Monday, 2 May 2011

9,8: the round of Coire Lair

Beinn Liath Mhor and Sgorr Ruadh   2nd May 2011

(note:  this blog entry contains one image that some may find disturbing - you have been warned!)

The "big grey hill" and the "red peak".  Two contrasting hills - one of quartzite, the other sandstone - standing on opposite sides of Coire Lair, behind Achnashellach Station.

Fuar Tholl catches the morning sun above Achnashellach Station
Despite having covered 36km yesterday, this was too good a day to rest.  I had parked overnight in the big layby opposite the Achnashellach station lane, so woke early - a combination of the dawn chorus, and the early morning traffic.  However, that suited my purpose - to climb two Munros, then drive home to Selkirk in the evening.

So, at 7.20am, I set off up to the station, crossed the line at the level crossing, and up the forest track towards Coire Lair.

Already, the morning sun was striking the cliffs of Fuar Tholl.

Fuar Tholl comes into full view
1km up the track, a waymark indicated the path leaving the track sharply to the left, then through the deer fence by a gate, and turning to follow the stream uphill through the pines.  This was a lovely early morning walk, and soon I was out of the woods, and climbing steadily upwards on a good path, much of it rebuilt.

climbing steadily, and Beinn Liath Mhor comes into view for the first time
At 8.40am, up the last rocky section of the path, the vast trough of Coire Lair appeared: Beinn Liath Mhor forming the right hand wall, and Sgorr Ruadh dominating the left.

looking up Coire Lair
At a cross-road of paths, a choice had to be made: a clockwise circuit, or anti-clockwise?   The path leading up towards Sgorr Ruadh looked attractive, but I decided to stick to the original plan, and tackle the steepest slope first, so I turned right and headed towards the foot of Beinn Liath Mhor's south-eastern end.   I soon realised that all the small burns were completely dry (I don't suppose that is often the case up here!), so detoured back down to the river to refill my water bottles.  It looked like it could be a hot and thirsty day ahead!   

At 9am, I began the ascent up a steep path, in short zigzags between rocks, grass and scree.  Hard going, but gaining height very rapidly.  The views across to Fuar Tholl encouraged frequent stops!

Fuar Tholl, with the prominent Mainreachan Buttress,
viewed from the path climbing towards Beinn Liath Mhor's southeast top
At about 650m, the gradient eased a little, then the final 100m or so were up a tedious quartzite boulder field, with a number of deceptive false tops.  At 10.20am, the southeast top came into view, and with it a superb view to the north.  I sat down gratefully to enjoy the views.

southeast top of Beinn Liath Mhor (876m)
looking north over Sgurr nan Lochan Uaine to Liathach's pinnacled ridge
Smoke was rising from the flanks of Mullach an Rathain, and from the glen behind it;  later I discovered that this was a massive forest fire, which devastated large areas of regenerating Caledonian Pine forest. A helicopter was buzzing around - apparently it had been used to rescue walkers, trapped by the fires below,  from one of the summits, and was now being used to water bomb parts of the area.

the eastern tops of Beinn Eighe behind Beinn Liath Beag (right) and Sgorr Dubh (centre)

the western tops of Beinn Eighe (Sail Mhor,  Coinneach Mhor and Ruadh-Stac Mor)
While sitting there, I was overtaken by a man and dog - both moving pretty quickly - who disappeared on along the ridge ahead.

The 2km ridge walk to Beinn Liath Mhor's main top looked an enjoyable prospect, and so it proved, with fine views to left and right.  Firstly, a couple of small ups and downs led to the middle top (887m) in 25 minutes.

main summit of Beinn Liath Mhor from the middle top
I continued on along the ridge for another half hour, views changing all the time, then a short climb to the final narrower shattered summit arete.   As I arrived at the summit,  the man and dog I had spoken to earlier were just about to leave - the dog had sore paws from the sharp quartzite, so was about to get a carry down the next section!

looking back along the summit ridge to the middle top and southeast top
the rocky summit of Beinn Liath Mhor
Once again, time for a good long rest, something to eat, a cup of coffee, and a chance to look around at the magnificent views.

to the NW, the view was dominated by the great southern walls of Liathach,
with the Am Fasarinen pinnacles standing out against the blue sky
and,  at Liathach's  western end,  the dramatic fires still burning, sending up a huge pall of smoke

to the north, the eastern tops of Beinn Eighe, with A'Mhaighdean in the distance
dramatic views across Coire Lair to Sgorr Ruadh from Beinn Liath Mhor
After 20 minutes rest, I set off again.  The path dropped down steeply at first through quartzite blocks, then levelled out on the sandstone plateau of Sail Garbh at around 800m. 

the cairn showing the way down to the first bealach 
The guide books warn of a ring of crags to be negotiated, and the main path seemed to be heading off SW into Coire Lair.  I didn't want to lose unnecessary height, so I ignored the path, and continued tentatively directly west towards the bealach.  

