Some mountains get into your soul – a tempting An Teallach, and this time it’s Personal!

Some mountains get into your soul. I remember 30 years ago leafing through my first book of Scottish mountains becoming increasingly inspired by photos of classic Munros. Some were gradually visited, some were more remote. A few were very remote, whilst a select few were extremely remote – and scary too. As we became familiar with the mountain playgrounds of Glencoe, Glen Shiel, Torridon and Skye, one extremely remote scary mountain became the Holy Grail – the 3,474ft serrated sandstone massif of An Teallach (The Forge). For some hikers it’s simply the best mainland mountain in Britain.

Sitting majestically in the far North West Highlands beyond a range of almost equally magnificent peaks, it’s remoteness only adds to the mystique. For the past 10 years a framed picture of An Teallach has hung on my lounge wall taunting me, yet I’d rarely ever seen the mountain in the flesh, (or the rock). There had been brief distant glimpses from mountains further south, whilst my only trip that far north was dogged by 3 days of mist covering even the lowest foothills.

Colin Prior An Teallach

Colin Prior An Teallach picture on the wall above my settee

Last year however saw the closest encounter yet during the ascent of mighty Slioch near Kinlochewe. A perfect peaky panorama of remoteness burst into view with the unmistakeably huge bristly shape of An Teallach looking menacingly broodingly hugely erm bristly. You see normal adjectives just aren’t enough for An Teallach.

The view of An Teallach in the far right distance from Slioch 2012

From Slioch 2012 – a sighting of An Teallach on horizon (mid-right)

It bristles due to the notorious Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles which necessitate an exposed scramble above sheer drops down to Loch Toll an Lochan. Ever since seeing those early guidebook photos there had been a fear & apprehension about An Teallach, mixed with wonder & intrigue. Over the years various route guides & trip reports had been read, many pictures examined and pinnacles pondered upon. Questions were posed;- how did it compare to others, was it beyond us, would we be forced back, and would we ever be able to plant our arses on Lord Berkeleys Seat?

Time and knee joints were ticking away so whilst up on Slioch gazing at the bristly behemoth, we resolved that the fear had to be faced and in 2013 we would plan a return to the far North Highlands to hopefully attempt the Holy Grail.

And so in July 2013 during the national UK heatwave we arrived in Ullapool – only to be dogged by 3 days of persistent storm force winds which kept us off the high mountains. Day 1 saw me blown over on Cul Beag, Day 2 was a low walk out to remote Sandwood Bay & Day 3 an amazing ferry trip in the gales & rain to Stornoway & the Outer Hebrides.

An Teallach from out to sea

An Teallach from the Stornoway ferry the previous day

It was soon our final night in Ullapool, the chance we had waited for all these years seemed to have gone. There was nothing we could do about it and at least we had managed 3 great days in a wonderful location despite the 70mph mountain gusts. We wanted clear weather to enjoy An Teallach at it’s best and for safety reasons too. Then on that final evening in Ullapool the forecast did something fatefully unexpected, it finally changed for the better.

Morning arrived and a quick check of the trusted forecasts confirmed a bright but hazy day, some cloud patches, dry and crucially little wind. Our guesthouse was full that evening so I’d booked the next 2 nights in picturesque Plockton 2 hours drive further south. Plan A had always been to include a Munro on the way but trying to fit An Teallach in was looking logistically impossible. The usual ascent route is a clockwise traverse around it’s big U shape ridge with the notoriously exposed pinnacles barring the way to the two Munros. Taking the pinnacles clockwise meant ascending the steep exposed sections (reportedly easier than descending). If the pinnacles were too difficult then a lower bypass path could be taken which is reportedly worryingly worn by countless boots and exposed. Note the use of that ‘exposed’ word again, as I get older I’m becoming less comfortable with ‘exposed’ situations and the knees just aren’t enjoying the scrambling like they used to, it kinda hurts.

