Beinn Dearg - 914m
Stuc Loch na Cabhaig - 887m
Na Rathanan, Beinn Alligin - 866m
Sgurr Mhor (Beinn Alligin) - 986m
Tom na Gruagaich (Beinn Alligin) - 922m
Saturday 30th April 2011
Weather/Conditions: Beautiful weather for my first time in Torridon. Sunny skies, huge views and good visibility. Some high winds on the summits. The smoke from Liathach's wildfire reduced visibility later in the later - but an amazing thing to see.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 20km / 1950m / 9h
Accompanying: Colin, Faye, Jim (on all) and Gerry (on Alligin)
Torridon is one hell of a place, and everything from there northward to Dundonnell may be my favourite place in Scotland. From the epic Fisherfield trip in 2009 with the bivouac beneath A' Mhaighdean to the magic week at Poolewe and Loch Maree - it never disappoints. We had exceptional weather on our traverse across Beinn Dearg and Beinn Alligin. The memories only grow sweeter with the passing time and I was more than happy to be back in one of my favourite places in the world.
We'd spent the night at Coulags bothy and walked back to the car in Glen Carron in the morning. The morning was beautiful, with the sun out.
Coulags bothy to Torridon
Colin, Faye and I had been milling around Glen Carron the previous day. We'd climbed three new mountains and spent the night in Coulags bothy. Colin and Faye know Jim Sutherland, I believe, through working on Tir is Teanga. Something like that. So we left the bothy in the morning and drove around to Shieldaig where Jim lives. It is an amazing drive. I'd never seen Glen Carron before. There was excitement driving past the corries of Beinn Bhan. Looking at great square-cut walls and considering improbably hard mixed winter climbs. The North-west Highlands look amazing under clear skies. New mountains appeared around bends. Deep, deep blue lochs were set between shores of pine.
We arrived at Jim Sutherland's place in Shieldaig. He has a really nice place and a very cool view of Liathach from the door. We spent a while here before driving off to Torridon.
I'd never seen Torridon before, close up. So it was in possession of eyes like saucepans that we rounded the bend above Shieldaig and Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg came into view. Oh my god... What a place! The drama here is unbelievable. Yet another place that I know the topographical form of the mountains inside out, another place where the reality is magnificent beyond any preconception.
We parked up at the eastern end of Liathach. I was surprised to see so many cars around. I think Jim said something like it was the busiest he'd seen. Colin called it the "Glen Coe of the north." We walked north into the valley above the car park. A great path runs between Liathach and Beinn Eighe - two amazing mountains, right there...
Then piece by piece, the northern corries of Liathach peeled back. Jim has climbed a lot in this area and I hugely appreciated the guided tour of these northern corries. Seeing our objective Beinn Dearg ahead was one thing, but watching the Northern Pinnacles of Mullach an Rathain was something else. Pair this with the perfect weather and well - I was in heaven. We climbed onto Carn na Feola first, which is a top lying east of Beinn Dearg. It is very much part of Beinn Dearg and is a superb viewpoint of the surrounding mountains.
Beinn Dearg is interesting for being a Corbett that was accurately resurveyed, as it was just under Munro-height. And so it remains a Corbett. I thought it lacks the incredible character of the Torridonian Munros, but I like to think that isn't a slight. It's interesting features are subtle: the narrow tower on the east ridge and the sliced off summit of the north Top. It lies in the heart of Torridon and the Munros radiate like spokes.
We walked westward from Carn na Feola to Beinn Dearg's eastern tower, where despite the great weather, the wind had kicked up a bit. We brought helmets out for extra safety. Jim is a mountain guide in Torridon and without him technically guiding us here, I now understand the peace of mind and confidence that a guide inspires. I didn't before. A couple of easy rock steps brought us over the tower. It was a lot of fun, sadly short-lived and Beinn Dearg's cairned summit followed shortly after.
For a Corbett, we met many people on the summit which was nice to see for a hill of this quality. And undoubtedly one of the highlights of this mountain is to look westward to Beinn Alligin, which could be one of the most amazing mountains I'll ever see.
Beinn Dearg descent
I nipped up the north top with the sliced summit (Stuc Loch na Cabhaig) and met the others below on the west face. And I was in such an huge good mood that I insisted in climbing over all the wee blocks and pinnacles on the way up. Riding on the joy, I always kept in mind that this was one of the most amazing days of my year. Don't forget this. This is special.
Craggy as it is, we managed to take a good route off Beinn Dearg's west face, involving no death-defying antics in the process. Looking back up the face revealed there weren't many better lines we could have taken. It all went without incident and we walked into the valley knowing that Beinn Alligin was still to come. How good could it get?
Horns of Alligin
Jim has a friend called Gerry who caught my attention because only last year walked a continuous round of the Munros. And to add to such an achievement he was the oldest to do so. I even knew about his round before we met. We'd planned to meet below Beinn Alligin at 3pm and we arrived only five minutes late - not bad, considering where we'd come from.
