Beinn Eighe & The Upside-down Corrie

13 03 2011

Not very good photos in this I’m afraid – the weather wasn’t great!

A couple of years ago, my friend Richard and I went to Torridon with one of my walking groups. They were staying at the youth hostel but, as Richard won’t stay in a hostel, we were staying at the wonderful Ledgowan Hotel on the wild moorland of Achnasheen – a magnificent place (the Ledgowan not Achnasheen!) I always imagined before that weekend that Achnasheen was a town and was amazed when I got there – “is this all there is?” I thought. It was about one house, the hotel and a railway station and we arrived in ‘atmospheric’ conditions – a howling gale and thrashing rain!

I tried texting the group on the evening we arrived to see what the plans were for the morrow but could I hell get any replies! So in the end in the morning we just set off for the Youth Hostel to see what they were planning. They were all gathered round the map and it was soon pronounced they were going to do Beinn Eighe. Great I thought – at least we’re not going to be attempting Liathach-in-the-mist!

We soon set off for the parking place between Liathach and Beinn Eighe – there wasn’t a lot to see due to pretty low cloud. The group hadn’t met Richard before at that point and I totally forgot to introduce him – I turned to find everyone introducing themselves to him. Ah well, manners aren’t my best point – I’m always too distracted!

Unfortunately the group was about 30 strong and one dog. You might think what a great attendance but it means that you end up very strung out, especially as the abilities of the various members of the group were very varied. I would say we were strung out over at least half a mile by the time we rounded the corner of Sail Mhor!

Back of Liathach

Behind Beinn Eighe

Beinn a’ Chearcaill

After passing between the end of Liathach and Beinn Eighe and rounding the end of Sail Mhor, the path climbs up into Coire Mhic Fhearchair past the fearsome craggy end of Sail Mhor and to the loch. This is where the famed ‘Triple Buttress’ breaks into view… or at least it should have! We couldn’t see anything but mist at first. It did eventually deign to come out briefly so I whipped my camera out and got a quick shot of it – unfortunately the low cloud makes it look pretty unspectacular in my view.

Approach to Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Falls Below Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Beinn Eighe,Sail Mhor end

Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair

The Triple Buttress

2 of our group and the dog trogged off up the eastern slopes between the buttress and Sail Mhor to bag Sail Mhor and then go up the ‘bad step’, over the buttress and join us on the col. The rest of us headed off to the back of the corrie where a scree ramp ascends to the col between Choinneach Mor and Ruadh Stac Mor (the first Munro).

The scree was pretty loose and I was glad I was up front and not getting the river of stones descending onto me. The whole path was disappearing beneath our feet – pretty much like going up a down escalator. Me, Richard and a foreign lady were leading and found that there was a more solid rocky bit to the left of the scree so we went up that. I felt a bit guilty as, if everyone does that, those bits will end up becoming scree as well. It didn’t take too long to get to the col where we rested and waited for the rest of the group to catch up.

Due to the group being so huge, it took quite a while for everyone to get up the scree ramp and many of the group had sat down, got out their various lunchboxes and started to have a long break. Fair enough I thought but it was way too early for me to start eating – I rarely eat much when I’m out. I stood around waiting for the chompers and slower walkers to get sorted out and ready to go and then we set off for Ruadh Stac Mor.

The walk up to this first Munro is exceptionally easy – just a gentle stroll. Within half an hour the whole group had summitted and were back… and the tupperwares came out yet again!! There was an extremely chill wind blowing right across the col (as winds tend to do) and then it started to hail. It was absolutely freezing and there were the group, sat eating salad and the like! Richard and I couldn’t believe it! We just wanted to get going and warm up. I was also eyeing the next ascent up the steep nose of Choinneach Mor which was looming ominously out of the mist.

After half an hour, the tupperwares were packed away for a while and we set off up the nose. It actually turned out to be fine and on a good path so I relaxed a little, especially when, on reaching the top, it was a vast, flat, mossy expanse. Whew! We had another break while the group leaders had a study of the map. At one point they were confused about something and came to ask me for directions! I asked them why they were asking me – especially as I wasn’t studying a map. They said “Well, you’ve been up here before”. I assured them I’d never set foot up there in my life before and they were really surprised and said “well you seem to know all about it”. I told them that’s because I obsess over the maps and Munro books (especially the photos) for hours on end before I ever set foot on any of the Munros (excepting the Cairngorms and Eastern Munros where I’m quite confident).

