The Lochaber Traverse

The weather gods were smiling upon Scotland, a ridge of high pressure had finally arrived. The small penalty was a rather nippy easterly breeze, but it was still good summit camping weather if you can put up with a bit of wind.

I was already in the West Highlands and Stephen was coming up to meet me early doors on Saturday. We wanted to take advantage of having two cars at our disposal. We changed our minds three times; first we agreed to do all 10 Munros in the Mamores, but that didn’t really take advantage of the second set of wheels plus water is scarce up on the ridges. We settled on doing the Creag Meagaidh circuit and adding the 2 Munros to the west. We ended up scrapped that idea too when I suggested the Lochaber Traverse.

I met Stephen in the Fort William McDonald’s for some breakfast, we then dropped off his car at the North Face car park in Torlundy before heading off to Corriechoille to begin our hike.

The initial plan was to also include both Cruach Innse and Sgurr Innse, but this seemed a bit ambitious. As we walked towards the Wee Minister I suggested we skipped the Corbetts and Stephen of course agreed.

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The obligatory shot of the wee minister:

Lots of motorbikes from the Six Days Trial  passed us by on the track towards Lairig Leacach.

At the bothy we met a couple of lads who were bike touring and planned to cycle to Dalnaspidal, it sounded quite an interesting route. Afterwards we collected some water from the Allt and continued the walk up towards Stob Ban.

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We left path and crossed the Allt and headed towards the bealach, where we would leave our packs for a quick ascent up Stob Ban.

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Stob Ban and the impressive Giant’s Staircase.

The path up Stob Ban is steep and loose with scree and boulders, being rucksack free made it a lot easier and we soon topped out on the 977 metre summit.

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Stephen approaching the summit.

We carefully retraced our steps back down to retrieve our packs and begin the ascent up the second Munro, Stob a’ Choire Leith. On the way up I pointed out a previous wild camp spot from 2014.

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Team Akto from 2014.

 

The 350m ascent didn’t take too long, we met some other walkers and acknowledged the fine weather we were currently enjoying.

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Stob Ban dwarfed

Our whole route was laid out before us, looking absolutely stunning. You can’t beat a high level ridge walk like this.

The plan was to complete the Grey Corries on the first day and strike camp at the bealach between Sgurr Choinnich Beag and Aonach Beag. We had plenty time to play with so there was no rush, we just enjoyed the walk and views.

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We reached the third Munro of the day, Stob Coire an Laoigh. We stopped for a longer break to enjoy the warmth of the sun. Our last target of the day presented itself rather nicely.

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I remembered from the last time that we followed a path that dropped off to the north side of Stob Coire Easain that took us onto bouldery steep terrain with bits of scrambling around chimneys. This time I made sure we stuck to the crest.

I had ran out of water by now, I spotted the two small lochans below the bealach, but did not fancy losing 50 metres. Thankfully I found a snow melt stream. Not taking any chances I collected enough water to last until the morning. I didn’t mind carrying 2.5 litres of water up the final Munro of the day.

On the climb up I spotted 2 or 3 different pitches that looked quite nice but nothing big enough to accommodate two shelters. When we got to the summit my Gran phoned wanting a lift to Asda for her messages. :D. Agreed to take her on Monday!

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Summit cairn

Both of us were getting a bit tired by now. We dropped down to the bealach hoping for an early camp. It wasn’t to be the wind was swirling around. We dropped to the lee side for some shelter and lay in the sun for half an hour weighing up our options. Neither of us were keen on pitching here, the bealach was too windy, the lee-side wasn’t flat enough. We pushed on and I arrived at the summit of the Munro top, Sgurr Choinnich Beag and immediately identified our campsite.

The summit area was relatively flat, with a nice surface for pitching. No brainer, I wasn’t going any further and Stephen agreed. Packs down, shelters up!

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Excuse the jonty angle of the photo

With the tarp pitched it was time to have my three course dinner:

  • Mackerel in tomato sauce

  • Firepot Orzo Pasta Bolognese

  • Ambrosia Creamed Rice.

Washed down with a Jasmine green tea and a whisky chaser. 😀

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The mighty Binnein Mor

After dinner I chilled out for a bit and listened to a couple of Mountain Podcasts. I planned to get back out for the sunset but even at 963 metres up we were hemmed in by the Aonachs and we couldn’t see much of a sunset, plus the wind was biting so I didn’t stay out for long.

