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Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Mountain Rescue
by Alteknacker » Thu May 08, 2014 9:04 pm
Munros included on this walk: Mullach an Rathain (Liathach), Ruadh-stac Mor (Beinn Eighe), Spidean a' Choire Leith (Liathach), Spidean Coire nan Clach (Beinn Eighe)
Corbetts included on this walk: Ruadh-stac Beag
Date walked: 04/05/2014
Time taken: 13.75 hours
Distance: 29.9 km
Ascent: 3265m3 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).
The trouble is, it’s a 500 mile + drive, and weather isn’t always entirely predictable….
There seem to have been quite a few disappointing weekends for weather so far – at least weekends when I didn’t have other commitments; but the May bank holiday seemed to be heading in the right direction, and after taking a last minute MWIS check on Friday morning, I jumped in the car.
10 hours later ...
0279 - Beinn Eighe from East end, near Kinlochewe.
No matter how many pics you’ve seen of these magnificent mountains, nothing compares with the real thing. I had to stop the car every few minutes as I drove up Glen Torridon.
0280 - Liathach from East end, in Glen Torridon.
I decided there and then to do as much of the ridge(s) as I could, and forget trying to bag munros: anything else would have been disrespectful to the mountains.
The tentative plan therefore was to try all 3 ridges – Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Beinn Alligin; however, after quite a serious accident last September resulting in 6 weeks flat on my back, I knew my fitness wasn’t what it had been. But there are bail out points enough on the way, so I thought I’d give it a try. The idea was to park the car in the car park just above Torridon House, then cycle to Cairn Sheil (just outside Kinlochewe) to the walk start point.
I reckoned this meant I needed to be up at 03.00am in order to be on the path up to Beinn Eighe as daylight broke.
I arrived at the Torridon campsite around five o’clock, and as I walked around looking for the smoothest bit of ground I could find for the tent, a car pulled up. The driver got out and, stretching mightly, gave a long groan. “Long drive?” I asked. “No, just from Suilven”, he replied. It turned out that, like me, he only had 3 days in total, so he’d got up at one o’clock that morning so that he’d be able to get an extra hill in on the Friday; and, being in training for a marathon, he’d run to Suilven and back. The weather was wonderful in the afternoon, and he’d made the most of it, just wandering around the top of Suilven for an hour once he’d got there. Obvious – I kicked myself for not getting up earlier and doing something similar.
After pitching the tent at Torridon camp site....
....I took a leisurely cycle to the other side of Loch Torridon, the better to be able to take in Liathach.
0285 - Liathach: Mullach an Rathain from the South side of Loch Torridon.
The BBC Scotland weather forecast at 7.00pm had said that it would start raining around 14.00, and that cloud would be down to 600m by more or less the same time. I did not intend to flog up Beinn Alligin in the clag, so I needed to get off as early as possible to be sure of doing at least Beinn Eighe and Liathach.
So up at 3.00am. Fortunately I’d set 2 alarms – my phone and my watch – because the watch didn’t go off (must try reading the instructions…).
After parking at the car park next to the bridge just above Torridon House, a 45 minute bike ride got me the 20km to Cairn Shiel at 04.45. It was really quite ethereal cycling up and down Glen Torridon as the dark transitioned into dawn.
At about 05.15 it was just about light enough to take this pic of the ascent to Creag Dhubh.
0288 - Ascending Beinn EIghe: Creag Dubh, about 05.45am.
Dawn opened up the entire highland peaks to the East as I reached Creag Dhubh.
0290 - Highlands dawn from the top of Creag Dhubh, at about 6.45am.
But it was (for me) astonishingly cold in the wind: I had to hunker down out of the wind and put on every stitch of gear I had with me.
Spidean Coire nan Clach beckons in the distance.
0291 - Looking South West along the Beinn Eighe ridge from the East end.
Perfect ridge walking, perfect views, perfect peace…
0294 - Sgurr Ban, with Spidean Coire nan Clach behind, from just before Sgurr nan Fhir Duibhe.
295 - ....with the odd bit of scrambling to keep the circulation going...
Awesome views South of East from the ridge…
0297 - View ENE from Sgurr nan Fhir Duibhe. I couldn't stop snapping...
...and Liathach coming into view to the West.
0298 - Sgurr Ban, with Liathach just visible behind.
Again looking back East along the ridge.
0303 (2) Sgurr Ban from Spidean Coire nan Clach.
The views were so amazing I couldn’t keep my eyes on the path; with the result that I stubbed the front of both feet very hard indeed on protruding rocks. Repeatedly.
Definitely felt like I was going to lose some nails…
A not-so-quick detour to Ruadh-Stac Beag....
0303 (2) Ruadh Stac Beag viewed later from Coinneach Mhor
....followed by a rather long-seeming slog up the North ridge of Spidean Coire nan Clach – first Munro of the day. Amazing views in every direction.
0304 - Looking SW towards Liathach from Spidean Coire nan Clach.
I must have seen dozens of pics of this view of Liathach from Spidean Coire nan Clach, but nothing compares with the reality. Simply breathtaking.
