Glen Shiel Munros

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After an exhilerating, if exhausting day climbing two Munros near Crianlarich, it would have been a completely mad thing to do to climb some more the very next day, so that is exactly what I did. I got up early, and set off for Glen Shiel on the Skye Road. I parked up just short of 24 hours after I had at Crianlarich, and quickly set off, losing and then finding the path that led away from the road, and steeply up a narrow grassy strip between a gorge-like river and dense forestry. The path led through two holes in the fence, but it seems that work is underway to replace the fencing, and the stiles that are being provided currently seem insufficient to maintain the path. Never mind though, as today the holes were still there!

The ascent eased beyond the trees, and soon I found myself wandering along a fairly level path just above a small stream which meandered through a narrow gap into a vast network of corries beyond. The Munros I was heading for were the western 3 on the south Shiel ridge, having already done the eastern two this just leaves the middle pair, which I reckon I can get to from Glen Quoich to the south. The path crossed a footbridge, and fairly quickly petered out. All of the guides described the full ridge-route and in reverse (ie East to West), so as I looked up at the ring of mountains around me, I found myself having to chose my own route. I aimed for the least steep looking stream, and picked a zig-zag route up to a broad shoulder from where a low bealach should allow me to reach the summit.

It may have been the least steep looking, but it was still steep and at 450m up, only 300 from the road, I was beginning to wonder if my legs would make it. I took a long break, watching the traffic passing through the roadworks far below, and then set off once more, zig-zagging up the hillside until eventually the bealach seemed to be within a few minutes walk. Two problems rapidly presented themselves, however, firstly a deep, narrow gorge needed to be negotiated, and then I discovered that the bealach was one where the ground gradually curves away to level, so it's always a bit further than it looks! Nevertheless, I had found bootprints every so often on the way up, so I was fairly confident of finding a decent path on the ridge itself.

Looking west to Glen Shiel and Loch Duich from the bealach

No path. And furthermore, as I approached the final ascent to Creag nan Damh, I discovered that the OS map was not quite detailed enough to show the sharp drop blocking my plan of curving round the summit to another, higher ridge. There was therefore no option, but a head-on assault of a very steep bouldery slope. Rising a foot or more with every step makes gaining altitude easy, but it is not so easy on the legs and whilst I may have gained 200m in a little over 12 minutes, I was pretty knackered at the top! But never mind, I had made it, and now had the ridge stretching away to the east, with two more Munros in easy striking distance.

The 5 Sisters of Kintail

Between me and the next Munro, Sgurr an Lochain, was a long descnet to a col, then the rounded hump of Sgurr Beag, before another col and the final climb to the top. Fortunately, the book described a path round Sgurr Beag, and I could see it, so it didn't take long to get across to the next summit. In fact it took an hour to walk the mile, of which nearly half was the final climb of 200m to the summit. Here I stopped for lunch, thinking I must be mad to continue to the next summit along the ridge, despite it being about žmile distant from me, and nearer a mile from the next Munro along! Needless to say I was mad, and continued, and despite having to reclimb Sgurr an Lochain, I completed the round trip in just over an hour.

After all that, the descent should have been easy, but dropping down into Am Fraoch Choire is no easy task. The Corrie is chopped up by a number of streams, most of which have cut deep gorges into the soft rocks. Add to this a series of cliffs which cross the corrie, and the complete lack of a path in the upper reaches, and the route becomes a series of long zig-zags, often aiming for a point barely 4 feet wide in this vast landscape where an upper slope meets a lower one, or at least gets close enough that a bit of muddy scrambling will get you across. Eventually, however, I was on gentler grassy slopes, dropping down to the stream and path that had led me up in the morning, and so exhausted but happy I made it back to the car!