The long ridge – [# 205 – 206]

Beinn Fhada (or Ben Attow) (1032m); A’ Ghlas-bheinn (918m)

  • Pronunciation:             Bine Fada (or Ben Atter); Uh Glaz Vane
  • Translation:                  Long Mountain; the Grey-green Mountain
  • Total distance:             23.8km
  • Total time:                    7hrs 21mins
  • Total ascent:                 1726m
  • Weather:                       Lovely and bright all day. High-level clouds obscured the sun. Quite warm.
  • Start / end location:   Morvich Caravan Club site. [OS Map Sheet 33 – Grid Ref: NH 960 212]
  • 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.

'Here I am' - an inquisitive weasel playing at the summit of A' Ghlas-bheinn

We camped last night in the lovely Caravan Club site at Morvich by the head of Loch Duich, which was very handy for the start of today’s route. From the site we simply followed the unclassified road by the entrance eastward for 800m until we came to the National Trust for Scotland’s Kintail Outdoor Centre. From the Centre the road continued for another 300m to service some houses before a path led north around the east of Strath Croe before it then took the course of the Abhainn Chonaig (river) along its south bank.

Looking east from the Morvich Campsite to Sgurr a' Choire Ghairbh - a subsidiary peak on Beinn Fhada

We stayed on this path as it veered to the east and into Gleann Choinneachain where it began to climb gently. To the south of us the subsidiary tops on the west side of Beinn Fhada looked very impressive with two high corries projecting northward in our direction. Out of the eastern corrie ran the Allt Coire an Sgairne burn and a few hundred metres beyond where our path crossed over this burn it split in two. The left hand path continued eastward crossing the Bealach an Sgaine before dropping down into Gleann Gniomhaidh, which in turn led onwards into Glen Affric. We took the right hand path that snaked back to climb along the north side of the Allt Coire an Sgairne into the corrie.

Climbing above Coire an Sgairne on the NW side of Beinn Fhada

The well-maintained path followed the course of the burn for just under a kilometre before it began to wind its way up the steep and craggy north side of the corrie. The zigzagging in the path meant that angle remained reasonably modest until we topped out midway along the NNW ridge of Beinn Fhada. From our position we got a great view round the rim of the two principal corries to our west that led to the subsidiary peaks of Meall an Fhuarain Mhor and Sgurr a’ Choire Ghairbh – which all “belong” to the Beinn Fhada massif.

From (L-R) - Sgurr Fhuaran, Sgurr nan Saighead & Beinn Bhuidhe (on the Five Sisters of Kintail) with Beinn Sgritheall appearing in the background

On the summit plateau of Beinn Fhada with Meall an Fhuarain Mhoir to the right

We ascended up the NNW ridge, which was grassy and reasonably broad until it opened up onto a huge expanse of gently sloping ground immediately to the west side of Beinn Fhada’s summit. From here it was a very gentle easy-angled stroll to the summit, complete with a cairn, circular stone wind-break and Trig Point at 1032m or 3,356ft. The views south to the Five Sisters of Kintail showed them in a completely different perspective than the usual one from Bealach Ratagain on the road to Glenelg. From here Sgurr Fhuaran, the highest of the five sisters really stood out. In the background, and just peering over the shoulder of Sgurr nan Saighead, the summit of Sgurr Sgritheall could be seen rising above the north shore of Loch Hourn. Looking back along the NNW ridge that we’d just ascended, and then just a little to the north, our next Munro of A’ Ghlas-bheinn showed off its complex undulating south ridge – with its several false summits along its course.

Elaine at the summit Trig Point on Beinn Fhada with the Five Sisters of Kintail behind

Cameron by the summit Trig Point on Beinn Fhada

After a quick snack we left Beinn Fhada’s summit and made our way back down the expansive grassy sloping plateau and back onto the broad NNW ridge. We passed the point on the ridge where we joined it earlier from the west and continued until we ascended on to the little top of Meall a’ Bhealaich (782m). This point marked where the ridge essentially came to an end and we were faced with some extremely steep and craggy ground that dropped nearly 300m to the Bealach an Sgairne below. We had one false start at trying to negotiate a route down this face, which had a couple of deeply incised gullies for us to contend with. I initially tried a promising direct descent of the nose of the crag but got turned back when I realised that I was being funnelled into dangerously steep ground. I re-ascended and tried a line further to the east, which was still very steep and tortuous, but was grassy rather then craggy. We carefully negotiated our way through the jumble of little crags until we reached the safer easier ground at the bealach.

A' Ghlas-bheinn from the summit of Bheinn Fhada

[An alternative descent would have been to descend the path right back to where the path split in two – see earlier description of our ascent route. Here we could have turned right (east and climbed another good path to reach the Bealach na Sgairne). This alternative would have meant a bit more loss of height to reach the bealach (and subsequent regaining of this height), but it would have been over much easier terrain.]

From the bealach we took a steep and winding path up the south ridge of A’ Ghlas-bheinn. It was a straightforward ascent on a good path compared to the descent that we’d just undertaken to reach the bealach from Meall a’ Bhealaich. However, it was an energetic climb with several false summits along the ridge’s length that left us thinking “surely the next one must be the summit”.

The long ridge of Beinn Fhada from near the summit of A' Ghlas-bheinn

The summit did inevitably come, complete with a stone cairn and at a height of 918m or 3,012ft. We sat at the cairn and enjoyed lunch in the lovely warm weather. We admired the view down to our campsite at Morvich below us and then further afield to Loch Duich behind. As we ate, our attention was drawn to an exceedingly inquisitive weasel that was playing (hunting) amongst the boulders at the summit. It stayed around us for about 10 minutes and in all that time we really struggled to get good photographs of it. It wasn’t that it hid away from us, but simply that it was so agile and quick that it never stayed still for long enough. Our photos mainly showed a blur of brown dancing over the rocks. Despite not getting perfectly sharp pictures we were just delighted to be able to observe and be entertained by this little mammal going about its routine so high up in the hills. Just brilliant.

Cameron at the summit cairn on A' Ghlas-bheinn

We descended off the broad west ridge of A’ Ghlas-bheinn and headed towards A’ Mhuc. There wasn’t particularly any path to follow but the terrain wasn’t steep and was generally grassy and dry underfoot. After we reached A’ Mhuc we then aimed for the corner of the conifer plantation below us – at the point where the Allt an Leoid Ghaineamhaich burn entered the forest. The final descent to reach this point turned out to be very steep but still grassy, so never particularly difficult.

We entered the plantation and followed a forestry road until we reached the Abhainn Chonaig river where we left the track on the north of the river to cross a footbridge and rejoin the walkers’ path that we’d used earlier on the south bank. It was then a short walk back to Strath Croe and then round to the campsite.

Resident weasel at the summit of A' Ghlas-bheinn

[I have not been able to find out why Beinn Fhada is also called Ben Attow. It is not that one of the names reflects the highest peak, perhaps of several peaks, whereas the other denotes the whole mountain. There doesn’t appear to be any specific point on the OS map of the area that is represented by either name, instead the mountain massif (and it is a huge mountain) comes under the dual title of “Beinn Fhada or Ben Attow”. Can anyone shed light on this conundrum?]

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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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