This post first appeared in my other blog, Endless Streams and Forests, in March 2009.
Beinn Eighe was one of the two “Munros” that Bob and I climbed on a trip to Scotland in early summer 1998. It was a beautiful mountain.
Beinn Eighe is located near Loch Torridon, on the northwest coast of Scotland across from the Isle of Skye. It lies in that part of the map that always sparks my imagination. Any place on the map that suggests vast empty northern spaces does that, for reasons I find hard to explain. It must be that the direction north in and of itself transfixes my imagination, the same way it transfixes the compass needle. I seem to be enthralled, whether we are talking about limitless forests of white spruce in Canada or the treeless horizon of the Scottish highlands.
At our latitude of 57 degrees in early July, light completely dominated over darkness. The light didn’t give up ownership of the sky until after 11:00 at night, and it reclaimed it before 4:00 in the morning. We stayed at a small B & B on a bare, stony hill overlooking the loch. No need to get an early start for our 11-mile, 3000′ vertical outing, so we had a comfortable breakfast before driving up the road through Glen Torridon. We passed the stark mass of Liathach with its razor’s-edge ridge of crumbling sandstone and then started our hike alongside a rushing stream.
Fog swaddled the mountaintops, but down in the rough moor where we walked, we were bathed in warm sunlight. The valley seemed alive with running streams. We circled around the western end of the wide Beinn Eighe massif and then curled back southward to climb into a high tucked-away ravine, called in Scotland a corrie. The name of this one is Coire Mhic Fhearchair. At the center of the corrie resided a beautiful loch of cold, clear water, deep green in color when you looked at it up close, shifting magically to luminous blue when you moved further away. Bob tried fishing for a few minutes, but the fish were not cooperating.
We continued toward the southeast corner of the corrie, following a rough herd path between pools and waterfalls toward a steep scree slope, then climbed up the scree into a deep couloir. The rocks to the side of the gravel chute made for good scrambling up to the top of a broad ridge.
The high mists were just starting to drift away when we saw a red deer standing on the ridge. It seemed to me like something in a dream, an apparition. We watched for a moment as the deer disappeared over the far side of the ridge. We climbed over easy open tundra a half mile to the summit. The point we reached is called Ruadh-stac-Mor (3100′), the highest of Beinn Eighe’s subpeaks. The view was the kind that demonstrates the uselessness of those threadbare superlatives like “breathtaking,” “stunning,” “spectacular.” Bob made a good stab at it in his hiking journal: “The horizon was defined by endless waves of high mountains over mists.”
The craggiest of the Torridon peaks stood to our west, but oddly enough I found the rolling open spaces directly to the north to be even more fascinating. It struck me that nowhere in that vastness did I see any roads, houses, telephone poles, or even any fences. I felt the strange pang that comes in the face of the limitless.
Another hiker joined us on the summit, telling us he’d spotted two deer and a ptarmigan on the ridge. We rested for a long time before we made our way back through the distinct stages of the journey—ridge, couloir, scree, corrie, loch, moor—that seemed like chapters in an engrossing book.