Testing conditions on Beinn Eighe

Route: Beinn Eighe (western summits)

Munros: Ruadh-stac Mor (Beinn Eighe), Spidean Coire nan Clach (Beinn Eighe)

Date walked: 08/03/2018

Time taken: 9.5 hours

Distance: 17.6km

Ascent: 1266m

As Karl and I walked along the path out of Coire Mhic Nobuil towards the car park above Torridon House, happy to have experienced the delights and challenges of Beinn Alligin in such unexpectedly fine weather, thoughts turned to the following day. If the weather took a turn for the worse we could always go back to Fionn Bheinn, which we'd abandoned the previous day in particularly foul conditions. But if it stayed anything like it had been today, it'd be a shame not to try for something more substantial. There was too much fresh, unconsolidated snow about for Liathach, we decided. But how about Beinn Eighe? That would make a magnificent day out.

Back at the bunkhouse in Kinlochewe we got talking to a pair of younger chaps who were there for the ice-climbing. Their gear was strewn all over the floor - dozens of ice-screws and, more surprisingly, nuts for rock. Turned out these guys had climbed a grade 7 on Beinn Bhan the previous day. Today they'd done a grade 6 on Fuar Tholl; one of the pair had carried a 3kg paraglider up it and launched off the top, landing on a beach somewhere! :shock: 8)

Suitably impressed and humbled, Karl and me retired to the hotel bar to check out the forecast for the next day. We were delighted to see that wind speeds remained low and that there was an 80% chance of cloud-free Munros. Couldn't hope for better than that, so Beinn Eighe it was.

We were up at 6.30am. Had a peep outside and the weather looked fine, though a little cloudier than the previous morning had been. We were out of the bunkhouse about an hour later, in the car and on the way to the car park near Lochan an Iasgair at the head of Glen Torridon. A fine looking stag sat on the grass at the entrance to the car park, being admired by a couple who were just setting off up the path, climbing axes on their packs and helmets already donned. They were almost out of sight by the time we set off walking at about 8.15am.

Nonchalant stag at the car park

Mullach an Rathain

Spidean a' Choire Leith

Kept our eyes peeled for the cairn that marks the start of the path skirting Sail Mhor.

Baosbheinn and Beinn an Eoin

More snow appeared on the ground as we progressed, until some big, deep snowfields appeared, which were fun to cross. Some of the snow was soft and creaked under our feet, while other parts were hard neve. Where the slope steepened towards the entrance to Coire Mhic Fearchair, we put on our crampons.

Fisherfields and Slioch

Then suddenly the great coire opened up before us. The loch was frozen and covered with snow, and behind it the three bastions of the Triple Buttress reared up in solemn majesty. It was an awesome sight, too sublime for words.

Coire Mhic Fearchair and the Triple Buttress

We walked towards the outflow on an icy pavement of Torridonian sandstone, and crossed the stream. Two lines of footprints followed the edge of the loch, one line actually on the loch itself. We kept to the shore.

Ruadh-stac Mor

Baosbheinn, Beinn an Eoin, Beinn a' Chearcaill

Triple Buttress across a frozen Loch Coire Mhic Fearchair

At the far end of the loch we began the steady rise into the upper corrie, weaving between outcrops and boulders, taking the easiest line. After a steepinging the corrie levelled out below the final, long slope leading up to the col between Ruadh-stac Mor and Coinneach Mhor. We got our ice axes out and put on our windproofs. A line of footprints led up so we made use of them - thanks to whoever made them :thumbup: The snow was firm but malleable. Towards the top the snow-slope narrowed between the enclosing rocks and hard neve emerged from under the softer stuff. It was just steep enough to warrant using the axe picks.

Snow slope leading up to the col

The col was surprisingly narrow. From there it was easy walking to the summit of Ruadh-stac Mor.

The broad ridge to Ruadh-stac Mor

Looking back to Coinneach Mhor on the other side of the col

The cliffs of Coinneach Mhor

Sail Mhor

But, glancing back, I noticed the clag coming in over Coinneach Mhor. I tried to ignore it. I think Karl had noticed it too, but we didn't say anything. The summit of Ruadh-stac Mor was misted over when we reached it, but briefly cleared again. We stopped for a food and hot drink break.

Ruadh-stac Beag, Meall a' Ghiubhais, Slioch, from summit of Ruadh-stac Mhor

We followed our own footprints back towards the col, visibility now being quite poor. Back at the col we were below the clag, but would soon be up in it again. Our only escape route was back down the gully - not an ideal prospect.

Back at the col, looking down the ascent gully

Putting negative thoughts aside, we carried on up Coinneach Mhor, into the white mist.

The way ahead from the col up to the east top of Coinneach Mhor

At the cairn on the east top we took a bearing for the col below Spidean Coire nan Clach. Visibility was poor, but it wasn't a total whiteout. We could see the cornices on our left, above the immense Coire Ruadh-staca.

Cornices on the ridge towards Spidean Coire nan Clach

From the col steepening slopes led up to the minor 905m top of Spidean.

Looking up to the 905m top of Spidean Coire nan Clach

After that the ridge narrowed, a second minor top crossed and then up to the trig point at 972m. This is not the summit but is the crucial reference point for the descent into Coire an Laoigh. Visibility was now very poor indeed.

