I introduced the Crow Craigies Climbing Party last year, when I described our trip to Bonar Bridge. This year took us to a cottage at Corrour, at the east end of Loch Ossian—a ten-mile drive down a rough track from the bridge over the Spean at Luiblea, through Strath Ossian. (There’s a locked gate halfway down the track, so don’t be thinking you can pop in for the day.)
Loch Ossian has a certain glamour to it—a remote and pretty loch that takes some effort to get to. Most people arrive by train, at Corrour Station, which sits in splendid isolation in the middle of a bog about a mile from the west end of the loch, and they either stay in the station’s limited accommodation, use the Youth Hostel on the loch shore, or camp.
Our aim was to climb the higher hills surrounding Ossian. In a week dogged by rain, we nevertheless managed to make a pretty thorough job of it, as a map of our various routes shows:
Sgor Iutharn (NN 489743, 1028m)
Carn Dearg (NN 504764, 1034m)
Diollaid a’ Chairn (NN 488758, 925m)
Geal-Charn (NN 469746, 1132m)
Aonach Beag (NN 457741, 1116m)
Beinn Eibhinn (NN 449733, 1102m)
Meall Glas Choire (NN 436727, 924m)
1580m of ascent
We walked up the Uisge Labhair, where a winding boggy path follows the north side of the river all the way to the Bealach Dubh. But a couple of kilometres before the bealach, we climbed northeast up the slopes of Sgor Iutharn, crossed the summit and peered down the rocky crest of Lancet Edge. From there, we went west to the dip below the massive bulk of Geal-Charn, and then north along a traverse that brought us out at the path between Geal-Charn and Carn Dearg. There’s an obvious line initially, which weaves pleasantly enough across rocky shelves dotted with tiny lochans, but the last hundred metres before the path involves traversing a steep grass slope a long way above Loch an Sgoir—tussocky enough to provide secure footholds, but distinctly unpleasant if you have any sensitivity to that sort of exposure.
Once on the path we ambled out to Carn Dearg, which gave spectacular views of a cloudy Ben Alder, and a glimpse of the legendary (but sadly closed) Culra Bothy in the valley below. Sleety rain blew through on a cold wind while we were on the summit, and we walked into the teeth of it to recross Diollaid a’Chairn, before the sun came out again for the slog up Geal-Charn.
After the slog, the stroll—Geal-Charn’s big grassy plateau was a welcome relief after the steep ascent. From there we wove our way across to Aonach Beag, then the long, curved ridge of Beinn Eibhinn, with its twin summits a couple of hundred metres apart.
A grassy ridge, a short but steep pull up Meall Glas Choire, then a long descent through heather and bog (easily managed by staying as high as possible for as long as possible), and we were at the little dam on the Uisge Labhair, with just a kilometre-and-a-half of service road to walk down to our cottage.
Beinn na Lap (NN 376695, 935m)
540m of ascent
Morning rain cleared in the afternoon, and we nipped up Beinn na Lap by the tourist route. Usually this is a smash-and-grab hill, climbed between trains from Corrour Station, but we lazily drove along the lochside and parked at the foot of the muddy path. It’s just a matter of walking directly uphill for a while, and then along the ridge for a while, to get to the summit.
At the cairn, we found some plastic shot glasses stuffed into the cairn, which we tidied away and carried down with us. A later check of social media revealed that, two days previously, there had been no less than three parties on the summit celebrating the completion of a Munro round. It appears that for some people it’s too much effort to carry down a tiny plastic object weighing a few grams, once they’ve finished using it.
Three simultaneous completions on Beinn na Lap seemed remarkable, so I contacted Dave Hewitt, who maintains a database of Munro completion dates and final hills. In Dave’s dataset, Beinn na Lap is the third most popular final hill, after Ben More (Mull) and Ben Lomond. He has records of ten days when their were double completions, and one amazing day when five separate parties were celebrating a final Munro on the hill. (Gad, I’m glad we didn’t run into any of that.)
Carn Dearg (NN 417661, 941m)
Sgor Gaibhre (NN 444674, 955m)
Sgor Choinnich (NN 443683, 929m)
920m of ascent
We had 24 hours of continuous heavy rain the next day, and despondently watched the rivers filling. Our plan to visit Ben Alder went on hold, since it involved a double crossing of the broad Uisge Labhair. So when we ventured out the following day, our next trip was designed to avoid river crossings.
