a winter walk on the red mountain

Mon, Nov 5, 2012

The old club were staying over at Invercroft by Achansheen but I wasn’t able to join them for the weekend but managed to meet up with Graeme at Achnashellach for a stravaig up Sgor Ruadh, the red mountain, an impressively steep Torridonian sandstone peak forming the west wall of Coire Lair, where you can see the sandstone and Cambrian Quartzite folded over each other in a sensuous geological embrace.

Beinn Liath Mhor from the path

I’d been up into Core Lair a little less than a month ago for Fuar Tholl and the first snows of the winter but by now the gloriously red rowan on the forest track was skeletal and leafless and the snow had come down to a dusting at 400m with the deeper stuff at 500m.

Beinn Liath Mhor from the path

The river crossing was fine at the wee island and we headed up the increasingly snowy track to the high bealach with Fuar Tholl and hunkered down out of the wind for a bite to eat next to one of the lochans at the top of the pass.

Sheltering at the bealach, Fuar Tholl behind

Once fed and watered, it took us ages to get past another wee pool as the views were so great and each step brought a new panorama, so the cameras kept coming out to the sound of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’!

An Ruadh-Stac and Maol Cheann-Dearg from Sgorr Ruadh

Maol Cheann-Dearg from Sgorr Ruadh

Sgurr Choinnich and Sgurr a'Chaorachain beyond the cliffs of Fuar Tholl from Sgorr Ruadh

Superb walking on soft new snow with the wind blowing it into wonderful white carpets with crystals sparkling in the sun.

Snow on Sgorr Ruadh

The ascent from the bealach was steep and iced up in places with the sandstone deceptively difficult where I had a bash at climbing. Very tempting from below only to discover the holds were sloping and the walls steeper than they looked. Good sport though! After that it was a lovely snow plod to the summit where the Torridonian giants exploded into view.

Beinn Alligin from Sgorr Ruadh

Liathach from Sgorr Ruadh

Beinn Alligin and Liathach from Sgorr Ruadh

while behind, the vertical buttresses dropped straight into Coire Lair. After many photos and lots of whooping and clapping of hands we settled down in the lee of the cairn, at the top of the steep slope that led out over the cliff edge and filled up against the bitter wind. Graeme’s thermometer registered -1C in the sun.

Looking over Academy Ridge of Sgorr Ruadh to Beinn Liath Mhor

Me on the summit of Sgorr Ruadh

Eventually it got too cold to hang around and with the temperature dropping and the wind rising we descended towards the bealach again. We’d had a plan along the lines of heading down the narrow north ridge and dropping down to the lochan in Coire Lair but the snow was soft and deep and wasn’t frozen enough to filter out the shifting scree and boulders underneath so we opted to go back the way we came, which was still an adventure with the ice on the steep slopes.

Descending the iced up lower slopes of Sgorr Ruadh

Fuar Tholl looked superb under the clearing skies as the sun began to sink into the Atlantic

Fuar Tholl from Sgorr Ruadh

and the light took on that wonderful colour you only get on cold clear winter nights. When the sun has finished for the day and the stars are waiting to come out. Add to that the shelter of the steep sandstone walls and you feel like you’re descending into a deeply frozen monastery.

Maol Cheann Dearg from the bealach

On the way down we chatted about extra solar planets of all things and especially the carbon rich one which in all probability means it’s made of diamond. It wasn’t long before my imagination took over, wondering what diamond mountains would be like. Seeing the sun set through them staining them blood red or standing on the summit and seeing the stars on the night side of the planet beneath your feet. Would they be too smooth to climb? Maybe we’ll know one day.

You can see all the pics here.

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