Friday 19 April 2019

The Five Sisters of Kintail - "surprisingly strenuous"!

Setting off from the car park in Glen Shiel beside the A87 (NH009135)
Views to South Glen Shiel Ridge and Faochag

A long Easter weekend, based at Cannich Campsite, a great forecast - what could be better...?

Jim - Setting off from the car park in Glen Shiel - distant view to Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe 

It's the best part of an hour to drive from the campsite to the start of the Fire Sisters of Kintail ridge walk in Glen Shiel - so we were up and about early and setting off from the car park and on the Hill Path by 8:30am...

Ascent from Glen Shiel - views back to the car park

It was already warm - although quite hazy (you could even say misty, towards the east) but it looked like it was going to clear out and we set off with high hopes for a great day on a classic hill walk.

Jim - ascent from Glen Shiel - the path curves east above a forestry plantation

The initial route, up to Bealach an Lapain - steep - was the same as our snowy trek along the Brothers Ridge, a walk we did a few years ago now - there was a good bit less snow on the tops this time, even though we were a few weeks earlier in the year...

The small cairn marking the start of the rough path ascending to Bealach an Lapain

We followed the rough path alongside the tumbling burn, crossing before long and continuing around and above a forestry plantation to the east. We were watching for the even rougher path up the steep side of Leac Dhubh towards Bealach an Lapain - we've been this way before, can't be that hard to find?

It was actually further than we remembered, although not far - the path blended in well with the winter bleached vegetation and was marked by a small cairn - we turned left and up.

Jim - ascent towards Bealach an Lapain

It obviously wasn't that obvious - another couple of walkers, ahead of us, had missed it and had carried on along the path above the forestry plantation - within a couple of minutes they realised their mistake and followed us up the bluff. They were a couple of sprightly young uns - they were passed us quicky, before we even reached the bealach, giving us a friendly wave as they motored on - grumph!

Bealach an Lapain - views west to Beinn Odhar

It's a hard pull up to Bealach an Lapain - but mercifully short - and that's the worst bit of the days ascent behind us already!

The other walkers turned right (east) - heading off towards the first of the Munro's on the Brothers Ridge (Saileag), not very far above us - We stopped for a snack - and to drink in the views. The haze was clearing in the west, setting us up for an amazing day.

Jim - ascent of Beinn Odhar

Soon on our way, the first hill of the day was Beinn Odhar, a rocky ridge undulating up to the even rockier and undulating ridge of Sgurr nan Spainteach.

Ascent of Beinn Odhar - views west to Beinn Odhar with Sgurr nan Spainteach

We undulated...

Jim - ascent to Beinn Odhar

A fantastic walk, exceptional views, lots of rock, a bit of snow - love an interesting ridge.

Beinn Odhar summit (895m) views to Sgurr nan Spainteach and beyond to the Sisters

There were many minor tops and it took a bit of head scratching and map scrutinising on the early part of the ridge - which were the Munro's and which were the Tops? - but once on the summit of Beinn Odhar it was evident that our initial summation that that pointy one was actually not the first Munro, but it was the Munro Top of Sgurr nan Spainteach - the ridge was longer than it had looked!

Jim - ascent of Sgurr nan Spainteach

Views back (E) over Beinn Odhar ridge and two The Brothers Ridge from ascent of Sgurr nan Spainteach

Jim - ascent of Sgurr nan Spainteach

The views and the ridge walking were tremendous - it just went on and on until we reached Sgurr nan Spainteach (Munro Top 95, 978m). The peak's unusual name derives from the Battle of Glen Shiel which took place on the southern slopes of the mountain in 1719. 300 Spanish troops fought a brave rearguard action in the battle on the side of the defeated Jacobite rebels and the peak was named by locals in their honour.

Sgurr nan Spainteach summit (Munro Top 95, 978m)

And the ridge went on and on again with the enormous bulk of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, the first Munro and the first Sister, ahead...

Jim - Sgurr nan Spainteach ridge with views to Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe and Sgurr na Carnach

Crags between Sgurr nan Spainteach and Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

There were a couple of other groups of walkers on the hill ahead of us, ascending Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe - we hadn't seen them until now. Either they were very slow (and we're not exactly fell runners!) or they had come up another way, directly toward the Munro.

Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe from Sgurr nan Spainteach ridge

So we had the ridge to ourselves - a bit of scrambling, a bit of snow, blue skies and everywhere brimming with mountains.

Looking back at scrambly descent from Sgurr nan Spainteach

Jim - ascent of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

It was an interesting ascent of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, a bit more scrambling and a couple of fairly substantial snow patches - Rafie would have loved it.

