Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan IV Reprise

Pit it apt at at atap it apat tat… the rain was still falling, and with my eyes still shut I was warm and I didn’t want to move. I knew it was brighter, and no screwing up of my eyes could shut it out completely. Putting my head into the sleeping bag just made me want to pass out from lack air or heat stroke. I pulled my arm out and found my watch in the pouch above the door, 0836 it said. I’d had at least six and a half hours of completely undisturbed sleep. Outstanding.
I unzipped the doors and made a face at the world outside because it was rubbish looking. I lit the stove and lay on my front watching the rain gather on the long grass outside and run down the stalks when the drops got to heavy. The wind was from behind, I was sheltered and really quite happy as had a cuppa and some porridge.
I thought about my options as this weather was now the deciding factor. I could descend again and be back in the motor in a couple of hours, carry on and retrace my similarly cloud-covered steps of a couple of months back or find something else that was new and would be fun, maybe descend NW and circle around Sgurr Gaorsaic to find the other end of the Loch?
At 1000 I finally got out of the tent for a pee and a stretch of the legs, feeling under no pressure. I even thought about just sitting there and waiting for something to happen, for the weather to either get better or worse and give me a nudge, I had plenty food to sit it out.
The nudge came, and it was like walking along a darkened corridor, opening a door and stepping into a brightly lit room and finding a table with Irn Bru and doughnuts on it. This would also be accompanied by an audible “Boof!”.
A hole in the cloud appeared, I saw the summit, the ridges and into the coire to the north. I just got the camera set up to get a shot as it filled itself back in. This gave me as much a dilemma as the constant rain, what would happen now, would the cloud lift? 

I packed slowly, constantly watching all around. Once, the sun burned fiercely and briefly through just thin cloud cover, the corries on both side revealed themselves occasionaly, light playing on their boulder strewn slopes as the sun penetrated elsewhere unseen from my high campsite. I was grinning with optimism as I set off towards the summit over the wonderful knobbly ridge in an ever brighter atmosphere, I could see detail, distance and a chance of doing what I came here for.

Standing on the top this time was fantastic. I could see the north top where I’d just camped and I could see the ridge leading to Mullach na Dheiragain. Too far, too late, not enough water. Right now, I was still walking away from the motor, day two even without the Mullach was twice the distance as day one. I did give several second glances that way as I descended eastwards, I thought about contouring over there via a lochan to pick up water, but as patches of blue appeared and distant slopes and peaks became sharp and clear, I decided not to push my improving luck and just set off with the renewed purpose of finishing a route that had been on my mind for months.

It was still a little windy, still cool, so I kept on my waterproof. The air was fresh, the light was clear. The ground felt good under my feet. These are the hills at their best, standing tall, chest out, hands on hips, very much alive, and today, feeling benevolent. Every footfall was a total joy.

The summit clouded over again, just a wee wispy toupee. But the broken cloud added scale, the notion of the mountains touching the sky, of all nature feeling as one, even I felt part of that for once. Not a visitor or a viewer, but a participant as the day unfolded around me without another human in sight. Spend the night up there and you’ll never see the hills the same again, I hope this never wears off.


It was getting warm as I descended towards the youth hostel, I stowed my jacket and filled my bottle at a little waterfall. The path here is clear and well maintained, but still narrow and unobtrusive. A good model for elsewhere.
I met the hostel warden out for a wander and spoke my first words for 24 hours, always interesting as I feel like I’m shouting.
I looked south at hills I’ve climbed and actually saw them, rather than cloud for the first time from these slopes.

I stopped for lunch by the river, well in the river I suppose as I sat on the warm rocks and had soup as the cool dark water flowed and gurgled around me. I sat for a while and soaked it up, mountains all around me, empty land, miles to go and everything I needed right at hand.  Do folk know accessible this stuff is? How easy it is to get into these places, how safe and enjoyable it can be? I wonder how many folk get put off trying by TGO making it look dull and Trail trying to sex it up? As ever the truth is in the middle somewhere.

