Another tough day on the Glen Lyon round

Carn Gorm (1029m); Meall Garbh (968m);
Carn Mairg (1042m); Meall na Aighean (Creag Mhor) (981m)

  • Pronunciation:              Karn Gorrum; Miaowl Garav; Karn Merrick; Miaowl nun Ion (Krayk Voar)
  • Translation:                   Blue Hill; Rough Hill; Red or Rusty Hill; Hill of the Hind (Big Crag)
  • Total distance:              19km
  • Total time:                     7hrs 40mins
  • Total ascent:                  1442m
  • Weather:                        Grey and overcast with light winds and milder than of late. Thick mist and deep soft snow above 500m. Close to zero visibility in many places.
  • Start / end location:   Small car-park at Invervar, about 7km west along the Glen Lyon road. This is a very narrow C-class road. [OS Map Sheet 51 – Grid Ref: NN 667 482]
  • Map:                              A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

    Very thick rime frost growing on old fence posts on Meall Garbh

It was quite early in the morning as we drove along the very beautiful Glen Lyon to reach our starting point at Invervar. Ours was the only vehicle parked and we suspected that we’d be the only ones on the hill today. As we stepped from the car we heard the distinctive rapid drumming of a greater spotted woodpecker, and sure enough there was one sitting at the top of a nearby telegraph pole noisily knocking on the pole’s protective metal cap.

Cameron breaking trail near the summit of Carn Gorm

Our walk began on the north side of the Glen Lyon road where we followed a rough track northward, initially beside a couple of houses and then through a series of three metal gates before entering a densely forested area. The path only stayed in the forest for a matter of 300m before it emerged into the open hillside. Although, clear of the trees, the path nevertheless continued to skirt along the boundary of the forest (NE) as it followed the course of the Invervar Burn.

Elaine at the summit of Carn Gorm

At the topmost corner of the forested area the path continued to follow the Invervar Burn up the glen in a northwesterly direction. At this corner, however, there is also a small bridge that crosses the burn, which we took to access the steep west bank of the burn. After crossing the burn and climbing up the west bank, we headed SW for a few hundred metres until we intersected the ESE ridge of Carn Gorm.

Once on the broad ridge we followed it right to the summit, requiring only a minor dogleg at 800m elevation to push us slightly further north to keep us on track. The issue we had (as usual) was negotiating our way through the deep soft snow, which started, along with the thick mist, when we crossed the burn at a height of 400m. The exertion required to get us to the summit of Carn Gorm was quite simply monumental. When we reached the summit cairn at 1029m or 3,376’ and in thick mist, we both wondered if we’d actually have the energy to manage the complete circuit of the four Munros.

A welcome break in the mist whilst traversing round An Sgorr

However, with the climb to the summit behind us, and after eating a few snacks, we resolved to go on to the next Munro, Meall Garbh, which was about 2.5km away. So from the summit of Carn Gorm we followed its north ridge quite steeply down to a col at a height of 850m and then in a northeasterly direction traversed around the top of An Sgorr to reach the WSW ridge of Meall Garbh. Despite trudging through the deep snow in almost zero visibility we soon reached Meall Garbh’s summit cairn at 968m or 3,176’. The last part of the ascent was aided by following a line of old metal fence posts to the top, where the cairn consists of a pile of stones adjacent to a pile of old fence posts. The rime frost on the posts was quite extraordinary: the posts that were still vertical were about 2 inches thick yet most had rime frost “growing” on them that were several feet in length!

Cameron at the summit of Meall Garbh

Our third Munro of the day, Carn Mairg, was still over 3.7km away due east of Meall Garbh. Luckily the old fence posts could be followed almost all the way. The problem was that most of the posts had long since fallen over and were now buried in the deep snow, with only the occasional few still upright and standing to attention. Even these few were covered in thick flowing rime frost, which made them very difficult to see in the misty conditions. As such, we had to remain very vigilant with our navigation.

Elaine on the summit of Carn Mairg

About midway between the two Munros we passed over the summit peak of Meall a’ Bharr at 1004m before dropping slightly to the col below Carn Mairg. At one point along this section we’d been following a series of posts that would miraculously appear out of the mist just as we thought that we’d veered off track when I sensed that their line was taking us off our course. Whether the posts would have eventually weaved their way back “on course” I can’t be sure, but we decided to deviate from their path with a fresh compass bearing towards the summit of Carn Mairg. After a last stiff 60m of ascent in a southeasterly direction we emerged between some small crags onto the summit of Carn Mairg at 1042m or 3,419’.

Elaine still smiling despite the epic trudge

By this point in the route we thought that we’d “broken the back of it” with the hardest part behind us. We were on the home straight with only the final fourth Munro of the day between us and the ‘van. So from Carn Mairg’s summit we proceeded east to the col with Meall Laith before veering SE to the head of Gleann Muilinn. On our descent, and for the first time in the day, a break in the mist revealed our position. We were trudging our way down a slope of only modest steepness through a landscape of complete white uniformity. The snow was so deep and heavy that it was even difficult walking down through it. Our biggest problem though lay ahead as the view before us yielded an equally unforgiving uniformly deep snow field on the other side of Gleann Muilinn that had to be beaten to reach the summit of our fourth Munro. When we got to the head of the glen and just before the final ascent we gave each other a pep talk to keep up our motivation for the undoubted struggle to come.

Cameron on the summit of Meall na Aighean

Eventually, though, we made it to the summit of Meall na Aighean, where, after a quick photograph of yet another cairn in mist, we retraced our steps a bit before taking a route down the west ridge that gently arcs round to the SW. The descent, however, was far from gentle through a combination of tired legs negotiating deep heather covered in wet slippy snow. Nonetheless, we were homeward bound and we eventually descended onto a path that took us back to the track through the forest that we’d enjoyed earlier in the day. It was only as we approached this last piece of track that we spotted two chaps who were also descending the path in front of us. When we caught up with them back at the car-park it turned out that they’d only managed to climb one of the Munros because the conditions had been too demanding, and that was despite them thanking us for breaking the trail that they’d been following. They commented on how impressed they were that we’d managed to complete the circuit of all four Munros in such harsh conditions.

As we drove back down Glen Lyon we decided to have a quite look at the hamlet of Fortingall at the bottom of the glen. In the churchyard at Fortingall there is a yew tree that is believed to be the oldest tree in Europe at 8000 years old. Perhaps, as a play on words, adjacent to the churchyard was the Fortingall Hotel with its Ewe Bar. We had a quick nosy inside to find a roaring log fire … so we felt obliged to stay to try to dry off our gear … and thought it rude not to have a Guiness (for me) and a G&T (for Elaine). The bar was so cosy that for a few seconds we thought it would be nice to stay in the hotel overnight: we decided not to when we overheard that B&B was £200 per night! Back to our nice warm and cosy ‘van.

 

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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