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The South Glen Shiel Ridge

The South Glen Shiel Ridge

Postby bernadettewalsh » Wed Sep 09, 2020 9:01 pm

Route description: South Glen Shiel Ridge: 7 Munros

Munros included on this walk: Aonach Air Chrith, Creag a'Mhàim, Creag nan Dàmh, Druim Shionnach, Maol chinn-dearg, Sgùrr an Doire Leathain, Sgùrr an Lochain

Date walked: 29/08/2020

Time taken: 14 hours

Distance: 36 km

Ascent: 2018m

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Yours truely, in her element
South Glen Shiel Ridge.png

It was a near perfect morning, on 29th August 2020, as I set off to see if I could complete a long held dream, bagging seven Munros in one day, by tramping across the South Glen Shiel Ridge, in Kintail. However, this awesome ambition required a little prior problem solving.

Firstly, the start and end points were separated by 11km of road walking, predominantly uphill, and this was not an enticing prospect after an long and arduous day on the hills. The flaw in my initial plan, to park my car at the end of the walk and cycle to the beginning, became apparent once I was in the area. Though not any great distance, the 200 metre climb would, to put it frankly, render me knackered before I even started. The alternatives were also rejected. Catching a bus, either at the start or the end of the day, proved a no-goer as the bus times were inconvenient – the first being too late to start at a reasonable time, and the last too early to be sure of completing the walk in time. The other option of doing the walk in the opposite direction, so I started the day with a euphoric ride down hill, definitely didn't cut the mustard. Why would you walk eastwards all day, when all the best of the views were behind you? In the end I struck a compromise with myself. I would park ¾ of the way down the hill so I didn't have to cycle all of the incline. Somehow, at the end of the day, I would manage the 3km walk back to the car, even though it was likely to involve crawling on all fours.

ready for the morning.jpg
Waiting for the off

The next question to answer was how to actually get on the bike. Cycling in the Cairngorms had taught me that riding with a rucksack on my back caused a knot in a muscle just under my right shoulder blade, which progressed from discomfort to agony in the course of a day's walking. As a result, the rucksack was now strapped to a rack over the back wheel. This meant that I had to throw a less than agile 66 year-old hip over rucksack and saddle before I was even able to sit on the bike. Success with this endeavour involved pitching the bike towards me and angling it towards the ground followed by, once the leg was over (so to speak), pushing the weight upwards and peddling off; a manoeuvre that might have been less wobbly in execution had I fitted a set of stabilisers usually seen on children's bikes! Whatever else this day brought, it was going to confer a good deal of amusement on the travelling public using this stretch of the A82.

I did though, duly arrive at The Cluanie Inn, whispering grateful thanks to the civil engineer who had designed the S bend, creating an incremental gradient, which even I could manage without total collapse. Just 35 minutes after starting out the bike was padlocked and I was ready to start out, or was it the other way around?

Trusted stead parked up and ready to go

In preparation for the extent of this walk, I had primed myself to stay focussed on the activity and not get side-tracked. I could look at photos on the walk reports of others to remind myself of the day; I must not keep stopping to take my own. Thus it was, not long after starting out on the old road to Tomdoun, I was getting a good angle for a point and shoot shot, looking back toward The Cluaine Inn, followed by a composition illustrating a sweet tunnel bridge. It was going to be a very long day!

Looking back to Cluaine Inn.jpg
Looking back to the Cluanie Inn

Time waster!.jpg
Time waster!

True to the route, a Stalker's path - signalled by a small cairn - departed from the track and I began an assault of Creag a' Mhaim, the first Munro of the day. Inevitably, on the long tough ascent, every other early morning walker passed by. I nodded an acknowledgement of mutual pain and even managed to squeeze out a few words, none of them resembling anything like English.

