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Liathach - out of the grey and into the blue

Liathach - out of the grey and into the blue

Postby Verylatestarter » Wed Oct 06, 2021 3:41 pm

Route description: Liathach, Glen Torridon

Munros included on this walk: Mullach an Rathain (Liathach), Spidean a' Choire Lèith (Liathach)

Date walked: 02/08/2021

Time taken: 10.5 hours

Distance: 12.7 km

Ascent: 1421m

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For the last three years we have visited Torridon with Liathach Top on the to-do list. Apart from 2018, when we tackled Beinn Alligin, our second Munro, the weather has not been good enough to justify ascending the mighty Liathach. The big hill with big views needs a good day. Whilst on Beinn Dearg yesterday we noted how the cloud layer lifted in the afternoon and although it was cloudy on the morning of the 2nd, we had high hopes for a good day on Liathach. We were off to Skye that evening so this was the last chance this year. It would be great to wake up to blue cloudless skies and set off knowing you would have a good day, but it’s even better to start with the doubt and the day turn better and better every step you take.

We parked at the visitors center at 8;36 and walked along the road to the Allt an Doire Ghairbh stream, past the boulder field of the Celtic jungle and several wild camps. The cloud base was about 800m with 100% coverage but the air felt fresh and dry, we were definitely in for a good day. We started the ascent (9:17am) just ahead of a family of 5 who had obviously hired a guide for the day, all during the ascent we kept leapfrogging each other and we had plenty of time to talk to the guide who was English but living at Gairloch. About 2/3rd of the way up we met someone already coming down, it turns out he had left home at 4:00am and had covered both Munros, in dense clag, and was heading back to the car for the trip to a campsite; a lot of effort for little reward, given what we experienced later. I was singing to myself (odd, because I’m definitely not a morning person), normally on the slog upward I hardly spoke, let along sing, so I must have be getting fitter over the week and horribly cheery. Further on we met a young Scotswoman who had ascended Spidean a Choire Leith summit in the cloud but then decided to turn back instead of waiting for an improvement. Ben was getting worried that this might not be the right day after all.
Ben taking a breather in Coire Liath Mhor, below the cliffs the path swings to the right

I do like to have a look around on the way up, spending most of the time face down into the slope can be dispiriting and looking around, taking pictures, it’s a good excuse to rest. The shallow coire we were climbing through had magnificent terraces of cliffs on either side, especially to the West where they curved round’ reminding me of the ruined terraces of the Coliseum. Behind us more of the South Torridon hills were coming into view and lower down Liathach’s slopes we could see more and more walkers were starting the climb. It was going to be a busy day. Ahead Coire Liath Mhor seemed to end in a steep wall with no apparent exit; given that this was the main route up this was unlikely and sure enough the path revealed itself, stepping eastwards across boulders and picking its way through the terraces and outcrops, a little scrambling was required.

Surprisingly quickly (11:10 am) we came up to the bealach, the views Northwards across to Beinn Eighe were great and whetted the appetite to be up on the peaks for a better view. We had decided to complete as many of the tops as possible (well maybe not Meall Dearg today) so headed up the relatively short slope, covered in quartzite blocks to the Eastern top of Stuc a’ Choire Dhuibh Bhig (915m). This has got to be one of the best viewpoints in the Highlands and is the top you see from the East, all vertical cliffs and pyramid summit. Our arrival coincided with the cloud lifting above the Munro tops, firstly on Beinn Eighe and then on Liathach itself. Beinn Eighe looked particularly striking from the East Top, the graceful curves of it’s massive steep South flank with it’s alternating wedges of sandstone and quartzite from Sail Mhor to the Black Carls. Directly opposite to us was Coinneach Mhor and the ugly step, there were two tiny figures striding across the grassy plateau, it looks like they would be in for a good day; certainly better than the clagfest we had two years ago.

