The 5 Sisters a challenge request!

Route: Five Sisters of Kintail

Munros: Sgùrr Fhuaran, Sgùrr na Càrnach, Sgùrr na Ciste Duibhe

Date walked: 17/05/2024

Time taken: 10 hours

Distance: 15km

Ascent: 1385m

The Five Sisters had been on my radar for a long time. Having done most of the munros in Kintail I was saving the Sisters ridge for a sunny day and some good company. This eventually came when my friend Emma came for a visit. We used to go walking in the lakes and Scottish borders when I lived in Newcastle until her kids came along but now as a seasoned marathon and Ultra marathon runner Emma was looking for a new challenge. I promised to consult my munro map and we arranged a weekend away. I spent the week checking four different weather forecasts and as the weekend came closer decided on Beinn Sgritheall for Friday as a warm up and The Sisters for Sunday…but you know how it goes… the cars packed I’m driving down Glen Shiel…. I’ve seen there’s going to be mist and fog all weekend but right now the suns splitting the sky and the thunders not due to roll in till early evening so I pull into the sisters car park and run it by Emma who is looking at this fantastic ridge in front of us but only seeing half the story!...I’ll worry about how we get back to the car later….surely we’ll catch the last bus in 9 hours!

Looking up to the start of the ridge from the carpark

So after a 3 hour drive we booted up and were ready to start the walk at 10am. I messaged a friend of a friend I knew in Morvich who may have been able to give us a lift from the end of the walk if we were desperate but as it turned out she was on a lovely cruise to the Isle of Canna so I thought I’d just put it out my mind for now.

Starting out up the track

I knew what to expect for the ascent up to the ridge having completed the brothers ridge last month so could impart this knowledge to Emma and the rest was from the walkhighland information and walk reports. We set off up the hill which is steep from the start but on a good path which zigzags up close to the fence on the right. Eventually we reached the top of the forest and after a short distance horizontally above the fence we came to a cairn which marked the path straight up to the Bealach na Lapain.

Cairn marking the track up to the ridge

I had missed this on the brothers and previously walked up the grass. Either way suits but in a mist the path would be a help. We slowly and steadily climbed upwards conserving our energy for the day ahead. Emma coped pretty well with the steep ascent but was already not keen on looking down the steep hill maybe not boding well for the ridge.

Almost at the ridge with the road already far below

I knew there was going to be some mild scrambling and exposure which I already told Emma but until you are on the ridge it’s always difficult to gauge. On the 5 sisters there are 3 tops before you even get to the first summit which I explained on the way up so we were a little prepared for the going and true to the description it was undulating. It is a truly magnificent ridge and once you reach the first top you can see most of the ridge stretching out ahead.

The undulating ridge ahead

Looking across to Sgurr Fhuaran

After some undulation it was good to get to the hill of the Spaniards knowing the peak in front would be the first munro of the day. Of course I had to get the castanets out for the summit picture!

Hill of the Spaniards just asking for a pose!

Having checked the instructions I knew the ‘short rock scramble’ was coming up something I wasn't always comfortable with but knew I needed more practice in. I wasn’t sure how Emma would get on either so suggested we get it out the way before we had a rest stop. I could see a grassy patch on the other side with our name on it. So making our way along the rest of the ridge and arriving at the edge of the rocky descent I had a look down the right side which seemed to disappear down the mountain leaving my stomach churning so I wandered over to the left and I could see the start of a scramble with less of a drop and some foot holds although I couldn’t see where it went lower down.

Emma descending the right side of the scramble

So I started down the left side and got to about half way and realised the footholds had suddenly disappeared. I had turned in to face the rock for the descent but now my foot was dangling with several feet still to go probably the same height as myself. I looked up at Emma coming down behind me and thought how the hell was I going to get us down as there was no way I was going back after all the effort so far. In the end I held on for dear life with both hands and dangled both feet off the rocks using all my strength to lower myself down battering my shins on the way. It was a relief to jump the short final distance to the ground below and I quickly told Emma to wait where she was while I stood back and surveyed the descent. I could now see from half way down it was much easier to head back to the right and then climb down the good footholds to the base. I may have turned a short scramble to a grade 2!

The wee scramble conquered

We were very happy to get the grassy patch for a rest stop and a bite of lunch while sitting surveying the rocky descent from a safe distance. As we sat there a couple with a dog came along to the top of the scramble and we watched with interest to see what they would do. Interestingly they plumped for the right descent straight away and slowly and carefully made their way down with their dog while wearing hard hats. Later on they told me some previous hillwalkers had suggested the hard hats given the terrain.

We were now eager to get to the first munro and we steadily climbed up to the first summit with no more difficulties although steep and boulder in places. As soon as we reached the top I congratulated Emma on her very first munro and I pulled out a paper with 222 which I decided was a munro number to be celebrated!

