Great Expectations or Fear and Loathing on An Teallach
by BobMcBob » Thu Jun 21, 2012 4:56 pm
Route description: An Teallach, Dundonnell
Munros included on this walk: Bidein a'Ghlas Thuill (An Teallach), Sgurr Fiona (An Teallach)
Date walked: 20/06/2012
Time taken: 9.5 hours
Distance: 17 km
Ascent: 1550m50 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Ever since I first started learning about Scotland's mountains, the name of An Teallach has had an almost mythical resonance. People I'd meet on scramble routes would ask me if I'd done it and when I said "No", they'd do that sucking the air through the teeth thing and say "Oh, you've got to, it's amazing". My Aunt and Uncle had been here many years ago and told me recently "Oh, you must do An Teallach". Even my rather staid guidebook gushes "A Maginifcent and Exciting Ridge Traverse", "The Finest Mountain in The Highlands". I was, understandably therefore, quite keen on having a look.
I'd been waiting for a fine day and I got one this Wednesday. With barely containable excitement I rushed off the campsite to drive to Corrie Hallie. The guidebook says this is the point to start from if you want to have a go at the scrambling. Doing the route in the other direction (as the WH route goes) means you'd approach from the wrong side. When I arrived at Corrie Haille, the lay-by was full of soldiers. With guns. I think they were on our side . I drove about 200 yards up the road and pulled into a smaller layby.
The route started off easily up a 4WD track. Well it would have been easy if there hadn't been two enormous army trucks blocking it. The driver of one of them looked about 12. I didn't think the British army did child soldiers. A bit further up the track I came across a large encampment where I learned this was a joint Anglo-French training exercise. That explained the child soldiers . I asked if I'd need a flak jacket to cross the ridge but the sergeant gave me a look which implied "This gun's loaded with blanks but it'll hurt if I whack you with it". I moved on.
A little further on I was caught up by a young geology student out doing a fieldwork dissertation. His task was to work out how this landscape was formed. I told him I had a really good book in the van which explained exactly that, but he didn't seem impressed. We chatted for a bit and then he suddenly stopped, staring at a small rock, said "Fault!", and rushed off the path following a line in the ground. He was either training to be a tennis umpire or he was off to find out whose fault it was.
Shortly afterwards I came across the two cairns which mark where you turn off the path to walk towards Sail Liath.
There wasn't really a path but there were a lot of small craggy sandstone outcrops. I picked my way across each of them, doing as much scrambling as I could. My enthusiasm got the better of me and I fell off. Usually when I'm scrambling I put my heavy SLR camera in the rucksack, otherwise it swings around and bashes on things and disturbs my concentration, but these outcrops looked easy so I hadn't bothered. I was doing an easy traverse, swinging my left foot over to reach a ledge but I wasn't giving it my full attention. My left foot missed and I found myself completely off balance. Fortunately my other three limbs were well anchored and I managed to spin round and land with my bum where my foot should have been, grazing my right knee in the process. There's a good reason for the "3 points of contact" rule, and that was it. Somewhat shaken, and bleeding slightly, I put the camera in the bag and, using the age-old "get back on the bike" philosophy, carried on scrambling.
The outcrops done with, I was now within spitting distance of Sail Liath and I started up it's right flank.
This was a horrible, punishing ascent over small loose rocks on a very steep slope. (A better route I think would be to ascend Sail Liath up the spine of the ridge, where the gradient looks much kinder). I think my legs were still feeling the effects of last week's Beinn Eighe marathon because they were hurting. There were some nice views back though.
I was hot, tired, breathless, and also cross with myself for the fall. I realised that I wasn't enjoying this very much.
On reaching the ridge though, there was a tremendous view south-west over Beinn Dearg Mor and Beinn a Chlaidneimh. Beinn Dearg Mor looks a magnificent hill from here.
This was also my first proper view of the pinnacle ridge. Probably it was mood but my first thought was "Is that it?"
It looked like a broken pimple on an old man's bald head, not the magnificent ridge traverse I'd been expecting. My mood fell further.
