Saturday, 3 October 2015

Garbh Bheinn. Ardgour. A Magnificent Mountain.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
I've been out on my bike a lot in recent weeks but here's a mountain trip during the good weather. Stob Dearg on the Buachaillie Etive Mor, 1022 metres, 3353 feet. A group trip of Graeme, Alex, Bob R, David and myself squeezed into one car to save petrol money. It was a trip across the Corran Ferry into wildest Ardgour.
5:00am rise in the pitch black of a cold autumn morning at least had the benefit of a half awake dawn up Loch Lomondside then early morning mist over the iconic Southern Munros. Ben Lui, 1130 metres, seen above.
The Black Mount motoring through Rannoch Moor near Glencoe.
Black Mount Range again from Loch Ba, Rannoch Moor.
On arrival at the Corran Ferry however it was a very different story. Thick murk over Ardgour which came as a big surprise to the keen baggers but not those of us, i.e. me, that had watched the Met Office Forecast the night before. The rest of Scotland, apart from the western edge of the highlands, i.e. here, would be toasting in unbroken sunshine while we enjoyed the shade.
Once across the ferry we motored about 10kms south to Sallachan, where there is a convenient secluded layby, and set off. Alex, Graeme and Bob R headed up into the murk to climb Sgor Mhic Eacharna, 2130 feet, and Beinn Bheag, 2272 feet...Grahams, Donalds, tumps, humps or something of that ilk. This is the hills they climbed here, above David's head, once the mist had cleared on the descent. Lovely rock pavement where the river drains through the glen.
As David had mentioned an interest in Garbh Bheinn, 885 metres,or 2904 feet, I said I would tag along as I fancied climbing it one last time. The mountains of Ardgour get few visitors, having no Munros, but these hills should not be taken lightly as paths are few, the ground rugged, and walkers even fewer. I also knew Garbh Bheinn was well named as it's a very rough mountain of sheer cliffs, broken ground and bare rock where a fall or a stumble could easily result in death. There is no phone signal except near the summit. Better to stick together then. A quarter of the way up the mountain we found ourselves scrambling up long pavements of bare rock which proved very enjoyable all the way to the summit at a very easy grade although slightly harder lines could be found around grade 1 or 2 higher up.
Easy scrambling slabs beside the main cliff. If required, grassy ramps can be found all the way to the summit, avoiding the rock, but we find scrambling takes your mind off the trudge upwards and adds a little bit of excitement to the day.
Classic and Hard Rock gems. The upper cliff on Garbh Bheinn.
 Butterknife, Hard Severe. Excalibur VS, Sgian Dubh S, Scimitar VS, the Golden Lance E2, and Kelpie E6, give a sharp weapons feel to climbing on this remote and hard to reach crag near the summit. Sustained, exposed and committing in a very isolated setting with zero chance of the routes being busy. 
http://www.ukclimbing.com/logbook/crag.php?id=554
 Both Alex and myself have walked in here several times to do rock routes on this mountain in the past. Alex to do Butterknife and the Great Ridge Direct. Severe. Myself to do The Great Ridge twice with two different groups, climbed by two different routes!,  and once to do Pinnacle Ridge, a committing and exposed scramble with Graeme many years ago.
Pinnacle Ridge. Steep at first then enjoyable soloing over the rest. Around a Grade Three exposed scramble at the start then easing off into grade two with less verticality looking down between the toes.
The Great Ridge Direct. A brilliant severe but a long walk in with ropes and gear. Used to be V.Diff when we climbed it over 20 years ago. Still looks as if it receives little traffic. Ardgour really is a genuine wilderness.
Scampering along the ridge line we soon reached the summit which remained firmly in the mist. We waited around for twenty minutes to see if it would clear but both of us knew it wasn't going to happen. We decided to return down the gully just south east of the summit which would take us under the best and steepest face on the mountain. The 3 photos above were taken on this descent line.
Although it was spectacular and easy technically it was slow going underfoot as any trace of a path was inconsistent and frequently obscured under a shattered collection of boulders and loose scree falling from the cliffs each winter. Not hard in any way steepness wise and a reasonable angle but very tiring and it seemed to go on forever with weary legs like ours and every chance of a stumble or fall as many of the boulders shifted as soon as you stood on them. 30 years ago with spring loaded  legs and faster reflexes this felt exciting and easy. I even carried a tent and big pack up here. Now it was just hard on the knees and concentration levels had to stay high at all times. I really enjoyed seeing this mountain again after a long absence but I don't think I'll be back in this lifetime.
Further down the gully looking back at the Great Ridge. Even when we reached the path along the valley floor it was boggy and saturated and not much easier. When we reached the car the others had been back for a couple of hours. A really tough 9 hour day, mostly walking on bare slabs or through boulder-fields and bogs in the gullies then the glen.

