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Liathach: warm rock and airy perches

Liathach: warm rock and airy perches

Postby old danensian » Mon Jun 20, 2016 12:07 pm

Route description: Liathach, Glen Torridon

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

Date walked: 18/06/2016

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 12 km

Ascent: 1487m

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There are contrasts and there are contrasts: and then, there are distinctions that make you think you are on another planet completely.

With due apologies to the Cairngorms, I’ve recently written about the anticlimax of reaching summit cairns on vast undulating plateaux or at indeterminate locations on exposed domes of shattered rubble and gravel. I craved a return to an airy perch. Amidst the cloud of a clag-bound traverse of Beinn Eighe the previous day, I may have successfully found one: I just didn’t know because I couldn’t see it. Today however, I hit pay-dirt: more pinnacles and perches per metre than anyone could hope for.

The Torridon giants have been popular amongst Walkhighlanders in recent weeks, and Liathach on Saturday was no different. I compared notes with one at 7.00am before starting the walk and there were at least another two website car stickers in evidence on cars parked by the road when I returned.

There are volumes of detailed reports about the route and the way it weaves in and out, or up and down, the famous Am Fasarinen pinnacles. Photos a-plenty illustrate the way. The images reassure some readers or put the fear of God into others. Yet, in the euphoria of completing a stunning day out, I make no apologies for adding to these riches with a few of my own observations.

As you stand by the little cairn of stones at the roadside you can see the start of the path at your feet. Looking higher and ever higher it gets more and more difficult to distinguish it and follow its course: reassuringly it reveals itself as you progress upwards.

There’s no time or opportunity to get the legs or lungs warmed up. I normally like to leave it an hour or so after a meal before indulging in exercise or anything strenuous; but barely ten minutes after finishing breakfast it began. The hillside is literally in your face from the very beginning: steep, at times brutal, essentially unrelenting. Forward views are dominated by a patch of grass or rock that seems never less than a couple of feet in front of your face, hence the lack of photographs that would be simply green or show the fantastic work of the Torridon Path Fairies.

An early chance to look back on the meanders in Glen Torridon

Just keep going: it’ll be worth every ounce of effort.

The upper reaches of Coiore Liath Mhor - a rising traverse to the right from below the cliffs takes you up to the ridge

Spidean a Choire Leith from Coire Liath Mhor

When straightforward upward progress is finally blocked by cliffs in the upper parts of Coire Liath Mhor, the path takes a right turn. It begins a rising traverse that negotiates a few gentle scrambles before depositing you on the ridge and rewarding you with a breathtaking view northwards. The immediate foreground plunges dizzyingly down and individual hulks bulge from the Wester Ross landscape. Any pain or lethargy derived from the previous ninety minutes is dispelled in an instant. Another ten minutes and the eastern top of Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig is reached and you know the proper traverse can begin.

The breathtaking north bursts into view from the ridge

Stob Choire Liath Mhor and Spidean a Choire Leith from Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig at the eastern end of the ridge - there's plenty to occupy the day ahead

A wistful glance further east also captured the previous day’s achievement: “oh,” I thought, “that’s what it would have looked like,” as a cloud-free Beinn Eighe stretched from one end to the other. Its swooping lines looking like wry smiles that reminded you of who was really in control.

But today, it was all about heading west, and anticipating the excitement that lay, as yet unseen, beyond the first Munro.

Shelter on Stob Choire Liath Mhor - and the path beyond snakes up the first Munro of the day

After clambering for an hour over and up boulders, and across Stob a Choire Leith, the full splendour of Liathach revealed itself.

Mullach an Rathain from Spidean a Clach Leith

The pinnacles of Am Fasarinen - scramble heaven

There’s a limit to how long you can sit there simply gazing across the immense space of Coire na Caime before the lure of Am Fasarinen’s pinnacles exert their magnetism. This was what you drove 250 miles to enjoy. You know that grotty disappointments and frustrations are the occasional price to be paid for being able to savour the challenge ahead.

By-pass paths and diversion routes were going to be shunned. It would be the crest, the true crest and nothing but the crest.

Am Fasarinen pinnacles and Mullach an Rathain

It’s been years (decades if I’m truthful) since I tied on a rope and climbed anything remotely serious, but the confidence gained from the touch of warm rock is never lost. Despite a chill in the wind, the sun had done its best. Warm, dry and largely solid and sound rock could be relished. Yes, one or two patches could be termed “interesting” in the wet, and definitely “challenging” in the teeth of a winter encounter but, as the summer solstice approached, this was heaven: scrambling at its best.