A relatively easy pull up brought me to the summit of Sail Liath at 954 meters. More great views, such as this one over Beinn a Chladheimh
And I could just see two walkers ahead of me on the top of Stob Cadha Gobhlach (960 meters).
As I descended down rocky sandstone steps from Sail Liath there was a piercing shriek which chilled me to the bone. I looked around. Peering over the edge was a wild goat.
If, like me, you spent your childhood immersed in cod-Arthurian myths and legends then you'd have got the same kind of chill. The goat is the symbol of the Devil, a harbinger of doom. Not that I believe in that stuff now, oh no, so I've really no idea why my mood fell still further.
From the top of Stob Cadha Gobhlach there was a good view of the route ahead, but I was sad to see the ridge now looked even less impressive.
But as I was soon to discover with a jolt, An Teallach is a wily old mountain which rewards patience and doesn't give you anything until you've earned it. She was about to teach me a few lessons.
The first lesson was about distance. It's actually a deceptively long way from your first view of the ridge to the base of Corrag Bhuidhe. As Father Ted might have put it "No Dougal, these rocks are small but the ones out there are far away".
I descended from Stob Cadha Gobhlach to the bealach. On my way up the other side I took a detour out on a large sandstone outcrop that juts out into the corrie. From here I had a better view of the pinnacles.
And a great view around the whole ring of the corrie with Loch Toll an Lochain far below
I followed the top of the outcrop back towards the lower crags of Corrag Bhuidhe. On the way I passed a giant fossilised foot wedged in a crack
Now I was starting to get a better idea of the scale of things. Corrag Bhuidhe was starting to look fearsomely huge.
The first obstacle was that 5 meter lower crag - the outer defences if you will. There was a bypass path but that's not for me. I scrambled up it. It was tough. The slope was OK for keeping the exposure down but the holds were small and some of the moves were tricky. Suddenly I was starting to enjoy myself again. And then I found myself at the base of Corrag Bhuidhe. I stopped to get my usual "rucksack shot" to give some scale.
But that really doesn't do it justice. I had to use the widest angle of my wide angle lens just to get it all in, so the perspective is all mashed. It's higher than that makes it look. I was starting to feel nervous now that I was understanding exactly what I was taking on. I wandered towards it, trying to spy a route.
My guidebook says the following: "Most people avoid Corrag Bhuidhe by following the obvious traverse path". Check. Found that. Don't like traverse paths. Then it says "The direct ascent of the three main pinnacles requires moderate rock climbing skills". Gulp. But then it also says "beyond an intimidating 10m high slab with rounded hand and footholds, most of the route is just an airy scramble". So which is it? Rock climb or "just" an airy scramble. I dithered on the base of the rocks for some time, pulling myself up a little way to look ahead. I found a route that might have worked to get me halfway but I couldn't see any further up. I wasn't liking this and was beginning to think the traverse path might be the way after all. That was very disappointing.
Just then another guy came up over the first crag. I didn't get his name but I'll call him "Orange Cowboy", since he was wearing an orange t-shirt and a stetson-like sunhat. He eyed up the crag and disappeared round to the right. Hmmm. Then I heard a call, "I think there's a route round here, lots of crampon scratches". Aha! I scrambled down from my perch and went around to find him. He was about 4 meters up.
"How does it look?" I asked
"It's OK," he said, "the holds are very small but there are lots of them". He was sailing up it like a monkey. My saviour! I let him get a safe distance ahead and followed him up.
I tend to think of an easy scramble as one where your hands are needed but just to keep your balance. A tricky scramble involves a bit of contortioning, and the coordinated use of hands and feet. This involved acrobatics and the use of hands, feet, knees, and elbows. Orange Cowboy had stopped partway up and guided me over the first part of the route, which involved a tricky traverse to gain a ledge. He wasn't out of breath. I was puffing and grunting.
"You're OK with exposure?" he asked. A bit late but the thought was there.
