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Kintail 4.5 Munros

Kintail 4.5 Munros


Postby wildmountaintimes » Sun Oct 31, 2021 9:20 pm

Munros included on this walk: A' Chralaig, Càrn Ghluasaid, Mullach Fraoch-choire, Sàil Chaorainn, Sgùrr nan Conbhairean

Date walked: 20/09/2020

Time taken: 14 hours

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We are ridiculously behind on walk reports, and every time we feel like we just about catch up – life gets in the way for even longer and we fall farther behind – woops! Anyway, we are finally getting around to September weekend 2020 (only 13 months behind schedule…) where we decided to work our way round the remainder of the Kintail Munros with the exception of Ciste Dubh and the Forcan Ridge.

In our sights this weekend were Carn Ghlusaid, Sgurr nan Conbhairean, Sail Chaorainn, A’ Chralaig and the now-infamous (to me anyway) Mullach Fraoch-choire. On WH these Munros are listed as 2 separate walks, but when you look at the height gained and how the ridges link the 2 westerly hills, it would seem mad to descend and return to do them another day when that day could be spent bagging some more. Plus, everybody loves an epic day out, am I right?

The weather report hadn’t looked particularly great, nor particularly awful, with low mist and light rain forecast for the day but nothing a set of waterproofs can’t fend off. Although the sun was shining as we had parked up the car, it was clear that the crisp autumn chill was well and truly in the air and so layers wouldn’t be a bad idea for the day ahead. Although autumn can be difficult to dress appropriately for on the hills, with layering and delayering repeatedly, it is one of my favourite turns in the season. For me, it feels as though it signifies an exciting time, where there is still plenty of life within the landscapes; yet it feels more subdued. It’s as though each of the living organisms which thrive in summer begin to wind down slowly, bringing a sense of calm before the harsh winter storms make many of the Highland landscapes feel dormant in their winter slumber, with the roar of stags being the contradictory aspect to this.

All packed and ready to go, we crossed over the A87 and joined a good track immediately, which also begun to climb immediately too. As mentioned above with struggling how to dress for autumn, I was already having to delayer not that far up the track to a mid-layer. The track heads towards a gate where there is a pylon/power station type of building, where our track turned away from this. It had become a walkers’ path as opposed to a track, which wound its way over the outcrop of An Cruachan then up to an easier gradient just above Coire Ghiubhais which was a perfect place to stick on waterproofs as the distant virga had now reached us. Although what was presumed to be rain approaching us in the distance was falling in snow – testament to just how chilly the air was! The wind and snow and need for waterproofs couldn’t have come at a worse time as we had the steeper section of the hill to tackle, which, with the extra layers, was going to make for a humid and sweaty climb!

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The path becomes drier going up the ridge which makes for good following up until around 900m when the path peters out onto the minor plateau which leads to the summit. This could be tricky in poor visibility, but thankfully with the use of maps and the cloud breaking up we headed for the minor summit cairn at 957m, arriving at 11.20 which meant we had only taken 1 hour 50 minutes from the carpark to the first summit of the day.

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It took a minute to confirm that we were on the main summit as, looking across the bealach up to the minor top of Creag a’Chaorainn (which turns out to be a subsidiary top of our next Munro, Sgurr nan Conbhairean), this hill seemed to lack in stature. However, now happy to have confirmed we’d bagged the first Munro of the day, we took some brief pictures, shovelled a snack in and said hello to another couple before dipping down to the high bealach and cutting across the southern slopes and gradually gaining height below Creag a’Chaorainn. The other couple and ourselves had been leapfrogging each other until we reached Glas Bhealach, where we settled into a decent rhythm and stormed up the steepest section which leads up to the cone of Sgurr nan Conbhairean, with its sizeable shelter cairn. Another brief 5 minute stop and we were off again at 12.15, with the weather clearing up completely bringing sunshine and blue skies - a surprising but welcome turn of events!

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We were pleasantly surprised how quickly these 2 hills had been bagged, and charged on down the ridge towards the third Munro of the day. The third hill is 100m smaller than the second which looked like an easy jaunt to acquire, despite it being around 1600m in distance from where we presently were. With a good path and relatively easy ground to head over and a wee hello from a deer and some cute dog friends, we reached Sail Chaorainn within 30 minutes. Delighted with the time we’d been making, we stopped for a leisurely 15 minutes to have some lunch, admire the views and generally have an enjoyable summit stop before returning. From this angle, it is now possible to see the jagged ridge which leads to Mullach Fraoch-choire and, to me, it looked terrifying. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of ridges we’d done over the last year, coupled by a fairly strong wee gust now and then, but I was feeling apprehensive about the ridge as opposed to excited. Anyway, time to get a move on and so we headed back on ourselves following the outward path again, with the climb back toward Sgurr nan Conbhairean definitely feeling a bit more of a slog. Once we hit around 1030m, the path then contoured across the slope and missed out the final 70-odd metre climb which is ideal for tired legs which still have another couple of Munros to take on.

