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Snapping Stuff in Torridon

Snapping Stuff in Torridon

Postby joenorris » Sun Nov 02, 2014 10:48 pm

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

Corbetts included on this walk: Beinn Dearg (Torridon)

Date walked: 29/10/2014

Time taken: 36 hours

Distance: 34.2 km

Ascent: 2800m

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Fortunately no limbs...

It's been a couple of years since I've written a walk report, mostly because I've moved south of the border and developed a new obsession with climbing ("ugh" I hear you say, "we don't like your sort here" (English, that is, not climbers)). Nevertheless this half term saw me chucking the tent, winter jacket and a bunch of maps and guidebooks in the car with the plan of doing a bit of remote camping and maybe a few new peaks as well. After the usual hours of faff - "will 18 teabags be enough or should I go crazy and go for 19? But I'm supposed to be going lightweight... AHH I CAN'T COPE WITH SUCH LIFE-CHANGING DECISIONS" - I was set and ready to hit the road, aiming to spend two or three nights out near Torridon.

My rebellious streak didn't end that night either. On the A9 the following morning I sat at 61mph all the way to Inverness - two fingers up to the new average speed cameras OH YEAH! Unfortunately Christine on Radio Scotland informed me that the Garve road had been blocked by a landslide, so all that effort spent sitting at 61mph was in vain - I wouldn't be able to get to Torridon without a huge detour. I decided that the best solution to this news was to cover my ears and loudly sing LA LA LA - I wasn't going to accept that my plan had failed before I'd even got out of the car. So it was that I turned up in Garve just as they reopened a lane and we could pass through. I might employ that strategy more often in life - it certainly worked this time.

Looking towards Kinlochewe from the East

Anyway, this is a walk report, not a drive report, so let's get to the business. (I would ideally praise the quality of the road surface on the Achnasheen - Kinlochewe road, but that's getting a bit niche 'drive report' really. Oh wait, I did just praise it...)

The plan was to traverse Liathach via the Am Fasarinen pinnacles (Grade 2 scramble) and include the South ridge of Mullach an Rathain (another Grade 2 scramble) on the way up. I set off with wet boots from a boggy ascent of White Coomb a few days previously. My thinking was that if my boots were wet to start with, I wouldn't have to worry about then getting them wet. Great call, Joe. The path quickly gained height, with some nice views of Loch Torridon, the hills to the south and the crags on Seanna Mheallan as well.

South to Seanna Mheallan

It didn't take long to get up into the main corrie, from where I branched off left onto the South ridge of Mullach an Rathain. The views down to the loch from this ridge were cracking, and the scrambling was exceptional quality - the untainted sandstone was just brilliant to move on.

Upper Loch Torridon

Torridon village

There was a series of rough boulders and chimneys in the lower section, before a more exposed arete at the top.As I gained height, the wind and cloud increased, and the scrambling on the upper arete was chilly and wet, but fantastic nevertheless. What a cracking way to gain the height. As I topped out on the ridge, the rain turned to snow and the conditions deteriorated quickly. Time for a few extra layers and a bit of navigation (oh, the horrors!).

After a short wander to the summit, I set off along the main ridge, with the pinnacles ahead coming in and out of view through wisps of cloud. The atmosphere was eerie - I hadn't seen anyone on the mountain and the looming pinnacles appeared like the bastions of some big impenetrable castle.

The pinnacles emerge

Fortunately the weather quickly improved before I reached the first pinnacle. There were some cracking views emerging to the north as well as the south - this was what I had been missing with all that 'cragging' nonsense!

The scrambling on the pinnacles was straightforward but pretty exposed, and the wind and cloud made a real adventurous atmosphere on the scramble. There were some great moves on immaculate sandstone on the first and second towers.

The first tower approaches

The views to the north were sensational - the steep drop into the corrie with the PC buttress protruding out into the boggy wilderness beyond made a brilliant scramble all the more exciting. The end of the scramble was probably the most fantastic bit - a 5m-long knife-edge arete has to be traversed, in my case using the arete as a handrail with great footholds below. The exposure at this point is sensational - what a ridge.

North towards Beinn Dearg

Along the pinnacles

Looking North

High up in the battlements

Back along the ridge

I wandered up to the summit and quickly pushed onwards, dropping off the ridge at the first col to cut back down to the road. My plan was to get back to the car, pick up by big camping pack, and pitch my tent before dark. I was getting a bit short of time, so was making a hasty pace back down. In the process, I managed to completely snap one of my walking poles. Uh oh. Having had issues with my knees, I was a bit concerned that without my poles, the heavy camping back would cause me difficulties. But, again, I covered my ears, pretended it hadn't happened, and ploughed on regardless. (The youth of today would sum this up with the phrase YOLO, I am led to believe).

The descent

Breakage no.1

After admiring the quality of the EU-funded tarmac on the road (Joe, get a grip, this is a walk report) I nipped the car up to the other car park and set off for my camp near Loch nan Cabar at the east end of Beinn Dearg. I wanted to be in before dark so that I could find a decent pitch, so I was, one pole down, breaking into a hefty sweat on the walk in. I arrived with only 15 or so minutes of light to spare, and struggled to find a pitch in the area that wasn't either completely waterlogged or on top of a boulder. I found a reasonable spot, though, and got set up just as the last glimmers of the sun disappeared behind a distant Beinn Alligin. It was 5.30pm - I had a lot of darkness to look forward to.

The SMC's 'Highland Scrambles North' and a block of cheddar cheese are not the kind of entertainment that are realistically going to keep me awake very long, so I was asleep by about 7 to the sound of a gentle patter or rain and some distant stags.

