Our blog - Glen Shiel, 1-3 Jun'18

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

South Glen Shiel Ridge and Beinn Sgritheall

1-3 June 2018
In the Glen Shiel area for 3 days of guided hiking on the Forcan Ridge, South Glen Shiel Ridge and Beinn Sgritheall. John King was leading, with Steven helping on the first day....

Day 1, Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine

It was a very misty morning driving through to Glen Shiel with a thick haar settled on Inverness, but by the time we all met at the bottom of the glen at 0830 it was already 18C and the summits were clear. The day's forecast was for thunderstorms and we were thinking that we would have to bypass the Forcan Ridge of the Saddle, but as we set off up the stalkers path towards the hill the conditions were looking promising. We decided we'd give it a go. Steven joined us at the car park to accompany anyone who wanted to avoid the scramble, but he had initially set-off up our descent route to check the status of the bridge over the Allt Mhalagain - a crucial part of our day as a thunderstorm could easily raise the water levels and make the river impassible without it.

We re-met Steven at the bottom of the Forcan Ridge, and he confirmed the bridge is still there! It had been hot work climbing up to this point but on a good stalkers path and with the views up Glen Shiel and to the ridge ahead pulling us along. Vikki and Emma decided that they'd give the ridge a miss, so they set-off with Steven along the bypass route and I headed upwards with Kate, Alex, Arthur and Trevor. We were on the ridge for two hours full of easy and enthralling scrambling, wide open views and a fair share of exposure. We had the ridge almost to ourselves, getting passed only by a solo hill runner, and took our time, choosing between the crest of the ridge and bypass paths as we wished. We regrouped at the summit trig point for a well-earned lunch stop.

Heading down from The Saddle is steep and loose in places but we picked our way down carefully and took advantage of a few springs to top up our water supplies. The heat was incredible down here and you could literally feel the heat bouncing back off the ground! Soon we were across the Bealach Coire Mhalagain, where a solitary hind kept a watchful eye on us, and we were up onto the ridge between Foachag and Sgurr na Sgine in good time. We left our packs beside a boulder that seemed to be emitting vast quantities of crane flies. It was lovely to wander round the last part of the ridge to the summit without the weight of the rucksacks and on the top we enjoyed views out over Kintail and south into the heart of Knoydart.

Surprisingly at the summit, Steven discovered a tent dumped behind some boulders with poles but no pegs. It's always disappointing to find such litter in the hills so we wrapped it up as best we could and took it off the hill with us. After picking up our bags and crossing the shapely summit of Foachag, the path plummets back toward Glen Shiel, winding down the northeast ridge and through a small native woodland plantation. All that remained was to cross the bridge and wander back to the road - a successful and dry start to our weekend adventure!

Day 2, South Glen Shiel Ridge

After arranging cars at the western end of Glen Shiel, we gathered at the Cluanie Inn to start walking at 0830. Day 1 had been a culmination of a weeks walking holiday for Kate, so she wasn't joining us today, but Cathy and Jimmy joined the team for the rest of weekend. It was a pleasant walk in along the old road to Tomdoun and we made good progress to the road's high point at the eastern end of the South Shiel Ridge. Large cumulus clouds were building but none looked particularly threatening. We topped up our water supplies and set-off up onto the ridge, hopeful of a repeat performance of yesterday's dry conditions.

It was hot again as we wound our way up the path onto Creag a' Mhaim, the eastern most Munro on the ridge, with further attacks from the crane flies but we made it to the summit in under three hours. We took a break here and then set-off on the long walk westwards. Druim Shionnach was next and came along quickly after a nice clamber along the narrow crest leading to the summit. Aonach air Crith took slightly longer to get to but at 1021m it is the highest point on the ridge and, as such, a significant milestone for the day. The weather was still holding fair and we had extensive views. Just across the glen to our south, the remote northern corries of Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach looked particularly impressive. Ben Nevis was clear way to the south, still with plenty of snow hanging in there.