"Yeah," I replied, " so long as I don't look down.' I looked down, which was a mistake. I spat out a small nervous laugh and returned my attention to the rock. I concentrated on what I knew of rock climbing technique - pull on holds, use your body shape to get friction on your footholds, and at one point, the somewhat out-of-fashion technique of the hand-jam. This is a technique first invented on the gritstone crags of Derbyshire in the 1940's. It involves wedging your hand deep into a crack, then tensing your muscles as if you were making a fist. You can then pull yourself up, taking the strain on your knuckles. I'd only ever read about it in books, and it hurt like hell, but it was the best hold I had on the upper part of the climb. Don Whillans would have been proud of me. At this point I noticed that both my knees were bleeding.
"I did the entire Cuillin ridge last week," said Orange Cowboy, "so I'm not afraid of anything any more."
I was about to say that I wished he'd told me that before I started when, after a limbo manoeuvre to get my SLR-heavy rucksack out from where it was wedged under an overhang, I was on top! Holy mother of all things rocky what a buzz! That had been the single hardest, most strenuous, and most exposed scramble I had ever done. Had it not been for my new friend I'd never even have attempted it.
"You're staying here for a wee breather?" he asked.
"I think so," I replied between wheezes.
"OK then, maybe I'll see you later." And he trotted away. I got a shot of him basically walking up the second pinnacle. If you're reading this Mr Orange, then thanks.
The second and third pinnacles were much easier. And now I was really enjoying myself. An Teallach was giving me everything she had, rewarding my patience. And it was bloomin' fantastic.
Part 2, which concerns a certain Lord Berkeley, will follow after a short intermission
by BobMcBob » Thu Jun 21, 2012 5:12 pm
One of the famous points on this ridge is "Lord Berkeley's Seat", a rocky outcrop which overhangs the corrie below. But there were lots of overhanging rocks and it was hard to tell which one it was so in the end I asked a passing Welshman.
"Is that Lord Berkeley's seat?"
"I don't know, but my mate will." And he shouted something that sounded like "Chchchchchchchchchchchcclllllll Berkeley Gnnoooooooo". I assume he was speaking Welsh, but he might have been doing an impression of a snake choking on a biscuit. The reply came back in the affirmative, so I headed on down.
There's a bit of an easy scramble down from the third, and highest, pinnacle of Corrag Bhuidhe and then at the bottom I passed a man and woman who were behaving oddly. The man was taking loads of photographs of the woman walking along the path, then asking her to go back and do it again. Poor girl, she was going to be knackered. It turned out he was a professional photographer and the pair of them worked for Trail magazine and they were doing a feature on An Teallach. We scrambled up to the top of Lord Berkeley's Seat together. I discussed cameras with the photographer. The girl rolled her eyes. I got a shot back along towards Corrag Bhuidhe
- Corrag Bhuidhe from Lord Berkeley's Seat
The "seat" apparently gets its name because Lord Berkeley (who he?) is said to have sat dangling his legs over the edge while smoking a pipe. Well, if it's good enough for Lord Berkeley….
- Doing the Dangle. I didn't bring my pipe
I still get vertigo just looking at that. And it took me 2 attempts. The "seat" itself is about 8 inches wide and slopes slightly outwards. The first time, I eased myself slowly out over it and got as far as having my ankles dangling before I chickened out. The photographer had a go and balked it, then he headed off down to go around the other side to get a photo of the girl doing it. She managed to get as far as me, and he got his photo. So then I tried again and this time, leaning backwards as far as I could, I got my shot. I heard the photographer from down below saying "Insane!" I wanted to ask him to take a picture but I couldn't sit there any longer so I eased my way back and went down to join them.
"You might want to have a stiff drink before you turn around,'" he said.
I only had water so I turned around.
- The "seat" is the tiny point right at the top
My legs almost buckled under and I sat down. It's hard to get a sense of scale from the photo, but I think what you can see there is about 350 feet of sheer cliff. The drop down to the corrie below must be 1500 feet.
