walkhighlands

Kintail Sisters, Brothers, Fhada and a Mutha of a day!

Route: Five Sisters of Kintail

Munros: A' Ghlas-bheinn, Aonach Meadhoin, Beinn Fhada, Ciste Dhubh, Saileag, Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg, Sgurr Fhuaran, Sgurr na Carnach, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

Date walked: 29/06/2014

Time taken: 16 hours

Distance: 45km

Ascent: 4500m

A few years ago, I traversed the South Glen Shiel Ridge as part of a Hiking Club's group walk. The advantage on the day was that Shona and I could take both our Spaniels and there would be arrangements made with other members to drop and collect cars at the start and finish of the route. As things turned out, we ended up doing the whole ridge in a continuous downpour with zero views to speak of. The highlight of that day, if any, was the predicament we had trying to get ourselves and the dogs across the fast flowing Allt Coire Mhalagain at the end of the hike.

Fast forward to June 2014... ...I'd been mentioning to Shona, my urge to traverse the Sisters and Brothers Ridges north of Glen Shiel. The same old problem reared it's ugly head over linear routes. How to get back to the car? Many a report suggests that hitch-hiking along the road is usually successful in summer months, but the chances of someone stopping to pick up hikers and their dogs I'm sure would be rather slim.

I poured over several reports and stumbled across Rockhopper's gem of a circular route from Morvich. Yes! This would solve our problem. The plan was to more or less emulate Rockhopper's itineray, so we pencilled in a date for the big loop. As the day approached, the weather gods turned against us and promised similar conditions to our South Glen Shiel Ridge experience. Reluctantly we changed plans and spent some quality, mountain days in the Braemar area instead.

Weather looked promising for Sunday 29th June. I resurrected the Kintail plans, but Shona was going to be busy with other stuff. I decided to give it a bash anyhow. I reflected on Rockhopper's report and that he would have preffered a much lighter pack. Not having Shona along as a fellow pack mule would mean not splitting the tent, stove etc. I started thinking about the possibilities of doing this route in one long day rather than over two. I could then leave the tent, sleeping bag, stove etc back at the car. After changing my mind several times over, I decided to go for it, a non-stop loop with the lighter pack would be my choice.

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I often read reports and wonder about the amount and type of gear people take along, especially when wild-camping, so in case anyone is interested, here's what I took on this one...

KIT LIST

Wearing:

Mammut climacool socks, Inov8 X-Talon 212 fell running trainers, Marks and Sparks mens polyamide undercrackers, Balin nylon/spandex short sleeved surfer top, Bear Ghrylls (Craghopper) neo-stretch mountain pants, Salomon running cap, Shark army watch.

Carrying:

Coleman 25L pack, Platypus 2L bladder filled with water and some blackcurrant cordial, Berghaus Deluge waterproof pants, Mountain Hardwear Paclite goretex jacket, Merrell Nanook down hoodie jacket, Berghaus Saltoro softshell jacket, Mammut Tweak beanie hat, Buff, Sealskinz All Weather cycle gloves, Suunto Map case with both 1:50k and 1:25k Maps and Silva Ranger compass, small first aid pack, Swiss army knife, whistle, Samsung digital camera, Samsung mobile phone, hankerchief, Highlander midge net, 5 spicy pepperami bars, 5 oats-so-simple bars, large pkt of wine gums, 4 dog food pouches, 2 collapsible dog bowls, 2 dog leads with carabiners, 2 Leki Sherpa poles and finally my car keys. (in zip pocket of BG Craghoppers).

Accompanying:

2 faithful and energetic Springer Spaniels, ready to go in their working harnesses, with bells attached to give birds, small mammals and in some cases unsuspecting humans some advanced warning of their impending arrival!

And so to the day...

