ASK anyone to come up with a Top 10 of Scotland’s finest mountains and Torridon’s big three, Liathach, Beinn Eighe and Beinn Alligin, are likely to feature.
Liathach is the intimidating one, seemingly impregnable to mere mortals as it sweeps straight up from the road while Beinn Eighe is more a mountain range in miniature, seven major peaks on its spine.
But the jewel in the crown for many people is Beinn Alligin, a mountain of unrivalled beauty from any angle. The classic view is from the south over Upper Loch Torridon, the crescent-shaped ridge spotlighting its two main summits of Tom na Gruagaich and Sgurr Mhor and then, to their right, the Horns of Alligin, three pinnacles which give an easy scramble over their tops.
The usual approach is from the car park on the minor road to Inveralligin, into the Coir’ nan Laogh and then a traverse from west to east. Some people tackle it the opposite way round but on balance the views are better on the first option.
The first time I climbed this mountain I set off at 3am from the car park in choking heat. It was a superb day - the views in every direction were sensational. The heat haze just added to the dreamlike quality of the expedition.
Subsequent visits have been equally rewarding. It’s one of the great joys to see anyone making their maiden ascent emerge from the enclosed space of the corrie to the summit of Tom na Gruagaich and see the landscape suddenly open up in front of them.
But stunning though the jewelled mountain is, like many of our other Scottish gems you need a good day to do it justice. A day of thick mist and no views is a great leveller - it becomes just another hillside to slog your way up.
It’s like meeting a supermodel or a Hollywood beauty in a supermarket car park when they aren’t wearing any make-up and slouching around in trackies: they just look like anyone else.
A recent visit to Alligin started with so much hope. We had had a wonderful climb the previous day on Slioch, sun splitting the sky, no clouds, perfect visibility.
The forecast for that day had been good with a 70 per cent chance of views. This was even better, a 90 per cent chance of wonderful weather.
Except it didn’t work out that way. When we arrived at the car park, the cloud was sitting at around 700 metres, covering all the mountain tops.
We expected it to lift within an hour or two, but there wasn’t a breath of wind and as we approached the corrie for the real climb to the first peak the cloud just sat there. If anything it seemed to get thicker.
One walker behind us in the mist never came to the summit. We reckoned he decided there was no point going round and seeing nothing. Either that or he’s still up there somewhere.
The route onwards gave us no respite. We gave the Horns a miss and took the fastest way down, just to give ourselves some scenery to look at.
The walk down by the Coire Mhic Nobuil path is always lovely but the cloud still hadn’t moved from the high tops. On the bright side, it just means that another visit is now a must.
(First published Daily Record, October 17, 2013)