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Five above Loch Cluanie
by Driftwood » Wed Jul 09, 2014 10:39 pm
Route description: Sgurr nan Conbhairean, Carn Ghluasaid and Sail Chaorainn
Munros included on this walk: A' Chralaig, Carn Ghluasaid, Mullach Fraoch-choire, Sail Chaorainn, Sgurr nan Conbhairean
Date walked: 06/06/2014
Time taken: 10 hours
Distance: 26 km
Ascent: 2000m4 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
I made slow work of breakfast, preparing my pack and the brief drive from the Kintail Lodge up past the Cluanie Inn. The Sgurr nan Conbhairean group are often approached from slightly further east, but I opted to park just west of the bridge over Allt Choire a'Chair. That would give slightly more of a walk-in, but shouldn't add to the descent - and looked viable if I did get as far as A'Chralaig.
I found parking on the south side of the A87 (not indicated on my map, but with plenty of space) and set off at a leisurely 9:30. The weather was bright and mild to warm, with blue skies though the hills were wreathed in their own cloaks of cloud.
I walked a little way along the road, then set off uphill, following a level track for a short distance. Then impatience to be climbing took over, so I slogged a bit through ferns to reach a higher-level track, which I left in turn to ascend gently across the broad Coire nan Clach. This was easy enough going that I decided to carry on, rather than heading east to the stalkers' path up the south side of Carn Ghluasaid.
The going was good, though I felt warm slogging uphill even with the cloud not far above. I reached that at around 700 metres, as the ground became steeper and rockier. But there were hints that it should lift, or at least part, as the day went on. I eventually joined the path before that turned eastwards and eased off onto the plateau.
With the path fading, I did need a bit of navigation through the cloud to find the cairned top of Carn Ghluasaid, but that proved quite straightforward. There weren't quite views, but a glimpse of Coire Bodach nan Gobhar hinted that the hill's more dramatic side.
After a brief break, I followed the coire edge west, then northwest, for a short descent, then a longer ascent. I located the next Top (Creag a'Chaorainn) in the cloud, but wandered a little too far south on leaving that. Checking the slopes and using the compass put me right for Glas Bhealach and the much longer, as well as rockier, ascent to Sgurr nan Conbhairean. I was back in the clouds, but conscious of steep rocky slopes just to my right.
I found another walker at the impressively-cairned top, who was waiting for the clouds to lift and yield some views. I took a long break too, refuelling with some lunch and enjoying a chat about the hills. Discussing my considered route, he suggested cutting across Toll Easach to save some re-ascent if I wanted to continue to the Munros further west. The cloud was lingering, though growing thinner, as I left northwards for the next hill, Sail Chaorainn.
This descent is easier, especially after the first stretch, skirting some impressively cragged corries still holding snow and even some cornices. A gentle and short ascent brought me to the day's third Munro, though it took the map to convince me that it was higher than the next Top, a little further on. The clouds rose gradually, revealling more of the way that I'd taken.
I opted to retract my steps, rather than continue out along the northern ridge. This also let me look down at SnC's western side and helped decide me on a route across the corrie. That required quite a bit of traversing slopes, as well as picking courses above, or below, several large banks of snow. But it also brought the chance to top up on water from one of several streams I crossed.
The final stretch, to the northwest ridge of Drochaid an Tuill Easaich, was particularly steep, wet and grassy, making me grateful again for my boots' deep tread. I'd no sooner reached a shoulder of the hill than needed to descend again, picking down a steep rocky stretch onto Bealach Coire a'Chait. In hindsight, sticking to the path (over SnC and then the Drochaid) might have gone just as well.
I met (and tried to avoid disturbing) a ptarmigan on this stretch, which felt warm across the bealach, then the following climb. I also met up with my fellow walker from SnC, giving me an excuse to settle into an easier pace. The clouds had yielded the hills, at least for now, giving some fine views, with the promise of more to come.
I continued to the mighty cairn on A'Chralaig at 3:40. The day was flying by, but I couldn't resist trying for a fifth Munro, especially with the chance of some scrambling along the ridge. Descending A'Chralaig was rugged enough to be interesting, then opened out to a twisting ridge, crossing the Top of Stob Coire na Cralaig along the way. I also met another couple of walkers, who were heading south to A'Chraiag. The jagged ridge of Na Geurdain lured me on, with the prospect of some rocky towers and a path running along its spine.
The south end of the ridge has a few outcrops of rock (to play the game of trying to stick to the highest possible route), though most of it is a path worn into the grass. It becomes more involved further along, both due to the increasingly-jagged towers but also with the steep slopes on either flank.
Walking poles stowed away, I found the scrambling at least as good as that along the Ring of Steall, gradually increasing in challenge (though with bypass paths available). I tried to stick to the ridge, finding plenty of holds and good grippy rock.
The conditions remained good, with enough cloud and breeze to avoid getting too warm, but stunning hills to either side whenever I wanted an excuse to pause.
Some of the most testing spires come close to the end. I will confess that I approached each of these from the side, rather than head-on (which would be possible, but may call for fresher legs and more scrambling experience than I have, or had).
The top of Mullach Fraoch-choire is flatter and grassy, though falls away on each side. The sun came through again while I took a break, stealing my breath again with views of the western Glen Shiel / Kintail hills.
The afternoon was ebbing away, so I reluctantly left the top, though there was the ridge to enjoy again. I did take the bypass path for the steepest pair (though that runs precipitously along the side of a slope, so might not be much easier for those who don't like heights), but followed the rock for most of the rest. I'd considered descending into Coire Odhar, then the track through An Caorann Mor, as my walk out. After talking with other walkers, who warned about the boggy going, I decided against the glen - which would also have meant a mile alongside the A87.
Instead, I would re-cross A'Chralaig and descend its southern ridge. That did call for more ascent, including over the Top along the way, but I knew that the footing was good. Some wispy cloud was blowing over from the east, but an hour's walking (and scrambling) brought me across the ridge to revisit the high point of the walk.
From there, I followed the path southeast, though strayed from that line to cut the descent slightly shorter. The high parts of the ridge are strewn with large stones (or small boulders), but I found them stable enough to provide good footing and keep up a fair pace. I rejoined the path a little lower on the southern shoulder, though lost it again (or it faded away) as things levelled out around 800 metres.
I may have headed too far south, rather than cutting east-south-east, as I needed to negotiate some damp, steep and rocky ground (it never ceases to impress me how hills can be all three of those at once). But I found the track/path without mishaps, though by now felt very warm in the early evening sunlight.
That track joins the road just a couple of hundred metres from where I was parked. The last descent went swiftly, but I surprised myself by having spent ten hours on the hills (and feeling far more elated than tired after it). That probably proves the value of stopping to take, then acting on, good advice from those with more experience. You can fit in (even) more Munros for the same amount of effort, but I think these, especially Mullach Fraoch-choire, are at least a match for the South Glen Shiel ridge.
by AnnieMacD » Wed Jul 09, 2014 11:07 pm
by Driftwood » Thu Jul 10, 2014 12:22 am
AnnieMacD wrote:I'll read this again when I'm ready to venture into Kintail. (Won't do these in one go, though.)
Thanks for that. Walking these in smaller groups is probably the wiser option - despite the high-level bealach between the groups, the middle part of the walk did take a lot of the time. Of course, I don't know how bad (or good) the paths that I avoided might have been, but I'm always happier with a route with more hill and less road
by BlackPanther » Thu Jul 10, 2014 11:32 am
The Na Geurdain scramble is enjoyable, not too difficult. Actually, I performed a few strange figures on this ridge, trying to wave away clouds of midges
by Driftwood » Thu Jul 10, 2014 1:34 pm
BlackPanther wrote:The Na Geurdain scramble is enjoyable, not too difficult. Actually, I performed a few strange figures on this ridge, trying to wave away clouds of midges
I'm finding my feet (or maybe that should be hands) with scrambling, which was one of many reasons for trying this route. They are big hills (even with an elevated starting point), but with some fine corries and ridges, even if not quite so dramatic as some of their neighbours.
I was lucky not to meet the dreaded midges when I needed my hands for clinging to the hill, or even much sign of them elsewhere on the walk. I suspect they might have all been waiting to ambush me on the path I didn't take through An Caorann Mor. Having written that, they're sure to be out for revenge next time.