A small path seemed to be heading directly towards a cliff edge, but a small cairn (left) indicated where a path dropped steeply down to the first bealach at 700m.

I descended carefully down to the lochan, and followed a faint path which contoured round the south side of the small rocky (un-named) hill ahead.  (You can see this in profile on the earlier picture looking up Coire Lair)

From this vantage point at the head of Coire Lair, the view of Beinn Liath Mhor's south face was particularly striking.

Beinn Liath Mhor seen from the path round the un-named hill at the head of Coire Lair 
 This path then dropped down to a second bealach, again with a lochan, at around 650m.  I couldn't see any path ascending the grassy slope ahead, so selected what looked the best line, and 10m up the slope found a well-defined path suddenly appeared and followed the exact route I had chosen!

looking north through the second bealach towards Liathach and Beinn Eighe
The path led up on to Sgorr Ruadh's north west ridge, which then ascended in a series of steps, and after 50 minutes of hard slog led out to Sgorr Ruadh's summit, the second Munro of the day.

retrospect of Beinn Liath Mhor from about 800m on Sgorr Ruadh's NW ridge
and Sgorr Ruadh's northern cliffs, from the same vantage point

Sgorr Ruadh proved to be another fine viewpoint, which deserved a 15 minute rest!  (No sign of the man and dog - my guess was that he had decided that the dog had suffered enough, and headed back down Coire Lair).

Maol Chean-dearg and Beinn Damh from Sgorr Ruadh

Beinn Liath Mhor's middle and southeast tops from Sgorr Ruadh
It would have been fine to lie there in the sun for longer, but the small matter of a long drive back to Selkirk demanded that I continue my circuit.  Sgorr Ruadh's southern side is a boad grassy flank, in sharp contrast to its northern cliffs, so the descent to the hummocky bealach was pretty easy, though the legs were now tiring.

The dramatic cliffs of Fuar Tholl beckoned, but the Corbett would have to wait for another day.  Fuar Tholl means "cold hole", probably referring to the deep northern coire that never sees any direct sunlight (below).

Fuar Tholl from near the the summit of Sgorr Ruadh

Fuar Tholl, with the forbidding Mainreachan Buttress, from the Bealach Mor
As I descended to the Bealach Mor, I could see a good stalkers' path leading down into Coire Lair - but between the foot of Sgorr Ruadh and that path lay a maze of lochans (at least 17 on the 1:25000 OS map!) and a moonscape of rocky hillocks.  This was a wonderful little landscape, but by now my legs were too tired to appreciate it, and my water bottles were both empty.  I wound my way through, found the path, and soon reached running water (for the first time since 9am!)

just one of the many lochans on the Bealach Mor between Sgorr Ruadh and Fuar Tholl!
The path was a welcome sight, but it was rough and stony, and jarring on tired legs as I hurried downhill.  An hour and a half after leaving the summit of Sgorr Ruadh, I was back down to the river in Coire Lair. 

What a joy to take off the boots, and plunge my hot tired feet into the cold water!

(sorry, I warned you there was a rather disturbing image to come!)

All that was now left was to speed down the excellent path from the mouth of Coire Lair back to Achnashellach and the car.

What a superb day!

the lovely shady wooded path on the way down to Achnashellach
So, 2 bonus days - leaving only 8 more new Munros to climb:

  1. Beinn a Claidheimh
  2. Sgurr Ban
  3. Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair
  4. Beinn Tharsuinn
  5. Mullach Fraoch-Choire
  6. A' Chralaig
  7. Aonach Beag
  8. Aonach Mor

... and back home to Selkirk at 9pm, via the best pizza ever at Dingwall!

posted DB 16/05/11

Today's summary:

2 Munros 
17 km walk
1370 m climb
9 hours 


left car

Coire Lair
08:40 - 09:00

BLM south top (876m)
10:20 - 10:40

BLM middle top (887m)

Beinn Liath Mhor (M) 
11:35 - 11:55

1st bealach

2nd bealach

Sgorr Ruadh (M)
13:30 - 13:45

river crossing
15:15 - 15:25

Sunday, 1 May 2011

11,10: Attadale expedition

Lurg Mhor and Bidein a'Choire Sheasgaich   1st May 2011

With only 12 more Munros to climb, a plan had been laid to head up north at the very end of May.  Easter holidays were taken up with a trip to Madrid (where we managed a day in the Sierra de Guadarrama), and all the other weekends in May had other engagements already pencilled in.

