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That's Attow Do It
by yokehead » Fri Feb 18, 2011 5:36 pm
Route description: Beinn Fhada (or Ben Attow)
Munros included on this walk: Beinn Fhada
Date walked: 17/02/2011
Time taken: 10 hours
Distance: 16.5 km
Ascent: 1171m3 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
From the road driving east toward the head of Loch Duich I'd seen the western ridge of the Beinn Fhada massif a number of times and thought it looked like a must do, with its serrated edge and length. Beinn Fhada doesn't really seem to get much of a mention anywhere, given the Glen Shiel and other nearby mountains I suppose, indeed there's only the one walk report on WH. I'd read a few bits about the ridge and the potential 'bad step' but it was all a bit sketchy and surprisingly uninspiring. Well I can rectify that now!
I was lucky in getting those magic ingredients of winter snow and ice and a sunny, almost windless day. I set out at 9.15 from the NTS car park at Morvich, having first had a brief chat with a guy who said deer-counting was going on today and that a helicopter would be arriving shortly. I joked that I hoped I wouldn't scare them off, making their job difficult, but he didn't get it (helicopter noise vs me?). Crap joke anyway. The day starts with a 1km walk up the road, where the snowy ridge target looked fine, exciting and inviting as the sun just started to rise above the mountain barriers. Absolute magic already.
Just after the bridge across the River Croe there's a signpost, so you can't miss the path to the right. It goes alongside a finely-positioned house before heading off around the lower slopes of Beinn Bhuidhe and through a gate in the deer fence. This is a delightful start to the day and to any walk, an easy rhythm to get the body attuned whilst taking in the superb surroundings. The path is excellent and doesn't falter as it eases you up the glen alongside the river for a while and through an area of small trees, whilst the forestry to the north seems to sit better in its surroundings than is usually the case. I was back into the shade now but I felt warm. The helicopter arrived and landed near where I'd parked.
Around 3km into the walk as you near the mouth of the glen to the north there's a post with 'FALLS' written on it. It doesn't tell you exactly where or in what fashion you should fall however so isn't of much use there. It is though a good marker for where you should keep aiming to the east rather than north, and here the path becomes sketchy for a little way as it goes over short grass. It's soon back to normal though as you move into the narrower Gleann Choinneachain (lovely name, not that I could pronounce it). As you near another gate the Bealach an Sgairne starts to tease into view, with the snow-covered crags of A' Ghlas bheinn and Meall a' Bhealaich on either side set against the blue sky. Here in the shade the path was icy but no problem with the good old poles as a bit of added security. The way gets narrower and the river has cut itself a gorge. In a couple of places the path is right on the edge so a bit of care was needed on the ice. A waterfall plunges into a crystal-clear green pool. The RAF showed up now for some more entertainment. From a mile high a fighter came towards me then banked hard to the right and dived across the ridge to the north whilst a second jet popped over the ridge in the other direction followed by a third. Always enjoyed by me, thanks lads! The narrow bealach comes fully into view with the additional height gained and looked stunning.
The path heads to the north a bit where the waterfalls of the Allt Coire an Sgairne come into view, then drops a short way for the river crossing. There's a few places to cross, I chose to use the small island variation with no problem, someone's even put out a couple of long metal bars in place for a handrail! In spate it would be different as noted in WH. Beyond this the path starts to rise more steeply now and zig zags to help the muscles, and the first view to the high corrie to the north appears.
The helicopter flew up the glen, nosed around into the corrie and over the ridge to the north. What an appalling job to have to do, how could they have volunteered for this deer counting from a helicopter - take guts I'd say (very jealous!). After more zig zags and fast height gain the path junction is reached. Hard to miss this because, as well as the little cairn, the path to the right into the corrie is better defined than the onward path to the bealach. I'd taken just under 2 hours for the 6km and 400m ascent to get here so actually not a bad pace, this wasn't to be indicative of the whole day though! The path now beautifully skirts the cliffs and keeps to the high slopes of the Meall as it continues to offer the expanding view of the corrie. Looking back was marvellous too. I came into the sun briefly so stopped for a sandwich and drink, an ideal place before the shade again and steeper ground ahead. There's actually 3 distinct corries here that add to the interest of the journey to the plateau, truly marvellous surroundings. I continued, into the snowline now at around 600m. Even back into the shade, the snow was soft and the path banked out in places. The deeper snow was difficult going so I avoided it where possible. The rocks of the surrounding cliffs were a magnet to my eyes and I started to take many photos, then came across the lip into the top corrie and was staggered by this sight.
