High tide proves to be the final obstacle – [# 278]

Ladhar Bheinn (1020m)

  • Pronunciation:             Larrer Vane (usually referred to as Larven)
  • Translation:                  Hoof Mountain
  • Total distance:             25.5km
  • Total time:                    9hrs 14mins
  • Total ascent:                 1969m
  • Weather:                        A beautiful day – sunny, but with gale force winds – especially on the ridges near the summit.
  • Start location:               The bothy by Barrisdale Bay on the shores of Loch Hourn – Knoydart. [OS Map Sheet 33 – Grid Ref: NG 872 042]
  • End location:                 Car park at Kinlochhourn. [OS Map Sheet 33 – Grid Ref: NG 950 066]
  • Map:                                A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window.

Beinn Sgritheall from across Loch Hourn

After a horrendously wet and windy day yesterday we were elated to wake to a fine, warm and dry morning – albeit still very blustery. We had breakfast and then split our equipment into the bits and pieces that we needed for the day’s climb and the stuff that could be left at the bothy to be picked up on our return. We said goodbye to Adrian who was planning to walk over the Mam Barrisdale pass to the small township of Inverie on the Loch Nevis coast. There is a lovely inn at Inverie, The Old Forge, which is advertised as the remotest pub in mainland Britain.

The bothy at Barrisdale Bay

Our outing involved no such luxury as a pub, and instead, we crossed the bridge over the River Barrisdale and turned right to follow a path along the south side of the river towards the sea. Once the path reached the sandy coastline it veered SW and began climbing in a zigzag direction up the bracken covered hillside. At around 250m in height we contoured round the nose of the Creag Bheithe ridge and entered the lower reaches of the Coire Dhorrcail. From our vantage point at the lower end of the ridge we were rewarded with outstanding views north across Loch Hourn to the tiny townships of Corran and Arnisdale on the Glenelg peninsular. Both of these townships were backed by the impressive profile of Beinn Sgritheall (974m Munro). Looking to the ENE we saw along the length of the narrower section of Loch Hourn and the route that we’d taken a couple of days earlier to reach Barrisdale Bay from Kinlochourn.

Cameron near the start of the glen between Ladhar Bheinn (R) and Stob a' Choire Odhair (out of shot)

We turned to face into the glen and were mesmerised by the high corrie cliffs that stretched in a long expansive arc between the summits of Ladhar Bheinn and Stob a’ Chearcaill. To the right of the glen the long NE ridge of Druim a’ Choire Odhair stretched down from the summit of Stob a’ Choire Odhair (960m), which would be our route of ascent. However, we still had to travel another 1.5km along the left hand side (SE side) in order to reach a suitable crossing point of the Allt Coire Dhorrcail burn. As we walked along a good stalkers’ path we were plagued by dozens of deer kegs. Deer kegs are horrible bugs about 5mm in length. When they land on you they resemble little spiders. Usually they begin flying in September looking for hosts (deer) to lay eggs in. When they land on a deer they detach their wings and then lay their eggs beneath the skin. [I bet it sends a shiver down your spin reading this.] The good news is that they only seem to bite deer and not humans, and indeed of the dozens that we’ve had landing on us we have never felt them bite. Nevertheless, they crawl over your clothes and skin and are extremely tough to kill. Sometimes, even though we pinched them very hard between our finger and thumb, they would still continue to crawl after you ‘let go’! Creepy! Once we got clear of the trees and shrubs and into the sunshine (and strong wind) higher in the glen the deer kegs stopped annoying us.

The magnificent cliffs towering above Coire Dhorrcail - Ladhar Bheinn remains hidden on the right

We passed some ruined shielings that were on the opposite side of the burn and then after another few hundred metres further into the glen we found a suitable place to cross. Having crossed the burn without getting our feet wet we climbed the steep grassy flank of the Druim a’ Choire Odhair to arrive at a col on the crest-line. The ridge was a jumble of complicated little crags but the route weaved cleverly around the various natural obstacles. For most of the way up the ridge the prominent feature was the summit dome of Stob a’ Choire Odhair, which was just high enough to block any views of our Munro summit beyond. The ridge narrowed on a few sections, which required us to tread carefully as there was a very strong crosswind always trying to wrong-foot us.

Cameron admires the view east along Loch Hourn from near the summit of Ladhar Bheinn

We climbed the last little steeper section to the top of Stob a’ Choire Odhair and, for the first time, were offered a view of Ladhar Bheinn’s triple summit only a short distance away. A short descent and then a further ascent took us to the easterly summit (and cairn). The highest point, however, was located just a few tens of metres away to the northwest along the rim of mountain’s northern corrie, and was the middle of the three tops at 1020m or 3,346ft. [The third top hosts a dilapidated Trig Point that stands 10m lower than the true summit.]

