Date: Thursday 21st – Saturday 23rd April 2011
Start: Campsite at Glen Shiel
Weather: Thursday and Friday: Sunny. Saturday: Rain
Distance: 34 km
Time taken: 16 hours 30 mins
Ascent: 3347 metres
Accompanied by: Derek (some of the way)
Munro: Aonach Air Chrith (1021 metres)
Munro: Sgurr an Doire Leathain (1010 metres)
Munro: The Saddle (1010 metres)
Munro: Sgurr an Lochain (1004 metres)
Munro: Druim Shionnach (987 metres)
Munro: Maol chinn-dearg (981 metres)
Munro: Creag a’Mhaim (947 metres)
Munro Top: Sgurr na Forcan (965 metres)
Munro: Sgurr na Sgine (945 metres)
Munro Top: Sgurr na Sgine NW Top (942 metres)
Munro: Creag nan Damh (918 metres)
Munro Top: Druim Shionnach West Top (897 metres)
HUMP: Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais (885 metres)
Graham: Biod an Fhithich (644 metres)
recent flurry of Munro activity had positioned me on a total of 86 and my mind was beginning to turn towards my century and more specifically, which mountain would lay claim to the milestone. For my 50th, I had performed a circuit of the five Munros in the Ben Lawyers range in winter. With great conditions, the trip was awesome so I wanted my 100th to be something equalling my 50th trip and a quick count of the Munros in the Kintail area certainly had the potential to the fit the bill.
By starting in Glen Shiel and climbing The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine then picking up the South Glen Shiel Ridge that would be a cheeky nine Munros. If I then headed back up the North Shiel Ridge, taking in Aonach Meadhoin, Sgurr a’ Bhealaich Dheirg, Saileag and the three Munros on the Five Sisters then this would be a total of 16 Munros, lifting me to 101. There would also be the small matter of a Graham, Corbett and six Munro Tops thrown in for good measure too. Great stuff.
Friday Night – Wild camping on the ridge leading to A’ Mhuing
The plan was to head up late afternoon and starting from the campsite in Glen Shiel, hike up the A’ Mhuing towards the Graham, Biod an Fhithich and wild camp for the night. An early morning start followed by the Forcan Ridge, The Saddle and the Glen Shiel Ridge would hopefully enable me to get to the Cluanie Inn and half way before nightfall. Another wild camp (with a beer of two) and then a hike back up the north ridge the following day. Phew!
Kintail had been on my wish list since I ran the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon in 2009. In fact I had planned trips there on three previous occasions but was thwarted on each occasion by bad weather. There was no way I was going to be climbing these bad boys in the clag! With ten days holiday over Easter planned then surely the weather gremlins would give me a break at some time over that period? I need not have worried. A recent spell of great weather and a MWIS two day weather report of greater than 90% cloud free Munros for Good Friday and the Saturday meant that all systems were go.
Derek had expressed an interest in accompanying me so at 4pm on the Thursday we were heading northwards up the A9. The skies were clear although a little hazy but I was not going to complain about that. As we passed the Cluanie Inn and drove towards Glen Shiel, I realised what an undertaking this was going to be. There was definitely going to be some distance to cover and I wondered if a better option would have been to travel mountain marathon style and run it instead?
We parked up and kitted up. We set off up the path that runs behind the campsite and up towards Sgurr Mhic Bharraich. At the bridge we left the path and headed up the hillside onto the rough ridge, A’ Mhuing. It was already getting late in the evening so we decided to head up a couple of hundred metres and find a suitable place to camp. This we did and by nightfall we were pitched up and tucking into some food. I settled down for the night and although it was a little windy, the night passed without event and by 6am we were up and tucking into breakfast, ready to set off.
It was probably about 2.5 miles to the summit of our first peak of the day, the Graham, Biod an Fhithich and although the climbing was not tough, the ground was rough so progress was slower than I had hoped. The views were fantastic however; the sun slowly rising over the Five Sisters and the sea loch, Loch Duich to the north. At 7.35 we topped out on the summit of Biod an Fhithich. I suspect that many people miss this hill out and just aim for bigger things instead, which is a shame as the hill has great character and the views to The Saddle and over to the Five Sisters are amazing. If I did not have a multitude of hills to climb I would stayed for longer on the summit but there was ‘bigger fish to fry’ so after a quick photo stop we headed down from the top towards the bealach with Meallan Odhar. There was no need to climb this so we just stuck to the path that skirts around the side instead.
