Whopper a mouthful of a mountain

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Try this for a mouthful: Bidein a Choire Sheasgaigh, a whopper by name and certainly a whopper by nature.

Try: Beejan a horra hayskich (or as some like to say: ‘cheesecake’). Its next door neighbour, Lurg Mhor, is easier; try Looruk voar.

Sheasgaich is a beautiful mountain; the name too is no less fine being the peak of the corrie of the reeds or barren cattle. Lurg Mhor means long shank.

As I say, ‘whopper by nature too’. These two Munros are not easily gained from anywhere, you’re in for a very big day out, to reach them you have two climb over a Corbett that sits plump in the way!

And before you even reach the Corbett there’s the long walk from Craig, (2 1/2 miles east of Achnashellach, on the A890), where we left the car at a conveniently sited off road car park. But it’s nonetheless a pleasant walk, first through forestry and then through open moorland. The forestry track crosses first the railway and then the River Carron then gently rises in the shade of ubiquitous fir trees.

But soon enough we left the trees to emerge into a broad open glen. This lovely hidden glen is that of the meandering allt a’ Chonais; with the broken walls of Sgurr nan Ceannaichean, providing a fitting backdrop, walking here is delightful.

And walked we did. And walked and walked! As the track took its ever upward (though never steep), course around the fine rocky bastion of this fine mountain, so it bent itself into the east and on its way to Glenuaig Lodge, some miles distant yet. That was not the way for us. Having paused only long enough to erect our tent, we made for the small cairn that was our signal to forsake the track for the stalker’s path which led us to the river.

Two strands of fence wire stretched across the water hardly constituted a bridge, yet this was it; that or a risky wade across. The ‘bridge’ is an hilarious prankster! With our backpacks weighting us like sacks of potatoes it was all too easy to find oneself crossing in a less than vertical position. In horizontal mode we laughed our ways across.

In the shadow of Sgurr na Feartaig, to our right and that of big Sgurr Chonnich, to our left, we followed the burnside path pleasantly and easily up to the Bealach Bhearnais.

We climbed up to the grassy saddle between Chonnich and Beinn Tharsuinn. It’s this Beinn Tharsuinn, or, ‘tranverse hill’, that blocks the way to the Munros we were after; no choice was left us other than to ascend the brutally steep grassy slopes that barred our way.

It was worth it. The pleasant broad ridge that greeted us was no hardship. A feint path kept us in the right direction and with great views of blue Loch Monar, far below and our day’s chief summits now not too far away, (as the crow flies), we were soon scrambling off and on our way into yet another bealach, this one Bealach an Sgoltaidh.

It’s rough and bouldery down there but the path, for a while along an old wall built to channel deer into the bealach for the hunt, took us to the base of Bidein a’ Choire Sheasgaich’s daunting cliffs.

They looked impregnable yet always, as we reached a seeming impasse, the way up would suddenly became obvious. We scrambled up steep gullies and broken walls of rock; we found ourselves on airy ledges, even in a seriously dark little corner or two. Every dangerous looking turn we took quickly led us up to safer ground.

On easy ground at last we passed two sparkling lochans; there was much rock about up there but nothing barred our way. From miles around, this mountain’s summit, a beautiful pyramidal cone, is seen to rip the sky; it was a delight to traipse those final few hundred metres to the cairn that marks its apex.

And the views all around, if a little watery, were nonetheless grand especially to the north where the big southern Torridon Hills, dominated. Especially majestic was broad shouldered and red caped Maol Chean-dearg. Beyond peeped the summits of Beinn Eighe and Liathach, distant and hazy in the mid morning sunshine.

A craggy corrie rim separates ‘Cheesecake’ from its neighbour, Lurg Mhor; it’s a lovely easy walk down to the col and then up to the latter’s summit. All the while we had the tremendous corrie spread below us, Loch Monar, much enlarged now due to hydro flooding, an elegant blue ribbon stretching way into the east.

There are houses below the waters of the loch, homes once of the hardy shepherd folk and their families who worked on these hills and those other giants, Sgurr Chonnich and Maoil Lunddaidh, way across the corrie’s nether side.

Of the two, Sheasgaich, at 3100 feet, (945m), is the more graceful hill; Lurg Mhor, at 3234 feet, (986 m), is the highest. Yet Lurg Mhor has it’s own delights, as we discovered in the short but entertaining scramble over the slabs on the rocky ridge out east that led us to our final top, Meall Mor.

We should have continued a little farther east, down the gentle ridge a way, so to drop into the rough corrie, towards the western end of Loch Monar. From there a good path would have eased us all the way back up to the Bealaich Bhearnais.

But greedy us wanted to enjoy the little scramble in reverse. We did. Back over Lurg Mhor’s summit and down again we went, until we were able to drop off steeply into the corrie deep below.

It wasn’t the most pleasant ground to traverse. In places steep and wet, elsewhere boulder strewn and treacherous, we took our time. Burns were easily forded and even offered cooling water as we passed. And yet it seemed to take forever to cover those miles of trackless moor.

Eventually we arrived in the glen-like trough which separates this morning’s Beinn Tharsuinn from some other day’s Sgurr Chonnich and Sgurr na Conbhaire. With no path and the ground often steep we struggled on and up. It was with some relief that we finally climbed those last grassy feet onto the bealach.

With that blue ribbon of Loch Monar for our backdrop, its waters glinting in the afternoon sun, we removed our boots and socks and sat for an hour drinking the last of our tea and soaking up the atmosphere of what had been a magnificent day of trundling.

We had a couple of miles still to walk to our waiting tent and of course that playful wire bridge to cross. It didn’t take too long. Even so, by the time dinner was cooked and eaten and the dishes washed and put away, the sun was sinking low in the west. For a long half hour or so we sat and watched its rays painting the soaring wet rocks of Sgurr nan Ceannaichean’s west ridge, first gold and then the bloodiest of reds. We watched as the shadows crept ever upwards, dowsing the flames of the sun’s fire as they rose until, the mountain black as ink, stars began to form a silver diadem around its nigh invisible crown.

That night, lullabyed by the gurgling of the nearby river and the drumming of nearby snipe or two, we slept the sleep of babies.