Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Glen Etive Hills and Glencoe: Beinn Fhionnlaidh (198) and Sgor na h-Ulaidh (149)

Walk date: 19/4/13
My Munro #'s: 240 and 241

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Byn yoonly - Finlay's hill - 959m

Skoor na hoolya - peak of the treasure - 994m

Duration - 09:15 - 21:00
Distance -  34.3 km
Total ascent -  2636 m
Weather - nice amount of sun combined with light winds, made a nice change!
Team - with Paul P
Other hikers: none

The simple blue route just wasn't going to happen, but we managed the doggedly persistent red route!
The inclines say it all!

2013 Hiking Week - Day 7

Now this was an epic of a day!  In the preparations for this week, I knew we would be moving into this area and I was frustrated by the number of single hill days.  Scanning the maps I wondered why my books neglected putting Beinn Fhionnlaidh and Sgor na h-Ulaidh into a single walk, two hills that seemed so close together.  Was it just that the former was officially a Glen Etive hill and the latter a Glencoe hill, therefore not lending themselves to a walk that would fit a rigid book-by-region format?

I started to research the possibilities online, and reassuringly found some intrepid souls who had had the same mind and had managed it.  They had done it the other way round to my plan, and had had a car pick up rather than needing to make the return, but it all seemed feasible.  They complained a bit about the quality of the link between the hills, but not too much.

With the weather onside then, we set off with a good pace from Elleric where we had started the day before's hike, and it felt good to have a seemingly straightforward day ahead of us after a mixed-bag of a week. 

The initial incline upon leaving the area of Glenure was much kinder than the day before too, and soon we were striding up the very long and grassy ridge of Beinn Fhionnlaidh, with nothing in the way of snow at the lower levels.  Above Lochan Cairn Deirg there were pockets of the white stuff, but it was confined to hardened patches that were easy to walk around.  

With not much fuss the summit was soon reached and we felt elated, rewarded with stunning views all around including Sgor na h-Ulaidh, the next target, looking extremely steep and sturdy but achievable, once the simple task of getting off Beinn Fhionnlaidh was completed of course.

This seemed fine to start with, a little bit of steep soft snow initially giving way to a good path on fine ground.   After that it was back to striding along a wide ridge as we made our way east to the subsidiary peak marked at 841m.

However, surveying the land from this vantage point, it was not at all obvious where the route on lay.  The ground from this point on dropped away too steeply for a clear line of sight, and we started an incremental process on continuous making our way down to the immediate next grassy patch, having another look, and repeating, all the time wondering if our luck would run out.

After some good time at this, and with the slope getting ever steeper, we had dropped considerable height, but still had no clear solution to the tempting flat ground below.  Eventually, it was too much for Paul who rightly expressed his concerns.  Although I had a few more steps down to try and see a route through, none appeared, and I had to agree that we had scant guarantee of remaining safe going forward.

Gutted, but satisfied that when in doubt we made decent decisions, we started on up the steep slope, eventually making it back to the 841m mark.  Although the default position was that we would now return to camp, it was at this point that my mind started to muse on arduous yet safe alternatives.  

I voiced to Paul an idea I had to retrace our steps all the way to Lochan Cairn Deirg (we were going there anyway), but then to go north and then north east past Lochan Caorainn and down the long seemingly gentle ridge down to the foot of Sgor na h-Ulaidh.

After the initial shock that his chips and pint would take longer to come than expected, Paul agreed to follow me onward and so we took a deep breath and slogged back up Beinn Fhionnlaidh and then down to the lochans.  The route up to Caorainn was fair enough and then the second attempt to get off this hill started.  Initially all was good, although just like before we didn't have a clear line of sight for the route and so we remained quite nervous that our luck would run out again.

As I knew that the end of the ridge was rocky I took us off onto its southern flank down some extremely steep but acceptable grassy slopes.  With the nearby river and its gully getting closer, these slopes were getting awfully restricted, and for a while it looked like we might be getting to another dead-end, but thankfully a tiny, slim, channel remained and we we able to push on through.  

After all the effort we could finally exhale and begin chatting again!  However, we had merely achieved access, and the effort for the second hill was just beginning.  With this in mind we clambered up to the bealach between Meall a' Bhuiridh and Sgor na h-Ulaidh before we allowed ourselves some snacks!

Sgor na h-Ulaidh is an impressively steep hill, and a route has to be picked at between outcrops of rock with substantial drops off them!  The advantage of this is that height is soon gained, but it was exhausting work after all we'd already done.  Eventually a path emerged and the inclines lessened and there was no more up to do!  Reaching the summit meant that suddenly views down into Glencoe appeared and they were an incredible reward!

We had only reached the summit at 5pm and we knew it was going to be a long slog out.  With that in mind I texted home to give them warning of a late finish, and after a brief rest we re-traced our steps (carefully!) down to the bealach.  

Probably the quickest way back would have been to climb again to the lochans and then rejoin the path down Beinn Fhionnlaidh, but we had had enough of climbing and we set off west down the glen instead.  This was initially a fine route over rough grass, and so we happily ignored a forest track appearing over the river on the northern bank, but this was to be a mistake, as the route on skirted the south side of forestry plantations, and this was to be gruelling walking traversing a slope for a good hour on rough grass mounds and with significant and unexpected incline.  

Eventually the forest finished and we got down to flat ground, but the track on the map which had been our target took a little while to emerge, and so we weren't even saved then.  Once it did make an appearance we could finally grit our teeth and try for a decent end-of-day pace.  In fading light, we practically hugged the car when we made it there.

Looking back, I would certainly link these hills again, but the best route would seem to be using the Lochain Caorainn ridge for the journey there and back, something much more palatable without the effort and time lost to the ill-advised jaunt down Beinn Fhionnlaidh's eastern ridge.

Looking down the eastern ridge of Beinn Fhionnalidh:

The summit of Beinn Fhionnlaidh:

The view of Beinn Fhionnlaidh from the 841m point:

Paul contemplating that blind descent:

The way we'd been trying to come down seen from the other side!

The view from Sgor na h-Ulaidh:

Enjoy the rest as you'll need it!

The sun beats down to reward our efforts:

The last time you'll smile for 4 hours!

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Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Holy moly dude - that WAS epic! Glad you were ultimately safe.

1 September 2013 at 18:22  

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