…Six Munros and Two Nights in Sourlies Bothy
Knoydart Munros – Route Introduction
The Knoydart Munros are some of the most wild and remote mountains in the UK. The six Munros featured in this route are – Meall Buidhe, Luinne Bheinn, Ladhar Bheinn, Sgurr na Ciche, Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr nan Coireachan. This route card explains the quickest way of getting to all six summits for a peak bagger in a single outing of 2.5 days.
Adventurer Nic walked this route on Sunday 13th October 2019 as part of her Munro Bagging Challenge. These were Munro numbers 275 to 280 for Nic. Here, she explains how you can bag these Munros too.
Knoydart Munros – Route Stats
Mountains: Meall Buidhe (946m), Luinne Bheinn (939m), Ladhar Bheinn (1,020m), Sgurr na Ciche (1,040m), Garbh Chioch Mhor (1,013m) and Sgurr nan Coireachan (953m)
Total Distance: 73.8km / 45.86miles
Total Ascent: 3,700m / 12,139ft
Approx Walk Time: 2.5 days
Grid Reference Start: NM 988916
Knoydart Munros – Route Report
Nic and James 0 – 1 Knoydart Munros
We initially attempted this walk the previous week. We drove to Loch Arkaig from Drumnadrochit, but a flooded road at the eastern end of the loch stopped us in our tracks.
There was a German traveller parked on the edge of the flood. We pulled up alongside him and he explained that he’d walked down the road in his wellies and returned when the water was about to go over his boots at the knee. He said he’d risk it in his car, but only if we went and tried it first. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud!
We immediately initiated Plan B, I didn’t fancy being a guinea pig for this random dude! At this point in the challenge we only had 11 Munros remaining out of the 282. I didn’t even entertain the thought of risking it when we were so close to the finish line.
Instead we headed to Dalwhinnie to complete the Ben Alder Munros first.
Reassessing our Approach to the Knoydart Munros
Two days later, after walking the Ben Alder Munros, we drove to Fort William and considered our options. We could –
a) Try driving the same road to the end of Loch Arkaig and take our chances on the flooding having receded
b) Book the ferry from Mallaig to Inverie and re-plot our walking route
c) Drive to Arnisdale and attempt to get a boat from there across to Barrisdale and re-plot our walking route
d) Drive to Kinloch Hourn and walk in from that side instead (but that would also involve re-plotting our full route)
Not only would options B-D involve route revisions, they would also be longer outings. We’d left the Munros in that area as such that we could walk in through the valley, do the furthest three Munros west in a day, then return to the car over the ridge picking up the remaining Munros. This wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t start at Loch Arkaig.
In addition, options B and C carried a cost and we were trying to keep our overall expedition costs to a minimum.
Given the recent weather and up coming forecast, we decided to stick to plan A and re-attempt the original approach to the Rough Bounds of Knoydart.
That meant getting food supplies from Lidl and getting on our way ASAP, otherwise we’d be finishing our day in the dark.
By pure fluke, we stumbled across our friend Neil and his friend Janey in Lidl. They were there to buy supplies for their long distance walk of The Skye Trail. We chatted for a while before grabbing our food and getting on the road.
En Route to the Knoydart Munros
My worst nightmare then happened. A small, white, scruffy-looking dog ran out into the road right in front of the car. I slammed on the brakes in an emergency stop just as a blonde Labrador came into view, chasing the dog in front.
I didn’t hit either of them but my heart was in my mouth and my stomach was churning as I watched them continue running into the woods to my right.
With both dogs long gone and still no sign of any owners, I meticulously checked the front of the car for any sign that I’d hit anything and there was nothing.
It was a very close shave and it took a good hour for me to calm down. When I close my eyes I can re-live the whole event as if it was yesterday.
With no sign of the earlier flood, we continued down the long, windy and undulating narrow road to the end of Loch Arkaig.
We parked up and got our stuff together. I asked James “Are you going to have a wee before we go?” and he asked “Are you going to drink a lot of water before we set off?” I realised we now routinely spoke to each other like parent and toddler. That’s what over a hundred days together on an endurance challenge does to a couple!
Walking through Glen Dessary
We set off in dry but cloudy weather conditions.
It was a 16km walk into Sourlies bothy and it started off well, on a nice wide track.
