Hills: Biod and Fhithich, part of the Forcan Ridge and Sgurr na Sgine
Date: Sunday 20th May 2012
Company: Myself, Malcolm and Sandra
Distance: 12.4km, Ascent 1475m
Time: 8 Hrs
Yesterday morning, I set out on a Club Bus Meet to Kintail. Members were dropped-off at various points along the way. I got dropped-off at the large lay-by beside the Allt Mhalagain, at the base of Faochag.
My main intention was to ascend the Saddle via the Forcan Ridge, along with Malcolm and Sandra. However, I first wanted to ascend Biod an Fhithich, a Graham, so I steamed-off ahead on my own to ascend Biod an Fhithich with a view to catching up with the others before reaching the start of the Forcan Ridge.
Click here to see a map of the route undertaken
After walking a short distance down the A87, I followed the excellent stalker’s path as far as the col between Biod an Fhithich and Meallan Odhar - this is the trade-route for an ascent of the Saddle.
Biod an Fhithich:
The excellent stalker’s path made for good, fast progress.
Ascending the stalker's path towards Biod an Fhithich:
A87 towards Shiel Bridge:
On reaching the col between Biod an Fhithich and Meallan Odhar, I left the main track and followed the faint path leading up Biod an Fhithich.
Ascent of Biod an Fhithich from col:
I have rarely visited Glen Shiel in recent years so it was nice to be reminded of the views.
A87 towards Cluanie Inn:
I reached the summit of Biod an Fhithich just over an hour after setting off. This is definitely an easy Graham
Loch Duich from summit of Biod an Fhithich:
Five Sisters from summit of Biod an Fhithich:
Looking across to the Forcan Ridge, I was a bit sceptical about ascending it. There still looked to be a reasonable amount of snow on it and today I was wearing my summer boots, which have hardly any tread left on the soles. I also had no crampons with me. In hindsight, I should have trusted my initial scepticism.
Forcan Ridge from Biod an Fhithich:
I didn’t stay at the summit of Biod an Fhithich for long as I wanted to catch up with Malcolm and Sandra. From the summit, I could see that they had just reached the col between Biod an Fhithich and Meallan Odhar.
I made my descent back to the col and then followed the track up Meallan Odhar, leading towards the Saddle. I caught up with Malcolm and Sandra near the top of Meallan Odhar.
Looking back to Biod an Fhithich from Meallan Odhar:
From Meallan Odhar, we made our way to the start of the Forcan Ridge.
The following photos are a mix taken using my DSLR and my iPhone. The DSLR went in my rucksack for the hands-on sections.
Start of Forcan Ridge:
The initial section of the ridge was quite straight-forward – a couple of short easy scrambles with sections of eroded path in between.
I last ascended the Forcan Ridge in 1998 and couldn’t remember much about it. The one thing stuck in my memory was a section of tricky descent beyond Sgurr na Forcan.
First easy scramble:
Sandra and Malcolm starting ascent of Forcan Ridge:
Easy section beyond initial scramble:
Sandra and Malcolm ascending ridge:
On reaching the top of the initial section we could see what lay ahead. I certainly couldn’t recall the Forcan Ridge being so long and sustained compared with other mainland scrambles such as Liathach and the Aonach Eagach.
We made our way along a flattish section of ridge to reach the base of the main climb.
The ridge proper ahead:
Steep rocky ascent of Forcan Ridge (zoom):
On reaching the base of the main climb, while putting away my large camera again, Sandra set off out front doing a splendid job leading the way.
Starting the steep ascent:
Sandra setting off out front:
I didn’t take many photos while on the ridge as I had to concentrate on scrambling.
Looking back along Forcan Ridge:
As we gained more and more height, I was becoming less and less comfortable as we reached more and more snow. Most of the normally easier sections between the rocky sections were now covered in wet, slippery snow. Sticking to the rock was by far the safest but that meant tackling sections of the ridge that were harder in grade - the route was becoming one long sustained rocky scramble.
At around 900m, I completely lost confidence in progressing when Sandra fell off an awkward rocky section and landed just a few feet from a sheer drop. I was struggling to keep my footing on the sections covered in shitty wet snow. I also knew that the worst was yet to come – the tricky descent. I then suggested a retreat via one of the grassy gullies to the South.
However, we carried on perhaps another 100m distance before my mind was finally made up. There was a steep rocky section ahead which is normally avoided on the right via a grassy slope. This grassy slope was covered in snow, progressing further would have meant again climbing the rock as the grassy section was too dangerous.
We therefore down-scrambled back about 50m distance to reach the top of one of the very steep grassy gullies.
I had an ice axe with me but no crampons, Malcolm had a pair of microspike crampons but no ice axe and Sandra had neither. The descent was going to be interesting!
