Only eleven days had passed since my adventure on the Brothers ridge with Sid..I could still relive the memory of the biting gale force winds knocking me off my feet and the driving rain in between gusts in my waking thoughts. The weather in between those eleven days had not improved in any significance...indeed it had probably deteriorated, but then it is October after all. I had read a few reports on walkhighlands in the days leading up to this that described snow lying on the summits, and paths that are often walkable being less so now. Couple this with a few anxiety provoking moments recently at work and I was possibly not in the best frame of mind for going out alone...but alone I would be for the first day...undeterred by this I set off for the Cluanie Inn mid afternoon on the 26th October.
I had always fancied an overnighter at the Cluanie...it always looked so appealing when you drive along past it on the A87 towards Skye...and now I was to spend the next two nights here as my walking base. As the walking season is slowly grinding down the client base is whittling down to the last few hardy souls (or those too stubborn to give up) daring to venture into the shortened autumnal days with unpredictable weather. It really is a time of all four seasons in one day...
I relaxed in my room with a few snacks and a sandwich for tea, then settled down to read my book and eventually watched the end of El Dorado (John Wayne shooting up the town baddie) before a restless night ensued.
I awoke less than refreshed at around seven...soon to doze for another quarter an hour...then jumped into the shower in the hope of waking me up fully...then jumped out again when the water almost blistered my skin!! It would appear that I had the only room with a water thermostat set to kill...and it was taking no prisoners!! Not to be thwarted by this I developed a technique of water on/jumping under until unbearable...water off...water on/returning to get a little wetter...water off...etc until I had been fully washed. This was, unfortunately, the only way I could get a shower and was extremely annoying and time consuming...I would be later than anticipated on the hills at this rate. Breakfast was next up and I have no complaints about that...other than a fellow guest trying to snort back the entire innards of his nasal cavity between slurps of his coffee...how his three companions put up with that on a daily basis without doing him physical harm was beyond my comprehension, as I wished ill on him within five minutes of sitting down!!!
Not the best of starts to two days away to relax and take my mind off of other worries...but then I'm not here to socialise or make friends...walking and bagging are the aims of the trip and I would allow nothing to take my focus off of that. Packed up and ready to go I drove the short distance to the start point (oh my that sounds good) only a little behind schedule...okay it was almost thirty minutes actually...and arrived to find the car park empty. Looks as though the weather had deterred others and I would be completely alone all day...just how I liked it when I feel like this.
It is a large layby on the A87 at Lundie...recognisable to anyone that drives the road regularly as being next to the large white camper van that appears to reside there permanently...at around the midpoint of Loch Cluanie.
The walk starts across the road and follows, initially, the old road before heading up a stony track, steeply, towards a mobile phone transmitter mast. Just beyond here there is a small cairn marking the route uphill following an old stalkers path, turn right and follow this.
In good conditions this path would be a delight underfoot, but today it was rather boggy in places lower down, though that soon passed as height was gained. The path meanders more than climbs, unusually for this area, and I soon passed the flat shoulder of An Cruachan and began a steeper slog up a slope left of Coire nan Clach, zig zagging as I went until I reached the west ridge of Carn Ghluasaid. The path continues onto the broad plateau until two small cairns come into sight.
The summit cairn of Carn Ghluasaid 957m is the one on the left and sits on the edge of a steep drop down cliffs below...so take care in poor conditions.
Jelly McBaby came out for a look see and sat carefully on the summit cairn...he had not risked coming out on the Brothers ridge the other week (and rightly so) as the wind had been horrendous!!
But here he felt safe enough to venture onto the cairn and enjoyed getting to stretch his short pudgy legs...
Just as I had finished taking snaps on the summit the first drops of rain landed and were quickly followed by more, turning to the south-east I could make out a descending weather front that would soon be on me (and not leave me for the rest of the day unfortunately) so adorned weather proof jacket and trousers as quickly and safely as I could...perhaps teetering about with a boot stuck in the leg of my trousers wasn't the best idea so close to the edge!!
