Firstly, I must say a big thank you to the bold Jim, without whose unstinting cooperation - and car - this trip the weekend before last would not have been possible. Andy's natural generosity had resulted in him lending the Defender out for three weeks, and I was no help because (with heavy heart) I've been forced to accept that the Subaru has breathed its last. What a motor it's been. I'll probably compose it a eulogy later. (Sniff.)
In all events, Torridonwards we headed. The plan was to use the long summer day to its fullest, and a round trip of some 17 hours probably qualifies.
Beinn Eighe wasn't a hill that I'd studied too closely in the past, for some reason. I've maybe always assumed that it wasn't really an obvious candidate for a daywalk from Lanarkshire, but hey, what do I know? I was vaguely aware that Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair was supposed to be worth a look, and I'd heard mention of something called a "triple buttress", but I don't know what one of those looks like, so I'm not sure if we saw it or not.
I'm getting ahead of myself though. Most of the route descriptions have you doing the two Munros in a clockwise direction, but after some discussion in the car park - indeed, after some discussion as to whether we were in a car park at all - we decided to go with the Walkhighlands suggestion to do an anticlockwise circuit, largely because "the steep screes above Coire Mhic Fhearchair are marginally more tolerable if taken in descent".
I'd be very surprised if that's not true. The other advantage, as it transpired, was that just about everybody else on what was an extremely busy hill was traversing the other way, so the scree was empty by the time we were going down. I wouldn't have fancied forming a queue, or having folk passing and scrabbling about for purchase up above us if we'd been heading the same way as the masses.
There's a good path leading away from the informal parking area opposite Loch Bharranch. (The carpark proper is about a mile and a half along the road to the west, but we took the view that we might as well do the tarmac stretch on the way back). The hoary euphemism that height is gained quickly applies here, but before too long the route takes a leftish bend into Coire an Laoigh, and flattens appreciably.
It's still steep, like, but flatter steep. ;0)
It was around this point that we were overtaken by a fell runnery chap, who was happy enough to snatch a quick bit of conversation on the way past. We discovered that his record from car to the trig point on the ridge was 43 minutes. I checked my watch later, and we managed it in a rather creditable 2 hours and 15 minutes. Hah - and here was us thinking we weren't in utterly peak physical condition.
About half way up the corrie there's a fairly laid back big stag.
I'm confident enough, from his demeanour, to suggest that if you're ever in the corrie yourself you'll probably meet him. More fixture than fauna, I reckon. He certainly wasn't much fussed about moving terribly far away from the path just because of a few pesky hillwalkers. I doubt that had we taken any dugs it would have made a blind bit of difference to him. He'd have carried on grazing, sitting and scratching regardless. Nice to see, quite frankly.
Higher up, there's a choice of developing paths through some slightly loose scree-cum-muddy grass slopes, and a bit of judicious zigzagging doesn't go amiss.
|The lads slogging up the corrie. The east bit of Beinn Eighe behind them.
It's a bit of a pain in the thighs, but all of a sudden though you kind of pop out onto the ridge, and...well...Liathach.
Now there's a thing. It's no hardship to pause a while and take in the view.
|To the south west
|Stuc Coire an Laoigh
|So, should we just nip up it after we finish these two?
Another fairly brief clamber up the broad ridge to the trig point beckons.
|I know it looks like we're in matching outfits but, but...um...er....actually, that's a fair cop.
It's from about there that you start to get an idea of the scale of Beinn Eighe as well.
|The ridge running west, with Liathach beyond
|Looking north west towards Ruadh-stac Mhor
A mountain range in itself, as Andy pointed out. The general enjoyment wasn't lessened by the fact that the weather had decided to settle for summery rather than showery.
|Munro target number 1
Given the view from the trig point I wasn't entirely convinced that I'd be comfortable on the last wee section to the first Munro summit, Spidean Coire nan Clach.
Jim and me are of much the same mind when it comes to anything exposed, but in the event a wee detour to the right got us onto the summit. One wee step - just aboot here(!)...
