Sgurr Eilde Mor lit by the setting sun with the dramatic Coire an Lochain down below.

Wild camping in the Eastern Mamores: A traverse over Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor

Camillo Berenos Photography Hiking and hillwalking, Scottish Highlands, Trip report, Wild camping Leave a Comment

My recent humble efforts in documenting the grand mountain scenery which exists plentiful in Scotland have been mainly concentrated in the far north-west corner of Scotland: Wester Ross and Sutherland, thereby largely ignoring the mountain ranges closer to Edinburgh. And indeed, recently, when decent weather was forecasted, I was already studying maps, guidebooks and walk reports on Walkhighlands to pick a walk in Wester Ross which would be scenic and equally important, suitable for wild camping on higher ground. But then, decent weather forecast turned into only low probabilities of cloud-free summits in the north, and much better weather being predicted in the Southern Highlands, so I knew a change of plans was needed. I don’t mind a fair bit of walking in the clag, but I do when having to drive over 4 hours each way.

After lots of pondering, I settled for the Mamores. For inexplicable reasons I’d never walked in the Mamores, despite having done lots of walks in the mountains nearby, so this would be an ideal opportunity to fill in this gaping hole in my hillwalking experience. Some more perusing walk reports followed, and it transcended that I decided on doing Binnein Mor and Na Gruagaichean, tackling the latter first. This is the reverse of how most people would do this route, as the usual descent off Na Gruagaichean is pathless and unpleasantly steep, and, according to virtually every trip report I read, pleasantness was further compromised by the muddy, boggy and grassy conditions which sounded like a perfect recipe for unwanted slips and trips. When carrying an unreasonable amount of camping and photo gear I tend to be a bit more conservative when assessing suitability of routes. Another benefit of doing these hills in this order was that after the most likely decent pitch (Sgor Eilde Beag) only a short and largely downhill walk was needed to get back to the car, ensuring a relatively early arrival back home.

Setting off from Kinlochleven, the walk in to the foot of Na Gruagaichean was very pleasant, first passing through some beautiful deciduous woodlands, later following a pleasant stalkers’ path through more typical upland moorland. But indeed, the ascent of Na Gruagaichean was steep indeed, and the terrain was pretty much a near vertical bog. I tried not to think of what would happen if I would trip, instead focusing on picking a decent line towards the ridge. A consequence of the steepness was that while taxing on my always underdeveloped cardiovascular system, the suffering was over relatively soon as the ridge was reached and a much welcomed stiff breeze helped tone down the worst of the overheating symptoms I experienced. After reaching the ridge at Leachd na h-Aire, the slope eased substantially, and it was just a hop, skip and a jump until the summit of Na Gruagaichean was reached. The views were truly out of this world, as expected with impressive mountain massifs such as the Ring of Steall and Ben Nevis nearby. I did spend quite some time there, taking in the views, having a bite, and just giving my feet a break. Quite a change from the fast-paced monster walk I did only a few weeks earlier

The subsequent walk to Binnein Mor was child’s play, as the height differences weren’t too big, and there were well trodden paths avoiding the most exposed bits on the ridge leading off Na Gruagaichean.

 

Na Gruagaichean from Binnein Mor, Eastern Mamores.

Here Na Gruagaichean can be seen from Binnein Mor. The final bit of ascent to the summit of Na Gruagaichean followed the here shaded ridge coming from the left, while the walk off Na Gruagaichean to Binnein Mor followed the narrow arete in the foreground.

 

Binnein Mor, the highest summit of the Mamores at 1130 meters, proved to be an even better vantage point than Na Gruagaichean. Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg were very prominent to the north, and the great summits of the Ring of Steall chain looked every bit as intimidating as the name implies.

 

Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Beag from Binnein Mor
Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Beag from Binnein Mor

 

Sgurr a' Mhaim behind An Garbhanach and Stob Choire a' Chairn
Sgurr a’ Mhaim behind An Garbhanach and Stob Choire a’ Chairn (Ring of Steall)

 

Binnein Beag from the northern tip of the summit of Binnein Mor
Binnein Beag from the northern tip of the summit of Binnein Mor. The Grey Corries can be seen in the background.

 

Looking out over Binnein Beag and the Grey Corries from Binnein Mor
Looking out over Binnein Beag and the Grey Corries from Binnein Mor.

 

After quite a long break on Binnein Mor and almost wearing the shutter of my poor 6D out, it was time for a very slow walk towards Sgor Eilde Mor, where the plan was to find a place to pitch the tent.

 

Sgurr Eilde Mor and Sgorr Eilde Beag sidelit by the setting sun
Sgurr Eilde Mor and Sgor Eilde Beag (on the right) sidelit by the setting sun. I was hoping to find a flat bit of grass on Sgor Eilde Beag to set up my tent. Blackwater reservoir can be seen on the right.

 

And indeed, I managed to find an almost perfect place to pitch my tent on Sgor Eilde Beag. Relatively sheltered from the wind, kind of flat, and not too boggy. And many great options for photographs could be found in the immediate vicinity, which meant little walking was required once I’d set up the tent! Unfortunately, while the light softened in anticipation of sunset, the clouds rolled in too, and the sun played hide and seek for most of the time, just as I was ready to capture some monster shots! Rapid reaction to changing light was called for to capture those fleeting moments. I did find myself in the wrong spots when the best light presented itself, but that’s just the name of the game I suppose.

