After a few days of heavy rain the forecast finally looked promising for us to do a hike up to An Teallach, said to be one of the best mountain hikes in Britain. It would be roughly 20km and 1400m of elevation gain but we’d be rewarded with some of the best views around.
While most people start at Dundonnell Hotel so they can bag two Munros and head straight back down, we wanted to traverse as much of the spectacular ridge as possible so we started in a lay-by to the east. It was a nice gravel track to begin with and our first hike in the highlands where we had sunshine! After a gentle start we veered right and made our way up the first mountain, Sail Liath. It went from grass and mud to rocky boulders and the views were already incredible. It felt like such a wild area, no houses in sight, just steep mountains with remote valleys and meandering rivers. Ptarmigans kept giving us a fright, making bizarre noises and frantically flapping away when they saw us. They were perfectly camouflaged on the rocky mountain, and in winter their feathers will all turn white so they blend in with the frosty surroundings.
Goats also roamed the rocky slopes and it was really nice to finally see some wildlife as we were starting to wonder if they’d all been killed off. As we got closer to the top a mountain rescue helicopter started hovering over our heads. This mountain is known for being very exposed and dangerous in areas so seeing the helicopter was a big reminder of how careful we needed to be up there. Luckily it seemed to just be a training exercise and after landing they soon took off and flew away.
As we reached the first mountain top of the day the view was unveiled. Wow! It was an incredible mountain ahead of us, jagged and rocky but also grassy with sheer, cliff style walls. We spent awhile gawping at the sight, and standing on some interesting ledges for photos. It was made even more spectacular by the fact that we were the only people there. As we continued the hike we arrived at what’s known as ‘the bad step’ or the trickiest section, and from what I read online this one required ropes to navigate. We have no experience using gear in situations like this but luckily there was a bypass route around this section.
We eventually met a few people coming down the legendary pinnacles and they warned us to stick left for the first one because it was really sketchy and exposed. We took their advice but we still wanted the challenge of scrambling over the other pinnacles but the opportunity didn’t arise. Thick cloud swept in so it didn’t seem worthwhile cutting up a track to scramble along the exposed ridge if we couldn’t even see anything. It was a shame that we missed out on that section of the hike but it seemed silly to do a slightly dangerous route and not be rewarded with the views. We soon joined into the bottom of the pinnacles and looked back at what’s known as Lord Berkeley’s Seat. It was a sheer rock wall almost leaning over the valley. It would probably be the toughest and most exposed point to scramble over thanks to the overhang and the sheer drop down.
The sight was already impressive in the cloud but I wanted to see it in its full glory so I was trying to manifest the sun coming out…and would you bloomin’ believe it, the cloud began clearing and the sun was shining down on us. The whole left side cleared, revealing the incredible pointy pinnacle and a little Loch way below us. What made the sight even more impressive was the fact that the clouds stuck to the right side of the ridge, it was one of the most beautiful sights we’ve witnessed atop a mountain.
Once we scooped our jaws off the floor we made our way up to Sgurr Fiona, our second mountain top of the day. The views were still looking good but within a few minutes a wall of cloud swept through and it began to rain. We began our descent and walked along a ridge which we were told was vertigo inducing but it didn’t bother us at all, maybe the cloud hid the worst of the exposure. It was becoming a bit of a tough hike by this point as we still had to go up the final summit at 1062m. So we sat in the rain and had some snacks before plowing on. The main trail lead back to the hotel carpark which was a huge distance from our van so we picked a less trodden route which would get us back…hopefully. The only problem was the route wasn’t on my map and it was hard to see where it was in the thick fog. We had an idea of the right area so when a slightly trodden track appeared down a rocky slope we took it. Eventually we joined a clearer path and were on our way back, following the river and waterfalls through a stunning but rather boggy valley. We stopped for a dip in the river along the way and it was some of the coldest water we’ve swam in. I had brainfreeze and my feet didn’t function properly for a while.