...that was marginally closer to an edge than I'd have ideally liked, but nothing to get trembly about, even for me. (You'll notice I was off my mark to get behind the camera sharpish, leaving Jim to demonstrate the terrifying drop location.)
|Looking back to the summit. I told you there was a drop on the left.
By the time we returned to the trig point to pick up the craftily pre-dumped rucksacks the hill was busying up a bit with folk approaching from the ridge that links Spidean Coire nan Clach with Coinneach Mhor. Amongst them was a chap of a certain vintage proudly sporting a Nazareth T-shirt as part of his high tech outdoor gear, an approach which I thoroughly endorse. Who cares if it's wicking if it's rock'n'roll?
|Ah. It's that way, is it?
Again the ridge had looked a wee bit daunting from the eastern approach, but it was plenty wide, and only dizzyingly vertical at some bits on the right hand side. We really had struck lucky with the weather.
|Looking back to Spidean
|Onwards and upwards. And downwards.
|Liathach is going nowhere.
|Getting towards the end of the ridge
|The view north into Coire Ruadh-staca
Just before the top of Coinneach Mhor there's a bypass path that leads over to the bealach between it and Ruadh-stac Mor, the second Munro on the hill, but it looked a bit loose and saves very little ascent anyway, so we diligently strode up to the cairn and had a break to take stock. You can't quite make the path out in this next picture, but if you use your imagination you can probably estimate the line it takes. ;0)
It was roughly at this juncture that I started to wonder what the eventual scree descent into Coire Mhic Fhearchair was going to be like - it's not an underfoot state of affairs with which I'm hugely enamoured - so when we reached the bealach and had a peek down it was reassuring to note that although it was steepish, it wasn't terribly long lasting.
|The view from the bealach into Coire Mhic Fhearchair
Thus reassured, we wandered up the pleasant enough slopes to the summit of Ruadh-stac Mor and spent an agreeable few minutes soaking up yet more views back the way, across the way and pretty much every which way.
From there it's a gentle enough return to the bealach and the delights of the descent into the corrie regarded by many, apparently, as one of the finest in Scotland. You've to negotiate the aforementioned scree slope before you start rating it out of ten, mind you.
In truth, if you follow what seems to be the general advice and stick to the right of the slope it's not too bad. There's largely bare rock underfoot, and as long as you don't rush it, it's akin to descending random uneven very thin sharp-edged stone steps. At an impressive height, and with an impressive gradient.
Sticking to the right then reveals the makings of a proper rocky path lower down, but that rather petered out amongs the jumble of bigger boulders nearer the corrie floor.
There was, it turned out, a proper path further over to the left (as you descend) through this bouldery terrain, but I still can't work out how you get over to it from the spot we were at, and I'm not sure if it's worth the diversion in the big scheme of things to be frank. The corrie's a big old place.
It's still surprisingly slow going across varied terrain until you reach the loch, where the path proper is regained.
Now, by this point, the party was feeling rather proud of itself - we'd been walking for a bit over four hours, and the two Munros were in the bag, and we'd done the potentially awkward descent. Then we had a look at the map and noticed that distance wise, we'd completed about half the walk. Michty. Psychologically, it felt we should have been a tad more advanced than that. Still and all though, there are worse places to be.
I think being there at that stage of the walk is another persuasive argument in favour of the anticlockwise approach.
Cards on the table, it would be idle to deny that once you leave the corrie, and get to the far end of Sail Mhor, the route home turns into a bit of a slog. The path is good, but it's one of those you have to concentrate on, with rocks, drainage ditches and the like, so it was something of a relief when the A896 eventually hove into view. The last mile or so on the flat tarmac, if I'm honest, came as an encouraging boost to the feet.
Walk out notwithstanding, this was one of the most enjoyable hill days I can remember. Topped off nicely by chips in Inverness on the way home. Back in Airdrie by half past midnight. A Carlsberg day oot.