Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Kintail scrambles - Beinn Fhada and the Forcan Ridge, Jun'15

John was leading on both days on our Kintail mountain adventure weekend. Here's how it went ...

I was quite excited about this weekend's work for Steven Fallon Mountain Guides - We were in Kintail, and firstly were going to do the two Munros : A'Ghlas bheinn and Beinn Fhada, returning by the 'bobbly' Sgurr a'Choire Ghairbh ridge, and then on Sunday the ever-popular Forcan Ridge of the Saddle followed by Sgurr na Sgine.

The literal dampener was again the weather. It was due to be (relatively) warmer and less windy granted, but with persistent hill fog over 300m, and drizzle on and off all day, this unseasonal June continues to resolutely refuse to get summery.

I met Victoria, Christina, Frank, Isi, Hayley and Steve at the car park at Morvich, along with a couple of hundred other folk and the Kintail MR team! It was the start of the Highland Cross event, and our routes started from the same place. It was with some relief that we headed North East whilst they swarmed down Gleann Lichd. We struck a blistering pace, lead by Isi, and apart from pausing to put our waterproofs on and off, there was little slowing us until the burn crossing where we had a bite to eat. It was then head down into the clag for the undulating ascent to A'Ghlas beinn. We retraced our steps to the bealach, where I swithered on whether to make the steep grassy ascent or take the easier stalker's path, after initially having to lose some height. The poor visibility was making route finding difficult, but once we found the faint path around to the left, we went for it, and forged our way sweatily to the summit of Meall a'Bhealaich.

From then it was 100% compass work to get to the summit of Beinn Fhada, (yet again this year it seems!), where we took our group photo. Whilst we were taking it, lo and behold, the clouds parted. The huge residual cornices were striking against the green hillside, and felt very out of place this late in the year. The time was getting on, and with the wet weather and continued cloud (it came in again), we decided that the path was the better option for the descent, and we were down for 18:30, damp but happy to have bagged the munros in such thick weather.

Sunday's forecast was similar as we met on the A87 for the ascent of the Forcan Ridge of the Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine. Frank had left, but the Moffat family, Susan, Steve and Charlotte had joined us, as had Richard Kermode. We made approximately 300m before needing our jackets on, and the waterproofs on-off game commenced again for the rest of the day.

It was most of the group's first scramble, or at least no-one was very experienced, except maybe Victoria, so much coaching and assistance was given by myself and Richard. The first shallow slabby chimney that is the usual way had some large loose flakes on, leading to a small flanking manoeuvre, and everyone had to find their scrambling mojo rapidly. That overcome, it was then just a case of working our way up the ridge.

The route is characterised by options, where you can bypass the more exposed scrambling if required, and the wet claggy conditions meant this was usually the more prudent option. There was one place where the path had eroded away, and an exposed traverse was called for on some slippy grass, much to Hayley's consternation. The air was blue, but not as blue as when I asked her to pose for a photo when she was mid-scramble!

We arrived finally at the 'bad step', where there is a tricky greasy down climb at around Grade II standard, or a bypass down a gully. Some of the group were keen to test their skills, so I set up a belay and protected them down on a rope. In the conditions, they did very well, encouraged and supported by Richard below. The rest took the chance to take a break and have a bite to eat.

It was then just a little more scrambling, as well negotiating a small snow patch before the summit, and then on to the trig point for a proper break. The descent was in mist, and again needed some route finding by Richard over snow patches and greasy rock. It was slow, tricky going. By the time we got to the bealach, it was clear that most people did not have the next summit in them, especially given the greasy wet rock, so we opted to come down along the wall path, (which is surprisingly awkward!).

Given the almost persistent rain and drizzle, the low cloud and the unseasonable low temperatures, we managed to bag three of the four summits, and had a great scramble along an iconic route. The clouds lifted enough each day for us to see what gems Kintail has to offer, and tantalise us for our next visit. Let's hope it'll be on a proper summer's day!

More photos are up on our Flickr album.

We're back in Kintail at the end of July, more info is here.