Copied from notes left by the Late Jim Green Kinloss Mountain Rescue
The heart of the Central Highlands of Scotland is a vast upland wilderness; its interior is remote and difficult to access. It is bounded to the North by Glean Spean to the East by the A9 and the Pass of Drumochter, south by Rannoch moor and West by the great Glen. In its South – West Corner in the district of Lochaber are two great hill ranges, the Mamores to the South and running parallel to the North are the Grey Corries which lead on to the Aonachs, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis. The late Phillip Tranter, a noted Scottish mountaineer of the day done, first completed a traverse of these hills in June 1964. It is a classic long distance walk and is seldom repeated, it covers over 36 miles and 20,000 feet of ascent 18/19 Munros depending on what book you read. The undertaking is only feasible in mid June when, if the weather is fine, there is no real darkness at night. The Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team were based at Fort William the weekend of the 22/23 June, Davie Walker and myself decided to have a crack at it.
The intention was to start and finish at mid-day so that the rest period at the middle of the walk would coincide with the greatest period of darkness. This happy arrangement meant that we were spared the usual mind numbing dawn start that a big days entails and that the evenings social activities need not be curtailed. In the event, impatience drove us out the bothy at 1030 and after a good greasy breakfast we were dropped of at Glen Nevis. The weather was dreary and overcast with a forecast of rain and strong winds (not ideal). The ascent of the first hill, Mullach Nan Coirean via the forestry commission jungle at its foot, and entered the cloud at 2000 feet, we were to remain in it for most of the trip. The Mamores usually have a lot of wildlife but we were destined to see very little, just the occasional high attitude frog. There was no delay at the summit and we pressed on to Stob Ban the light coloured peak due to the quartz-capped summit, which can make the mountain, looked snow covered. There were a large party of soldiers on the summit, all looked like they did not wish to be there, again we did not delay.
A Party with two leaders is usually leaderless and today was no exception. After about 10 minutes of descent we broke cloud and spotted in the distance the small village of Kinlochleven that had apparently changed its location. The compass came out and remained out the rest of the trip, Dave was conned into the navigation good experience for him! At the next beleach we had a drink, left the sacs and went for the outrider Sgurr a’ Mhain. This peak dominates the Mamore ridge and has a fine view of Glen Nevis. The glen is popular with tourists and its river the scene of an annual raft race, which is both spectacular and amusing.
We retraced our footsteps back to the main ridge and quickly took in the next two hills, Sgorr an Iubhair and Am Bodach, (The Old Man), a few Muros done and I was feeling like one! The next peak was another outrider, An Gearanach (The complainer) it is approached by a narrow and shattered rock ridge. A few weeks later a couple of the Team were involved here with a fatal accident in this area. Back on the main ridge things were going well and we moved on to the last four of the Mamores.
This group is different in character to the rest of the range, wilder separated by lower passes, steeper ascents. We now embarked on the remotest part of the journey. The first two hills, Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor were seen off easily enough and we had a break below Binnein Beag by the lochan. This can be a lovely spot on a good day; today it was bleak, grey and windswept, spray being blown off the lochans surface. There is a good stalkers path leading to the foot of Sgurr Eilde Mor but its slopes are steep, rubble strewn and exhausting. The Mamores complete, we spoke on the radio to one of our parties who were having a wee epic on the Ben, on a wet and greasy Observatory ridge. We offered them our condolences and set off down the long gentle pleasant ridge that leads to the Alt Coire Rath, halting for a food break, chocolate (we ate 12 bars each on the day) The river can cause problems in really wet weather but today was mere boulder hop. Only a few weeks previously a well-known Leuchars troop was thwarted a on his attempt on the same route. He beat an ignominious retreat back to Glen Nevis below the very same hills he had sought to traverse. That taught him to come playing in our area!
