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Classic Scramble - An Teallach

© Rosie Robson

An Teallach has quite a reputation. Known for being one of the best-looking mountains in the Scotland, for presenting a ridge scramble perhaps unmatched on the British mainland, and for being on the edge of the Great Wilderness, The Forge is Beauty and the Beast rolled into one.

An Teallach has magnificent views over Fisherfield  © Rosie Robson
An Teallach has magnificent views over Fisherfield
© Rosie Robson

Whoop, eek, argh, this is so cool!

Driving west along the Destitution Road, An Teallach holds your attention - so much so that the rest of this landscape doesn't get a look in. All eyes are drawn to the sleeping stegosaurus, with its spiky back and massive haunches. It culminates in two Munros, which are fantastic peaks in their own right, and form an integral part of a traverse of the mountain. But what truly defines it is the rocky spine, with turrets and spires in the most absurd positions, looking as if they should have toppled down to Loch Toll an Lochain millennia ago.

We were at the end of the most glorious week staying by Gruinard Bay, with forays into the Fisherfield Forest and up to Assynt, as well as enjoying Scottish beaches at their very best. During this short time An Teallach had shed its late Spring snow coat, marking a dramatic switch from winter to summer conditions.

The rounded sandstone is fantastically grippy  © Rosie Robson
The rounded sandstone is fantastically grippy
© Rosie Robson

This day dawned more overcast than others had been, which we welcomed given the high temperatures and accompanying thirst we had become accustomed to. There's no water to be found up on the ridge. We parked in the layby at Corrie Hallie, and as we started up the track we passed several parties returning from Shenavall bothy or a night in a tent. We had trodden the very same path a few days before, en route to tackling some of the most remote Munros. We were glad to be less laden this time; the tents, sleeping bags and box of wine weren't so necessary today.

An Teallach's pinnacles crept into view temptingly. Having reached the high point of the path to Shenavall at a burn, we cast off up the rocky slopes of Sail Liath. A small path was gratefully received and we plodded the remaining 500m or so to the top. Wishing I was fitter, I gave my heart rate plenty of opportunities to recover by gazing out over the Fisherfield Forest. Full of epic mountains, lochs and rivers, this is a landscape superbly devoid of modern civilisation. The views opened up as we got higher, giving a hint of what would come later.

Having taken the ascent at our own paces, we reconvened at the summit of Sail Liath, which doesn't earn Munro status despite its 954m elevation. Here we were treated to a smashing new view of the ridge, and we swiftly set off in anticipation.

There was a fair bit of steep descent and re-ascent via Stob Cadha Gobhlach to reach the hands-on stuff at the Corrag Bhuidhe buttress, where the real fun began. This is the crux move of the whole traverse, and a very exposed Grade 3 scramble if taken directly. We opted after the first ten metres or so to skirt round to the west slightly to tackle this, which offered excellent scrambling and was less exposed than the main arete at this point. There were some fun moves that require a little thinking about, but nothing that felt too out of my comfort zone. My modest climbing ability was aided by the grippy Torridonian sandstone, and I soon topped out on the crest of the ridge. Here I got my first experience of standing on the edge of the thrillingly stomach-clenching vertical drop down to the corrie. I didn't really know what to say to my friends coming up below me; it came out as a somewhat babbled "Whoop, eek, argh, this is so cool!".

Finding an interesting line on a pinnacle high above Coire Toll an Lochain   © Rosie Robson
Finding an interesting line on a pinnacle high above Coire Toll an Lochain
© Rosie Robson

Treading carefully along one of the narrowest sections of the crest  © Rosie Robson
Treading carefully along one of the narrowest sections of the crest
© Rosie Robson

From now on taking the crest head-on, the scrambling was less technical, apart from a couple of slightly awkward down-climbs. The pinnacles queued up one after the other for us to explore, each posing different twists and turns to negotiate. It's a real treat and we took our time, soaking it all in. The spires culminated in Lord Berkeley's Seat, where we spent a happy few minutes enjoying the situation and peering down below as much as we dared. According to the legend, Lord Berkeley himself would sit up here smoking his pipe, dangling his legs over the staggering drop to Loch Toll an Lochain, 400m below. You don't have to do that to feel the exposure. Looking back on the pinnacles as we walked to the top of the first Munro, Sgurr Fiona, a slightly different perspective was revealed, and the crazy tilt of Lord Berkeley's Seat looked even more remarkable.

