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Respect to the Sisters

Respect to the Sisters


Postby Clach Liath » Sat Feb 11, 2012 4:19 pm

Route description: Five Sisters of Kintail

Munros included on this walk: Sgurr Fhuaran, Sgurr na Carnach, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

Date walked: 05/02/2012

Time taken: 10.75 hours

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An iffy forecast and general slothfulness led to a late start. We parked at the lay-by just downhill of the start of the laborious path up to the Bealach an Lapain. There is also a Forestry Commission car park slightly nearer the start of the path.

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Getting ready


It was just after 10am. Looking up the slopes the prospect was no better. Grey clouds hung over the ridge and also the South Kintail ridge on the opposite side of the glen. We were off, Caroline, John and myself. John has fewer than 30 Munros to do in order to compleat. Today’s principal objective for him was Sgurr na Carnach. He had tackled the Munros either side before Carnach had been promoted to Munro status. Serves him right not doing the whole ridge! My principal objective was Sgurr nan Saighead at the far end of the ridge from the start point – you see I am trying to complete the Munro tops, 18 to do. :)

The relentless grind up the hillside does reward you with opening up views as you stop to catch your breath.

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Creag nan Damh and Faochag across the way


The path trended to the right of the gap between the plantations. Then a small cairn near the top of the right hand plantation indicated a split in the path. We ignored the one which followed the top edge of the trees and carried on up.

The snow line was reached at about 2,000ft. But the air temperature was above freezing and the lying snow was soft.

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The steep slopes to the Bealach an Lapain


We reached the bealach after an hour and a quarter.

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Arriving at the Bealach


Saileag looked close by. But the way forward looked pleasingly shapely, when the cloud was not down. :)

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The way ahead


We stopped awhile just below the col to refuel as there was a frisky cold breeze nipping over the top there. The previous couple of days had seen quite a bit of precipitation. We had watched a particularly fierce squall on Loch Long from our accommodation the previous day. This had fallen as rain at sea level, but here the ridge was covered in 4 to 6 inches of unconsolidated powder snow.

We were soon up on the first bump. The cloud had lifted a little and the occasional patch of blue shy and shaft of sunlight were seen. The ridge snaked away in front of us in a delicious meringue-like set of curves and points.

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Roller coaster ride!


Behind us, Saileag and Sgurr a’Bhealaich Dheirg cleared briefly.

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Saileag and Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg


Caroline broke trail as we ploughed along the roller coaster ridge. It was tough going. The snow tended to slough away off any underlying old snow or grass. But we eventually reached Sgurr nan Spainteach where we had our only view of the day of Sgurr Fhuaran.

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"View" ahead


Descending Sgurr nan Spainteach we had to negotiate the rocky scramble. I took the view that the direct descent was too dangerous in the conditions. But there was a way off to the left down the side of the ridge where it was possible to traverse under the little rocky problem and back around to the ridge line. You will see this problem in the next photo which is taken from just short of the summit of Sgurr na Ciste Dubh where again we stopped for a brief bite to eat. We had noted the split in the crest of the ridge here. It was simple enough to follow the left hand branch. There was a nice snow slope to zig zag up. With a good freeze this would turn into some great nevé.

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View back to Sgurr nan Spainteach


Caroline and John set off from the stop before me. So when I reached the summit of Sgurr na Ciste Dubh I had it all to myself. It was 2.15pm. The route descriptions and guide books suggested that we should have reached this point a long time before (even allowing for the brief stops to eat). Sgurr na Carnach was going to be achievable but what about Sgurr nan Saighead?

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Summit of Sgurr na Ciste Dubh


The next section of the ridge was delightful. But the weather omens were not good. There were some gloomy views down to Loch Duich. Ahead of us storm clouds were brewing in the west. The top of Sgurr na Carnach was just in the cloud.

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Sgurr na Carnach


We reached the top of Sgurr na Carnach at 3pm. So it had not taken too long between it and the previous Munro. But by then the weather had decidedly taken a turn for the worse. As we huddled down in the meagre shelter provided by the summit cairn trying to avoid the icy pellets, we had a discussion as to what to do next.

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Sheltering on Sgurr na Carnach


John who had suffered from a heavy cold in previous days still had the congestive after effects and had achieved his objective for the day. Caroline was uncertain as to what to do but I was still determined to carry on. Some route descriptions do not recommend a descent into the glen from Sgurr na Carnach. Time was marching on – a decision needed to be made. :problem:

John and Caroline decided to descend Sgurr na Carnach’s north west ridge and head for the glen. I set my bearing north. As it happened John and Caroline had a reasonable, if steep, route off. They made it to the bridge over the river by Achnangart and hitched a lift back to the car.

After some inelegant bum slithers down the initial bouldery descent off the summit, the ground became much easier and I was down to the col in 15 minutes. Ahead reared the steep slopes of Sgurr Fhuaran, or at least those of them that I could see in the gloom. I stopped regularly. It was only me breaking trail now. I ground my way up to the summit. It was 4pm. The wind was not too bad but the spindrift was flying.

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Sgurr Fhuaran summmit


I did not stop long - just enough time for a drink and to set my compass for the west ridge. Although going north, a safer route involves descending the west ridge for about 300 yards before breaking north and then contouring around to the next col. Despite pacing I broke off a little too early and found myself in some worryingly steep and broken ground. :-? So I retraced my steps, descended a bit further and tried again. Success! I had wasted 15 minutes or so, but I was on safe terrain and I could even make out the col in the gathering gloom.

