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Sgurr na Sgine: There is no metaphor
by Emmanuelle » Sun Nov 23, 2014 2:02 pm
Munros included on this walk: Sgurr na Sgine
Date walked: 15/11/2014
Time taken: 6 hours
Distance: 9 km
Ascent: 1000m4 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
The decision to go on this particular day was a change of heart. I had been watching the forecast for a few days and had decided to drive up on Saturday, walk on Sunday at first light, to get the most of the daylight, and then drive back on Sunday. By Friday, the Met Office forecast for Beinn Fhada was for sunshine on Saturday, and a grey day with more wind and thus more windchill on Sunday. Beinn Fhada is close enough to Sgurr na Sgine. Saturday would be the day and as it was too late on Friday to drive up (I was booked to go and watch Scotland beat Ireland at my local and it would have been rude to pull out), I elected to have a very early start.
I left Falkirk at 5.15 and pulled up at the layby by the plantation at 8.10 exactly! The temperatures ranged from -0.5 in Invergarry still shrouded in fog to 8.0 in Fort William. When I drove through the Rannoch Moor and Glencoe in the darkness, I could only just discern the mist clearing the blue black inky summits and the weather omens were good.
At such an early time of day, in November, Glen Shiel feels almost threatening, the slopes of the north and south ridges plunge steeply to the road and the River Shiel draining the warmth and luminescence from the light. That morning, a stiff breeze was rushing down the glen. There is always a moment’s hesitation to venture out of the warm car as the engine is switched off, to don all the gear and there’s also a short dialogue about how much layers to put on. I looked up and the sky was pale, cloud free. I decided to leave my gore-tex shell in the bag but a hat and gloves complemented my softshell jacket.
My destination, Sgurr na Sgine, was my last Munro in Glen Shiel and Kintail. During the many times I have driven down Glen Shiel, I have been unsure of its location, although I have been up the Forcan ridge – 12 years ago. There is a widening in the valley floor into which three hills and two burns converge and the effect is of a dark and complex crowding. I had planned to walk up the path to Faochag and then on to Sgurr na Sgine and return by the route that Annie had described the week before. But things turned out differently.
I used my compass to identify which of these three hills I was to climb and then set it due south. This means that rather than walk down the 20 m to the waymark and through the gate, I headed instead straight across the boggy ground to have my progress arrested by deer fencing. I considered my options. One was to retrace my steps back to the layby and start again. Another was to climb over the fence. That’s what I did (this seems to be a feature of my decision-making when on the hills… take the most zany option… ah well). I followed the fence due south and realised then that I would be on the wrong side of the Allt. I saw that there was probably a footbridge on the other side of the deer fence (it was a different enclosure!), so I climbed over at a tall wooden gate and headed for the bridge. I followed a path which took me round the south side of Faochag, rather than up its north east ridge. More deer fencing stopped me from striking up so I continued along the allt, following the drover’s path. The fence stopped roughly where the Allt Coire Toitell meets the Am Fas allt and Allt Mhalagain and so I set my compass straight for Faochag. The slope was fairly steep and grassy and I followed deer tracks. A deer came into my line of vision as I was half way up to the last bealach before the last stretch up to Faochag, but bounded away never to be seen again. As I climbed further up the sun suddenly peaked over Bealach Duibh Leac, dazzling me and draining the sky of its early morning pallor.
2014-11-15 10.16.42 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
2014-11-15 10.16.50 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
Beautiful browns emerged from the ground. I had gained enough height to reach the bottom of an old boulder chute, and I decided that instead of heading for the flatter slope that I could see just above me I would continue climbing up the small gullies which reach up to just below the summit of Faochag as I fancied a little bit of scrambling. Soon, I was scrambling up steep grass and granite outcrops, although each potential hand and foothold had to be checked for looseness. I soon heaved myself over a small rocky outcrop to reach the path proper. Being north east facing and in shade, the path was really slippery, covered in overnight frost, my first intimations of winter. It disappears into a bouldery mess to reappear further up. I soon reached the summit cairn adorned with a tumbled down iron fencepost.
2014-11-15 10.16.34 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
At 909m and standing proud, Faochag gives magnificent views of the Forcan ridge and further along the Saddle. Views over Ladhar Bheinn also revealed themselves and it takes some restraint not to take photos at every step to record every aspect of the surrounding area as it unfurled in front of me. It would be a great waste of a walk, as what lies ahead, to the base of the West top of Sgurr na Sgine, is a km of ridge heading west and then veering south/south east. Absolutely fantastic. The way was marked by what remained of the fence posts, vestiges of the pointless and no doubt arduous labour to which landowners put their tenants to turn the land into their private properties. Similarly, I could see a drystane wall reaching it up to the Forcan ridge and shook my head at the futility of the endeavour. Anyway. I’m sure that in a white-out the posts would serve some waymarking purpose and that might be the only way that the work of the guys who were made to erect them could be given some usefulness and meaning.
2014-11-15 10.41.41 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
2014-11-15 10.53.19 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
2014-11-15 10.53.55 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
On the way to the Munro I walked past small areas of water covered in a thin film of ice, the grasses and mosses underneath forming a green network of tendrils radiating out. I could see the hanging lochans on the north side of the ridge, dark blue in the sunshine.
