Stairway to heavenly view

Sgorr Ruagh
Sgorr Ruagh

From the bothy it seemed tempting to simply find a quick and easy way across the stream and bash my way up the slopes opposite. In practice it turned out far less than appetising. The burn was easy enough but before I’d made any real progress beyond its banks I was certain that I’d not be coming back this way!

In front of me the slopes of Fuar Tholl, separated from those of my immediate target, Sgorr Ruadh, by a huge col, rose unrelentingly. My intention was to effect a steady rising traverse up onto the latter, a long, pathless ascent which I hoped would be interestingly different and refreshingly more remote than the normal bagger’s trod.

Interesting it proved to be indeed, providing you enjoy seemingly endless miles of wet and upward bog bashing! Refreshing? Well at least my feet got wet. The first flat heathery mile or so to the foot of my mountain, booby trapped with craftily hidden boulders and squelchy pitfalls, tested both my patience and resolve.

Things only began to improve as I began to climb. I’d decided to avoid a full frontal assault on the summit itself. Rather I wanted to skirt the obvious crags dotted across the face and make for the big scree fields I’d spotted up above; this would put me high up on the Munro’s northwest ridge, where I could pick up the lovely staircase path I remembered from my first visit to this hill, now many years ago.

I was glad to get in amongst that scree; although it proved steep and laborious, at least it was dry. Even so there was no rushing on this stony surface and though my diagonal traverse took much of the sting out of the ascent, I was still glad to finally level out on the ridge crest proper.

As I stomped happily upwards I recalled the first time I’d used this route. I’d walked in from Achnashellach Station on the fine Coullin Forest path. Below the pine clad eastern slopes of Fuar Tholl, it had taken me. Over much bare rock, sun bleached white and worn by the passing of countless boots, I’d passed the entrance of Coire Lair, mysterious and inviting. I’d walked the skyline of Beinn Liath Mhor to finally reach the very spot I stood at now, tired, footsore but thoroughly delighted with that final, almost scrambly ascent to the summit.

And so I climbed the final section of this favourite path to the summit of Sgorr Ruadh. Lochs and lochans studded the deep glens on either side. Southwards rolled away mountain after mountain; west and east, the same. Yesterday’s An Ruadh Stac and its bigger sister, Maol Chean-Dearg, blocked a lot of the view westwards, and mightily so.

In the north the great, long ridges of The Torridonian kings and queens lay partially hidden by my final mountain of the day, still hours of walking away. That mountain, Beinn Liath Mhor, all grey scree slopes, dark heather and white quartzy detritus, formed a magnificent wall on the far side of beautiful Coire Lair.

Coire Lair with its lovely blue lochans and its frothy river; all this lay hidden by the tops of Sgorr Ruadh’s plunging, gully riven sandstone cliffs. But I’d get my chance to see them soon.

I dropped down a little east of south on a broad flank of grass and sandstone boulders; below, in the spacious lap of Bealach Mhoir, a multitude of tiny lochans sparkled in the morning sunshine. I fairly raced down to be amongst them.

Fuar Tholl comes next. Mainreachan Buttress, its perpendicular climbing walls partially hidden by its own grassy mantle, looked magnificent; my mouth watered at the prospect of coming close under such formidable rock, later in the day.

For now I climbed easily to the buttresses’ top for the stroll on past the open mouth of ‘The Cold Hole’, the dark and dank gully like corrie that gives this Corbett her name.

A ring of stones surrounds the summit trig point, a cosy howff for a halt for tea and sandwiches. Unless, like me, you prefer to stand and gawk at those continuing mesmerising vistas ranged in every direction.

Back to the top of Fuar Tholl, alias ‘The cold hole’. Loose scree greets the walker here, but it’s an easy enough descent down to the grassier, shadowy land below. It’s the buttress that makes the place so gloomy, so cold. I’ve sat here at the foot of the cliff shivering in the frost, stranded, I could have imagined, in the depths of Satan’s coal cellar, whilst outside the sun was busy painting cloud shadows on the bright slopes of Beinn Liath Mhor. The rock architecture is magnificent! It makes you want to drop your bag and climb.

All such foolish thoughts abandoned I continued down over awkward boulder scree and onto ever grassier terrain, at last to burst out into a sun drenched Coire Lair. I skirted around for the familiar path that would lead me to the River Lair itself.

In a heathery land of man sized boulders I crossed the river and took the main path north onto the bealach below Beinn Liath Mhor’s south east corner. Time to climb again. Phew!

Steep slopes of boulder laced heather, near the top far more boulder strewn than heather clad, soon had me on my mountain’s southeast top. Now, and for the rest of my journey up here high, I was treated to those Torridonian Kings and Queens. To be honest, it isn’t the most fantastic view you’ll ever get. Good enough and certainly grand, the vista is more of one vast wall of pale pink and orange rock, as graceful Beinn Eighe holds hands with mighty Liathach, above the unseen Glen Torridon. Many lesser mountains on the way, enrich the scene no end.

The ridge walk that followed was the highlight of the day. A mile and a half away lay the summit, to reach it I was treated to a walk on shattered and often boot laceratingly sharp quartz rubbish. Sometimes I walked on more comfortable sandstone; in sections the ridge was almost arête-like.

At the summit, a dome of white splintered quartz, I chose not to linger. I needed to get down to the Bealach Coire Lair. The way down from here is complicated. There’s much frustrating scree to begin with; lower down there are cliffs and crags to be avoided and a rocky knoll to skirt around. I took my time and revelled in it all.

Way down there the main path, an old stalkers track, has been following the River Lair, I picked it up below a beautiful Lochan at the foot of my final tump. I stopped awhile to drink in the wonderfully enclosed ambience of the entire length of Coire Lair. My last mountain snaked away like a sleeping dragon; the huge cliffs of Sgorr Ruadh, only partially seen from here, brooded on the opposite side of the Coire like Glen. Here in the jaws of the Coire Lair skyline, would be a wonderful place to spend the night, I mused. Perhaps another time.

But for now I still had plenty walking left to do. I let the path take me over the bealach to a point where, below Bealach na Lice, I was treated to the much craggier side of Maol Chean-Dearg. You can reach the summit by threading a devious way up and through those cliffs; but not today. Flagging a little now, I took the prominent path south, past lovely Loch Coire Fionnaraich, (again those ancient Fingallian references), and on past Clach nan Con-Fionn, and thus my bothy tea…