Monday, July 18, 2011

The South Glen Shiel Ridge

Aonach air Chrith Summit I
Aonach air Chrith Summit.

A classic ridge walk in Kintail crossing 7 Munros..


11hours 40 minutes

7 Munros:
- Creag a' Mhaim [947m]
- Druim Shionnach [987m]
- Aonach air Chrith [1021m]
- Maol Chinn-dearg [981m]
- Sgurr an Doire Leathain [1010m]
- Sgurr an Lochain [1004]
- Creag nan Damh [918m]

There had long been plans afoot to tackle the South Glen Shiel Ridge. An attempt last summer was scuppered before it had even begun due to illness on my part. This time, at the last minute, illness struck again - this time my brother Mike, who returned home whilst en-route to Glen Shiel. Marshall and I decided to go for it, working around our handicap of having only one car rather than two.

We set off from Alford at around 1730 on the Wednesday. Driving into Glen Shiel, there was a grand sunset while we hunted around for a camping spot.

Looking back up Glen Shiel.

We settled for a nice grassy spot just off the main road a few hundred metres east of the Cluanie Inn. Tent's pitched, we got the kettle on an settled in for an early evening. There was a stiff breeze blowing so the beasties were kept well at bay.

Loch Cluanie at Sunset
Loch Cluanie at Sunset.

Loch Cluanie Camping
Wild camping at the side of Loch Cluanie.

I had pitched my tent on a nice mossy area and had one of the most confortable nights I've ever had in a tent. The rumblings of the traffic close at hand was the only (occasional) annoyance. I awoke at 0430 to a fantastic morning. There were slightly more midges on the prowl, but never enough to be intolerable. Our tents were packed away, rucksacks packed and breakfast scoffed. By 0600 we had parked at the head of the private road to Glenloyne and were ready for the big walk.

Loch Cluanie at Sunrise
Loch Cluanie at Sunrise.

Loch Cluanie I
Loch Cluanie.

Start of the walk on the private road to Glenloyne. Cluanie Inn in background.

Two minutes into the walk I stopped. My back was wet. Fearing the worst, I dug out my Platypus. It had sprung a leak round the neck. Great! The sun was beating down, there was 28km ahead of us and I had a sieve to hold my drinking water. A quick repair with duck tape proved to be ineffective and the leak continued. However, throughout the day, as the pressure from my pack lessened on the Platypus and more was drunk from it, the less it dripped. (At the end of the walk, it still held some water).

So, after our false start, we were off again, following the private road, past Cluaine Lodge with cracking views up Loch Cluanie and across Glen Shiel.

North Glen Shiel
Looking back to the Cluanie Inn.

Loch Cluanie I
Loch Cluanie from the private road to Glenloyne.

Emergency stop number 2! Marshall suddenly realises that his hat is no longer tucked into his rucksack belt. Marshall stomps back down the road to search for it, while I sunbath on a convenient wall :) All too soon he is back, spoiling my enjoyment of basking in the early morning sun, and we set off for the bealach and the high point of the metalled road.

Hat Retrieval
Marshall disappears back down the road in search of his hat.

We soon reach our turn off point to the stalker's path, marked by a cairn. The path is excellent. Like all good stalker's paths it propels us up the hill with relative ease, its clever construction up the side of the hill gaining height quickly. There are nice view behind us to the remote Loch Loyne.

Loch Loyne
Looking down to Loch Loyne from the slopes of the first Munro, Creag a' Mhaim.

Stalker's Path
A well-built stalker's path propels you steadily up Creag a' Mhaim.

2 hours and 40 minutes and 9 kilomtres later, we arrrive on the summit of our first Munro - Creag a' Mhaim. In the distance, Munros 2 and 3 lie in the distance. And, while the sun is still beating down on us, there's a high layer of grey cloud slowly rolling in from the south-west.

Creag a' Mhaim Summit I
Creag a' Mhaim Summit Cairn.

Creag a' Mhaim Summit II
Marshall summits with Loch Loyne in the background.

Creag a' Mhaim Summit III
The next two Munros - Druim Shionnach and Aonach air Chrith are visible from the summit of Creag a' Mhaim.

After a short break, we headed along the ridge towards Munro #2, Druim Shionnach. It's just under 2km and it's a straight-forward walk with great views down into Coire nan Leac. Unfortunately, Marshall feels the onset of a migraine. We stop, and he takes his medication. He's determined to walk through it though and we cover the ground between the two Munros at at slower pace than normal. Marshall is determined to carry on, despite the migraine giving him problems with his vision. In the photograph below, we have reached the final, narrow section before Druim Shionnach and I'm having to give Marshall some occasional guidance on where to put his feet.

Narrow Approach
The final section of ridge onto Druim Shionnach tightens considerably. Creag a' Mhaim in background.

The scrambly section is short however, and we are on the summit by 0930. Here we have a longish break. The medicine kicks in and Marshall is fighting fit again. Off to Aonach air Chrith!

Druim Shionnach Summit III
Druim Shionnach Summit. Munro #115.

Druim Shionnach Summit IV
Aonach air Chrith next!