Conversation flowed freely and we were feeling positive that we felt well rested and strong despite it being the last few days of the challenge.
I showed my bright outfit off for the camera, complete with luminous pack cover. This was my deterrent to being accidentally shot by a deer stalker.
We walked through a very eerie section of woodland, where the trees were absolutely covered in pale moss.
We then walked through a section of the trail which was covered in raised slippery tree roots.
It felt very much like the natural environment was trying to reclaim the trails.
These paths certainly aren’t frequented as often as other areas of the Scottish Highlands.
A series of easy stream crossings later and we were back out onto more open ground.
A cyclist passed us, heading towards Loch Arkaig where we’d started.
We nodded a greeting, but little did we know he was going to be the last person we’d see for three days.
At the time we didn’t realise just how quiet this area would be.
This was probably amplified as we were entering the area late on a Sunday afternoon just as any weekend explorers were heading home to get ready to return to work.
From Glen Dessary to Sourlies Bothy
The path became rough and it was very sloppy underfoot from the recent heavy rain.
There were also sections of bog to avoid which started to slow us down.
We walked through a valley of mountains that looked like giant versions of the Langdale fells in the Lake District.
From Bealach an Lagain Duibh we could see Lochan a Mhaim in the distance. Another milestone of the route.
We both started to worry about the next day.
It was shaping up to be the longest and most pathless route of the whole challenge with a great deal of ascent.
Darkness fell quickly and James got angry with himself for getting his walking pole stuck in a bog. He really wanted to make it to the bothy before dark and we’d failed to do that.
As we took out our head torches I sighed with the realisation that our earlier positivity had somehow morphed into angst.
We passed a ruin before stumbling across Sourlies bothy just beyond it.
Sourlies bothy was empty which was a relief. Neither of us fancied the pressure of having to socialise in our respective moods.
The bothy had antlers above the fireplace and a couple of large sleeping platforms.
We organised our gear and settled down to a freeze dried meal. For dessert we added Haribo Goldenbears into a Summit To Eat Chocolate Mousse. Delicious!
Food was clearly what we needed as our moods lifted exponentially after this.
Over a hot chocolate, we reassured ourselves of the route for tomorrow (and the various escape options, should we need them). We set an early alarm and bedded down.
Day 1 Ascent
5am in Sourlies bothy – time to get our game faces on!
It was pitch black outside.
We left a bit of our gear and some food in the bothy, ensuring to hang the food from a dry bag on the rafters to ensure Angus (the resident mouse at Sourlies) didn’t deplete our supplies in our absence!
We stepped outside the bothy and looked out across Loch Nevis from Sourlies under the light of the moon.
It was so still and beautiful.
We made a navigational error immediately after leaving the bothy. This caused a lot of frustration and debate between us as to which way was the correct one. Luckily the komoot app came to the rescue – revealing a faint path that was not on either OS Maps or Viewranger.
The route took us up and over the crags above the beach at the far east of Loch Nevis before dropping steeply into what I can only describe as a swamp land! We hopped, skipped and jumped over saturated ground, desperately trying (but failing) to keep our boots dry.
We reached the bridge over the River Carnach. Luckily the new bridge had opened less than two months prior to our trip. The previous bridge had washed away in 2017 and hikers had been making crazy detours in the meantime.
Passing a ruin, we found a good path that took us up to the col between Meall Bhasiter and Sgurr Sgeithe.
From there we peeled off and made a steep grassy ascent, dodging the crags up to 780m where we gained the south east ridge of Meall Buidhe.
The Knoydart Munros: Day 1 Summits
Unfortunately the summit of Meall Buidhe was completely clouded over.
This meant we didn’t linger at the summit to celebrate reaching our first of the Knoydart Munros and instead we got straight on with the walk.
We were soon back below the cloud, heading northeast along the ridge towards Meall Coire na Gaoithe’n Ear.
To the left, we spotted Beinn Sgritheall in the distance, as we marched on in the direction of our second of the Knoydart Munros – Luinne Bheinn.
We continued past Meall Coire na Gaoithe’n Ear along the ridge to Bealach a’ Choire Odhair. From there we approached the ascent of Luinne Bheinn to the north west.
Despite the low cloud, we were in for a treat close to the summit of Luinne Bheinn, a brocken spectre!
This is a phenomenon that occurs when the sun is behind you and cloud in front of you. You see your own shadow with a rainbow coloured halo effect cast onto the cloud.
