Beinn Ailligin in clag

Munros: Sgùrr Mòr (Beinn Alligin), Tom na Gruagaich (Beinn Alligin)

Date walked: 24/08/2023

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 17km

Ascent: 1406m

We've not had much luck with weather in 2023. We've made three trips up to the Highlands and they've all coincided with bad conditions. I suspect we're not the only ones. Still, we've managed to climb 10 munros this year. Our visit to Inveralligin on Loch Torridon was supposed to be a good stretch of five full days but unforeseen circumstances meant we had to cut it right down to two. It was late on Wednesday that we were able to get away and even though the traffic was good it was approaching midnight by the time we were weaving our way down the A896 below Beinn Eighe and Liathach (not that we could see them of course). What we could see was many a deer that would take its time clearing off out of the road in front of us. When we reached Inveralligin it was time to get inside as quickly as possible as the midge apocalypse was upon us. This was a shame because it was a clear night and the spiral arms of the milky way were clearly visible up above and I would have liked to stay around a bit. But it is a long drive and a very comfy bed awaited. We were looking forward to seeing what the view across the loch would be like in the morning.

It feels like a different world up there. The last time I have been that far north in Scotland was 1996 and a family holiday at Loch Kishorn. Main memories are mackerel fishing and, for some reason, sitting in the bath listening to the Oasis Knebworth gig on the radio. No munroes at that point. I did not discover them until spur of the moment in 2020, lockdown over, myself and Luca decided to console ourselves for having to cancel our Alps holiday with a trip to Ben Nevis and the CMD arete. We've been doing as much as we can in the Highlands since.

Loch Torridon the day before the walk. Glen Shieldaig across the water.

Beinn Alligin above Inveralligin the day before our walk. Alas the clag free conditions would not hold out.

We did not catch any mackerel this time. But loads of fun catching crabs and toads and playing a bit of pitch and put by Loch Torridon. It was clear already that the tops of Beinn Alligin and Liathach were not going to be favourable for the time we were there. But sod it, we were going to do an early trip out for Beinn Alligin even if we would see none of the views. We were up for the challenge of navigating the ridge in nil visibility (we had to do the same in the Mamores in July - what a crap summer we've had!) In normal times, i.e. if we could have seen anything, we would take on the Horns of Alligin on the way back as well but getting down in time to head for the cafe at Torridon won out in favour of that plan. Can recommend the haggis melt toastie.

Clag now resting on the tops of Liathach and Beinn Alligin. But the visibility stayed good lower down.

Pre-hike amusements. The Ryder Cup in full swing.

Loch Torridon. Ben Shieldaig across the way.

The weather below 500 m was pretty good for the couple of days we were there and the non-altitude photos are accordingly a fair bit more interesting. We settled on a straightforward up, along, back along and down as our route for Beinn Alligin. We were resigned to the fact that we would get no views. I would not say our spirits were undampened. Everything was dampened more or less immediately when we set off from the shore of Loch Torridon at 6am.

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Here we go. Beinn Alligin is up there somewhere.

Liathach also hiding in clag.

The ground through the forest near Torridon House was appallingly boggy and even though the waterfalls around there were more impressive than we thought they would be we didn't bother to stop. That's the thing about hiking in bad weather - it takes more effort to stop than it does to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Are we having fun? No we are not. Creature emerging from the caledonian pines near Torridon House.

Before long we reached the cloud base. Waterproof trousers on at this point. Very much needed. The forecast was what it said it would be - but the Met Office gave us a glimmer of hope that there could be some patchy breaks in the cloud here and there later on. We were bouyed by this, but undeterred by the fact that it was only a small chance, because our trip in July had ended up being a solid 12 h plus up in the clag without a single break for the entire time we took in 7 Mamores. Nothing would be as bad as that. As it was we were afforded exactly the same luck this time out as well, i.e. bugger all visibility of anything further than 5 m in front of us.

One last look at Loch Torridon before we disappear into clag.

The clag-line hanging at a stubborn 500 m today. And it won't budge.

Navigation is pretty easy on Beinn Alligin. We were surprised at how good the path was up Coire nan Laogh. If the weather had been good we would probably have detoured off to the left to take in the terraced scrambling that is supposed to be a lot of fun as an alternative way up to the plateau. The only tricky bit was keeping track of where we were on the plateau between the cairn at the top of Coire nan Laogh and the summit of Tom na Gruagaich, and then picking the right direction off the summit to find the ridge. We didn't hang around at the summit!

Into the abyss we go.

God it's a barren featureless desert out there. On the plateau above Coire nan Laogh. A large cairn marks the path we will take back down (by the same route). Careful navigation with map and compass pretty straightforward even with such poor visibility.

One of Scotland's finest munros! Those views. Ah well, these were the cards we were dealt. We knew it was going to be this way when we set off.

The ridge started off a bit more scrambly than we thought it would. And a bit more altitude loss than I thought there would be. As with our Mamores experience it was certainly a disappointment not to be able to experience what is widely regarded some of the best views in all of Scotland! But the way I see it is that we can put our crappy 2023 weather in the bank and now have a very good chance of being given good weather next time we return, probably 2024. Such is the way I understand these things to work.

Ridge scrambling without visibility. Confidence needed to be sure you set off in the right direction! We can only guess at how magnificent the views across to Skye and Liathach are.

Eag Dhubh - the black cleft also looking grey today.

The ridge was good fun even though we couldn't see anything. The good thing about being on a ridge in the clag is that so long as you have confidence you are on the right ridge the route navigates itself. It was faintly entertaining to guess at how far along the way we were and when we might come across the famous Eag Dhubh. We stumbled across it sooner than expected, just after a Kendal Mint Cake refuelling stop. The summit of Sgurr Mor was just above.

Just look at those views. Astonishing.

At the summit we re-validated our earlier decision not to go for the Horns of Alligin on the basis that we couldn't see anything. On the way back along the ridge there was a brief moment of excitement when the clag suddenly changed in colour from grey to a slightly lighter shade of grey and we thought this could be it - we might get our glimpse of a view of the Torridon munros. But then the clag darkened back to its original hue and we mocked ourselves for allowing that moment of pathetic hope.

Descending back to earth again. The return route. Liathach ahead. Loch Torridon right.

Sea level views are the best this week. Loch Torridon again. We will return.

Thus concluded our underwhelming tour of Beinn Alligin. This outing shall go on our record as an Unmemorable Victory. Back under the cloud base it was actually quite a nice day, and our time spent at sea level during out visit to Loch Torridon was much enjoyable.

Aug 2020: Ben Nevis via CMD (2x munro). Result: Memorable Victory
Aug 2021: Macdui bivvy - Breariach (6x munro). Result: Stunning Victory
Mar 2022: Ben Chonzie (1x munro). Result: Pre-season friendly (victory)
Apr 2022: Arrochar Alps (1x munro). Result: Honorable Defeat
Jun 2022: Ben Cruachan 4 (1x munro). Result: Miserable Defeat
Jul 2022: Aonach Eagach (2x munro). Result: Memorable Victory
Apr 2023: Beinn a Ghlo (diverted) (1x munro). Result: Honorable Defeat
Jul 2023: Mamores (7x munro). Result: Hard-fought Victory
Aug 2023: Beinn Alligin (2x munro). Result: Unmemorable Victory

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