Beinn Sgritheall - 974m
Saturday 29th December 2012
Weather/Conditions: Awesome winter weather. The previous night storms were battering Kintail Lodge Hotel. The following morning it was a bleak, misty and somewhat drab morning. Precipitation on the way up the lower flanks of Sgritheall blew open to a stunning and dramatic sunset. Descent in the 4pm twilight of mid-winter.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 8km / 1180m / 6h 10m
Accompanying: Kev McKeown
We went for Beinn Sgritheall, a mountain on the Glenelg peninsula, south of Kintail and overlooking Knoydart and Skye. The primary thing I took away from this trip was the brutality of the Highlands: the long hours of darkness, and the snow-peppered, storm bound mountains. Even as the years pass, these memories are crystals embedded in memory, lucidly recalled and simply unforgettable.
We headed to Kintail to discover the news that a mountain guide was missing on Skye. As we thought about this, we'd be sitting in the bar in Kintail, the wind pounding the windows, bending them in, torrential rain hammering. Missing folk wouldn't have much of a chance out on the mountains, in that darkness. I felt very close to it indeed. In the end, the outcome wasn't good.
We headed over to Arnisdale on a driech morning, damp and cloudy. Despite being connected to the road network, Arnisdale sure feels remote on a dark December morning, a reminder that this place is a long way out. But despite it's isolation, Beinn Sgritheall itself is right above the road and not logistically a difficult mountain.
Rain hammered down on the tarmac strip through Arnisdale. I felt that quiet dread you get when faced with prospect of six hours of drenching and I packed reluctantly. Kev and I set off, waterproofs on, up onto the hillside with views of Loch Hourn opening out. It's nice that you can see right into Knoydart here, for it throws new light onto the notion that this area is so remote - if you stand on one side of Loch Hourn you needn't get out your car, stand on the other and you will be in one of the wildest areas in the country. Ladhar Bheinn seems just a stones-throw away from the road-end.
For the moment, our heads were down, plodding on in showers. But that slowly all changed. As we rounded on the East Top, the rain stopped and clouds tore back. It took us a while to get up here and time was getting on, so the sun was starting to sink. The last rain showers battered themselves to bits against mountain flanks and the world was revealed again: an arena of wild, wind-scoured summits. It was quite a place to find ourselves.
We took a lot of time on top, sole observers to the wild. Sun rays were drawing across the sky, carried on the endless procession of the wind. Despite the morning's misgivings about getting drenched all day, it was a special place we had found ourselves in - it's always worth getting out the car and going.
When we finally did leave the summit, it was with an air of reluctance. Our route went east back over the subsidiary top, our views into the mountain-lands Knoydart, Quoich and Glen Shiel: grey, bare mountains, receding to monochrome and grey.
It was the Five Sisters that particularly impressed me. From Sgritheall you only see their triangular tops. They stand on the brink of a phenomenally empty portion of Scotland, bastions hanging high above the main road to Skye. In the middle of winter, humanity seem only to clutch to the edge of this wild world.
Descent was made in the last light, and we arrived back to Arnisdale in near-darkness.
The following day, snow had fallen to low altitudes and made the high road to Invergarry 'interesting'! Driving conditions were more sane down by Fort William, a final climb over snow-swathed Rannoch Moor, and home via Loch Lomond, the sun breaking out again.
Photos: To the East Top
Beinn Sgritheall, 2.20pm
Beinn Sgritheall, 2.40pm
(0.00) c. 10.40am Arnisdale
(2.00) 1.30pm Beinn Sgritheall East Top
(2.20) 2.18pm Beinn Sgritheall
(2.40) 2.45pm Beinn Sgritheall (left)
(3.20) 4.50pm Arnisdale