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Rannoch Moor Traverse, November 2010
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John Topping
(JohnT) - MLife

Locale: Peak District
Rannoch Moor Traverse, November 2010 on 01/04/2011 12:52:05 MST Print View

Rannoch Moor is an area of boggy moorland to the southeast of Glencoe, full of lochs of various sizes linked by sinuous streams and rivers. It has long fascinated me and, despite being traversed on its western edge by a major road, it has always appeared empty and wild and most definitely boggy.... There is a classic article by Hamish Brown in Big Walks, a classic coffee table of walks in the UK, which further whets the appetite with pictures of sandy beaches along the shore of remote lochs.

Unfortunately the reality of the area is that it is largely a wet tussocky slog to travel across on foot and the alternative approach to traversing the area is to use a canoe to travel from west to east. This has its own problem with the shuttle being around 80 miles. There was definitely room for a different approach and I was finally able to put this into practice at the end of Autumn 2009.

The other notable feature of the Moor is that the main west coast rail line traverses its eastern edge (floating on vast quantities of brushwood and turf). This led to the plan to take the train from Rannoch Station on the east side of the Moor to Bridge of Orchy, pick up the West Highland Way and follow this to Ba Bridge and then strike off into the Moor and follow rivers and lochs in a packraft back to Rannoch Station. All that was needed was a decent forecast to get the views of the surrounding peaks and avoid any risk of slogging across the lochs into a headwind. This came together at the beginning of November 2010 and Friday afternoon saw me heading up to Rannoch and bedding down just short of the station.

Rannoch Map
The route

Saturday morning dawned bright and cold and I packed and headed off for the first train. A quick run down to Bridge of Orchy got me to the West Highland Way and I followed this over the next couple of hours to Ba Bridge.

Rannoch Station
Rannoch Station

Loch Tulla
Loch Tulla from West Highland Way

Loch Tulla and Beinn Toaig
Loch Tulla and Beinn Toaig

Clach Leathad
Clach Leathad and Meall a Bhuiridh from near Ba Bridge

This is quite a pleasant section of this well known national trail, although I can't get excited about the route overall. Things were about the get more interesting.....

From Ba Bridge I struck off across the Moor and headed down to the River Ba (there being too little water on the first stretch just below the bridge).

River Ba to Black Mount
On the River Ba looking back to the Black Mount

River Ba
River Ba

I followed this and various lochans to finally pass under the road and out in to Loch Ba. This started to give the feel to the place, open but with the surrounding peaks of the Black Mount, Glencoe, Chruach and the Southern Highlands giving a real feel for its basin structure.

Loch Ba to BM
On Loch Ba looking back to the Black Mount

There was the almost inevitable head wind on this stretch, despite the forecast for light winds and it being in the opposite direction to the prevailing winds. The joys of open water packrafting....... The other thing to watch out for on both Loch Ba and Loch Laidon are granite boulders just below the surface which can be difficult to see, especially in a packraft, and could be damaging.

The highlight on this section was rounding the southern end of Eilean Molach and seeing a stag taking to the water to swim around 250m to the eastern shore of Loch Ba. Another stretch of river followed on the Abhainn Ba. This was a little low on water but there was no real problem with a packraft.

By this time time was getting on (the first train doesn't leave Rannoch until just before 9:00) and I wasn't sure what the prospects were for a reasonable site on the shore of Loch Laidon. So when I floated past an island in the middle of the Abhainn Ba which promised flattish ground I decided to take the opportunity and make a slightly early camp.

Trailstar evening
The Trailstar went up using the split paddle like they were made for the task and I got out of the breeze for an evening of brewing up, eating and alternately listening to podcasts and gazing at the Milky Way.

As others have written about the Trailstar, this really is a fantastic design and works very well for a solo packrafting shelter. Bombproof construction and goes up drum tight without the fickleness that some of the square based pyramid tarps can give on uneven ground.

Trailstar morning
Great nights sleep and woke to even better conditions on Sunday. This was an absolutely magical day, paddling gently across a mirror smooth Loch Laidon, watching for the granite erratics looming from the bed of the loch and stopping to soak up the views of the Black Mount and Glencoe hills from the top of a moraine.

Setting off from island campsite

On Loch Laidon
Unnamed islet on Loch Laidon

Peaks 1
Black Mount and Glencoe peaks from above Loch Laidon

Loch Laidon panorama looking west/northwest

Campsite poss
View of excellent campsite possibility on Loch Laidon on headland to the northeast of Eilean Iubhair.

view from pot camp
View from potential campsite

The forecast was for rain to come in later in the day and the wind started to pick up around 13:00. After slowing dramatically at about half way down Loch Laidon due to the headwind (from the NE again!), I eventually called it quits at the ¾ point and packed up to walk along the shore back to Rannoch. Found the sandy beaches!


Truly a route to savour under the right conditions.

Any other packrafters out there with other ideas for this type of route in Scotland?

Edited by JohnT on 01/04/2011 14:00:49 MST.

Brian Camprini
(bcamprini) - MLife

Locale: Southern Appalachians
Re: Rannoch Moor Traverse, November 2010 on 01/04/2011 13:22:59 MST Print View

Wow. Stunning open spaces. And you couldn't have asked for clearer skies.

