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The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl


Postby Mal Grey » Wed Mar 14, 2018 1:55 pm

Route description: Fuar Tholl

Corbetts included on this walk: Fuar Tholl

Date walked: 26/03/2018

Time taken: 6.5 hours

Distance: 15 km

Ascent: 920m

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After our excellent day on Beinn Damh the day before (viewtopic.php?f=9&t=78860), there was no talk of a rest day, for the forecast was once again superb and we couldn’t wait to get out crampons on snow once again. So, as on many days before, we headed for Coire Lair, just down the valley from Gerry’s where we were staying. We’ve done Beinn Liath Mhor and Sgorr Ruadh several times, and relatively recently, but the third magnificent peak of Fuar Tholl hadn’t been revisited since our early years of winter walking in the 90s. That was therefore the obvious target.

Towering over Glen Carron, Fuar Tholl is a spectacular looking hill, a great pyramid split on its eastern side into a great gash of a corrie just below the summit. This is likely the Cold Hole for which the mountain in named. Once, 25 years ago, we’d climbed up the gully at the back of this hole in bad conditions, right to the summit. This was not something I had any wish to repeat these days, as the memory was of a very steep finish, bridged out on rubbish snow which was falling down onto my companions below, and being very glad to come out onto the top.


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Today, then, we would take a more sensible route, and approach the hill from behind, via the superb environs of Coire Lair. We hoped we’d find a slightly more fun route than just up and back via Bealach Mor, but would keep our options open.

Leaving the car at the phone-box layby below Achnashellach Station we quickly crossed the level crossing, with its bizarre painted markings to show you where to walk, and were soon walking through a scene of devastation, for the forest is currently being harvested here. As we headed up the wide track, our might intended dominated the view ahead.


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The stalkers’ path up into Coire Lair is a true great amongst mountain approaches. Leaving the track to follow the tumbling waters of the Allt an Leth-creag, beneath fragrant pines, it soon turns to wind delightfully up the hillside without every feeling like hard work. As you approach Coire Lair, the ice-scoured rocks push through the thin topsoil, like the very bones of the earth, and your feet grip securely to slabs laced with crystalline veins. Suddenly, you reach a cairn, and this magnificent corrie opens out before you, Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor dominant.


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We’d just about reached the snowline, and a little confusion ensued where I initially missed the path down to the ford over the River Lair. Soon we were on track and, somehow missing the most obvious place to cross, tottering from ice-covered rock to ice-covered rock across the freezing cold water. Here, as Nigel and I had gleefully hoped for after years of walking together, Steve promptly found himself almost falling through having somehow picked a bad spot to step, a particular habit of his it has to be said. He looked at the ice cracking around him, the opening hole looked at him greedily, but luckily he escaped its icy jaws this time.

Our climb began across the relatively gentle slopes towards Bealach Mor, linking up the faint traces of the path whilst picking the snowiest sections to walk up. For the snow was in perfect condition again, firm but not yet icy enough to need our spikes on. We progressed quickly upwards, stopping occasionally to gaze upwards at the steep flanks of Fuar Tholl, behind across Strathcarron, or ahead to the magnificent North East face of Sgorr Ruadh.


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Our thoughts turned to the route ahead. As we rounded the shoulder of the hill, the Coire of Mainnrichean opened out, divided by the stupendous buttress of the same name. I’d thought the gully to the right might go, for on the map it looked less steep. However, the cornices at the top were obvious, and our days of such exploits behind us. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that, as the back of the coire came into sight to the left, the slope up to the ridge looked steep but manageable, and there was clearly no cornice at the top. That decided us, we would head that way.


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A convenient rock offered us a place to stop, to take on some hot tomato soup and our first lunch (there’s always more than one), and to don crampons. Ahead, the route looked steep, clearly it was going to be a calf-burner. An initial steep section between rocky bluffs seemed to lead at a reasonable angle to a slightly lower angled section, followed by a final steepening to the top.


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We headed off. Steve’s the fittest of us, so was soon heading up front, with me in the middle and Nige behind. The snow had firmed up here, in a place rarely touched by the sun, the crampons biting securely, but the surface hard enough that kicking a firmer step for a rest was not easy. However, height was being gained very quickly.


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Once the steeper section was behind us, the last bit relented a little, though there were still a few short bits that were harder work. By the top, our calves were telling us we’d been making a lot of effort, but the views more than made up for it.


