Liathach on a Leash – Bit of a Ropey Walk

11 09 2011

Mon 5 September 2011
All photos by Richard Wood (RW) and Alan Bellis (AB)

I thought I’d have a sleepless night before this walk as I’ve been dreading it since I started seriously collecting ‘Munros’ but, strangely, I didn’t. It seemed that after worrying about it for the last few weeks, I’d finally resigned myself to doing it. If I’d known what it was going to be like however, I wouldn’t have had a wink of sleep!

The morning dawned slightly damp but calm and with a good forecast. Beinn Eighe, opposite the cottage and around the same height as our peak was starting to fully appear so I was hopeful we wouldn’t be doing the walk in cloud as that actually makes me more nervous. I think that, when I can’t see the drop, I just imagine it’s far worse than it actually is. We loaded up the car for the short drive down to the hill track – there were three of us doing the hill, myself, my usual walking partner Richard and, to provide assistance to Richard, also Alan – a Welsh friend of mine. Alan’s missus, Ele, also accompanied us up the start of the hill briefly but turned back as the midges were biting very badly indeed, despite anti-midge spray – but she wasn’t intending to come up the hill anyway.

There is a good, stone-pitched path leading steeply up an easy grassy and heathery bank to the shallow corrie above. This part of the walk was hot and sticky as the sun was coming out and we were plagued by the midges following us up the hill but, apart from that, it was a very scenic section of the walk. We were accompanied by a tumbling burn rushing past us back down the hill. This was handy as it meant that, instead of stopping to get our water bottles out, we could just drink from the refreshing water.


Richard Looking Up in Awe! (AB)

We soon reached the lip of the shallow corrie and I glanced at my altimeter as we looked to be about two-thirds of the way up the hill but I was perturbed to see we weren’t even halfway yet. What was the mountain hiding from us? To be honest, what I’d thought looked like a fairly straightforward ascent from below, was much trickier than I thought. I’d seen where the path looked to go up onto the ridge and was right about that but, as we’d come over the corrie lip, I’d seen that there were huge, black, slimy crags lying ominously below our traversing route – ugh! This meant that we had around 1000 feet of extremely steep hillside to get up above those crags – all very worrying for a mountain coward. I knew this was the easiest way up the eastern end of the ridge and the only way I could reach the eastern Munro summit though so knew I had to continue if I wanted my ‘tick’. Watching two guys ahead confirmed that this was indeed the route – I started to frown and went a bit quiet.


Me Studying the Route Ahead (RW)

We walked the short distance to the back of the corrie and a reasonable, but quite loose, stony path headed up towards the heathery traverse. Although this had looked like a very short climb it was, in fact, actually quite a long one, which of course meant that the crag band was quite large.


Ascending in the heat (AB)

We eventually reached the slightly rising traverse path through the heather. The path was on a very sloping shelf quite a way above the top of the crags so looked like a very safe place to be but the thought of those crags below me was niggling away at me the whole time.

By now I’d seen where the guys ahead had left the traverse and were heading steeply off uphill again – and it was just where I’d hoped it wasn’t going to be as it was exceptionally steep ground. But of course there is no choice of route as the eastern end of the mountain is so difficult of access so where they went, we were bound to follow. There is actually another route out of the corrie lower down going the other way and missing out the two peaks at the eastern end of the ridge but I believe that is much more difficult – added to that, I hadn’t seen any sign of it anyway and I believe it is quite difficult to find and requires some negotiation of crag bands.

The path ascended extremely steeply indeed in a series of fairly tight zig-zags and in many places quite loose. The vast drop behind me started to grow disconcertingly. Still I plodded on upwards. Pretty soon we were faced with an extremely steep section of proper scrambling which had a step up at one point that even I couldn’t manage without using my knees. Alan had already ascended this section and was filming my ascent, no doubt thinking it would make very interesting footage of one of the more awkward sections of the very steep ascent. He then noticed I’d actually got so scared at this point I was swearing badly and starting to hyperventilate. He stopped filming and asked if I was alright – I swore quite a bit more so he probably gathered I wasn’t. To be honest, it wasn’t that the scrambling was beyond my ability – had it been in a flat field, I’d have romped up it but, coupled with the yawning drop behind me a couple of thousand feet back down to the road, I wasn’t a happy bunny! He bent down to offer me a hand but I’d eventually hauled myself up it.

