BY LIONEL W. HINXMAN, B.A.
SOUTHWARDS from the beautiful expanse of Loch
Mareewhose rocky shores, fringed with scattered pines, or rising in naked
majesty from the dark waters, vie with the softer beauties of the Trosachs -
stretches a wild region of mountain, corrie, and glen, little known to the
crowd of tourists who are whirled over the "Loch Maree Circular Tour" or
linger awhile at Talladale or Kinlochewe.
This mountain region, which occupies nearly one
hundred square miles of ground, extending to the northern shore of outer
Loch Torridon, forms the heart of the deer forests of Kinlochewe, Torridon,
and Shieldaig, and is thus practically inaccessible from mid-June to
October. But in April, May, and early June, a time when even in the weeping
climate of the West Coast there is a reasonable chance of fine clear
weather, little difficulty will be found in obtaining leave to climb the
hills, most of which present features well worthy the attention of those
members of the Club who care for good rock-climbing.
I say rock-climbing, for these peaks, so near the mild
Atlantic sea-board, carry little snow even in the winter, and are often
completely clear at a time when the Cairngorms and the Perthshire hills are
in their most Alpine condition. Ben Eighe, Leagach, Ben Dearg, and Alligin,
are the four giants who with their various spurs and outliers make up this
great mountain mass.
Ben Eighe—often but wrongly spelt Ben Eay—is by far
the most accessible and best known of the group; and the bare screes and
serrated ridge of Sgurr Bàn, its eastern peak, form one of the most striking
features in that wonderful panorama of loch and mountain which opens to the
view from the head of Glen Docherty. Yet there is something very grim and
forbidding about these quartzite peaks, whose cold, grey, lifeless slopes
glitter white in the sunshine, or scowl beneath the storm-clouds that drive
up from the western sea; and the eye turns with a sense of relief to the
warm sandstone slopes of Slioch, on the other side of the loch.
The shooting-path that leaves the Gairloch road three-
quarters of a mile west of the Kinlochewe hotel is the best route to take if
a complete traverse of Ben Eighe is contemplated. As however this path leads
eventually into Toll a Giubhais (hollow of the firtrees), it must be left
just beyond the head of the Alit Sguabaidh (burn of the sweeping),—the burn
which runs parallel with it,—and a WSW. course followed over the heather
slopes to the foot of Creag Dubh whence a steep but fairly easy climb
through the quartzite ledges leads to the top of the ridge.
For some distance southwards the summit is smooth and
mossy, but nearing Sgurr an Fhir Duibhe (peak of the black men),—the peak
immediately above Kinlochewe,the ridge narrows to a few feet, and is
moreover cut into a series of sharp teeth, separated by deep ugly-looking
gullies. These teeth are the Fhir Duibhe (black men) of Ben Eighe.
The worst of the dividing gaps can only be passed by
climbing down upon, and stepping gingerly across, a fallen block that is
wedged into the chasm, and which, supported only at two points, seems in
anything but a stable position.
Another and easier way, by which this bad bit of the
ridge is avoided, leads from the Torridon road at Cromasag up the south side
of the burn to the foot of Sgurr an Conghair and thence up the rocky aré'te
to the top of Sgurr an Fhir Duibhe (3,100 feet). From here there is a fall
of 400 feet to the narrow ridge which leads to Sgurr Ban (the white scaur,
3,187 feet). The ridge now turns to the west, and though mostly bare rock
affords fairly good going. On either hand the mountain falls abruptly in
formidable precipices and steep scree slopes to the corries below, but the
ascent on both sides is practicable in many places.
The next top reached, nameless on the Ordnance maps,
is the Spidean Coire nan Clach (peak of the corrie of the flat stones),
below which a narrow spur runs out to the E., terminating in the sharp
pinnacle of red sandstoneSthc Coire an Laoigh—which is so conspicuous from
the road above Loch Clair.
About a mile further on, the outcrop of a bed of soft
limestone has given rise to a smooth grassy plateau (3,130 feet), known as
Coinneach Mr (the great mossy place), a delightful spot for a rest and the
The view from here on a clear day is very fine. To the
north, the sea of peaks that rise beyond Loch Maree, dominated by the spires
of An Teallach, and fading away in the dim outlines of the Assynt and Reay
mountains; to the W. and SW. the bold hills of Harris, the shapely cone of
Blaven, and the saw-edge of the Cuchullins. Immediately in front, to the
south, frowns the steep northern face of Leagach, a line of mural precipices
crowned with fantastic pinnacles; while beyond, the wild peaks of the
Achnashellach forest carry the eye southward over range after range of
unknown peaks to the three Ross-shire giants—Sgurr na Lapaich, Ben Attow,
and Mam Soul—that tower faint and blue against the distant horizon.
