wild camping in the mamores

Wed, Jul 29, 2009

With a new exhaust on the car and a weekend free to do as I wished, I headed off on the first ferry last Saturday morning, hit Mallaig and headed for the car park at the bottom of Glen Nevis where I managed to squeeze into the one remaining place. It’s always busy this time of year but most folk don’t go past Steall, choosing to laze around the wire bridge having fun and picnics. It’s a stunning place. A bit like the Lost Valley in Glencoe only more accessible and the walk up the gorge is always a wonderful experience, especially after an hour or so in the car from Mallaig. My plan was to make for the high lochans on Binnein Mor and take in Binnein Beag on the way. I couldn’t remember having climbed these two hills before and I was tidying up loose ends before making for my last munro, so I thought I’d head for the Mamores and camp as high as possible. The weather was just about perfect. Not too warm and not too cold with the frisson of excitement created by the storm forecast to hit the area in the early hours of Sunday morning, promising winds gusting to 70mph and torrential rain. My kind of weather!

The crossing of the Water of Nevis

The first thing to do was cross the Water of Nevis, which I did at  204684 just upstream of the big bend in the river. There’s a delightful camp spot on the bend but I was headed much higher. There wasn’t a lot of water in the river although it could be a real problem in heavy rain I noted. From there it was a rather steep and very rough plod up the gloriously green and vegetated hillside. Typical West Highland territory. Steep, slippy and alive with grasses, plants and insects. Superb. Then as I crested the steep bit, the ground eased off and I made my way up to the bealach between Binnein Beag and Binnein Mor. I wasn’t feeling 100% though, bit of a head cold I suspected and I didn’t fancy lugging the tent any higher as I was a bit “bleh” to be honest and I had spotted a wonderful little spot in front of a sheltering knoll, so I pitched the tent, lunched and lazed. It was a perfect spot as although the wind was straight onto it when I pitched, the little knoll would provide shelter from the forecasted gales, which was more important.

Wild camping between the Binneins in the Mamores

I couldn’t have asked for a nicer spot, with a fantastic view out over Glen Nevis to “The Ben” and the Grey Corries, with Binnein Mor and Binnein Beag close enough to touch. Add to that a Greenshank on a rock next to the tent and it was sublime.

From there, I plodded up past the lochans on Binnein Mor where I had originally intended to camp but with the forecast and my feeling groggy I wasn’t quite feeling up to hauling the tent up there. A nice bouldery plod up the side of the NE ridge took me onto the flat section and the last 200m up the ridge were a pure delight on steep and solid rock, scrambling hither and thither, making it as hard as I wanted. Then a left turn along the very narrow summit ridge to the deserted cairn and views as far as the eye could see. Schiehallion in the east, Ben More, Stobinnian and Beinn Laoigh to the south, the sparkling Atlantic just peeking out from behind the coastal rolling hills and The Ben and his cohorts blocking the northerly vista. What a place.

Ben Nevis from Binnein Mor

I wandered down the North ridge for a bit until a wee cairn marked the start of a path down into the coire with the lochans, from where I made for the lochan over below Binnein Beag and the short and easy walk to the next summit, where I sat for ages and contemplated the extensive views over remote green countryside. From the bothy at Staoineag to the vast openness of Rannoch Moor, to the enclosing walls of the Grey Corries, the skyline rising eventually to the summit of the highest mountain in Britain. It was a strange feeling, thinking that, had I been wrong about climbing these hills before, Binnein Beag could have been my last Munro. My actual final one is to be the second top of the Buachaille, Stob na Broige but that’s not on the original list, which I started on all those years ago as a spotty yoof.

To my younger self I cocked my hat on reaching the end of a long journey and the beginning of many more. Could this really have been my last munro? I like to think perhaps, that in this fast paced world of intrusive technology, where “social” media gives us less time to be, well, sociable and one must be in several places at once, living as Silicon Slaves, a part of me from long ago reappeared and I recognised him. That adventurous spirited wanderer came back to me for just a moment or two to remind me who I am. What I am. I am a wanderer of the wild places. I am the Stravaiger!

As I sat on the summit I felt a wonderful calm come over me, felt the breeze play on my warm face and I felt like one of the brightly alive rocks surrounding me. I imagined being a mountain. Always being up here. Watching the sun rise and set, the stars emerge, intensify from summer waifs to winter warriers jostling for space in a crowded and deeply dark sky. The intensity of storms, the heat of summer, the absolute chill of winter snows. Not a thinking mountain. Not a mountain with opinions, fears, hopes, prejudices. Just a mountain. Being a mountain. Connected to the other mountains by the coursing winds. Solid waves in the ocean of eternity. We are not individual. We are a whole.

The sun setting behind Ben Nevis

By the time I struck camp the next morning I was 100% me again. I’d plugged into the wild places and revitalised my flagging energy cells. I’d looked out of the tent at 3am to see a bright northern sky and the first tendrils of mist making for The Ben. By 5am it was blowing a storm. In the lulls I listened to the quiet gurgling of a tiny water course near the tent, heard the soft rush of another blast coming down from the bealach, swoosh over the top of my protecting knoll and give the tent a shudder on the way past as some of its power leaked round the side of my little green protector. By 6am the rain was hammering against the tent, the stereo staccato of the raindrops one of the best noises in the world. The frequency rising and falling with the intensity of the gusts of wind carrying them.

I left at 7am and romped back to civilisation but with the memory of being a mountain for a time fresh in my invigourated mind. Wild camping. It’s good for the soul.

you can see all the pics here.