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Sunrise was a similar situation, blocked by Sgurr Choinnich Mor this time

During the night I was woken up by a ptarmigan, it was right outside my tarp. Sadly it flew away when I stuck my head out.

We broke camp just after 7:30am, the cloud was swirling around making for atmospheric conditions and we were treated to a Brocken Spectre or two as the cloud wisped passed us:

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Behind us to the east was a huge bank of cloud, it created some nice atmospheric conditions but also threatened to engulf us. To the north there was also a huge bank of cloud, much to our liking, Ben Nevis somehow pretty much managed to stay cloud free.

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The route up Aonach Beag isn’t obvious, Stephen had his eye on a gully with an overhanging rock, but I knew that wasn’t a good idea. I remembered the descent route from a previous wild camp on Aonach Mor and opted for a steep but mostly grassy ascent avoiding any difficulties, we topped out between Sgurr a-Bhuic and Stob Coire Bhealaich.

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Not advisable

 

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Nearing the summit of Aonach Beag

The summit cairn of Aonach Beag was only just visible above the snow, large cornices only a few metres away, I didn’t venture too close to the edge.

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Next up, Aonach Mor

We arrived on Aonach Mor and we still hadn’t seen a sole since yesterday. We retrace our steps off the summit of Aonach Mor before picking up the path down to the unnamed bealach.

The descent is extremely steep, we picked our way down carefully. I collected what I hoped would be enough water to see me over the CMD arête and Ben Nevis. At the bealach we picked up a faint path to the right of the dry stane dyke, this began the ascent to Carn Mor Dearg. The climb up is steep and bouldery in places, but there was no scrambling or anything else to worry about.

By now Ben Nevis had attracted the cloud and we could begin to see lots of people crossing the CMD arête.

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We had a decent break at the summit of Carn Mor Dearg and met lots of other walkers, including a walking group from Cheshire.

 

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The classic view

We continued on along the arête. I remember being quite excited first time around, today it was more of a formality. By now, it was really hot and we just wanted to reach the summit of Ben Nevis.

 

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I had some concerns about snow cover on Ben Nevis, but I could see earlier from Aonach Beag that there wouldn’t be any issues. I’m pretty sure in previous years that wouldn’t have been the case in early May.

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I don’t know what is about Ben Nevis, but I still get a buzz from reaching the summit. This was my fourth time up here and it was as good as the first.

It was really warm with hardly a wind in the air. It was great to see everybody enjoy themselves. Yes the usual jeans and trainers brigade were in attendance, but why would you fork out hundreds of pounds if you’re only going to do one mountain?

As well as all the people on the plateau, we could hear and see climbers below us. There was a really good vibe about the place! I could have happily stayed a bit longer.

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We waited our turn to be the highest people in Britain and someone happily obliged to take our photo.

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We got a quick bite to eat and I watched a Snow bunting scurrying around for scraps of food.

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We left the summit and headed down the tourist path. We could see smoke rising from behind Bidean nan Bian, my initial thoughts were irresponsible campers in Glen Etive. Annoyingly I was right.

At the halfway lochan we left the tourist path and followed the path around the lochan before it ended abruptly. From here we had over a kilometre of descent over heather and bog before crossing the Allt and picking up the path down to Torlundy.

We could see cars glistening in the sun, and knew we didn’t have far to go. Only this wasn’t the North Face car park and we still had over a kilometre to go. 😆

We were glad to eventually get back to the car, Stephen shuttled me around to get my car at Corriechoille and we parted company after a fantastic wild camping trip!

Cheers

Robin

 

Vital Statistics:

Day 1:

17.7km

9hrs 25mins

1,570m

Day 2:

18.5 km

8hrs 50mins

1,355m

Video of the wild camp 🙂

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8 thoughts on “The Lochaber Traverse

  1. Sounds a great trip and great weather – it is a bloody cold wind though isn’t it?

    I’ve always shied away from that descent from between the Aonachs – it looks fearsome. Quite fancy the route up to CMD though…

  2. Pingback: Oban bothy with added Grahams! – Robinho Outdoors

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