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Gather round Sisters and Brothers, no time for a cousin

Gather round Sisters and Brothers, no time for a cousin

Postby J888ohn » Wed Aug 19, 2015 10:57 pm

Route description: Five Sisters of Kintail

Munros included on this walk: Aonach Meadhoin, Saileag, Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg, Sgurr Fhuaran, Sgurr na Carnach, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

Date walked: 15/08/2015

Time taken: 11.3 hours

Distance: 21.2 km

Ascent: 1916m

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Glen Shiel is a bit of a yearly pilgrimage for me, the wife and whoever is daft enough to follow me :lol: This was the 3rd summer in a row a weekend had been set aside for an adventure there and this year I'd convinced Manda (the wife) and two others that doing the Sisters and the Brothers ridge in a day was possible. How hard could it be??????

Base Camp plans were changed though after last year's unrelenting midge attack so we moved round from Shiel Bridge to Morvich Campsite. Seemed to be a good choice as the wind off of Loch Duich kept most of the wee buggers away for the weekend, there was a drying room for wet kit and even a wee lounge where I could watch Match of the Day on Saturday night if I was back in time / wasn't left incapacitated on the hills by Manda after yet another "trust me it's not that far" moment.......

The catchphrase of the weekend was quickly established. Had a quick chat with the site manager when we arrived on the Friday night (minus one participant who had pulled a fortunate sickie :wink: ) and told him what our plan was

"Ooooo that's ambitious!"

I could feel Manda's eyes burning a hole in my back already........ :shock:

Anyway tent pitched, beer opened, Happy Birthday sung to Big Tommo who's wife had provided us with a Jammie Dodger cake to celebrate (YUM!) and alarms set for 6.30am. Yes ALARMS as Manda had earplugs in and was depending on me and Big Tommo to get up early, not one of our specialties.

Amazingly we did get up at 6.30am but somehow we all managed to use up an hour and a half before we started walking. I'm not sure what on. We boiled the water for breakfast and coffee, got the kit ready and drove the mile to the start at Allt a'Chruinn. I've no idea how this took so long. The lovely people who own the cottage across the road from the Jac-o-bite restaurant have created parking for 6 cars so we parked Manda's car there and intended to walk eastward towards my car which had been dumped at the Cluanie Inn the night before. We walked up what looked like the driveway for the house opposite which goes up the hill and found the hill path at the top of this. It goes up the right hand side of the Allt a'Chruinn and is a good solid stony path through some tall grass, heather and ferns. Big Tommo had made the wise decision to put on gaiters and by the time Manda and I had realised this was a good idea our lower trouser legs were well and truly wet. The path crosses the Allt not too far up the hill. The GPS was having a hissy fit here and was wanting us to stay on the right of the Allt. There was definitely no easy way up there so we followed the path on the assumption that this is one of the most popular munro walks in Scotland and surely there must be a path!

It continued to climb and passed through a couple of deer fences. The weather was reasonably good and was predicted to get better so the view across Loch Duich was very pleasing.

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Loch Duich

Once up the initial climb the path leveled out as it followed the Allt through Coire na Criche. It's not marked very far on the OS map but there is a good path all the way in. I think Manda had started to realise the scale of the task in front of us and once on the flat started marching away at a great pace. She is normally put at the front to pace my big lanky legs and so I don't get shouted at constantly for zooming away. Her logic was faster on the flats will make up for time lost on the climbs. Seemed sound to me (plus I'd learned several years ago not to argue with her :lol: )

The good path began to fade just as we drew level with the Fasach an t-Searraich. This was still above us and across the Allt so a route one trudge through a pathless, wet and boggy slope was required. I knew we had to start gaining height about here and head towards Sgurr nan Saighead. When you get on the relative flat of Fasach aim just south of east and you'll find a path up the slopes of Beinn Bhuidhe. This is incredibly steep and required a lot of effort. The ground was still quite wet and loose which didn't help.

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This isn't steep at all......

Again it levels out in a fashion and the first targets came into view, Sgurr nan Saighead with the first munro Sgurr Fhuaran behind it.

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Note the increasing amounts of boulders and steep slopes. This is a never ending feature of the Sisters, one that really slowed our progress in places and zapped energy from our legs. As we approached the summit of Siaghead there was an obvious bypass path from the summit to the right. I'm not sure what constitutes as the Five Sisters but I knew there were three munros in the middle followed by another peak so we made Saighead the first of the Five. The path to the summit goes right along the top of the North East Face and this was forming a barrier to the progress of the cloud which was cool to watch. No matter how hard the wind tried the cloud kept hitting the cliffs and swirling back on itself.

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From Saighead it was a matter of following the ridge up to the top of Fhuaran. This was steep and rocky towards the top with a wee bit of scrambling thrown in. The weather had started to close too and it looked like another wash out in Glen Shiel was on the cards (South Glen Shiel Ridge in 2014 was a trudge in low cloud and rain after munro no 3). We reached the summit just as it started to rain.