However, a large stable high pressure system settled itself over northern UK at the end of April, and I was unable to resist the opportunity for an earlier-than-expected trip north.  And so, having celebrated Dad's 88th birthday, I set off from Newcastleton up the M74 at 3.30pm on Saturday 30th April.

What a beautiful evening, with fantastic views of the hills as I took the scenic route up through Callander, over Rannoch Moor and down through Glencoe.  After refuelling at Fort William (diesel for the car, smoked sausage supper for me!), and with the light beginning to fade, I continued up by Loch Lochy and Loch Garry.

the "map of Scotland" viewpoint above Loch Garry
Leaving all the traffic behind, I eventually rolled into the walkers' car park at Attadale Gardens at 10pm, and settled down for a sleep in the Espace.

Next morning, the dawn chorus woke me before 6am, but I snoozed until 7.  This was going to be a big day - cycling, walking and climbing - and as the first Munro outing of the year, I wasn't sure how the old legs would respond!

Attadale car park - 7am
The Attadale estate is to be congratulated on its helpful information display, walkers' car park, well-maintained bothy at Bendronaig, and generally welcoming attitude to responsible walkers.

At 7.50am, I was off.  The first mile or so was up a well-tarred road, more or less on the level, then the hard work began!  In the next 4km, the track climbed from sea-level to a bealach at 350m.  
just starting the climb up the track
I pushed the bike up the steeper sections (saving the legs for later exertions!) but was able to cycle some of the way.
nearly at the top!
Although steep in places, the surface of the track was fine for cycling, even on my road bike.   The most dramatic section was the final climb up alongside a gorge to Loch na Caillich, then up the hairpins beyond.

Eventually, the track levelled out, and the two Munros appeared, still 4 miles away:

Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich (left) and Lurg Mhor (right) from the high point of the track
Now gravity took over, and I was able to trundle downhill towards my destination.  The thought of having to cycle back up here later in the day was pushed to the back of my mind.  Just before reaching Bendronaig Lodge, the track makes a detour to cross the Black Water by a fine 100-year old bridge.
the bridge across the Uisge Dubh
Just under 2 hours after leaving the car park, I arrived at the bothy, 11km in from the road.  Ahead the track deteriorated, so it was time to abandon the bike and start walking.

I chatted to an older couple who had been camping, and had climbed the two Munros the day before, then set off up the track, now 10am. 

If I thought the hard work was over, I was wrong!   After following the track for 3km up Coire na Sorna, Lurg Mhor's bulky slopes lay before me.  The next 2 hours was a wearying toil up pathless grassy slopes, slanting across the hillside above Loch Calavie towards the bealach between Lurg Mhor and Bidein a'Choire Sheasgaich.  Rather than climbing right up to the bealach, I clambered up a steeper slope on the right to reach a small plateau at about 830m.  The summit cone of Lurg Mhor lay ahead!

approaching Lurg Mhor's summit cone
A final push up the steepening ridge, and at 12.55 I was on the summit - a wee flat grassy area with a large cairn in the middle.  Suddenly, a different view opened up.  Instead of the broad grassy flank I had ascended, a steep rocky coire dropped away beyond the cairn, and an exciting ridge lay ahead, linking the summit to Meall Mor, its subsidiary top.

the summit cairn of Lurg Mhor with Meall Mor behind
the ridge to Meall Mor
descending the ridge from Lurg Mhor's summit

I decided to continue to the outlying top before stopping for lunch. 

The next 30 minutes proved to be the most entertaining part of the day! 

Initial progress along the jagged crest descending from Lurg Mhor was straightforward enough, with steep grassy slopes to the right, and jagged rocky drops on the left.  I made good progress until a sloping slab gave pause for thought!   A short retreat was required, but the slab was easily passed by descending 10m or so on steep grass to its right.

Soon I reached the lowest point between the two tops.