Feeling the route was now getting seriously scary, and seeing there was quite a way still to ascend at the same angle, I couldn’t stop hyperventilating or calm down at all. Every steep scrambly section we got to, my breathing got worse and I became more panicky. I was surprised that I hadn’t already got the shakes and ‘jelly legs’ but fortunately I hadn’t. It’s very difficult to co-ordinate when your limbs start to shake and turn to jelly and makes things much more dangerous. After a couple more steep scrambles and some more steep zig-zagging, the top of the ridge finally hove into view. As I approached the ridgeline I pretty much knew what it was going to be like – extremely narrow with a near-vertical 3000 foot drop down the far side so I was careful not to look. Although I didn’t look down the back though, I could see the ridge was only about three feet wide at this point. The whole place felt scarily airy.


Hell Ridge (RW)

I’d originally said to Alan I wanted to do the ‘top’ on the very eastern end of the ridge, Stuc a’ Choire Dhuibhe Bhig, and he started to head that way. By now I’d had a quick look along the ridge each way and told him not to bother and that we should just get on with the main route before I lost my nerve any more. There were two guys sat on the rocky peak next to our col and I noticed a woman with them on a little path below the summit – she didn’t look totally happy either. But the two guys were more interested in my obvious distress – I was looking pointedly at the ground, hyperventilating even worse, and even making sort of distressed groaning noises – they looked quite alarmed. Alan mentioned to them that I was a bit nervous! They turned out to be German so there wasn’t much conversation before we headed off along the ridge. Luckily, instead of having to clamber over the rocky peak they were sat atop, Richard saw there was a path just below contouring round it – it looked much safer so I opted for that.

I had a look along the ridgeline to our final Munro summit – three peaks further on. The ridgeline was exceedingly narrow to the first peak and then the three peaks looked extremely steep and loose and had a yawning drop all the way down the mountain on both sides – I had no idea how I was going to make it all the way to the required summit. I knew I had to try though so set off, still making noises and totally out of control of my breathing.


Setting Out Along The Ridge (AB)

To start with, the top of the ridge was too narrow to walk so there were tiny paths either side a few feet down – neither looked at all comforting but we chose the one on the northern side. Apart from having a terrifying drop off it, the narrow path (probably about 9 inches wide) took a fairly steady route and was only awkward in a couple of places, one where you had to shuffle round on a smooth, flat rock with a rock above it trying to push you off the path – I hugged the rock like I was in love with it as I shuffled round.


Narrowest Section of Ridge (RW)

After this section we were back onto the narrow ridgeline briefly to start our ascent up the steep and loose cone ahead, the ‘top’ of Bidean Toll a’ Mhuic. There were a few loose and dusty paths zig-zagging their way up the cone and it wasn’t too bad to ascend.


Bidean Toll a’ Mhuic (RW)

The top was another narrow ridgeline with large, mainly flat rocks across it. I’d been encouraged to go below the summit rocks along the boulderfield but wasn’t happy as I don’t trust boulderfields at the best of times and of course this one was only a short one which then plunged over the huge vertical crags below. I was terrified of a rock slide and so, for the rest of the ridgelines, where possible, stuck to the flat rocks along the top. A sheer 3000 foot drop to the right was a small price to pay for the firmer rocks. Richard was sent ahead constantly to check the route ahead so I didn’t encounter any more nasty surprises than absolutely necessary.

