Ruadh-stac Mor - 1010m
Spidean Coire nan Clach - 993m
Thursday 17th January 2019
Weather/Conditions: Amazing! White mountains and blue skies to start, clouding over to steel-grey on the summits and into a moonlit evening. Essentially no wind on the summits, so hospitable in spite of the epic look. Had just had a fresh dump of snow (24 hrs?) - so nothing built up in gullies, nothing really frozen and no rime except very high up. Going up Ruadh-stac Mor was a snow-covered scree fest.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 17.6km / 1250m / 8h 05m
We drove north. The snow was down past the road by Drumochter and on the road past Slochd. Lorries were sitting, hazards on, unable to get out of Inverness. We headed into town and across the bridge to see snow falling to sea level. Biking into Lurg Mhor, as hgad been plan A, would not go in this weather. With both this, and it being 1am or so, we decided on Beinn Eighe instead.
We got to the car park sometime after 2am, the mountains white in moonlight. But I wasn’t hanging about; it was the wee hours of the morning, there was just enough time for a brew, some chat and finally sleep some time after 4am.
Up early and the day was looking good outside. We slept in a bit (by choice...), I put some eggs and a flask of tea on. Then I got out the van and whoa! Liathach way above, shining white and backed up a fresh blue sky.
On the walk in, I almost had to remind my legs to get going. Big yin put in a good pace. Things were looking good: great weather, snow cover to glen level, and the first weeps of ice developing on the cliffs.
Rounding into Coire Mhic Fhearchair, the ‘islands’ – singular rising mountains of Beinn an Eoin and Baosbheinn were all on display. It was becoming hard to believe this was Scotland, the process of being into the mountains was like getting absorbed into an alternative reality. A couple folk came the opposite way, walking out with ropes on their rucksacks: bad climbing conditions they said, the gullies were looking bad.
We rounded into the coire, the triple buttresses opened up. It’s an amazing place. Our debate was on whether to go to the back of the coire (the normal route with footprints, presumably), or straight up the front of Ruadh-stac Mor. Knowing that although shortcuts are never shortcuts (especially on quartzite scree), we went straight up the front. I just couldn’t be bothered hanging around, and wanted to get up high. But add deep snow on boulders alternating with snow-covered scree, and you had a mission just getting up 300 (steep) vertical metres. But what the heck; we were in no rush. We’d started late enough that it would get dark anyway.
I noticed the day was clouding over. It was unexpected. Perhaps I didn't look at the forecast carefully enough, but I knew it wouldn't come to much either, so not a problem.
The summit of Ruadh-stac Mor was an immense place: it was great to come over the top and be presented with a panorama of wild mountains, entirely bare, white, and flat in this overcast light. It looked savage. But in the absence of wind we could simply stand and watch.
All day I'd also been observing the Triple Buttress. I'd love to get climbing there some time. The snow brings out the ledges, so it's useful to see the weaknesses and steeper sections. Last winter I was keen to get the left buttress, but the plan never materialised. Sometime soon would be great, though.
Spidean Coire nan Clach
We continued to Spidean Coire nan Clach, the second Beinn Eighe Munro. Ground conditions alternated between scoured, soft deposits, and windslab. To save some reascent under Coinneach Mhor we cut across windslab to access the ridge leading to the Spidean.
The light stayed grey and flat. In the Torridonian environment, this was like turning up the brutality. Everything was raw and harsh, and spectacular. A white world that blotted out most of humanity’s imprint.
Spidean was hard work. The light was dimming, the Moon already rising in the east. A couple of scrambling moments led to the summit where we stood at last light. Once, I would have looked at our day and considered it to be the ultimate in experience. It's funny how you crest one metaphorical horizon only to find another. But take the moment of your present surroundings: standing on a summit at 3,000 feet in evening twilight. White monoliths rose stark from the mointeach and the Moon rose high and bright in the eastern skies. The lights of Kyleakin twinkled in the south west. Car headlights moved through Glen Torridon to remind us there was really a road down there, so with night coming on and the van at the bottom, it was time to head down.
We went down to the cairn on the southern prominence (Stuc Coire an Laoigh) then down left, moving fast down steep ground. Out of the high mountain terrain, just a walk brought us down the hill. It never got totally dark, but a headtorch did help. One car hung around with its lights on below us: I almost wondered if it was checking us out. It eventually left; perhaps they worked out our head torches up on the hill were nothing to worry about. Once back at the road, a couple kilometres of tarmac-bashing brought us to the van.
Our original plan for the following day had been Bidean a' Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor. With the freezing levels staying low and biking impractical, we went for Slioch instead. This was a one-Munro day and was also just around the corner. The Kinlochewe Hotel was shut for renovations until end of January, so we just parked up at Incheril, I put on a (bloody awesome) curry, and got to bed a good bit earlier than the previous night.
Spidean Coire nan Clach
(0.00) 11.10am Car park
(3.35) 2.45pm Ruadh-stac Mor
(5.30) 4.40pm Spidean Coire nan Clach
(7.36) 6.46pm Road
(8.05) 7.15pm Car park