Fort William Summer Hols, Day 2: Gulvain
Planning an easy day as the forecast wasn’t great, we opted for Gulvain, another bike and hike with a single munro.
The route profile looked like the bike out would be easier than yesterday. It probably was, but wearing hill walking trousers rather than padded shorts made me question this as I bumped up and down across the rougher terrain in parts. It also seemed as if there was a fair but of descent which is never ideal on an out and back route. As it transpired, by the time we’d dumped the bikes we’d gone up more than down according to the Garmin.
Starting the walk we had a very short flat section before the ascent began. I was less than thrilled with the 700 metres of ascent before reaching the ridge. The weather wasn’t the best – driech – and as we approached the halfway point in our ascent the fine drizzle turned to a light rain. Further on, realising that we were beginning to get wet, the waterproofs went on. A good call, as aside from brief intervals it was fairly persistent drizzle or rain for much of the walk.
Reaching the ridge I’d hoped to be close to the top. Bruce, having read the route guide, advised that after the trig point we had to continue on to the cairn which was a wee bit away. This took us down, never good, before going up again, and finally we reached the summit cairn. The ridge is supposed to be amazing with beautiful views. Today there were none so we just had to picture in our heads what might be there.
A quick stop, sheltering behind the large cairn, saw us fed and watered once again, and then it was a simple case of retracing our steps back down. Hard on the knees, it felt quicker heading down and the numbers on the Garmin suggested we were dropping at a decent rate.
We were pretty chuffed to see the area where we’d left our bikes come into view and before long we were riding back out to the car. Bruce, realising his saddle had lowered, had now returned to fine biking form and left me standing. Catching up with him just ahead of the main road I found him chatting to a lovely old man and also enjoyed a blether about hills and outdoor adventures to end our day.
Home, showered, it’s now time for FOOD!
Day 3: Sgurr Eilde Mor & Binnein Beag, Mamores
The forecast was great and the day looked good from our window in Fort William so we decided to go for a longer day. My legs, however, were feeling the miles from previous days so I wasn’t quite as keen as Bruce, but was up for doing two munros while he was hoping for four!
Setting off from Kinlochleven, although we went out a different direction, it was reminiscent of the slog up when doing the West Highland Way. Joy! However, the views back down were pretty spectacular.
We continued to climb and before long Loch Eilde Mor was in sight. The clear skies opened up views all around and it was wonderful being out on such a beautiful day!
The path was clear and meandered around the edge of Sgor Eilde Beag, opening up yet more views as we climbed higher. The targets for the day, Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnean Beag came into view.
Had I known what lay ahead I may or may not have continued the ascent of Sgurr Eilde Mor. It had a clear path for most of the way up, but towards the top the path dwindled to leave a steep scree slope which was hard going! I had a minor panic here, as much to do with how I’d get back down as getting all the way up. Thankfully Bruce had a calm head and offered reassurance! The summit was reached very soon after and sitting relaxing with some lunch I felt very much at home.
All too soon it was time to begin the descent. Bruce offered his words of wisdom: be calm, take it slowly, but be confident. He also suggested putting my winter skills into practise, using the sides of my feet to dig the boots in. These tips worked, alongside his offer of going first to stop me from sliding or coming with me should I take him out on the way down!
Reaching the path by the lochain once again we then continued to our second summit of the day, Binnein Beag. It was quite a trek to get to the foot of it, dropping quite a bit down before reascending. Also quite a thought that I’d have to retrace these steps all the way back. This second munro proved far easier than the first. There was a clear stony path meandering up the hill, interrupted only by some bigger boulders. The route guide described an avoidable scramble. What little scramble there was was short and not airy. I’m beginning to think that perhaps scrambling isn’t my fear on the hills, it’s big airy drops and exposure. I’ll ponder this further on future hills.
Reaching the summit again we had a snack break and I reaffirmed my decision to part ways with Bruce, leaving him to go onwards to Binnein Mor and Na Gruagaichean. We descended by a slightly different route, saying our goodbyes near the foot of the hill. It felt oddly romantic watching Bruce head off solo while I walked in the other direction. I bet this never even entered his head!
I headed back, retracing my steps, and took a couple of shortcuts straight up the grass as I wasn’t convinced I was on the right path and knew where I wanted to be. I could possibly have saved my legs a bit of work as I then realised that I was merely joining the path further along!
On one of these little forays I met a friendly chap and his dog, stopping for a blether. He was an Outward Bound man who was assessing a group of young people. After passing the time of day and learning more about his work I continued on my solo venture. The weather truly was stunning! Such a pleasure being out in the sunshine with such stunning views.
Heading back I was pleased to see Loch Eilde Mor and continuing on it didn’t feel too long before I was crossing the main track again and in sight of Loch Leven. I saw a few beautiful dragonflies here and was also delighted to see a stone smiling up at me from the path.
The descent into Kinlochleven was probably harder than the ascent. Steep, gnarly roots in places, my knees took a battering again. I dread to think what state is be in was it not for my walking poles.
Finally reaching the car I was passed by the young man we’d met earlier on Sgurr Eilde Mor. He’d done the same route as Bruce so I reckoned I’d have quite a time to wait as the young one had really been racing on. What a shock I got when not long after settling down at the Tailrace Inn Bruce arrived! Looking somewhat weather worn and very much like a man of the hills I was delighted he’d achieved his target for the day and returned safely. Rest day tomorrow!