BEINN A CHOCHUILL and BEINN EUNAICH, LOCH AWE

These two Munros in the Southern Highlands are just off the A85 Oban road and overlook Kilchurn Castle. They are normally done together and offer a wonderful day out with superb views to the Cruachan range, the west coast and the layer upon layer of mountain country that makes up the magical Blackmount area which lies between Bridge of Orchy and Glencoe.

For more photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmjRqoVy

I’d long had my eye on these two biggies.They are only around 1 hour 40mins drive from our home in Glasgow and straightforward , apart from a nasty sounding very steep descent off one of them. But a tough slog too – 1221m of ascent in total given the sea level start . 13.5km or 8.5 miles in total so  – a good day out. The legs would feel it for sure the next day!

There was a thick cloak of fog over the Loch Awe area as we manoeuvred our way along the single track B8077 road and parked on the verge. In fact, we could hardly see a blinkin’ thing! I was confident it would lift but had been hoping to get a gander at the ‘very steep descent’  bit  that sounded ominous from the walkhighlands website route description.No chance of sussing that out as we made our way up into the mist.

 It was very cold and hat and gloves were on immediately. Brrr….chilly and it was only October; maybe we were in for a rough winter as the forecasters were suggesting. (However, their success rate in long term predictions is notoriously rubbish. In fact, you could probably bet on the opposite being the case. ) There was a bitter wind today, something that had been around for what seemed weeks now.

 Off we set, another couple behind us and so adding a bit of pressure…would they overtake us quickly? I guessed they would, they looked fighting fit. Or would we set a decent pace? Unlikely, given our combined age of 122 years.) The walk begins on a good wide vehicle track for the first 2km or 1.2 miles or so and it took us gradually and easily up into the glen, flanked by steep mountainsides. It was good to get underway and surprisingly, the couple were soon WELL behind us leading Chris to remark ‘What did I tell you ? There’s life in the old dogs  yet!”  I told him to speak for himself!

 The sun quickly began to break through thick mist, fairly raising our spirits as the tawny and emerald colours of the hills in their autumn coats began to emerge. Oh wow, they were looking good. Up and literally through a big group of shaggy Highland Coos with impressive horns, grazing on and around the track, peering at us through their thick fringes; it’s amazing they can see anything at all. There was a bull too (aargh) thankfully furthest from the track, but he was more interested in one of his ladies and we slipped past him. Cattle are always so curious but when you are so close up to a herd, their sheer bulk and those pointy horns can be a bit intimidating.

 After about an hour, we reached the end of the track and I could see a line of tiny figures battling their way ahead up the steep open slopes of the first Munro, Beinn a Chochuill. The next hour or so wasn’t going to be so easy as we had over 500m of climb ahead.Nothing for it but to get on with it…..

 A sheep track – the usual quality of path on many Scottish hills – presented itself, which looked well trodden by many boots so up we went. By now, looking back, Loch Awe and the imposing ruin of Kilchurn Castle were becoming clearer, fine sights both.

 Phew – that ascent was tough! The old pins were feeling it as we laboured our way up and up; in fact, it was exhausting. Climbing Munros never gets any easier and age doesn’t come alone.But after an hour or so we finally – finally – reached the ridge and far easier undulating  ground now lay between us and the summit,  a half mile away.Ye gods, relief.

 

Now of course, the vistas opened up and we dawdled along, wowed by the endless sea of mountains and moorland, the great glens and rivers and lochs which lay as far as our eyes could see. There were hefty showers about – not forecast (but then our Met office is renowned for being poor) nor was the bitterly cold,  powerful wind which buffeted us as we headed into it. I’d divested myself of my duvet jacket given the sweat I’d built up on the ascent  but it was seriously cold up here, despite the sun. Thankfully, the spectacular dark rain clouds , creating dramatic shadows and light across the hills, seemed to be veering off in another direction. Oh it was so good to be up in the high mountains again!  There is nothing like it. I feel a need to be up in the hills often – a sort of mountain fix.

 

 

Chris as usual picked up a boulder for me to place on the summit cairn – a must do – though it was so large I thought I would keel over carrying it. I managed to place it half way up, duty done. You can’t arrive at a cairn and not add your own little piece of stone.On the other hand, never add a new cairn anywhere on the hillside.There is a terrible trend nowadays for people to start building these mini cairns in odd places, three or four little boulders balanced on each other. I don’t know where it has come from but it is unsightly and effectively acts as stone litter in beautiful places.I kick these down whenever I can.

We hunkered down below the summit to get some shelter and demolished our coronation chicken sandwiches and plenty of water.It was good to have ticked off our first Munro of the day.

 

A couple of guys walked past us, shepherds, looking for stray sheep and presumably bringing them down given winter was just around the corner. Their whistles carried across the hill as they worked two sheep dogs; it was odd seeing them on such high ground but in summer sheep graze anywhere they can on open hillsides. And these Southern Highland mountains are lush with grass.

Good to get going again as we soon felt quite chilled though I spent a lot of time taking photos of the beautiful vistas all around.Big billowing clouds swept in from the coast, a short distance away, swathing the tops before their craggy outlines emerged again, grand but forbidding.We made our way down the knobbly ridge, admiring the glens below us and the sweep of the Blackmount peaks above lonely Loch Tulla.Fantastic country.

The second Munro now lay ahead – Beinn Eunaich or the Hill of the Birds.Which birds, we did not know – a mountain known for eagles is normally ‘Iolaire’ so perhaps it was ravens or snow buntings. I love trying to understand the Gaelic meanings – they are usually accurately descriptive. There are many hills with ‘Iolaire’ (pronounced yolary) in their name and indeed, we have seen eagles on or above their slopes and summits.

I’ll admit that the sight of the next pull up ahead looked exhausting but as ever it wasn’t to bad once we got underway. Looking back I could now understand how Chochuill got its name as it does indeed have a large sculpted corrie on its north side, like it’s name – Cockle Mountain.

The views were gorgeous from the top of Eunaich and I looked over to distant Ben Lui where my son and his fiancée and their friends were also enjoying a day on the hills.They looked like they might be getting it cloudier than we were as this big massif was shrouded in clag.

Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe in far distance
Ben Starav

We didn’t hang around at the summit where the wind was fierce and chilling, but headed on down the beautiful grassy ridge, at a gentle angle and giving us fine views of Loch Awe again. The couple who had been behind us were now well ahead.They had hardly spent any time at the top of Beinn Chochuill  and we had been behind them ever since. I saw them disappear over the edge of the ridge which signalled where the ‘unpleasant’ descent began in earnest.I would be going down on my backside if it was tha bad.

We peered over the ridge and sure enough, a zig zag path made its way down VERY steep grass, but though it was tough on the legs, there was no difficulty.At times, because it was also quite wet, I did slither down on my  ‘hin’ end’ as they say. At one point we stopped for a rest and the photo I took of Chris shows the angle; sitting down, he looks as if he is about to take off downhill!

But in 20 minutes or so we were back on the path – thankfully – with an easy stroll ahead of us back to the car.

Just under 5.5hrs including stops so not bad as the time given for the route (without stops) was  5.5-6.5 hours.I always like to compare how we do in relation to the guide time and assess how much slower we are becoming but we seem to be doing ok. For now.A fine pair of hills , wonderful day out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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