Our blog - Kintail, Sep'17

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !


30 Sep - 1 Oct 2017
Two days hiking in the Kintail area. The Brothers and Sisters of Kintail were our targets, but it didn't quite work out like that ! John Walker and Olly Stephenson were leading, here's John's tale....

I was working alongside Olly Stephenson this weekend, and Saturday's weather looked okay - Certainly 'Scottish', with wind, rain and cloud, but also with great visibility in between, and a couple of Brocken Spectres to boot! Sunday promised to be less favourable, with no redeeming factors, but more of that later.

The plan on Saturday was to do the Kintail 'Brothers', the munros to the East of the more celebrated Five Sisters of Kintail. If you include the outlying Ciste Dhubh, which we did, it is a walk of 1700m of ascent and some 15k, so a reasonably challenging day, especially as the ground was very wet underfoot all day. We had a team of 8 initially, but one person was getting over a cold, and decided to return to the Cluanie car park after the first summit - Always a wise decision if you don't feel 100%, as you can always come back when good and ready, so well done.

The remaining 7 made good progress all day, and the summits came and went along with the views. This area has simply wonderful and ever-changing views. With the added autumnal light, rain bursts and shafts of sunshine, today was just one of those special days where you huddle in your Goretex and just revel in 'being there'. The wind was never as strong as forecast, so we took the time to enjoy the vistas at each short rest stop, and as mentioned, particularly enjoyed the phenomena where the sun casts a shadow on the cloud below, leaving a halo-like rainbow called a brocken spectre. Very special.

After celebrating the fourth munro summit of the day, it was down to the Bealach Lapain and the descent back to Glen Shiel. I wasn't looking forward to this, as it is boggy in the extreme, and quite steep. Actually, it wasn't as bad, unfortunately due to the effects of extreme erosion. The boggy path has all but been washed away on the higher section, replaced by a hardcore trench down which you can descend, (and you really should to lessen further unsightly erosion). A strange case of 'it's an ill wind...' I suppose.

We were down in the planned 9hrs, and Orion's wife Virginia kindly assisted in ferrying some of us back up to the Cluanie car park where we gathered around and reviewed the forecast for Sunday. It wasn't good, and in fact had gotten worse. Rain all day, and with a wind peaking at 71mph at around 12 noon - Not the kind of conditions where sensible people put themselves on exposed mountain ridges! (I suppose 'sensible people' may have just chosen a nice coffee and the Sunday papers before a late brunch and a snooze on the settee, but hey, where's the fun in that!?)

Despite some disappointment from folk who had already recently done Beinn Fhada, we chose that as the objective. It has fared me well in previous similar situations, offering a sheltered approach and a summit section that is free from dangers of falling if the wind does catch you off guard, so that was the decision. A meeting time and place was arranged, and off we went for a shower and some food, and to prepare to do battle!

On Sunday the rain was persistent, but the plan worked immediately, in that we had a quiet spot to kit up. Overnight I had had another thought, in that a walk out to the spectacular Falls of Glomach might fit the bill even better, the rain adding to the volume of water plunging 100m down the chasm. It also meant even less exposure to the wind. The group were positive to this suggestion, and that was decided upon. I had wry smile when one person suggested it may be a little tame for a day out, as it is 16k and with nearly 800m of ascent, let alone the conditions, so I knew we'd have a 'proper' day out :)

The walk is on a mix of forest track and stalkers path, and the pesky dual track through the woods at the Allt an Leoid Ghaineamhaich does NOT have the wee path and bridge that seems to be signified on the OS 1:50k map, so this both bamboozled and embarrassed Olly and I. On close study of the Harvey's, you can see it isn't there, so the moral for me is to get my glasses out! We were only mildly mitigated by another couple who came up just afterwards having made the same error, and we all retraced our steps to where the cunningly hidden Forestry Commission sign to the falls can clearly be seen when coming DOWN the track. Give me a night-nav across the Cairngorm plateau in a blizzard any time over forestry tracks! ;)

The rest of the walk passed to the sound and sights of the deer rut in full swing. We had a grandstand view across the glen as young pretenders tried to sneak in on the big stag's harem, and the big fella seemed to hold 'em all together just the thing, as they were still all there on the descent. At one point you pass through a narrow defile at Belach na Sroine, purportedly the scene of a clan ambush and massacre in the 16th century, and Orion told of a ghost story he had once heard whereby you can hear the screams of the dead in the wind there. It was certainly an atmospheric place today.

The falls themselves were simply breathtaking, and we picked our way down to the best vantage point gingerly, aware of the huge drops, greasy rock and gusty wind that was swirling around the gorge. After some photos and lunch in the relative shelter, it was batten down the Goretex hatches for the walk back against the wind. You can't talk much in such conditions, so we made good progress, and were back at the cars in 7hrs, all ready for some dry clothes.

A good, contrasting weekend, where some folks learned the necessity of good kit, others the unexpected beauty of a walk into the middle of nowhere, and all of us the need to plan, plan, but be flexible on the Scottish hills.

More photos by John Walker are here on Flickr.

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