Hill: Ben More (Isle of Mull)
Date: Saturday 7th February 2015
Company: Myself, Dave, Donnie and Malcolm
Distance: 15.5km, Ascent: 1,140m
Time: 7Hrs

On Friday evening, plans were hatched for an ascent of Ben More on the Isle of Mull.

As we were based in Corran this would involve catching the ferry from Corran to Ardgour, driving from Ardgour to Lochaline, catching the ferry from Lochaline to Fishnish and then driving to the starting point at Loch na Keal. After ascending Ben More we would also have to reverse the aforementioned ensuring that we were back to Fishnish by 18:05, at the latest, to catch the last ferry back to the mainland.

The MWIS forecast suggested 100-200m of cloud layers with an average windspeed of 20 - 25mph with no mention of any gusts. We therefore set off hoping to climb above inversion and for the wind to have little effect on our 'wee adventure'. As the forecast was reasonable we decided to ascend via the A'Chioch ridge and descent via the 'tourist' route.

We parked just off the B8035 next to the Abhainn na h-Uamha. There is currently a small construction site here for the building of a hydro scheme. Thanks to Malcolm for driving.

Click here to see a map of the route undertaken

After getting suited and booted, we set off following the rough track that runs alongside the Abhainn na h-Uamha. Conscious of not missing the last ferry back, we progressed at a good pace.

Looking across Loch na Keal to Eorsa:

Walking alongside the Abhainn na h-Uamha:

From the outset the hills were plastered in cloud. Was this a 100-200m layer of cloud? I had my doubts.

Ben More in low cloud:

The Abhainn na h-Uamha is a lovely burn with crystal clear water.

Abhainn na h-Uamha waterfalls:

Beyond the waterfalls, I was disappointed to see a large pipe just sitting alongside the abhainn. I really hope they intend to bury this pipe and not leave it sitting next to the abhainn. It is currently an eyesore.

New Abhainn na h-Uamha hydro scheme:

Looking back towards Loch na Keal and Eorsa:

On reaching a small dam we gave a wave to the guy in the JCB but got no response. He probably thought we were nuts .

Hydro scheme under construction:

While it was nice to get beyond the hydro scheme construction, we were soon walking in cloud.

During the ascent to the col, between Ben More and Beinn Fhada, the snow was soft and patchy. There was hardly any snow compared with the walk I had undertaken the day previous near Bridge of Orchy.

Short break during ascent towards the col between Ben More and Beinn Fhada:

Ascent towards the col between Ben More and Beinn Fhada:

Instead of aiming for the col, we hit the ridge 20-30m above the col. By this time I had put my DSLR into the rucksack as it was getting wet and visibility was so bad taking photos was pointless.

As we made our way up the ridge towards A'Chioch, I think we all had growing concerns with this approach. The snow was fine and we could cope with almost zero visibility as you can't really mis-navigate following a sharp ridge. However, the wind was not 20-25mph as MWIS had suggested, it felt more like 40-50mph and was hitting us in a crosswind blowing us sideways as we progressed up the ridge. Despite this ridge being an easy scramble in summer, the really strong crosswind together with snow and almost zero visibility made us decide that discretion is the better part of valour and so we retreated back down the ridge .

The hills will always be there for another day and the secret is for you to be there too to enjoy them.

I have included a photo of the A'Chioch ridge that I took in 2004. Imagine doing this in zero visibility with snow underfoot whilst being blasted sideways by gale force winds.

A'Chioch ridge (taken in 2004):

On returning to just below the col I was not particularly keen on giving up and heading back. One option considered was to ascend Beinn Fhada instead. Our favoured option however was to somehow get onto the 'tourist' track and get up to the summit that way whilst still ensuring we did not miss our last ferry back!

The easiest but longest option would have been to descend back down to 250-300m and then skirt round An Gearna to eventually meet the 'tourist' track. I was not however keen on losing so much height. Could we skirt round the coire just below the cliffs and find a weakness up through the cliffs?

We found what looked like a small weakness in the cliffs that would allow us to continue on without the need to skirt round below An Gearna. We couldn't see a thing as visibility was still awful so we were relying on the accuracy of the map.

Skirting just over 2km round the coire was hard work as the coire was full of soft snow. We managed to pick out a line avoiding the worst of the drifts.

Myself skirting round Lag a'Bhasdair (photo by Dave):

After 2km of traversing, we reached the point where we thought we could make a steep ascent up between two cliffs. From what we could see, it looked good .

Before heading up this steep section, we all got out our ice axes but didn't bother with crampons. The snow was still sufficiently soft to allow us to kick-in steps.

Dave just below steep ascent leading to Coire nam Fuaran:

Getting the axes out just below steep ascent leading to Coire nam Fuaran (photo by Dave):

We took turns up front with this steep section and all made it with relative ease onto the NNW ridge of Ben More. On the map, the NNW ridge looked a reasonable route to the summit however as we still had very poor visibility we decided not to chance an unknown ridge and to instead continue on as planned to pick up the 'tourist' track.

We now had to skirt round Coire nam Fuaran to pick up the 'tourist' track. The traverse of this coire was much easier than the traverse of the previous one. It was a relief to reach the track and time was still on our side. We had around 1.5 hours available to ascend 300m and cover 1.5km distance. Nae problem .

Ascending the 'tourist' route:

The ascent of the main track was nice and easy despite still having to battle against strong crosswinds.

Following the cairns up the 'tourist' route:

On reaching a height of circa 900m, we saw our first glimpse of the sun. Would we get above the cloud, or would the cloud burn-off?

Our first glimpse of the sun:

The next photo highlights the visibility we encountered on both the A'Chioch ridge and the 'tourist' track.

Poor visibility en-route to the summit:

It felt great to eventually reach the summit. On reaching the summit there was still almost zero visibility but we were happy nonetheless.

Malcolm approaching the summit of Ben More:

Photos were taken with several cameras and then the cloud started to dissipate. Perfect timing to have reached the summit .

Malcolm, Dave and Donnie at the summit of Ben More:

Malcolm, Dave and Myself at the summit of Ben More (photo by Donnie):

Lots more photos were then taken.

Above the clouds at the summit of Ben More:

Above the clouds at the summit of Ben More:

Looking back from the summit:

A'Chioch ridge coming into view:

Panorama from the summit of Ben More:

Loch Scridain from the summit of Ben More:

We were now all fairly comfortable that we would not miss the last ferry. We did not however relax our pace.

Descent via the 'tourist' route:

Looking back to the summit of Ben More:

Descent from Ben More:

Looking back during descent:

During the descent we all had some fun glissading.


Looking back to Ben More:

Looking back to Ben More:

We eventually crossed the Abhainn Dhiseig to pick up a track on the other side. To cut off circa 1km of distance, we took a more direct route back to the car. This wasn't the best of ideas as the underfoot terrain was pretty-bad.

Descent alongside the Abhainn Dhiseig:

We made it back to the road and the car not only in time for the 18:05 ferry, or the 17:10 ferry but with ample time to catch the 16:25 ferry .

Back onto the B8035:

To end an excellent day, we were treated to an excellent sunset. We stopped to take some photos in Ardgour and also from aboard the Corran ferry.

Nice sunset taken from Ardgour:

Nice sunset taken from Ardgour:

Nice sunset taking from aboard the Corran ferry:

A brilliant day out. Thanks Dave, Donnie and Malcolm.