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Fowl play and coming unstrung atop Slioch

Fowl play and coming unstrung atop Slioch

Postby Driftwood » Wed Jul 12, 2017 10:31 pm

Route description: Slioch, near Kinlochewe

Munros included on this walk: Slioch

Date walked: 14/06/2017

Time taken: 7.75 hours

Distance: 20 km

Ascent: 1420m

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After two days of poor or indifferent forecasts (and a lot of unsettled conditions before that), there was finally the prospect of some decent weather in Torridon. Unfortunately, I'd also provoked some twinges with my right leg during the previous walk, around the Beinn Dearg group above Inverlael. So I was in two minds about what to do and ruled out what would have been my first choice, attempting the full Beinn Eighe ridge.

After a leisurely second breakfast at the Whistle Stop cafe in Kinlochewe, with the weather holding dry and cloud above the hills, I decided to get walking after all. My leg was feeling comfortable (so was the left leg, but that was being less of a diva and just got on with things), so a plan came together. Slioch is just around the corner (quite literally around a corner of Loch Maree), had a few miles of level ground to ease me into the walk and is a fairly moderate hill, at least by my ambitious standards and the measures of the area.

Thinking that would also be easier, I drove around to the walkers' carpark. Though that's even closer than the map implied, so I should really have just walked there from the village anyway. I made a very late start, after 11:30 am, passing through a foot-gate among the trees to join an easy path, but things didn't go quite so smoothly as intended.

As I stepped forward, with my left foot, I suddenly felt something go. Disaster? Not exactly, but my boot was ever so slightly looser. And a look showed why: the bootlace, which I'd known to be frayed for a while, had finally given up the ghost over the recent days of trudging through bogs, rain and up and down steep lumpy ground.
Fortunately, I was prepared, having a pair of long scarpa bootlaces in my pack (that had resided there for at least a couple of years). It added a slightly jaunty tone, though contrasted with the plainer brown lace on the right boot. But I decided to hold off on replacing that, at least until after the walk (if it lasted), so the delay only amounted to 5 minutes before I was on my way once more.

The path, at points a grassy track, runs pleasantly through open ground , with views across to Beinn Eighe to remind me what I was missing. But it was a comfortable stretch of the legs, letting me check that they were both in working order after yesterday's concerns. Things get even nicer once the path joins the river Kinlochewe, fringed by alder and even one or two old ash trees.
View over Kinlochewe river

There is some rise and fall as the path runs along glacial debris carved through by the river, with some burns running down from the north side. But those caused no trouble, even after recent rain, so on I went.

The next highlight, as well as developing views of the Torridon hills further southwest, came with Loch Maree. The near shore is mostly clad with alders as waterside trees, but the opposite slopes are home to a lot of beautiful Caledonian pines. The weather was mostly overcast, but held dry and comfortable for walking. Passing beneath the flank of Beinn a' Mhuinidh, Slioch came into sight above the ferns and trees.
There's one substantial river to cross, Abhainn an Ehasaigh, with a weathered wooden bridge. That showed off some falls a little way upstream, framed by the channel worn through stone and trees growing profusely to either side.
Abhainn an Ehasaigh

Just past the bridge, the path divides. Almost the moment that you step off the bridge, in fact, so I needed a moment to check this on my map, rather than go wandering the banks of Loch Maree. Once upon the right path, that heads up some slabs, with heather and other plants clinging tenaciously on, to a more gradual moorland slope. But even here there's a lot of ancient bedrock directly underfoot, with more of it ahead. There is plenty of stone to step upon, with an established path, but also damp ground and bog flora, from flowers to sundews.
Bog asphodel

Looking down to check my footing, I also noticed this curious creature investigating its surroundings.
Interesting insect

The weather was warming up towards lunchtime, so I paused for some water and to take in the views (as well as some air). But held off on a snack stop, telling myself to get further uphill first.
Looking back over Loch Maree

Though I wasn't above more pauses when plants caught at my attention. It's a rare day indeed when I manage to get a clear photo of butterwort. Normally only the flower, or the star of leaves, are visible at once.

