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The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!


Postby mountain coward » Mon Nov 16, 2009 3:12 am

Route description: Five Sisters of Kintail

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

Date walked: 01/06/2008

Time taken: 10 hours

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On my first day of Richard and my trip to Kintail I decided to get my most feared walk out of the way first – the famous 5 Sisters – I had an idea I wouldn’t like them. I knew it was a long walk so we got ready for a 9am start (pretty early for us). However, when we looked out the cloud was quite well down and I was wondering whether we would be able to navigate the ridge in cloud as it looked complicated on the map – I suspected that there would be a pretty good path though due to its popularity.

We drove up the main road through Glen Shiel and stopped at various roadside pull-offs for me to peer at the range intently. We were trying to decide whether the cloud was lifting or not. After chatting to an elderly couple (not walkers) who were having a coffee in a parking place for ten minutes or so and pointing out what we were planning, we decided it was definitely starting to lift. That was the signal to go and get it over with (in my case – Richard was looking forward to it).
Misty 5 Sisters.jpg


I had planned to do a much shorter route than most do by going up the back of the ridge via Glen Lichd as far as Glenlichd House and then go up to the Bealach an Lapain col from the back. This meant that, if you imagine the 5 Sisters in a ‘D’ shape, we were going along the back of the ‘D’ and then the curved front, rather than doing the curved front twice as many do. It also had the advantage that there was no road walking to do.

The walk from the parking at Morvich up the glen was extremely pleasant and we wandered along looking at the spectacular frontal crags of Sgurr an Saighead. We were soon passing Glenlichd House and slogging up the long but easy grassy slope at the back of the normal route to the Bealach an Lapain. It was quite some slog and, unusually for me (but perhaps not for a first day out on a trip) I was knackered by the top of it!

I said to Richard I’d like a short rest of 5 minutes or so and perhaps a bite to eat but he said he wanted to press on – no doubt savouring the look of the narrow path setting off up Sgurr nan Spainteach. As we ascended the path up the narrow (but not scary) ridge I started to stagger with tiredness and had a total lack of co-ordination, tripping over rocks and suchlike. Still Richard didn’t want to stop though so we pressed on.
5 Sisters start fm the bealach.jpg


After nearly falling off the ridge a couple of times the summit of Spainteach was reached and then I was allowed a rest and a bite of Richard’s tea-loaf. Just to show I really should have insisted on that break when I asked for it, I was fine after that (energy-wise anyway). The thing that was bothering me however while I munched my cake and drank my coffee was – the view – Sgurr Fhuaran looked a monster – it looked almost vertical for a very long way. I just hoped that, as we walked further round the ridge, I’d see that the path actually took an easy slope further round.
Sgurr na Carnach & Fhuaran.jpg


I’d read there was a bit of a ‘bad step’ on the descent and kept reaching rocky bits of downclimb and thinking “well this isn’t so bad”... but then I reached it... and ground to a halt! I looked down left and could see the bottom of the descent would be quite holdless for the last 8 feet or so. Didn’t fancy that one... looked down the right hand side – ugh – that started off with a gully which went a long way down the steep north-eastern side of the corrie – but at least I could see hand and footholds on that. I looked straight down the end and thought that, after an awkward start, that looked best – and at least it kept you over the ridgeline so not far to fall off!
Sgurr nan Spainteach bad step.jpg


I passed over to Richard to take a look. He set off down the left but got stuck above the last bit (like I thought we would). He came back up and set off down to the gully on the right. I told him he needed to get back onto the actual end of the ridge as soon as he could and he made a big stride round a rock onto the front and waited for me to make my attempt. I was okay down the top of the gully (although I hated it) but couldn’t bring myself to do the step round the rock for quite a while. In the end I realised it was either that or the other side with the big drop at the bottom of it so forced myself to do it (after a little swear). From there it was plain sailing down to the col.

The col and the start of the ascent of Sgurr na Ciste Duibh has, as noted in many guide books, a strange double ridge. However, there was nothing bad anywhere and I enjoyed that peak – very nice and easy.
Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe.jpg
So that was two peaks which hadn’t been too bad. In addition the sun had come out and it was turning into a glorious hot day. However, I was still looking at Fhuaran and still couldn’t see the nice, easy route round the back yet...

It was a really easy ascent up to Sgurr na Carnach but as I reached the summit, I could see the route up Fhuaran... it was where I’d originally seen – up the ‘vertical’ sky-rocketing slope I’d seen earlier. No matter how long I stared at it, I couldn’t see an easier way up it. I knew this was the ‘good’ side and that the other side was worse! I was pretty quiet by now and Richard knew what that meant. He said the next peak looked ‘a slog’ – possibly trying to draw me out – he knew that’s what was bothering me I’m sure. I said nothing...
Sgurr Fhuaran-aka The Beast!.jpg


We set off down from Carnach and I started to not like the ridge any more. The descent seemed really steep and I kept looking at a nasty-looking gorge below us. We kept having to climb down rocky gullies which wouldn’t bother me if they were over a nice-looking col but they seemed ready to tip us into said gorge way below us if we slipped. The world seemed to have got steeper...

