Glen Sheil 16km 1400m 6.30h 13/08/94
One should always have ambitions, a dream that you want to fulfill. In my time I`ve had a few, some worked out, some didn`t. One cold day at Arrochar I pointed out the Cobbler to my kids and told them someday I would climb it and someday I did. I saw the Buachaille and realized the same dream. Likewise came Liathach, the Horns of Alligin and the Inpin.
Four years ago I purchased a book “ the High Mountains” by Irvine Butterfield. Inside were 20mile hikes, which at the time I thought a wee bit over the top. The pictures were good, but I really bought the book for its cover which shows someone on The Saddle`s Forcan ridge. That person climbing it would someday be me and so it was. The Saddle is an unusual name for a Scottish peak and refers to its shape when seen from Glen Sheil, but once climbed it you`ll understand why it`s so called. The Saddle lies at the foot of the glen, being the middle section of a large horseshoe ridge which runs from and returns to Sheil bridge. Down where the glen widens,after a bridge, a lay-by on the A87 gives good parking.
We leave home at 5am. I drop Darren Andy and Colin at Cluanie Lodge - they are doing the South Ridge - drive down the glen to the lay-by and park. Gear up, cross bogland, after 150m a very good stalkers path takes you N round the E face of Meallan Odhar to a col @470m in about an hour. From here you double back S then W for the base of the Forcan Ridge. The scrambling here can be as easy or hard as you want, but my route will take you over the crest of the ridge. Don`t worry about exposure, of which there is plenty, your concentration on where to place your feet on the angled ridge will be too fierce to worry about anything else. As you climb the ridge begins to narrow past a small top. Take care over a knife edge arete, the massive drops on either side should give you a buzz. A boulder in front can be taken direct or bypassed on r/h slabs to regain the ridge. Just past here a superb rocky arm leans out over the abyss. Cross over then an easier ascent to the small cairn of Sgurr na Forcan@960m. From here views over the N ridge five sisters, Beinn Fhada and the short end South Ridge could bring you back again to this place. The narrow ridge continues across a gap where a sharp descent is taken on good hand holds. The rock is excellent, even when wet, but take care if choosing the grassy route for your boots will lose traction back on rock. If unsure at this point, a cleft on the R will give an easier line to the gap. The going now easy, follow the direct line up a rocky crag to reach the E top@958m. Another step further meets the Saddle @1010m. The round trig point is about 100m further on and the highest point between these two points @ gr936131. A short ridge runs off N to Sgurr na Creige and the Lochan below the trig is the highest water on the western coast, only the Cairngorms being higher. I didn`t stop here, for the way winds west after a line of iron posts to the W top@ 974m. There`s a rocky step from where you can lean out (so it seems) over Loch`a Coire Uaine. Consider here that the posts you see were once stone walls that ran the whole length of the Cluanie ridge. A master piece of human endeavor, erected by jealous landowners to mark the limits of their tenures. As the walls were in constant need of repair, iron fencing was its replacement, yet in bits the walls remain, appearing to go strait up the mountain side. There`s a further top beyond Spidean Dhomhuill Bhric@ 939m, but this is best left for a complete ridge walk of around 9km.Views over Knoydart and Sgritheall are superb as is a distant Skye. Return to the West Top and angle SE down steep grass to the lochan@720m. Here you can either return down Coire Mhalagain and rejoin the stalkers path below, or climb Sgurr na Sgine. Pause on the S side of the lochan and you will see why the saddle is so named The sheer walls and steep slabs you climbed are very evident as are the small stark silhouettes of any climbers. You can also hear anyone talking on the ridge as the acoustics are very good. The climb onto Faochag looks daunting but nothing compared to what I`ve just done. 20minutes and 150m gains a broad ridge. 1/2hr more plus another 100m nets the NW top@945 and after a few ups an downs Sgurr na Sgine @946m. The SE side of the cairn falls away sharply so should not be considered for descent, however the NE with snow could be a goer. I could drop down the Southern arm to the 630metre mark for a Corbett@885 and meet the others, a temptation, but I don`t know how fast they will be. So settle on a return to the NW top on Faochag for a quick steep drop into the glen below. A safer option would have been a grassy rake at midpoint between the two tops into Coire Toteil, and pick up the stalkers path back to the bridge.
I meet the others coming down the same path - glad I ruled the Corbett out - looks like we all had a good day.
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