West Etive round on a spectacular day: h-Ulaidh to Sgulaird
by Alteknacker » Thu Mar 17, 2016 11:23 pm
Munros included on this walk: Beinn Fhionnlaidh, Beinn Sgulaird, Sgor na h-Ulaidh
Corbetts included on this walk: Beinn Maol Chaluim
Date walked: 15/03/2016
Time taken: 14 hours
Distance: 32.3 km
Ascent: 3141m12 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).
Although the CEO doesn't share my love of hills (particularly not climbing them!), she's very good in indulging this foible, even to the extent of pointing out when the weather runes are auspicious. And she has a first rate track record in doing so.
So when she said to me on Saturday that I should get up to the Highlands to take full advantage of a high that was developing over Scotland, she immediately had my full attention. Consulting all the weather sites, it appeared that the best day was likely to be Tuesday, so after some frantic last-minute rearrangement of work commitments, I determined that this would be the day I'd go for.
The initial plan was to do Ben Challum, and some of the other hills around and about; but then I noticed on MWIS that there was a risk of cloud in Loch Lomond NP, and there's no way I'm up for an 800 mile round trip for a clag fest. Moreover, it seemed like the further West one was, the greater the likelihood of cloud-free summits. Thus after examining several other alternatives, I opted for a round that includes the 3 Munros on the North-West side of Glen Etive. Anyway this place has a huge attraction for me since I had an absolutely perfect day the previous June walking the ridge on the South East side of the glen that ends in Ben Starav.
I hate road walking, so I planned to adopt my usual procedure of cycling the small section of road so as to complete the round - only 6 km, but better than walking .
Leaving at the back end of Monday afternoon, I arrived in Glen Etive quite late. Starav looked magnificent in the moonlight as I pitched the tent.
20160315_053618. Not the wildest of wild camps at Gualachulain, but good enough for the present purposes - flat, near to the car, quick....
To my great surprise I am woken 3 or 4 times during the night by the rumble of what sounds like a Landrover passing on the road in the direction of the end of the road - puzzling because the end of the road is only a few hundred metres away; and then an hour or so later returning. After much head scratching I concluded it could only be the feared Loch Etive trout smuggling gang at their nefarious work...
I set the alarm for 5 with the idea of being at the walk start by 6; but a lot of faff - dressing, packing, and striking tent, etc. - means that I don't actually get going 'til 6.
20160315_062447. Light comes very quickly; and Starav is looking magnificent, as usual....
Arrived at the walk start, I stash the bike behind some rhodedendrons, and set off up the hill. I haven't decided whether to go straight for h-Ulaidh, or to make an attractive looking detour via the Beinn Maol Chaluim ridge, mainly because I've no idea what snow conditions are like, and I'm a bit nervous about avalanche risk on the steep slopes descending from Chaluim. I decide to make the final decision when I've ascended a few hundred metres. In the event, the decision makes itself: there's far less snow than a couple of weeks previous, and Chaluim is too attractive a prospect - at least judging from the map - to miss.
20160315_071122. The views as I ascent are increasingly spectacular: to the South-East, Starav is just catching the first rays of dawn sunshine; and to the North, Buachailles Etive Mor and Beag.
20160315_064937. End view of the 2 Buachailles. I still have a vivid memory of how long it took me a couple of years ago to sweat my way up the slope to the Little Buachaille ridge: from here it looks like no height at all....
20160315_071153. Starav (left), and Sgulaird - my final destination (right). What a morning!
20160315_071935, Looking ahead to the South end of the Chaluim ridge from early on in the ascent. Straightforward going.
20160315_072242. Sgulaird (centre pic) looks quite a long way. But what a perfect environment and day to walk a long way!
20160315_071938. Stob an Fhuarain (on the way to Sgor na h-Ulaidh, centre pic) caught in the morning sun. Taken on the ascent to the Chaluim ridge. That's a pretty spectacular and inviting ridge!
20160315_081923. Looking South, Ben Lui in the far background, centre.