The ascent towards Meall Mor started easily enough.   A short rock band astride the ridge was fairly easily climbed near its left hand end.

looking back at Lurg Mhor - the tricky slab level with the top of the snow patch
Beyond this another rock band, perhaps 5m, high appeared to block the way. It could probably have been climbed, but, being on my own at a fairly remote location, I decided that it would be wiser to find a way around.  This involved descending about 40m on steep grassy slopes on the right - fine today, but it would no fun on a wet day - to find a point where the rock band could be crossed, then a steep grassy ascent back to the ridge.

Once past this obstacle, it was a gentle stroll to Meall Mor's smooth grassy summit.  Time now 13.25, so I found a pleasant spot to sit and eat lunch, while admiring the views - especially to the north.

Lurg Mhor from Meall Mor

Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich from Meall Mor
And some more distant views ...

An Ruadh Stac, Beinn Damh and Maol Chinn-dearg   from Meall Mor

distant view to Fuar Tholl, Sgorr Ruadh, Ben Alligin, Mullach an Rathain and Beinn Liath Mhor
Pleasant as it was to sit in the sun, it was now nearly 2pm, and I was a long way from my base camp, so time to head back along the ridge to Lurg Mhor.  I retraced my steps almost exactly, and was soon back on the Munro.

approaching the last rock step on the way back to Lurg Mhor - easily climbed on the crest at the right - and conditions just right for some impressive con-trails in the sky
an omen of the election to come - vapour trails above
Bidein a'Choire Sheasgaich predict an SNP victory?
From Lurg Mhor, I retraced my steps down to the plateau area at 830m, then down another short steep section to the bealach at 730m.  

From here, a path led the way up the steep grassy slopes of Bidein a'Choire Sheasgaich.

A word here about names, as today's two Munros are not only two of the most inaccessible, but also two of the most unpronounceable (to non-Gaelic speakers, anyway).

Lurg Mhor is "the big shank", and pronounced "loorrook voar".  

Bidein is "the pinnacle of the coire of the farrow (not pregnant) cattle", with Sheasgaich pronounced "heskeech" - not "cheesecake" as some call it!

Language lesson over!

Just below the summit, I met (again) two walkers - father and son, I think - and stopped for a chat (they wanted to know what the wee ridge had been like).  50 minutes after leaving Lurg Mhor, I was atop Bidein, with only 10 more Munros to climb!

only 10 to go!
Another walker had just arrived (having come up from Craig), so we sat and chatted about mountain experiences for the best part of half-an-hour.

At 3.45pm, I left the top, walked along the short nearly level summit ridge, then descended SW towards Sail Riabhach ("brindled heel"), along an interestingly lumpy shoulder.

looking back at Bidein A'Choire Sheasgaich's summit

View from Sail Riabhach, with Skye out to the hazy west
From Sail Riabhach, continuing in a SW direction, I made a rapid descent down steep grassy slopes (how many times have I said that today?) back to the track through Coire na Sorna ("coire of the furnace").  By now it was certainly hot enough to live up to its name, and the pool at its foot looked very inviting.

inviting pool, with Lurg Mhor just peeping over in the distance
However, I decided that time was pressing, and I reached my bike at Bendronaig Lodge just after 5pm.  10 minutes rest, then off along the track.  

looking back to Bendronaig Lodge with Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich (left) and Lurg Mhor (right)
In fact, the climb back up to the bealach wasn't too bad, and I only had to get off and push on a couple of short steeper sections.

The descent looked trickier, especially the initial hairpins!  I did get off and walk down the first 2 or 3 bends, but then was able to cycle most of the rest.

steep descent!
With brakes full on, I rattled my way down the track, clinging on to the handlebars for dear life, and then sped along the final tarred section back to the car.  I hour 25 minutes from Bendronaig Lodge.  I think I may need to buy new brake blocks!

So, the questions now are:
(1) what's the weather forecast for tomorrow? and...
(2) if it's good, am I fit for another big walk without a rest day?

A quick phone call home ascertained that the answer to question (1) is "another excellent day", so the answer to (2) has to be "yes, let's go for it!"  Read on ...


2 Munros + 1 Top
14km walk + 22km cycle
1550m climb
11 hours

left car

Bendronaig Lodge  
09:45 - 10:00

Lurg Mhor (M)

Meall Mor (T)
13:25 - 13:55

Lurg Mhor (M)
Bidein a'C S 
15:10 - 15:45

Bendronaig Lodge
17:10 - 17:20
back to car       

posted 01/05/11