A long walk in perfect weather
I woke after a very solid sleep in the car. I’d avoided the motorhomes that lined all the lay-bys and found a secluded hideaway slip road. As I opened my eyes in early light I checked the time. It was around 6:00 am and I planned to go back to the Kinlochmore car park for the hike to Sgùrr Eilde Mor. Firstly, I planned to use the public conveniences in Kinlochleven. Unfortunately on arrival I found they opened at 8:00, so I had time to kill.
I boiled up some water for a coffee to enjoy, rather than making a break up the hill I thought I should also wait for the local shop to open so I could purchase some sun screen. It looked like another beautiful day was on the cards. So 8:00 came and went. I’d made use of the services and sunscreen had been acquired and applied. I set off up the path, then had to turn back only 10 minutes later as I had failed to absorb the very first direction in the guide I was following.
Back on track I was soon passing through the dappled light of a birch grove that lined the stalkers paths on the lower slopes. I would stop every now and then to watch and listen to some of the feathered residents. A willow warbler followed me to the edge of the woods. I left him behind and onto the open moorland. You could see signs of the hydro-electric works going on, but the dramatic views out towards Loch Leven with the Pap of Glencoe and striking blue skies really lifted the heart.
As I gained altitude, looking to my right there were unfamiliar views of mountains I knew very well. Beyond the ‘back’ of the Aonach Eagach I could make out the profile of Buachaille Etive Mòr, Meall a’Bhùiridh and Beinn a’Chrulaist. This gave me a reassuring sense of place. Something I would not have appreciated had the weather not been so perfect.
The moorland rose steadily until there were gorgeous views of Loch Eilde and the mountains ahead that I’d be climbing the flanks of. A narrow rocky path skirted around Sgòr Eilde Beag, the smaller sister of the hill I was aiming for. I’m not a Munro Bagger by any means, but I’d always had plans to hike in to one of the more remote Munros on he list.
I stopped to catch a breath occasionally, the heat was getting a bit much for me too. Im not a warm weather person. I was sure my sunscreen would be pouring off with my sweat. It was a fairly steep slope looking down perpendicular to the path. I imagined what it might be like covered in snow.
I pushed on until the path looped around into Coire an Lochain. The water glistened on a small loch with the peak of Sgùrr Eilde Mòr behind. I continued on, looking for a spot to sit, take some photos and have a snack.
A push for the top
As I scoped the peak with my long lens. Noticing some other hikers going up the right hand side of the mountain, it seems like they were all taking the same route. My plan had been to ascend the left side. As I view those slopes through the lens, I spotted people descending. I changed my mind and decided I would also take the anti-clockwise path.
It was now around 12:30 so I backtracked and crossed the flat area by the lochan to the base of the peak. Slowed down by several more photo opportunities. The water was stunning and I could now glimpse Ben Nevis and its neighbours, still capped with snow.
I started up the path which was less obvious than before, occasionally losing it all together, before coming across it once again. The gradient increased and I could now look back to the Ski Hill of Meall a’Bhuirdh, with the Blackwater Reservoir between. I could also make out the pyramid of Schiehallion to the west.
On reaching the 900 meter / 3000 ft mark I lost the track immediately as it crossed a large scree field below the summit. It wasn’t far to go, but it was steeper with cliffs around the sides. I knew I didn’t want to stray too far off track.
I crossed the face of the hill, checking my map and bearings but no sign of track could be seen. Sitting for a rest, I watched as a couple of hikers passed below me, circling further round than my map indicated. It’s bad practice, but I decided to follow them. I’d seen hardly anyone all day considering it was a holiday weekend. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I could make out the faint sign that human feet had left in the heather between scree boulders. The path became more apparent as it increased yet again in angle and I was soon scrambling and climbing up rocky faces until I made it to the relative shallow angle of the summit. The hikers ahead had long disappeared and I was at the summit on my own.
Summiting Sgùrr Eilde Mòr
It was 13:50, almost four hours since I’d started the climb. I shot some phone photos, but was keen to find the correct path down. I always get disoriented when I reach a summit, so was careful to second guess my first instinct to continue along the summit ridge. Instead I’d take the more clearly defined path which took a dog leg to the left. This lead on to a short ridge that overlooked the lochan below and the Mamores and Nevis beyond.
The descent from the ridge was steep and loose. Reddish rock and scree with dust billowing up in the dry conditions. I always find descents sketchy. Usually in wet slippery conditions, even worse in cold icy conditions.Now the dry dust didn’t seem any much better. Are there any conditions I would be happy descending in? This is when your lungs stop doing all the work and your legs start wobbling with lactic acid build up. It took an hour till I was back on the path where I’d stopped for a snack beforehand. I would descend the same trail, skirting Eilde Beag. Stopping briefly for a belated lunch of chicken wrap, followed by some chocolate, I noted my water situation was looking low, but I was on the home run.
This path was taking a long time and as I picked my way down the loose surface I went down, my feet slipping out from under me, my left hand went out and I took most of the fall through my shoulder. I dusted myself off and kept going. The heat was starting to make my head throb and I was careful not to use up my water too quickly. Scottish people and Scottish landscapes are not used to extended periods of dry weather, never mind sunshine.
I passed a fellow photographer on his way up. He was carrying a tent and tripod, intending to bed down for the night up there. He was sweating more than I was but I’m sure his efforts would pay off at sunset or dawn the following morning.
I was getting closer to Kinlochleven, and I could see the birch trees in the distance. I’d donned a hat but was looking forward to the cool shade these trees would offer.
I made it to the trees around 17:00 and immediately sat down in the shade, taking the weight of my shoulders and feet. I’d been carrying far too much camera gear, including the heavy 70-200mm lens.
After a sip from my water I continued down the stalkers paths, deep uneven tracks carved into the hillside. I soon made it to the lower slopes and the car park. Changing quickly out of my long trousers and into shorts and a cool fresh t-shirt. A not so cool fizzy bottle of Iron Bru was quickly gulped down.
I sorted out the car and a short trip to the village for colder drinks and an ice cream made for the perfect end to my long day on the hill.
Heading home for a nasty surprise
The drive back down to Glasgow was pleasant in the evening light. On arrival at home, I found that I was now host to at least 5 ticks. The tweezers were out and I poured a hot bath which I’m sure got rid of a few more parasites. While it’s not uncommon to pick up one or two ticks a year, I’ve never had five at one time. It looks like they are on the rise due to milder winters caused by climate change. Make sure you check yourself on return from a hike. Get a tick remover and maybe some peppermint essential oils which can help remove these critters. It could also be worth investigating some clothing impregnated with permethrin to deter ticks in the first place.