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The track follows a good path along the ridge with beautiful views down onto Gorm Lochan. Once you reach the top of Drochaid an Tuil Easaich, the WH route heads south to begin the day’s descent, however if taking on the group of 5 you follow the west ridge. The path is good at first, but soon disappears and you are following the ridge line as best as you can with some steep and slightly intimidating slopes and crags which fall away to your right hand side. The going is then fairly rough with plenty of ups and downs along the way, finishing off with some steep tussocky boulders on the last section before reaching Bealach Choire a’ Chait which hindrered the speedy progress we felt we’d made before this. Steven Fallon claims that if you hit the bealach and eastern ridge of A’Chrailaig at the right section, you’ll pick up a faint path to follow… this must have evaded us as we were clambering up through deer grass, bog and heather to gain the ridge as best we could and didn’t locate a path until just below the nose of this ridge that leads up to the 1037m point of the main ridge. The path does feel pretty steep at some sections and at times with the gusts made me feel a little uneasy with loose gravel (the WORST type of loose ground on the paths!!) but soon enough the pull up finally eased as it reached the shoulder where we managed to gain our breath back and let our muscles recover as we sauntered along to a minor dip below the final summit pull. This was a climb of 70m with some magnificent cliffs to the east (which, as usual, I was being wary of) and the massive summit cairn was reached with relief. Sitting here, we had said how disappointed we were taking so long to reach this point (especially as we’d been over taken by a lone male walker on the hills – Scott hates this about hiking with me…) but knew we needed to replenish our bodies with some food and water. To be fair, it was the 4th hill of the day and had turned into a gorgeous day with worse places to be. Anytime it seems tiring or a slog – I always remind myself “Well… you could be at work or cooped up indoors”. Personally, I believe that with the Scottish mountains due to the variable less-pleasant external factors which you’re exposed to (rain/wind/low cloud/clegs/midges/ticks), or even just some of the big outings that you do on some of the bigger days which are completely and utterly exhausting at times – you truly need to be an optimist to see yourself through. If you’re someone who’s pessimistic, or a glass half empty kinda person, I don’t believe you’ll last long if you commit to taking this up as your main hobby. One thing that has to be said about the Scots, is that despite our reputation for being dour, stingy or whatever else is (falsely 😊) portrayed about us, one thing stands out for me – we are resilient and, god forbid, we are hopeful. Even halfway through a moan, you’ll always find someone who will say ‘Ach well at least it’s not….’. I think a fine example of this alone is looking at the Scotland national team’s fanbase…!

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Anyway, positive thoughts fully manifested, it was time to go onto what I’d been worried about the most – Mullach Fraoch-choire. The jagged ridge was looming ahead and I was hoping its sharp outline’s bark was worse than its bite, as many hills/ridges have been plenty of times before. It is an easy and long ridge which heads along to Stob Coire na Craileig. The ridge then begins to narrow, and with the steep drops I was beginning to feel uneasy. I’m not sure why, whether it was a combination of a lack of recent practice on ridges and a bit of lost confidence over lockdowns stopping us getting out on as many of the steeper-sloped hills – but my fear of heights which I had progressed so much on over the last 2-3 years, had actually began to regress. This might not be related to hills though, maybe it was just a mental state at the time, or hormones or any number of factors which can have an effect on anxiety.

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As we’d reached the bealach, I looked at the ridge that leads to the summit 153m above, which was outlined by sharp pinnacles. I was aware that there was supposed to be a good by-pass path but it was still intimidating. Scott had gone ahead on his own, when I stopped in my tracks and said ‘I can’t do this’. He didn’t seem best pleased, and stormed off in a huff when I’d decided just to try my best and to go for it. He’d turned round to see me moving, ridiculously slowly, along the ridge and started back along the ridge to give me a helping hand – delighted I’d decided to give it a go. I’ve done the CMD, Ring of Steall, several arêtes along many of the Kintail hills and multiple others and thoroughly enjoyed them – but today was completely and utterly horrendous and a horrible gut feeling that today wasn’t meant to be the day I walked this ridge. I did try, sitting down a few times and keeping 3 points of contact on the ground at any one time, but the path had swung over a minor top and was perilously close for my liking to the cliffs which fell away to the right hand side below.

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With fear taking over my entire body and vertigo kicking in which was making me dizzy, along with jelly legs adding to that feeling I felt that actually in that state of extreme fear and anxiety, it was probably more dangerous for me to continue in the walk as I wouldn’t have been in a stable mind and didn’t want to put anybody else at risk. After sitting down for 5 minutes to get my breathing back to normal to calm myself down, some tears that I couldn’t actually get along this ridge and disappointment that I’d have to turn back, which in turn was having me questioning everything from my up-and-coming Summer ML training, Liathach, Aonach Eagach, An Teallach – how would I ever make my way along these mountains, how would I ever be able to compleat the Munros ,when I can’t even make my way along this simple path where there aren’t any difficulties or exposure written about in many of the walk reports? I slowly made my way back to the bealach, while Scott had gone on to the summit (his photo of the summit cairn is below).

