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A ridge too far.......

A ridge too far.......

Postby J888ohn » Mon Jun 10, 2013 1:23 pm

Route description: The Saddle, Forcan Ridge and Sgurr na Sgine

Munros included on this walk: Sgurr na Sgine, The Saddle

Date walked: 08/06/2013

Time taken: 10 hours

Distance: 20.2 km

Ascent: 1018m

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This story begins several years ago. Having completed the Lawers ridge and enjoying a well deserved burger at the Lawers Hotel we were discussing what ridge to do next. One of us mentioned the South Glen Shiel Ridge, which the barman overheard and suggested we do that but start with The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine, making it 9 in a day. A lightbulb went off in my head, one years on I would regret........

A team was assembled and the weekend of 7th to 9th June 2013 set aside for this epic adventure to take in the Forcan Ridge, The Saddle, Sgurr na Sgine and the South Glen Shiel Ridge in a day. Supplies were bought, route planned and agreed on, camping arranged at Shiel Bridge Campsite and for once the wether was going to be glorious. That was going to be one of our major problems.

So anyway we left Cumbernauld at 5pm on the 7th with a leisurely 3 1/2 hour drive in front of us. This is where it all started to go downhill (no pun intended...). A84 at Lochearnhead was closed due to a crash. We didn't know until we'd got stuck in the queue of traffic cause we were listening to the Ipod instead of the radio. Had to divert via Crieff, Perth, up the A9 to Dalwhinnie, across to Spean Bridge where we joined our original route and arrived at the campsite at 11.30pm! The plan was to get up at 4am in the morning to start the walk and I've never been so glad that my new pop up tent did exactly that, was set up in a matter of minutes (the midges were less than friendly that night and when my mate came out with a full head net on I did consider mugging him for it....) and slept 5 comfortably despite only being a 4 man tent as we didn't fancy assembling the other.

We got up at 5am on Saturday 8th June and by the time we'd got organised, fed and dropped the cars off at either end it was 7am. Only prob was the weather was not very glorious. Overcast, low cloud but very humid.

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The view at 7am west along the Glen

I had a feeling it would clear, I even hoped it might be cloud inversion so we parked one car at the Cluanie Inn, came back and parked the other in the layby just past Achnangart Farm set off up the excellent path up towards Bealach na Craoibhe.

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The path up to the Bealach

Wasn't much to see at this point but as we appraoched the Bealach I could see blue coming through the cloud. The timing couldn't be better, as we stepped onto the Bealach we came above the clouds into the most beautiful cloud inversion. I'd experienced this once before but none of the rest of the group had so we had a good pause for photos here. The Saddle and the Forcan Ridge loomed over to our left, with the other summits poking through the cloud all around us.

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Photo time with the Saddle and Forcan Ridge

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Sunrise over cloud inversion

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Forcan Ridge from the Bealach

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Cloud starting to thin as we climbed

We turned left from the Bealach and followed the obvious path towards the base of the Forcan Ridge. The views just started getting better as the cloud thinned.

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Walking up from the Bealach towards the Forcan RIdge

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One of the few photo's of me from the day, the intrepid group leader and nominated photographer

At the base of the Forcan Ridge we had a choice. Turn left and follow the path along the stone wall to completely avoid the ridge or continue upwards to tackle it. I had a group of varying experience and none had attempted anything like this. I'd done my research and knew there was a get out path along the side of the ridge for any parts they didn't want to do and as the conditions were perfect we set off to tackle the Ridge.

We all watched each other and tackled one bit at a time as a team. It worked well as it meant we all got a rest between each bit. It took a long time, probably about 3 hours, and to be honest I wouldn't have done it much faster as it is dangerous, you could slip and have a nasty fall and you have to watch out for one another. At the end of the ridge everyone felt a huge sense of achievement having completed it with the only injury a cut knee (and a lost First Aid kit thanks to some butterfingers.......but I carried a spare :roll: ). The pictures below show us tackling some of the bits. The only section we skirted around was the very large, near vertical descent that everyone talks about. I'm by far the craziest of the group but even I had a look at it and thought without ropes and with us all carrying sizeable packs that was a accident waiting to happen so we took the steep path to the left and squeezed through some rocks to come back up on the other side of the descent. Looking up at it, it was by far the right decision to make.

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The weather was now becoming a factor. It was getting hotter and hotter. We were totally without shade and were starting to feel like a roast chicken does just before Sunday dinner. Even the deer had a cunning plan to keep cool and I have to say I considered learning from them, but we just had an impromptu snow ball fight instead......

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How to cool down Deer style....

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Why is it when there is snow the adults turn into big kids? He missed me by the way...

We made it off the ridge and to the summit where we had a well earned food break and took in the amazing scenery around us. This had taken us just over 4 hours to complete.

