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As it means "Rough Mountain" there are unsurprisingly several peaks called Garbh Bheinn/Beinn Gharbh scattered around the Highlands. Most people would agree the best of them is the Ardgour one, a complex gnarl of gneiss rising straight from sea level to nearly 900m. It's defended by crags on almost all sides, with scores of excellent rock climbs of all grades and some of the best scrambling around. As it just fails to make Munro height and sits on the far side of a ferry it gets only a fraction of the visitors its quality deserves. Unusually for a Scottish mainland peak whenever I've been on the hill there have been almost as many people laying hand to rock as walking. Despite the noticeable increase in Corbett-baggers in the last few years it still isn't on the casual hillwalkers radar so I suspect this is still true.

None of the ways up the hill could be described as easy, even the ridge up over Sron a' Gharbh Choire Bhig being rough and steep with only an intermittent path. Once above 600m the views open out, with the Glen Coe and Appin hills lined up across Loch Linnhe. The descent can be varied by descending Garbh Choire Mor below the Great Ridge to Coire an Iubhair, where a boggy path runs down the far side back to the car park.

Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

The Garbh Bheinn crags across Coire an Iubhair

The classic round is the circuit of Coire an Iubhair, only 15km but with 1350m of ascent so a full day out. Pick a clear day as the views from the northern arm of the horseshoe are superb, Garbh Bheinn's northern cliffs looking particularly good from here. The circuit can be done without scrambling, though the grassy gully above the Bealach Feith n' Amean is steep. There are lots of opportunities though, with the Eastern Slabs of Beinn Bheag being only a minor detour and Sron Lag na Gamhna providing a natural line up Garbh Bheinn itself, with a lovely sharp arete halfway up. From the top of the Sron you can cut left and link slabby buttresses over several minor tops (the Fiaclan Garbh-Bheinn) on superb rough pocketed gneiss. It would feel like climbing if it was more sustained, but as it is you're never more than a move or two from a big ledge.

Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

Bealach Feith n' Amean. Sron Lag na Gamhna is the central rib

The best known scramble is Pinnacle Ridge, graded 3(S) in some guides, but worth Moderate really for its steep and unobvious crux section. Many will want a rope for this as it's rather less juggy than you want it to be. It's possible to cut right below the steep section and climb easier (but still quite sustained) slabs. The pinnacle itself is easy airy fun, then there's an optional left-hand finish up quite delicate slabs – probably worth Moderate too. In September 1990 Liz Jolley and I descended the main ridge line and the lower slabs after climbing the Great Ridge. We had intended to follow up with the classic Severe Butterknife on the South Wall but it snowed as we reached the summit. By the time we had descended Pinnacle Ridge it had cleared up so we scrambled up a buttress on the far side of the glen only to find that it had an unforseen gap in it, giving us a pitch of Severe after all.

Pinnacle Ridge, Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

Pinnacle Ridge

The aforementioned Butterknife is probably the best rock climb on the mountain, a corner line that cuts straight up both tiers of the South Wall, finishing right on the summit. It gained some notoriety a couple of decades ago when it was reported to have fallen down. Actually all that had happened was that a block had fallen out of the crux overhang. It's still the same grade and still a bridging move in a wild position, just now a metre or so higher up! Local activist Colin Moody put up a route nearby called Aliens Rebuilt Butterknife, one of my favourite route names. Left of Butterknife the routes get harder, with Scimitar at VS and Excalibur at HVS being the classics. On the left-hand half of the wall the routes get harder still, up to E6 with Kelpie, though an unlikely-looking Severe, Sgian Dubh, also finds its way up this area.

South Face, Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

The South Wall, Excalibur follows the lip of the the upper overlap, Butterknife is the corner further right and the Great Ridge is the skyline

Although the South Wall has the best routes there are climbs scattered round several other parts of the hill, notably on the huge slab of the Leac Mhor below the North Summit. These were once popular but aren't any more, with only one ascent logged there on UK Climbing in the last decade. Too far to walk?

Leac Mhor, Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

The Leac Mhor

At the opposite extreme there are routes on the south side of the hill that are only a couple of minutes from the road, the best being the aforementioned Aliens Rebuilt Butterknife. You can climb pretty much anywhere on the crag at V Diff, on excellent gneiss, so it's a good place for a hour's soloing.

Aliens Crag, Glen Tarbert, Ardgour

Aliens Crag

By far the most popular climb is the Great Ridge – it makes up a third of all the UKC logs for the mountain. It's a very obvious target, even from the far side of Loch Linnhe, which explains why it was climbed as long ago as 1897. Even if you don't do the Direct Start at Hard Severe the approach is tricky. You can either zigzag in from the left, mostly on grass but with the odd move of Diff, or you can scramble up a grassy groove on the right, make an airy move round a blind corner then climb a short technical wall. The last time I did the latter someone had obviously had a bit of an epic on it, with abandoned gear in several places.