2014-11-15 11.12.00 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
2014-11-15 11.12.47 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
2014-11-15 11.13.00 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
2014-11-15 11.17.32 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
2014-11-15 11.32.37 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
As I reached to the base of the West top, I moved into the shade. The walk up was swift and pleasant, enlivened by a clamber or two over large rocks. There is a small cairn marking the top and then surprisingly, the summit plateau consists of a series of small boulder and slab-strewn shallow ditches, over and down which the path wends a way. The cairn itself stands on a flat piece of ground just on the edge of the plateau, with a stone shelter beside it. I put my bag down and scanned round, picking out landmarks punctuating the 360 degree panorama. I could see as far as the western isles, very faintly, but Rum, Eigg, Canna, the Cuillin and Blaven, Beinn Sgritheall, the Saddle, Torridon and the Fannaichs, Beinn Fhada, Sgurr nan Ceathrabhnan, the Glen Shiel ridges and beyond some of the Loch Cluanie hills, Ben Nevis of course, Ladhar Bheinn and the Knoydart peninsula, and perhaps the Glen Dessary hills, were all there for the taking. Magic. Just then, a man and his dog appeared, just up from the Saddle! We exchanged stories and driving adventures and we discussed options for the descent.
Sgurr na Sgine 15/11/14 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
2014-11-15 11.36.13 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
2014-11-15 11.36.48 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
2014-11-15 11.46.18 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
Forcan Ridge and the saddle by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
Looking south/SW by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
Looking North/NE by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
Looking East/SE by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
In the changing light, the whole of the Cuillin horseshoe can be seen by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
I had been on the summit for over an hour when with regret I set off back down. I felt bittersweet – this was my last hill of the area. I’ve been coming to Glen Shiel and Kintail for several years to ‘tick off’ the Munros and whilst it is satisfying to know that you are closer to the goal of completion and that ‘finishing’ an area is part of the process I have grown very fond of Glen Shiel. The emotional attachment that one can develop with an area was reinforced when two days later I read that until the early 19th C there was in the widening of the valley floor, perhaps near the Achnagart Farm, a small settlement of crofters. The trippling of rents and perhaps forced eviction resulted in the abandonment of the small village by its inhabitants. Apparently only a few stones remained of the settlement as recently as the mid-1990s and some day I must make it my business to see if I can find any more traces of this village.
I ambled along the ridge, savouring the airiness, the views, the warmth of the November sun, and stretching time. From Faochag I decided to use the path all the way to Glen Shiel. I wanted to stay high for as long as possible. It didn’t take long to get down and rather than that look for the footbridge, I just waded across the allt, striding across the bog to the gate and back to my car, which I reached exactly 6 hours after I’d left it!
2014-11-15 13.01.17 by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
The Brothers by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
Five Sisters by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
The sun just makes it over SNS in early afternoon (1.20pm) by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
South Shiel ridge by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
Meallan Odhar by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
N/E buttress of the Forcan ridge by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
Superb ridge walking by emmanuelletulle, on Flickr
The return drive was done in spectacular conditions. Sunny, clear skies, fast driving, until Spean Bridge. Wisps of clouds were still hanging off the hills on the west side of Loch Lochy and a great big fat sun hung very low all the way to Fort William, dazzling me. It was beautifully reflected in Loch Linnhe and then seemed to disappear for good. However, as I was driving up towards Glencoe, its last rays bathed the Aoneach Eagach in warm light. I emerged onto Rannoch Moor and raced across it in the dimming light to the sound of Stevie Ray Vaughan. There is indeed no metaphor: it was indeed just that: a most excellent day.
by dogplodder » Sun Nov 23, 2014 3:43 pm
by Collaciotach » Sun Nov 23, 2014 7:20 pm
I think we had perfect weather eh .
by AnnieMacD » Sun Nov 23, 2014 7:40 pm
Remember you can always come back to Glen Shiel any time!
by Huff_n_Puff » Sun Nov 23, 2014 8:00 pm
by Emmanuelle » Sun Nov 23, 2014 10:02 pm
Collaciotach wrote:Bha e mise air a mhullach ..... it was me u met and a pleasure to meet your acquaintance .
I think we had perfect weather eh .
yeah, it was pretty perfect. I think we also passed and followed each other on the drive back. I lost the will to live from the Fort to Onich!
by Emmanuelle » Sun Nov 23, 2014 10:04 pm
AnnieMacD wrote:Really enjoyed that, Emmanuelle, I walked it with you! I think you ascended pretty much my descent route. I came down just to the left of the crags in your photo 10.16.34. There's a wee gully there. You just set off up the Faochaig earlier. I'm definitely going back on a clear day next year - your views are superb. I really missed not seeing Knoydart, Skye etc.
Remember you can always come back to Glen Shiel any time!
I had you pretty much in mind when I was going up as I reckoned you had been round about where I ascended! So going back down via the 'normal' route seemed like a nice way to create a wee circuit (and staying up to get the most of the sunshine!).
by Anne C » Sun Nov 23, 2014 11:53 pm
by Emmanuelle » Mon Nov 24, 2014 10:49 am
Anne C wrote:Great title and report Emmanuelle. Lovely panoramas (is that a programme on your camera or do you join them up on the computer using software?) .A great shot of the Cuillin horseshoe too.What an area.
Yes, I have a setting for panoramas on my camera. It's quite nice for precisely those kinds of days but the drawback is that you can't make any adjustments - you can't focus in for instance (unless there's a setting elsewhere that I haven't thought about).
by Anne C » Tue Nov 25, 2014 5:39 pm
by scottishkennyg » Wed Nov 26, 2014 7:43 pm
by Fife Flyer » Wed Nov 26, 2014 8:37 pm
Will definitely be going back to Glen Shiel next year, hopefully on a decent day, both recent visits have been a bit hit & miss, weather wise (as you well know) Like you I also enjoy the drive, some fantastic roads