Before the weather closed in around me though I had gotten a decent view of the next Munro on my route...Sgurr nan Conbhairean...so without further dallying I set off along the edge of the cliffs on my right and followed the path along to a gentle descent then a steep rise to Creag a Chaorainn. The ridge changes direction and heads to the left, keeping the deep jagged cliffs of the corrie on your right, then flattens out as you arrive at the Glas Bhealach...a large open plateau resembling the surface of the moon in poor visibility.
The ridge returns north and then climbs steeply to the summit dome of Sgurr nan Conbhairean 1110m. This time the summit cairn is unmistakable as it is so large (a feature of quite a few of these hills) and offered some much needed shelter in poor conditions.
I was cold and wet and possibly miserable as well just now...certainly my mind was not as focused as usual, which could explain the mistake I almost made next.
Convinced that I could see a path of sorts I headed off down a grass slope to my right instead of my left and almost paid the price for a moments lapse of concentration (another lesson learned) as I headed along and down a sharp embankment that would have taken me down into the corrie below if I had slipped. Realising my error I scrambled back up the grassy slope to the cairn and reassessed my position. I could see nothing around me to give me any visual clue so relied on my GPS to get me off safely...the path was to my left and headed down gently around the edge of the corrie I had almost stumbled into. The slope steepened again and I headed down towards the obvious bealach off the north ridge.
I then crossed a short boggy section and began to climb again, but only a short distance this time, before arriving at the summit cairn of Sail Chaorainn 1002m.
The weather cleared long enough for me to see another top along the ridge from me which looked higher...but it's actually 1m smaller.
If the weather had been nicer I would have wandered along to the other summit as there may have been a way down to Prince Charlies cave from there which was below me on the summit but completely inaccessible in this weather from this position. As the weather once again closed around me I retraced my steps back to the bealach and began the climb back up to Sgurr nan Conbhairean, turning off on a path around 150m short of the summit to head around the side of the Munro. I then descended the south-east ridge and headed along it to Drochaid an Tuill Easaich. I had traversed a fine but short arete on way but had no views down to the Gorm Lochan on my left or Toll Easach on my right. The path on the way down, at this point at least, is fine but does require views to take your mind off the monotony of going downhill alone. This is not helped by the path becoming boggier as you descend, eventually through some really wet underfoot conditions at a small bealach just before reaching Meall Breac...then predictably, as has been the case with all of these Munro's so far in Glen Shiel, the route takes a turn through steep wet boggy slopes with no distinct path (other than the trudged squashed underfoot gorse) meaning a lot of slipping and sliding and lost footing and, oh, perhaps the occasional cursed word...!!!
If I were to do this route again (next year with Baino perhaps??) I would be compelled to simply return across all three summits and avoid the boggy final hour and a half descending Meall Breac and crossing the Allt Coire Lair and trudging along the old military road back to the mobile phone transmitter...But on this occasion I had no choice as I was already committed to it.
I crossed the Allt Coire Lair as high up as I could as I would imagine it being less easy further down, then traversed down the wet path on the east side of the stream until reaching a small gate (wide open as it happens...not exactly in keeping with the country code) and access to the military road back to the transmitter mast.
After closing the gate behind me I set off on the final half hour of my journey and arrived back at the car just five and a half hours after leaving it in the layby (7-9 hrs was the estimation for this route), cold and wet but no longer miserable...another three Munro's under my belt (144 now) and knowing that only a short trip along the road was required to reach the Cluanie Inn and warmth. Once back at the Inn I queried the shower temperature and was offered the room next door instead...now that's service. After transferring all my gear next door, showering in warmth with my skin intact and blister free, I scoped out the bar and settled on steak and ale pie washed down with a celebratory bottle of Crabbies for my tea...then retired for another evening of John Wayne and my book rather than fork out £9 for two hours Internet access to write my blog...until tomorrow.....
Hopefully this link will work for the pictures from the trip.....
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.