Footprints Across Scotland
Why not make a few of your own!
5th & 6th June 2010
Renewing acquaintances with the five sisters of Kintail - this time without the mist.
John and Ann were spending a week down at the Caravan Club site at Morvich and I headed across to join them for the weekend. John was up for a walk on Saturday and as expected his preference was to walk along the north Glen Shiel ridge taking in the Five Sisters of Kintail. I had tackled the Five Sisters before, heading up Gleann Lichd and onto the ridge from the north, the weather had been disappointing that day and the walk over the tops had been in the mist. After Ann had kindly dropped us at the car park west of the sign indicating the site of the battle of Glen Shiel we entered an area of young pines growing in numbers between the remnant tree stumps of an older generation. A small metal gate gave access to a good path that lead a short way up onto the old military road. A short way east along the road the path continued upward weaving its way steeply thorough the bright green pines. It was pleasant walking and we soon emerged from the wooded hillside after passing through another gate onto the even steeper grass and heather covered slopes above.
Sgurr an Lochain & Creag nan Damh
Our intended access point to the ridge now lay directly above us, Bealach an Lapan effectively marks the mid way point on the north Glen Shiel ridge. The ridge stretches from near the head of Loch Cluanie for around 15km to the head of Loch Duich at Shiel bridge. Bealach an Lapan conveniently divides the ridges six Munros into two equal groups and as each trio is normally climbed separately it usually marks the start or end point along the ridge rather than a half way point. We were reluctant to leave our excellent path way and continued to follow it as it eased us along on a slowly rising westward traverse. However it soon became apparent that we would need to leave the path and make our own way up onto the ridge as the path looked like continuing along underneath the rocky summit of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe. It was tough going but we worked our way over some rough hillside to eventually top out onto the ridge a little east of Sgurr nan Spainteach.
The ridge & Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe
On reaching this first top we had a grand view of what was in store for the next few hours. The ridge turns northward after the first Munro, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, before leading over a further two steep sided Munro’s in Sgurr na Carnach and Sgurr Fhuaran. Our vantage point presented a side on view to the three impressive mountain top’s with the third, Sgurr Fhuaran, appearing to be the most testing with its acutely angled southern slopes.
Sgurr na Ciste Dubhe, Sgurr na Carnach & Sgurr Fhuaran from Sgurr nan Spainteach
After a bit of a breather and a bite to eat we made our way along a narrow section of ridge as it twisted its way toward Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe.
Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe
There was a couple of tricky sections during the descent to the col below Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe before we pushed on up to the top. Looking back we saw some other walkers emerge onto the ridge at the col from lower slopes and had it confirmed by Helen later that they had followed the same traversing path that myself and John had but left a bit further west before ascending to the ridge.
Sgurr na Carnach & Sgurr Fhuaran from Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe
There was only a slight breeze but it did help to keep us cool at times on what was a very warm day. The views all around were impressive if a bit hazy, the Forcan ridge and the saddle sitting to the south west while Beinn Fhada and the hills of Glen Affric beyond stood out to the north. Loch Duich held our attention out to the west as we made our way over onto Sgurr na Carnach.
Loch Duich from Sgurr na Carnach
The following group arrived as we started to ready ourselves for the next descent. One or two rocky outcrops required a little hand work as we descended to Bealach na Carnach before another steep ascent took us up the south face of Sgurr Fhuaran.
Sgurr Fhuaran from Sgurr na Carnach
There was a pleasant grassy platform near the summit in which to enjoy a brew and the remainder of lunch. There was also a bit of entertainment laid on as Helen and her friends arrived and tried flying a kite. The continuation of the ridge down below appeared sharp edged as the shear rocky slabs of Sgurr nan Saighead dropped steeply toward the river Croe in Gleann Lichd.
John on Sgurr Fhuaran
Our path off Sgurr Fhuran took a long angular descent starting west north west before turning east north east along the ridge line and up on Sgurr nan Saighead.
Sgurr nan Saighead
The ridge narrowed for a while as we approached the rocky knoll of Beinn Buidhe with some fine views looking back, Sgurr Fhuran looking almost impregnable from our position at the col.
Sgurr Fhuaran from Sgurr nan Saighead
We followed the path that bypasses the upper reaches of Beinn Buidhe before leading onto its broad north west ridge and down to the col below Sgurr an t-Seacraich.
Sgurr Fhuaran & Sgurr na Carnach from col below Beinn Buidhe
From here we dropped down to pick up a path running down through Coire na Criche under the south face of the fifth sister, Sgurr na Moraich.
The path took us along the north bank of Allt a’ Chruinn dropping us down to the head of Loch Duich and the end of our walk.
A very pleasant day was rounded off back at the camp site soaking up the late sunshine while enjoying a barbeque and a well earned beer.
Sunday started a little grey but I was hoping the early morning mist would disappear before I got too far into my walk. After leaving my van near the Cluanie Inn John kindly dropped me at the start of a forest track just off the A887 east of Loch Cluanie. Loch Loyne sat in the gloom below cloud covered hills out to the east while some open moor opened up the way for me to the west. The spongy ground was fortunately not too wet for the best part, I skirted around sections of bog before stopping to pick a line of ascent. As I studied the map a deer barked out a warning from the lower slopes of my hill for the day, Beinn Loine, the bony ridge. The eastern end was covered with crags and rocky outcrops which is maybe what gives the hill its name. I started a climbing traverse westward aiming to clear the more difficult ground before deciding to make my way more directly uphill onto what is a fairly broad ridge east of the first and lowest of three tops. The mist kept visibility down to a few metres but after a bit of compass work I found the top marked as it was by a large cairn. The size of the cairn did make me wonder whether I was in fact at the lowest top but after navigating correctly to the next I was sure of my position. After the second top I reached another cairn far to quickly when heading for the final top and it proved to be one of many. Each cairn had a single narrow rock pointing upward from a base of a few more rounded ones. I was not sure of the purpose of these cairns stationed as they were at points over this rather rounded top. Working progressively upward and continuing generally westward I eventually found the round trig point that signalled that I had reached the summit. I sat comfortably behind a large rock to enjoy lunch and the pleasant warmth that was seeping through the blanket of mist. Just occasionally the outlook brightened and visibility extended to a few hundred metres before closing in again. The walking had been generally good over the higher ground with plenty of firm grassland interspersed with some rockier sections. With the lack of any distant views I spent more time looking to the ground for points of interest managing to pick out plenty of different flora, most of which I would have to try and identify later. Small pools and streams were lined by bog plants and mosses. There were plenty of common Butterwort about, many of which were sporting a single violet flower.
The insectivorous Common Butterwort
I eventually dropped below the murk and could make out the lower slopes of some of the hills on the far shore of Loch Cluanie as they appeared to be swept with passing showers.
Loch Cluanie from Beinn Loine
The rain eventually caught up with me as I crossed the now wet and boggy moorland to gain the track running below Creag a’ Mhaim.
A final few kilometres and I was soon back at the Cluanie Inn and my van.
A fine weekend was rounded off by joining Ann and John for a nice meal at the Jacobite restaurant, Haddock and chips being the order of the day.
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