The wild reaches of Ardgour and Moidart
25th October 2019 by Chris Carter
"I’d heard numerous things about the Corbetts from various people over the years but it wasn’t until climbing Ben Aden last year that I began to realise what all the fuss was about"
Trips abroad to wilderness areas had previously awoken me to the fact that it’s not all about the height, summit, or reputation of a mountain – even though that sense of achievement that goes with it is undeniable – but instead the true experience is just as much about the journey instead of just the sole purpose of ‘reaching the top’.
I’d heard numerous things about the Corbetts from various people over the years, but it wasn’t until climbing Ben Aden and a handful of others south of Torridon last year that I began to realise what all the fuss was about. I’d discovered that the majority felt tougher than the Munros – harder underfoot, harder to get to, obscure to non-existent footpaths and difficult river crossings which are usually made obsolete on their loftier neighbours by use of a bridge. In other words – a journey.
I’d never really thought of applying this newfound philosophy to Scotland before, but after becoming hooked on wild camping abroad in recent years what better place to start than somewhere a lot closer to home.
Garbh Bheinn to Glenfinnan
I couldn’t possibly say how many times I’ve driven over the Ballachulish Bridge on the way to Fort William and been fascinated by, but equally ignored what’s out to the west. But my good friend Joe was equally enthusiastic to explore the seemingly vast space between Loch Linnhe and Loch Shiel, filled with nothing but – you guessed it – Corbetts!
Between us we’d planned a route in two parts – Loch Linnhe to Glenfinnan and then Glenfinnan to Loch Ailort, part 1 taking three days and part 2 taking two, restocking for the final stint at a car left in Glenfinnan before getting the train back at the end. This strategy meant two things – lighter loads for a more comfortable journey and a chance to bail out if the weather turned.
We set off up Garbh Bheinn from a small parking area about 2km west of Inversanda Bay on the road to Strontian, making good progress up a decent path with magnificent views in cold but crystal-clear weather. The forecast from here on was a sharp northerly with cold temperatures and frequent snow showers, making for atmospheric conditions throughout.
After soaking it all in on Garbh Bheinn now that our journey had truly started, things started to feel as we expected. Leaving behind the comforts of a footpath on this relatively popular hill, true ‘off road’ was now the theme with lots of tricky features, ascents and descents to navigate through as we headed north.
We’d eyed up a high camp on Sgurr Dhomhnuill, the highest mountain in Ardgour, but weren’t too fussed if we got there either as we were keen to just savour the moment and reserve our energy for what would be another huge following day.
After climbing Sgurr nan Cnamh, Beinn na h-Uamha and Sgurr a’ Chaorainn we camped at Bealach Mam a’ Bhearna, the deep col separating Sgurr a’ Chaorainn and Sgurr na h-Ighinn – Dhomhnuill's satellite. We were treated to gorgeous light in all directions, looking out past Beinn Resipol right out to the Ardnamurchan peninsula.
The next day was to be crunch day – the furthest distance, the largest height gain and the roughest ground and all with the worst of the weather.
Unfortunately, Dhomhnuill was a let-down through no fault of its own, as the snow and clag came in within a few hundred metres of the summit. After optimistically waiting for it to clear, we admitted defeat and carried on our way over the next few tops in forever changing conditions before the brutal straight up ascent of Stob Mhic Bheathain. Things mellowed (only slightly) after this, as the weather came good and we proceeded along the rough ridgeline to camp on the shoulder of Meall nan Creag Leac with a great view down Loch Shiel.
After a restless night in sub-freezing temperatures, we awoke to yet more snow, a hard wind and cloudy skies. It appeared winter had returned! We walked up to the summit of Meall nan Creag Leac in the soft stuff and were rewarded by seeing a magnificent White Tailed Eagle – probably only around to stalk Joe’s dog.
We carried on along the ridgeline and into the clag again as we summited Sgurr Ghuibhsachain, before the long descent down to Glenfinnan and back to the car. Part one complete!
Glenfinnan to Rois-Bheinn
Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse and Joe and I were unable to complete our route in its entirety, so a few months later I went back on my own to finish what we had begun.
In perfect weather I made a fairly straighforward ascent up to the atmospheric Lochan nan Sleubhaich, before continuing up the rocky ridgeline to Beinn Odhar Mhor, and finally the Corbett of Beinn Odhar Bheag.
After a bit more Eagle spotting, I carried on west towards Druim Fiaclach where I’d camp for the night, playing witness to another magical Scottish sunset after a pretty memorable day.
Again, the notoriously unpredictable weather came to the fore on the final day of this brilliant journey and proceeded to tip it down for the whole morning with only a few breaks in the cloud. Luckily it cleared just in time for topping out on Rois-Bheinn, before finishing in lovely weather on An Stac.
It’s a shame not to have completed the whole thing in one continuous trip, but sometimes it’s better to save things for another day. Realistically, to do this trip in 5 consecutive days would be very hard for all but the fittest of folk, so in a way it was nice to split it up as I certainly do not fall into that category!
All in all, this part of Scotland is completely fascinating, and it just goes to show that the smaller hills have just as much character as their higher counterparts. With generally more trying terrain, fewer people and arguably a greater chance to spot unique wildlife they go a long way to fulfilling that sense of isolation that up until now I haven’t experienced in the UK.
To see more images from Chris's trip click here