Not far from Alltbeith you find Camban bothy, and a cracker it is too. Two big rooms with two-level bunks and I found it in a pretty clean condition. No sign of folks having been there and the fireplaces were empty, but in its wonderful position between Beinn Fhada and the north Cluanie hills it must be well frequented.

The track from Camban to Gleann Lichd is wonderful, and the very reason I wanted to do this route. There’s a gap in there that I’d never walked, only seen from the summits and walking through there on its lovely, twisting track surrounded by high tops, I found myself also surrounded by memories of trips and friends now long distant, of a younger man exploring the highlands for the first time, and also an older man who’s found that his love and simple joy of placing one foot in front of the other in this beautiful country has never faded.
The mists of time and the misty eyes of a sentimental auld eejit? Maybe, maybe. But my heart swelled just to be there, and to be there on a such a day as this where nature never rested, never stopped trying new ways to set itself in a new light, and with every attempt found something just a little more special.

I’d never seen the waterfall. The path contours round the deep gorge, and I kept looking around to say to someone “Isn’t this just stunning?”. But this was a very solitary trip, I think it had to be. Unfinished business, not with the mountains, but with myself. The mountains don’t care, they just are. You can’t expect or demand, but what you come away with is all the better for it.

The walk out behind the Five Sisters of KIntail is long and on a landrover track. The further you get the more the land changes its character from wilderness to countryside.
I stuck my iPod on, and the first track that shuffle mode found was Slayer’s Jesus Saves. I laughed out loud at the surprise of its genius choice and immediately started playing air-guitar on my trekking poles. It was on good form and fed me one cracker after another and I slipped out of the glen in into the motor on the crest of a metal wave, beaming from ear to ear.

I stopped in Ft Bill, and a MacDonald’s never tasted so good. And an ice cream with a flake in it was never so appreciated.
The sun sank behind the Ardnamurchan hills and bathed the Glen Coe hills in a pink light, the traffic was light late on a Monday night and I sped through the velvet landscape, eager to get home and see the girls.
My one stop was to get the camera out near Loch Ba. A wonderful spot which never fails to surprise me with how many moods and colours it can find.

This was a trip that I will hold dear in my memory. The hills, the trail, the weather, my head, it was all right.

35 thoughts on “Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan IV Reprise

  1. Finally registered myself here =)

    Beautiful trip indeed. I love the landscape shots, and the trip is written excellently. That booty, or “Mökki” as we would call it here in Finland, looks great, down to earth with some great decoration.

  2. ah you could almost bring a person to tears with these amazing photies & stories.. Fantastic! :o) *sniff sniff

  3. Hey guys, happy to share the joy as always :o)

    Camban is a great place Hendrik, I think I’d like to go back and spend a night there in winter. It would be a great trail to walk under snow cover.

  4. Looks like you got a grand trip out of it once the cloud played nicely :)

    Been surviving on mini hills for a month now myself, but give it another month or so and holiday time should kick in – got our own unfinished business up that way perhaps, left over from March.

  5. Beautiful.

    We were in the youth hostel for a couple of nights about a month ago ( The warden is a fascinating character. She was running her own cafe on Skye for a bit until recently and before that used to run a bouncy castle hire business. Nice career choices….a lot better than mine

    We too spent a day mooching round in the rain and visiting camban while not doing the mullach in the rain.

    I wonder what it was like up there today? I spent the day driving my parents round in the torrential rain. They were visiting from Merseyside. Best bit was haggis supper at the real food cafe. Driving back down the A82 near the fancy golf course there were rivers running down the road with the run off form the hill bringing down rocks and earth. Nice

  6. Ach, getting oot, not getting oot, sumshine or rain. Sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes not.
    I think the glorious second day was such an unexpected gift that it caught me off guard, and the emotional stuff I mentioned was very real.
    A good day for me on so many levels.

