Poor weather mars a great scramble – [# 203 – 204]

Bruach na Frithe (958m); Am Basteir (934m)

  • Pronunciation:             Broo-uch na Freeyer; Am Bashtyer
  • Translation:                  Slope of the Deer Forest; The Baptizer (but often translated as the Executioner)
  • Total distance:             16.2km
  • Total time:                    7hrs 30mins
  • Total ascent:                 1282m
  • Weather:                        Started bright but with mist on the summits. This cleared for a time, but then heavy rain followed with blustery winds. Brightened again in the late afternoon with warm sunshine.
  • Start / end location:     Roadside lay-by on A863 600m west of the Sligachan Hotel. [OS Map Sheet 32 – Grid Ref: NG 480 298]
  • 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.

The Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean

Parking just to the east of the Sligachan Hotel we took the track south towards Alltdearg House. As we neared, a walkers’ path bypassed the house to the north and began to follow the course of the Allt Dearg Mor burn. This path, if followed all the way, leads over the Bealach a’ Mhaim (344m) and then down into Glen Brittle: a rather nice excursion would be to drive to the start of the path in Glen Brittle and then walk the 5 miles over to the Sligachan Hotel for lunch followed by a pleasant return trip to work of the calories.

Am Bhasteir (L) and Sgurr a' Fionn Choire (R) from the west just below Bruach na Frithe

For us, however, once we reached Coire na Circe we left the path and crossed the burn, and in a southerly direction began the fairly easy angled ascent into Fionn Choire, which sat between the peaks of Am Bhasteir and Bruach na Frithe. As we climbed higher into the corrie we reached a section of steep scree before the vertical headwall of cliffs, that comprise Sgurr a’ Fionn Choire and the Bhasteir Tooth, loomed up ahead of us. We aimed for the Bealach nan Lice that sat between the two peaks. From the bealach we got our first view over the other side of ridge into the secluded Lota Corrie and then further below into Harta Corrie and the start of the River Sligachan.

Elaine approaching the summit of Bruach na Frithe with the Red Cuillins (L) and Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean (R)

The weather was still bright as we left the bealach and skirted round the northern base of Sgurr a’ Fionn Choire, a giant craggy plug of rock. Once this obstacle was passed we climbed a scree-covered path along the main ridge to where a Trig Point marks the summit of Bruach na Frithe at 958m or 3,143ft. Standing at the summit we were rewarded with views southward along the bulk of the lower two-thirds of the main ridge, although many of the tops were shrouded in cloud and mist. Perhaps the best view was eastward towards Sgurr a’ Fionn Choire, Am Bhasteir and Sgurr nan Gillean: with all of them vying to present the most alpine mountain profile. Meanwhile, sitting over their shoulder across the opposite side of Glen Sligachan, the more rounded tops of Glamaig and Beinn Dearg Mhor sat much more modestly exhibiting their characteristic pinkish hue.

Cameron at the Trig Point on the summit of Bruach na Frithe with Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean in the background

We left the summit by retracing our steps back to the Bealach nan Lice and simply admired the steepness of the Bhasteir Tooth now in front of us. The Bhasteir Tooth is a projection of rock that emanates from the base of Am Basteir at an off-vertical angle. The face that lies to the west of the ridge, where we were standing, is slightly overhanging and makes it a daunting vista. Luckily, there is a path around this tricky obstacle on its northern side. It required us to drop down a steep scree slope close to the base of the Tooth and to continue downwards until an equally steep upward path brought us passed the Tooth as well as Am Basteir to a position on the ridge called the Bealach a’ Bhasteir. From this bealach it was then possible to scramble up the east ridge to the top of Am Bhasteir.

Am Basteir (L), Sgurr nan Gillean (centre) and Sgurr a' Fionn Choire (R) from just east of Bruach na Frithe

Cameron on the summit of Am Basteir in very wet conditions

The problem we faced was that as we traversed around the base of the Tooth and Am Bhasteir it had started to rain, heavily, and the wind had noticeably increased. Climbing the east ridge of Am Bhasteir in pleasant dry conditions is fairly easy, but in wet blustery weather it is a much more challenging task. We set of scrambling up the ridge, which was actually quite straightforward for the first two-thirds, until we met our first real obstacle: a little notch about 4m deep. The problem was that the position was fairly exposed and the rock on our side offered little in the way of hand or feet holds. The guidebooks suggest that an abseil can be rigged to descend to the base of the notch, or alternatively, a series of sloping ledges on the south side of the ridge may be used to deliver you to the same point. We had a rope, harness and all of the necessary gear with us to set up an abseil, but as it was raining hard we chose to investigate the alternative option. In hindsight this was probably the wrong choice as it took us a while to find a suitable combination of ledges that would deliver us safely to the base of the notch. Even when we did unlock the right combination the ledges were at sloping angles, wet and greasy and covered in fine scree that made the possibility of a slip more likely – the consequences of which would have been a rapid descent to the bottom of Lota Corrie – not an ideal prospect!

View south through the upper Bhasteir Gorge up to the Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean

Eventually, we did make it to the base of the notch and from there we could get a better appreciation of just how tiny the descent was from the ridge above – if only it had a few positive holds. We turned from our examination of the west face of the notch and scrambled carefully up more loose scree until we reached the summit of Am Bhasteir at 934m or 3,064ft.

In many ways the descent back down from the summit along the series of slippy ledges was even trickier that the ascent had been and by the time we reached the Bealach a’ Bhasteir once again we were both quite relived to be off.

Earlier in the day, before the heavy rain had set in, we had wondered about continuing eastward to climb Sgurr nan Gillean, which was only 300m away (horizontally) but required a moderate rock climb up Nicolson’s Chimney before the main ridge is reached and followed to the summit. We spent a few minutes investigating the line of the ascent but in the deteriorating weather conditions decided to leave it for another day.

Looking south to Sgurr nan Gillean (L), Am Bhasteir (& Bhasteir Tooth) (C) and Bruach na Frithe (R)

We descended from the ridge via the Bealach a’ Bhasteir, dropping down to the top end of the Bhasteir Gorge. As we reached the little ridge that makes up the eastern fringe of the gorge the fickleness of the day’s weather showed itself as it bagan to clear: for which we were really grateful. By the time we’d descended the little ridge and admired the jaw-dropping view into the depths of the gorge chasm, the clouds were breaking and the views down Glen Sligachan were once again opening up. We joined a path that is used to ascend and descend Sgurr nan Gillean and followed it all the way back to the Sligachan Hotel. On this occasion we didn’t have time to imbibe in the hostelry’s finest ales, as we needed to find somewhere suitable to camp that was close to Portree as we were going to see Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three at the Aros Centre later in the evening.

[Aside: The concert was brilliant. The chap on the harmonica and wash-board had to be seen to be believed. Pokey, aka Andrew, the lead singer and one of the guitarists, had a great repertoire of original and old cover-versions that he belted out. We didn’t know any of them – not our genre – but that didn’t matter – the whole evening’s set was brilliant.]

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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