 

Sgurr Eilde Mor lit by the setting sun with the dramatic Coire an Lochain down below.
Sgurr Eilde Mor lit by the setting sun with the dramatic Coire an Lochain down below. This was probably one of the highlights of that evening (light-wise), but I failed to find a great foreground to match the quality of light. Sometimes light trumps composition however, and I hope this is one of those instances..

 

Sgurr Eilde Mor partially turning red by the setting sun with rocks on Sgor Eilde Beag in the foreground

Sgurr Eilde Mor partially turning red by the setting sun with rocks on Sgor Eilde Beag in the foreground.

Sgurr Eilde Mor partially turning red by the setting sun with rocks on Sgor Eilde Beag in the foreground. Binnein Beag can be seen on the far left.

 

Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnein Beag on the left from a rocky outcrop on Sgor Eilde Beag
Sick of Sgurr EIlde Mor already? As you can see, I’m not! Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnein Beag on the left from a rocky outcrop on Sgor Eilde Beag. Some lenticular clouds are seen on the right too, they’re a marvellous sight.

 

But while Sgurr Eilde Mor deserved to be in the limelight, I also tried to keep an eye on what was happening in the other direction. As the mountains were much more distant, a lens swap was needed and I grabbed my 70-200. Long focal length are great for compressing the landscape, and especially with soft light like this, it can lead to beautiful layered mountainscapes.

 

Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor) in glowing side light as the sun sets behind the Mamores, seen from Sgor Eilde Beag
The famous Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor) in glowing side light as the sun sets behind the Mamores, seen from Sgor Eilde Beag.

 

The Pap of Glen Coe (Sgorr na Ciche) with Sgorr Dhearg rising behind it at sunset
The Pap of Glen Coe (Sgorr na Ciche) with Sgorr Dhearg rising behind it at sunset.

 

The sky turning vibrant red behind Na Gruagaichean at sunset
The sky turning vibrant red behind Na Gruagaichean at sunset. I had to desaturate the sky here, as the red channel would blow here, such was the intensity of this sunset.

 

Looking back, I do wonder if perhaps I should have run up to Binneir Mor again instead of focusing solely on Sgurr Eilde Mor? In reality, I don’t think I would have had the legs for it anyway, and I try to soothe myself with the notion that this is what happens to every photographer out there: the best light is always were we’re not! It’s not as if I have any reason to complain anyway, as I felt that I had taken a number of fairly decent shots (at least for my standards) that evening.

So, after all this excitement, it was time for bed! The wind picked up at night, meaning that there was a lot of flapping of the tent sheets, which sometimes kept me awake, but I got a reasonable amount of sleep, so I was ready for action when my alarm went off at an ungodly hour!

 

A tent pitched while wild camping in the Mamores, Scotland, with the mountain massifs of Glen Coe in the background
My small tent during a wild camp on Sgorr Eilde Beagin the Mamores, Scotland, with the mountain massifs of Glen Coe in the background.

 

Torch lit tent high up in the Mamores while wild camping in Scotland

The last bit of a spectacular sunset fades behind my tent while wild camping on Sgor Eilde Beag.

 

And dawn did not disappoint! There was a fair bit cloudage, which in combination with the blue hour light, created a haunting feeling.

 

Clouds above Sgurr Eilde Mor, as scree cone and Munro in the Mamores, at dawn
Clouds above Sgurr Eilde Mor during the blue hour at dawn. Coire an Lochain reflected some ethereal silver light, adding some contrast to the dark foreground.

 

Sgurr Eilde Mor with Coire an Lochain below its steep scree slopes at dawn, from Sgor Eilde beag
Sgurr Eilde Mor with Coire an Lochain below its steep scree slopes at dawn, from Sgor Eilde Beag. The moss and grass in the foreground were covered in tiny droplets due to the dew, which brightened the otherwise dark tones.

 

Sgurr Eilde Mor's summit partially shrouded by clouds at dawn
Sgurr Eilde Mor’s summit partially shrouded by clouds at dawn.

After this the clouds rolled in for real and visibility was restricted to only the direct vicinity. For a moment I feared I wouldn’t be able to find back my tent, which was a couple of hundred meters away. Of course my fears were unsubstantiated, though I must admit that it blended in a little too well with the surroundings! It didn’t take too long to take down the tent, and stuff everything into my rucksack. Now all that remained was a downhill walk to Kinlochleven. Passing through Coire an Lochain, the clouds momentarily lifted just enough to reveal Sgurr Eilde Mor. The sun was even trying to pierce through the clouds on the right, creating some dynamic light conditions. I couldn’t help myself opting for a long exposure here, and I felt that this scene looked best in black and white.

 

Sgurr EIlde Mor from Coire an Lochain as clouds shroud its summit in very moody conditions
Sgurr Eilde Mor from Coire an Lochain as clouds shroud its summit in very moody conditions.

 

After Coire an Lochain walking was eased by the excellent stalkers’ paths and progress was made really quickly. All of the mountains were shrouded in clouds, and I felt a little sad not being able to see them one last time. But I’m sure it won’t be too long until we’ll meet again!

At roughly 16km long and 1500m of total ascent, this walk was a lot more enjoyable with regards to physical and mental effort required than my previous walk over the Fisherfield Six. As a consequence, there was more room for enjoying the stunning surroundings and much more time for photography. Less fatigue meant that I was perhaps more inclined to play with different compositional approaches, and though it’s a bit early to draw any conclusions, I feel that it shows in the photographs I came home with. Valuable note to self: it’s OK to not be overambitious when planning a walk if photography is a major component of the outdoor experience!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. If you’d like to see more of my mountain photographs, please have a look in my Mountains of the Scottish Highlands gallery. Prints can be purchased here.

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