The Two Sgurrs and a Wire Bridge

It was with great joy that I set a ridiculously early alarm for today. Seriously, who gets up just after 6 am on holiday? Yet again, we were being ruled by the weather. The forecast suggested the rain would be coming in late afternoon so we were keen to get home dry and hopefully catch a view along the way.

Sleep Envy

Waking early, I felt like I’d barely slept. Having eaten late last night it took me a while to settle. Meanwhile, Bruce had gone out like a light! I did initially ignore the alarm, but thought better of it and got up. Once on the go it wasn’t quite the hardship I’d perceived. Better get used to it as I’m back to work very soon!

Biking on Dead Legs

Setting off from the Achnashellach Forest car park again, we knew the way. However, a number of extra miles in the legs meant that the way felt far from easy! There was a substantial amount of pushing for much of the way out, quads burning with any exertion. We discussed this on the return leg and my feeling is with a long walk ahead you don’t want to tire yourself too much, where on the home leg it’s easier to push through any pain as you know you’re getting to rest later.

We took our time and stopped to admire the views back regularly.

Before long, we’d reached the small cairn that indicated the drop off point for the bikes and the path to the Sgurrs.

The Wire Bridge

The path led us down to the Allt a’Chonais burn with the wire bridge. This consists of two wires – top and bottom – the idea being that you somehow balance yourself as you work your way across. I was very happy that with Bruce’s excellent planning skills we’d postponed this walk until today to allow the waters to calm, as I don’t think there’s any way I’d have successfully crossed the burn. Having a go on the way back just for fun, I got so far before wobbling precariously and calling it a day. Good luck to anyone crossing if the burn is in spate! My advice would be to rig up something in your garden and practise ahead of time!

A Path Uphill

Once safely across with barely more than a toe dipped in, we began to follow a good stalkers path. After the bogs of the last few days this felt amazing! There was very little water lying and we made good time up the track as the condition improved and the path widened, reaching the first bealach quickly.

The path continued up to the second, higher bealach, again in good time. The legs were a little grumbly but in the grand scheme of things, bearing up okay. The beautiful blue skies with little cloud were also positively contributing towards my good feelings about the day.

The Ridge Walk

The ridge from the distance looked good. There was nothing to suggest it was overly exposed and I was happy to see grassy slopes on one side – think rolling rather than bouncing if you slip!

The initial pull up the Streangan nan Aon Pacan-deug ridge, to give it’s proper title, was not too taxing. There were a couple of rockier sections but these were very brief with good foot placements available. The most challenging thing was that every time we appeared to be reaching the top, another bit would appear. The wind had picked up a little and we stopped to put gloves on, feeling a wee bit of a chill.

It felt like we were never going to reach the summit of the first munro, Sgurr Choinnich, although in reality it didn’t take long at all. Bruce was disappointed that the cloud closed in prior to us reaching the summit; me less so, my reasoning being that if you can’t see the drop it doesn’t exist!

Before I knew it, we’d summited and were heading sharply down the other side onto the continuing ridge. At this point I did wish the cloud would clear a little as aside from following the path it would have been good to know where we were going. The descent led us back into the ridge and we then followed the stony path up to the second munro of the day, Sgurr a’ Chaorachain. It wasn’t overly taxing, but again went up and up, then up some more, into the thicker clouds. The wind direction meant that we were sheltered by the hill for much of the time, occasionally getting a blast of chilly air. I decided to put my poles away, concerned I might need my hands free for rocks; in effect, I’d have been better hanging onto them as this challenge never came.

The cairn on Sgurr a’ Chaorachain was mighty impressive with a broken trig point in the middle. It provided us with good shelter to have a snack and a breather before tackling the descent.

Steeply Down

Heading off the summit with the intention of heading north and going downhill across grass for 700 metres, we paused a couple of times to check our bearings. The cloud was thick and having seen crags earlier, the last thing we needed was to find ourselves precariously balanced or worse, walking off anything precipitous!

It was a long way down but we made it safely. Our pace was very similar to going uphill and we debated whether this was a positive or not. I felt it was positive given the terrain we were covering. Ultimately, we got there safely so that’s all that’s important.

Midway down the grassy slope we spotted a herd of deer grazing. They appeared not to notice us for a while, but moved away as we got closer. Unsure where they went, my money’s on them having run uphill by the stream, then watching us from above!

Reaching the flatter ground, we opted to head across towards the good path we’d taken on route up. This involved crossing an extra stream. It was my turn to dip a leg in, not quite managing the hop between stones.

