walkhighlands

Liathach, Torridon

Route: Liathach, Glen Torridon

Munros: Mullach an Rathain (Liathach), Spidean a'Choire Leith (Liathach)

Date walked: 09/10/2010

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 10km

Ascent: 1221m

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.
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Ascent following Allt an Doire Ghairbh
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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.

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looking east to Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig and Beinn Eighe from Stob a Choire Liath Mhor
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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.
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The descent south west from Spidean a Choire Leith to the pinnacles
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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!
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Looking north east to Spidean a Choire Leith from start of the Am Fasarinen pinnacles
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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.

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The orcs gate Am Fasarinen pinnacles
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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.
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Am Fasarinen the largest pinnacle showing direct route and bypass to south
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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.
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Am Fasarinen looking west from top the largest pinnacle to the highest point
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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Lookind south from Mullach an Rathain to upper loch torridon
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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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Comments: 20


paul.copestake


Activity: Backpacker
Pub: Royal Hotel Ullapool
Mountain: Am Teallach
Place: Ullapool
Gear: Leica Binoculars
Member: British Trust for Ornithology
Ideal day out: varied scenery a top with a view and good birds




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Statistics

2010

Trips: 1
Distance: 10 km
Ascent: 1221m
Munros: 2


Joined: Oct 08, 2010
Last visited: Apr 23, 2014
Total posts: 4 | Search posts