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.

Bla Bheinn: an introduction to the Skye munros

I’ve always maintained that I’m not ‘bagging’ munros, one of the reasons being that some are just too scary looking. I’m not a fan of big exposure and I know what I like (and more importantly what’s just pushing the comfort zone too far). Meanwhile, Bruce very much enjoys a bit of ‘air’ on the hills, hence him heading out alone (or with people other than me) at times.

Being near Skye, I was assured that Bla Bheinn was doable for me, being the one Skye munro that’s known for walking rather than climbing. It’s not part of the main Cuillin ridge, but on a good day affords spectacular views of the Black Cuillin, and would give me some idea of what Bruce had experienced during his Skye trips this year and last. Finally, Bla Bheinn would also allow Bruce to complete the Skye munros, this being the only one he hadn’t yet done.

Arriving on Skye, it wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse of a mountain. This striking, if a little intimidating, sight transpired to be Bla Bheinn!

The day was as close to perfect as it gets – very little wind and clear, blue skies. Work is currently being done to improve the car park; despite this we were able to park easily. The midges were out but seemed pretty relaxed; they must have had a hearty breakfast as they were not in any great hurry to eat us!

The walk began just a few metres above sea level and very gently climbed through the moor. An impressive gorge dropped off on our left, silver birches growing on the steep slopes and protecting us from what was quite possibly the most hazardous drop of the day.

Continuing on we crossed a couple of small streams with ease, boulder hopping across, before climbing up Coire Uaigneich. This path is good and well maintained by The John Muir Trust. We were gaining height but still had a long way up to go. A wee shower of rain passed over. Waterproofs contemplated, we decided on jackets only as it was warm enough for the trousers to dry out.

Reaching the choire, we turned and began ascending the less distinctive path, following the zig zags through scree as we climbed higher. I can’t quite recall at what point we had a tricky scree section as we appeared to miss it on the way down, but I do recall questioning my will to continue as it felt really tough and my legs went a little jelly-like.

Higher still, there were paths going in many different directions and it was tricky choosing the right line. We ascended a scree chute before scrambling up some rocks, while others nearby chose an alternative (and easier) looking route.

Ascent of Bla Bheinn

The actual scramble, described in the route guide, was indeed easy. We saw people ahead appearing to be struggling to ascend a rocky area so opted to veer left on the advice of another party, and this did indeed prove a simpler scramble up the rocks. By this point we’d done virtually all of the ascent and it was only a short distance to the summit.

Before the final ascent of Bla Bheinn with Marsco peeping through

The summit was surprisingly busy, with a family of four, and the six others we’d played tig and tag with on route up. The views over to the Black Cuillin were spectacular and it was great to see the mountains that Bruce had previously enthused about. Part of the ridge was engulfed in cloud and as it blew over other parts cleared.

Time passed, the cloud grew thicker and darker, and it became very apparent that a heavy rain shower was heading our way. Consideration was given to waiting it out on the summit but we decided instead to head off and possibly shelter further down. The last thing we wanted was to be midway through the scree when it got heavy. As it transpired, although the rain came it was very fleeting and appeared to have moved along the top, largely missing us.

The descent proved far easier than the ascent. Tricky sections were negotiated by having more points of contact – in other words, using my bum! Heading down as part of a larger group may also have helped, easy chat flowing among us all, distracting from the task in hand.

Good path further down on Bla Bheinn

We managed to avoid the scree section that scared me previously – no idea why we couldn’t do that on the way up – and before long we were back on the good lower path, then enjoying the fine walk back, which is when I realised how steep the drop into the gorge was! Stunning views along the return leg.

Overall, a great day out for my 150th munro, and a delight to share in Bruce’s completion of the Skye munros. Chapeau!

Seana Bhraigh: A Long Day

Leaving Ullapool we opted to head for Seana Bhraigh, the munro we could have added on yesterday but didn’t due to the inclement weather. Having now done it I’m still undecided if I would have enjoyed it yesterday. It was quite a lengthy walk, although didn’t look that much of a leap from Eididh nan Clach Geala.

