Walk of the week: The Saddle
During our week at Balmacara, an ideal base for both Cuillin and mainland hills, I introduced Sarah and Peter to the joys of climbing the Forcan ridge, a classic scramble to the summit of the Saddle.
Whilst the term “Saddle” specifically refers to the central area, this complex mountain covers some 20 square miles with many other narrow, rocky ridges. Nevertheless, it could be argued that the Saddle is but a long extension of the South Cluanie ridge.
The name, a direct translation from the Gaelic, An Diollaid, refers to the immediate summit area, with peaks (the pommel and cantle) at either end. That outline certainly looks like a saddle when viewed from Coire Uaine, possibly suggesting it was so named by early inhabitants of this green corrie, but why the hill’s name should be anglicised in such a Gaelic-heavy area (an Diollaid appears elsewhere in its Gaelic form) is a bit of a mystery. The horsy connection of the hill extends to two tops; Sgurr Leac nan Each, pinnacle of the horse’s flagstone, and Sgurr na Laire Brice, pinnacle of the speckled mare.
From a parking area by the A87 in Glen Shiel, map ref 967145, it is a short road-walk south to the start of a superb stalkers’ path. Please note that the stalking season in the area commonly starts in September.
However, the following route is usually acceptable. Nevertheless, obey any estate notices.
The zigzag path eases the climb from near sea level to 500m. From there an improved path heads south over Meallan Odhar, then south-west, to reach the base of the Forcan ridge on the right. At this point is the start of a dyke that goes parallel to but beneath the ridge, the bypass route for a poor day and the easiest return from the summit.
We enjoyed ideal conditions - a warm day, gentle breeze and dry rock; all very important with Sarah and Peter being relatively unused to scrambling. Apart from two others, we had the ridge to ourselves.
A good path on the ridge’s north side avoids most of the awkward spots, but even staying with the crest the scramble is not particularly difficult or exposed on a good day. Nevertheless, give more time than might be expected to allow for all the ups and downs, twists and bumps.
The ridge ascent comes to an abrupt end at 963m Sgurr na Forcan, a subsidiary top; briefly demoted, renamed, and more bizarrely had its location bounced about a bit. Descent of its short prow can be avoided by using a path on either side. Although the narrow rocky approach from the sgurr to the summit gives easier walking, it is unwise to relax one’s guard.
The saddle’s highest point, 1010m/3314ft, bizarrely mapped 1010 (1011), is at a cairn on a rocky crag, but most hillwalkers seek out the implied authority of the trig point, some 100 metres further west. In truth there is very little difference in height between these points.
Just below the rocky summit ridge is a small grassy hollow, a sheltered resting spot before descent, and where the neophyte scramblers reflected on their undoubted success.
Descend eastwards on the steep, eroded and obvious path to reach a bouldery area that demands more caution. Once into the upper corrie, take a slanting left approach to the dyke which is then followed back to the base of the ridge. The dyke, amidst an area of jumbled rock fall, has a bouldery path on its upper side, albeit after years of passing hillwalkers the way seems slightly easier (especially if dry) than in days of yore.
Map Ordnance survey map 33, Loch Alsh, Glen Shiel & Loch Hourn
Distance 7 miles
Terrain Stalkers’ path to scrambly ridge, then descent on grassy/bouldery slopes to dyke
Start point A87 parking area, map ref 967145
Time 6 to 7 hours
Nearest village Dornie
Recommended refreshment spot The Dornie Hotel
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east