...I finished work at 3am, didn't hang about, drove home to pick up kit and the dogs, then started my night-time journey to Kintail. It was a nice drive up from Glasgow to Fort William, weather was good and windows were down, letting a fresh breeze circulate through to the dogs in the back. I decided to have a brief stop at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel to let the dogs have a quick leg stretch etc. My next planned stop would be the Commando Memorial parking, where I wanted to grab a quick power nap before getting another one in at Morvich.

I set off fairly well rested from Morvich just before 9am. A short walk along the single track road took us past some farm buildings and up to the road end. There were two signs here, one directing for Falls of Glomach and the other for Glen Affric. Assuming that the Affric path would be via the more direct Bealach an Sgairne, I went through the gate and along that path. I walked for a little while before realising this was not crossing the River Croe and therefore heading up Gleann Lichd. Not the path I wanted, I spun round and marched back the way I'd come annoyed with myself for falling foul of vague signage.

Putting that small hiccup behind us (the dogs seemed none the wiser), I crossed the river and got onto the correct path up the Gleann Choinneachain towards the Bealach an Sgairne. Where the path splits NE for the Falls of Glomach I saw my first hiker of the day, heading back towards Morvich. I continued, steadily working my way up the good stalkers path, through a deer fence and then onto more open ground. When I reached the point where the path splits for Beinn Fhada I stopped to take some photos and noticed that the first hiker had in fact turned round and was also heading this way. I felt a bit bad for not having realised this and waiting, but knew I had some mega milage to cover so pressed on for the Bealach where I veered off north, up through some gnarly ground to find the feint path leading to A' Ghlas bheinn.

Gleann Choinneachain.
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North to Beinn Bhreac.
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Meall a' Bhealaich in the centre.
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Looking back down Gleann Choinneachain.
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Ridge leading to A Ghlas bheinn.
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A short way up this path, I bumped into a father and son from Merseyside (assuming by their accent) who had ascended from the north and wild-camped by Loch a' Chleirich. We had a quick chat about dogs and mountain stuff then carried on with our routes. Before hitting this first summit, I passed another solo hiker moving in the opposite direction, hellos exchanged and a remark of how the dog's bell chinking sounded pleasant amidst the comparative morning silence, we also carried on with our separate quests. The summit (918m) took it's time to arrive with several false hopes being raised. Finally I looked and saw Alfie and Tarsuinn standing atop the cairn, looking back at me as if to say "what's keeping you?".

Loch a' Bhealaich.
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Loch Gaorsaic.
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Loch a' Chleirich.
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A' Ghlas bheinn.
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Summit photos taken, I didn't hang about. It was back the way we had come, along the path which seemed weirdly longer than on the way up! As I walked, I found myself constantly glancing at Meall a' Bhealaich, evaluating whether it would be time saving to tackle it head on, avoiding going back to the zig-zag split. In the end, I decided that any time saved wouldn't be worth the extra effort required for negotiating such steep, craggy terrain.

A' Ghlas bheinn summit.
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View down to Loch Duich.
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Tarsuinn on the cairn.
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Views out west.
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I got to the zig-zag path for Beinn Fhada, but only followed it for a short while before opting to leave the path that winds into the coire, instead I tracked left, up onto the ridge and over some tough ground. It was worth the effort as I hopped along the ridge and caught up with another hiker who had made the same decision. We chatted as we walked along to where the main path joined the ridge, and there I left him to await his fellow walkers who were coming up from the coire. It was then a matter of enduring the long, wide pull up the bulk of Beinn Fhada to it's summit (1032m). On my way, I noticed two hikers heading NW on the Fhada plateau. I think it was perhaps at this point when I first thought about escape route options from the rest of my day's route.

Looking down Gleann Choinneachain from the zig-zag path.
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Sgurr a' Choire Ghairbh.
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Allt Coire an Sgairne.
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Beinn Fhada plateau.
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The fact that I was only on my second munro summit of the day was niggling me. I was failing to appreciate the distance I had travelled thus far. On the summit of Beinn Fhada I stopped to give the dogs one of their meal pouches. I'm sure it took me longer to squeeze the food into their collapsible bowls than it did for them both to wolf it down. In a matter of seconds they were licking their lips and sniffing around my pack to see what other goodies there might be on offer.

