Friday, 2 September 2016

Blackmount Hills & WHW

Distance = c.23 miles
Ascent = c.8000 ft

A route all hill-runners should undertake at least once.  

Easier than the Arrochar Heptathlon, yet passing through a more serious environment with potential navigational difficulties - especially so in the central section.  


Video overview Here.



From Victoria Bridge car park, into Clashgour Estate, turning off at Clashgour Hut, then up:

1) Stob a' Choire Odhair (3100 ft)

2) Stob Ghabhar (3576 ft)

(Sron nan Giubhas (3202 ft))

3) Creag a' Bhealaich (2539 ft)

4) Clach Leathad (3606 ft)

5) Creise (3609 ft)

6) Meall a' Bhuiridh (3635 ft)

Descent to ski centre/Blackrock Cottage, then across Rannoch Moor back to starting point


Route Pointers/Guide

The crossing of the entire Blackmount range is a 'must-do' for many fit hillwalkers.  However, for walkers the return route is a drive back to Victoria Bridge car park from the Glencoe ski centre.  This is unfortunate, as the fantastic crossing of Rannoch Moor - offering great views to the hills just ascended - is omitted.  

Hillwalkers would be better off making an early start and finishing the day with a crossing of the Moor: far preferable to driving.

A number of pictures have been included to show the WHW path across the Moor: it's a great path with no navigational difficulties at all.  Day or night, crossing is easy.

If you're a walker: consider travelling up to cross the Moor (& back).  It's a great day out, and will make a pleasant change from ticking through a hill list.  

Runners could also consider an out & back across the Moor for a pleasant short evening run of 17 miles or so.    

By running standards, the Blackmount & WHW isn't too bad.  The Moor crossing gives a very fast finish to the route.  

In terms of timing: my own watch time for the route was 5hrs 11min.  If you're a fast marathon runner with good hill experience, sub-5 is manageable (I didn't run it at full pace as I extended the day by running in from Crianlarich; filming began at Victoria Bridge).  

Potential difficulties are navigational rather than technical.  However, the Lochain Screes and Aonach Eagach may unnerve some (explained below next to the relevant images).

When leaving the car park to begin the day, don't head back out on to the road: head up to the trees at the back of the car park and you'll find a little trail leading over a short section of moor, meeting the road just before Victoria Bridge.  

After crossing Victoria Bridge you'll reach Forest Lodge.  Take a L immediately before Forest Lodge to enter Clashgour Estate:

Joining the estate track

Great track

The path soon runs alongside the Abhainn Shira, in a short time reaching Clashgour Hut (small green hut owned by Glasgow University Mountaineering Club).  

At Clashgour turn R to join the path heading alongside the Allt Toaig (often boggy at Clashgour).

Just after Clashgour.  The ridge between Stob a' Choire Odhair & Stob Ghabhar seen ahead in the sunlight

Gradually climbing, you'll soon reach a split in the path at the gently cascading outflow of the Allt Caolain Duibh dropping down from Coire Caolain Duibh (off to your R).  Leave the main stalker's path and head up the lesser path, pulling on to a steeper spur.  

This path leads almost all the way to the summit of Stob a' Choire Odhair, becoming intermittent at the upper rocky reaches.  Traces of the path can be found - but don't waste your time trying to find a path.  Just bash your way over the rocks to the summit - from where you'll have a great view:

Stob a' Choire Odhair summit.  Fantastic views of Rannoch Moor from here on a clear day.  However, one can't complain when treated to a cloud inversion such as this

Stag as seen from the summit of the Stob.  This stag was shedding an antler (can't be seen in this image, but the antler was loosely swinging around)

General info RE the above photo for outdoors types: you'll rarely find an antler on the hills, despite stags shedding antlers.  Stags eat their antlers to consume the nutrients.  

Great summit day.  The ridge on the L is the spur of Sron nan Giubhas.  Stag can also be seen in this image

The descent path from Stob a' Choire Odhair can be tricky to find in mist.  Just head W and you should pick it up.  If you see a steep drop on your R, head slightly further L.

Descent to the 668m bealach is very fast.  Good path all the way:

en route to Stob Ghabhar

The ascent to Pt.991m (i.e. the summit of Couloir Buttress) is relatively steep.  In winter it's a mild grade 1, often bullet-hard neve (route not recommended to runners in winter).  