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The 200m of climbing up the back of the corrie had brought us almost to the top. Ahead, snow slopes offered a route around the boulder fields, and we quickly worked our way up to the top.


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Another day, another truly remarkable summit. Like yesterday on Beinn Damh, ahead the top fell away suddenly into the corrie, again offering us that “top of the world” feeling that is so wonderful. We wandered over to the nearby gully top, to peer over the dangling cornice at the route which we once came up. Nope, never doing that again!


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Second lunch became dominant in our thoughts. Today there was a modest breeze which, as the temperature was well below freezing, was quite bitter. We therefore “dug in” below the top, always a satisfying thing to do in the snow, making ourselves seats and cup holders for our soup. As we sipped and chewed, we gazed out over the mountains in simple wonder.


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Click for panorama

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Again, we stayed a while, though it was colder than the previous day as the sun was now intermittent, occasionally bringing warmth through a gap in the high clouds. It was time to descend, as the sun lit up Loch Carron ahead.


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The way down would take us back past our route of ascent, over the top of the Mainnrichean Buttress, and down to the Bealach Mor, outflanking Creag Mainnrichean on the way. We’d descended this way in the cloud on our first visit, and my memory was of a slightly awkward descent to avoid the steep parts of the buttresses above the col.

Perhaps we should have tried a direct descent from Creag Mainnrichean, for looking back up later steep snow slopes led through the steepest crags. Instead, though, knowing the drop to be steep, I led us down to the west at an angle, following a faint and loose path. This was no fun. In fact, as we tried to maintain height to angle around towards the Bealach, it was pretty awkward, very loose and definitely a bit precarious. As most was on rubble and scree, we’d taken off our crampons, but we now found ourselves having to cross steepish snow slopes between tottering piles of choss. Fortunately, the snow was soft enough here, on the south west slopes, to allow the kicking of slightly better steps and whilst long-legged Nigel pushed on ahead, using his go-go-gadget legs to stride across the snow, Steve and I took it a bit more steadily and chose to drop down once we could. A few minutes later and we were on easy slopes above the Bealach, looking back at the crag above, which didn’t look nearly as bad as what we’d just crossed to avoid it.


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Leaving the sun behind for a while, we strapped the spikes back to our boots and descended quickly and easily back into the corrie below.


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The descent was relatively easy, again the snow making it smooth and quick. The mountains looked down upon us, the folded flanks of Beinn Liath Mhor catching the first hint of the warmth and softness of the evening sun.


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Crossing the river easily about 20 yards downstream of our morning route’s icy stepping stones, we were soon dropping back towards Glen Carron through the woodlands, at the end of another memorable day in this truly special part of the world.


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I’ve always said that, once I’m gone, this is one of the places where I would like my friends and family to come and remember me. I’m not really bothered about the sprinkling of ashes, but this is the sort of place where I would like a hint of me to remain. Perhaps by writing about it, it does, in memory at least. Hopefully there are plenty more visits before then though!
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Wed Mar 14, 2018 2:05 pm

Wonderful photos of a brilliant hill
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby malky_c » Wed Mar 14, 2018 2:14 pm

8) 8) 8)

I still remember my first time up Fuar Tholl clearly. It was the first time I'd been that far north - we had been out the previous day in the clag on the south side of Strathcarron, and on Sunday, we had weather like this. It was amazing - I'd never seen any of the Torridon mountains before, except in photos.

The hills around Coire Lair and Coire Fhionnaraich are some of my most visited, and it is probably one of my favourite parts of the Highlands. The fact that they are handily close (some of the time :roll: ) probably explains why I have never stayed at Gerry's. Before I moved to Inverness, the university club always used to book Inver Croft, a bit closer to Achnasheen.

Great report :D .
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby Graeme D » Wed Mar 14, 2018 4:53 pm

Wonderful hill, no doubt made all the more memorable by the fact that you time travelled into the future to do it! :lol:
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby malky_c » Wed Mar 14, 2018 4:54 pm

Graeme D wrote:Wonderful hill, no doubt made all the more memorable by the fact that you time travelled into the future to do it! :lol:

Nice one - I'm home on the 26th. glad to know the weather will be good :lol:
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby Mal Grey » Wed Mar 14, 2018 8:34 pm

Hah. One of my many skills, time travel. Well we're all travelling through time to be fair. Sadly another skill is making mistakes in online forms...I supposed I could correct it and then make you guys look silly, or I could leave it to see how many other folk spot it.... :D

Cheers for the comments all. :)
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby BlackPanther » Wed Mar 14, 2018 9:07 pm

You lucky B ;))))) Not only you can time-travel, you also know how to catch a perfect weather window :lol: :lol:

We're on hols now and weather is simply c***p. Staggered to a Graham and a sub today. Held onto the trigpoint for dear life. Almost lost poor wee Lucy to the gusty winds. And it's going to get worse tomorrow - ha ha. We'll be staying on low ground for sure.