View east from Beinn Fhada summit.
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Looking across to A' Ghlas bheinn.
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Beinn Fhada summit marker with Tarsuinn.
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From the summit we went heading SE then E over the Sgurr a' Dubh Doire to drop SE again down the steep hillside to cross the Allt Cam Ban. I found this descent particularly hard going. There was much zig-zagging and side stepping in order to negotiate a way down. I spotted some deer making light work of ascending back up the way I had come. Oh to have four legs like Alfie and Tarsuinn! As I continued, I managed to make out the deer fence which Rockhopper had mentioned in his report. Heading for that, I noticed a few small dots carrying heavy packs on the main Fionngleann path. They were either heading for Camban bothy or the Hostel at Alltbeithe. Again, thinking about stopping, I found myself hoping they were going on to the hostel, leaving space for me at Camban if I needed to change plans and make this route a two day affair.

Deer on the move.
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Looking across to Ciste Dhubh.
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South to Creag Ghlas.
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Ciste Dhubh getting closer.
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Camban Bothy in Fionngleann.
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By the time I reached the river, I'd perked up a bit. I found a pebbled beach area and sat down for a short rest while the dogs took on some water for the next tough climb. A stag's skeletal remains lay half in, half out the river a little way down stream from where I was, but upstream from Camban bothy. Kind of glad I didn't decide to stop and take water from the river there. Recalling Rockhopper's report, I knew that Ciste Dubh from this side was going to be punishing. To my advantage I had a lighter pack, but was still expecting it to be a painful affair. As I started up the steep, NW shoulder I resolved to stop frequently and enjoy the views. This plan seemed to work and I strangely began to enjoy myself on the ascent. I got to the top feeling tired but good. Standing on the summit (929m) I could see two people making their way up from the south. They turned out to be another Father and his son, making their way to overnight at Alltbeithe Hostel, they were to be the last humans I would see for the rest of my route.

Antlers and other bits.
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Looking back up the Beinn Fhada descent.
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Alltbeithe Hostel in the distance.
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Fionngleann from slopes of Ciste Dhubh.
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View west to the Gleann Lichd and the Sisters.
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Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg.
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Back across to Beinn Fhada.
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Views west from Ciste Dhubh.
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The boys with Mullach Fraoch choire behind.
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Ciste Dhubh summit.
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Coire nan Eun.
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View south from Ciste Dhubh.
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Still feeling fresh, I carried on down from Ciste Dubh towards the Bealaich a' Choinich. Working my way round the boggy areas I studied the route ahead, working out the best line to ascend Sgurr an Fhuarail. The fresh feeling soon subsided and getting up this hill became a chore. Looking down the An Caorann Beag, the Cluanie Inn was tantalisingly close. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately I had the dogs with me, plus I'd left my wallet in the car, so there was no chance of me copping out and resting down there. We were soon on munro number four, Aonach Meadhoin (1001m), but I was still having to mentally wrestle with the fact that I wasn't even halfway through the day's munro count. I kept trying to convince myself that the remaining five munros were going to be easier than what I'd already done.

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An Caorann Mor.
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Ciste Dhubh.
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An Cnapach and Sgurr an Fhuarail.
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An Caorann Beag.
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Sgurr an Fhuarail and Aonach Meadhoin.
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Looking back to Ciste Dhubh.
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Coire nan Eun.
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Sreath a' Ghlas-choire.
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Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg.
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The previous hill was tough, but descending then re-ascending to Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg (1036m) was worse. Again, I began to wonder if I had bitten off too much to chew on this route. As I trundled along, I found myself reciting little mantras in my head whilst puffing and blowing my way along the ridge. I was really feeling it here. I think I was more mentally than physically tired, and put that down to the lack of proper sleep I'd had on the drive up.