We reached the col and I eyed the grassy slope down to the right of the col into Coire Domhain – an escape route. I then eyed the climb up to Fhuaran. I looked way, way up what looked even more vertical when you were stood under it – there were craggy bits jutting out over my head way above. In between there was very steep scree – ugh!! Richard just said we should get on with it – even he wasn’t looking forward to it but just for different reasons.

Surprisingly, the ascent was really easy to me (I didn’t notice the effort) and I didn’t find it a scary ascent. However, I knew I wouldn’t want to go back down it as I hate descending steep scree at that angle, especially when there’s crags around. We stopped on the summit for a rest.

From here my day went from bad to worse... After a few minutes I tentatively led off down the north-west ridge of Fhuaran wondering whether I’d be able to descend the ridge back to the road. I could see the end of the ridge was very steep though... I reached the junction where we had to turn right down the very steep northern face. The path was loose and again there was another gorge way below us with steep and nasty looking jaws. To me that was where I was going to end up if I slipped.

I looked along the rest of our route to Sgurr nan Saighead – that looked really steep sided... on to Beinn Bhuidhe – that looked like a knifepoint in the air and scrambly with it. The path before and after it looked like it was suspended on the side of verticality. Far below me the gorge awaited... I sat down in despair. I didn’t want to go on, I didn’t want to descend the ridge, I didn’t want to go back down where we’d just come up. I didn’t even feel safe where I was sat. I told Richard that to me this was ‘Vertical World’ and I had no idea what I wanted to do, apart from get off the ridge. He pointed out that sitting there wasn’t going to get me off the ridge and started to coax me down the path to the col before Saighead.
Sgurr Fhuaran descent.jpg


We reached the col after much moaning and groaning from me – I was moving so slowly and tentatively a tortoise would have passed me. As soon as I reached the col I started searching around for an escape route off the ridge. I saw one into Coire a Mhadaidh but we decided that it was no good escaping into the Corrie if we weren’t sure we could descend out of it. We remembered seeing a path setting off up from the glen at the back somewhere under Saighead but obviously we couldn’t say we would be able to find it from above.
Fhuaran & Carnach.jpg


By now I’d studied Saighead a bit more and decided it wasn’t as vertical-backed as it looked so we continued. At the other side of Saighead it really did get extremely steep sided below the path to Beinn Bhuidhe and the path was only really as wide as a sheep track. I’d seen that the path continued below the craggy upper rocks of the peak though so just concentrated on things getting better after that bit and kept walking.
Sgurr nan Saighead.jpg


We bypassed the summit rocks and the path set off down the ridge. Eventually the ridge got wider and I cheered up. We soon saw a parallel ridge going to Sgurr na Moraich and an easy looking path descending by the burn between the two ridges. I suggested we head for that. We were soon on the burn-side track and I was happy at last – the day’s problems were all over - I could just stroll along enjoying the sunshine...

This happy state continued right up until we reached the craggy corrie where the burn turned to waterfalls between Sgurr an t’Serraich and the end of Moraich. Suddenly the world turned on end and went vertical again – I could see we still had a lot of height to lose. The path deflected off to the right above large crags and went round the rim of the corrie. It again seemed narrow and near the edge and continued for quite a while in the same manner without seeming to lose any height. I could see we were in for a very steep descent back to the road. It was... but it had a wall half-way down which at least made me think I’d stop before the bottom if anything went wrong!

By the time we reached the road and the short walk back to the carpark we were both tired out – me from stress and Richard from the long and hard walk (10 hours) on a very hot day. He probably had earache too!
Last edited by mountain coward on Sun Jan 02, 2011 2:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby sloosh » Mon Nov 16, 2009 9:57 am

An entertaining report, MC. :)

I think you should take your own tea-loaf in future. I'm not saying Richard is a meanie or anything, just saying... :lol:
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby Alan S » Mon Nov 16, 2009 10:37 am

Thanks mc :thumbup:
Im having a look at this for another trip up that way in the summer
Cool pics 8)
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby kinley » Mon Nov 16, 2009 6:48 pm

Lovely hills 8) Some nice photos too :D

I'd have to say as a regular walker I'm not infrequently asked - why?

There are a number of reasons of course but the bottom line is - because it's fun!

I don't think fun would be in my top 10 words to describe your feelings in your reports :shock:

Must admit I'm curious - what is motivating you to climb these hills? :)
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby mountain coward » Tue Nov 17, 2009 2:51 am

kinley wrote:Lovely hills 8) Some nice photos too :D

I'd have to say as a regular walker I'm not infrequently asked - why?

There are a number of reasons of course but the bottom line is - because it's fun!

