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Liathach - Meall Dearg (eventually) & the Northern Pinnacles

Liathach - Meall Dearg (eventually) & the Northern Pinnacles

Postby weaselmaster » Mon Oct 12, 2015 9:17 pm

Munros included on this walk: Mullach an Rathain (Liathach)

Date walked: 03/10/2015

Time taken: 17 hours

Distance: 38 km

Ascent: 2900m

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With the reputation of being the trickiest mainland Top, Liathach's Meall Dearg had been causing me problems of the sleepless night sort for some time. I'd read various reports on the net about it being challenging primarily because the sandstone is so loose and friable. And Liathach herself does have something of a reputation :lol: I'd researched a route from Coire na Caime that took you up towards the dreaded Northern Pinnacles, aiming for a "notch" in the ridgeline, then followed the crest of the ridge along to the summit.

Set off from the lovely cottage Allison & Craig had rented for the preceeding week at around 9am and drove along to the Beinn Eighe car park. walking along the track, passing the tiered buttress of Stob a'Choire Dhuibh Bhig and heading round the back of this dramatic mountain. The shoulders of Stob a'Choire Liath Mhor then Spidean a Choire Liath came into view, green and grey in the morning light. Finally the pointed ridge of Meall Dearg appeared, innocuous initially but becoming more prominent and challenging as we drew closer. Up ahead we could see the familiar outlines of Beinn Dearg, then Beinn an Eoin and Baosbheinn arrived on the scene. What a glorious place to be.

Stob a'choire Dhuibh Bhig
ImageP1100527 by Al, on Flickr

Meall Dearg just poking into view
ImageP1100530 by Al, on Flickr

Getting scarier
ImageP1100531 by Al, on Flickr

View to the North
ImageP1100534 by Al, on Flickr

We left the track when we came to a lochan on our left and crossed over heathery, boulder strewn landscape to pass below the last reaches of Spidean's arm and enter Coire na Caime, filled by the rather wonderful Loch Coire na Caime. Above the loch the grey walls of Liathach rose dauntingly, the Am Fasarinen pinnacles jagged against the white sky. Mist was starting to roll in over the Northern Pinnacles. We walked round the Loch, thinking what a great place this would be to wild camp, just on the beach. From inside the coire we could make out the obvious "notch" we were to aim for, and followed the path of the stream up higher into the coire bowl. As we got higher, the clag got lower. We paused for food at about 750m as the clag enveloped us and the rain started.

Coire na Caime
ImageP1100536 by Al, on Flickr

Our destination..
ImageP1100538 by Al, on Flickr

Am Fasarinen / Northern Pinnacles Pano
ImageP1100539 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100541 by Al, on Flickr

You can make out the "notch" in the centre of the ridge
ImageP1100543 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100544 by Al, on Flickr

If I'd been apprehensive about this journey beforehand, I was now full of dread. Clambering up into a dank coire with loose, unsafe rock to hold onto and a teetering ridge to traverse seemed somewhat challenging now. The wise decision would have been to bale out now - I was getting a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I was drawn to investigate a bit more about the next section of the climb. We walked up over a boulderfield for about 80m - steep but unremarkable. We then arrived at a slabby section just below the notch - or at least where the notch might be as in the clag we could see nothing of it. It looked thoroughly unpleasant trying to get up here - or also trying to get down again :roll: Allison had a few exploratory scrambles with me watching on anxiously from below, but neither of us were happy to continue in the current conditions and we descended back into the coire.

