Walking Liathach ridge in Torridon glen
I wrote about walking the Liathach ridge in Torridon, north-west Scotland, in a recent Sunday Mail outdoors column. Many Munro baggers people fear this ridge and I approached the infamous pinnacles with trepidation. I was surprised that I coped with the steep sided goat path and also managed to climb over the largest pinnacle. Thanks to the G-Force for his endless patience and support, as ever.
Read the pdf or my full article below.
Hiking an iconic Highlands ridge
There are several iconic mountain ridge walks in Scotland – and Liathach was on my need-to-do list.
The Torridon ridge includes two Munros and I am ticking off the list of these 282 Scottish mountains with a summit of more than 3000ft.
The problem is I am not a fan of heights and I loathe exposed high-altitude hiking paths.
More than a decade ago, I cried when I walked Glencoe’s famous Aonach Eagar and I swore I’d never do another ridge.
Somehow, I managed to conquer my fear last summer to reach the top of the precipitous Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye’s Cuillin ridge.
But I needed climbing ropes and a lot of encouragement to do so.
So it was understandable that I was anxious about tackling Liathach last month.
The ridge is located at almost 3500ft above sea level, joining together two Munros, and includes a series of large rock pinnacles.
Looking up from the roadside far below in Torridon glen I could see the steep slopes of Liathach rising in up in a series of near vertical rocky terraces.
High above, on the ridge itself, the Am Fasarinen pinnacles – The Teeth – form seemingly impregnable obstacles.
In fact, the rocky outcrops of Torridonian sandstone create a fairly easy scramble, if it were not for the vertical drop-offs all around.
The seven-mile Liathach hike starts at the roadside and ascends a steep easternmost path that zig-zags upwards.
The higher I climbed, accompanied by my partner Gordon, the smaller the road and cars below look and the wider the views of over the mountainous landscape.
I enjoyed myself enough to forget the dreaded pinnacles for a while.
The ascent eases for a short time as it heads into the huge curved rocks of a coire before we reached a couple of small scrambly sections.
This offered a taste of what was to come but fortunately it did not feel too exposed and I focused on looking up and not down.
As we arrived on the ridge proper the views suddenly opened out over the north side towards another Torridon mountain, Beinn Eighe.
We walked west, heading along the ridge and towards two rounded summits one after the other.
I began to wonder if the walking websites and guidebooks had made more of a fuss of this hike than was necessary because the walking did not feel too extreme.
It didn’t take too long to hike to the top of first Liathach Munro, Spidean a’Choire Leith, at a height of 3461ft.
And there, spread out before me, I could see the full extent of the pinnacles that lay between this Munro and the next.
I wondered out loud if it might be possible to descend the way we had come, walk along the glen and climb up the other side of the ridge to reach the second Munro.
This is an option – and a way to avoid the pinnacles – but it would need to be reserved for another day of walking and would require a great deal more ascent that “simply” walking along the ridge.
Gordon assured me I would cope with the pinnacles and despite my anxious look he encouraged me on.
The next section of the hike was almost as frightening as the pinnacles, although I had no idea of that at the time.
Walkers must descend a vertiginous slope to the south-west of Spidean a’ Choire Leith on a narrow and stone-strewn path.
I did most of this section on my bum, sliding carefully downwards and worrying the whole time about falling hundreds of feet below.
I could feel my panic rising and while Gordon tried to calm me he could also see why I was frightened.
The more anxious I became the more this affected my confidence.
Finally, we reached what felt like much safer and flatter ground on the grassy bealach before the pinnacles.
From there, I saw the great mounds of rocks and boulders looming up ahead.
It looked like the rocky pinnacles had been carelessly dumped on top of the narrow ridge, like lumps of misshapen clay.
There is an alternative option to going over the pinnacles – and that is to walk a goat path around the sides.
I had been told the path is very narrow in places and extremely exposed.
But, at first, this seemed like the best route as my heart raced out of control.
By looking only to my right at the rocks and never to the left at the steep drops I managed to negotiate my way around the first to pinnacles.
We stopped between the second and third, the largest, pinnacle to allow others to pass us in the opposite direction.
Some had walked the goat path further on and they described it as extreme and crazy.
This time I decided instead to climb up and over. I could feel my pulse pumping in my ears and sweat dripping down my back as I started the scramble up the warm rock.
It is not a difficult or steep scramble and there are plenty of places to put feet and hold on with hands but the sense of being exposed, climbing up above a narrow ridge, made alarms bells scream in my head.
At times we needed to move sideways along the pinnacle and I had to rely on Gordon to help me to place my feet in the correct place. I did not want to look down.
Strangely, while my world had seemed like it was in slow motion, I found we had taken less than 15 minutes to reach the top of the pinnacle.
But my worries were not over because I was faced with the climb down the other side. It was impossible to see what would come next and I feared the worst.
I peered carefully over the top, turned around to face the rock and made a slow and careful descent of the pinnacle.
I find that climbing down is far worse the going up because you are forced to look at the space below your feet.
Then, all of a sudden, we were back on safer ground and rejoined the path along a gratifyingly wide section of the ridge.
I allowed myself a moment of self-congratulation as I looked up at the steep rocks that I had recently climbed.
I reminded myself that I am obviously capable of a lot more than I imagine, although I doubt I will ever overcome my instinctive fear of heights.
The walk to the second Munro, Mullach an Rathain, was relaxing in comparison and at the top we sat down to enjoy the fabulous panorama.
I had read that the steep descent would be tough and it was. 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 although the downhill hike is hard on the thighs and knees.
Finally we reached the valley floor and began the two-mile walk back along the road to return to our campervan.
A bottle of Champagne was waiting for us in the fridge and if ever there was the right moment to open it, a successful traverse of the Liathach ridge ha to be it.
Find out more: A route description of Liathach at www.walkhighlands.co.uk
Places to stay: Free Torridon Campsite on A896 near the village. The luxury Torridon Hotel and the Torridon Inn. See www.thetorridon.com