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Torridon Giants

After completing the Am Fasarinen Pinnacles, Liathach
After completing the Am Fasarinen Pinnacles, Liathach

Torridon is a very special place to me and each year it feels like a privileged to be able to guide people through the fantastic hills there. This year was no different and despite some wild weather proved again how special the area is.

The itinerary for the week is set out so each big mountain day is followed by a rest day to give the legs a bit of time to recover so people can get the most out of each day and enjoy the Torridon Giants Trek. With this in mind on day one the forecast 30-50 mile an hour winds and heavy rain showers meant it looked tricky to make the summit of one of the giants. We opted to set out on Beinn Eighe – the hill with the least scrambling and also a famed coire which is sheltered from the westerly winds. We’d have the option to poke our heads up onto the summit and then turn back if needed and also spectacular wreckage of a Lancaster Bomber which crashed in the coire in 1951. Setting out from the van proved as wild as the forecast but we were soon sheltered behind the bulk of Liathach as we slowly gained height towards the coire. Even in bad weather there were moments to stop and gape at the stunning wild remote terrain of the area. Crossing a burn that was chocked with water on the way in and winding up around the hillside we gained our first view of the coire and the waterfalls flowing from it. The gust of wind was taking water from these and throwing back up into the loch in the coire as well as giving the group a bit of a buffeting. We decided prudent action was to duck behind some boulders where it was much more sheltered and appraise our plans. We’d not continue the walk and instead embark on a tour around the corie. The summits would have to be saved for another day as the old adage goes – the mountain will always be there make sure you are too. Not all was lost though as this would give us time to explore the wreckage of the Lancaster Bomber which is normally only seen from a distance while on the track. We’d also traverse the sheltered westerly side of the Loch which gives stunning views to the famed triple buttress rearing its head at the end of the coire amid swirling clouds. The wreckage included parts of the engines, fuselage and landing gear as well as one of the massive propellers. Facinating to see up close and particularly poignant in those wild conditions. From there we headed back the way we’d come for a fire in Thrail house to dry us back out again.

Heading to the Horns of Alligin
Heading to the Horns of Alligin

Day two started out with a tour of the Beinn Eighe nature reserve – this is one of the last remaining natural forests of Caledonian Pine in Scotland. Well looked after and with an informative visitor centre, it’s home to roe and red dear, pine martin, red squirrels, sea and golden eagles, northern divers, crossbills and many other species. We completed the buzzard trail and had a look around the visitor centre learning the landscapes history and natures connection to it. After this we headed up to Gairloch to take a Shellfish Safari and seafood lunch. Unfortunately the weather again meant we had to change plans as the wind wasn’t playing ball and we needed to reschedule for Thursday. We headed to the Badachro Inn for lunch instead and then made the most of the afternoon by heading up a little visited hill in the back of Flowerdale. An Groban is a rocky peak, great for us to practice our scrambling ahead of the coming giants and giving magnificent view in every direction. We could see as far as Suilven in the north, the Torridon hills to the south and Skye and the Hebrides to the west. A great way to enjoy some sunshine in the afternoon.

Wednesday was a damp atmospheric start but soon brightened. We headed up Ben Alligin, the Jewel in Torridon’s crown. Traversing in a clockwise direction we were hidden from the wind for the morning and it had dried out by the time we made it to our first summit. On the way up we passed a team repairing the track. Hard work but they do a very good job laying large local stones to from steps much of the way. The first summit itself is a spectacular place, smooth from the direction we approached looking like nothing more than a tor but vertical cliffs for hundreds of meters to the east. It’s a summit not to be missed and starts a rewarding work along one of the UK’s finest ridges. After a bite to eat at the summit rocks we started our traverse of the ridge, scrambling easily down at first with the odd rocky step needing care you soon get immersed in the pleasure of the movement and situation. We were greeted to fleeting views through the clouds which by this stage were starting to lift and clear. At the first bealach the way gets a little easier and you feel like you’re making good progress on a clear track. This leads to the chasm of the screamming (as it’s locally known), named after a drunken shepherd who thought he heard a screaming lady down there and went to her aid. The screaming did stop but he was also never seen again. Before long your at the second munro – Sgorr Mor. There were a few other people there, a couple who lived not too far from one of our team over in America so it proved a good chance to grab some more food and have a chat about shared experiences. Once we were well fed and watered we continued on the traverse heading to the Horns of Alligin. These from three rough towers each of which requires some scrambling to get to the summit and off the other side. Not having scrambled before – this grade one ground is perfect as an introduction to the art and a great preparation for the final day on Liathach which has a section of more continuous difficulty. Before long the nerves in the group had given away to smiles and amazement at the views and experience. Scrambling over the horns takes you down to the valley floor and a good track leading you back down to the van.