Exposure = empty space below a climber, usually referring to a great distance a climber is above the ground or large ledge, or the psychological sense of this distance due to being unprotected (Wikipedia)

This all adds to the fear factor of the Forge and if we were to attempt the full traverse then we would need plenty of time to tread carefully, this was not a place to slip. Time however was one thing we didn’t have, yet the opportunity and that weather looked so inviting, we needed a Munro and would be driving right past the Holy Grail.

Ullapool guest house view 8am, calmness after 3 days of stormforce winds

Ullapool guest house view 8am, calmness after 3 days of stormforce winds

My mate Alan however had a plan B. This involved doing the route in reverse thereby reaching the two Munro summits first and without any exposed sections. We could bag the two tops then gaze out over the ridge and maybe even try tottering out to Lord Berkeleys Seat (info later). We could call this a preliminary trip to check out the full route for next time. This plan also fitted our time constraints and mentally eased 30 years of apprehensive fear. So we had a plan and if anyone asked us why we were wimping out of the pinnacles we could explain the time constraints whilst still retaining what little manly mountain dignity we had left. Luckily Alan hadn’t shaved so that was a good start and I had my poles & knee supports. Doh, that’s the dignity buggered!

And so once upon a time that morning we drove south to attempt An Teallach, as you do. Even though this was to be a wimpy safe ascent route we were subconsciously apprehensive, I certainly hadn’t felt this way before any previous trip. This one was different, this one was personal. Soon we drew nearer along the Destitution Road (built in 1840 to provide relief during famine) and then An Teallach came into view, typically still playing hard to get with all tops hidden in cloud. The pits of our stomachs had that unnerving feeling. I reassured Alan that I was 100% sure the cloud would lift and we would get views ( I was actually 86% sure). We drove past the visible foothills and parked in the large lay-by at Dundonnell. This was our destiny, (cue Darth Vader music).

An apprehensive start

Looking like a constipated hamster, it’s pure apprehension, perhaps I could stay in the car? 9.50am

We were strangely quiet getting our gear ready and boots on, then set off walking past the large Mountain Rescue Hut, hmm wonder why it’s situated there! We crossed the road by a cottage and followed a path zig zagging up through good ground gaining height quickly. It’s worth mentioning An Teallach is one of those mountains where the ascent is very definitely from sea level, no high starts here as the photo below illustrates 🙂

Views north over Little Loch Broom & Dundonnel with car by hut on right

Views north over Little Loch Broom & Dundonnell with car by mountain hut on right – 11.05am

We reached a small cairn where the path splits either straight up following the river or an older route zig zagging further west over Meall Garbh then arching south. Having read previous recommendations we chose the latter and it certainly seemed straightforward. This even started feeling like a normal mountain with no hint of the pointy bits ahead. Eventually we came to an expansive flattish moonscape with the two Munro tops now poking above the horizon and clear of cloud. Silently we knew it was soon going to start feeling unlike a normal mountain.

Glimpses of pointy things across a flat rock desert

Glimpses of pointy things across a rock desert, the other path is left of the stream – 11.55am

We soon came to the end of the moonscape boulder field and rounded the head of the stream (Coir a Mhuilinn) by Sron a Choire. Despite the cloud swirling in again we were given a hint of what lay ahead by the first sight of sharp things, the infamous pinnacles. The low one in the middle is Lord Berkeleys Seat. Kinda nice to see it at last, especially at this safe distance (cue Vader music).

Things are going to become interesting, hope the cloud lifts

Things are going to become interesting, hope the bloomin cloud lifts – 12.10

After a little traversing we found a rocky path skirting up the steep shoulder of Bidein a Ghlas Thuill, the first of An Teallachs two Munro tops. Finally after nearly 3hrs it felt that we were at last getting to grips with this mountain and consequently the reality, excitement & fear of what lay ahead began to resurface. Things were about to become more interesting.

Alan had gone on ahead whilst I stowed my poles, he reached the skyline, waved and pointed, I clambered up to have my visual senses assaulted by a view I’d waited 30 years to see. It’s an oft used word but this was truly breathtaking.

