Monday, 12 April 2010

SUNNY GLEN SHIEL - 10th/11th April 2010

I have been hankering after doing the Forcan Ridge for quite some time now, oooh around 5years.  I got as far as half way up to the Bealach na Craoibhe at that time, for a winter ascent, only for it to uttery lash it down with rain.  We turned back that day, preferring to keep it for clear weather to enjoy the positions and situation.
Finally managed a traverse this weekend in the most superb weather ever.  I deliberated on whether I should take a rope or not, memories of my fall on the Aonach Eagach several years ago on my mind.  The Forcan has a steep downclimb of Moderate standard and it was this section that was concerning me.  I decided in the end not to bother with the rope.  I reckoned that the ridge wouldn't be in winter nick, I had more experience of downclimbing since the Aonach Eagach incident and I needed practise of scrambling without a rope for a trip to the Alps this summer.
D and I went up to Shiel in the van on Friday evening and stayed over.  We set off at around 9am, the first on the hill and upon reaching the Bealach I was blown away by how the view of the Forcan just opens out, in it's almost Alpine splendour that day.  It doesn't take long at all to reach the start of the scrambling and it was poles away and hands out time.  The scrambling starts off really easily, more like scampering upwards than scrambling.  There is a steeper, awkward section above and then the ridge narrows out weaving around and over blocks, narrow paths between blocks and a couple of sections where you have to hold on to the ridge edge to use as a handrail.  The footholds are massive at these points and it's really easy and nice to be moving so freely. 
Here and there, we need to watch our step as there are patches of solid neve in places and soft, slippery snow in others.  It's not long before we reach the point of the downclimb and I've been feeling more and more nervous of the prospect.  Conditions are very similar to my day on the Aonach Eagach, though not wet like that was.  I'm praying that there won't be patches of ice or snow to make the going more difficult.  My prayers are answered and the wall is devoid of snow and is completely dry.  D goes down first and once he's half way down I tentatively start lowering myself down facing inwards.  My heart rate goes up some and I tell myself that I've downclimbed things far, far harder than this when I've been attached to a rope with no problems whatsover, so I can downclimb moderate without any hassle.
I get to a slabby bit and just can't see where to put my foot at all!  There is a big ledge but it's miles away and I'm finding it very hard to judge whether my foot can reach it or not.  It does, but only just!  And I'm left with my other foot up near my chest and I have to lean right out from the rock face to remove it from its stuck position.  The next problem is a wee chimney/groove near the bottom where again I'm having trouble reaching down with my feet.  I manage to swing my foot across onto another block though and another move or two and I'm down. I did it, hurrah!  We move up to a spot where we can stop and have a bite to eat and D moved back to the downclimb so I could take some photos.  We realised that it was much easier to go down the right hand side of the wall when you're looking down from the top, rather than the left side which is more slabby and less blocky.  Not sure I'd have liked to downclimb that wall in winter, going down a gully and avoiding it, or abseiling down would seem a better option to me.
The rest of the ridge is straight forward enough and there is just a snowy crest to cross where we put our crampons on just incase.  They wern't necessary in the end as the snow was pretty soft but it was nice to have them on and just move up the final crest without having to concentrate too fully.  The views from the top were stunning!  You could see South to the Ben, west to the Knoydart Peninsula and Skye and North up to Torridon.  Beautiful! 
Crampons off, we zoomed down the soft snow and down to Lochan Bealach Coire Mhalagain and then it was a steep and upward slog up to the col between Faogoch and Sgurr na Sgine.  The walk up to the summit of Sgurr na Sgine was really pleasant and we briefly discussed whether going back to Faogoch or descending via the NE spur of Sgine.  Going back seemed the best option, the NE spur was do-able but seep and requiring concentration.  As it was, the descent off Faogoch was pretty steep too and my knee was aching by this time.  At one point it locked completely, sending a jarring pain into my joint and that was it in pain for the rest of the descent, which made things slow and tiresome, so relentless was it.  A couple of hours later we were sitting in the Claunie Inn having vegi haggis and fish and chips.

Sunday dawned fine and bright again and having discussed plans the previous evening, we had decided on bagging the Corbett Am Bathach, followed by the munro Ciste Dhubh.  If we felt energetic enough we would add on the munro Aonach Meadhoin too.  Jeeze it was hot, hot, hot!  I knew the forecast had been for fine weather but I thought it had said around 6 degrees at 900m.  It was much hotter than that!  I was struggling, having only packed my Powerstretch tights which have a fleecy inner and my black fleece.  I could have really done with shorts and a vest top, something to cover my head and a pair of sunglasses.  It didn't take long for D to start ploughing ahead of me, so oppressive was I finding the heat and sun.  I contemplated taking my top off for quite some time.  Hmmm.  Should I or shouldn't I?  There was nobody about bar a couple who started up the Corbett behind us, but showed no sign of catching up.  It was always possible that we'd bump into folk at the top, or up on the munro ahead.  I got so hot though, that it got to the point where I simply didn't care, the top was coming off!  It felt a bit weird walking with rolled up fleecy tights and a bra on, not the best look in the world, but phew it felt so much better!
D commented that as soon as I took my top off, I sped up instantly.  He was right, I move so much better when I'm cool and not too hot.  After descending Am Bathach, I shot up towards to the top of Ciste Dhubh, my legs feeling good and strong, my hill fitness coming back at last!  Again, it was gorgeous up there and we sat for quite some time, enjoying the views and the peace and sunshine.  I had to take some painkillers though as I could feel a migraine coming on, too much sun on my head and in my eyes!  Moving again, after sitting so long was a bit of a struggle and I could feel my legs seizing up a bit.  My quad muscle on my good leg was pretty sore, probably from over compensating for my painful knee from yesterday!  Ignore the pain, try to keep my leg relaxed and try to move it normally and the pain settles and becomes easy to forget.
Back to the Bealach Choinich and the slog up to Aonach Meadhoin is hard, hard work!  I think we are both feeling it in the legs, and weary from the heat.  Up near the top of Sgurr an Fhuarail we bump into a guy coming down and I feel a bit sheepish at my state of undress, but quickly shrug it off and ask about the condition of the snow above.  Soft he said, but narrow enough to need concentration.
I ponder whether to put crampons on up to the summit of Meadhoin but we decide against it.  They're not needed right enough, but the concentration is.  It's not far though and before long we're at the top of the munro.  We don't hang about for long however.  That's 3pm, still got a long way back down and a long drive back home.  Back to the summit of Sgurr an Fhuarail, down to a col, up to another top and then we drop down the SE spur.  It's a slog!  We can see the Inn all the way down and damned if it ever gets any closer!  Of course it does though and we're finally there, followed by a walk along the road for about a mile or so back to the van.  A short drive down to the view point near Invergarry to stop to cook and give D some shut eye before the long haul home.
It's been an utterly fab weekend though.  One of those special ones that you'll always remember and that make you feel so glad to be alive and so lucky to live in such a stunning country.

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