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The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal


THE district of Knoydart, situated between Loch Hourn and Loch Nevis, arid an imaginary line drawn between the heads of these fjords, is one of the wildest and grandest in Scotland ; it is also one of the most inaccessible to the ordinary tourist, the accommodation being both scanty and rough, the hills now mostly under deer.

The mountains, though among the roughest, are not by any means among the highest on the mainland, but as they in most cases rise direct from the very level of the sea, their apparent height is far greater than anybody might suppose, judging by the mere enumeration of feet. The principal masses are Ladhar Bheinn, 3,343 feet; Meall Buidhe, 3,107; Luinne Bheinn, 3,083; Sgirr a' Choire Beith, 2,994; and.Sgürr Sgiàth-airidh, 2,941.

There is, or was (I have not heard of its closure) a temperance inn at Inverie, on Loch Nevis, and a small pot- house at Corran, on Loch Hourn, besides Skiary, mentioned by Mr Munro in one of his notes. I have, however, found it more agreeable to attack this district from the capital hotel at Gleneig, though I have on more than one occasion spent fairly comfortable nights at Inverie and Corran. The greatest drawback to Gleneig and Corran is that Loch Hourn requires to be ferried before the base of the mountains is reached; this does not apply to Inverie and Skiary.

In 1882, together with a party of friends, I made the ascent of Ladhar Beinn from Glenelg. We decided on an early start, for we were going to row to a point on Loch Hourn at the foot of the mountain, and the chance of contrary winds made it desirable to be off betimes. The morning was dull and misty, notwithstanding which, we thought it best to risk its clearing, so were off before seven A.M. As we proceeded down the Sound of Sleat the mist gradually rose, and when we were off the Sandaig Islands, near the mouth of Loch Hourn, it was beyond a doubt that we should have a fine day, for the sun was bursting through the clouds and here and there touching the water with silvery light. I know nothing finer than the entrance of this noble loch, with its encircling hills; the prospect too to the west is blocked by the magnificent Coolins with their wonderfully splintered outline.

We made straight for the mouth of the burn flowing from Coire Dhorcail, as it was up this corrie we proposed to ascend. We took to the east side of the stream, which here flows through a picturesque gorge, climbing pretty rapidly until we reached the x,000 feet level, when the full grandeur of the corrie burst upon us. This is without doubt one of the finest scenes of the kind in the country. On three sides the precipitous slopes of the mountain close it in, at the head especially, projecting in the form of buttresses dividing the corrie into two unequal parts. It is difficult without a photograph or drawing to give an adequate idea of the architecture of Ladhar Bheinn; it will be best understood by examining the one-inch O.S. contour map. On the left the extraordinary peak of Stob a' Chearcaill (2,760 feet) presents a most peculiar appearance,—sheer, smooth, and sharp,—.the strata being tilted almost perpendicularly, and being very slaty, give it the appearance of great precipitousness; while in the middle the lower but scarcely less remarkable buttress, Stob Dhorcaill (2,500 feet contour), divides the corrie into Coire na Cabaig (east) and Coire Dhorcaill (west). It was to the right of this point, and between it and the sheer wall heading the corrie to the west of it, that we aimed for the ridge, at a place marked Beallach on the one-inch O.S. map. The wall aforesaid forms the south-eastern ridge of Ladhar Bheinn proper, and leads to the summit. It is jagged and wild on the sky-line, and extremely precipitous, forming indeed one of the deepest precipices in the Highlands. The top of it is about 2,850 feet, and the contour at its base about 1,500 feet, and as there is very little slope below the actual cliff it will be seen that it is a good 1,000 feet at any rate before touching screes.

After traversing the corrie till under the steep slope below the Bealach, we made a steepish ascent to the artte which leads to the base of the final peak—all quite easy going though rough. The top is a long, almost straight ridge running N.W., S.E., the cairn being about the centre. Just before reaching the top the western buttress, guarding Coire Dhorcaill, branches off parallel to the others, in a general direction N.E. It is called Stob a' Choire Odhar, and is, according to the Admiralty charts, 3,138 feet. It is sharp, and somewhat resembles Striding Edge of Helvellyn, but its sides are far more precipitous. We had a magnificent and extensive view, in which Loch Hourn with a foreground of the crags of Ladhar Bheinn formed the most attractive feature, while the rugged Alps of Ross-shire, the jagged Coolins, the stately peaks of Rum, together with the rough and craggy summits immediately surrounding us, formed a mountain and marine prospect I don't expect to see surpassed. The mist came down soon after we reached the top, so we made our way down into a small corrie to the north (Coire Goum), and then towards the ridge of Mullach Li, which we descended to Li, where the boat was to be in waiting. Some of us wished to row and some to walk home, so the walkers were landed about half-way between Arnisdale and the mouth of the loch, and enjoyed a delightful walk to Gleneig, by the charming up-and-down road from Arnisdale to that place, passing Eilean Reoch.

