Sunday, 20 November 2011

Beinn Fhionnlaidh from Glen Creran

After Thursday nights adventures I spent most of Friday afternoon asleep in my cosy bed at the Clachaig Inn. On Friday evening a noisy knock at the door signalled the arrival of Elaina, who I was looking forward to seeing. Partly because she had promised me a batch of her delicious home made banana muffins. I followed Elaina down to the Bidean Lounge to join Kirstin, Iain and Steve and of course the star of the weekend Frank who I hadn't seen for a few years. This weekend was all about Frank, who the next day would be bagging his final Munro Beinn Fhionnlaidh. By final I mean the only one on the list of 283 Munros that Frank is yet to summit. Frank is still fit as a fiddle and to use the word final would be wrong as I know for a fact it won't be the last time he climbs to the summit of a Munro. Frank also wanted to have them all under his belt before he was sixty years old. It just so happens that Sunday would mark his sixtieth birthday, so the weekend was a double celebration. We ordered food and I stuffed down Haggis followed by a tasty Venison Burger. Over dinner I told everyone about the adventure I had on Thursday night. Of course sympathy was soon replaced by the usual mocking and mickey taking, not surprisingly a trend for the weekend.

Walking for Elleric to Glenure

After washing dinner down with a few pints of ale my Thursday night adventure had turned into a dramatic near death experience that I just had to share with the rest of the Clachaig Inn. Later on we were joined by the friendly folks from Frank's mountaineering club in York. Maria arrived having just come down from Buachaille Etive Beag. Maria who we nickname the Energiser Bunny, managed to cram in several Munros this weekend. I am fairly sure the next final Munro event will be Maria's. Gordy who I haven't seen for ages turned up with his mate Stuart, who I immediately bonded with. It may have been something to do with the fact we were both modelling the latest Movember trucker moustaches, or as other people referred to them, seventies porn star moustaches. It has to be said we did look like the chuckle brothers when we sat next to each other. Gordy and Stuart were a bad influence on us all and Steve in particular. The drinks went from ale to whisky and even to port. Much later on we were joined by Frank's son and daughter and their partners. I'd never met these guys before but was not surprised to find they were a great bunch. They had their soft boxer dog Maui with them who was an immediate hit with the dog lovers, myself included.

Lunch spot at 500m on Beinn Fhionnlaidh

As Steve ordered his fourth "last" drink of the night Frank declared that everyone should be at the car park in Glen Creran at the start of the walk for 9am. A few people looked tired in the morning though most of the Scots and Yorkshire contingent seemed to have not surprisingly managed to avoid hangovers. I picked up Maria from the Glencoe Youth Hostel and we drove to Glen Creran. We drove under the Ballachulish Bridge, past Castle Stalker then turned left on the Glen Creran road before the Creran Bridge. At the car park it was great to see so many people had turned up for the event. There were already twenty people. The only two missing were Gordy and Stuart who turned up half an hour later but soon caught up with us on the hill. We set off along the track from Elleric to the farm at Glenure. Steve and myself spotted a herd of Red Deer on the hill side above the farm as we approached. At the farm we turned left and carried on along a track through the forest. When you have dozens of people in a group like this you often find that despite usually keeping an eye on the navigation, for some reason everyone thinks that someone else is navigating. Unfortunately no one was and when someone finally did look at the map we realised we should have turned right off on to a less obvious track, almost immediately after the farm.

Fraochaidh and the Ballachulish Horseshoe

We retraced our steps and headed up the correct track. There were several Red Deer stags as we passed one of the farmers fields. The track soon led us on to the grassy western ridge of Beinn Fhionnlaidh. This route is not always the preferred route up Beinn Fionnlaidh, there is also a popular route up from Glen Etive. Frank decided on this route as despite it being a bit of a slog the terrain is fairly straight forward, and therefore easier on those less experienced who had joined us. There were a few people with us that hadn't walked up anything like a Munro before and a few who were returning after injuries. It can be difficult walking in a big group with varying abilities, but most people were understanding and just enjoyed taking their time. Personally I have never been someone who rushes up and down mountains. I spend my life in a rat race, why on earth would I want to do the same on a mountain. We were soon joined by Gordy and Stuart who looked surprisingly chirpy considering how much they had been drinking the night before.

Guard of Honour for Frank

The views behind us were now starting to open up over Loch Creran. The cloud level was lifting and revealing impressive peaks all around. Beinn Fionnlaidh really is one of those mountains, similar to Moel Siabod in Snowdonia, that looks like it has been placed by human beings for viewing purposes. It is completely surrounded by impressive mountains and wild glens. We stopped for lunch at around the five hundred metre contour. The banana muffins were being consumed at an alarming rate. The sun was shining now and everyone was in great spirit. We continued up the ridge, which is famous for its unforgiving slog and false summits. Passing the Lochan Cairn Deirg the views towards Beinn Trilleachan were awesome with the suns rays beaming down into the wild hidden glen behind it. The only sign of life two buzzards circling on the thermals. We headed along the upper section of the ridge which narrowed and gave us a few false summits. Three Ptarmigans in almost complete winter plumage came to say hello before scuffling off over the rocks.