Much scree on the ascent.  The slope is known locally as The Lochain Screes.

Looking back to Stob a' Choire Odhair from the Lochain Screes

Next target is the Aonach Eagach.  Despite being nowhere near as serious as its Glencoe namesake, the ridge may feel slightly exposed to those who lack hill experience:

Aonach Eagach.  It has a few narrow points, but if you're a confident hill runner it'll pose no problems whatsoever

As said in Ayrshire: you'd have to throw yourself off it.

After the Aonach Eagach there's a good path all the way to the summit (follow the old fenceposts)

The summit of Stob Ghabhar is a fantastic viewpoint (in every direction)

Stob Ghabhar summit.  Just to the R is the distinct summit of Ben Nevis, with the obvious curve of the CMD arete

Looking back to the hill section of the route thus far (Stob a' Choire Odhair and the dark slope of the Lochain Screes)

The remaining hills are visible when looking NNE from Stob Ghabhar summit:

Long way to go!

The distant peak is Meall a' Bhuiridh, final summit of the day.  Have no fear - it looks further than it is.  But it is a while before you'll be there!  

Be sure to note the route to the Aonach Mor ridge, indicated below in pink:

Navigationally the most serious part of the route now awaits.  The crossing from Stob Ghabhar - Clach Leathad is relatively remote, and can pose considerable navigational difficulties.  Not the most inspiring combination if on your own.  

If planning the route on your own and unfamiliar with the area, save for a day of guaranteed cloudless skies.  

If cloud is low (i.e. as of the day of filming, hence lack of footage of this section), it'll be a case of taking bearings.  It's never quite 'Five-Finger Gully' navigation - but do take it seriously.  Dropping off to the R (i.e. NE) too early could be very dangerous.  

Firstly, head out to the minor summit of Sron nan Giubhas:

Sron nan Giubhas summit.  Very large cornices here in spring/early summer.  Proceed with caution

The Aonach Mor ridge of Stob Ghabhar is, as of the name, very long.  Going is pathless, and often boggy underfoot. 

Resist temptation to break off early to the R (i.e. NE), otherwise you'll be in some trouble.  

Be very careful to avoid the false spur between Coire Dhomhnaill and Glas Choirean.  The terrain can easily lead you out on to this spur.

After locating the correct descent (more detail below) you'll soon reach the brilliant, rarely-visited summit of Creag a' Bhealaich:

on Creag a' Bhealaich summit.  The ridge leading down from the L is Sron nam Forsair, with Meall Tionail just off-centre.  The vastness of Coireach a' Ba is most apparent from here than anywhere else in the range

Creag a' Bhealaich is one of the least-frequented summits of the Central Highlands - yet one of the finest.  

Views in every direction are breathtaking.  A fine spot for a wild camp.  

Take note - it's a long, pathless walk from anywhere - and the remotest point on the route.  

Walkers are common on the Stob Ghabhar hills - and on the ski centre hills - but you'll have Creag a' Bhealaich to yourself.  

As such, don't break an ankle.  You wouldn't be found for quite some time.    

Returning to address the descent for Creag a' Bhealaich: looking back from Creag a' Bhealaich, the Aonach Mor looks as follows: 

Looking to the Aonach Mor from Creag a' Bhealaich

Avoid the descent into Glas Choirean (seen here on the L), and pick your way down the ridge.  

Three possible routes have been indicated - but descent will be obvious when you reach the correct point.  

The red descent is the easiest - but adds a little extra distance.  The other descents are rockier & steeper - but more direct.

If you're an experienced fell-runner, none of the indicated routes will matter as you'll likely be throwing yourself down the slope at breakneck speed.  But watch the ankles - most of the boulders on the descent are very loose.  

Descents to Creag a' Bhealaich.  Avoid descending into the Glas Choirean

On your L are the upper Glen Etive peaks:

Fantastic views indeed.  Beinn Mhic Chasgaig from Creag a' Bhealaich.  The keen eye will also spot the Thumb of Stob Dubh

Hopefully you've kept some energy, as the ascent of Clach Leathad from the Bealach Fuar-chataidh is the most tiring part of the route.  It's a steep & relentless 1600ft.  Tough going.  You've been warned!

