Wednesday 30 September 2015

On Ben More Coigach

Early morning at the camp on Ben More Coigach

On a visit to Ullapool in the Northern Highlands earlier in the year I looked at the great south wall of Ben More Coigach rising above Loch Broom and thought, not for the first time, I must go up there sometime. And in late September, spurred on by a good weather forecast, I did. Calling it a ‘hill’ doesn’t do justice to Ben More Coigach though. It’s not that high – the two highest summits being 738 and 705 metres – but it is massive, measuring some ten by eight kilometres and with ten tops. A quick up and down of the highest point would hardly do the hill justice.

Instead I decided to spend a night on the mountain, always the best way to gain a feel for a place. A late start had me climbing the steep, rough, craggy and boggy slopes of the easternmost top, Beinn Tarsuinn, at sunset. I haven’t adjusted to autumn nights yet. In my head it’s still light for several more hours than it is. After traversing the long summit ridge I descended to a col and a deer fence – a huge area including Beinn Tarsuinn and the neighbouring peak Beinn an Eoin has been fenced to allow forest regeneration by the Scottish Wildlife Trust which owns Ben More Coigach. 

The night was dark, the full moon merely a faint glow behind the clouds, and the terrain very rough, very wet and very slippery. Camping on the col seemed sensible so I cast around for a site that wasn’t too wet or too bumpy amongst the muddy pools, peat hags, slimy bogs and tussocks. The spot I eventually settled on was just passable. It would have to do. I was soon asleep, only to be woken by a gusty wind several times during the night.

Lazy photography
Dawn came with a soft light and a pink tinge on thinning clouds. The air felt chilly and the wind was whipping past my shelter. Reluctant to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag I took some photos out of the doorway. That was a limited exercise though and soon my desire to see the mountains and the sky in full overcame my laziness and desire to stay snug inside. Outside the sun was shining hazily through the clouds streaking the sky. The huge eastern cliffs of Ben More Coigach stretched out in a series of buttresses. 

It was chilly outside
Climbing the steep slopes that break the southern and eastern walls of the mountain I soon reached the summit plateau and a very different world. The rolling open slopes and feeling of space reminded me of hills far to the east and south – the Cairngorms, Ben Alder, Creag Meagaidh. I walked the easy grass and stone terrain to the highest top, which gives its name to the whole mountain. Or is it the other way round? The views were spectacular, stretching out over distant mountains and lochs and the sea. 

View south to An Teallach 

View north to Suilven
Across a wide gentle bowl rose Sgurr an Fhidhleir, the second highest top. Curving round the bowl I crossed its boggy heart then climbed up Sgurr an Fhidhleir, easy on this side but in fact the top of a massive prow of rock, the Nose of Sgurr an Fhidhleir, rising abruptly from Lochan Tuath.
Lochan Tuath and the Nose of Sgurr an Fhidhleir

Below Sgurr an Fhidhleir a steep, loose, dirt and stone gully with a faint path led down to boggy ground and then the sandy shores of Lochan Tuath from where I could look back to the Nose soaring high above. A boggy walk on a rough path led away from the mountain and back to my car. Down here the air was still and humid, which brought out the midges. Stopping for even a second meant being enveloped in hordes of them and I reached the car soaked in sweat. Trapped inside with the midges swarming round the windows I looked at the steep boggy slopes of Cul Beag, my planned next destination. They didn’t look appealing. Staying in the hot airless car didn’t appeal either, especially as some midges were in there with me. I looked at the map and Quinag caught my eye. Not too far to drive and with options for refreshment on the way. Opening the windows to blast out the midges and refresh the stale air I set off. Quinag it would be.

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