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A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby Roger T » Tue Oct 20, 2015 7:00 pm

Route description: Beinn Alligin

Munros included on this walk: Sgurr Mor (Beinn Alligin), Tom na Gruagaich (Beinn Alligin)

Date walked: 17/10/2015

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 10 km

Ascent: 1110m

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Beinn Alligin is a beautiful mountain; more compact and well-defined than Beinn Eighe, less stridently hard-edged than Liathach. In the morning sun it glows; in the evening sun it glows too. For a beginning hill-walker like myself it offers enough, perhaps slightly more than enough, to make the full traverse of its ridge a defining moment in the hard path to becoming fully accomplished. The clockwise route takes in two Munros and offers some astounding vistas over Torridon and all points north, south, east and west. It offers much more, though. First there is the passing of the Eag Dubh, the great black gash in the mountain, with the path so close to the vertiginous gape that there is no choice but to stare down and see if the nerve holds. Then there are the Horns and the overbearing question: to do or not to do?
It was almost impossible to conceive of a finer day for taking on this hill: a pristine sky; the air so still I fancied I could hear the soft breathing of the ravens up on the tops; an October chill that was enough to invigorate but no more. Within half an hour of my 0835 departure from the car park, my outer fleece was off and stowed away. The first steepish section of the path, well enough made but not overly tended, was soon behind. Ahead lay the moor that leads to the Coire nan Laogh, while behind, the road and every hint of civilisation had dropped below the skyline. There had been a five day gap since my last sortie, and so my legs felt fresh and strong. I began to wonder if this for me was the ideal interval between walks; long enough for muscular recovery, not too long to start losing fitness. Time will tell on that one.
The sun rises over the hills of south Torridon

Sgurr Mor, with Eag Dubh looking suitably libidinous

The sun rose above the south Torridon hills as I went, warming my back and my spirit in equal measure. I wound along the path until well-nestled into the arms of the coire. An hour had gone and so I sat for a minute and drank some water. Ahead I could see the path sinuating up the steepening slope towards the ridge. I took a deep breath and set off up. This was the main work section of the day, a hard labour to gain altitude and with it, arrival on the ridge itself. I toiled on up, following my shadow cast starkly on the path ahead. I stuck to it as best I could, fearing that should we ever be separated we may never be reunited. The path was a typical Torridon zig-zag; one with very little zig and virtually no zag, and so a path that gets you into the higher regions with blunt efficiency.
I hauled myself over the brow onto the top plateau of Tom na Gruagaich. Here the flattish rocks which studded the ground were thick with white hoar-frost, and so I struck out carefully for the summit, watching every footfall. My care reaped an unexpected reward: there, just beside my boot, lay a freshly-moulted and exquisitely patterned ptarmigan feather. I love ptarmigan, the signature bird of the high tops, gorgeously plumaged and often surprisingly tame. I picked up the feather and examined it before secreting it gently in a rucksack pocket. It was a perfect treasure to take home. It was not a big feather, perhaps three inches long, probably a wing covert, and carried the complex white and silver-grey patterning of the bird’s summer plumage. It would soon be replaced by one of pure white.
The Horns and Beinn Dearg from Tom na Gruagaich

I stopped for a few minutes at the Tom na Gruagaich trig point. The ascent had taken two hours. The sun was now well established in a sky of pale azure, unblemished by a single cloud, and so the Highlands were laid out clearly in a great curved disc of hill, mountain, loch and isle. Also laid out clearly were the undulations of the ridge itself, and now my heart pulsed a little more strongly. The steep ascent to Sgurr Mor , and the intervening top, looked challenging enough. What lay beyond – the three Horns of Alligin – seemed, for me, impossible.
Sgurr Mor and the Horns from Tom na Gruagaich

