I have been wanting to visit Torridon for a very long time, but for some reason it never really materialised. The mighty peaks of the trio of Torridon giants Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Beinn Alligin have inspired many hillwalkers, climbers and photographers for many years. Last weekend I finally managed to cross Torridon off my list of places I haven’t visited, and I even managed to take some decent photographs home. However, my visit was (too) short and all I have been able to think of this week at work was when I would be able to go to Torridon again! What a spectacular region, which is truly photographer’s heaven!
The plan was to 1) tick some munros off my embarrassingly meagre list of bagged munros, 2) wild camp on the ridge or summit, and 3) hopefully take back some nice pictures. The second and third point meant that I was not sure whether all routes were doable with the enormous rucksack I would be carrying. While the Torridon hills are spectacular, their ridges are in places also very exposed and the hands need to come out of the pockets quite a bit. I’m OK with easy to moderate scrambling, despite not being a born mountain goat, but what is easy scrambling with a sub 10 kg daypack quickly becomes suicidal when wearing rucksacks weighing in excess of 20 kg. Also, as some of the ridges are so exposed and narrow, not all of them lend themselves to pitching a tent. I have been browsing walk reports, and it seemed that Liathach and Beinn Eighe were probably not great candidates for an overnighter. Hence I chose to do Beinn Alligin, which is supposedly the easiest of the three big massifs, as my first backpacking/photography trip in the region.
A false start
After a five hour drive I arrived at the car park mid-afternoon. After minimal faffing around I set off on the walk. But after 5 minutes I realised I only packed my spare head torch, so had to make a quick return trip to the car to grab my main head torch. After this unnecessary interruption, there was nothing holding me back. Well, except for the weight of my pack of course. I quickly regretted packing
- 6 litres of water
- a spare head torch
- long johns
- dry baselayers
- two pairs of gloves
- a primaloft jacket
and many other redundant items which I knew were almost certainly not needed. O my, the path, (which ascended close to 1000 meters in elevation from the start to the first of two summits) was incredibly steep! But I quickly accepted that suffering is part of the game when backpacking, especially when carrying photo gear.
On the way up, I met quite a few people who were on their way down. As they were all carrying small rucksacks, in some cases so small it made me wonder whether they were prepared for changing weather, they all gave me a funny look and many were curious what I was up to. When I responded to this question, one lady replied: “up there? But it’s windy!”. I brushed this off with a comment about how Scotland and wind belong together, and did not let this comment get to me, and proceeded with ascending the relentlessly steep hill.
At last, the first summit!
After two hours of cursing and steady plodding I finally reached the first summit (Tom na Gruagaich). I sat down, had two sausage rolls and admired the views. Contrary to the MetOffice and MWIS weather forecast, there was a lot of low hanging cloud cover. So much that the summit of Sgurr Mor was only intermittently visible, and the panoramic view left a lot to be desired. With a bit of patience I managed to take a few pictures of the peak which laid ahead of me.
View over the munro summit of Sgurr Mor
The path towards the summit of Sgurr mor can be seen on the ridge
After the summit I descended to the col in between Tom na Gruagaich and Sgurr Mor, which required some scrambling but nothing too difficult, even with the large rucksack. From here there were some great views across the glens over to Liathach. I marvelled at the Torridonian rocks around me, so I tried to frame Liathach with some of the sandstone textures in the foreground.
The peaks of Liathach framed by the beautiful Torridonean sandstone rocks
Summit number 2!
After reaching the bealach, it was a relatively straightforward walk over grassy slopes to the summit of Sgurr Mor. I had roughly two and a half hour to kill before sunset. The views were not great, as most of the peaks surrounding me were shrouded by clouds. I looked around and found some reasonably suitable terrain to pitch a tent, which I was happy about as this meant I did not have to return to the col or Tom na Gruagaich to set up a tent. After I had my dinner (roasted chicken breast with some bagels with Ardennes pate, nothing fancy) I explored the summit for suitable compositions for when conditions improved. Cloud cover became less thick around an hour before sunset, and there spells were the surrounding summits were at least visible. I started to shoot some of the compositions I had in mind whenever the clouds disappeared for a few moments. As there was often limited time with decent visibility, I did not manage to get all the compositions I wanted, but I think that there are a few shots I’m not unhappy with.
Long exposure of the beautiful Torridon landscape from the summit of Beinn Alligin
In the two photos below you can see Baosbheinn and parts of Beinn an Eoin on the right in soft evening light. I think that the clouds did add a little depth to the grand vistas.
The impressive peaks of Baosbheinn seen from Sgurr Mor just before sunset.
The ridge of Baosbheinn seen from Sgurr Mor across Loch a’Bhealaich after sunset.
And then: the blue hour!
Great golden light and sunset did not happen due to the clouds, but eventually the blue hour proved to be quite nice. Colour temperature changed quite quickly, depending on how cloudy it was, leading to quite some variability in tones and hues between shots. I kept shooting until almost an hour after sunset when it became too dark to see much through the viewfinder.
While the sky cleared up for a few moments, a resilient and stubborn cloud hugs the summit of Tom na Gruagaich.
Clouds embrace the summit of Tom na Gruagaich. For once, some clear skies above the summit of Beinn Alligin, but one cloud persists….
Beinn Alligin with Loch Torridon seen behind.
And of course, the views over the Horns of Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg behind, never cease to impress. Not even when mostly obscured by clouds.
Horns of Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg partly obscured by low hanging clouds during the blue hour after sunset
The faint path over the ridge leading towards the Horns of Beinn Alligin can be seen with Beinn Dearg behind.
Morning has broken!
I hoped to revisit and build upon some of the compositions the next morning at sunrise. I set the alarm at 04:00 AM, half an hour before sunrise. When I peeked through the tent, I saw that I was surrounded by a sea of clouds and that the summit I was camping on was the only one above the clouds. Being so tired from the previous’ day walk and shooting until quite late, the decision to get back inside and get some sleep was too easily made. I woke up again at 05:30 and rushed outside and get some shots. I did not get anything worth keeping, as all the summits were still mostly covered in clouds and the light was on its way to becoming too harsh.
In the morning thick low hanging clouds obscure the summits of Beinn Alligin, Torridon.
The original plan was to continue along the horns, which should offer some spectacular views while providing some nice scrambling challenges. As the clouds did not lift, and I was quite keen on getting back home to see my daughter and partner, I decided to take the same route back to the car. All in all, an excellent and refreshing mini-break. It certainly refuelled my desire to try to squeeze in more photo-backpacking trips in the future! Wild camping on higher grounds is the best way to get more original photographs of popular regions, as most photographers, even professional ones, stick to the same viewpoints which are easily accessible and close to a parking lot.
Click here to see more photographs taken in the mountains in the Scottish highlands.
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