Day 209: Camasunary Bothy to Culnamean
Distance: 11.47 miles
Ascent: 4034 feet
Weather: Strong Winds, Sunny Spells
Accommodation: Glenbrittle Campsite
Well the gales had hit last night with very strong winds and heavy rain and the bothy had rattled its way through the night. One of the tent people had given up in the night and escaped into the bothy but the other had stuck it out. The wind was still quite strong but the rain had stopped as I was thinking of leaving and this was making me a bit anxious due to narrow paths and ‘The Bad Step’, but not long after 8am I left. I had actually written in my spreadsheet for the walk that due to its terrain I really hoped today would be calm conditions!
Well my first issue happened barely a kilometer into the walk when the river I was meant to ford out of the bay was incredibly high (well above waist deep) this was a mixture of highish tide but more the amount of water flowing of the hills from the rain last night. I started walking up the river but even the completely non-tidal bits were very deep at least knee deep with slippery boulders underfoot. But eventually I went for it and took my boots off and slowly but surely (with a few wobbles) made it across but my feet had taken a bit of a hammering. But I was now across and could continue on.
As I headed out passed Rubha Ban the wind got much stronger but to my surprise the sun was already trying to come out. Strangely given this stretch is a fairly walked path I was surprised how hard it was at times to pick the path out from the other tracks, but it didn’t really matter as they all went in vaguely the same direction. Due to the wind and dampness of rocks I had been getting more and more anxious about the Bad Step, and the approach had been quite slippy but the Bad Step itself was very simple I could literally walk it barely without using my hands at all. But there was a guy coming in the other direction doing it after me who got half way and then panicked and came back, I am not sure what he did after that but would be a long walk out if he didn’t do it.
Almost immediately I came to my second issue, similar to my first one, the Scavaig River which was incredibly high again due to the tide a bit but mainly the run off from last night. It was clearly not fordable, but it is possible to walk the east coast of Loch Coruisk as well (similar distance) so I decided to walk this side and then hope the rivers entering the loch at the other end were more fordable.
The walk along the loch was nice and the sun was out by now, the only issue was the amount of streams that were now torrents that normally you could just walk across and keep dry feet but were a different ball game now. I had decided it was not worth taking my boots of for each and every one due to the time but also the risk to my feet, so I just waded straight through knowing my boots would fill with water but after the first one you wouldn’t notice the difference anyway.
I got to the end of the loch and fortunately the river this end was easily fordable, and then all I had to do was find the track that would take me over the high pass (approx. 860m I believe) called Bealach Coire na Banachdich. I was expecting this climb to be tough but I had expected more of a path, in fact a lot of the time there barely seemed to be a path and sometimes I lost it altogether. But there were little cairns that gave me confidence I was going the right way. I think the exertions of the morning and being battered by the wind (which had now dropped) had made me quite tired and this climb was really taking it out of me. I started to doubt I was on the right route as it seemed to be climbing too far in fact it seemed to me I was heading straight up towards Inaccessible Peak but based on the map I believed I was in the right location. Then suddenly the route got even more vertical and became gravel scree, I for some reason hadn’t expected this. At this exact moment my phone pinged with a message and I momentarily had signal so checked my GPS against OS map and I was where I should be (an added issue is that compasses go mad in the Cuillins presumably due to some magnetic field from the ore.) This scree was incredibly nasty and I don’t think should really be done with a heavy rucksack. I tried to stay near the rock at the side for stability but at times I had to use my hands to help get me up and they ended up a bit cut up. Then unbelievably about 50m from the top it got even steeper and it was lucky no one was beneath me as a few fairly moderate sized boulders tumbled down as a result of my walking up.
I finally reached the top of the pass and was just below the cloud line so got incredible views in fact it would have been pointless to climb any higher even if I had wanted to as would have seen nothing. Now for the descent and I made a bit of an error right from the start, it appeared there was a clear path going down that was not quite the same route as OS map (the climb the other side had not completely matched the OS map either). I took this path a fair way down but it steadily got worse, until it was minor bouldering and I had to stop when I hit a sort of vertical waterfall drop, I then had to climb up a fair way and then found another ‘path’ but the same thing happened and I was exhausted and right on the edge of getting a little worried as I was up not far below 800m on a very steep rock and scree face struggling to find the route down. I calmed myself down and then decided to head south (as I believed on the map it may be further south) until I was certain of a path or cairn (I decided to try and ignore my options if I didn’t find it.) Then I thought I spotted a cairn and even better I spotted 2 people and then realised it was a group of 5. They were French I believe, and they were heading up and struggling to follow the correct route but gave me confidence in descending at this point. There was one woman in their group who was hating it and appeared very scared of the rock scrabbles/bouldering and I felt quite sorry for her as I knew there was worse to come. In fact, they asked if my route was better which I very definitively told them it wasn’t.
Now on the path I descended as easily as you can down a mixture of slippery rocks and scree slope, but I had cheered up as I could actually see the campsite I was thinking of staying in (no way I was wild camping after a day like today, I wanted water on tap and the chance maybe to get some very unhealthy snacks!) The path did eventually flatten out near a river, and it was a lovely sunny afternoon.
I finished the final descent to the road and then headed to Glenbrittle Campsite where they had a pitch available (clearly a few tents had been damaged/destroyed last night) but the showers weren’t working so there was a reduced price. I had arrived about 5:40 so fortunately just before their little shop shut at 6 so I was able to stock up on a few things.
Today was incredibly tough, my description of the final ascent and top descent downplay it a little! In fact, I think maybe the pass was a mistake (though unsure what other route I could take) as in reality I do not think it is fully sensible with a heavy pack on, as scree climbing and rock scrabbling with the added shifting weight distribution is very tough. It is probably the only time I have been a bit scared on the entire walk, and it pushed me right to the limit. Fortunately, it is the highest point on the walk by some margin (Ben Nevis doesn’t count as didn’t have my full pack on and was more of a daytrip) and I do not expect to see any other terrain like today. 11ish miles in just under 10 hours!
To finish off, now I am sat in my tent writing this, looking out and up the the pass and slope I descended I am well chuffed I managed to do it and as tough as it was I will never forget it.
NB - Camera stayed in bag due to expected rain.