Munro 222 Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

From the top we could now clearly see the next two munros in front looking very steep but with no noticeable difficulties. It was such a hot day which was zapping our energy but we refuelled and continued on down the next ridge which was a little grassier and softer under foot. Once we reached the next bealach I noticed some eggs at the side of a rock just off the path. I hoped the mum wasn’t too far away but apparently they are Golden Plover eggs.

Golden Plover Eggs

There’s not much to say about the second top. Again the ascent is quite steep and bouldery but it only took us about an hour from the first top. We reached it just before the couple behind caught up with us and just after a young couple carrying large packs who had camped the night before on the Brothers Ridge. I turned away as I noticed the woman behind getting changed and the next time I looked back she was standing on the summit in a beautiful red ball dress complete with lovely red shawl looking like she had just stepped out from a gala and onto a mountain and not at all like ourselves sweating our way up the mountain hair plastered to our faces reflecting the colour of the dress!

Lady in Red on Sgurr na Carnach

She said she wore the dress on every mountain top in memory of her husband and her son was taking the model shots. Just as quickly the dress was back in the pack and they disappeared down the mountainside.

We followed on behind and I knew the next scramble was coming up. After the last one this seemed an easy short decent with good holds and a bit of bum shuffling on our part!

Emma picking her way down the mild scramble

Looking back along the ridge


We were soon at the base and following the route along the ridge to the next ascent and final munro of the day. This again was pretty steep and Emma chose not to look down but I found the going a bit easier than the boulders on the last top. It was about an hour from the second to the third top and from the top we could see the whole route we had climbed that day. It looked pretty impressive.

Sgurr Fhuaran the final munro and highest of the day

I would have liked to stop for a while on the top surveying the amazing view which included views out to Skye with the Cuillins poking out the clouds but now time was against us if we were to make the last bus back up to the car.

The descent route

A few narrow but exciting sections of ridge on the descent

I told Emma about the shortcut sometimes taken down the side of the 5 sisters into Glen Shiel which could have cut out some of the distance but also confirmed this was a scarely steep ascent and had already discounted it to stick to the less knee jerking route down to the Morvich turn off and maybe even something out the Pitstop café. We still had to cross in front of Beinn Bhuide and I saw Emmas heart sink a little when she realised there was still some reascent but the going was a bit easier now and apart from taking care at some steep drops to one side and a little care needed on the path we made up some time on the descent.

The descent route

Emma wasn’t used to scree so I talked her across these sections on the route which are pretty stable and once at the other side of this we could see the path down the valley meeting the river. The sun was still glorious and thankfully a bit of breeze had cooled things down a bit and apart from the odd spot of rain the late afternoon thunder forecast had never materialised. Just as well. It was now after 6pm and I realised unless I left Emma and ran down the hillside we were never going to catch the bus a fact I chose to ignore.

Rest stop

I could tell Emma was getting pretty knackered, my own energy levels were getting low, but she carried on with a smile and didn’t once complain. Both of us ran out of water by the time we got to the stream so had a good splash to keep me going.

A relief to rehydrate

From here it was a simple walk along the side of the stream before a last steep heathery ascent as we came out above Morvich. I reckoned it would be 20 minutes to the base so I sent one more message to my friend in Morvich to see if there was any chance she was back from her day trip.

The last section down through the heather

The end in sight

The hardest last section was probably getting over the style! We finally made it to the bottom and the Pitstop cafe at 8pm….just as it was closing. The proprietors had very kindly given the couple just infront of us 2 cans of coke as they shut and they handed one to myself and Emma to share. We drank this greedily while I tried to work out how to get back to the car. No word from Margaret so we decided to hitch the same as the couple in front but by this time the road was getting quiet and no-one was stopping. As my heart was beginning to sink at the thought of a lengthy walk to the hostel we were staying at or up the hill to the car my phone sprang to life….it was Margaret. She had just that moment arrived home and would take us back to the car, we were saved. I then decided it would be unfair to leave our other hitchers so after checking with Margaret, Emma waited at the stop while our new companion Johnny came in the car with us. Embarassingly I realised the journey back to the car was much longer than I first realised and apologised all the way up but Margaret was great and it was with huge relief we arrived at my car. I then transported Johnny almost to The Cluanie to get his car before heading back to pick up Emma. We finally arrived at the hostel at 9.15pm and thankfully the kitchen was still open. Anyone staying at Ratagan will know the gas gets switched off every evening. I had a thawing chilli Bolognese ready to reheat. Best Bolognese ever on the most fantastic day out of the year! We could now sit in the lounge and finally relax and reminisce on the amazing day and Emmas first 3 munros. Although Emma did say she may not show the photos of our scramble to her husband just yet! But when i dropped her off at the station at the end of our weekend she parted with ‘same time again next year?'

The 5 Sisters from Ratagan hostel

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Location: Argyll
Activity: Mountain Walker

Munros: 224
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