Looking round the northern flank of Tom na Gruagaich towards Liathach

I set off down the north side of Tom na Gruagaich, a steep and messy descent before settling into the ridge path proper. This wound along pleasantly enough, skirting round the north side of the top and so saving energy for the final push up Sgurr Mor. Halfway across I met a couple coming the other way, and already well advanced in an anti-clockwise circuit. They assured me that the Horns were much easier than expected, and ‘not at all exposed’. I wanted to believe them, but I couldn’t. Nonetheless, the woman was slim and petite, a Twiggy rather than a Tessa, and I felt a twinge of shame at my own fear.
A placid Loch Torridon mirrors the hills

Up close and intimate with Eag Dubh

The path hauled up past the Eag Dubh, just a yard or two from that outlandish incision. I stopped, moved closer to the edge, and looked down. My guide book had suggested two possible reactions: one would either faint or profess mild amusement. I did not faint, nor was I mildly amused; mainly because I was too astonished that I had not fainted. I even managed to take a couple of photographs without them being ruined by camera shake. This made me feel a little better – this was progress after all – but did nothing to remove my doubt about the Horns.
Ducks in a row - the Horns, Beinn Dearg and Beinn Eighe

Baosbheinn from Sgurr Mor

I toiled on up to the Sgurr Mor cairn, so achieving two Munros in a single day for the first time, and bringing my grand total to nine. I photographed the stupendous scenery, a great ocean of misshapen waves and humps and flat patches, a whole catalogue of the earth’s crust gone crazy. I contemplated the three Horns and the path that disappeared vertically into the first crag. I knew I could not do it. I found every excuse to justify this refusal: I’m alone on the mountain; it’s nearly winter; it’s foolish; better wait until I’ve done a scrambling course; what if something goes wrong blah blah blah...
Liathach from Sgurr Mor

The sun-drenched peaks of south Torridon

My favourite shot of the day - a lunar landscape with the path up to the first Horn visible.

A walker appeared from behind. Going the same way he had caught me up. He was clearly in a hurry. We had a brief exchange of words. He told me he was doing the Beinn Alligin ridge and then was going on to climb Beinn Dearg before the day was out. He didn’t look much younger than me. He ate three chocolate biscuits then set off at a great pace towards the Horns.
Glumly, I watched him go. I stared again at the ghastly-looking path leading to the pinnacles. Even from a distance my stomach turned over at the thought of attempting to climb my way over that lot. It was dispiriting. Perhaps I had already reached my limit. Maybe I should forget this mountain lark and take up embroidery or line-dancing. I turned and set off back the way I had come.
I took three paces, and something happened. I simply turned round and headed after the other walker towards the Horns. Something had clicked in my head. Something was saying that this was my defining moment on the hill, that either I had to overcome what was basically an irrational fear, sooner rather than later, and before it became a habit always to find a reason for avoiding the more difficult stuff, or else forget any thoughts of ever being able to enjoy and appreciate, to the full, the delights and challenges of the mountains.
I set off down the path to the Horns, and suddenly my heart lightened. Yes, I was still a little apprehensive, but I could feel my mind going into a different mode. I recovered my determination. I got my head into the zone and before long I was relishing the challenge.
Approaching the second Horn

I traversed the Horns, and it was neither difficult nor scary. I clambered up and down rocks and enjoyed the demands of finding good handholds and secure foot placement. Once actually there it was nowhere near as steep or exposed as it looked from a distance. I had not a tremor of vertigo or unease. I got a kick out of moving carefully but fluently, of remaining calm and focussed. Jeez – it was good!
Looking back along the completed ridge

I began to realise how much progress I had made. Only a month earlier, an attack of nervousness had deterred me from the final, what now seems innocuous, final pitch on Sgorr Ruadh. Writing about that, I had suggested that what was required to overcome this was a combination of mental discipline and habituation. Well, the two are moving along, not always at the same pace, but I’m getting there.
Needless to say, I floated down the hill having, against all expectation, made the complete traverse. Driving home I stopped to take a photo of Beinn Alligin from across the loch. The evening sunlight cast the long shadow of the western shoulder right across the massif to the foot of the three Horns. The mountain and all its hinterland radiated a deep autumnal gold, and the ridge stood out in perfect clarity against an infinite blue sky. It seemed scarcely credible that I had just traversed those extraordinary contours, and that, thanks to them, the man who walked down was just a little different from the one who had walked up.
The whole massif glows with a deep autumnal gold
Beinn Alligin glows in the early morning sun
Last edited by Roger T on Thu Nov 05, 2015 7:09 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Roger T
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby GueVargas » Tue Oct 20, 2015 7:43 pm