The route back seemed to take forever, my goodness we couldn’t believe how long it took. We were now on a marked route on my map but the end section just stopped so I was a little concerned that we’d arrive at private property and struggle to get back to the road. Suddenly we were transported into what felt like Narnia; a faint path led through a forest of twisted and tangled branches. It was almost like a natural tunnel through the trees but it kept getting more challenging and we were having to get low and crawl under branches. It felt unbelievably dark and creepy in there. We felt like we were in one of those bizarre rooms in a circus, where the room shrinks so we felt like giants whilst the tunnel was getting smaller and the trees denser. All we could do was persevere, I could see we were really close to the road on my map, we just had to keep going through the maze. Boy did it feel good when we finally arrived on that tarmac, 9 hours after we started the hike.
The weather was improving as we got back to Helga so with heavy legs and a stupid mind I suggested staying in a place near a mountain so we could summit it for sunrise. I’ve been desperately wanting to see a cloud inversion but the weather just hasn’t been good enough for it but tomorrow morning was predicted to be clear which is very rare. So we headed up a single track road and found a delightful little spot to camp beneath a small mountain at only 580m. The road took us steeply uphill which meant we only had a 300m climb to do in the morning.
My alarm went off at 5:30am and my body didn’t want to move. I was aching from yesterday’s long hike and somehow we ended up going to bed late which meant we just didn’t get enough sleep. We dragged ourselves out of bed though and began putting one foot in front of the other. I found a few hike reports from people heading up here but it’s not an official route which meant there wasn’t a path so the terrain was dreadful. It’s amazing how much slower and tougher hiking is on lumpy moorland and rocks. It was taking us forever to get to the top and the sun was getting close to rising. We still had over 100m incline to go but we had to give up, it was evident that a cloud inversion wasn’t going to happen so we just found a rock to sit on and watched the mountain tops turn pink. We were absolutely exhausted when we got back to Helga so we went back to bed for a couple hours which is very unlike us.
Once we were awake again we made our way down to Gairloch which was a stunning drive with mountain and sea views at every turn. The area was very familiar to us though as we lived near Gairloch in 2014 for one month. We were based on a private island where we helped a family with jobs around the property. In fact it was at that very house that I started this blog and came up with the name nonstoptravelling. I can remember it clearly, sitting on the bed in our little room whose walls were covered in mould, poorly hidden by layers of paint. I also remember being on the third story of the house, the same one as the two kids and we were casually told “if there’s a fire you need to grab the ladder from under your bed, throw it out your window…and then go and rescue the kids and take them down the ladder with you”. It was a fun place to be based though and sometimes the owner would give us a ride to the pub in his little boat which was quite a novelty to us.
As we headed inland from Gairloch we were reminded of the day trips we used to do around Loch Maree and the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve – the first designated nature reserve in the UK. We pulled up in a nice lay-by with a view of Mount Slioch and the Loch. As the sun was going down the wind dropped and I tried to encourage Craig down to the Loch with me to take a photo. He went just 30 meters before it became too boggy and I had to do a solo trip. It wasn’t far at all but there wasn’t a trail and I was having to make my way through heather and moorland. At times it was above my knees and I felt a bit panicked about how high it was and the amount of ticks in the area. But it was worth the walk as the reflection of the mountains and the dusty pink clouds was a beautiful sight.
The following morning we had to decide if we wanted to do a big hike up a mountain or take the more touristy ‘mountain trail’ loop which was quite tame for us. The weather was a little unpredictable and our bodies were still recovering from our recent hikes so we opted for the easier choice. We did this hike in winter once and I must admit it looked much prettier with snowy mountains. But it was still a stunning view as the mountains had their own natural white tops from the unusual quartzite rocks. At the top of the loop trail we walked off piste to escape the people and get a more wild experience which was nice. We even found a perfect little Loch for a refreshing dip. As we got back to Helga we checked our watch and realised if we’d chosen to hike the big mountain we’d only be halfway through the hike now!