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Sun, sea, views - what could go wrong?

Sun, sea, views - what could go wrong?

Postby Emmanuelle » Mon Sep 30, 2013 10:53 pm

Route description: Five Sisters of Kintail

Munros included on this walk: Sgùrr Fhuaran, Sgùrr na Càrnach, Sgùrr na Ciste Duibhe

Date walked: 30/09/2013

Time taken: 8.5 hours

Distance: 15 km

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Sun, sea, 360 degree views - why am I underwhelmed?

Today I did the Five Sisters of Kintail ridge. One of Scotland's iconic walks. I was staying at the Ratagan Youth Hostel. I had planned on walking over two days, to do some of the Loch Cluanie hills. On Sunday I did just that, all went according to plan and I walked back to the car in a t-shirt after 7 hours of pure joy. Today didn't quite turn out as planned. On talking to various chaps in the hostel kitchen last night I got a hankering for doing the Five Sisters. They looked really stunning in brilliant sunshine. One lovely man offered to drive me to the start of the walk after dropping off my car at the end point. How could I say no? So I drew a new route on my map, read the Bennet book and the McNeish one too for good measure and felt ready. I made a basic mistake - I did not have a printout of the walkhighland itinerary. Big big mistake.

That was the first mistake.

Then we weren't sure what the end point was and the layby by the bridge "just upstream of Loch Shield" was difficult to ascertain. It looked unassuming, but I parked my car, locked up, hopped into the man's car and off we went. He dropped me off, said walk 20 m along the road and you'll find the path. The path will veer right after the plantation and then up. OK. bye and also thanks for doing this. Much much appreciated.

So off I went and I found everything. but then it all went pearshaped. I stopped to look for something in my rucksack and must have missed the path going straight up to the Bealach. So I merrily continued until I got insecure. So the map came out and I just couldn't be sure that I had walked too far along, so I took an executive decision and struck north, in a straight line. There was no path. It was hard work climbing up the heather.

That was the second mistake, a loss of path, a mistake I was to make again later.

I hurled myself up the hill and at some point figured I was heading for Sailead, not Bealach na Lapain. Sure enough, to my left but below me, the bealach came into view. It took me 15 minutes to walk back to the bealach, along the hillside. But no worries, now I was on my way up to the fist Munro. From that point on, until Beinn Buidhe, everything went well. The views were 'stonking', my legs were a teensy bit tired, especially my left one but I kept a hard pace. The wind was a problem though, some of the strongest gusts making the going hard and staying upright quite difficult. The ridge up to Sgurr Fhuaran happened to be in the correct orientation for maximum buffeting so I would say I climbed mostly on all fours... Probably not attractive but the reward was some fantastic views with Torridon to the NW, the Cuillins to the W, Knoydart and many more, Loch Duich glistening... heaven. Away from the wind (difficult to obtain), the sun was warm. To descend down the NW ridge, the sticks came out (quite steep) and I got a good pace before setting off for Sgurr nan Saighead.

Oh wait, I missed the path to the Sgurr - so I had to climb up to it from the west... But I was being conscientious and actually the views into Glean Lichd and then further down the near vertical slabs of the north side of the hills made my legs go wobbly!

We're coming to the next mistake. I lost the path! I was going to come down the fairly easy shoulder and then straight down for that bridge that the Bennet book said existed, but I just couldn't find a path of any kind. The Bennet books says not to continue to Sgurr an t'Searraich and just head down. Ok! Gee that was a complete disaster. Oh yes, I made it down but on steep, uneven terrain with fern and heather for company, the odd track made by deer but nothing you'd call a path. In fact I did meet a young stag who, had it had the power of reflexion, might have looked in wonder and perhaps laughed at this interloper who made such a ungainly job of coming down this unending slope.

So now we're coming to the last mistake (previous paragraph was of course a mistake too): the bridge! or was that a figment of my imagination? I got to the bridge alright, to find it broken and therefore closed. What to do? there was water on both sides of me. I continued west hoping the lick of land I was on might get to the road, No. More water.

And then my salvation came from a crazy thought. I had three options, all involving retracing my steps. Either I tried the bridge broken though it was. Perhaps I could chance it. Or I could swim across, but I'd have to go back up the burn, away from the loch. Or I could head back up the lower slopes and walk west to Shiel Bridge, assuming this could be done without going all the way back up to the shoulder (NOOOOOO!).

I tried option 1. - no way. The gaps in the wooden slats were too wide and there's no way I could get across (why doesn't someone fix this bridge, or remove it altogether?).
Option 3 was not a look in, no way.
So option 2 it had to be. I repacked my rucksack to make sure everything was watertight, inlcuding my mobile phone, walked up stream to find somewhere not too wide and with access to the water. I could see my car in the layby so I decided here would be the crossing point (I'm sure the sheep I passed thought me mad, but they kept schtum).

I removed my boots, attached them to my bag, my trousers, which I stuffed in my bag, and waded in. The water was dark brown, strewn with dead leaves from the birches overhanging and the opposite bank only had some large piece of wood that I hoped would enable me to hoist myself up to the riverbank. There wasnt a nice beach for a gentle landing.

Man, the water was cold. I'm a strong swimmer but I've never swum with a full pack and boots on my back. I was puffing away to cope with the cold but thankfully there was no current and in perhaps 30-40 seconds I was on the other side. I found a couple of sandstones by the bank to land on, grabbed a hold of this piece of wood I had identified with my left hand, grabbed some grass with my other hand and hurled myself up out of the cold water.

By some miracle, the bag was almost dry, no water had dripped inside, my boots got a good clean in the transit from one shore to the next. I walked up the few metres to the gate which opened onto the layby, in a dripping wet t-shirt, with a rucksack on my back, in my underpants and in bare feet!

I've had to wade through burns before but not swim. I was 'lucky' it was September, not April or any of the winter months. I wouldnt have lasted 2 seconds in melt water.

And thankfully, I had towels and a change of clothing. I put the heating on in the car, some music, ate a (dry) sandwich and some sweeties as a wee reward for my adventures. I drove back to Falkirk in less than 3h30 - probably itching to get a hot shower.

So the lesson of this story is - ditch the books. I am realising now that they are quite useless. They are out of date, the descriptions are not always helpful. They're good for identifying the walks because they are well organised.
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Re: Sun, sea, views - what could go wrong?

Postby weescotsman » Mon Sep 30, 2013 11:08 pm

Ouch..... and double ouch indeed :shock: Hope you have used up enough errors for the next couple of years then in one weekend. Kintail is still on my to do list, hopefully next year !!!
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Re: Sun, sea, views - what could go wrong?

Postby jmarkb » Tue Oct 01, 2013 8:54 am

Well that'll be one to remember!

I know it's way too late and all that, but I don't think you would have encountered any difficulty walking the 1km or so downstream to the road bridge.
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