Saturday, October 08, 2011

Beinn Eighe

Lofty Perch I
Three Wise Monkeys and Spidean Coire nan Clach.
First Trip to Torridon...

Munro #129 : Ruadh-stac Mor
Munro #130 : Spidean Coire nan Clach

Date : 02/10/2011 Distance : 18.6km Time : 7hrs 45min Flickr Set : View GPX Route : Download

Confidence wasn't high for the weather on this trip, but I was determined to get out after 4 weeks of no hills. The forecasts were poor for all areas for the weekend. Saturday was a wash-out, but the forecast gave an indication that we might be able to catch a break in the weather on the Sunday in the North-West. So, on Saturday evening, Beinn Eighe was chosen for our walk.

We left Alford at 0530. A novelty to be driving in the dark again after the long days of summer. Heading North on the A96 via Huntly to Inverness, it rained on and off with low, grey cloud. It wasn't until we were past Elgin and approaching Inverness that daylight slowly crept in.

The journey was uneventful, although mention must be made of the stop at Tarvie Services, between Contin and Garve. It was discovered by Marshall earlier in the year and sells fantastic bacon rolls and coffee. Well worth a visit if you pass. After Tarvie, we carried on to Garve and then turned off onto the A832 to Achnasheen, a fast stretch of road which was a welcome change after miles being stuck behind every slow moving vehicle in the North of Scotland. A quick visit to Achnasheen station for a toilet stop and then we continued along the A832 to Kinlochewe. The view down to Loch Maree from the head of the pass gave us hope that the cloud was lifting. At Kinlochewe, we turned onto the road to Torridon - the A896. Don't be fooled by the road naming - this is a twisty, single track road. We passed Loch Clair and then carried on to the large carpark for Beinn Eighe (we also mistakenly stopped at the first, small 'carpark' - be careful if you try to take your car in here, it's a very potholed access road!)

Boots on and we were away at exactly 0900. Our party consisted of myself, Marshall, Brian and his son Finlay. Finlay was attempting his first Munros today.

It's a gentle, but long approach to the hill. From the car we followed the gently rising path as it went up and through the Coire Dubh Mor. On our left, Liathach's vertical sides with its sandstone terraces loomed above us. To the right, Beinn Eighe was also looking steep and intimidating. The sides of the pass were wreathed with bands on low cloud and unseen stags were roaring.

Stepping Stones
Coire Dubh  Mor. Waiting to see if Marshall will fall in!

Graham and the split rock
Cracking Walk.

After around 4km, we reached a split in the path. We took the path heading off to the right, which headed North and began to curve round the base of the mountain. As we contoured round the lower slopes of the hill, the low-lying cloud began to burn off and we began to get an impression of the views which were being hidden from us.

Lowering Cloud
As we round the Northern side of the hill, the cloud begins to disperse..

Soon,the cloud began to clear in earnest and the views to the North were outstanding. Giant towers of sandstone rising up from the boggy Shieldaig and Flowerdale deer forests. The path turned again and began to gain height, heading for the hanging corrie of Corrie Mhic Fhearchair. The well-made stalker's path turned into a great staircase, climbing up alonside a series of waterfalls. I bounded up the steps, keen to get a better view of the wilderness behind me and the hidden corrie at the top of the steps.

The Big Reveal
Cloud burning off fast now, and the views are sensational to the North.
Into Coire Mhic Fhearchair
Into Coire Mhic Fhearchair.
Outflow from Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair.
At the top of the waterfall on the lip of Coire Mhic Fhearchair. Can anyone identify the bird for me?

At the top of the steps was a spectacular sight - Coire Mhic Fhearchair, with its small lochan, surrounded by the bulk of Ruadh-stac Mor, the legendary Triple Buttress and Sail Mhor. The outflow from the lochan disappeared over the lip of the corrie to the waterfalls and it was here I waiting for the others, snapping away furiously with my camera until they arrived for a coffee break. There was a cool breeze if you stood around so we ducked behind a rock and took in the views over the edge of the corrie to the North.

The Shieldaig and Flowerdale Forests
The Shieldaig and Flowerdale Forests.
Sail Mhor
Sail Mhor with Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair.
Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair
Me looking across Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair. Sail Mhor to the left.

There was a group with tents at the lip of the corrie. Must have been a chilly place to camp. They were just stirring as we started off again, heading around the side of the lochan and making for the back of the corrie. Once or twice we came across aircraft wreckage, remains of the Lancaster bomber which crashed in the corrie in 1951. (More details here) We didn't come across any of the larger pieces of wreckage - just some smaller sections of fuselage lying around.