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The group at the summit of The Saddle

After a quick discussion over which of the many hills in front of us was Sgurr na Sgine we were off towards it. You follow the path down that you would've taken up if you'd decided not to do the Forcan Ridge and head for Bealach Coire Mhalagain. You walk along the base of the ridge and get a true sense of what you have just achieved. Plus we came across our First Aid kit that had tumbled off the ridge earlier on.....

The walk here is pretty easy but sore on the feet across the boulder fields. Sgurr na Sgine can be seen all the way and it's a relatively simple task of dropping to the Bealach then climbing straight back up to the Bealach between Faochag and Sgurr na Sgine. The ascent path does disappear through the boulder fields but there are some small cairns people have constructed to guide you. If all else fails just go straight up. Once on the Bealach turn right and head for the summit.

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Sgurr na Sgine from it's bealach with Faochag.

We made this in 2 hours. That included having a lunch break after the worst of the uphill section as we all needed to restock some energy. The view back to The Saddle and the Forcan Ridge was amazing and really put into perspective what we had achieved.

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The Saddle and Forcan Ridge from Sgurr na Sgine

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At the summit of Sgurr na Sgine

From here we could see the South Glen Shiel Ridge winding away from us and we still had to tackle the corbett of Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais to get there. We decided to skirt round the corbett on it's northern flank across a couple of boulder fields as no-one was that bothered with it and it was less effort to go around it than up and down.

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The South Glen Shiel Ridge with Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais in the right foreground. The boulder fields we used to traverse this hill are visible in the immediate foreground.

The walk off the southwestern side of Sgurr na Sgine was steep grassy slopes then we had to traverse fairly steep boulder fields westwards towards the next Bealach which really took it out of our feet. We were in the full glare of the sun now and as we reached Bealach an Toiteil we realised water supplies could become a problem. We'd all set off with 3 litres each, I had carried an extra 1.5l bottle as back up (which we were now having to use) and we'd even filled up at a stream between the two munros. We decided to continue in the hope of finding a drinkable stream and skirted round the corbett and up onto Bealach Duibh Leac without too much difficulty. We started up the path towards Creag nan Damh, the first of the 7 munros of the ridge as we were doing it backwards from the traditional route descriptions.

We were now 8 hours in and water was a real problem. We had 1.5l left between us (and most of that was from a stream we weren't too sure about...) We were also carrying a couple of injuries in the group (sore knee, ankle and some very tired and sore feet) and the prospect of going on for another 7 munros, with only the hope of getting some snow for water and the prospect of having to come off the ridge no where near either of the cars was enough for me to call it off. We started as a group and were finishing as a group so we turned around and tried to find the exit path north off of Bealach Duibh Leac back to the road.

Prob was we couldn't find it, although in hindsight perhaps my navigation was a bit off so we dropped off the Bealach, down the grassy slopes and made for where we could see the path in the glen. We followed this out to the Malagan Bridge collected one car from the layby just past Achnangart Farm and drove up to the Inn to collect the other.

We were disappointed not to have done the 9 but we all agreed it was the right decision to come off when we did as to continue we would've ended up in a lot of trouble. We all had an amazing day, got back to the camp site for a shower then walked round to the Kintail Lodge Hotel for a well deserved pub dinner and a few pints before most of us nearly fell asleep at the table so we headed back to the camp and I had the best sleep I've ever had in a tent.

Don't worry Glen Shiel, plans are already afoot to come back soon for your Southern ridge..........

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Last edited by J888ohn on Tue Jun 11, 2013 10:09 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A ridge too far.......

Postby Munro Madness » Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:20 pm

Great report and pictures. The hills will be there for another day and wise decision to decend given situation. :)
I did the 3 Brothers on north glen shiel in April in snow and thought that was scary so goodness knows what I'd think of the Saddle! One to leave for a bit yet although I hope to do South Shiel 7 later this year.
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Re: A ridge too far.......

Postby BlackPanther » Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:28 pm

Hi, we were on Forcan Ridge on Saturday as well, started a bit later (about 9pm), took about 7.5 hours to bag the two Munros :D We somehow managed to scramble down the "bad step" on FR, even though it was awkward and practically vertical. It actually looks worse than it is, especially when looking down from the top of the drop.
One of the best routes in Scotland, I must say :D :D
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Re: A ridge too far.......

Postby J888ohn » Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:30 pm

Thanks Munro Madness. Two of our group had only done 5 munros each, had never tackled a scramble and managed fine with a bit of guidance and encouragement from the others. I'd never have done it in wet or damp conditions, far too easy to slide off the rock in my opinion.

We would've been a lot quicker Black Panther if we hadn't tried to do the 9. I probably saw you on the ridge or possibly you overtook us on Sgurr.
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