Some years later, in company of Professor Heddle, I ascended Ladhar Bheinn again from Inverie. We took the path that leads to Glen Gurseran, by the Mam Uidhe, branching off about a mile out to a place called Folach, at the S.W. base of the mountain. We then had a long and not particularly interesting climb to the top, which was thinly coated with snow that had fallen during our ascent. I think I was even more impressed on the second occasion with the grandeur of the view of Loch Hourn and the cliffs of Coire Dhorcaill, probably owing to their coming more suddenly on me; the light too was very good, the mountains looking their highest and the loch darkly reflecting them. We descended via Stob a' Choire Odhar, which was not altogether as easy as it might have been, as the snow was in a melting condition, and made the rocks and grass very slippery. About half a mile N.E. of the top we struck off at right angles and reached our old route to Li, and so down.

The day previous to this last walk, Dr Heddle and I left Gleneig, taking boat to a spot near Barrisdale on Loch Hourn, with the intention of crossing Luinne Bheinn and Meal] Buidhe to Inverie. We landed on the opposite side of the bay to the House of Barrisdale, and climbed gradually along the slopes of Creag Beithe (the base of Stob Chearcaill) till we struck the main Barrisdale track to Inverie, at a point about 600 feet up. Glen Barrisdale and the wild upland Glen Undalen look superb from this place. The lower slopes of Sgürr a' Choire Beithe which divides them, along with the flanks of Luinne Bheinn, are beautifully draped with wood and thick heather, making one of those singularly rich and wild foregrounds peculiar to a few favoured parts of the Highlands, such as the Trossachs, Glen Affric, and Glen Nevis—rock, heather,birch, and Scotch fir being mixed together in exquisite confusion, while the whole is backed by the vista of the long glen, with its steep and rocky mountains.

At the top of the pass, at a height of 1,476 feet, we struck S.E. up the shoulder of Luinne Bheinn (Bachd Mhic an Tosich), and thence along the ridge to the summit. Ladhar Bheinn and the strange ridges of Stob Chearcaill were very striking, as also was the huge corrie (Corrèachan Leacach"flagstone corrie ") between our mountain and Meal! Buidhe, the whole surface 01 the hills on one side being almost entirely composed of slabs of glaciated gneiss, rising tier above tier. Two or three beautiful tarns repose on different shelves of the rocks at considerable elevations, adding a great charm to the savage scene. A sharpish descent led to a col at the head of the north branch of the corrie, whence we climbed along rocky ridges to the top of Druim Leathad an Sithe (about 2,600 feet), passing on the left below us another of these lovely tarns. The profound valley of the Carnach between us and the peaks of the head of Loch Nevis was very grand. Great rock ribs seem to buttress up the mountains; the south face of Ben Aden (2,905 feet) especially, and the steep and almost Matterhorn like Sgor na Ciche (3410 feet), were very striking. A slight descent brought us face to face to what appeared at first to be a formidable climb, but, like most things, it was "not so bad as looking "—as a keeper once said to me—and went quite easily, a small cornice of snow giving no trouble. Climbers must have noticed how deceptive the effect of perspective is on hill slopes, nothing can be really known about a route till close under it. From the summit of Meall Buidhe our descent lay over the top of An t-Uiriollach for a couple of miles or more due west, we then turned sharp south, by a steepish drop into the picturesque Glen Meadail, through which the Fort-William bridle track runs, and so early to Inverie, after a satisfactory day's walk.

I have laid more stress on the scenery than the climbing, as by the route we took it was straightforward in all three cases; but, of course, it will easily be seen from my description, inadequate as I am aware it is, that plenty of climbing of all sorts is to be got in this, one of the finest parts of Scotland.

Where the heights differ from one-inch O.S. map they are taken from the six-inch O.S.

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