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WH Summer Meet vol3: sticks and stones

WH Summer Meet vol3: sticks and stones

Postby BlackPanther » Wed Aug 14, 2019 7:37 pm

Route description: Beinn Fhada (or Ben Attow)

Munros included on this walk: Beinn Fhada

Date walked: 14/07/2019

Time taken: 8.5 hours

Distance: 19.1 km

Ascent: 1263m

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I've been waiting to write this story impatiently. Could have done it first thing after the WH Meet, but preferred to keep my reports in chronological order, so apologies for the delay.

The idea of traversing the western ridge of Beinn Fhada first came to us when we visited the summit in winter conditions in January 2017. Back then, with snow and ice on the ridge, the scrambling route to Sgurr a Choire Ghairbh was far beyond us. But now, on a sunny summer morning, we were confident we could do it. Kevin's back was feeling a bit better so we decided to give it a go!

A few words of warning at the beginning of this report, for those who consider the Sgurr a Choire Ghairbh traverse. I don't want to sound patronizing, God forbid, just to honestly describe what awaits potential adventure seekers :D
1. The ridge is a bit airy in places, might discourage vertigo sufferers.
2. It's basically a one-way road. The Bad Step in the middle is much easier when tackled in ascent (from east to west). I wouldn't recommend reversing the route.
3. The rock would be VERY slippery when wet and there is one short section on the scrambling without good footholds, where we had to rely on boot friction. So it's a route for dry times only.
On the positive side:
1. If you go there on a good day and see the views, you will not even notice any difficulties, it's so breathtaking!
2. For anybody with some experience in scrambling, this is the BEST way to experience Beinn Fhada, gives the true justice to the mountain and makes you forget all troubles for a while!
OK so after this initial lecture from Panther, time to indulge in proper mountain p**n :wink:

I was told in the past that I wasn't made to do big mountain traverses, that certain things are simply beyond my female capabilities. But as the say, sticks and stones... I don't really need to prove anything to other people, just wanted to prove it to myself. After my knee injury in 2016 I lost much confidence in scrambling and it took me time to slowly gain it back. Two months ago, when I successfully hauled my bum over the Ugly Step on Beinn Eighe ridge, I felt back on track. Then on Sunday at the end of the Summer WH Meet, the time has come - Beinn Fhada awaited.
Kevin kept saying that if this route is given as an option on Walkhighlands, it can't be that difficult :lol:

Track_BEINN FHADA 19-1 KM.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

We started from Morvich and walked up the path towards Bealach an Sgairne. We had been here before several times, in different conditions, but it's always a nice experience, a grand entry to a fantastic spectacle:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 009.JPG

Because it was Sunday and a lovely day from the early hours, we expected to see other people, but to our surprise, we were alone on the mountain. Even better, I could meow as much as I wanted without a worry that I'll scare somebody s***tless :lol: :lol: Kevin is so used to my "wows" and happy squeals that he pays no attention at all :lol:
Thirsty Panther taking a break by Allt a Choire Chaoil:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 023.JPG

Looking up the waterfalls:
Image2019-07-14 whm kintail 020 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
The ascent on the main path via Coire an Sgairne is very easy, the path is obvious and avoids all the problems of steepness in a series of zigzags. It took us a while to gain the main plateau, but we didn't rush it. It was early but already, the sun was boiling us alive. Luckily, we were carrying extra water and smeared our skin with sticky sunscreen, to minimize the effect of sunburn. Kevin doesn't mind a but of tanning, but I'm allergic to UV and easily suffer from Ist degree burns. And when up on the hills, so easy to forget yourself!
Panther mesmerized - what a mountain!
Image2019-07-14 whm kintail 032 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Upper Coire an Sgairne - panoramic version:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 040.JPG

We emerged on the wide bealach just north of Meall a'Bheallaich, which we had visited before so today we didn't bother. I was excited. For the first time on Beinn Fhada we had views!!!
Sgurr Gaorsaic and the Allbeithe Munros behind:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 044.JPG

The best is yet to come... Yet to come... can't wait to explore that rocky ridge in the middle!
2019-07-14 whm kintail 049.JPG

But first, let's reach the summit. On the higher ground, the path becomes indistinct, but the slopes were easy enough:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 053.JPG

