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A day to Treasure in Etive: Sgor na h-Ulaidh & Fhionnlaidh

PostPosted: Thu Jul 05, 2018 9:51 pm
by bobble_hat_kenny
I'd had my eye on this route for some time: a two-bagger, taking in Sgor na h-Ulaidh and Beinn Fhionnlaidh from Invercharnan in Glen Etive. It looked to have a number of advantages: as well as getting both hills bagged in one outing, it sounded like a better route up Fhionnlaidh than the alternative of a long plod up its somewhat dull west ridge from Glen Creran, and it also sounded like a less steep (though still interesting) route up h-Ulaidh than the northern approach via Stob an Fhuaran. On reading other WRs, however, the main disadvantage of this route sounded to be the rather "particular" off-piste link-up between the two hills, with a depressingly low bealach at just 451 metres, then a tricky re-ascent up the craggy north face of Fhionnlaidh's eastern outlier, the catchily-named "Point 841", with (by all accounts) a requirement to jook round some fairly sizeable crags on the way up :? . Definitely one for a clear-weather day with good visibility by the sounds of it! ... And so, with a couple of Annual Leave days and a fantastic forecast for the Monday 25th June, there was no time like the present :D !

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After a not particularly early start, I got to the small car park just north of the bridge near Invercharnan about quarter past ten. Despite the good weather, there was only one other car there when I arrived - a definite advantage of midweek walking, as ever! The sun was splitting the skies, and Ben Stavros was looking resplendent across the glen.
WR1 - Starav from parking area before the bridge.jpg

It wasn't far from the car park to the Invercharnan track. Once past the buildings at the start, the route continues up a forestry track, with substantial areas of recent clear-felling to the left. The clear-felling gave another very fine line of sight to Ben Stavros.
My Big Fat Greek Munro, rustling its musculature in the sunshine...
WR2 - Starav again from Invercharnan track.jpg

The well-maintained forestry track made for fairly rapid going at first, and it wasn't long before the two target hills came into view: h-Ulaidh looking predictably steep on the right, while the more timid Beinn Fhionnlaidh was doing its best to hide behind Point 841 on the left.
WR3 - h-Ulaidh & Fhionnlaidh from clear-felled area.jpg

After passing a big branch track off to the left (not marked on my Harvey map of "Ben Nevis and Glen Coe", and presumably constructed recently during the clear-felling), I eventually came to the hairpin bend on the track, where an ongoing path continues up a short firebreak to exit the forestry. It had been a pleasant enough stoat up through the trees, although there seemed to be a lot of rather annoying clegs about :roll: . Ah well, at least they weren't the dreaded Scottish Midgie :lol: !
WR4 - start of path out of forestry at hairpin bend.jpg

A rather muddy path continues up the glen from the end of the forestry for a kilometre or so, although it eventually fizzles out. However, the ongoing route is pretty clear, ascending up north-east towards the bealach between h-Ulaidh and its south-east top known as Meall a'Bhuiridh (not the Meall a'Bhuiridh at the Glencoe Mountain Resort, needless to say, but just a more obscure hill with the same name!).
Looking back the way towards Glen Etive, Ben Starav was needless to say still showing off in the sunshine, while the Cruachan massif was looking impressively pointy further to the west:
WR5 - out of forestry & looking back to Starav and Cruachan.jpg

Approaching the bealach now, and Sgor na h-Ulaidh was looking entertainingly rocky. At first I was confused what the hill was that was lurking immediately behind the bealach - surely it was far too close to be part of the Bidean massif?? A glance at the map revealed it to be h-Ulaidh's north-eastern Top, Stob an Fhuaran.
WR6 - approaching the bealach with h-Ulaidh looking rocky & Stob an Fhuarain in background.jpg

Now, apparently the best ascent route follows a line of old fenceposts from the back of the bealach ... I made my way to the back of the bealach, and a more feasible-looking line of ascent duly appeared, complete with old fenceposts (not well seen in this photo, but they were there OK).
WR7 - a more feasible-looking way up from the back of the bealach.jpg

It was still fairly steep, with a couple of entertaining bits of mild scrambling, but nothing too challenging. On the way up, there was an impressive view of the craggy western end of the west ridge of the Corbett, Beinn Maol Chaluim, with Bidean in the background:
WR8 - craggy end of Beinn Maol Chaluim with Bidean behind.jpg

At the top of a pleasing wee scramble up a grassy gully, there was an interesting vista back across the bealach to Meall a'Bhuiridh (once again referring to h-Ulaidh's top Meall a'Bhuiridh, rather than the Black Mount Munro), with Stob Gabhar (confusingly enough, yes, the Black Mount one this time!) away in the distance:
WR9 - looking back to Meall a' Bhuiridh with Stob Gabhar in distance.jpg

Almost at the top of h-Ulaidh, I found this grand view towards Ben Nevis through a rocky wee gully :) :
WR10 - view of Ben Nevis through gully near summit.jpg

Just as I was approaching the summit cairn, a young chap appeared from the opposite direction and got to it just before me :shock: ! I passed the time of day with him - he was the only other person I saw on the entire walk. He had come down from Glencoe to the north, then taken a steep direct route up from the glen, bypassing Stob an Fhuaran, apparently as recommended by Cameron McNeish ... and he had found it a real slog :roll: . I was increasingly glad that I'd chosen the Etive approach!
As might be expected from its steepness and relative isolation, Sgor na h-Ulaidh certainly boasts fine summit views. Looking north again towards Ben Nevis and the Mamores:
WR11 - view of Nevis from h-Ulaidh summit.jpg

