Saturday 29 April 2017

Gulvain (Gaor Bheinn)

Crossing the Fionn Lighe near the start of the walk

We scrutinised the weather forecast meticulously in the run up to the weekend. Every app seemed to be saying different things and seemed to be changing on an hourly basis... rain, wind, snow and sunny spells forecast all over the place.

But, by Friday afternoon, we seemed to have settled on the west coast/Lochaber area as looking like the best bet for a reasonable weather day - a bit further (and a bit of a walk in!), but no more ascent than last week - Gulvain, north of the A830 Road to the Isles, between Fort Willliam and Glenfinnan.

We parked up in the big layby, on the A861, just where it meets the A830 in sunshine and light winds, but with clouds scudding across the sky - the tops were clear - and we crossed the main road and headed off up the track on the other side with high hopes for a dry day and good views.

Into the wilds!

Once past the houses and having crossed the bridge over to the east bank of the Fionn Lighe, we ambled north along the track up the glen - no view of our objective as yet.

Rafe and Jim in Gleann Fionnlighe

As we undulated above the burn, the road noise and civilisation were left behind. We heard our first cuckoo of the year and there were dippers in the burn.

First views of Gulvain from the track in Gleann Fionnlighe

Gulvain (we didn't know it was the South Top at the time!) peeped out above the nearer hillsides - it looked rather distant.

Fionn Lighe - south from the bridge at NM963813

The track dropped down to the Fionn Lighe and across a bridge over the burn, continuing north and then north east along the other bank - Rafe, as usual, having a bit of a plodge in the water, whenever he got the opportunity.

Fionn Lighe - north from the bridge at NM963813

It was easy walking - a good track, which was pretty much flat, in the wide strath - we made good time.

It still looked like winter up here - no new spring leaves on the birches.

The walk in - Gleann Fionnlighe 

We passed what looked like a stalkers bothy, just above us on the hillside at Uachan and a ruined shed a few minutes later.

Rafe and Jim - Gleann Fionnlighe with Gulvain above the trees

Wandering on, through woods and moor - enjoying the wide views and being out in the hills - as Gulvain loomed gradually nearer...

Fionn Lighe

Rafe and Jim - Gleann Fionnlighe - views north east

Rafe - Gleann Fionnlighe
Gulvain and Meall Onfhaidh

The start of the walk had been around sea level and when we came out of the trees and onto the open moor 4.5km later, we were only at about 100m - but it felt a lot wilder and a lot higher - the sun had gone and the clouds were scudding across the sky, the wind was whistling down the glen - definitely ready for another layer.

Rafe and Jim in Gleann Fionnliath with Gulvain looming

Gulvain was directly ahead, a steep grassy bank - we could see a vague path winding up the south west face - it looked like a slog!

Views south west along Fionn Liath

We found a sheltered spot, beside the track, just before we reached the bridge over the Allt a'Choire Reidh, for a first lunch - we'd definitely need some sustenance to get us up there.

Good views for our first lunch
Gulvain from Gleann Fionnlighe (NM978833)

Crossing Allt a'Choire Reidh

Once over the bridge, we took the grassy trod across a somewhat boggy area - although much reduced, the path up Gulvain was obvious ahead.

Nearing the start of the ascent of Gulvain (Na Socachan)

Then it was just up!

Views back down Gleann Fionn Lighe (SW)
from the start of the ascent of Gulvain

It was a slog - a sustained, steep grassy bank with a rough hill walkers path winding its way through the undergrowth. The wind was against us as well - not quite into our faces, but across the hillside from the east. There were many stops for "a mountain moment"!

Rafe and Jim from the ascent of Gulvain 

Although the skies were grey and ominous, the views were clear and sharp - dark mountains all around, stark against the rushing clouds - many photographs were taken.

Views to Lochaber over Bealach Fionn Doire from ascent of Gulvain

We slogged on...

Gleann Fionn Lighe from ascent of Gulvain

Jim kept saying "This is the top". Several times it wasn't!

