Yet another Bearsden Choirboys outing, on the first weekend of August - the aim was for three of us to go up to the Glen Shiel area with two cars, so that we could tackle a couple of linear walks - firstly the Five Sisters, and secondly the four North Glen Cluanie Munros that we all still had to do. As ever with any outing organised more than a few days in advance, the weather forecast was looking a bit hoaching ... nevertheless, we gamely set off from Glasgow after work on the Friday night and stayed over at the Saddle Mountain Hostel in Invergarry (not the closest option for our target hills, but it's always a nice friendly place, and all the closer options were booked up).
The forecast was looking marginally better for the Saturday than for the Sunday, so we opted for the Five Sisters on Day One, given that it was the more scenic of the two routes, by all accounts. Probably the right decision in retrospect, for once ! - although we did predictably get a right soaking, we did also get to enjoy some fantastic views in the mid-section of the walk before the Clag descended again.
We took the standard route as per the website's route description, leaving Tom's car along at Allt a'Chruin village, and then taking my car back along to the start of the route at the big Glen Shiel car park, directly below the Bealach an Lapain.
We arrived at the Glen Shiel car park to be greeted by low cloud and a good steady Scottish drizzle !
Nevertheless, we set off undaunted on the relentlessly steep path up to the Bealach an Lapain.
I've always been under the impression that "Bealach an Lapain" means "bealach of the rabbit(s)" which is rather cute, but Tom thought that it might have an alternative translation (I can't remember what exactly) - does anyone know for sure? Anyway, we didn't see any bunnies on the way up - perhaps just as well, as they might have drowned in the mire !
When the three of us had made this same ascent earlier in the summer to tackle the Brothers Ridge, we managed to miss the side path at the top of the forestry, and then ended up making a pathless ascent from further east, overshooting the bealach by a hundred metres or so: not much of a problem if heading in the direction of Saileag, but it wouldn't have been ideal when heading in the other direction ! We therefore kept a very close eye out for the side path on this occasion. Fortunately it actually isn't that hard to spot if you pay attention: it branches off directly uphill just past the top corner of the forestry, and is even marked by a small cairn. I really have no idea how we managed to miss it last time !
Although this path did make life quite a bit easier, the ascent remained utterly relentless. Apparently the average angle from car park to bealach is steeper than 45 degrees, and it certainly looks it when viewed from above ...ah well, I suppose this did at least make for Rapid Height Gain.
It was quite a relief to reach the bealach at last. By now we were well up into the Clag, and the drizzle had returned too, but at least there was an excellent ongoing path along the pleasingly narrow ridge leading on to Sgurr nan Spainteach.
This was arguably the most enjoyable bit of the whole ridge, even although we walked it in Clag: the ridge is narrow and rocky with some enjoyable sections of easy scrambling. What with all that drizzle, however, the rock was very slippery, and care was needed: I was inevitably on the slow side !
A brief break in the cloud gave an interesting view northwards towards the head of Gleann Lichd, with the flanks of Beinn Fhada's looooong west ridge visible on the other side of the glen:
Spainteach's pleasantly rocky summit environs now looming through the Clag ahead:
At Sgurr na Spainteach's cairn at last! Although this rocky and impressive summit is of Munro height, it is only a Top, and apparently it isn't even an official "Sister" - presumably it's just a close cousin, or a young aunt or something .
We were mildly surprised to find some toadstools growing right beside the cairn. Although these looked surprisingly similar to some shiitake mushrooms that we'd enjoyed along with a fine bit of venison at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel on the way up the road the night before, I suspect this lot might have been rather more toxic !
We headed on northwest along the ridge towards the first Munro, enjoying an easy wee down-scramble along the way. Before long, we were at the first Munro of the day, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, with its delightfully piratical Gaelic name ("Peak of the Black Chest"; aaargh, shiver me timbers!!).
The Clag was just starting to break up at this point, and Malcolm was able to enjoy a bit of a view westwards along the ridge from this airy stance on the summit cairn:
As we headed down the path to the west, the views finally started to open up, with a lovely long vista along Loch Duich, and the next Munro, Sgurr na Carnach, looming through the Clag ahead.
A bit further down: Tom tackling another wee down-scramble, with Sgurr na Carnach now clearly visible behind him, and Sgurr Fhuaran (Munro Number Three) hazily visible away in the distance.
Much the same view, from a bit closer to the bealach. Carnach looks impressively steep from here, but in reality it actually proved to be quite straightforward.
Almost down at the Ciste Duibhe / Carnach bealach now, and Sgurr Fhuaran was lifting its head from the clouds at last !
The re-ascent from the bealach to Sgurr na Carnach didn't actually take us that long (it is only about 140 metres or so, meaning that Carnach - unlike the other two Munros - doesn't qualify as a Marilyn). Before long, we were enjoying a spot of lunch at Carnach's summit cairn.
There was an intriguing view back the way to Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, with Sgurr nan Spainteach looking impressively rocky behind it:
We headed on northwestwards towards the next bealach, the Carnach / Fhuaran one, which proved to be an almost exact mirror image of the Ciste Duibhe / Carnach bealach. From here, there was a grand sweeping view down Sgurr Fhuarain's steep west ridge all the way down to Glen Shiel - a potential descent route, although not our planned one. A bit further to the north, Fhuaran's northwest ridge also looked interesting, ending in a rocky wee lump (Sgurr an t-Searraich) just before reaching Loch Duich.
The third Munro, Sgurr Fhuaran was the highest peak of our day. Its name means either "Peak of the Spring" or "Peak of the Wolf" depending on which book you look up - I prefer the wolf, I'd have to say! Anyway, here is its large summit cairn, duly adorned by members of the Bearsden Choir bass section:
Malcolm pausing for a moment at the cairn to commune with the Force:
A grand view back the way to Sgurr na Carnach. The translation of its Gaelic name seems a tad less dramatic than the other two: it apparently just means "Rocky Peak" (shades of Father Ted's Craggy Island, but maybe that's just me !)
The fourth and fifth sisters aren't Munros, and we therefore didn't insist on climbing them; particularly as the Clag started to descend again, along with steady driving rain . Nevertheless, Sister Number Four, Sgurr nan Saighead, proved to be a very impressive peak, with dramatic northern cliffs, and since the ongoing path only bypassed the last sixty metres or so, we got to enjoy its "edited highlights" .
A closer view of Saighead's impressive northern cliffs:
Soon enough, we were descending Saighead's northwest ridge towards Beinn Bhuidhe, which was something of a relief since the rain really wasn't mucking about by this point. Just before the Clag started to properly coagulate, we managed to enjoy a hazy view north across Glean Lichd to the end of Beinn Fhada's long west ridge:
In theory it wasn't far from Beinn Bhuidhe back to the car, but predictably enough I was a bit knackered and I found myself trailing well behind the other two... particularly when the route took us through a delightful wee bit of bog just west of the Allt a' Chruin . It was a great relief to finally reach the well-constructed path along the northern bank of the Allt a' Chruin, presumably constructed by those doughty National Trust of Scotland volunteers, and a lovely bit of engineering as usual, complete with stone staircases lower down .
All in all, an iconic walk that proved to be every bit as good as its reputation !
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