Six days in Torridon, Part 1: Beinn AlliginJanuary 4, 2019
It’s the darkest time of year, with less than seven hours of daylight. And those daylight hours are pretty muted! So it seems like a good time to take a look back at my summer trips to the beautiful Torridon region in the north west of Scotland.
I made two trips to Torridon in 2018, the second one being a long weekend that I organised for my hillwalking Meetup group. As this was the first group long weekend I had organised, and as I was the only organiser, doing three big mountain walks in three consecutive days, I decided to do a recce trip first.
I had initially planned the weekend along with two other organisers for my hillwalking group, but those organisers both dropped out. None of us get paid – we just do it for the love of hillwalking – so I couldn’t really complain. But it left me with a lot on my plate!
A Mecca for mountaineers
Torridon is a magnet for mountaineers, climbers and walkers. Strictly speaking, the name Torridon refers to a small village near Loch Torridon, a sea loch in the north west of Scotland – and the area that mountaineers refer to as Torridon is really Glen Torridon.
The mountains of Glen Torridon are different from the mountains further south. They are more barren and rocky, with jagged, angular shapes. Most of the rock is Torridonian sandstone, and it’s some of the oldest rock in Britain.
Many of these mountains have a terraced appearance, with pinnacles at the top, and the way these tops are spaced apart from each other in bare jagged peaks rather than rolling hills, gives the area the appearance of subtropical, even desert terrain, especially on hot summer days.
A view of Baosbheinn, a mountain in Torridon with a typical jagged ridge.
The highest mountains in Torridon are Liathach, Beinn Eighe and Beinn Alligin, all of which are Munros (Scottish mountains with an altitude of at least 3,000 feet/914.4m). I decided not to include Liathach in my weekend, as it’s an exceptionally tough walk, and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable organising a group walk to this mountain. Instead, I chose to do Beinn Eighe, Beinn Alligin and Slioch. Slioch is not in Glen Torridon, but it’s very close – a big Munro, but not a technically difficult one.
The recce weekend
The Meetup group weekend was booked for late June/early July. I decided to do a “recce” weekend in May, to ensure that I was familiar with all the routes, and fit enough to lead them!
The recce was planned at short notice, on the first few sunny days I had free. With the forecast looking good, I posted the trip on my Meetup group at very short notice. I knew that my mum wouldn’t be happy about me doing the trip on my own!
One person signed up – a woman called Rosalind, whom I hadn’t met before, but we had lots of friends in common. Rosalind has loads of hillwalking experience. She was only able to take two days off, and she wanted to do Beinn Alligin and Beinn Eighe.
We decided to start with Beinn Alligin, a mountain I hadn’t climbed before. Beinn Alligin has two Munro summits: Tom na Gruagaich, at 922m, and Sgurr Mor, at 986m. It also has a narrow jagged ridge split into three sections, known as Na Rathanan, or “The Horns of Alligin”. We were both a bit nervous about doing these!
The Horns of Alligin in the foreground, with Beinn Dearg behind.
Hot and sunny
It was a beautiful sunny day, and the temperature was already starting to rise as we set off from the car park at 10am. The climb up to the first summit, Tom na Gruagaich, is pretty steep, and we only took a few short breaks before arriving at the top a couple of hours later.
The views from the summit of Tom na Gruagaich are simply breathtaking.
Views over to Gairloch, just north of Torridon.
Views out west to the Isle of Skye.
To the east, we could see our way forward, over the ridge to the next Munro summit of Sgurr Mor, and then on towards the Horns of Alligin.
The walk to Sgurr Mor was a bit scrambly initially, with some tricky downclimbs, and then just a lovely scenic stroll followed by a short, steep climb.
Me at the summit of Sgurr Mor, with the first of the Horns just visible below.
We had lunch at the top, and contemplated the quite scary-looking Horns below us. Both of us were totally determined to climb them, and both of us were nervous at the prospect! The Horns can be avoided by walking on a bypass path, or you can completely avoid them by going back the way you came.
Neither of these options even occurred to us. We were going for it!
A hill runner put in a brief appearance at the summit. He’d just run over the Horns, doing the route that we were doing, but in reverse.
We were partly astonished and partly reassured by his presence. Once we’d finished our lunch, we started to make our way down the steep eastern side of Sgurr Mor. We were so focused on the sight of the first Horn ahead of us, that we didn’t even notice how steep the path was that we were going down.
The first Horn ahead of us.
The closer we got to the rocky stack in front of us, the less daunting it seemed. There were a few people ahead of us climbing up it, and we just followed them. There some small paths, all ending abruptly in boulders.
We were soon using our hands as well as our feet, and really enjoying the scramble. It didn’t take long for us to reach the top, where we enjoyed more breathtaking views.
Me at the top of the first Horn.
There was a short, narrow Ridge along the top of the first horn, with glorious views all around. We thoroughly enjoyed walking along it.
Rosalind walking along the top of the first Horn.
The face of Sgurr Mor looked astonishingly steep from this angle, yet it had not been a particularly difficult walk down. It shows how deceptive appearances can be on mountains, especially from a distance.
The steep path down Sgurr Mor.
The other two Horns were smaller, with more enjoyable scrambling, especially on the third Horn. As we walked down the last Horn, we felt a little sad that it was all coming to an end!
Walking down the last of the Horns.
There’s a steep, bouldery climb down from the Horns, followed by a long walk-out. As we walked back we saw Beinn Alligin, the mountain that we had just traversed, from a very different perspective.
Beinn Alligin as seen from the east.
The next day we were planning to climb Beinn Eighe, a mountain that encompasses two Munro summits, and that I had attempted to climb twice before. I have very mixed memories about Beinn Eighe, as I had a terrible accident on it in 2017. However, it’s one of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen, and I don’t want it to be forever associated in my mind with an unpleasant memory, so I was very keen to complete both summits without a fall.
To be continued…