As we neared the back wall of the corrie, the ground got rougher and a faint path wound its way through and around the rocky outcrops. There was some interesting geology around here - bands of rock twisted into strange shapes by heat and pressure and evidence of Pipe rock - formed by burrowing creatures, since fossilised and laid down in Cambrian Quartzite from around 400 million years ago. (Marshall has a good photo of pipe rock here)

I had read reports that suggested not going up the scree gully at the back of the corrie, and that it was easier to pick a more direct line up Ruadh-stac Mor. The gully didn't look too bad so we went for it. In the dry it was fine with a left-hand edge of shattered rock acting like a very steep natural staircase. It didn't take long at all to get to the bealach between Ruadh-stac Mor and Coinneach Mhor. At the bealach there were very fine views across to Spidean Coire nan Clach - our second Munro of the day.

Coire Mhic Fhearchair
Add caption
Heading up the gully
Ascending the Gully. Photo by Brian.
Graham at top  of gully.
Me at Top of Gully. Photo by Marshall.

Top of the Gully
Looking back down into Coire Mhic Fhearchair as Marshall, Finlay and Brian scramble up the gully.
From the Bealach
The summit of the first target of the day, Ruadh-stac Mor, in the distance, from the bealach.

From the bealach, there was a kilometre of rocky ground to cover to reach the summit cone of Ruadh-stac Mor. We hung back a little, Finlay getting the honour of summiting first for his first Munro. We spent a while on the summit. The views were simply breathtaking.

The corrie we had just ascended through to the West was obscured from view but we could see the top of Sail Mhor and the Triple Buttress. (To my dismay when I got home I realised that I didn't have any decent photos of the buttress - the sun was right above it in the corrie and I just didn't take the time to frame a good shot - still, an excuse to revisit Corrie Mhic Fhearchair in the future)

To the North, Shieldaig and Flowerdale stretched out before us, Beinn Alligin to the left, Loch Maree to the right with the Fisherfield hills behind. In the far distance was Gairloch, the Isle of Ewe and Mellon Charles. To the East, the bulk of Ruadh-stac Beag dominated the view while to the South, the rest of the day's walk around the ridge to Spidean Coire nan Clach was visible. A magical view on a magical day. Scotland in October!

Ruadh-stac Mor Summit I
Finlay's first Munro! Ruadh-stac Mor.
Sail Mhor and the Triple Buttress
Coinneach Mhor, Sail Mhor and the Triple Buttress from the summit of Ruadh-stac Mor.
Distant Spidean Coire nan Clach
Brian looks over to Spidean Coire nan Clach, our second Munro of the day, from the summit of Ruadh-stac Mor.
Ruadh-stac Mor Summit II
Munro #129
Ruadh-stac Mor Summit III
Me with Shieldaig Forest in background. Beinn Alligin to the left in distance.
Ruadh-stac Beag
Brian and Ruadh-stac Beag from the summit of Ruadh-stac Mor.
Shieldaig Forest
The view North-West from the summit of Ruadh-stac Mor. Beinn Alligin towards above the other hills to the left.

Eventually, it was time to leave the summit. We dropped down a little for a coffee break out of the wind and chatted for a while to a nice guy who was doing the reverse of our route. Then we headed back down to the bealach. Suddenly, there were walkers everywhere. We could see them in groups of 5 or 6 strung out along the hillside over the next kilometre or so. It turned out they were doing the walk guided, as part of the Torridon Autumn Walking Festival. Luckily for us, they were also doing our route in reverse so we quickly had the hill back to ourselves again.

On the way down to the bealach between Ruadh-stac Mor and Coinneach Mhor we had spotted a faint bypass path which avoided the steep pull onto the top of Coinneach Mhor. It's a narrow path across a very steep grassy slope with one section the had slipped away but it presented up with no difficulties on a day like today. It saved us around 50 metres of ascent and descent. The ridge to Spidean Coire nan Clach then began to narrow. Just before it did, we stopped for some hero shots...

Back to Ruadh-stac Mor I
Looking back to Ruadh-stac Mor. We took the bypass path and skirted round Coinneach Mhor.
Lofty Perch I
Brian, Finlay and Marshall with Spidean Coire nan Clach in the background.
Lofty Perch II
Me with Spidean Coire nan Clach in the background. Photo by Brian.
Lofty Perch III
Me with Spidean Coire nan Clach in the background. Photo by Brian.

The narrowing ridge presented no major difficulties (you wouldn't want to trip the wrong way though!), as long as you occasionally looked at your feet rather than the views of Torridon! There were superb views across to Liathach. We stopped for a 5 minute break. I was feeling some discomfort in my left knee at this point and there was a small matter of 170 metres of ascent and a kilometre of distance to the summit of Spidean Coire nan Clach.