20160315_082135. Looking along the Chaluim ridge towards the summit, Fhuarain on the left.
20160315_081936. [Zoomed pic] Cloud building around Ben Lui, and the Crianlarich area (to the left of the pic).
20160315_082002. Bens Starav (foreground left) and Cruachan (background right), from the start of the Chaluim ridge.
20160315_082254. Bidean nam Bian, from the Chaluim Ridge. One route I'd entertained was to cycle from Glen Etive to Glen Coe, and combine Bidean with the other 3; but the ride would be about 2.5 hours, and again, I was worried about avalanche risk (yes, cowardy custard... )
20160315_085129. Looking back along the Chaluim ridge close to the summit. Note again the strange cloud formations building in the glens around Lomond .
20160315_084752. Breathtaking panorama looking South. Ben Cruachan reflected in Loch Etive. To be savoured, accompanied by a breakfast croissant. Trusty Eurohike sac (Take 1) and cairn on the summit of Beinn Maol Chaluim.
20160315_084316. From the summit of Chaluim, looking West towards the Stob an Fhurain/h-Ulaidh ridge (right), and Beinn Fhionnlaidh (centre left). This is not a continuous ridge walk, but there is plenty of ridge to enjoy.
20160315_092223. It's a long drop from Chaluim down to Bealach Fhionnghaill, and something over 400m climb back up to Fhuarain/h-Ulaidh.
It's worth saying something about the route down from here. It's not one I would want to do in clag, because there are some significant cliffs on a direct line to the bealach (see the next couple of pics). What you need to do to get down safely is first to descend South West for about 300m, then turn due South and continue until you hit the watercourse, and follow it down.
20160315_093312. Bypassing the cliffs on the West side of Chaluim on the descent to the Bealach. Not something you would want to stumble up against in clag .
20160315_100501. Looking back at the West face of Chaluim from about a third of the way up to Stob an Fhuarain. As already noted: definitely not a place one would want to stray in clag; and over to the right hand side, you can see the line down, including the watercourse that you need to hit.
20160315_095527. On the way up to Stob an Fhuarain - rough but not difficult walking.
20160315_095721. A little scrambling en route to Stob an Fhuarain.
20160315_100927. And looking up towards Fhuarain from a little further up. There's quite a bit of the white stuff, which is rather slushy at times, with a harder crust, so you think it's firm, only for it to break through when you put your full weight on it. Surprisingly hard work when one is not fully hill-fit!
20160315_101850. Looking back towards Bidean nam Bian, and Bealach Fhaolain, from close to the summit of Stob an Fhuarain.
20160315_101900. Looking back towards Glen Etive. The cloud now seems to be strongly developed in the Crianlarich area in the background, the Beinn Maol Chaluim ridge in the foreground left.. Long live MWIS for that piece of information about low cloud in the Lomond area
20160315_102420. Looking towards Sgurr na h-Ulaidh. It's at about this point that I don my crampons.
20160315_104122. Looking back at Bidean nam Bian - complete with strange static mini-cloud that hung there for at least an hour...
20160315_104128. Ben Nevis from the same point. I can't stop snapping...
20160315_104330. On the summit of Stob an Fhuarain looking towards Sgor na h-Ulaidh. End destination Beinn Sgurlaird in the background.
20160315_105654. The ascent to h-Ulaidh. Some steepish snow there ...
I'm a bit reluctant to faff about getting out the crampons again (bit of a pattern all day actually: on/off/on/off...), but the face up to the summit is too steep; and after 30 or so metres of trying to thread a route via rocks, I give up and don the spikes. Good move! The snow is still rather unpredictable - on occasion I'm up to my thighs in it, other times I'd be in danger of skittering over an icy crust without spikes; but at least I'm confident that I'm not going to slide off into oblivion!
20160315_112010. Eurohike (Take 2). Looking from the summit of h-Ulaidh, Ben Nevis to the left, Stob an Fhuarain to the right with Bidean nam Bian behind it.
