A creative route up Beinn Fhada

Route: Beinn Fhada (or Ben Attow)

Munros: Beinn Fhada

Date walked: 11/03/2018

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 12.7km

Ascent: 1200m

Our trip to Kintail was something of an impromptu decision Friday night, mainly due to the Northwest having the best forecast of anywhere in Scotland. The first taste of success on Sunday morning was the discovery that there were no signs or locked gates on the private road after Morvich heading into Strath Croe. We even saw a farmer in a Hilux who did not appear to give a hoot about us. Emboldened, we drove up the track to a wee carpark marked for the Falls of Glomach and a locked gate about 200m past it. We couldn't play with the Skoda Yeti on a 4x4 track, but we could park within 200m of the footbridge we'd been aiming for and cut off 5k in total from the walk. A winning start to the day.

The path from the car was straightforward, contouring on the precipitous edge of a gorge high above the river as Bheinn Fhada and A'Ghlas Bheinn loomed into view. As we approached Bheinn Fhada, we could see faint traces of the ascent path zig-zagging up the face, then disappearing under banked out snow. "Really?" I thought. "Is that a good idea?" We knew roughly where it was meant to be, crossing terrain traps, gullies and chutes, strewn with avalanche debris. It probably was not a good idea.

Bheinn Fhada 1.jpg
There's a path there somewhere.

No one else thought it was a good idea, either, because most of the footprints in the snow were turning away from the path, following the Allt Coirean Sgairne to a col, then onto the obvious ridge dropping off the 782 top of Meall a'Bhealaich. It looked steep but not stupid (at least not from an avalanche perspective). We clawed up vertiginous grass and wet spring snow. From the col at the start of the ridge, you could see where the path was meant to go:

Bheinn Fhada 3.jpg

Nope, we said. More banked out snow and terrain traps, and who knows what lurked at the final headwall. The couple whose prints we'd been following had obviously made the same call, choosing the ridge, while some other lone walker had descended the snowfield flanking the ridge. We set off up the crest of the ridge, which quickly showed us teeth as it steepened. I ended up crawling up grass and snow, clinging to technical heather and moss, while James chose the direct route over rocky slabs and waffled over an exposed, slimy step for ten minutes.

"Can you reverse what you did?" I asked.

He was even less keen on that.

"You have to go up or go down." That ever helpful mantra of mountaineering when someone gets a bit stuck.

He manned up and lurched over the step with a technical knee. No points for style but doing the move one way or another is the important thing.

Bheinn Fhada 4.jpg

It hadn't looked so gnarly from the bottom, but now it had become Type II fun, progress was slow, and around 600m, the clag added navigation to the faff of the day. I had doubts we would summit the thing, thinking, if it keeps up like this, we have nowhere near enough time. We decided on an absolute turnaround time, reckoning we'd at least make it to the 782 top. Annoying, but that's winter mountaineering!

At the 782, however, the mountain became gentle and loving, an easy stroll over bumps and lumps, nothing requiring you to put your hand (or knee) to rock or snow. Our friends' tracks through the snow made route finding more like route double-checking, which gave us the reassurance that we weren't alone and enabled us to pick up the pace. Then, making up a little more to the rocky start in our relationship, the mountain let us out of the cloud at 800m or so, proffering us views of its spectacular corrie headwall.

Bheinn Fhada 5.jpg

Bheinn Fhada6.jpg

On the final ridge before the summit plateau, we briefly reunited with the path, then trekked across the plateau in glorious sunshine towards the summit.

Bheinn Fhada 7.jpg

There wasn't a breath of wind and it was almost warm.

Bheinn Fhada 8.jpg

An inversion made it feel like the top of the Himalayas (except for the slowly dying of high altitude-related conditions bit), with snowy mountains poking their heads above the clouds.

The Three Brothers:


The Five Sisters:

Bheinn Fhada 10.jpg

Affric is down there somewhere:

Bheinn Fhada 11.jpg

Mullach Fraoch Coire and a'Chrailaig

Bheinn Fhada 12.jpg

We could have lost an hour up there but it was half three; we didn't fancy the descent in the dark. The route we knew was the safest bet. The real path would be as much of a banked out mess of avy terrain traps as it had been in the morning, while the scramble over the ridge to Sgurr a'Choire Ghairbh was as out of the question as universal healthcare in the United States. We glissaded down the plateau, back into the clag caressing the mountain's lower slopes, and retraced our footprints to the 782 top. Then, we were peering through clouds down our ridge thinking about life choices. The only thing worse than climbing up a scary scramble is downclimbing one. Our friends had decided not to, showing their good route finding sense, their tracks weaving from snowfield to snowfield. We, of course, followed. On the steepest section, that initial steep snow plunged towards the col, adjacent to the ridge. The snow was consolidated, soft, and we figured falling into cushy spring snow sure beat falling on rocks. We dug out the crampons and axes for added grip and reassurance, then clambered down steep snow.

Bheinn Fhada 13.jpg

It was like korma compared to the vindaloo of the ascent route. What took us about two hours on the way up took us one; before we knew it, we arrived at the path with more than an hour and half of daylight to spare. Removed the crampons, stowed the axes, then set off for the car. For a bit of variety, we crossed the Abhainn Chonaig about a mile down the track to pick up the forestry road on the other side. It crossed a gorge with a waterfall.

Bheinn Fhada 14.jpg

The mountain bid us farewell with a sunset over Loch Alsh.

Bheinn Fhada 15.jpg

Thank you to that other couple (who we briefly met on the summit plateau). If you hadn't been there showing us the way with your great route finding, we would have been doing so much navigation faff that we would have run out the clock and probably not summited.

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Comments: 5


Activity: Mountaineer
Pub: Tennant's
Mountain: An Teallach
Place: Assynt
Gear: 40g primaloft jacket
Member: Glasgow University Mountaineering club

Munros: 248
Corbetts: 41
Donalds: 6

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Trips: 1
Distance: 12.7 km
Ascent: 1200m
Munros: 1

Joined: Sep 27, 2015
Last visited: Sep 29, 2019
Total posts: 27 | Search posts