Sgurr a' Chaorachain - indirectly via Cioch Nose

Corbetts: Sgurr a' Chaorachain

Date walked: 13/07/2019

Distance: 7.26km

Ascent: 898m

The weekend of the Autumn 2019 WH meet, which I'd really been looking forward to, had arrived: Glen Shiel is such a fantastic place, having so many wonderful hills in the close vicinity. And according to my weather sibyl (my CEO!), the forecast was reasonably auspicious :D .

I'd originally planned to go up late Thursday/early Friday, and tackle the scramble of Niod an Fhithich North Face, a couple of kilometres NE of Dornie, in whatever remained of the day. But in the event I am able to get off quite early on the Thursday, camp at one of my favourite spots near Tyndrum on the Thursday night, with the result that I arrive at Glen Shiel quite early on Friday morning; so something a bit bigger is in order. :D

In preparation for the weekend I'd been studying SMC's Highlands Scrambles North somewhat more intently than hitherto, and tagging what looked like they'd be the best ones. Having failed to complete the last bit of a' Chioch of Beinn Bhan on the weekend of the WH Spring meet (the bit between A' Chioch and Beinn Bhan), a' Chioch was definitely a candidate; as was the Cioch Nose of Sgurr a'Chaorachain. I'd first seen pics of it in Scotland's Mountain Ridges, and my appetite had been further whetted by reading dav2930's spell-binding account of his ascent via the classic climbing route...
...and ogling the magnificent pics in malky_c's report of his and Jaxter's wander around this area...



Now that's what I would describe as highly alluring! (I half-inched these pics from Malky's report :roll: )

Moreover, the route described in HSN is graded as "Difficult", which is within the range I normally feel comfortable tackling (dav2390's route is V. Diff/Severe - too extreme for me to contemplate soloing).

So I drive straight to Applecross, and I still haven't made up my mind which to go for by the time I get to Kishorn. I pull in at the parking spot adjacent to the bridge at Drochaid Mhor, look through the descriptions in HSN once more, and ponder. I've actually already summitted Beinn Bhan a'Chioch - what I omitted on that occasion was the last climb from a'Chioch up on to the BB plateau - whereas Sa'C a'Cioch would be new. And the latter involves a much shorter walk-out: 2 considerations that favour the latter route. I guess that in some corner of my subconscious I must already have made the decision. Anyway, I start the car, and drive the couple of miles up the road to the spot alongside the bridge over Russel Burn, where one parks to start the walk-out to a'Cioch.

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Viewed from there, a'Cioch looks moody with the cloud swirling around it, but never revealing the entire Nose.

I quickly change into my walking gear and pack my sac, mainly provisions for an emergency: a 60m rope, sundry tat and gear, my harness, and even my climbing shoes...!!! It weighs an absolute ton - at least 7 kg anyway!!!

The route starts with a vehicular track up to the dam that creates Loch Coire nan Arr, after which it rapidly diminishes into little more than a sheep track that appears and then disappears, but is uniformly boggy! I head directly for the Nose.

On the way, high above me, I hear the unmistakable alarm call of a peregrine; though I never catch sight of the bird itself...

Close to the Nose, I sit down and study the south face through my binocs.

Which probably isn't such a great idea, because I conclude that an alternative route to that described in the SMC guide looks more interesting, and that's where I head, scrambling the two small outcrops on the way to the start.

Having arrived at the start, however, I realise that once again I've not taken adequate account of the foreshortening effect of looking at the face straight on: I see that there are a number of overhangs, both along the route I'd envisaged and on the obvious alternatives. Moreover, I've also failed to get the scale right: what looked like relatively straightforward rock faces at a distance, likely to offer plenty of holds, turn out to be significantly more difficult than I've envisaged, especially for soloing.
I spend well over half an hour trying to find a route, but in the end abandon the attempt and end up traversing to the left, almost to the gully, and then heading up the rib on the RHS of the gully. The solid line on the pic above shows approximately the route I took up to the point where I traversed to the gully, and the dashed line shows the line I'd had in mind.

A factor contributing to my decision to change my intended route was the extensive damp areas on some of the slabs...

The cloud starts well above the level I'm at, and as I traverse across to the gully and pause to take a breath or two, the views are pretty reasonable.
Image20190712_122719. This is looking roughly South East towards Loch Coire nan Arr and Loch Kishorn.

The scramble up the first part of the rib doesn't pose any real problems - some bits of perhaps moderate difficulty. There are plenty of options for alternative interesting routes too.