Frank summits his final Munro Beinn Fhionnlaidh

As we neared the actual summit, around us the cloud had now risen above all summits except Bidean nam Bian. The summit trig point was now only metres away so everyone created a guard of honour walking sticks for Frank to walk through on approach to his final Munro. At the summit a bottle of champagne was opened and Frank gave a speech thanking his family, friends and walking buddies. I made sure he mentioned that I had nearly died getting there of course. Bagging all of the Munros is an incredible achievement, Beinn Fionnlaidh is one of the easier, but even climbing an easier Munro like this makes you really appreciate what a task it is. I am a long way off with only twenty two! Frank had some incredible adventures while bagging the Munro's and I was more than happy over the weekend to hear stories of the many ups and downs. All twenty two of the group had made it to the summit, which was fantastic when you consider some had never climbed a hill in their lives, some were recovering from injuries and some had lifelong ailments. The panoramic views from the summit were breathtaking. To the west looked over our ascent route and beyond Loch Creran. To the north the Ballachulish Horseshoe, the Mamores and a few minutes later Ben Nevis. To the south the pointy mountains around Glen Etive like the mighty Ben Starav. The wild hidden glens behind Beinn Trilleachan still basking in rays of hazy sunshine. By far the most impressive view though was east towards the Glencoe mountains and the Black Mount. As the cloud had only just lifted it was creating a natural roof just above the mountain summits. Both Maria and myself took a wander to the eastern edge to stand in awe of this sight.

Eastern ridge of Beinn Fhionnlaidh

We saw several people coming up the eastern ridge from Glen Etive. They made it to the summit just as most of our group had started the descent. It would have been quite a shock to have found twenty two people at a summit you would usually have to yourself. When they reached the summit Maria and myself explained to these guys why twenty people were descending from the summit area. They told us a fabulous story of how they were on a final Munro party a few years back when the guy turned to his friends and said "do you know guys I think I have already done this one". Brilliant! I left Maria at the summit and started the descent. I soon caught up with Steve, Maria, Gordy and Stuart who were understandably taking their time. Why rush away from such a stunning landscape. We also realised if we took our time we would get to see the sun go down over Loch Creran. I had a few moments on the descent where I just sat and tried to take it all in. I think most hill walkers have those moments on a walk where they split from the pack and wander off on their own to clear their head and think about how lucky they are to live and in such a beautiful world. Not only was the sunset something special but it also fell right behind my favourite place, the Isle of Mull. On the orange horizon was the silhouetted profile of the Ardmeanach peninsula, Ben More and A'Chioch. The ground underfoot on the final grassy part of the ridge was often an unsettling mix of wet slippery grass and mud so we ended up on our backsides on a few occasions. By the time we reached the woods and the farm at Glenure we were in full darkness but none of us wanted to ruin the atmosphere with our head torches so we made our way along the track back to the car park in darkness. The skies were clear and as well as a few bright planets we could also see seven stars that make up The Plough.

Elaina and Stuart passing Lochan Cairn Deirg

The return journey back to Glencoe took twice as long as the outward journey as we got stuck behind the slowest land rover in Scotland. As we approached Glencoe via Loch Leven, through the car windscreen we could make out the black outline of the Pap of Glencoe. I headed to the Glencoe Independent Hostel where a vacant bed awaited my arrival. Paul who I hadn't seen for a very long time had arrived in the afternoon. He soon put us all in a good mood by telling us how happily in love he is, and as well as the soppy story he also provided more Whisky. That night in the Clachaig's Boots Bar we all celebrated Frank's incredible achievement and celebrated the old boys 60th birthday. He received a cake with fireworks and a five foot tall silver sword to cut it with! Unfortunately the events of Thursday and staying up late the night before had taken its toll on me so I was seriously lacking energy. I chatted to two of Frank's friends who happened to live round the corner from me back home. We moved to the Bidean Lounge later in the night as the Boots Bar was absolutely rammed and roasting hot. As I decided not to drink on Saturday I helped the others by escorting them back and forth to bunk houses and youth hostels. I made several trips up and down the minor Glencoe road that night. On a few trips I nearly ran over drunken walkers and on one trip i nearly ran into a young Red Deer crossing the road. I was so tired that the only memory I have from the Bidean Lounge that night was looking up to see Maria stood at the bar lifting a local Scotsman's kilt! That night most people stayed up till the early hours in the youth hostel, I however rested my eyelids and dozed off so I would be fresh for the long drive back home in the morning.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...


  1. I totally love this place and have to visit again this coming December for holiday season with my family.

    Pousadas Em Florianopolis

  2. Great stuff Jamie, keep it going, well done.

  3. Are the pictures public on Picasa Jamie? I can't seem to see them.

  4. Thanks Steve, I really must test these things logged out before I advertise them as being online! My Picasa seems to always default to Anyone with link instead of Public these days... ah just found where you can set Public as default. Hopefully shouldn't happen in future! Ta. Jamie.

  5. Thanks for sharing, it's really worth reading!