Beinn Sgulaird - 937m
Beinn Sgulaird North Top - 909m

Monday 28th December 2009

Weather/Conditions: Very cold, somewhere way below 0˚C. Sunny to start out with, then cloudy. Got dark on descent and arrived back at the cars in darkness.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 8.5km / 930m / 6h 40m
Accompanying: Michael Coffield, Kevin McKeown

It was a cold start to day and especially cold when trying to sleep in the back of a van when outside it's -15˚C. I was already awake when my alarm went at 8am so, Michael and I got up and fired up the stoves in the back of the van. You shouldn't operate stoves in enclosed spaces but we're still alive, so it was fine. The stoves warmed the van until it wasn't bone chillingly cold anymore and we had a great breakfast of Lorne Sausage, bacon and spaghetti. While it wasn't luxurious, any heat was welcome having froze in the dark for eight hours.

Today's plan was Beinn Sgulaird above Glen Creran with Kevin McKeown who was driving up in the morning. Similar to yesterday's mountain Beinn a' Bheithir, I'd already climbed Sgulaird a month previously. I don't intend to repeat it all the time, but today I didn't mind. It was beautiful day when we opened the van door, snow covered peaks rising into a blue sky. The mountains looked great and Kevin McK arrived as were firing back to life.

Beinn Sgulaird

So we set off and got ourselves ready (helped push one of the locals cars out of the ice) then headed off from Elleric across the valley towards Beinn Sgulaird. We crossed the river then headed upwards in a direct line, unlike the previous months strategy of trying to find a path up and going off-route instead. The hills looked wonderful but it wasn't to last as thicker cloud rolled in. The snow was deep too and of the same powdery consistency as yesterday. It made for hard walking. It was getting late in the day.

Then at 600m Kevin McK. decided to turn around followed by Michael shortly afterwards. Sure, the going was tough and it was steep too but I couldn't let this mountain go. I didn't feel too tired thus far so headed on upwards, alone. It was then that it became extremely tough.

Tough Final Ascent

There was a combination of factors in this - for one I hadn't realised how far there was to go before we hit the top. The mountain is hugely foreshortened when seen from Elleric so it didn't quite hit home that there was another 300 vertical metres to go before the summit. I climbed into the small corrie beneath the summit, with Sgulaird's main summit on one side and north top on the other. I would head to the main summit first. The corrie was drifted over in many places and it was exhausting work. So instead, I climbed up onto the summit boulder field hoping that would make progress easier. It did, but only marginally. On larger slabs, I'd be shovelling the powder away then searching for purchase with an ice axe on blank rock. It was the only way to travel; the gaps between the boulders were drifted over.

It was physically draining and it was mentally torturous. I hadn't ever had to put so much effort into reaching a summit before. I'd never had to scream my lungs out to climb sections. Sounds like an odd tactic, but adrenaline helped. My legs screamed back at me, my body wanted to sit down and stop but I couldn't let it get away - I wanted to top out on this now I was so high up. I'd already been away for a while but I was determined to reach the summit, the unaccompanied ascent was taking longer than anticipated. I reached the indefinite north ridge running along the top, knowing the top was not far away and just as the parents phoned. I told them I was alone near a Munro summit and that it was tough going... They didn't like the sound of that, but I was comfortable with the fact, late in the day as it was. And of course, I reached the top soon after, happy but knackered. It was one of the hardest ascents I'd done in my life.

Beinn Sgulaird North Top

But I guess I'd been putting pedal to the metal a bit more too and I took a few minutes of breather at the top. Light clouds enveloped Sgulaird and I could often see out across to the western horizon, though the light was getting dim and it would be dark soon. I went across to the north top (which felt a great deal easier) since it was a Munro Top that I'd missed out on my first visit in November. It was on my way here that my foot went through powder snow and through a crevasse in boulders below, my right knee whacking into a boulder. It hurt but it seemed to have just missed the knee. Such are the dangers of deep powder on a boulder field - it could have been more serious but thankfully not. I got to the top then with light quickly fading, took a few shots and turned and went down. Every minute of light was precious now.


I left and rode the powder downwards. It was a little risky but not so much so to justify walking slowly and losing daylight. I had a headtorch though which went on when Elleric came into view. I'd been away longer than expected and a light on the hillside above would tell Kevin and Michael I was coming. On the west face, I then got a huge helping hand since Michael and Kev had descended by sitting on their arses and flying down the snow covered slopes. In the end I rode a 1000 foot high slide to near enough the bottom of the hill.

In all honesty, I'd actually become worried that it would get too dark to locate my way back. It didn't help that I also lost a glove on the descent so I began to desire the safety of the valley. My other wonder was where would Kevin and Michael now be? I'd been away for a long time and I could imagine they would be already at the cars. Kevin could have already left. it was to my great surprise that once I'd shot down the forests at the bottom and crossed the bridge beside the farm, two head torches were walking in the direction of the car park. I couldn't believe I'd managed to join them for the last leg back to the car and was glad to be back at safety and out of the unpredictability of above.

Then with the walk finished, Michael and I headed back to Glasgow via. Glen Coe. (a long route, but what the heck ... I got some pics of Glen Coe and the Buachaille Etive Mor in the moonlight out of it) It had been a generally successful weekend, on one picturesque and spectacular hill the first day then a tough one the next. New summits amounted to a mere Munro Top tagged onto the end of Beinn Sgulaird but although I didn't mind too much.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 10.50am Elleric car park
(5.15) 4.05pm Beinn Sgulaird
(5.35) 4.25pm Beinn Sgulaird North Top
(6.40) 5.30pm Elleric car park

Written: 2010-01-12
Edited: 2010-06-13