Beinn Fhada – the Daunting Sister

8 11 2014

Sun 21 Sep 2014
On the Sunday of my Skye trip I was due to return home but the weather was superb – I texted Jonah the day before to see if he could fit me in to do some more Cuillin Munro Tops but he said he was busy. I decided I’d have to do something on the way home as you can’t waste good weather in Scotland.

I normally drive home from Skye via Glen Spean straight to the A9 although it is a longer route as, trafficwise, it is much better and you save a fortune in fuel. The A82 is a very slow route in places – the only bit where you can get past some of the dawdlers and get a move on really is across Rannoch Moor. I did have some tops still to do in Glencoe however so thought I’d best try to force myself to tackle one of my bete-noires – Beinn Fhada in the Bidean nam Bian range – one of the famed Three Sisters of Glencoe.

(all photos with my digi-point-and-shoot camera as I’d left the film SLR at home – click on for full size)

Most people I’ve spoken to who’ve done the tops thought Beinn Fhada was so innocuous they couldn’t remember any details. I’d driven past it loads of times and simply couldn’t see any way up the horribly steep sides, all of which were defended by crag bands. I’d read up on various websites and seen that there was supposedly a route up the north-east corner but everyone stressed you stayed well away from the ridge-end.

Reluctantly, on reaching Spean Bridge, I continued towards Fort William for Glencoe. All the way from Skye I’d been telling myself that it was a glorious Sunday and that the traffic would be completely impossible and that I’d have to stick to my normal route and go straight back to Cumbria. For a change, that didn’t turn out to be the case – traffic was unexpectedly light. An hour or so later I was parking up at the carpark for the Lairig Eilde (the pass of the hinds) squeezing into the last spot available. I got out and peered morosely at Beinn Fhada. The only route I could see was on the ridge-end and when it got very high on the peak, it ran into crag bands with very steep ground above them – ugh.

I kitted up anyway and set off, telling myself that I’d at least have a thorough recce all along the south-eastern flank of the hill right to where the streams come down from under Stob Coire Sgreamhach. There is a great track through the Lairig Eilde but I kept being bumped off it by oncoming mountain bikers all the way along.

Soon, I crossed the stepping stones where the path changes sides across the burn – I knew the route I’d read about was supposed to set off straight from here. Looking around I couldn’t see anything setting off that way, nor any of the usual path-start marker cairns. If I did head up from there, I’d be tackling the route I’d seen up the ridge-end which, although it looked possible, definitely didn’t look my kind of thing, especially walking alone.

Lairig Eilde Dry River
Virtually no water left in the burn (second burn crossing)

I strolled along the glen in the sunshine peering up the steep walls of the peak. I soon reached the streams coming down from Stob Coire Sgreamhach where, on previous studies of the map, I thought I’d seen possible grassier routes up the hill. While there were some fairly grassy but complicated routes up to a point, the top of the peak was still defended by steep screes mixed with nasty-looking crag bands – definitely not my route. The only other thing I’d seen was a burn coming down in a gully just before the first of the Munro Tops – there was a grassy slope to the right of that which only had two small crag bands – I thought it might be possible to breach these. I headed back to give it a try…

Beinn Fhada - Off Piste Route
My route went up the right-hand side of the burn with all the scree, staying the far side of the burn and going straight upwards above the dark vertical section of gorge through the 2 cragbands

I set off back along the track and headed off up extremely steep grass by the burn gully – for reference, it is just above where the glen track crosses back over the river. A whole herd of deer above fled across the gorge and further up the glen – there were a couple of stags roaring – one with the herd and another where they were headed – it was rutting time already!

On regularly checking my altimeter, I found I was gaining height very quickly with the steepness of the slopes. Pretty soon, I was passing the first rock band up a slightly stony gully. All the way up I’d been looking back down the slope to check I was going to be happy to re-descend my route – the gully didn’t look great but I could descend it on my bum – something I’ve been doing a lot lately with my loss of confidence and the sterner Munro Tops.

Straight after the first band of crag, I met the second. From below I’d seen a steep gully round the corner from the crag band in case it wasn’t surmountable by mountain cowards. I peered round the corner to see if there was a way into it. There was and it didn’t look bad but I could see that the left-hand end of the crag band was very broken and just consisted of firm, dry and wide ledges – fine for ascent or descent.

There was lots of route choice available and I was soon above all the crag bands and onto the final steep grassy slope to the ridge. It was excessively steep up this section but looking back down to the top of the crag band showed that there was a comfortingly wide grassy shelf on top of it for me to look down at to calm me. I could see two guys descending rapidly from the Munro Top and they were periodically coming to the edge of the ridge to study me.

