Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Outer Fife 4: Tour De Ben Nevis

Route Points: Nevis Range, Fort William, Kinloch Leven, Meannanach Bothy, Lairig Leacach Bothy, Spean Bridge

Route Type: Epic Day Out

Access Type: Rights of Way, Long Distance Routes, etc.

Route Access:

Nevis Range: From the Gondola or Leanachan Forest Car Parks head down either the road, Broom Stick Blue or 10 Under the Ben Marked Routes to the old road to Torlundy.

Fort William: Take Glen Nevis road to the West Highland way turn off.

Kinloch Leven: Climb up to the Mamore Lodge Hotel and onto the higest marked landrover track on the OS.

Meannanach Bothy: Take the path over to Lairig Leacach

Lairig Leachach Bothy: Follow the road towards Spean Bridge

Spean Bridge: Either head up to wards the Lairig Leachach and start through Leanachan forest or take the road to Nevis Range.

Publications of this book:
Kenny Wilson: Mountain Bike Scotland "Blue Book"
Phil McKane: Scotland MountainBiking the wild trails "White Book"
No Fuss Events: Tour De Ben


This route is a true epic, No Fuss use a similar route for their Tour De Ben race in September each year, with the fastest times being around the 4 hour mark and the longest being 8 or 9, they run a broom waggon that picks you up at Kinloch Leven if you haven't made it there in 3 hours and Spean Bridge if you aren't at the turn into Leanachan forest after 7.

The distance I recorded was over 70km, and it's a tough 70km at that.

Starting at Nevis Range we headed down the access road and onto the Torlundy road, this is marked up as part of a Blue route and joins the cycle path into Fort William once you reach the main road.  When the Cycle Path cuts over to Corpach join the road and continue to the Glen Nevis Roundabout.

The No Fuss route diverges here as they take a tarmac road to avoid the West Highland way climb.  We headed into Glen Nevis and stopped breifly at the Cow Hill access convinced that was the WHW but there is no post there (It was previously the WHW access) continuing on past the Youth Hostel we realised we were far to far in and turned back towards the small retail area where we eventually spotted the WHW post.

The BenLooking out the glen

This route up the WHW is very good wide estate road, some sections even appear to be either tar or very well compacted.  After a few switchbacks up the hill we were rewarded with cracking views both out the glen and to the Ben where some of the winters snow remained.  Or it may have been the previous night's snow as despite a forecast for rain showers what we actually encountered was hail showers, slightly more painful than rain but much more pleasant due to not needing to dry off...

This eventually turns to narrow rock strewn pathwhich isn't great for only your 3rd trip on SPD shoes!  There is a steep set of steps followed by a steep loose climb where I had my first fall of the day and couldn't get retarted.  Thankfully it isn't too long and flattens out at the top and you are at the summit of this section of the ride, but the route remains rocky from here to pretty much Spean Bridge.

Rush hour at the WHW Section Summit

Approaching Lochan Lunn Da BhráThe Road to the Mamores
Here we started to meet some serious traffic as midday approached but from the summit there is also a rather nice section of single track where I added 3 more SPD related falls to my daily total this leads down to the Military Road at Lochan Lunn Da Bhrá where the No Fuss route joins.

Along here is a cairn where the Campbells followed the MacDonalds in their flight from Glen Coe, at the side of the road lies the site of a memorial stone raised in defiance of the Campbells by the MacDonands, the stone is long gone but a cairn and information sign sit at the side of the road.

Continuing along the road the West Highland Way drives down to Kinlochmore and the No Fuss route also descends for a special stage however to save a tough rocky climb we stated high past the tv transmitter and the Mamore Lodge Hotel and then round the private dwellings on a narrow path.
The road descends in towards the Coiree na Bá and then climbs steeply up to a well placed memorial bench with excellent views out over Loch Leven.