Hmm.  Yes, it's a tough one

The pathless ascent is essentially 'find your own way'.  Recommended ascent indicated below:

To give you an idea of just how steep this slope is.....

Yip.  Almost 1600ft of this

The angle relents upon approaching the summit:

Approaching the summit of Clach LEathad.  Very similar in feeling to the summit of Ben Nevis

Clach Leathad (known locally as 'Clachlet') was formerly a Munro.  Being demoted from the list in recent years, the summit is now devoid of baggers.

The summit is possibly the finest of the ski centre hills, perched on the edge of the steep drop into Coire an Easain.

Clach Leathad summit.  Great views from here on a clear day

Good paths now await.  Running is very fast.  Simply follow the path along the crest:

Heading to Creise from Clach Leathad.  The Kingshouse Hotel can be seen in this image

You'll pass a cairn.  Take careful note of this cairn: it marks the descent to reach Meall a' Bhuiridh (the descent slope can be seen in the above image).  

After visiting the summit of Creise, return to the marker cairn, dropping E (steeply at first; possibly surprisingly so if you haven't visited the hills before) for the link-up to Meall a' Bhuiridh:

en route to Meall a' Bhuiridh

The going is good, and you'll be able to run all the way to the summit of Meall a' Bhuiridh.  

Near the summit are some mild rocky sections - but it's never serious.  You'll never need to use your hands:

Despite looking steep, there are no problems whatsoever.  Just hop on over them all

Descent from Meall a' Bhuiridh summit can be, initially, quite tricky.  Be sure not to drift too far N.  Instead, head NE (it'll possibly feel 'wrong'), soon reaching the ski tows:

Follow the ski tows

The route is ideal in September/October/early November, i.e. just before new season snowfall.

Meall a' Bhuiridh holds snow well through the summer, with large snowfields often into August.  Some are, by running standards, relatively steep.  

If you're good at glissading, any snowfield will be a joy.

The descent down & through the ski tows is likely steeper than you'd imagine (at one point, route dependent, you may have to avoid a small rock wall/step), but you'll soon reach a wider path at the lower section of the ski centre:

Almost back to good trails

Now you can go full steam ahead:

Very fast running

Locate the footpath descent (indicated 'footpath', oddly enough!), beginning directly under the tows.  

Avoid drifting too far R on to the mountain bike trail.  Not only will bikers be annoyed by your presence (and quite rightly so), descending the mountain bike trail could cause serious injury to both runner & cyclist.

Yip - not the mountain bike trail!

The footpath follows the line of the lift, dropping down to the ski centre:

descending to the ski centre

Upon reaching the ski centre tarmac, head along the road to the beginning of the WHW path across Rannoch Moor.  There's an obvious sign, but if you have any doubt, it's just across from Blackrock Cottage, home of the SWMC (Scottish Women's Mountaineering Club).

en route to Blackrock

And finally some full-speed trail running can be had!  It's a very fast 13km to Forest Lodge across the Moor (then about 1km back to the car park):

stunning section of route awaits

There's an initial hill of a few hundred feet:

This is more uphill than it looks
Beyond which you can go as fast as you wish/your legs will allow.  This section of the WHW is, by running standards, more enjoyable in this direction.  

WHW'ers crossing the Moor.  You'll likely be the only person heading S along the WHW
Great views abound, with the Blackmount range off to your R:

Trail running perfection across the Moor

Yip - it's as good as this for the entire run


Bridge of Orchy hills ahead

Not far now

Nearly there

If you're a fast runner, aim for sub-50 minutes for the Moor crossing to Forest Lodge.  It equates roughly to 6:11mpm.  Good going after the hills.  

You'll have to run at sub-6mpm, as the initial hill on the Moor will sap some pace.  

Crossing the Moor can be faster than this - but holding almost 6mpm pace after the hills requires good, consistent effort.  Glycogen stores will likely be low.  But you're almost home, and out the hills on the safety of the trails: go for it.  

You'll soon be back at Forest Lodge:

After which it's only a minute or two back to the car park.

Abhainn Shira from Victoria Bridge

Almost at the car park

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