Everything you could wish for in a winter mountaineering jaunt, with the cirque of snow covered cliffs, exposed rock ramparts and that blue sky - and now into the sun for the duration! At this stage I had to get out the most technical of the winter gear - sunglasses! Even the shadows were stunning along with the diamond-sparkling snow crystals that are a sheer joy to witness. I was, literally, blown away. I hate the over-used word awesome but this was, well, just awesome! Worth it so far just to see this! Eventually I tore myself away from the ogling and carried on up the path that was still visible, the going getting harder still. I could see that the path zig zags to the top of the headwall at its lowest point, but this was covered by some large snow patches in places and, anyway, looked to be a boring slog.
So I walked across the slope to rocks on the far side where I'd spied a more interesting approach, straight up to the top. Crampons and axe deployed at last.
I kept to the left of the crags in deep snow. I'd hoped there'd be hard snow in the shade but no, still mostly soft. As was typical of the trip today, in many places the soft snow was covered by a 30cm thick crust that broke off and slid away, hissing down the slope. Mindfall of a snow slide even in this small area I kept near the rocks. It was good fun, reasonably steep and with a couple of little snowbanks to overcome. Beyond the rock there was a gentler angled sparkling snow slope leading to a beautifully sculpted cornice. Even with soft snow it'd been fun, I looked down with satisfaction at my route and footprints. I topped the final rise at about 850m and was stopped in my tracks once more by the view east to Glen Affric. But more of that later. The way ahead to the Munro was visible, off I set and was into some really hard going.
The 200m of ascent and just over 1km took nearly an hour. After a little way I took the crampons off and got out the poles again, and had another sandwich and long drink. Hard going, the snow very soft and deep and where there was a crust, I broke through it and as you step forward again the crust tries to trip you. I zig zagged, keeping to the rocks near the cliff edge where possible but there were still large stretches of snow to plough through. Over to the right, in a stream bed, there was a huge drift with what looked like a 3m deep hole in it. I did take many photos on the way though as the view to the Glen Shiel ridges appeared, and at last I could see the trig point. Cloud was coming in from the south now. There were some huge cornices on the north-east cliffs. Finally, summit reached and 360 degree views that I think today couldn't be bettered, anywhere. It was now 2pm, 5 hours had flown by since I'd set out and 3 hours since the path junction, 2 hours spent in the corrie sections - where had it gone? It seems that time had gone into another dimension.
I turned round and around taking it all in, photographing non stop. Brown land topped with cream, I could see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles. Distant ranges visible, shadowed folds in the nearer hills and wispy cloud, white mountains everywhere, lochs and Skye and the sea to the west. A lifetime of experiences all in 5 minutes. I was so lucky and honoured to be here, just at this time. On the way up I'd been doing a lot of thinking along with the looking - about my loved ones, wishing my wife Sarah could be with me to see all this, the future. A time to feel moved by just everything, and to cry a little.
I finally settled down to the last of the sandwiches and another drink top-up, glad I'd brought more with me than usual. I was here for about an hour and still had a ridge to deal with, but couldn't resist leaving a message of appreciation in the snow before I left.
Finally I hot-footed it down across the Plaid Mhor and on up to the summit of Meall an Fhuarain Mhoir. The usual snow condition in places but a lot of the path had been blown clear and was ice covered with just a crunch of snow for great grip for the boots, I was there in 40 minutes which wasn't bad at all, and I felt strong still. Now a full view of my ridge and it looked real fine, near-vertical to the right and steep on the left. Although a lot of the rock looked clear of snow there was a snow-covered steepish descent to start with so crampons on again, a good move since this was hard in places. I took masses of photos of the ridge and its intricacies, far too many to fit into this report. I can tell you that this ridge is BRILLIANT! I won't attempt to describe it in detail since there's so much. You have 2km of ups and downs, you keep thinking that's the best over then there's more. And more. And more. I found a bit of everything, helped by the winter conditions. There was bare rock, deep soft snow, neve patches, iced rocks and turf, scrambling, steep parts of descent and ascent, you name it it was there. I'd thought of taking the crampons off but was glad I didn't. It was now nearly 3.30 but I didn't care, this was not to hurry but to savour. Won't be the first time I've walked with the headtorch, if it comes to it.
I chose the cliff edge as usual, at time you're climbing over rocks right next to deep drop gullies. There's a couple of small stretches close to each other that are just 1m wide with gullies each side. Always plenty to hold onto and probably, in most places, easier ways around. A really steep look down to Glen Lichd on the left. The corries on your right. Route-choosing to suit my taste at each stage, not necessarily on the path that was sometimes visible. Still those fabulous views, becoming more stark with the increasing cloud. I found a decent gully descent of about 20m that had proper neve for front-point down-climbing, only the points went in. Absorbing, gripping, enjoyed hugely.
