Liathach is probably the most famous of the Torridon Hills, a cluster of mountains located in a remote section of the Western Highlands on the Atlantic Coast side of Scotland. Meaning The Grey One in Scottish Gaelic, Liathach dwarfs the tiny hamlet of Torridon, its slopes rising near vertically in a series of terraces above the the sea loch forming a long ridge walk with multiple munros (over 914 meters in height), tops (under 914 meters), and a knife edge scramble called Am Fasarinen (The Teeth).
I’d hiked into the tiny village of Torridon the day before from Strathcarron, a tiny village and railroad line stop about 12 miles to the south to stretch my legs after flying to the UK from the States, a day before start of the 2013 TGO Challenge.
With a day to kill and fine weather, I decided to hike up one of Liathach’s munros, named Mullach an Rathan, to sample Liathach’s rugged beauty without committing myself to a full traverse of its long ridge. Being unfamiliar with the terrain and exit routes (there turn out to be few), I was not prepared for a full traverse and didn’t want to be caught in the mist on the mountain doing a solo without an ice axe and too few clues. Still, I was eager to bag one of Liathach’s tops and get a view of the Torridon munros to the north, so I set off early that morning to find a route to the ridge and have a very private adventure.
When climbing Scotland’s high peaks, one quickly learns that they are very steep, if not frightenly so, and generally barren of any vegetation that can provide protection from the weather. Public footpaths up their ramparts are rarely marked on maps or signs, so some skill is required to find an existing path or ascend the peak without one.
Approaching from the Torridon Youth Hostel, I reckoned the best way to ascend was to circle around the southern side of the ridge and look for a path that climbed from the boggy base up to the red sandstone terraces above the loch. This approach seemed like it would be popular with hillwalkers and climbers and I quickly found a footpath that showed obvious signs of trail maintenance including water bars, which I took to be a good sign. I was surprised to learn that the National Trust is underwriting such trail maintenance throughout Scotland and saw many signs of it on the Challenge, for instance in the famous Cairngorm mountain pass, the Lairig Ghru.
It seemed that I had picked a near perfect day for this hike up Liathach, with excellent views back toward the munros and passes I had walked along the previous day when I’d hiked in from Stratchcarron. With virtually no wind or mist, the weather was far better than the gale force gusts and stinging rain that I’d experienced the day before and had nearly blown me off my feet.
The hike up the terraced path was strenuous, but straightforward, though I paused frequently to soak in the views and catch my breath. I refilled my water bottle and then started the final ascent to the summit ridge scaling about 1000 feet of very loose shale and scree up a precipitously angled slope which would definitely have required an ice axe or perhaps two in winter conditions.
There was still snow at the top of Mullach an Rathan when I summitted but not enough to require any special equipment other than my pacerpoles. I eyed The Teeth and Liathach’s other munro but decided not to risk a solo traverse and instead drunk up the fantastic views from the 1023 meter summit while I indulged in a quick snack. They were simply breathtaking, particularly to the hills of the northwest, including Beinn Allign.
Scottish weather being as fickle as it is, I decided then and there that I would need to make a future trip back to the Torridon Hills for at least a week or two to ensure a few days of good hiking weather. Starting my Challenge walk in Torridon had been a fantastic choice, but the area demands a far more extensive and in-depth exploration on a future trip.