A narrow ledge that should only be used by the timid “in extremis”

Looking back along the ridge
Looking back along the ridge

Liathach takes no prisoners! Right from the off the route, albeit by way of a beautifully engineered path, is brutally steep. To gaze up at the ridge, seemingly so close, you’d never credit the two hours of solid graft it takes to attain it.

And gaze we did. ‘The Grey One’s’ tops were entirely shrouded; rain had fallen through much of the night and had only stopped within the past hour. We started our walk at eleven.

Initially the path hugs the eastern bank of the Allt an Doire Ghairbh, until (close to a waterfall), it veered away for a while to provide sparodic opportunities for some easy scrambling.

There’s no rush! And that’s good because as height is gained and pauses enforced, we had ample opportunity to study the huge sandstone terraces piled, one on top of another, that make up the south face of Liathach. The mountain looks impreganable!

Relief comes high up as the path levels out amongst the rocks of a little corrie. However, the relief is short lived.

The back of the corrie is walled by the top most crags of the ridge above. There are a couple of gullies that, at a push, give hard won and messy access to the ridge, but it’s best to stay with the path as it discovers its own tortuous route through the rocks and finally onto the skyline just below the top of little Stuc a’ Choire Dhuibhe Bhig.

And our first views into the lochan studded wastelands on the mountain’s northern side. Sail Mhor of Benin Eighe, is most prominent on that side and, farther out and still struggling to loosen their shoulders of lowering cloud, the hills of Flowerdale, dominate.

We were eager for the west. Thus in that direction we walked over the twin tops of 915 metre Bidean Tol a’ Mhuic; the connecting ridge is narrow and rocky (quartz now, not sandstone). Northwards, riven by jagged gullies, dark cliffs fell away from our feet. Each of those gullies made a perfect picture frame for those spell binding empty lands of Flowerdale.

From this little peak the drop to the next col, exaggerated by the mist, looked big. In fact it didn’t take long to get down and then onto the boulder field of Liathach’s chief peak, Spidean a’ Choire Lieth (1054 metres). ‘Peak of the Grey Corrie’, is the English translation; it’s the pale colour of the quarzt blocks that drape the summit’s head and shoulders, that gives rise to the name.

Liathach, indeed all of the surrounding Torridonian peaks, are comprised of underlying red sandstone overlaid with quartz; apart from on the highest summits, most of the quartz has been weathered away, leaving behind the crumbling sandstone. Often, as is the case on Liathach, the sandstone has been weathered into weird and wonderful pinnacles, spikes and jutting teeth. Am Fasarinen, ‘The Teeth’, are a collection of such pinnacles that straddle the ridge; these teeth were waiting there to bite us!

We couldn’t see them from the summit, to find them in the fog we had to set a bearing. The bouldery drop was tiresome until we dropped below the cloud. Across the intervening grassy col, shifting tantalisingly in and out of the shredding mist, the fearsome black ridge appeared. On the north side huge cliffs fell sheer for hundreds of feet, quickening our heart beats and luring us on.

We arrived at the first pinnacle. Rather than a scramble it was an easy clamber. In fact this can be said of most of the pinnacles; there’s always an easy way up and down. You can make things harder only if you want too. The ‘Teeth’ are renowned more for their exposure than any difficulty, you certainly need a head for heights of the narrowest sections. However even these sections are short lived.

As we clambered and climbed we gave voice often to our delight, our voices echoing eerily around the crumbling bastions. The final rocky pyramid gave way all too abruptly to more pedesrtrian friendly grass. All the ‘difficulties’ were past. However there is a bypass path that skirts the southern cliffs 100 feet below, a narrow ledge that, to quote one guide book, should only be used by the timid “in extremis”. Other sources suggest that the exposure on said path is even more marked than on the pinnacles themselves.

I wondered why. And so, leaving my partner to drool over his so recent accomplishments, I picked up the path and went to have a look. And very quickly wished I hadn’t!

The path started off benignly enough. Very quickly however, and before I realised what was happening, it became a foot wide ledge with huge drops just inches from my boots. It was wet, which didn’t soothe the nerves. In one or two places I found myself inching gingerly forward, grasping any piece of rock in the cliff at my shoulder that might loosely serve as a hand rail. Any slip, to my mind eminently more possible here than on the ridge above, would be fatal!

Was I happy to reach the end! But then I had to walk all the way back to my companion again. The return trip felt easier, yet with no room for over confidence I still exercised the greatest care and breathed a sigh of relief on re-joining my buddy at the col.

While I was gone the sun had come out, making for a stunningly beautiful afternoon. Mullach an Rathain, (1023 metres), the day’s final peak, smoked a little still as the remaining clouds rolled off her steaming back. Loch Torridon glistened far below. Red mountains flowed away in all directions, those to the south a vast jostle of former acquaintances.

A gentle climb led us to the summit. Below us the savage looking Northern Pinnacles climbed from the depths of Coire Mhic Nobuil. Beyond these rose Beinn Dearg, another worthy sandstone peak; Beinn Alligin, not seen at its best from here, still looked impressive. Beyond these we had glimpses of the Flowerdale Corbetts, and around the circle eastwards, walling in the Fisherfield, Ben Lair and his kin loomed darkly.

We turned at last to face Glen Torridon. The Mullach’s southwest ridge hemmed the deep corrie below us and down that corrie snaked an obvious path, more a boot scraped runnel in the sandy scree. Steep in places and ever shifting, we took the descent slowly; with such a glorious mountain scene about us why on earth would we hurry!

Way below and a few slips and slides later the dirty scree gave way to rock and, intermittently, grass. As our path joined the company of the Allt Toll Bhan, it became more robust and reliable. Cars still looked tiny on the glen road still a long way off. But we didn’t really want to reach the road, ever! The day had started damp and dank, now that our walk was almost done, the evening light was truly glorious.