Footprints Across Scotland
Why not make a few of your own!
20th & 21st November 2010
A walk up through Coire nan Arr onto Sgurr a' Chaorachain in Applecross followed by a trip up Liathach in Torridon.
It had taken some time before venturing up any of the Applecross peaks but here I was making a second visit within a matter of a few weeks. Back in October I had enjoyed the many corries and tops that form the Beinn Bhan massif. This time I turned my attention to Beinn Bhan's sister hill, Sgurr a' Chaorachain. Sitting impressively on the shores of Loch Kishorn the mountains of Sgurr a’ Chaorachain and Beinn Bhan guard the southern gateway to the Applecross peninsula. The two are linked by a high bealach at the head of Coire nan Arr, this was the old pathway to Applecross in days gone by, more recently however a newer route over Bealach na Ba (pass of the cattle) has been established. At 630m this is one of the highest and steepest passes in the country and can provide a high starting point and easy access to the top of Sgurr a’ Chaorachain. However I wanted to explore a bit more of the hill than its upper ridges so my intended start point was down at the Russel near the entrance to Coire nan Arr. The small parking area near a bridge over the burn provided a fine view of the red sandstone cliffs lining the corrie and encouraged me along a boggy path up to the small dam holding in Loch Coire nan Arr.
Coire nan Arr with Na Ciochan center
The towering rocky pillar of Na Ciochan held my attention as I worked my way around the eastern side of the loch whose waters lay flat calm under rather grey skies. After crossing the main burn feeding the loch I had a short climb up grassy slopes to gain the entrance to Coire a’ Chaorachain. The raised corrie is surrounded by the high ridgeline of Sgurr a’ Chaorachain which extends to form a rocky horseshoe. The walls of the corrie sweep through 270 degrees before culminating in a number of pinnacles the most impressive, Na Ciochan, sitting at the far eastern end. I headed higher into the corrie in the direction of towering sandstone cliffs that form its headwall to the west to find a small lochan nestled above some sandstone slabs.
Coire a' Chaorachain
A large boulder split perfectly in three held my attention before I scanned the towering sandstone cliffs and steep corrie sides for suitable route upwards. A grassy rake in the north west corner provided a steady climb out of the corrie, the deer track providing plenty of foot holds during the seemingly vertical ascent. Further up I stepped out of the shade and into some pleasant sunshine gaining a stony ridge east of a radio mast. I continued further east along the ridge to engage the views of Beinn Bhan over Coire nan Arr.
Beinn Bhan across Coire nan Arr
Retracing my steps I then followed the arc of the cliff edge around Coire a’ Chaorachain to reach a fine narrowing ridge leading to the summit.
Sgurr a' Chaorachain
The ridge broadened again as I neared the top before turning east south east during my initial descent. Some bands of mist were straying across the tops and the low lying sun combined to allow the formation of a broken spectre. As the way steepened I followed the crest of the south east ridge, carefully negotiating the occasional band of crags before easier going dropped me back into the pass of the cattle.
Loch Kishorn from Sgurr a' Chaorachain
After a wash and change I headed north toward Shieldaig were I parked up for the night. Sunday morning was another grey but calm day, the cloud base seemed reasonably high although some of the hills were wearing misty bonnets. Liathach arguably the "big one" of Torridon's "big three", grey by name but gold by hillwalking standards sits bold and seemingly impregnable above Glen Torridon. However a couple breaches in the mountains defences do allow for fairly straight forward access to either end of the high pinnacle strewn ridgeline. There is barely time for a warm up as the path soon trends steeply up following Allt an Doire Ghairbh toward Toll a' Meitheach . The path is well constructed and is barely noticeable from the road side.
Neck muscles are strained as the head is tilted back to allow the eyes to wander over high sandstone terraces. While weighing up the only short section requiring use of hands I was greeted with the sight of an antlered head looking down. The stag probably amused by my relative immobility continued to chew away at his breakfast. Even as I emerged above the short rocky crevice just a few short meters below his stand point not a hoof was moved. The straight up and at 'em aspect of the route now became an easier rising traverse. Gaining the ridge line gives a wonderful overview of the wonders of the Torridon landscape, huge peaks rising abruptly from level moorland.
Beinn Eighe from Stuc a' Choire Dhuibh Bhig
The eastern top of Stuc a' Choire Dhuibh Bhig is worth a visit to gaze across at the elongated lines of Beinn Eighe. Walking back to the col gives a good impression of the precipitous nature of Liathach's upper slopes. The ridgline snakes westward before rising through a jumble of rocks to the summit of Spidean a' Choire Leith. Mist had by now shrouded the top and a bearing was required to connect with the continuation of the ridge. From here the way gets decidingly interesting as the Am Fasarinen pinnacles provide plenty of fine scrambling opportunities.
The best line as seems to be the case in such circumstances was along the crest with occasional difficulties requiring a short retreat and drop to the south. A combination of good weather and a good head for heights makes for an existing crossing. However in the event that one or both are not present a narrow path on the south side of the pinnacles allows for an easier passage, but still requires due care and attention in places.
Mullach an Rathain and pinnacles
After the excitment a more sedate climb up grassy slopes lead to the summit of Mullach an Rathain. Views from this airy ridgeline are superb throughout and my attention could now focus on them after successful negotiation of the pinnacles. On reaching the top it was time for a break to refuel and prepare for the steep descent while still taking in the impressive scenary.
Beinn Alligin & Beinn Dearg
The ground was a bit loose in the upper reaches of Toll Ban but soon firmed up developing into a good path for the majority of the route down. Back at the roadside I raised a thumb and was fortunate to quickly get a lift back along the road to my start point.
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