There was a hint of a shower, which didn't come to much. I stopped where the path heads for a gap between the outlying top of Sgurr Dubh and the minor lump of Meall Each. Another walker passed, heading downhill, though I was already a way off the path by then.
After a bit of lunch, my right leg continued to be fine, so I decided to go ahead with a route over Sgurr Dubh and around a further ridge, which I'd read somewhere was a steeper and scramblier alternative. It certainly looked like a steep start uphill...
Sgurr Dubh

Although there was a lot of height to gain, this just involved steep ground mixed with some stone, unless I missed some outcrops or a more defined scramble. So it took some effort, but no difficulties and was pleasantly dry underfoot, especially further up.
The steep ground eased off, then a little more distance brought me to a summit area with promising views in most directions, especially along and across Loch Maree. This also showed some good walking ahead, over a further minor top to reach another steepish ridge up to the Slioch plateau.
Ridge around to Slioch

I headed around , enjoying the walking though there was about 70 metres of descent and height to regain. I could now see two lochans lay ahead between me and the main ridge, as well as a path coming up from the cirque of Coire na Sleaghaich, which I'd join for the next stage of ascent.
Ascent ridge

And the evolving, but always impressive, views back across the Loch, just to remind me of "what I could have had".
Across Loch Maree

I crossed a slight dip beside the eastern lochan, a pleasant sheltered spot. But the ascent ahead was looking eroded and steep, with a lot of worn area strewn with stones and gravelly sand. It turned out to be as bad as it looked. At first, I let my route wander leftwards (the western part of the slope), but wasn't enjoying that. So I traversed back to my right, gaining height until I reached more of an edge to the ridge.
Eroded ascent "path"

There was even the glimpse of some bare rock ridges coming up from further east, but I only noticed those too late to study whether they were suitable for scrambling. Probably not, but the ground which I had crossed didn't feel suitable for anything much.
As a consolation, the ridge eased and gave better footing further up, while gaps in the clouds illuminated patches of landscape here and there.
Kinlochewe in the sunshine

I followed the path on and upwards, tending leftwards (more due west) up a top which dropped away dramatically on its southern side. This is above the 3000-ft mark, though doesn't stick up much compared to the plateau beyond. Unlike Sgurr an Tuill Bhan, which had been drawing my attention for the last hour and more, sticking a ridge out far from the summit plateau.
After another break, for a drink and afternoon sustenance, I headed across a bizarre-looking area of red gritty sand, much of it bare and parts worn into deep channels by foot traffic.
Sandstone, sand and turf plateau

This brought me to a last moderate climb and then up to the twin summits. The first, a fraction lower, has a trig point and looks west along Loch Maree, then another with a cairn has further prospects including the sculpted hills and secluded lochs of Fisherfield.
The islands of Loch Maree

This walk and another the previous day (the Beinn Dearg near Ullapool) showed me areas of the north-west that I'd never seen before, but am all the keener to return to and enjoy closer up. For the moment, I could only admire them from a few miles off.
Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

And one of the more remote Munros. I've walked others that are probably further from a road in terms of miles, but these felt a world of difference from the rounded, heathery hills further east.
A' Mhaighdean

A breeze was blowing up, not enough to feel chilly - or cause concern - but, like the cloud further up, a reminder that this was a rare decent day in the unsettled conditions that defined most of June. Also, after my late start (and an evening finish the day before), I wanted to be back at the bunkhouse and having dinner at a sensible hour. So I left the summit area to follow a bit of a path east, looking out over plunging crags and Doire Garbhaig to my left.
Some descent brought me to catch up with a couple near to the start of a narrower ridge. They invited me to go ahead as they'd be taking some photos. Or maybe I just had the look of someone determined to get a hot meal without delay?
Sgurr an Tuill Bhain

There's a nice, if short, ridge walk, with hints of exposure but nothing technical, then rising to the stony Munro Top of Sgurr an Tuil Bhan. I reached the cairn and gave that my customary tap, only to realise that I was not quite alone there.
There was something ... no, several somethings ... on the stones to my left, about a steep craggy drop. It seemed that I'd interrupted a family occasion, so eased back carefully to avoid disturbing them. But they seemed quite calm, so it was out with my camera to make the most of the opportunity.
Ptarmigan chick against Loch Garbhaig

