Lessons learned on Beinn Sciathan

Sub 2000s: Beinn Sciathain (Eriskay)

Date walked: 08/06/2019

Time taken: 3 hours

Ascent: 185m

The Hebridean Way took me up and over Ruabhal on Benbecula, but I was eager to bag at least one more hill. There was plenty of daylight left after I reached Eriskay and got settled at my accommodation, and I was feeling energetic, so I decided to go ahead and go for Beinn Sciathan. It had looked imposing from the causeway, but I'd seen people on it, which bolstered my confidence.

There is no route description for this hill on WH, and what I remembered most from the walk reports I'd read was that no two seemed to take exactly the same route. My approach was therefore to walk on the road toward the hill and look for a line up that didn't look too steep or bouldery.

I did not choose wisely.

Vaguely west of the hill I found a line that looked boulder-free, so I scampered off the road and into the knee-high grass and tussock at the base of the hill. I heather-bashed slowly uphill for a bit, then began climbing in earnest. And the route rapidly became much steeper than it had looked from the ground. My climb soon became a scramble that felt near-vertical, and I came perilously close to losing my nerve. Long before I got to the summit plateau, I knew I'd have to find another route down because I most certainly would not be able to come down this way - I'd lose my nerve for real and either fall or get stuck fast. But plans for getting down would have to wait - I had to get up to the summit first.

One thing to be said for steep ascents: you gain height very quickly. I reached the summit trig point only 48 minutes after the leaving the front door of my accommodation.

Looking north toward South Uist:

Looking west, I think:

Looking south:

Now, how to get down? While crossing the causeway from South Uist, the northeast flank of the hill had looked relatively gentle, so I chose to move in that direction. I descended gently as far as I could, then contoured across the hill until I found another gentle bit and could descend some more. This was my strategy all the way down. It was slow, but it worked. And on the way down, I had plenty of time to swear to myself and the universe at large that this would be my first and last time alone on a pathless hill. A stern lesson, thoroughly learned.

I made it to the bottom. First problem solved. But now I had a whole new set of problems. My descent had landed me on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence. I walked for a few minutes in each direction along the fence, looking for a gate, but couldn't find one. Then I began trying to find a spot low enough to climb over. I found a bit that had sunk partway into the boggy ground and tried to climb over, but got my hand placement wrong and ended up with two puncture wounds and a small laceration for my pains. I looked for another spot, mentally calculating how long it had been since my last tetanus shot. Finally I found a suitable spot and successfully climbed over. Then I had to traverse a field, several drainage ditches, and another fence (through a gate this time), making for a house nearby.

I reached the house and started creeping past it to reach the road, aware that this was probably the owner of the fence I'd just hopped and the field I'd just trampled through. Two big dogs lounged nearby. When they noticed me, they looked at me without any apparent interest for a moment or two. Then, as one, they snarled and lunged at me with unmistakable intent to kill. They were brought up short by their chains, for which I am fervently and unspeakably grateful. Bloodlust frustrated, they instead began attacking each other as I hurried away down the road. The fight-or-flight aftershocks hit me and I finally indulged in tears a bit as I walked down the road, eager to get back to my accommodation and clean off the mud, blood, and fear of the afternoon.

Although I'd started from the town, not far from the village store, my descent route had taken me all the way to Bun a Mhuilinn and I had a good mile or two to walk back. While the ascent had taken me 48 minutes, the journey from the trig point back to my front door took nearly two hours. But really, this could have gone so much worse in so many ways, so I'm taking it as a learning experience: NEVER AGAIN will I attempt to climb a pathless hill alone.

But hey, at least my sub-2000 count is up to 3 now! :lol:

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User avatar
Location: Winchester, Virginia, USA
Occupation: Medical professional
Activity: Walker
Pub: The Black Bull in Leith
Mountain: Ben Lomond
Place: Isle of Mull
Gear: My boots
Ideal day out: A long walk on a good path with good beer at the end!
Ambition: Walk Scotland end-to-end.

Munros: 1
Sub 2000: 3
Islands: 22
Long Distance routes: West Highland Way    Great Glen Way    Speyside Way    Rob Roy Way   

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Trips: 6
Distance: 462 km
Ascent: 4655m
Munros: 1
Sub2000s: 1


Trips: 1
Distance: 154 km
Ascent: 3155m

Joined: Feb 13, 2019
Last visited: Oct 09, 2019
Total posts: 42 | Search posts