On Tuesday and Thursday this week I had the pleasure of guiding Debbie and Helen on Beinn Alligin and Liathach. The conditions and weather forecast were challenging but fortunately not as much as last summer. We decided to start by warming up on the beautiful traverse of The Horns of Alligin, followed by the two Munros:Sgurr Mor & Tom na Gruagaich. Although the cloud rarely lifted above 500m we had a chance to get to know the nuances of scrambling on sandstone on the approach. Drizzle, greasy rock and sometimes gusty wind precluded traversing the first pinnacle so we all agreed that it was better to keep moving and not engage in any technicalities. Helen and Debbie quickly were able to choose their own route over the second and third pinnacle with only a little guidance, or ‘testing’ from myself.
Once on the big ridge walking terrain between the two Munros the time soon passed as we all relaxed a wee bit and started blethering a lot more to get to know one another. Helen navigated us from the final Munro to the top of the descent route which they both made short work of.
The plan now was to weather watch before attempting the more serious traverse of Liathach later in the week…
Thursday morning arrived, the conditions had improved a lot and were forecast to improve even more so we went for it! The three of us left the Glen Cottage car park at 0822 and proceeded to make one of the most effortless and efficient ascents of this huge mountain all the way to Spidean a ‘ Coire Leith, the first Munro of the day. Kirsty and her team from the SYHA Torridon Munros course were also on the mountain. Watching them from above just emphasised the size of the giant keel of a ridge as the three of them appeared like little ants on their way up.
On the descent of Spidean’ we were treated to tantalising glimpses of the pinnacles section of the main ridge we were heading for. I chose to take a cautious approach on the first ‘blocky staircase’ down and roped Debbie and Helen up. After this section it was apparent that the sandstone was by and large completely dry and importantly, my clients were more than capable of moving safely over the rest of the ridge unroped. Kirsty and her two nipped past at this point but were soon out of sight as the cloud closed in again.
Helen and Debbie moved with care and confidence. Helen especially enjoyed scrambling up the stepped wee gully. An Fasarinen was traversed and all that remained was to negotiate the last little steps and ledges above Twisting Gully before the helmets could go back in the bags.
We met Kirsty with John and Alan just on the last few metres up to Mullach an Rathain so it was only right for me to take a joint summit shot of the beaming faces. The descent off of the west end of this ridge can be heartbreaking for clients and guides alike but I am pleased to say this was not the case today. In no time at all we were below the cloud and enjoying the sunshine as well as ‘hill spotting’ across to the south of Glen Torridon.
Tales of other walks, adventures and plans were shared back at the cottage before I said goodbye. Hope to see you again…
blog by Jim Sutherland, nineonesix-guiding