I woke late, with the plan of wandering up Beinn Dearg. The weather was looking promising, and I set off across the boggy wasteland towards Dearg's eastern end. A steep pull up a gully, past an unusual boulder-shelter, got me quickly up onto Carn na Feola, with some cracking views as the sun hauled itself over the pinnacles of Liathach.

Breakfast backdrop

The pitch and Liathach

A boulder with shelter walls

The sun emerges

If you can spot my tent in this picture, I'll congratulate you (no monetary reward unfortunately)

The vista from the summit of Carn na Feola was astonishing - not only to Liathach and Beinn Eighe, but also the entire area to the north: a waterlogged desert, devoid of even any faint paths. The two Corbetts and Graham beyond rose out of the bog like primordial creatures rising out of the sludge.

Beinn Eighe

Northern wasteland

Along the ridge towards Dearg

The ground was, as was now becoming standard, wet. But the walking along the ridge opened up views all around, including into the remote northern corrie of Dearg. Afer a bit of scrambling around, I finally emerged on the summit in a thin layer of cloud. The Horns of Alligin were just peeping through, tempting me closer.


I had a wander down to the northern subsidiary took take in the sensational surroundings. Some airy scrambling between those summits gave me an appetite, so I milled around on the snow-sprinkled peak for a while, absorbing the incredible location.

Upper Loch Torridon

Looking back East along the ridge

This is what I had been missing - the solitude and tranquility of the highlands, where all you can ever hear is wind and water. Just perfect.

The main summit from the northern subsidiary

Horny Alligin

I eventually headed off down the NE ridge, a nice upper arete giving way to broken ground below. The wispy cloud created a real mountaineering atmosphere on this descent, the glen below often not visible. Yet another bog-trot led me to the path below Beinn Alligin, from where I had a leisurely stroll back towards the main path up the glen.

Down the upper arete

Back up the ridge

I have always had a tendency to plan massive, ambitious walks that make me have to constantly keep pushing the speed and watching the clock. These don't allow me to ever stop and absorb the surroundings, dwell in the moment a bit. This trip was planned so that I would have time to enjoy the walking and setting a bit. I found that just pausing to sit and listen and look reminded me how cracking a place Scotland is.

Down towards Upper Loch Torridon
Yesterday's ridge

I reached the junction in Corrie Mhic Nobaill, and headed off back up to the camp. The solitude was wonderful - I didn't pass a single person in the whole day, and I had this amazing area all to myself. Quality.

Beinn Eighe up Corrie Mhic Nobaill

When I got back to the tent, I put a brew on and planned what to do next. As I enjoyed arguably my best ever cup of tea, I decided I might wander round to Coire Mhic Fhearchair as there were still a couple of hours of light left.

Idyllic brew
Why don't Tetley's ever advertise like this?

As I was enjoying the moment, I noticed a strange pressure point on the side of my tent. I gave it a quick look, just as I was leaving to head to the corrie, and I realised that my main structural tent pole had cracked and shattered, and was now ripping through it's webbing. ARGH! I had noticed a hairline crack when I was pitching the previous night, but decided to cover my ears and pretend it wasn't there, because dealing with it was going to require a lot more thought and stress than just ignoring it. So I thought.

Breakage no.2

So it was clear that, with a lot of rain and wind forecast overnight, a broken tent was not the place to be. Reluctantly I packed up the tent and headed off back towards the road - a three- or four-day trip reduced to only two. As the final light faded though, I had one of my most intense moments of peace on the trip - I sat on a boulder by the path in the dark, and just listened to all of the amazing sounds in the glen, as the stars gradually emerged above the looming silhouettes of the peaks around. Two days of this quality were better than any three I'd ever had.

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Re: Snapping Stuff in Torridon

Postby benno » Sun Nov 02, 2014 11:06 pm

Awesome stuff Joe, and awesome "snaps" too (the pictures I mean). Hope you're not averse to joining me on a repeat visit to Liathach sometime
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Re: Snapping Stuff in Torridon

Postby graham » Sun Nov 02, 2014 11:09 pm

Has to be one of the most inspiring reports I've seen, and such an entertaining narrative. Tops, thanks!
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Re: Snapping Stuff in Torridon

Postby marguerite » Sun Nov 02, 2014 11:22 pm

Great report Joe and some stunning photos. Love the banter!
LIathach looks scary!
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Re: Snapping Stuff in Torridon

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Mon Nov 03, 2014 5:02 pm

Lovely atmospheric photos - having been there the terror comes back just viewing this!! :lol: Great narative too :clap:

Shame about the breakages - but Torridon is special so no doubt you'll be back.
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Re: Snapping Stuff in Torridon

Postby AnnieMacD » Mon Nov 03, 2014 9:51 pm

Fantastic report on Liathach and Beinn Dearg. I've still to do BD but you are a brave man to go off piste on Liathach. I remember well the ridge on the left when going up Mullach an Rathain, and wondering what it would be like to try it! Out of my league, I'm afraid, but I do think there a lot more routes up and down this hill than are published. I think it would be possible to descend above Torridon Village - it just looks too steep from below but not so bad from above.

Sorry about your mishaps but you had a great time and that's what matters!
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Re: Snapping Stuff in Torridon

Postby Scotjamie » Tue Nov 04, 2014 12:04 am

Excellent stuff from my favourite area. Great report and photos.
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Re: Snapping Stuff in Torridon

Postby Alteknacker » Tue Nov 04, 2014 1:38 am

Great report, and the pics really capture the unique atmosphere of the place. :clap: :clap: :clap:

Definitely my favourite after the Cuillins.
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Re: Snapping Stuff in Torridon

Postby Silverhill » Tue Nov 04, 2014 9:27 pm

An excellent read, thanks for posting! :D
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