Looking south west to Loch Loyne.jpg
Looking south east to Loch Loyne

Not that long up the path I considered the undulations of the ridge. For many they representing topographical reference points towards the accomplishment of 7 Munros but, for me, they were one unfathomable question mark stretching ahead, while references to early escape routes became a rubric etched to the core of my being. Nevertheless, in spite of such defeatist thoughts, I eventually bagged the first of the Munros, taking heart from the text of the route I followed, “the most strenuous climb of the walk is now behind.”

Creag Mhaim - no. 1.jpg
Creag a' Mhaim - No. 1

The day brightened, but never sustained that electrifying light that expands across the mountain landscape in a storm of sensual ecstasy. Instead, the hills donned more subdued tones but, as the cloud-base was mainly above them, the views still reflected paradise. Everywhere Munros clamoured for attention though Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach, to the south, shouted loudest “Us next, please” they said.


next 1.jpg
Spidean Mialach

As I progressed, adding Druim Shaiannach and Aonach Air Chrith to the bag, the views opened out to encompass Loch Quoich several thousand feet below. Cartographers dreams were made real as the river mapped its evolutionary course through the glen, seemingly in sublime isolation. Though, on second thoughts, perhaps not. The hand of man was evident in the long single track road that mirrored the course of the river, two parallel snakes weaving their way along the valley bottom, under the watchful protection of mighty hills. Here and there tendrils of the road branched off sinuously to visit single homesteads, the epitome of remote living, though even those households could probably be picking up the veg in Fort William within a couple of hours. Oh dear, more stopping in wondrous awe, less marching on purposefully.

Looking towards Aonach Air Chrith

Parallel snakes

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare...

...No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance...

From 'Leisure' by WH Davies

I had assumed my fourth peak would be pivotal, with more done than left to do, over than half-way there etc. I was wrong. Four completed Munros exhausted the energy bank and the three still to conquer stretched out into infinity; perhaps I was walking to Shangri-la. What I saw as I continued was certainly akin to heaven - a 360o circumference of peaks rose and fell like rippling waves, decorating the skyline; a vast ocean of the heavens.

Looking towards Maol Chinn-dearg

Appreciation of our mountainous landscape wasn't always thus, as Robin MacFarlane points out in that fabulous book, 'Mountains of the Mind'. Back in the day, before Thomas Burnet put us straight, in about 1680, we looked on mountains with only fear and terror - steering clear of them at all costs. That was before fear became correlated with excitement and the whole experience summed up as sublime. The Romantics spread the word about what then became known as the picturesque and, all of a sudden, everyone was off to turn their back on the whole scene and get the best view through a mirror, if they didn't have a nasty accident first. Since then, mountains have been hit by a tidal weave of popularity so that, in peak season, the most popular hills become a highway of walking boots and various shades of vivid walking gear.

Luckily, today wasn't quite so busy and the “long slow ascent” of Sgurr an Doire, (Munro no. 5), held nothing more than a formidable climb. Half-way up I stopped for lunch and, in so doing, broke up the slog while gaining some energy to complete the climb.

On the way to Sgurr an Doire.jpg
On the way to Sgurr an Doire

I had anticipated that so far into the day the penultimate peak might also necessitate a pit-stop and reserved lots of nuts to munch while admiring views that, even without a mirror, gave an excuse for a rest. However, I had already turned a corner, the end was in sight and the psychological boost had a manifest impact on the physiology too – body and mind being a phenomenal partnership; I was at the top before you could Sgurr an Lochain. What joy it became to look back at the work completed and look forward, knowing that, come what may, I was going to complete all seven; escape routes – what me!

The way back.jpg
The way back
The way ahead.jpg
The way ahead

I had looked towards the hidden gems of Knoydart and seen the ultimate challenge of The Cuillin Ridge; more mountains than you could shake a stick at were imprinted on the inner eye. Thus, nearly at the end of this day, I had such a lift that I scampered up the brief scramble to the final Munro like a mountain goat. Actually, that's poetic licence and a complete lie. In reality, I did the requisite amount of huffing and puffing, to reflect a tired body and aching joints, then staggered to the top.

