Sgurr an Fhuarail

26 07 2014

Thu 12 Jun 2014
Richard still being laid-up with his, now badly-swollen, knee, I knew this was going to be my last day’s walking in Kintail for this trip – it simply wasn’t fair to leave him around the cottage when he couldn’t even walk anywhere. This is a very short mopping-up operation for the North Glenshiel mountains – the left-over top of ‘The Brothers Ridge’ – Sgurr an Fhuarail.

Click on photos for full size/resolution
I’d had an extremely bad night’s sleep as I’d been stressing all night. Richard’s knee was now added to his hip arthritis, groin strain etc. and he clearly wasn’t getting better. I felt his Munroing days were well and truly over unfortunately. That meant I had all the gnarly and tricky left-over Munro Tops to do alone – not a nice thought for some of them. I was also upset that I’ve found this year that I’m having terrible trouble getting fit myself – I’m almost permanently tired-out, especially at the end of a Scottish mountain walk – they’re just so much harder than anything in England!

Possibly due to my ongoing lack of fitness and the fact that I’ve been a bit unsteady on my pins with my own groin-strain, I’ve found that I’ve returned to being a total mountain coward with almost zero confidence in Western Scotland. I’d been very edgy and stressed on the morning of each of my Kintail walks on this week, no matter how simple the hill. I was starting to seriously doubt my Munro top-bagging mission’s chances of success – it didn’t look good! 😦 I suppose we all go through these crises from time to time – I certainly know of others who have.

Anyway, this hill will be very familiar to anyone staying at, or even passing, the Cluanie Inn as it is the steeply rising grassy peaks immediately opposite the hotel. As I parked up in their carpark opposite the hotel, I was pleased to see that there was actually a faint path up the steep grassy slope – there was also a sketchy path setting off across the bogs before the start of the climb.

Sgurr an Fhuarail from Road
Sgurr an Fhurail (a pretty lousy photo, sorry!)

It was just before 11 and sunny and warm. Minutes after I set off uphill, the sun went in however – I was quite glad as I could see it would be quite a slog up to the first peak just marked as 864 ‘metres’ on the map.

Initially very wet in places, the path soon became clearer and started to dry out a bit. As the ground is fairly soft, the characteristic ‘steps’ had formed – I much prefer that as you can keep your feet flat and not over-pull on the muscles in the back of your calves that way.

The slope rose in long humps so I occasionally got a bit of a rest on the flat bits for a few yards to regain my breath. This continued until the ridge turned right to pass around the hanging corrie near the top. From there the ridge became very steep indeed and the path started to fade out. I decided to rake left to avoid the steepness of going straight up – at this point I thought I could see the shoulder.

Sgurr an Fhuarail Shoulder Lochan
Nearing the shoulder – my ‘top’ on the right, Aonach Mheadhoin left

There were several false shoulders before a very tall and precarious-looking cairn on the edge of the corrie hove into view at last. It had taken just over an hour to reach this subsidiary peak. I noted when I looked on the map when I got back that a strange little ridge that passed around the rounded summit ahead is actually higher than the part with the cairn by quite a measure!

Sgurr an Fhuarail - from shoulder
The way ahead…

Ciste Dhubh (or, as I call it, Beast Dhubh), looked very spectacular from the summit but it was a bit gloomy to get a good photo of – I took one anyway.

Ciste Dhubh from Sgurr an Fhuarail

I then clambered up onto the wrap-around ridge where I got a good view of my onward ridge to the Munro ‘top’ – it looked fine…

Sgurr an Fhuarail - ridge after shoulder

Looking at the route from my top to the main Munro, I was glad I didn’t have to go up there again – it looked almost vertical and there wasn’t a lot of route-choice.

Aonach Mheadhoin from Sgurr an Fhuarail

At this point I wasn’t decided about my return route – I’d considered several from my study of the map the night before and had also just seen another between the subsidiary top and the Munro ‘top’ – one of my ‘flights down the corrie’ from the col. Now I’d ruled out any of the continuation ones over the Munro, it was either the corrie escape (which I suspected might not be as easy as it looked – they can be very tricky), the northern ridge, or return the way I’d come.

I plodded up the several rises on the, now-great, path on the fairly narrow ridge – great views either side but I still found I was being a bit cautious. From a distance, the summit cairn looked like it had a shelter around it but, as I approached, I saw it was a natural rocky tor on the otherwise quite grassy peak. It was made up of rough quartzy-looking blocks but had plenty of space to place your feet between them so was easily surmounted.

Aonach Mheadhoin from Fhuarail Summit
Aonach Mheadhoin from the Top Summit

Sgurr an Fhuarail - ascent from L Cluanie
Looking back down ascent route

I debated whether to have a break at the cairn as there was a nice sheltered spot out of the wind between the rocks but, after taking a few photos of my, now-rejected, onward ridge to the Munro, I decided to continue. I’d been less than two hours to this point and wasn’t really ready for any food, drink or rest. I was also eager to see what the north ridge looked like as it was return-route decision time!

