Hats off to the deceptive Beinn Sgulaird

The rocky peninsula between Loch Etive and Loch Creran contains two Corbetts, Beinn Trilleachan and Creach Bheinn, and one Munro, Beinn Sgulaird, with all three craggy hills giving excellent views SW to Loch Creran, Lismore, the islands of the Firth of Lorn and to Ben More, Mull.

Beinn Sgulaird is the southern of the Appin trio of Munros, and like the others is regarded as a one hill day, which is why it is often climbed in poor weather. Sgulaird's shape is in the form of a sloping S, with the 11/2 mile rocky ridge running SW/NE, from a southern top at 863m, over Meall Garbh at 848m and the summit at 937m (3,047ft), finally curving east to Stob Gaibhre at 684m. Crags lead to steep grassy slopes, west to the River Creran and east to a secluded area, beyond which are the slabby slopes of Beinn Trilleachan. To the south a col separates Sgulaird from Creach Bheinn. To the north the Allt Coire Leacaich and other streams flow NW, passing Airigh nan Lochan to form the River Ure. While not a very high hill and with no subsidiary tops, its compact mass is climbed from sea level and its convoluted cragginess demands respect.

Beinn Sgulaird means hat-shaped hill. I have written previously about Beinn Sgulaird using the popular route from Druimavuic at the head of Loch Creran, but it does not show the hill to its best advantage. A track gives access to the open hillside, with the west ridge leading to the start of the main ridge at the 863m top. I prefer to start from Glen Etive.

You will need Ordnance Survey map 50, Glen Orchy. From near the end of the Glen Etive road, at NN 109453, before reaching the derelict pier, follow the SW edge of the Glenetive Forest for the NNE ridge of Beinn Trilleachan. This uses the line of an old cross-country route to Glen Creran. Take time to admire the Trilleachan Slabs.

Continue a short distance further by the forest edge, then head WNW, but in a slightly curving route to avoid the worst of the slabs, to reach Airigh nan Lochan. Go west over rising knobbly ground for Stob Gaibhre, then descend slightly to a lochan. Continue west, then curve south for the summit's large cairn. Or pass Stob Gaibhre to the south, aiming for the short east ridge that goes more directly to the cairn. In both cases care is needed on descent.

The recommended route can be varied on return by traversing the summit ridge. Heading south initially on an easy slope, the rocky ridge curves south-west, undulating and rough in places, with craggy ascents to Meall Garbh and to the 863m top. Continue on the ridge as far as the 863m top, and descend south to reach the col above Coire Buidhe, between Sgulaird and Creach Bheinn. Follow a track north-east to its end, then go east, to the source of the Allt Easach, beneath the craggy heights. Follow the upper reaches of the River Ure north-east for a delightful two-mile return to Airigh nan Lochan.

My first visit to Sgulaird was a solo one on 14 November 1981, on a miserable day, starting from Loch Creran. Having driven all the way from Inverness, I was determined to tackle the hill despite the weather. I was soon into thick cloud and had full gear on. Under those conditions it is more difficult to be sure of your rate of progress, but I was surprised by how long it took to get to the 863m top, before a change in compass bearing took me NE. Visibility was only some 50 yards as I inched my way along, battling with the wind over the surprisingly rocky terrain. I got to Meall Garbh and scouted about, searching for the cairn. The crags were dropping very steeply on all sides, and I persuaded myself I had passed the summit. I inched my way back. I was very relieved to recognise the cairn at the 863m top.

But still there was that niggling doubt, and on a second visit two years later, on a good day, I definitely stood at the top. But there was no feeling of enjoyment as I became more certain that I had not reached that point on my first visit. Oh the fraudulence of that first Munro round party! So what could I do but climb the hill twice as part of the second round? If climbing from the south-west, make sure you do progress as far as the big cairn. I wonder how many others have made that mistake - another reason why I prefer an approach from Glen Etive.


Map Ordnance Survey map 50, Glen Orchy

Distance 10 miles in total

Height 1,000m

Terrain Rough grassy terrain and rocky hillsides, with no paths

Start point Glen Etive road end at map ref 109453

Time 6 to 7 hours

Nearest town Dalmally

Nearest refreshment spot Kings House Hotel, Rannoch Moor

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