Starting out at the same car park we followed the good fire road for a time before branching off. While the track remained good, it did climb quite steeply to begin with, and I was glad of Bruce’s company on reaching the deer fence as I couldn’t get the gate open. I really wouldn’t have wanted to climb over it!

Continuing to climb, coming out of the trees the views opened up and with beautiful clear skies they truly were stunning. As the path flattened it also became a little boggier, although even crossing the peat hags we were fortunate in not getting too clarted in muck, and conditions underfoot were better than we’d expected.

Further on, crossing the Allt Gleann a’Mhadaidh was easy with stones to hop across. Even I wasn’t phased by it! As we progressed we could see yesterday’s hill and the views in all directions were stunning. An Teallach looked particularly impressive and we could see Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor Suilven and Canisp.

Passing the lochans we headed towards the gully. This took us quite steeply down the side of a stream, the path ahead for Seana Bhraigh tantalisingly visible, but frustratingly far with regard to distance still to cover. This area was quite marshy and had the potential to be boggy and a directional challenge if not walking on such a fine day. Debating the best route, we found our middle ground and were soon on the final ascent.

This proved to be the most challenging part of the day. The ground was very wet and boggy and we had to diagonally traverse the hillside in order to gain the summit. There are two cairns, the first being the lowest, so we skirted around this and headed for the main summit. The final pull was blessedly short and we managed to reach the top ahead of the rain that we could see moving in towards us, drinking in the lovely views before donning the waterproofs for the descent.

At this point, Bruce suggested this may be the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. However, although we did have the jackets on and off a few times, we did also get a couple of brief, but heavy showers and a short spell of more persistent rain before the skies cleared again. An Teallach provided our weather forecast – when it was in cloud or with rain visible we knew it wouldn’t be long before it reached us.

Gate of Ca’-derg

The return route was simple, retracing our steps for the most part. It was a long walk back (as it was a long walk out) but we made decent time overall, finally reaching the car just after 8 hours from leaving, 17.5 miles in our legs! Mission accomplished. How glad was I to get to sit in the car!

Unfinished business in Ullapool: Eididh nan Clach Geala

Search the walkhighlands website for this munro and you’ll find it as part of the Beinn Dearg circuit. Most commonly done as part of this, it’s the fourth munro of the round, and for us, the one we missed back in 2012. It was Super Saturday of the Olympics, we were novices with regards to this hill walking malarkey, time was knocking on and the route guide suggested care would be required on the descent. With tired legs we decided to leave it, maybe for another time, not realising the magnitude of this decision down the line with one single red pin on the munro map taunting Bruce and meaning a frustratingly long walk for what could have been an extra hour’s walking then.

The original plan for today was to tag on an additional munro, Seana Bhraigh. However, a substantial amount of rain had fallen overnight and navigation looked tricky combining these two routes, so we opted to play it safe.

Waterproofs on, we headed off on a good path, optimistic that the skies were clearing and we’d be in for a fine day. The initial part of the walk was on a good fire road and quick time was made. Although we weren’t gaining a lot in height, we were warming up pretty nicely and before long we stopped to strip off the waterproofs as the rain appeared to have stopped.

Our path continued onto a smaller track, again pretty good, although it started to get wetter underfoot as we headed gradually upwards meeting the earlier rainfall outing off the hill. Unfortunately we also met another shower of rain, and having progressively moved from a light spot to something more persistent, the waterproofs went back on again. Despite this, we concluded our day wasn’t going quite so badly as this poor chap …

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Turning off we had our low point of the day. The Garmin was jumping around, one moment suggesting forwards, the next back, and regular navigation checks were required, all the while the rain getting frustratingly heavier. On the upside we were gaining height gradually and although the single track path was even wetter underfoot and a little stonier all was well.

Branching off to ascend a grassy slope we anticipated the big climb of the day. This turned out to be easy and took us onto the wide shoulder of the hill. Crossing the grass and boulders we found our way to the first cairn. The mist was thick and visibility was restricted so a navigational check was required to ascertain that the true summit cairn was a short walk away.

