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Sgurr na Ciche from Inverie

Sgurr na Ciche from Inverie

Postby pedromelos » Thu Mar 22, 2018 2:40 am

Route description: Sgùrr na Cìche: 3 Munros from Loch Arkaig

Munros included on this walk: Sgùrr na Cìche

Date walked: 19/03/2018

Time taken: 12 hours

Distance: 20 km

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When I started this walk on Monday 19th of March I said to myself if God (whatever you project under this term) would give me a chance to summit Sgurr na Ciche that day I would make a report of it, my first ever. And here I am.
I also think this alternative route is missing here.

I do not want to sound dramatic or pathetic, not that intention, the reason for these thoughts arouse the day before when I summitted Ladhar Bheinn. It was a lovely sunny day but given proper winter conditions the snowpack up there was hard like concrete and all icy. I am not an experienced winter walker, I carry crampons with me just for those emergency cases when you need to find some footing on snowy slopes but I wouldn´t venture into nothing very steep or let alone icy. Added to this I am a lone walker and given the time of the year and being a weekday, I couldn´t expect anyone on the hill that day to come to my rescue.
I like the motto I used to hear when watching advertisements of my favourite NHL team - "Know your limit, play within it". I set myself a strategy to go as far and high as I feel safe up there using just my boots and ice axe, which I am quite confident with now.

Sgurr na Ciche has been on my list ever since I came to Scotland but due to its very remote position never quite within reach as I do not have a car, my only means of transport are my bicycle and trains or eventually buses.
An unexpected opportunity came when I decided to visit Knoydart for a couple of days and while working up my hiking plan and when finding out that there is quite a good road leading from Inverie up Gleann an Dubh-Lochain I suddenly realised that Sgurr na Ciche is within reasonable distance providing I use my bicycle to shorten the approach from this side.
All set up, I set off on Monday morning from Knoydart Foundation Bunkhouse (which is amazingly open throughout the whole year I believe). According to MWIS it was supposed to be a nice winter day with extensive clouds breaking up to give bright sunshine in the afternoon and winds easing from 20mph to 10mph or less during the day.
They didn´t quite guess it, there was cloudless sky from dawn. Being doubtful of any success of my ascent and of being able to complete my goal I didn´t rush, left my bike at the Druim bothy and started my walk up Gleann Meadall.

Looking back to Inverie

After about an hour I reached the top of the pass and could finally see the object of my interest in all its glory.

Sgurr na Ciche with its long south-west ridge

A nice view but kind of annoying at the same time seeing how you have to next lose that 550m elevation to arrive at the ridge and begin the very ascent from scratch again.
I knew that bridge at Carnoch was down but the weather had been fairly dry over the last couple of weeks in the area so the current was low and passing the river was no issue. An extremely boggy terrain followed to finally get to the foot of the mountain at 12:00pm.
Very steep grassy slopes at the start, altitude is gained very fast. It is really warm in the sun, with rustling of the parched grass under your feet it feels like in summer. Beautiful views of Loch Nevis opens up, perfect spot to watch sunset. Taking off my jacket, loading off my sleeping bag and deciding to leave it here and collect it on my way back. Souliers bothy, my overnight stay, is right below.

Looking down Loch Nevis

Gradient eases now and walking gets smoother. Passing a small lochan before reaching a lesser summit of Druim a Ghoirtein and now it is just me and him.

Beautifully shaped almost regular cone, Garbh Chioch Mhor on the right

Several hundred metres to get to the base of conical uppermost part. I was carefully examining and inspecting if there was a snow free way to the top. Very steep terrain, mix of grass, rocks, crags and snow. The best option seemed to be to go all the way to the gully and then hopefully find and join the "official" zig zag way from Garbh Cioch Mhor. To accomplish this I had to negotiate a vast area of unbroken snow which couldn´t be bypassed, a moment of truth. Luckily, strong spring snow had done its job and had melted the surface sufficiently enough for me to plant my bare boots on it. Happy, after about three hours and a few awkward steps and movements in between rocks I got there, gully, completely covered in snow, looked formidable. And then, all my effort so far was rewarded with the vista of Loch Quoich.

Gleouraich mirrored in Loch Quoich

No trace of zig zag path or any path, just the same picture, crags, rocks, snow. I started the final ascent but after about 50 metres I gave up, no idea which way to go now. There was a long flat section of snow going westwards, followed that desperately trying to find more accessible way.

Flat section of hard and icy snow at about 900m altitude

What seemed to be ok from my standpoint proved to be no go soon after, got cut off by rocks or crags or snow higher up.
I didn´t count how many attempts by trial and error I made, I became hopeless with daylight running out. Such a perfect day and being so close, what a shame. I was standing there enjoying nearly summit views, spectacular south west panorama of mountains, islands and sea. I remember checking the time - 16:48. I planned to be half way down by this time.
One last glance up the slope, the patch of grass up there looked so inviting. If only I could get over that one crag. And then I made a decision and went for it. I could buy some time later by not going back to gully and cut it short descending straight down the slope instead. I very carefully scrambled over, breathing heavily, rushing up the grassy slope, looking back down all the time to make sure I know exactly the way to retreat my steps. I reached summit of Sgurr na Ciche at 17:20. It was a special feeling, unfortunately I had not much time for soaking up the views. 10 minutes is what I gave myself.

Looking southeast towards Ben Nevis

Isle of Skye and Cuillins on the horizon

Quickly put my camcorder in the backpack and hurried down. I had no difficulties finding the same way and descending the tricky craggy part was easier then I thought. Back at the 900-850m altitude I aimed to simply keep going straight down. Stepping on the frozen snow patches freezes me instantly. There had been only little sunshine on these slopes and it is all ice now. This route is ruled out immediately and adrenaline kicked in when realising that I would have to go via the gully. Literally sprinting on the flat snow section now having in mind that I have to make it to the ridge before the surface on snowy slopes refreezes again. And then came to my mind, what a folly thinking that I could descend by cutting short the craggy slope. It is always safer to use "beaten" proven and known track rather then uncharted territory.
Feeling under my feet that the snow is getting hard I descended to the gully and to my great relieve found out that I can still make steps on snow here, probably also because by going down you apply more pressure and height on it. The snow felt actually so pleasant that I slid the whole gully down and reached the safe zone at 18:14.
Now with about an hour of twilight I started descending the long south west ridge.

Sunset over Isle of Rum, still a long way home

I arrived at Souliers bothy in complete darkness at 19:45.
And this could be the end of the report.

But it is not.

If you red carefully you would probably ask - and how did you manage to find your sleeping bag in the dark? Well, I did not. I had to leave it somewhere there. I lasted out a sleepless frosty night in the bothy and was so tired next day morning, knowing having to climb Gleann Meadall pass back to Inverie that I couldn´t have been bothered to go searching it. I feel bad and a bit guilty, polluting such a pristine, unspoiled, remote area with items from civilization.
I only hope someone will sooner or later find it, take it to bothy and keep it there as a spare sleeping bag for any future incidents.

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Re: Sgurr na Ciche from Inverie

Postby rockhopper » Thu Mar 22, 2018 2:44 pm

Cracking day and photos :thumbup: Interesting route but did sound challenging at times - maybe someone will find your sleeping bag at some point - cheers :)
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Re: Sgurr na Ciche from Inverie

Postby litljortindan » Fri Mar 23, 2018 4:03 pm

Quite an adventure! A hill I'd like to climb one day.
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