From this point a high and narrow col leads to Ruadh
Stac Mr (the great red stack), the great spur which here runs out to the N.
at right angles to the main ridge of the mountain. Apart from the fact that
its summit cairn (3,308 feet) is the highest point of Ben Eighe, Ruadh Stac
is not particularly interesting. The precipices on its northern face are,
however, very imposing, and nearly everywhere inaccessible.
Half a mile or so of delightfully easy walking now
leads to the western end of the Coinneach Môr (3,120 feet), where, on the N.
side, tremendous cliffs fall sheer down for more than i ,000 feet into the
gloomy depths of Coire Mhic Fearchair (corrie of the son of Farquhar). Now
comes a rather nasty bit of climbing, known as Ceim Grannda or the "ugly
step" of Ben Eighe, a drop of about 300 feet over huge angular blocks of
quartzite, tilted at high angles, and with an uncomfortable suggestion of
instability about them.
The ridge below safely reached, a rough scramble up
400 feet of debris-covered slope leads to the top of Sail Mr (the great
heel, 3,217 feet), the western extremity of the mountain. This is a fine
bold peak, rising abruptly with precipitous faces from the corrie below, and
cleft in two by a deep couloir in which the snow lingers far into the
The descent from Sail Môr is best made on the W. side,
and, though not altogether easy, presents no serious difficulties. Rounding
the front of the hill, the Alit Coire Mhic Fearchair should be struck at the
falls, a little way below the loch, and the burn followed for about two
miles, when a track will be found on the left hand side which leads down the
Grudie river to the Gairloch road at Grudie bridge, six miles from
Kinlochewe. A more direct but rougher way back can be taken round the
shoulder of Ruadh Stac Môr, across the mouth of Coire Ruadh Stac, and
through Toll Giubhais to the shooting-path under Creag Dubh.
Leagach—(Leathach, the grey one)—though not comparable
in bulk with Ben Eighe, is the highest and perhaps the most interesting of
the group; and, with the exception of An Teallach, the finest of the red
sandstone mountains of the West Coast.
Very striking is the first view of Leagach as seen
from the summit-level of the road to Torridon. Here are no gentle slopes to
lead the eye insensibly upwards. The great bluff that forms the north end of
the mountain rises uncompromisingly bold and steep from the moraine-strewn
corrie, like the stem of some mighty vessel plunging in a tempestuous sea.
And equally impressive are the four miles of cliff that frown above dark
Glen Torridon, where from the road the eye ranges up through fully 3,000
feet of terraced sandstone to the peaks of snow-white quartzite that glitter
The best place to make the ascent is from a point
about a mile beyond the bridge crossing the Alit a Choire Dhuibh Moire (burn
of the great black corrie). Leaving the road, and keeping the slope above
the west bank of the Alit Gharaidh Dubh (burn of the black den), an easy
climb leads to the foot of the mountain proper, at a point where the
escarpments are broken by steep grassy and talus- covered slopes. Ascending
these obliquely, and always bearing to the right, a "breathing" climb leads
to the last rampart that crowns the end of the mountain. Here a judicious
selection of the course, and a certain facility in rock-climbing, is
necessary; given which, this obstacle is soon passed, and a slope strewn
with loose debris leads to the top of Stixc a' Choire Dhuibh Bhig (peak of
the little black córrie), the eastern peak. The height of this top is not
given on the Ordnance maps, but it is probably just over 3,000 feet.
A narrow neck lies between this and the middle and
highest top, Spidean a' Choire Leith (peak of the grey corrie), a sharp cone
of quartzite, the ascent and descent of which, covered as it is with loose
angular blocks of all sizes, is certainly the most laborious, if not the
most difficult, part of the day's work. The view from the cairn (3456 feet)
is much the same as that from Ben Eighe, and need not be again described.
Beyond this peak the mountain has worn very thin at
the top, and the ridge for half a mile is split up into a series of
weather-worn pinnacles. The Spideanan nam Fasarinen, as these are called,
afford some fancy climbing, and although most people would prefer to take
the deerstalkers' path, narrow enough, that keeps below the ridge, all good
members of the Club will, I am sure, take the more heroic way that leads
over the top of each individual pinnacle,—provided always a sure foot and
steady head, for the rocks here are very loose and crumbly, while a look
down the absolutely perpendicular precipices of Coire na Caime (the crooked
corrie) is not altogether reassuring.
