Monday, 4 May 2015

Torridon's Giants, Apr'15

It's the beginning of April and spring is in the air. What better time of the year to get up the north-west of Scotland to experience the Torridon mountains in the crisp fresh air ? Martin and myself were leading a group over 3 days, bagging the 6 famed Munros we collectively describe as the Torridon Giants - Beinn Alligin, Beinn Eighe and Liathach.

The weather on our first day wasn't promising, but we weren't to be put off. We gathered early morning in the car-park at the foot of Beinn Alligin and got our gear together. Apart from our group, there were no others ! Only determined folk today ? We began uphill, pleasant enough on the slightly soggy path and headed into Coire nan Laogh. A wee break for food just underneath the snowline followed by a brief about progressing uphill using ice-axes. There was a suprising amount of snow, we passed the remains of a recent avalanche on the way and Martin entertained and educated the group with a snow-pack test. Up to the summit of Tom na Gruagaich, no views :(

Ice-axes away for the easy scramble along the crest towards Sgurr Mor, everyone in good spirits. The snow made some bits trickier that what we usually find and other bits easier ! We passed the Eas Dubh, keeping away from the edge and then aimed directly for the summit of Sgurr Mor. Two Munros in the bag ! Again, sadly no views. Martin and I did an assessment of the conditions for continuing down and along the Horns of Alligin - we both agreed that given the amount of snow and how heavy it was, it would be foolhardy to continue. So, we reluctlantly broke the news to the group and the about-turned to re-trace our steps. Back over Tom na Gruagaich, the sun broke through briefly lifting our spirits. Down in Coire nan Laogh, the group enjoyed some winter skills practice, sliding downhill trying out different ice-axe arrests.

The evening saw the cloud begin to lift and a golden sunset take over.

Beinn Eighe was our next day's challenge, starting from the large car-park at the eastern end of Liathach. It was misty to begin, but we knew it would lift. And it did, opening up clear blue skies with the sun behind us - glorious.

We hiked up the fine path through Coire Dubh and around Sail Mhor to get to the fabulous lochan in Coire Mhic Fhearchair. Time for a break to take in the atmosphere ! Such a stupendous place with the sandstone and quartzite rock towering above us.

After lunch, we crossed the burn coming out of the lochan and picked our way around the lochan to gain the foot of Ruadh stac Mor. 'Who wants to go via the scramble and who wants the direct route ? I posed to the gang ! I like taking the direct, steep route and have the company of John and Diane, everyone else fancied the snowy ascent up to the nick. We clambedered up, very loose in bits with the sun beaming down on us, stopping occasionally to take in the views. Reaching the summit was slightly emotional for some - the views were breath-taking. We took in the panaorama, basked in the sunshine and ate.

It was nearly an hour before the first of the rest of the group arrived. One-by-one everyone touched the summit cairn and hi-fived. The rest of the group had the luxury of not bringing their sacks as far as this, so we returned along the crest to the nick for our next bite-to-eat (yes, we do like to stop a bit :) ) More food and chat, then it was up Choinneach Mhor - we would normally go around this summit, however, the amount of snow prevented this ! Back onto the crest, we hiked up to the trig point on Spidean Coire nan Clach where we left out rucksacks. A short de-tour north and along a narrow ridge with some easy rock-scrambling took up to the summit of this fine peak.

Back to the trig point, then down into Coire an Laoigh, the amount of snow was impressive. Straight down next - I suggested the group stayed at the top of the col while I tested the conditions. They were fine and the group headed down. What great fun, sliding down on bums, the inner child was most definitely released. A couple of the guys been involved in an avalanche a couple of months ago and were understandably nervous, but their quickly confidence came back and the big smiles on their faces told it all !

Back to the car-park, spirits were high ! But we had to make a decision on Liathach for the next day. I wasn't keen for a traverse - winds were predicted to rise, which meant for the by-pass path around the pinnacles, however with amount of snow up there, even this normally safe but exposed route would be impassable. Martin felt the same, so the call was made to go for an alternative. The options were floated - Slioch or the Coulin Forest Munros, ie 1 Munro or 2 Munros. There was no contest !

We met in the same car-park as yesterday, got gear together, then hiked on the fine path southwards past the 'Ling Hut'. We were aiming for Sgor Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor today. On the way a couple of the burns were quite high and some care was needed in crossing them, but otherwise the hike to the col between the two Munros went fine. We passed a group of DofE kids, probably on a 'Gold' expedition, all looking sprightly considering the large packs they were carrying. We carried our rucksacks onto the southern crest of Sgor Ruach, then dropped them for the last 200m of ascent. We did however take ice-axes, but as it turned out, they weren't needed. Sgor Ruadh in the bag, we weren't for hanging around today - the cold wind put pay to any thoughts of a lunch basking in sunshine !

We about turned and re-traced our step. The first bit of ascent had a couple of short icy sections that needed care, but quite quickly  we were back at our rucksack. Liathach dominated the view ahead and Matin and I concurred that we'd made the right decision by opting for the Coulin Forest peaks instead - the cloud was blowing fast over the pinnacles and there was a lot of snow in the gullies. Down to the col, more fun was had sliding down the snow. Jane and Mark decided to call it a day at this point, delighted with what they'd achieved on their first trip up some mountains in the north-west of Scotland.

Onwards and upwards for the rest of the gang ! Over some sandstone grit, past a wind-swept lochan, we began out last ascent of the weekend up Beinn Liath Mhor. But not before I'd decided to leave our mark in the form of a stone circle where sandstone is left behind and quartzite begins. Up the loose blocks, we gained the summit in quick time and took in the windy views !

Which way down next ? One previous visits I'd re-traced my footsteps (the safe but long option) and also headed directly north-west (a bit rough and loose). Martin made the route choice down and chose a fine line, aiming northwards for the heather-clad ground immediately west of Lochan Uaine. He spurred on at a good rate, I lurked at the back blethering with Rachel and Lisa. Back on the path, we strode out, Liathach dominating the view ahead - we'll get along it another day !

More photos are on our Flickr website.

We're doing this event again later in the year, check out this page.