How to scramble: An Teallach

Posted by Hanna Lindon on 10/07/2015
What scrambler could resist this view? Photo by Paul Tattersall

Fancy having a crack at mainland Britain’s most legendary Grade 3 ridge scramble? Here’s the lowdown on this classic route.

There are three Scottish ridges that vie for the title of ‘Best scramble in mainland Britain’: Liathach, Aonach Eagach and An Teallach. All these fabulous ‘achs’ have bags of exposure and amazing views to back up their claims, but An Teallach perhaps has the edge on its fellow leviathans.

For a start, it’s a Grade 3 when taken directly while its competitors can only manage measly Grade 2 ratings. Then there’s its location, deep in the great wilderness of the Northwest Highlands, with views over to the Summer Isles in one direction and the Fisherfield munros in the other. Finally…well, just look at it. What serious hill walker could resist those jagged sandstone pinnacles, particularly with the two tickable Munros waiting at the end?

Interested? Fabulous. Then here’s what you need to know to tackle this epic mountain challenge.

Picking your grade

There’s no doubt that An Teallach is a solid Grade 3 when taken directly. Unlike some other classic ridge scrambles, though, most of the difficulties are avoidable.

“There are bypass paths that run along the south west side of the mountain, and a lot of people walk the ridge while avoiding the pinnacles,” explains Paul Tattersall, who regularly guides the ridge through his company Go Further Scotland. “To experience An Teallach at its best, you have to make an effort to stay on the crest and go off the front of each little sandstone pinnacle.”

He recommends parking at Corrie Hallie and starting with an ascent of Sail Liath, leaving the two Munros to the end. The bonus of doing the ridge in this direction is that you won’t have to downclimb the Bad Step – an extremely tricky pitch that often catches scramblers out.

As ‘bad’ as all that?

After the 954m summit of Sail Liath, there’s a brief stretch of airy walking with fabulous views on towards the ridge before your path is suddenly blocked by the Bad Step. This, like most of An Teallach’s challenges, can be avoided by banking left – but where would be the fun in that? Instead, Paul recommends you rope up and approach it directly.

“There are two shortish pitches here that can be tackled and protected using a basic scramblers rack,” he says. “The first is around 12 metres of buttress scrambling on rounded holds up and on to a ledge. Then another 12 metre pitch which follows a curving weakness to another ledge with just a little bit of rock above you to get up and over before you’re on the ridge line.”

Don’t be tempted to go ropeless unless you’re as experienced as they come. When the Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team is called out to An Teallach, it’s almost always because scramblers have come unstuck in this extremely exposed spot. If in doubt, of course, bypass the Bad Step and go up the first gully to regain the ridge and get back onto the pinnacles.

Pinnacular playground

This is the really fun bit. Between the Bad Step and Lord Berkeley’s Seat is the sharpest point of this spiky ridge – a series of pinnacles whittled out of Torridonian sandstone that give around 600 metres of heady scrambling.

“Stick to the crest as much as you can here, making your way up and down the little sandstone teeth,” says Paul. “This section isn’t as technical as the one before it, but many people will still appreciate a rope for the exposure. The sandstone can be blocky and fractured, sometimes liable to break off due to natural weathering processes. Another reason to stay roped up.”

At the end of the pinnacular scrambling is a particular feature known as Lord Berkeley’s Seat. Legend has it that Lord Berkeley used to sit up here and smoke his pipe, dangling his feet over the edge and taking in the views. He certainly couldn’t have chosen a more scenic spot.

“The whole face of An Teallach is undercut at this point, so this exposure is massive,” says Paul. “There are also fantastic views over the ridge.”

Munro magic

The scrambling is largely over and done with by this point, but you’ll still have the thrill of ticking off An Teallach’s two Munros to come. 1060 metre Sgurr Fiona is quickly followed by Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill – at 1062 metres the high point of the day. From here there are a few descent options.

“The simplest descent is to follow the path straight down to the Dundonnell Hotel, which is the up-and-back route that most munroists take when they don’t want to do the full ridge,” says Paul. “The hotel does good food and amazing coffee – not to mention a locally brewed beer named after An Teallach – but you do have the problem of getting back to your car afterwards."

The main alternative is to drop off Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill in the direction of Glas Tholl corrie, where you can pick up a path that runs down the burn and emerges on the road close to the parking at Corrie Hallie.

“You could, of course, always bag another top by following one of the two ridges that come out from Bidein  a’ Ghlas Thuill, but both of these involve extremely arduous descents,” warns Paul.  

Weather warning

The grippiness of Torridonian sandstone makes An Teallach more approachable in wet conditions than some other scrambles of the same grade, but winter is a complete game changer.

“In full winter conditions, this is a full on grade II winter traverse,” Paul says. “It’s a huge day out. If you get the right conditions then it’s one of the best winter days to be had in mainland Britain, but snow conditions can be fickle and you need to have plenty of experience to have a crack at it.”

Allow 8-9 hours car-to-car in the summer months, but longer in winter. If in doubt, start at the crack of dawn to avoid getting benighted.

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