PS. I did FT twice and both times loved it. We only used your ascent route in the descent, but I was always impressed by Mainnrichean Buttress. Great to see it again in such fantastic light :D
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Mar 15, 2018 11:33 am

BlackPanther wrote:You lucky B ;))))) Not only you can time-travel, you also know how to catch a perfect weather window :lol: :lol:

We're on hols now and weather is simply c***p. Staggered to a Graham and a sub today. Held onto the trigpoint for dear life. Almost lost poor wee Lucy to the gusty winds. And it's going to get worse tomorrow - ha ha. We'll be staying on low ground for sure.

PS. I did FT twice and both times loved it. We only used your ascent route in the descent, but I was always impressed by Mainnrichean Buttress. Great to see it again in such fantastic light :D


I seem to remember that you made a similar comment about weather windows and rubbish weather on your hols just after my winter trip reports this time last year too! Sorry! You do get to go out there more often than me though!

I've occasionally wondered if you should put Lucy on a lead so you don't lose her in the wind!
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby Phil the Hill » Thu Mar 15, 2018 2:24 pm

Looks like you had a great couple of days there.

Coire Lair is one of my favourite places too, but I've yet to do FT as I've been concentrating too much on the Munros. Last time I was up there in winter we had to abandon the trip, as my friend was suffering from the after effects of the Chicken Curry of Death (as it has subsequently become known) from the motorway services on the way up. Still great to get up into the corrie and see the surrounding hills though.
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby Mal Grey » Fri Mar 16, 2018 12:44 pm

Phil the Hill wrote:Looks like you had a great couple of days there.

Coire Lair is one of my favourite places too, but I've yet to do FT as I've been concentrating too much on the Munros. Last time I was up there in winter we had to abandon the trip, as my friend was suffering from the after effects of the Chicken Curry of Death (as it has subsequently become known) from the motorway services on the way up. Still great to get up into the corrie and see the surrounding hills though.


Thanks, we did.

FT is just as good as the two Munros, arguably the most impressive of the 3, though each has their own spectacular features: the whaleback ridge of BLM and its little pinnacles, the huge face of SR overlooking Coire Lair and FT's high east corrie and massive Mainnrichean coire and buttress. Such an amazing place.

As for chickens of death on the hill, I had a similar unfortunate incident on the Aonach Eagach, thanks to a "chicken in the basket" at the Rod and Reel, Crianlarich in 1991 (known thereafter, for 20+ years before I next visited, as the Retch and Vomit). Fortunately for me, I got it out of my system on the ascent, so wasn't actually ill along the ridge, just a bit wobby. My mate, who was the only other one who had the chicken, reserved his most spectacular expulsions for the pinnacly bit of the ridge...
My first food of the day was a pork pie on the final summit, before the descent and straight into the bar of the Clachaig for some recuperative ales. Oh, to be young and have that speed of recovery again!
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby Benaden887 » Sat Mar 24, 2018 10:56 am

Great report Mal and with photo`s too. Yes a magical place, many a good w/e spent at the Jacobites hut.
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby Anne C » Sat Mar 24, 2018 6:46 pm

Stunning :clap: :clap:
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby Mal Grey » Sun Mar 25, 2018 10:25 pm

Thanks folks.
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby litljortindan » Mon Mar 26, 2018 8:49 pm

Some day you got there. Been up once before from Coulags bothy as part of a walk round Coire Lair and have a vague plan to return using the train. Don't know if I ever actually will but nice to imagine even if it never happens. Meantime great to get a reminder of what is there...
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Re: The Cold Hole – Fuar Tholl

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Mar 26, 2018 11:19 pm

Heck, you do get lucky with the weather! And the sensational pics say it all - what a "...memorable day in this truly special part of the world."

I still have the pleasure of getting into this and the surrounding Torridon hills before me, and this has surely whetted my appetite ...
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