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3 Glen Dessary Munros from Loch Arkaig

Written by Fiona

July 16 2019

With one day away from my desk during a busy work period, I decided to make good use of my time with a trio of Munros. The target was the three summits in Glen Dessary, which are accessed from the end of beautiful Loch Arkaig. They include Sgurr na Ciche (1040m), Garbh Chioch Mhor (1013m) and Sgurr nan Coireachan (953m). Hubby G was available (this is rare!) – and happy to come with me.

It was G’s second time doing these Munros and he recalled them being long and tiring. Walk Highlands also describes the route as “epic” and likely to take 10 to 12 hours.

A great signpost in the middle of a remote glen.

The glen is one of the land entrances to the wild and remote Knoydart peninsula and it is known as the Rough Bounds of Knoydart. As we walked I learned why. The terrain is rough and gnarly and even short distances can take a long time to traverse.

This made me a bit anxious because I am not known for my long-distance stamina but also I was worried about how Wispa the Wonder Whippet would cope. We would normally leave her with friends or our dog sitter for routes longer than 10 miles because she is now approaching the age of nine. That makes her 68 in human years!

The route over the three Munros is 16.5 miles with a total ascent of more than 1500m, according to the Walk Highlands’ details. We decided that if we fed Wispa enough sausages and nibbles along the way she would be fine. She is a generally fit dog and she has never complained before about long walks. But, still, I was a bit worried.

Top tip: Be prepared for a long drive along the glen road to reach the parking area at the start of this walk. After hugging the shore of Loch Arkaig, the singletrack road goes on and on and up and down and on and on for seemingly ever.

Sorting boots and looking ahead to a long walk.

Weather and route planning

We decided to follow the route clockwise. The forecast said that morning clouds would lift and the afternoon would be brighter. We hoped to have a better chance of good views from the summits by doing the long walk along the glen to reach Sgurr na Ciche first.

G kept telling me how he did the route in the opposite direction last time and how hard it was walking out the long glen road at the end.

He also kept talking about the benefits of a mountain bike. We tend not to mountain bike a Munro route when we have Wispa with us because I think it pushes her too hard at the start of a walk. I wanted to make sure that we conserved her energy. So we walked the long track through the glen first.

A beautiful glen.

The track is good to start with but then it turns very wet and boggy. At one point we couldn’t find a way forwards because of green boggy ground all around. I had to make a detour back and around the bog to prevent water going into my boots. It was the deep bog that the wet west coast of Scotland is so very good at creating.

Having managed to avoid water in my boots that time, I was annoyed to step on another section of boggy ground a little later on. Why does green bog look so solid on top, yet ends up being shin height deep when you step on it? This time, the water went over my boots.

I had to stop and wring out my socks and empty the water from my boots. This meant that for the rest of the day I had wet feet.

A rickety bridge.

There was also a rickety bridge crossing to negotiate. I expect many people avoid this and cross through the fast-flowing burn. But G decided to give it a go and after he crossed safely I followed suit, heart in my mouth.

Wispa decided against it. There were some wide gaps where wooden slats had rotted away and she was not keen. So G had to return over the unstable bridge and carry her.

Apart from the bog and the dodgy bridge, the route meandered rather beautifully alongside the River Dessary, heading through areas of cool and peaceful woodland and generally offering a lovely walk.

I was trying not to think about the three Munros to come and whether I would have enough energy for them all. Rather, I wanted to enjoy the flatter section of walking and the views along the glen.

As we walked, we talked and it didn’t seem to take too long to reach the lower section of slope where we would start the climb towards Sgurr na Ciche.

The climb to Feadan na Ciche

The path followed a line of least resistance, zig-zagging along contours and slowly leading us upwards. We followed a north-westerly direction before reaching a gully that switched direction to north-easterly to climb steeply upwards to a bealach. The bealach is called Feadan na Ciche, which means the whistle of the breast (after its parent peak).

Again, G had cautionary tones in his voice when he recalled the climb of this gully. He remembered huge rocks and some tricky scrambling sections. It was not as steep or as scrambley as he described and he seemed surprised about how he had remembered he ascent.

While we had been worried about Wispa making it up the gully, she did so with great nerve and required only a little encouragement at a tricky step.

Looking up the rocky gully.

I marvelled at her amazing ability to jump up rocks like a feral goat. She has such good judgement and is very agile and determined. Where she could not follow us because the rock was too sheer or slippery, she found her own neat alternative way upwards.

As we reached the bealach between Munro one and two of the day the clouds and clag were starting to lift and we were hopeful of a clear view at the top of Sgurr na Ciche (1040m).

