Monday, 10 April 2017

Beinn Eighe. Ruadh Stac Beag. Liathach. Torridon.

Another blip on the interconnected super highway but hopefully back online now. I was also away on a week long holiday up north so here's the first installment. I started this trip in Alex's car who had thoughtfully arranged our accommodation and planned his remaining Corbetts  around it. Halfway up Loch Lomondside however his car developed mechanical problems which meant he had to call it off and return to Glasgow to get it repaired.  As this ended up taking several days he unfortunately missed bagging his last four remaining corbetts but I, being fickle, got a lift up with John who was also coming along with his own list of remote northern corbetts to bag and his own separate transport. It can be a lonely life being a long distance corbett bagger but on this occasion it proved beneficial for me as we had another car in hand.
                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
Totem poles in the Caledonian pine forest under Beinn Eighe. Normally I like public art and these are good as part of a mini sculpture trail but I found myself wondering about their relevance here in such majestic untamed surroundings.They seemed a bit like those padlocks on bridges or all the different names written with pebbles on grassy pastures or the dozens of false cairns that litter the landscape in any highland beauty spot these days. Normally I'm all for creative artists but here it just seemed slightly wrong as if nature itself is so boring it needs tarted up and large amounts of money flung at it to make it more interesting. It's something I've noticed in outdoor films as well with Wild, A Walk in the Woods, and The Way all featuring long distance hikes but 'enhanced' by added 'periods of excitement' as if nature isn't interesting enough in itself to engage the cinema going public's attention without frequent added embellishments like falling off crumbing cliffs, wading through man eating swamps, meeting irritating unlikable nutters en route every five minutes or disappearing down deep holes in often preposterous and highly unrealistic situations. Ironically, these extra segments spoiled all three films for me but The Way made the best attempt at a realistic outdoor depiction of a hike without interference and unnecessary add ons which leaves The Last of Us (a computer game that also works brilliantly as an online film) as still the best 'road movie' I've seen in recent years- full of beauty, wonder, great characters and an absolute gem of a story-line full of unexpected twists and turns. And it's free to watch on You Tube at the moment in handy 30 minute chunks.
The Last of Us- Cimematic Playthrough for anyone interested in a good outdoor movie full of believable likable characters, situations and plot twists.
If this was in a monotonous stretch of man made pine forest somewhere I might be singing it's praises but this is Torridon- one of the UK's most impressive mountain landscapes surrounded by original native pine forests. Surely that should be enough in itself? What next in the future- A fast food brand outlet beside the visitor centre here perhaps, sponsoring the local wildlife, and a small retail park for that all round mountaineering and day out 'wild shopping experience' in a driver-less electric car which also takes you up the summits in comfort in hover car mode on the new North West 'Mountain Highway'? I hope not but who knows what the future holds for wild places. Too far-fetched? Well, a shopping centre near me has recently acquired three new large fast food outlets that were not there before although it had two others of different eating brands there already- turning it from an easy to enter and visit shopping joy of a retail park into an over- congested nightmare of a place at weekends.
A red squirrel in the forest. Hey- nature can be interesting... on it's own terms ... without any additions. Mc Squirrel- why not try one on a burger soon?
John just leaving the pine forest behind for the upper slopes which were invisible under a thick blanket of mist and clag.
As this is Torridon however, and one of the most scenic districts in Scotland for steep wild mountains and jagged ridge lines we carried on, hopeful that the forecast was correct that it would burn off under the sun's warmth as the day progressed. The serrated ridge of Beinn Eighe, above, appearing out the murk.
As we climbed higher the great pyramid shape of Liathach gradually loomed out of the surrounding murk, for any hill-walker one of the finest mountains in the UK and a formidable proposition under full winter conditions to complete the full traverse end to end. I've climbed this hill around 6 or 7 times over the years, including two full winter traverses years ago with ropes, ice axes, head torches and crampons under deep snow and ice but after a few years absence and around a decade away at high level under snow- the power of this hill at close quarters still fires up the imagination.
I found myself thinking   'God. I've missed these jaggy places so much!' This is where I should be more often!'
