Wednesday, 13 December 2017

ARRAN: Capuil Ridge

High on the Capuil Ridge

Fantastic mountaineering on one of Arran's most inaccessible ridges.

The ridge is reached via the vast wilderness area around Loch Tanna - this is a desolate, wild landscape almost never visited - especially so in full winter conditions.

As such, the included shots are rare images indeed.


First things first - I realise a few people are reading this piece thanks to Simon's Article at Scottish Winter.  If you're a climber, you may find This Piece interesting (documenting winter climbing potential on the NE face of the Bharrain Ridge.  Lots of images halfway down the article - images of a face that had (until the 27th) no recorded winter ascents).



The Capuil Ridge is NOT a run - in winter this is a mountaineering expedition requiring mountaineering skills/experience/equipment.  

Difficulties on the ridge can be avoided - but if tackled direct, the ridge is a (mild) grade I winter climb.

Think Sron na Lairig without the exposed bit near the top.  Or the Lancet.  Or the Leachas.  You get the idea, I'm sure. 


  • Catacol/Fairhaven Bridge - Glen Catacol
  • Loch Tanna
  • Traverse cross-country over the open land to base of Capuil Ridge (i.e. SE ridge of Coire nam Buabhall).  Committing: do not underestimate the relative remoteness of this section
  • Ascent of Capuil Ridge (Grade I, c.850ft ascent)
  • Ascent to summit of Mullach Buidhe (721m)
  • Descent to Loch Tanna from Bealach an Fharaidh
  • Return to Catacol/Fairhaven Bridge via Glen Catacol

Route video Here.



(Refer to photo captions at bottom of article for more detail.)

I assume this is the first winter ascent of the Capuil Ridge - not due to difficulty, but likely due to climbing tastes changing (the route is very much a traditional mountaineering route), plus access problems.  

The ridge is easily one of the most inaccessible ridges on the island (to be precise, it is the second most inaccessible ridge.  The most inaccessible is part of this route).  

The Capuil Ridge is the name I'm giving to the SE ridge of Beinn Bharrain, i.e. the ridge splitting Coire Capuil & Coire nam Buabhall.  

No matter how you plan to reach the ridge, there will be considerable travel over very rough trackless land.  There's worse on Arran - and it isn't quite the likes of Muirshiel/Galloway - but it is certainly rough enough!!   

If the included route seems too 'out there' but you fancy the ridge, I'd suggest one of the following three options:

      1)  Standard access route for Western Hills from Pirnmill, circumnavigating Beinn Bharrain into Coire nam Buabhall

        2)  Access via forestry track in Ceann Reamhar Forest ('ll have to know the firebreaks...)

       3)  Dougarie - lower Glen Iorsa, turning off and ascending Glen Scaftigill (see the previous Arran route on this blog for details RE Glen Scaftigill)

There is another great circuit that includes the ridge - but I'm saving it to film in the summer (purely for variety of footage!).

In any instance, an ascent of the ridge will likely only be undertaken by those keen to discover Arran's true hidden gems.

Glen Catacol needs no description - there's a path all the way to the cairns just before Loch Tanna (Arran's largest loch).  Beautiful glen - rarely visited.  

Hillwalkers etc have no real reason to visit this glen aside from those keen to visit Loch Tanna.  However, for those who enjoy trackless cross-country travel, it provides great access to the Western Hills - and the Nowhere Hills (A round of both tops of Beinn Tarsuinn via the Allt nan Calman is a great wee circuit well worth the trip).  

Glen Catacol is worth a run/walk in its own right.  The Abhainn Mor is a very pretty burn, gently tumbling over the rocks.  I imagine it would yield many great photo opportunities - as would the zen-like pool & outflow of the Allt nan Calman.  

The land around Loch Tanna is very quiet.  Surrounded by hills, the loch is often very mute whilst wind blows on the higher summits.  There is a beautiful stillness here, and the feeling is akin to the far Northwest.  Worth a visit: you won't regret it.

If there were ever to be a bothy on Arran, it should be placed at Loch Tanna.  Just before the feeder burn from the Dubh Loch would be absolutely perfect.

Yes yes, I'm sure climbers would love a hut at the base of the Rosa Pinnacle - but it's Loch Tanna all the way if one desires solitude.    

I make no apologies - the land here is very rough.  Only consider this route if you have ankles of steel - and if you're a very proficient navigator.  In low cloud, navigation can be nightmarish.  

Rather than hugging the shoreline, I broke SW and made a beeline directly for the base of the ridge.  I suggest familiarisation with the area prior to attempting this (in case the cloud drops).  You'll pass close by the W shore of the Dubh Loch (another stunning loch) before contouring SW across Coire nan Capuil to the base of the ridge.

