Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Torridonian Perfection


If you were to Ask some hill walkers mountaineers or climbers which one of Scotland's many mountains is the finest you can expect a wide range of answers. However some will re-occur more than others. Liathach is almost certain to be one of the more prevalent answers. Even the name 'Liathach' radiates a powerful almost demonic sound and driving down Glen Torridon and being faced with her impressive bastions it seems a fitting title.

Due to the Fickle nature of Scottish Winters it can be hard to get good conditions or fine weather and thus often it comes down to grasping opportunity's and your luck. I had been staying with Russell and his Family at their cottage in Aviemore. the three days previous had taken me up a few routes around the Northern Cairngorm's and a solo ascent of Ledge route on Ben Nevis. the weather had gradually improved, and as we were descending from the Cairngorm plateau after a days climbing, the view ahead of us was something special. The weather had settled and we could see the countless peaks of the north and west glistening in the snow beneath a wide blue sky. the forecast for the next day was worthy of a mountain like Liathach and warranted the journey to it's flanks and more specifically, the long journey back to Montrose afterwards.

Defrosting the car and leaving Aviemore at around seven we traveled northwards. as the day broke it became apparent that the forecast similar to a perfect alpine day was spot on. We drove up to the car park across from the Ling hut and got ready.

We started up the Coire Dubh Mor path and followed it for a bout a mile before cutting west onto a series of slabs. The slabs made for enjoyable and easy height gain up to the edge of a large rock band that skirts the Eastern edge of the mountain. From here we followed scraps of tracks over rough ground up towards the start of the ridge. The weather was phenomenal  the clear skies that had brought about the frosty morning now gave way to a kingdom of blue and allowed the sun to bear down upon us with not a hint of a breeze. we eventually reached the ridge after carefully scrambling our way through some rock bands and small icy snow fields. seeing that the ridge ahead had a lot of snow cover we donned crampons and headed west along the crest.

As we reached the first summit the view became nothing short of spectacular, not least of that along the ridge to the highest point 'Spidean a' Choire Leith'. we had a break here and attempted to take in our over-aweing surroundings. It was the first time I could think of that I had sunglasses, a T-shirt and crampons on! It was a far cry from the wet cold crevices and whiteout conditions that so often typify Scottish Winter Climbing.

Moving off, the snow was perfect, a solid neve forming knife edge crests over monstrous drops, all the time over the cloudless blue void above. This arete runs for about a kilometer and a half crossing various cols and summits before ending in a graceful push up Spidean a' Choire Leith. There were ski tracks of the south side of the Cornice which would have intrigued us more had we not seen skiers rapidly descending a gully on Stag rocks the previous day.

By the time we reached the first Munro a light breeze had got up. the route continues down a snow slope to a col that marks the start of the Am Fasarinen pinnacles. these had a varying cover of snow that became progressively thinner as we approached the western end. variations of snow, ice, rock and turf made these interesting but not hard enough to pitch, which was fine as we didn't have a rope with us!

Before the decent off the final pinnacle we took our crampons off as it was mainly bare rock and the sun had sufficiently melted the snow to make them unnecessary for the ridge beyond. the ridge up to the final top, Mullach an Rathain, was non-technical and not exposed so we moved quickly towards the second Munro. I decided to run down so that i could walk/run/hitch my way to the car which was five kilometers up the glen. just coming off the ridge and descending into the coire i seen that someone before me had glisaded down. Doing likewise saved much of the effort required for the steep descent and i ran down the rest. i walked along most of the road and eventually got a lift from some french tourists about halfway to the car park.


All in all i don't think i have ever had a better or more perfect day in the mountains, it had it all, beautiful views, neve aretes, warm scrambley rock all with mind blowing drops not to mention a bit of glisading. The combination of perfect weather and perfect conditions on one of the finest mountains in Scotland if not anywhere surely means its up there with the best days us who spend time in the mountains can hope for.