Finally getting a weather break in Torridon
by J888ohn » Thu May 28, 2015 12:41 am
Route description: Beinn Alligin
Munros included on this walk: Sgurr Mor (Beinn Alligin), Tom na Gruagaich (Beinn Alligin)
Date walked: 20/05/2015
Time taken: 7.25 hours
Distance: 11 km
Ascent: 1106m5 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
So the cunning plan was as follows:
1. Confirm annual leave for May, statistically the driest month in Torridon.
2. Book a cottage for a week for the wife, me, two friends and the Mountain Mutt.
3. Bag loads of munros having been given the go ahead by the wife to "do what I wanted" (I think this was code for disappear into the hills for a week and I'll divorce you but I was willing to test that..... )
Mother Nature had other plans.
We arrived on Saturday 16th May and the drive down the single track road to Torridon village was mesmerising. First Beinn Eighe greets you just out of Kinlochewe, then the mighty Liathach and finally Beinn Alligin at the foot of which was our lovely lochside cottage. The wife kept on shouting at me to keep my eyes on the road and not on the hills
My first thought was "holy **** these hills look amazing!!!!!!! (akin to a kid in a sweetie shop moment)" quickly followed by "I didn't expect this much snow in May!"
The weather statistics were of course completely wrong and for the first couple of days it was sunshine and showers with lowish cloud. The big problem was in the evening the temperature really fell away and the rain was more persistent, and it fell as snow from about 800m upwards.
Finally on Monday 18th May the weather cleared and we were presented with a sunny day. The wife and I decided to tackle Liathach (get the toughest out the way first). Mountain Mutt was left at the cottage with Base Camp (our affectionate nickname for our mate David who does do munros but is also quite keen on guarding base camp because that is where the alcohol is........ We'd decided Liathach was too much for the dog. I could see the western tip of Liathach from the cottage and it looked a little too white for my liking but I decided to neglect to tell the wife that and we headed off. Climb up to the ridge was fine, views stunning, however this was what the overnight rains had presented us with.....
We tried but half way up the first pyramid there was inches of wet, slushy, slippy snow. On any other mountain I would probably have pushed on. There was another group a distance ahead of us and we were following their footsteps which didn't seem to have any crampon marks but on here one slip and the next thing I would've hit was the car 800m odd below me. We called it off, had lunch on the ridge below the snow line and went back down the ascent route.
Just to show the variations in weather on hills just a few miles apart, this was Beinn Alligin the same afternoon as the failed Liathach attempt.
The crazy thing was that night we all went for dinner at the Torridon Inn which is just along the shore from where this picture was taken. It was pouring with rain the whole time we were having dinner, dried up just as we were leaving and now Alligin was covered in snow from about 800m! Mother Nature was quite frankly taking the p**s so for Tuesday we decided to do the lovely Loch Clair and Loch Coulin walk to try to let some of the snow melt. This is a stunning walk and I highly recommend ignoring the hills for one day and doing this. The view across the lochs to Eighe and Liathach are awesome and I had a true Colin Prior moment (IMHO) with this lucky picture
Anyway I have digressed and time to get back on track. Beinn Alligin was now penciled in for Wednesday 20th May. Weather was looking good until 4pm ish when a cold front was coming in, and I was pretty sure there had been a bit of a thaw (that's what I told the others anyway...... ) Clearly the owner of Torridon House Estate doesn't bother with the outdoor access code as there was a path from the estate up to the car park at the bridge over the Abhainn Coire Mhic Nobuil but the gate into the car park was locked shut with barbed wire!!! Fortunately I had discovered this one morning walking Mountain Mutt so we had to waste fuel driving the short distance out the estate and up to the car park. Took the path to the west of the river to do the munros first then the Horns. The reasoning for this was that the weather was meant to get progressively worse so we wanted to get the summits clear and if need be the Horns could be bypassed or we would just turn back. The path is really good, albeit steep and hard going. My weather forecasting had been correct and the first view of Alligin showed the snow had melted.
We trudged on ( I say we but I mean the humans, Mountain Mutt was bounding about with endless energy) as the path continued to climb up Coire nan Laogh towards the summit of Tom na Gruagaich. From here we started to get the views east towards Liathach and Beinn Eighe with the impressive Coire Dubh Mor slicing between them.
Half way up we came across this really cool tunnel that the stream had carved through the snow.
I couldn't help myself and had to go for a closer look. It looked pretty sturdy and I was tempted to walk through it but could just imagine the headlines when it all went horribly wrong so I just took a pic and followed the path.
Shortly after this I started to curse Mother Nature and the Met Office. The cloud came flying in from nowhere, the temp plummeted and the wind picked up. Seriously!!!!!!!!!!!!!! All I'm asking for is at least a few hours of sunshine in May. We trudged on and met two guys descending from the summit who said they had waited and decided to come back down instead of going on to Sgurr Mhor as the visibility was poor. We made the summit shortly after this and it was freezing up there. We had some lunch quickly as our hands got very cold without gloves, and fortunately the cloud started to lift. Just enough to tease us with views to start with but then above the summits albeit not enough to see Skye or the islands out west.
Beinn Alligin is sometimes described as the "easiest" of the Torridon ridges. That is a misnomer in my book. Granted I have no experience of the others but to call this easy is to perhaps encourage complacency or even inexperience. The route down from Tom towards Sgurr is a series of large rocky steps. I had few problems with this as this is Mountain Goat territory (everyone's affectionate nickname for me) however it unnerved the others in the group in several places (one even had a heart in mouth tip forward until they managed to get a hand grip behind them). Even Mountain Mutt, an experienced Munro bagging Collie, had to be lifted down one of them which is very unusual for him.