Ian telling us all about Scorpion Fish
Ian telling us all about Scorpion Fish

Day four was our second rest day. We were glad it was a rest day as well with driving heavy rain meaning anything more then a short walk wasn’t particularly enjoyable. We started off by exploring Torridon itself with a short walk to the Deer Museem – a National Trust for Scotland building with information on all things relating to deer including a lot of antlers. From there we headed to Am Ploc, this is a hidden free church nestled amoungs the rocks on the coast where local people used to gather and worship while it was forbidden by the land owners / crown. Luckily those days are long past however the structure is still there and gives you a feeling of reverence amongst these large mountains. From Am Ploc we headed to the local store / cafe to dry out with a hot drink and piece of cake. We then headed back north to Gairloch again to complete our Shellfish Safari. This time the wind was in our favour and the trip was going ahead. Ian, the chap who owns it, is a very knowledgeable local fisherman who has been doing creel langoustine fishing for 30 years and supplies many restaurants in London and further afield. He provided a wealth of knowledge on the sea creatures we found in the pots and promotes a very sustainable way of fishing, throwing back any of his catch with young to keep the stocks topped up. After his tour we were treated to a seafood lunch with produce he’d caught. Massive platters of food were presented and were well enjoyed by all.

Our last day proved to be a stunner. The clouds from the week had cleared by the morning and we were greeted to blue sky over the summits. A perfect day to tackle the biggest of our Torridon Giants, Liathach. This mountain is often talked as having one of the finest ridge walks in the UK along the lines of the Aonach Eagach in Glencoe or a traverse of An Teallach. Made our of towering Torridon sandstone and caped with white quartzite its a stunning hill best viewed from further back to take in its majesty. We did an east to west traverse so that you get the best views out to Loch Torridon and Skye beyond as we progressed along the ridge. The start of the walk goes up a hidden but good track towards the eastern end of the mountain following a stream. This takes you over a few easy scrambling steps that provide a good warm up for the ridge proper. When you do pop out on the ridge you’re greeted with amazing views to the north over Beinn Eighe and towards Gairloch where you’ve sent the last few days. From here we turned left and followed the narrow crest rather then the tracks to either side to truly experience walking that can only be found on the great ridges. Sandstone gives way to quartzite and passing one top you soon gain the first and tallest Munro on the ridge. From here we stopped to have lunch and take in the view. The descent from the summit is rough quartzite blocks and takes time but you are rewarded by reaching the pinnacles. These sandstone towers provide excellent scrambling and a winding walkway through stunning scenery. We use helmets harnesses and ropes for this section to make the most of the experience. After the pinnacles a straight forward ascent takes you to the second Munro summit. This fabulous vantage point gives you more stunning views and a great sense of achievement. All that remains is steep tracked descent down to the car and a trip to the Gille Brighde to celebrate.

Liathach
The Am Fasarinen Pinnacles on Liathach

Photo of Ollie with climbing rucksack Ollie Mentz

Ollie is a qualified Mountain Instructor having worked and lived in all the major mountain ranges of the UK. A passionate climber he can normally be found hanging off a cliff somewhere and has put up new routes in Morocco, Greenland and Chile as well as climbing throughout Europe. He enjoys adventures throughout the world with his last trip being a month in Greenland. Closer to home, Skye and the North West Highlands are some of his favourite places where he tries to spend as much time as possible.