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I was at around 1030 metres – well above Munro height – but as it isn’t the summit (approximately 70m higher) then it just doesn’t count. I’d noticed the steep scree heading down from the bealach into Coire Odhar and thought since I can be slow going on the downhill I should make a head start and wait on Scott where I’ll be able to keep up. Some more tears were shed, and I can’t describe the sadness, disappointment I was feeling in myself, along with concern for Scott’s safety as he was on his own on the ridge with no bag, plus also knowing he was going to be really, really annoyed with me for not summiting the Munro. Eventually Scott rejoined me, might I add with his dour face absolutely fizzing. No amount of apologies or tears could get any sympathy or forgiveness for this one. Turns out with me not doing that, he’d automatically decided that was our hobby of hillwalking over and he’d never be a mountain leader… I tried to explain I would come back when I was in a better frame of mind with a friend or on my own to make sure I catch up. He was upset that what was 'our' thing together had now been ruined because he'd done a Munro without me. I tried to remind him that I was ahead of him by one Munro for years until he did Ben Nevis with me, and although we’d both done Ben Lomond (8 times now for me…) we’d never actually climbed it together. However, even that voice of reason couldn’t have changed his mind. So, we made our way silently, with Scott ahead by a good couple of hundred metres at most points, over miserably wet boggy ground in Coire Odhar towards the ‘distinct path’ on the OS map which leads alongside An Caorann Mor. “Once we hit this marked path, we should make some good speed”. How wrong we were.

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We arrived at the ‘good path’ which occasionally had stony section of path along it, but for the first 4km consisted of what felt like a walk along a stream and through bog water. It was slow going, it was tiring, we were walking in complete silence with Scott charging on ahead and this ground did not make things any better for the situation. This is the day that we realised: Just because a path is on the OS maps, do not trust that it is a well-made or constructed stalkers’ path which you have been spoiled with many, many, many times before. The only silence which broke the walk out, was the sheer volume of stags roaring all across the hillsides which enclose the glen. Being in that moment, in the beginning of the rutting season took away any disappointment and dismay from the day’s antics away and it felt truly magical. It was a crisp autumn night, the light was dimming delicately all around us and I felt as though we were the only 2 people for miles as the glen felt so still other than the deer. Again, that’s another feeling which I cherish is feeling so far removed from the daily grind and mundane, futile things that cause irrational stress.

We eventually, after what felt like a lifetime, reached the landrover track which was much more enjoyable ground and allowed us to pick up the pace for the final km of the track we were currently on. When I say final km of the track, that does not include the road walk which we still had to combat at the end of this. Walking down the A87 – the main road which links Inverness and Fort William to Kyle of Lochalsh and Skye, we knew this would be daunting. Arriving at the road, head torches on to warn any oncoming vehicles of our presence, we turned left and started along the grassy verge. After such a long day on the hills, there isn’t really much to comment on regarding the 4 mile road walk back to the car other than it was grim. It was very, very, very grim actually. It was also very, very dark and our feet were very much in tatters. However, as Scott and I were both struggling and in the same boat, plus the joint concern and looking out for one or the other as we’d hear a car approaching, all resentment as to my lack of summitting the final Munro of the day had fizzled away (thankfully).

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As soon as we arrived back at the car, we felt a completely shared relief at not having to walk anymore, but also knew we would still need to find somewhere to bed down for the night and let me tell you – we could not be bothered finding somewhere to pitch the tent. With that decision made, we knew that we’d spend another night in the most expensive tent we’d ever own… the car! So heating on, and warmer clothes on we headed round to find somewhere to bed down for the evening. A firm favourite spot used to be across from the Cluanie on late journeys, but we arrived to discover that this was closed off and had now become a building site. (oh no!!). So we continued on, and as I reached the carpark below the Five Sisters ridge, I made the decision that we’d pop in here as it seemed nice and quiet with only 1 other car and one mini-van, out of sight of the road, and we could just drive round to the start point for Beinn Fhada and A’ Ghlas-bheinn early in the morning. We had every intention of making our one packet of pasta per person outside the car, but the temperature had dropped significantly and so due to the extreme teeth-chattering on my part while cooking dinner, we only made one tortellini and shared this between us. Not the best idea for calories after a long day, but warmth was taking priority at that very moment in time! Straight into the sleeping bags, and as I looked out the windows to the beautiful clear sky above drifted off to sleep within a matter of minutes.

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wildmountaintimes
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Re: Kintail 4.5 Munros

Postby 1Magnus » Mon Nov 01, 2021 8:58 am

Fantastic photos!
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Re: Kintail 4.5 Munros

Postby wildmountaintimes » Wed Nov 03, 2021 12:54 pm

1Magnus wrote:Fantastic photos!

Thanks :)
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