And Beinn a' Bheithir looking glorious in the sunshine to the north-west:
WR12 - Beinn a' Bheithir from h-Ulaidh summit.jpg

Turning to look south-west, there was an interesting view of Beinn Sgulaird (a hill I still have to do), with a delicious view of the western seaboard behind it, with Mull and the Paps of Jura easily visible:
WR13 - Beinn Sgulaird & Mull & distant Paps.jpg

Perhaps the finest view, however, was back towards Glen Etive, with a grand line-up of Beinn Fhionnlaidh, then the beautifully rocky and wonderfully named Corbett Beinn Trilleachan, then Loch Etive, then the enticingly pointy Cruachan massif in the distance:
WR14 - Fhionnlaidh & Trilleachan & Loch Etive & distant Cruachan.jpg

Well, what with Lieutenant Uhulaidh dealt with, it was now time to turn my attention to Captain James T. Fhionnlaidh... The connecting route makes its way down the Lieutenant's "easy" west shoulder, known as Corr na Beinne. Well, to borrow a nice remark of Stephen Fry's, "I use the word 'easy', um, ... wrongly". I suppose it is "easy" if you find the correct line, which is to bear quite well left (i.e. east) of the true ridgeline, so as to avoid a series of tricky broken crags further west on descent. However, I completely failed to do this, and so gave myself a couple of very dodgy down-scrambles down stream gullies instead of what should have been a fairly carefree romp down to the bealach :roll: .
The correct descent route was clearly visible from the start of the way down Corr na Beinne's south ridge, with Fhionnlaidh's Point 841 looking intimidatingly craggy on the other side of the bealach, and Paps a-go-go in the distance:
WR15 - descent route down Corr na Beinne with Fhionnlaid looking craggy & distant Paps etc.jpg

Maybe it was the distraction from those Paps or something, but I somehow managed to go way off-line lower down, ending up far too far west and losing a lot of time (and a fair bit of the seat of my shorts) on the aforementioned gully scrambles :roll: !
Another nice Sgulaird-and-Paps shot on descent:
WR16 - Sgulaird & Paps on descent.jpg

A bit lower down again, and the foreshortened view of Point 841 was starting to look unfeasibly steep, despite the fine view of Cruachan and Starav in the background:
WR17 - Point 841 looking slightly unfeasible with Cruachan and Starav in background.jpg

I think this view back to Corr na Beinne's south ridge taken during the ascent of Point 841 gives a good idea of where I went wrong on the descent from Corr na Beinne: Easy Ground East, Difficult Craggy Ground West :roll: !
WR18 - looking back to foreshortened Corr na Beinne ridge with craggy bits to W well seen.jpg

However, I did eventually make my way down to the low bealach, more or less in one piece (except for my shorts), crossed the stream at the bottom (easy enough on boulders), and set out on the steep ascent of Point 841. The best line looked to be a slanting line up right of the big craggy buttress at the end of the ridge, then cutting quite sharply up left once clear of the crags, to join the line of the ridge higher up. I've drawn this in magenta (my usual favoured shade) on the photo below:
WR19 - ascent route up Point 841.JPG

It was a steep ascent, right enough, and I made rather slow work of it, but to my relief it proved to be perfectly feasible.
Almost clear of the crags, and about to make that sharp left turn:
WR20 - about to turn crags on Point 841 ascent.jpg

It was a real relief to get to the top of Point 841 at last, where the reclusive Beinn Fhionnlaidh finally deigned to show itself, with its S-shaped east ridge looking quite delicious from this angle:
WR21 - up at last with Fhionnlaidh's S-shaped ridge looking delicious and distant seascape.jpg

I was well behind schedule by now, and the light to the west was starting to take on some disconcertingly sunsettish tinges, but thankfully it didn't take me long at all to get up to Fhionnlaidh's summit trig point, with a couple of entertaining wee rock steps en route.
The dreaded Summit Selfie in Ridiculous Hat:
WR22 - Fhionnlaidh summit selfie.jpg

If anything, Fhionnlaidh's summit is an even better viewpoint than h-Ulaidh's. This was the view northwards, towards distant Ben Nevis and the Bidean nam Bian massif, and with Sgor na h-Ulaidh looking steep in the foreground:
WR23 - h-Ulaidh with distant Nevis & Bidean from Fhionnlaidh summit.jpg

And a truly glorious view out west, with those Paps again :D !
WR24 - Sgulaird & Paps from Fhionnlaidh summit.jpg

Thankfully, despite my slow progress thus far, I made up quite a bit of time on descent, heading back down to the bealach with Point 841, then making a descending traverse to the bealach between Point 841 and a lower southern top known as Meall nan Gobhar. At this lower bealach, I picked up a grassy path that took me all the way back to the start of the forestry track. I was relieved to find that the extremely shoogly bridge over the river just before re-entering the forestry, that is mentioned in some older WRs for this route, has now been replaced by a brand spanking new bridge that now doesn't shoogle in the slightest :) ! Once on the forestry track, I got eaten alive by Clegs :roll: , but at least this encouraged me to keep a steady pace ... the whole walk took me a not very creditable ten hours, but I don't really regret taking my time over this one - it was a fantastic day's walking :D !