Tarmachan Ridge from the North [Munro #7 & two tops]
We got another day out on the hills to walk the Tarmachan Ridge from the North, taking in Beinn nan Eachan, Meall Garbh and Meall nan Tarmachan.
Planning Tarmachan Ridge
Route onto the Tarmachan Ridge
The walk was in 100 Best Walks in Scotland, and instead of starting in the Ben Lawers car park it started on an unnamed patch of tarmac due North of the horseshoe shaped ridge. The route was to walk up the North-western end of the horseshoe, and along the ridge, taking in Beinn nan Eachan (Horses Mountain), Meall Garbh (Rough hill) and then Meall nan Tarmachan (Ptarmigan Hill – the munro peak the ridge is named for). After we’d done the three tops then we’d carry on round following the horseshoe to the North-eastern end and then descend back to where we’d parked the car. A key point on the route was that there wasn’t a path between the car park and the ridge, and that the path after Meall nan Tarmachan ended before the ridge turned North. So there was a significant part of the walk that was off path.
Overall the route came out at just over 11km with just over 8500m of climb. I estimated that we’d average about 3km/hr to allow plenty of time for admiring the views, and we’d spend another minute for every 5m of vertical climb. So with rest stops and lunch planned we had an 0945 start for an 1730 finish.
Meall nan Tarmachan is one of the Munros that the met office actually give a specific forecast for on https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Meall-nan-Tarmachan/forecasts/1043. It’s slightly more accurate than the general Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) forecast. Our forecast was for 7°C on the summit, with about 2 degrees of wind chill, and light rain (2-3mm). A good 12 degrees warmer than when we did Ben Lomond, but still in fridge temperature ranges. Most of the rain was focussed after lunchtime.
Doing the Tarmachan Ridge
There were no forgotten coats or any other mishaps, so we got to the car park just before the agreed meeting time. The road in was single track with passing places set in for about four miles before we got to the right place. There was a larger car park about quarter of a mile before the one I’d picked, and initially I slotted in there to check navigation. However there was absolutely no signal given that we were in the lee of both Ben Lawers and Meall nan Tarmachan. I carried on along the road and we arrived first, and because the area was really small (just enough space for two carefully parked cars) we parked on the verge at the end of the passing place. David had run into some delays, so he didn’t arrive until just before 10. At the time we set off we were about 20 minutes behind the timings on the route plan.
Finding the Path
We needed to walk about a mile and climb the ridge to find the path. From the road we could clearly see the bridge marked on the map over the river, which lay in the bottom of the glen. When we started to go down towards it though the ground was pretty rough and we lost sight of it. Out on the hillocks we decided that maybe we could cross on a more direct route to the ridge end without using the bridge.
It turned out that when we got closer to the burn/river that there were fairly steep banks and following it upstream to the bridge was a better option. Once we were over the water it was a case of going straight up the hill to the ridge. The shape of the hill made it quite easy to navigate.
On the way up we spotted a couple of frogs, and lots of interesting looking flowers. We didn’t go that fast, the hill was steep and we were enjoying the scenery too.
Round the Ridge
Once we hit the ridge there was a set of land rover tracks (we assumed it was a land rover given the location, not much else motorised could have got up there).
It took us a couple of hours to make it to the highest point on the western arm of the horseshoe. The rain hadn’t started at this point (it’s where the panorama above was taken). So we had some fantastic views of the mountains to north and west of the ridge while we ate our lunch.
It wasn’t until we were almost at the point where we had to veer right (South-West) to hit Beinn nan Eachan from the path we were on that we first saw other people. They were off in the distance crossing from East to West along the ridge path.
Beinn nan Eachan
There was a dip as we turned west towards Beinn nan Eachan from the western arm of the horseshoe. We had a pretty steep climb for about 20m or so, during which time it started to rain. The rain was intermittent and fairly light, but it picked up into a light drizzle by the time we reached the saddle just East of the final ascent to the summit of Meall nan Eachan.
