Monday, 26 March 2018

Corrour Railway Trip. Staoineag Bothy Walk in. Munro Memories.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
Last weekend I had an unexpected invite from John, who I've known since the 1980s, to go on a trip to Staoineag Bothy, which lies in a remote area between the Great Moor of Rannoch, "one of Europe's last true wilderness areas" and the cluster of 4000 foot peaks surrounding Ben Nevis- at 1345 metres, 4,413 feet, the highest peak in the UK. I jumped at the chance before even knowing what he wanted to do there but Alex hummed and hawed before deciding not to join us. "Too much snow up there, high winds, long walk, heavy rucksacks,"... blah blah blah....etc etc.
I've always been a 'seize the day, think about any difficulties later' type whereas Alex, who I've also known since the 1980s and various walking clubs thinks of these things beforehand and puts himself off. In this case it was justified for reasons I'll explain later.
Above is the Inversnaid Hotel which we passed on the way up. It lies on the less frequented side of Loch Lomond where only the long distance foot path- the week long West Highland Way running between Milngavie and Fort William troubles the woods and shoreline on this eastern, mainly traffic free, side of the famous loch.
I mention this as it's a great place to do Ben Lomond, 974 metres, 3,196 feet from. Parking at Inversnaid then walking past a waterfall along the West Highland Way until the Cuilness Gorge then up this defile over trackless country to ascend the peak. For experienced hill-walkers it's a great alternative through remote and empty trackless terrain which body-swerves 99 percent of the masses heading up this popular peak. Wild goats may be seen here and Ben Lomond, seen above, also looks very different from this direction. Good navigational skills and self reliance are needed if you are on your own as there's no- one around to ask or help out up here until you reach the summit.
With great weather for the drive up it turned into a photo splurge of classic Munros we'd both done in the 1980s yet not attempted since. It made me rather nostalgic for the Munros and I fancied having a go at the best ones again. Only in good weather like this though and that desire might not last long as they are hard work and my body, and legs, probably couldn't cope with more than one or two. Cruach Ardrain, 1046 metres, 3,432 feet seen here from Crianlarich village. Most of the Scottish Munros I've not climbed for decades now and one of the reasons for visiting Corrour and Staoineag again is to do it while I still can.
Ben More, 1,174 metres, 3,852 feet also looms above the small village of Crianlarich, which sits at a road junction just north of Loch Lomond. Last climbed by me around 15 years ago for the 3rd time. I think that's enough.
Further north, slightly later in the day, and mixed weather over  Beinn Dorain, 1076 metres, 3,530 feet, with wind blown spin-drift visible on the slopes. Blue skies being replaced by grey as a snow flurry arrived. Although it may look spectacular mixed weather was forecast for the weekend, temperatures over the mountains between minus -5 and minus -10 degrees and wind-speeds on the summits around 40 to 50 mph.
Even with full thermals on and four layers placed above that it was chilly. Our intention was to drive from Glasgow to Bridge of Orchy by road (to save train fares mainly and more convenient ) park there, then go by rail two stops up the line for £15 quid return to Rannoch Station then Corrour. From Corrour Station we would walk, carrying very heavy rucksacks over rough boggy ground, for approx 8km or 5 miles into the bothy. With full winter gear, sleeping bags, two days coal, food, water, etc it was like walking that distance over a bog with a knackered Alsatian dog draped over your shoulders.
John at Corrour Station adjusting his pack. Most of the letters on this platform sign are wind and snow damaged. Winters can be harsh up here and 80 to 100 mile an hour winds are not uncommon in these parts. Corrour incidentally, is further north than Moscow, six months frozen Lake Baikal in Russia, parts of Alaska and the southern edge of Hudson Bay in Canada. Getting the packs up onto shoulders was the biggest hurdle as I could barely lift mine. (Another reason putting Alex off going.) Once they were in position though it wasn't too bad and we set off along the vague path from the station towards the bothy.
Several others got off the train here as well but they all headed for Loch Ossian Youth Hostel, a mere 2 km away on a good track. This is them.. and no coal presumably- which weighed a ton.
This railway station lies in the middle of a vast high moorland on the Glasgow to Fort William line and many navvies died here during it's construction, either from exposure, accidents or getting lost when they tried to reach civilization to visit the nearest pubs, shops, etc, often a 20 mile return hike over the moor in appalling conditions but the only entertainment/ services available.
We were following the Fort William path, although " path" was a relative term, as it was barely visible for half the journey. The platform scene in the film Trainspotting was shot here and this is the hill they refused to climb- Leum Uilleim, 906metres, 2,974 feet, a Corbett that's just short of a Munro, and also the James Bond film Skyfall, key scenes filmed around the moor, although you'd struggle to find his remote ancestral mansion/ church/chapel/graveyard/ or underground tunnels... and the numerous  Rannoch lochs here rarely get deeper than six feet for fighting underwater at depth.( I've kayaked over most of them here and scraped the bottom for much of the time, except in the further away Loch Laidon) Ah, the magic of cinema.
Loch Ossian mountains from Corrour Station. We also met a bunch of hill walkers waiting for the train back who described the conditions up on the ridges and summits. "A pure death zone up there!" they warned us. "Brutal, brutal winds and frigid air. Those summits would kill a polar bear stone deid in its tracks! Nightmare temperatures above the snowline at the moment."
"Where are you heading?" one asked.
" Stone egg Bothy." I deadpanned. " then the high peaks behind." I slapped my knee with gusto Dick Whittington style.  " I fear it not boys! We're mountain men."
"Good luck." They offered. "Better you than me. Misery awaits. "
" Cheers guys."

