Sgurr na Feartaig – on all Fours!

8 06 2017

Tue 16 May 2017
Now only two days before my Munro Top Compleation and Richard was still not fit enough. I’d arranged that we have two nights at Strathcarron on the way up where I said there was a fine choice of lovely Corbetts. I really wanted to do An Ruadh-Stac but not if rain was forecast as I believed it was pretty much all rock slabs for the final part of the ascent and thought they wouldn’t be much fun to descend in the wet. The other Corbetts I had in mind were Sgurr na Feartaig – a nice grassy hill from Craig, and Fuar Tholl – a short walk I’d prefer to leave for the Wednesday in case I didn’t need a day off. As rain was forecast for the middle of the day, we decided on Feartaig…

Click on photos for full size/resolution – Richard’s as marked

After parking up in the forest at Craig (just above Gerry’s Bunkhouse as was – the bunkhouse still exists but, unfortunately, Gerry doesn’t) we set off across the railway level crossing on the Craig track. This long track is familiar to all Munroists as it is the one you need to take for Sgurrs Chaorachain & Choinnich and also Maol Lunndaidh. I have to say that I hate this track though as it is a hard, stony forest vehicle track and it goes on a bit! As it’s uphill all the way, I don’t bother to cycle it.


Fuar Tholl from the River Bridge

My legs weren’t overjoyed on the hard path and I dreaded taking it again at the end of the day when they’d be tired as well. We plodded on upwards in nice sunshine admiring the crags under Sgurr na Ceannnaichean and the rearward views to the spectacular Coire Lair.


Coire Lair Hills – my film photo above, Richard’s digi below

Neither of us was going particularly well but I was looking forward to the well-graded and much softer stalkers path all the way up the north-eastern ridge of our peak.


Sunlit Sgurr Choinnich from the high point of the track

When I pointed out the path to Richard after we’d crossed the fun wooden-slatted suspension bridge (which ingeniously uses two trees as the nearer set of towers) he said he didn’t feel up to continuing the hill. I said it would be very easy going up the stalkers path as it is so well-graded and zig-zags all the way and managed to persuade him to continue…


Obviously these 2 are Richard’s shots of the shoogly bridge

We plodded up very slowly, me now enjoying myself on the softer ground and relishing the easy angle of each zig and zag – Richard was making heavier weather of it though. I took some photos while I was waiting…


To Fionn Bheinn and Achnasheen


Sgurr na Ceannaichean

Still, he continued… right up to nearly the edge of the summit plateau where, not only did the gale make itself felt here, but the bad weather hit. We had horizontal hail and quite heavy rain and it was pretty ‘orrid. We’d both put waterproof trousers on when it started spitting – me only wearing my lightweight ones and not having yet put my fleece jumper on – just my waterproof coat. I was made to regret this…


The hill before the weather hit

Richard said, predictably, he was definitely turning back now. I had a last attempt to persuade him up the hill telling him; “This is Scotland – this is what the weather does”. His answer will upset many readers as he just said “that’s why I don’t like Scotland any more” then told me to be careful and promptly headed back down. I might have thought he was making the wrong decision at the time but I was soon made to think he was right…


Richard took these on his return…

As I went ‘over the edge’ up onto the plateau, the wind was positively howling and doing its best to hurl me back down over the edge again. By now my legs were getting soaked as my lightweight trousers aren’t really waterproof – just windproof. My body and hands were also thinking of chilling but I was more concerned at remembering the path’s relation to the summit – I knew it was one side or the other but couldn’t remember which. It was far too wet and windy to get the map out as, by now, I was having huge trouble just staying on my feet. I decided the higher ground to the right must be it and headed into the very teeth of the gale.