The route up Stuc a’ Choire Dhuibh Bhig

Ben descending Stuc a’ Choire Dhuibh Bhig towards the bealach, the top of the ascent path can be seen on the left

Whilst we were having our snack at the summit, a number of parties were making their way over the boulders, some surprisingly poorly equipped for a day on a big hill. We made our way back down to the bealach and then onto the slope of Stob a Choire Liath Mhor (983m), the second Munro Top which itself has two summits. The guided party were already well ahead of us, having missed out the East Top, but we met a party of six lads of mixed ability out for a day’s scrambling, one with the tattiest rucksack you ever saw. It turned out this had been his school bag, and it had been everywhere, I suggested it looked like it had been out of an elephant’s arse. Almost on cue one of the straps snapped and necessitated major repairs. We left the lads to it.

Stuc a’ Choire Dhuibh Bhig, the Eastern Munro top, and bealach

The view East from Spidean a Choire Leith

Ben striding over the first part of the Munro Top of Stob a Choire Liath Mhor

Spidean a Choire Leith viewed from the Munro Top to the east

Once across the sandstone bealach we were up onto the quartzite pyramids of Stob a Choire Liath Mhor, route finding was easy, this being a clear day and a well-trodden mountain. The jagged boulders were fairly stable and the distances not great, we were soon ascending Spidean a Choire Leith (1055m). We reached the first Munro about 13;00, just in time for lunch. But first a look around and a few photos. Because you are clambering over the uneven boulders of the ascent you don’t really look up until you get the top, then when you do the whole vista has changed. Mullach a Rathain, Am Fasarinen and Meall Dearg come into view, below them Coire na Caime and beyond them Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg. The Coire below has got to be one of the best in Scotland, the shear walls of the MaR and Am Fasarinen plummeting down with a Lochan at the bottom, the contrast between the dark rock of the coire and the white of the mountain your standing on is striking. To top it all the sun was well and truly out and the Isles beyond Diabaig sat in the shimmering sea. We were so pleased we had got the timing on this one right we had a celebratory pork pie for lunch.

Mullach an Rathain and Meall Dearg with Tom na Gruagaich and Skye beyond

looking along the teeth from SaCL, the bypasses are all on the South side, for some reason

Mullach an Rathain and the North wall of the Coire na Caime

22 - Meall Dearg, the top that gets away, from most people..jpg
Meall Dearg, the Munro Top that gets away from most people, accessible from the coire below

Loch Coire na Caime with Coire Mhic Nobuill and Beinn Dearg beyond

Ben on the bealach between SaCL and the teeth

The summit got fairly busy as other walkers caught up with us, but it was a good day to share, there was no way you could begrudge those who has made the effort to get up there; besides we had our solitary hill day on Beinn Dearg the day before. We made our way down the bouldery West slope of SaCL, the path takes a sharp left turn at the bottom of the quartzite, just above the cliffs and tracks along to a narrow grassy bealach that represents the start of the pinnacles. Having read so many walk reports on the website I was confident of what we would expect to meet. Ben would have no problem with the level of difficulty or exposure, I am ok with exposure but tend to be very slow and cautious. Certainly none of the scrambling we did was difficult; it was a perfect day, dry with light winds; the scenery was superb. I took too many photographs as usual and was falling behind so I missed out one of the teeth, taking the bypass path. This was exposed above grassy slopes, with a few stretches eroded away; it was difficult to get down to the path from the ridgeline and I was conscious that there were people above me who may dislodge debris. However I did the bigger teeth and the last one, which looked great in the photos, with the Loch behind. For me the traverse came to an end too soon and was very enjoyable.