When I'd recovered enough to stand up, I walked up to the summit of Sgurr Fiona, the day's first Munro at 1060 meters. The air was so clear, the views were stupendous
- Back along the ridge, with Loch Toll an Lochain
- Assynt - Suilven, Cul Mor, etc
- Walkers on the Pinnacles
Then down from Sgurr Fiona and up a great ridge with loads of easy sandstone outcrops to scramble up to the second Munro, and the highest point, Bidein a Ghlas Thuill. Unbelievable views. Looking in almost every direction all I could see was wilderness. Across Assynt to Ben Klibreck in the north, round through the Fannichs and out over Torridon all the way to Kintail in the south. Westwards I could see the Cuillin and the Outer Hebrides. The only sign of human habitation was Ullapool, just poking out behind the foothills. Breathtaking. I don't have any photos that do it justice, so you'll just have to get up there yourself . The views back along the ridge were enough. The difference between this viewpoint and the one I'd had at the start were hard to comprehend.
- Ridge close-up. Lord Berkeley's Idiot Perch is the sawblade-like shard in the middle
- Obligatory "me on the summit" photo
I spent nearly an hour up there just looking around. It was too much to take in and eventually I decided I'd better leave or stay the night. My guidebook came up trumps here. Most people say that the worst part of this walk is the "4 miles back along the road to the car". I still had memories of my 6-mile trek in Torridon and wasn't looking forward to it, but my guidebook had a cunning plan.
Descending from the summit northwards to the bealach, there was a nasty, slippery, gully that led down into the corrie of the Glas Tholl. From there it was easy and there was even a path. I just kept the stream on my right all the way. I think after heavy rain this would be a very boggy walk, but it's been so dry up here that it was crunchy underfoot. The stream ran through attractive gorges and over waterfalls before it eventually met up with the stream coming from Loch Toll an Lochain where there was a pretty waterfall with an almost perfectly circular pool.
From here, still keeping the stream on my right I walked down over slabs with cairns (stay close to the stream as there's a fence to cross). Towards the bottom the path entered an area of huge Rhdodendron bushes. At first it was just overgrown but then it became a vaulted corridor made of the stems of 12 foot high plants. I'd have taken a photo but the camera was in the rucksack and the place was swarming with midges This country garden corridor eventually spat me out on the road, just half a mile from the lay-by. Nice
So that was the finest mountain in the Highlands. I'd started off unimpressed, but then I'd had a day I'll never forget. An Teallach had taken me to the extremes and beyond of my own skill and tolerance of exposure. It had tested and rewarded me in equal measure. What a mountain. That night I was unable to sleep, alternating between hysterical giggles at the insanity of what I'd done, and nightmarish visions of me falling to my death while a professional photographer recorded my last moments for publication. I got sweaty palms today writing about Corrag Bhuidhe. But in the end, isn't that why I do it?
Would I go back? Asking me today, not on your life matey But I am a complete idiot, ask me again next year
by Avocetboy » Thu Jun 21, 2012 6:02 pm
by mrssanta » Thu Jun 21, 2012 6:22 pm
Keep 'em coming
by Johnny Corbett » Thu Jun 21, 2012 6:43 pm
by pigeon » Thu Jun 21, 2012 7:07 pm
by Meatball » Thu Jun 21, 2012 7:13 pm
I'll be back there soon.
by KeithS » Thu Jun 21, 2012 7:20 pm
by GillC » Thu Jun 21, 2012 7:30 pm
by gammy leg walker » Thu Jun 21, 2012 8:05 pm
by johnkaysleftleg » Thu Jun 21, 2012 8:54 pm
by madasa mongoose » Thu Jun 21, 2012 9:11 pm
by skuk007 » Thu Jun 21, 2012 10:26 pm
That "dangling your feet" image will haunt my dreams for a few nights to come - your just plain mental, and much braver than me.
by Bod » Fri Jun 22, 2012 12:18 am
Can't wait to climb this amazing mountain too, and hoping it might be this year? Well done, and yes I'm sure you will be back
by BobMcBob » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:33 am