Soon, I was reduced to crawling on hands and knees among the rocks on the ground as it was too windy to stand up at all. The wind had already had a go at running me over the edge and I’d had to sit down very quickly, gashing my arm on a rock. I hoped I hadn’t damaged my jacket. At times I was clinging onto rocks on the ground and the rocks were trying to pull out, so strong was the hurricane. I was making near to no progress at all and decided I wasn’t going to make it up this slope, if indeed it was the summit – I was near enough to see there appeared to be no cairn in the murk though. I had to turn back…

I was hurled down the slope again soon realising that my walking pole had come off my bumbag – luckily it was a red one. I reluctantly headed back into the gale once again and crawled back to look for it. Luckily I found it fairly soon but kept it in my hand this time. Redescending away from the gale, I found it useful as a third leg to put ahead of me and stop me being blown over. At one point though, crossing some soft ground between rocks, it suddenly became shorter. I looked at the end and wasn’t sure it looked right. In the end I decided it wasn’t and that the end of the pole was missing. I went back yet again and found the end and screwed it back in – these poles can be a nuisance!

I descended back over the lip of the plateau to the stalkers path and sat, cold and soaked, out of the wind, to get some clothes on. I hadn’t been able to get to the top of my jacket pocket zip with my cold, wet hands to get my gloves out and it was too windy to take my coat off and put my fleece on. I put my jumper and gloves on and had a good look at the map. I should have got my compass out at this point but the summit looked pretty near the path so, sadly, I didn’t bother – I was made to regret my foolishness.

I had no flask for a warming coffee as I was carrying the cold water and Richard the flasks – I would have dearly loved a warm drink though as I was pretty cold. I didn’t bother with the chilling water and knew I’d soon warm up walking. Having seen before putting the map away that I actually had a small descent past some large lochs before the rise to the summit proper and that it was off to the left, I set off back over the lip into the gale for another go – I felt I couldn’t really give up on a mere Corbett – too shameful!

This time, following the path instead of heading to the right into the gale, I was soon out of the worst of the wind and making progress. Yes, there was the large loch and, across the depression, a much higher area loomed in the mist. The path had gone missing now though… oh well – I could see it setting off up after the depression so continued on.

I was soon climbing well on the good path again back into thicker mist. The map had said not much of a re-ascent… As the ground got higher on my left in two places, the path curled around back on itself and started to head downhill determinedly. I didn’t want to get the map out again in the bad weather but decided it shouldn’t do that and that one of the higher sections of ground I’d passed on the left must contain my summit. I tried the one by me but there was nothing.

I then headed back to, and back down, the path for a short distance to the other section of higher ground. I set off along a little ridge, across a dip and then up a steeper and bigger ridge strewn liberally with huge boulders. As this was quite a stony ridge for this particular hill, I felt sure its boulders would mean I could find my way back down again to the path. I reached a rocky ridge crossing my path and headed to my right. Suddenly, to my left I could see a triangular rise – was that the cairn? I rushed over – yes, it was, and a huge one at that. I tapped the cairn and then set off immediately back to look for my path.

Although I retraced my steps to the best of my memory, I soon found totally unfamiliar ground looming out of the mist. Oh dear… as I hadn’t taken any compass bearings yet I could literally be anywhere – completely lost on a fairly featureless hill. I’d been sure I’d descended the same bouldery ridge and should be back at the path by now but there was no sign of it.

In the end, after milling around a bit, I decided to get the map and compass out and see what direction from the summit (which could also be anywhere now) the stalkers path was. I decided that if I walked north, and sometimes north-east, and looked for the large lochs, I might get back down okay. I walked back to where I thought was roughly in line with the summit (I’d likely not find it again in the mist anyway), and took a bearing to see which was north and which northeast and just kept picking which I fancied by the angle of the ground.

After a while, I saw something grey and moving – what on earth was it? It turned out to be the lapping waves of one of the large lochs. At this point I thought there was just one and went to the left of it hoping to pick up my earlier path. At the end of the loch there was another one. I didn’t get the map out at this stage to check whether there should be two as I’d noticed earlier that all the lochs and lochans weren’t marked on the map anyway. I went to the left of this and found just plain grassy ground. I was in a dip so I set off northerly again for the rising ground in that direction. Still no sign of a path though…

I continued uphill gently and, luckily, was very heartened to see a large, propped-up, triangular rock standing like a sentinel. I was sure I recognised it from my battle with the gale. I went eagerly over to it and, just past it a short way distant, I also recognised the cairn near the edge of the plateau on the stalkers path. I headed joyfully across to the start of the path down the hillside. I admit at this stage I was bloody lucky to get off the hill so easily after making so many bad decisions such as not putting my compass on earlier and taking bearings to follow back!