This is wild, wild land, and there's almost no reason to be here aside from this route.  You're on the wrong side of the mountains, at a bleak corrie with no paths and very rough terrain underfoot.

I agree - brilliant!!  However - look at the map and try to work out escape routes.  Therein lies the problem.  

As you'll see from the route video, conditions were not exactly favourable for fast running!  Be careful when running over heather & boulders in powder snow.  For very experienced fell-runners only.  And even then - consider the consequences of a broken ankle.  It would take MRT quite some time to reach you... you'd likely be dead by the time they arrived...

On a positive note, you'd have sufficient time to phone the funeral directors and arrange your own coffin.  Pine is a good choice.  We have no shortage of Larch in these parts.  Lay off the Brazilian Rosewood - no need for indulgence, especially so given you are in the terminal stages of your running career.

I state the above RE death potential in every article I write for winter routes.  Not to scaremonger - but to add a sense of realism.  Yes - the humour may be black - but the point made should be taken seriously.

Statistically the likelihood of death from even a small injury when running - especially cross-country (which should not be considered synonymous with trail running) is very high.

The statistics for runners are very different than those for hikers/mountaineers/climbers etc.  Confusing one type of activity for the other (despite hiking/running etc often taking place in the same environment) could be a fatal error of judgement.

A book I consider an outdoor bible - and one every outdoorsman should read at least once - is Lost Person Behavior.

Quoting from page 226 (chapter focusing on runners), the following points should be noted:
  • A common scenario is a runner who is on an unfamiliar route and misses a turn or misjudges time
  • While runners tend to be fit, they carry minimal clothing and usually no equipment

And perhaps the most important point:
  • Long-term survival is poor for runners because of minimal clothing and lack of supplies.  Sudden and dramatic changes in the weather require an urgent search.

Survivability for runners injured in the wilderness* is.....


(* 'Wilderness', in the instance of SAR, is defined as 'An area essentially undisturbed and uninhabited by humans.  Although, even in a wilderness area, a network of roads and trails may be found.')

Inverting the above statistic: if you injure yourself whilst running in the wilds, there's an 87% likelihood you'll die.

Consider an ascent of the S face of Annapurna as a safer alternative to solo cross-country wilderness running.

I encourage all who are serious with regards travelling through the wilds to purchase Lost Person Behavior.  Reading it is a schooling in how we react when lost.  You'll likely be surprised by certain reaction statistics.  I certainly was when I first read it.

How we think we'll react when lost/injured and how we actually react when lost/injured are very different beasts.

Read the book - it could make you rethink your decision-making process at a time when a decision could mean life or death.

Do not take this subject lightly - especially if travelling solo.  


All difficulties are avoidable.  If avoided, you'll only need a single axe.

Make your way to the lowest rocks at the base of the ridge.  Either side of the rocks are grass slopes - but the real fun of the ridge is tackling all outcrops on the rocky lower section.  The central section is little more than a walk.  

The first rocks are actually the most difficult moves of the entire ridge!  If tackled directly, there's maybe one move of grade II.  

Aside from this, the entire ridge - if you make it as difficult for yourself as possible - is mild grade I. 

What a location for a ridge!  Views are tremendous in every direction.  Mountaineers of old would have loved this route.  

Near the summit (i.e. the Eagle's Castle) you can make life interesting for yourself again.  There's a nice little exit gully, finishing directly on the summit.  Views - as can be expected - are spectacular.  

A large chunk of the route video is devoted entirely to the Capuil Ridge due to this being the (suspected) first ascent.  Recording the nature of the terrain is, I feel, of value.


Descend the Eagle's Castle and head up to the summit of Mullach Buidhe (highest point of the Western Hills).  

Drop down to the Bealach an Fharaidh and make a descent down to Loch Tanna.

(If desired, the rest of the ridge can be tackled from here.  I omitted it as I had ran it only a few days prior.  That, plus this route is all about the wilds on the 'wrong' side of the Western Hills.)  

Fair warning - descent from the Bealach an Fharaidh is steep.  There are two breaks in the boulder slopes (see photos for detail) - be sure to stick to either of them (the first is preferable) as the boulders themselves are very loose & dangerous (too big for a scree run, too small to hop on/over).  

Soon you'll reach more level ground, from where you should be able to pick up your track back to Glen Catacol and your starting point.  

You'll notice in the video I tied up a rucksack at the entrance to the Glen - this was a full change of clothes/footwear for when I had finished the route.  On the opposite side of the bridge there's a clearance in the trees where you can get changed.

I also missed the afternoon bus by 10 minutes!  To stave off the cold, I opted to walk round to Lochranza.  Preferable to freezing in the Catacol bus shelter!!