The trig point on Spidean Coire nan Clach. Not the summit but marks the descent route.

We headed off for the summit along an ever narrowing ridge, negotiating some steep, rocky steps along the way, until we reached an exposed high point, beyond which a lower top was just visible through the murk. All previous footprints ended here. We checked the GPS, which confirmed that this was the summit. There was something eerily impressive about this place. A quick photo, and we headed back towards the trig point.

Karl on summit of Spidean Coire nan Clach

Karl descending one of the exposed steps on Spidean Coire nan Clach

Back at the trig point we took a bearing for the cairn which marks the descent into Coire an Laoigh. Footprints went down this way, reassuringly. Soon, however, the lines of footprints diverged and seemed to wander aimlessly. We kept to our bearing until the slope eased towards the col and the cairn emerged out of the thick mist.

But now we had a problem. For overhanging the corrie into which we wanted to descend was a large cornice, beyond which we could see only a white void. The cornice continued along the edge of Stuc Coire an Laoigh and the slopes below it were very steep. I consulted the map. It didn't look like there was any easy way into the corrie by going over the Stuc. But it looked as if the cornice ought to disappear back up the slope above the cairn, since the contours indicated no distinct edge. So we carefully walked as close to the edge as possible and worked our way back up, until the cornice, thankfully, became a rounded edge that we could step over, onto a steep slope of hard neve that stretched to the limits of visibility. We faced into the slope to begin, working down slowly and carefully using the picks of our axes. We were surrounded by an unbroken wall of whiteness. After a while the gradient eased sufficiently to face out and use our axe spikes to steady ourselves as we carefully walked down. The slope was still steep and still there was nothing visible below us. But eventually some black rocks appeared to the right, then below. We kept going, and the gradient was easing, until a strip of bare, icy grass appeared below and left. We headed for that, then followed the snow to it's left, on which a line of footprints appeared. The slope eased off considerably.Then at last we could see the floor of the corrie, below the mist. We reached an area of rocks, with a view out to Loch Clair. We stopped there, removed our crampons, put our ice axes away and ate the rest of our food. We were glad to be back in relative normality after the uncertainties of the white void! We were also glad we'd resisted the temptation to attempt the Liathach traverse, given the unexpected deterioration in the weather.

Below the clag at last in Coire an Laoigh

A very good stalker's path, which we followed in a mood of cheerfulness, elation even, led down to the road.

Sgurr Dubh across Glen Torridon

It had been quite an adventure, and a fitting end to our Torridon trip. Back at the bunkhouse there was no sign of the two ice-climbers. We cooked our meals, then went into the hotel bar. At about 9pm the two climbers walked into the bar, still with their outdoor kit on and soaked through. They went through to see the manager then walked back out again. We never did get to find out where they'd been or what they'd done, but it looked like they'd had a fair epic.

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Comments: 6

Beinn Alligin Winter Traverse

Attachment(s) Munros: Sgurr Mor (Beinn Alligin), Tom na Gruagaich (Beinn Alligin)
Date walked: 07/03/2018
Distance: 10km
Ascent: 1205m
Comments: 8
Views: 360

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Attachment(s) Date walked: 24/02/2018
Distance: 14km
Ascent: 1073m
Comments: 9
Views: 213

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Attachment(s) Date walked: 29/01/2018
Distance: 7.3km
Ascent: 960m
Comments: 12
Views: 461

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Attachment(s) Wainwrights: Great Gable, Green Gable
Hewitts: Great Gable, Green Gable
Date walked: 20/01/2018
Distance: 9.2km
Ascent: 877m
Comments: 7
Views: 252

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Attachment(s) Wainwrights: Blencathra
Hewitts: Blencathra
Date walked: 16/12/2017
Distance: 8.2km
Ascent: 771m
Comments: 12
Views: 605

The High Stile Ridge in Soft Snow and Murky Mist

This post is not published on the Walkhighlands forum
Attachment(s) Wainwrights: High Crag, High Stile, Red Pike (Buttermere)
Hewitts: High Crag, High Stile, Red Pike (Buttermere)
Date walked: 09/12/2017
Distance: 12km
Ascent: 994m
Views: 24

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Attachment(s) Wainwrights: Birkhouse Moor, Catstyecam, Helvellyn
Hewitts: Catstyecam, Helvellyn
Date walked: 25/11/2017
Distance: 12.2km
Ascent: 971m
Comments: 6
Views: 305

Lochcraig Head and Molls Cleuch Dod

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Attachment(s) Donalds: Lochcraig Head , Molls Cleuch Dod
Date walked: 18/11/2017
Distance: 12km
Ascent: 774m
Views: 12

A Walk on the Sleeping Elephants

Attachment(s) Hewitts: Calders, Fell Head, The Calf
Date walked: 12/11/2017
Distance: 14.7km
Ascent: 831m
Comments: 7
Views: 323


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Location: Cumbria
Activity: Mountain Walker
Pub: Clachaig Inn
Mountain: An Teallach
Place: Loch Coruisk
Gear: Marmot Windshirt
Ideal day out: A round of summits with some scrambling thrown in.
Ambition: Complete the Munros

Munros: 233
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Grahams: 10
Donalds: 33
Wainwrights: 214
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