Distances were difficult to judge. It looked some way off but I reached the col quickly. Traces of the summer path could be seen under the snow and I followed this. A curious wall lay across the ridge. I arrived at Sgurr nan Saighead. It was 5.10pm and still surprisingly light in a gloomy sort of way. I knew at the time I made my decision to continue on Sgurr na Carnach that I would be finishing in the dark but I had assumed that it was likely to be dark by the time I reached my principal objective. I hurried on along the ridge going west and then north. The slopes of Beinn Bhuidhe appeared.

I contoured along its south western slopes. The going was OK at first. I was aiming for its north west ridge. By 5.45pm it was dark. I stopped to put on my head torch and check the map. I was also able to get a phone signal so I contacted John, who had just reached the A87 a few minutes earlier, to let him know that I was fine. Our rendezvous point was to be at the Ratagan junction at Shiel Bridge.

I would not recommend my route as a way off, especially in the dark. My world was the halo of the beam of light filled with the swirl of mist from cloud and breath and droplets of rain. Often it was difficult to tell rock from vegetation, both being speckled with snow. Difficult ground that would have easily been avoided in daylight was stumbled upon. Craglets had to be avoided. Ankles turned. Slips were averted. Swear words uttered. At 7.15pm I was still some way above the valley bottom. Progress was painfully slow. I contacted John again to report my position and to suggest he and Caroline did not wait for me but to come back for me later. They were alright though, having a drink in the bar at the Kintail Lodge Hotel!

By now I was watching the headlights of the cars going up and down the glen. I could make out the black sheen of Loch Shiel and the river wriggling below. I was making my way towards the ‘U’ shape in the river just to the south east of that Loch. It was a relief to get down to the river. I was tempted to ford it but I could not tell how deep it was beneath its inky black surface. Discretion was the better part of valour. There was, however, a delightful path along the river bank. There was the occasional hop across a side stream but it was great to be walking on a firm level surface. I reached the unusable footbridge described in the WH route description. I checked it out. Not only is it unstable but it was merely a set of parallel wires for half the width of the river. So frustrating as the road was only a couple hundred yards away. :(

There was nothing for it but to swing around the northern side of Loch Shiel and to endure a final stretch of marshy ground where an indistinct path came and went. Near the end there were a few deep runnels where I almost came a cropper. I reached my pick up at 8.55pm. :-D A long but satisfying day. I reckoned that had we started an hour earlier I would probably have finished a couple of hours sooner, having been able to navigate more of the descent in daylight.
Last edited by Clach Liath on Thu Feb 16, 2012 9:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby gammy leg walker » Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:00 pm

And respect to you also Clach Liath,fine report.
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby mrssanta » Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:21 pm

I was a bit scared there tho I knew you must be OK to be writing the report!
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby Redrock » Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:25 pm

A fine report indeed! You worked hard to achieve that Top! My wife reckons I give myself a lot of extra work bagging Tops as well as the Munro's too! So I know how it feels! :D I really like the picture of the ridge with the "delicious meringue-like set of curves and points" - good expression too! :lol: Cheers! 8)
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby Clach Liath » Sat Feb 11, 2012 6:25 pm

mrssanta wrote:I was a bit scared there tho I knew you must be OK to be writing the report!


Yes - a few dodgy moments there. But hey, what's life without a few challenges!
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby Clach Liath » Sat Feb 11, 2012 6:26 pm

Redrock wrote:A fine report indeed! You worked hard to achieve that Top! My wife reckons I give myself a lot of extra work bagging Tops as well as the Munro's too! So I know how it feels! :D I really like the picture of the ridge with the "delicious meringue-like set of curves and points" - good expression too! :lol: Cheers! 8)


Thanks. Yes got a bit carried away there! :lol:
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby kevsbald » Sat Feb 11, 2012 6:37 pm

Riveting stuff. Another Top in the bag.
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby ChrisW » Sun Feb 12, 2012 3:59 am

Great report CL, really enjoyable with some cracking pics to set the scene :D I've got just the thing for getting through that soft snow :wink: :lol:
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby mgmt! » Sun Feb 12, 2012 1:22 pm

great report and pictures c l, sums it up perfect what happens when we push things too far or things go a bit pear shaped, but you used your skills to get yourself down safe if not a bit late. its odd but its these days that tend to stick out from the shall we say less interesting walks.
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby davetherave » Sun Feb 12, 2012 1:37 pm

Well worth the long day. :) Good report indeed.
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby Clach Liath » Mon Feb 13, 2012 9:56 am

ChrisW wrote:Great report CL, really enjoyable with some cracking pics to set the scene :D I've got just the thing for getting through that soft snow :wink: :lol:


Right you are. I'll be right by to borrow your new snow shoes!!
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby Clach Liath » Mon Feb 13, 2012 9:59 am

mgmt! wrote:great report and pictures c l, sums it up perfect what happens when we push things too far or things go a bit pear shaped, but you used your skills to get yourself down safe if not a bit late. its odd but its these days that tend to stick out from the shall we say less interesting walks.


I would like to think that this adventure was more of the planned type. It is good to test yourself in circumstances you can control in case the real thing happens some day. But you are quite right, these type of days do stick in the memory. :)
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby ChrisW » Sat Mar 24, 2012 8:45 pm

Great report CL, edge of the seat stuff on that decent in the gloom - kudos to you for sticking with it to take on the additional work alone in untrodden snow (I know how hard that can be :thumbdown: ) certainly one to remember when you finally tick that 'completed' box......but what will you do then :think:
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby LaurenAlexandra » Sat Mar 24, 2012 8:57 pm

I am officially removing "butt-surfing" from my vocabulary and replacing it with "inelegant bum slithers."
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Re: Respect to the Sisters

Postby Clach Liath » Sat Mar 24, 2012 10:20 pm

LaurenAlexandra wrote:I am officially removing "butt-surfing" from my vocabulary and replacing it with "inelegant bum slithers."


Got to be sensitive to the ladies on this forum you know :lol: :lol:
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