The round of Rois Bheinn (mountain of the horses), and its satellites is one for the connoisseur.
When a friend suggested that we travel up and walk around this worthy group whilst there was still a little snow around, I leapt at the opportunity.
The previous week I’d been in the hills to the north of ‘The Road to the Isles’. A little farther along that same road (A830), at Loch Airlot, we turned off for the tiny hamlet of Inverairlot.
After parking the car as unobtrusively as possible and under a cloudy sky, we struck off north across the fields in the direction of an obvious wooded knoll. There had been a good deal of rain, the path, normally soggy even in summer conditions, ran like a river! When we finally left it to cross the open moor via an ATV track, we had to virtually paddle our way forward. Despite the fact that the tops were shrouded in mist we could see most of the day’s ridge stretching away in front of us. Our first objective however was Beinn Coire nan Gall, the first nail in what can loosely be described as a horseshoe.
And then came the shock! In order to get onto our first ridge we would first have to cross the Allt ‘ Bhuiridh. Said allt was swollen by the recent rains and melt water from the snows above. We heard the river long before we saw it and where we approached it, as it thundered through a deep rocky gorge, the bridge was gone...never trust the map entirely!
We retraced our steps to pick up another wet track which appeared to snake its way into the allt’s glen and at the first safe looking spot we readied ourselves for a crossing of the icy looking water.
Bravely my companion boulder hopped and crawled ‘cat like’ over bigger rocks to reach the opposite bank. I took off my boots and socks and waded through the racing, knee deep water. By the time I’d reached the farther bank my feet felt numb all the way to my eyeballs!
Now we could begin the real business of the day. We ascended boggy slopes on last year’s dead and yellowed grass; even so it was good to see that already this year’s green shoots were fighting for a takeover.
We’d seen many deer as we’d entered this wild and lonely section of Moidart and as we climbed, a raven treated us to its wind-borne acrobatics. Then suddenly we both looked up to see an Golden Eagle rise above the ridge ahead; gracefully she swung on a current of air, looked us over once-disdainfully, no doubt, then disappeared behind her hill again.
We climbed into the clouds. By the time we’d reached the ridge we were also above the snowline. Our next stop was Druim Fiaclach, or ‘toothed ridge’. Although the name applied to part of the ridge that we were going to bypass today, our way up through crags and outcrops of black rock seemed toothy enough.
The snow was deep and perfect for step kicking and although hard going, we made steady progress to the top. Even in this world of eerie rocky spectres, we could sense the sun trying to chase away the mist.
And then came the hail storm! Short lived though it was, its stinging fury stopped us dead in our tracks; with our backs to it we waited for its passing. Glad to be on the move again we wove our way along the ridge. Deep, steep snow, huge boulders and outcrops, all along the narrow ridge obstacles reared to absorb us. There was never a dull moment.
At one point my companion stopped and called for me to look behind. The clouds had been rent apart by glorious shafts of sunshine to reveal just what we’d so recently passed through. Back there, rising like a castle and glistening in the sunshine, a sheer wall of rock rose as if straight from the corrie depths.
As we passed over An t-slat a brief snow storm attacked us, rendering us blind; blind enough in fact to disorient us once we’d reached the other side. Everything looked wrong! We took a compass bearing and, sure enough, what we thought must be south was in fact north.
‘If in doubt sit it out’, has always been a good maxim in such situations. Time for a sit down and a think. Time to regroup the puzzled thoughts flying around our brains. Most important of all time for a cup of tea!
Tea break over we set off by the compass. Seconds later the mists shredded to reveal that, not only we were now on the correct course, but that we’d only strayed a matter of fifty feet or so in any case.
Another steep and snow clogged climb took us to the summit of Sgurr na Ba Glaise, (Peak of the grey cow), today the haunt of a solitary snow bunting. With the cloud at last relenting we were treated to magnificent snowy views over the mountains of Lochaber and last week’s hills. Ben Nevis loomed large on the southern horizon. Out west, across the Sound of Arisaig, the low flat Isle of Eigg, with its horn like sgorr, contrasted with the Cuillin heights of Rum.
Down in the Bealach an Fhionna, a man was shepherding his three boys towards Rois Bheinn, their noisy exuberance wafted up to us.
After lunch it was our turn to tackle the potentially treacherous east ridge of this, our final mountain. Taking care amongst the snow choked boulders, we followed a wall to the summit and then beyond to the mountain’s West Top. The views out to sea, though hazy, were stunning!
It had been a tough day. With plenty of miles over rough terrain still to go, we retraced and dropped down into Coire a’ Bhuiridh. With the sun warming our backs at last we made a final ascent onto An Stac and then followed its knobbly ridge homewards, those grand seaward vistas tempting many a stop along the way.
Pleasant though those last miles were, we were both ultimately happy to reach our journey’s end. Tired, aching a little too, all I could think of now was a good long soak in a tub of steaming water...