Tuesday, 19 February 2013
16.4 km/939 m/08:00 hrs
For this walk I had a rather ambitious plan – the combination of the two Corbetts Ruadh-stac Beag and Meall a’ Ghiuthais. To get the hardest part out of the way first, I was going to start with Ruadh-stac Beag, and if I didn’t have enough daylight left, I could always come back another time and climb Meall a’ Ghiuthais as a quick extension of the Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail.
The weather was gorgeous when I started from the Mountain Trail car park beside the A832. There was a slight frost on the ground, but in the sun it felt already very warm.
The path ascends steeply through the pine forest, and soon Slioch comes into view on the other side of Loch Maree.
Beinn a’ Mhùinidh and the Kinlochewe River delta.
Higher up, the terrain becomes rocky and even steeper, but the line is always obvious and even marked with cairns in some places. A few icy patches on the path could easily be bypassed.
Eventually I reached the highest point of the Mountain Trail, the “Conservation Cairn” on Leathad Buidhe.
Meall a’ Ghiuthais – the path visible on the right is the continuation of the Mountain Trail.
Beinn a’ Mhùinidh, with the Fannichs in the background.
Creag Dubh, Sgùrr Bàn, Spidean Coire nan Clach and Ruadh-stac Beag.
From the Conservation Cairn I headed in a SW direction towards the Allt Toll a’ Ghiubhais.
View towards Glen Grudie, Beinn a’ Chearcaill on the right.
Looking back to Meall a’ Ghiuthais.
NE face of Ruadh-stac Beag.
Although I could see a path running along the E bank of the Allt Toll a’ Ghiubhais, I crossed the stream and walked on the other side, because it looked as if there were fewer snow patches to negotiate.
This turned out to be a mistake, because the terrain soon changed from grass and stones to boulder fields partly covered in snow.
And it got even worse when I came across some snow patches with a solid, frozen surface (until then they had been soft and I could carefully walk over them).
I didn’t want to use MicroSpikes because there were only small patches of snow between longer sections of boulders, instead I started cutting steps with my ice axe… which took me absolute ages!
I was very relieved when I reached the bealach SW of Ruadh-stac Beag, where the terrain flattens out.
I don’t know how I got the silly idea that the final ascent might be on an easy, grassy slope :oops:, but what I found was yet another boulder field, and this one looked almost vertical!
Looking back to Creag Dubh.
Frozen Lochan Uaine.
Ruadh-stac Mòr (zoomed).
The higher I climbed, the steeper the slope seemed to become. Besides, the ground was very loose, even the larger rocks and boulders started to move and slide downwards when I stepped on them.
I found a safe place to sit down for a few minutes and decide what to do.
It had taken me 4.5 hours to get to this point, much longer than I had estimated, and I wasn’t far away from the summit now (I must have been roughly at the 800 m contour line). But I didn’t feel comfortable at all, actually I was scared that I could slip or fall anytime on this difficult terrain.
In the end I decided to turn back. Unfortunately, the descent wasn’t any easier – the snow on the south-facing slope had become very soft in the sun and I sank in knee-deep in places. Now I also had to worry about twisting an ankle between boulders hidden under the snow…
I thought I was back on safe ground when I reached the bealach with Lochan Uaine.
But further down on a short section of frozen snow, while I was cutting steps with the ice axe, my flask fell out of the side pocket of my rucksack and disappeared downhill until it came to a halt on a patch of grass. To retrieve it, I had to descend the frozen snow field, and on this occasion the MicroSpikes were used for the first time today.
I had already decided to return along the path on the other side of the stream, and forded it at the first possibility.
Allt Toll a’ Ghiubhais.
Meall a’ Ghiuthais.
Looking back to Sgùrr Bàn and Spidean Coire nan Clach.
At this stone shelter I had a long break with tea and sandwiches – my first proper break for the day, and I was quite hungry by now!
It was far too late now to climb Meall a’ Ghiuthais, and knowing that I didn’t have much daylight left, I didn’t want to descend the Mountain Trail in the dark (the descent along the gorge of the Allt na h-Airighe is not as steep as the ascent route, but I expected icy patches on the path).
Instead I walked down the Pony Track that ends near the Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre on the A832. This route is longer, but less steep and it seemed to be the safest option in fading daylight.
The Pony Track, with Fionn Bheinn in the distance.
View back to the Black Carls and Creag Dubh.
Last sunlight on Slioch.
When I arrived back at my car at 18:45, it was completely dark. It had been a really good day with brilliant weather and views, and I had enjoyed most of it (apart from the scary bits!) although I had not made it to any of the summits.
In hindsight, I should have climbed Meall a’ Ghiuthais which would have probably been a lot easier considering that there was hardly any snow on it and the ascent is less steep than the route up Ruadh-stac Beag.
My next attempt at Ruadh-stac Beag will certainly be in summer conditions, at least then I will only have to contend with the boulders, but not with snow fields. But to be honest, I am not in a hurry to return to this hill any time soon, there are too many other hills and routes that are much higher on my To-Do List 😉