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The Rocky Road to An Ruadh-Stac

The Rocky Road to An Ruadh-Stac

Postby Roger T » Tue Nov 03, 2015 7:26 pm

Route description: An Ruadh-stac

Corbetts included on this walk: An Ruadh-stac

Date walked: 01/11/2015

Time taken: 6.75 hours

Distance: 15 km

Ascent: 852m

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When you stand at the top of the Bealach a’ Choire Ghairbh and survey the eastern flank of the Corbett An Ruadh-Stac, the rock seems to be flowing down from the summit in great molten folds. It is an uncompromising sight, and the first time I saw it, back in August, my first thought was ‘No way!’ At first glance, and indeed at second glance, it looks steep and treacherous; hard and unyielding. I filed the hill away under Maybe Sometime/Probably Never.
An Ruadh-Stac - rock flowing down in great molten folds.

Well, Sometime came more quickly than expected. With only one four-hour low-level walk under my belt over the previous two weeks, I needed to get out and accumulate some serious hill time. The trouble was the wind. My house is just 8 metres above sea level, and even at that height half a gale was buffeting in from the south-west, straight off the distant Cuillin glowering through my kitchen window. I hated to think what was going on wind-wise at 800 or 900 metres. It wasn’t a day for planning a long-distance sortie, and so I settled on something local. I would walk up from the Coulags car park. If conditions and my state of mind allowed it, I would have a more serious look at An Ruadh-Stac. It was the sort of challenge I needed to consolidate the gains made on the Horns of Bein Alligin last time out. And if the weather was no good, I would have a good long walk anyway.
I was away from the car park before nine, making my way up the gentle approach path to the Coire Fionnaraich. It is, in the early stages, a bland ascent, but with my legs not in full trim I was glad of an hour of easy walking to get them nicely warmed up. That hour got me past the mountain bothy and to the cairn that marks the turn-off for the Bealach a’ Choire Gairbh. I struck off up the winding path. It was the fourth time I had made my way up there, and at last I could start to feel some real improvement in my mountain fitness. The first time had been a slow, halting affair, punctuated at almost every turn with a strategic stop to admire the view, take a photograph, adjust a bootlace, or whatever seemingly legitimate excuse I could find to take a breather. The mind can show exemplary imagination when urgent rest is called for.
This time was different. I made the whole ascent without a stop, and without feeling short of breath. In any case, I knew the path by now, and so was no longer like the kids in the back of the car on a long journey: Are we nearly there? How much longer? I just put my head down and kept on keeping on until the brow of the Bealach was under my feet.
The cloud was starting to lift, and my one hope – that the ascent route of An Ruadh-Stac would be on the lee side of the mountain, and therefore sheltered from the strong wind – looked as if it would be borne out.
I allowed myself just one brief glance at the hill before setting off across the col to its base. One thing I am learning is that too much reflection is not a good thing. You don’t stop and think about it; you just get on and do it.
That brief glance was instructive, nonetheless. To my slightly more tutored eye it did not look as steep or as daunting as I had previously thought. I felt a sudden flood of affection for Bein Alligin: in overcoming that beautiful mountain’s challenges I had learned more than I had realised. It had pushed me into a different zone, and created a wholly different yardstick against which to measure other hills. It had created a step-change in my mountain education. No doubt there would be more to come. I began to feel, properly, viscerally, what it could be that drives the urge to keep pushing the boundary on the hill. I remembered a phrase from my little Munro guide book, to the effect that in doing the Munros you would find out things about yourself. Could it be that with every hurdle that is overcome you feel more complete as a person? More at ease with yourself?
I crossed the stony hillocks that lead to An Ruadh-Stac, and as I came over the brow of a little rise, I came face to face with a ptarmigan. There is was, just a few feet in front of me, now mostly white with a few silver-grey featherings on its back, eyeing me with only the slightest concern. I stopped and we studied each other for a while. I gently pulled out my phone and took some photographs. He, or she, posed dutifully. I edged round, not staring too hard, but all the while moving a little closer. I didn’t want to put it up but I was curious as to how close it would let me come. Ten feet was about the limit. Any closer and it shuffled away to maintain the distance. I wished it a good day on the hill and carried on.
Spot the birdie! The brilliant camouflage of the ptarmigan.

The ptarmigan shows off his snow-white trousers.

Once onto the slabs I stop for a rest, water and a flapjack. I cleared my mind, found a calm centre and set off up. I could well see that when wet this great quartzite fascia could be tricky, but it was a crisp, dry day, and my Scarpas gripped like suction pads. The rock was clean and well-pitted with footholds. The little ridges and escarpments that litter its surface were easy to negotiate. With no path to follow I felt liberated, and so enjoyed climbing freely up, with just the occasional minor scramble to add some spice to the ascent. The way up seemed intuitive, and sure enough as I came off the slabs I fell in with a sort of a path that led to the next pitch of steep scree. A little more care was needed here: the scree is small and loose on the path, and the whole pitch carries on a little more than is reasonable for what is, after all, only a Corbett. The contours then ease off considerably. I looked back several times and made a good mental image of the features that mark the top of the path, before covering the last hundred metres or so of bumpy ground that lead to the summit.
The rocky road up.

The day brightens.

It was very strange. I did not feel the elation I had expected on getting there, and which every previous peak had evoked. Somewhere down there was no more than a subdued and deep-seated satisfaction. I wasn’t sure whether to interpret this as something positive or not. It could be argued either way. It could be that I was starting to come of age on the hill, and so was less prone to extremes of feeling. Or it could be that I was getting blasé about the whole thing.
Or it could have been that by then I was too cold to care: once on top of the Corbett the south-westerly, a bitterly cold November wind, was in full flow. I took some photographs, huddled down behind the cairn to eat a sandwich, and set off down.
From the summit, r. to l., Fuar Tholl, Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor under the cloud.

From the summit - Fuar Tholl and the mountains of Monar.

Looking north to Loch Torridon and Bein Alligin.

The ascent had taken a little more than three hours, and so it was only just after midday. There was no hurry. I took my time, enjoying my growing ease with height and steepness, enjoying the solitude and the wildness. I had not seen another walker all day, and so felt privileged to have had the whole landscape to myself; or at least to have shared it with a single luminous ptarmigan.
The rocky road down.

Sgorr Ruadh and Bein Liath Mhor, with, I think, Bein Eighe off to the left.

The low top Meall nan Ceapairean framed by Fuar Tholl and Sgorr Ruadh.

The slabs glinting in the afternoon sunshine.
Roger T
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Posts: 26
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Joined: Sep 19, 2015
Location: Wester Ross

Re: The Rocky Road to An Ruadh-Stac

Postby BobMcBob » Tue Nov 03, 2015 7:35 pm

Lovely stuff. Nice report and nice photos of my favourite area. You're so lucky to live up there. I think perhaps the lack of elation is due to confidence - you now know you can do it so you're not getting the 'Blimey, I did it!' feeling. Don't worry though, there's plenty of others to take its place.
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Re: The Rocky Road to An Ruadh-Stac

Postby Silverhill » Tue Nov 03, 2015 9:22 pm

Good to hear that you are becoming fitter and more confident!
Lovely pictures of this area, which I hope to visit next summer.
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Re: The Rocky Road to An Ruadh-Stac

Postby Graeme D » Tue Nov 03, 2015 9:31 pm

A typical Torridon rock monster! I had planned this for the weekend at the Torridon meet but the forecast is pants to put it mildly. Superb as it is, reading this report has therefore filled me with a deep feeling of frustration! :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Location: Perth

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