The Forcan Ridge – [# 195 – 196]

The Saddle (1010m); Sgurr na Sgine (946m)

  • Pronunciation:             The Saddle; Skoor nuh Skeenya
  • Translation:                  The Saddle; Peak of the Knife
  • Total distance:             14.4km
  • Total time:                    6hrs 20mins
  • Total ascent:                 1499m
  • Weather:                        A bright and warm start. Mist developed around midday, which later produced a light shower during our descent. Heavy rain followed, but only after we made it back to the ‘van.
  • Start / end location:   A87 roadside lay-by in Glen Shiel approximately 1.5km southeast of Achnagart Farm [OS Map Sheet 33 – Grid Ref: NG 972 138]
  • Map:                              A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

Two climbers follow us along the crest of the Forcan Ridge

The Forcan Ridge (L) leading to The Saddle (R of centre)

Our intention for today was to travel east though Glen Shiel and tackle the two Munros that we still had to climb just to the northeast of the Cluanie Inn. However, the weather was fairly good as we left our overnight camping spot and as we neared the starting point for the Forcan Ridge at the west end of the glen I decided that it was a really good day to tackle it instead. The Forcan Ridge – an absolute classic scrambling route leading to the summit of The Saddle – is best tackled in fair weather.

So, instead of driving all the way through Glen Shiel to the Cluanie Inn, we parked at the roadside lay-by just 1.5km SE of Achnagart Farm to begin our ascent of the Forcan Ridge a grade 2 – 3 scramble.

NNW towards Biod an Fhithich from Meallan Odhar

From the lay-by we walked 500m back along the A87 towards the farm, crossing the Allt Mhalagain burn, before joining a good walkers’ path that zigzagged its way up the northeast slopes of Meallan Odhar. After about 200m of ascent the path traversed round and made its way at an easy gradient up the NNE facing slope of Meallan Odhar where it eventually intersected the connecting ridge with Biod an Fhithich to the north. From here we got our first clear view of the ridge profile, which rose in two slanting steps before a deep gash seen high up on the ridgeline followed by another steep ascending step connected the ridge to the summit of The Saddle.

Close-up view of the Forcan Ridge

The south face of the Forcan Ridge

For now, however, the path we were on skirted round behind Meallan Odhar (never quite reaching its summit) until it arrived at a col immediately to the west of the Forcan Ridge, where it split, with one route destined for the ridge, whilst the other avoided the ridge by heading for the Bealach Coire Mhalagain. We chose the former.

From our vantage point at the col we could clearly see the general line of the ascent up much of the lower section of the ridge, however, the specific detail wasn’t yet obvious but would become clearer as began our ascent. We strapped our walking poles to our rucksacks in anticipation that they wouldn’t be needed for a while. The scrambling started almost immediately from the col, where it began up easy sections of rocky crags. As we ascended higher we came to our first major obstacle in the form of a large awkward block of rock, which we negotiated via an exposed, but straightforward scramble around its left (south) side. The quality of the rock was exquisite and the steepness of the drop-offs on either side of the ridge was spectacular, especially when the beautiful rock slabs on the south side of the ridge were turned silvery grey as the sunlight caught them.

Elaine scrambling on the crest-line of the Forcan Ridge

Once the top of the Forcan Ridge was reached the fun didn’t stop as perhaps the most technically challenging bit was still to come in the form of a nasty 20m-drop into the gash that had been seen previously from the col between Meallan Odhar and Biod an Fhithiach. The last 5m of descent into this gash was actually the hardest technical section of the ridge and probably involved some grade 3 scrambling moves in quite an exposed position.

From the other side of the gash some further enjoyable scrambling up a continuing knife-edge ridge led us right to the east top (958m) and then a little way beyond to the summit of The Saddle at 1010m or 3,314ft. A short distance beyond the summit and after the merest hint of a drop into the connecting ridgeline a second peak is reached, this time topped with a Trig Point. According to Drummond in Scottish Hill Names – Their origin and meaning [Drummond-07] The Saddle is so-named from the yoke-shape of its 1010m summit slung between two peaked tops.

Elaine on the final scramble on the connecting ridge between the top of the Forcan Ridge and the summit of The Saddle

Having crossed to the second peak we sat by the Trig Point and ate a few snacks before descending south for a few tens of metres and then steeply down ESE on an obvious path to reach the Bealach Coire Mhalagain. We crossed the bealach, passing the little lochan on its north side, and then began the easy climb up a zigzagging line to intersect with the ridge between Sgurr na Sgine and Faochag. Once on this ridge we turned right (south) and climbed to a subsidiary top before heading SE a little further to reach the summit of Sgurr na Sgine, at 946m or 3,104ft. We took shelter from the wind in a low circular ring of stones adjacent to the summit cairn. By this stage the mist that had formed and was swirling over the summits was beginning to produce some spits of rain so we used the shelter to don our waterproof gear in preparation for the descent.

From the top of the Forcan Ridge looking west to the summit of The Saddle

From the summit of The Saddle looking a short distance west to the slightly lower Trig Point

We left the summit and retraced our steps back along the ridge, which we stayed on until we reached the summit of Faochag (909m). We crossed the summit in showery conditions and followed its plunging convex NE ridge all the way down until it reached and then crossed the Allt Mhalagain burn. An easy walk along the east bank of the burn brought us back to the A87 main road and then a short distance along the road to our car.

[The scrambling on the Forcan Ridge is generally around grade 2, with a couple of small sections at grade 3 – notably the last few metres of descent into the gash. A faint path appears in places on one or other side or the ridge just below the crest-line and can be taken to avoid some of the harder bits – but I wouldn’t guarantee that all of the technical sections could be avoided. For us, we stuck to the crest-line like glue – and sought out all of the “interesting” challenging sections.

The Saddle can be climbed without difficulty by reversing the descent route from the summit to the Bealach Coire Mhalagain.]

The Trig Point on the top to the west of The Saddle

Sitting on the Trig Point on the peak to the west of The Saddle

Looking along the south face of the Forcan Ridge from high above the Bealach Coire Mhalagain

The summit of Sgurr na Sgine from the high col west of Faochag

Elaine at the rock shelter adjacent to the summit cairn on Sgurr na Sgine

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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