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It's the Journey That Counts - Ruadh-Stac Mor

It's the Journey That Counts - Ruadh-Stac Mor

Postby Roger T » Tue Oct 06, 2015 4:52 pm

Route description: Beinn Eighe (western summits)

Munros included on this walk: Ruadh-stac Mor (Beinn Eighe)

Date walked: 03/10/2015

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 18.5 km

Ascent: 910m

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I’ve never been too obsessed with destinations. It’s nice enough to arrive somewhere, sure, but too much focus on the end-point can often detract from the pleasures of the journey itself. For me, the destination is no more than the excuse for the journey, the motivation to get out and put one foot in front of the other somewhere wild and challenging. Where exactly I end up is of secondary importance. It’s the same when I go sailing. I never have more than a rough target in mind, which is just as well, because if you are sailing a small and engineless yacht in remote and often ice-bound waters, it pays to be totally flexible about the direction of travel. It also means that you are never disappointed, and quite often pleasantly surprised by the unexpected twists that a loose plan can take.
So when I set off for a first look at Beinn Eighe, all my options were open. My plan was no more than to walk up the long path through Coire Dubh Mor, round the shoulder of Beinn Eighe to Loch Coire Mhic Fearchair, and just see what happened. If I felt like carrying on up to the ridge – great. If I felt like turning round – great. If I got to one, or both, of the Munros – great. If I completed a whole circuit – great. This does not mean that I was not motivated to push as hard as I could, simply that any outcome would please me as much as any other. I just wanted to enjoy a good day in the mountains, without feeling pressured to attain a specific target.
At 0830 I left the already fairly crowded car park – it was after all a Saturday – and set off up the track. The weather was indifferent, with a cloud-laden sky brushing along the tops, but not much wind. The forecast was for an improvement which never really came.
I had grown accustomed to the fine stalkers’ paths on my home patch of the Achnashellach Estate, but the path up the Coire Dubh Mor was stupendous: wide, and lovingly metalled with sandstone blocks. It was an exemplar of the pathmaker’s art, a real motorway; at every turn I expected to come across a Welcome Break or a Costa Coffee. It’s just the right gradient, too, to get a day on the hill off to a good start: long and easy. The road and civilisation is put quickly behind; within an hour the walker is fully subsumed into a post-Ice Age landscape, with the heady crenellations of Liathach looming up to port, Beinn Eighe’s brooding mass to starboard, and ahead, the first hints of the wild back country.
A backward look to south Torridon on the walk in.

Squeezed between Liathach and Beinn Eighe

The coire echoed side to side with the lamentings of a dozen stags; not so much Pavarotti this time, more Les Dawson attempting Wagner. The chorus rung round with scarcely a break, infusing the day with a wild melancholy that reflected the massing grey cloud overhead.
Liathach looking suitably imposing

Then it was off to the right at the cairn, to pass round the northern headland of Sail Mhor. It was a longish haul round this great mass, but what a joy, with underfoot an extraordinary construction of huge sandstone stepping stones, and from east through north to west, a mind-stopping vista of unmitigated bleakness. As the path pulls round towards the Coire Mhic Fearchair it slowly transforms from stepping stones to staircase, giving a rapid ascent beside the waterfalls brimming over from the loch.
A post-Ice Age landscape

To reach the loch took two and a half hours from the car park, but a glance at the map showed a vertical gain of 500 metres: a supremely enjoyable way of knocking off more than half the height to the very top.
The altitude was showing, though, with a bitterly cold wind now starting to whip up. At the loch I sheltered behind a rock, ate a flapjack, drank some water and stared up at the mass of the Triple Buttress and the steep and narrowing scree couloir off to its left: the route to the ridge. For the moment the cloud had lifted a little, leaving the line of the ridge clear. There was no debate about it: up we go.
The Triple Buttress and the scree path up to the left