A merry band assembled around the summit cairn, each in their own aura of achievement, totting up the new total in their bag by adding 7 more; my own now shinning with the numerals 126. Fatigue resonated when one young man told his friend... “it wasn't as bad as I expected”. Quick as flash, a single voice, resounding across the mountain top, united this clutch of summit strangers in humour. “Throw that man off” it said.

job done.jpg
job done

The trouble with energy that comes from the exhilaration of being on the high hills, is that it deserts you as soon as you begin the long 3.000 ft + descent; something you haven't given any thought to all day. Even on this ridge, where the peaks were never that far from the road below, the way down seemed endless. I thought it best to draw a complete blank over the 3km of road still to cover at the end. Keeping to the Walk Highlands route, I found the Stalker's path without bother. These routes had seen me over 126 Munros and I wasn't going off piste now. However, many of those who left the summit at the same time cut down much earlier, following a couple of men who had done them before. The way down was extremely steep, pathless, and full of shattered rock. While you could see the road, you couldn't see the whole route, I didn't think the steep and rocky mountainsides of Kintail were the best place to hive off into the unknown. I'm sure they will have got down safely, and probably long before me, but their travails belonged to more gung-ho adventurers than my safety first approach. I did worry about a party I'd walked with who were very cautious on rocky terrain. I do hope it wasn't too off putting.

The path I took was a delight but, in all honesty, I was too tired to fully appreciate it. The gradient took charge of my feet, appendages that seem to have nothing to do with me. Then, just 15 minutes before I reached the road, I saw the last bus sail past, so close I could have waved to the passengers; I didn't. Salt and wound were two words that passed across what was left of my conscious mind. A phone call to the soul mate at home kept me going for about 500 metres of the road walk, once I got there, and I did OK-ish for the next 500, but that was it. My normal walking speed had deserted me as soon as I hit level ground, and now, it felt like a matter of minutes between one foot-fall and another. Just then a miracle occurred, as – of course - they do. A Campervan pulled into the next lay-by and, as I was thinking that wasn't the most secluded place for an overnight stay, a man got out and issued those magical words, WOULD YOU LIKE A LIFT?. A walker himself, he knew the walk I had most likely done and took pity, as he and his wife were on their way home from a weekend break. Though I didn't need a lift back to the Cluaine Inn, that I'm sure he anticipated, the next kilometre by motorised transport was the icing on the cake of today's fabulous outing; an act of kindness concluding my walk.

He took me right to the door of my car - clearly I had cut a dash stumbling along the A82 at nearly 8.00 pm in the evening. I deposited my rucksack in the well of the passenger's seat, took up a semi-comatose position on the driver's side, and reached into the cold box on the seat beside me. Lo and behold, out came a pasta pot and tub of pineapple, c/o Tesco meal deals... they didn't last long. I then hauled myself into the back, changed into pyjamas and crept into my sleeping bag; the day was not quite done. With bottle opener, beer and glass never far away, I rounded off this momentous day with a pint of Corncrake, looking towards the Forcan Ridge, in stupendous light... another walk, another day.

Bedtime view - The Saddle and Forcan Ridge

Does it get any better?
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Joined: Oct 1, 2015
Location: South West Scotland

Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge

Postby mrssanta » Fri Sep 11, 2020 1:10 pm

Fantastic, well done and a lovely report.
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge

Postby Anne McNaughton » Mon Nov 23, 2020 10:06 pm

Great report ....I (a fellow 66 yr old Walker !!) hope to complete this next year .....as long as my hips hold out 🤣🤣
Anne McNaughton
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Re: The South Glen Shiel Ridge

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Mon Nov 23, 2020 10:46 pm

Fantastic report - and a fantastic achievement!

By coincidence, I was talking to a colleague today about WH Davies. His life was as remarkable as his poetry - there’s a good account of it on Wikipedia.

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