This hike is only for the dedicated, who love the often Gothic, raw and ancient hinterland that makes up much of the North West Highlands. It is mostly pathless and to be honest, it was exhausting climbing up the soggy, slithery moorland. Yes the views were good but we ultimately failed miserably (literally at times!) in our quest to get to the summit of Sgorr nan Lochan Uaine, the Peak of the Green Lochans (such a beautiful name.)
We set out far too late one morning in November from our lovely cottage, ‘Lochside’ on the Torridon Estate. The weather was looking not bad but the really big summits all around us were out, being lightly snow covered and icy. They are precipitous and not for the faint hearted at this time of year, plus I feel wobbly on some of them in mid summer, given their steepness. But I get a bee in my bonnet about wanting to explore ‘new’ corners, so poor husband Chris was inveigled into setting out with me on what proved to be 4 hours of relentless slog up and down boggy ground.
We parked in the glen car park, off the A896 and opposite the Ling Hut. It all started so well, with the little path round taking us along the shore of Lochan an Iasgair to the Hut itself, used by climbers. Some fine views of Liathach too, the mighty giant of Glen Torridon.
The autumn colours of the hills were gorgeous – straw coloured grasses round the deep blue waters of the lochan, the deer grass almost orange, a shade that always amazes me. Pinkish rocks of typical Torridonian sandstone hue. Summer greens were long gone. I am a great fan of Heaton Cooper, a Lake District water-colourist who painted all over the world. He remarked that of all the places he had visited in his lifetime, Scotland was the most colourful of all.
As we made our way up the mountainside, the colour of this wild place was not my foremost thought. Rather, it was the fact that in less than 20 minutes of walking, the path had completely disappeared and we were now making our way up squelchy heather and peat – more peat than heather – which feels ten times more tiring than walking through sand. It was an effort too, not to go flying as a boot alarmingly slipped sideways on a particularly lethal bit of bog.
‘Is there any point?’ Chris grumbled at me, as we panted our way ever upwards.
But I was in Rottweiler mode and having made this progress so far, I didn’t want to give up just yet so growled at his defeatism. I was annoyed too, because continuing up a hard slope is difficult enough when you yourself have doubts but becomes even more burdensome when your companion voices them too! My shoulders slumped even further under the weight of Chris’s negativity but those lochans were calling me. Once reached, we could check out the final slopes to the summit and see if they looked appealing. Plus, the first hour of a hill-walk is always the hardest; still so far to go, muscles warming up, trying to cast off the ennui of a lazy morning in the cottage, a cosy fire, hands round hot mugs of tea.
My curse – sometimes blessing – is a need to have Things To Do; I don’t relax very easily. Carpe Diem and all that. Chris meanwhile, could easily potter away the day doing absolutely nothing. Opposites attract as they say, but it can cause sparks to fly too.
They were starting to fly 1,000 feet up this mountain, our grumbling exchanges the only sound in this silent landscape where much of life was preparing to conserve all the energy it could to survive winter. We flushed a grouse or two snuggling down in the dry, brown heather; saw a small herd of hinds flee off from their quiet grazing, alarmed by our unexpected intrusion. Human beings and especially annoyed ones, really do disrupt a landscape.
‘This is nuts,’ Chris moaned as I pushed ever upwards into more bog and heather. It was endless and our objective was not getting any closer.
We stopped at a small waterfall and I drank greedily from a bottle of sparkling water. It was tough, hot work, this ‘walk.’ Chris bent to fill his bottle with burn water, much preferring that. It is, mostly, perfectly safe to drink, very pure and ice cold but I always worry slightly about a dead deer somewhere higher up, its carcass fouling the stream. I’ve yet to see that sight and hope I never do; it’s more likely with sheep. Even our hardy black-faced sheep however, would find little to sustain them up here. In fact there are no sheep that I can think of in Torridon, it just doesn’t have the grazing land for them. Too rocky and harsh.
‘The view’s good….’ I remarked, trying to sound positive. It was actually very atmospheric, with the heavy cloud occasionally punctured by sunlight and patches of blue, all of it casting great shadows across the undulating layers of moor and mountain. A study in black and white with only the chestnut and grey, snow topped slopes of Liathach bathed in brightness. A few miles to the west lay the sea, summer blue.We could even make out our little white-washed cottage by the shore.
It was a full two hours before we finally reached the twin lochans and an icier world. Up here, at two thousand feet or so, the air felt much colder though there was little wind. There were great jumbles of pink/purple boulders, their surface ice scraped from past glaciers and indeed, the past half hour or so had been easier going on flattish slabs. Plus things do get drier as you ascend.
A survival bag on a rock gave us a decent sitting spot to devour chicken mayonnaise and lettuce sandwiches and for me, a few squares of Ritter Sport Marzipan chocolate. The boost of energy and the fact we’d actually made it so high, had dramatically altered our mood. A sense of achievement replaced the feeling of pointlessness and misery. I love being beside a loch, it sets off the landscape and the water is calming and beautiful.
But looking up at Sgurr nan Lochan Uaine’s final slopes – which looked rough but ok – we knew we’d run out of time to complete the climb. The summit was still out of sight according to our map so it was further away than we thought. With darkness descending around 4.30pm and the time approaching 2.30, it would be a push to get up, down and back on poor ground before the light faded. We had also come without head torches, they were still in the car for some bizarre unfathomable reason, instead of more usefully in our rucksacks. Descending this terrain in darkness would not be a good idea. Bad planning all round, not something you can get away with in winter!
It’s not possible to sit for long at 2,000 feet in November on a Scottish mountain without starting to feel the chill, so we soon set off downhill , trying to follow a better, less soggy line but failing.
We got back to the car just as the light dropped completely in the glen, bringing the kind of blackness only known in wild uninhabited places. Yet in 15 minutes we were back at the house, with Chris building the fire again, me getting the kettle on and happy to settle down for the evening in cosy warmth. But good, again, to have connected with that Middle Earth-like, otherworldly landscape above beautiful Glen Torridon, its tortures forgotten and replaced with a quiet satisfaction at having found another hidden corner of this grand place.
More Torridon Walks – BEST WALKS IN TORRIDON