Scottish Winter Mountaineering Eating Meet – Torridon 5-12th March

After an absence of two years would Scotland be ready for the CMC onslaught? was the question on minds as members wend their long ways north to far flung Torridon. Would anyone be recognised even behind the masks – still in regular use in public places. Well the weather took up where it had left off 2 years ago in Braemar – bright and sunny and although the snow level and amount was notably leaner than it had been on the tops near Braemar there was still every chance of getting a decent winter route in or so – more of which later.
Some preceded the main party by a day – Jon & Rich, Malcolm & Judy. With the 24 hrs extra gained they ascended and traversed Beinn Dearg – a magnificent Corbett hidden behind Liathach, just shy of the magic 914m mark but providing every entertainment you could struggle to find on many higher peaks. It didn’t quite take the wind out of their sails for the rest of the week (and there was plenty of wind to come to top up reserves as the week progressed) but it certainly afforded respect. Meanwhile other meet attendees were rocking up in car loads at Torridon SYHA – our base for the week – to the habitual Highland welcome. We last visited here in 2017, and our hosts then – Matt & Emily – had made us feel at home with home baked cakes available after a hard day on the hill. Our previous visit in 2013 was also well hosted. This time we were arriving just in time to witness the changing of the guard as the wardenship was being handed over to Tom & Debbie who were equally welcoming. Matt had taken up the role of the local postie but was staying in the area with his wife. We can but wish them the best for the future. Sunday was therefore the first day out for most and there was a keenness to get out whilst the weather held fair. The Torridon big 3 are the natural draws and one party headed off for Beinn Eighe, and another for Liathach. Beinn Alligein was to receive attention later in the week. The Beinn Eighe team walked into the impressive Coire Mhic Fhearchair where they split into 2 groups:- Andy L and Tim went towards the summit – Ruadh-Stac Mor – and to ‘bag’ other tops; Nobby, Nev and the Leicester Tigers (John, Jack & Harry) headed around to ascend Morrison’s Gully. For Jack, Morrison’s was a first winter route and the first time crampons were worn in anger. Just to add a bit more spice there’s a nicely exposed Grade 2 rock scramble at the top to finally summit out on Sail Mhor. To complete Jack’s initiation it seemed only right to throw in a slippery grade 3 scree descent; the only feasible descent line in Beinn Eighe’s expansive southern wall ramparts in the daylight hours remaining. Even after all that they still beat Andy & Tim back to the cars. The Liathach party comprised Phil, Andy H, Kev, Colin, Mesh, Dave, and Martin. They walked into the back of Liathach up into Coire Dubh Beag from where they ascended the route Way Up. Like Jack – for Andy, this was a first winter route. They then summited Liathach to take the descent path on the southern side. With mountain teeth suitably cut the rest of the week was defined by various forays to peaks and routes determined by personal choice and weather. Beinn Alligein was tackled via its horns – with varying success, Beinn Damh was a popular choice as also was Meall a Ghlubhais – a Corbett overlooking Loch Maree opposite Slioch. So many went to Morrisons that the Tesco share price dipped. Applecross tended to be the windy weather option with an optional short excursion to Sgurr a Chaorachain along the way, before checking if there were still fish in the sea for a fish supper at the Applecross Inn (best in Scotland of course). Fionn Bheinn, the solitary Munro near Achnasheen also featured as did a picturesque coastal walk near Diabaig and cycling around upper Loch Torridon – with or without electricity (probably wind turbine generated in this case!). Key highlight of the week was the ascent of Poacher’s Fall on Liathach by Colin and Andy H. This 3 star grade V 5 gem was Andy’s second winter route (what options have you when the 3s and 4s aren’t in good nick after all?). According to UK Climbing one of the best grade Vs in Scotland and makes Point 5 look rubbish (!). Colin had a small army of ice screws but managed to place them all to give Andy the necessary practice of removing them and just relied on his ice axes to belay. Not a route to rush they got back down to the road after a 10 ½ hour outing. In the spirit of the club there was a taxi waiting for them – driver John watching their bobbing head torch lights gradually descend from Liathach’s highs. Having worn off the aches and pains by Friday Andy then took a solo outing over Beinns Alligein and Dearg for good measure and to help embellish his Mountain Leadership diary. Is there no stopping this man? With the absence of the normal CMC culinary and cooking experts a team meal out was taken at the (not so) nearby Loch Torridon Hotel. Scottish Highland hostelries can be the bizarre mix of the basic and the exclusive and it was clear that the overall ‘pitch’ here was appreciably more classy (?) than the common or garden CMC expectation. The food was good but quality isn’t everything, especially where a pork belly is concerned. As meet leader Rich felt he had to instruct the chef personally in this regard – luckily he was able to demonstrate to him the kind of quantity required, as he always carries an example with him just in case. John marked his return to Torridon with a repeat habitual tumble – last time on Beinn Dearg ridge, this time crossing a wee burn near Diabaig. In both cases resulting in bruised ribs. For a moment there were thoughts of a Bob Elmes Silver Crutch challenge (Bogtrot 2021 report q.v.) but these were quickly dispelled by his walking off unaided (while hiding the grimacing). Wildlife encounters included the tame deer at Coire Mhic Fhearchair car park (and a good few others elsewhere besides), ptarmigan, some eagle sightings and peacefully watching the red frogs hop across the car park at the front of the hostel. So, a good time had by all (well no one’s complained!) and great to be back into the swing of a SWM after missing out in 2021. Looking like Glen Nevis for next year – TBC.