An Teallach, Wester Ross, Scotland

In June 2014 during a trip back to Scotland I achieved a life-time goal of reaching the summit of An Teallach.

An Teallach is a mountain in Scotland. It lies to the southwest of Dundonnell and overlooks Little Loch Broom, in an area often nicknamed the “great wilderness”. An Teallach means ‘The Anvil’ or ‘The Forge’ in Scottish Gaelic; although most scholars claim the latter is most correct as the mountain’s name refers more to the colour of the terrain in certain lighting conditions, rather than shape.

The mountain is mostly made of Torridonian sandstone. Like the peaks around Torridon (for which the rock is named), An Teallach has terraced sides riven with steep gullies and a sharp rocky summit crest at Sgùrr Fiona. The steepest section, known as Corrag Bhuidhe, rises above Loch Toll an Lochain. Corrag Bhuidhe’s most spectacular feature is an overhanging pinnacle known as Lord Berkeley’s Seat.

An Teallach is a complex mountain massif, with ten distinct summits over 3,000 feet (914.4 m). From 1891 to 1981, only the highest of these, Bidean a’ Ghlas Thuill, had the status of a Munro – a separate mountain over 3,000 feet. In 1981 the Scottish Mountaineering Club granted Munro status to Sgùrr Fiona, in recognition of its considerable topographic prominence (150 m) and distinct nature. The complete list of Munros and Tops (subsidiary summits appearing on Munro’s Tables) is now as follows:

  • Bidean a’ Ghlas Thuill 1062 m (3484 ft)
    • Glas Mheall Mòr 979 m (3212 ft)
    • Glas Mheall Liath 960 m (3150 ft)
  • Sgùrr Fiona 1060 m (3478 ft)
    • Corrag Bhuidhe 1040 m (3412 ft)
    • Lord Berkeley’s Seat 1030 m (3379 ft)
    • Sgurr Creag an Eich 1017 m (3337 ft)
    • Stob Cadha Gobhlach 960 m (3150 ft)
    • Sàil Liath 954 m (3130 ft)
    • Corrag Bhuidhe Buttress 945 m (3100 ft) – deleted from Munro’s Tables in 1997

The simplest route of ascent is probably that from Dundonnell, which follows a good path over rising ground to reach the northern summit, Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill, a distance of about 6 km (3.7 mi). From here the second summit, Sgurr Fiona, lies about 1 km (0.62 mi) to the southwest.

An alternative northern route heads up from Corrie Hallie, which lies about 4 km (2.5 mi) south of Dundonnell. This route, some 5 km (3.1 mi) in length, climbs steeply up the headwall of the corrie of Glas Tholl to reach the main ridge just north of Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill.

Both of the above routes, however, miss out the central section, for which An Teallach is best known. A route reaching the summits from the south starts from near Corrie Hallie. It then follows a track (later a path) southwest for about 5 km (3.1 mi). Then it breaks off to the north, climbing the southern end of the ridge via a subsidiary summit known as Sàil Liath. Heading northwest towards the Corrag Bhuidhe buttresses a choice must be made. One may either scramble over them directly (including the crossing of Lord Berkley’s Seat), or take the bypass path on the southwest side. This path is eroded in some places and should not be regarded as an easy option.

The winter traverse of the ridge is probably more demanding than that of Liathach or the Aonach Eagach, because of the comparative remoteness of the mountain. Some parties use the bothy at Shenavall as an overnight base.

I did the simple route starting from our hotel in Dundonnell at first light. It was a rather damp and drizzly morning, quite a contrast to the day before when we had driven up and past this magnificent mountain.

A view of An Teallach from the A832 (Destitution Road) the day before my climb – clear and sunny with blue skies.
A view of An Teallach from the A832 (Destitution Road) the day before my climb – clear and sunny with blue skies.

I was hoping that the day would clear up by the time I got closer to the top of the mountain but as you will see later this was not the case and in fact, it turned into a rather dangerous situation with low visibility, causing me to almost get lost.

Dundonnell Hotel, Dundonnell

Leaving the road just south of the Dundonell Hotel I find the small path that led up the mountain towards the summit. As I gained height I got a view back over Dundonnell and Little Loch Broom.

The small rocky trail followed one of the many large streams running down the mountain. Soon I saw ahead of me the large buttress of An Teallach with some cloud over the top.

2 hours later I was in the mist and the clouds so I could see very little. I saw some long-horned mountain goats ahead of me and one lone grouse or ptarmigan.

After another hour and a half of slogging up the trail over some very rocky boulder fields, I neared the summit. The small trail had all but disappeared. As I started up the final ridge I saw some large slabs of snow on the north facing side of the mountain; the side that drops precipatously down into the corrie below.

An Teallach Summit

I finally reached the summit, marked by a trig point. I had done it. There was no view to be seen at all. On a clear day I’m sure it would have been spectacular. It had taken me 4 hours to get here.

My original plan was to have traversed the ridge to Sgùrr Fiona then descended at the other side but given the adverse weather conditions and lack of visibility, this was going to be too dangerous. I decided to at least visit the other peak of Sgùrr Fiona then descend back the same route I had taken up. There were some very interesting rock formations on this summit ridge that looked rather eery in the mistyconditions.

Sgùrr Fiona Summit

After reaching the summit of Sgùrr Fiona it was time to start my descent back. This was when things started to go wrong. I decided to descend from the summit of Sgùrr Fiona rather than go back along the ridge and to the summit of An Teallach – a mistake in retrospect. As I descended the visibility by now was very poor and there was no sign of the trail.

Although I had a detailed GPS map on my phone using a mapping app the cold weather and some video taking had taken a drastic toll on my phone battery and this was fading very quickly. I was using the mapping app to try and get back to the original trail. To add to this trying to operate the iPhone touch screen with cold and very wet fingers was almost impossible.

Eventually my phone battery gave out and I was now without navigation. At one point I started to descend a steep slope but realised that this was taking me into a very rough area. Luckily I decided to climb back up and I then found a small trail which I gladly followed. This was a different trail but at least it would take me down ….. somewhere.

After a long tough trek down I soon popped out of the clouds and I could see the faint signs of Little Loch Broom away in the distance. This trail had taken me much further west but there was a way down. By this time I was extremely tired and wet but I made it down to the original trail I had started on and after a total of about 7.5 hours or so I was back on the road next to my hotel.

The map below shows my actual track I took ….. total of 14.2km in 7hrs 36 mins.

This was a very clear lesson to me about the dangers of mountains in Scotland and the need for being with other people and having a number of backup navigation/mapping devices. At one point I could see me being written about in the local P&J paper – “Fife Man Missing In The Mountains”.

I was totally shattered after this climb but there was a great sense of satisfaction having conquered An Teallach.

Passionate Photographer …. Lost in Asia

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