Aonach air Chrith Summit I
Aonach air Chrith Summit. The first two Munros visible in background.

The traverse across to Aonach air Chrith is uneventful and we cross the 2.5km in around 40 minutes, reaching the summit at 1030. 3 down, 4 to go. There's an interesting looking top jutting out to the north. Looks like it might make a good photo opportunity. One look at the sharp connecting section soon changed my mind.

Aonach air Chrith Summit II
Glen Shiel beyond the improbably shaped 830m top (which thankfully is not the summit).

The descent from Aonach air Chrith was one of the highlights of the day. There's quite a steep descent and the ridge narrows considerably here. I found it to be similar to the Devil's Ridge in parts - good fun too - at least on a dry, sunny day like today.

Aonach air Chrith Summit IV
Looking towards Maol Chinn-dearg, the fourth Munro of the day.

Round the Corner
The ridge between Aonach air Chrith and Maol Chinn-dearg has some airy sections.

Aonach Air Chrith North Face
Aonach Air Chrith North Face.

Cave in the crags? Descending Aonach air Chrith.

It took us an hour to get to the summit of Munro #4, Maol Chinn-dearg, passing our first other walker today on the way. Maol Chinn-dearg had fantastic views south down to Loch Quoich. As we sat on the summit, a couple appeared who had come directly onto the ridge here. We chatted for a short while and they headed east while we continued west.

Maol Chinn-dearg Summit III
Marshall arrives at the summit of Maol Chinn-dearg. Loch Quoich behind.

We left Maol Chinn-dearg and head for Munro #5 - Sgurr an Doire Leathan. On the way, I avoided the bypass path and quickly dashed over the Corbett Top (where's the Corbett?) of Sgurr Coire na Feinne, while Marshall waited for me on the other side. We then ascended to the summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathan.

Both of us stopped in our tracks at the sight of Munro #6 - Sgurr an Lochain. Two opposing thoughts crossed my mind at the same time: 'What a fantasic hill!' and  'Aw naw, I've gotta go over that!' :)

Sgurr Coire na Feinne
Visiting the Corbett Top of Sgurr Coire na Feinne. Looking down into Glen Shiel.

Loch Quoich
Visiting the Corbett Top of Sgurr Coire na Feinne. Looking down into Glen Quoich.

Coming Soon...
Sgurr an Lochain comes into view for the first time near the summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathain.

South Glen Shiel Ridge Panorama
From the summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathain all the Munros are visible in a panorama.

Sgurr an Doire Leathain Summit
A fantastic view of Munro number 6 - Sgurr an Lochain.

We left the summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathan at 1320 and arrived at the summit of Sgurr an Lochain at 1350. It was a tough 30 minutes. It was another one of the narrower sections of ridge down to the bealach. At the bealach, with the stiff pull in front of us, my stomach started rumbling, and wouldn't stop. At that point I realised that at least the last 3 summits had stupidly been fuelled by coffee alone. I started up the slope. As it got steeper, I physically felt myself getting weaker. There was some minor scrambling too which didn't help. I put on a spurt and reached the cairn with shaking legs. Plonking down, I set about the business of refuelling.

Ridge to Sgurr an Lochain
A slight narrowing of the ridge as it descends off Sgurr an Doire Leathain towards Sgurr an Lochain.

Sgurr an Lochain Summit I
Sgurr an Lochain Summit. Looking towards Creag nan Damh, the final Munro of the day.

After 30 minutes I was back to normal and set off after Marshall, who had headed off a couple of minutes previously. I caught him up at the bealach, where the fence on the ridge had turned into a drystone wall. It's a steady pull up onto Creag nan Damh and by 1510 we had stood atop our 7th Munro of the day.

Ridge Wall
Drystone wall on ridge between the Corbett top of Sgurr Beag and the final Munro, Creag nan Damh.

Creag nan Damh Summit III
Creag nan Damh. Munro #120.

For our descent route off the ridge, we decided to keep heading west and descend at the Bealach Duibh Leac. Between the summit of Creag nan Damh and the bealach, there was a surprising scramble upwards we weren't expecting. The cairn marking the path off the hill is easy to miss and was further on than we expected it to be. There's a rough path of sorts down from the bealach. Eventually, it crosses the Allt Mhalagain and becomes more distinct. Finally, the rain that had been threatening all day finally arrived, albeit in a half-hearted, drizzly way. The final section to the road was across open field and we reached the road just upstream from where it crosses the Allt Mhalagain, which we had followed. The time was 1740. 28km and 11 hours 40 minutes on the hill.

Descent to Glen Shiel
Dropping off the ridge at the Bealach Duibh Leac into Glen Sheil. Some surprising scrambles between the last Munro and here.

To finish off, we now had the small problem of being several miles along the road from where the car was park. So, thumbs were extended. Five minutes later, a southbound car slammed on the brakes and reversed towards us. It was the couple we had met on Maol Chinn-dearg. They very kindly turned round and gave us a lift back to our car. Brilliant!

A quick check of the forecast indicated that there was not much point in camping for another night so we made a beeline for Drumnadrochit for chips and back home in Alford by 2200.