I don't think fun would be in my top 10 words to describe your feelings in your reports :shock:

Must admit I'm curious - what is motivating you to climb these hills? :)


I'm motivated by challenge, pure and simple - the tick-list, the peak bagging - and keeping fit. Without those I'd be far too lazy to ever do anything. Many of the western (more fierce) Munros I don't enjoy but I always enjoy absolutely everything in the east of the country and the middle - and I can't wait to get back to the Knoydart area. I was also fine on most things around Fort William/Glencoe too - the Grey Corries were my favourite ridgewalk in the world.

My three real horror areas are the Cuillin, Kintail and Torridon (although Beinn Eighe was fine and I haven't done more than gaze on the others in horror yet). But at least I have a slight feeling of achievement when I've managed to drag myself all the way round something which I found over-challenging mentally - and at least I know I never have to go up them again! :lol: Oh yeah, and there's the massive feeling of relief when I hit the level ground at the bottom again! :lol:

Sloosh - Richard and I have an arrangement when we walk together - I carry both flasks and he carries the cake. He also makes it 'cos I can't cook to save my life. If I go to his for a meal he cooks a great meal - if he comes to mine for a meal we go out! - And that's his decision! :lol:
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby Cribb-family » Tue Jun 29, 2010 9:26 pm

Hi there. We're new to this website (but not to the Highlands and islands) and I've really enjoyed your posts being a bit freaked by exposure myself. Unfortunately none of the rest of the family seem to have my common sense (or ridiculous fears - as they put it). We have done a lot of the Glen Sheil Munros as they aren't too far from us and the 5 sisters was to be one of our next outings. However - your post has more or less put me off. I wondered - have you exaggerated at all - or is it really that bad? I'm not too bad going up pretty steep stuff, even with a bit of exposure - as all my points of contact are on solid ground and my eyes are usually fixed on the rock face 18" in front of me - it's the coming down steep bits that gets me when I'm facing out over nothing! Should I risk it?
Last edited by Cribb-family on Wed Jun 30, 2010 11:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby Paul Webster » Tue Jun 29, 2010 9:28 pm

Hi Cribb-family

I reckon you should give it a go (it is a long way though so you must be fit). I think MountainCoward was on bad form on that trip as she's been much more confident in what many people would reckon are harder places.... I suppose you won't know until you go. There's only really one bit of scrambling.
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby kinley » Tue Jun 29, 2010 9:48 pm

Cribb-family:

We did these in our first year hill-walking. A big walk but little drama.

My wife dislikes exposure and doesn't have bad memories of these.

Steep but not technical
Last edited by kinley on Tue Jun 29, 2010 11:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby Scotjamie » Tue Jun 29, 2010 10:48 pm

Well done mc - a very enjoyable report about mountains and demons, and meaningful to fearties. I enjoyed the three brothers and shall now look forward to the sisters.
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby mountain coward » Wed Jun 30, 2010 12:18 am

Thanks Scottjamie :D

Hi Cribb-family - like Kinley says, it wasn't technical - I just found it too steep for my liking - I dislike walking down steep or being on anything where it feels narrow and has very steep sides. It's probably fine for most people. I know other people who reckon they're mountain cowards as well and they thought it was fine... Don't let my reports put you off - certain areas I just don't seem to get on with and Glen Shiel is normally one of those areas (also Torridon)...

Anyway, if I can do it, probably anyone can! :D
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby walk aboot » Wed Jun 30, 2010 9:56 am

Top report MC - I think you should give yourself a pat on the back, and Richard should give you an extra slice of tea loaf :D .


P.S. I love tea loaf, that's the Arrochar Caves cake decided then (um, not sure I fancy it with citronella icing :? :lol: ).
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby weemistermac » Wed Jun 30, 2010 11:52 am

Well done for struggling through and batling your fears! :thumbup: But remember what Siadwell said... "It's not heights that kill you, it's the floor that does that!" :lol:
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby Derek T » Wed Jun 30, 2010 7:58 pm

I had forgotten all about him. Very funny :lol:
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby mountainstar » Wed Jun 30, 2010 9:03 pm

Well done on doing all the vertical bits, I know from 1st hand experience how you dislike them....
Skye ridge here you come! :lol:
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Re: The 5 Sisters - an Ordeal for Mountain Cowards!

Postby mountain coward » Wed Jun 30, 2010 10:14 pm

Hey you guys - it was last year I did this one (my first and worst Kintail walk! :o )... to be honest, I know I'd still hate it. I think the main reason is it's length - I'm okay with narrow bits for a while then suddenly I've had enough. Fine when there's escape routes but I think that was the problem that day, there weren't any sensible ones really... It would have been better for me if I could have cut it up into small bits then I'd probably have been fine.

But I'll be really sorry if I've put other people off as it's just a personal problem I have with steep :(

On the brighter side, I did some steep stuff on the South side of Glen Shiel this year and coped with everything much better than I thought I would - even enjoying some of it! (Reports to follow when I get my pics of course). There was just one hill I had bad trouble with and that was North Glen Shiel again - so it's just that strip of hills I think...

WA - if I'm bringing tea loaf, assumedly I have to also bring butter then? (us Yorkshire folks can't eat it without - unless we're on the hill anyway) :lol:
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