Sgurr nan Spainteach from ascent of  Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

And we were soon on the summit of the first of the three Munro's and the first of the Five Sisters - Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (Munro 105, 1027m) - glorious...

Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe summit (Munro 105, 1027m)
The first Sister with views to the next two - Sgurr na Carnach and Sgurr Fhuaran

Sgurr na Carnach and Sgurr Fhuaran from Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

The Forcan Ridge and the Saddle from Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

We had a spot of lunch in Bealach na Craoibhe - we were definitely ready for something to eat - before moving onward to ascend the second Munro and second of the Sisters - Sgurr na Carnach - it almost looked tame.

Jim - descent from Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe into Bealach na Craoibhe
Views to Sgurr na Carnach and Sgurr Fhuaran

The Forcan Ridge and the Saddle, with Beinn Sgritheall beyond from descent from Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

It wasn't. It was quite hard work boulder hopping and picking the easiest line through the pathless bits. One of our guidebooks had said that the Five Sisters of Kintail was "surprisingly strenuous"! We were starting to see what it meant.

Jim - ascent of Sgurr na Carnach

Looking back (SE) from ascent of Sgurr na Carnach
Views to Sgurr nan Spainteach and Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

But it was only 150m, or so, of ascent and we were soon bagging another Munro, and the second Sister - Sgurr na Carnach (Munro 134, 1002m) - with Sgurr Fhuaran looking ominous ahead (ominously tall and steep!)

Jim - Sgurr na Carnach summit (Munro 134, 1002m)
The second Sister with views to Sgurr Fhuaran

Views east over Coire Domhain to The Brothers Ridge and Sgurr nan Spainteach from Sgurr na Carnach

Jim - descent from Sgurr na Carnach into Bealach na Carnach with views to Sgurr Fhuaran 

After another photo-fest we dropped down into Bealach na Carnach and then another 200m of up to the highest point of the day. It was actually less arduous that the ascent of Sgurr na Carnach, an obvious path and much less of the bouldery stuff.

Views back (S) to Sgurr na Carnach from ascent of Sgurr Fhuaran

Sgurr nan Spainteach, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe and Sgurr na Carnach from ascent of Sgurr Fhuaran

Sgurr nan Saighead (fourth Sister) from Sgurr Fhuaran (third Sister)

There was a surprising amount of old snow on the summit - hard and slippery - but again, what a view...  Sgurr Fhuaran (Munro 70, 1067m) - third of the Five Sisters

Views west from Sgurr Fhuaran - the South Glen Shiel Ridge and beyond

Jim - Sgurr Fhuaran summit (Munro 70, 1067m) - third of the Five Sisters

We watched the walkers we had seen earlier, all descending into Glen Shiel along Sgurr Fhuaran's north west ridge - obviously just Munro Baggers! What were they going to claim? - "We've completed three of the Five Sisters of Kintail" - unlikely! Frauds!!

Feeling superior, we continued north along the ridge.

Jim - views along Loch Duich across Sgurr Fhuaran's north west ridge

And those early descender's, they missed some of the best bits of the day - the ridge, cliffs and crags of Sgurr nan Saighead were just incredible.

Jim - descent from Sgurr Fhuaran into Bealach Buidhe with views over Gleann Lichd to Sgurr a Choire Ghairbh

Despite being a little footsore and a little tired (the walk is "surprising strenuous" after all) we stuck to the ridge, taking in every little summit, did a bit of easy (and totally unnecessary) scrambling and marvelled at the East Cliffs and North East Face.

Sgurr nan Saighead from descent from Sgurr Fhuaran

If you go to the Five Sisters - definitely don't miss out on the fourth.

Jim - ascent of Sgurr nan Saighead

Jim - ascent of Sgurr nan Saighead

Looking back (SE) to Sgurr Fhuaran from ascent of Sgurr nan Saighead

Sgurr nan Saighead summit (Munro Top 187, 929m) seemed like a pretty good place for another bite to eat - we had the place, and the view to ourselves.

Sgurr nan Saighead summit (Munro Top 187, 929m) - fourth Sister
Views to Beinn Bhuidhe and Sgurr na Moraich (fifth Sister)

Descent from Sgurr nan Saighead
Views to Beinn Bhuidhe and Sgurr na Moraich (fifth Sister) over Coire na h-Uaighe

Looking back (SE) from ascent of Beinn Bhuidhe
Views to Sgurr nan Saighead, Sgurr Fhuaran and Sgurr na Carnach beyond

The North East Face of Sgurr nan Saighead and Sgurr Fhuaran from Beinn Bhuidhe

Jim - scrambly bit on the Sgurr nan Saighead ridge

There were a couple more undulations (including another Beinn Bhuidhe) before we descended reasonably gently into Bealach Coire na Criche, crossing the path that would be our descent route back into the glen - before that, we still had the final Sister to climb - Sgurr na Moraich.