From the flattened top of each pinnacle a chink in the armour could be seen as an alternative to the verticality suspected. OK, in most cases these short descents are marked by the crampon scratches of the previous winter, but they all reveal themselves well before nervousness or worry can kick in. Route-finding is simple and takes little searching.

I didn’t rush them; they were far too tasty for that. I lingered on each little perch and let them affirm my enthusiasm for this part of Scotland and the characteristics of these mountains. And when I got to the other end and sat at the cairn of Am Fasarinen, I felt like our youngest grandson who is an adrenalin junkie. From two or three years old he’s revelled in being scared or surprised. Within seconds of shrieking with apparent fear at being thrown into the air or startled by someone leaping out at him, he’s shouting “Do it again. Do it again.”

I was sorely tempted.

In the end I texted Fife Flyer while the exhilaration was still flowing to share it with someone who would appreciate the emotion. As supportive as the other half is, she would have been more likely to give a sanguine smile and reply with, “You did what?”

Mullach an Rathain from the end of Am Fasarinen

Loch Torridon from Am Fasarinen

Northern Pinnacles of Mullach an Rathain

After the pinnacles, Mullach an Rathain was a gentle twenty minute saunter as a precursor to a lengthy lunch while absorbing the surroundings. Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg were the only hills I could confidently name in one direction and the numerous hills and ridges that dissolved into one another to the south made me realise how much more I need to familiarise myself with this neck of the woods. The Northern Pinnacles leading out to Meall Dearg looked appetising, but so did the turquoise shallows of Loch Torridon. A couple of walkers sweating their way up from Toll Ban didn’t make the next stage of the day look too enticing: steep, unstable and toe-jarringly painful.

Beinn Eighe in the background to Spidean a Clach Leith above Coire na Caime

North to Beinn Dearg from Mullach an Rathain

North west to Beinn Alligin

The pressing need to descend always arrives: advancing weather, darkness or simply the prospect of another 250 mile drive. Mullach an Rathain was left with regret.

Descending into Toll Ban was as excruciating as I suspected it would be. By the time evidence of the Torridon Path Fairies became evident, the lactic acid was burning in my thighs and I was trying to absorb as much jarring with my walking pole as possible.

The prospect of a jarring, slithering descent down into Toll Ban

Back on solid ground below Toll Ban - a pale streak showing the descent route down the scree

It’s a long way down, and the road is in tempting view virtually all the way. And it never seems to get any nearer. As it did, I began to realise what a muppet I’d been. There were another couple of miles on the road to get back to the car: we all know that a tarmac trundle at the end of a tiring walk isn’t the best finish to the day. Having used the bike so successfully on the Beinn Eighe traverse the previous day, I failed to even think about spending five minutes in the morning to drop it off where the Toll Ban path emerged at the road.

Nearly back down in Glen Torridon - and muppet realisation

A gentle wander back to the car in remarkable surroundings

Glen Cottage - with a tasty bit of hard landscaping in the back garden

However, sauntering and taking photographs passed the time and in the end didn’t detract from one of the most spectacular days in the Scottish hills I’ve spent. Under a glorious blue sky, with the towering majesty of Liathach looming above, it was an enjoyable far cry from my first encounter with Glen Torridon. Back in the late 1970s I recall a grey, rain-lashed wilderness that spat us out with disdain. I didn’t return for over thirty years.

I guess I’m still trying to make up for lost time, and there are plenty of airy perches.
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old danensian
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Re: Liathach: warm rock and airy perches

Postby dooterbang » Mon Jun 20, 2016 12:18 pm

Brilliant detailed descriptive read :)

Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did...will you back up next weekend :wink:

It most certainly is scrambling heaven for us hillwalker folk.

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Re: Liathach: warm rock and airy perches

Postby jamesb63 » Mon Jun 20, 2016 12:28 pm

Its just like I imagined you would get superb vistas all around
what a day you got in marked contrast to the previous day when I done it
still I know for sure I will return some sunny day
What a nice report so glad you got the weather :clap: :clap:
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Re: Liathach: warm rock and airy perches

Postby Borderhugh » Mon Jun 20, 2016 5:48 pm

Great report Nigel!

I have yet to see the sun in Torridon, but this will be my first port of call. It looks spectacular, totally absorbing and mesmerising.
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Location: Stirling :)

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