Although I've had many great adventures with friends, bagging hills on a list you do get dragged up some nondescript forgettable lumps from time to time with few redeeming features- certainly nothing on this scale for excitement and pleasure.
As a keen photographer this was nirvana for me and the weather soon improved with the mist burning off by lunch time. This is John climbing the rugged slopes of  Ruadh Stac Beag, 896 metres, and a cracker of a Corbett with stunning views across to Beinn Eighe, seen here, Liathach, Beinn Alligin, and the Fisherfield range of mountains... all spectacular peaks without a dud in sight.
Our mountain was a typical Torridonian peak, guarded by steep vertical cliffs, with only one viable weak spot in it's defenses. This was via the south facing ridge, luckily sunlit all day and so free of snow which was just as well given it was a steep ridge made up of large boulders- completely pathless and disconcertingly unstable.
Most of the landscape here was stone and scree with few paths across it. Ruadh Stac Beag, seen here, and reaching the start of the ridge after a long climb to get to this point.
Making our way up a rock pavement beside a stream as the best route upwards in an area largely free of connected paths.
Our hill of choice with the mist burning off its dome shaped summit.
Other hills with mist moving away.
Maybe Beinn Alligin, going by the profile, but I'm not sure as we could only see brief opening glimpses of surrounding hills in this direction at this point then they were obscured again minutes later like an old style fan and face act.
A view across Loch Maree in the direction of Fisherfield and mighty Munro number 285 -Slioch.
The impressive cliffs on Beinn Eighe, probably the edge of Coire Mhic Fherchair, the famous triple buttress of vertical walls dropping down in one long horseshoe plunge into a scenic lochan at its base and one of the finest mountain features in Britain.
The Full Monty  Liathach shows off the full long ridge traverse in all its glory. So lucky to be climbing the right hill at the right time as many other hill groups around stubbornly held onto mist blankets all day long.
John negotiating the boulder field to the summit. This wasn't particularly hard, just very awkward as every second step shifted a boulder sightly, some table sized and very heavy, so that you could never be sure if it would bear your full weight without tilting off at a weird unexpected angle or falling over completely. Being a Corbett it gets relatively few ascents and the terrain is still unstable and pathless.
Going back down was even trickier but no complaints from us with such amazing surroundings.
We noticed what looked like bubbles in many of the rocks here- a geological oddity but probably due to intense heat then cooling during volcanic activity as Torridon is well known for having some of the oldest rock formations on planet earth visible on the surface. Link here with location map and a few extra photos.
What looks like a tiny hill-walker (on the snowy skyline to the left of the summits) climbing the ridges on Beinn Eighe, another cracking Munro I've done a few times but not for 20 odd years.  In my Munro bagging days we always made a point of doing all the tops at the same time as the main summits -so I'd also done Ruadh Stac Beag on a previous outing but I never have a problem doing hills again if they are as much fun as this one.
Pinnacles on Beinn Eighe. This is a stunning hill as well, not as jaw dropping as steep vertical sided Liathach but still interesting once you gain the ridge line for its roller coaster sweep of summits, its numerous shattered cliffs and heavily eroded pinnacles. Slopes of shifting loose scree cover much of this mountain, making it appear very moon- like in places due to an absence of vegetation- just miles of dry rock and sky above.
A shattered cliff on Beinn Eighe... just one of many along the varied up and down ridge. Another memorable traverse to savour- winter or summer.
Never a dull day in Torridon when you get weather and conditions like this. Around 10 miles round trip walking and 5 to 9 hours to complete - the time difference depending how fast you move over rough pathless terrain, loose scree and boulder slopes. Although it's Alex and Bob in the blog title I did most of my early hill-walking, rock climbing and alpine backpacking tours with John, Brian, and others in various clubs as Alex always followed and still follows his own interests regarding hills and has always had periods when he's happy doing other things. Anyway, it was good to catch up with an old friend I don't see that often these days due to the normal family commitments and poor Alex missed a great holiday he'd arranged and planned in an excellent manner although, as usual, he would have been focused on his own remaining Corbetts elsewhere. I believe he's only got four to do now... Is there life after that... or will he just retire then to the sofa and the latest box sets of quality TV series?  I hope not  :o)
A Link To A Previous Torridon adventure in June 2013. There are three posts from the same trip in that month on the blog all for June.

