I recently went for a weekend Torridon, an area on the Northwestern coast of Scotland. Wild and remote, this are is home to some of the most spectacular mountains in the UK, and despite questionable weather, I had my heart set on traversing one of its finest ridges, Liathach.
The Liathach ridge is almost unique among UK mountains; it rises like an oblong pyramid from the valley floor, formed of tier upon tier of crumbing sandstone. The top of this ridge is long and narrow, with a series of pinnacles jutting upwards towards the sky just west of its center point. Generally given a Winter Grade of II, this makes for a magnificent day out.
The day we chose to attack this mountain was, however, not magnificent.
My climbing partner, Peter, and I hiked up the southwestern corner until we hit the snow line (thankfully out of the rain) before we gained the actual ridge via a short scramble up the South Ridge route, itself a grade II. Once we had gained the main ridge we began our traverse. The going was rather slow, as we were hampered by strong winds and poor visibility; we were careful to avoid the large cornices which had formed overhanging the steep northern slope of the mountain. Variable snow conditions also made the traverse of the pinnacles tedious and slow, although we managed either to get over or around all of them with some effort.
The sun began to set as we topped out over the last of the Am Fasarinen Pinnacles, and the clouds lifted slightly so that they sat like a dark grey ceiling just above the remaining summits. Though weary from they day, we pushed on, hoping to reach the valley before total darkness set in. Sadly, a slow descent down the slushy scree fields on the eastern end of the ridge hampered our speed greatly. Descending in these conditions required great care to be taken, and more than once we watched the yellow sparks of a dislodged rock disappear into the dark, empty valley below us. All told, by the time we did reach the car we had been on the mountain for over 14 hours! Our companions had begun to worry, as a southeastern arm of the ridge had obscured the light of our head torches from their view, and they were glad to see us as we arrived, quite drenched, at the car park.