Looking back over where we had come we were treated to fantastic views of Loch Nevis stretching out into remote Highlands landscape.

The route up from 845m to 1040m is easy to follow and while there were a few steeper sections it was mostly straightforward. The path helpfully zig-zags to make some of the steeper sections a little easier.

There is a magnificent drystane wall along the ridge.
The first summit.

The clouds lingered all around us but every so often they would suddenly open up to reveal more breath-taking vistas.

Sadly, Sgurr na Ciche was cloaked in dense cloud when we arrived at the top and although we lingered for a while we caught only glimpses of the fabulous landscape far below.

This summit offers the chance for fine vistas over the great wilderness area of Knoydart.

On balance, however, I think I prefer the days of sun and cloud because the views are so much more atmospheric. Plus, the clouds help to keep the mountains cooler and when you are walking a long way it is better to be cool than hot.

Back at the bealach.
Looking up the rocky slopes to the second summit of the day.

…And on to Garbh Chioch Mhor

Returning to the bealach, we looked up towards the southerly aspect of the rocky ridge and to where we would climb to reach the second Munro summit of the day.

It came surprisingly quickly and before I could feel much of a grumble in my leg muscles we were closing in on Garbh Chioch Mhor at 1013m. It’s another rocky ascent but, again, the route is relatively easy to find and with Wispa happily trotting between us we made good progress.

We were also delighted to be treated to more expansive views of the surrounding landscape and congratulated ourselves on how we had planned the walk. The weather forecast had been reasonably accurate and the sun had become stronger, burning off the clouds, as the day went on.

Ridge views.

Then, Sgurr nan Coireachan

I think that with two Munros bagged, I imagined the third summit would arrive quickly enough before we made the long descent to the base of the glen.  So, it was rather surprising to discover that this next section would be much harder won.

The going is very rough with many ascents and descents along a gnarly ridge. As we climbed up and down and up and down, our legs began to groan and I worried about how Wispa was doing.

We stopped frequently to give her snacks and water and she seemed to be fine but she couldn’t tell us how tired she was.

Finally, we could see the slope towards Sgurr nan Coireachan at 953m rising up above us. I was stunned by how high it looked and the steepness of the slope.

We met a couple of young guys carrying heavy overnight packs. I was thankful that we had only our lightweight summer day packs with us and they confirmed that the climb to their first Munro summit of the day had been tough. They were heading on for a bothy night after claiming a few Munros.

I felt as though the climb was slow but as we gained height the views widened and I felt joyful to be amid such a magnificent landscape. How lucky I am to be fit enough – and experienced enough – to explore such a remote and wonderful place.

The top of the first climb on the slopes of Sgurr nan Coireachan is not the summit. There is another short walk along the top to reach the cairn at 953m and it was a relief to finally tick off the third Munro of the day.

Summit 3.

We met three women from Grampian Mountaineering Club who had also walked the three Munros and were thinking about bagging a fourth Munro, Sgurr Mor “just because we are here and it’s easier than returning another day!”.

G and I also considered this option for a few minutes but we were low on food and I reckoned that the three Munros would be more than enough for Wispa (and, secretly, for us!).

Instead G and I hatched a plan to have another adventure, bagging the Munro Gairich, camping overnight and then heading on to Sgurr Mor.

Satisfied with the idea of this future outing – and also happy with what we had achieved already in one day – we began the descent of Sgurr nan Coireachan.

Again, G had warned me earlier in the day that the descent would be steep and unrelenting. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t that awful either. He is still not sure why he found the walk so tough the first time he did it.

We followed a rough and very wet and boggy path zig-zagging off the southerly slopes and enjoyed wide-ranging views over the rugged landscape. Looking out to the edge of the land and over the sea we had glimpses of the islands of Eigg and Rhum shimmering in the distance.

After a long and hot descent, we reached a lower path that was frustratingly rocky and boggy. It appeared to stretch forever and looking at the map we discovered there was another 5km or 6km to go.

G’s comments about a long walk out rang in my ears but I tried to focus on the good stuff, including the views and my delight at bagging another three Munros.

Chatting and walking

Further on we bumped into a couple of men, also making the long walk back to the car park having summited a couple of Corbetts. Chatting to them helped the time to pass and I was surprised when we reached the wider, lower level track. It felt like we had walked much faster while talking.

The final stretch along the lower, wider track was relatively easy and while I was tired – and Wispa looked weary, too – I felt as though the walk had ben easier than I had imagined. It’s likely that my Munro bagging fitness is relatively good just now after so many weekends in the mountains and I am thrilled to be ticking off my final 30 or so Munros.

An exhausted whippet!

The three Munros brings my total to 252 bagged.

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