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Liathach, Torridon

Liathach, Torridon

Postby paul.copestake » Wed Oct 13, 2010 11:39 pm

Route description: Liathach, Glen Torridon

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

Date walked: 09/10/2010

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 10 km

Ascent: 1221m

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Liathach 9th October 2010

Guides to Scottish mountains all rate Liathach highly; central within Torridon, it is inspiring to all who set sight of it. What adds to its reputation is its notorious pinnacles, Am Fasarinen, that separate two Munro’s; Spidean a’ Choire Leith in the east and Mullach an Rathain in the west. To add to the mystique there are many and varied accounts of traversing Am Fasarinen whether by the pinnacles or the bypass track. Is the author who says it is easy a hardened rock climber or one who adds dire warnings someone who suffers from vertigo? What were the conditions when both did the walk, how did that affect their tale? Well here is another account to consider for your own planning!

Our party all live in Ullapool, so we were able to wait for good weather conditions; on the 9th of October the forecast was for sun, little or no cloud and no more than a moderate easterly wind. Our plan was to follow the route given in Walk Highlands, starting at the car park west of Glen Cottage and making an anti-clockwise circuit completing the traverse from East to West. Leaving home in the dark at 6am our party were underway up the track shortly after 1st light at 7:30.
Ascent following Allt an Doire Ghairbh
The final push to the ridge, last water stop

The ascent from the car park is relentless; the gradient varying from, very steep to steep and very very steep. The path is the saving grace, especially in the first half, cleverly constructed not so long ago and yet it seems as if had been in place for ever. The burn, Allt an Doire Ghairbh was running full enough to replenish water bottles at 600m just before the entrance to a prominent gully skirted to the east by the path which follows a natural line to the ridge; we arrived at 9:30, two hours after leaving the car park.

looking east to Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig and Beinn Eighe from Stob a Choire Liath Mhor
Looking west to Spidean a Choire Leith from Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig

The day for us was glorious so well worth the half hour detour to Stuc a’ Choire Dhuibh Bhig, at 915m, the Eastern point of the Liathach ridge commanding the full vista of Beinn Eighe: Worth it too for the view back west and the succession of peaks leading to the first Munro Spidean a Choire Liath Mhor. From where the path meets the ridge up, down, up, down and up, one and half kilometres, for us about an hours slog along a pronounced but not vertiginous ridge, fantastic views north and south distracted only by the quartzite boulders demanding concentration underfoot.
The descent south west from Spidean a Choire Leith to the pinnacles
Looking south west at the start of the Am Fasarinen pinnacles

From the summit and for us, first lunch, you at last catch a view of the pinnacles of Am Fasarinen; they look both impressive and intimidating and you believe the more pessimistic accounts as to the difficulty of their traverse. The north cliffs dark in the autumn shadow fell vertically into the Glass Toll Lochans. The vista beyond is breathtaking sandwiched between Beinn Alligin and Beinn Eighe the vast and empty moors and beyond the coastline of Wester Ross The descent through the quartzite is hard going: in poor visibility picking your route would be a challenge as the path is mostly lost amongst the boulders; also the grassy slope marking the end of the quartz and the start of the pinnacles is not a big target. My instinct felt to keep away from the north crags, but I had to counter this; the best route follows a roughly south west course which means dropping below the crest of the slope to your south i.e., keep it on your left side One of our party had on previous descent followed the ridge to the south east; a dead end, ‘definitely not the place to be! His escape forced a descent before the pinnacles; he had a score to settle this day!
Looking north east to Spidean a Choire Leith from start of the Am Fasarinen pinnacles
start of the Am Fasarinen pinnacles

Off the quartz and you are led by a well trod gravel path across a grassy slope to the start of the pinnacles: The first of these are easily bypassed to the south, the scramble over them only worth the detour to peer bravely over the edge for another aspect of the view and crags. The character of the pinnacle gave me hope, the slope to the south though very steep and seemingly perched above the Torridon valley is not vertical; nor does the path force you to hug the cliffs to the north which are.