The emotional view of An Teallach from Bidein a Ghlas Thuill

The emotional view of An Teallach from Bidein a Ghlas Thuill – 12.45

Taking in this scene was all a bit overwhelming, after a period of open mouthed gazing I  took the pic above on my phone and sent it to Twitter. I typed the only words I could think of,“Let me present to you An Teallach”.

I sent it and a strange thing happened, my eyes started to water. What the heck, this doesn’t normally happen, come on Mart get a grip, for goodness sake I was wearing tight Ron Hill leggings and any sign of emotion might attract the mountain goats. I wiped a tear away and gazed again at the scene, it had really got to me, I just didn’t realise what this bloomin mountain had meant and how much I’d probably been apprehensively avoiding it. I walked up the short distance to the trig point where Alan was already videoing the peaky panorama. Big smiles on our faces, I wasn’t going to mention the watery eyes thing cos he’d only laugh but then found myself shamefully admitting it. Alan replied matter of factly “hey yeah me too, had to wipe away a tear”. I couldn’t believe it, the great big wuss!!

The emotional summit of Bidein a Ghlas Thuill

An emotional summit experience on Bidein a Ghlas Thuill, An Teallach

Distant views were hazy, sadly much of the sea views were lost, yet the incredible view behind us commanded attention perhaps more than any previous incredible pointy panorama. It was pretty damn good up here on An Teallach. Due to the light the photos don’t really do it it justice, what’s needed is a dodgy 360 degree video with commentary;-

We were joined on the summit by a guy we had seen back down at the car, it turned out he was a Geordie. For some reason many summits seem to come complete with a Geordie, luckily we speak the language and he agreed to take the photo above. Just below us we spotted one of the fabled An Teallach goats…I checked my Ron Hills, pleasingly all was in place and the goat remained aloof. After a 20 minute stop on top we retreated down to the lower viewpoint for some more classic pics of the classic view. Note extensive demonstration of the classic bent raised leg posing technique with arms on hips. Classic.

Admiring An Teallach

Admiring An Teallach, classically

An Teallach

An Teallach, a true classic

More An Teallach

More closer up An Teallach

The route ahead

Eyes drawn to the route ahead – 1.25pm

Time was pressing so we made our way to the second Munro, Sgurr Fiona involving a slight descent then a diagonal path up to the skyline left of my head in the photo above – of course by then my head was on the skyline but lets not complicate things. With only a short pull remaining up to the summit there was a brief diversion to take in some more wondrous views over the remote Fisherfield Forest & the pointy Corbett of Beinn Dearg Mor. This is another remote pointy peak that’s long fascinated me, so this was extremely satisfying to say the least, a classic smiley moment.

Loch na Seagla and Beinn Dearg Mor

Loch na Seagla, Beinn Dearg Mor & the Fisherfield Wilderness – 1.40pm

We couldn’t stay long. From here it’s a 45 degree easy scramble to the top and time to stow the walking poles away. There’s no place for poles on what lies ahead.

Clambering up Sgurr Fiona with Bidein a Ghlas Thuill behind

Clambering up Sgurr Fiona with Bidein a Ghlas Thuill behind – 1.55pm

More of a clamber than a scramble to the top, Fiona was soon reached and proved to be more airy than Bidein with a closer intimate view over the Ridge. It was another brilliant moment. We sat down trying to work out which pointy bits were which, then we spotted the lower bypass path with some walkers scratching their way along. There were two walkers sat with us on top and one was explaining Lord Berkeleys Seat which made us realise that it was totally camouflaged against the higher pinnacle.

The view from Sgurr Fiona over Lord Berkeleys Seat to Corrag Bhuidhe

From Sgurr Fiona over Lord Berkeleys Seat, almost hidden against the higher pinnacles

Lord Berkeleys Seat & Corrag Bhuidhe

Lord Berkeleys Seat & Corrag Bhuidhe – 2.00pm

360 degree video, from Sgurr Fiona;-

Now for a decision, do we end the hike here perfectly satisfied with the day, or do we go out onto pointyland to investigate. We had come a long way after all these many years and despite time pressing and despite the trepidation we clambered down and edged carefully along one of the higher rocky paths. We were being watched by the two guys behind on Fiona so tried looking like we knew what we were doing, whilst a slight tightness of the stomach indicated perhaps we didn’t. The infamous shape of Lord Berkeley’s Seat gradually separated itself from the background and it certainly lived up to expectations standing below. Wowza!