Liathach from Beinn Eighe
Looking across to Liathach.
Back to Ruadh-stac Mor II
Looking back to Ruadh-stac Mor and Coinneach Mhor.
Spidean in Sight
Spidean Coire nan Clach Summit in the distance.
Take Five
Marshall, Finlay & Brian take a breather before the last major rise in the ridge.

Up we went towards the trigpoint over rocky ground. My knee was now complaining bitterly and I struggled initially to keep pace with the other. Eventually we reached the trigpoint, dumped our bags and headed for the summit and it's cairn. With no pack, the pain eased in my knee and I took off with just my camera around my shoulder, up the fantastic scramble to the summit.

The views were simply breathtaking. I'll let the photographs speak for themselves...

Trigpoint View
Looking back to Ruadh-stac Mor from near the trigpoint on Spidean Coire nan Clach. Loch Maree in the distance. Gairloch in the far distance.
Beinn Eighe Panorama I
Beinn Eighe Panorama I. From Trigpoint on Spidean Coire nan Clach.
Approaching Spidean Coire nan Clach Summit
Final scrambly section between the trigpoint and the summit. Packs were dumped here and picked up on the way back.
Final Push to the Summit.
Marshall scrambles up the final section.
Spidean Coire nan Clach Summit I
Munro #130 for Me.
Spidean Coire nan Clach Summit II
Munro #145 for Marshall.
Spidean Coire nan Clach Summit III
Munro #188 for Brian. Munro #2 for Finlay.
Beinn Eighe Panorama II
Beinn Eighe Panorama II. From summit of Spidean Coire nan Clach.
Brian, Finlay and Marshall scramble down from the summit of Spidean Coire nan Clach.
Spidean Coire nan Clach Trigpoint I
Descending from the summit back to the trigpoint.

Back at the tripoint it was coffee time and time to sit and soak in the views, feet dangling over the edge. You don't get many days like these!One final pose for the camera and it was time to descend. From here the car park was visible and it looked very far away, in distance and height. We followed a spur off the ridge South, down towards Stuc Coire an Laoigh.

At the cairn, we turned West (left) and dropped down into Coire an Laoigh. This was initially a very steep and loose descent. By now, my knee was giving me a lot of pain, every time I lifted my leg. Finlay also was slowing down, unaccustomed to walking such a distance. After about 300 metres of descent the slope eased. Finlay was still finding the going tough - his boots hurting his feet. Brian and Marshall slowed the pace to stay with him. Since I was the driver today, I picked up the pace, aimed to get to the road and thumb a lift to the car, so that I could meet them as they came off the hill.

Spidean Coire nan Clach Trigpoint
Spidean Coire nan Clach trigpoint with summit behind.
Stuc Coire an Laoigh
Descending from Spidean Coire nan Clach. The path drops to a cairn on the ridge to Stuc Coire an Laoigh and then descends steeply East (left) into Coire an Laoigh. The car park is in the middle distance to the right.

The pain in my knee subsided when I reached the flat surface of the road and I started off towards the car to the West. I was only passed by a handful of cars going my way, none of which stopped for me. I ended up having to walk the 2 kilometres back to the car - not such a great hardship on such a lovely afternoon. Arriving at the car park, I met the chap again from the summit of Ruadh-stac Mor. He was cycling back to Kinlochewe. It was 1645 - 7 hours and 45 minutes since leaving the car. I changed my boots and then returned to where the others were waiting to be picked up.

Beinn Eighe from the A896
Beinn Eighe from the road.
Liathach from the road.

Being Sunday evening, the roads were fairly quiet and we made good time back to Inverness. Rather than returning to Alford via the A96 we drove down the A9 to Aviemore and stopped there for our tea at the chippy. Next, we headed for our traditional celebratory drink at The Boat in Boat of Garten before startiing the last leg home via The Lecht.

My first visit to Torridon then, and one I'll remember for a long time!


Martin Rye said...

7 hours and 45 minutes of epic mountains. Rather good route that. Glad you got the views. I am off to dig out the old photos of when I did it. Memory lane and all that. Thanks for that. Superb post.

Alan Sloman said...

Some fantastic pictures in there. What a great day.

Did the knees recover? A pint or three often helps with knee pain.

Nick Bramhall said...

Absolutely awesome. I can't believe I was tramping around the misty Cairngorms whilst you were doing this! Superb photography and a great account of the day. I did this route in reverse but only got views after the first Munro so I definitely have an excuse to go back (as if that is needed!)

Graham said...

Thanks guys, the knee has slowly gotten better - stairs were a problem for a couple of days though. Some medicinal single malt helped ;)

I had the same problem a couple of years ago - pain when lifting my knee, especially on the descents. Walking with a knee support for a while helped it last time.

Glad you liked the pictures.

Marshall said...

Darn good tail. Epic like you said.