    Bless you people for sharing the moment with me.

  7. Great stuff, pete. Glad you got a stunner edged in the middle of such a damp high summer. And yes, the feeling you get when you suddenly realise it’s just you, all alone in the hills, following a track to nowhere, stopping for a brew where perhaps folks would stop for a breather in days gone by, on the way to their shieling or whatever, well, you just cannae touch those moments. Lucky ba*$ard!

  8. Locky s*d! Good thing I’ve got a long one planned for the Brecon Beacons tomorrow or I’d be even more envious than I am!

  9. It’s going to be fairly cool and probably overcast here tomorrow; if it wasn’t for the blustery winds, good walking weather. I’ve contrived a route that gets me 22kms with 1000 or 1200m of ascent – training for Scotland in a few weeks :-)

  10. Sounds like a good leg stretcher that, about the same distance as my second day above I think.
    You’ll fly round if you don’t have to keep stopping to set up the tripod :o)

  11. I did wonder about that! Were you using a gorillapod or something more substantial?
    btw, Stob Ban is on the agenda for when I’m up – it’ll be the revenge trip!

  12. It’s a proper tripod, goes from 10 inches up to about 4 feet. Very handy, makes life a lot easier.
    Stpb Ban, aye. I haven’t been on the top of it for ages. Been round it a few times one way or another!

  13. Aye PTC, as always a wonderful combination of words and pics. Very, very enjoyable. It left me with a mixed sense of emotions though. Sometimes the magic is in the unknown and when it is all described so well, there is less left to discover. When you (by “you” I mean anyone) find somewhere magical, as in the Affric area, do you keep it a secret or do you tell for others to enjoy? I tend to be protective, but I realise that this will never prevail. To see the hills of the North West as busy as say Coire an t-Sneachda on any cold sunny day in February would be a pity. But that is the paradox, when you get fed up waiting in the queue or walking behind Maw, Paw and the Bairns, you are always looking for somewhere else to find what you are looking for.
    Now where did I put that drink?

  14. I’ll never keep stuff like this to myself, there’s too much joy in it to not shout about it. I know the time and effort that some folk who live further away from the mountains than I would have to put in to walk some of these trails, and if I can say in my wee way “Look at this, it’s worth it” and sombody draws confidence or inspiration from it to help make a decision, then it’s all to the greater good I think.
    There’s a reason Glen Coe is so popular, it’s got a road through it. There are many more glens where your footsteps will be on trackless ground or unbroken snow. For a wee country it’s helluva big.
    Lets get out there and explore, get folk off the beaten track and they’ll see that the mountains aren’t a leisure venue, they’re a world of wonder.

    Alright! :o)

  15. I’m no sure. A couple of weeks ago the car park at the Strathfarrar gate was full at 08.59. Even an overnighter in Camban in May was busy. But as I said, the tide is not for turning.
    But I take solace. I have enjoyed them as they were. I still enjoy them now, but they are not the same.

  16. As a relative newbie to this hill-walking adventure of discovery here’s my 2p worth… Sat 7 June 2008 I toiled my way up and down Stob Coire Sgreamhach & Bidean Nam Bian in Glencoe for a whole 10 hours. It was my first hill-walk ever! and man it was tough. It brought loads of pain and 2 brick walls but also great joy, amazement and overwhelming emotion. I finally found what i’d been looking for…
    I came to this whole business later than i’d have wished but now i am seeing and discovering new things, things i would never have seen if it weren’t for getting out there and exploring.
    Fast forward to Sat 25 July 09 – I ventured out on my first solo hill-walk ever! Alone, although never fully alone. But that confidence to go solo came from places like this, from info collected and from me as I’d become less of a coward. Ok, it was a hill i’d been up before (a very good hill indeed though) and yes it was mobbed but hey it’s a free country and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    Keep these fab stories and photies coming, where else would we learn all this stuff.
    From me, thank you :o)

