Hecla, South Uist

27 01 2012

For years, while living on the Uists in the 70s, I was confused by the name Hecla for a mountain. For a start it didn’t end in ‘val’ (or more properly, in Gaelic, ‘bhal’) and for seconds, it just looked really strange! It was years later before I read something on mountains in Iceland and realised it was actually a Gaelicised Norse word and would originally have been called ‘Hekla’ but that the Gaels had substituted a letter c for the k. Now that made far more sense.


Hecla & Ben Tarbert

Hecla was a mountain I’d always admired from out of the window at work as it was just behind the hill we worked on top of – I used to watch eagles soaring below it and one year, it actually got covered in snow for a day in the severe winter of ‘76 (snow was an extremely rare occurrence in Uist as the islands are well into the Gulf Stream).


Winter 76 – Hecla & Ben Corodale Behind Work’s Hill

However, despite my great admiration for the hill (it was easily my favourite Uist hill) I never walked up it until about 10 years ago as it is quite some walk to get to. In the picture below, my route took the white line across the face of the hill following a natural line below crags on a wide, grassy shelf, and I descended the skyline (marked in red) – unfortunately, I don’t have a picture without Ben Tarbert in the way!


Hecla Route

To reach the hill I drove to the end of the Loch Skipport road end (not down the steep track to the pier) and parked up. There is a little track a short way back along the road which heads south and then east around an inlet of Loch Skipport to two shielings (marked on the map). These are about a mile from the road end and the track ends just past them. From there I continued east past them to the top of a small hill where I could again see the coastline. At that point I decided to head south until I hit the small river which is the outflow from Loch Spotal (the loch in front of Hecla) and then follow it to the loch. I thought that would be the simplest way to navigate through such hummocky and rough terrain. The going alongside the river was very rough and, in common with most areas of Uist, there is no path to the mountain as they are rarely walked.

When I reached the lochan I thought it was ‘six of one or half a dozen of the other’ which way I walked round it so chose the north and west sides. A spur comes down north from the mountain (actually from Ben Scalaval – a subsidiary top) and I followed that up until I reached crags.


Hecla across Loch Spotal

At that point I headed round the spur and soon found the grassy shelf I’d seen from the road raking easily up to the shoulder of the mountain.


Hecla – Looking back down west shoulder

After a bit of a stiff pull onto the shoulder I turned left to see a gentler rise to the start of the crags of the summit ridge.


Hecla Summit Crags Start

You can pick any of the grassy rakes through the start of the crags and a short climb up a narrowing ridge brings you to the summit proper which consists of an overhanging lump of crag with absolutely spectacular views, especially that towards the other main mountain, Ben More.


Hecla Summit Crags

Looking steeply down into Glen Usinish below you to the south you see the lovely Loch Corodale.

Towering above the loch is Ben Corodale (1739 feet) with the craggiest summit of any Uist hill. Beyond that is Ben More, the largest hill on Uist at a little over 2000 feet (Hecla is just under). If you can take your eyes off the view in this direction, the views in the other directions are probably good too, but I couldn’t tear myself away from this one.


Ben Corodale


Hecla to Ben Mhor

To descend, I headed northeast towards the aforementioned subsidiary top of Ben Scalaval.


Hecla from Ben Scalaval

Leaving the top a fantastic smooth grassy ridge curves round southeast then east and finally north, descending gently.


Hecla East Shoulder

I followed this ridge which made for very fast walking and great views out to sea until you meet a very sudden steepening down quite large crags at the end of Beinn na h-Aire. At this point I followed the deer which had just escaped from me down the ridge – they went coastwards down the back of the ridge (east) and ended up on the col below. The descent to the col was quick and easy and I then curved back under the ridge and decided to miss out the last little lump – Maol Martaig and descend down rough ground from the col back to Loch Spotal and back the way I came.


Hecla – Beinn na h’Aire across Loch Spotal

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7 responses

29 01 2012
bob

Its a Hill range I,ve always wanted to do Carol.Looks like you had a great day for it.Might get up there yet before the coffin catches me.

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29 01 2012
mountaincoward

Or another white van man! 😉

They are a great 3 hills and I’m putting the Ben Mhor report out next (when I finish nightshifts) so you’ll see the other half of the range. There are also some other great hills on South Uist which I’m going to write reports up for soon.

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27 01 2012
fedupofuserids

I’ll look forward to your Corodale & Mhor reports 🙂

As I’ll have the kids with me I can’t spend the whole trip walking 😦 so my main aim is for Cliseam and hopefully pick off the Grahams, and then anything else that looks interesting. From your pics Corodale also looks worth a climb.

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28 01 2012
mountaincoward

Corodale is great – it’s supposed to be very hard to get onto the summit but I could see 2 options – the one which I took which will be in the report when I put it out and I also thought it looked nice to walk as a ‘horseshoe’ by descending the NE (I think) ridge of Ben Mhor and then ascending the SE ridge of Corodale. it would then be interesting to go down the NE ridge of Corodale (or the northern arm of the horseshoe) and walk back from there. Might be best to go from the end of the northernmost Loch Eynort road though as that’s nearer to the coast.

If you do Clisham, I’d be very interested to hear about your trip as I haven’t done that yet 🙂
Carol.

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27 01 2012
Paul Shorrock

Good stuff, Carol!
I’ve only driven north through the Uists, and I’m beginning to regret not spending more time there. Ah well, another one on the wish list 🙂

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26 04 2014
mountaincoward

Paul, the 3 major ‘mountains’ on South Uist, i.e. Hecla, Ben Corodale & Ben Mhor are an absolute must. If you can get a lift to or from the opposite end, a traverse is a great way to do them I believe – I’ve never been able to arrange other transport though. I did Bens Mhor and Corodale together (report to follow soon as I’ve decided to put all my old forum Hebridean posts out and then maybe write some new ones) and Hecla on it’s own a couple of times and that’s probably the best way to split them up.

Simon, I personally prefer Hecla to Ben Mhor but what I call the ‘Striding Edge’ section of Ben Mhor is quite something (not difficult though). I’m pretty sure that, when you get to the islands, if you get clear weather and can see the hills, you’ll find Hecla tempting even though it weighs in just below 2000 feet (or whatever that is in metres). All my Hebs maps are from around the 70s and they were completely Anglicised then which is why I still write the Hebridean names in their Anglicised versions as that’s what I’m used to. They were right to change the maps to the Gaelic versions though…

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27 01 2012
fedupofuserids

Thanks for the great pics and report. I’ll bear Hecla in mind for the summer, just unfortunate that Hecla comes in at 606m – I’m hoping to manage the nearby Beinn Mhor – weather permitting! Ben Corodale is also a fine looking hill.
The Gaelic spelling on the maps takes a bit of getting used to, especially as most other sources refer to the hills in their anglicised form!

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