East to A' Chralaig.
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Loch Cluanie.
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Sgurr an Fhuarail summit.
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SE to Loch Cluanie.
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Aonach Meadhoin and Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg.
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The boys on Aonach Meadhoin summit.
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Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg.
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Across to the South Glen Shiel Ridge.
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On the way to Saileag (956m) I had a song constantly looping in my head called "Sleepless" by Cazzette. I sat on the summit of Saileag and began to work out a plan of ditching the Sisters for another day, I could drop north from the Bealach an Lapain, down the Allt an Lapain and out via the Gleann Lichd. I chuckled at the irony of it being named "Lapain", I'd been walking for over ten hours now and was certainly feeling "la pain". Then I thought about midges and how bad they might be lower in the glens. That, along with some other voices in my head convinced me that carrying on over the Five Sisters would be a better option. It was after all only pain!

South Glen Shiel Ridge.
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Up to Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg.
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Big cairn on Sgurr a Bhealaich Dheirg.
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I found myself racing up the rugged terrain of Sgurr nan Spainteach in an attempt to get some decent photos of the setting sun. By now the light was very low in the sky and casting some beautiful shadows behind me and across the South Glen Shiel Ridge. At this point I was more or less running on auto-pilot. I had very little liquid left in my platypus, so was rationing it in the form of a mouthfull on a rise and another at a col. The songs and mantras kept going through my head and by Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (1027m) I'm sure I was probably singing out loud.

South Glen Shiel Ridge.
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Continuing west.
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Alfie on Saileag.
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The Sisters.
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The boys catch a rest on Saileag.
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Start of the Sisters.
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The terrain was becoming rather scrambly, so every now and then I would have to break from song to tell the dogs to be careful (I'm sure they do actually know what that means). On Sgurr na Carnach (1002m) or Sgurr na Carnage as I now called it, Alfie stopped abruptly! Up ahead were a considerable amount of feral goats who seemed most perturbed that we had disturbed them as they were settling down for the evening. We waited for them to move off around the upper reaches of the summit, before we continued up and over to our last munro in the fading light.

More SGSR.
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Looking east.
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Approaching Sgurr nan Spainteach.
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On top of Sgurr nan Spainteach.
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Alfie eyes up Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe.
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Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe.
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Getting up Sgurr Fhuaran was interesting, it was nearly headtorch time. Alfie had become quite tired and was allowing his son Tarsuinn (still a relative newcomer to mountaineering) to break the trail up between the crags, boulders and big step-ups to gain the summit. Every now and then Alfie would wait to let me go first, this was becoming a bit troublesome in the onset of darkness. A couple of times I found myself crying out and flailing my poles around as my foot either got stuck between, or was cantilevered off a shaky boulder. It's at this point when you realise that being on your own, tired and on tricky ridge terrain is where any lapse in concentration can lead to very dangerous and dire consequences. I decided that when I got to the summit and highest point in the loop (1067m), we should all have a hunker down and rest up a bit before taking on the descent to Morvich.

Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe.
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The Sisters backlit.
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Another wee rest for the boys.
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Looking back east along the ridge.
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Sun about to set.
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There was a nice, soft, grassy area just beyond the summit where I took off my pack, gave the dogs their second food pouches then put on my waterproof pants and down jacket for a "power bivvy". Just enough rest for us all to regain some strength and focus to continue off the route with more energy and in a slightly better frame of mind.

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Alfie spies the goats on Sgurr na Carnach.
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Fading light.
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Alfie on Sgurr Fhuaran summit.
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Munro number nine at last!
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Tarsuinn hunkers down under my waterproof jacket.
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Alfie ready for a wee sleep.
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Wrapped up, Thumbs up and time for a "power bivvy".
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The descent over Sgurr nan Saighead and it's slightly lower neighbour Beinn Bhuide was easily navigated, with Tarsuinn's nose glued to the well-trodden path, the only worries were the sheer drops on the right where gullies frequently cut in to meet the path. Quite a bit of care was needed and I was glad we had stopped on the last munro for a rest before attempting this descent. Rather than drop into Coire na Criche I decided to push on over Sgurr na Moraich and drop down it's NW shoulder, back to where the car was parked at Morvich.