Always, in the back of the mind, was, when will I get to the 'bad step'? There it is, finally, ahead. Ooo-err.
There's quite a drop into the cleft before it, steep but plenty rocky and not difficult at all. At the bottom I could now properly inspect the ascent to come. I reckon it's around 30m high and although it looks vertical from further back it isn't of course, maybe 50 degrees. I couldn't see that there'd be any easy flanking lines so you have to do it full on I think. The way is up the middle grassy section, once on it it's a series of tight zig zags on the grass and rock. It was fairly easy and I had some small snow and ice patches that helped given the crampons. But, as I'd seen from below, about two thirds of the way up the turfy bit ends in rock slabs, above which are some large boulders that gave me some concern since they seem precariously placed. There was a decent stance to take photos.
You could go to left or right here I suppose but right is easier and I chose that way. The most difficult part is just right of centre in the photo where the slabs are around 2m high and there's not much to hold onto on the wall on the right. Banked out with snow it would have been a breeze but crampons were now a bit of a liability, not the place to take them off though so I scraped myself up the slabs on the spikes with a bit of help from jamming the axe pick in where I could. It was ok. The boulders beyond were no problem but I didn't pull on them too hard! An interesting section that's for sure, but as noted in WH it wouldn't be so good in the wet nor in descent.
Still the ups and downs kept on coming so no relaxing yet.
Superb sunset views the whole time kept making me stop, red snow on the slopes of distant hills, snowy cloudy world.
Finally, looking back on a big chunk of rocky descent at the end of the ridge.
5.30 and still a way to go, crampons off for the last time after a short distance. In the increasing gloom I descended the steep slope to the west, lights on in windows around the loch pulling me on. Thighs still feeling strong. The contrast of light-coloured grass showed the way around heather and bog and I reached the path with just enough light left to follow it and the road back to the car.
This is probably my longest report to date. Certainly it is one of, if not the best, mountain days I've had. The variety does it for me. As I've said, to me this is a true winter mountaineering day, but perhaps it's the winter that tips the balance in its favour. If you just want to bag Munros that's fine, but given it's 9km to the summit by this route why not go on and do the full round instead of back down and up the Munro opposite? A good excuse to come back up the glen for that 2nd Munro. If you like some scrambling and a very varied day out on the mountain, this is made for you. It's a full day for sure on this big mountain, although in my 10 hours I took 177 photos, all of them good. I reckon the time I spent stopping to take these, and other stops to just gawp, was maybe 2 hours on top of my food and summit breaks. I think that descriptions I've seen vastly underrate the quality of the ridge. One of Scotland's best-kept secrets? Get to it, I couldn't recommend it more!
by dooterbang » Fri Feb 18, 2011 7:10 pm
Your certainly putting in the hours, well done.
by soulminer » Fri Feb 18, 2011 7:58 pm
- Posts: 804
- Joined: Mar 18, 2010
- Location: Johnstone
by foggieclimber » Fri Feb 18, 2011 8:00 pm
Great day to be out. Cracking photos.
- Posts: 1041
- Joined: Aug 9, 2009
by rocket-ron » Fri Feb 18, 2011 8:06 pm
by Merry-walker » Fri Feb 18, 2011 9:02 pm
Cracking report, many thanks..
Excellent pictures, (PLUS.....I know i'm boring - but I love pics with contrails in)
Me likey this hill
by rocket-ron » Fri Feb 18, 2011 9:03 pm
by lomondwalkers » Fri Feb 18, 2011 9:21 pm
by yokehead » Fri Feb 18, 2011 10:18 pm
soulminer wrote:Cheers for all the postings, you seem to have enjoyed what Kintail has to offer
Yes Kintail sure is something special, and I still have so much more to explore here. The Five Sisters (it was a toss-up whether to do this or Fhada), Forcan ridge when snow conditions are right, Ben Sgritheall's north ridge and which yesterday looked like it had its own glacier, and so much more. Next time.
rocket-ron wrote:must remember not to take dogs on this 1
Won't the wife be unhappy being left behind? Sorry!
by gammy leg walker » Fri Feb 18, 2011 10:50 pm
by ChrisW » Fri Feb 18, 2011 10:59 pm
by LeithySuburbs » Fri Feb 18, 2011 11:00 pm
yokehead wrote:and to cry a little.
Yes, I cry too... everytime I read a bl00dy midweek report like this . Anyway, fabulous report on a hill that has always interested me despite not having been up it yet .
by rockhopper » Sat Feb 19, 2011 1:06 am
You're certainly getting reflective about love, life and the future That ridge did look a bit scary though - well done.
by kevsbald » Sat Feb 19, 2011 11:04 am