A close up of the high arete on the Great Ridge. Garbh Bheinn.
 Ardgour is tough but beautiful. Garbh Bheinn is still a magnificent mountain that can easily match anything higher on the Scottish mainland. Graeme drove us back in the dark with a distinct chill in the highland air. Winter is not far away and the dark nights are here again , knocking at the door. A great trip. A last encounter with a magnificent mountain.

Unlike goats, sheep are not the brightest or most agile of creatures but seem to still think they are. Reading a fellow blogger's post (Carol) about a rescued sheep reminded me of this clip I watched years ago with two sheep on the Idwal slabs in Wales. Filmed by a rock climber, presumably, as I've done routes on the same cliff years ago. I naively thought then that placing gear in cracks and making sure I didn't fall off the route or get hit by a dislodged stone was all I had to worry about. Gripping stuff.



19 comments:

Neil said...

A magnificent mountain indeed. I think that it was the mid-80's that I climbed it. Pity you didn't get the best of the weather but as you say, that was the forecast.....

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil.
It could have been a lot worse as it was fairly warm and didn't rain. At least the scramble up and the gully descent down the side of the 1000 foot long Great Ridge gave us plenty of interest and photo opportunities.

Linda W. said...

Wow - beautiful rocky mountains! Looks like climbing these are an adventure indeed.

Carol said...

God that was a scary video of the sheep falling! I'm glad I wasn't there to see it - they always give me the creeps when they're messing around up crags. I suppose the sheep was probably dead at the bottom.

That always looks a quite mean mountain - not sure whether I'll ever do it or not now...

Ian Johnston said...

Great stuff Bob - Garbh Bheinn really is a match for anything in Scotland. I recently re-read Bill Murray's account of climbing Great Ridge; what a classic!

Kind Regards

Ian Johnston said...

...Douglas W and I also managed to find the clag last week down on Gigha!

Kind regards

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda.
They may be small mountains by world standards but the latitude plus the sea level start and rugged landscape make up for that. If the hill is 3,800 feet on the Scottish west coast that's usually what you climb height wise from the car.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Would have been even worse if it hit a climber on the way down. The bottom of that cliff is steeper than it looks so Mummy was probably killed but the lamb may have survived if it was off milk and eating grass. Looked a bit young though to go it alone.
At least it was fast compared to some of the things we do to animals every day all over the world. Just watched "Circus Elephant Rampage:Storyville." The sad tale of "Tyke" and decades of daily chains and routine abuse for entertainment and profit.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Ian,
Years since I read Mountaineering in Scotland and Undiscovered Scotland as a double book from the Library. Enjoyed it along with other outdoor classics like Rope Boy- Dennis Gray. Always a little further- A. Borthwick and Mountain Days and Bothy Nights.
If you haven't read it The Wind in my Wheels- Josie Dew is a cracking read as well even if you are not into cycling. Very fine descriptive adventure travel writer with a good sense of humour.

Lux G. said...

You are so adventurous. I wish I can go on an adventure like this someday soon. Despite the steep and seemingly difficult path, the view is so worth it.

Mike @ A Bit About Britain said...

Wow! I don't think I could tackle anything like that at my time of life... That was an amazing video too.

Carol said...

We hope it was quick anyway. I thought the lamb jumped too? It disappeared over an edge further right from what I remember. You're right about animals in entertainment - daily suffering and for what? :-(

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Lux G,
Cheers. I attempt to be at my own easy level. It's not always easy to get the work life balance right. Work hard- get money- have little time to enjoy it. Work less- end up poor- plenty of time off but no money to go anywhere. The eternal equation :o)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Mike,
It's getting that way for me as well. I gave up serious back packing shortly after this trip as my knees were completely trashed with carrying heavy loads every summer and it took me several years to recover by not doing hills and just going kayaking and cycling. Even now I have to watch how many mountains I do as they have recovered fully but might go back to the way they were if I do too many hard hill trips in a row.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
The lamb may have survived the cliff as it went off before the big drop and may well have jumped onto the grass out of sight. Having said that a percentage of lambs always end up as chops anyway.

Carol said...

True they do... we often say, when we see a sheep straying into the road, that it's probably just fed up of the weather and trying to commit suicide anyway!

Douglas Wilcox said...

Hi Bob Garbh Bheinn is one of my favourite mountains... for many reasons. I have particularly fond memories of climbing the Great Ridge Direct with my friend John T. It was 11th August 1999 and there was a solar eclipse on the crux pitch. It was very atmospheric! Sadly John fell to his death from Ledge Route on Ben Nevis in March 2014.

Douglas Wilcox said...

But the sheer variety of features (so well captured in your blog) and the views of the sea lochs from the summit give it a grandeur far in excess of its height. Douglas.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Douglas,
Yes, it's always been one of my favourites as well and I like Ardgour in general as it's still a quiet and remote chunk of Scotland.