Beinn Liath Mhor East Top - 983m
Beinn Liath Mhor - 1055m
Friday 30th September 2011
Weather/Conditions: Unnaturally warm, still air on the approach. The wind picked up on the ridge although summits were generally borderline clear. Then metres from the summit, a front blew in and rained on us for the long miles to the bottom.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 14.6km / 1050m / 6h 10m
Accompanying: Bealach M. C. - Ian, James, Dougie
The Big Grey Hill (imaginative, eh?)
Our first plan had been to do Beinn Liath Mhor and Sgorr Ruadh. These were the two remaining Munros I'd yet to climb in the Coulin Forest - I'd climbed the other one, Maol Chean-dearg, at the end of April. But as that April day had seen peaceful skies and views to the horizon, this day was the polar opposite. The weather and lack of daylight turned against us and we escaped from the mountains with Sgorr Ruadh unclimbed. This is probably just as well, I may save that for my last Munro.
Because of the long drive from Edinburgh (where I stayed the night with Ian) we didn't start out early on the hill. We would go for two Munros and see how far we got. The parking is on the main road and you walk up through Achnashellach train station. The route at the beginning could be a little confusing, but we missed a crucial turn off (through a funny circular gate) and ended up on trackless ground for a while.
We rejoined the stalkers track up to Coire Lair and continued upward on a real path. It was cloudy but the air was hot and I stripped to nothing on my top half to just stop the sweat pouring out. A marked difference from Coire Lair above, where it would soon feel quite cold!
For some reason I've always found the form of the Coulin peaks very hard to judge from the map. I could never get my mind's eye version of the mountains to match the real thing once I finally got there. Seeing Coire Lair for the first time was a bit like that: you come over the lip of the lower corrie to emerge into this huge arena of rocky mountains. Sgorr Ruadh looks a long way off. Beinn Liath Mhor is a great wall. Coulin is amazing because it has this semi-Torridon air: the mountains are harsh and built of the Torridon sandstone of the dream mountains further north. In some ways they are more chaotic than Torridon's clear-cut lines and the character is also so different than those hills just across the glen in Monar. The stifling heat of the lower corrie had disappeared (strangely quickly) and was replaced up here by a cool wind that had me throwing on a jacket to conserve heat.
We took the stalker's track to the foot of Beinn Liath Mhor. As the air cooled and wind strengthened, we climbed the prow to the east ridge on a faded path. The wind was becoming overbearing and we finally rested behind the cairn in the shade of the wind on the Far East top of Beinn Liath Mhor. We took a last break from the wind before and headed on up the ridge.
The views really made this section. Torridon was completely visible from here; Liathach a mighty banded wall. Fuar Tholl was profiled in the other direction with it's leaning Mainreachan Buttress. Sgorr nan Lochan Uaine was a pap below on the right, and the rocky chaos in between encloses a few (green apparently) lochans.
The weather began to close in as we made the long walk to the summit, a slow deterioration of weather and a shift form the settled to the malevolent. Maol Chean-dearg's huge sculpted profile was silhouetted grey against an even darker, monochrome sky. Waves of rain pummelled past us, high over the valley. In moments like these, mountains are like massive monuments, with their own personalities. Clouds scraped over the summits and twenty metres short of the summit, we finally walked into mist.
The cairn was a cold place to linger so I took a quick picture and put the camera away. Rain began to fall. We descended toward Sgorr Ruadh to find that cliffs intersected our route between the two mountains. We were pushed leftward into Coire Lair, away from the bealach connecting to Sgorr Ruadh. Note to self: try and keep right next time.
By this time we'd decided to leave out Sgorr Ruadh; we were wet, cold and lacking in motivation. It would do an injustice to a great mountain, it was one to leave for another time. If we went to the top we would get even more soaked through, we'd get colder, it would get dark as soon as we began descending. We surrendered like drowned rats and were given a short scree run for doing so...
A stalkers track penetrates into deepest Coire Lair, so we stoically put up with the walk out. The ramparts of Sgorr Ruadh rose impressively into swirling mist (a minor consolation for feeling damp and cold), but it was time to get down. Mist reached all the way down to Glen Carron and we only emerged into clear air in the lower coire. The car followed soon after and waterproofs were pulled off. Warmth and comfort awaited us instead, and we drove up Glen Carron to Inver Croft.
(0.00) 12.50pm Achnashellach
(2.30) 3.20pm Far East Top
(2.45) 3.35pm Far East Top (left)
(3.05) 3.55pm East Top
(3.35) 4.25pm Beinn Liath Mhor
(6.10) 7.00pm Achnashellach