I set off first, repeatedly using my ice axe to get past a rock slab section at the top. Once past the slab section, the descent was via very steep grass, with the odd rock here and there and a fair bit of snow.
During the descent, I heard a shout looked up and saw Sandra sliding and accelerating down the slope. Sandra was pretty much heading directly for me, so I drove in my ice axe, and got out of the way enough to try and grab Sandra as she went past. I did manage to grab Sandra put couldn’t keep hold of her as she continued to slide down the hill. I did however manage to slow down her descent. Thankfully Sandra stopped about 50m below me in an area of deep snow (avalanche debris). To our shouts of are you ok, Sandra gave the thumbs-up. Phew!!!
We then started to progress down the steep slope again. Sandra now had a great head-start. The next thing I
knew was another shout from above as Malcolm started sliding and accelerating down the slope. This time, I did manage to drive in my ice axe, grab and stop Malcolm from sliding any further. Malcolm encountered some rock during his slide resulting in some grazing and a bloody elbow but thankfully nothing more serious.
As we continued down the gradient eased slightly and we skirted our way round to meet the SE ridge between Sgurr na Forcan and Bealach Coire Mhalagain.
Back on safe ground
The next photo seems to make the descent look less steep than it actually was.
Looking back at escape-route descent from ridge:
Ridge above Bealach Coire Mhalagain:
On reaching the Bealach Coire Mhalagain, we realised that if we returned to the road, we would have to wait around two hours for our bus to pick us up. Myself and Malcolm therefore opted to ascend Sgurr na Sgine, as sort of compensation for failing to summit the Saddle.
Lochan at the Bealach Coire Mhalagain:
After our first bite to eat of the day, we set off up Sgurr na Sgine.
Ascent of Sgurr na Sgine towards 870m top:
There were good views back to the Saddle and the Forcan Ridge from Sgurr na Sgine. Our descent route certainly looked steep from a distance.
Looking back to the Saddle and Forcan Ridge from slopes of Sgurr na Sgine:
Our ascent of Forcan Ridge and escape-route:
The ascent of Sgurr na Sgine was my favourite part of the day - lots of great views.
View out West:
We initially ascended to the 870m top and then made our way across to the NW Top of Sgurr na Sgine.
Sgurr na Sgine and Sgurr na Sgine NW Top from 870m top:
We could see across to the Black Cuillin and there were great views looking across to Knoydart.
Black Cuillin (zoom):
View across to Ladhar Bheinn:
As we made our way up the NW Top of Sgurr na Sgine we caught-up with a large group of third-year school children, accompanied by several teachers. All of the children were well-equipped and they seemed to be a well-matched group for fitness.
Ascent of NW top of Sgurr na Sgine:
I stopped to take a few photos at the NW Top and then continued on to reach the summit of Sgurr na Sgine.
View from slopes of NW Top:
View from the NW Top of Sgurr na Sgine:
Heading for the summit of Sgurr na Sgine:
Was nice to look down on Loch Hourn from Sgurr na Sgine.
Looking down to Skiary, Loch Hourn:
Was also nice to see the fantastic ridge between Sgurr na Sgine and Faochag, that we would be following next.
We didn’t spend too long at the summit as we were conscious of time – our bus picking us up at 18:00.
Malcolm at the summit of Sgurr na Sgine:
View from summit of Sgurr na Sgine:
View from summit of Sgurr na Sgine:
The Saddle from Sgurr na Sgine:
South Glen Shiel ridge from Sgurr na Sgine:
From the summit, we could see for miles. Even Ben Nevis looked to be clear of cloud.
Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis from Sgurr na Sgine (zoom):
From the summit, we returned to the NW Top and then made our way along the Faochag ridge.
Looking back to Sgurr na Sgine from Faochag ridge:
Summit of Faochag:
View from Faochag:
From Faochag, we descended steeply back to the A97 road. The descent from Faochag was certainly tough on the old knees.
Looking back at descent from Faochag:
On reaching the Allt Mhalagain, we crossed via stepping-stones and then returned to the road to wait for our bus.
Faochag from Allt Mhalagain:
We reached the road at 17:55 – great timing!
Amazing, that despite being fairly experienced you can still be faced with challenging situations.
On returning, I read the description of the Forcan Ridge on UK Climbing.
“Winter Climb I/II
About 400m of ascent along a ridge featuring a mix of blocky scrambles, snowslopes, an entertaining downclimb or abseil, narrow airy paths, grassy platforms, 'a cheval' snow ridges, and turfy cracks, depending on the prevailing snow conditions. Escapes from some technical moves are possible when under sound snow, or when bare. These escapes can be dangerous in poor snow conditions."
I think this description is pretty-good. Escapes from technical moves are dangerous in shitty snow and I was glad to have bailed-out before the entertaining downclimb or abseil.