We headed south, along the track to the dam on the Allt a’ Choire Chreagaich. The Harvey’s 1:25000 map shows a couple of handy ATV tracks branching off from this, and we used one of these to get ourselves high on the slopes of Carn Dearg (yes, another Carn Dearg). We had a sunny day, but a strong westerly wind blew us over Dearg and on to Sgor Gaibhre. From there we descended into the Bealach nan Sgor, below Sgor Choinnich. There’s a lovely shelf of rock at the east side of the bealach, creating complete shelter from westerly winds, and we were able to tuck ourselves in there and have a bite to eat without the wind blowing our crisps out over Loch Ericht.
Then over Sgor Choinnich and down to join another of the ATV tracks shown by Harvey’s. This took us down to the dam again, and what turned out to be an easy ford in the narrow river. (Plan B had involved pushing through the forest and/or climbing a deer fence to avoid the river crossing, so we were pleased to get back to our starting point so easily.)
Ben Alder (NN 496718, 1148m)
Sron Coire na h-Iolaire (NN 513704, 955m)
Beinn Bheoil (NN 516717, 1019m)
1580m of ascent
The next day, the forecast predicted light showers at three, and rain setting in at seven in the evening. With a day of dry weather and an easy river crossing under our belts, this was our chosen day for Ben Alder. It was just a pity that the weather forecast was completely wrong, over the whole of Scotland, on that day.
We went back up the path beside the Uisge Labhair until we drew level with the Bealach Cubhann and the broad western shoulder of Ben Alder. The river crossing was easy, exploiting one of the many shallow gravel banks at this point. On the south side of the river, there was a short stretch of bog-trotting before we were able to strike off uphill and then along the easy angle of the ridge towards Alder’s huge summit plateau. A ring ouzel flirted with us for a while, until we were safely off his territory.
We climbed into thin cloud, which seemed on the verge of clearing by the time we reached Alder’s huge cairn and lightning-struck trig point. But after twenty minutes, we were still sitting in cloud—so we pushed south along the crags above the Garbh Choire, finding an intermittent path and running into a couple of young folk on a Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition, coming up from Benalder Cottage. At that point, the rain started, about seven hours early.
The path vanished into the confused ground of the Sron Bealach Beithe, and there was a little tricky navigation in poor visibility to keep ourselves safely away from the crags on the north side.
Visibility returned in the Bealach Breabag, and we could see Loch Ericht and Loch a’ Bhealaich Bheithe on either side of us, apparently enjoying thin sunshine—we seemed to be trapped in a little local weather caused by a cap of orographic cloud on Ben Alder and neighbouring Beinn Bheoil. On the ridge of Beinn Bheoil, we could see the rest of the Duke of Edinburgh crew, trudging upwards.
So, in a half-witted triumph of hope over experience, we climbed Beinn Bheoil. The rain got heavier; visibility closed in further. It was miserable.
Back to the bealach then, and the prospect of a long walk home around Ben Alder. We squelched down the path to Benalder Cottage (an idyllic location, and a haven that allowed us to duck out of the rain for a few minutes). Then we squelched up the long, beautifully engineered stalkers’ path that links Benalder Cottage to the Bealach Cumhann. It was nice not to have to watch our feet for a while, and pleasant to know that the navigation was easy from here on. But persisting rain and the swollen rivers coming down off Ben Alder to our right reminded us that we still had a broad river crossing between us and home.
But the ford turned out to be still easy, and we churned wearily back to the cottage in boggy conditions. All in all, it was a criminal insult to two gorgeous hills to climb them in such foul conditions.
Beinn a’ Bhric (NN 317642, 876m)
Leum Uilleim (NN 330641, 909m)
600 metres of ascent
Our last day involved another morning of rain, followed by a quick circuit of the Leum Uilleim horseshoe. Leum Uilleim is “William’s Leap”, but no-one seems very sure who William was, or where and why he leapt. This is another hill that’s usually climbed between trains at Corrour Station, and it’s probably most famous for its guest appearance in the film Trainspotting:
We parked the car next to the station, crossed the railway line, and then followed a track that runs alongside the rails for a while before turning uphill on to the ridge of Tom an Eoin. From there we walked across to the rocky little summit of Beinn a’ Bhric, and then on to the cairn of Leum Uilleim. Both these hills are simply jaw-dropping viewpoints—the Ossian hills to the east, the Treig hills and Grey Corries to the north, a complex cavalcade of the the Nevis range, the Mamores, Glen Coe and the Black Mount to the west, and a long jumble of hills stretching from Bridge of Orchy through the Lawers range to Schiehallion in the south.
We gawped, we chortled, we spun on our heels and argued about what we were seeing—and then we dropped steeply off the Sron an Lagain Ghairbh, crossed the bog, and drank some beer (at an eye-wateringly marked up price) at the railway station.
A very fine last day.