We were now concerned with the rapidly diminishing daylight it was about 10 pm, so we started moving up Stob Ban by a sloping traverse and ascent, arriving on the summit in total darkness at midnight. Head torches were useless and only gave a confused glare in the swirling mist. To crack this big day within 24 hours we needed reasonable visibility we knew we had problems. The descent down the boulder field was a tricky dodgy business and we kept close together due to the rocks we were dislodging. Progress was now slow and a rather futile bivouac was inevitable. We stumbled on a bit more, found a small burn and got out the poly bags. We carried no sleeping bags as weight was at a premium. The stove was soon on and we settled down to a few brews. The purr of the stove and the rain pattering on our bags let us doze fitfully and we rose at the first signs of dawn about five. Stiff and damp we were now into the Grey Corries and its outriders, so named because of their rocky nature and light grey appearance. Visibility was down to few yards and the wind was now against us. I annoyed Davie with my running commentary on what views are possible from these mountains. This part of the day is just a blur but we were back on schedule and we could still pull it off within 24 hours.
The final group was ahead of us, usually referred to as the “big four” on account of their height. Aonach Beag can be an awkward hill approaching from this side. Local knowledge was not used and for some reason we decided to miss the normal detour to the South and up a prominent gully on the face. The gully was steep, loose, mossy and wet, the exposure considerable. In the end we the gamble paid of and we reached the summit plateau, very weary. Aonach Mor was our next objective, the 24-hour target was now beyond us and we slowed the pace and we found its summit after a second sweep, large cornices were still evident.
To reach the next beleach we had to revert to dead reckoning mode, we could not afford any costly mistakes. Here we met our first other hill walkers of the day, they were heading for Carn Mor Dearg via a different ridge. Dave soon outpaced me on the ascent and I left in my own silent world, found the ascent purgatorial. We were pleased, however, to be up well before the other party was a bit of a physiological bonus. Again there were no views, the connecting ridge to the Ben is rocky and narrow and we passed the Abseil posts that the Kinloss Team had erected in the early Sixties. The ascent to the summit was wearisome and unending but the summit finally hove into sight, full of tourists. We found a quiet corner to rest.
On the way down we paid dearly for choosing lightweight boots our feet were a mess and progress painful. We abandoned the Tourists route on the way down for a grassy ridge and the descent took 3 painful hours, the ascent is usually quicker! A land rover was waiting for us at the Youth Hostel and we reached the road 28 hours after leaving it. The sun came out. Back at Base camp Dave wasted no time briefing the Duty Cook, “ All right I suppose” We drank a few brews and limped away in search of sleeping bags and were snoring in seconds. It had been a long day.
A brief article on a great Scottish day, by one of our finest troops the late Jim Green. Jim was a true hill “gangrel” and a real character that loved the mountains. Jim loved his fags and his beer and was a superb hill man. I wonder how many fags he smoked on that day!!! His companion was another real hard man Davie Walker, Ex Valley, Kinloss and Leeming, a powerful combination on the hill and socially!
I was the Leuchars troop who had failed previously; such was the rivalry that was between teams in those days.
I had tried the round with Keith Powell and had got stopped by no light and the river in spate due to awful weather. I went again this time alone with my dog Teallach in 1986. We went very lightweight with no bivy kit and managed the day I used my running shoes “Walshes” The Mamores went in 7 hours, no problem, and weather good I felt very strong. The descent of the last Mamore was difficult as the cloud came in and I did not take a break till Stob Ban. The dog wanted to walk off down the glen, he wanted home. I was on the other Stob Ban in 10 hours, The Grey Corries and outriders in 6 hours, (long drag and very hard for me from here to the end) the Big 4 to Youth Hostel 7 hours 30 minutes. No one to meet me and I crashed in the car with a smelly dog for several hours. Total time; 23 and half hours.
The route has now been down by several troops that I know off, Ray Shaferon, Rushie, Steve Price and Jenny Hodnett. Many have done it longer, slower and some have added in the Easins!
The next Year I did the North and South Clunnie Kintail in 20 hours no bivy, honour regained I was now a Kinloss Troop again. Memories!
The only way is to go out and try, and if you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.
Heavy Whalley Kinloss MRT