Safely back across the main burn via the stones, we reached the bikes and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

Biking Out: The Easy Leg

Wow, it felt great to be back on the bike! We motored along, relishing the downhill sections, any uphill short and grinded out in a lower gear. After reaching the gate it was a real fun blast back to the railway crossing, again enjoying the bounce and comfort of my Stumpjumper.

Us 1: Rain 0

Planned to perfection (thanks Bruce, I forgive you for making me get up early), we made it home ahead of the rain. As per the forecast from the Met Office, it pretty much starts bang on time!

A successful day out. Two summits in the bag and a lot of fun!

Achnasheen: Amazing what’s on the doorstep!

After a fair soaking yesterday, I went to put the boots outdoors (having removed the newspaper that had been absorbing the water overnight) to experience two joys of nature.

One, the Scottish midge. Out in force, they were keen to make my acquaintance. They tend not to be bothersome if there’s any sort of breeze. Sadly today, all wind had died!

The second was the deer making their way into the garden. Along the road, up the drive and over the fence they went. They paused to look but continued on their way when finding I meant no harm.

Fionn Bheinn

Staying in an Airbnb in Achnasheen, Fionn Bheinn literally involves going out the gate and turning right. Bruce has previously done this munro, albeit he didn’t get views, so I put my trust in him to lead the way.

The reason we went up here is not because Bruce is ‘banking’ in preparation for his second round of munros, but due to the weather forecast – a little bleak for today. We had, according to our friends at the Met Office, until 1 pm before the light rain would commence, after which it would be on for the day.

Sealskinz Rock!

The path up was boggy from the outset. Bruce mentioned having walked up the clearly visible track on the previous occasion; we decided against crossing the bridge sitting at a very jaunty angle, instead opting to continue along the path. Hindsight is a great thing – it appears we probably should have crossed the bridge. Our boggy path continued up the hill, climbing gradually, then petering out to nothing. I was extremely grateful of Bruce’s suggestion to wear my Sealskinz. These wonderful socks saw my boots get soaked (again) while keeping my feet themselves dry and happy.

On reaching a boggy plateau with lots of lovely peat hags between two hills, we realised we’d veered off course a little. Our target required us to cross the bogs, so we hopped across as best we could, largely managing to stay out of anything too deep. 

Be Who You Want To Be

As we made our ascent, I spotted a small herd of deer. They were standing on the hillside grazing, but on catching a whiff of us or hearing our voices, they stood to attention. The leader then broke into a run, pursued by the rest of the herd. They paused, assessed the situation and saw we were still headed in their direction and ran again.

So, nothing unusual in this. However, what amused me greatly was that they were followed by two sheep. The sheep, mirroring the movements of the deer would pause, then run again as the herd moved. I like to think that although they maybe couldn’t quite hack the pace they’d been accepted as part of the group.

Head for the Trig Point

The clear skies allowed us to see the trig point in the distance. Not having a path to follow, we opted to cross the hillside diagonally, following a line to the summit. This, while providing a direct line of ascent, also put pressure on one leg, so I opted to zig zag a little, heading upwards towards the path that we could see leading down from the top.

Pretty soon we reached the path we’d been targeting from afar, and being on more solid terrain again it was an easy pull to the trig point and the summit. It was well worth the effort. The views were amazing! Bruce, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of hills was able to point out the highlights.

We also spotted a larger herd of deer, around two dozen, grazing on the lower slopes. Sadly, they didn’t have any others in their midst – no sheep, cows, goats or others apparent.

Finding the Path on Descent

One of the frustrations, or pleasures, of hill walking can be finding a good path on the descent having slogged up the hard way. Going down, we knew we wanted to aim for the small dam as this was the top of the track, so took a direct route to get there, picking up a path along the way.

Again, it was very wet and muddy underfoot as we happily squelched along. The bog was visible in all it’s glory and we were happy to have a target in mind for a dry descent thereafter.

Weather Forecasting

The Met Office were pretty much spot on. As we came towards Achnasheen, making good time down the track, we felt the first fine drops of rain. True to forecast, we reached our door just ahead of 1 pm, the proper rain starting pretty much as we crossed the threshold.

A worthwhile outing, I’m now just keeping everything crossed that the Met Office have got it wrong for the next couple of days as they’re not looking the best!