The path leads a meandering route round the loch and up through the various obstacles: sandstone slabs and outcrops, terraced lochans all the way up. Sometimes I lost the path, but the way up is intuitive, and I always found it again.
Then it was onto the lower scree. It starts promisingly enough, but grows steeper and looser in the ascent. I traversed over to the left to rejoin a grassy track I had seen from below. This helped for a little while, but then it was into the final narrow pitch.
Well, I’m getting better at just emptying my mind and pressing on upwards irrespective. I used a lot of the jagged rock to the left to help in the scramble. The weather was deteriorating rapidly as I hauled myself up the last section, with driving rain added to the wintry wind. Such was my focus that it was only when I hauled myself over the brow that I realised the back of my trouser legs were sodden with rain.
I found a sheltered spot amongst the big rocks off to the left and pulled on my waterproofs. Visibility was down to just a few yards. I had to keep moving, though. It was easy enough to follow the narrow ridge and occasional track towards the summit of Ruadh-Stac Mor. The wind was buffeting, and the driving rain was clouding my glasses. A couple coming the other way appeared out of the murk. They were doing an anti-clockwise circuit, and provided the first human contact of the day, and the reassurance that I was now ten minutes from the top.
I put my head down, concentrated on following the faint track, and pushed on to the messy pile of rock that marks the summit. I took a photo, but there was not much to show or see for my fifth Munro: a few stones and a lot of thick cloud. Having ascertained as best I could that this really was the summit, with no hint of a track leading further on, I started back along the ridge. A track is often harder to follow on the way down, as of course you are searching for it from a less helpful angle, but by keeping the wind hard on my starboard beam, and making sure I did not deviate from the brow, I kept in touch with it.
The summit - not a lot to see!

As I descended towards the col, I knew I had to make a fast decision. The choice was simple: either carry on along the ridge towards Spidean Coire nan Clach, or retreat down my route of ascent. The weather was showing no sign of relenting, and it seemed to me to be foolhardy to carry on along the ridge. I was a relative newcomer to this kind of walking, it was my first time on this mountain, visibility was almost zero. It was here that my lack of obsession with destination came in useful. I felt no compulsion to push on, perhaps beyond the level of what for me was prudent. I was just as happy to go home with one Munro as two; much better to leave the second for a better day when I could enjoy the experience more, and also get a proper idea of the visual lay-out of the mountain and its paths.
There would be at least one benefit in dropping down the narrow couloir, as well: I would be forced to do it the other way. As I approached the col I decided not to hesitate: straight over the top and down; straight into it, without too much reflection. In fact it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected, a sign perhaps of some modest progress. It was only just after one o’clock, so I had plenty of time to go down very carefully, another factor in my decision to make an honourable retreat. Halfway down the steep upper section I saw figures working their way up through the mist towards me. I found a rock to the side to sit on to let them pass: ten teenage boys with a couple of instructors. It was useful to watch the ease with which the leader made his way up the pitch I had struggled to ascend: he was upright, relaxed, well-balanced, totally at ease; something to aim for over time. Behind him the teenagers, even on a hardish bit of mountain, managed to exude a kind of slouching truculence as they worked their way up.
With the steep section behind me the rest of the day was mine to enjoy without a care. I was fascinated by the strange nodules on the slabs of sandstone lower down. They reminded me of the tubercles that sprout on the jaws of humpback whales.
Sandstone slabs playing humpback whales

Once back at the far end of the loch I sat and had a late lunch, pleased with my day, despite the limited success. For a moment the cloud lifted a little, but I at no time felt I had made the wrong decision. By the time I was well on my back down to the car park, light but steady drizzle had set in and the tops were once more shrouded. They would still be there for another, clearer day.
Roger T
Munro compleatist
Posts: 26
Munros:51   Corbetts:7
Joined: Sep 19, 2015
Location: Wester Ross

Re: It's the Journey That Counts - Ruadh-Stac Mor

Postby jamesb63 » Tue Oct 06, 2015 8:47 pm

Well done :clap: :clap: and also a fantastic report really enjoyed reading it :clap: :clap:
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Re: It's the Journey That Counts - Ruadh-Stac Mor

Postby Roger T » Wed Oct 07, 2015 9:12 pm

Thanks. I bagged the Spidean nan Clach today, in ideal conditions. Report to follow...
Roger T
Munro compleatist
Posts: 26
Munros:51   Corbetts:7
Joined: Sep 19, 2015
Location: Wester Ross

Re: It's the Journey That Counts - Ruadh-Stac Mor

Postby dav2930 » Wed Oct 07, 2015 9:43 pm

A beautifully written report. It's nice to read interesting thoughts well formulated (journeys and destinations). I loved the image of the humpback whale in relation to the sandstone slab with its nodules. Coire Mhic Fhearchair is always worth a visit in its own right. :clap:
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Joined: Feb 13, 2015
Location: Cumbria

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