I romped happily back down the easy path but was a little worried about my hip as it didn’t feel great despite the soft ground. I knew the Craig track would finish it off if it was ailing. After crossing the lovely swingy bridge over the burn, I had a little rest – now back in sunshine – to watch all the cyclists coming back out of the glen with bothying packs and the like. Most of them got off to walk up the hill here (as I would) before their long, gleeful descent. I was feeling too tired to say hello to them all so just looked at the views around.

The hard Craig track, as predicted, didn’t do my hip any favours and I got slower and slower. I hoped it would be better in two days time for my compleation…

Of course, looking back at the hills, all was glorious now I’d left!


My hill…

Richard was waiting just before the railway crossing – he’d found a handy fence in the wind and the sun there to dry all his outer clothing and socks. I was pretty glad to get back to my car and flask but horrified to see I’d been out on the hill for 7 hours!!

Stats: 12 miles, 2976 feet of ascent, 7 hours!!

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10 responses

14 06 2017
Simon Howlett

Looks magnificent Carol – the bridge looks a little precarious though! Have fun with the Munro Top Completion.

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15 06 2017
mountaincoward

The shoogly bridge was great – I love rickety or wobbly bridges – so long as they’re not over a huge drop or something anyway.

The Munro Top Compleation is the next post but will be over a week as I’ve only just got my photos out of my camera. Not sure if I’m going to be using mine though as I’ve already written the post but using my friend Mark’s photos (he came with me).

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10 06 2017
tessapark1969

That sounds like a bit of an epic! Well done for pressing on but I think I’d have bailed. Definitely easier to pick a hill for a bad day in the Lakes than in Scotland.

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10 06 2017
mountaincoward

yes it is! It was a total epic but the navigation stuff was my own fault really for not getting sorted sooner.

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10 06 2017
Blue Sky Scotland

Enjoyed that account Carol, Really funny. I came to Richard’s conclusion 20 years ago :o). I don’t mind windy weather as long as I get views and it stays dry but my enthusiasm disappears completely when the hill is boring and I cant see anything in mist and drizzle. Never seen the point of doing them then as the fun element goes right out the window for me- not being a dedicated bagger anymore. Around 70 percent of corbetts.lack a path all the way to the top in my experience but that’s why I enjoy them.. Nice area that when it is pleasant weather.

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10 06 2017
mountaincoward

I think windy weather on the hills is my least favourite – I find it really scary and dangerous. I’d rather plouter about in a murk – I can still enjoy myself sometimes if it’s a new hill. But I thought you guys would be offended by his comment! 😉

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9 06 2017
Mark

One of my earliest Corbett this. Done on a “day off” when I was hard on the Munro trail. Really enjoyed our February outing but the main problem we had was the amount of drink we’d had the night before. Much huffing and puffing accompanied the uphill slog. We’d come round on downhill to the west. Do this hill; it’s a cracker.

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9 06 2017
mountaincoward

If it hadn’t been so damn windy and misty, I’d been hoping to do Tharsuinn as well – but it wasn’t to be… I can’t imagine you having too much to drink!

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9 06 2017
chrissiedixie

Wore me out, reading that! 😀 Wind which has you crawling is not fun at all….. Geoff and I had a meaningful discussion one day a few weeks back. Awful wind, awful rain, clag coming in, very steep rocky path with a dog each on a lead. I wanted to turn back, he was totally focused on the top. We did turn back eventually, only to find by then that the steep, rocky path in the rain, was very tricky with a dog in tow as well. Once back at the van, Geoff did reluctantly agree that we had perhaps done the right thing….

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9 06 2017
mountaincoward

I have to admit to being really, really bad at turning back unfortunately!

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