We clambered over quartz blocks that had us on the edge of the void

Hillwalking with Frank Brooks
Hillwalking with Frank Brooks

Not that many weeks ago Matt and I had explored the varied ins and outs of Liathach; now we were back in Torridon, this time to have a look at Liathach’s neighbour, Benin Eighe.

Over the years Matt has visited many of the Scottish Highland’s best mountain areas with me, but, as he told me on our drive back here, Torridon is the area he loves the best; I tend to agree with him on that score.

In fact is was Benin Eighe that had originally grabbed his attention on our first visit. As this vast string of pink quartzite mountains unrolled itself from near the village of Kinlochewe, Matthew had seemed so taken by the sheer beauty of ‘the file hill’, that I thought I might have to forego the delights of Liathach for the sake of those lofty pink ridges.

When we climbed Liathach that hill had only shed its mantle of cloying cloud late in the afternoon, almost when it was time to leave, in fact. As we booted up in readiness for Benin Eighe, it seemed the weather conditions would repeat themselves; dreich seemed to be the order of the week for Torridon!

Although the entire mini range offers many delights along its more than three miles (including seven peaks above 3,000 feet), the mountain’s crowning beauty lies hidden at its back; surely The Triple Buttress, subject of many a picture postcard, must take the honours on that score.

And so, in hopes of better weather come afternoon, I decided to leave this spectacular feature to the end. As with Liathach, the path that takes the walker upwards is a good one. By a lonely clump of trees a stone’s throw from the road, there’s a little cairn; the path begins its skyward meanders from here.

Although the path keeps company with a boisterous little allt, the ascent is nowhere as brutal as that of Liathach’s southern slopes; height is gained at a somewhat more relaxed pace.

The route is every bit as bonny however. At one point the allt squeezes itself through a tight little trench, only marginally more than a trickle despite the recent rain, falling down a dank green vegetation covered wall.

We barely noticed the cloud come creeping down to meet us; before we knew it we were in another white world. Higher up the pink tinted scree and, here and there craggier ground, seemed to melt into the eerie white blanket we’d walked into.

As the higher corrie elbowed itself into a more westerly direction, so we searched for more stable scree away from the badly worn trail; even so we sometimes found ourselves taking one shifting step upwards for another two slippery steps back.

At last we reached the narrow ridge. All we had for guidance now was the worn and gritty path that wove its way through little rocky outcrops. We followed this lunar-like debris to the top of Spidean Coire nan, there to stand drinking tea in an eerie world of swirling fog. This would have been a good spot for lunch but it was too early, we’d barely been walking for two hours. So I led Matt on over easier ground to the foot of invisible Sgurr Ban. The northern face of this Top drops almost sheer to the depths on that side.

To reach the summit we had to clamber up and over big quartz blocks that often had us teetering on the edge of the void; never quite a scramble though with not a few awkward little situations, we thanked the cloud for hiding the void just inches from our feet.

Then it was back to Spidean’s still viewless trigpoint! Now we ate our lunch. For which we had company, though not of the human kind... Cheekily flitting about among the rocks at our feet a beautiful snow bunting had ‘come a calling.’ He was after crumbs and we obliged.

Not one of our most common visitors, I’ve seen them in flocks on Lochnagar and elsewhere in the Cairngorms. Otherwise, as with this little chap in his black and white livery, I’ve seen them mostly solo in such places as the corries and summit of Ben Nevis. This little guy seemed used to being pampered

We retraced our steps westwards. And westwards still as the ground beneath our feet changed. Respite from the boulders came in the shape of granite slabs and easier walking. A minor summit, this one dressed again in stones, came and went and then, still viewless, we were on the broader, grassier slopes of A’ Choinneach Mhor.

It was hard to credit that just a few dozen metres away, dropping sheer into its stupendous corrie, lurked The Triple Buttress. And still the fog was as thick as your old ma’s famous soup of pea and ham.

A steep and stony drop into the next bealach of the day, followed by an equally rough ascent, led us onto the outlying Munro and highest summit in the range, Ruahd Stac Mor. For awhile, though never steep, the going was indeed rough. At intervals red lichen painted boulders gave way to grassier ground, only to dump us on stonier terrain again for the final short pull onto the scree strewn summit.

Ruadh Stac Mor is a superb viewpoint, particularly over the northern lands of Flowerdale, where big and character blessed hills climb from the vast emptiness, a real land of ‘mountain and flood’. Alas today the views were non existent, Benin Eighe remained intractable, beautiful and atmospheric, almost eerie sense, yet totally wrapped up in her own sullen mood!

“There is still hope for the Triple Buttress,” was all I could offer Matthew, although to be fair he’d thoroughly enjoyed his romp along the ridges of this beautiful pink mountain.

We back tracked in search of a dirty little scree gully that would give us access to the corrie floor. I say, ‘scree gully’, for so it was before the days of a myriad cleated boots of guys like us. Now, badly eroded and in some steeper places, bared to the bedrock, this quick descent route demands some care.

And so, sticking closely to the gully’s right hand side, making oft use of the rock to hand, we gingerly negotiated the treacherous staircase. The ever present mist helped little, wetting everything and making all doubly slippery. Through small crags and big boulders further down, we followed the improving path, at last to the edge of Lochan Choire Mhic Fhearchair, a beautiful and peaceful spot when the sun is shining. We saw nothing of the Triple Buttress save its toes; everything around us looked ghostly!

We traced the path around the lochan’s eastern fringes to a wonderful point (even in the mist), where its out-flowing stream cascades down a wall of rock to begin its own journey into the wilderness. We sat here for an hour, hopeful that the mist might finally relent. It never did!

Left for us now was the long walk out around Sail Mhor, Benin Eighe’s ‘big heel’. For a while our path stayed high above the wetlands that rolled away north. All we saw were the pink sandstone wastes, their monotony relieved by random black lochans and water courses. The hills of Flowerdale were in there somewhere but all we saw of them were their gnarly torsos; every mountain today hid themselves in a snooty air of privacy amid a cloud base that never did lift more than a few hundred feet or so.