0307 - Liathach - a beautiful backside!
…and next destination, Ruadh-stac Mor in the distance.
0306 - Rhuadh-stac Mor from Spidean Coire nan Clach.
15 minutes later, as I sat at Ruadh-stac Mor, I suddenly heard voices, which turned out to be those of 2 guys scouting out the route for the Celtman Iron Man race, due to take place at the end of June.
Apparently this involves a 3.75km swim (in a loch!), 200km bike ride, finishing with a marathon that crosses Beinn Eighe!! That rather put a performance perspective on things!
One thing I very much wanted to do was to see the 3 buttresses from the bottom looking up, so instead of continuing to Sail Mhor and then dropping off the back into Coire Dubh Mor, I took the track down into Coire Mhic Fhearchair…
0315 - descending into Coire Mhic Fhearchair.
…catching up with the 2 iron men on the way (it was their first time in the mountains, so they were taking it very steady on the descent). We chatted a bit, and I learned that a minimum of 20 hours a week training is necessary to make any headway in this elite endurance sport. That’s commitment!
0317 - Coire Mhic Fhearchair; the Triple Buttress.
I also learned that there had been a plane crash in the coire just after the war. A Lancaster bomber was returning to RAF Kinloss in the middle of the night of 13th March 1951 in freezing weather conditions, and managed just not to avoid the top of the coire. The RAF declined civilian help, with the result that it took the would-be rescuers some 2 weeks to recover the first of the bodies. It seems that as a result of this incident, the modern RAF Mountain Rescue Teams were formed.
As we got to the bottom, we heard the unmistakable clatter of a helicopter. Looking up, we saw a yellow mountain rescue aircraft heading at full tilt for the three buttresses, about half way up. Well beyond what seemed the last minute, it banked very sharply, drifting to within about 50 metres of the towering rocks, and somehow, miraculously, not crashing into them.
0318 - Mountain Rescue Helicopter playing chicken with the Triple Buttress.
This was the second pass. It, and the third pass were much further away from the vertical face of the buttresses than the first pass. I can just imagine what choice language passed between the instructor and the trainee in the cockpit….
Choire Mhic Fhearchair was every bit as amazing as I’d imagined it to be.
0322 - View of the Triple Buttress across Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair.
I chicken out of climbing back up to the ridge to bag Sail Mhor, and continue on the path out of the Choire, round the head of Sail Mhor and back towards Glen Torridon and Liathach.
Now I had to find a way up the “beautiful backside” of Stuc a Choire Dhiubh Bhig
0324 - Stuc a Choire Dhubh Bhig - there must be a way up there...
There was a way - up the gulley that seems on the picture to run diagonally across the hillside. However, I made the wrong choice by going up the East side, which resulted in an excessive time route-finding, and a pretty hairy scramble across very mossy/grassy rock in a pretty exposed situation in order to get around a small waterfall. If anyone ever tries this, definitely go up the West side of the gulley; and probably not one to do if you have any issues with heights.
0325 - ... quite a nasty wet, grassy/mossy scramble.
But once on the top, the views are magnificent.
0327 - view back ENE along the Beinn Eighe ridge from Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig.
0331 - View WSW along the Liathach ridge from Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig.
Then along the ridge...
0333 - Mullach an Rathain from Spidean a Choire Leith.
IMG_0334. Beinn Alligin.
0335 - Looking ENE back along the Liathach and Beinn Eighe ridges from Spidean a Choire Leith.
0336 - The Fasarinen Pinnacles.
0337 - The Pinnacles: not too daunting...
0339. The ridge is simply marvellous, and so far the weather is playing ball.
0340 - Looking NE from the path to Mullach a Rathain: Spidean a Choire Leith, & Beinn Eighe.
At the end of the Pinnacles I sat down to drink in the views and chew on a cheese-and-salami-and-Branston-Pickle sandwich. It was now around 15.45, and although there’d been a few spots of rain, there was no sign yet of the cloud dropping. I’d managed to stub my toes yet again, and they were really beginning to hurt (damn those amazing views!).
Then along to Mullach a Rathain.
Only to realize that I’d left my camera back at the end of Pinnacles where I’d stopped to rest! I’m getting good at this: on the last expedition I'd managed to lose our map.
Another half hour to go back and get it...
So now back at Mullach a Rathain again
0342 - Loch Torridon from Mullach a Rathain.
It’s now 17.00, and I’m pretty knackered; the rain is a bit heavier now, and Alligin is shrouded in mist; so I decide to go back to the car rather than attempting to get up it and back in the remaining time.
First along to Sgorr a Chadail…
0343 - Final part of the ridge: Sgorr a Chadail.
And then down the hill (stubbed toes killing me as they're forced into the toes of my shoes!) and back to the car park.
0344 - Torridon and the campsite from Sgorr a Chadail.
A beautiful warm shower, and then along to an establishment of historical, architectural and cultural interest to round of the day with some intellectual exercise….
And time to reflect on a wonderful day on two of the most inspiring mountains in Scotland!
0346 - The establishment of cultural, architectural and historical interest...
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