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To the South Glen Shiel Ridge - and beyooond

To the South Glen Shiel Ridge - and beyooond

Postby KeithS » Sun Dec 11, 2011 11:18 am

Route description: South Glen Shiel Ridge: 7 Munros

Munros included on this walk: Aonach Air Chrith, Creag a'Mhàim, Creag nan Dàmh, Druim Shionnach, Maol chinn-dearg, Sgùrr an Doire Leathain, Sgùrr an Lochain, Sgùrr na Sgìne, The Saddle

Date walked: 13/06/1995

Time taken: 17.5 hours

Distance: 35 km

Ascent: 3050m

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Some days I like a stroll, other days I like a good walk. Now and again I push myself a bit harder. Just occasionally I have an idea that I want to do something harder still, and push myself to my limit. I'm not talking superhuman here, such as Philip Tranter or Bob Graham, or even many of the exploits described on this site, I'm talking me, and my limits.

One such urge descended on me in June 1995. I was in the relatively early days of my bagging career, with 80 Munros to my name, hoping to get to one hundred on this trip. I had six days to see what I could do in the Glen Shiel area. I had heard of the South Shiel Ridge and knew it gave an opportunity to add considerably to my tally. I also noticed from my map that there was another mountain further down the Glen, The Saddle. I thought that, if I could do the ridge, it would be a shame to lose all the height I had gained only to have to reclimb it another day. Why not link the two walks together? There was another Munro, Sgurr na Sgine nearby. I didn't realise quite how far extra I would have to go, or that there there was a Corbett, Sgurr a'Bhac Chaolais, at 2900ft, in the way. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I had set up a base at the campsite at the bottom of Glen Shiel, staying with my father. He was just over 70yrs old and planned for valley walks and local sightseeing as I tramped about the high hills above him. The day before I had had a warm up on three of the Munros to the north side of Loch Cluanie and that had gone quite well. During the day I had met a lad who was staying at the same campsite as me. I shall call him Mike. It's probably not his name, and it is not to protect his identity. I just cannot remember, sorry. He was also planning to do the South Glen Shiel Ridge so I suggested we walk together. He didn't seem too keen on the idea of extending the walk so we agreed to start together and, if I still had this strange urge to continue we would part company at the end of the ridge itself.

So, that is why, at 5.45am we were standing at the little track along the road from the Cluanie Inn, having been driven up the valley by my father who, most sensibly was going back to the tent to get some more sleep. He had more sense than me and my new colleague.

As we prepared to set off it occurred to me, much to my amusement, that this was the time I would normally have been starting work, had I not taken the time off for this trip. That would have been an easier day to the one I had planned. On a whim, and seeing I had a signal, I phoned work to say “Good morning”. I'm sure my colleagues thought I was mad. Well they know I am when it comes to this hillwalking stuff, and this would have confirmed their suspicions.

So, off we went, crossing the river by the bridge. There is a great little camping spot by the bridge which I have since used a couple of times when walking in the area, within easy walking distance to the inn, always a good plan.

We took the easy track round the lower northern slopes of the hill. It was good to get the legs going so early. We decided to stay on the path round the east of the mountain until reaching the path up the first Munro of the day, Creag a'Maim. I often find the first climb of the day, on a multi peak day the hardest. It is usually the biggest height gain and muscles are not fully warmed up. Today was no exception (except for the much later part of the day). The thought that this was the first of ten climbs in a day was quite daunting. We took it quite steadily to save energy. The views back over Loch Cluanie were beautiful as wisps of early mist clung to the surface. As the day warmed it was clear we were in for a scorcher. We gained the top in a about two and a half hours and the ridge lay ahead, winding its way to the west. Looking beyond the ridge I could just make out a triangular peak in the far distance and realised, to my dismay, that this was The Saddle, my final Munro of the day. It looked a very, very long way away.