Summit cairn: Eididh nan Clach Geala

Reaching the true summit we didn’t linger as the weather was pretty horrible still. Misty, drizzly and my hands getting sore from the wind chill, I stopped to put on gloves, nearly requiring assistance as I realised my fingers were no longer functioning properly. This was rectified pretty much instantly, much to my relief and comfort.

Retracing our steps we made good time, stopping for a sandwich. This tasted so much better than it would have done indoors! Not far off the summit the mist finally cleared, albeit briefly at first, allowing us glimpses of the beautiful views we’d otherwise have missed.

Although dry by now the waterproofs stayed on as not nearly as much heat is generated on the descent. It was with great joy that we finally reached the fire road again, safe in the knowledge that we only had a couple of miles left.

A long day – 12 miles and around 6 hours. The question remains, had we known 7 years ago what we know now, would we have changed anything?

Carn an Tuirc Revisited: End of Bruce’s #50in150 for Charlie House

Mayar and Driesh were the planned hills for today. However, changeable forecasts and the prospect of prolonged heavy rain put paid to this plan. The decision was made to head for Braemar instead, and Carn an Tuirc seemed like a good bet. We’ve done it before, although not during Bruce’s 50 in 150 challenge. It’s short – an easy up and down – and would give the one munro necessary to round things off. It didn’t have to be today, there are still 22 days left, but once the seed is planted there’s no changing his mind.

Parking up, the waterproofs went on straight away. With warm temperatures this made for a rather unpleasant ‘boil in the bag’ feel as we progressed up the hill.

Pit zips opened, trousers vented, drizzle turning to rain; pit zips closed, trouser vents closed. Repeat – and again. You get the picture!

Carn an Tuirc

The small track, a little muddy and peaty in bits, took us all the way up to the stony top with relative ease. Rain came on properly as we neared the summit, the mist closed in a little, and as I made Bruce go under my sticks we spotted another couple in the windshelter! Sitting chatting, I became aware that they were all slightly sheltered from the rain while I was getting soaked! Meh!

Bruce & Charlie on Carn an Tuirc #50in150

Returning from the summit, we headed back the way we’d come, in theory at least. Initially we did appear to be on the same path. However, as we progressed we realised it was different, for the better, so we stuck with it. Before long the mist cleared and we could see the road and car parking area.

Continuing to descend we made our way back towards the stream, finding the ascent path. The heavy shower that was forecast arrived and was blessedly fleeting!

Back at the car we had a quick change of footwear before heading to The Bothy for our usual stop. At this point we realised that the rain appeared to have perhaps just touched us as the road back to Braemar was soaked. Result!

So that’s it! Challenge over for Bruce: #50in150 done and dusted. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/bruce-russell5

A great effort! (20 for me – not quite in the same league, but not too shoddy!) Maybe a few more to go this year. We’ll keep you posted.

Grey Corries, Fort William

Having checked out the weather forecast for the weekend we were left with no alternative. Alarm set for 5 am, it was a ridiculously early start (all the more so for those of us on holiday!) in order to head for Spean Bridge.

These have been on Bruce’s radar for a few years now, but have always escaped his clutches due to bad weather. Not today though. The very warm weather followed us west and it was near 20C when we left the car. Way too hot for my liking! Suncream clarted on, sunhat and full sleeves/long trousers, I was a’ the bash!

First up, a good track took us to meet the wee minister, a carved wooden statue that watches over the glen. He was somewhat larger than anticipated, not really that wee!

The wee minister, Spean Bridge, Fort William

This good track continued climbing very gradually allowing us to gain a few hundred metres in height. Reaching the Lairg Leacach Bothy, we stopped for a sandwich, only realising at this point how long it had already been since breakfast.

Lairig Leacach Bothy

Onwards, the wide stream was easily crossed thanks to the spate of recent dry weather. We even had a few sheep pick their way over the stones ahead of us to show the best route. A small cairn then marked the track off up the hill and footprints could be found in the grass to indicate the pull up the side.

Path from cairn up towards Stob Ban (Grey Corries) looking back to the corbett

This faint path swept round to the shoulder, a good path then pulling us along the ridge and up onto the summit of Stob Ban. This final ascent was steep, but the zig zagging path meant there was nothing too taxing involved. Always good on the first summit of the day!