Ben Klibreck

Relaxing in Altnacarra B & B after Ben Hope we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening; always a good sign when you’re welcomed with a pot of tea and biscuits! An added bonus was that the neighbouring pub was friendly with good craic from the locals, so it’s just as well we’d booked our dinner at Mandy’s B & B. A hearty meal was enjoyed with fellow residents. This is definitely THE place to stay in Altnacarra!

Fresh after a good night’s sleep and a wholesome breakfast, we headed along the road to Ben Klibreck. The track up was right across from the parking area – always a good start!

The day was good again, skies clear if a little misty in the distance. The wind was blustery again although not quite to the extent of yesterday.

Initially marshy underfoot, it continued in this way as it climbed. This path would be a real plowter should there be a lot of rain! Thankfully it did dry out as we climbed higher, the track initially good, then fading out. We could see where we were headed so no great navigational challenges.

Heading to Ben Kilbreck

We climbed to the cairns on Cnoc Sgriodain admiring the views, then continuing on to a bealach. This didn’t lose too much of the height gained so that was a relief, as was the fact that the peat bogs were pretty much dry and easily crossed. Again, in wet conditions this could present different challenges, none of them pleasant!

We opted to traverse the side of Creag an Lochain rather than going over the top, and a clear path took us along. This again was dry but had the potential to be boggy; I think on a wet day I’d opt for heading up and over.

Traverse back from Ben Kilbreck

Continuing along the hillside, we finally reached the bealach that led up the final steep ascent of Ben Klibreck. This was an easy enough climb despite it’s intimidating size and a couple of hundred metres of ascent to go. The good path zig-zagging up the steep flank, and made for a far easier descent. The summit cairn was easily reached, the trig point in bits, according to Mandy having been struck by lightning a few years ago.

We stopped briefly before heading back the way we’d come, enjoying the scenery on the way back down, despite the views being obscured by my hair constantly blowing over my face, the wind now behind us.

Going back felt far quicker, and the long traverse of the hillside flew past. The only slog was back down the slightly less marked path at the bottom where I was frustrated by the slippery conditions.

Another good hill day, but we concluded that Ben Hope is the winner.

Ben Hope: Type 1 Fun

At the Dundee Mountain Film Festival last year I was introduced to the concept of Type 1 and Type 2 fun by one of the speakers. Type 1 fun is joyous throughout the experience, type 2 fun is tough at the time but fun retrospectively. Today was a perfect hill day: the sun was shining, the skies were clear and most importantly, the views were amazing, hence Type 1 fun all the way!

Setting off after a great night in Alness – we stayed at Tullochard Guest House with great hosts, Ali and David, who well and truly make you feel at home – we headed further north to Altnaharra, and then on to Ben Hope, our target for the day.

Ben Hope signposted from the car park

The route guide suggesting 5 hours walking for 7.5 km, I was concerned that this was going to be a steep, hard slog. In the event, although it was a fairly steep pull, there was a good, rocky path and limited boggy areas. There was some water on the path in places so there’s definitely potential for a mud fest on a wet day!

A stunning waterfall flowed alongside the path after the initial pull up, the path then getting a little muddier as it ascended, unfortunately leading to multiple tracks and increasing erosion.

Waterfall on Ben Hope

The wind began to pick up – the forecast had suggested gusts of up to 50 mph on the top – but the temperature was high, 19.5 celsius at the car park! The wind, although strong, didn’t create any real issues and the warmth of the sun was wonderful! We sheltered behind a large rock for a snack thinking this might be the last respite before the descent.

The path was much clearer by this point and made for easy going. The bouldery path was clear and, despite the wind picking up again, the views were stunning. It was amazing to have such clear skies and beautiful views on a September day. We truly have been blessed with the weather this weekend! We met a few folks on their way back down and exchanged pleasantries as we went. I love hearing stories and chatting on the hills.

Ben Hope ascent

Continuing onwards, it wasn’t long before we saw the trig point, heralding our arrival at the summit.

Ben Hope trig point

Immediately behind it there was a large windshelter cairn and this provided the perfect spot for another break. We were joined by a couple of ladies and their kids, a cosy gathering. I love chatting with children, they’re always a breath of fresh air!

Retracing our steps to descend, I’m not sure if the wind had picked up or if it was just that we were heading into it, but it certainly felt stronger. The descent was quicker though with lots of people to chat to and, of course, continued stunning views.

Ben Hope descent

A truly fantastic hill day! A long way to travel, but well worth it! Most definitely a hill I’d do again! Who’s up for it?

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.