Near the summit, after happily hopping over some boggy ground :lol: A'Ghlas Bheinn in the background:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 057.JPG

Kevin noticed that the air was surprisingly clear, no annoying summer haze that spoils so many long-distance photos. The very distant Applecross cliffs were well visible:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 059.JPG

The view west to the best part of the traverse - so mouthwatering!
2019-07-14 whm kintail 064.JPG

Gleann Gaorsaic and Loch a'Bhealaich:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 070.JPG

Ciste Dhubh, A'Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch-choire on the eastern horizon:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 081.JPG

Zoom to Torridon giants:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 086.JPG

We reached the summit in three hours, I didn't want to push it too hard, thinking about Kevin's still recovering back, but he seemed OK at the moment, enjoying a lengthy photo session by the trig point:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 222.JPG

The pointy summit of Sgurr Fhuaran across the glen:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 089.JPG

2019-07-14 whm kintail 226.JPG

Zoom to Beinn Sgritheall:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 097.JPG

My third visit to Beinn Fhada, Lucy's second, Kevin's fourth, but for all of us, the first time we saw the superb views from the summit. What can I say, well worth the wait!
2019-07-14 whm kintail 098.JPG

The Sisters of Kintail - panoramic mode:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 106.JPG

It's such a nice hill even when done just up and down the path from Coire an Sgairne, but we were eager to leave the summit to tackle the real challenge - Sgurr a Choire Ghairbh! From where we sat, it looked simply stunning - and nerve wrecking!
2019-07-14 whm kintail 225.JPG

The Cuillin ridge:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 096.JPG

We walked across Plaide Mhor to Meall an Fhuarain Mhoir, which is a Munro Top, not that I care much about Munro tops :lol:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 107.JPG

After a short hydration break by the small cairn, we continued west, across the narrowing ridge, soon we saw our target scrambling route. And what can I say, we went speechless!
2019-07-14 whm kintail 109.JPG

The initial descent from Meall an Fhuarain Mhoir is on a well worn path, a bit eroded but this was the easy part:
Image2019-07-14 whm kintail 115 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Soon the real fun began! We walked over several small tops. The path avoids all scrambling, we didn't necessarily follow it everywhere, of course Panther had to hop over a few boulders and utter some wild meowing sounds :lol:
On the ridge:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 118.JPG

Looking back to Meall an Fhuarain Mhoir. The rocky outcrop in the middle offers some easy scrambling, can be avoided:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 120.JPG

As we continued over countless minor tops, the ridge was getting more interesting, but nothing technical so far, I was actually looking for pockets of scrambling, but it was mostly just ridge walking:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 122.JPG

It mostly looks worse than It is and now I understood why this route is suggested in WH description. So far, so good, we encountered no problems whatsoever!
2019-07-14 whm kintail 127.JPG

And just as well because it seems there are no bypasses anywhere, unless you're willing to plunge down into Gleann Lichd :lol:
Image2019-07-14 whm kintail 133 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Heading towards the middle top, Ceum na h-Aon-choise:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 135.JPG

Kevin enjoying his experience on the Western Ridge:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 238.JPG

A wider section of the ridge, looking towards Ceum na h-Aon-choise, which turned out to be just another easy top to climb:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 137.JPG

Looking back at the eastern half of the ridge - the easy part:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 142.JPG

From the middle top, we could now see the Bad Step and it seemed... hmmm... an interesting challenge. Definitely, hands would be needed:
Image2019-07-14 whm kintail 246 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Panther's time to shine!
2019-07-14 whm kintail 156.JPG

The descent to Bealach an t-Sealgaire is just steep and no scrambling necessary, but as soon as we stood at the bottom of the Bad Step, I felt the familiar twinge of excitement in my stomach. Yesss! Something scary at last :lol: :lol: :lol:
The photo below shows the line we took to tackle the Bad Step (the red dots). The section marked with a yellow line indicates the most difficult part of the scramble, where there are few good footholds, but the step is negotiable with care.
bad step.jpg

Panoramic view of the Bad Step:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 161.JPG

