Is This The Way To Montenegro? - South Glen Shiel Ridge

Munros: Aonach Air Chrith, Creag a'Mhaim, Creag nan Damh, Druim Shionnach, Maol chinn-dearg, Sgurr an Doire Leathain, Sgurr an Lochain

Date walked: 24/04/2012

Time taken: 12 hours

Distance: 23km

Ascent: 1860m

It’s not often that I head to the mountains without a route plan or a mountain in mind but with 24 Munro’s within a stones throw Glen Shiel was an exception. We’d headed off on the Monday afternoon with the weather not looking so promising for either Tuesday or Wednesday we were a little apprehensive of the outcome of our ambitions. So, needless to say, no trip to Glen Shiel is complete without a trip to the Cluanie Inn so that’s exactly where we started our excursion prior to checking in at the Kintail Trekkers Lodge. Ginger beer for me, pint of real ale for Mike, we sat looking at the pinnacles on Mullach a’Fraoich Choire and discussing attempting the full ridge. We picked up on a conversation the chaps at the bar were having about fuel theft from some of the Forestry Commission tractors further up the glen also! Michty me.
That night we dined like Kings on Pasta, soup and naan bread and relaxed with the fact that we had the entire lodge to ourselves. That was until late when a Swiss lassie turned up equipped with a lemon, Danish pastry, can of salmon and a laptop. Yeh, we didn’t understand that either. We got chatting in a mix of Spanish, German, French, English and Gaelic and a few Sloe Gins, Inveralmond Ale and Glen Fiddich’s later we were all on our merry way. Unfortunately myself and Mike had a 5am start and it was rolling on for 1:30. The good thing though was that during the course of this conversation it had came up that we needed a lift to the Cluanie Inn otherwise it was going to be a long hard slog back up the glen at the end of the ridge and said Swiss girl was volunteering to drive us. And she taught us that the word Amoretto comes from ‘Amaro Montenegro’. Result. Bedtime.
On cue we were suited and booted for 6am rearing to go when the Swiss girl shunts through from the room and 1 cup of tea later we’re on our way up Glen Shiel ready to start a mammoth day. Mike called shotgun.
The drizzle was on and the cloud was down in most parts of the glen except the first munro of the day (Creag a’Mhaim). We followed the well constructed land rover track for quite some distance, passing a few herds of deer and almost passing the Munro before a tiny cairn marks the spot where a stalkers path zigzags off to the right. Immediately the climb begins although I must say it wasn’t the most tiring ascent I’ve had. The track gently zig zags up the slope with the views across to Loch Garry and over the Knoydart and Loch Quoich hills opening up. I couldn’t get that bloody song “Is this the way to Amarillo?” out of my head....replacing the word Amarillo with Montenegro. Much discussion was had. Eventually at 9:30 we came to the summit and the layer of snow that was capping the top of the hill. The views were immense with the rest of the ridge stretched out ahead. What was not immense though were the dark purple storm clouds passing through the upper reaches of Glen Affric that seemed to be heading our way. The forecast had mentioned a small risk of lightning and these were lightning clouds if ever I’d seen them! We set off along the ridge which passes along the top of the hanging Coire nan Leac and on to the second Munro of the day Druim Shionnach., the ridge of foxes. There were no foxes on it today, nor climbers on the 15 marked climbing routes, just the two of us and our furry companion (a dog) Misty. We sat below the summit for 5 minutes observing the stormy clouds and grabbing our elevenses before the final short pull on to the summit. Munro number 2 bagged.
The views across to Spidean Mialach and Gleouraich from here is beautiful and before long we were standing on Aonach Air Chrith, the largest Munro of the day at 3349ft. Now, all the hilarity and my focus on the bad weather had not sidetracked me into not noticing that Aonach Air Chrith means “the trembling ridge”, and to add to that, Mike had annotated his map with the word “bottoms” for the next section of the route. We soon found out why. Leaving the snowy top of Aonach Air Chrith the ridge becomes quite narrow and some dodgy down scrambling/bum shuffling is to be done in order to regain the wide section of the ridge. Nothing technical and in decent weather not much of a challenge at all; in Winter though, or in wet weather caution would be needed.
Half way through the ridge, on a broad grassy slope between Maol Chinn Dearg and Aonach Air Chrith we stopped for lunch. The view had changed again and instead of the dark shades of Loch Loyne and the East Glen Quoich Forest that we had seen earlier in the day we were now looking down toward Loch Quoich and the beautiful little house of Alltbeithe, a privately owned farm. From this vantage point, and with a little help from the sun, we could see as far as Bla Bheinn on Skye as well up the old coffin road in Wester Glen Quoich.