Forcan Ridge and The Saddle
Our first priority was to refill our water bottles. My Camelbak was full but with the hot weather and an extended trip on a ridge, I did not want to run out. Fortuanately, the Allt a’ Choire Chaoil had not run dry and we only had to drop to the waterfall to fill our bottles. I ‘necked’ a quick litre and filled up. Three litres in total, hopefully that was enough. Fully refuelled, it was time to get involved with the main event of the day, The Saddle via Forcan Ridge.
We headed up to the start of the ridge. The scrambling was relatively easy at first but after we climbed the slabs at the bottom, the ridge became progressively more exposed although there always seemed to be an alternative path on the really exposed parts. We moved up sluggishly, our heavy packs making our progress laboured but the views more than made up for the slow progress. We finally made our way to the Munro Top, Sgurr na Forcan where there is a tricky ten metre downclimb. I had heard plenty about this climb and whilst there were a couple of moves that were a little exposed and the big pack on my back knocked me a little off centre, I managed to negotiate it without much difficulty. I waited at the bottom for Derek and whilst he took a slightly different line to me, he also made the climb with little difficulty.
We pushed on up towards the summit and headed to both tops. Apparently, there is a little confusion as to which is the actual true summit and it did seem to me that the highest point was the small cairn and not the trig point. We chilled for a while and grabbed some food but our progress up Forcan Ridge had taken a good 90 minutes so it was time to head on down to Bealach Coire Mhalagain and then up to our second Munro, Sgurr na Sgine. We walked south from the trig point and down the steep, windy path and across the boulder field. By this time, a number of people could be seen spread out across Forcan Ridge heading up to the summit.
Once at the bealach we pushed on up the rocky slope. It was a tough climb, not made any easier with the sun beating down. Eventually we reached the ridge and rested for a while whilst Derek cooked himself some food for lunch. We continued southwards along the ridge and climbed up to the north-west top of Sgurr na Sgine and then onto the main summit. I had moved on ahead of Derek and I chatted to a group of people for a while until Derek arrived on the summit. After a brief chat Derek decided he wanted to progress a little slower and complete the south ridge over two days. I was still keen to push on and whilst it was close to 1pm and I was a little behind schedule, I was still hopeful of making decent progress.
We said our goodbyes and I headed south-west off the summit then east to the bealach between Sgurr na Sgine and the Corbett, Sgurr a’ Bhac Chaolais (This peak was demoted from a Corbett in 2012, a year after I did this walk). I could not see any path so I just slogged it up the side. From the top there was great views looking back to the huge cliffs of Sgurr na Sgine but even more impressive was the sight that lay out in front of me. The South Glen Shiel Ridge and mile upon mile of peaks stretched out in a long line. It was 2pm now and with seven Munros and a good 20km or so left it was going to be a tall order to get to the Claunie Inn before nightfall. The plan of action would be simple, walk continually with a five minute rest on each summit top.
South Glen Shiel Ridge
The first peak, Creag nan Damh was a mere 918 metres and only just qualifies as a Munro. There was a wall running the length of ridge as far as I could see and I followed the path that ran close by, firstly down to Bealach Duibh Leac and then up to the summit. There was not a soul in sight so I chilled out for five minutes and took on some food. It was 3pm now and I still had six Munros left and what looked like a decent walk out to the inn. I was beginning to have my doubts as to whether I would be able to conclude the journey today. There was potentially still a good six hours of daylight left however and I had no issues in hiking out in the dark so maybe I could do it?
Putting these thoughts to the back of my mind I focused on my next objective, Sgurr an Lochain. There was the small matter of Sgurr Beag, a 896 metre peak between me and Sgurr an Lochain. A quick count of the contours on the map meant a 180 metre climb up and down. Hmmmm maybe I could traverse the side? Although this is a Corbett Top on a big day the last thing I wanted was unnecessary ascent. Fortunately, as I descended towards the bealach a nice path came into view, skirting the around the side. Great stuff :). I headed around the side and pushed on to the top of Sgurr an Lochain. It was only a 200 metre climb but I had been on my feet for eight hours and with a heavy pack and the sun beating down, I was beginning to feel the pace. I had a breather with 100 metres to go and topped out at 4.25pm, about an hour an fifteen minutes since leaving Creag nan Damh.