I enjoyed reading your post! Beinn Alligin is one mountain that I didn't get the chance of experiencing while in Scotland. While I was on Liathach, I would look over to the horns and picture myself on them. Hopefully one day I will get to walk across them. Congrats!
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby weaselmaster » Tue Oct 20, 2015 8:05 pm

Another good read, Roger.
When are you taking on Liathach and the Am Fasarinen pinnacles :D
I do rather envy you your location - having such a variety of superb mountains on your doorstep will make it easier to progress more quickly in your skill/confidence base. On the other hand, you may find some more southern/eastern Munros a little uninspiring :lol:
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby Jaxter » Tue Oct 20, 2015 8:15 pm

Brilliant!! :clap: You're totally right, it's all in the mind.

I envy you both your fantastic weather (seriously, October?!) and your horn traverse. I did this in the clag during the summer with a friend and we decided we weren't feeling too horny and missed them out, only to regret it later on.

Good for you for doing them. :clap: I'll have to go back again some day I guess....what a trial! :lol:
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby jenniferc6 » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:22 am

Well done for taking on the horns, some great photos :clap: I am the petite lady you met, it really was a great day to be out in such a beautiful area (believe it or not I wasn't so keen on exposure when I first started hillwalking either!)
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby Helen Bruce » Wed Oct 21, 2015 5:09 pm

Good for you! And what a great day to be out there too. I've learnt over the years that paths are rarely as scary in reality as they look from a distance - but on the other hand it's good not to be too blasé about scrambling, especially if you're walking alone.

I did Beinn Alligin as one of my first Munros too, must be about 12 years ago. We were going anti-clockwise so came to the Horns first and I automatically went for the bypass path, being pretty inexperienced then and worried about exposure. However I quickly realised it was possibly more dangerous than the Horns. A narrow path across a very steep grassy slope, it was raining, I was in waterproofs. I realised that if I slipped I'd be sliding all the way down to the bottom pretty quickly. Fortunately all was well but I'm looking forward to returning to Beinn Alligin as part of my second round and I won't be bypassing the Horns this time!

Happy exploring!
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby Chris Mac » Wed Oct 21, 2015 11:10 pm

Amazing photos, Beinn Alligin keeps getting higher on my list! Cheers!! :clap:
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby Roger T » Sat Oct 24, 2015 11:33 am

Thanks for all the supportive comments. And a big thank you to Jennifer for unwittingly spurring me on! Liathach? Once I feel physically and mentally ready, and once I feel I've earned the right to set foot on such a mythical mountain...
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby simon-b » Sat Oct 24, 2015 1:45 pm

Well done, Roger. I know that feeling; you think, "No" and turn away, then suddenly it hits you: "I've got to do it!"
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby dav2930 » Sat Oct 24, 2015 5:11 pm

A real psychological turning point; and what a glorious day for it! I can just imagine the sense of well-being you must have felt at overcoming your doubts and fears - a feeling to match the glowing colours of the day! That was a very inspiring report - and stunning photos to match! Well done indeed. :clap:
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby BobMcBob » Wed Nov 04, 2015 4:24 pm

Loved that. Your description of the moment you turned round and went for it really resonated with me. :clap: :clap: :clap:
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby mrssanta » Wed Nov 04, 2015 11:03 pm

that was a lovely read, poetic and stunning pictures
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Re: A Defining Moment - Beinn Alligin

Postby Faction54 » Sun Nov 15, 2015 9:41 pm

This is a good report:) couldn't have put it better myself :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: clap clap :clap: :clap:
i am very glad it won report of the month... need to try this sometime.
Did you really traverse that?
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