Fragrance articles

UKC Items – Classic Scramble

JOrridon’s two best-known ridge crossings may deserve their reputation, but in this patch of forest there is of course much more for the scrambler than Liathach and Beinn Alligin alone. With so many rocks popping up everywhere, from the stepped sandstone and pale gray quartzite of the hills to acres of gneiss on the coast, there is almost too much to choose from. A combination of routes on the wilder north side of the Beinn Eighe massif takes a few hits. I had in mind a one-day affair, put aside in sunny weather.


Ruadh-stac Beag from the Fantasy Slabs at the start of Spidean North Ridge

©Dan Bailey

He needs respect, but you won’t find a better hustle

From the Beinn Eighe Visitor Center in Kinlochewe it is an obvious turn, passing the outlying Corbett of Ruadh-stac Beag and the east of the two Munro peaks of Beinn Eighe, Spidean Coire nan Clach, before to close the loop with the main ridge draped in scree. back east.

The most logical line happens to include three well-researched scrambles – in descending order of difficulty, and arguably quality: the long, thrilling slab of the Long Walk (Level 3); Spidean’s underrated North Ridge (Level 2); and the broken and airy pinnacles of the Black Carls (grade 1).

Under the spring sunshine, North West Scotland really is the best place in the world, and if you catch it on a calm midweek, you can also pretend you’re the only person on the planet. Feeling smug, though a little baked in unfamiliar heat, I followed the nature reserve path through pine-scented woods over open ground, with a view of Slioch and no one to share with. An occasional morning like this makes up for all the dreich.

Long Stroll Slab hits the ground just to the right of that obvious corner © Dan Bailey
Long Stroll Slab takes the ground just to the right of that obvious corner

©Dan Bailey

Starting off atypically easy for Wester Ross, the track began to run out of steam over the wide, loch-hollowed pass between Beinn Eighe and Meall a’ Ghiubhais; but now the first landmark was evident before us – the Long Stroll slab, a quartzite-encrusted wedge nestled into the rugged northeast flank of Ruadh-stac Beag. A bit of land with no path, and I was on the scree at his feet.

From below, you realize it is both quite tall, 100 yards or so, and vaguely forbidden, its smooth sweep cut off about halfway by a fierce-looking overlap. A VDiff climb goes straight up the middle somewhere, while the level 3 run wisely weaves its way around to spot slab weaknesses. Exposed and unmissable, it’s definitely not a beginner’s scramble, and without finding a careful route, it could put you in a scary place. With that in mind and aware of my isolation, alone on a hard-to-reach side of a hidden hill, I took it gently, padding and to the left to avoid the overlap before returning to the right into the slabs above this. From an exhilarating space, with an unthinkable drop below, Long Stroll Slab needs respect – but you won’t find a better scramble.

Above the main overlap on the airy, shiny Long Stroll slab © Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com
Above the main overlap on the airy and shiny Long Stroll slab

© Dan Bailey – UKHillwalking.com

Compared to the snail’s pace and clutter of rope climbing, one of the main appeals of scrambling – it applies to any solo climbing, but I personally draw a fairly low ceiling – is its speed and its freedom, and after some slightly precarious faff posing for my own camera, I soon found myself on easy ground leading up to the Ruadh-stac Beag plateau.

This freestanding peak is surrounded on all sides by broken boulders and scree, and even the only walker-friendly route on the southern spur takes in moving rubble. Too busy enjoying the view, I managed to miss the best line and make things unnecessarily unpleasant. Next, Spidean’s North Ridge. From the pass below, where the last winter snow patches were melting into crystalline Lochan Uaine, the rotting quartzite debris at the north foot of the ridge didn’t look much fun; but go around its sawn end and back up its eastern flank and you hit clean, solid rock.

Fisherfield Peaks from the Upper North Ridge © Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com
The Fisherfield Peaks from the Upper North Ridge

© Dan Bailey – UKHillwalking.com

Installed at a gentle angle, but steep enough to know, these superb slabs offer a range of options connecting corners and small overlaps, generally more airy towards the right edge of the cliff and simpler towards the left. Although there is a guide description, the best advice is to follow your nose. Above the slabs is the ridge proper, a rocky, almost flat walkway to the breezy peak of Spidean Coire nan Clach, Beinn Eighe’s second highest point.

Heading east, I followed the whitewashed spine of the range to the scree cone of Sgurr Ban, a bumpy but cheerful ridge walk with occasional practical moments. Now for the final scramble of the round, the Black Carls, or Bodaich Dubh, a row of small towers that crumble into scree skirts. Easier than slabs, they still need careful tread, with a sense of exposure and suspect rock instead of actual difficulty. I clawed my way through the teeth in a cool breeze, as the afternoon light and cloud shadows played on the landscape. At the signal, a large winged form passed quietly overhead, on its way to Fisherfield. Eagles, 1 other humans on the hill, 0 – my kind of score line for a day.

The Black Carls - easy but quite exciting © Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com
The Black Carls – easy but quite exciting

© Dan Bailey – UKHillwalking.com

The road

Grade: The full range of scramble levels from 1 to 3, on varying terrain from slabs to tight rock ridges. Long Stroll Slab can only be recommended for experienced scramblers or climbers, but could easily be missed (climb Ruadh-stac Beag via the South Spur instead).

Beginning end: Beinn Eighe Visitor Center Parking Lot, NH019630

Distance: 16.7km

Ascent: 1404m

Summits:

Ruadh-stac Beag

Beinn Eighe – Spidean Coire nan Clach

Beinn Eighe – Sgurr Ban

Beinn Eighe – Sgurr nan Fhir Duibhe

Plans: OS Landranger (1:50,000) 19 & 25 (the hill rests awkwardly on the seam between the two sheets); better off Harvey Mountain Map (1:40,000) Torridon & Fisherfield

Guide: Highland Scrambles North by Iain Thow (SMC)

UKC articles and gear reviews by Dan Bailey UKH


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