This was the second time on the challenge we’d been lucky enough to see a brocken spectre, the first being when we were climbing the Inaccessible Pinnacle on the Cuillin ridge on the Isle of Skye.
From the summit of Luinne Bheinn, we walked a short distance, immediately dropping out of the cloud, just as we had done with Meall Buidhe.
Luinne Bheinn offered cracking views down over Lochan an Dubh-Lochain and over towards Inverie.
We decided to stop for lunch looking over Loch Hourn with Beinn Sgritheall towering in the distance. We reflected on our progress with a smile.
After a short break, we dropped down over Bachd Mhic an Tosaich to the Mam Barrisdale pass, before heading over on pathless, rough terrain to the foot of Stob a’ Chearcaill.
An eagle soared above our heads as we looked up at the steep scramble section onto Stob a’ Chearcaill. From here there are a few ascent options, the safest of which is to head for a grassy ramp. We found it difficult to scout out the best way initially but just followed our noses, picking our way through grassy tufts and rocks to reach the top.
As we descended to the next col – Bealach Coire Dhorrcail – we were presented with this view of Ladhar Bheinn. A really stunning mountain from all angles.
There was one final push of ascent required to reach the summit of our third of the Knoydart Munros.
At one point on a small scramble section, I really struggled to hoist myself up a gap between two large rocks.
I was probably exhausted and in need of something to eat, but James spotted me from below as I managed to scramble up.
It was because of this small struggle – which seemed bizarre as I’d scrambled over all of the more technical Skye Munros, Aonach Eagach and countless other graded scrambles in the lead up this one – that I was so emotional upon reaching the summit of Ladhar Bheinn.
I actually cried on the summit. It finally hit me that we were coming to the end of the challenge and I was so proud of myself for overcoming the tough times.
I knew that in time, the pain would seep away and I’d just be left with the awesome memories of the rugged mountain scenery and I’d no doubt feel a sense of sadness that it was all over.
Pausing for a moment, I sat and breathed in the magic of the west coast of Scotland. I wanted to stay.
From the summit of Ladhar Bheinn, I admired the Isle of Rum (centre) and Eigg (left) before we discussed the descent.
Day 1 Descent
We had two options for the descent of Ladhar Bheinn. Either to retrace our steps or to descend north east to Barrisdale and follow the section of the Cape Wrath Trail back to Sourlies from there. Both would involve a great deal of walking and further ascent.
As the crow flies, the distance was 10km but unfortunately we’re not crows.
We chose to descend into Barrisdale and pick up the Cape Wrath Trail. The views were out of this world as we picked up the northeast ridge. Knoydart really is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, even on a dull day!
It was 3km of walking down the ridge until we reached and crossed the Allt Coire Dhorrcail. From there we followed a path that took us around the spur of Creag Bheithe and down a zig zag path to the Barrisdale bothy and campsite.
We were back at sea level, and a walk of 14km and a climb of nearly 500m still stood between us and Sourlies bothy. What remained of the walk was the kind of thing most people would stretch out to last all day on a nice Sunday. By contrast we’d already walked 26km and climbed over 2,000m and still needed to squeeze in the additional 14km. This was going to take all the strength we had.
The Last Push Uphill
It was getting late in the day and we set ourselves the target of reaching the highest point on the pass by dusk (at approximately 7pm).
We made good progress on the flat wide track, before picking up the stalkers path up Gleann Unndalain.
We got to the highest point of the pass, just as it was getting too dark to continue without head torches. Under the light of our torches, at 7pm, we ate our dinner. Hopeful that it would give us enough energy to complete the long descent back to Sourlies bothy.
It started drizzling and we quickly scoffed our dinner and continued walking. At least it was all downhill (ish) from here. We came off the path before it met the Allt Coire an Lochain and headed south over the pathless hillside towards the banks of the River Carnach.
Our concentration levels were high as we made our way over wet, steep ground in the pitch black. There were a few scattered crags to avoid.
The Long Dark Valley
Once we reached the river, we simply had to keep it on our left until we reached the bridge that we’d crossed earlier that morning. It felt like a lifetime ago!
Following the river seemed like a simple approach but it was far from it. There was bog, slick large slabs, dense woodland, bogus faint paths, countless stream crossings and it felt like an obstacle course. We were sure it was ten times harder in the dark than it would have been in daylight.