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Summit of Sgurr Fhuaran, no 1 for the day

It had taken us three and a bit hours to get here. Secretly I was a bit concerned with the timings of this route. It wasn't one that had been regularly done on Walk Highlands and I had guestimated 10 to 11 hours, but 3 hours to the first munro I had not banked on. :problem: I reassured myself that the whole sisters ridge Walk Highlands route is timed at 6 to 8 hours so surely the other two munros were close by? I'd be able to tell if I could see them! :roll: On with the waterproofs and down the path from the summit into........wait for it......sunshine!!!!!!!!! It was a passing cloud which annoyingly I'd went for full waterproofs in so was now sweltering and had to strip down (don't get too excited :wink: ) Finally I could see where we were going too and the 2nd munro, Sgurr na Carnach was in sight.

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Manda on the way down to go up Sgurr na Carnach

None of my pictures show how annoying the path along the Sisters is. It is easy to follow but is very rocky and uneven and we spent more time watching where we were putting our feet than looking at where we were or where we were going. I actually started to get a headache I was looking down so much. It is also very steep descents and ascents , none more so than the ascent up Carnach. This had sections of proper hands and knees scrambling (even for the big lanky guys) and actually reminded me of the way up the Horns of Alligin which Manda had avoided. We finally got a view of the rest of the Sisters and thankfully they were all close together.

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They say a picture says a thousand words........the summit of Carnach. Manda was tired of me telling her how most of these were over 1000m etc etc and said to me ignorance was bliss. That was to play to my advantage later...... :lol:

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Manda says she was eating something, I think she was tired of me!

At least the weather was getting much better with the cloud now above the summits and the sun coming out. We'd never had the chance to appreciate the beauty of Glen Shiel when we did the southern ridge and now it was mesmerising. We were surrounded by huge lush green hills, beautiful lochs at either end and this tiny ribbon of toy cars travelling almost beneath our feet. Manda was especially taken in by it and I spent a good few minutes surveying the scene and taking pics. The Forcan Ridge was right in front of us across the road up to The Saddle then the curved ridge over to Sgurr na Sgine, the end of the South ridge was coming into view.

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Onwards to munro no 3, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

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The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine

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Looking back to the first 2 munros

Between 2 and 3 we met quite a few people doing the Sisters in the traditional westerly direction and as usual had a chit chat and told them our plans. Once again we got

"Wow that's very ambitious!"

This actually spurred us on to prove that yes, it was ambitious but it could be done and we would be in the pub for dinner!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The walk up Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe was the easiest of the 3. Even I was getting tired of the scrambling. We reached the huge summit cairn which someone had made a very delicate balanced sculpture of stones on top and got a good view back to the previous two. Now it was Big Tommo's turn to look unimpressed!

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It was time for lunch now. We'd made good time across the 3 munros doing them in about 2 hours. I was still concerned about time and had it in the back of my mind we did have a get out between the Sisters and Brothers but that did involve either walking along the road to one of the cars or hitching a lift. It also meant proving the doubters right and I really didn't want to do that. Time for the last Sister, an up and over of Sgurr nan Spainteach (Ola! :lol: get it?????.....anyway.....) There wasn't too much of a drop and climb between Duibhe and Spainteach and now the Brothers were in view along with the edge of Loch Cluanie, our finishing point.

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There was however a fair drop down to Bealach an Lapain where the get out path was. Now we were at 6 and a half hours, behind schedule in my mind. I rather hastily marched passed the path and said that was the last chance to get out of this before the Brothers. The consensus was that we had to make Cluanie one way or another and we might as well do it over the mountains. This was where Manda's policy of ignorance was bliss played into my hands. I switched the GPS from the Sisters route to the Brothers and it told me we had another 10.1km to go! :shock: Definitely kept that one quiet! :lol:

The Brothers are totally different from the SIsters. They are much grassier, rounded and much easier to walk on. We had to spend less time looking at our feet and more time looking where we were going. The path was more like the Central and Eastern munros of grass and compacted earth than the rocky, scrambly one on the Sisters. Saileag was the next target and Sgurr a'Bhealaich Deirg was looking big behind it.

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This was where Big Tommo started to feel the effort of the day and struggle, although this was the most straightforward hill of the day. It's really nothing special and if it wasn't on this ridge it would be one of the ones you'd just bag to get out of the way. Even the summit cairn was pretty mundane and we didn't hang about here.

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4 munros down, 2 to go

Wasn't even that big a drop between Saileag and Deirg but the climb up Deirg looked like a bit of a task.

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It was tough going and now my legs were getting tired. This was a biggy and towards the top the path gets rocky and we crossed a couple of boulder fields. As you can see the path continues to follow the ridge line so no navigation issues in this weather. Even had to apply some sun cream! After a long ascent we popped out onto the relatively flat summit plateau and had to make our way along to the far end to the summit cairn.

