Driving toward An Teallach
[These climbs took place on September 21st and 24th this year.]
An Teallach was near the top of my Scottish hills climb list. Seven years ago, walking Scotland end to end, I had admired from below its “dark, jagged peaks swept by translucent mist”. Now, I wanted to see the view from on top.
An Teallach is more massif than mere mountain—ten 3,000-foot-plus summits rising near Little Loch Broom in Wester Ross (Ullapool is the nearest village of any size). I wasn’t sure which of those summits I would climb. The middle peaks looked potentially precarious, the flanking summits—Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill and Sàil Liath—less jagged. I decided to head for the Bidein (which means pinnacle in Gaelic).
Even before leaving the US, I had thought about taking a two-day approach to some Scottish hills, not because they require it, but for the pleasure—or so I imagined—of spending a night in my tent halfway up. I decided now to take this approach to An Teallach—an afternoon climb, a night camped in a cirque, an early start for the summits in the morning.
I set out from near the Dundonnell Hotel about 3:30 and, climbing, the prospects seemed fair. The clouds stayed reasonably high and there was no rain. By 5 p.m. I was beneath the cliffs of Glas Mheall Mòr at perhaps 1,800 feet, and pushed on, following a stream up. I don’t know if it was my ascending or the cloud descending, but soon I entered mist and rain showers, then hail squalls, all driven by a gusting wind. I looked for a place to pitch my tent, ideally sheltered and on firm ground, but compromise was needed—a little shelter, ground a little less soggy.
Before sunset, I was zipped inside my tent and sleeping bag, eating, reading, listening to podcasts. It would have been a pleasure if the tent were not being assaulted by wind and rain-hail, bending double in many blasts. And it did become a pleasure of sorts as my confidence grew that Big Agnes would not be ripped to shreds, leaving me exposed on a cold, dark mountain.
At dawn, the weather was still wild and there was no point in continuing to the summits.
Two days later—an interlude filled in part giving a talk in Ullapool about The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain—I returned to An Teallach, and set off for the other flanking summit, Sàil Liath. Approaching the mountain on fine track then rough path, its summits were hidden in mist, then clear, then unseen again. Climbing and scrambling the long slope of Sàil Liath, the views south were superb, a bird’s eye view of a route I had hiked seven years ago—Strath na Sealga, the river Loch an Nid, Loch an Nid itself.
Higher, I entered mist, and thereafter was in and out of it, the mountain appearing and disappearing at the clouds’ whim. By lunchtime, I was on the summit, 3,130 feet. An Teallach’s precarious tops stood ahead, a cold, strong wind covering and uncovering them. They were magnificent—precipitous, pointed, jagged, devoid of any company. I decided this view was enough and returned by Sàil Liath’s smoother angles.
FRIDAY: Glas Mheall Mor
SATURDAY MORNING: My campsite beneath Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill
MONDAY: Looking south from low on Sail Liath
MONDAY: Rain crosses Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh
MONDAY: Strath na Sealga and (right, middle distance) Loch an Nid
MONDAY: On Sail Liath summit
MONDAY: An Teallach’s “precarious summits”
MONDAY: Summit of Sail Liath with An Teallach’s other summits in the background