Beinn Sgritheall (L) and the tiny townships of Arnisdale and Corran from near the summit of Ladhar Bheinn

We lingered on the top to admire the outstanding views in all directions. We were particularly keen to see the pair of Munros that we’d climbed the day before in the atrocious weather and near zero visibility. They certainly looked much more inviting in today’s sunshine.

Had we been staying another night in the bothy we would certainly have chosen to descend SE and follow the line of the cliff escarpment between Ladhar Bheinn and Stob a’ Chearcaill before descending steeply back to the path over Mam Barrisdale. However, we couldn’t afford the time to stay, and so returned to the bothy via our outward route.

Elaine at the summit of Ladhar Bheinn with the long ribbon of Loch Hourn in the background

We arrived back at the bothy at about 15.00 and after brief pause for a snack we organised and repacked our rucksacks for the 11km walk back to Kinlochhourn. We left the bothy at 16.00 and estimated that we’d be back at the car by 19.00 at the latest.

The start of the walk back was fairly uneventful. We did have to stop a couple of times to replenish our fresh water supplies as we were getting a bit dehydrated after our mountaineering day coupled with a long walk back to the car laden with heavy packs in the very warm evening sunshine. We also commented on the strength of the tidal current rushing through the narrowest section of Loch Hourn at Caolas Mor as the tide flowed into the upper reaches of the loch.

Looking west to Ladhar Bheinn as we head out of Barrisdale Bay on the shore of Loch Hourn

We continued along the coast passed the narrowing at Caolas Mor and were less than 1km from the car when we encountered a major problem: the sea-level, perhaps driven by a spring tide, had actually flooded the path in front of us. All that remained above the high-tide level was the top of the dry-stone wall between the path and the sea … and there were several copingstones missing! Because of the steep buttress cliffs there was no alternative easy way around that didn’t involve some hefty ascents and scrambling, so I was left with only two choices: wait from the tide to recede or attempt to cross the ramparts in from of us. Choosing that latter, I was first to carefully tiptoe across. For the most part it was actually straightforward, although I was always conscious that water was quite deep on the seaward side – and certainly above head-height if the worst happened. As I neared the last few metres the crux of the crossing presented itself: a gap of about 2m where all the boulders were submerged about 25cm below the surface. In the middle of this gap a single rocky block stood just a few centimetres below this surface and I called to Elaine that she’d need to get her boots a bit wet (and salty) to make it across.

The route from Barrisdale Bay to Kinlochhourn passes the narrowing of the sea loch by Caolas Mor

I stepped on the submerged block but as I pressed off it rolled to the side and disappeared into the depths on my left hand side. I still don’t know how I didn’t follow it into the sea for a swim, but somehow dipped my other foot into the shallow 25cm-deep side and out again onto the dry-stone wall. A lucky escape, which Elaine couldn’t believe was possible given what had happened. Elaine crossed next and she was left with no alternative but to wade for two quite steps through the shallower section before regaining the wall. We were glad to have passed this obstacle as we were quite a bit behind schedule and twilight was already setting in.

Our first obstacle - seawater floods the path - seaweed floats on the shoreward side

We continued along the dry path and were now only 1/2km from the car.  I was in front as we turned round one of the final bends and was confronted once again with a flooded path. This time there was no rampart of stones to aid our passage. I looked at the little buttress cliff on the right hand side that formed a significant barrier. It was dank and overgrown with slippy moss and lichen. I scrambled up to its base and managed without difficulty to reach its crest. But when I looked down the other side it was very steep. I took off my heavy rucksack and helped Elaine onto the crest. There were two things that looked like they would help us descend the crag: some handy placed pockets in the rock-face, and a sturdy sapling ash tree only about 50cm away. Unencumbered by my rucksack I quickly descended using a combination of tree and rock climbing. Elaine passed down both rucksacks and then followed my descent line. We had made it passed the salt-water lagoon!

Our second obstacle - more seawater flooding - we had to scale the crag on the left

The remainder of the path was dry and in the deepening twilight we arrived back at the car. All that followed was a long and dark drive back to the main road. As we drove we came across quite a few red deer: mainly hinds, but with one little group escorted by its resident stag. We didn’t quite reckon on encountering our third obstacle of the day on our drive home, but as we crossed the long single-track bridge by the side of Loch Quoich a huge highland coo was blocking the road. It did not exactly hurry across the bridge – but it did provide us with an amusing conclusion to a brilliant few days backpacking in the ‘Rough Bounds of Knoydart’.

Our third obstacle - a highland cow blocks the single-track road on the bridge by Loch Quoich

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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