We put cameras away so they didn't obstruct our moves and tackled the scramble. The bottom section is easy (even a sketchy path can be followed - obviously we picked the most popular line). When we reached the most difficult section, about 2/3 way up, we discovered that footholds were few and far between, we had to maneuver carefully and rely on the friction of our boots to keep going. I counted three awkward moves where I felt the adrenaline rushing into my veins - aaaah. But despite the lack of steps to place your feet on, the Bad Step is not badly exposed. I concentrated on the rock in front of me and trusted my instinct. Kevin went first and I followed. We were above the awkward section in next to no time.
Looking down the Bad Step:
Image2019-07-14 whm kintail 162 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
The final meters were much easier, still an all-four experience, but this was just fun. I was so overloaded with adrenaline, that my brain was probably close to a nuclear explosion :lol: :lol:
The scrambling Panther:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 165.JPG

Posing above the Bad Step with Ceum na h-Aon-choise behind:
Image2019-07-14 whm kintail 166 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
When I joined Kevin on the top, he said he was seriously worried if I could cope with the difficult section, but I just smiled and pointed my finger at him - How dare you doubt in me!
If you think that after the Bad Step the scrambling experience is over, you're wrong...
2019-07-14 whm kintail 172.JPG

...but the remaining pockets of scrambling (mostly down well-worn chimneys) are nothing compare to the earlier experience. Overall, you can make this ridge as easy or as hard as you wish, by tackling more rocky outcrops, but apart from the Bad Step, I'd call everything else very easy.
Sgurr a Choire Ghairbh, not as hard as it looks like:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 176.JPG

There are several (five I think) little tops to walk/scramble over and the ridge seems neverending, but for me, the more the merrier :D
2019-07-14 whm kintail 182.JPG

Eventually, tired but still pumped up with adrenaline, we reached the final top, where we sat for good 10 minutes, resting our legs and gazing back at the ridge we just walked:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 190.JPG

All that was left now, was the long, knee-jerking descent back to Morvich. I was eager to get down quickly:
2019-07-14 whm kintail 199.JPG

The sun was burning us mercilessly when we descended to Beinn Bhuidhe, then followed a very faint path across wet, grassy terrain:
Image2019-07-14 whm kintail 202 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
The final descent is overgrown with bracken, nothing surprising in Scotland :lol: :lol:
Image2019-07-14 whm kintail 205 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Nearly back down, we encountered a deer fence. We couldn't be bothered to look for any gates to the left or right, so we decided to clamber over. I lost my balance and almost fell off it, a silly incident that made my husband chuckle. How come you scaled the Bad Step with such a confidence, then you struggle to climb a silly deer fence? :lol: :lol:
Looking back at the wonderful Western Ridge of Beinn Fhada:
Image2019-07-14 whm kintail 208 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
It took us 8.5 hours to complete the circular route, but we enjoyed every second spent on the ridge, even the scary part :D We were overwhelmed by the rough beauty of this less known side of Beinn Fhada and didn't regret we decided to repeat this hill rather than head for something new (and probably boring :wink: ). It's days like this one that make the life worth living.
My next story will be a bit more subdued, we will return to Glen Etive to tackle a secretive Corbett. TR to come soon.
Last edited by BlackPanther on Mon Oct 21, 2019 6:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: WH Summer Meet vol3: sticks and stones

Postby Fractral » Thu Aug 15, 2019 4:41 pm

Lovely pics! We did more or less your route but in reverse last summer in the boiling heat. I don't remember much of the scrambling, but I think I just slid down the smooth slabs :? If you do go west to east, the worst of the scrambling is avoidable on the left which is what most of the group did!
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Re: WH Summer Meet vol3: sticks and stones

Postby BlackPanther » Tue Aug 20, 2019 2:31 pm

I added a short video recording of the bad step when seen from below. Hopefully the link is working all right:


I wondered if it was possible to skip the difficult bit by moving to the left (when going east to west), but we decided to take the line suggested by WH route. It's described as "awkward scramble", but IMHO, the only awkward part is the short section in the middle with few good footholds.
Maybe if going the other way (west to east), the natural reaction would be to avoid the steep section and look for an easier way down to Bealach an t-Sealgaire on the Gleann Lichd side. I'd still prefer facing the Bad Step in uphill direction, but of course it's up to personal preferences :wink: No matter which way it's done, It is still a magnificent ridge and a traverse one wouldn't easily forget, especially when done in nice weather.
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