Ling Hut, Torridon (Mid - week meet)
Day 1 - Arriving and passing
Due to the foul weather conditions and the distances involved to get to the Ling hut most people had decided to forego the day on the hill on Sunday in order to get to the hut early and settle in.
All arrived without difficulty except Trish who decided to take a more scenic approach to the hut by driving straight past the parking area admiring the clag covered hills of Torridon despite the best efforts of the three people in the car park at the time shouting and waving to her that she had past the car park entrance.
The hut is situated across from the parking area 10 minutes walk around a small lochen, a fact that several members of the party had over looked when food shopping, bringing far too many luxury items and tinned food stuff.
Sean for one spent a good hour reorganising his car boot, including driving 4 miles down the road to Torridon itself to find shelter from the wind, in order to be able to carry out this task and thus be able to carry the supply of food that was strewn about his boot in carrier bags or loose on the floor in a single trip.
After navigating ourselves around the lochen and into the hut itself, where the previous weekends group were just about ready to leave, we were greeted by an excellent accommodation swelteringly hot due to the number of gas burning lamps and splendid gas fire in the lounge/dining area.
Unfortunately there was no shower and only a hand water pump, that took forever to pump in enough water just to flush the toilet. However having arrived in Torridon the night before, and spending the night being buffeted by gale force winds whilst in the Torridon campsite, we had discovered that not only was camping there free for the winter months, but that free hot showers were available in the toilet blocks, information that would be used to great advantage throughout the week.
Decidedly undecided as to what to do as the weather had still not improved greatly we decided to follow Sean's lead in driving around to the North-west side of Glen Carron and head up to Maol Chean Dearg 933m one of the Munro's on Sean tick list. The hill can be seen from the glen near the Coulags were we would start the ascent from.
We set of in conditions that by now had started to improve very slightly (Hoping that the snow on the summit was not too hard pact as my crampons were back at the ling hut)
Following the east shore line of the Fionn-abhainn we passed the Coulags cottage. A splendid bothy (corrie Fionaraich) which had pine clad walls and a real fire in both downstairs rooms, three dormitory style rooms upstairs, one of which was definitely intended for solo travellers as it was tucked away under the roof space above the stairs and only had room for one person or two very close friends. We had a leisurely lunch break at this point, Sean reclining in his chair, before Roger & Cath decided it was time to get moving and shot off into the distance leaving the rest of us behind trying to catch them up.
On reaching the snow line I was glad to find the snow was in excellent condition, nice and soft underfoot and not too deep, although it did get quite a bit steeper towards the first summit at Bealach a Choire ghuirb, which made a very interesting ascent especially as the first patch of blue sky suddenly appeared and disappeared just as fast as we made our way to the top.
After reaching the top in the clag we enjoyed a brief dram of whisky at the summit cairn, whilst some debated the wearing of crampons for the descent, we retraced our route back to the cars.
A great day on the hill considering the prospects the morning had shown. After separating at the cars the more organised members of the group headed back to the hut, via the free showers at the campsite, to cook their individual dinners. Brian and myself took a slight detour eating in the Kinlochewe Hotel so that Brian could phone home, the four pints of Tenents ember were just to while away the time waiting for the right time to make the call, and to ensure that the most up to date weather forecast for the next day would be posted outside the B&B on the way back to the hut.
On returning to the hut we discovered that the trip to the shower block had not been totally uneventful.
Firstly Cath could not get her car started and then whilst at the shower block the mountain rescue had to be called out to retrieve Trish and her van from the mud that she had parked in. Fortunately the mountain rescue Land Rover is only parked 20 yards away at the Youth Hostel and Cath's car had just got a little bit damp, a good spray of WD40 on the HT leads and a set of jump leads soon got her on her way again.
As promised by the previous night's weather forecast the night skies had cleared giving a cold clear star filled night and frost and ice lay on the ground the following morning. Actually the morning dawned much better than expected with bellow freezing temperatures and we were all keen to make the most of it and headed out towards the triple buttresses of Beinn Eighe via Sail Mhor and Ruadh-stac Mor.