Our progress was painfully slow, often less than 2km per hour. At this rate we’d be getting back to Sourlies after midnight.
After hours of slow route finding, the main track appeared and we were finally making progress again. We saw a bright light up ahead, more powerful than any torch we’d ever seen. It seemed to be illuminating the hillside in waves. James wondered if it was a lighthouse but I knew there were no lighthouses around here. We were far too deep inland.
Eventually we made out a six wheeled vehicle and surmised it was a farmer or land owner lamping against the fell side. What for, we had no idea! They probably thought our presence was as bizarre as we thought theirs was, although we never got close enough to see them properly.
We crossed the bridge, relived to be back on familiar ground and we navigated our way across the swamp that we’d danced across earlier that morning. It also took us a while to pick out the route around the crags to Sourlies but we made it.
Back at Sourlies Bothy
I prayed there would be nobody sound asleep in the bothy. It was just after 11:30pm and I didn’t want to disturb anyone. But our luck was in – it was empty. We could spread out, stuff our faces with recovery food, cry about how much it hurt and laugh about how broken we we made ourselves all in the name of fun. We stretched out our tired muscles. I was amazed by how much strain I was able to put my body under without it giving up on me.
I got the shock of my life when I removed by boots and socks. My feet looked like zombie feet!
We’d been hiking over 40km for a total of 17 hours and 42 minutes and my feet had been wet within the first hour of the walk. I likened it to getting ‘prune’ fingers in a 17 hour bath!
Don’t even get me started on the smell. They were putrid. It was as if the flesh had actually died.
I started panicking that I’d never be able to walk out the next day. Surely the bottoms of my feet were going to totally peel off. Just at the point when I only had 5 Munros left to climb out of 282.
I aired them the best I could. Hanging my bare feet over the edge of the bench, trying desperately to dry them out.
We settled down to sleep just after 1am. I reluctantly covered my pathetic feet in dry socks and nestled into my sleeping bag, but I really struggled to nod off. My hips were so sore and my legs were in pain – the spasms came on and off throughout the night.
Morning in Sourlies Bothy
We woke in Sourlies bothy after a fitful sleep. My body was screaming at me. But laying down hurt, sitting up hurt and standing up hurt. I couldn’t win!
There was one thing I was keen to check….my feet!
I gingerly removed my socks and was absolutely astounded to see that the soles had gone back to normal overnight.
No blistering, no peeling skin, no white or red patches.
They were as good as new! Remarkable!
But now for the worst bit….putting my dry feet into yesterdays wet boots. James captured this photograph of me whilst I was geeing myself up to put them on.
After all the hardships of yesterday, this somehow felt like a bigger challenge!
We had four Munros on the agenda before getting back to the car – Sgurr na Ciche, Garbh Chioch Mhor, Sgurr nan Coireachan and Sgurr Mor. But we took the difficult decision to leave out Sgurr Mor. It would certainly require another head torch finish plus we didn’t have enough food to still be walking after dinner. Our energy reserves were heavily depleted and it felt like Sgurr Mor would be one Munro too far.
We read the signs in the bothy that gave us the acceptable lines to take to avoid deer stalking and we set off.
Day 2 Getting Going
As we ascended away from the bothy, we were feeling warm in the morning sun. I said to James that it was a shame we hadn’t seen Angus the bothy mouse. He smiled and said “Actually, I did”. Aghast, I asked him why he didn’t tell me, and he said that Angus was chilling just above the food preparation bench and he didn’t want to freak me out.
It was at this point that I realised James didn’t know me well at all. I would have LOVED to have seen the famous resident rodent of Sourlies!
Day 2 The Ascent
The ascent of the first Munro was tough, it was almost wholly pathless.
We marched up through primarily tufty grass which was rocky in parts.
I can best describe that we hauled our broken bodies upwards in any way we could.
I was thankful for the help of my walking poles.
We stopped for breaks to take on food and it didn’t matter how much we ate, we were never full.
We must have been running a huge calorie deficit at this stage in the route, especially after such a big day yesterday.
James hit the wall half way up the ascent, which was brutally steep. It was one of the only times on the challenge that I saw him really struggle. The best I could do was force him to eat more food and get him to focus on the stunning surroundings and how lucky we were to call this place home for a few days.
