Beinn a’ Chuallaich (NN 684617, 892m)
720 metres of ascent
The Crow Craigies Climbing Party was again prevented by Covid restrictions from assembling in full force this year, but the founding members managed to get together for a socially distanced day on the hill nevertheless. Our aim this year was to climb Beinn a’ Chuallaich above Kinloch Rannoch—one of those rare hill ascents that start in the middle of a village.
We parked in the village square, walked about fifty metres up the road, and then turned off on to a 4×4 track just below a little waterfall, which looked under-filled after a prolonged dry spell. This is the outflow of the Allt Mor (“big stream”), and we were planning to circumnavigate its catchment area, following high ground around the rim of the Coire Labhruinn.
The 4×4 track took us in a long, easy-angled zig-zag across the hill, and eventually deposited us next to a small bridge that crosses the Allt Mor. The 4×4 track carries on up the west bank of the river to service a little dam farther up, but we crossed the bridge to the east side.
We pushed uphill towards the ruins of a substantial dry-stone wall that crosses the corrie outlet, linking Meall Dubh in the west to Ceann Caol na Creige in the east. To our right, the wall seemed to sport a rather odd feature, so we wandered along to take a look.
There’s no obvious purpose for this elegant little cairn, which appears to have been assembled from the smaller stones of the ruined wall.
We continued our walk alongside the wall, avoiding potentially boggy ground in the corrie, until we arrived below the slopes of Ceann Caol na Creige. Here we turned left, and worked our way up towards Meall Breac, eventually following the line of a set of stone-built grouse butts to reach its summit.
Here, we had a last view down into the glen below, and of the cloud-shrouded bulk of Schiehallion on the far side, before we pushed on upwards into cloud ourselves.
Climbing into mist and a thin drizzle, we aimed to strike the col just west of Beinn a’ Chuallaich. On the map this is crossed by a path, but we also stumbled upon a substantial vehicle track in the col, too. Then we threaded up steep ground between some small crags, to eventually find ourselves at the triangulation pillar that stands just short of the true summit.
The summit itself is marked by a substantial cairn, which gave us a little bit of a lee for a seat and a bite of lunch.
Then we headed downhill again, in what could best be described as rubbish visibility.
Our plan, based on a rather luxurious weather forecast two days previously, had been to stroll along the high ridge enjoying wide views across Loch Rannoch. Instead, we picked our way along blindly, following a variety of faint tracks, until we dropped out of the cloud on the descent towards Carn Fiaclach. After a brief discussion about what the heck we were actually looking at, up ahead, we got the map straight in our heads and turned below Fiaclach to descend towards the Bealach a’ Mhaim, where the map told us we’d pick up a path to take us back to Kinloch Rannoch.
At this point, we were able to pick out the line of the ruined drystone wall as it descended Fiaclach, crossed the bealach below and then wound its way up on to Meall Dubh, looking for all the world like a miniature version of the Great Wall of China. I can’t imagine the number of man-hours a construction like that represents.
Sure enough, we eventually ran into our anticipated path. Then lost it again. Then found it again. Then found yet another 4×4 vehicle track, which proved to be the uphill extension of the track we’d used during our ascent. On the way down to the dam and the village below, we passed yet another cairn.
But this one bears an inscription, on a tiny plate glued to one of its stones:
11th November 1935 – 28th April 2016
“THE MAN THAT LOVED HILLS”
I’d take that as an epitaph.
Maybe next year our own little group of Men That Love Hills will be able to reconvene in full force. We’ll see.