It’s felt like a tough couple of weeks for making it out into the hills munro bagging. A failed attempt at climbing in the Cairngorms close to our New Year bothy outing had not increased the summit count. With conditions for the weekend looking cold and challenging I selected a munro peak closer to home in Beinn Sgulaird.
Beinn Sgulaird is a lone peak on the opposite side of Glen Coe. Much less visited than its more famous neighbours, it makes for a peaceful day out away from the tourist trail. The potential to provide excellent 360 degree views to the islands of the Scottish west coast is another bonus.
Harvey RV rides out to Beinn Sgulaird
Hi ho silver away! A distance of 100 miles doesn’t sound much. When it involves a drive round narrow Loch side roads it always takes longer than it should. Beinn Sgulaird is reached by taking the A82 north from Loch Lomond and then the A85 towards Oban. The final destination is at a quiet lay-by located at point 56.5556,-5.2413 for those using google maps. On the way I stopped at the historic Green Welly shop en route for refreshments. Highly recommended if you are needing last minute supplies before heading into the mountains or just need a bite to eat.
It still surprises me after almost a year how relaxing it is driving a VW camper van. The decision not to install rear windows during the conversion was one of the best. I can’t be blinded by bright lights in my rear view mirror and tail gating motorists simply don’t exist. Cruising along at a slower van pace gives you more time to admire the scenery as you go by. There are so many positives to giving up on car ownership I don’t think I could go back. #vanlife
Winter wandering up Sgulaird
Starting at sea level, Beinn Sgulaird initially seems only a short climb to just over 900m. Due to a few ups and downs however that ascent rises to over 1200m making for a longer day out. It will take between 5 and 6 hours to finish the standard route depending on your walking speed.
On the day weather conditions below 500m from the start point were generally good. Well made paths on approach allow for quick initial progress before you begin a climb to 850m. For cycle enthusiasts it would be possible to use a mountain bike on this approach road but it would be a long up hill climb. You’d certainly be rewarded on the homeward leg with a fast decent back to the start. If you have a friend with an expensive electric assisted bike, its time to ask for a test ride.
Missing navi markers
Quick hiking progress can lead to a lack of navigation concentration. I forged ahead too far, enjoying the nicely laid out estate path tracks. The result was missing two cairns marking different entry points to begin the ascent. Instead I took the path less travelled and a steep ascent directly up the grassy slopes towards Meall Grabh.
On this trip I’d come fully prepared for the winter conditions and enjoyed the grip offered by my now well broken in Scarpa Manta Pro. Reaching the snow line above 500m there was still no need for crampons. Fresh snow put a new perspective on the landscape and provided traction against any slippy rock below.
Between 500 and 850m conditions began to change for the worse. Gale force winds started up making the use of goggles and warm weather gear necessary to protect the face and hands. My ice axe providing some level of protection against slips and trips as I progressed forward. If you want some tips on what gear to take check out our helpful checklist.
Reaching Meall Garbh
The climb to a high point of 850m in Meall Garbh was a tough one. Amongst the wind and snow I took relief in my increased fitness levels from training for the Stirling Marathon. On this winter hike I’d also opted to take my walking poles and actually use them. Poles really help to reduce the impact on your joints and provide greater levels of stability. They might not look super cool but if it reduces some of the tiredness from the legs it’s a good thing.
Visibility during the hike had been excellent making navigation straight forward. A little height is dropped leaving Meall Garbh taking the total ascent above the quoted >900m summit of Beinn Sgulaird. A lack of foot prints along the route indicated that no other munro baggers had made the climb today. In the wind, disturbed snow was starting to fill in quickly so couldn’t be relied upon to track any kind of route back. It was important to keep concentration levels high and stay safe.
Turning back is not failure
Reaching the foot of Beinn Sgulaird wind speeds had really picked up. The final summit cairn was visible with the naked eye 800m away from my resting spot. Less than 100m of ascent that on a normal day you could have climbed in no time at all. This was however not any normal day.
The ascent to the top of Beinn Sgulaird is along a narrow ridge line with steep drops on either side. I waited in a sheltered rocky hollow for what seemed like a long time for the wind to ease but it was relentless. Making a final observation by attempting to stand up in the gusts, it was clearly not safe to proceed. Frustrating as it was to be so close to the top, it was the right decision to turn back. Even if I’d made it to the summit wind speeds could have increased even further making a retreat impossible and far too dangerous.
Scottish weather certainly can be a cruel mistress. Whoever quoted the phrase, ‘The mountain will always be there’ is right. It’s important not to get caught up in the euphoria of reaching a goal at the expense of personal safety. Not only your own but that of the people who may need to attempt a rescue should the worst happen. Turning back in this situation was very much the correct choice.
Till next time…
Views heading down from near the peak of Beinn Sgulaird were exceptional. I didn’t get one munro closer to my goal but I still had a great day out in the mountains. It can be frustrating to travel a long distance and attempt a climb not to make the top but it won’t be long till the weather improves. I will return for Beinn Sgulaird another time and my quest to complete (compleat) all of the munro’s in Scotland will continue.