"View" as we get higher - the notch is somewhere up there
ImageP1100546 by Al, on Flickr

Getting tricksy now
ImageP1100547 by Al, on Flickr

Steep and unpleasant section that sent us packing
ImageP1100548 by Al, on Flickr

I was in a bit of a mood. I hate failing to get a hill and I was also aware of my wish to get all the Tops completed by the end of the year. There was the WH Torridon meet, when more able folk might be willing to come and accompany us - but by :roll: hen the weather might have put a kybosh on any attempt to get up. We could have another go later in the week ourselves, but now that the fear had been instilled in me, a second go at getting up here would be harder. Cogitating to myself I decided to try and salvage something from the day - the Top of Sail Mhor on Beinn Eighe was also on my list and it was only just over there! Allison was obliging enough to agree and we returned to the track and walked up into Coire Mhic Fhearchair, passing a number of folk on their way back down to the car park. I was quite sure there was enough time to get this hill done today and pressed on.

Of course the clag starts to clear as we descend :roll:
ImageP1100550 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100551 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100552 by Al, on Flickr

On to Beinn Eighe
ImageP1100554 by Al, on Flickr

We got to the head of the loch and traversed an unpleasant way round the west side to the southernmost stream, then began ascending steeply through the scree and boulders. To our left, the Triple Buttress loomed menacingly from the mist. We picked up a path of sorts and got to the bealach between Sail Mhor and Coinneach Mhor - still 120m to the summit. Allison is struggling by this time and not in the best of humours. The summit cairn perches on a narrow spur of rock and is most impressive, despite - or perhaps due to - the clag and lack of view. Returning by our ascent route we decided to head around the eastern side of the loch, where there is a path, avoiding the boulder hopping on the other side. This also took us past the extensive wreckage of TX264 Lancaster reconnaisance aircraft from 1951 - I'd managed to walk past it all noticing nothing (I was intent on watching one of the roaring stags near the loch, to be fair) and when Allison brought it to my attention I had to go back up for a proper look.

Round the loch
ImageP1100555 by Al, on Flickr

Triple Buttress
ImageP1100558 by Al, on Flickr

Steeply upwards
ImageP1100559 by Al, on Flickr

Summit Sail Mhor
ImageP1100562 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100564 by Al, on Flickr

Triple Buttress minus Clag
ImageP1100565 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100573 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100574 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100575 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100577 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100569 by Al, on Flickr

The return route brought us some good views within the coire now that the clag had lifted and we happily wandered back to the car just as darkness fell. We drove back to Torridon village, pitching at the campsite and enjoying a fine curry. I was still uncertain how to resolve the issue of Meall Dearg and turned the options over in my head during the hours of darkness. We'd planned to do Beinn an Eoin & Baosbheinn over the next two days, then hoped to get out into the Fisherfields for 3 days after that - hmmm...

ImageP1100579 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100580 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100584 by Al, on Flickr

Second attempt
We returned on Monday lunchtime from a delightful trip to Baosbheinn/Beinn an Eoin and I had been able to sort out my ideas about how to proceed with Meall Dearg. I remembered an advert for Torridon Guides, based at the Hotel and decided to see if we could enlist some help there. Went up to the Inn and met Ollie Mentz who heads the small team. After some rather awkward confusion about what we wanted to climb (he thought Maol Chinn Dearg, not Meall Dearg and was surprised I wished a guide for that :lol: ) it turned out he had Tuesday free, which would suit us nicely. We arranged to meet up at 8.30 the next morning. We had some time to return to the campsite and dry the tents off in the strong wind - it was really too blowy to be up anywhere high. Unfortunately just as the tent appeared to be dry the rain came on in lashes and ruined our efforts. A wet night, made bearable by a small selection of the fine beers from Torridon Stores.

Tuesday morning and we meet Ollie at the hotel then drive back to the Beinn Eighe car park. I was feeling a bit shamefaced about having to get a guide for this hill, but - in keeping to my Schedule - this was the most efficient option. We chatted away to Ollie on the way out - a really friendly and knowledgeable guy with a passion for climbing. We went a bit further past the lochan before turning into the coire and kept much more to the western rim of the coire where there was something of a path - certainly easier going than the route we'd taken on the Saturday. As before the rain started as we headed up into the coire and the clag descended, but not to the same extent as when we'd been up ourselves and we could see the terrain.