Alan, hoping we’d make it to the pinnacles after the eastern summit, had brought ropes and climbing tackle and I’d brought my climbing harness which I’d bought the previous week at the climbing wall. He kept suggesting we rope up to give me confidence. I wasn’t sure it would make a difference to my nervousness and was worried I’d just pull him off as well if I slipped and so I kept saying no.

The summit of Bidean Toll a’ Mhuic had a little wall built round the cairn so I climbed over to sit inside it, hoping it would make me feel more secure. I sat looking at the ground very pointedly, despairing and still hyperventilating. I could see I had two more peaks to go and then I had to come all the way back along. That was all bad enough but the thought that I had to go back down that awful ascent was almost too horrifying to contemplate! The Germans arrived as we were leaving, no doubt noting that I looked and sounded even worse than I had before – they were probably wondering what on earth I was doing there. They sat down for a break.


The Germans are on the Summit (RW)

There was a very short descent and then a short ascent to the next rise which, to be honest, wasn’t as bad as the last one had been and had a decent wide top of very flat rocks. However, it was here I got a close look at the final ascent to Spidean a’ Choire Leith – the Munro summit. To me it looked loose and horrifyingly steep – added to that, it looked like it was pretty scrambly and rocky at the very top. I looked to the right of it – definitely no better that way – looked to the left of it – didn’t think that looked promising either. I was suddenly sure I couldn’t possibly make it and became completely panic stricken. I just stood despairingly repeating things like, “I can’t do it – I can’t go up that!”. I’d become pretty hysterical and Richard and Alan were trying to calm me down. Richard kept saying that I had to get up the next bit or I wouldn’t get my Munro tick. Alan kept telling me it would be no worse than the peak we’d come up earlier. Richard put his hand on me to calm me down and I was so jumpy I shot up in the air and nearly jumped off the mountain! For the second time during the ascent, I honestly thought I was going to be physically sick – luckily I wasn’t too dizzy yet.


I’m Not Going Up That! (AB)


Too Steep! (RW)

Alan started to insist I roped up and so I finally agreed. Richard got out my harness and I had to calm down a bit as I’d started off putting it on twisted and back to front. I got it on properly and tightened it up while Alan sorted out his ropes and carabiners. I realised how ridiculous it was to have to rope up for this section of mountain as there was no technical difficulty but, by then, I didn’t really care what oncoming walkers thought – they were already looking at me due to the state I was in. Alan clipped me into the rope, said he’d keep me on as tight a rope as possible, and that I needed to be behind on ascents and he needed to be behind on descents. I asked Richard to go the opposite end of the line each time so that I had someone either side of me. I told Alan I was worried I’d just pull him off the mountain if I slipped but he assured me I wouldn’t.


Me in Suspenders! 😉 (RW)

We set off down the steep descent to the col before the main summit and we noticed that, already, I’d stopped hyperventilating, was less hysterical, and was walking more normally. Part of this was due to the fact that, being roped up, I now had more to concentrate on as I had to look after my end of the rope and not let it get snagged round rocks and suchlike. On the descent from this peak there were a couple of steep scrambling steps down gullies and the like and for one of these Alan put slings round a belay rock above me.


Looking Back to Scrambly Descent – Was Okay Actually 🙂 (RW)

We reached the bottom without incident and Alan then went in front for the final ascent to the main peak. As soon as we set off up the ridge, I realised Alan had been right and that the climb was nothing like as steep or hairy as it had looked from the penultimate peak. It was also more solid and blocky so I always felt there was firm rock behind me as we climbed – pretty comforting.


Looks Better When You Start… (RW)


Me on a Leash (RW)


Clambery Bit Near Summit (RW)

The peak was quite clambery towards the top but had no difficulties whatsoever and we were pretty soon on my summit – at last!


Made It! (RW)


But a Bit Stressed by it all (RW)

Now all we had to do was get back along the ridge and down again – very worrying! Unfortunately, the mental drain of the route so far and the worry of what lie ahead on our return journey meant I couldn’t really celebrate attaining my summit and gave a very subdued response to Alan’s request for a ‘high five’ and couldn’t really smile for the summit photos. In fact, that evening, when I saw my face on this summit photo Richard had taken, I had hysterics of a different kind – I couldn’t stop laughing.