Lord Berkeleys Seat

Lord Berkeley’s Seat from the low point in the middle of the previous pic – 2.15pm

Lord Berkeley’s Seat is the first (or last) pinnacle and sensationally overhangs the sheer cliffs below. The story is that Lord Berkeley is supposed to have sat on the top with his legs dangling over the edge whilst he smoked a pipe (probably drugs). It’s become a symbolic feature of An Teallach and it provided another emotional mountain moment, I’d particularly wanted to reach this point, and particularly wanted to try getting to the top. We deferred this by carrying on edging carefully around the base of Berkeley then descending slightly before starting the scramble up towards the next higher pinnacle.

From the First Pinnacle over Lord Berkeleys Seat to Sgurr Fiona

From on next Pinnacle see the figures on Lord Berkeley’s Seat hidden against Sgurr Fiona

You can see traces of a path on these photos and you get very close to the sheer edge at times but it’s not yet too exposed. It’s certainly interesting, we wanted to try to get up this higher pinnacle then call it a day. We got close, removing rucksacks and stopping at the final ledge at the top which wasn’t difficult but the situation just got to us and we retreated.

From First Pinnacle over Lord Berkeleys Seat to Sgurr Fiona

From first of the Corrag Bhuidhe Pinnacles over Lord Berkeleys Seat and up to Sgurr Fiona – 2.30pm

The high path beyond the First Pinnacle

The high bypass path running along the next section of the Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles

Time to turn back however one thing remained, Lord Berkeleys Seat! It didn’t look too difficult so we had to go for it, leaving everything including cameras & phones at the base we scrambled up from the east. It’s ok if you don’t think of the plunging precipice just feet away. I purged it from my mind, until Alan reminded me. I requested politely that he shut the **** up 🙂 We got there, not to the actual seat to dangle our legs but to the main top and sat there proudly taking refreshment (no pipes). Then we started to feel the situation again and clambered gingerly down the west side which turned out to be easier. There just remained the clamber back along and up to Fiona which brought a relieved end to our tentative exposure adventures. The hard part was over, relax and breathe at last, just time for some final views then reverse the route down.

Returning to Bidean Ghlas Thuill

On the path back towards Bidean Ghlas Thuill, we kept left to circumvent the top  – 3.30pm

Rather than reascend Bidean we skirted left keeping levelish across stony scree slopes back to the head of the Coir a Mhuilin. This put us back on schedule and we chose to come straight down the easier looking path to the right of the stream.

Heading down

Heading down along the Coir a Mhuilin stream – 4.10pm

This route started encouragingly on a good firm nicely angled path then deteriorated becoming messy & eroded. We concluded our ascent route was the better choice although probably more difficult to locate if coming down in mist. Eventually we turned a corner and I experienced THAT moment when you see the car and every aching muscle & joint in your body silently cries out in joyous relief.

The car is parked past the trees near white Dundonnell Mountain Hut

Nearly back, car’s parked past trees over Alan’ head near Dundonnell Mountain Hut – 5.30pm

Back at the car after 8 hours on one of the most iconic mountains in Britain, yet having only seen 13 people all day (plus one goat)! We were far more relaxed figures than the two apprehensive old guys who had set off into the unknown that morning. After a quick change it was time to drive down to Plockton and a class Plockton Shores meal. There was one last distraction, something in the car mirror demanded attention, a final photo was taken.

An Teallach from the Destitution Road

An Teallach from the Destitution Road

Arriving at a typically peaceful Polckton evening

Arriving to a typically peaceful Plockton evening, the gales a distant memory!

That night we feasted on good food, good beer & tales of daring do. Due to the haze we had missed out on some mouthwatering views of the far north highlands & western seascape. The day though had been a huge success, more about the mountain and fulfilling a long held dream. Some of that fear had finally subsided (not gone, just subsided). Is it the best mountain in Britain? We will have to defer on that one, hopefully we will return one year for the full An Teallach experience including those views & pinnacles (or the high bypass path) and maybe, just maybe try a leg dangle on Lord Berkeleys Seat. This all seems quite easy as I type this below my now more familiar framed picture of An Teallach the Holy Grail. You see some mountains get into your soul.

  • Distance  =  9.68 miles (16.5 km)
  • Duration  =  8 hrs (inc lots of view time), start 9.50am, finish 5.50pm
  • Total Ascent  =  4,800 ft (1,463 m), max height 3,484 ft (1062 m)
  • Start/Finish  =  Layby on nth side of A832 at Dundonnel, near Mountain Rescue Hut
  • Munros  =  Bidein a’Ghlas Thuill (3484ft, 1062m, Munro 72) (pinnacle of grey-green hollow), Sgurr Fiona (3478ft, 1060m, Munro 73) (white/fair peak)
  • An Teallach  =  pronounced “An Challach”
  • Date  =  Sunday 7th July 2013
An Teallach the easy way Route Map from Dundonnell

An Teallach the easy way Route Map from Dundonnell

The next day brought clearer weather and maybe an even better day on another classic, Beinn Eighe!

  1. Day 1, Return to Sutherland, Blown Over By Cul Beag!
  2. Day 2, A Walk to the Beach, Sandwood Bay.
  3. Day 3, Is this the best value boat trip in Britain? A Day Trip to Stornoway and the Outer Hebrides on the Ullapool Ferry!
Advertisements

About MART IN THE HILLS

Hillwalker with dodgy knees and dodgier sense of humour. Lover of the outdoors, Lakes, Highlands, Cheviots, nature, good food, real ale and leaf tea.
This entry was posted in Scottish Highlands & Skye and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Some mountains get into your soul – a tempting An Teallach, and this time it’s Personal!

  1. What an iconic mountain Mart and a great write up. I’ve seen many pics but never seen it up close and personal. Reading about your trip just highlights how I really need to make amends. Inspirational stuff. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mart Lawton says:

      Many thanks Steve, glad you enjoyed it, amazing area, you must go there.
      This post took ages to finish as it was different, the bloomin mountain is behind me now on my wall, it’s part of my idiom (whatever that means).
      Think I captured what I wanted to say & one day there will be a return. Now to catch up with the Bheinn Eighe blog, probably an even better day 🙂

  2. Thank you. I enjoyed your inspirational post. I remember my father first showing me the mountain, from the road, 47 years ago. He never climbed it and although many times I have been around it or glimpsed the top through clouds I have yet to do it. But one day soon…..

    • Mart Lawton says:

      Thanks, glad it inspired. And yes those glimpses have been increasing so it’s even more satisfying to have stood up there. Can certainly recommend it, though I will leave the pinnacles up to you 🙂

  3. Pingback: My Top 5 Walks of 2013 | MART IN THE HILLS

  4. Great write-up and photos. I’ve done An Teallach but just used the Corrag Buidhe bypass all the way around. That was when I was collecting Munros – now I’m collecting Munro Tops, I have to go for it and do the whole thing! 🙂
    Carol.

  5. Tessa Park says:

    Cracking walk description. Really want to do this, but too much of a wuss to do the pinnacles. Doesn’t look that technical or exposed as far as the top of Sgurr Fiona?

    • Hello and thanks, it was a bit of a personal journey, more so than any mountain before. You are fine up to Fiona on either my ascent or descent route. I know the pinnacles are a huge part of An Teallach but it’s still a helluva an experience up there just make sure it’s a clear day and enjoy 🙂

  6. Anonymous says:

    Great write up and great shots. It almost looked like Machu Pichu when you first glimpse An Teallach. Loved the comment about what must have been in Lord Berley’s pipe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s