In the company of a fine hill


It had been a good few years since I’d trodden the hallowed Old Torridonian Sandstone of ‘the forge’, or to give it its old Gaelic title, An Teallach. For my companion, this week’s visit to the pinnacles of that awesome ridge was his first.

At the end of a stunningly beautiful week of cloud free skies in the north west, we motored over to Dundonnell , to arrive early enough for an eight thirty start.

Through trees and rhododendrons and a fair helping of boot-churned mire, we followed a path of sorts along the Garbh Allt. Mercifully it soon broke into the open and developed into an easily followed trail.

Over the heathery moorland, in the company of drought shrunken waterfalls and thirsty little lochans, we gradually climbed toward the shrouded ridge of Glas Meall Mor. There was probably a path up the nose of this spur, (one of An Teallach’s out riders), but we followed a fainter one that took us into the depths of wildly beautiful Coire a’ Glas Thuill.

A climb directly up the far west wall of this great grassy bowl, would bring the walker onto the ridge of the first Munro, Bidiein a’ Ghlas Thuill, but up there in the mist crags were waiting to waylay the unwary; at the very least a charge up into those quarters could be a frustratingly time consuming exercise.

A better option was to climb, albeit very steeply, straight up the grassy slopes to our right. It was a slow though not too arduous haul amongst grass and shifty boulders. Yet before long, and by dint of constant chatting, we were on the skyline and up amongst the clouds.

Now, to our hearts content, we could follow a proper mountain path. Sensing that the sun was battling hard to defeat the clouds we walked along a stony red ridge which soon had us at the foot of Munro number one. ‘Peak of the green hollow’. For such a steep hill, the going- well over on the northern flank and away from the plunging southern cliffs-was easy, even if somewhat spoiled by the erosion of its own popularity.

Soon we were standing by the cairn; we were even treated to tantalising glimpses into An Teallach’s huge north western corrie well over a thousand feet below. Below us, bravely struggling to make itself visible through the mirk, the long narrow finger of Loch na Sealga, seemed to glow. On the other side of those waters soared a watery looking Beinn Dearg Mhor.

A long drop down the Bidein’s nether side and a tight, windy col, followed by another climb of similar character, had us almost at the top of Munro number two, Sgurr Fiona (the fair peak), at 1060 metres.

But it wasn’t those extra feet that slowed our progress to the mountain’s rocky summit plinth. Rather, it was the sudden bursting forth of the sun, lighting up the quartzy bulk of Sgurr Creag an Eich, which stopped us in our tracks and had us sitting and marvelling inthe company of a male wheatear.

After which a short and easy scramble had us at the summit for our lunch. Again the mist closed in. Through the veil came voices! We waited but no one came; we learned why a little later.

Beneath us, along the very edge of the cliff top, the walls of which fell sheer for a thousand feet or more, the path stretched like a tight rope. Just ahead rose the strange pillar of ‘Lord Berkley’s Seat’, a huge nipple of sandstone topped by a platform not much larger than the proverbial postage stamp. Lord Berkley, an Irish philosopher and old time mountaineer, had sat there after his own ascent, feetreputedly dangling over seven seconds of free fall. After making the easy scramble to said platform, we were happy just to sit there in the sun, our own feet firmly rooted to the spot!

Next, the highlight of any day on An Tealach, came the Corrag Bhuidhe Pinnacles, a fine series of sandstone teeth which provide a safe though absorbing scramble. These in turn are followed by the more serious Corrag Bhuidhe Buttress.

Now we discovered where those voices had come from. As we climbed the first pinnacle we found ourselves virtually tripping over climbers who’d apparently approached from the opposite direction; having finished with the excitement of the airy traverse, they weredraped around the platform, sun bathing. Even some of their belongings were posited on the very holds our hands and feet were, reliant on! The pinnacles came and went; finally the buttress, easy enough from this side, yet potentially dangerous in descent from here, necessitating a slight back track to an awkward descent into safety and a chance to catch our breath!

Beyond the pinnacles, and with stupendous views into Toll an Lochan with its now sky blue waters, we marched to the lesser summit of Stob Cadha Gobhlach. We did so with many a backward glance at the stunning rock architecture we’d passed through.

Crossing Cadha Gobhlach, we paused by another strange rock formation and stupendous gullies which plunged steep and rockily to the corrie floor. Here is another, somewhat scruffy way down; we ignored it.

One more short but by now, somewhat tiresome, ascent had us on the beautiful shattered grey quartz of Sail Liath (grey heel)-how this hill must glow like snow on any moonlit night!

This was at last the final hill of the day. But by no means had weneared our final mile. Our chosen descent was by way of Sail Liath’s tedious boulder fields, an awkward undertaking at any time, more especially when legs are tired and concentration a tad impaired by growing fatigue. We took it carefully into Coire Ghuibhsaichean, with its two mile length of bounding cliffs of palest grey quartz.

In fact we’d originally intended to walk along the top of that aerial walkway, a delight which would have led us virtually all the way to our journey’s end.

However, a slight misinterpretation of the terrain from above had led us onto the wrong terrace, necessitating an awkward drop in order to reach the river below. With a fine waterfall and constant backward glances at the mighty ridge above us, we ambled the final four miles back. By the time we reached the car we were indeed weary.

But it was a truly satisfied weariness born of a 10-hour tramp filled with the thrills of being in the company of one of Scotland’s finest mountains.