As our trip approached we avoided looking at the weather forecast, it was too close to change anything now. Ian and I agreed we would head out to Chamonix and just make it happen, get some routes done, some filming and photos in the bag and be back in the valley for a beer and a smile at the end of our five day trip. The flights were already booked so we couldn’t back out now. I was heading out to Chamonix to shoot footage for a new Alpkit Mountain Journal; Ian was the subject of the film and our mate Joe was there for belay duties and a quick climbing hit.
Unfortunately we hadn’t gone through the ‘no weather forecast’ plan with Joe so it was with mild frustration that I read his text the day before we set off to the airport. But I could see his point – ‘weather looks pretty pants, especially Thursday and Friday, and all the lifts are shut’. Bugger. There was no way I was feeling fit enough to walk in to anything in Chamonix without lifts, and 10 days of thunderstorms were now forecast across the Alps.
We put our heads together over a beer in the sunshine. The UK was in the grip of an unprecedented spell of high pressure that was blessing the whole of Britain with wall-to-wall sunshine. There was only one way to go – NORTH! I changed my plan for the film in my head (I’m used to this having made films for nearly 10 years in rainy Britain), we ditched our ice axes and crampons and loaded up a hire van with kit and provisions and made for Torridon, An Teallach and the most remote crag in Britain, Carnmore.
I made my first trip to Torridon a year and half ago, aiming for a winter ascent of the ridge of An Teallach at sunrise. You can read about it in Chasing Light - After that trip, the mountain was never far from my thoughts so I was eager to get back and have another pop at the ridge.
Having driven to Dundonnell, we packed our bags and cooked up some food, keen to get up high and sleep before hitting the ridge at first light. After a few hours of trudging in the cool of the evening we settled down to bivvie on a level ridge that marked the lower slopes of the mountain. We slept soundly beneath the silhouetted towers, the light never really fading from the sky.
After a painfully short sleep we began the steep trudge up the main bulk of the mountain as first light crept in behind us. A quick snooze in the cool morning sun and we began picking our way along the ridge, excitedly bouldering and scrambling across the highest line.
An Teallach is Gaelic for The Forge, and it feels very much like the gneiss has bubbled up from the depths of a roaring furnace. Folds, pinnacles and towers of textured rock stack to create a perfect high level ridge walk that towers over the valleys all around. It is a stunning mountain, and we felt exceptionally lucky to be there.
We saw just one other person on the mountain that day; the alpine start had helped us beat any other parties to the top, and the heat of the midday sun was off our backs. We finished the ridge by 10.30am and started on the fastest route down, stopping at a pool beneath a waterfall to cool ourselves with a quick dip.
Next on our list was a rock climb called Fionn Butress on Carnmore Crag, arguably the most remote trad climbs in Britain, and one of the best of it’s grade. Joe was eager to get going as soon as he could, but Ian and I were keen to take the adventures slower when we had all this landscape to savour. We have both re-evaluated our climbing recently, Ian since having a serious accident in the Alps in which he lost the tips of five fingers to frost bite, and I, well…I’m not sure what my motivations are any more. I feel like a climber, and still feel inspired when I look at pieces of rock. But the faff of gear doesn’t excite me, or hustling for good weather, finding partners and long trudges with heavy packs. Perhaps I’m just looking for something else for now, and sooner or later I’ll work out what that is. Fionn Butress however, would blow any of those feelings away; this route was worth all the faff for sure.
Joe and Ian got in touch with an old pal who is running sea kayak trips and guiding services in Torridon to fix us some sit on top kayaks... continue along the journeyto part 2.