  17. When I was 15 I discovered Metallica, I wore the t-shirts, I saw them when they came to the UK in ’85 and ’86. But by the time the Black Album had come along, I wasn’t wearing the shirts, it just wasn’t the same. I had felt that they were my secret, but now they were everybody’s favourite is just wasn’t the same.
    It’s the same with everything, we take ownership of whatever we hold dear, and righly so. Without that passion where would we be? Dull and lifeless.
    When I pitch my tent, that mountain is home. My home.
    But just for that night.
    When I leave there’ll be no trace and the mountain has no memory, it will welcome the next visitor just the same as it welcomed me.
    I can find wilderness and solitude, and I can follow a busy trail. A map gives me all I need to know, and those new to the hills will learn this through time and that cycle will continue.
    Our land is for all of us, I just can’t find it in my heart or my soul to deny folk the possibilities, the joy of what’s waiting for them if they play their part and make the effort.
    And lets all remember, once the glens were a living place, full of people at work and play. Every time a rebuilt bothy is full of laughter and light at night, every time footsteps follow a trail that was first broken to drove cattle, are we not bringing something of that life back?

  18. What pete said.

    Myself, I’ve only got one complaint about all these websites that put up images of the wild… That when I finally get there, part of the mystery and surprise has gone. I remember the first time I got to the Tarf Hotel, it was quite a surprise to find that sort of place amidst all the desolation. I’d heard of it, but never seen pictures, and it was magical to get there and discover what the place was like for myself.

    Another one was Iron Lodge. I’d read the name on the map and it sounded like something out of a novel. Then you get there, and there isn’t much magical about the building, but that’s good too.

    Now I just google for the bloomin’ thing and there’s always some picture of just about any square mile of wild country (geograph site and the like). So often enough walking is now recognising things I’ve seen on a website!

    It’s great for planning, but it takes away some of the pleasure. But then again, sometime it inspires you to go places. (and that’s one more reason to prefer winter camping, things look different every time and no picture quite matches what you see under the snow conditions of the day)

    So, it’s a difficult balance.

    But on balance (!) I’m grateful that when I’m stuck at my desk I can log here and see what Mr Grin has got up to on my behalf. Vicarious slogging, I call it.

  19. Yup.

    You know, when it comes to sticking all this stuff on the site, two things have become aparent to me.
    One is that the photies never convey the actual feeling of being there, it’s a wee peek, and at times that’s a little melancholy. I want to feel the cold air in my cheeks as the steam drifts up from my mug and warms my nose at that high camp, and it’s that that has me constantly saying “I’m going to go back there one day”. It’s a constant inspiration to me to keep going out there.
    Second is that I wish I’d had a blog 20 years ago, so many trips and glorious days are lost or to be found only on a few badly taken shots on a disposable camera. When it comes down to it, this place is my diary, and looking back to what I was doing nearly two years ago is magic.
    On not so good days I can see better ones and know that there’ll be another one along soon.

    The fact that you can share that stuff because of the internet is brilliant.

  20. I was going to respond to the question posed by Ange, “where else would we learn all this stuff” but you beat me to it by writing “a map gives me all I need to know”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
    We share a love of the hills but differ in our views and thats not a bad thing. I guess that the option open to me is not to frequent the blogs, so that will appease my soul a bit. As I said at the outset, my views will not prevail. But hopefully those following in your footsteps will remember that Camban had a major rebuild a few years ago, so support the MBA who carried out all the work. Camban didn’t get to its present fine condition through serendipity. When going there, enjoy a meal at a local establishment at either Shiel Bridge or Cannich, buy some groceries at the Cannich shop instead of your local mega superstore.
    Support the local community wherever you are going and don’t just flit in and out as fast as the car can take you.
    Put something back in to where you are going, as well as your footprints. :o)