Munro number 4 for the day was Maol Chinn-dearg. By the time we reached here at 1445, the clouds to the east were looking very black and they were definitely delivering some precipitation on the area around the Great Glen. To our northeast, over the hills of Claunie and Affric, there had been a few rumbles of thunder and some flashes of lightening. I was beginning to doubt our chances of escaping the weather and finishing the ridge, even though we were going west and definitely heading in the direction of the best weather. Just as we were reaching the bealach with Sgurran Doire Leathain (Munro no. 5 in this direction) the first drops of rain started to fall. There weren't many but they were big drops and you could sense that a deluge was coming. By the time we'd stopped and put on our waterproofs the heavens had opened. It felt for a while like being in a high-powered shower and you could hear the raindrops pounding the dry earth!

The intense rainfall was soon accompanied by large rumbles of thunder, which echoed round the coires and there were several flashes of lightening. Being on a high ridge was not the place to be in these conditions and I made the quick decision that it was time to go down! Our descent took us north into Coire a' Chuil Droma Mor. This is a wild feeling place that doesn't get many people passing through and it was looking very atmospheric on the day.We stayed on the eastern bank of the river to avoid crossing it as it had gone very rapidly into spate and made our way round to pick up the paths descending into Glen Shiel from Maol Chinn-Dearg and the neighbouring 902m top. It was very wet underfoot and it seemed that every small reentrant had water flowing down it. There were a few extra rolls of thunder as we went just to confirm we had made the right decision. Despite the wetness, it was a pleasant route down, and a relatively short walk back along the road to regroup at the Cluanie Inn. Although it wasn't quite the outcome we'd wanted, it was still a full day in the hills and we returned to our respective accommodation for a well-earned rest before the promise of a good final day on Sunday.

Day 3, Beinn Sgritheall

It's always a lovely drive over the Mam Ratagan pass to Glen Elg and onto Arnisdale and Sunday morning was no exception. There was low cloud and mist shrouding Ratagan in the early morning but from the top of the pass we entered the sunshine and at Arnisdale, the views from the shore-side parking across Loch Hourn to the peaks of Knoydart were stunning. Beinn Sgritheall towers above the village but you could see the summit and so everyone knew what we were aiming for. Alex had decided not to join us today and Emma was off home the night before, so we were a compact team of 5 that set-off. We maintained a nice steady pace up towards the Bealach Arnasdail, making a few stops to give ourselves a chance against the heat. A nice stream coming down from the bealach was a welcome source of fresh water to top up our supplies once more.

After a stop at the bealach we turned west and headed on up the steep flanks of Beinn Sgritheall. The name of this peak translates as ‘mountain of scree' and you can see why as you make your way up it's slopes. We took a nice line that wove between most of the scree and in quick order we were on the 906m eastern top. There was some cloud just brushing the tops now and this gave some atmospheric views and helped limit the temperatures a little. We looked like being on top for lunchtime so we set-off around the head of Coire Min, where there was plenty of pink sea-thrift adding colour to the ridge, and we made the summit just before 1300.

We took a good lunch break at the top and admired the views down over Loch Hourn where little islands surrounded by green waters in the sunshine gave the place an appearance more like the Caribbean than the Western Highlands of Scotland! Our enjoyment of lunch was slightly hampered by yet more crane flies and some midgies, who seemed to be enjoying the lack of any wind at the top, so we set off down. We headed west down a small gully that took us out onto a broad area of hillside with lochan-studded moorland to our north and steep wooded slopes above Loch Hourn to the south. We took another break here to enjoy the sunshine and the views west to the peaks of Skye, which were now standing out clear above an inversion layer of thick cloud. It was a fantastic spot and we could easily have stayed all afternoon but eventually the time came to continue downwards.

It is a steep descent back to the road, as the path takes an improbable looking line down through very scenic native woodlands. Care is required in a few places but it is a pleasant descent and the views ahead across Loch Hourn towards Barisdale Bay were a great distraction from the pounding on the knees. Back at the road, it is a short walk back along the tarmac to Arnisdale, but it is a quiet road, and so it was no problem. Back at Arnisdale for 1600 we said our goodbyes before heading off after another memorable weekend in the mountains!

More photos by John and Steven are here on Flickr.



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