Headtorch on, ready to descend.
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How it looked with headtorch off, not so great.
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In hindsight, I wish I had dropped into the Coire na Criche and taken the normal route off the Sisters. Descending north off the NW shoulder of Sgurr na Moraich meant crossing some very steep pathless ground, gnarled up with heather and bracken in many areas and the birthplace of several fern-filled ravines. I could now see the street lighting surrounding the Morvich campsite. The night sky no longer seemed as dark as it had been on the ridge. I stopped to take off my Berghaus softshell and stuffed it under the paracord webbing on the back of my pack. It was becoming too warm now and I was really feeling quite dehydrated.

Continuing downwards, I set little targets where I could see lumps of rock to take a seat before soldiering on. At a point where the ravines alongside were becoming quite large, and where I would need to establish the easiest route off the lower part of the hill, I looked at another rock and decided to sit and rest while I worked out the best exit. It was here that I swung off my pack and found that my softshell had managed to worm it's way out of the webbing. It must have fallen somewhere back on this side of the hill.

Realising that my phone had been in the breast pocket, I had no choice but to head back the way I had come, through heather and bracken to search for it. Even worse was the fact that I'd taken my headtorch off and put that in a pocket too, this was the very tool I needed to find the jacket among the dark undergrowth. I retraced my steps as best I could but it was a big stretch of ground and I couldn't be sure how much zig-zagging I'd done on the descent. I went back up farther than I believed the items to be, then systematically worked my way back and forth across the hill searching for the dark grey jacket. I knew it was a losing battle but you have to try. The dogs were looking at me, not understanding what was going on, and after a while I had to concede defeat. Tired and now very dehydrated, I stopped and gulped down fresh looking, running water from one of the baby ravines.

I made my way off the hill and back to the car. The dogs were so happy to jump in the back and have a rest. I couldn't wait to jump in as well, kick my shoes off and recline the seat for some much needed shuteye. As I drifted off, I had good intentions of venturing back up the hillside later to search for my jacket. When I awoke, the midges were out in full force. The hillside now fully lit up looked massive and as much as I wanted to go back up, I knew it wouldn't be fair to drag the dogs up there again, and not an option to leave them in the car in the heat of the day. So with reluctance I set off from Kintail, back down the road to urban civilisation, with an unplanned visit to Vodafone and perhaps some outdoor shops on the cards!

On reflection, I really did have a fantastic day in Kintail. This certainly was the farthest I have walked in a single day in Scotland. Now I just have to sort out a route with ten munros in a day! Aye right!

All the best, EF :D

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Comments: 37



1, 2, 3

Donich always be the last place you look...

Corbetts: Ben Donich
Date walked: 27/12/2012
Ascent: 800m
Comments: 32
Views: 8080

electricfly


User avatar
Interests: mountain safety, search and rescue, trad rock climbing, wild camping, conservation issues.
Pub: The Kingy
Mountain: The Eiger
Place: Fisherfield
Gear: Mammut
Camera: Fujifilm
Ideal day out: A steep, jagged climb requiring ropes and/or axes, followed by a base-jump back to the car. (Well, it helps to preserve the knees!) ;D

Alternatively, a day in the hills with my spaniels. The hill stats below belong to "Alfie" my springer.
Ambition: section needs more space!

Munros: 282
Corbetts: 29
Grahams: 7
Wainwrights: 6
Hewitts: 5
Sub 2000: 7
Long Distance routes: West Highland Way   



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Statistics

2014

Trips: 1
Distance: 45 km
Ascent: 4500m
Munros: 9

2012

Trips: 1
Ascent: 800m
Corbetts: 1


Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Last visited: Jul 13, 2017
Total posts: 1657 | Search posts




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