Here we go again
ImageP1100745 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100746 by Al, on Flickr

There's that notch again
ImageP1100748 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100749 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100750 by Al, on Flickr

Looking up at the notch, I was mortified to see that there was an easy route up grassy slopes to the left side of the awkward channel we'd got stuck at the time before - if on;y we'd been able to see where we were going I was sure that I could have got up there unaided. It was a little steep and slippy, but nowhere near as frightening as I'd imagined it to be. We reached the crest of the ridge, within the "notch" and looked over to our right where the narrow ridge proceeded into clag. This is where the term "looseness" started to make sense - every rock big or small seemed to be cracked and just ready to break off in your hand or under foot - nothing was secure. This was a little unsettling. Ollie found no need to rope up, and I guess there wouldn't have been much to belay from :shock: After a short section of scrambling we reached the dinky summit cairn - a great sigh of relief emitted from me - now I knew there was no obstacle to the Tops being completed. We headed back to the notch in quite heavy rain.

ImageP1100751 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100753 by Al, on Flickr

On the ridge
ImageP1100755 by Al, on Flickr

Yep, over there
ImageP1100756 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100758 by Al, on Flickr

Someone's happy
ImageP1100759 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100760 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100761 by Al, on Flickr

It was about midday by this time. Ollie offered us a choice - we could head back down the way we'd come up, which would be steep and unpleasant, or we could nip over to the other side of the hill. I realised he was talking about going over the Northern Pinnacles. This was not really in my plans :lol: However, we had a guide, harnesses and rope- what could go wrong :D Ollie was clearly delighted to be getting a chance to take clients over these fellas - he'd climbed them a few times before but never with clients. Allison just grinned from ear to ear at the prospect of getting hands on rock and even I admitted to myself that it might be fun. We donned harnesses and roped up - Allison and I having climbed in tandem a couple times before before we knew the drill. Off went Ollie for the first lengthy pitch, and seemed pleased and surprised by how rapidly we followed on. I guess the traverse took around an hour - always difficult to be sure of time when you're concentrating intently. Nothing was particularly challenging, although - as on Meall Dearg, there were some unstable bits of rock. The third and fourth pinnacles were reached via dank and loose chimnies, with an awkward step up on the final pinnacle, but with the assistance of a rope, nothing to worry about.

Let the fun begin
ImageP1100762 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100763 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP1100764 by Al, on Flickr

Third pinnacle chimney
ImageP1100765 by Al, on Flickr

Fourth pinnacle
ImageP1100767 by Al, on Flickr

View from Rathain
ImageP1100768 by Al, on Flickr

We reached the summit of Mullach an Rathain exilherated and buzzing - what a fantastic way to finish off the day. Although I had been uncomfortable about requiring assistance with Meall Dearg, the Northern Pinnacles experience was wonderful. Definately one of my best hill days for thrills. We had a belated lunch under Ollie's emergency shelter at the summit of Rathain then romped down the standard route back to the campsite.
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Re: Liathach - Meall Dearg (eventually) & the Northern Pinna

Postby rockhopper » Mon Oct 12, 2015 10:22 pm

Jings :shock: Sweaty palms stuff
Quite an adventure you had there - now I know why I'm not collecting tops :wink: - cheers :)
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Re: Liathach - Meall Dearg (eventually) & the Northern Pinna

Postby BlackPanther » Tue Oct 13, 2015 2:19 pm

:clap: :clap: :clap: So glad you managed it the second time. The Pinnacles look scary though... I don't think I'll ever try this route :lol:

Just a little shame you didn't get the great sunny weather we had on Sunday on BaE, but it's a small price to pay :D
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Re: Liathach - Meall Dearg (eventually) & the Northern Pinna

Postby Fife Flyer » Tue Oct 13, 2015 7:26 pm

Well done you two :clap: :clap: That sounded pretty scary and enjoyable in equal measures :lol:
Like RH say's I too can see why I won't be doing the tops :lol:
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