Cloudy Brothers Ridge - for which I am truly thankful.

Route: Brothers Ridge - Sgurr a Bhealaich Dheirg

Munros: Aonach Meadhoin, Saileag, Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg

Date walked: 29/10/2016

Time taken: 6 hours

I put a call out on the hillwalking matchmaking site that is Walk Highlands for some company to tackle the Brothers Ridge. It was the weekend of the WH autumn meet, and although I wasn’t able to attend due to family illness, I would manage a day out as it was a great opportunity to buddy up with someone to place cars at either end of the walk.

David (Dai S) answered my plea and we arranged to meet at the Cluanie Inn on the Saturday morning at 8am. The weather forecasts were a mixed bag and although it was low cloud and drizzle first thing; our expectation was that it would clear away around 11am.

Now, this report doesn’t go into great detail about the route as I have gaps in my memory about what was where and what happened when. This is partly down to low visibility, rain & wind and our heads down, plough on approach and partly down to fear. However, what it lacks in technical detail, I hope it makes up for in confidence building for those of you, like me, who are scaredy cats on certain hills.

David left his car at the Inn and along with fellow WH member Parminder, we took my car and drove down the glen and parked in the Forestry Commission car park at Glen Shiel. The hill path is signposted.

Glenshiel FC car park

Path marker

It was drizzling when we set off but I didn’t bother putting on my over trousers (which I hate wearing) and it wasn’t long before the front of my legs were pretty wet and big drops of rain coming off the peak of my cap. We followed the path up along the deer fence for a while and then right once we were above the tree line. We lost the path for a bit, but Parminder’s sooper dooper GPS told us to track left and we soon picked it up again.
Path up along deer fence

further uphill.jpg
Heading uphill

For someone whose fitness on a scale of 1 to 10 is probably sitting around 4/5, I found the trek up not too bad. The WH description warns of this section being a relentless, hard uphill pull and I was fully expecting to be trailing behind the guys (and had warned them in advance before they signed on the dotted line to walk with me, that I was a plodder) but managed to keep a reasonable pace. On a hot or even warm day however, I imagine it would be hell. David was out in front, I was in the middle and Parminder was at the back. It was very wet and boggy in places and at one point I was up to the lip of my gaiters in the stuff. We zig-zagged our way up and after about an hour and twenty, we were on the Bealach an Lapain.
A wet Bealach an Lapain

Path up to Sailach.jpg
Path up to Saileag

Visibility was rubbish and it was quite windy. We turned right and trudged up the clear path to the first Munro of the day – Saileag. We didn’t linger at all, and set off along the path heading for our next target Sgurr a’Bhealaich Dheirg. It was thoroughly miserable, and I soon had to stop to swap my cap for my woolly bunnet and put my gloves on and hood up. 11am came and went and no sign of cloud clearing away – but I would come to find this a blessing rather than a curse.

The wind ebbed and flowed – one minute slapping you round the face and the next minute, gently caressing you and sometimes disappearing altogether. The connecting ridge between Saileag and SBD seemed mostly okay so far. I was worried about SBD's summit cairn during the walk towards it - I did not fancy going onto the ridge and made my mind up to stay on the relative safety of the grassy plateau. That settled my mind and on I plodded enjoying the walk despite the weather. My happy place didn’t last.........I arrived at a craggy section that required a bit of negotiation. It was at this point the wind decided to get its dander up. Although the visibility was poor, I could tell there was a big drop to my left and the path was right next to infinity (in my mind). The rocks were wet and slippy and as I’d already slipped a few times on more benign sections, I just thought "oh @@@@". :shock: :shock: I couldn’t see David, he was a bit in front and Parminder was behind me. I obviously had no option but to get on with it and literally slid down bits of rock on my backside, clambering over others like a geriatric ninja, apologising to Parminder all the while! I slipped down one bit getting myself tangled in my walking poles, scaring the bejeezus out of myself.

I don’t actually remember too much after I negotiated that bit - other than I was still alive. It was a case of eyes front and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. David had stopped to wait a bit further on and I just plodded on behind him. On we went, and I wasn’t particularly aware of where I was, even when I remarked on the dyke to my right. We scrambled over some more rocks – I just thought we were on another wee outcrop. Parminder was behind me – and the next thing, THERE WAS THE BLOODY CAIRN ON SBD right in front of my eyes!!! :lol: That was when I remembered that the “oh, there’s the dyke that everyone talks about” was on the really scary bit. I managed to collect myself sufficiently to take a quick snap to prove I was actually there. I clambered back along and down and onto the plateau and laughed, telling David I’d already made my mind up that there was no way I was going near that cairn! Cloud, I thank you.
SBD Cairn - I never thought we'd say hello

Back on terra firma, we headed down and found a wee crop of stones to sit and have our lunch. It was cold and wet, so we ate quickly and set off for the third and last Munro. It was slow going – David said it was because we were still digesting our lunch – I think there may be something in that as it was a bit of a slog. On the way, there were some really nice bits of path and I really enjoyed this section, probably because the worst was over.
Summit A'Meadhoin

The final Munro, Aonach Meadhoin was reached and we stopped for the obligatory photo. From there, it was quite steep going down and then a few more ups and downs before reaching the attractive cairn at Sgurr an Fhuarail.
Sgurr an Fhuarail's cairn

There was mention of the need to traverse a couple of minor summits to avoid steep slopes on the way down from here – but I honestly don’t remember being troubled by this bit at all.

A very distant Cluanie Inn

The cloud thinned out as we got lower and I could now see down into the Glen and the Cluanie Inn in the distance. It was a long, steep, wet, slippery, boggy, never bloody ending trek down. David had pulled away and must have been back at the car a good forty minutes before Parminder and I. I’d completely run out of steam and slipped on my backside a number of times on the way down. I thought I was never going to reach David’s car.

Six hours and forty minutes after setting out, I was back at the Cluanie Inn. I was exhausted and soaked through, but very, very happy. The low visibility turned out to be a blessing during the scary bits. I would not have gone onto the ridge to the SBD cairn, if it had been clear. But reflecting on it during the drive home, it wasn’t actually that bad and this walk has given me the confidence to tackle a long held desire to walk the 5 Sisters, which I’ll do next summer.

If I can do this ridge, trust me, anyone can. If you need to go on your hands and knees on some bits, as I did, then do so. It all helps increase confidence.

We hopped into David's car (me apologising for my wet backside) and drove back to the Glen Shiel car park where I thanked and bid farewell to my walking buddies for the day, David and Parminder, and I headed home for a well deserved bath, bottle of red and Indian takeaway!

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Location: Inverness
Interests: Hillwalking, skiing, golf, socialising.
Activity: Mountain Walker
Place: Anywhere along West Coast
Gear: My Meindl Bhutan boots!
Member: Walk Highlands!
Ideal day out: Reasonably challenging without being hairy scary

Munros: 31
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