Sgurr na Sgine & Faochag – Horrible Hills?

2 04 2011

Stats: 9 miles, 4093 feet of ascent, 6 hours (including a lot of chatting to others en-route), me and Richard, hot and sunny to start but low cloud by the first summit…

Had a very sleepless night before this one as I’ve been terrified at the sight of the super-steep ridge of Faochag ever since I first saw it years ago. But I was determined to do it – I’d never forgive myself every time I drove past it otherwise! In fact, I was so stressed out that, when Richard came into my room with a coffee to wake me after I’d eventually fallen into an uneasy sleep, the very first thing I said to him was “Horrible hills!”. He thought that was hilarious and we both went around saying it for the rest of the week in Kintail…

Faochag second from left…

I reluctantly got up and forced some breakfast down to my, by now churning, stomach and we were parked not far from the foot of the hill by about 10… Most of the way up the road, I’d been staring at Faochag rather than looking where I was driving – it looked really steep and sharp and then, the final rise at the top, just when you were really high up, looked vertical! It looked pretty sharp as well.

We booted up and set off – by now it was hot and sunny. By the time we started the ascent, which is steep from the off, we were out of the wind so it was really sticky – that bothered Richard more than me though as I barely noticed due to my increasing nervousness…

The first few bits are slightly rocky and scrambly but fine… we noticed another couple with a rather portly dog were following us up. The couple who’d been in front of us, who I was also hoping would be more company for me (the more the better for me when I’m nervous – especially up front so I can see what happens), turned off to walk up to the pass over to Tomdoun.

We finished with the rocky bit and arrived at the foot of the first very steep grassy rise… I eyed it suspiciously and attentively… actually, it looked fine and there was a nice zig-zag path going up it… I led off up it looking back down periodically to make sure the steepness wasn’t creeping up on me!

We seemed to climb steeply for an age but I was looking at the top of that section and thinking; “Oh well, then there’s only the flattish bit before the final extremely steep section to go”. Of course, when we got to the top of that bit, that wasn’t the case at all… there was just another steep, grassy section but slightly narrower this time. We continued up… At the top of that section I was still expecting the final steep rise but of course I was wrong again. Eventually, my thoughts changed to me just wondering fearfully how many more of these there were and how much steeper and narrower it was going to get. I had to admit to myself that there hadn’t been any problems though… yet!

Much later, we arrived at a bit which looked very steep and narrow indeed to me but just before it there was a nice flattish bit and a couple heading down towards us. I quizzed them in true mountain coward fashion; “Is there much more of this and does it get much steeper and narrower?”… the lady confirmed that indeed there was and indeed it did. But she did add for my comfort (as she could probably see I looked rattled) that she too was afraid of heights and there’d been a good path all the way and it hadn’t been scary, honest. Thank goodness for the empathy of women eh? He just probably wondered what on earth I was making a fuss about!

As she said, there was a perfectly good path and, although it started to look narrow, and steep down the right-hand side, I coped and we eventually arrived at the point where the ridge flattens off quite a bit and then, soon after, the summit cairn… phew!

As I set off along the quite narrow ridge, I was still nervous about what lie ahead especially as it was by now in a thick mist, but have to say that there were no problems along the ridge and it soon got comfortably wider. I looked back from the slight summit halfway along hoping for a spectacular photo of the narrow ridge but it was too cloudy. I peered down the side which goes down to the Bealach Coire a’ Mhalagain to try to see where we had to descend later, hoping the cloud would clear long enough for us to see. Luckily, after a moment or two, it cleared briefly and we got a good look down – looked rough but fine. By now, I’d started to relax ever so slightly and was even thinking that, if we’d had to, I would have gone back down Faochag – a pretty unusual thought for someone who positively hates going down steep ridges! Only if we’d had to mind…

We continued along the ridge and presently arrived at a looming, steep and rocky-looking bulk in the mist just after we’d turned the corner of the ridge. I started feeling nervous again as it looked horrible – as things looming out of the mist often do. I went very quiet again… But when we got to it, again there was a great path heading off up – as soon as we set off up it, I realised it was absolutely fine and not steep at all. We seemed to be on top of ’the top’ in no time! Even sooner after that, and with hardly any dip or re-climb at all, we were on the Munro summit where there were 2 chappies we’d caught sight of earlier sat admiring the mist. We knew that the summit was very near a drop so we walked a few yards further until there was nothing but space in front of us – yup, must be the summit then. They confirmed we could go no further… well, not in that direction anyway.

Sgurr na Sgine from The Saddle

We stayed long enough for a hot drink and some tea-loaf and then set off back just behind the 2 guys. They soon disappeared into the mist though as they were going like a bomb! Just before we reached the little summit mid-ridge, we saw a scratchy bit of path setting off in the direction of the Bealach Coire a’ Mhalagain and set off down. It was a bit rocky but not steep and there was no scrambling so I was happy. We met a lovely couple from Derby on the way up who’d just done the Saddle via the Forcan Ridge. We pumped them for info as Richard was fancying it – I also pumped them for info about the coward’s route which they’d descended. Would have to be another day though as it was completely clagged in by now, right down to the bealach.

Lochan Choire a’ Mhalagain

We were a bit disappointed not to do The Saddle the same day but the couple had said the path down had been sketchy and so, with the bad visilibity and with the route unseen, I didn’t want to try it really. So we fished around for the wall leaving the bealach (it’s slightly above it following the path up the first couple of rises) and followed the wall back to the foot of The Forcan Ridge where we had a little study of it… Then we headed off towards Meallan Odhar. It seemed a shame to skirt round the poor thing so I said we should go over its summit and then rejoin the path.

After we’d done Meallan Odhar it was a short descent to the col where the path does a sharp turn in the opposite direction to begin the descent to the valley. However, Bod an Fhithich was looking very appealing – well it was to me – Richard just wanted to get back to the car. I kept telling him it looked great and it was only ‘just over there’ and ‘Look, there’s even a little path to it’. I said I was going to do it anyway and was surprised when he followed me. It’s a great little peak and takes no time to ascend from there so is well worth doing. You then get a lovely view along the ridge of A Mhuing to Loch Duich. After admiring the view and the ridge we headed off back to the car down the excellent stalkers’ path…

Bod an Fhithich

A’ Mhuing from Bod an Fhithich




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