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The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal
An April Day in The Blackmount


By JOSEPH COATS, M.D.

I HAVE undertaken to continue the narrative of mountaineering in Northern Argyleshire which Mr Thomson so efficiently began in the last issue of the Journal. Writing some months after the event, I fear that much may have escaped my memory, even when aided by the careful notes made at the time by Mr Thomson, and kindly lent to me.

Our route for Monday, the 7th April last, was over some of the Blackmount peaks. This mass of mountain lies between Glen Etive on the one hand, and Glen Kinglass and the waters flowing from Loch Dochard into Loch Tulla on the other, and includes about a dozen fine peaks. A coach roads runs from Tyndrum (on the Oban Railway) to Kingshouse, and on to Glencoe and Glen Etive; and about mid-distance stands the comfortable inn of Inveroran on the shores of Loch Tulla.

Along this road I walked from Tyndrum to Kings- house on Saturday the 5th April, and found it a hot and weary journey. I can say that the heat exceeded anything I experienced in the whole of this summer, and that the weather throughout the expedition was less inclement than what I encountered amongst the Cairngorms in the months of July and August. I got to Kingshouse about four o'clock, ordered dinner, and awaited the appearance of Messrs Thomson and Naismith. They arrived about nine o'clock, in a condition which, I must confess, troubled me somewhat, from the look of exhaustion which prolonged exertion and fasting had produced. If an army proverbially marches on its stomach, the same may be said of the mountaineer; and although, from my own experience, I think that some Swiss guides overdo it in the matter of frequent eating, I believe that it is unwise to let more than three or four hours elapse when climbing without some solid food. [I write this with more confidence from a recent experience. In the middle of October last I started from Tyndrum about eleven o'clock, after a rather late breakfast, to climb Ben Lui. I had eaten so well that I thought I could last till four o'clock, but found how foolish this was by the time two hours had elapsed. I reached the top about two o'clock, and all the way back I experienced oceasionally that lightness of head which is the signal of want of internal supply. There was no feeling of fatigue, or difficulty in getting on, simply this unpleasant sensation, as if the brain needed support. It did not hinder me eating a substantial dinner, but did not disappear for some hours after.] The recuperative power of our two friends was shown in the marvellous improvement which a good supper (it would have been called dinner if they had arrived in time) almost immediately produced in their appearance. It may be interesting to add that the transformation was not assisted by anything stronger than tea.

We spent a quiet day on Sunday, merely walking six miles out into the Moor of Rannoch to get an idea of its vast level watery waste, and obtain a view of Loch Laidon.

In order to understand our route, the reader should con- suit the map in Baddeley's "Highlands of Scotland," unless he has the Ordnance Survey map. Baddeley's map, in this instance at least, is accurate, and the shading gives a good idea of heights and of the lie of the land. It will show that to the west of the road, between Kingshouse and Inveroran, there are two mountain masses, separated by a profound corrie, through which runs eastwards the river Ba. The northern of the two is Clach Leathad, or Clachiet (3,636 feet)—the latter name being evidently a phonetic spelling for the use of the Sassenach. The southern mass is called Stob Ghabhar (the hill of the goats), 3,565 feet. The head of the corrie is the ridge which unites the two mountains. It was our object to follow the summit line of both these mountains, and this we successfully accomplished.

A more unpromising morning for such an excursion could scarcely be imagined than Monday, 7th April. Called before six o'clock, I looked out of the small window of my bedroom towards the west, where should have been visible the Glencoe mountains. The whole landscape was enveloped in what was more substantial even than a Scotch mist. It was a pouring wet morning. We met in the breakfast-room under these doleful auspices, and discussed the day's proceedings over substantial bowls of porridge. To say that we scorned the weather would scarcely be correct, but at least we resolved that it would not prevent us making the attempt, and in the end we found that fortune favoured the brave. We were provided with maps, compasses, and aneroids, and, reflecting that if we could not get up we could always come down, we setoff on our predetermined course about seven o'clock.

We avoided inquiring at natives as to the way to the invisible mountain, certain that we should be strongly advised against the attempt; so we trudged on, independent of counsel. After following the Inveroran road for about two miles we took to the hill, using at intervals a track which we had seen in the distance the day before. Our object was to strike the eastern ridge, which we knew led to Meall a Bhuiridh, the first or lower peak of Clachiet.

We had not gone far on the heather before the clouds began to break up, and soon it ceased raining. The clearing of the weather, with the various cloud effects amongst the glens and corries, formed one of the finest features of this journey. None but the mountaineer has the opportunity of observing to the full the wonderful charms of landscape where cloud and sunshine interchange and alternate; and the April mountaineer has the advantage in this respect above others. The month of "sunshine and shower" is peculiarly the month for wonderful effects amongst our Scottish mountains.

What was rain below had been snow above, and we came upon new-fallen snow by the time we had reached i800 or I9oo feet. About the height of 2,000 feet the route is almost level for a considerable distance, and then there is a rather steep ascent to the eastern peak, or Meall a Bhuiridh. This was over a face of rock and snow, the former commonly covered with ice, but presenting no real difficulty. By this means we reached the top of Meall a Bhuiridh (about 3,500 feet), and saw the principal summit lying nearly due west of us, but with a narrow col and a considerable dip between. We descended this over scree, and climbed a rocky face on the opposite side. During this part of the journey, and indeed all day, the wind was very strong. We could see on all the higher ridges the snow flying like smoke. At the bottom of the col the wind whistled through the gap like a hurricane, and the snow was lashed wildly in our faces. It was a comfort to get behind a mass of rock on the face of the main peak for shelter from the chilling blast and drift. On this part of the mountain the storm had blown away the fresh fall, and it was the old snow we had to deal with, which was often as hard as ice.

Before we reached the summit, we had our first lunch about ten o'clock. It was blowing fiercely, so we left the snow-covered slope and crept amongst the rocks on the eastern face to find shelter. Even with this it was bitter enough, and we did not delay long over our repast.

In a few minutes more we reached the summit of the Clachiet at a height of 3,636 feet, and were able to look around and take our bearings. We could now see and identify some of the neighbouring mountains. My companions were able to point out the Buchailles, and trace their course of two days before. Then, beyond the northern side of Glencoe, we could make out the great white shoulder of Ben Nevis.

Nearer at hand, and nearly due south, was our next top, that of Stob Ghabhar. It was separated from us by the glen of the river Ba, ending in a steep corrie, whose sides were respectively the flanks of Clachlet and Stob Ghabhar. The connecting ridge showed a fine cornice, and the wind was sending up wreaths of drifting snow all along it. It was clear that we must get on to this ridge, and the only way to do it was to follow our side of the corrie round till it joined the other, although this involved a steep descent of 1300 feet. We clambered down, chiefly over scree and snow patches, but the snow was too soft for glissading.

Arrived at the bottom of this depression, we had an easy ascent to the ridge. It was only at its edge, where there was a cornice, and where the wild wind pelted the snow in our faces, that we felt slightly troubled, and were glad to get on the smoother back of the hill. From here to the top it was an easy walk, with an occasional intermediate hummock; but latterly the snow was very firm, and if it had been only a little steeper it would have been necessary to have recourse to step-cutting. We reached the top at 12.35.

It was too cold to remain long, but we had time to have another look around at the magnificent mountain view. The descent towards Inveroran was easy.

The force of the wind at these heights was demonstrated by the sight of a wire fence laid flat over considerable lengths, the iron supports not broken, but either torn from the stones in which their ends had been embedded, or with the adhering stones overturned along with them.

We got to Inveroran at 2.30, in time for a substantial lunch at the inn there, and afterwards drove to Tyndrum to catch the train to Glasgow at 5.40. Thus ended a day full of enjoyment and healthful exercise, for which I feel that I owe a debt of gratitude to the Club in having brought together the three companions, and having led us to undertake the enterprise.

This excursion offered further proof of the fact that we have in our own country, in the spring, a large field for most interesting mountain work. We had no such laborious step-cutting as my companions had experienced on the Buchailles two days previously, but there was enough without that to test the powers and call forth the energies of men of ordinary vigour. To those accustomed to the mountains in their summer and autumn aspects, such an experience is peculiarly exhilarating from its novelty and interest; and fortunately for those of us who are able to take a few days' holiday in April, the wintry character tarries in our mountains until better weather and longer light afford facilities for undertaking longer expeditions.


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