Sunday, 9 June 2013

Four Brothers and Five Sisters of Kintail

A noon to noon excursion over the Four Brothers and Five Sisters of Kintail including a balmy summer's night sleeping between the third and fourth Sisters.

Sunset over Skye from below Sgurr Carnach

Fort William: the Mallaig steam  excursion

Five Sisters from Ciste Dhubh

Ciste Dhubh

Some of the Five Sisters from Aonach Meadhoin

Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg cairn

Five Sisters from Sgurr a' Bhealach Dheirg

Looking back to cloud skirted Ciste Dhubh from Sgurr a' Bhealach Dheirg

South Shiel ridge from Saileag

Sundown from the Five Sisters

Wednesday, 5 June 2013 
Ascent:         2110 metres
Distance:      18 kilometres
Time:            8 hours 4 minutes

m  Ciste Dhubh                          979m        2hrs   4mins
t    Sgurr an Fhuarail                   987m        3hrs 32mins
m  Aonach Meadhoin               1001m        3hrs 46mins
m  Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg   1036m        4hrs 34mins
m  Saileag                                   956m       5hrs 20mins
t    Sgurr nan Spainteach            990m        6hrs 41mins
m  Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe         1027m       7hrs 29mins

The forecasts looked good for the next two days so I packed a rucksack and headed off first thing on Wednesday to catch the 914 bus from Crianlarich up to Cluanie. It was cloudy but still with the promise of a sunny evening ahead. The bus stops at Fort William for 20 minutes which coincided with the steam train to Mallaig pulling out of the station pulled by an LNER B1 locomotive. There were more people taking photographs than passengers. The thought of clattering over the Glenfinnan viaduct and skirting the magical coastline to Mallaig was an added incentive to making this trip one day but preferably pulled by a Stanier Class 5.

Despite the clouds, the day was warm and on alighting at the Cluanie Inn just before noon I simply crossed the road and started up the track that runs up the glen below the corbett, Am Bathach. I made for the bealach at 600 metres where I dropped my rucksack before going out and back to the impressive hulk of Ciste Dubh. There are steep grassy slopes for the first 150 metres of ascent and then a good path cutting under an outlying crag before following the ridge to an airy summit. A pair a ptarmigan walked me away from their young during the ascent. The summit gave good views but most of the hills were looking sombre under a layer of thick cloud and rain threatened from the north east.

Returning to the bealach and my rucksack I had some lunch before starting the unrelenting steep slopes up to Sgurr an Fuarail.  It was hot work with the added weight of the rucksack including a couple of litres of water. Just before I reached the top I noticed that a party of four were following me up, this nudged me along to the summit of Aonach Meadhoin which is just an 80-metre drop and climb along the ridge. Rain was threatening and a breeze was getting up so I swapped my wind top for my goretex jacket. 

It is a long walk over to Sgurr a' Bhealach Dheirg, the highest of the Brothers, by the time I reached the summit I could see the 4 walkers arriving on Aonach Meadhoin. The large cairn sits out on a ridge to the north. Looking back from here the glens were filling with cloud and I began to wonder what had happened to the good forecasts. There were quite a few slabs of snow along the ridge before the descent to the bealach before Saileag.  Saileag is a quiet hill and mainly memorable for being the occasion when my then 12 years old raced two of us to the summit. On a subsequent round in his early twenties, he managed the 250-metre ascent from Bealach an Lapan in 11 minutes. My descent today took twenty minutes although I was beginning to slow as the sun burnt its way through the clouds at last and began to make shadow play with the Five Sisters.

It is a long haul over the stony ridge to Sgurrnan Spainteach but the views were getting better all the time. I kept going until reaching the untidy summit cairn of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe. The descent from here was was tricky with rocks and some slippy grass areas where snow had recently melted. I headed for the bealach and then dropped to a green swathe about 50 metres below and facing west to the setting sun. No burns were visible but when I heard the water from a sink hole I stopped and pitched the tent on a grassy ledge that gave me one of the grandest evening views I have ever witnessed.

I topped up with water, had a large pan of green tea and then macaroni cheese flavoured by a packet of mild curry lentil soup. It was a culinary triumph. I heard the bleating of goats overhead and three mountain goats were on the top of a nearby rock face looking down at me. I spent an hour sitting in front of the tent watching the sun pass over Skye and then set over Harris. I was reluctant to turn in but as the light faded I succumbed to sleep just hoping that the goats did not eat my shoes.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Good morning Highlands

View from the tent on waking

Sgurr Fuaran from Sgurr Carnach

The Saddle and Beinn Sgritheall

Loch Duich

Sgurr nan Saighead from Sgurr Fuaran

The skye ridge from Sgurr Fhuran summit

Looking back to Sgurr Fhuaran
Thursday 6 June 2013
Ascent:       510 metres

Distance:    8 km 
Time:          3hrs 31mins

m    Sgurr na Carnach            1002m            27mins
m    Sgurr Fhuaran                 1067m            1hr     7mins
t      Sgurr nan Saighead           929m            1hr    53mins

It had been a comfortable night sleeping above the midge level. The views on opening the tent were of the North Western Highlands in all their glory. The Skye ridge looked like a giant rip saw and the Saddle was a stone's throw across Glen Shiel. I had a brew and waited for the sun to hit the tent before packing and setting off at about 7:20am. First, a climb back up to the bealach watched over by the mountain goats and then taking the path up to Sgurr na Carnach. The skies were cloudless and there was a feeling of great privilege to be the only person enjoying the very best of days on this magnificent roller coaster of mountains.

I spent time on both of the munro summits dazzled by the vistas in all directions and only reluctantly departed from Sgurr Fhuaran after 9am to make certain of catching the bus at 11:45am. There were patches of snow near the summit and Gleann Lichd looked inviting unlike the slopes of Beinn Fhada which looked as steep and unforgiving as I remember from a couple of occasions when I was naive enough to tackle them from the south-west as recommended by Irvine Butterfield. It is probably the only occasion that I have ever taken issue with his routes.

There is a steep descent of 250 metres to a ridge which leads along to the next climb up Sgurr nan Saighead. I undercut the top and dropped my rucksack before climbing the 80 metres to the top. I then headed down the ridge from Beinn Bhuidhe to reach the Allt a' Chruinn, passing the first walker of the day on his ascent at about 600 metres.  I followed the path down to sea level at Ault a' chruinn, and sunbathed on the green land next to the Jac-O-Bite cafe, where I have feasted after many long walks in Glen Shiel over the years. Today it was a case of waiting for there 914 bus. It was slightly late but as always it was a great journey back to Fort William, where there was time to grab some food and then after meeting some old friends back on the bus to Crianlarich. I was home in time to replace my phone and then attend a function in the evening in Stirling.

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