Laggan and Lochy

Loch Laggan and Loch Lochy Munros, 16-17 November 2019

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. Two days hillwalking up the Munros overlooking Loch Laggan and Loch Lochy. John King was leading.

Loch Laggan and Loch Lochy Munros

Day 1 - Creag Pitridh and Geal Charn

Every year the onset of winter is a little bit different. Some years it can be January before there is any decent amount of snow on the hills. This year things have got off to a nice early start and our group - Emma, Chris, Elaine, Peter, David and Mark - were lucky enough to experience a fine winters day in the central Highlands last weekend. We were headed into the hills south of Loch Laggan along the tracks around the base of the gnarly Graham, Binnein Shuas. Given the cold temperatures of late and that ice and snow had been lying to pretty low levels we decided not to cycle in the track. As it was underfoot conditions were fine which meant we could enjoy a steady walk in up the track and get nice and warmed up for the ascent ahead. With a fit team we fairly blasted in to Lochan na h-Earba in a little over an hour. The idyllic beach at the western end of the loch made an ideal spot for a wee break before we embarked on the hillwalk proper!

It was an overcast morning, but on the way in there had been a few tantalising glimpses of the hills we were aiming for. I had a hunch that things might clear and we'd get a view or two. Heading uphill away from the loch we gained height steadily, soon crossing the snowline. The snow was pretty soft and unconsolidated making for a tough ascent. The views were starting to open out around us and we were getting nice views of Creag Pitridh, the day's first Munro. After crossing a side stream we stopped to get our breath back and on turning round we discovered that we'd left the clouds behind completely and were looking out over an amazing temperature inversion in Glen Spean with the peaks of Lochaber and Glenfinnan poking out above the cloud. A few photos were taken! Eventually the path we'd been following under the snow had to be left behind to head the over the open, tussocky moorland to Creag Pitridh. Some good trailbreaking later we were at the bealach between Creag Pitridh and Geal Charn. After a snack we scooted on up to our first Munro, leaving our packs at the bealach. Without the weight on our backs the going was a bit easier and we made short work of this hill.

Collecting our sacks once more we headed on up towards Geal Charn. This is a much bigger hill and sits a good distance back from the bealach. There were some very deep drifts of snow on this side of the hill and the going was slow and steady. Fortunately someone had been up since the snow had fallen and broken a bit of a trail but there was still plenty of post-holing as we made our way uphill. Falling through one hole in the snow caused one of our team to twist awkwardly and pick up a bit of an injury but a super effort saw us all reach the top! We enjoyed a late lunch by the cairn, admiring the impressive rime ice around the summit and the views over to the nearby Ben Alder group. Further south Ben Lawers and Schiehallion were clear and to our east Strathspey was hidden under a thick blanket of cloud with the high peaks of the Cairngorms poking out, completely plastered in snow.

Heading on, we descended west through more deep snow to the next bealach, the Bealach Leamhain. The original plan for the day was to include another Munro, Beinn a' Chlachair, but time was creeping on as we got down to the bealach. It was 2pm exactly - decision time in the short daylight of winter! Given the length of the walk to the next Munro and how unconsolidated the snow was, it was definitely time to head down rather than face an awkward descent in the dark. This point in the route also offered an easy escape option and we soon regained our uphill path which made for relatively easy progress downhill with the great views remaining out over Glen Spean. After another stop at the beach we headed on back to the road. Again we made good progress and reached the road just before head torches were needed, a great early winter mountain day in the books!

Day 2 - Sron a'Choire Gairbh and Meall na Teanga

I met Amanda, Rebecca, Johnston, Will, David and Danny at Laggan Locks in the Great Glen early on Sunday morning for a day's hike up the Loch Lochy Munros. These hills give a good intro to winter walking and it was nice that we were going to get a bit of winter on the hills on the day. It was more autumnal in the car park though, with a thick layer of cloud down and rain threatening but it stayed dry while we got our boots on. The canal locks make for a very pleasant setting to start a walk and from there a steady walk, initially on the Great Glen Way, then on the forestry tracks allowed for another good warm-up before the start of any climbs. As we walked in it started to rain and gradually waterproof layers were added. Turning off the forestry tracks it is a steady uphill through the trees but these are soon left behind and an impressive glacial valley is followed up to the bealach between the two Munros. It felt a bit milder that the day before, and the snowline on the hills was obviously receding a bit, but above about 500m there was a little ice on the path which required a bit of care to avoid in places.

The forecast for the day was for a fairly fresh westerly and as we approached the bealach, an icy blast could be felt coming down from the pass. We stopped just before the head of the glen to have a snack and layer up for the conditions ahead, then we got on up to the bealach and embarked on our first Munro of the day, Sron a' Choire Ghairbh. A fine old stalkers path winds it's way up this hill and we made good progress up and into the snow. Surprisingly this aspect of the hill was sheltered from the wind, so it was hot work making our way up with our extra layers on! Eventually the path peters out and we made a direct line for the ridge above us. Fortunately for today's walk a good few folk had been out on the hill before us so a good trail was already broken!

Once on the ridge we reached the cloud and were into the wind once more with a bit of a snow shower blowing through but we got some dramatic views of the ridge we were on and down into the depths of Coire Gharbh far below us. We followed the rim of the coire all the way round to the summit with the sun trying to break through all the way. It never quite managed, so after a team photo at the top we about-faced and made our way back down. Given the steepness of the descent back to the bealach we got ice axes out for security, but they were never called into action. Descending back down we got some impressive views across to our next Munro, Meall na Teanga, which was looking very dramatic with some sunlight hitting the summit cone and some dark clouds behind. It definitely was looking steeper than it actually is!

Back at the bealach, Will decided that he didn't want to risk painful blisters from his winter boots so he descended back down from where we had come. The rest of us continued on, making pretty short work of Meall na Teanga, definitely helped by some frozen bog just above the bealach! Unfortunately the cloud had come down on the tops and another snow shower was blowing through, so it wasn't a place to hang around. Another couple of summit photos and we were off, ice axes in hand once again for the steeper part of the descent. As we descended we predicted it would clear and sure enough, after a smooth descent back to the Great Glen Way, the sun appeared! As we walked back by the shores of Loch Lochy we were treated to a stunning sunset, with some awesome reflections of the trees in their autumn colours mirrored perfectly in the loch. A nice way to end another great day on the hill!

Laggan pics by John King, Lochy pics by Johnston Orr. More photos by Johnston are here on Flickr.

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