I soon panted my way to the col where the two guys were waiting expectantly. They quizzed me about what they called my ‘off-piste’ route. I pointed down the route to the grassy shelf above the crag band and told them the route was easy but very steep. I said that all they had to do was head down to that shelf and then tackle the crag bands below on their right-hand side and that, after that, it was just very steep grass all the way. I quizzed them about the tops I had to do (they’d done the whole circuit from Bidean nam Bian). Were they very loose? not particularly… were they narrow? nope… were they exposed? nope… they did say the ridge had had quite strenuous ups and downs though.

Beinn Fhada - Starting on Tops
Starting along the ridge (above) and top of my ascent route to right of col (below)
Beinn Fhada Ridge end from 1st Top

We parted and I plodded off up what I thought was the first top. On reaching the summit of that I could see the actual top was the next peak along – I wasn’t particularly surprised by this as I’m quite used to false summits on mountains. It looked fine though and the ridge was comfortingly wide and mainly grassy. As I neared the summit however, the second top hove into view – it reared up darkly and steeply and looked horribly narrow.

Beinn Fhada - 2nd Top Looking Mean!

I tapped the cairn and continued straight on for the descent to the second top. The descent was easy enough and there was a nice grassy col. All the way I was studying the next peak – it had a steep and rocky ascent to an initial lump and then what looked like quite a narrow ridge across to the summit proper with a steep finish.

Beinn Fhada - 2nd Top

I soon reached the first rise which was mainly a steep scree zig-zag with a nasty drop off down crags and gullies into the Lost Valley on my right. The left-hand side was very steep scree down to the Lairig Eilde and was hardly more comforting. The ridge I had to ascend wasn’t very narrow though and going up was fine. I did notice that what Jonah had said about me on Am Basteir was true however – due to my lack of confidence lately, I was moving very badly and I was being very clumsy with my feet.

Beinn Fhada - start of 2nd top

The scree path changed to a clamber up firmer rocks where I felt happier and I was soon on the top of the first rise to see what the next section looked like along the narrow ridge. Actually, it was completely fine – flat and grassy, not very narrow after all, and a minimal rise at the end to what I hoped was the true summit. I was soon at the cairn at the top of the rise – all went downhill from there to the col before Sgreamhach – I’d done my tops and now I just had to go back along and face the steep re-descent from the ridge – I wasn’t looking forward to that bit.

Beinn Fhada Ridge from 2nd Top
Looking back

I slithered down the scree to the grassy col between the two tops, sometimes keeping very low and crouching down as I hate sliding about on scree.

Beinn Fhada end
1st top from 2nd top descent
Beinn Fhada - 1st top from 2nd

Beinn Fhada Tarn

I was soon back over my first top and back on the grassy col where I made myself stop for a drink and a sit (I tend to just hurry along hills I don’t like much and refuse to stop).

Beinn Fhada Ridge-end to Aonach Eagach

Then, with a little trepidation, I set off over the edge and down the very steep grass – the valley looked a long way down! I made myself just look at the section of slope I was tackling and side-stepped my way down to the comforting flat grass shelf above the crags. The crag bands were perfectly easy in descent, they just didn’t look as comforting as they had going up. I was soon down the first and picking my way down steep grass at the side of the stony gully. That was both crag bands dealt with…

The slopes below the crag bands looked much steeper than they had when I’d been looking down them on the ascent. Still, I had to get back down so I reminded myself I’d come up them and again tried not to look down the whole slope but just the area I was descending at the time. Eventually, I reached the glen path and the river with a sigh of relief. By now I was hot and sticky and it was still fairly warm – the river looked really tempting. It was late and there didn’t seem to be anyone around so I quickly stripped off and was in the river – lovely!

The water was quite cold so I soon got out to dry out on a slab of rock mid-river which was in full sun. I finished off my water bottle while I relaxed on the rock and peered up at the route I’d just descended – I decided I had to try to get a photo of it but, with the sun starting to go down behind the peak, the light wasn’t on it and I wasn’t sure whether it would really show up much in a photo. I took one for route illustration purposes anyway (see second photo)…

Then, all there was left to do was head back along the good path to my car – at least I had the path to myself now. When the carpark came into view, my Sunny was sat in splendid isolation – I was definitely the last person off the hill!

