'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Taking An Teallach By Strategy - Day 3

Extravagent mountains demand extravagent approaches. The 24-hour weather forecast said that Saturday morning would be clear, pressure rising, and a light north-east wind. Perfect conditions. I rose at 4.00am and drove the 66 miles from Torridon to Corrie Hallie. Northern Scotland is an extraordinary place at the beginning of its lengthened summer days: clear light, deep skies, mountains jumping out from the horizon, columns of mist rising from lochs and burns. You first see An Teallach 20 miles off, and your heart leaps: the distant corrugations of its ridges are clear against the sky. This will be one of the great days. At 6.15am I was on the hill.
For those who don't know it, An Teallach is made up of four peaks - Sail Liath, Stob Cadha Gobhlach, Sgurr Fiona and Bidein a Ghlas Thuill - whose massive quartzite spurs enclose two deep corries. The central section is a spectacular sandstone traverse called Corrag Bhuidhe: the ascent and descent do not have the thrill and agony of those parts of Liathach, but that scramble up to Sgurr Fiona is incomparably exhilirating.
The Torridonian sandstone blocks look like Daliesque marshmallows left too long on a summer barbecue - you feel they will yield squishily to the touch. But grasp it and this rock is rough on the hands, stuffed with billion-year-old pebbles, it rasps across your palms. Scrambling across Corrag Bhuidhe is an hour's demanding exercise for mind and body that makes the skin of your hands sting and glow with life. Stepping up into a narrow corner it seems impossible that the crampon-marks before your eyes could be where your feet must rest, but stretch your hand above the top of a column, jam your foot in tight, move, and suddenly that odd angle is the only place that your right foot can possibly stand. The pinnacles have a logic that only reveals itself up close, the most unlikely lines emerge when you approach each buttress. Lord Berkeley's Seat, a crazy lozenge of rock jammed between Corrag Bhuidhe and Sgurr Fiona that seems to be permanently tipping over into the lochan, is the last obstacle. I don't know who Lord Berkeley was, or why he spent so much time sitting there (NB - if you know, please comment, I fear an allusion to the Clearances), but I applaud his choice of outlook.
Looking back from Sgurr Fiona, the truth of An Teallach's architecture is revealed. Imagine a pocket Grand Canyon into which plaster of Paris has been poured, set and shaken out of the mould. Turn the result upright and you have a succession of towers, buttresses, curtains and terraces, spreading out and downwards to the banks of scree below, but whose pinnacles are wreathed in a constantly changing cloud that makes them tantalising and capricious with each minute. An Teallach is a Grand Canyon of the sky, and deserves to be memorialised just as much as its Arizonan counterpart.
That's my mountain: I did not achieve the traverse direttissima of my dreams - I blew that on the first buttress of Corrag Bhuidhe where I got lost and spent half an hour trying 3 or 4 lines all of which were more or less uncomfortable before I regained the ridge. But I have sat astride Lord Berkeley's Seat, and heard the songs of finches echo across the crags of Toll an Lochan.
And I have discovered something else - the view from Sgurr Fiona looks back across the peaks of Fisherfield and Letterewe. Beinn Dearg, A'Mhaighdean and Beinn a'Claidheimh - strung out in a great wilderness of sandstone between Dundonnell & Loch Maree. Now that looks like a project to savour . . . .


Blogger Toast said...

I think we were up An Teallach around about the same time - a great write up, would be interested to see some of your photos tho


1/8/05 1:22 pm  

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