Faye headed back to the cars at the Coire Mhic Nobuil car park while the rest of us plodded up to the Horns of Alligin. The plod is long, but very much worth it. The Horns are one of the several highlights of the Alligin round and they lived up to their name. Approached from this angle, they are mostly walking with a couple of sections of scrambling up the terraces, and what scrambling exists, is a lot of fun. The drop off the northern side is quite sheer, but all the climbing happens on the south side and I was pleased to discover it was on the right side of my capabilities. I would almost consider doing it in winter. A couple of moves felt sketchy on the final descent to Sgurr Mhor, but I never felt in danger. That, I am pleased about.
All the while, the fire over at Liathach sent higher and higher plumes of smoke. Oddly enough, I didn't think much about it even though it began obscuring views from Beinn Alligin. As we had a rest at the far end of the pinnacles, the light was tinted yellow and the smell of burning was in the air. I began to think I may not get to take my 360 panorama from Sgurr Mhor after all.
It's a straight walk up to the top, take-no-prisoners style, and then you're right out on the summit. And then the sea comes into view. And the view is to die for.
The thrill was unbelievable. This must be the Hebrides at their best, and I could linger there for hours. For the duration we were there, a couple were sitting on the grass looking out to the west. Everybody else was moving on and I followed on too. This isn't stuff you don't want to forget.
Like that wasn't enough, we walked off the summit as the great gash of Alligin - Eag Dhubh - filled the void below us. Jim reminded me of it - and of course! I was so caught up in everything else, I'd completely forgotten about it. Like most of Beinn Alligin, it's another stunning piece of architecture and seeing photographs had left me completely unprepared for the size of this thing. It really fills your entire view - when you stand and look at it, you are both above and below it. The view through the slot and down into the corrie is mind-bending.
On the way to Tom na Gruagaich I saw some kind of eagle above the hill - perhaps a golden or sea eagle? It is in the picture top right, I would be interested to know. We regrouped on Tom na Gruagaich, which was also Colin's 200th Munro. And what a place to have it. We took a break, I got great photographs and Colin had his mountain. That had been the purpose of the trip, after all.
And to complete the fun, a 3000-foot knee-battering descent followed. Well - it's not quite so bad but it's a steep one. I talked to Gerry a lot about his Munro round the year before, started to feel like I was doing a game of twenty questions (hope he didn't mind the relentless questions!). But what an interesting thing to have done. (No less, at the age of 66) And I admit to toying with the idea from time to time, too...
And with the sun dipping now, four of us arrived at the Coire Mhic Nobuil car park, all very happy, smiles all around. Gerry commented he'd never seen the bog at the start of the path dried out as it was today.
Liathach Fire, after walk
In a way it seemed the day had only just began. We drove into Torridon with Liathach above our heads, wrapped in colossal plumes of smoke. I don't know if anyone clicked before myself, but it was only now I realised it was a wild fire.
We arrived in Torridon to fire engines and a gentle buzz of activity. The guy running the Youth Hostel had been packed to leave short-notice (the flames stopped a couple metres from the building). We bought pizza from the hostel then stood looking at the hill above. The fire was wiping the hillside clean. Trails of fire extended from ground-level to nearly 3000 feet.
In a certain way, it was tragic - what if homes were burnt down? Would it travel and destroy the Coire Mhic Nobuil forests? In another way, I was inspired and in absolute awe. Liathach is a strong mountain in formation and in reputation. One of the most highly regarded of all Scotland's mountains. So to lay eyes on it for the first time and watch it burning is more than slightly strange. To watch it burn was to watch forces at work greater than the mountain itself. It is poignant. I took in every moment because I didn't think I'd see anything quite like this again.
We ate that pizza back at Jim's in Shieldaig. In the evening I went up to a crag behind the village, got up above the crags when Liathach came into view, still ablaze in the night. Some of the resulting photographs are my favourite from the day.
In the long run, I don't think property was damaged, nor much forest damaged. And I didn't hear what started the fire, either.
And it was one of those once-a-year days too - superb start to end, climbing some great mountains, walking with great company, passionate and knowledgeable about the mountains. Jim and Gerry undoubtedly live in one of the most beautiful places in Scotland.
I don't know when I'll get back to Torridon, but I look forward to it.
Carn na Feola 360°
Beinn Dearg 360°
Stuc Loch na Cabhaig 360°
Sgurr Mhor (Beinn Alligin) 360°
Sgurr Mhor (Beinn Alligin) - 100° Detail South
Tom na Gruagaich (Beinn Alligin) 180° - North
Tom na Gruagaich (Beinn Alligin) 180° - South
(-0.35) 8.00am Left Coulags
(0.00) 8.35am Back at Car
(0.00) 10.00am Start of Route (E of Liathach)
(2.25) 12.25pm Carn na Feola
(3.50) 1.50pm Beinn Dearg
(4.10) 2.10pm Stuc Loch na Cabhaig
(5.05) 3.05pm Met Gerry
(6.20) 4.20pm Na Rathanan (Beinn Alligin)
(7.00) 5.00pm Sgurr Mhor (Beinn Alligin)
(7.50) 5.50pm Tom na Gruagaich (Beinn Alligin)
(9.00) 7.00pm Coire Mhic Nobuil car park (end of route)