Another letter from the soggy North. Two weekends ago Pen and I enjoyed the most terrific day on the Forcan ridge and Faochag ridge and the round of two munros, The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine at their head. Starting a bit later than we intended we parked on the A87 next to a copse and actually the end of the route where the Allt Mhalagain crosses under the road to roar into the River Sheil. Starting down the road and up the well-trodden path that winds up to and by-passes Meallan Odhar the weather teased us with glimpses of blue sky between moving mist around 700 to 800 metres above us. It was much wetter than we had hoped and the cloud lower than expected. But the Norwegian weather forecast promised low winds and mild temperatures and the MWIS hinted at cloud free summits.
The base of the scramble is soon reached, marked by a slab with cracks and grooves and, worryingly, quite a bit of rockfall. I was carrying three slings and a long piece of tat, more as a confidence trick really but they can be handy for getting out of issues in unfamiliar terrain. We had rejected the idea of harness and rope for the final down-climb/abseil. If it was dry we would give it a go, if not by-pass it. The going eases soon and you weave through pinnacles and over short stretches of wet but grippy scrambling, some with quite a bit of exposure. Especially a short hand traverse. Frankly it is over too soon and we shuffled down the left gully, grateful that it wasn’t too chossy, and especially grateful that it was there as the down climb was utterly soaking. We had scrambled through mist, the occasional glimpse below and outward. But as we hit the finale it fell away into one of the best Scottish inversions I have seen. A fantastic broken spectre and halo effects stopped us in our tracks. Blue sky above and then a warmth from the Sun that had us down to t shirts when we hit the top of the Saddle.
After a brief sunbathe we headed down the flanks of the Saddle to the Bealach Coire Mhalagain and into the cloud once more, again cold and damp we thought we had lost the best of the day until we scrambled onto the summit of Sgurr na Sgine when the cloud fell away. And continued to do so like cloud waterfalls disappearing over bealachs and gullies around us as the sun was setting and the moon faced it down across the mountains. The tramp across Faochag is pleasant and simple with superb views, but the way down its North East edge is steep, especially in the dark by headtorches. We enjoyed it though, and it was good practice to move across rough terrain and navigate by torchlight. There is a bit of faff to find the bridge rather than wade the swollen river but the SMC guide book had been spot on with that detail.
After an 8 hour day – told you we had a sunbathe – and 10 miles of movement we felt that this was one of the best routes we had completed in the area to date.
A week later and with Pen engaged in yoga I made the best of a weather window and headed up Bla Bheinne for a quick half day fix. What a beautiful mountain this is. Separated from the main Cullin Ridge it dominates the Southern part of Skye with its rugged outline. On top of that it is a very short drive from Broadford, even has its own car park and the navigation could be completed by a short-sighted hamster with map-dyslexia. The car park and adjacent reserve that you walk through are run by the John Muir Trust, out of interest. The way is mostly rocky path, some with laid steps and crosses a few small burns before rising into the Fionna Choire where you can either crack on to complete the Southern ridge for a longer day, or head North East-ish. It becomes more interesting here and you can scramble in or either side of a gully as the path meanders up the hill. The rock architecture becomes far more interesting as you near the top, with views onto the prow and Clach Glas. There is some mild scrambling again as you near the very top. This time made a bit more worthy because of some light snow and hail that had fallen and the mist that enveloped the peak. I did wonder whether packing some spikes and goggles would have been a good idea and it was a reminder that Winter is coming. Lets hope for a good one. A quick tea break and turn around to descend the same way, as ever finding the paths I really wanted on the way up whilst heading down. Especially the one that would have avoided the small boulder problem I had presented myself with.
Lastly another quick climbing wall report. We spent a day in Fort Bill the other weekend and with some time to fill tried the Three Wise Monkeys wall. It is in an old Church just behind the main shopping street. It has a bouldering area similar in size to Harrogate wall and a fairly narrow roped climbing area. There is a good seating area for coffee and, in fact, nice coffee. The nicest space is the training and yoga area which has a large picture window facing South over the loch. We tried the bouldering and the wall and the grades seem on a par with Red Goat and Harrogate and there is a good variety. Staff were friendly and I would recommend it as a good poor weather alternative if visiting.