This route leads us from the hut back to the cars and along the path beside the car park up the Allt Coire an Anmoich underneath the crags of Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig and on into the valley beyond via the Coire Dubh Mor.
As the valley widens in the middle you are met by magnificent views of Carn Na Feola, Spidean a Choire Leith, Mullach an Rathain, Meall Dearg and the northern pinnacles that line the summit ridges west of Liathac, before heading North and then East to circumnavigate Sail Mhor via a path marked by a cairn.
Unfortunately the snow overnight had made finding the path and cairn extremely difficult and several routes were eventually taken before finally joining the intended path.
On reaching Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair via a splendid path by the waterfalls we were once again met by magnificent views of the surrounding hills and the triple buttress.
From this vantage point we could clearly see the summit ridge of Ruadh Stac Mor and several steep snow filled gullies leading up to the crest of the ridge. Also in the distance the distinctive form of Slioch and the Cuillin Ridges on Skye could clearly be seen.
After a short lunch break we skirted around the loch anticlockwise before taking to one of the snow laden gullies which lead us more or less vertically up to the ridge just bellow the summit of Ruadh Stac Mor (1010m) and even more spectacular views of the surrounding panoramas.
From the summit the route leads back along the ridge across the sandstone Bealach and up an interesting little scramble to Coinneach Mhor then descends southeast to another bealach before climbing eastwards to the trig point below Spidean Coire nan Clach. The true summit is a short climb to the northeast from which Roger had already returned before the rest of the group had reached the trig point.
The final descent of the day lead us south over switchbacks before a steep snow gully allowed us to descend very rapidly into Allt Coire an laoigh to pick up a good path back to the road and the short walk back along the road to the ling hut and the warming gas fire.
This was by far one of the finest winter hill days I have had in Scotland for a long time, the weather condition could not have been better and the visibility and views beyond compare, just shows that it is always worth the effort to travel to these places for longer than a single weekend in order to catch the best condition especially during the winter.
Day 4 - Rest day
After yesterday's exertions and the return of the wet weather we enjoyed a lazy start to the day with breakfast at the hut before heading up the coast to Gairloch in order for some of us to stock up on provisions.
On arrival the weather was wet but Cath's eye's had a certain glint in them as she spotted several seafood restaurants and the only response she could muster was smoked herring. (Trish referred to this look as roll mop herring eyes).
Brian and I stocked up on evening meals for the next couple of nights and were then lead into the nearby Heritage Museum Seafood Restaurant. Roger and Sean once again had already beaten us to the top having already found a table by the fire and ordered their food. Cath settled for a smoked Mackerel salad and whilst various other meals were ordered Roger hungrily sought any spare scraps of food he could find to replenish his energy supply, depleted by the previous two days on the hill running ahead of everybody like a puppy dog excited about being let of his lead in the park.
After we had feasted Cath, Trish and I decided that despite the inclement weather we would take a walk along the beach to stretch our legs.
Brian Sean and Roger retreated to the cars with newspapers. After twenty minutes or so the sun finally made an appearance revealing crystal clear waters and a very faint outline of Skye appeared briefly on the horizon.
Heading back to the car park we found the cars deserted, not knowing were the others had gone we left a note on Sean's windscreen saying we would be back in ten minutes and headed up the road to Gairloch harbour and the chemist so that Cath could purchase some new contact lens solution, before it closed.
When we returned Sean was busily rearranging the back of his car once again in order to fit Brian in thinking that we had gone off abandoning him.
They had not spotted the note on the windscreen and when it was suggested that "Andrew wouldn't just go off and leave you would he Brian"
Brian's response came back without hesitation: "He's got all the food the whisky wine and keys for the hut in his possession of course he would."
On the way back to the Ling Hut we stopped off at the Moru mountain sports shop at Kinlochewe run by a very friendly local in order to check on the weather forecast.
