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Classic Scramble - A Beinn Eighe Link-up

© Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com

Torridon's two best known ridge traverses may deserve their reputations, but in this neck of the woods there is of course far more for the scrambler than Liathach and Beinn Alligin alone. With so much rock cropping up all over, from the tiered sandstone and the pale grey quartzite of the hills, to acres of gneiss on the coast, there's almost too much choice. A combination of routes on the wilder northern side of the Beinn Eighe massif takes some beating. I had a day-long link-up in mind, put by for sunny weather.

Ruadh-stac Beag from the fantastic slabs at the start of Spidean's North Ridge  © Dan Bailey
Ruadh-stac Beag from the fantastic slabs at the start of Spidean's North Ridge
© Dan Bailey

It needs respect, but you won't find a better scramble

From the Beinn Eighe visitor centre in Kinlochewe it's an obvious round, taking in the outlying Corbett of Ruadh-stac Beag and the eastern of Beinn Eighe's two Munro summits, Spidean Coire nan Clach, before closing the loop with the scree-draped main ridge heading back east.

The most logical line just happens to include three well-documented scrambles - in descending order of difficulty, and arguably quality: the remote and exciting Long Stroll Slab (grade 3); the underrated North Ridge of Spidean (grade 2); and the airy shattered pinnacles of the Black Carls (grade 1).

In spring sunshine northwest Scotland really is the best place in the world, and if you catch it on a quiet midweek you can pretend you're the only person on the planet, too. Feeling smug, if a little baked in unfamiliar warmth, I followed the nature reserve path up through pine-scented woods onto open ground, with a view over to Slioch and nobody to have to share it with. An occasional morning like this makes up for all the dreich ones.

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

Starting atypically easy for Wester Ross, the trail began to fizzle out on the wide lochan-pitted col between Beinn Eighe and Meall a' Ghiubhais; but by now the first landmark was obvious ahead - Long Stroll slab, an inset wedge of quartzite tucked into the rugged northeast flank of Ruadh-stac Beag. A bit of path-free ground, and I was up on the scree at its foot.

From below you realise it's both pretty big, 100 metres give or take, and vaguely forbidding, its smooth sweep cut at about mid height by a fierce looking overlap. A VDiff climb goes straight up the middle somewhere, while the grade 3 scramble weaves around judiciously to nose out the weaknesses on the slab. Exposed and inescapable, this is emphatically not a beginner's scramble, and without careful route finding it would be possible to put yourself somewhere scary. Bearing this in mind, and aware of my isolation, alone on a hard-to-get-at side of a hidden-away hill, I took it gently, padding up and left to outfox the overlap before moving back right into the slabs above it. Exhiliratingly spacious, with an unthinkable fall below, Long Stroll Slab needs respect - but you won't find a better scramble.

Above the main overlap on the airy and brilliant Long Stroll Slab  © Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com
Above the main overlap on the airy and brilliant Long Stroll Slab
© Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com

Compared to the snail's pace and clutter of roped climbing, one of the key attractions of scrambling - it applies to any solo climbing, but I personally draw quite a low grade ceiling - is its speed and freedom, and after some mildly precarious faff posing for my own camera I soon found myself on easy ground leading up to the plateau of Ruadh-stac Beag.

This stand-alone summit is ringed on all sides by broken crags and scree, and even the sole walker-friendly route on the southern spur treads mobile rubble. Too busy enjoying the view, I managed to miss the best line off, and made things unnecessarily unpleasant. Next up, Spidean's North Ridge. From the col below, where winter's last snow patches were melting into glass-clear Lochan Uaine, the rotting quartzite debris at the northern foot of the ridge didn't look much fun; but bypass its sawn-off end and cut back up onto its eastern flank and you hit clean, solid rock.

The Fisherfield peaks from the upper section of the North Ridge  © Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com
The Fisherfield peaks from the upper section of the North Ridge
© Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com

Set at a gentle go-anywhere angle, yet steep enough to know about it, these superb slabs offer a range of options linking corners and little overlaps, generally airier over towards the cliffy right edge and more straightforward to the left. While there's a guidebook description the best advice is to follow your nose. Above the slabs it's the ridge proper, a rocky gangway, almost pavement-flat, leading  to the airy top of Spidean Coire nan Clach, Beinn Eighe's second highest point.

Heading east, I followed the bleached spine of the range towards the scree cone of Sgurr Ban, a rubbly but joyous ridge walk with the occasional hands-on moment. Now for the round's final scramble, the Black Carls, or Bodaich Dubh, a row of little towers crumbling into skirts of scree. Easier than the slabs, they still need a careful tread, with a sense of exposure and suspect rock in lieu of actual difficulty. I picked my way through the teeth in a cool breeze, as afternoon light and cloud shadows played across the landscape. On cue, a large winged shape passed smoothly overhead, en route to Fisherfield. Eagles, 1 other humans on the hill, 0 - my kind of score line for a day out.

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

The Route

Grade: The full range of scrambling grades from 1 to 3, on varied ground from slabs to narrow rocky ridges. Long Stroll Slab can only be recommended to experienced scramblers or climbers, but could easily be missed out (climb Ruadh-stac Beag via the south spur instead). 

Start/finish: Beinn Eighe visitor centre car park, 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

Maps: OS Landranger (1:50,000) 19 & 25 (the hill sits awkwardly on the join between the two sheets); better is Harvey Mountain Map (1:40,000) Torridon & Fisherfield

Guidebook: Highland Scrambles North by Iain Thow (SMC)  

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Nice article and great photos!

23 May

Did much the same route about 10 years ago but managed to miss any good scrambling on Ruadh Stac-beag. The slabs and ridge on Spidean are superb.

https://www.ukclimbing.com/photos/dbpage.php?id=196189

Thanks Michael. Bit of a faff taking glorified selfies, but it occasionally works out ok

10 Jun

Thank you Dan, i had an excellent time repeating your route, more like this please!


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