before but had never descended from the most westerly Munro, Mullach nan Coirean to the West Highland Way. We decided it would be good to do a practice run to see what the terrain was like. So a few weeks ago we did the circuit of Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean and were pleasantly surprised that the descent was very easy down grassy slopes. It was still a long walk back to Kinlochleven along the West Highland Way though, something we would have to relive again on the day of the full attempt.
So the weekend finally arrived. Fitness regimes complete. Accommodation booked. Plans made with the MacDonald Hotel for late food when we got back. We’d also signed up for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Commonwealth Munro Flagging project (http://flagamunro.blogspot.co.uk/). We also created a schedule of provisional timings for the 23 mile route with almost 11,000 feet of ascent…Naismith’s Rule says 12 hours 48 minutes…Craggy’s Rule suggested around 16 hours 15 minutes might be more realistic!
The weather forecast in the days leading up to the weekend had indicated that low pressure sitting out to the west would drag warm air up from the continent leading to heavy rain and thunderstorms in northern England and southern Scotland. We were just hoping that the northern extent would be south of Lochaber or at least arrive late in the day.
A 4.30am start from the car park at Grid Reference NN188623 was planned but we set off ten minutes later and made excellent progress to reach the summit of Sgurr Eilde Mor at 7am well ahead of schedule. We had originally intended to both ascend and descend by the westerly ridge but in the end took the relatively easy southwesterly slope up. We descended as planned and picked up the good path round to the lochan at the foot of Binnein Beag. A relatively easy up and down then saw us heading for the northern ridge of Binnein Mor. Now this is where it became interesting…
In the past Kathryn and myself have descended this ridge from a path that descends from about half way along and it seemed a reasonable idea to simply do it in reverse. From a distance it looked like nice easy grassy slopes but as we got nearer we realised that there was a scattering of avalanche debris littering the slopes and any grass that had been there had been swept away sometime over the winter. At this point I was acutely away that my decision to wear my trusted, but well worn, Keen boots was potentially not the best one I had ever made but managed to get enough traction to get up on to the ridge proper!
Still making good progress we made it to the airy summit of Munro number three, Binnein Mor. From there we headed over to the double summits of Na Gruagaichean including the increasingly eroded descent between the two. We then ascended the southeasterly slopes of Stob Choire a’ Chairn before heading north along the by-pass path towards Munro number four, An Gearanach, including a short but steep snow patch that Kenny, Stuart, Gael and John negotiated. Kathryn and I, with the recent memory of the Binnein Mor slopes still fresh in our minds, avoided it! From there we left our rucksacks and negotiated the return trip along the scrambly ridge before ascending Stob Coire a’ Chairn, Munro number five. By this time we had lost some of the time gained on the earlier Munros but were more or less on schedule.
It was here that we had arranged to meet the “support” team of Elaina, Irene and Eleanor. However their plans for a start at Mamore Lodge, thus saving a good 200m of ascent were thwarted by a locked gate at the bottom of the access road. They were therefore running a bit later than scheduled and there was no sign of them. In the distance about half way along the ridge towards Am Bodach we could see a group of people sitting waiting and it looked like it could be our missing support crew. However as we approached them it turned out to be a group who had been wild camping the night before having a well earned rest. Looking back to Stob Choire a Chairn we could see three figures silhouetted against the ridge and realised we had finished up in front of our now “non support” team! Irene had joked earlier about having a support team to support the support team – it didn’t seem like such a daft idea after all now!
We had various attempts at communication but not wanting to get behind schedule we made the decision to carry on. It was a steep climb up on to Am Bodach, Munro number seven and from there on to the now demoted Sgurr an Iubhair. It was still dry although storm clouds were gathering from the south. As on An Gearanach we decided to leave the rucksacks before crossing the Devil’s Ridge to Sgurr a’ Mhaim. One of my hopes at the beginning of the day was that the forecast rain would hold off until we had at least made the double crossing of the ridge. We almost managed it but the inevitable happened about two thirds of the way back so we hastily retrieved our rucksacks and donned waterproof jackets before carrying on towards Stob Ban, Munro number nine.
I think we were all really feeling tired by this time and the rain certainly didn’t help. But at least it was at our back so we plodded on only stopping at Stob Ban for a very quick photo for Munro Flagging purposes! From there we just had to follow the ridge round to the tenth and final Munro, Mullach nan Coirean. Even though we had done this end of the ridge just a few weeks earlier I don’t think any of us appreciated just how long that 3km stretch would feel after such a long day! But we got there just as the clouds totally dropped to give no views at all for the first time all day. Being tired and not wanting to make a simple navigational error (been there, done that before in the Mamores!) we checked the compass and headed southeast then south down to the West Highland Way for the long 6km walk back to Kinlochleven. There is a stream at that runs alongside the West Highland Way which I managed to safely negotiate but then had spectacular slip into a very wet bog just as I tried to reach the landrover track! Thankfully it was just wet and not muddy, to be honest I don’t think I would have been much wetter had I fell in a river!
Of course the wind was in our faces now but we didn’t really care. We’d done what we had set off to achieve and it was much relief that we staggered in to the MacDonald Hotel at 9.45pm, 17 hours and 5 minutes after setting off for well earned beers and lasagne. Many thanks to everyone for making it such a fantastic day especially:
Kathryn – for foolishly admitting that she had always wanted to do the entire ridge as well!
Kenny, Gael, Stuart and John – for joining us on this mad epic journey
Elaina, Irene and Eleanor – the support team for providing the bubbly at the end (I’m not sure this was quite what we had in mind when we asked them to bring us extra liquid!)
Gail, Gillian, Susan, Debbie and Tracy – for joining us for the weekend
The Real Food Café – for excellent en-route lunches and cake
The MacDonald Hotel in Kinlochleven for agreeing to feed six knackered hillwalkers with lasagne and chips well after the usual time you would expect to be fed in a Scottish hotel! The owners only took over the hotel in the new year and we wish them well for the future.
And of course Bob and Chris for providing their usual excellent hospitality and breakfasts. A fantastic place to stay for anyone doing the West Highland Way or like us having a wander around the Mamores.