Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Achnashellach and Torridon Hills - Liathach: Spidean a' Choire Leith (75) and Mullach an Rathain (108)

Walk date: 29/04/06
My Munro #'s: 67 and 68

Hiking Expedition 2006! This walk was actually two separate walks. After all the reading I had done re: the ridge between these Munros and how 'wonderful' and 'challenging' it was and given my Aonach Eagach experiences, I decided to avoid it like the plague and take in each peak as separate ascents. This turned out to be an even better decision when I got up to height and found a rather large amount of snow sitting proud.

Walk 1 - Spidean a' Choire Leith:

First sign of the target, just one top to go first:

Some of that sexy cloud inversion:

Just a tricky descent to the col & then it's home-dry:

In all its glory, Spidean a' Choire Leith:

On the summit, complete with Amplifico T-shirt:

Just the small matter of getting all the way back now:

Without a doubt, this hike has easily become my favourite ever outing. Such an amazing, challenging and triumpthant experience!

Having decided not to attempt the ridge, I indeed did take these two Munros in in one day. However, this is not to say that these hills can be rushed; Spidean a' Choire Leith especially requires respect. Anyway, I started at the recommended car park just east of Glen Cottage (934567, bascially this car park is an oversized passing area). The path starts rocky and is in good condition, soon rising quickly but not giving much challenge except for the odd required hand-usage. From Coire Liath Mhor the path becomes steeper with a little more scree but remains obvious all the way onto the ridge. Don't worry about guide books trying to describe which gully to ascend as in decent conditions at least, there are no navigation troubles.

Once onto the ridge, I was greeted with a lot of snow along the crest. Morning cloud was still present blocking views, however the shape of Stob a' Choire Liath Mhor could soon be seen through the mist and did elicit a 'oh, fuck!'. From this point on, most of the thin ridge consisted of very careful stepping into existing prints along the thick snow-cap of the ridge crest. Soon the rising heat started revealing peaks by cloud inversion, an absolutely awesome sight that brought out several more expletives and a brief moment of leg-shake. The first sight of the destination peak pushed things even further and prompted a 'Jesus!', the thin ridge rising to the summit with a thin train-track of footsteps on its narrow crest. For a while over Stob a' Choire Liath Mhor I trained myself to only watch my feet so as to not lose my nerve, as the actual footwork even on the snow so far required concentration but was actually ok.

The worst point on the traverse came next, however, as the descent to the col before the Munro ascent was the only point that got me worrying. This consisted of the steepest snow section of the day. Although it only lasted about 5 metres I took quite a while on it, turning to face inward for the end section as I kicked foot-holds and punched hand-holds into the slope. Water-proof gloves would have helped a lot! It should be noted that this section would have been no trouble with an ice-axe and crampons, my own unequipped fault!

From the col the route was initially thin but but nothing worse than what had passed; I was used to it but more importantly I was on a high from knowing that I was going to make it, that the Munro was in the bag! Standing on the summit felt like such a privalege and was an absolutely wonderful experience. The views were spectacular with cloud inversion turning into clear views in selected directions. It really was awesome, and a well-deserved tick in the book! The route back gave no trouble with the tricky section proving an easy ascent and the path off the ridge allowing a nice trot down. A very memorable Munro.

Walk 2 - Mullach an Rathain:

Overhang on Mullach an Rathain, tread carefully!

The not-recommended north side of 'Rathain:

The Liathach ridge, not attempted by I:

Parking back at the Youth Hostel and having had my lunch, I set off along the road for Liathach's second Munro. The start of the path is marked by a small cairn between the two patches of tress where the road is nearest the river. The way is initially quite flat with bog, but also short, fun rocky sections. Don't pick too random a route at this stage as a stile in the upcoming fence must be met at 914557.

Beyond this point the incline increases and remains steady until around Toll Ban when the still obvious path starts climbing scree slopes towards the summit. The scree is nothing much to worry about being more annoying than dangerous. The view from the immediate summit is another grand reward especially looking east towards Spidean a' Choire Leith and the infamous ridge. I would have liked to have gone and had an investigative look, but being a little fatigued by this time, it was the return route that I opted for. A nice hill but much easier and simpler than its neighbour.

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