Walking the Liathach Ridge in Torridon
We choose another stunning glen spot for our second overnight in Fern after spending the first night in front of Buachaille Etive Mor. There are plenty of options in the Torridon area so we um and ah for a while before picking a place very close to the start of the Liathach walk.
Again, the night-time and morning view of the mountains are breath-taking just like in Glencoe on the first morning. It is amazing to be able to wake up, pull back the curtain and look directly up at the mountain we plan to hike.
Liathach is a ridge I have wanted to do for years. I love Torridon and Liathach, with two Munro summits, is a highly rated high-level walk. However, if you read the descriptions by various walks writers and on walking websites, you will understand why I am quite anxious about this Munro walk.
There are sections of the ridge that are described as “severely exposed”. I do not like heights or anything too exposed. The Aonach Eagar, for example, made me cry and I had to build up a lot of courage over years to walk in the Cuillins.
The 11.5km Liathach hike starts from the layby just west of the Allt an Doire Ghairbh stream at the eastern end of the mountain range. The path soon crosses the stream and then climbs steeply upwards.
While the ascent is steep there are well-made steps to follow, as well as a well-trodden path.
The path is fairly busy with walkers because of the fine weather and while some walk faster than us, we pass many others as the G-Force and I pace ourselves on the ascent. We enjoy taking our time, looking out at the superb glen views and chatting about what lies ahead.
But the more we talk about this, the more anxious I become.
Instead, I try to focus on the views and my immediate steps ahead.
The ascent eases as it heads into the coire of Toll a’ Meitheach. But the path soon heads steeply upwards again before the route turns sharply right after which there are a couple of short scrambly sections. None of this feels too daunting because it is not feel too exposed and I focus on looking up and not down.
As we reach the ridge proper the views suddenly opened out over the north side of the mountain. The view of Beinn Eighe across the glen is particularly stunning.
If you fancy a detour, you can climb to the Munro top at Stuc a’ Choire Dhubh Bhi, which is the summit at the most easterly point of the ridge.
The walk along the ridge doesn’t feel too exposed as we continue on the path west crossing the two tops of Stob a’Choire Liath Mhor. Again, we take our time to enjoy the sunshine and the spectacular views in every direction. It was one of those days that can be honestly described as breath-taking.
After the second mini summit, we descend for a short while before climbing again to the summit of Munro number one, Spidean a’Choire Leith. It is a joy to reach this point and sit for a while.
There are plenty of other walkers here, too, and we listen to their conversations and joined in with a few. Everyone is delighted to be enjoying the ridge walk in such amazing weather.
Over the pinnacles to Munro 2
I try hard not to think about what is to come next but it is impossible not to stare in wonder – and horror – at the gnarly ridge and all its famous pinnacles laid out ahead. It is a sunny and clear day so the ridge is clearly defined against a blue sky.
To get to Munro two, Mullach an Rathain, I have three options:
1) Walk back down and hike up again at the other end – the western side – of the ridge.
2) Walk around the Am Fasarinen pinnacles on a goat track that while easy to see and follow is very narrow in places and in a number of places has of vertical drop-off.
3) Scramble over the Am Fasarinen pinnacles and climb back down the other side.
First though there is a vertiginous and precarious descent of Spidean a’ Choire Leith to the south and then southwest. I do most of this descent and steep traverse on my bum.
The path is dry and fragile, filled with thousands of loose stones and rocks. I feel like my feet are going to slide away from me at any second and all I can think about is the sharp descent below me.
I can feel my panic rising and while G tries to calm me he can also see why I am frightened. The terrain is perilous and we are fortunate to be doing the descent in clear weather. I would not want to be there in poor conditions.
I can also feel a mounting hysteria about what is to come. I am worried I won’t be able to get around or over the pinnacles and that I will become stuck on the ridge. I know I am becoming over anxious but I can’t seem to calm my mind.
Finally we reach what feels like much safer and flatter ground on the grassy bealach before the pinnacles. From there I can see the great mounds of rocks and boulders looming up ahead. We stop for a short breather and G talks me through the scramble, assuring me I will be fine because I had coped with worse before.
But still my pulse races and my stomach churns.
At first I decide on the goat path option. Without leaving myself time to think too much I edge around the base of the first two pinnacles. I look only at the mountain to my right and never to the left where I can sense ridiculously steep drop offs. The path is very narrow in places but I tell myself this is a better option than climbing up and over.
We stop between the second and third, the largest, pinnacle to allow others to pass us. I ask a few people what they think of the goat track around this pinnacle and I am told it is extremely narrow and exposed in places.
This time I decide instead to climb up and over. I can feel my heart pumping so fast it hurts and the sweat dripping down my back as I start the scramble up the warm rock. It is not a tricky or steep scramble and there are plenty of feet and hand holds but the sense of being exposed, climbing up above a narrow ridge heightens my sense of alert and danger.
I followed G’s route through the large blocks of rock and try not to look back and down. When we need to traverse around the pinnacle or down-climb a little I feel extremely nervous. G helps to place my feet because I am trying not to look down at the air below me.
I focus hard, trying not to let my nerves get the better of me and keep checking with G to make sure I am doing okay. Thank goodness for his patience, encouragement and confidence in my abilities.
At the top of the pinnacle we stop for a short rest but not for so long that my nerves can get the better of me. The down climb isn’t as long or as difficult as I thought it would be. I have G to show me the best places to put my hands and feet and to generally encourage me onwards.
And all of a sudden we have got over the pinnacle. I feet so relieved and then so thrilled.
Final ascent to Mullach an Rathain
The path rejoins the ridge just beyond this pinnacle and offers a far less exposed and gentler walk upwards. At the summit of the second Munro, Mullach an Rathain, I allow myself to relax finally and enjoy the feeling of overcoming my fear of the pinnacles.
The views from the top are superb looking back along the ridge and out across the glens and other Torridon mountains.
The final descent
I had read that the steep descent would be tough and it is. The stony path heads downwards in tight zigzags with many opportunities to slip over. Thankfully, this part of the mountain does not feel so exposed but the downhill hike is hard on thighs and knees.
We find ourselves walking with Gus and Marc Pattullo, a father and son from Coupar Angus. They have walked more than 200 Munros together. Marc is only just 16 and hopes to compleat in the next year or so.
He is a very enthusiastic, chatty, informed and fit teenager and should offer great inspiration to other youngsters who might be keen to walk the Munros.
Finally we reach the valley floor and begin the two-mile walk back along the road to return to the campervan. We stop for a while to cool down in a river and then decide to crack open a bottle of Champagne that we happen to have in the van.
It feels uplifting to be enjoying the warm later afternoon sunshine in Torridon, sipping on a glass of Champagne and without any hint of a single midge. We enjoy looking back up at he ridge and I mention more than a few times how delighted I am to have overcome my fears and completed the infamous Liathach ridge.