Thursday, 30 November 2017

ARRAN: Glen Scaftigill & Western Hills Traverse

Fine round.  Great winter conditions

c. 10.6 miles
c. 3700ft ascent

The Western Hills give Arran's finest extended ridge running - these are hills every mountain runner should savour.

TAKE NOTE - this route is not the 'standard' Western Hills round - ascending/descending the range is not via any conventional route.  Expect stunning views in unexplored places - but this carries a price tag of very tough terrain!

WARNING - running in the mountains on snow/ice requires specialised equipment & training (more detail in article) - an injury in winter conditions (even a twisted ankle) would quickly mean death.

Due to the roughness of the ground at the start/finish of the route, this one feels more like a 20-miler fell run.  



Glen Iorsa
Glen Scaftigill
Guala Riabhac ('Speckled Shoulder') - 1266ft
(Beinn Bharrain) SSW ridge of Coire nam Buabhall
Beinn Bharrain - 2349ft
Mullach Buidhe - 2366ft
Beinn Bhreac - 2333ft
(Pt. 653m) - 2142ft
Descend N, ascend SW face of Meall nan Damh - 1870ft
Descend NE face of Meall nan Damh to Lochan a' Mhill (very steep - see description)
Meall nan Lac Sleamhuinn - 892ft
Descend N to Abhainn Mor, finish at Catacol Bay

Route video Here.


I'll put up an article sometime next week.  It will focus not on any routes per se, but rather, what is required for running over the mountains in full winter conditions.  

Keep in mind that, as a runner, you'll be wearing minimal clothing.  Even a small sprain would mean death.  You'd die of exposure/hypothermia long before mountain rescue reach you.  

Yes - views etc are stunning - but they come at a potentially huge cost.

Not only do you need to be very confident (and fast) to run in the mountains in winter, you need a whole gamut of skills & experience. 

When videos are edited and a nice piece of music is added, it all looks very pleasant.  But the reality is very different.  

Here is a short piece of unedited footage which amply illustrates common wind conditions in the mountains (footage from this route; windchill was -20C) -  

And another:

By the time you reach the high peaks your feet will be soaking wet.  If you haven't conditioned your feet (plus body & mind), you'll be in extreme pain/discomfort.  Severe frostbite is a distinct possibility.


Route Photos/Description

(Part of the description will be as text, with other parts photo captions.)  

If you know Arran - more specifically, the Western Hills - you'll know the conventional start point for the round is Pirnmill.  

The conventional route is a fine round - and avoids much boggy ground.  If you don't like wet feet, ignore my route and stick to the standard route.  

However, the route herein ticks off some extra peaks, and explores one of Arran's wildest glens - Glen Scaftigill.  

I assume there have likely only ever been a tiny number of walkers who have entered Glen Scaftigill.  I imagine it has never been visited by runners.  It is true wilderness.  Online there are only a handful of images looking to it.  I've struggled to find any images from within the glen.  As such, the images herein of Glen Scaftigill are rare images indeed.

For this route, begin as for the Nowhere Hills run - get the bus to Dougarie (entrance to Glen Iorsa).  

Take note - the day rover ticket is now £6!!!  It was £4:50 last year.  That's an increase of 1/3!!!   Still good value for the distance - but quite a jump in price!!

Looking familiar if you've ran the Nowhere Hills route
Cottages at Dougarie

Bachelors Degree not required for the interpretation of this one!

Lower Glen Iorsa

Bridge over the Allt na h-Airighe

Sail Chalmadale, as seen from Glen Iorsa

After the gate you'll reach the ford.  This is the river coming down from Glen Scaftigill.  

DON'T cross the ford.  Instead, break L on to rough ground, and follow the line of the forestry edge.

Break L before the ford, heading on to rough ground

What may come as a pleasant surprise is the appearance of a deer track.  Don't expect a path - but there is a definite track to follow.  Yes - it is bog - but it is slightly easier going than rough moorland.  Thank the deer if you see any!

Following the deer track along Glen Scaftigill

Stunning shot.  Fine beast in Glen Scaftigill

I disturbed the above deer - it was sleeping on the grass, and I almost ran on top of it (I was downwind of it and the river muted the sound of my movement).  In 21 years spent in the mountains (I first played in the mountains when 14), it is the closest I've ever been to a wild deer.  There was a small second when it looked at me and I thought it was going to charge.  Given the size of it (up close they are very large - this one was well over 120kg), I had a brief moment of worry!  

I managed to capture some footage of it, but by the time I had the camera switched on, the deer had travelled a distance.  However, see the video below for a short sample:

Back to route description:

Western Hills soon come into view.  The deer can still be seen in this shot (at the forestry edge)
Fine cascades, known by stalkers as the 'Scaftigill Staircase' (unnamed on OS map), Sail Chalmadale beyond.  Stunningly beautiful
Pulling further up the glen.  It starts to feel relatively remote

Crags on Sail Chalmadale.  Fine angle/profile from Glen Scaftigill

Looking back down the glen

Mullach Buidhe, seen above the forest

Soon you'll reach the head of the forest, where views of the Western Hills open up:

Stunningly wild.  Note the ridge dropping down on the L - this is the ascent line

Turn L at the forestry edge and make your way up the forest

You'll soon reach a double fence (i.e. the old fence).  When there, make a beeline directly for the ridge indicated in the photos above (i.e. the SSW ridge of Coire nam Buabhall)

Break off here and head for the Coire

Ascent line.  Make your way for the low point of the ridge

Looking to Tarsuinn/Nuis

On Pt. 386 of the Guala Riabhac, known locally as 'Ghillie's Lookout'.  Glen Scaftigill is off beyond the far lower L of this shot.  The scale of the landscape here is, for Arran, relatively vast.  In cloud this area is a navigational nightmare

Profile shot of the SSW ridge

More wild beasts

Fine shot.  This could be a calendar piece!