The main issue from the outset is the large number of loose boulders and blocks. Anything with joints/gaps all around it needs to be tested thoroughly. Some even quite large blocks move under a strong pull. This must have happened on at least a dozen occasions :shock: .

Here is approximately the route I ended up taking up the first section of the nose (ie up to the col).

And this pic gives an idea of the conditions, though it's unfortunately hard to get an idea of the scale without a person in the pic (and I'm not keen on selfies!!!).

Someone's clearly been here before - though I wouldn't like to think of anyone's life being dependent on this piece of tat I found!!!

As ever, it's difficult to get pics that give a reasonably representative idea of what the climb was like, but here are some.

This is taken looking down to the right from the rib, at a point where there's a grassy area I can stand on. The face I climbed up is bottom right of the pic, and I think it's reasonably clear that, although it's steep, there are plenty of good holds and foot placements.

This one is taken from about the same point as the last one, but looking left from the rib to the horrible gully that I didn't fancy (HSN talks about climbing the gully "damply", and then later of a "...short, hard, pitch, usually wet...").

This is the point at which the slope flattens out a touch...

And this looking right from the same point.

As I get closer to the first summit, the col and second summit come into view.

This upper part of the climb is a lot of fun, and not too crazy. But all too quickly I reach the summit. Here's looking back approximately down the route I've just ascended.

The general view from the first summit is superb, this looking back towards Loch Kishorn again...Image20190712_133252.

Ahead is the climb to the second summit. Again I spend a little time studying the face, and again decide on a variation on the route described in the guide, this time with somewhat greater success...Image

As I set off for the second section of the climb, the cliffs to the North of the summit present rather spectacularly...

The rock is good, the loose boulders less frequent, and the difficulty sufficient to keep the blood pumping without inducing paralysing fear - so this is enjoyable work. This pic is looking ahead from about 2/3 up the first vertical section (up to the point at which the route traverses left, which is just below the 2 large plane vertical rock slabs).

Then on upwards, and on to the grassy ledge, along which I traverse left for about 40 metres.
Image20190712_140401. Typical view looking back along the ledge, indicating why one has to traverse to find a line that can be scrambled.

While drawing breath before tackling the next section, I take the opportunity to look across towards the Sgurr a'Chaorachain continuation ridge, along which I plan to return...
Image20190712_141133. ...the lochan in the middle of the corrie apparently unnamed!

The guide talks about the start of the final section above the ledge being "...a steep open groove slanting left, just left of a pile of rocks." The trouble is, there is more than one pile of rocks! However, I do locate a steep open groove slanting left, where the obvious route upwards is to the right of it.

As per the guide, at the top of this I cut left and head up a short wet gully, reaching in fairly short order the point at which the slope flattens out significantly, and it's little more than a walk up to the summit.
Image20190712_142020. This view is looking down on to the top of the first section (a' Cioch proper) from the edge of the second section summit.

The ridge route out to Sgurr a' Chaorachain traverses a series of towers (as can be seen on the second pic at the start of this report). There are short but exhilarting scrambles on descents from the first tower...

... the third tower...

...and the fifth tower - too cloudy to photograph. Indeed the cloud envelopes the top of the ridge - just the top 50 metres or so - more or less continuously, and although the sun occasionally threatens to dispel the mist, it ultimately fails.

The ridge broadens as I approach Sgurr a' Chaorachain summit, and soon...
Image20190712_154517. ... a thing of beauty is a joy forever :roll: .

Walking out along the Sgurr a' Chaorachain continuation ridge, the mist lifts a little, revealing the iconic a' Cioch ridge...


I've planned to drop straight off the end of the Sa'C ridge to the Russel Burn bridge, for the contours don't look too closely bunched. But "closely" is a relative term: the main part of the descent is pretty steep, and on the wet grass I end up on my bum multiple times. This pic looking back at the end of the descent gives an idea of how steep it actually is!

A final fond farewell to a' Cioch - you've given me a superb day!

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Comments: 25

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User avatar
Location: Effete South (of WIgan, anyway)
Activity: Scrambler
Pub: The Bell, Trysull
Mountain: Cuillin Ridge
Place: Glen Brittle
Gear: Compass
Member: None
Ideal day out: Heavy ridge walk with plenty of scrambling and height gain - eg Welsh 3000ers, Wastwater Circuit, Cuillin Ridge

Munros: 167
Corbetts: 29
Wainwrights: 71
Hewitts: 195

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