Ladhar Bheinn: “cloudy with a chance of murk”

Despite having been ‘Compleater-curious’ for nearly forty years, I’ve never actually been present when someone’s finished off a round of the Munros, so when Liz Walkington, one of the regulars on Christian Aid 70 Munros Challenge, asked if I’d like to join her when she ‘compleated’ on Ladhar Bheinn, I jumped at the chance.

My previous trips to Knoydart have always been via one of the land routes; either walking into Barrisdale Bay from Kinloch Hourn, or in from Glen Dessary past Sourlies Bothy, but this time we opted for a rather more comfortable option, catching the ferry across from Mallaig to Inverie and booking some accommodation there; Liz was in The Gathering, and I went for the budget option and stayed in the Knoydart Foundation bunkhouse, which is a pretty laid-back, relaxed setup on the eastern end of the village. Fortunately, both options are handy for the Old Forge, Britain’s remotest pub, unless you happen to live in Inverie, in which case it’s your handiest local boozer by a long stretch. After checking into our respective accommodation, we rendezvoused in the bar to sort out the details for the following day over a pint and a bag of crisps.
The plan was to tackle Ladhar Bheinn via Gleann an Dhubh Lochain, which involves a fairly challenging slog up the steep pathless slopes to the crest of the ridge at Mam Suidheag, followed by a much more straightforward traverse over the Aonach Sgoilte to the summit of Stob a Chearcaill and then west along the top of Coire Dhorcaill to the summit and, in Liz’ case, the successful completion of her round.
When we met up on Sunday morning, the weather was refusing to co-operate, with grey cloud hanging low over the summits, and occasional flurries of rain keeping us in waterproofs as we made our way up the track towards the old ruin of Torcuileainn. Leaving the estate track, the initial section of the climb was purgatorial, with head high bracken obscuring boggy tussocks of grass split by short bluffs of loose wet rock. Liz is quite petite, and there were several times I found myself looking back to try and check on her progress and found it impossible to spot her in the midst of the sea of green ferns. Mercifully, after about 100m of height gain, we broke out onto a small flat spot at the bottom of a vague grassy ridge which trended NW and offered much easier going until we could traverse back to the NE and finally gain the crest of the ridge.
From this direction, the ridge walk up to Ladhar Bheinn is pretty straightforward; there’s a couple of short steps that involve very easy scrambling, although it’s worth noting that, in the wet, the sections of rock that have been worn smooth by significant traffic can be a bit lacking in grip.
The summit of Ladhar Bheinn is marked by a fairly anti-climactic cairn (the trig point to the west isn’t on the high point), but the puny pile of stone did nothing to dampen Liz’ exuberance as she jogged up and gave the cairn a little kiss to mark the momentous occasion. To help the celebrations, I’d brought along some rather pleasant Jura Supersition, and a selection of Thorntons chocolates, along with my posh travel cups. It turned out Liz had also packed some alcohol, so it was just as well that our descent route was a broad ridge that didn’t require any fine motor co-ordination straight away.
There’s a fairly long walk out back to Inverie, but one of the huge advantages of staying over locally is that you can round off your walk with more beer and crisps in the pub. Liz had kindly offered to buy me dinner at the Old Forge, which required a slight interruption to the beer consumption while we nipped back to our respective accommodation for a quick shower and a change of clothes before reconvening at the pub to celebrate Liz’ achievement with some great grub and a bottle of wine.
The sun had burned the cloud off the tops as we took the boat back to Mallaig the following morning, giving us a mildly frustrating glimpse of the views that were hidden from us the previous day. If nothing else, it added to my resolve to try and ensure that I didn’t leave it quite so long before my next trip over to Knoydart; just as well really, as another ’70 Munros’ friend now has Luinne Bheinn and Meall Bhuidhe firmly in her sights before joining Liz as a ‘compleater’!