Great Ridge. Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

Great Ridge directly below the summit

The route itself has several variations in its lower part, the most direct line being VS. The two most often taken are both right-slanting ramps on big pockets below overlaps, and it's easy to confuse them. The more obvious lower one is V Diff, with smaller pockets than the Diff upper one. As the ridge narrows it eases off, and many unrope or move together from here, but things are still exposed and there are moves which you have to think about. It's a wonderful airy alpine skyline that finishes exactly at the summit cairn, one of the best Diffs in Britain.

High on the Great Ridge, Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

Nate Webb high on the Great Ridge

Most climbers use a rope for at least part of Great Ridge, so if you want to have the freedom of untrammelled wandering then you have to drop the grade a little. Between Garbh Choire Mor (which foots the Great Ridge) and Garbh Choire Beag to its left there is a blunt spur called Nead na h-Iolaire (the Eagle's Nest). The left edge of this makes a lovely scramble, relatively popular by Ardgour standards. An easy start leads to a big overlap, dodged on the left, then plates of rough slab run up for 250m. There's a huge choice of route, with options of up to 4b if you're feeling confident, but the natural line is about Grade 3. You can avoid almost anything tricky but you're committed to the general line. The individual slabs are separated by grassy ledges but when scrambling these are crossed in seconds so they don't detract from the flow in the way that they would on a rock climb. It's a perfect illustration of the way a no star rock climb can make a 3 star scramble (Rabbit's Trod in Borrowdale or Grey Rib at Carnmore are other examples). I think it's the best route Noel Williams missed in the original Scrambles in Lochaber. Both he and I found it independently later but it soon emerged that we had climbed the same line.

Eagles Nest Slabs, Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

Eagles Nest Slabs

I missed a Garbh Bheinn goodie too when compiling Highland Scrambles South. On the west flank of the brutally steep Coire a' Chothruim is a set of slabs running up to Meall a' Chuilinn. I had rejected these as being too steep for scrambling and finishing in a large overlap, but last summer I discovered that the slabs further right made a great route. You can't see them from the road and even from the corrie they look nondescript, but this is misleading. Foreshortening means that they are longer than they look from below, the rock is the usual superb gneiss and although it's split into sections these follow each other naturally. A line of steep slabs, Moderate by the blankest bits or Grade 3 using the cracklines, leads to a run of stepped buttresses then a bigger slab. This has a shallow groove right up the centre, not hard but sustained, lovely scrambling. You even get a boulder problem finish up an aesthetic corner line. If doing this as an evening trip there's a grassy ramp slanting down conveniently into the upper corrie.

Chothruim Slabs, Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

Chothruim Slabs, the scramble goes up the LH section

On the ridge above a steep rock step bars access to the 773m summit. It's overhanging in places but a groove can be pulled through at only vertical. It's only a couple of moves but it's as hard as anything on the scramble below. This summit is called Meall a' Chuilinn in the Database of British and Irish Hills but that name really belongs to the 687m top to the south, which is much more prominent from the glen. DoBIH are aware of this but felt that they were a pair and that a top couldn't be higher than its "parent" so moved the name (a sin in my view, names were give to describe specific features and belong to them). Willie Docharty called the 773m top Garbh Bheinn SW Top in his 1962 list, one of many examples where his names are more logical than the DoBIH ones.

Meall a' Chuilinn, Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

The proper Meall a' Chuilinn, Chothruim Slabs are R of the central gully

If you've survived the rock step and the nomenclatural confusion then your reward is a lovely ridge up over several minor summits to Garbh Bheinn proper. This looks really impressive from below but turns out to be easy; rocky but not steep enough to need hands. If you are desperate for more scrambling then a deer path slants down from the col after the SW Top and runs along below the cliffs to reach a blunt spur at half its height. This spur catches any keen scrambler's eye as you drive out of Strontian and makes a fun route, but it's much bittier than it looks from a distance.

West Ridge, Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

Garbh Bheinn west ridge, the spur being the LH skyline

The corrie beyond the spur is a gorgeous place, probably the least visited corner of the mountain. It's drained by an impressive gorge which I haven't got round to investigating yet - I suspect it may well have at least one climbing pitch in it and looks inescapable. The buttress that bounds the gorge on the left is around V Diff, but would be a long way to go for short routes, while the right-hand side has outcrops that can be strung together to make a logical start to the spur mentioned above. In the back of the corrie is a swathe of slabs that I have a score to settle with. On a showery day I backed off as they steepened, but I suspect a scrambling route could be found winding through the obstacle to the easier rock above. They would make a logical follow on to Sron Lag na Gamhna, making an excellent long route to the summit.

Mist clearing off Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

Mists clearing off Garbh Bheinn north flank

If you're really into exploring virgin scrambling-angle rock then there's always Garbh Choire Beag, which has literally acres of it. Virtually none of it runs into lines and any route would have big sections of walking, but if it's untouched rock you want..... There's a couple of nice-looking steeper ribs too, Severe-ish maybe? That sums up the fundamental attraction of Garbh Bheinn really, as other than on the Great Ridge and the Sron a' Gharbh Choire Bhig shoulder you feel like you might be the only person to have passed that way for decades, possibly ever. All within a few miles of Glen Coe.

Unclimbed crags. Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

There's only one recorded route in this pic, not on the slabs or the steep rib😁

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