I wanted a challenge for my birthday and with limited days available, Scotland became the favourite destination. Then again, despite how many days we have, Scotland is always the favourite destination for adventure!
For a few years I’ve loved combining my lifelong passion of walking in the hills, with my relatively new found passion of mountain biking. After plenty of research we settled on Kinlochleven and the stunning Mamores. Our aim were the two Munroes Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor, with a nights bivi at some point on the way.
Making our base Kinlochleven, we had 3 days to play with so were lucky enough to be able to choose the best weather window. We set off from the town ladened with bivi gear and a fair amount of tuna and eggs. My ridiculously restricted diet being still in force!
As soon as we started the ascent I realised how heavy my bike was, eeek, but once in the swing of it, the wheels kept turning. We were soon rewarded with fantastic views back down the loch and it was worth every pedal stroke. Starting at 50m elevation, we managed to pedal a fair way on a fire road and along a single track up to 400m. From there the singletrack became too steep and rocky, so we hiked. With somewhat makeshift bar bags my bike was a little tricky to heave on to my back with the bags swinging around, bashing me in the head. But with a few sideways then forwards dance steps and dabs, I soon found my balance, and up we hiked.
Stopping for a navigational check on the shoulder of Sgor Eilde Beag we sat in the shade and out of the wind. After 30 seconds the midges were all over us, argh! We had been lucky with the weather so far, bright sunshine and breeze, but in the shade and shelter it was a different matter. We agreed to sleep in the most exposed and windiest place
The hike up had a couple of steep narrow paths where it was best to look up and not let the heavily weighted bike take me off balance too much! Despite this, hikes like these are like a much-needed pilgrimage for me. Every step takes me higher into the mountains providing breath-taking views at every turn. I leave any stresses behind stuck in my muddy foot prints. Sometimes I pick them up on the way back down, but sometimes I leave them there, to dry out and fade away.
A final push up a steep and exposed face brought us onto the ridge of Sgor Eilde Beag. Once there we could ride much of the way up the ridge on a wide track, reaching the summit between Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor about 7pm. The light was stunning, it was calm and we hadn’t seen anyone else all day. We chose the best bivi spot, flat (ish) with a breeze and stunning views. It was the first time I’d used my new thermarest called Nemo and I loved it so much I was far too keen on getting it out and blowing it up. I was sure I’d put enough weight on it to keep it safe.
Being a little low on water we scanned the map for the nearest spring. It was just to our right and half way across to Na Grugaichean. Hiking over to the spring was stunning, such a still and calm with stags and deer grazing on the hillside around us. The spring quietly popped out of the hillside just below the ridge before joining with other springs to form a huge powerful tumulous waterfall further down the hillside. The water was just the best I’d ever tasted!
Since we were half way up we decided to hike to the summit of Na Grugaichean just as night was falling. My 40th Munro for my 40th birthday. That worked out well.
The sun was setting and shed a purply shadow from the pap of Glencoe towards us down the loch. The light was stunning and we were surrounded with a vast magical arena of some of Scotlands finest mountains, the Aonach Eagach ridge, Bidean Nam Bian, behind us the Mamores leading to The Grey Corries and Ben Nevis range.
Once back at camp I noticed that nemo had disappeared. Eeeek! I was sure I’d put enough weight on it to keep it down in the breeze! When we located it 10 minutes later half way down a ridge face to the North East I realised maybe it wasn’t quite enough! Ooops. It looked easy enough to get down and retrieve it, which we did. Next time, I would leave it there! It was incredibly steep with soggy grasses slopes and loose rocks for holds. Still we retrieved nemo and the three of us made it back to camp in one piece. I felt like a total thermorest amateur.
The night was beautifully calm, quiet and peaceful. No mobiles, no connection with the outside world. No noises or movement other than the sky changing from blue to orange to red to purple. Getting into the wilds always calms me and I can relax like nowhere else.
It never really went dark, although the temperature did fall unusually for that time of the year to minus 3. In the middle of the night we noticed the top of our shelter was covered in ice, something Dan struggled with given that he had only taken a bivi bag and left his sleeping bag at home! I will brag about helping him out and saving his shivering self by giving him my bag, but I was sooo glad when the sun came up and shone its warm glow on us. Dan won the amateur sleeping bag award.
After breakfast we hiked up Binnein Mor and were blown away by the views. No one in sight, completely calm and the sun was shining.
We had originally thought of riding along the ridge and descending to the North but the ridge was unrideable. So we stuck with the plan and descended from our bivi spot back to Kinlochleven. The descent was steep and exposed for the first 200m, but afterwards was 80% ridable without a gate or any other interruption. 1000m of clear singletrack descent.
The descent was technical and challenging in places and at times too much for a loaded bike. Other sections were awesome flowy singletrack. The trails directly above Kinochleven are fantastic techy natural singletracks and well worth a visit if you haven’t already. We arrived back with smiles on our faces and souls restored. Can’t wait for the next adventure!
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