Quartzite capped summits – [# 207 – 208]

Beinn Liath Mhor (926m);  Sgorr Ruadh (962m)

  • Pronunciation:             Bine Leeya Voar; Skoor Roy-yer
  • Translation:                  Big Grey Mountain; Red Peak
  • Total distance:             18.1km
  • Total time:                    6hrs30mins
  • Total ascent:                 1475m
  • Weather:                       Lovely and bright all day. High-level clouds obscured the sun. Quite warm.
  • Start / end location:   Lay by on the A890 by the access road to Achnashellach railway station. [OS Map Sheet 25 – Grid Ref: NH 004 483]
  • Map:                              A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

The impressive cairn on the eastern top (876m) of Beinn Liath Mhor

We have headed a little further north from our campsite at Morvich to bag a few Munros on either side of Glen Carron over the next few days. Today, we decided to tackle Beinn Liath Mhor and Sgorr Ruadh just to the north west of Achnashellach.

It could almost be a scene from the Dolomites - ascending the track to the east of Fuar Tholl

Sgorr Ruadh on the left, with the long summit ridge of Beinn Liath Mhor on the right

The quartzite shattered cap of Beinn Liath Bheag from the eastern top of Beinn Liath Mhor

We parked the ‘van at a suitably large forestry car-park near the SW end of Glen Carron and continued in the car to a roadside lay-by just beside the tiny Achnashellach railway station (on the Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness line). A short walk from the road took us to the station where we used a pedestrian level-crossing to access the forestry tracks on the north side of the line.

Once across the line a gated forestry track led us off to the right. After only 100m we came to a four-way intersection. We took the track to our left that almost doubled back on the one that we’d just walked along. We followed this through the conifer plantation for about 600m to where a way-marker indicated a walkers’ path on the left, which again doubled back on our track. This change in direction did not accord with the map and so we continued along the forestry track until it petered out after another 300m. A faint muddy path took over from the track and wound its way through the trees until it reached the boundary of the plantation: here we were confronted by a high deer fence. However, a muddy path ran along the side of the fence for a few tens of metres and ended at a hole in the fence that was covered by a secondary section of fencing that could be rolled upward to create a gap for stepping through. From the other side of the fence a few steps took us onto an excellent path that climbed its way up the open hillside.

From the eastern top of Beinn Liath Mhor, the hill's summit is seen on the right about 2km away with Sgorr Ruadh on the left across the glen

[The OS map covering the start of this walk is quite confusing. It shows a separate path – starting near the station – running just a little to the south of the forestry track. However, this path doesn’t exist until after the first 600m of the conifer plantation has been completed via the track. The path, which I noted above and was indicated by a way-marker, is in fact the correct one and should be followed south from the track for 200m until it reaches a metal gate with a rather unusual circular opening. Once through this gate the path immediately turns WNW and follows the course of the River Lair and from here you are effectively on the outside of the high deer fence mentioned above. This path arcs round at the NW end of the plantation and forms the excellent path that passes the gap in the fence that we’d employed before climbing up the open hillside.]

Getting closer to the summit of Beinn Liath Mhor - Maol Chean-dearg can be seen on the left

The path climbed NNW to reach a huge broad col where a couple of major glens converge. A series of paths led off at staggered intervals from our path at this col: each starting point marked by a large cairn. We kept to the right at the first junction (cairn) and similarly 200m later at the second. Around 500m further on a third, smaller cairn, marked the point where we branched left and began the very steep climb up the SE nose of Beinn Liath Mhor. It turned out to be ferociously steep, despite the path zigzagging at every opportunity. A couple of women started the ascent a few hundred metres ahead of us and gave us something (someone) to focus on catching up with. About two-thirds of the way up we overtook them and pressed on as the gradient eased a little and we crossed the final boulder field before reaching the SSE top at 876m adorned with an impressively large and well constructed cairn.

Looking west along the quartzite shattered summit ridge of Beinn Liath Mhor

From this top the full extent of the “Big Grey Mountain” of Beinn Liath Mhor unfolded in front of us, with its summit still a full 2km away to our west. The speckled white and grey hue, which covered the whole ridge as well as capping many of the surrounding hills, was the result of a blanket of shattered quartzite: it actually resembled a light fall of snow – as can be seen in some of the photographs.

Our excellent high-level traverse undulated over a few subsidiary tops and provided us with a brilliant vantage point to view the deep corries of Sgorr Ruadh and Fuar Tholl to the south, and northwest to the main batch of Torridonian mountain giants.

View WSW to Sgorr Ruadh from Beinn Liath Mhor's summit ridge

View north to Lochan Uaine and Sgorr nan Lochan Uaine behind from Beinn Liath Mhor's summit ridge

After what felt like quite a walk we climbed up our final top at the eastern end of the massif to reach the summit cairn of Beinn Liath Mhor at 926m or 3,038ft. We stopped for some lunch and were caught up by the two women we’d overtaken earlier, who also used a stop at the summit to have something to eat.

We left them to finish their lunch as we dropped down the broad and boulder-covered west ridge. We quickly reached a flat plateau where just before a small craggy escarpment was reached an obvious path led south to the glen below. We didn’t use this path as a lot of height would have been lost and would have needed to be regained in order to continue to the next Munro summit. Instead, we skirted along the top of the craggy escarpment to approximately its midpoint where, although presenting a steep south face, a little path marked by a small cairn at the top, cleverly negotiated its way around all of the obstacles to arrive at a small (unnamed) lochan below a small conical hill. From the side of the lochan a faint path traversed round the south side of the little hill before dropping to a col below the northwest ridge of Sgorr Ruadh.

Elaine approaches the summit of Beinn Liath Mhor from the east

Cameron at the summit of Beinn Laith Mhor

We climbed from the col SW until we’d intersected the NW ridge, whereupon we turned left and climbed the broad and straightforward ridge via a couple of steep steps to reach the summit of Sgorr Ruadh at 962m or 3,156m. Once we’d soaked in the tremendous views we descended east over easy angled ground and then SE to drop more steeply until we reached the edge of Loch a’ Bhealaich Mhor. This small loch sat in a huge col that was also home to another dozen small lochans and pools. We arced around the north side of the loch before then making our way south, crossing the col in order to intersect an excellent path ENE back to the River Lair. In spate, which it wasn’t today, this river could be rather tricky to cross without getting your feet wet. Once we’d crossed the river via some handy stepping-stones we rejoined our earlier path by the first big cairn where we then descended to reach the edge of the conifer plantation. However, this time, we continued on the path as it skirted the outside of the deer-fence and began to follow the course of the River Lair back towards Achnashellach. We soon came to the circular metal gate, which brought us back onto the forestry track, which then saw us back to our car.

Despite their modest heights compared to many of their taller peers these two Munros still felt like giants – especially Beinn Liath Mhor. The scenic views from the summits towards Torridon and the deep corries of Fuar Tholl were spectacular, as too the quartzite scattered caps that lay like a dusting of snow on the summits.

The whole summit ridge of Beinn Liath Mhor from the col just west of Sgorr Ruadh

Elaine on the summit of Sgorr Ruadh with the quartzite summit of Beinn Liath Mhor in the background

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
This entry was posted in Mountain, Munros and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.