The Fasarinen safely passed, an easy grass slope leads
to the west top of Leagach, Mullach an Rathain (the ridge of the horns,
3,358 feet). Immediately below this peak a spur, nameless on the maps, but
known locally as Meal! Dearg (the red hill), runs out to the N. between
Coire na Caime and Glas Tholl a Bhothain (grey hollow of the bothies), which
affords a very difficult, if indeed possible, bit of climbing. The first
descent from the cairn is pretty bad, as the rocks are loose and broken, and
the ridge excessively narrow; but further along comes a more or less
perpendicular drop on to a knife-edge of shattered sandstone, which looked,
I confess, as I saw it, at nine o'clock on a summer's evening, too risky to
be attempted alone and without a rope. The spur might possibly, however, be
climbed from the northern end, and so back up to the Mullach an Rathain.
A gentle grass-covered slope now leads down to Sgàr a
Chadail (the scaur of sleep), and so to the foot of the mountain at Torridon
House; or a tolerably easy descent can be made on Fasag, at the head of Loch
Torridon, where, there being no decent accommodation, it will be well to
have a "machine" and some dry clothes in waiting.
Of Alligin, the mountain that rises boldly to the west
of Leagach on the other side of Corrie Mhic Nobuill, there is not much to be
said from a climbing point of view. It is a capital hill for a picnic, as
the top is smooth and grassy, and ponies can ascend with the provisions,
while the view on a clear day is superb, extending from Cape Wrath to
Ardnamurchan, and from North Uist to the hills of Central Inverness-shire.
Immediately below Sgurr na Tuaigh, or Sgurr Mhàr, the
highest peak (3,232 feet), there is a very striking feature, where a fault
cutting through the mountain has produced a tremendous gash, whose well-nigh
perpendicular sides plunge down for i,800 feet into the depths of Toll a
Mhadaidh (the wolf's hole). The climb down from Sgurr na Tuaigh (peak of the
hatchet) over the three peaks known as the Rathains (horns) of Alligin is
however worth doing, and the ridge can be followed to the eastern end, where
it falls steeply to the glen that separates Alligin from Ben Dearg (the red
Kinlochewe is the best, and in fact the only, centre
from which to explore these mountains. There is no accommodation at Loch
Torridon; and Shieldaig, though nearer to Alligin, is on the wrong side of
the loch, thus involving a boat journey, often an uncertain factor in this
part of the world.
The ascent of Leagach, Alligin, and Ben Dearg, might
possibly be combined in a long summer's day, by driving to the head of Glen
Torridon, climbing Leagach by the route indicated, and descending from the
west side of Sgbr a Chadail to the Diabeg path at the bridge over the
Amhainn Mhic Nobuill. (The burn cannot otherwise be crossed for a long way
up, as it runs in a deep gorge with wall-like sides).
Leaving the path just beyond the bridge, and bearing
to the right, a steep pull up a succession of slopes and escarpments leads
to the mouth of Coire na Laoigh (corrie of the calf), and thence up the burn
to the top of Alligin. The sky-line can then be followed over Sgurr Mór and
the three Rathains to the east end of the mountain, whence a rough scramble
lands one in the Bealaich a Chomla, on whose further side rises the steep
western front of Ben Dearg (2,995 feet). This is a formidable-looking climb,
especially near the end of a hard day; but a practicable route can be found
up most of the gullies which seam the hill-side, aided by a little judicious
winding among the ledges.
The summit of Ben Dearg reached, it is a comparatively
easy walk along the ridge to the east end, and thence down into the head of
the Coire Dubh Mór, from which point a roughish tramp of about four miles
leads down the glen to the Torridon road at the starting-point.
For this expedition an early start, and a fair amount
of "condition," is required; for though the actual distance from road to
road does not exceed eighteen miles, the amount of climbing, and the very
rough nature of most of the ground traversed, make it a harder day's work
than is likely to commend itself to 'any one but a very energetic
These notes will, I hope, give some idea of the very
interesting field for rock-climbing which exists in this comparatively
little known region. The best time, I would repeat, for this ground, are the
months of April and May. Later in the summer King Deer reigns supreme; and
even if the vigilance of the keepers is evaded, the clouds, which in July
often cover the tops for days together, will prove an obstacle, less
substantial indeed, but with a marvellous persistency of opposition not
lightly to be disregarded, when a few feet of rock, with
precipices—possible, if not actual—yawning on either side, is all the
visible world to the adventurous climber.