A glimpse of Loch Ossian and the surrounding mountains. Big hill days hereabouts- tough outings in winter as these huge broad ridges offer little shelter and Scotland is a very wind prone country. I've been out in minus -20 conditions on the summits on still days before and it felt ok under a warming sun but 40 mph winds plus a minus -5 forecast can kill exposed fingers and face really quickly.
It was not too bad down here as we set off in bright sunshine over the moors (this is the "path" by the way.) but even with full thermals top and bottom on we rarely sweated, despite the uphill effort. I managed to crash through into a buried stream at one point, sinking up past my knees in freezing water, which was one drawback of being much heavier than normal where I might have glided across unladen. Apart from that it was fine and we made good time. We both enjoyed the walk in.
We regained a good estate track once we reached the waters of Loch Treig, a fjord like blue trench sandwiched between high mountains. In this sheltered spot hat and gloves came off under a warming sun.
One of the surrounding high peaks of the district.
And this is another.
The bare upper end of Loch Treig and another snow flurry coming on.
Red deer. We spotted dozens during the walk and heard about a few dead ones that would never enjoy another spring. A hard, up and down, hot then cold, variable winter this year for wildlife with yet another cold spell predicted into Easter. Yet another easterly chill blast from Siberia and Scandinavia  sweeping down and across mainland Europe to blow the UK's way.
Back to semi trackless walking again after the loch as we faced another uphill grind before the bothy.
The reward for effort being glimpses of higher peaks all around. Stob Ban I think here. A remote and hard won Munro tick.  For being fairly close to Glasgow and Edinburgh Staoineag is a surprisingly remote bothy and would be even harder to reach (almost a two day backpack trip from the nearest road) if it wasn't for the train line cutting through the moor.
We were certainly both very glad to see this familiar dark shape appear through the snow flurries, perched on its bump beside a river. Staoineag. We've both been in here a few times over the years but once a decade is the norm for me so I might not see a 4th visit.
Luckily, we just made it as the light faded although we are both well used to trudging into remote bothies in the dark- even trackless ones. There is nothing else around here to spend a night in so you wouldn't want to miss it.
And a golden oldie from the archives. Alex on a Glencoe rock climb in summer from yesteryear.

To be continued...


Linda W. said...

Your snow-covered mountaintops and sweeping countrysides are lovely!

Anabel Marsh said...

Aargh, that last photo is terrifying! The rest looks beautiful but sounds like hard work.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda,
The big 4000 foot peaks feature in the next installment.

blueskyscotland said...

I agree Anabel,
When Alex does decide to come out he's always had natural balance and ability at height. I had to just sit on that pinnacle when it was my turn to go over it with Alex complaining that I'd sabotaged his photo opportunity.
"Are you a man or a mouse? Get off your arse! Stand up tall!!! Call yourself a mountaineer!"
Needless to say I stayed sitting.

Anonymous said...

Great trip and memories of my own walk in here from Corrour a couple of years back at Easter. Link to the first of four posts below. We were camping just upstream from the bothy with plans limited by the high water in all the rivers and streams. A chance for my son to climb his first munro, one of the two above the west shores of Loch Treig. Look forward to the rest of the story:

Carol said...

All these people, doing all this exciting stuff up hills and in the outdoors, are starting to make me sick! :-(

Wouldn't it have been nicer driving to Fersit and doing it from there? bearing in mind the lack of snow around the lochside? The path must go somewhere around there to get to Fort Bill...

The Rannoch Moor trains (and drivers) sure have a rough life! It would be a terrible place to break down...

blueskyscotland said...

It's a cracking place that brought back great memories. Last time I was in after heavy rain and we waded thigh deep in that river to reach the bothy. Lucky it was summer as this time the cold was as bad as anything I've experienced on a hill. Even the bothy was freezing that first night, despite a good fire.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I don't get too many offers at my age so I have to grab them.
No, it would not:) Fersit is 14 km away from the bothy and according to my OS map(admittedly an older version) there is no path at all from Fersit to Staoineag except the railway line and the sides of the loch are very steep. The estate track we were on only runs for 2km around the head of the loch, haven't a clue why, to join up two locked up estate summer lodges they probably reach by boat or a rough higher track from Corrour. The Railway Station is the easiest way in as the path to Fort William is the one we were on into the bothy. Fort W is another rough 14km further on over a pass just to reach the minor road end where you walk in to the Steall Hut and the wire bridge. It is a very remote area. Driving to B of O is also far better petrol economy.

Rosemary said...

Alex was obviously more ambitious in years past judging from the last photo of him.
I well know all about the strong winds in Scotland having lived there during the 1968 hurrican which left many of our neighbours in Milngavie without their roofs or garden sheds, and scared the living life out of me.
You obviously returned home safe and sound - but now I await the next installment of your intrepid adventure.

Neil said...

Wonderful....looking forward to the next installment

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Rosemary,
Alex is still ambitious enough when it comes to working his way through his own lists of hills but he picks his days carefully. On this occasion the hills he still had to do in there were remote, it was really severe weather, and he would probably have been on his own most of the time walk-wise so a good decision not to go as I'll explain in part two.
That same 1968 hurricane took off the roof of my sisters flat in Ibrox before she emigrated to Australia as I remember the destruction caused around that time.

blueskyscotland said...

It was certainly an adventure Neil. Pretty good weather from a photography point of view.