The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine: A Small Summit and Jelly Legs

Final day of the holiday, I woke to the best alarm yet – music on my phone and Bruce saying, ‘have an extra half hour.’ The forecast had changed and the day looked set to improve so the morning rush was eased.

Heading out, we opted for a two munro circuit encompassing The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine. The Saddle is renowned for the Forcan Ridge, a spectacularly exposed and airy ridge. Those of you who have read my previous blogs will know there was no way I was going near this if I could avoid it! I’d declared this last night but had also said I’d happily meet Bruce on the summit should he wish to do it. It was quite windy so he decided to stay with me, along with another chap we met who felt the wind would be a hindrance and the ridge could wait for another day.

In hindsight I was glad that Bruce did stick with me. Had he not I most likely wouldn’t have made it past the trig point! More on that later …

Starting off, we parked up in a layby and crossed the road to access the path for The Saddle. From the outset we were climbing, albeit the winding back and forth eased the going somewhat. It felt like we should have ascended further than we had though when Bruce requested the first height check.

Continuing on and up, we finally levelled out a little, heading across the col to the rocky steps that the route guide described as ‘decision time’. Right for the Forcan Ridge, left to follow the remains of a drystone dyke to reach the Bealach Coire Mhalagain.

We went left. The dyke led us gradually up and it was a relief to know that my ascent of The Saddle would be ‘easy’. Reaching a boulder field we headed up, a path higher up the slope clearly visible. Lower down the path wasn’t quite so clear but we knew the direction we wanted to go. It became steeper and more compacted near the top, winding back and forth until we reached the trig point. Unfortunately the trig point wasn’t quite the summit.

The summit cairn was slightly higher up – only about 10 metres – but along a ridge. I was less than happy at the prospect of making my way there and had it not been for the company of Bruce and another walker maybe wouldn’t have bothered. I don’t need to tick the box after all!

Heading up to the summit of The Saddle

There was a path. It was a little narrow in places – very narrow in my opinion, and quite exposed; remembering everything is subjective and perception is reality. I had to lean into the rock to put a single foot on the rocky ledge at the worst bits. Then we reached the cairn. It was honestly the smallest summit I’ve ever been on! My legs were a little like jelly and I sat down and refused to move, other than to go back down.

Summit cairn on The Saddle - remarkably small summit; I was not moving from my seat!

Heading down, Bruce pointed out that on the ‘Clare Rating Scale for Exposure’ it probably wasn’t that bad. Certainly you wouldn’t die if you fell! I pointed out that I may not die outright but I’d quite probably break both my legs and that wouldn’t be very pleasant. Anyway, I didn’t fall and live to see another day, two good legs intact!

Heading down from the summit of The Saddle

On the ridge of Sgurr na Sgine, The Saddle behind

Glad to be off the most challenging section the next part seemed so much easier, descending back down the steep path again to the Bealach. We could see a path higher up Sgurr na Sgine and headed across towards it.

Further up we saw the walker we’d been with on the last summit having a rest so made the pull up the bouldery slope towards him, traces of path here and there. The wind was picking up at this point and I was glad I’d put on my jacket and gloves on The Saddle.

Wind aside, the slope was steep but not too arduous; we’d only dropped to around 700 metres and had to summit at 946 metres, the lower of the two munros. Reaching the northwest top we followed a wide, easy, rocky ridge to the main summit. This had a lovely cairn with a great windshelter that we plonked ourselves in to enjoy lunch and soak up the beautiful views. The summit of The Saddle had been slightly in cloud whereas this was stunningly clear.

South Glenshiel Ridge from Sgurr na Sgine

Rested and fed, we made the decision to retrace our steps back to the Bealach, thankfully this time finding a good path all the way down. So much easier than the ascent where the path was not apparent! We ignored the route guide as it suggested descending via a steep, grassy slope with another ascent prior to this, figuring we’d get more shelter, better path, and less pressure on the knees and quads following the route up to go back down.

On the ridge of Sgurr na Sgine, The Saddle behind

It was weird how the path along the dyke seemed far more bouldery than it had done on the way out. Bruce reckoned it was because we’d blethered all the way up. I reckon it’s because I was so relieved going up that we’d found the alternative path and I wasn’t going across the Forcan Ridge!

Anyway, it was a long way down but we made decent progress and finally we reached the road. The car had been tantalisingly in sight for quite some time prior to this.

Glen Shiel

Glad I did these munros, the day ended wonderfully with a stop off at The Kintail Lodge Hotel for the best meal we’ve had this week.

Reality resumes on Monday.