Video this week is a lovely cover of a modern classic most folk will not have heard before. Some of the best songs are deceptively simple yet go straight to the heart in their universal appeal -like this one of life, love, loss and loneliness that most humans will have experience of at some point.


Mike@Bit About Britain said...

And there I was thinking that a corbett bagger was something to do with the aftermath of the American Civil War, or a dodgy politician... :-) Wonderful post and stunning photos, Bob. I do less walking than I used to but your shots are a reminder of what it's all about - you can almost smell it. AND you saw a red squirrel! Never heard of Antony and the Johnsons, but enjoyed the song - though, whilst I'm a lover of electric guitar, I wonder whether this one might have been better using an acoustic. Great number, though, and a sweet vocal.

Rosemary said...

I agree with you Bob - however nice the totem poles are they really have no place in a forest. Many woodlands seem to have art works in them - are they to encourage people to walk there? as far as I am concerned that shouldn't be necessary - very few places are more beautiful than being in a forest.
Love the red squirrel, I have only ever seen red squirrels twice so each occasion is firmly imprinted in my memory - once in the Lake District, and once in a park in Prague.

Linda said...

Beautiful photos! And I love squirrels. Here in Montreal, I only see the gray ones, and a few black, but we don't have any red ones. I always smile when I see photos of the red squirrel, they have the extra tufts of hair on their ears, making their ears appear to be longer. Love it. :)

Linda W. said...

You have some very scenic mountains in your country! I'd love to climb them (although not in winter)

Anabel Marsh said...

Shifting scree - having the heebie jeebies here, however beautiful the scenery!

I remember being amazed when I first heard that song on Jools Holland, I bought everything I could by Anthony and saw him at what was then the Carlton Academy. Haven't heard of him for a while, or maybe I'm just getting out of touch. I've never come across a cover version before. Nice, but prefer the original. Good to hear though!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Mike,
I also do less hill-walking these days. The mind is still 'let's get up that big beast right away. Wow, what a monster!' but the body and legs are usually groaning all the way back down and glad to finish.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Rosemary.
The Beinn Eighe Info centre is well done- a low key log cabin style building but the additional sculpture trail just seemed to hit the wrong note somehow. On reflection though casual tourists not going up any hills in the region might enjoy them more and children will like them. The nearby Beinn Eighe Nature Trail is a spectacular circuit of merit and one of the best of its kind in Britain. Not for people unsteady on their feet however as it does have some steep rocky sections and you would not want to fall down onto a staircase of hard unforgiving boulders. Having said that it is a cracking walk and scenic balcony trail without having to climb the higher wonder that is Meall A' Ghiubhais- one of the great scenic Corbetts in its own right.
More red squirrel photos to come- that was just a starter.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda,
Yes, they are cute little animals close up although I like the grey ones as well as I have a few of them in my garden every couple of days after my nut feeders.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda W,
Not bad mountains for a mere 3,400 feet high. With a sea level start and steep cliffs dropping sometimes 2000 feet from the summit they are small but mighty peaks. I'm sure you'd like them.

Kay G. said...

Thanks for letting me climb with you! Lovely photos.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
Who'd a thunk it! Another Antony and the Johnsons fan. He has some great songs on You Tube including 'The Lake' the Edgar Allen Poe poem set to music with pictures of a mountain lake in Greece in a fan video of images that is well worth watching.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay.
Torridon -Scotland's very own stone mountains as they do resemble separate monoliths rising from the forest in this region.

The Greenockian said...

Such amazing photographs - fabulous!

Anonymous said...

Torridon! Majestic mountains. I remember seeing Liathach emerge from the mists on my very first trip to Scotland, a genuine "wow" moment. Beinn Eighe was my first munro on a sunny day in winter conditions when I was a fresh faced 19 year old on that trip. I must take my son up there - he'd love it, and so would I. Thanks for rekindling some fond memories

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Liz,
Cheers Thanks.

Carol said...

So, now you're all enthused again about trips to the far north-west of Scotland, you and Alex can finish his Corbetts on my Munro Top compleation week and car-share around there after to join me!

Carol said...

Oh yeah, and I'm with you on the sculptures in wild areas - completely unnecessary - it's time people learnt to appreciate nature for itself without it 'tarting up' as you quite rightly say!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
I'd only go in good weather though as Torridon in heavy rain is fairly grim.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Carol,
We're not coming as you'd just shout at us and tell us what to do :o) I would only go up that far in good weather as I find it pointless climbing hills in poor conditions- as you will see from the next post.

Neil said...

Ahh Torridon! Used to visit at least twice a year when I was younger. Wonderful mountains but the biggies are too tough for me now. Your photo brings back memories of Ruadh Stac Beag- I had almost forgotten how bouldery it was.

Carol said...

We could probably pick you up somewhere on the way up (e.g. Stirling railway station) but we're going up a few days earlier than the Compleation walk and are starting in Glen Carron for a couple of days. You could bring your tent though. I'm hoping for good weather... May is generally good so keeping my fingers crossed.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil,
Yes, part of a mild regret from me was re-discovering how good this area is in fine weather but I don't have the knees or youthful spring in the legs for it anymore to do the bigger hills justice. Probably why I made the observation that I should have visited the area more in the last ten or so years but I can't complain as I've had some great times in the area and we got to know the locals fairly well after many summers camping in the glen during the 1980s.

blueskyscotland said...

Here you go.... here you go... there you go...
My thoughts will be with you.. on your final top.