Continuing on, we had to descend via a steep scree slope. Oh, how I love scree! I debated in my head whether I have more affinity towards scree or scrambling; the decision has not yet been reached. Maybe scrambling is preferable?!

Lochan looking back towards Stob Ban

The flatter bealach was fairly easily reached as there wasn’t too much drop overall. This was good as it obviously meant not too much ascent to reach our second summit, Stob Coire Claurigh. There was a good path up this so we made decent progress and before long had reached the top with stunning views along the ridge.

Grey Corries ridge

Although it had been a little windy at times, we’d managed to dip in and out of it with the odd bit of shelter as we’d progressed. However, as the ridge opened up the wind also appeared to pick up. We were increasingly buffeted, more so as we moved along, and it was at this time that Bruce’s Buff cap blew away! How very frustrating, particularly given that it was it’s first outing! To make matters worse, it didn’t just blow away, it soared upwards, tantalisingly floating around for some time before coming to rest somewhere down the rocky slope, far out of our reach.

The ridge took in three further tops before reaching Stob Coire an Laoigh. Due to the wind we weren’t greatly inclined to linger. I was, by this point, getting a little fed up of being blasted and the ridge, although not exceptionally steep at the sites, was enough to make me uncomfortable in these conditions. Reaching the top of Stob Coire Easain I therefore decided to sit the next one out – quite literally.

Grey Corries ridge

While Bruce continued on to Sgurr Choinnich Mor, I sat in a sheltered position behind the cairn. It was amazing how even in the mild temperatures I cooled quickly, and before too long I had both jacket and gloves on while seeing Bruce finally reach the shoulder ridge on his ascent. It took around 90 minutes for him to return and I was glad to see him reappear, particularly as my Raynauds had kicked in and my fingers were cold and painful, despite the rest of me feeling okay.

I very quickly warmed up again on moving and we followed a path across a minor peak, Beinn na Socaich, before descending via a grassy slope with vague hints of footprints here and there. The stream at the bottom was easily crossed, again thanks to the recent dry conditions, and it was then the long slog back to the car, fortunately on good fire roads which made it less arduous.

Finishing our day, reflecting as we walked, I was happy with my lot – again quite happy to miss a peak as I’m not ‘bagging’ so don’t really care about the numbers – while Bruce was delighted; as they’ve been on his radar for a few years and now they’ve finally been done!

Tyndrum Hols (Part 3): The Final Instalment

Day 5:
The day got off to a mixed start. Frustratingly, having bolted down breakfast to get the early (8 am) train, it was approximately half an hour late. On the upside, we hadn’t realised we needed to book seats (it was the Caledonian Sleeper) but were advised we were in luck – seats were available – and we enjoyed a very comfortable start to the day!

Awaiting the train to Corrour from Tyndrum Upper Station

Getting off the train, we got chatting to a couple of ladies who’d come all the way up on the sleeper. They were staying for a couple of days, minus their friend / navigator. More on that later …

Having parted ways with the others from the train, we began our walk on an excellent path towards Loch Ossian and the Youth Hostel. What a stunning location for a hostel! I would love to go back and stay there sometime.

Loch Ossian (Corrour)

As we proceeded, the track it split and we took the higher path. Having already started around 400 m, this allowed us to make good progress.

Further up, we passed Peter’s stone, a memorial to Peter Trowell who died in 1979 at 29 years old. He was working at the youth hostel alone over winter and his body was sadly found frozen in the loch after several weeks missing, the thinking being that he tragically fell in whilst working.

Turning uphill here we followed the hill with little visible path at times. At other points there was a clearer path which made for steady walking. Despite yesterday’s heavy rain, although boggy, it could have been worse underfoot. As we gained height, we’d climbed into the mist and low cloud, so waterproofs were donned.

Heading up towards Carn Dearg

We reached Meall na Letire Duibhe with relative ease, then following the broad ridge around to Carn Dearg, marked with an impressively large cairn. Despite it’s size we were very close before seeing it as visibility was variable, thick mist with cloud coming and going. We didn’t stop for any time as we were getting slightly damp.

