The Forcan Ridge: my first big hillwalk since sprained ankle, and my first mountain camp! Part one.September 25, 2018
Exactly four weeks after I fell and sprained my ankle, I was due to go on a big mountain ridge walk and overnight camp with a Meetup group. I’d put my name on the list before my fall, and it was a walk that had originally been planned for last year, but was cancelled due to atrocious weather, so I didn’t want to miss it.
In the days leading up to the walk, my ankle seemed much better, but the weather forecast was looking pretty bad! I was sure the walk would be postponed again, but on the day before, there was still no cancellation.
I suddenly realised that this event was actually going to happen. I had a mad afternoon dash round the outdoor shops looking for a camping stove, a light and compact sleeping mat and camping food.
Then I spent all evening trying to fit it all into my backpack!
The plan was to climb The Saddle, a “Munro” at 1010m (3313ft), via the Forcan Ridge, a classic “grade 2” scrambling route. We were then going to camp at the top of The Saddle and hopefully watch the sunset, returning the following day, possibly taking in another Munro, Sgurr na Sgine, or “The peak of the knife”, 946m (3103ft).
There were just four of us on this walk. Three other people had cancelled, probably due to the weather, which was looking murky as we set off.
Despite only having done a couple of small hillwalks, a cycle ride and just one session of indoor climbing over the past four weeks, my fitness felt great. Maybe the rest had done me some good! My heavier than usual backpack, with tent, sleeping bag and mat felt comfortable and easy to carry.
Heavy backpacks being carried to the approach of the Forcan Ridge.
Me with my big backpack, with the Forcan Ridge in the background.
Despite the murky weather, there were a few sunny intervals with some beautiful views. The area we were in, Glen Shiel, is very remote and mountainous. The big beauty pictured below, Sgurr Ciste Duibhe, loomed up behind us at the other side of the A87 road as we climbed higher.
Sgurr Ciste Duibhe is one of the “Five Sisters”, a very popular hillwalking route – which I have yet to do.
Sgurr Ciste Duibhe
I spotted some colourful fungi, “Splendid Waxcap”, rare in England but not uncommon in Scotland. Apparently it’s edible, but it’s best left alone, due to its rarity.
As we approached the Forcan Ridge, the route became more bouldery.
The climb up to the start of the ridge was tricky, but lots of fun. I’d been quite worried about doing a scramble with a heavy backpack, but I hardly even noticed my pack. Maybe that’s due to my weekly indoor climbing and bouldering sessions, which have improved my upper body and core strength.
One thing I love about climbing up a rocky ridge is that as you’re clambering over the rocks, you don’t really notice the steepness – you’re just focusing on getting the most secure holds for your hands and feet.
The silvery rocks of the Forcan Ridge.
I was having fun!
As we climbed higher, the weather got a bit claggy, with light rain and mist. Luckily, the winds were low. This is not a walk I would like to do in high winds!
The sheer, slabby slopes of the ridge towering eerily in the clag.
The Bad Step
I had seen photos of a scary-looking downclimb, and I was starting to wonder if I’d been mistaken about this, when the group organiser, who was walking a few paces ahead of me let out an expletive. He was looking into an abyss – or what is known, with typical climbing understatement, as “the bad step”.
I glanced around, and spotted a bypass path heading steeply downhill to the left. I told Alastair about the bypass path, and then went to peer over the abyss myself.
It wasn’t quite as cliff-like as I’d expected. I could imagine that in dry, sunny weather and with a lighter backpack I might be happy to give it a go. But in poor visibility there was no way I was going to take my chances on that slippy rock!
A view back to the Bad Step, having bypassed it round the other side. It’s about 35 feet high.
After bypassing the Bad Step, there was a great easy scramble (which was easily avoidable if you were tired, which I wasn’t!) and then just a short walk to the summit.
As I approached the summit of The Saddle, I was greeted by this gorgeous sunset panorama.
The Saddle is at the left of the photo. The point sticking up is the cylindrical trig point marking the summit. In the distance is Beinn Sgritheal and the mountains of Skye.
This photo shows the mountains of Skye at the right and to the back.
Looking back to the ridge, with my two friends still a bit behind. With the mist swirling around, it looked like a scene from Lord of the Rings.
The 1000 metre campsite
Alastair had selected a patch of ground just west of the summit for us to camp, near a small unnamed lochan. By the time we started pitching our tents, it was rapidly getting dark.
This was the view to the north.
And this is Loch a’Choire Uaine (Loch of the Green Corrie), to the west of our campsite.
Luckily my tent is quick and easy to pitch. It wasn’t so easy to get the stove lit, but I persevered, and was soon warming my hands over it as it cooked my dinner! On the menu was noodles with mackerel fillets and tomato sauce, and a plastic cup of very chilled rosé wine.
It was too cold to be sociable. We all quickly retreated into our tents to warm up.
It tasted absolutely delicious!
As soon as I’d finished my dinner, I snuggled into my sleeping bag, fully clothed and with the addition of an extra pair of socks and a down jacket. Unfortunately I was still freezing! I had to get up to pee three times that night, maybe due to the cold and the altitude, and I felt as if I didn’t get more than a couple of hours’ sleep, despite the day’s exertions.
I woke up just after 7am. I was briefly disappointed to have missed the sunrise – and then I realised that there would have been no sunrise, as I could hear rain falling on my tent.
As my senses slowly came back to life, I realised that it wasn’t rain I could hear, but snow softly pattering onto my tent!
My little tent was slowly buckling under the weight of the snow falling onto it!
It was time to get up.
My little tent covered in snow.
To be continued…