The next peak was Sgurr an Doire Leathain. It looked a lot closer than the previous peak and I was able get down and up in 35 minutes. It had just turned 5pm and I still had another four Munros to go and a decent walk out. It was beginning to dawn on me now that I would either have to camp out on the ridge or I would be finishing the walk in the dark. I weighed up my options. I could push on until the Cluanie Inn regardless of the time or I could spend the night on the ridge and get up really early morning and make the time up then. This would probably mean spending and extra night on the north ridge and I would have to ration my remaining food but it was certainly an option. For the time being I would just push on and see where I was in another few hours. I decided to leave my decision until later on when I was further along the ridge.
I dropped down from the summit and followed the path that hugged the Cliffside towards Sgurr Coire na Feinne. At 902 metres it is does not meet the height requirements for a Munro, it is in actual fact classified as a Corbett Top and as it was on route it was worth checking out none the less. From here I dropped down and headed towards the summit of Maol Chinn-dearg.
My main issue now was water, or rather lack of it. I was down to my last litre in the camelback and this was mixed with cordial so it would not exactly be ideal for making a cup of tea or porridge with. Apart from a couple of muddy pools, I had not had a sniff of any running water since descending off Biod an Fhithich early in the morning. Luck was on my side however. Just off the path there was a wet patch and on closer examination it was a small stream, or trickle would be more appropriate. It took me a while to fill the bottles but the water was clean and ice cold. I pushed on to the summit and took my boots off to get some fresh air to my feet.
I rested for a while and set off towards Aonach air Chrith. The bealach was at about 830 metres and with the summit at 1021 there was some decent height gain. I stopped briefly to chat to a couple who were completing the ridge from south to north and were pitched up for the evening. It was getting close to 8pm by the time I topped out on the summit and after a quick consultation of the map, I decided to call it a day and set up camp. There was still two Munros remaining and a decent walk out so there was no way I could be off the last Munro before nightfall. I had been on the go for close to 13 hours anyway and I was pretty knackered. Best bet would be to get an early night and set off at daybreak to make up the time.
Another wild camp and a change of weather
I erected my tent and grabbed some food and chilled out waiting for the sun to set. My plan was to make the short journey back to the summit to watch the sunset but no sooner had I lay down on my sleeping bag, I was asleep. The next thing I was woken at midnight to the sound of the wind hammering the tent. I got in my sleeping bag and dropped off asleep. By the time I woke up at 4:30am the wind was still giving the tent a battering but worse still I could hear rain. I stuck my head out and my worse thoughts were confirmed. The fabulous weather from yesterday had given way to low cloud and rain. I was unable to get internet access on my phone so I could not check the forecast. With nothing better to do, I grabbed breakfast and packed up. At 5.30am, I was ready to continue. I was still hopeful that the weather would clear up. I headed back up to the summit of Aonach air Chrith and then dropped over the top towards West Top of Druim Shionnach. For a brief moment the cloud cleared but just as my hopes were beginning to rise, the door was firmly shut in my face and the tops were engulfed once more.
I followed the well-worn path and headed over the Munro Top to the summit Druim Shionnach and then down and up to Creag a ‘Mhaim. The journey was pretty uneventful; I was feeling refreshed from my night’s sleep and made good progress but with no views to be seen, it was just a case of ‘head down and push on’. From the summit of Creag a’ Mhaim I followed the path downhill towards the Allt Giubhais. From here I picked up the wide Land Rover track that would take me towards Loch Cluanie and the Cluanie Inn. Once service on my mobile was resumed, I checked the forecast on MWIS and the rain looked like it was in for most of the day. I deliberated on what to do. As much as I wanted to complete the north ridge, the thought of spending a day hiking in the wind and rain and topping out on my 100th Munro in the clag was not exactly appealing.
I finally arrived at the Cluanie Inn at 9:15am and as I pondered on what to do, a coach heading towards Fort William arrived. In a moment, my mind was made up. Time to call it a day! I jumped on board, bought a ticket to Spean Bridge and settled down. Once at Spean Bridge, I had an hour to kill until the train to Crianlarich so Little Chef it was where I ordered a hot cup of coffee and their huge Olympic Breakfast. I finally arrived home mid-afternoon and although it was disappointing not to have hit the magic one hundred, I still had an amazing time none the less.