After enjoying lunch on the top of Sgurr Fiona (wishing we had actually brought some wine to honour its name, Wine Peak) we descended its rocky north ridge and then up to Bidean a' Ghlas Thuill, two metres higher than its neighbour and a spectacular summit to this mighty mountain. With a high cloud base being banished by blue sky, we could see a very long way, beyond the Black Cuillin to the south and up past the pointy Ben Stack to the north. Miles of coastline and sandy beaches stretched out into the sea, with the Outer Hebrides beyond. And in all of this, we could see no towns or large settlements, just one or two roads if we tried really hard.

Looking back the way you came can open up new and scary perspectives  © Rosie Robson
Looking back the way you came can open up new and scary perspectives
© Rosie Robson

Triumphant at the end of mainland Britain's greatest ridge traverse  © Rosie Robson
Triumphant at the end of mainland Britain's greatest ridge traverse
© Rosie Robson

The descent route we chose was to minimise a long walk along the road back to the car. It turned out in the end to be a bit of a gem. We descended north to the col, and then steeply dropped to the east into Glas Tholl, which wasn't particularly enjoyable at first. This might have been the most dangerous part of the day, as we edged down on a mixture of scree and eroded path with plenty of loose rocks. Having negotiated this with care, we reached the high floor of the valley, overlooked by the dramatic buttresses of Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill. The sun was now out in full force as we strolled down the path by the stream, which was blissfully peaceful. 1km from the road, we came across a clear pool fed by a waterfall. All of us thinking the same thing, we consequently had one of the best wild swims you could hope for – a delightful way to cool down.

We soon dried off as we descended to the road, and an interesting adventure was left until last, tunnelling through some mighty rhododendron bushes. We popped out on the road rather suddenly, and were left with just a short stroll back to the car.

Looking back to the pinnacles from Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill  © Rosie Robson
Looking back to the pinnacles from Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill
© Rosie Robson

I first ticked off the Munros on An Teallach when I was 13 years old, but took the bypass path skirting round the pinnacles, so definitely had unfinished business. There is a great photo of me, my dad, my sister, and Bendicks the springer spaniel standing proudly on the summit of Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill with the pinnacles in the background.

In the 13 subsequent years, the full traverse was high on my list, partly because everyone raved about it, and partly because I had gazed at it on that drive along the Destitution Road pretty much every summer. An Teallach inhabits a spectrum of conditions throughout the year, from stormy-icy winter to mild-midgey summer. But importantly for me, even on a sunny May day, it felt wild. Wild, because it is shockingly easy for a few laybys full of cars to empty people into a vast space and they hardly see another soul. Wild, because this is a proper mountain that pushes you and sometimes you don't know whether to feel scared or exhilarated. Wild, because you can stand on the summit and see hundreds of mountains and so few signs of people, that it makes you certain that the Scottish Highlands are pretty darn hard to beat.

Grade: 2/3, depending on route taken

Start/finish: Corrie Hallie

Distance: 15.5km

Ascent: 1400m

Equipment: In summer, no specialist climbing equipment would normally be required for the route described here. However, a rope may be of some comfort, especially if the crux move is tackled direct; this move is a high-end Grade 3 scramble and exposed. In full winter conditions, An Teallach is a tough grade II winter climb and an ice axe, crampons and (probably) a rope will be required.

Maps: OS Landranger (1:50,000) 19; OS Explorer (1:25,000) 435; Harvey British Mountain Map (1:40,000) Torridon & Fisherfield

Guidebooks: Scotland's Mountain Ridges by Dan Bailey (Cicerone)

Walking the Munros, Vol 2 by Steve Kew (Cicerone)

The Munros (SMC)

UKH Articles and Gear Reviews by Rosie Robson



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