With revised motivation, we soon reached the rocky undulating ridge, the summit looked impenetrable from this angle and we were thankful for the excellent visibility.
Behind us were fantastic views over Loch Nevis, including each of the three Knoydart Munros we’d hiked the previous day.
Due to our low energy, we stopped to eat lunch really early and the marvellous views across the Rough Bounds of Knoydart ensured we stayed positive. We’d made it to just below the ‘nipple’ of Sgurr na Ciche. But instead of hitting the steep face head on, we traversed to the right along the 900m contour until we found the main path up Sgurr na Ciche which cut into the north face.
The Knoydart Munros: Day 2 Summits
Sgurr na Ciche
The path wound it’s way up through the crags and we topped out on the summit next to a large cairn.
We’d made it. Number four of the Knoydart Munros in the bag.
With the main ascent out of the way, we were psyched to continue on. We knew the hardest bit was behind us and it was such a relief.
We took some time to really enjoy the Sgurr na Ciche summit views. I think Sgurr na Ciche has to be up there in my top 5 Munro summit vistas.
I needed a bit of first aid first though, I’d somehow scratched the back of my finger on a boulder when scrambling to reach the path up Sgurr na Ciche. It was one of those annoying tiny cuts that just wouldn’t stop bleeding.
We could see as far as the Cuillin ridge from here. It was cloud free and it made us think that our Cuillin guide Adrian would probably be having a whale of a time up there today with some lucky clients. The conditions were perfect for climbing.
We took a big gulp of water and swung around to admire the view in the other direction, down towards Loch Cuaich.
Garbh Chioch Mhor
From Sgurr na Ciche, we descended steeply to the col between this and the next Munro -Garbh Chioch Mhor.
We followed a path that ran alongside a wall and up to the summit of Garbh Chioch Mhor and rejoiced in the fact that it seemed these two Munros were in spitting distance of one another!
The wind had picked up a little by this point, but we were loving the sunshine.
Sgurr nan Coireachan
From Garbh Chioch Mhor, we descended onto the ridge which would lead to our final Munro of the day, in fact, the last of our Knoydart Munros of the route – Sgurr nan Coireachan.
It was a rugged looking ridge, full of lumps and bumps, with the old wall running down its spine.
A faint path meant that navigation was straight forward. Plus, there weren’t many other options than to stick to the crest of the ridge.
Whilst undulating up and down along the ridge, we looked down to the right and we could see the route that we’d taken two days ago on the evening walk in to Sourlies bothy.
I was much happier up on the dry rock of the ridge than I was on the sloppy valley floor.
At 953m, Sgurr nan Coireachan was quite a bit smaller in height than the earlier two Knoydart Munros which was a bonus.
We made the final bit of ascent onto the summit and looked back along the ridge. What an achievement!
Day 2 Descent
With just the descent to go, we took one last glance down the valley and headed off Sgurr nan Coireachan to the south, into Glen Dessary.
The route was easy to follow, using stepped grassy shelves in the hillside.
We made it down to the main path in the valley and paused by a stile to eat the last of our food supplies, a Dairy Milk chocolate bar.
We hit the main track and fast marched back to the car. Concluding that the Rough Bounds of Knoydart really had lived up to their name!
We made it to car just as it was going dark. We ate a huge amount of food that night, including freeze dried meals, cous cous, tinned tuna, rice, noodles, cereal, crisps, chocolate, dried fruit, anything we could get our hands on! Our stomachs were bottomless pits.
I’m ashamed of what came next. Generally, in these circumstances, we made the effort to wild camp away from the car and it would be easy for me to pretend that we hiked back into the wild that night to pitch our tent. But this is an honest article so I’ll share, warts and all! We still needed to walk from here to Sgurr Mor the next day and we were miles from anybody so we crudely pitched the tent right next to the car in the car park. By far our cheekiest wild camp.
We nicknamed the Knoydart Munros:
- Meal of Bird – Meall Buidhe
- Lunar Being – Luinne Bheinn
- Ladder Begin – Ladhar Bheinn
- Scoffed A Shish (kebab) – Sgurr na Ciche
- Garbled Choc Whore – Garbh Chioch Mhor
- Scupper Nan’s Curry Eating – Sgurr nan Coireachan
Find out why we nicknamed all 282 Munros here.