We were greeted with a smile and a brief history of an old lady in the village eighty two years of age who had not known the weather in the area ever to be as variable as it was at the moment, apparently winters just aren't what they used to be.
We were also let in on the secret of the BBBC (British Brown Bear Commission).
On the wall of the shop was a very convincing poster alerting all visitors that the BBBC had released a small number of brown bears into the wild and that if spotted their whereabouts were to be relayed to the BBBC via the local Youth Hostels and hotels in order that their movements could be monitored and food left out for them. Apparently this was a rumour started by our friendly shop owner himself in order to sell 200m of 2mm cord he had mistakenly ordered rather than the intended 20m he had intended to order.
At the same time as the posters had been spread out around the area and fliers placed in all the hostels and hotels, back at the mountain sports shop was a nice little display of 2mm cord being advertised as bear hanging cord, for food sacks, in order for the food to be hung out of reach of the bears.
The sales of the cord shot up and amazingly several bear sightings were reported to the police who spent several months investigating the mysterious sightings which also made the papers and local news.
Another uninspiring start to the day but the enthusiasm of it being the final day at the hut lead to a surprising eagerness to venture out on to the hills.
Two routes were planned for the day.
Roger Sean and Brian decided to head back along the Coire Dubh Mor track between Beinn Eighe and Liathac in order to attempt a route up one of the snow gullies onto the ridge of the northern pinnacles. Trish Cath and I decided that we would head back to Kinlochewe and Incheril to climb Slioch (the spear)
From the car park at Incheril the path to Slioch follows the Kinlochewe river northwest wards towards Loch Maree. The tranquillity of the path was a pleasant one, allowing the legs to settle in to the task ahead.
Despite a slight detour around the shores of Loch Maree after missing the big stone marked arrow pointing out the fork in the path, due to the baby goats pointed out on the opposite shore line, we made fairly good time to the footbridge over Abhainn an Fhasaigh.
After just a few metres we started to climb, gently at first then more steeply up the Coire na Sleaghaich (corrie of the slog) and the western slopes of Sgurr Dubh, an interesting steep snow ascent leading up to a small lochen still frozen despite the major thawing of the day before, which had lead to much of the snow banked hill sides being cleaned of their white overcoats.
From here the ascent became slightly more entertaining following the steep and sandy southeast ridge of Slioch onto the wide plateau just below the summit cairn.
Now back in thick mist and clag with the wind buffeting us we decided to forego the second summit along the unseen ridge east of us and headed back down out of the wind to retrace or own tracks back to the Gleann Bianasdail, with the wind at our backs.
Retracing the steep slopes of Sgurr Dubh were not without interest, having opted to stay with trekking poles rather than ice axe I slipped and bum slid for several feet.
Once at the bottom I had time to get the camera out and enjoy the sight of Cath giving an excellent lesson of how to use an ice axe, to bum slide down the slope, and Trish an entertaining guide in how not to use the same, whilst kangarooing and tumbling her way through the snow and heather.
The path back to the car was very welcome after the long slog back down Coire an Sleaghaich despite it being dark before we finally reached the cars.
Returning to the hut we expected to find the three others either still out on the hill or only just returned and as tired as we were. However what we did find was three very relaxed people glass of wine in hand, who had been back at the hut since 2.30 in the afternoon, having spent the morning on a low level traverse of the Coire Dubh Mor track deciding that the ascent of the Dru Couloir (v/vi) not to be in the best of conditions. (They had decided on the Dru Couloir when they got back to the hut so they could say they had failed on something more impressive than the simpler northern pinnacles grade (ii) they had intended to climb from the out set)
Perhaps Fat Mans Folly would have been a more appropriate choice for the day.
Well that's about all, thanks to Cath Sanders, Trish Cranston, Roger Daley, Brian Street and Sean Kelly for joining me on the trip and sorry to John Evans and David Lygate, who had to pull out due to work commitments at the last me, you missed a good week.