Before we went up we stopped for a rest (see picture). Alex was having some trouble with his new boots, and that he’d stayed up late the previous evening. So he wanted a rest and a snack. On the overall route this was a spur to take in the Munro top. So after I’d had a snack and a few mouthfuls of squash I put the cover on my rucksack. We ditched our rucksacks at this point because we know we’d need to come back this way.
The path wound round the top and was practically a trench, being knee to thigh deep in places from the amount of traffic. The rain meant the views we’d seen earlier had gone. So we did an obligatory selfie on the summit and then turned back to where we’d left the rucksacks. We saw several other people on our way back down, all coming towards us.
Having collected the rucksacks in the saddle, and in my case fished out the bright red rain cover, we set of East along the ridge path.
This was the most interesting bit of the walk for me. The ridge wasn’t flat, and you got a real sense of why it is called Meall Garbh. In translation that’s ‘Rough Hill’, and the ground was pretty rough, with plenty of rock between the grassy bits. The photo above of David and Alexander on the ridge was taken just as we approached the top of Meall Garbh. The picture doesn’t do it justice, the ground fell away on both sides. The path wasn’t quite along the top of the ridge, it was just to the South by a metre or so. Still, for parts of it hands were needed to hold onto, although not a hard scramble and nothing scary.
Meall nan Tarmachan
After Meall Garbh there was a bit more descent and then a fairly easy track to follow to Meall nan Tarmachan. There was a lot of drizzle by this point and visibility was low, we could see 20 metres or so.
On the summit of Meall nan Tarmachan we found a cairn with a stone balanced on the top of a tall slim stone. So we all had a go at balancing another stone on top of those.
Off the Tarmachan Ridge
A few hundred metres from the top of Meall nan Tarmachan the path turns back on itself and drops down the hill. We didn’t want to go that way. Our route as planned was to follow the ridge line North and then descend.
I took the lead for this bit because we weren’t following the path. Alex was at the back and not keeping up with David and me. So I slowed to keep him company, and make sure he was okay. A combination of lack of sleep and new boots was slowing him down. I fed him boiled sweets and we chatted about movies.
The ridge wasn’t as straightforward as I’d hoped. The route plan here involved a bit of going up and down. Some of the bits we needed to go down had small crags not marked on the map. So after a couple of the hillocks we came down below the cloud and visibility improved. We could see the car about 2-3km away, a white dot on the hillside.
Rather than go back up and follow the ridge we had a conversation and decided to go down. I pointed out the confluence of streams on the map, and then the small dam/bridge. The dam was visible on the ground, as was the track beyond it that lead to the road.
David set out ahead, and I stayed with Alexander. David made good time and we lost sight of him as he descended because of the curve of the slope. I kept on feeding sweets to Alexander and talking with him. We used the car as a primary navigation point. I also tried to steer us away from the darker parts of the ground that looked boggy. The drizzle continued, and the ground was a mixture of moss and heather. It was soft and soaking. After a mile or so along the glen my feet started to feel damp.
We stopped briefly to climb a small rock to see if we could see David, and shouted a bit. He’d gone more straight down following the curve of the burn we’d been next to. That lead to the dam and then the track. We’d gone in a more straight line route, because given Alexander’s speed I’d not wanted to drag it out. We shouted a few times, did a 360, and then decided that the safest course was to RV at the car.
As it happened David had stopped to rest and wait for us at the foot of the burn. After 15 minutes or so he’d come to the same conclusion as us. He then spotted my red rucksack cover as we walked back up the track to the car. He caught up with us about 500m from the road.
We ought to have found this easier than we did. It was a shorter distance with less climbing than Ben Lomond. The weather was also more favourable (warmer, less windy).
We were noticeably slower on the non-path parts, maybe about 2.5km/hr rather than the 3km/hr planned.
We couldn’t walk the route as planned, largely because I wasn’t in front navigating and when we lost the path I wasn’t able to keep us back on course. We descended into the glen and walked towards where we could see the car parked a couple of miles away. This was a good route marker on the final section.