Heading to the ridge, looking up

On the ridge, looking across to Kintyre

On the bouldery lower section.  Good for a scramble

High up the ridge, Sail Chalmadale & Lochan Sail Chalmadale clearly visible.  In the far distance is Holy Island

Looking down the ridge

Looking to Beinn Nuis.  It looks fine from here

Across the sea to Kintyre & Jura

The SE ridge is also fine - however, I'm saving that one as part of a different route (which I'll upload soon).  The SSW ridge is a fine route not to be missed.  

Again, I assume it has never been ascended (prior to this description).  

Atop the ridge, small cairn on Pt. 717m

Looking back to Pt. 717m.  Standard ascent from Pirnmill ascends the ridge dropping down to the R

Looking to Mullach Buidhe

If you have the OS 1:25000, you'll notice the description 'Caisteal na h-lolaire' (Eagle's Castle) off to the W of the ridge.  This is a misplacement by the OS - the castle is actually the rock feature on the ridge before the drop-off from Beinn Bharrain:

Approaching the Eagle's Castle

Mullach Buidhe from the Eagle's Castle

Dubh Loch & Loch Tanna from the Eagle's Castle

Climbers - here is the NW ridge of Mullach Buidhe (S face)

Looking back to the Eagle's Castle.  The descent - in summer - is fine.  In winter you may feel it is a little steep.  There are no technical difficulties - just take your time as a fall could be nasty

Eagle's Castle, with Glen Scaftigill below & down to the L

After the Eagle's Castle, the entire ridge is runnable with no technical difficulties.  This is one of the finest ridge runs anywhere.  Runners should really savour this.

Summit trig on Mullach Buidhe

Another shot for the climbers - the N face of the NW ridge.  Winter potential here.  I climbed two of the gullies last year - but the faces would give very hard winter lines.  

What a ridge!  Looking to Beinn Bhreac

Arran's main peaks & Loch Tanna

Looking to Beinn Bhreac

Another shot for the climbers.  The two gullies I climbed are the two slanting slightly to the R breaking up the buttress L of centre

Great stuff

Beinn Bhreac from Pt. 625m

Final pull up Beinn Bhreac.  PS if you haven't conditioned your feet properly (they'll be soaked from Glen Scaftigill), this kind of terrain can easily lead to frostbite.  Again, I'll do an article on it soon

Paps of Jura from the summit of Beinn Bhreac

Looking back along the ridge

Looking to Pt. 653m, Meall nan Damh beyond

On Pt. 653m.  DON'T head along the ridge seen here (easy mistake to make in mist) - this is the ridge leading to Meall Biorach

Looking back to Beinn Bhreac from Pt. 653m

Coire Fhionn Lochan from the descent.  The amphitheatre of Coirein Lochain is surprisingly steep!

Looking to Meall nan Damh & Lodan Ruadh.  Rough ground en route to Meall nan Damh

I make no apologies - the ascent of Meall nan Damh is steep & gruelling.  In the image below, ascend the dark R-slanting ramp seen below the summit:

Ascend the ramp.  Yes - it is steep & tiring

Much variation possible, but this line will be obvious when there (it's a micro stream bed)

Looking to the ramp

Looking to the SW spur of Meall nan Damh

On the ramp, looking down to Lodan Ruadh.  Yes - it is very steep

On the summit slopes, looking across to Hunterston (West Kilbride on extreme R)

The summit of Meall nan Damh is one of the finest on Arran.  Absolutely breathtaking views.

Looking NNW from the summit of Meall nan Damh

Arran's main peaks from the summit of Meall nan Damh

Another warning.  The standard ascent line for Meall nan Damh is the NW ridge.  This route drops down the NE face.  

And it is a face indeed.  It is some of the steepest heather you'll encounter - anywhere!!  

The wiser runner would descend the NW ridge and cut back in to Lochan a' Mhill.  However, I prefer direct lines.  

Again - you've been warned!

Looking down the descent to Lochan a' Mhill.  This shot gives a good indication as to the steepness - do not underestimate this slope

Gleann Diomhan from the NE face of Meall nan Damh

Looking to Creag na h-lolaire.  Fine view indeed

Lochan a' Mhill

Looking to Beinn Nuis.  Unique viewpoint

A' Chir.  Putting the fun in funeral

Lochan a' Mhill

Looking to Meall nan Leac Seamhuinn

Gleann Diomhan & Glen Catacol

Summit of Meall nan Leac Sleamhuinn.  Fine little spot

Descend N from the summit.  Rough going

Name those mountains.  I'm looking NNW from the summit of Meall nan Leac Sleamhuinn.....

Catacol Bay.  Descent should be made straight down to the river

This boulder can be seen from the village.  Boulderers - it isn't worth the trip

Catacol crags

Catacol boulders

You'll soon reach an ATV track

Catacol (chimneys of the Twelve Apostles visible), plus Catacol Farm

Fuar Achadh
After Fuar Achadh you'll cross a burn, then have to surmount a large deer fence.  It is locked - there's nothing for it but to climb over it.

Final yards to the car park

Job done!  Great route.  But tough on the feet!

Be careful if doing this one in the winter.

Have fun

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