Took a trip to the Glen Feshie Munros on a so-so forecast today with them being the nearest I’d not done (had Carn Ban Mor from ML Assessment years ago, but the rest were ‘new’). And what a strange day it was, with a misjudged start (hindsight saying just take the road and track to the north of my lousy experimental line!) followed by much gently undulating traversing like wandering around in cloudy fields with a high-altitude bulldozer (marked by the flag on the map) providing the most interesting view, but a good finish when I got a hitch up the last wee bit of road after 23 miles on foot. Made a lengthy detour to pick up the insignificant nubble of Tom Dubh (memorably described by Irvine Butterfield as ‘the most meaningless 3000ft ‘top’ in all Britain’!), but Leth-chreag to the south will keep till I go back for my final Cairngorm Munros of Monadh Mor (to which it belongs) and Beinn Bhrotain.
Just 26 Munros, 12 Tops and 7 Deletions left to go out of c.600 peaks that have been in Munro’s Tables, with only 4, 1 and 2 of these respectively south of the Great Glen, so it’s really starting to feel like ‘endgame’ now :-)
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Meall Dearg and the Northern Pinnacles of Liathach have been calling me ever since I first set eyes on them on a conventional east-west traverse of Liathach 29 years ago. But now I really needed Meall Dearg with the Munro/Top quest not complete without this ‘most difficult top’ (to quote Irvine Butterfield’s somewhat debatable description), so thought I’d go take a look yesterday…
It’s a compelling line, sensibly described by Iain Thow in Highland Scrambles North as ‘a serious and exposed route’ and meriting a climbing grade (Moderate) rather than scrambling equivalent. Iain’s ‘direct’ route starts near the foot of an impressive, but grotty-looking, buttress (extreme right of first photo) rising to the east of Loch Coire na Caime, and here I found his description a little vague in approaching from the Coire Mhic Nobuil/Beinn Eighe path, but think I found the right ‘left-slanting weakness’, which he does warn you is ‘harder than it looks’ and I can only describe to non-connoisseurs of mixed grass, heather, earth and rock as both truly vile and a wee bit scary. But things improve rapidly as the buttress becomes a fine ridge leading to Meall Dearg, though I’d already given myself quite a handicap in getting there by pulling a large block (say 20 x 16 x 5 inches) I shouldn’t have touched off a ledge not far above the vile weakness (note that this route is serious as much for loose/shattered rock at all levels as its significant exposure) and somehow mashed my fingers deflecting it over my shoulder instead of into my chest! And then you have the stunning summit of Meall Dearg, with scant room for the tiniest of cairns and looking quite sensationally steep in retrospect from above, followed by the Northern Pinnacles (which Iain describes very well) themselves with much borderline scrambling/climbing ground culminating in a couple of properly thought-provoking moves up the slab and wall that form the direct finish to the fourth pinnacle. Which now brings you easily to the summit of Mullach an Rathain, with a pleasant west-east traverse of the main ridge (where I’d rate the Fasarinen pinnacles in dry summer conditions as a little easier and certainly less continuously committing than the Aonach Eagach) to take you back to the logical start/finish point at the car park at the foot of the Beinn Eighe path. A superlative day out on the mountain described with at least partial justification by W.A. Poucher as ‘the mightiest and most imposing in all Britain’, with the Northern Pinnacles (being as technical and consequential as much of the Cuillin ridge) just the icing on the cake for those with the requisite experience.
So what of the mashed fingers? Well, they’d become a weeping ball of fire by this morning, with the third finger (which clearly took the brunt of it) now quite puffed up, still weeping, bruising on the other side and unable to bend, but not significantly more crooked/twisted than normal since they all starting getting arthritic a few years back. And, while it didn’t stop me finishing the traverse or driving home from Torridon, I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t hurt!
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Fair to say I got what I deserved when I’d neither been training ‘for’ it nor been well the preceding week, but afraid my 2013 Ben Race optimism’s now been followed by a new 2014 worst of 2:18:41 and placing outwith the top 200. Which, despite a pretty decent ascent once I’d finally escaped the usual ‘snakes’, was so obviously forged in a descent of such caution I’d have to concede that even 2:05 (let alone that pie-in-the-sky sub-2:00) remains beyond me unless I can learn to run down the thing properly in the next year or two. So there’s now over 11 minutes (rather than under 8) between my best and worst and, while some might argue that’s still ‘consistent’, I think perhaps the writing’s on the wall…
(With thanks to Noel Williams for the photos!)
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