Grassy ascent of Gulvain

Nearing the top of the first pull - Gulvain

We were lucky enough to catch sight of a golden eagle, soaring above us and over the mountain - followed shortly by a sighting of a ptarmigan, half way between winter and summer plumage, fluttering out from behind some rocks and down the hill.

Jim - Near the sh 855m on Gulvain - views north

Rafe and Jim - nearing sh 855m
views north to Gulvain South Top and Gulvain

As we neared the first summit, the terrain changed, we moved into rockier region - along with solifluction terraces - and as we topped out at 855m, we got our first view of Gulvain's actual summit, north east, beyond the South Top.

Sh 855m - views north to Gulvain South Top and Gulvain

It was a relief to have a bit of a respite from the grassy bank - a short, easy descent into an open bealach and then a relatively gentle ascent to Gulvain South Top. It felt like we were getting somewhere at last.

Rafe and Jim - at the start of the ascent of Gulvain South Top

The weather appeared to be deteriorating. cloud with obvious precipitation trails were moving in, Ben Nevis and the Mamores had been engulfed, Loch Shiel and her Munros were vague in the murk - it looked like it was only a matter of time before we received a deluge.

Loch Shiel from ascent of Gulvain South Top

Rafe and Jim - ascent of Gulvain South Top

The Rough Bounds from ascent of Gulvain South Top

It wasn't far to Gulvain's South Top (Munro Top 134, 962m) - with the promise of a second lunch at the first sheltered opportunity.

Lochaber from ascent of Gulvain South Top

Glen Shiel from ascent of Gulvain South Top

Jim - ascent of Gulvain South Top

Gleann Fionnlighe and Glen Shiel from ascent of Gulvain South Top

It was blowing on the summit - making headway was quite difficult. This really wasn't a place to hang around today. A few photo's, and we were off...

Rafe and Jim - nearing the summit of Gulvain South Top

It looked further to Gulvain's summit, with more descent and ascent than we expected - but there was a pleasing little ridgy bit towards the summit - off we go...

Jim and Rafe - Gulvain South Top (Munro Top 134, 962m) - views north

There was considerable buffeting, but once off the summit, the wind dropped off a bit. It looked like there were heavy showers - and some of them wintry - on the hills all around, but so far we had been lucky...

Loch Shiel from Gulvain South Top

But there was nowhere sheltered for us to stop for a sarnie in the bealach - on we go.

Gulvain from descent from Gulvain South Top

Looking back to Gulvain South Top from bealach before Gulvain

Snowy Affric from ascent of Gulvain

Ascent of Gulvain

It was a pleasing little ridge - never narrow enough to feel exposed, even in the windy conditions - but it gave a wonderful feeling of space and height. And the weather had brightened up a bit, which just improved the glorious views.

Looking back to Gulvain South Top from ascent of Gulvain

Rafe and Jim - ascent of Gulvain

North from ascent of Gulvain

Jim and Rafe - ascent of Gulvain

And then we were treated to one of those strange mountain quirks - when we reached the summit of Gulvain (Munro 161, 987m) the wind just stopped.

Rafe and Jim - Gulvain

The wind just stopped. It was calm and quiet and it even felt warm in the watery sunshine.

Rafe - Gulvain summit cairn - views to Loch Shiel

The hill was ours (we hadn't seen anybody else all day) - so we sat by the summit cairn and ate our second lunch and drank in the views.

Gulvain South Top from Gulvain

Gulvain summit (Munro 161, 987m)


Glen Dessary and the Rough Bounds from Gulvain summit

Ben Nevis might have gone, but we had great views to the north - Glen Dessary, The Rough Bounds, Kintail, Affric, Torridon - and to the west - Gelnfinnan Hills - and the south - Morven and Sunart.

Rafe - descending south from Gulvain

The day was getting on and we still had a long way to go - returning back the way we came.