What Am I Doing Here? (the stress is pretty plain on my face here!) (RW)

I saw a horrifying-looking path snaking up the near-vertical sides of the mountain from far below and assumed that must be the more difficult path up – then I realised it was the way we’d actually come up – our descent route!


Our route back – you can just see our ascent/descent path heading straight up the r/hand peak – ugh! (RW)

I stayed roped up for the return journey and, after a few minutes on the summit, where Richard had a good look around and took loads of photos, and no doubt admired what might have been – the pinnacles – we set off back along the ridge.


The Am Fasarinen Pinnacles (RW)

The first descent, after a few slightly loose sections near the top and on the worst side of the peak, became firm again and went back over the ridgeline so wasn’t too bad. I picked my way carefully down it behind Richard – I was going very, very slowly though.


Starting the Descent (RW)

We then had to climb back up the steep and scrambly gullies to the next peak – again though, this section was okay really and so I’d calmed down a good deal. I even started to chat to Alan a bit – a good sign. We clambered along the flat, blocky ridgeline of the second peak, noting that we hadn’t seen the Germans after they’d ascended the first peak – as there is little route choice on these peaks, we decided they must have gone back down due to the nervousness of the lady who was with them. I was pleased that I’d at least forced myself along to the summit – with lots of persuasion of course – but then, she probably isn’t following a ‘tick list’.


Still Heading Back (RW)


Beinn Eighe Behind (RW)


And a nice Rainbow (which I paid little attention to) (RW)

The descent from this peak was absolutely fine, as was the ascent up to the next peak. The descent from that, however, wasn’t so good – the loose paths we’d come up had been fine for ascent but were horrible to descend. In addition to the slighly slippery paths, I was looking down to the black jaws of a yawning and savage-looking gully which looked to be beckoning below! I started complaining a bit but continued to pick my way very cautiously down. We were by now debating whether we should attempt the far eastern top as originally planned. I said I’d see how I felt when we arrived at the narrow col but that I was extremely worried about the descent down the side of the mountain and wasn’t too keen on delaying it.


Eastern Top – to do or not to do? (RW)

As we reached the very narrow col again, I decided we probably should go for it – as Richard had already pointed out, I certainly wasn’t going to be back up there ever again! We started off up a very loose path which was a bit offputting to start. However, higher up it improved but not before Richard had started a mini rockfall behind me and I’d shouted out in horror as I looked round expecting to see him gone. I snapped at him to be more careful and we continued on. Presently, the ridge flattened out and became comfortingly wide and grassy – if only the rest of the ridge could emulate this section!


The Only Nice Bit of the Ridge (RW)

We strolled across to the wide rocky summit which, as promised by all the guide books, was a superb viewpoint. I pointed out what all the surrounding peaks were to Richard as he clicked away with his camera. I hadn’t brought my camera as I won’t take it on difficult routes as then I have to worry about the camera as well as myself! Also, it being large and bulky, it can be very awkward on scrambles at pushing me out from the rock.


Superb View to the North (AB)


Sgurr Dubh from Eastern Top (RW)

We spent far longer on this top that the other summits as it was such a nice place but I knew I still had the terrifying descent down the side of the mountain to come so we eventually had to leave our comforting perch for the horrors of the descent. I found the last, loose section down to the narrow col a bit worrying but soon we were on the col and looking at the discomfitingly narrow path heading off over the edge. As Alan looked back along the ridge to the main summit, he commented admiringly “It’s a monster isn’t it” – I couldn’t have agreed more, although of course from completely the opposite perspective.


The Monster! (AB)

The descent path traversed briefly and then started its zig-zagging plunge down the steep mountainside – it seemed vertical to me.