20160315_112111. After ruminating over a croissant as I seek to imbibe the splendour of the views (not really possible), I head off down the slope towards Bealach Caol Creran; an easy and quick - but sadly long - 550 metres - drop. But by way of compensation, the Fhionnlaidh ridge looks just wonderful. If you look really carefully, you can see the Paps of Jura peeping above Fhionnlaidh about a third of the way in from the right - very clear on the day, less so on the pics (our eyes are amazing devices!).
20160315_113855. The view is stunning in every direction (as indeed it was all day). To the North, Glencoe, with Aonach Eagach to the right, and Ben Nevis centre pic....
20160315_114009. ... and to the South, Beinn Fhionnlaidh, and behind it, the Cruachan Group. Starav on the left....
20160315_114704. ...and to the South East.... ??? (not sure what the slightly higher peak just left of centre is - Stob Ghabhar?).
20160315_120800. The shoulder up to Fhionnlaidh is a fairly challenging scramble - challenging because it's wet and slippery, and, in the shade, the wind is icy. Here I find that the ice axe is a real help in getting good holds in the soggy sod. I'm so impressed that I keep the axe to hand for the rest of the walk ( "mixed climbing"...???)
20160315_121912. Looking back toward Fhionnlaidh from the very early part of the scramble. Yes, that's a goodly drop!!
It's so cold that I have to dress up again (this is another feature of the day: either baking hot in the sun; or freezing cold in shade when the wind's up); and the route up the shoulder takes a quite a time (that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it!).
20160315_130029. After the scramble up the nose, quite steep snow slopes in places. And again, quite hard work, with the crust frequently breaking through. Crampons definitely necessary here.
20160315_133249. With the steep icy bit behind me, it's then just an easy ridge walk along to the summit.
20160315_141952. View looking towards the top of Glen Etive, from the summit of Fhionnlaidh. Thanks to the nice couple who took the pic for me (plus Eurohike sac, Take 3) - apparently regular WH readers, and they promised to do a first report... .
20160315_143544. Looking back along the Fhionnlaidh ridge towards to head of Glen Etive.
20160315_145535. The descent from Fhionnlaidh is easy and quick. After a short while, Beinn Sgulaird comes into view - separated from me by a lot terrain of a telmatological nature....
Just over an hour or so of fastish walking gets me to the start of the ascent to Sgulaird.
20160315_160527. Also some beautiful little gems on a micro scale on the way. This the upper reaches of Allt Bealach na h'Innsig.
20160315_161244. Looking back at the Beinn Fhionnlaidh ridge, from the start of the ascent to Sgulaird. It looks quite close, but in fact it's some 4 km distant. Airigh nan Lochan in the foreground right. If you were negotiating this stretch in clag, you'd want to be pretty precise with your compass bearings - there's a fair bit of up and down...
The early part of the ascent to Sgulaird is a real pain: you climb a small hill, only to find that there's a deep valley between you and the next part of the ascent. This continues until well over half way up .
20160315_171806. After Stob Gaibhre, a long haul up the Sgulaird summit ridge. No snow, but some low grade scrambling....
20160315_174916. View slightly East of North showing the lumpy topography on the approach to Beinn Fhionnlaidh, highlighted in the evening sun. Unmistakable Ben Nevis in the background, more or less in the centre of the picture.
20160315_175820. Looking back at Fhionnlaidh from the upper shoulder of Beinn Sgulaird. Ben Nevis on the horizon to the extreme left.
20160315_175741. I'm moving more slowly now than at 7.30 this morning - it's been a long day! But the sight of Sgulaird (to the right) injects a bit of energy into my aging limbs, and I reach the summit just after 6 pm.
20160315_181520. Eurohike sac (last take!), snuggling up to the Sgulaird summit cairn. Cruachan in the background. It's quite late now - I will definitely be returning in the dark!
20160315_181819. Sunset over Loch Creran from the summit of Sgulaird: a really spectacular end to a really spectacular day.
20160315_174354. The way back from Sgulaird (towards the forestry on the extreme left) - quite a trudge! Starav and the East Etive ridge in the background.
