An Teallach – A Winter Solstice Round of Toll an Lochain

An Teallach is one of the finest mountains in the British Isles, a sprawling mass of a mountain, its highest peaks and ridges are concentrated around the superb corrie Toll an Lochain. The mountain has two Munro summits, Sgurr Fiona 1060 metres the finest, and Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill 1062 metres the highest.

I looked outside on the morning of 22nd December, the winter solstice of 2019, to check the weather, having parked up on the A832 near Fain on Destitution Road overnight. Still dark, there was a bit of cloud hanging over An Teallach but nothing serious and it was fine and freezing as my previous day in Assynt had ended. I decided to head for An Teallach as planned and have a look at doing the round of corrie Toll an Lochain, one of the finest walking and scrambling routes in Scotland. I’d done the route in summer several times before and been to some of the tops of An Teallach in winter previously, but had not tackled the Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles section of the mountain in winter conditions. The steep section on the south side of Corrag Bhuidhe concerned and excited me. The SMC North Highland Scrambles book details the summer route with the crux section graded at moderate for a short section. There is also a harder (Difficult) more direct line on the rock ridge but non climbers will want to avoid the “bad step” in this area. I was pretty sure the scramble described in the SMC book would be largely snow covered and after a thaw and refreeze assessed the avalanche hazard as low in line with the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) advice for Torridon a little further south.

I parked at Corrie Hallie near Dundonnell, surprised there was no one else about on such a fine morning. A short distance up the track a herd of cows were about and I spoke to them gently, wary not to spook them. By the junction of paths at the head of Gleann Chaorachain the sun had risen and the views of the Fisherfield peaks were excellent, the Munros Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh, Sgurr Ban and Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair were prominent and looking good. To the west An Teallach and the peaks above Toll an Lochain beckoned!

A plod up the prow of Sail Liath was first, a small path diverges from the Shenavall bothy path and winds up onto the ridge with cairns high up marking the route through boulders. Near the top of the steep section there was a white ptarmigan wandering in the rocks but I failed to get a decent photo of it unfortunately. At 800 metres the slope eases and a broad ridge leads on to the summit of Sail Liath.

Beyond, the ridge narrows with a steep rough descent to the bealach before a sharp pull up to Stob Cadha Gobhlach. There are grand views south into the Fisherfield Forest wilderness from here, one of the wonderful features of the southern tops of An Teallach. An easy descent leads north to the gap before Corrag Bhuidhe. Above the fun begins!

Bits and pieces of path lead up to the first shoulder of Corrag Bhuidhe. From here there are views down into the depths of Toll an Lochain and on up the southern ridge of Corrag Bhuidhe, which is barred by several steep outcrops of Torridonian Sandstone to all but the competent climber. After a look at the ridge and assessing options (faffing about) I opted for plan A; to traverse around the west side of the ridge for a short distance before cutting up a gully, thereby outflanking the steepest of the outcrops. The traverse was snow covered as anticipated but the snow felt stable after thaw and re-freeze. The drop towards Loch na Sealga far below is steep enough to be intimidating. It was a few years since I was last here and it was different with snow cover, but after a little way along the traverse I cut up right (possibly on the line described in Highland Scrambles North) up a steepish gully then teetered around the top of a slab, 2 axes in ice and turf above, crampons in varying snow, ice and direct on rock. Above, steep snow led to a triangular wedge of rock that I was familiar with. There is an awkward pull up on to it without quite knowing what is beyond. Fortunately the other side of this wedge is benign with another gully giving an easy angled plod up onto the ridge between two of the southerly Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles. I’m no ice climber so it was with some relief and satisfaction that this section of the route was complete.

During this time cloud had moved in overhead and the lovely morning had given way to a relatively grey afternoon. With the time constraints of the winter solstice I avoided the central Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles on the west side to make progress. Lord Berkeley’s Seat was too tempting to miss out though. Lord Berkeley apparently dangled his feet over the edge towards Toll an Lochain and smoked his pipe, but you can safely seat yourself on the summit rocks without doing either of those! The summit rocks make a very fine seat with amazing views. The ascent was easy enough, the photo below makes it look more extreme than it felt.

On to Sgurr Fiona, and reasonably confident of timing I couldn’t resist more photos. Sgurr Fiona is a very fine peak and the views of Corrag Bhuidhe and Fisherfield were seductive.

The descent north north east towards Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill isn’t difficult but there are some steeper sections. The snow was firm and stable and progress was quick. The ascent to Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill is a gentler plod. On top there was interesting light with some of the peaks of the far north visible in sunshine below the line of grey cloud that lay overhead. The easiest descent from Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill is to the north via Sron a’Choire and the path down to Dundonnell. That leaves a walk along the road. Alternatively the ridge east to Glas Mheall Liath is interesting and rough and gives lingering views back to the peaks ringing Toll an Lochain. I was hoping for some interesting late afternoon light, it never quite happened but I won’t complain too much.

I descended from Glas Mheall Liath with dusk threatening on a line just south of east. The upper section is rough but fine enough. Lower, below the boundary of quartzite on Torridonian Sandstone, the direct line is barred by numerous low sandstone tiers. Threading a way down through these in low light with some iced up rock and bog wasn’t particularly fun. A better way down may be to leave the Glas Mheall Liath ridge earlier and drop down to the mouth of Toll an Lochain. I headed in to Coir’ a’ Ghiubhsachain, by this time in darkness and floundered around in the bog for a while to cross the stream and reclimb a short way on the other side. After more bad bag easy slopes lead down next to a conspicuous and very straight outcrop of quartzite (I presume this outcrop is the result of a fault displacement) to the Allt Gleann Chaorachain and the track to Corrie Hallie where I spoke gently again to the cows still munching away in the dark, a great winter solstice had by all.

See a map of the route below.


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