• BEAUTIFUL BEINN a'BHEITHIR ISN'T JUST A MUNRO - IT'S A MARILYN MONROE

    Published 21st November 2013, 12:57

    IT’S easy to be seduced by the charms of Beinn a’ Bheithir. Driving across the bridge a few miles south of Fort William, the eyes are drawn to the huge twin-pronged mountain and the deep V of a plunging neckline separating the pair.

    Meanwhile the route from the east over Sgorr Bhan to the summit of Sgorr Dhearg takes the walker round one of the most magnificent arcs on any mountain, a huge sweeping ridge that in certain light conditions appears to split the view equally into day and night. 

    With sensational curves everywhere you look this is not just a Munro; this is a Marilyn Monroe.

    The complete traverse from east to west is best, but it does depend on having a car at either end to avoid having to hitch a lift back.

    Starting near the school in the village of Ballachulish, head south on a good track before trending south-west on to the rocky slopes Sgorr Bhan and follow the curving ridge round to Sgorr Dhearg.

    This is a magnificent viewpoint, looking over Loch Leven to Ben Nevis and the Mamores, with the Glencoe and Glen Etive hills also prominent. A steep drop down to the col and then you are heading up to the second Munro of the day, Sgorr Dhonuill. Again the views are superb, this time out over Loch Linnhe to the islands.

    Continue west along the ridge until you find a marker cairn, before dropping down a steep and loose scree run. This needs a bit of care.

    Once when coming down here on a wet and very windy day, we found that because of the wind blowing upwards we could run down at full pelt with the wind as a natural brake on our descent. It was only afterwards we paused to wonder what would have happened if it had suddenly dropped.

    Once down the scree, there’s a gentler route through the woods and the car park in Gleann a’ Chaolais. If you are going solo this is the better starting point.

    When I first climbed Beinn a’ Bheithir from this direction, the approach was along a series of switchback forestry tracks and you had to pay close attention to avoid missing the marker for the mountain path. This time I was pleasantly surprised to find that signs had been put in place to guide you along more aesthetically pleasing paths through the woods. 

    Eventually the meandering route joins the old path above the treeline and it’s a straightforward push up to the col. If you plan returning this way, then it’s a toss-up which peak you tackle first.

    If you intend doing the circuit, climb Sgorr Dhearg first and then retrace your steps to ascend Sgorr Dhonuill. I decided not to go to the col this time but instead went for a supposed short cut, straight up rough grass and rocky slopes to the summit of Sgorr Dhearg. I don’t think I saved any time and I wouldn’t recommend it.

    The descent is the same as the first route so the scree path is unavoidable. Normally it’s a combination of sliding, running and braking (think of skiing without poles) to get down the zigzags of continually moving rocks and earth.

    But the first signs of colder weather meant some of the terrain was frozen and it was a bit disconcerting to find the loose earth now moving in slabs. For once, solid ground didn’t seem the safer option.

    (First published Daily Record, October 24, 2013)