I have to admit that I cannot remember much about the individual Munros of the day, my recollections of the walk are of a switchback ride with no particular difficulties. Navigation was easy as by now there was not a cloud in the sky. This presented me with a problem rarely encountered in the Scottish Highlands. The walk continued in a pretty much westerly direction for the entire day. The sun, therefore, was continually to my left. The day was hot and there was no wind. My head covering consisted of a baseball cap and I was wearing a shirt. This did not cover my neck and, as the day progressed I began to resemble a lobster on one side of my head. I had to turn the peak of my cap down to the left to give me the best possible protection, although I left it a little too late.

The ridge continued as a series of climbs and descents, skirting corries on the right and with views down to remote Loch Quoich to the left. Mike and I kept up a good pace, keeping breaks short, mainly to drink. By the fifth Munro, Sgurr an Doire Leathain, I was beginning to tire, especially as there is a lesser top on the route, but we still made good progress. As we approached the last Munro, Creag nam Damh, again crossing a minor bump and regaining height, the strain of the day was starting to tell. I began to wonder if I had taken on too much.

We dropped down to the path which is normally used to return to the valley. Mike confirmed that he was going to head back down to the road and we parted company. I took a rest for a well earned sandwich.

It was about 4.00pm and I was on my own. There was plenty of light left in the day, but it was also a fair trek to reach the next Munro. There was also a Corbett in my way. I girded my loins (whatever that actually entails) and set off again. Sgurr a'Bhac Chaolais may only be a Corbett but it is only 100ft short of Munro height. It was on this climb that the tiredness really struck, possibly because I knew that all the height I was gaining was going to be lost again and then needed to be regained before I reached the next Munro. I may also have relaxed a little mentally having reached the traditional end of the ridge and started winding down far too early. I started to take more breaks on the climb and each time it was harder to start again. As I cleared the summit The Saddle still looked a long way off.

Sgurr na Sgine was reached without too much difficulty but it looked an awful long way down for my route to my final peak. Even coming down hill was tiring and my legs ached when I reached the little loch at the top of the pass. It was so tempting to call it a day and head down the hill back to the road. The Saddle looked so high above me and I wasn't certain I had the energy to complete it. It would however have defeated the object of continuing from the end of the ridge and would have dampened the sense of achievement had I given up then. Loins were regirded for the final push and I set off again. Somehow I did make it round the corrie and up to the top and, with a final push, I made it to the Trig point and collapsed, completely exhausted.

My original plan had been to descend by the Forcan Ridge but I made the decision, quite sensibly I think in retrospect, to return to the col by my route up. I know the Forcan Ridge is a spectacular route and I'm sure, had I not been so tired, that I would have enjoyed it. I felt that, in my current state it would be dangerous, so made my way slowly down, leaving the summit around 8.00pm. I passed the loch and headed down towards the road. It was still a long way to go and my legs didn't want to play and I stumbled down alongside the stream as we both headed down the hill, the water having an easier time than I.

At about 2000ft I looked down and could see the road way below in the valley and make out the cars passing along, oblivious to my struggles above them.

I had suggested to my father that he might like to have the occasional drive up the lower part of the valley to meet me as I came off the hill, to save me the walk back to the site, although I did not know what time it would be. I saw his distinctive coloured car slow and stop on the road. It was still over a mile, and over a thousand feet below me. There was little point shouting down to wait, he was too far away. I watched as the car turned in the road and return down the valley. I don't think he would have been able to see me even if he knew where to look. I left the stream to the left and met up with the path down the lower slopes.

My progress was slow, very slow. I daren't sit down to rest as I wasn't convinced I would stand up again. However, at 10.45pm I finally reached the bottom of the hill and was just left with the short walk across the field to the road. The light was fading quickly. When I was only about 400 yds from the road my father drove past up the road and stopped a short way past. What joy and relief, and brilliant timing. My day was over and I could rest at last. I hobbled the remaining few yards towards the road and watched as my father turned round and drove slowly back towards me. I was no more than fifty feet from the road when he drove past. I waited for him to stop. He didn't, but drove slowly on. I staggered onto the road just in time to see his tail lights disappear round the corner as I waved madly at him to stop from the centre of the road. NO! He hadn't seen me! I was still three miles from the camp site. I sank to my knees in the middle of the road, praying that he had seen me and was turning round to come back and pick me up. Suffice to say, he did not.