I saw a path headed off to tackle the descent down the northern ridge – a good sign as I prefer to take routes which have been used before where possible. I peered over the edge – it again went down in little humps and looked okay. Especially encouraging was the width of the ridge about half-way down. This ridge descends to the Bealach Cornaidh between Am Bathach and Ciste Dhubh so was an ideal place to descend to as there is a choice of pathed routes back from there.

I set off cautiously down the ridge on the slightly-loose and fairly steep path. A couple of humps further down the path became firmer but the ridge was quite a bit narrower and slightly scrambly. I found I was still being so cautious I was lowering down small sections crouching and using my hands – obviously still having a bit of a confidence-crisis. Kintail was never my most comfortable area for walking though – especially the northern hills.

Sgurr an Fhuarail Upper North Ridge
Looking back up…

The rocky section was soon over, however, and then it was just grassy (but pathless) slopes all the way to the bealach. I was delighted to see four figures below me making their way up the steep slopes. I soon met the lad in the lead – a very pleasant young guy from England who was out with his parents and his girlfriend – I think he said it was his parents who were doing the Munros but he said he seemed to be doing most of them too!

I offered the encouraging news that, after the grassy hump ahead, that was the top of the steep, pathless slog up the grass and the ridge gained a path and became more interesting. As we chatted they mentioned they were already tired as they’d just added Ciste Dhubh in to their walk – quite a hard day to tackle I’d say to add that to ‘The Brothers’. We said our goodbyes after a pleasant natter and I bounded off down the steep, wet grass to the Bealach Cornaidh.

Sgurr an Fhuarail North Ridge
Looking back up again…

Sgurr an Fhuarail Ridge from Bealach Cornaidh
From the Bealach Cornaidh…

For about a minute, I pondered whether to add the Corbett of Am Bathach into my return but I’ve done it before and decided to try the track which descends down An Caorann Beag instead as I haven’t done that glen. The path was exceedingly soggy throughout much of its length and, near the end of the glen, I considered crossing the river to the bulldozed track which was now on the opposite side of the glen.

I ended up being sorry not to have crossed to the other track when my track set off around the end of Am Bathach and away from the Cluanie and became even soggier. Oh well – never mind – it meant another quarter of a mile back along the road but it wasn’t too busy for a change.

I was soon back at my car where I went for a quick drink in Kintail Lodge and bought Richard a couple of bottles of local ale and some Beef and Mustard crisps – our favourite!

Stats: 2676 feet of ascent, 6 miles, 3 hours 45 – a very easy day!




10 responses

7 08 2014

My other half complains that she is sick of me complaining about my fitness, I find I only have to go a week without a walk or cycle and it starts to drop off, but it takes at least two weeks to get myself back to where I was. Then of course something crops up and I’m back at square one!

Despite your ‘lack of’ fitness your still getting up Scotland’s hills regularly – something I’m struggling with this year.

Good route advice as always 🙂 Cheers.


10 08 2014

Getting unfit is definitely quicker and easier than getting fit!


2 08 2014

Work definitely gets in the way of fitness! My Geoff retired early about 7 years ago, and he’s never been fitter. I’ve also just joined the ranks of ‘early retirees’ last week, and am hoping to be able to keep up with him now!


10 08 2014

Congratulations on your early-retirement (said she with completely green eyes!)


29 07 2014

Carol, don’t worry about the fitness thing. I’ve found, over the years, that when I go to Scotland sometimes and am feeling well, I really struggle for the first few walks. Other times when I go and expect to struggle I feel okay. It’s swings and roundabouts. Perhaps you’re just a bit rundown and need your batteries charging.
Anyway, great post. Thanks for the picture of Ciste Dhubh, my favourite mountain.


29 07 2014

I usually struggle at first but, as the year goes by, soon get very fit indeed. I suppose I’m still fitter than most of my friends and colleagues but I’m disappointed at how little fitness I’ve gained this year. I do think I’m pretty run down with work though and getting too old to do a stressful job with long hours. I’ll be looking to change that in about 4 years.

By the way, what happened to you in the end jobwise? Have you found something more interesting/better?

Shame I couldn’t have got a better picture of Ciste Dhubh but it was a bit murky and hazy…


29 07 2014

Interesting you should ask that about my job, because in a way it might be related to your fitness problem. I was made redundant on May 6 and I haven’t found anything yet in my line of work. But health wise, I feel as good inside as ever. I feel a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And although, physically, I’m slower than I was twenty years ago – because of age – all the stress of work has been alleviated and my blood pressure (which has always been too high) has started to come down.
Perhaps that’s where your problem lies. It could well be a lifestyle thing. It’s certainly worth looking into.
All the best, Alen


29 07 2014

I’ve been suspecting for a long time as my walking friend, Richard, retired at 50 and, since then, he’s been much fitter than me (apart from getting arthritis) and obviously less stressed. Work has a lot to answer for!


27 07 2014

A fine adventure Carol. Have you considered you might not be losing fitness on the Scottish Hills but just getting a year older each bagging season? :o)


27 07 2014

I’ve been getting older all the time I’ve been bagging in Scotland – but this year is the first really severe dip in my fitness. It could be ageing… it could be working too hard… or it could be something more sinister. I just hope it’s one of the first two!


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