Published 13th May 2024, 18:52

    SEVEN days away in Spean Bridge with no set agenda, ten of us just choosing daily from the huge variety of mountains and walks this area has to offer.

    This was the 25th annual getaway of our group and over those years the approach has mellowed greatly. Instead of having every hill day planned in advance to net maximum return from the week, we now wait to pick what suits the day, the mood and the weather.

    It's like opening a big box of chocolates every morning and checking the flavours list to see what takes your fancy.

    I'm long past the days of charging up as many hills in the shortest time possible no matter the weather. Now it's about savouring every moment, enjoying the views and taking time to explore places old and new. Some of us did have big days, but they were generally bookended by something gentler although one of those turned out be the hardest day of all.

    With a relatively short journey to our destination and the wet forecast so far failing to materialise, I made a detour into the beautiful confines of Glen Roy and its Parallel Roads, the straightness of these glacier lines across the hillsides an amusing contrast to the narrow rollercoaster road that twists up the glen.

    I had intended a quick circuit of Beinn Iaruinn to stay ahead of any incoming rain but had forgotten just how steep and awkward the ascent was, a constant to-ing and fro-ing to avoid the worst of the heather and hidden scree patches. It took longer than I had anticipated to reach the ridge but once there I made up time and was down in just over two hours.

    Our first day out proper is always as a group and with the grey still clinging to the higher reaches, we walked out and back to the idyllically situated Peanmeanach bothy. On return, with time to spare, I decided it would be a good idea to also pay a flying visit to Essan bothy. After all, it was only a three-mile walk along the side of Loch Eilt. It turned out to be the toughest walk of the week, and I suspect Andy was cursing his decision to join me.

    The terrain was terrible: there was a path – not always obvious – above the rail line but it led over a series of hillocks and sections of tangled woodland with long stretches of boot-sucking, strength-sapping bog. We were relieved to finally reach the bothy and then realised we would have to do it all again to get back. And all this just to leave a copy of Moonwalker in the bothy library. I suppose that's what you call Essan-tial reading.

    Everyone did their own thing the next day, and my thing involved a solo circuit of the Corbett Beinn Bhan from Glen Loy. I had remembered this glen as being dark and oppressive, but it seemed to have been opened out since then. There was also now a path leading up the hill, and although it was another steep climb, progress was fast and once on the elongated horseshoe summit ridge the walking became pleasant.

    Next up was Ben Nevis. It had been five years since I had last been on The Ben and then we had come in from the south, a quiet route up Coire Eoghainn to complete my Full House on Carn Dearg, the south-west top. That peace and quiet had dissipated as we then crashed into the shuffling hordes on the tourist path in the mist, but this time we were part of the line as we accompanied our friend Jane on her summit quest. It was busy as always, and if there was another Scot among the hundreds or thousands sprinkled across the slopes we never met them.

    The weather was also better this time, but that view from the top still eluded us although there was sunshine most of the way and some dramatic breaks higher up. By the time we got back to the pub we were in heatwave conditions and every mountain top for miles around was clear. Apart from The Ben, of course.

    We took it easy next day with a train journey to Corrour for lunch and a wander, again the variety of languages and accents on board making it feel more like we had boarded the Orient Express. There were no murders, although it came close when one couple kept leaving the restaurant door open.

    The Thursday forecast was the worst so far, but I joined Andy in his quest to complete all the Mamores with the four at the eastern end of the ridge. There had been rain overnight and we encountered a couple of heavy bursts on the way to Kinlochleven, but as we continued along by the perfectly still waters of Loch Leven the grey started to subside.

    We sweated our way steeply up through dripping trees on a network of scarred paths in full waterproofs but soon had to de-layer with the heat. Below us, wreaths of thin cloud allowed selective views across to Garbh Bheinn and down the length of the loch. 

    The drizzle was with us intermittently in the more open terrain of Coire na Ba, but it kept us cool as we eased our way on to the main ridge via the long switchbacks of the excellent stalker path. We crossed the twin tops of Na Gruagaichean and were soon at the highest point of the day on Binnein Mor.

    I've always thought this is the best way round to tackle this circuit – with the two biggest peaks done first, Binnein Beag and Sgurr Eilde Mor seem almost insignificant. It had taken nine hours but despite being the antithesis of my current mountain philosophy on weather and views, it was a great day out.

    Andy polished off the last of his Mamores on the final day, but for the rest it was sunshine and lower ambitions, a walk through part of the Corrieyairack Pass to the beautifully tucked away Blackburn bothy with enough ascent to keep the legs on their toes (you know what I mean).

    Seven days with something for everyone, a smorgasbord of mountain delights.