DRAMATIC seems too tame a word for a mountain as imposing as Slioch. Driving along the side of Loch Maree towards Gairloch you can’t help your eyes being drawn to this massive sandstone monolith forcing its way into the sky.
It dominates the area like a great castle, impregnable on three sides, ready to repel all who those who try to storm its battlements.
Even the name is dramatic. Slioch, from the Gaelic sleaghach, meaning Spear. You have to stand in awe of a mountain called The Spear. Makes a change from all the plain old colour-coded names like Carn Dearg and Meall Buidhe.
The walk in to the heart of the mountain is also stunning. A good path runs from Incheril through alternating swathes of deep ferns and gentle woodland and then down to the shores of Loch Maree before reaching a bridge at the foot of Gleann Bianasdail.
The path continues all the way to Poolewe, a total of 31 kilometres, through wonderful rugged terrain but if you are heading for Slioch it is here you say goodbye and change direction.
Another path branches off north-east then north between Meall Each and Sgurr Dubh and into Coire na Sleagaich where the ground levels off for a while giving a bit of respite to weary legs.
Ahead is what looks like a solid wall, but closer examination reveals a ramp cutting across its face from right to left taking you up to a wonderful picture viewpoint beside two little lochans. Here you can see the Torridon giants peeking up on the horizon while the lonely hills of the Flowerdale Forest try to steal into the picture.
One final pull up a steep, crumbling path and you are on the summit plateau. The first summit you come to has a trig point but the true peak, just a few feet higher, is across a small dip.
You are now aware of the ramparts of Slioch dropping steeply away beneath your feet while on your right are the peaks of the Great Wilderness and the promise of so many other great days out.
The views down to the waters of Lochan Fada and Fionn Loch aren’t bad either. And if you’re wondering why the mountain is called The Spear, it refers to its shape as seen from Lochan Fada.
This summit is one of those spots where you could sit for hours just soaking in your surroundings but a long walk in always means a long walk out so you shouldn’t linger too long.
The best way out is to continue along the ridge to the pointed Sgurr an Tuill Bhain, and then drop down easy slopes to the mouth of the corrie to pick up the incoming route. The walk out with the sun dropping behind the peaks over the water is equally beautiful but it still seems a lot further back than you remember.
It’s a big day out and, like the majority of mountains, a totally different proposition in winter conditions. Unless you are one of the super fit brigade, an early start is essential to complete the walk in daylight.
Coire na Sleagaich holds a lot of snow and the steep slopes from the lochan up to the summit may prove a problem. But once on the ridge it’s a beautiful high-level traverse for those experienced in snow walking and the views are sensational.
(First published Daily Record, March 6, 2014)