I enjoy an exhilarating glissade for several hundred metres down most of the South ridge , for which a wet bum and snow up my lower back underneath my jacket is but a small price to pay!
After this it was really too dark to take any more pics, and anyway the 7 km yomp back was over pretty samey bogland. Fortunately the half moon was pretty bright, so I only had to use a torch in the very latter stages to avoid excessively deep bogs. I was back at the car a little after 8 pm, and, after changing and collecting my bike, on the road home at about 9.30 pm.
Unfortunately most of the M74/M6 seemed to have roadworks, including a complete diversion between 2 junctions . But after an otherwise incident-free journey back, listening to a recording of Mallory's Everest diaries, I was able to unlock my front door at 04.30 am, still pumped up after another sensational day in the Highlands. Truly we are the fortunate ones .
by rockhopper » Thu Mar 17, 2016 11:40 pm
by litljortindan » Thu Mar 17, 2016 11:56 pm
by Jaxter » Fri Mar 18, 2016 8:07 am
Not a bad effort for someone 'not hill fit'
by jupe1407 » Fri Mar 18, 2016 9:10 am
That's an epic, especially at this time of year. Great stuff, and some absolutely beautiful photos
by Petr Dakota » Fri Mar 18, 2016 4:31 pm
Grassy tops and all around Sgor na h-Ulaidh 15.3. lack of snow...it was all white and icy just 5 days before - 10.3. on my quck-short trip there... but not surprise that the snow melted so quickly now as the sunny days was working for it
Well done your route Great views and superb shots
by katyhills » Fri Mar 18, 2016 5:06 pm
What a day you had, weather wise. I know what you mean about changing conditions - makes it harder when you're constantly having to take stuff off and put it on.
I don't think I could have tackled that even in summer conditions, or maybe I'm just getting old
by gman » Fri Mar 18, 2016 7:42 pm
by Alteknacker » Sat Mar 19, 2016 10:54 am
litljortindan wrote:3000m! Excellent views with sun catching the snow in the morning and a great sunset over Loch Creran.
Thanks litljortindan. The views were just a "Wow!" all day. And I've corrected the name of the Loch now .
Jaxter wrote:This is awesome!! Definitely going to consider tackling this lot with your route.
Not a bad effort for someone 'not hill fit'
Yes, awesome it surely is in fine weather. I'm very lucky to be able to take leave at very short notice.
As regards being "hill-fit", I'll certainly need to be fitter for the Mullardoch Round, planned for the early May Bank Holiday....
katyhills wrote:... a terrific set of photos....
jupe1407 wrote:... and some absolutely beautiful photos
Next to nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the conditions. I had a silly grin on my face for much of the walk...
by dooterbang » Sat Mar 19, 2016 1:09 pm
I felt your pain describing the ascent up to Sgulaird! I remember it well, almost drained the life from me
And the walk out over the bog is horrid...but as you say, at that point in the day you don't care.
Brilliant big route.
by smike » Sat Mar 19, 2016 2:28 pm
by Alteknacker » Mon Mar 21, 2016 8:40 pm
dooterbang wrote:.... Like Rockhopper I never thought of adding the Corbett, I did have my bike ready though
A bike is a fine thing if there's a bit of unlovely road between you and completing the round
BTW forget my question on your Crianlarich Couple report - I can now see your pics (though sadly, still not those in Basscadet's and Jaxter's reports)...
by id FOR » Tue Mar 22, 2016 12:16 pm
- id FOR
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by Fife Flyer » Tue Mar 22, 2016 8:22 pm
Over 3000m of ascent sounds like utter torture and 32km is a real biggie
PS: Notice you had a wee problem with your photo uploading (using Flickr), you comments were blue & underlined, I had that problem a few months ago
by Alteknacker » Thu Mar 24, 2016 11:48 pm
Fife Flyer wrote:PS: Notice you had a wee problem with your photo uploading (using Flickr), you comments were blue & underlined, I had that problem a few months ago
Do you happen to know how to get rid of the underlining ?? ??