This is probably one of Britain’s most dramatic of mountains and certainly one of its most challenging. I had climbed most of the Munros in the immediate Torridon area and had long been recommended An Teallach further to the north. I decided to give it a go in the Summer of 2009.
The mountain’s name (which translates as The Forge) refers more to the colour of the terrain in certain lighting conditions, rather than shape. An Teallach is mostly made of Torridonian sandstone and like the peaks around Loch Torridon it has terraced sides riven with steep gullies and a sharp rocky summit crests.
The first thing I would explain is that on the day of my climb it was not as you see it in the above photograph. Most of the time the mountain was obscured by cloud and rain. The cloud broke occasionally to give some hints of the mountain’s panorama but these windows were all too brief. For the above magnifient view I approached Michael Stirling-Aird who has taken really beautiful photographs of the Scotland’s highlands and islands, some of which adorn the walls of my home in Bangkok. In fact they act as psychological air conditioners – every time I go up and down my staircase I can really feel the cold air of the highlands. Anyhow please visit his excellent website:
There are actually two Munros on the An Teallach massif with the usual beautiful, if occasionally unpronounceable, Gaelic names; Sgurr Fiona (3,478 ft) and Bidean a’ Ghlas Thuill (3,484 ft). Furthermore there are eight other subsidiary summits along the rocky pinnacle traverses to negotiate.
This fact combined with the comparative remoteness of the mountain ensures that often you will appear to have the mountain to yourself. What climbers there are will tend to be swallowed up by its sheer size. On the day of my visit I saw not another soul. On the north side, at the very small village of Dundonnell, a sign marks the location of the mountain rescue team a sobering reminder, if one was needed, that this was to be no “walk in the park”.
I parked my car about a mile from Dundonnell and arrived back, having undertaken the circuitous route encompassing the two Munros, some seven hours later. That is the time indicated in my Munro guide but I know the authors are quite conservative. I would reckon a younger person could do it in six comfortably and also another hour could be taken off if you can organize your transport arrangements to obviate the road walk.
Several incidents on the mountain were of remark. On the way up I found myself on a broad scree slope comprising golf ball sized rocks. This was extremely difficult terrain to negotiate – a lot of slipping and sliding back – and by the time I had managed to get off I had expended an inordinate amount of energy. I was really concerned because I was only about a third of the way up the mountain with two Munros still to negotiate. A precursor to the difficulties in ascending Gunung Rinjani earlier this year.
On the way down after having negotiated the Munros the rain grew increasingly heavy and visibility, already pretty poor, was reduced to just a matter of a yards. My OS map gradually began to disintegrate into paper pulp in my hands (waterproof maps are invaluable) resulting in total and utter disorientation. However having learnt lessons of the past I did have my compass upon which I had to heavily rely to get myself off the mountain.
My travails were not entirely over. Within sight of the road I slipped, due to tiredness really, and whilst I only fell a matter of inches and landed on my feet I managed to jar my back. I managed to get back to the car without too much difficulty but the next week I could only painfully inch my way up to Edinburgh’s New Town from my flat in Stockbridge (very close but up hill all the way!).
Some obvious lessons learnt:
- avoid scree slopes going up
- use waterproof maps
- always take a compass (and whistle)
- avoid climbing alone on difficult mountains
- coming down a mountain is far more dangerous than going up
Completing all the Munros (283) is on my list of “things to do before I die” and I have so far to go to achieve this aim but I will surely climb this munro again on a clear day to see it better in all its glory.