Our path is the one heading bravely down to the left – over the drop!
We’re Going Down There?! (AB)


The Angle of Descent (RW)

I knew it had been steep on the way up but wasn’t prepared for how awful it would look and feel during the descent. I slowed nearly to a crawl down the steep, loose, near-vertical zig-zag until we reached the first of the down-scrambles. The route wasn’t at all difficult as it went down in a series of large but flat steps, however, it was a large drop down the scramble and immediately past it, I could see the valley and the road – far, far below! It rammed home just how steep and unremitting the descent was and I became completely terrified again. Alan had decided to fix a sling for this section but, of course, this takes time and so all I could do while he set it up, was sit at the top of the terrifying plunge, looking down it and completely freaking out. Richard was below trying to calm me down but it wasn’t working I’m afraid. I knew we still had another couple of steep scrambles and then the daddy of all the scrambles – the huge vertical one where I’d first started to freak out on the ascent.

I was glad when Alan announced I could clamber down and hurried down to the waiting Richard who’d scouted out the next best bit of route for me. Unfortunately, being roped to Alan, I of course had to wait while he dismantled the slings he’d set up. I clung to a couple of rocks in front of me facing into the mountain and refusing to look anywhere else until he’d joined us. There was soon another scramble but it didn’t seem as bad but still no ‘daddy scramble’. Where had it got to? I knew it was lying in wait for me further down the mountain. Richard insisted we’d got lower than that and we just had straight-forward zig-zags to the traverse path which, fortunately, wasn’t too far below us now – I insisted we still had it to come. Fortunately, Richard was actually right and somehow we’d missed it on the descent.

We reached the traverse path which I proceeded along pretty gingerly, remembering the big, black, slimy crags below. Happily, we soon completed the traverse and started the very loose, steep descent down into the corrie past the crags. I didn’t mind this bit so much however as I could see that, not far below us on our right, there was a comforting grassy route going down into the corrie with a stream trickling down it. If I slipped, I was just going to make sure I went that way. I still stayed roped up until near the bottom of this section though. I think Alan was relieved when near the corrie floor, I said I was now happy to unclip and he could walk along freely and at his own pace.


Thank God it’s All Over – Can I Smile Now? (RW)

It went from red-hot and sunny in the corrie to a sudden sharp shower which made the rock very slippery. As the rest of the route was stone-pitched, this meant we still couldn’t speed up the descent any and I was shocked to see that, as we reached the road, we’d been seven hours to do one Munro!

I might not have had a bad night’s sleep the night before Liathach but I certainly had a sleepless night afterwards! I would just be dozing off and would suddenly see the full horror of that descent again from the top of my rocky perch above that scramble! That happened repeatedly until I eventually fell into an exhausted sleep three hours later.

Thanks to Alan (and the long-suffering Richard) for your patience – I couldn’t have done it without you!

Stats: 4 miles, 3696 feet of ascent, 7 hours!!

Attaching a link to Alan’s video on YouTube below – I think it’s brilliantly done so thanks yet more Alan! 🙂

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBK3HincDKc


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16 responses

5 11 2016
Liathach Traverse | The Adventures of a Mountain Coward

[…] my most fearsome mainland Munro without a doubt when I originally did the Munros – I read my earlier report again last night and was amazed at how much I’ve come on […]

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30 07 2014
Liathach’s Western Ridge | The Adventures of a Mountain Coward

[…] luckily, the Western end of the ridge had no such problems… […]

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7 10 2011
Dan (aka icemandan)

Excellent and honest report. All the way round you’re thinking to yourself ‘how the hell do I get up/down that’ and the narrow bits of the ridge are as near to tightrope walking as I ever want to get. BTW the Pinnacles are do-able provided that you keep your eyes on the rock six inches in front of you and don’t look up or down.

When are you going to have a go at Corrag Bhuidhe on An Teallach?

