Coire Lair Munros at Last (Sgor Ruadh & Beinn Liath Mhor)

24 04 2011

Mon 18 April 2011

On Monday, after a superb stay yet again at the Strathcarron Hotel 🙂 and in beautiful weather, I set out to tackle the two Coire Lair Munros of Sgor Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor. Most people do this round anti-clockwise but I had cowardly feelings about the width of the ridge route on Beinn Liath so decided to go clockwise – that way, if I got to the summit and didn’t fancy the ridge, I could just go back down the same way…

I was parked up and starting up the lovely track into Coire Lair by 10am. The path up into the corrie gains height beautifully and almost seems no effort. The rhododendron woods at the start were unfortunately not in flower but all was looking lovely in its spring green. Within half an hour I was up in the corrie where the mountains burst spectacularly into view – of course, the imposing Fuar Tholl had been in view all the way brooding above me on my left.



Sgor Ruadh from Coire Lair

The first cairn you meet – a very nicely built tower (or a ‘man’ as we would call it around here) is where you turn left to cross the burn and head up on the stalker’s path to the col between Fuar Tholl and Sgor Ruadh – again, this track was also excellently graded and seemed no effort. I headed up to the col in anticipation of a great view of Maol Chean-Dearg bursting into view, especially as that was my objective for the next day. Maol Chean-Dearg dutifully appeared, framed pictorally between two hummocks and looking very spectacular indeed. Unfortunately, this was one of only about 3 photos I took that day as I’d forgotten to bring a spare film and had more or less used the current one up in Attadale Gardens the day before 😦

While I was on the col I also had a good look at the routes onto Fuar Tholl for the future. I was a bit surprised people go up the scree between Mainreachan Buttress and the main summit as, when you got to peer around its corner, there looked to be perfectly feasible routes onto the NW shoulder of Creag Mainreachan – I’m sure that would be far more pleasant than slithering around on steep scree.

From there, the path seemed to take a dive over the back and looked like it must be going down to join the Coulags path. I’d just passed a cairn (but hadn’t seen a path turn for my hill) so just set off across the rough country towards the climb up Sgor Ruadh. I’d already seen a nice line up the mountain which avoided most of the many boulders – basically I was aiming to cut across diagonally right for the back of the two craggy peaks which overlook Coire Lair. From there it looked like there were good grassy routes nearly all the way to the summit.

I passed some lovely lochans which I was very sore at not being able to take pictures of and soon reached the start of my route. There was a small area of bouldery climbing to do and then I reached a rivulet heading up towards the summit with wide grassy areas either side. I followed these and they more or less hit the summit straight on – I’d toyed with the idea of going onto each of the craggy peaks en route to the summit but decided I had enough to do that day – maybe next time…

The summit was soon and easily reached but in true mountain-coward fashion, and wondering what lie ahead, I just touched the cairn and continued straight on. I could see the way ahead was quite narrow and looked to get steep pretty soon… In very few paces it did indeed!

I was suddenly atop a narrow rocky section of ridge which took a very steep dive down to the next section of ridge – oooerr! I looked down the right-hand side and judged it ‘fatal’… I looked down the left-hand side and judged it ‘steep but survivable… probably’. I could see a path set off tentatively straight ahead and hoped it continued all the way down the obstacle. Despite feeling a bit panicky and hoping I didn’t have to turn back, I made myself calm down and trust the path. It was a tiny bit scrambly but fine really and the path led me safely to the foot of this obstacle. From there the path went round the side of the next couple of lumps but, on looking back, they looked fine to have tackled direct.


Steep Bit!


Looking back up ridge from shoulder before final descent to bealach…

I contoured round on the path until the final clamber down quartzite blocks – these were the ones I’d reached on my recce at the end of last year so I was happy I was now on familiar territory and knew what was what until the next Munro… I was soon at the little lochan on the bealach and decided to sit in the sun for a few minutes for a coffee.

Sgor Ruadh from bealach

After about five minutes, I headed up the path opposite which goes up a craggy knoll. The path was fine but, towards the craggy section, more or less disappeared. I peered in each direction and eventually saw it contoured to the right round the knoll below the crags. From there it was a clear path to the gap between the knoll and the climb up Beinn Liath Mhor. I could now see the ‘low sandstone crag band’ quoted in the SMC guide – didn’t look very low to me. There was a guy just on his way down a gully which split it around its middle. Looked a pretty steep route. I watched with interest…

When the guy got down I quizzed him (as mountain cowards do) about the way ahead, or more precisely, whether there were any difficulties or stressful bits ahead. He seemed quite an experienced Munroist and admitted his favourite area was Torridon so probably not the best person for a coward to ask. He said the gully was very straightforward and not at all worrying, the end of Beinn Liath Mhor wasn’t narrow at all (I’d said I thought it looked narrow), and that I’d be fine on the ridge as it wasn’t too narrow for mountain cowards and only had one easy scramble and no exposure – phew!

I headed to the gully and set off up it. I have to say that I personally found it worryingly steep and even quite scrambly in places. I wasn’t sure I wanted to come back down it but wasn’t really planning to do the ridge either. But I’ll go up more or less anything so I continued to the top and headed off across nice, flat sandstone slabs to the start of the quartzite scree to the summit. There was another guy coming down but we didn’t meet but just gave each other a quick wave.

When I reached the end of the ridge I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t narrow at all and wasn’t loose underfoot either. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the clamber to the summit and it seemed to only take a minute. The summit was truly spectacular, especially with the weather we were having. It’s quite unusual for me to get good weather and views and stuff so I decided to take a longish break and just sit in the sun with my back to the cairn and admire the great views in all directions. The only view I didn’t appreciate was to my left – that of the dreaded Liathach, which I unfortunately have an appointment with in September. It looked monstrous.

Beinn Liath’s Beautiful Ridge – another time…

I drank more coffee and munched a choccie bar and mused about how I could avoid the awkward gully on my descent. I’d read somewhere, I think it was Irvine Butterfield’s ‘High Mountains…’ that if I went over to the lovely loch on the west end of the ridge and then contoured round back to the south, I’d miss the sandstone band altogether. I’d already ruled out the ridge – it looked fine but I didn’t feel up to the undulations and fancied a walk back out through Coire Lair. I briefly toyed with the idea of a pathless return around the north of the mountain where the views looked really beautiful but decided that pathless was going to be hard work too. So, Coire Lair it was…

I headed off to the lochan which was again so beautiful I had to take another rest and sit drinking yet more coffee in the sun. Not like me to hang around like that, although I can be persuaded when I’ve achieved my objectives as was the case this time. I then headed off round to the south of the mountain where, as if by magic, I did indeed end up below the sandstone crag 🙂 there’d even been a path all the way so others must head this way too sometimes. I’d certainly recommend it rather than the gully!

From the gap between the knoll and B. Liath Mhor, I’d seen previously that there were easy grass slopes down to Coire Lair so didn’t bother to contour back to the bealach round the knoll. In about 10 minutes I was on the Coire Lair path and strolling back through the superb scenery to my car. What a great day! 🙂

Stats: 12.5 miles, 3957 feet of ascent, 6 hours

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