A classic scramble on the Forcan Ridge to reach the Munro summit of The Saddle in Kintail
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John Davidson looks back on a classic mountain scramble, when he and Peter Evans took on the Forcan Ridge to reach the Munro summit of The Saddle
Some days in the mountains are more memorable than others, and this ascent of The Saddle via the Forcan Ridge was certainly up there among the finest for me.
Lockdown is giving me the chance to look back on some of these trips - and to wonder where the time has gone since then!
It was back in 2012 when Peter Evans and I headed down to Kintail to tackle one of the most talked about ridge scrambles among the mainland Munros.
In his Classic Mountain Scrambles in Scotland, Andrew Dempster says the route “is undoubtedly one of the finest ridge scrambles in the Western Highlands”. He’s not wrong.
The ridge kindly eases the intrepid hillgoer into the hands-on work, with a straightforward path meandering through the rocks at first, before higher up the true exposure and mountain feel has you gripped.
There’s even a 10m drop that seems to bar the way towards the top – which Peter described in his Active Outdoors piece at the time as possible to down-scramble on good holds, but he said I wasn’t too happy about the idea.
I’ve had plenty experience of Peter’s “we’ll just nip down here” approach in the mountains and have learned to trust my own instinct! Indeed, the aforementioned guidebook even suggests the alternative gully which we diverted to before regaining the ridge near the top.
It was mid-spring when we did this route, but there was a fair amount of fresh snow on the northern flanks of the mountain, making for one of those awkward days when winter kit must be carried just in case.
The crampons weren’t needed on this occasion, being more of a hindrance on the bare rock, but the snow covering meant we had to be extra vigilant with every step on a day of sunshine and showers.
Our route started from a parking area just south of the quarry at Achnangart, though there are a couple of ways to gain the excellent stalkers’ path that heads over Cnoc Dubh Achadh Arsgalain to the Bealach na Craoibhe.
This is the same approach we took to climb Sgurr na Sgine for Peter’s final Munro later that year, and in fact we had to resist taking in the two Munros on this trip, which would have been perfectly feasible and is a popular choice with many who tackle this route.
From the bealach, we headed south to the top of Meallan Odhar, then bearing south-west to the base of the Forcan Ridge, which rises imposingly ahead. We watched as another group made their way up the initial stages of the climb, as we donned our harnesses in case we needed to use the rope higher up.
My memory of the ridge itself is largely just of an enjoyable mountain day. Only one step stands out in my memory, when we had to grab hold of a large outcrop and swing round, above a substantial drop, making sure we kept our weight forward to stay in control. A sense of heightened awareness is how I would describe the sensation.
Other than that, the knife-edge section higher up was delightful, with the only difficulty being the tricky descent of the grassy gully before scrambling back up to the ridge. We didn’t resort to the rope in the end, and though we avoided the ‘sporting’ route of staying on the crest in places due to the sometimes snowy surface, we certainly felt like we had conquered this mountain classic.
Having continued to the 1010m summit of The Saddle – An Diollaid in Gaelic – where we caught up with the group in front of us, we descended to the Bealach Coire Mhalagain, where we resisted the temptation to prematurely climb Sgurr na Sgine ahead of the planned big day to celebrate Peter’s grand finale.
Instead, we contoured round the base of the Forcan Ridge, following an old wall, to reach the ridgeline again just below Meallan Odhar. We descended north from here to pick up the stalkers’ path back the way we had come.
Looking back at Peter’s article again, I’m also reminded that we stopped at the Cluannie Inn on the way home and enjoyed venison stew from the menu. Such days seem like a lifetime away at the moment, but hopefully we will be able to experience more classics like this in due course.
The Forcan Ridge of The Saddle
Distance 5.5 miles / 9.5km
Terrain Good mountain path followed by ridge scramble with some exposure
Start/finish Car park south of Achnangart quarry, Glen Shiel
Maps OS Landranger 33; Harvey Superwalker, Kintail
A look back at a fine scramble on one of mainland Scotland’s most dramatic ridges
- This is an archive route from 2012. Please follow all guidance during the latest Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and stay at home except for essential purposes.