There seemed to be a handful of youngsters around, though only one was adventurous, or enough of a show-off, enough to pose on a prominent rock. None seemed too bothered, even the mother Ptarmigan who at first had been superbly disguised against the rocky summit area. She was using none of the usual tricks to draw a threat away from her brood, but all the same I did my best to avoid anything that could scatter or send them flying.
Ptarmigan mum

While I had the camera out, there was also the matter of stunning mountain scenery to take in. Where I'd been.
Slioch plateau

And many more places to go. I even got something of a view over to Beinn Alligin, Monday's (wet and cloudy) walk, though the details of that were made indistinct by distance and the nearly-Munro Beinn Dearg getting in the way.
Beinns a' Chearcaill, Dearg and Alligin

After a frenzy of photos, I started descending in a southeasterly direction down a steepish shoulder of Sgurr an Tuil Bhan. But it was evident that the ground dropped away much more towards Coire na Sleaghaich. And, yes, the path does lead that way. It zig-zags helpfully, but even so is quite steep and loose for almost a couple of hundred metres. So I got to descend quite rapidly, but always with concern and needing to stay balanced in case that turned into an uncontrolled and all-too-quick descent.
I took a couple of further stops before, then across the corrie, for a snack (which I'd put off at the last summit) and to top up on water from one branch of the Allt Coire na Sleaghaich. There is some boggy and uneven ground to cross, but pretty soon I rejoined a path, headed for about the same place as I'd turned off during my ascent.

I skipped out on visiting the minor lump of Meall Each, to hasten downhill on more of less the way that I had come.
Bog cotton

Getting towards the bridge, I could make out a couple of cyclists slightly ahead, coming through by the path alongside Abhainn an Ehasaigh. Though, as it turned out, they needed to push their bikes almost as much as ride, especially along the sometimes a narrow and undulating path on the way out. So I ended up overtaking them on the stretch beside the Kinlochewe River, though they caught up again on the level track towards the carpark.
View back from the path out

Return to Kinlochewe

As one last mention, back at the carpark, I started loosening the lace on my other (right) boot. That promptly snapped, so it was on with the other replacement. At least the old pair had been consistent in both giving up on the same day. And, to give them their due, had probably been through 700 or 800 miles of bogs, wet grass, heather, peat and other ordeals.

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Re: Fowl play and coming unstrung atop Slioch

Postby litljortindan » Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:52 am

Not sure Slioch is much less of a day than Ben Eighe but I wouldn't feel regret about missing one for the other -both great hills.
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Re: Fowl play and coming unstrung atop Slioch

Postby Driftwood » Sat Jul 15, 2017 2:59 pm

litljortindan wrote:Not sure Slioch is much less of a day than Ben Eighe but I wouldn't feel regret about missing one for the other -both great hills.

I (attempt to) walk the Tops as well as the Munros, which transforms Beinn Eighe from a substantial and rugged hill into a long, rugged and often-scrambly mountain range. And then there'd be at least a few miles of road or other lower-level walking to try joining things up.

Having taken in some views, particularly looking across from Slioch, I'm all the keener to get up Beinn Eighe in future, ideally with a combination of decent weather, an early start and fully-functional legs.

Though Slioch was a superb hill on its own and fantastic viewpoint for the area.
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Re: Fowl play and coming unstrung atop Slioch

Postby malky_c » Sat Jul 22, 2017 11:52 am

Always a great hill - don't know why I haven't been up it more often. In fact I do - because it takes a lot longer than you think it's going to!
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Re: Fowl play and coming unstrung atop Slioch

Postby Driftwood » Sat Jul 22, 2017 6:38 pm

malky_c wrote:Always a great hill - don't know why I haven't been up it more often. In fact I do - because it takes a lot longer than you think it's going to!

It did turn out to be a substantial walk considering that I'd picked it as an an easier, or at least moderate, alternative. But I've come to realise that metres on the western side of the Highlands mean more than those in the east.
It's either that, or the views account for the difference. But if it's worth the time getting there (definitely), then extra time on the hills is a bonus.
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