Photos below


- Edit to add -

Here is a photo from the 15th Dec (from the N ridge of Beinn Tarsuinn - see this piece for detail) giving a good profile of part of the route:

On the L is the Capuil Ridge, the lower rocky section clearly visible just below the snowline.  The ridge can be seen leading to the summit of the Eagle's Castle, with the summit of Mullach Buidhe the main peak to the R.

What the above shot also provides is a good overview of the trackless land crossed en route to the base of the ridge.

OK - to the route photos:

Cioch na h-Oighe from the bus

On the bus, atop the Boguillie road.  Driver did well!  Conditions terrible.  Scary descent into Lochranza...

Route start point.  Nice morning light over Kintyre

Change of clothes.  Yes, it's a Solitude 40+ pack.  I'm showing my age here!  PS if leaving a drop-bag, always leave a note (tape it so the rain doesn't destroy it) otherwise a kindly fellow may take your bag to the local police station.

Meall nan Leac Sleamhuinn, Meall nan Damh behind

Lower Glen Catacol

Looking good!  Beautiful light in the glen

Small weather front passing through

The bleak E slopes of Meall nan Damh.  The cleft of the burn shown here is also marked on the OS 1:25000 map

Relatively wild running conditions

At the first deer fence

Beautiful waterfalls on the Abhainn Mor

Allt nan Calman.  Very Japanese.  Good spot for a haiku

Upper fall on the Allt nan Calman

Second deer fence

Plunge pool on the Abhainn Mor

Cairn en route to Loch Tanna

Looking back to Meall nan Damh from the first cairn

Loch Tanna enters view.  The stillness will likely only be interrupted by a lonesome curlew

No words needed.  As an aside - I had a quick search online for images of Loch Tanna in winter.  Aside from the customary shot from the Western Hills themselves, I think these are the first images online from this area in winter conditions.

A Chir from Loch Tanna

Cir Mhor & A Chir rising over the slopes of Beinn Tarsuinn

Cir Mhor - beautiful from every compass point.  The distant peak is N Goatfell.  Very odd angle

Beinn Tarsuinn & Beinn Nuis.  The small bump in the middle distance is Cnoc Breac Gamhainn

Beinn Tarsuinn & The Castles

Caisteal Abhail's Carn Mor

Garbh-choire Dubh & Cir Mhor.  This corrie is one of the remoter spots on the island

The Dubh Loch looking splendid (Sail Chalmadale beyond)

Important photo.  The two snow lines are the possible descents from the Bealach an Fharaidh.

Eagle's Castle, with the upper portion of the Capuil Ridge dropping down to the L

Coire nan Capuil

Cnoc Breac & Sail Chalmadale.  In the middle distance is Pt.388m (i.e. the head of Glen Scaftigill).  How many have stood there?!!

Looking across the Dubh Loch to the main peaks

Lower Glen Scaftigill.  At this point you'll have realised the route circumnavigates the entire mountain range!  Oh well, it's a fine day out

Shot for the climbers - the upper rocks of Coire nan Capuil

Coire nan Capuil, upper wall

Small weather front over Sail Chalmadale

Lower rocks of the Capuil Ridge

Gearing up.  Vertiges & Dachsteins.  I'm an antique

Lower rocks.  Good for a scramble

On the ridge

Looking back down

Turf not frozen.  But given the aspect of the slope, this was expected.  Still a ripping good yarn

Make it interesting for yourself

Sail Chalmadale & Glen Scaftigill

Eagle's Castle can be seen through the clouds in the upper RH portion of this shot

Exit gully

On the summit of the Eagle's Castle, route done

Loch Tanna & the Dubh Loch

Looking back to the Eagle's Castle

Trig point on Mullach Buidhe summit

Shot for the climbers.  Bharrain Ridge.  I've climbed two of the gullies here, but will be going back this winter to film the ridge itself, plus a gully or two.  Opportunities here for a few hard winter lines....

Mllach Buidhe summit

Descent to the Bealach an Fharaidh

Quick look back to the summit

Cir Mhor, Mullach Buidhe - N Goatfell ridge, and A Chir

Another shot for the climbers

Beinn Bhreac looking more like the Cairngorms

Descent to Loch Tanna.  Relatively steep

Halfway down

Looking back up the descent slope (leftmost run in this photo)

Tarsuinn & Nuis rise above Tanna

Picking up my footprints, looking to Meall nan Damh

Axes away for the day.  Always a sad moment

Looking to Meall nan Damh

Re-entering Glen Catacol

Small weather front enters the glen

Entrance track to Gleann Diomhan

Creag na h-lolaire.  I'll be filming some of these ridges soon.  There's potential here...

Shot for the boulderers.  These crags are on the slopes of Meall nan Leac Sleamhuinn.  Probably a few traverses....

Job done.  Cloud sweeping over Meall nan Damh

Looking back up the glen

Passing Auchnamara en route to Lochranza

The Torr rises above the Distillery


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