Rafe and Jim - descent from Gulvain

The ridgy bit looked a little bit more ridgy in descent - and it felt just a little bit hairy, as the wind just started again as soon as we dropped off the summit.
Rafe looking back to Gulvain

It really did start again - it was blowing a hooley!

Weather over Lochaber from Gulvain

Jim - descent from Gulvain

We crossed the bealach again and ascended Gulvain South Top - if anything the wind was getting stronger...

Gulvain from ascent of Gulvain South Top

The Rough Bounds from ascent of Gulvain South Top

But the sun was shining - and the views were the best of the day.

Jim - nearing the summit of Gulvain South Top

We stopped for a few more pictures on the summit again, before making a hasty retreat from the tops.

Gulvain South Top again (Munro Top 134, 962m)

Looking back to Gulvain from Gulvain South Top

Jim and Rafe - views south from descent from Gulvain South Top

The wind eased as soon as we lost some height, and although we were caught by a few flakes at the tail end of one of the showers, the weather was soon feeling more like spring.

More weather to the east from descent from Gulvain South Top

Rafe and Jim - descent from Gulvain South Top

It didn't take long to get to the 855m summit - Rafie had a brief plodge in a little lochan nearby - but we soon plunged off our last summit of the day, taking to the steep grassy slopes into Gleann Fionn Lighe.

Gulvain South Top and Gulvain frmo sh 855m

Rafe and Jim - sh 855m, Gulvain

It really didn't take long to get down - it was pretty hard on the knees and the toes - 700m of steep grassy bank can do that to you!

The views sustained us. The clouds were still swirling and there were many showers all around us, but the sun seemed to be winning.

Rafe and Jim - descent into Gleann Fionnlighe

Ben Nevis from descent from Gulvain

Descent into Gleann Fionnlighe

Jim and Rafe - descent into Gleann Fionnlighe

Looking back at Gulvain's grassy bank

Once again, it was a relief to put the grassy bank behind us - it really was quite steep! We were soon across the bog and back on the track - with only about 6km down the glen to the car.

Fionn Lighe - views south west

About half way along, we found a likely little beach beside the Fionn Lighe, for a third lunch - polishing off the rest of our sarnies.

Rafe had been doing his tired old dog impression for a couple of kilometres - but as soon as a chance to get into the water materialised, it was puppy playtime again!

Rafe has a plodge in Fionn Lighe

Jim and Rafe - Gleann Fionnlighe

It wasn't far back to the car and it passed reasonably quickly - the weather was dry and bright, the wind had dropped off (I was even down to a tee shirt and Jim took off his winter gloves and hat).

Jim - Gleann Fionnlighe

We hadn't seen a single other walker all day. Nor had we seen any farmer, keeper or anyone else. It really felt that the hill was ours. And whilst the hills all around seemed to be getting the weather, we had kept the views and kept dry - so lucky.

And we finished off with a take away coffee in Fort William.

Hurry up, we're nearly at the car - Gleann Fionnlighe

Route:  Layby on A861 (NM959973) just S of junction with A830 (Fort William - Mallaig road), N to A830, E for 20m, N onto track to houses (50m), E on track over bridge over Fionn Lighe and take track N up Gleann Fionnlighe (sp Strathan), good track N along the glen crossing fb at NM964813 and continuing N then NE to 2nd fb at NM987838, 100m beyond fb at small cairn, leave track and continue E on rough boggy path to start of hill path at NM 993840, NE then generally N on rough path to sh 855m, continue N across bealach to Gulvain South Top (Munro Top 134, 962m), continue NE to bealach and to Gulvain summit (Munro 161, 987m), return to start.

Statistics:  Distance: 21km  Ascent: 1230m  Time: 8 hours 15 minutes

Maps:  OS Explorer 398 Loch Morar and Mallag and OS Explorer 399 Loch Arkaig

Beinn Bhrotain and Monadh Mor

Setting off from Glen Feshie - it was chilly - before the sun had a chance to peep over the hills...  Off we go! Jim - Setting off near Auch...