Sunday, 6 August 2017

Slioch

Slioch across Loch Maree
Saturday, 5 August 2017

Ascent:           1197 metres
Distance:        19 kilometres
Time:              6 hours 58 minutes 

Slioch                         981m    3hrs 33mins    
Sgurr an Tuil Bhain    934m    4hrs 20mins

The first time I saw Slioch on a family holiday to Scotland it imbued a sense of fear and awe. It rises like a massive castle above Loch Maree. Its steep rock girt summit looked impossible to breach and most of the time its head was in the clouds. We were on the old Beinn Eighe nature reserve campsite opposite Slioch, our heads were wrapped in damp towels to reduce the mauling from the midges. Dad was chain smoking Capstan so he could cook a meal on the primus stove without having to swat the insects. A tin of Hunter's pork sausages and beans was a treat for the family after several days of small trout that he had caught, gutted and served as the main course. Over 50 years later Slioch still instils a sense of awe as you drive along Loch Maree but today it was just another mountain as I near the end of another Munro round.

John and I left the rented cottage in Gairloch before 8am and drove to the usual starting point for Slioch at Incheril by Kinlochewe. There were several cars parked, presumably overnight wilderness campers as it was only 8:15am. A week of rain meant that we had to slog along the 5-kilometre path that follows the Kinlochewe river and then the shore of Loch Maree. We had not anticipated just how wet it would be, there were five or six burns to wade across, the birch trees shed water from recent rain as we passed below and the head high rain bent bracken brushed more water onto our clothes. It took over an hour to reach the bridge at the foot of Glean Bianasdail. From here a path cuts through the heathery slopes, steepening as you climb higher until reaching Coire na Sleaghaich at 500 metres.

We were caught in a couple of sharp showers requiring stops for waterproofs to be put on and taken off. In the Corrie I happened upon a family of feral goats, there were five kid goats accompanied by their mothers. Instead of insolently standing their ground they scuppered away to protect the kids. At the head of the corrie, the boggy path reaches a steep stony path that doubles back and leads to the two lochans that sit below the summit. The good visibility of the early morning had given way to cloud and, for the first time since April, it was necessary to search the rucksack for gloves as well as a jacket. We had a drink break before climbing the final 250 metres up the red sandstone scree slope on a path that zigzags at a steady incline to the summit.

There are two summits about 300 metres apart. The first one has the remnants of a trig point and was the original summit but the second cairn is now the official summit although my altimeter had the first one a metre higher. It didn't really matter as we were making a full circuit of the impressive ridge. We had some food and waited a while to see if the cloud would lift before eventually deciding to continue round to the outlying top, Sgurr an Tuil Bhain. The views from here into Fisherfield can be exhilarating but today there were only occasional glimpses into the menacing mountains on the other side of Lochan Fada.

From this top, we began a direct descent down to the corrie and found a distinct path. I cannot recall the path on previous visits, but it was well trodden complete with route finding cairns that John delighted in demolishing. I stopped to text Aileen that we were running slightly late, we had said we would be down just after 2pm. John was now ahead so I was able to rebuild some of the cairns as I recalled how much more difficult it had been to descend to the corrie in cloud during a previous visit. At the foot of the slope, I headed for the large boulder where I was confronted by two large billy goats. They gave no quarter so I edged around them to cross the burn and find the path leading out of the corrie.

The descent down the waterlogged braided path was just as tricky as the ascent and it took almost an hour to reach the bridge. A family with two youngish children were making the ascent, the young girl of about seven told me she loved climbing. I hoped that the experience of the next five or six hours would not destroy this passion. The path along the lochside and river had dried since the morning but it was after 3pm before we reached the car park where my lift home was waiting. John was returning to Gairloch for another week with his family. I was relieved to give my feet a rest, they had been in wet shoes for all but 3 hours out of the 27 hours that I had spent walking on the hills this week.

Path along the Kinlochewe River towards Loch Maree
Burn above the bridge in full spate
Coire na Sleaghaich plus feral goats
Kids at play
Ridge to Sgurr an Tuil Bhain
Loch Maree from summit
Slioch double summit from Sgurr an Tuil Bhain
Loch Garbhaig
The path to the lochans from the ridge

Two billy goats giving me the eye

Kinlochewe cemetery and Beinn Eighe at the end of the walk.

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