Our blog - Coulin, 10-12 Mar'18

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Coulin and Slioch

10-12 March 2018
Three days winter hiking in Scotland's north-west Highlands up Slioch and the Coulin Munros.. Richard Kermode was leading....

Day 1

The weather forecast was for some strong winds on the summit as I met up with Steve, Jimmy and Peter at the arranged carpark along with George the friendly Stag who got up close and personal for a while. We decided to switch the walks around to make the best of the weather so headed down to Annat and began a lovely walk in towards Maol Chean-dearg.

It was good going as the path was dry and only became icier and snowy above 400m and even then not that much so we had a reasonable pace going and views of Maol Chean-dearg soaring above us all the way. The morning weather was actually pretty good and we had some great views of beinn Damph as we walked around the corner of Maol Chean-dearg to begin the wild approach to the high beallach that would give us our route up the southern ridge.

Through a dramatic winter scene, we could also see plumes of spindrift on the surrounding summits suggesting the winds were very strong up on the summits. Our route had been relatively sheltered until we climbed the frozen snow slopes to the beallach where we met the cold winds properly and were soon wrapped up in more layers behind a boulder for some lunch. As we broke cover and began the steeper climb the wind became more fierce and soon mobility was an issue forcing us to abandon our ascent and head back for some shelter.

Our walk back was a long one, especially since we had not managed to summit so when he rain and sleet came on it made for a rather frustrating finish to the first day.

Day 2

Our second day promised so much and we met up without George the stag this time and set off along the path past the Ling Mountaineering Hut enjoying the scenery as the clouds slowly shifted and began to lift.

It's a lovely wild walk in towards Sgurr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor from this direction along an old path that disappeared into the snow as we began to walk into Coire Grannda where the views towards Maol Chean-dearg and Sgurr Ruadh were majestic with the thin cloud swirling between them. As we climbed through the coire to the beallach it was breathtaking with some fresh snow overnight making our trail feel pioneering to say the least.

In summer, this is a steep and rocky place and with full winter conditions we were soon in crampons climbing out of the beallach to reach the ridge that would lead us to Sgurr Ruadh. The cloud was really coming and going as we made our way up the ridge and suddenly the temperature felt incredibly hot in the sunshine making the climb feel rather alpine.

There's a lovely shoulder before the final section of the summit ridge and as we arrived there the views were fantastic and the shear volume of snow on the final couple of steps up to the summit a real challenge. Our team performed brilliantly as we negotiated the airy finish to a buried summit shelter to bask in the hot sunshine before taking our time to return to the shoulder for some well deserved lunch in the glorious sunshine. It was out of this world and sunscreen, sunglasses were all out along with the cameras! As we packed up to descend to the beallach the cloud swept in again and made for a dramatic walk down in the slightly softer snow from the sunshine so care had to be taken with the balling up of the snow on our crampons.

The route from here to Beinn Liath Mhor involves traversing and contouring through some tricky and rocky ground that was blanketed in snow and ice. As we began to pick our route we met some delightfully photogenic Ptarmigan walking with us for a minute. The cloud had engulfed us once again at this point so we travelled cautiously around the slabs of sandstone and made our way to the foot of some extremely steep ground and our route was choked with snow and ice up through the sandstone tiers.

It was hard work as we made our way up the steepest section of the day and emerged into the hot sunshine once again for a very snowy walk up to the summit of Beinn Liath Mhor. The views were stunning though the cloud found us again as we reached the summit and the temperature dropped quickly so we made our way down to a slab of sandstone to enjoy some late afternoon tea. It's always a rugged and wild descent from here due to the number of crags and slabs you have to weave your way down though and we made relatively short work of it since so many were buried under the snow making for a soft and fun walk back to our path.

Once down on the path we were all elated after such a sensational day and enjoyed the setting sun on the walk out making it back to the cars just as darkness fell. A truly memorable day!

Day 3

Our last day was Slioch and we were joined by Alison in the morning with a very promising weather forecast that suggested views from the top should be expected in the early afternoon.

It was warmer than the previous days and we were all down to our base layers by the time we had walked in to the start of the climb, spotting deer and feral goats along the way. We were afforded some views of the outlying summits of Beinn Eighe and the sunshine looked fantastic out west towards Gairloch. It even started to look like Slioch might clear soon as well so we climbed enthusiastically up to find a good seat for morning coffee before heading around into Coire na Sleigaich and the snows of Slioch.

It was lovely soft snow as we approached the impressive clifflike that bars the route up and instead of picking the diagonal line of summer we chose an easier looking line up a gentle gully making a good trail that everyone else we saw today seemed to follow us up. The crampons were on for safety as the snow pack was a mixture of harder neve, soft fresh deposits and sugary thawing snow so it made footing much more secure as we made our way slowly up the steep summit slopes into the cloud.

It was very white and bright giving us hope it would clear eventually though we pushed on to reach the true summit before having a late lunch back at the trig point. We did get some fleeting views down through the cloud though it never really broken clear and we were now well wrapped up as the temperature was much colder on the top.

Back down the way we came and this time more diagonally through the back of cliffs into the coire and still the summits didn't clear so we enjoyed some afternoon tea back at the same seat we had used on the ascent with views of Loch Maree.

There were some tired legs in the group after three days and we descended slowly before the long walk back to the carpark making it there just as it started to get really dark. Another good winter day and really fun group too enjoying some mountains that really make for some challenging winter walking.

More photos by Richard are here on Flickr.

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