New Year 2006 - An Teallach

It was a bit like one of those "There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman" type jokes, with 7 of us from Sri Chinmoy Centres around the UK and Ireland gathered in Ardessie, near Ullapool, to see in the new year. Our meditation went on to well past midnight so it was an effort to get up and out while it was still dark on New Year's Morning in order to make the most of the limited daylight which was likely to fade very fast once we got to 4pm.

The Cottage, where we stayed at the invitation of our good friend Tirthika, is right at the foot of the highland that culmiates in the 1000m+ peaks of An Teallach, so Munro-bagging was the order of the day. Harashita has been up this mountain a few times, so he led us off along the road to Dundonell in the half-light. The party also included myself, brothers Shane and Colm from Ireland, Steve from Cambridge and Mark & Ed rom Bristol (the latter only planning a short hike before returning to base).

Once at Dundonnell we picked up a vague path onto the mountainside, contouring round the ridge of Meall Garbh and ascending westwards through the valley of Allt a Mhuillinn. The sky was clearing and lightening and we were welcomed on to the high ground by the appearance of a shaft of rainbow over the opposite bank of little Loch Broom. We watched as the shaft lengthened into an arc and gradually stretched out to span the entire sky. The red of the hillside brightened in the morning sun and its reflection shone in the still waters of the loch.

The path is marked on the OS maps - not many are around here - but proved a little intermittent so most of our route in the early stages was yomping over heather and tussock. There were pockets of snow cover from only a few hundred feet up, and it wasn't long before a snowball whistled past my head, the impish grin on Mark's face making it obvious where it had come from! Ed headed back after enjoying the views and called us from the cottage to confirm his safe return - it's handy to have a good signal on your mobile for the entire walk, something I never seem to get in the deep valleys of South Wales. After the clear dawn, mist and cloud started to roll down the mountainside as we rounded a bend in the valley to come face to face with the perfectly shaped extremity of the An Teallach ridge - Glas Mheall Mor - covered in snow and ice-covered crags.

Ice began to appear underfoot as we ascended and we picked our way over it carefully as we were all hiking in boots without crampons. This was safe enough as long as we didn't force the pace, as there was always a way around the large patches of ice. Temperatures dropped quickly as the cloud thickened and we gained height, so there was much layering-up with extra clothes when we stopped to eat lunch in the shadow of a large boulder at around 700m up. Thereafter the path was all snow and ice, and visibility was non-existent.

Soon we were warming up nicely as we climbed rapidly on to the ridge, making our way over lesser peaks before the GPS (a runner's one - just used for logging speed and distance on this occasion) confirmed we were up over 1000m. Navigation up the top was sketchy - we followed the lie of the land and avoided the steeper slopes because of the ice. In places the windward side of the ridge was stacked with snow and ice while the leeward was all soft, green moss and grass that offered much easier going. There was plenty of scrambling, though in clear weather easier routes may present themselves. The wind was harsh in places then fell totaly silent in the sheltered cols. Steve and I chatted about the "otherness" of the highlands, the different plane one seems to reach when climbing a mountain which somehow stays in the consciousness after you have physically come down. Icy rain and wind soon made conversation tricky though, and after an hour or so exploring the ridge we headed back down.

With no way to pick out landmarks in the murk we took the safest way down, finding an easy slope off the ridge. We didn't actually know our exact location, but the handful of points I saved in the Garmin revealed we had been over the summit of Glas Mheall Mor, accidentally bagging an extra peak! Once down we were in an unfamiliar valley which led down into the wilderness of Fisherfield Forest, so we headed up to the ridge at the head of the valley we had ascended and looked down at our route home.

Ahead of us was a steep descent of around 100m leading down into the valley head - mostly a grassy slope wityh a thin covering of snow and ice, it was streaked with steep snow-filled gullies running straight down the hillside. I commented that the direct route down looked quite "walkable" and began to pick my way down only to be passed by a howling Colm who leapt into the gully and body-sledged his way to the bottom of the slope in about 30 seconds! Just as he was shooting down the slope I lost my footing and fell in the top of the gully - it was a choice between a slow, tricky scramble down the grass & snow alongside or a swift Colm-style descent in the gully itself, so I decided to just go for it and follow the crazy Irish lad. Wow! Haven't enjoyed a downhill section so much since I was a kid! It was great fun - soon Mark and Steve and the others were hurtling down behind me (Steve catching me up and almost landing on top of me) followed by various possessions which we had dropped on the way down, all of which sledged down of their own accord and landed among the wet snowy bodies at the end of the snow-filled chute.With hindsight it may not have been a smart way to come down, but we all had a great time doing it. This all left us somewhat wet, but euphoric, and after a brief stop for more food (we hadn't finished the banquet of sarnies prepared by Steve et. al that morning) it was a quick descent back to Dundonnell, where we met with Ed in the car.

The hotel, surprisingly open on New Year's Day, provided a friendly reception (despite our bedraggled appearance) and a round of hot chocolate with (real) cream. We all agreed this mountain is worthy of at least one more visit - perhaps an annual trip - especially as much of the summit area remained unexplored and the views in clear weather must be spectacular. That said, we were all very happy to have climbed to over 1000m throgh some challenging conditions to celebrate the beginning of 2006.

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