The Saddle was one of the many routes that I'd planned and researched for this year's trip. I had a variety of reasons, not least that I've walked several of the other big Kintail ridges. But the big temptation - and concern - was to build up scrambling practice on the Forcan Ridge.
After a long dry spell, the weather had begun to turn soon after my reaching Scotland; there were thunderstorms and torrential rain when I walked out from Glen Tilt on the preceeding day, then during the drive west. But the forecast and early morning were both promising at Shiel Bridge, so I took a short drive and had my choice of parking spaces near Malagan Bridge on the A87.
I was booted and on my way before 9am, following the road verge for 5 minutes then turning left through a gate to start ascending.
Among my preparations, the only things missing were some sunglasses, but I had a cap to provide some shade. This was a necessity, but climbing the good path towards Biod an Fhithich felt hot worn on a warm sunny morning. I took several breaks and was grateful for finding a tiny burn to cool off and keep hydrated.
The warm conditions meant that I took about 1 hour 20 to reach the bealach, but the weather was beginning to turn. White cotton-wool clouds were getting thicker and darker, especially over Sgurr na Forcan ahead and the Five Sisters behind me.
I diverted slightly onto the knobbly Meallan Odhar, hoping for a viewpoint and that the skies might clear again before I reached the ridge itself.
Instead, the weather continued to get worse. Sunshine turned to grey and a cooler breeze accompanied the beginning of rain. I continued a little way uphill to the start of the Forcan Ridge, reluctant to accept the situation.
There was no way that I felt safe doing a long exposed scramble in the rain, on wet rock, so plans needed to change. I followed the bypass route alongside a stone wall, taking many glances to my right through the rain and misty cloud.
Rain continued as I turned right to head northwest from Bealach Coire Mhalagain. There's another wall further up (with more path, as I was to discover), but I headed further to the left instead.
I found my way across steep wet ground, with some evidence of a path, then up onto the less-trodden south shoulder of the Saddle. An upward traverse northwest brought me to a sort of bealach with the west ridge. I'd intended on visiting this (there are two Munro Tops further along, plus it looked/sounded interesting), so would save the main Munro and Sgurr na Forcan for later.
The higher parts of the West Ridge are quite rugged and narrow, providing some semi-scrambling, with steep slopes to the south and craggy drops to the north. They were atmospheric in the cloud (which remained close, though the rain did ease off). I stopped for lunch at the middle top, discovering that something else must have had the same idea.
The lower top, furthest west, brought me beneath the cloud ceiling. It's a gentle, rounded summit compared to the drama elsewhere on the ridge, but must be a great viewpoint in clearer conditions. Taking my time along the ridge was bringing better weather and reviving my hopes of seeing the summit.
This Ptarmigan also had a leisurely mood, standing only a few paces from the path when I headed west along the ridge, then even closer for my return. He proved happy to pose for a few photos, or confident about his camouflage.
The clouds continued to lift and a breeze dried the rock as I returned westwards. The rugged ground, rise and fall meant that this took over an hour in each direction, but there can't be many better ways to spend an afternoon on the hills.
The ground (and weather) was dry and looked promising as I reached the trig point, with the jagged east top waiting beyond.
This also gave a good prospect of the rest of my intended route.
I took the path along the ridge, aware that time was flying by and wanting to concentrate on Sgurr na Forcan. After a lot of research (including WH walkreports and elsewhere), I felt ready to try the scrambling approach. That was confirmed by seeing the lower ends of the two bypass paths. That on the south side looked steep but possible; the northern option appeared almost vertical, but with dirt and scree rather than the solid stone and plentiful grips available for the scramble.
Taken as an ascent, in good dry conditions, I got on fine with the main scramble. It is steep, but leans back enough that you can pause freely without having to cling on. I took the left-hand line (when viewed from the west), then a short distance over easy terrain to the top of Sgurr na Forcan.
A look down at the bypass paths confirmed the southern option as more appealing. But I opted to return down the scramble, giving me a chance to take a clearer photo of the route as the weather continued brightening.
From here, I picked gingerly down to the base of the southern bypass path and then continued down over steep ground towards the stone wall. This felt, if anything, worse than the scramble; I far prefer stepping into solid rock than loose stone that's likely to give way beneath your feet. Steep grass, or heather, feels better to me. At least it has roots and "wants" to cling onto the hill beneath you.
An easier descent brought me to Bealach Coire Mhalagain, passing among the tiny lochans before an ascent southwards over moderately steep stony ground. This eases off and I rejoined something of a path towards the twin-topped Sgurr na Sgine. This is rugged, but not technical (at least from this direction), just as well after the amount of time I'd spent along the Saddle.
Clouds continued passing by, sometimes casting their shade, but the walking remained dry, clear and enjoyable. I finished the day along the fine ridge of Faochag, having admired it many times from the road and surrounding hills. This does involve a steep descent, though a zig-zag path made that less of a battering than I might have expected.
The fine early-evening gave plenty of excuses to take in the views during my descent. There were some midges further down, but not enough to discourage me from a quick cooling splash when I passed one burn. An easy crossing of the Allt Mhalagain was helped by plenty of stones and low water levels. Then it's a short stretch over low ground to a gate through the fence and back to the layby. There was one other car upon my return, though I'd not met anyone out during my route.
I finished my evening by replenishing some calories at the Kintail Lodge Hotel, then the day was completed by a beautiful sunset along Loch Duich.
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