Summit of Carn Dearg, Corrour

Continuing on we found the path that led us down to the Mam Ban, and as we progressed the path became very clear and easy to follow. As the descent to the bealach was not significant we concluded we should head back this way as the alternative was said to be very boggy, and given conditions we had no prospect of views. The summit cairn of Sgor Ghaibre was far smaller and again was enshrouded in mist, so we only paused briefly before, in theory, retracing our steps.

Summit cairn on Sgor Gaibhre

Initially it appeared that we were on the right path heading back towards Carn Dearg. However, somewhere along the way we lost the good path that we’d been on; the path split so we must have gone in the wrong direction. We’re none the wiser on reflection. Thankfully Bruce realised and with a combination of coordinates from the Garmin and basic map and compass skills, we established the direction we required to proceed in order to achieve the summit again.

Further down we had similar issues, again veering off course and requiring the map and compass to point us in the right direction. In the end we headed directly for Peter’s stone, the mist having cleared in order to see the loch below and give confirmation of our route. We were two very happy walkers on reaching the good track again!

Heading down from the Corrour munros to Loch Ossian

Along this track we met a few people and stopped to chat, before going to the cafe at Corrour Station. A thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours was spent here, refreshing ourselves after the walk. We got chatting to others, including Alan, the knight in shining armour who’d come to the rescue of two damsels in distress (pretty much fresh from the sleeper train), struggling to navigate in the mist on Beinn na Lap. The ladies appeared shortly after and were delighted to receive a lesson on map and compass skills courtesy of Bruce. We all get a bit rusty if not using these skills regularly so it’s important to practise as we found out today!

As the time for the train approached, the cafe emptied, all bar the two ladies returning in the same direction as us. We were all cheerily waved off as we began the return leg of the journey to Tyndrum. A great day out, and a memorable one to boot.

Day 6:
Sitting in the Glencoe Cafe mid-morning it was hard to conceive that the torrential rain would stop within the next hour or two. However, stop it did, or at least lighten, thus we found ourselves travelling along the road to begin the ascent of our final munro, Sgor na h-Ulaidh.

The most treacherous part of the day was the initial walk from the car park across the bridge and along the road for a few metres. The traffic is pretty fast – it is the main road after all – and it’s not pleasant crossing a bridge with a barely there pavement as the road narrows!

Safe and well, we began our ascent, again from low level, starting out on a very good track. This continued for a couple of miles, climbing very gradually, before we branched off and headed straight up the hill. Views back across the road were great, cloud clearing nicely.

Looking back towards Aonach Eagach

This was tough! With over 500 m of ascent, my calves felt like they may explode! Lungs were fine, but definitely a leg buster. Although dry, sadly this also meant heading up into the mist.

On reaching the bealach, the terrain eased momentarily before climbing again, over the top of Stob an Fhuarain. The path here was clear, fortunate as the ground was wet, and there was too much potentially slippery rock for my liking. Crossing this, we dropped again before gaining height once more, this time to the summit of Sgor na h-Ulaidh. There were scary looking crags here so care was needed to ensure we did not stray off the path from the summit. Another walker, on approaching, did stumble, thankfully managing to right himself! It would have ruined my lunch had he disappeared!!

Summit cairn: Sgor na h-Ulaidh

Retracing our steps, we took our time on the descent, careful of the potential for slipping on wet rock.

Coming down from Sgor na h-Ulaidh

Knowing the route made light work and before we knew it we were back on the scree ahead of the main descent down by the stream. At this point we met a hill runner – walking, as it wasn’t quite what he’d hoped for in terms of ground – and we enjoyed a good chat with him before parting ways when the ground became more gradual in descent.

Main path descending from Sgor na h-Ulaidh

All that was left then was the trek back to the main trail. The lower section was a bit wet and stony which made it slow going; it was a relief to finally reach the main track, the home straight. Typically, the mist cleared at this point giving a view of what we might have seen has we held out for another couple of hours.

The route up to Sgor na h-Ulaidh as the cloud began to clear

Holidays done, all the munros planned for the week achieved, two very happy walkers!