• BEAUTY AND THE BEAST - THE TWO FACES OF GULVAIN

    Published 30th May 2014, 12:06

    GULVAIN is a wonderful mountain - beauty and the beast in the one wrapper. 

    The beauty comes in the form of its perfectly curved summit ridge which stretches from the South Top to the main peak.

    The beast is the brutal constant push up grassy slopes to reach these high points. There are no shortcuts here, no elevated start, just 3,000 feet straight up from the glen.

    It even has a split personality when it comes to the English translation of its name: Gaor Bheinn, the hill of filth or the hill of thrill or noise, from either the greasy, dark slabs on one side or the roaring of the stags on its slopes. 

    The first time I tackled Gulvain was at 3am in stifling heat. It was the middle of the night, but tee-shirt and shorts was the dress code, the sweat pouring off me as I slogged my way by the gathering light of the new morning.

    As if to show that was no fluke, the next time was even hotter as a party of around 15 stretched out in a weary line all the way up. We sunbathed at the summit for an hour as we picnicked with Ben Nevis in full view, then one by one dived into the river to cool off on our way out. 

    Gulvain stands proudly isolated way up Gleann Fionnlighe, six miles from the A830 road at the head of Loch Eil, and, being a solo hill with no links to any other Munros, it tends to be an in-and-out expedition for most walkers.

    On my last visit however I decided to do something a little different. Thanks to a kindly volunteer driver, I planned to go descend north from the main summit and take in another hill on my way to the pick-up point at the eastern end of Loch Arkaig. 

    Six of us set off up the trade route on a warm morning, the high parts of the mountain staying shyly hidden away from our view in the clouds. Four hours later we were at the snow-capped peak, the massive summit cairn buried deep in the late snow showing just a foot or so of its pile of rocks. 

    After the obligatory photoshoot we parted company. I headed off into the mist following the right-hand guard rail of the massive Coire Sgreamhach, the collapsing cornices matching the scale of their surroundings, to drop down into Glen Mallie. 

    I had a lunch break at a drystane dyke and it was then an easy ascent of around 500 feet to the rounded summit plateau of Mullach Coire nan Geur-oirean, which is a Graham. Finding the tiny cairn may be a problem in bad weather.

    All that remained now was the long walk out, eight miles or so. The mists had slowly cleared during the course of the day and the view of Gulvain we had been denied earlier was now clear as I kept to the grassy crest.

    When it started deteriorating into peat bog, I dropped down steep heather slopes to the ruin at Glenmallie. This structure has a tree growing above the decrepit front door, the roof has long gone and the walls are in various stages of collapse. But someone has recently put up a lean-to against one of the side walls and there are a few chairs sitting under cover as waiting for a lunching party to arrive.

    The track takes you all the way to the shores of Loch Arkaig and out to the car park at the Mile Dorcha where my car and driver were waiting.

    If you don’t fancy that route or can’t arrange the transport, there’s also a diversion to the Corbett Meall a’ Phubuill and then a drop back on to the track in Gleann Fionnlighe.

    But for most people Gulvain in and out will be enough. A mountain this good really doesn’t need any add-ons.

    (First published Daily Record, May 22, 2014)