Petestack Blog

15 September 2014

Northern Pinnacles

Filed under: Climbing,Running — admin @ 10:25 pm

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…

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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.

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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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