Lairig Eilde

Beinn Fhada Goodbye
Looking back up Lairig Eilde to my hill on right (above) and across the Three Sisters (below)
Misty 3 Sisters

A word of warning to anyone heading back across Rannoch Moor at the end of a nice Sunday – there are some very lunatic bikers on that road trying to kill themselves (and possibly you too). They definitely don’t think you have a right to overtake any of the cars in front of you either – one of them showed his wrath in no uncertain terms as he passed me when I dared to overtake a car in front before he did – so far as I’m concerned, the person in front is the one who overtakes first, especially if they’ve made their intentions clear from the outset!

Stats: 6.5 miles, 2795 feet of ascent, 5 hours

Advertisements

Actions

Information

18 responses

19 11 2014
razzah

Great report – I could sense your relief as you got down to the glen floor! I hate descending steep ground too.

Like

19 11 2014
mountaincoward

It certainly was a relief – the dip in the river soon revived me though ๐Ÿ™‚

Like

12 11 2014
McEff

Another great walk and great pictures, Carol. My experience of plunging into a river or loch after a hot sticky walk is that the idea is always far better than the actual dip. No matter how hot the weather, Scottish water is always unbearably cold.
Cheers, Alen

Like

12 11 2014
mountaincoward

That is very true! I didn’t stay in more than a few seconds. The drying out on the sunny rock was nice though ๐Ÿ™‚

Like

12 11 2014
Tessa Park

Some cracking pics there.

Why do you think you’ve had a loss of confidence? Just wondered as I’ve been a bit the same recently.

Like

12 11 2014
mountaincoward

I think there are several reasons. I’ve not been great on my feet since I’ve been having that niggling groin strain for over a year now – I know I’m more unsteady so that saps my confidence and makes me worse. I’m still afraid of falling even a small distance after I broke my wrist and toe in 2012.

I also think another reason is that, the Munro Tops are much tougher and I’m also on my own for them as Richard is no longer serviceable for Scottish hillwalking unfortunately (arthritis) ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Like

10 11 2014
bob

Another one in the bag. Very unusual way up Carol but now I think of it I’ve only ever walked Ben Fhada as part of the Bidean full horseshoe and have usually descended off that way at the end of the day. There is a steep rocky scramble off Stob coire Sgreamhach to get down onto the Fhada ridge though that you might not like as I wasn’t that keen on it either last Spring. As your photos show B F is a fine peak in its own right.

Like

10 11 2014
mountaincoward

Yeah, I knew about that ‘Bad Step’ between Fhada and Sgreamhach which is why I did Beinn Fhada on its lonesome!

Like

9 11 2014
underswansea

Very fine climb! Enjoyed your description of the hike. I liked beinn-fhada-1st-top-from-2nd.jpg. It is a good looking ridge. Those are very interesting mountains. However, I always found it was much more sensical to strip at the top of the mountain, if for nothing else the celebration alone! Take care.

Like

9 11 2014
mountaincoward

It’s generally too cold to strip at the top of our mountains (although I suppose you’re generally warm from the effort) – mind you, it must be cold at the top of yours too?. I generally find a nice sunny corrie or something lower down.

Like

9 11 2014
underswansea

Now it’s November the only thing I’ll strip down to is my long underwear! Mountaintop, valley bottom, sunny or not.

Like

9 11 2014
mountaincoward

I’ll be getting my long underwear out soon too

Like

8 11 2014
johndburns

I have a Facebook community for my blog and I just posted a link to your blog on it. Feel free to post links to any new posts you put up on the page https://www.facebook.com/johndburnsblog

Like

9 11 2014
mountaincoward

That was nice of you ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m not on Facebook or Twitter though.

Like

8 11 2014
chrissiedixie

It’s always a good idea to make sure you can go down what you climb! I remember years ago, really struggling down something which had seemed ok going up, but was a total nightmare for me in reverse!

Like

8 11 2014
mountaincoward

I do that all the time, especially as I’m terrible at descending stuff anyway. I can go up more or less anything. I spend more time stressing about descents off hills before I do them than anything else and spend hours studying contours and looking for crags.

Like

8 11 2014
Mark

I wasn’t aware of Munro Tops when I did this one. My partner and I plus dog went up the rounded nose of Beinn Fhade from near the roadside. I think it was route mentioned in one of Pouchers books. I don’t remember much about the climb but it was a glorious day in May so much so that it really cemented my love of the Scottish mountains. We went over both Tops and on to Sgurr Coire Sgreamhach, then only a Munro Top prior to its elevation to Munro status in 1997. We descended steeply into the Lost Valley over snow patches and scree. We cooled off with a commando style dip in the pool below the road. Happy days.๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Š

Like

8 11 2014
mountaincoward

Sounds like I should have called this post Beinn Fhada and the skinny-dippers or something seeing as everyone seems to have a dip in the lovely pools below ๐Ÿ˜‰

Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: