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The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter


Postby christianbartlett » Wed Jan 07, 2015 2:12 am

Route description: South Glen Shiel Ridge: 7 Munros

Munros included on this walk: Creag nan Damh, Sgurr an Doire Leathain, Sgurr an Lochain

Date walked: 25/12/2014

Time taken: 12 hours

Distance: 13 km

Ascent: 1649m

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A beautiful day in the Highlands!



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Like all of our ambitious plans, we didn't achieve the half of it. But like most of our plans, the results that were achieved were worth it.

The team, which started out with five members, had become three by the time we set off from the East Midlands. Tom and I were ready to go, and after James had finished work in the mid-afternoon, we were aiming to make Fort William by a reasonable closing time for a bunkhouse, and in fact arrived comfortably before 10pm. It was still pitch black the next morning as we headed for Glen Shiel, and our early drive took us through several periods of heavy rain. "Where's this transient high?" we all asked, referring to the promise in the MWIS forecast. In the cloudy, damp blackness of the A87, it was hard to believe that the promised high pressure and clear skies would materialise.

We left the car in a layby in Glen Shiel (just southeast of Malagan Bridge) in the murky half-light of the morning and found a footpath nearby heading in the right direction. After two minutes, though, it became apparent that we would have to scale a high wire fence. James checked his GPS map and we reluctantly retraced our steps back to the road, then found the correct footpath a short distance down the road, rueful smiles all round. Let's hope this is our only navigational problem!

We followed a river away from the main glen, gaining height quite gradually at first in very boggy terrain. As we got higher, we kept turning back to observe the view of the Five Sisters, and began to appreciate that the clouds had indeed dissipated, leaving blue skies and the first hints of sunrise. The footpath led us up to the snowline, and the going got a lot steeper. The higher we climbed, the more beauty seemed to surround us. Sculpted white shoulders of sugary white snow led the eye towards distant peaks. We were in for a real treat.

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Looking across Glen Shiel towards Sgurr na Carnach (left) and Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe


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James on the steeper section of the climb towards Bealach Duibhe.


As we reached the end of this smaller valley, it was not totally clear which way we needed to go to find Bealach Duibhe Leac. Both James and I had downloaded the OS maps to our phones, and this was the first time we had really tested the GPS location system. It was remarkably accurate. The path gradually became lost as the snow got deeper, but we now had a bearing, so headed as close as possible to the top of the contour lines, only deviating when we came across large boulders. The going was fairly tough and the terrain very slippery, with occasional sections of deep drifts masquerading as shallow snow. Presently we could tell that the bealach was up ahead, as the brightness of the sky ahead was much greater. It was one of those rewarding moments when you step onto the brim of another world.

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The bealach nears


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Tom has reached Bealach Duibh Leac


It was now around noon, and we began to review our objectives a little. The plan (an ambitious one) had been to try to cover the entire ridge over two days. It has seven Munros and some are spaced out quite considerably. We would need to find a camping spot along the way, and we had slight concerns about night arriving without us finding a safe location for the tent. We had therefore resolved to cover as much of the ridge as possible before 2pm on the first day, and then devote all our efforts to finding a spot for camping. It now looked unlikely that we would do anywhere near seven Munros, but Tom didn't drop that aspiration just yet, at least not publicly. We put on our crampons and headed for the first Munro, Creag nan Damh, which at 918m is only just a Munro.

Quantity, however, is not the same thing as quality, and this first Munro and its approaching ridge brought many moments of sheer enjoyment as we gained height. The scenery at times felt more Alpine than Scottish. With the powder-blue skies and completely untouched snow, it was simply sublime at times.

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There were a couple of points on the ridge where we had to descend before climbing again, and one of these was very steep.


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After a brief Munro handshake, we looked for a way down from Creag nan Damh. This involved some fairly steep snow slopes, and glissading was the best way down. Fast, fun and efficient!

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At times, the landscape was almost other-worldly.


We could then see ahead a sub-Munro peak, Sgurr Beag (896m), followed by a clear dip in the ridge, and then the steep peak of Sgurr an Lochain (1004m). We were already starting to think about time, and decided to use what appeared to be a bypass path along the southwest slope of the first peak, and then perhaps look at camping spots on the next bealach.

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The bypass path was challenging at times, as the lateral angle was very steep, and we were putting a lot of faith in our crampons and in the integrity of the snow.


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Tom reached the bealach first, and decided it would work very well as a spot for the tent. There was no actual flat ground, but compared with many parts of the ridge, this was both flat and sheltered.


The tent went up reasonably quickly, and we had a plan. In the remaining two hours of daylight, we would leave our bags at the tent, then skip up to the summit of Sgurr an Lochain, meaning that tomorrow's walking would be easier. We believed that we could see another bypass path on the right-hand slope of Sgurr nan Lochain.

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Summiting Sgurr an Lochain


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Loch Cuaich / Quoich, with Ben Nevis and the CMD Arrete clearly visible.


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Looking north from the summit. Beinn Alligin and Liathach visible in the distance, with the ridge of Sgurr nan Spainteach dominating the foreground.


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The colours start to become spectacular.


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James heads back to the tent from the summit of Sgurr an Lochain. The lower reaches of Wester Glen Quoich are below the snowline. That's Ladhar Bheinn in the top centre.


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We prepare to settle in for the night. The colours remain magical.


The night was uneventful - perhaps a little too uneventful. When there are three of you in a small tent, and the temperatures are close to -10, you really want to just sleep. The problem is the length of a Highlands winter night shortly after the winter solstice. With more than 15 hours of darkness, there's no way you're going to sleep the whole time.

It was also quite cold. We stored our boots in the porches of the tent, with the result that they became so solid by the next morning that it was a very difficult task to get them on at all. Our meagre water supplies, which we kept inside a tent pocket, were also mostly ice by the next morning. It was all worth it, though, to experience the beauty of a mountain summit at sunset in such a virgin wonderland.

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The following morning. The 'transient high' has clearly transited. Cloud and wind now await us.


Needless to say, we couldn't find a usable bypass path for Sgurr an Lochain, so climbed it again the following morning, this time with our packs. Even Tom was beginning to accept that the whole ridge was now out of the question, so we discussed the most practical way to leave the ridge and return to Glen Shiel. In our reading before the trip, the northeast shoulder of Sgurr an Doire Leathain had been mentioned as a possible escape route, and we had the impression that it was the last easy route into Glen Shiel for quite a while. We therefore decided to do one more Munro and then reluctanctly start heading down towards the valley.

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Close to white-out conditions on Sgurr an Doire Leathain (1010m)


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The sun breaks through as we descend the north-east ridge of Sgurr an Doire Leathain


The route downwards was not easy, mainly due to the conditions. Visibility became very limited for a while, and even staying on the centre of the ridge became difficult, with a quite scary moment when we almost stepped off the edge of a cornice as the ridge suddenly narrowed from the right. Later, the clouds parted a little, and the new challenge was the steepness of the descent. The ice-axes were invaluable for this section, and we would never have done it without them and the crampons.

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Final steep section before we begin to glimpse Glen Shiel


We eventually returned to the valley floor, paddled across the River Shiel, and Tom hitched a lift back to the car with a kindly family of tourists from India, who asked for a photo as they dropped him off. With aching backs and a new appreciation for fresh water supplies, we headed for Fort William and its decadent civilization (mainly Indian meals and hot showers). It was a real privilege to have a sojourn in the mountains, to taste the solitude and feel the peace of the snowy carpet on the peaks. Refreshed by our dose of the wilderness, we returned southwards.
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby larry groo » Wed Jan 07, 2015 9:13 am

Fantastic stuff!!

Thanks for posting.... a great report.

Cheers.

:clap:
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby The Rodmiester » Wed Jan 07, 2015 10:55 am

Well done you Guys, after your mishap at the start, it turned out a fabulous day, fantastic photographs, glad you got down safely. Bet your telling your mates about that back home in the pub :lol:
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby weaselmaster » Wed Jan 07, 2015 11:21 am

Nice report - good on you for having spent the festive days productively.
At least you got excellent conditions on Xmas day.
Boots in the sleeping bag with you next time though :D
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby Beaner001 » Wed Jan 07, 2015 2:08 pm

Cracking report mate and superb pics, showing the ridge in its full glory. I've not been on it but can't wait now. The question is do I do it in sections over winter or in a one'r in summer 8)
Cheers
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby christianbartlett » Wed Jan 07, 2015 5:07 pm

Beaner001 wrote:Cracking report mate and superb pics, showing the ridge in its full glory. I've not been on it but can't wait now. The question is do I do it in sections over winter or in a one'r in summer 8)
Cheers


Thanks for the encouraging words, Beaner001. I'm sure you'll love the ridge, especially if you manage to find a clear day. We need to go back and do the eastern half!
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby christianbartlett » Wed Jan 07, 2015 5:10 pm

weaselmaster wrote:Nice report - good on you for having spent the festive days productively.
At least you got excellent conditions on Xmas day.
Boots in the sleeping bag with you next time though :D


Thanks, Weaselmaster. One of the best winter days was also one of the quietest, as it was the 25th. Yes, we need a new strategy for the boots, definitely!
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Posts: 23
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby christianbartlett » Wed Jan 07, 2015 5:13 pm

The Rodmiester wrote:Well done you Guys, after your mishap at the start, it turned out a fabulous day, fantastic photographs, glad you got down safely. Bet your telling your mates about that back home in the pub :lol:


Thanks, Rodmeister. I guess it shows that first impressions of the day's weather can be unduly pessimistic. Trust MWIS :)
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby christianbartlett » Wed Jan 07, 2015 5:13 pm

larry groo wrote:Fantastic stuff!!

Thanks for posting.... a great report.

Cheers.

:clap:


Thanks, Larry Groo. Much appreciated.
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby JimboJim » Wed Jan 07, 2015 7:05 pm

Great walk, great report and photos. Should win report of month ....... but, the competition is hot just now! :clap:
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby mrssanta » Wed Jan 07, 2015 7:59 pm

oh wow, what a way to spend Christmas!
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby tommyatr » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:02 pm

Superb
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby Fife Flyer » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:59 pm

Great report and some fantastic photo's :clap: :clap:

That is the way to spend Christmas Day (not the camping bit) and what superb weather you had :o

Hopefully I will get back to do the ridge again this year and get some decent weather, it certainly is a long and fabulous walk :wink:

Thanks for posting :wink:
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby litljortindan » Wed Jan 07, 2015 10:12 pm

Driving from Midlands sounds pretty dedicated. Beautiful views though so I can see it was worth it.
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge in winter

Postby Silverhill » Thu Jan 15, 2015 11:10 pm

Stunning photography and what a trip. Amazing! 8)
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