Slioch - 981m
& South Top, 739m

Friday 18th January 2019

Weather/Conditions: More good conditions, bit of wind, cold and IMMENSE light. Really, really good. Cold on top in the breeze, fine in the shade. Ground frozen to sea level on the way in, gently warming through the day to just above the approach track, whcih was thawed a bit on our way out
Distance/Ascent/Time: 19.6km / 1000m / 8h 30m
Accompanying: Who?

Slioch is simply an amazing mountain. It holds a special place for me in that it was the last Munro of my first round. I kept it for last to hark back to my April 2008 trip to Wester Ross, a formative trip that utterly blew my mind. In some sense, it was pivotal in stoking the fire, for me to know I wanted to take the whole Scottish mountain thing further. Not that I needed much convincing.

That day that I completed on Slioch, the weather was pretty rotten. It was that way by necessity: the previous day I'd done my penultimate six Munros at Inverlael. The good conditions had been kept for the big day and the single Munro was kept for the storm. I went back in 2015 on a day of ultimate, almost unbeatable visibility to make up for it.

And today would be my third time. I was almost for having a lie in; I was really sleepy. Oh well, I wasn't too fussed but it would be good to get going earlier than yesterday.

I stepped out the van for the first time and "holy shit"! Beinn Eighe was wintry, golden and gleaming in the morning sun. It was going to be a good day.

Slioch is a bigger mountain than its height would show. You start from sea level and approach the mountain for many kilometres before even setting foot on it. We biked the first couple, but they were felt to be too much work. So we started walking, this normally boggy ground frozen hard by frost.

We walked under the Beinn a' Mhuinnidh cliffs to arrive at the bridge across Abhainn an Fhasaigh – this river drains Gleann Bianasdail. The bridge across is looking a bit beat up, with a couple big gaps exposing the pool below. The first uphills toward Slioch were laboured. I felt alright, if a bit raw from the previous day. But we entered Coire an Sleughach and the mountain was suddenly dead. We cut up left to the ridge early, ploughing through drifts to the ridge. A bit of a wind up here; we took shelter by a boulder, layers on, a drink of tea and then onward again. Views were opening up at last. The clouds in the south were puffy and silver-lined. It was uncharacteristic of January, unusually bright.

In time, we got higher than the arm of Sgurr an Tuill Bhain. The north finally opened up. Fisherfield and A' Mhaighdean pulled into view. Whoa! A weather front stalled out over the sea and turned the horizon deep shades of blue. Yet the north-west hills were bright in the low-angled sun, but backed by this darkness. The clarity in the air was stunning and astounding. Loch Maree appeared so suddenly as we got to the trig point, this the lower top of the mountain by just a metre.

I was kind of beside myself. All the way up, this seemed so right. I looked east to the sun-washed snow caps: Fionn Bheinn and the Fannaichs. I was getting driven mad by the incessant wish to spend more and more time on the hills in winter. I always want to stay out longer.

We headed over the summit and everything clicked. The light would break out in ribbons dancing on the hillsides; low and angled, with shadows playing on white snow. Classic photography light, but not a place to hang around; I took my gloves off for a few moments and they went numb and raw. Very cold, very quick, so I stuck them under the armpits and they tingled back to life.

We headed down by route of ascent, but dropping to the lower coire by the lochans. We got back to sea level talking about our ML experiences, the assessments etc, and walked out with the day coming to a close. We got back just after dark, with the Moon up and illuminating the land.

We went straight to Inverness, got a takeaway and went to see Rich and Fiona who were heading to the Strathpuffer in the morning. And then the long drive home: back to Bearsden at 2am.

360° Panorama


Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 9.25am Car park
(3.38) 1.03pm Slioch South Top
(4.45) 2.10pm Slioch
(8.30) 5.55pm Car park
Written: 2019-01-19