Loch LevenLoch Leven
This cracking view point was the perfect place to stop for a decent sized lunch as it is also very close to the summit before a good plunge to the lochs Eilde Mór and Beag.  Here my hairdtail advantage saw me miles ahead of Alex, eventually I stopped as I couldn't see him behind, and then waited, and waited, and got cold so I set off back to see where he was, eventually I saw him in the distance gonig at normal speed. Usual cyclist story "P*ncture".

Loch Eilde Mór looking to Meall an Doire DharaichLoch Eilde Mór looking to the Locheilt Lodge

The road here is good, reasonably flat and not too rocky for a decent distance and we made decent progress to the ruins at Lúibeilt where there was a bog to cross, another short break and then the river crossing, and with feet wetter than fish's piecebox set off up the "Hike a Bike Section".

Heading to the Lúibeilt Ruins and Meannanach Bothy with Ben Nevis and Aonach Mohr in the backgroundLooking back to the Mamores from Druim Nan Sac.
If you really needed to return to Fort William you could by heading west in the valley before this clim to the Steall but you would have a tough walk throguh the gorge to the Glen Nevis car park.

The Hike-a-Bike section is tough trudge to the cairns at Druim nan sac, this is billed by No Fuss and Phil McKane as Hike-a-Bike and it is along way up before you can realistically consider getting back on the bike, even after the summit I found it very tough going on the Hard Tail while Alex was able to batter on, on his All Mountain Full Sus.  It was here I also had my 6th and last fall of the day, it wasn't even a heavy fall as I travelled no mare than a 30 cm from sitting on saddle to lying against a rock but I was so tired by this point that the shock went right through me. 
However as the path goes on it gets steeper and now wider for the descent to Lairig Leacach, nowq it was my turn for a visit from the puncture fairy, thankfully it was a slow puncture that had been coming for a while but when I stopped I briefly considered changing the tube, or at least pumping it up, but my CO2 inflator was easier to get to and less effort to use, the inflation I got into the tyre lasted to the car and little further.

Once we reaced the bothy I "retook" a picture I had taken years ago on a hike between Corrour station and Spean Bridge, the picture shows that much has changed, while changing little.

Lairig Leacach Bothy in 2004Lairig Leacach Bothy Today

You can see in the 2004 picture that the window, roof and chimney of the bothy have seen attention, and a wider path now climbs where we descended, the path to Corrour goes to the left of this picture.
The door of this bothy tells a small story, that of years of inhabitation by hikers, mountaineers and wild cyclists with graffiti declaring "Dave Smith 1936" and even older etched in it.

You may feel you have broken the back of the route with only a descent to Spean Bridge and on to Nevis Range to go, I'm affraid you haven't as you are not yet past the watershed, the Allt Leacach at the bothy flows to Loch Treig and it is not until the edge of Leanachan forrest where the Allt Leachdach flows to the Spean.  At this point the road drops steeply, I was completely knackered at the sight of an old woman at the side of the road looking into the valley didn't seem odd, until I got much closer and realised it was a statue and was rather freaked out!

We chose not to go through the forest as we wern't sure of the route through fro mthe map, and I hadn't thought to carry my "White book".  We took off down the road to Nevis Range, being a road cyclist I have plenty experience cycling on roads in the dying light, with no lights and no energy, I also know that in those conditions climbing is not fun.  These road sections seem so short in a car, but at even 30kmh on an MTB the 2 "Great Glen Cattle Ranch" sheds never seemed to come, but eventually they did and then the Nevis Range access road, my tyre was starting to feel really flat again which is now what you want on a climb and I had to stop for a rest once, as the car park approached I seemed to get some energy back or was it just the road easing out, after 10 hours over 6 hours of it moving we were finally finished.

This route is a true epic, it's rough, it's tough and no matter how fit you are, it will beat you.
So will I enter the No Fuss event, er...

Still not figured out the issue with my OpenSpace. (And I still haven't bothered to e-mail the OS to find out)

GPS Trace: