Location: Wester Ross

Grade: Serious mountain walk

Distance: 12 miles/20km

Time: 7-8 hours

IT was many years ago when I was young and newly in love with mountains. I had arrived in Torridon in the late afternoon and wandered up the hillside on the south side of the glen. As I climbed higher my attention was wholly taken with the massive mountain wall that lay across the glen. It looked impregnable.

The mountain was Liathach, the grey one, and that day its presence seriously unsettled me. Tiers of sandstone lay stacked high into the sky, a great cathedral of the earth and no matter how I tried I couldn’t trace a route up its sheer flanks. It looked impossible but I knew that one day I’d have to try and climb it.

That day came several years later when I had learned that hillsides often look vertical when you look straight at them. Liathach certainly isn’t impregnable, but it is still a damned serious hill. And with two Munro tops tempting the baggers it always surprises me more hillwalkers don’t come to grief on this giant.

The mountain’s ridge is a convoluted one, crossing six lesser tops as well as the two Munros, Spidean a'Choire Leith, 1055 metres, and Mullach an Rathain, 1023 metres. The usual ascent route starts just east of Glen Cottage in Glen Torridon and climbs up to the steep upper slopes of Toll a' Meitheach, a shallow corrie high on the hill’s sandstone flanks.

The path runs alongside the Allt an Doire Ghairbh as it rushes down over its rocky steps. Rocky slopes and steep grassy slopes intermingle before the path climbs over a break in a rock band that appears to cross the face of the mountain. Then it's a steep scramble into the upper reaches of the corrie where a scree-filled gully gives access to the ridge itself, just west of Bidein Toll a' Mhuic. This is a good place to stop, the sweaty work of the day now over. In front of you the long ridge of Beinn Eighe stretches eastwards.

In the other direction the twisting ridge wriggles towards the triangular-shaped face of Spidean a' Choire Leith, the first of the Munro summits. Despite the rock and loose scree the ridge poses little difficulty, first of all flowing in a north-westerly direction, then west over a couple of subsidiary tops, before the final boulder covered slope to Spidean's summit.

This is the most elevated point on Liathach and the views are extensive, all the way from Ben Hope in the north to Ben Nevis in the south. Chances are you won’t even notice the views because your eyes will be set on the spectacular outline of the ridge that lies ahead. The ridge narrows for a good two kilometres and for much of its length it is broken into a series of spectacular spires, the Fasarinen Pinnacles, the ancient sentinels of Liathach.

These shattered quartzite gendarmes fall away dramatically into Coire na Caime, one of a number of north-facing corries that make up the other face of Liathach, a more broken and less austere aspect that is hidden from the tourists in Glen Torridon. A traverse across the summits of the Fasarinen Pinnacles is a wonderfully airy and exposed scramble and those with some experience of rock climbing will seek out the holds willingly. Everyone else will be happy to follow an exposed but well used path that contours the southern side of the pinnacles. This path leads to the second Munro, Mullach an Rathain, the aptly named ‘hill of the row of pinnacles’.

A wide, grassy ridge leads to the summit and the OS pillar. To the north a short, stony arete runs out to the highest of the pinnacles and the lower peak of Meall Dearg overlooks Coire na Caime. A long ridge runs westwards down to the subsidiary top of Sgorr a' Chadail, with fabulous views across Loch Torridon, but the best descent route goes westwards and south of the summit cairn, dropping towards a broadening slope of broken, scree-filled gullies and worn terraces and then down towards the road alongside the Allt an Tuill Bhain.

After that it’s only a short walk back to the car in Glen Torridon. Looking up, somehow the steep sandstone flanks appear less forbidding.



Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger Sheet 25 (Glen Carron & Glen Affric); Harveys 1:25,000 Superwalker, Torridon

Distance: 12 miles/20km

Time: 7-8hours

Start/Finish: A896, 800m east of Glen Cottage (GR: NG937566)

Public transport: None to the start

Information: Torridon Community Centre, 01445 791361, www.lochtorridoncentre.co.uk

Route: Just E of Glen Cottage climb steeply up the craggy hillside into the Toll a'Meitheach. Higher up the corrie continue NE over steep ground to the col on the main ridge. Follow the ridge NW then west over two tops to the cone of Spidean a'Choire Leith. Descend SW to a level grassy section. Continue over, or around the pinnacles of Am Fasarinen. A exposed path avoids the difficulties on the S side. Beyond the pinnacles it ‘s an easy stroll to Mullach an Rathain. From the summit the descent back to Glen Torridon is via the SW ridge, although a slightly quicker descent to Glen Torridon is via the corrie of the Allt an Tuill Bhain.