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Summit plateau of Dheirg

The summit was the jaggy rocks in the pic just in the left hand side sticking into the cloud. It looked straighforward from here and the walk along the plateau was untaxing, a welcome relief this far in. As it gets closer it's not so straightforward. The summit cairn is actually huge and balanced at the end of a narrow, very rocky ridge. We walked past the junction with the descent path then started on the ridge. It's not long or particularly tricky but by this stage of the day it was just downright annoying! Manda's turn for a moment as she lay down and cursed the ridge as we made the summit cairn.

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No 5 broke Manda

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Notice I'm the only one still smiling

5 down, 1 to go. We were all tired now. Body and minds were sluggish. No matter how much food, sugar or water we took on it was a struggle to motivate ourselves to do anything but trudge. Don't get me wrong, we were still enjoying the day and were pretty chuffed that we were being trail blazers of sorts but the pub was getting closer and we all wanted to just get there. I'd had a plan to throw in the cousin, as I called it, of Ciste Dhubh as this in my mind was another annoying single munro that I could get out the way here. Prob was time was marching on and it looked a lot longer to the summit than it did on the map! Manda and Big Tommo had already vetoed it and if I thought I could've ran (using the term loosely) up and down it and made the pub for dinner I would've but it didn't look likely given the distance. Also there was the issue of the actual descent to the pub. No 6, Aonach Meadhoin was in sight however there was the further peak of Sgurr an Fhuarail directly behind it and in our way in the quest for the pub. Was there another way off Meadhoin avoiding Fhuarail and if so would it drop us too far away from the pub onto the road?

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Meadhoin and Fhuarail

The route threw up one final obstacle on the way to Meadhoin. One final narrow, rocky ridge on the ascent up.

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This needed some concentration and much looking down at our feet again. The summit was made and we all relaxed. 6 munros done, 8 summits so far. We were just about there.

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Summit of Meadhoin

There was no obvious other way off Meadhoin than down and up over Fhuarail. We' been keeping pace with a couple of guys who were doing the same as us and could see them on the path down Fhuarail towards the minor summit marked at 843m on the OS map. There is a path from Meadhoin to Ciste Dhubh but even I had decided to leave that for another day. The sun was now starting to get low and was turning Loch Cluanie the most fantastic deep blue colour.

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The way down towards the minor summit

We took a detour off the path to get a better view of the loch.

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This meant we had to come down a heather, pathless slope to meet back up with the path. Not as easy as it sounds. When we were at the top of the slope we could easily pick out the path, once descending it disappears into the landscape as it is not the most worn path and the grass had started to claim it back. Basically aim for the obvious ridge that takes you down to the flat ground in front of the pub car park. Once the path was regained it proved to be the straw that broke the camels back. It was muddy, slippy and we all had a few tumbles. Because we could see the pub it never seemed to get any closer until we finally made it to the flat ground. Even here we had to march through bog, jump a couple of streams before we made it to the car. The midges were out for their evening feast so we literally threw everything in the car and made a bee line for the pub. Thankfully it was quiet and the staff didn't mind three smelly, slightly muddy climbers coming in. We took our boots off and left them at the door so as to not spoil the carpet (again the staff were fine with this) and had a piping hot, delicious pub meal that was just reward for the effort we'd put in.

The drive back really put the walk into perspective. The road was quiet so I was easily keeping the speed up towards 60mph and it still took us a good 20 mins or so to get back to Manda's car. All the way we were picking out the summits we'd been on throughout the day. It was a huge walk but an extremely satisfying one and we were all well chuffed we'd done it. 11 hours 20 mins was pretty much bang on for my guestimate timing, we'd managed to make it to the pub for dinner and I even managed to stay awake for Match of the Day with a few celebratory beers. Cheers! :thumbup:
Last edited by J888ohn on Sat Aug 22, 2015 12:39 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Gather round Sisters and Brothers, no time for a cousin

Postby big tommo » Wed Aug 19, 2015 11:46 pm

Another challenge completed :clap: It can be done :shock: great ridge walk :D once again great effort by myself, John and Amanda. What a team
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Re: Gather round Sisters and Brothers, no time for a cousin

Postby Driftwood » Thu Aug 20, 2015 10:38 pm

Near to the start of the route, there is a (fainter) path along the north side of the Allt a'Chruinn. This was a bit boggy (and leads to a steep section, even by the standards of this route, crossing Beinn Bhuidhe from the bealach with Sgurr na Moraich), but I'd guess is the way that your GPS wanted.

These (especially the Sisters, but also some of the narrower ridges on the eastern Brothers) feel like longer/tougher hills than the distances and height suggest, so you did well to manage such an ambitious route. And I'd say wise to leave Ciste Dhubh for another time. I found the south side very wet and eroded, probably the most troublesome part of the group (though other bits are steeper and much more exposed). That was bad enough to ascend, descending it with tired legs would be worse.

And it was a smart move to get to the pub in time for dinner :clap: The only slight down side of the day that I walked these was having my fill of hills until I was too late for even a celebratory drink!
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