The orcs gate Am Fasarinen pinnacles
Am Fasarinen looking west to the largest and most imposing pinnacle, and Mullach an Rathain

All paths come together at what for me was a Tolkienesk gate that I felt sure on a gloomy day would be guarded by Orcs and Goblins. From here a really good view of the crux of the pinnacles: Not for the first time that day, I was glad that it was fine weather with good visibility, through binoculars we could pick a route, although from face on, like in the photo, it looked horribly steep. It was also clear to see that the path detour to the south of the pinnacles would have its own share of exposure but without the scrambling.
Am Fasarinen the largest pinnacle showing direct route and bypass to south
Am Fasarinen the crux of the largest pinnacle

As it turned out the climb was not as daunting as I had supposed, the slope was no steeper than a step-ladder and throughout there were ‘jug’ handholds and lots of places to put your feet; the route was also in a shallow gully so you did have to climb and pear over the north cliffs at the same time: This pitch was perhaps 20m long which is high enough, it was quickly past giving way to an easy scramble to a broad path across the top of the pinnacle; this path has a sneaky little dip, but we found a lovely slab for an easy route to the south, all be it on hands and knees.
Am Fasarinen looking west from top the largest pinnacle to the highest point
Am Fasarinen Looking east to the top of the largest pinnacle, the sneaky step and Spidean a Choire Leith

The sneaky dip was a gully south giving a view of the bypass path 50m below, and as other accounts say, “through legs you car parked at the valley floor”. The ridge leads at last and high point of the pinnacles, another little hump with its own scramble, similar to the main crux and for me, not as challenging.
Am Fasarinen looking south to the glen torridon from the ridge, showing the bypass path

The descent of the final pinnacle is relaxed; the path rejoins the bypass route leading to the grassy slopes that marks the ascent to Mullach an Rathain. Time again to look back from where we had come and pause for breath; Am Fasarinen conquered. It had taken us an hour from Spidean a Choire Leith.

Am Fasarinen the westermost pinnacle showing direct route and bypass to south

Reflecting back on Am Fasarinen, at no point did any of our party feel that we needed the rope and belays that we had lugged up ‘just in case’, though perhaps on a different day with more wind, cloud and wet surfaces our first traverse would have more cautious. For me the pinnacles were very reminiscent of Stac Pollaidh, A 600m pocket mountain 50km north and also in Wester Ross, it too has an exposed ridge of sandstone rock; for me this is equally challenging and with a similar sense of exposure. I felt that if someone was happy traversing the Stac Pollaidh ridge they would readily cope with Am Fasarinen. As a training ground Stac Pollaidh has much to commend it, not as committing in time as Am Fasarinen with many more escape options from the ridge.

The final ascent to Mullach an Rathain

The final slope, just over 100m in under a kilometre was relaxed and we were on the top of Mullach an Rathain, the western Munroe at 1pm, five and a half hours since we left the car; second lunch. Great views opened the Torridon coast immediately below and further south and west, interlocking blue horizons of all hues, Skye, Rum, Ardnamuchan and a distant Ben Nevis.

Looking north west from Mullach an Rathain to Beinn Alligen

The route had a final sting in the tail – the descent is long and unforgiving: Beginning with an evil quartz scree only slightly eased by a path of ski slalom scale zig-zags worn to gravel and dust. After 400m descent you are into the headwaters of Allt am Tuill Bhain (welcome refill of the water bottle) and although the gradient hardly slackens you begin to pick up more path works which while not as grand as the ascent are welcome for weary limbs. Back at the road by 3pm, a round trip of seven and a half hours. A carefully hidden bike made quick work of recovering the car saving the 2km walk along the road.
Lookind south from Mullach an Rathain to upper loch torridon
The long descent from Mullach an Rathain down Toll Ban

The epitaph to a really great day is to wonder if you would climb Liathach differently on another day. A simple answer, no: In my view the route east to west, provides the better ascent; not only because you reach the ridge earlier but the minor tops on the way up to Spidean a Choire Leith is tackled when fresh and with the early morning sun on your back the view on a fine day is awesome. Equally I think Am Fasarinen is best tackled east to west; the steepest parts are climbs not descents though perhaps this is not critical if you take the bypass path. Finally to do the walk in reverse would make for a long slog up Toll Ban or even the ridge to its west. If I were to change anything on our route it would be to finish along the gentle descent west over Sgorr a Chadail; but that would require a second car or some strong soul happy to finish with a longer bike ride.