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8 10 2011
mountaincoward

Hmmm – the Corrag Bhuidhe – well I was looking at photos of the other side of it (the Seat side) and thinking it might be possible… but then I’ve looked at other people’s reports and their photos and thought it might not! Not for me anyway. My friend Richard hasn’t done An Teallach yet so I will no doubt have to accompany him. We’ll be going the opposite way round to my last visit (so anti-clockwise) so will approach from that direction. He will be doing the Pinnacles so I’ll probably go as far as I can with him… and then no doubt wimp out and go round on the bypass again 😉

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14 09 2011
Alan Bellis

At last I got you in suspenders and a leash! 😉
I’m glad to have been of some help, possibly the difference of getting to the top or not. But well done, you did it yourself really, the rope never really did anything but give you some confidence.
Glad you liked the video, luckily missed all the swearing! 🙂

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14 09 2011
mountaincoward

LOL! Yeah, but I look about as happy as a white-slaved gal in that summit pic!

You made all the difference as Richard couldn’t have taken me on a rope to even give me that confidence as he hasn’t really done any rope work. I was watching that ‘Daddy scramble’ part of your video and listening very hard to see if my language was audible – luckily it wasn’t – just your chuckling! I swear Richard’s also grinning behind me! He says he can’t remember…
Carol.

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13 09 2011
David Seòras

pretty epic report there Carol… your fear comes across through the written word really well… some nice pics from the day as well… thankfully that shower held off until you were safely of the worst of it…

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14 09 2011
mountaincoward

Yeah it was lucky the shower held off – it kept threatening to rain while we were on the ridge – slippery rocks up there would have really not been what I’d have wanted! Nor on that descent and its scrambles! Thank God I don’t have to do it again now 🙂
Carol.

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13 09 2011
Susie

Well done, Carol! I had to laugh at the glum face on the summit. The photos show very well how high and exposed it is. I certainly wouldn’t want to be up there in really windy conditions. Looking forward to seeing the you tube clip soon.

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14 09 2011
mountaincoward

It’s not so much a glum face as a totally stressed out one – I aged about 10 years on that ridge! I think the YouTube clip’s ready so I’m hoping to add it tonight…
Carol.

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12 09 2011
Malcolm Clark

Well that was entertaining (for the rest of us at least!). I think you spend far too much time researching all of the awkward bits of these sort of hills, and consequently, that makes things even more nerve-wracking. You might have a reasonable chance on some of the other Cuillin if you stop looking at the photos! Probably too late for that now though. I’d imagine you’ve already devoured the full horror of ‘Skye Scrambles’ or Gordon Stainforth’s coffee table book!

Did you get up the other end of Liathach? With a bit of roundabouting, that should be a pleasant and enjoyable day.

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12 09 2011
mountaincoward

Yeah LOL – at least when I scare myself stupid on these routes, it makes for more interesting reading! I have looked at an awful lot of photos about Skye I’m afraid. I still think it helps me in some ways to know what to expect, although often it puts me off before I even start. Bit of a double-edged sword. But I don’t think I’d have the nerve to attempt them at all without a look at what’s involved – I don’t like nasty surprises!

Yeah, we went up the long western ridge of Liathach a few days later and I’ve written a report up which I’ll put out in a few days when I get off nightshift.
Carol.

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11 09 2011
bob

One of the best hills in Scotland.I think most people have been worried on it at one time or another.A good Munro to have on your CV though.
bob.

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11 09 2011
mountaincoward

Thanks Bob… the only drawback though is that, I asked Alan what he thought about my chances on Skye while I was having a fit on Liathach and he said I probably have no chance… I’m inclined to agree with him. Wonder if I can start a new club of ‘Mainland Munro Compleatists’?
Carol.

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11 09 2011
Tango

Some excellent photos there Carol,thanks to Richard for rattling them off.. & i think you done rather well. keep up the good work.. Terry..

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11 09 2011
mountaincoward

I think poor Alan would have liked to take more photos but ended up having to look after me. He did get some though and managed to do some filming.
Carol.

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