Beinn Damp

Well, that's what we always called it, thanks to the conditions prevailing the couple of times we'd made the summit. Persistent rain, more like a Scottish summer than the winter conditions we hoped for.

This time, though, conditions looked perfect for a winter ascent of this shapely mountain on the south side of the legendary Torridon glen.

Beinn Damh summit in winter

Damp no more - Beinn Damh in Winter

The views over the glorious Glen Torridon were sublime, the famous giants, Beinns Alligin, Liathach and Eighe were dominant, their higher slopes clad with glistening snow.

The way onward led us up towards the bealach between the northern and middle tops, but we decided to vary the route slightly by taking the broad ridge on the other side of the corrie of Toll Bhan direct to the middle summit at 868m. The lower slopes are often boggy here, though the path basically good, but today all the damper sections were frozen solid, making progress fast. Except, that is, for the odd moment when we found ourselves tottering over sheets of rock-hard ice before regaining the grassier ground. 

After crossing the burn leaving Toll Ban, hidden as it was beneath a thick white coat of crusted snow, we started our climb up Glac Bhuidhe. Here we found a perfect rock table, and used it as an excuse for elevenses with a view. Torridonian sandstone is a wonderful type of rock, there's something so tactile about it, and it is so distinctive, so sitting on it is always a pleasure. A cup of hot soup and a few snacks inside us, and it was time to start the main part of the climb. We skirted the corrie and aimed for the ridge on a diagonal, zig-zagging up the steep slopes. The ridge itself was broad, with those typical Torridonian ledges higher up, none of which gave us any difficulty as the ridge narrowed towards the first summit. 

This year's annual winter trip to the Scottish Highlands had finally come around. What made it even more exciting was that the forecast was pretty decent, for the first few days at least, there'd been plenty of snow a week or so before, and since then regular freeze/thaw cycles. That snow should, therefore, be nice and firm.

Staying at Gerry's Hostel as always, we were out a little later than planned thanks to an impromptu late night with a bunch of marine biologists. It was mid-morning by the time we'd pulled up near the Loch Torridon Hotel, and set off through the lovely Scots Pines which clad the lower slopes. Though the air temperatures were low, the sun was shining strongly, and by the time we came out onto the open hillsides we needed to lose a layer or two and have a drink. Its a rare thing to be sweating on a Scottish Hill when wearing just a base layer.

Liathach from the path to Beinn Damh

Above the steepest ledge, bypassed on the right, we came out onto the summit slopes. Ahead of us was a shining sheet of perfect névé snow, leading up to the top of this subsidiary summit. Time to get out the ironmongery, and soon we were stumbling about putting on crampons, always a moderately entertaining few minutes on the first day of a winter trip. 

Ice axes now in hand, we headed on upwards. The slope was of a modest enough angle, with just a short final  steepening to the cairn itself. As we came over the top, the views opened out in a breathtaking panorama that stopped us dead. In front of us lay the hills of the west, layer upon layer of snow-capped mountains, and behind them the sea, calm and still on this windless day.

Ahead, the ridge looked sublime. Taking care to avoid the corniced edge, we followed the broad white road ahead of us and over another top, stopping often to take in the amazing views. This was what its all about, that rare winter day where the sky is blue, the wind is but a faint breath, and the snow is firm and making those wonderful squeaking noises underneath your crampon points.

After a bealach the ridge narrowed, and the snowy line was only a few feet wide, though you could avoid it on the rocks to the right. The final climb started the calves burning a little, as usual having a camera gives me a great excuse for the odd breather.

We pulled over a final steepening and found ourselves on the summit. What a place this is. Just beyond the cairn the cliffs drop away vertically into Coire an Laoigh, so it feels as if you are perched on the edge of nowhere. To the north, the magnificent hills of Torridon are dominant and unmistakable, to the east some of my favourite mountains march through the Coulin Forest, and to the south the lines of the hills seemed to disappear into infinity. 

What's more, there was barely a breath of wind, and we were able to sit comfortably in just thin layers, enjoying the sunshine, whilst we ate our lunch. Somehow I manage to spill half of my tomato soup all over the place, making the summit look like a murder scene, but otherwise all was good with the world.

I'm not sure how long we spent on the summit, but we were in no hurry. Its so rare that the summit isn't a wild and wind-torn place from which you simply turn and run for shelter, that we made the most of it and spent time relaxing. Eventually we tore ourselves away and started back down. The plan was to return the same way to the 868m top, then keep along the main ridge to the bealach and back down to the path. We hoped to link snow patches together for as long as possible, as we'd seen the drop from the bealach would need the crampons on and didn't want the faff of taking them on and off unless we had to.

By now the light was softening slightly as the afternoon pressed on. The views were to die for. Crossing the lower top again, we kept near the edge, but away from any potential cornice fracture line, occasionally having to stumble through short bouldery bits with our spikes still on.

A few steeper bits, where we stuck quite close to the edge to take advantage of the snow, led us to gentle slopes above the bealach. Ahead lay the northern tops of Meall Gorm and Sgurr na Bana-Mhoiraire, but we decided to leave them for another day. 

The drop from the col was quite steep, and we took an angle to allow us stay on snow for as long as possible. My injured knee was playing up descending the steeper bits with crampons on, but fortunately it wasn't long before we stopped and lost the crampons, as we descended into the chilly shade of the hill. The hills were still looking over us as we crossed the moorlands and back to the path through the fragrant pines.

As a first day on the hill at the start of our week, this would take some beating. We knew the Beast from the East was due to hit Britain mid-week, but hoped to get another day in before then. For now, then, our priority as we reached the car was to cross the road and enter the warm and cosy surrounding of the Torridon Inn, which has changed hugely since our last visit some years ago. A contented end to an outstanding day on the hill.

About Me

I've always loved the outdoors, and take great pleasure from both the big adventures and the days close to home. Through my writing and photography, I hope to help others understand that by simply getting outside with open eyes, having adventures is easy.

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