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: ATL -- Zurich -- SF Bay Area
Re: Re: Rannoch Moor Traverse, November 2010 on 01/04/2011 13:50:05 MST Print View

Wow. Sounds like an awesome trip. Your pictures are beautiful. Packrafting seems like such a great way to experience the wilderness.

John Topping
(JohnT) - MLife

Locale: Peak District
Thanks on 01/04/2011 14:05:46 MST Print View

Thanks guys. This came together so well (headwinds notwithstanding). The packraft didn't get as much use in 2010 (too many mountain crags that were dry for the first time in years and not enough water in the rivers) but this trip at the back end of the year really was a highlight.

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Rannoch Moor Traverse, November 2010 on 01/04/2011 19:53:09 MST Print View

John - just so beautiful. I love Scotland and dream of coming back to the UK one day to do the TGO Challenge. What pack raft are you using?

John Topping
(JohnT) - MLife

Locale: Peak District
Raft on 01/04/2011 23:56:47 MST Print View

Thanks Jason, Scotland really does keep drawing you back....
I haven't done the TGO Challenge but the coast to coast aspect does appeal. The route from Mallaig to the Spey and on to the coast using a packraft is definitely on the list.
I am using a Yukon Yak. This trip would just about be okay with a Flytepacker as the white water is fairly trivial (in low water) but I would be more worried about the (just) submerged boulders...

Stuart R
(Scunnered) - F

Locale: Scotland
Re: Rannoch Moor Traverse, November 2010 on 01/05/2011 03:54:01 MST Print View

Interesting! As you say, not a route many walkers would contemplate. There are areas of Scotland which are more water than land, but you probably know not to try this in summer...

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Rannoch Moor Traverse, November 2010" on 01/05/2011 07:26:57 MST Print View

Beautiful photographs John, thanks for sharing this.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Rannoch Moor Traverse, November 2010 on 01/07/2011 06:59:06 MST Print View

Thanks for that great view of Scotland. It must have been a great start to the morning crawling out from underneath that frosty Trailstar to the warming sun.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Rannoch on 01/07/2011 13:26:36 MST Print View

Superb photos John.
Where did you hide the clouds? ;)

John Topping
(JohnT) - MLife

Locale: Peak District
Scottish Weather on 01/08/2011 04:09:08 MST Print View

Thanks all.

The sun was good after a long cold night but the combination of Cocoon clothing and a RW quilt did a great job and I had a really comfortable night. The frost was so thick it took a good 10 minutes to sweep it all off to avoid carrying tonnes of water later in the day.

It really was a stunner of a weekend, Mike; they do come round every now and then ;) (actually to be fair I've had a reasonable share of them over the years).

Loch Leven
Looking down Loch Leven (January)

Looking west from the Glen Callater hils
Looking west from the Glen Callater hills (February)

Loch Etive looking to Ben Starav (February)

Loch Hourn
Looking west from Sgurr a' Mhaoraich to Loch Hourn and Ladhar Bheinn (March)

Floating the Findhorn (April)

Glencoe in May (Buachaille Etive Mor)

Erraid in June

Ben Avon
Ben Avon in August

Glen Lednock (October)

In the Galloway Hills in November

sea kayak
Loch Sween in December (ok, there's a few clouds but for the centre of a deep low in December we weren't complaining.....)

However, the camera doesn't tend to come out as much on the grim days......

Gyp less than impressed with a day on Monadh Mor which didn't hit the "bluebird day" standard......

Stuart, lack of photos from July, wonder why that can be........

Edited by JohnT on 01/08/2011 04:14:18 MST.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Very nice on 01/08/2011 13:00:04 MST Print View

Fantastic photos John. Have the Scottish Tourist Board been paying you?

Now stop showing folk how beautiful Scotland can be. We don't want it getting too busy.

Honest folks, John has obviously Photoshopped all his photos. It rains every day here! ;)

Martin Rye
(rye1966) - F

Locale: UK
Rannoch Moor Traverse on 01/08/2011 15:19:57 MST Print View

Great trip report John. I don't have a packraft but can see why they are so good for travelling through the hills and wilderness. I enjoyed reading that and the photos are superb.

James Fiedler
(deefeed) - F

Locale: NYC
Rannoch Moor Traverse on 01/08/2011 21:26:53 MST Print View

The beaches look as stunning as the mountains in your photos. What a fascinating landscape! Thanks for sharing.

Stuart R
(Scunnered) - F

Locale: Scotland
Re: Scottish Weather on 01/09/2011 08:42:10 MST Print View

July - nothing to do with the weather, more likely the M***** word!

Everyone else - yes, you can be sure of at least one super day per month in Scotland, you just never know which day it's going to be! (and the odds are stacked in favour of a weekday :-(

John Topping
(JohnT) - MLife

Locale: Peak District
Scottish Weather on 01/09/2011 10:41:16 MST Print View

Thanks for the comments on the photos.

Stuart, guessed right on avoiding the midge season.

Persistence certainly pays with getting things done in Scotland and a broad range of interests certainly helps! (hence the hiking, packrafting, sea kayaking and climbing).

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Beautiful on 01/12/2011 09:07:17 MST Print View

I really enjoyed your trip report. Stunning photographs....makes me want to go there.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Great Report on 01/12/2011 16:30:17 MST Print View

Thanks John,

Great report and great photos.
I hope to get a chance to hike Scotland one day.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Scotland. Wow. on 01/17/2011 20:23:23 MST Print View

I'm speechless. Beautiful.