Friday, 13 September 2013

South Glen Shiel Ridge and Cluanie Munros, Sep'13

We organised this weekend around a suggestion from Catherine, one of our keen Munro-bagging clients. The South Glen Shiel Ridge on the Sunday, followed by the Cluanie Munros on the Monday. That would be a total of 12 Munro summits for anyone completing both days !

Sunday began with an early start from the western end of Glen Shiel, just by the site of the battle of 1719. We were doing a west-east traverse, hoping any wind would be behind us. The group was being led by myself and Manny. After tackling some obstacles, including some dense woodland and high fences, the group got into a good rhythm, ascending grassy slopes, passing remnants of ancient forests on the way. We were on Creag a'Mhaim in what felt like no time and took in the grand views all around.

Continuing along the ridge, we by-passed Sgurr Beag and reached the burn where I'd promised people could top up their water supply. I was suprised at how low the burn was - the west must be enjoying a dry season ! Up Sgurr an Lochain, we touched the cairn and breifly paused for a photo or two, before continuing on. Sgurr an Doire Leathain next and time for a break and something to eat. The views were lovely, particularly over the Loch Quoich hills (now spelled Cuaich on the OS maps). We picked out and identified summits near and far all around.

Sgurr Coire na Feinne was by-passed, we could see other people on the crest above moving in the opposite direction. Up domed Maol Chinn-dearg and time for another well deserved break. Some people thought we were on Aonach air Chrith - they'd already lost count of the Munros bagged ! Nope, mighty Aonach air Chrith loomed ahead, it's impressive crags pushing northwards. Time for another break - yupp, we like to stop and take in what's around us, particularly on a fine day like today.

After dropping eastwards, we were on the vast grassy plateaux of Druim Shionnach. With the fine conditions and obvious route, Manny and I held back and let the group progress at their own pace. After collecting on this Munro's summit, I advised the group to proceed with care as we were about to continue along a narrow section. The group bounded along, - it's funny how some people asked 'Was that it ?', whereas others were very nervous of the rock and slight exposure. Onto the day's last summit Creag a'Mhaim. Loch Loyne was low and we could make out the remains of the old road that is normally submerged, including the arch of a little bridge. We were there ahead of schedule, so instead of taking the direct route northwards (which is steep and boggy further on), we opted for the gentle descent eastwards down a winding stalker's path. Several people commented on how kind this route was to their knees ! Down to the road, the group spread out, some striding out, others taking a more leisurely pace, but all being pounced upon by the evil midges. We returned to Cluanie, cars were retrieved and most folk ended up in the bar.

Monday began in glorious conditions, the sun lighting up the green grasses and white 'beaches' of Loch Cluanie. Catherine, Karen and Paul from the previous day were joined by others and were being guided by myself and Martin. One of the group hadn't turned up, and as no-one could get phone reception, we hung around for half an hour by the cars. Eventually the midges found us, so we set off. Up on a fine track, we headed northwards in the direction of Affric, legs gradually awakening. Further on, the track becomes a wet path, which we left after a miles or so and turned uphill. This is a slog, no matter how much you're prepared for it. Grassy, not difficult, but a slog. However, after a few pauses on the way watching deer below and above, we reached the top of Stob Coire na Cralaig and took a well deserved break to enjoy the views and get some food in.

Ahead we could see Mullach Fraoch-choire with its notched ridge highlighted against blue skies beyond. As we were doing an out-and-back, people could leave rucksacks (I know, it always feels like cheating !) and a few opted to do so. The group progressed rapidly along the crest, dodging the bursts of mist being blown over, and were on the summit fairly quickly. Views were stunning all around !

Back to Stob Coire na Cralaig, rucksacks picked up, it was off to A'Chralaig - the highest peak of the day at a lofty height of 1120m. We were on the summit in what felt like no-time, sun was beaming down. Time for photos and poses by (and on top of) the huge cairn.

The group headed south-east from A'Chralaig's cairn and after a few minutes separated - Martin led those who just wanted the two Munros we'd just bagged southwards back down to Cluanie, I led the remaining intrepid baggers eastwards. We dropped to Bealach Choire a'Chait, where we had an option - head up and follow the crest (more height, longer, but obvious route), or keep low (shorter, but no path). We chose the latter and headed into what felt like an un-explored coire - Toll Easach. For a short section, we did find a faint path contouring, but it disappeared as soon as the hillside levelled out. Around 40-50 deer were feeding ahead, as soon as we were seen, they were off, bounding at speed and out of sight - most impressive. We clambered up some hillside, out of Toll Easach and onto the col before Sail Chaorainn. A path was picked up to follow to this Munro summit - its tiny cairn made people wonder if we were on the summit or not !

After some time relaxing, enjoying the views and munching, we headed back along the path southwards. Not really noticable when heading north, the path divides and when returning south, the natural line is to veer right (west). Some of the group were in front, blethering happily away and went this way - it's better to keep left (ie the way we came up). I didn't call to them, they seemed happy bimbling along, but you could see their suprise when they looked up. Naughty guide ! We were all on the same path again as we headed up Sgurr nan Conbhairean - the highest point on the easterly section of this day and an impressive viewpoint. There's a small cairn here and a little shelter, snug enough to fit one person in out of any harsh weather.

One peak remaining - Carn Ghluasaid. It looked close and much lower than where we were standing. We headed down and were quickly on a grassy expanse with a path cutting through - delightful on tiring legs ! Up to the summit, we were treated to a bright rainbow contrasting with the dark background of approaching poor weather. All that was left to do was head westwards and pickup a stalker's path to follow back to Loch Cluanie where my truck was waiting for the return back to folks' cars. This we did, everyone really happy with the day, if slightly tired, especially those who manged 12 Munros this weekend - well done !

More photos can be seen on our Flickr page