  21. It takes time to learn how to use a map, it takes experience. You have to learn the land, the seasons, take into account all the variables and them make a best guess. Even with all that at my disposal, it’s taken me four trips to get the photies above…

    Where do you go though? To echo what I said above, at its worst, TGO make the outdoors look like a meeting venue for a boring club of fat old men and Trail makes it look like you’re there to bag one of their top ten peaks to impress your mates on your way to one of their top ten pubs.
    Clubs appear to be full of unfriendly, list-ticking obsessives and not everyone knows folk who want to go outdoors.
    The internet was made to connect people and spread information, and I’ve maybe unwittingly become part of that.

    That makes me very happy indeed.

    The point about spending locally is not lost on me, as someone who spends so much time up north and is always leaving late and is always short of something or other I have a great many receipts falling out of my wallet on my return. And often calls from the bank wondering if my business card has been stolen as apparently there has been some unusual spending patterns :o)

  22. Aye, time and experience, that’s what counts — and maybe learning from a few mistakes along the way. I’ve made a few of them in my time. But that doesn’t come from the internet or the library.
    No problem with the last bit. I suspect we are together on this one, in the minority. But enough of this, we can continue sometime should we meet on the hill. I’ve enjoyed much of your blog in the last few years, I will miss it.
    Keep up the good work for the many who will continue to enjoy it.

  23. There’s an interesting point in this area made by a bloke in a newspaper recently, he’s pushing for direction signs with distances and painted boulders and cairns and the like in the hills to mark junctions or descent points.
    That horrifies me, as much as I’d have liked to have found these things on occcasion.
    We need to have balance, we can’t have hand-holding. The hills are for everybody (morally and even legally these days!), and it’s vital that folk learn the skills to enjoy them safely, but that’s very different to earning a notional “right” to be there.

    I dunno, tech navigation in schools? Get a Playstation game where you have to survive in the Highlands while battling zombies?
    Oh, I like that idea :o)

  24. The discussion on this post has been really good. Lots of great thoughts.

    I love the hills and am grateful for certain individuals that I was lucky enough to get to know who took me out with them and taught me to navigate, to enjoy being soaking wet, who demonstrated that fancy gear means nothing next to a desire and a joy to simply be outside. (A guy I walk a lot with did all the munros without owning a waterproof jacket) I’ve also been lucky enough too to show others how to twist that compass.

    On my own I’ve learned that big hills and little hills are just as good as each other. That whether I’m in Kintail or the Pentlands I can still have a good time. That a new Munro is nice but a day in the sun in wilderness is fantastic on its own…

    Blogs like this are special – it is great to know that there are 40 something nutters like me, for whom Ride the Lightning is still the best Metallica album, yet who love the space and solitude of the hills.

    I’m also torn. I love the solitude…but I love being with others, sharing the day. However… girlfriend’s desire to tick off all her munros (and her jealousy when I go off with my mates without her) causes a lot of stress!

    Keep writing Pete – I love what you do.

  25. I’ve still got Ride the Lightning on my iPod :o)

    Good words there Chris, there is indeed many ways to enjoy the hills and space for us all.

    You’re right, this has been a good dicussion. A lot of points of genuine concern, and things I do think about every time I put finger to keyboard.

  26. Man, I’ve missed this stuff, now I know why I’ve been feeling out of sorts for weeks – I’ve not been tuning in.

    I managed to catch an episode of “TIR IS TEANGA” on freeview last week and Colin McLeod was walking with John Morrison thru Glen Affric, albeit east to west, then today I catch up on this – what are the chances.

    Great story & pics as always, followed by deep and meaningful conversation, intelligent debate, fully formed arguments and it struck me how little I get to experience those these days too.

  27. Ah bugger, that would have been good. All we have on just now is Peppa Pig and Doodlebops.

    It was a great trip that, and you’re right the wee debate above is a cracker.
    It fuels me up this stuff.

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