Soon after that we set off along the narrowing and steepening ridge. It soon became quite a sharp ridge and the drops off to the left were pretty huge. I did my best to ignore them and just strode on. There were quite a few little scrambly bits along the ridge but they were all okay really. I thought I was coping quite well…

We eventually arrived at the trig point which isn’t the actual summit. People got out altimeters and suchlike and said we weren’t yet high enough. The knowledgeable guy with the dog (the Sail Mhor ascendees had caught us up on one of our long breaks on the first col) said that the summit was the next lump on from the trig point. We continued along the ridge up a bit more scrambliness and then we reached the second Munro summit which, by my standards, was quite a small place.

By now the walk had taken quite a while and we’d been on the mountain a few hours. The group then decided to have yet another long break. I peered around me into the mist, trying to see how to continue along the ridge onto Sgurr Ban. Occasionally the cloud would clear and there was a steep-looking scree descent to the next col. Suddenly I’d had enough. I just didn’t want to be on the mountain any more. My ‘cowardliness’ gets me like that – I can be fine for a while but then all the collective ‘exposure’ catches up with me and I crack. My face must have really changed as one guy concernedly asked me what was wrong. Richard looked round and just said to him, “We’re off back down – she’s had enough”. By which time I was striding off back towards the trig point and the path which descends to the rim of Coire an Laoigh. I have to say that most of the group followed me! I think only 6 continued on along the ridge.

I merrily led ‘my’ group down to the col – happy now I was getting out of there. I took a trip onto the end of Stuc Coire an Laoigh and looked down it – looked like a decent route really. I returned to the group and they asked which side we were descending. I’d always thought the heathery, presumably pathless route to the west of the small side ridge looked good before but had seen a path going into Coire an Laoigh on the east side. I peered down the path and, although the corrie was ferociously steep by my standards, the path looked to take a nice zig-zag down.

“We’ll go down the path” I said. The guy with the dog (a very experienced Munroist) said that was not the right decision and that the other side was easier and furthermore, nearer the carpark. I didn’t doubt him but had resolved to do the path into the corrie and so everyone followed me. Very soon, as I’m a really cautious descender on steep scree (or anything steep for that matter), everyone was way ahead of me and the experienced guy and his dog were at the bottom! Richard stayed just in front of me as is our customary setup when descending anything steep. The path at this point had given up really and it was just loose scree.

Suddenly, while I was studying my feet and where to put them, I heard a slithering, scraping sound and looked below me to see a very upside down Richard. He was laid on his back, head-first down the corrie with his limbs waving feebly. He looked very much like an upside down beetle. I didn’t laugh immediately though as he wasn’t getting up. I grew very worried and slithered down to him. “What’s up? Why don’t you get up?” He said he couldn’t get up. I was really worried he’d broken his back or some other disastrous thing. “Why can’t you get up?” I asked again anxiously. “Because I can’t reach the ground for my bloody rucsac!” he said irritably. I then collapsed in hysterical laughter…

When I eventually calmed down and stopped laughing, I helped him to his feet. He was completely caked in scree dust and mud. I laughed some more but helped brush him down. We then continued without incident to the bottom and the short walk back to the carpark. Unfortunately I never thought to take a pic of him while he was upside down waving…

I fully intend to go back up Beinn Eighe sometime and finish off more of the ridge, excepting the Fhir Dhuibhe pinnacles of course!




3 responses

11 10 2014
Beinn Eighe – So Good, I Almost Did It Twice! | The Adventures of a Mountain Coward

The follow up to bag the rest of the peaks…


14 03 2011
mark eddy

Hi Carol,

Like the photos. Was there a couple of years ago in winter, bleak and inspiring at the same time. did you visit the black (or dark) loch a few km’s north? Has a bothy on the shore


3 11 2014

Didn’t get to see a bothy. To be honest, it was such a large group the walk took long enough so we couldn’t really do any extra. I was a bit miffed at having to cut the walk short but, after all those long breaks, I’d had enough by the summit!


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