Setting off along the first ridge of the teeth

happy to be here

Looking back at Spidean a Choire Leith, the path from the summit zig-zags down on the left then skirts above the unseen cliff and down to the bealach

Eroded section of bypass path, the top path being much more stable

Am Fasarinen with Mullach an Rathain in background

Along the top path, looking East

A dead end on the bealach between the teeth

Am Fasarinen from the East, with link path across the bealach

The Am Fasarinen Top

Definitely not as exposed as it looks, when you get up there

36 - the last of the teeth.JPG
The start of the descent off the last tooth

39 coming down off the last tooth, bypass path below.JPG
ben stepping down off Am Fasarinen, bypass below

The path dropped down to the sun bathed expanse of grass that comprises the Southeast slope of MaR, a nice contrast to walk over the easy ground, after the pinnacles. Following the cliff line the views down into the coire and across to Meall Dearg were stupendous; we could see for miles in most directions. Every detail of the South Torridon landscape stood out, the whole of Sunday’s walk over Beinn Damh and Maol Chean-dearg was so clear. We reached the summit of MaR (1023m about 15;40, time for afternoon tea and more photos. There were quite a few people on the summit, some seemed reluctant to commence the descent on such a glorious day, everybody seemed well pleased. A lad from Inverness took a number of photos of myself and Ben; he had only left home at 11;00 and had covered the hill in rapid time, but still had the time to stand and chat. A couple with dogs walked straight over the summit without stopping, the dogs roaming off in all directions. The party of six set off down the slope towards Toll Ban. We hung around a little longer to savor the occasion and let the rest get clear; so we set off last. I wished we could have stayed longer to have a closer look at the Northern pinnacles but we were going to Skye that evening.

Spidean a Choire Leith viewed from Am Farsarinen Top. Stacks of Torridon pancakes on the ridge below

The Am Farsarinen Munro top, viewed from the West, with bypass path and the tiny bealach below

The teeth viewed from the west

Mullach an Rathain from Am Fasarinen, a straightforward walk

'It turned out a good day after all'

The summit cairn with Beinn Alligin (climbed 21/06/18); some idiot obstructing the view

The Southwest sur of Mullach an Rathain with Loch Torridon beyond; the Toll Ban path winds it's way down the sandstone scree

Spidean a Choire Leith with Loch Coire na Caime below

The Northern Pinnacles and Meall Dearg summit beyond, some other hills in the background

Looking across the SW spur of MaR to Loch Torridon, Annat, Beinn Damh and Beinn Bhan

Most reports I’ve read of this route seem to indicate how bad the Toll Ban route is but it seemed to be reasonably benign on the day. There is a zig-zag path through the loose scree but nothing difficult, you just had to be careful, once down into the floor of the shallow coire it’s a straightforward pleasant descent, the path is good, with a little scrambling and there a good views most of the way down. The path came out in the flat valley bottom just a short walk from the car, which we reached about 18;00..

Ben descends the path through the quartzite onto the sandstone

The scree slope zig-zags of Toll Ban

The view back up Toll Ban

Lower down the Allt an Tuill Bhain

That’s it then, the Mighty Liathach; I’m glad we left it for such a great day. Trouble is I now want to do Beinn Eighe and An Teallach in similar conditions; to quote the James song ‘if hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor.’

Tomorrow , back to the clag on Blaven.
Mountain Walker
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Re: Liathach - out of the grey and into the blue

Postby gld73 » Wed Oct 06, 2021 9:14 pm

Really enjoyable report to read, and a useful one to know what to expect - I'm waiting to do it in similar good conditions!
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Re: Liathach - out of the grey and into the blue

Postby Mal Grey » Wed Oct 06, 2021 9:35 pm

Yes, definitely enjoyed reading that. Its been a long time since I did Liathach, but fortunately both traverses were on good weather days like yours, so your excellent images and prose took me right back.

Definitely save An Teallach and Beinn Eighe for similar such days if you possibly can.
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Mal Grey
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Re: Liathach - out of the grey and into the blue

Postby rockhopper » Wed Oct 06, 2021 9:44 pm

A cracker of a day for it. Enjoyed that. So much nicer than my trip in the clag. Might need to revisit some time - cheers :)
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