I don’t know why, as we were only half way there but after passing over Maol Chinn Dearg it almost felt like I was on the home straight. Sgurr an Doire Leathan was in sight, my 160th Munro, and everything was going swimmingly......until the weather turned nasty again. Within 10 minutes clouds that were so purple they were almost black had drifted over Glen Affric and were heading for us. As the heavy snow began to fall into the wide corrie of Coire a Chuil Droma Mor we made the decision to pull out the group shelter and hang tight on the side of the mountain in a giant orange bag. Actually the snow was creating a fantastic effect as the force of the wind whipped the snow up and out of the corrie and over the ridge, almost creating an arch of snow. Almost as quickly as it came it also disappeared leaving us in a sea of white cloud as we emerged from the shelter. It was about now I realised that snow had gotten into my boots and my feet were pretty soaked through. If there’s one thing that makes me p*ssed off it’s wet feet so that put a dampener on my day (no pun intended). Because of this I can’t remember much about the walk to the top of the hill other than 1) it was snowy 2) I was following some fence posts until we contoured around the rim of the corrie and 3) the summit cairn was rubbish. It doesn’t even deserve to be called a cairn by cairn standards.
The next hill on the ridge however, the 6th Munro of the day, is a much finer prize. It is the most shapely mountain on the route and only a stones throw from Sgurr an Doire Leathan. Sgurr an Lochain just pips the 1000metre mark in a beautiful cone shape. About 20metres below the summit we stopped and got out the shelter again as another snow storm swept over us before we scrambled up to the top. There is an interesting little chimney to climb onto the summit (can be bypassed) and then you’re on it. In the summit cairn lied a broken ceramic angel with the inscription “in loving memory of our son”, a sobering reminder that the mountains are a dangerous place.
Strangely the last mountain of the day is the smallest and yet feels like the toughest. The ridge dips to it’s lowest point (2350 ft) just prior to the ascent so the pull up onto the final Munro is the most ascent since the start of the day. That’s without factoring in the fatigue. The views at this point though are simply incredible. The old Glen Quoich coffin road lies behind you and directly opposite you sits Coire Sgoireadail, a haven for Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746 as he hid from Hanoverian soldiers before he escaped over the high pass of the Bealach Duibh Leac. Indeed the entire area is steeped in Highland history and especially that of the Jacobites. The lower reaches of Creag nan Damh and its outlying neighbour Sgurr a’Chuilinn were witness to the events of the battle of Glenshiel in 1719; a relatively small battle in comparison with other events in the Jacobite history timeline but significant nonetheless.
And so, 10 and a half hours after we begun we stood on the summit of the final Munro. Happy days. Now the only issue was getting down. We had marked out a route which took us straight down Creag nan Damh north east ridge and back toward the deep glen flowing down toward the road. A word of warning, don’t go this way. The wet grass slopes were at a rather uncomfortably steep angle for the first section of the descent before the supposed path heads down a small rock chimney. Sceptical of whether this was actually a path I climbed down to find myself on a narrow ledge with a 20ft drop below me so I had to reverse that move!
Finally, in silence, we arrived wet and tired at the math marked on the OS maps which runs down the side of the burn flowing from Am Fraoch Choire however we also seemed to miss the part where the path bypassed the final few hundred meters of forest and instead entered the forest to find ourselves again scrambling down wet, muddy rock back to the road.

Nevertheless, in a slightly slower than average time of 12 hours, we arrived back at the car with soggy feet but feeling not so worse for wear.

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Comments: 2

Beinn Alligin

Attachment(s) Munros: Sgurr Mor (Beinn Alligin), Tom na Gruagaich (Beinn Alligin)
Date walked: 14/04/2012
Distance: 10km
Ascent: 1402m
Comments: 4
Views: 3118

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Attachment(s) Munros: Beinn Heasgarnich, Creag Mhor (Glen Lochay)
Date walked: 26/03/2012
Distance: 23.9km
Ascent: 1409m
Views: 1743

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Attachment(s) Munros: Meall nan Eun, Stob Coir an Albannaich
Date walked: 05/03/2012
Distance: 13km
Ascent: 1372m
Comments: 2
Views: 3047

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Attachment(s) Munros: Stob Choire Claurigh
Date walked: 19/02/2012
Distance: 14km
Ascent: 1100m
Comments: 4
Views: 2466


Mountain: Stob Ban Mamores
Place: Arisaig
Gear: Ortovox Mitts

Munros: 162

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Trips: 5
Distance: 83.9 km
Ascent: 7143m
Munros: 14

Joined: Feb 20, 2012
Last visited: Feb 17, 2013
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