Once down this it was a simple matter of following the path to the ascent up Sgurr Mhor. This being the higher of the two munros meant that the snow was still hanging around and started getting deeper just after Eag Dhubh. This is a very impressive feature and you can see the amount of rock that fell from here in the Coire floor below. It would have been quite an event to witness. The path passes very close to the edge here so in poor visibility this would not be the time to go for a wander!
From here up the snow was stubbornly remaining in the path as the path formed a grove up the side of the mountain. It wasn't like Liathach's snow though and offered mostly good footing without crampons. By the time we reached the summit we were enveloped in cloud so a couple of quick pics and we were off to hopefully drop out the cloud to assess the Horns.
As we cleared the snow line on the way down to the Horns the cloud began to lift and gave us a superb ending to our adventure. The Horns were clear of snow and as we got closer they just looked bigger and bigger. The view north out to the wilderness was awe inspiring and we spent a good 10 mins or so between Sgurr and the Horns just taking it in and taking pictures.
Now for the Horns (no jokes....... ) I'd said all along I was going to scramble up and over them, the rest decided on the bypass path once they had come into view.
The bypass path goes along the top of the 4th black cliff edge from the bottom of the first Horn in the picture above. I took the scramble up. Again Mountain Mutt decided to follow me and to be honest there is a path for 90% of the way up. It is steep and there are some big steps but I can't say it felt particularly airy or exposed. Having said that I am very confident / overcome with excitement and adrenaline at stuff like this so was too busy having fun climbing up to perhaps notice and it's worth noting it is hands and feet (and sometimes knees) to get up this. I had to get Manda to shout Mountain Mutt down to the bypass path as there was one big step he couldn't get up and I wasn't up for throwing a 25kg collie up it. I'd imagine if you lost your balance and fell backwards you would keep bouncing for a fair distance.
Again the phrase "bypass path" suggests ease and safety. According to Manda and the other guys it was far from it. It was only as wide as a boot going round each of the horns with a substantial drop on the right hand side right next to the path. Once on top of the Horns it was a simple task of walking along the rocky, flattish ridge, descending to meet the bypass path and repeat two more times. Now we had a view back to the two munros with Loch Torridon poking through the gap.
After the 3rd Horn the paths rejoin and we were all rewarded with a lovely photo opportunity at a small cairn which is directly in-between the view of the two summits.
From here you can pretty much see the path as it goes through Coire Mhic Nobaill, crosses the two rivers via two new footbridges and heads back to the car park. The problem is actually getting to the Coire floor. We walked what seemed like a fair distance but didn't loose much height. This next bit isn't described much in the Walk Highlands route and if my navigation is right (readers of my previous reports will know this is often sketchy at best ) isn't really marked well on the OS maps but I believe it will be the section of the path right where it crosses the blue 88 on the OS map. This is a tricky, slow descent down what is pretty much a sandstone cliff with a route worn through various big steps, jumps, slides (delete as appropriate) between and over huge sandstone rocks. In my opinion, and it's only an opinion, this was more tricky than anything I had done on the Horns. I'd hate to do it in the wet as sometimes we were landing on a damp bit of rock and hoping for the best. We dropped about 200m through this and we were all glad to be onto the relative flat of the Coire.
Now it was a case of a quick march through the Coire, join the main path back to the car park which is also the path for the walk through Coire Dubh Mor. The waterfalls were pretty spectacular thanks to all the rain and as it was now starting to rain again we made haste to the car.
This was to be our only Torridon munros for the week as the weather once again closed in until we were due to leave on Saturday and got presented with this.
A final two fingers from Mother Nature. Having said that we all had a fantastic week and I've never been so relaxed and chilled out in years. We had no Wifi, no data signal, intermittent mobile signal, essentially cut off from the rest of the world in our own little bit of mountain paradise. The local people are amazingly friendly and if, like us, a lot of the plans are scuppered by the weather I very highly recommend the cafe attached to the General Store in Torridon village for breakfast, lunch and home baking to die for and the Torridon Inn for a hearty, home cooked meal and great real ales.
Torridon has my heart, I will be back and the Youth Hostel has already been priced for a swift weekend should Mother Nature and I kiss and make up.
by spiderwebb » Thu May 28, 2015 7:11 am
Echo that last sentiment, it has my heart too
by dogplodder » Thu May 28, 2015 10:32 am
by Mal Grey » Thu May 28, 2015 11:42 am
You're route finding on the descent sounds fine. It is pretty steep and a little insecure feeling at times. Better in ascent, but I think given conditions & forecast you did the circuit the right way round for the day.
I think its actually a common thing that bypass paths are in some ways more scary than tackling it direct!
Torridon is an amazing place, hopefully you will have many more visits.
by AnnieMacD » Thu May 28, 2015 3:13 pm
by Beaner001 » Thu May 28, 2015 4:55 pm
by 2manyYorkies » Sat May 30, 2015 6:22 pm
by gammy leg walker » Sat May 30, 2015 8:23 pm
Know what you mean after the last "horn" the slopes are foreshortend and you cant see the rocky terraces but follow the path and its pretty much ok.
PS great TR...........GLW