Jim - descent from Beinn Bhuidhe into Bealach Coire na Criche, with views towards Sgurr na Moraich

The scenery changed drastically between Sgurr nan Saighead and Sgurr na Moraich - from sharp, craggy rocks and scree to more rounded, grassy topography - easier going on tired feet!

The North East Face of Sgurr nan Saighead from ascent of Sgurr na Moraich

We wandered up the wide slopes - the path was much more indistinct here - around outcrops and boggy bits. It was further than we expected (and would have liked, this late in the day) but it was our final Sister and we were determined to enjoy it!

Sgurr Fhuaran and Sgurr nan Saighead from ascent of Sgurr na Moraich

Jim - ascent of Sgurr na Moraich

The summit of Sgurr na Moraich is only at 876m - a mere Simm - (A Simm is a hill in Scotland, England or Wales over 600m high with a drop of at least 30 metres all round) - but what an outlook! Fifth of the Five Sisters of Kintail and with a views right back across the ridge, taking in all the pointy bits we'd been over. 

Time for another lunch.

Sgurr na Moraich summit (876m) - fifth Sisiter

Looking back (SE) to the other four Sisters of Kintail from Sgurr na Moraich

We mooched back across the muir towards Bealach Coire na Criche, soon deciding to take a slightly more westerly route than on ascent, curving down into the upper reaches of Coire na Criche rather than going back all the way to the bealach - it was pathless, a bit tussocky and a bit steeper - but before we knew it, we were on the coire path.

Beinn Fhada and Sgurr a Choire Ghairbh from Sgurr na Moraich

Jim - Sgurr Fhuaran and Sgurr nan Saighead from descent from Sgurr na Moraich back into Bealach Coire na Criche

Descent into Coire na Criche - views to Sgurr an t-Searraich

It was warm and muggy in the glen and in the late afternoon sunshine - Jim took his coat off.

Waterfalls in Coire na Criche

It was a lovely walk out through the coire alongside the infant Allt a'Chruinn - which soon grew into a fully grown Allt a'Chruinn, with it's very own gorge and waterfalls.

Jim - Coire na Criche with views over Loch Duich

At the edge of the coire, the views opened up across Loch Duich, with a hazy Isle of Skye in the distance.

Loch Duich from decent to Allt a'Chruinn

The descent route went through a couple of gates in deer fences - we could see where we wanted to go, but the gates were not in the most obviously convenient points in the fences - typical - grumph!

Deer fences and gates on descent from Coire na Criche 

But it wasn't far out of our way and we were heading down - gravity was on our side.

Looking back to Coire na Criche

The village was ahead, our lift back to Cyril was waiting. We were tired but satisfied that we had completed all five of the Five Sisters of Kintail. The walk had been "surprisingly strenuous" - but we were still feeling distinctly superior.

Final descent towards Allt a'Chruinn village and Loch Duich

Route:  Car park on A87 (NH009135), N ascending steeply along rough path initially along W bank of small burn and then crossing to E bank, path curves E above forestry plantation, very soon take faint path steeply N again (marked with a small cairn) to Bealach an Lapain, W along ridge, Beinn Odhar (895m) Sgurr nan Spainteach (Munro Top 95, 978m), continue W to bealach (925m), Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (Munro 105, 1027m), continue along ridge W then NE over Bealach na Craoibhe to Sgurr na Carnach (Munro 134, 1002m), N to Bealach na Carnach, N to Sgurr Fhuaran (Munro 70 1067m), W from summit along Sgurr Fhuaran West Ridge for 300m, take fainter path NE back onto main ridge and then NW above Sgurr nan Saighead East Cliffs, Sgurr nan Saighead (Munro Top 187, 929m), continue along crest of ride and descend into Bealach Coire na h-Uaighe, N and then NE on faint path to Sgurr na Moraich (876m, Fifth Sister), return along ascent path to NG968189 (approx), and cross pathless slopes to stalkers path  in Coire na Criche (NG 967185 approx), continue W then NW along improving path to Allt a'Chruinn village and walkers car park at the finish.

Statistics:  Distance: 15km  Ascent: 1600m  Time: 9 hours

Map:  OS Explorer 414 Glen Shiel & Kintail Forest

Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

Sgurr Fhuaran

Sgurr na Carnach 

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