Six days in Torridon, Part 2: Beinn EigheJanuary 6, 2019
Beinn Eighe is one of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen, and it took me three attempts before I was able to reach both of her Munro summits.
My first attempt was in the early 1990s, when I went on a cycling holiday with a friend. We were living in London at the time. We put our bikes on the train, and starting from the tiny station of Achnashellach, we cycled to hostels and bunkhouses.
It rained a lot.
Me on my bike in the early 1990s, preparing to climb Beinn Eighe.
At one bunkhouse we stayed in, some mountaineers we met recommended Beinn Eighe. It was the first mountain I’d ever attempted to climb – apart from Schiehallion, which I’d climbed with my dad when I was nine.
We got to the cairn at 860m, just short of the summit of Spidean Coire nan Clach, at 977m. There was a lot of low cloud, and visibility was poor. I had a map and compass, but we weren’t sure which way to go next, so we wisely decided to head back down.
Just 117 vertical metres from the summit, but visibility was so bad that we decided to go back down. Note the cycling gloves and “Pump Action” Reeboks.
We were both wearing trainers – mine were “Pump Action” Reeboks. Does anyone remember them? They had a plastic pad on each sole which when pressed, was meant to inflate the sole with air. It didn’t work very well!
Map of Beinn Eighe showing both of her Munro summits, Ruadh-stac Mor (1010m) and Spidean Coire nan Clach (977m).
We thought we’d gone the wrong way, but in fact there are two main routes up Beinn Eighe, forming a circuit which can be done in either direction. Once we were back at the road, we cycled to the other route and walked up to the beautiful Coire Mhic Fhearchair, at an altitude of 650m. We decided not to go any further.
Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair (early 1990s)
Second attempt in 2017
My second attempt to climb Beinn Eighe was more than 20 years later, in September 2017. This time I was with a scrambling club, and we were planning to do the two summits and then scramble on pinnacles called the Black Carls. It was a beautiful day, and after having lunch at Coire Mhic Fhearchair, we enjoyed the short scramble up to the ridge, and soon reached the first Munro summit of Ruadh-stac Mor (1010m).
Unfortunately while walking to the next Munro summit of Spidean Coire nan Clach, I had a dreadful accident on the ridge. I was enjoying the sensational views from the ridge and taking so many photos that I suddenly noticed that most of the group were quite far ahead. They were actually going pretty quickly in an area that really deserves to be savoured. I broke into a run in an attempt to catch up.
My foot suddenly hit a small rock and I tumbled forwards at speed, smashing my face against another small rock. I ended up losing five teeth – and as this happened at an altitude of 900m, I had to be airlifted to hospital.
Doomed trip to Beinn Eighe, September 2017: my friend took this photo of the Coastguard helicopter making an incredible landing on the narrow ridge, 3,000 feet up, to rescue me.
Ever since then, I have always used walking poles when hillwalking. Before the accident, I would generally carry one walking pole, but I would only use it if the ground became very steep on the way down. I now use walking poles all the time (except when scrambling on rocks), mainly as a reminder to take my time and to take care.
Third time lucky!
Ironically on my third attempt at climbing Beinn Eighe, last May, I left my walking poles in the car! Luckily this didn’t stop me reaching both summits at last. This was on the second day of my recce (reconnaissance) trip with Rosalind.
As we set out from the car park, planning to head up towards Coire Mhic Fhearchair, a young woman called Lissa approached us and said she recognised me from my local climbing centre. She was camping in her car, and we invited her to join us on our walk.
Lissa and Rosalind walking up towards Coire Mhic Fhearchair on Beinn Eighe, with Baosbheinn and Beinn an Eoin in the distance.
It was another beautiful sunny day, and myself and Rosalind were a bit tired after having climbed Beinn Alligin the day before. This was the main purpose of doing the recce trip: to find out whether I was fit enough to do these big walks on consecutive days. Luckily I passed the test. I had to pace myself a bit, but that was no problem. I didn’t want to rush a beautiful walk like Beinn Eighe.
Loch Choire Mhic Fhearchair in 2018. It lies on the north side of Beinn Eighe, at an altitude of 600m.
Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair was shimmering in the strong May sunshine. There were a few stubborn patches of snow clinging to the buttresses in sheltered spots, but nothing that would impede our progress. We climbed up the bouldery “stone chute” to the ridge, and were soon at the first summit, Ruadh-stac Mor, with its breathtaking views.
It was my second visit to this summit.
We walked along the ridge, around the top of Coire Mhic Fhearchair, to the 976m summit of Coinneach Mhor, a “Munro top” which has no status in bagging terms, but which afforded more glorious views.
The view back to Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair from Coinneach Mhor.
From there, we walked further along the ridge to the second Munro summit, Spidean Coire nan Clach (977m).
As we approached the spot where I’d had my accident seven months earlier, I felt only slight trepidation. I felt I was laying a ghost to rest as we passed it safely, and then carried on towards the second summit.
This is the spot, 3,000 feet up, where I fell flat on my face in 2017, smashing my teeth against the rocks. The peak at the right hand side is Ruadh-stac Mor, one of two Munro summits on Beinn Eighe.
The ridge is very rocky, and the rocks become more bouldery as the climb towards Spidean Coire nan Clach steepens. The final push towards the summit is a hands-on scramble.
Climbing towards the second summit on Beinn Eighe.
Summit of Spidean Coire nan Clach, 977m. The mountain in the background at the left hand side is Liathach.
I was so happy to reach that second summit at last!
On the way back down, we passed the cairn on the small plateau that I reached with my friend more than 20 years earlier. It still had a big patch of snow on it. The path down from this section is exceptionally steep for the first 150m, and I bitterly regretted leaving my walking poles in the car!
Walking down towards the plateau section where me and my friend decided to turn back in the early 1990s. It’s steep, but it gets even steeper after the snow patch!
To add to the difficulty, I was wearing a very light pair of boots with soles that are great on dry rock, but terribly slippy on this type of steep, dry, powdery scree path. I was slipping all over the place! I marvelled that I’d managed this path easily in my Reeboks almost 25 years earlier, though I remember that there had been a lot of heavy rainfall, so the scree wouldn’t have been so powdery.
I felt such a sense of achievement when I finally made it to the bottom in one piece!
Rosalind had to return home that evening, but Lissa said she would accompany me to Slioch the next day, for what would be my third consecutive day of climbing. Slioch only has one Munro summit, but in terms of distance and altitude it’s actually a bigger climb than Beinn Alligin and Beinn Eighe.
I hoped I was up to the challenge!