Last weekend we decided to venture slightly further north beyond Glencoe, to investigate the Mamores, a range of hills that I have never been to, and Chris hasn’t explored much. Chris had a route in mind that takes in the summits of Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor from Kinlochleven, and looked interesting but not excessively long, which is important now the days are shorter.
We left Stirling at 6.30am, which was the earliest that didn’t feel too horrendous for a Sunday morning. The route starts at St Paul’s Church in Kinlochleven, which is quite easy to find: take the first turning right after crossing the bridge in Kinlochleven and it is the white building at the end of the road. There is a car park to the right of it and the path passes between the church and the car park. Almost immediately, you reach a t-juntion where you should turn left, then keep right and follow the path marked Loch Eilde Mor. It was very chilly to start with but we soon warmed up as the path steepens through the deciduous woodland, which was very beautiful in its autumn colours. After crossing a stream, there are a few different worn paths but they all seem to go the same way. We soon came out of the wood and onto the moorland, where you must be sure to look behind you as the views of Loch Leven are stunning!
We followed this path until we came to a landrover track, where we took our first Brunch bar stop. When you reach the track, the path onwards is visible continuing in the same direction, but starting from a bit further left along the track. This takes you along the hillside and around Sgor Eilde Beag, where we passed a couple who weren’t looking too happy and could only mutter “it’s a bit wild up there.” Indeed, it was definitely getting windier, so we found a sheltered spot before turning into Coire an Lochain for a sandwich.
Once in Coire an Lochain it was a lot colder: there were the first patches of snow on the ground and ice on the water. After continuing on for a few more minutes, we realised that we had taken a lower path that was leading towards Sgurr Eilde Mor, so had to cut left to the path we needed, which was slightly higher up the hill. The light was very strange, with sunshine behind and below us, but very black clouds in front. Sgurr Eilde Mor rose smooth and cone shaped on our right and we could see the dark shapes of many more hills and valleys in the cloud ahead. At this point we discussed some alternatives for when we reached the ridge, as the weather was looking rather menacing and it was already cold and windy.
Before the ground began to drop away we left the path and moved up to the left, soon finding a path which climbed steeply but without difficulty right up to the little bealach (saddle) north-west of Sgor Eilde Beag summit. It was very windy!
We moved slowly up the ridge to the middle point between the three summits, whilst being buffeted about and having tiny, hard bits of snow driven into our eyes. Crouching down below the mid-point, we decided that we didn’t fancy doing the two summits in this weather, and the quickest way back would be via Na Gruagaichan. The ridge to that summit however is narrower on the map than the ridge to Binnein Mor, so we decided to have a look and see if looked feasible in the wind, and if not we’d re-assess. Following a bearing down, the ridge appeared below and is indeed quite narrow. However, the wind soon dropped and the cloud thinned, making it a really nice ridge walk, with stunning views under the clouds.
If you look back along the ridge as you come towards the far-side, you can see the north side is in places almost a flat vertical wall; this isn’t noticeable as you cross because the path stays slightly to the south, just below the crest.
We had another sandwich huddled in the shelter of a low, semi-circular rough wall of stones before making our way up Na Gruagaichan. The climb wasn’t too difficult, but it is quite rocky in places. At the summit we were pretty much in cloud again so we headed south down the broad shoulder until we were just under the cloud and the other mountains reappeared, topped with a smattering of snow.
The route follows this shoulder until it becomes much steeper, then you have to choose your own way down. We took a more westerly line, which was quite easy while there was still snow on the ground but became slower on the steep, slippery grass. Eventually we met the track again and followed it east for a short distance before finding the path off it that leads back west and down to Kinlochleven. This last leg was surprisingly long but we finally came out exactly where we started, and having changed our boots, we made for the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe, to revive ourselves with hot chocolate and chips!
Distance: approx. 12km (would be 14km with the second summit)
Ascent: approx. 1179m
Time: 6.5 hours
Summits: Na Gruagaichan (1056m) with option for Binnein Mor (1130)
A really stunning little ridge walk, with fabulous views, that made me want to go back to the Mamores and brought the Ring of Steall higher up the to-do list. It could be a great route for winter.