There were no cars on the road so I had little choice but to walk, as I didn't fancy kipping by the side of the road, although it was very tempting at this point. Slowly, and painfully I set off down the road. I made about one mile in half an hour during which time only two cars past, neither of which accepted my pleading thumb to pick me up. As the third car approached, by which time I was walking by moonlight, I stuck my thumb out and then in desperation put my hands together in a begging action. The car slowed and stopped. I collapsed into the front seat and was taken the most appreciated two miles of my hitching career. Now I could relax, and did so.

A couple of days later I was on the north side of the glen, approaching the summit of Saileag, when a couple of young lads ran up the hill behind me. They stopped just long enough to tell me that they had run from the bottom of the glen, over The Saddle, up the full length of the ridge and were now making their way down the whole of the north side, over the Brothers and Sisters. In one day! Bastards!

Reader, if you are still with me I will just take a little more of your time and conclude with a brief story about when my youngest son, Elliot, did the South Glen Shiel Ridge.

When he was 16yrs old having already climbed just over 20 Munros with me, he said:

“I want to do some more Munros”

I said “Ok, where shall we go?”

“No, you misunderstood me, I want to do some on my own”.

My immediate reaction was to say “No, you're too young,” but then I thought about it and considered that he was more experienced than many adults in the hills and he had done plenty of navigation, was competent with a map and compass, and he was very fit and, just as important, very keen.

We picked the Glen Shiel area as navigation is relatively easy and there are plenty of Munros in the area. The first day was to be the South Glen Shiel Ridge, with an easier second day climbing Ciste Dubh and then a final day on The Brothers of Kintail.

My wife and I dropped him off at the rear of the Cluanie Inn, at the aforementioned camping place. We left him in the middle of a storm, much to my wife's concern. “He's waterproof” I explained. This didn't do much to placate her but, having fed him up in the pub and put route cards behind the bar, (he was under strict orders to inform the staff when he had completed each walk), we left him in his tent. He had a couple of mobile phones with him, although he left mine at the lowest part of the tent the first night, just where the water ran through the tent and he 'fried' it.

The next day was bright, although he had practically no sleep that night and every item of his was wet. However, he was up at 8.00am, breakfasted, packed his rucksack for the day and had completed all seven Munros by 6.00pm.

The next day he was up at 8.00am, breakfasted, packed his bag and up Ciste Dubh and back at the pub by lunchtime. He phoned and I suggested he get some rest.

At 8.30pm that day we got a phone call from him.

“Where do I start from today? I've hitched along the road but am not sure where to start from.”

Confused I asked him what he meant. Where was he trying to get to at that time in the evening?

“What do you mean? Where do you start what?”

“My walk for today he replied, I'm not sure where to start”

Concerned that one of us was losing our mind I said “I don't understand, you've done your walk for the day.”

Long pause, then “What day is it?”

“It's still Saturday.”

Even longer pause, followed by “Oh no!!!” (or words to that effect)

You've guessed it. He had come in from his walk, had a good six hour kip after lunch and woken up in his tent and looked at his watch, 8.00 o'clock. He had got up, had breakfast, packed his rucksack for the day and set off for a day in the hills. He hadn't noticed the clue that the big round fiery shiny thing in the sky that should have been in the east and going up, was actually to the west, and heading down. He eventually realised something was wrong and phoned. Oh how we laughed, but with him, not at him. He went back to the tent, had a really good sleep and next day did three more hills above the pub after which we picked him up.

One bonus from my point of view was that I think Dad gained a bit more respect from Son when I told Elliot about my walk and that I had done his first day's walk and then continued on to The Saddle. Maybe he changed his opinion of me as a doddery old fart. Now I'm just an old fart.

I doubt I could do the same walk now, but I can enjoy it again by writing about it now. I hope you have enjoyed the report. Sorry if I've gone on a bit.

Last edited by KeithS on Fri May 08, 2020 9:56 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: To the South Glen Shiel Ridge - and beyooond

Postby mrssanta » Sun Dec 11, 2011 6:04 pm

I really enjoyed reading this, on my to do list still.
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