I am indebted to John and Richard my companions on the day and to Will whose stunning pictures from earlier in the year strengthened by resolve to follow suit and scale Liathach.
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby mountain coward » Thu Oct 14, 2010 12:20 am

I was absolutely glued to that report - especially the pictures and even more so the annotated ones - thanks for those. You've made it pretty clear what I'm up against and I can keep studying it and trying to get used to it. Superb photos! :D
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby kinley » Thu Oct 14, 2010 12:40 am

Lovely - real feel for the day. 8)

In terms of alternative routes - you can loop back round the north rather than that irritating descent to the road.

The Sgorr a Chadail arm is a gem too 8)

Cracking day though - cheers 8)

Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby alanmurray » Thu Oct 14, 2010 8:38 am

Excellent report Paul - photos and descriptions superbly detailed - I like detail.
Still to try Liathach - like MC, have to study the gradients, the scrambles and look for possible escape routes.
I really liked the annotated photos, this allows me to get the route into my head - for me it's the fear of not knowing, turning a corner, and thinking - I cant do that.

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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby Fudgie » Thu Oct 14, 2010 10:51 am

Thats a very well written report and it's certainly very informative. I'm also glad you didn't meet any Orcs or Goblins :D
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby kevsbald » Thu Oct 14, 2010 3:25 pm

Oohho, I cannae wait!
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby malky_c » Thu Oct 14, 2010 4:07 pm

That's a great report - well detailed, and with some lovely pictures :D Have done this a couple of times, but it could always use another visit!

Your name seems vaguely familiar - did you work for SEPA a few years ago?
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby LeithySuburbs » Thu Oct 14, 2010 8:14 pm

Whets the appetite nicely this report :) . I used to fancy Liathath for compleating but no way can I wait that long :lol: . Great report and pics :thumbup:
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby mountain coward » Thu Oct 14, 2010 9:34 pm

alanmurray wrote:Excellent report Paul - photos and descriptions superbly detailed - I like detail.
Still to try Liathach - like MC, have to study the gradients, the scrambles and look for possible escape routes.
I really liked the annotated photos, this allows me to get the route into my head - for me it's the fear of not knowing, turning a corner, and thinking - I cant do that.


You're exactly like me! I like detail and all the pics I can get! And I'm always worried if things get worse round the corner. Often I can see that I could do the next bit but not if it then gets worse later where I can't see! And I just love my escape routes and sometimes spend all my time looking for them - like I did all the way round the 5 Sisters when I started to hate it halfway round! I'm glad I'm not the only one :D
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby potace » Fri Oct 15, 2010 3:18 am

Nice post. I climbed this on a similarly good day. It would be a pity to do otherwise. I do also think that like the AE ridge, Liatach's reputation is over-exaggerated and it is not a technically challenging walk. Not that I want to detract from what is a cracking walk. It's got to be East to West for me. The initial climb is very much into a Tolkienesque landscape as was mentioned and the views from the ridge are utterly aweinspiring.
The descent is very much the sting in the tail and I seem to remeber finding stairs a real challenge for a few days after.
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby gedme » Mon Oct 18, 2010 2:52 pm

What a great report stunning photos and sounds like a fantastic although hard day was glued to it. One day maybe.
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby mountain coward » Tue Oct 19, 2010 2:10 am

This Liathach report to me is the Walk Report of the month one!
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby houdi » Wed Oct 20, 2010 1:19 pm

Brilliant report - best I've seen on Liathac. I got a perfect day for this traverse but the battery died on my camera (forgot my spare) and I have no pics from Mullach an Rathain. The views over Loch Torridon were amazing that day as well!
I found the pinnacles very easy, but that's just the frustrated mountain climber in me.
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby 2dalmatians » Mon Nov 22, 2010 9:38 pm

Great Report. Actually had some butteflies looking at those pictures - the 20mtr step ladder might be a step too far for me!
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Re: Liathach, Torridon

Postby pruney84 » Tue Nov 23, 2010 8:49 pm

Great report and pictures, really enjoyed reading it and looking, hope one day i am able to tackle this
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