A week-day escape from our desks saw my friend Cath (Highland Campervans), her dog Rider and I summitting the Corbett , Càrn a’ Chuilinn, from Glen Doe, near Fort Augustus. The weather forecast had been better than it turned out to be but we still enjoyed the rewards of time out from work for exercise and good chat.
The advantage of this Corbett on the western edge of the Monadhliath mountain range is the network of wide tracks that have been built to construct and serve a large hydro electric scheme. They are not attractive, but they do make it far easier to gain height on the mountains.
Walk-run of Càrn a’ Chuilinn
The route starts at the side of the B862, on the eastern side of Loch Ness. Looking down over the loch, we could easily spot the village of Fort Augustus, which sits on the souther shore of the famous waterway.
We left Cath’s car in a lay-by and headed south, on to a section of the new Loch Ness 360 trail. Before long, the route to the Corbett summit turned on to a wide hydro scheme track, leaving the 360 trail to wind north along the eastern side of Loch Ness. (I made a mental note to explore this further at some point.)
Higher up, after crossing a bridge, there is a choice to head east or continue south. By now, we were fairly sure that the weather forecast had been a bit optimistic and we would be running in mist most of the day. We opted for what we thought would be the shortest route to the 817m summit, which was to go south and more directly up a rough hillside.
Trods, no trods, bog and heather
The terrain was fairly typical for a Corbett. We ran and walked across bog and heather with the occasional promising length of trod that turned into non-trod and more heather.
We both wore trail shoes with waterproof socks and this meant our feet stayed relatively warm and dry.
From around 450m ascent, there was very little trod to be found and we simply headed upwards. From 500m, the gradient steepened, the mist thickened and the wind picked up.
None of this will sound very pleasant but we were quite content. Of course, it would have been better to have been enjoying warm and sunny weather with clear views but, in a Scottish winter, you have to take the bad with the good if you want to spend time in the mountains.
Cath and I turned our attention to chatting (non-stop) and reminded ourselves that it’s important to stay hill fit throughout the winter in preparation for the warmer spring weather. We were also happy to be away from work and outdoors, rather than staring at a computer screen indoors.
Navigation in the mist
Cath and I enjoyed need to navigate. It is rewarding to be able to read a map and work out the right direction, even when you can’t see a great deal ahead. We discussed our route choice and kept on going as fast as we could so we didn’t end up too cold.
We were dressed in running clothes but carried spare layers and a pack full of walking essentials. It seemed to me that Cath had enough food stuffed into pockets of her pack to last a week!
After a steep push uphill, the route plateaus towards the cairn. It wasn’t until we are almost upon the cairn that we spotted it. We didn’t hang about for longer than we needed to take a few photos. Rider made the sensible decision to sit down behind the cairn and away from the wind. He offered his warmth for a summit hug!
Return – the way we came
We discussed the option to follow a route further east to form a lollipop style circuit of Càrn a’ Chuilinn. In the end, it seemed more sensible simply to retrace our steps. It was cold and misty and there didn’t seemed to be a huge advantage to exploring an alternative route.
We descended quite quickly and as soon as we rejoined the wide tracks we were able to continue at a decent running pace. I’d swapped my waterproof socks (they had become soggy and uncomfortably bunched up at my toes) for dry socks and I looked the mostly downhill trot a great deal.
It was wonderful to return below the mist again and to have views of the wet but vibrant landscape. One advantage of spending time in the Scottish clag is that when you return to clearer views, the scenery always appears a bit sharper and brighter.
Rider was still happily trotting along and it wasn’t until we reached the car again that he slumped, tired and relaxed, into his bed in the boot.
While the weather hadn’t been great, Cath and I were delighted to have bagged another new Corbett. Once we’d changed into warm and dry clothes, refuelled with a hot drink and snacks and started the drive home again, we reflected on how lovely it is to have friends who enjoy an adventure, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable.
Total ascent: 885m
Corbetts bagged: 75.