Walk of the Week: Bein Eighe

Towering above the Kinlochewe/Torridon road, the four-mile-long west/east ridge of Beinn Eighe has as its central point 993m/3258ft Spidean Coire nan Clach.

Ronald G. Burn, the second Munroist, proposed Spidean’s promotion to Munro status in 1920. With a rise of almost 170m and a distance of two miles from Ruadh-stac Mor, it is extraordinary that promotion took another 77 years.

On either side are two subsidiary Tops. To the west lie the contrasting pair, Sail Mhor, involving a measure of scrambling, and the mossy Coinneach Mhor. From the latter a series of jagged peaks of shattered quartz, almost destitute of vegetation, lead to Spidean then eastwards over Sgurr Ban and Sgurr nan Fhir Duibhe (SNFD). The best-known view, from Loch Clair, shows the ridge to full advantage. The complete traverse is one of those must-do outings. My first visit in 1982 was also memorable in meeting Geraldine. I wanted the day to go on forever.

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Despite the initial steep ascent then scramble, only to be considered on a dry cloudless day, the hardest part may well be in navigating from one map to another; maps 19 and 25 are required. A self-print map solves the problem.

The route

From the large car park (map ref 958569) on the north side of the A896, west of the Allt a’ Choire Dhuibh Mhoir, follow the well-made path into Coire Dubh Mor. At the large cairn marking a junction of paths, turn right as if heading for Coire Mhic Fhearchair. The path gradually curves beneath the mass of Sail Mhor, but after a short distance, and by now at over 400m, leave the path at map ref 932599 and head steeply north-east; a strenuous direct approach to the dip between Sail Mhor and Coinneach Mhor. It is then an easy ascent to Sail Mhor, the outlying hill, at one time suggested for promotion.

Return to the dip. Note the cairned path descent into Coire Mhic Fhearchair if the cloud comes in or if the scramble does not look appealing. The scrambling section may appear off-putting at first, however, the blocks, some cairned, present few difficulties and a developing path then leads to Coinneach Mhor.

The mossy plateau gives an easy stroll eastwards, bypassing the northern ridge leading to Ruadh-stac Mor. Once clear of the mossy area the rough terrain is not conducive to fast walking. On my well-nigh perfect day, there were a lot of folk about, including Duncan Maclean, first met last year on Kindrogan Hill.

The path eventually zigzags to reach a trig point, implying a certain authority. However, continue 200 yards north-east traversing quartzite boulders to the actual high point. Earlier Tables and maps gave the height as 972m, ie the position of the trig point, with no mention of the 21m still to climb.

From Spidean it is an easy though rough and slow traverse to Sgurr Ban, then to the dip before SNFD. With Spidean only slightly to the south, the last three Tops have identical northings in their grid references… albeit along the way there are a number of minor variations from the easterly direction. Climb SNFD then return to the dip from where a good scree run gives a quick southern descent. Stout boots recommended. From the bottom of the scree slant south-west with a slight climb to reach the superb stalkers’ path from Coire an Laoigh and so to the road…and a pre-placed bicycle?

Maps

Ordnance Survey maps 19, Gairloch & Ullapool, and 25, Glen Carron & Glen Affric

Distance

8 miles

Height 1

400m

Terrain

Corrie path, then steep ascent to mostly rough ridge

Start point

Car park north side A896, map ref 958569

Time

7 to 9 hours

Nearest villages

Kinlochewe and Torridon

Recommended refreshment spot

Kinlochewe Hotel