Thick clouds block the views


A recent trip to Poland and a walk on some of that country’s popular hills, particular those situated close to that country’s border with the Czech Republic, heavily tree clad and rocky, reminded me of a similarwalk above Loch Maree some years ago.

The Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve has restored much of the hillside above the loch so as to resemble more closely the way Scotland’s hills once were; beautifully tree draped.

When a friend came up from London on one of his frequent visits to the east of Scotland, he being eager to spend a few days somewhere in the Scottish Highlands and my Polish trip still fresh in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to show him Torridon.

Ironically, it was Beinn Eighe that first grabbed his attention; as this vast string of pink quartzite hills unrolled itself from near the village of Kinlochewe, Steve seemed so taken with its sheer beauty I thought I might have to forego my first choice, Liathach, for the sake of those lofty pink ridges.

Liathach had only shaken itself free of its cloud mantle late in the afternoon; the following day followed a similar pattern. In hopes of a fairer day to follow we left the mountains well alone. Alas, our third day started off every bit as dreich. Beinn Eighe was hiding, secretive and sullen; but Beinn Eighe it had to be.

Although the entire mini-range offers many delights along its more than three miles (including seven peaks above 3000 feet), the mountain’s crowning beauty lies hidden at it’s back; surely the Triple Buttress, subject of many a picture postcard, must take the honours on that score!

The path keeps company with a boisterous little allt, but the ascent is nowhere as brutal as that of Liathach’s southern slope; height is gained at a somewhat more relaxed pace.

We barely noticed the cloud come creeping down. Before we new it we’d climbed into a strange white world.

As the higher coire elbowed itself in a more westerly direction, so we searched out more stable scree off the worn trail; even so we sometimes found ourselves taking one shifting step upwards for another two slippery steps back.

At last we reached the narrow ridge. All we had now for guidance was the worn and gritty path that wove its way among little rocky outcrops.

We followed the Lunar like debris to the rocky top of Spidean Coire nan Clach (972 metres), there to stand drinking tea in this quiet world of swirling fog.

We decided that here was a good spot for lunch, but not just yet, we’d been walking for less than two hours. First I led Steve eastward over easy ground to the foot of invisible Sgurr Ban.

To reach the summit we had to clamber up and over big quartz blocks that often had us teetering at the very edge of the void; never quite a scramble though with not a few awkward little situations, we thanked the cloud for hiding the abyss just inches from our feet!

Back at Spidean’s trig point and still minus a view, we sat for an early lunch.

Very soon we had company, though not of the human kind. Cheekily among the rocks at our feet a beautiful snow bunting had ‘come a calling’. He was after crumbs and Steve and I obliged.

We retraced our steps westwards. Westwards still and the ground changed often. Respite from the boulders came in granite slabs and easy walking.

A minor summit, this one dressed again in stones, came and went and then, still viewless, we were on the broader grassier slopes of A’ Choinneach Mhor.

It was hard to credit that just a few dozen metres away, dropping sheer into its stupendous corrie, the Triple Buttress lurked.

A steep and stony drop into the next bealach, followed by and equally rough ascent, led us onto the outlying Munro and highest summit of the day: Ruadh-Stac Mor.

For awhile, though never steep, the going was quite rough.

At intervals red lichen painted boulders gave way to grassier ground, only to dump us on stony ground again for the final short pull onto the scree strewn summit.

Ruadh-Stac Mor is a superb viewpoint, particularly over the northern lands of Flowerdale where big and character blessed hills climb abruptly from the vast wet emptiness, a real land of ‘mountain and flood’.

Alas, today the views were non-existent; Beinn Eighe remained in recalcitrant mood, beautiful in an atmospheric, almost ghostly sense, yet totally wrapped up in her own sullen mood!

‘There was still hope for the Triple Buttress’, was the best I could offer Steve, though to be fair he’d thus far thoroughly enjoyed his romp along the ridges of this beautiful pink mountain.

We back tracked in search of the dirty little scree gully that would give us access to the corrie below.

I say ’scree gully’, for so it was before the days of a myriad cleated boots of us! Now, badly eroded and in some steeper places, bared to the very bed rock, this quick route of descent demands some care.

And so, sticking closely to gulley’s right hand side, making oft use of the rock to hand, we negotiated the treacherous staircase. The ever present mist helped little, wetting everything and making all doubly slippery.

Through small crags and amongst big boulders lower down, we followed the slowly improving path, at last to the edge of Lochan Choire Mhic Fhearchair, a beautiful and peaceful spot when the sun is shining.

All around us wraith like mist swirled amongst half hidden rocks; we saw nothing of the Triple Buttress save its very toes!

We followed the path around the lochan’s eastern fringes to a wonderful point (even in the mist), where its outflow cascades down a wall of rock to go its own journey into the wilderness. We sat here for an hour, hopeful that the mist might finally lift. It never did!

Left for us now was the long walk out around Sail Mhor, Beinn Eighe’s ‘Big Heel.’

For a while our path stayed high above the wetlands that rolled away north.

All we saw were the pink sandstone wastes, their monotony relieved by random black lochs and watercourses.