Kintail's Brothers and Sisters, 9-10 March 2019

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. Two days of guided winter hiking on mountain ranges in Scotland's north-west highlands with John King and Richard Kermode leading.

Kintail's Brothers and Sisters

Day 1 - Brothers of Kintail

As the weekend approached the weather forecast for the Northwest Highlands was changing often with much uncertainty around the timing of particular weather events. One thing was certain though - winter was back! There was to be some fresh snow on the hills at last and it looked like we might be in for frequent snow showers during the day. The winds were to be fairly fresh from the west, so with this in mind we decided we'd work our way from west to east to keep the wind at our backs. Our itinerary for the day was the group of Munros on the North Glen Shiel Ridge, known collectively as The Brothers, and the outlier of these hills, Ciste Dhubh. However, with the strength of wind forecast and the direction, blowing straight across the exposed and fairly narrow ridge of Ciste Dhubh, we decided to omit this hill from this particular trip.

After meeting our group for the day near the Cluanie Inn – the car park at the Cluanie Inn is currently home to several static caravans accommodating workmen renovating the Inn – we shuffled cars around to have some at either end of the ridge, then started up towards the low point on the North Glen Shiel Ridge, the Bealach an Làpain. It is a steep pull straight from the A87 to the bealach on a rough path, but it goes fairly quickly and we were rewarded as we climbed with ever improving views across to the South Glen Shiel Ridge and The Saddle. We crossed into snow around 500m and there were a few icy patches. By the time we were at the bealach itself the snow was getting quite deep. We took a well earned rest there and admired the superb view of Sgurr nàn Spainteach and the Five Sisters which were looking particularly impressive covered in snow, catching some sunlight and with the dark clouds of an impending blizzard behind!

We just made it to the summit of the day's first Munro, Saileag before the blizzard arrived and it came with some strong gusts of wind billowing snow in all directions. We didn't go much further before stopping to put our goggles on. At the bealach below the next Munro, Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg, we added ice axes for extra security on the snowy crest. The blizzard passed and the ridge walking was a delight, albeit with some trail breaking required. There were some really nice examples of sastrugi and some cornices starting to build. The variable wind direction of the past few days had deposited pockets of windslab on various aspects and recent snow showers had added some graupel to the mix, but on the ridge we kept to safe ground away from the avalanche hazards.

The views from Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg were probably the best of the day with even Ben Nevis making an appearance! The short diversion out along the narrow ridge to the true summit of the peak added some extra interest and then we ploughed down towards the next bealach to find some shelter to eat a late lunch. The shelter was relative but enough to refuel before we made our final push of the day up to Aonach Meadhoin.

It was a good, steady climb up here with more determined trail breaking required but again we were rewarded with views from the summit as the weather continued to exceed expectations. We had a few route options for our descent, but opted to retrace our steps to our lunch spot then descend into the glen from there. This proved to be a good route, and although we were heading into the wind briefly with some strong gusts blowing snow and hail into our faces, were soon in the relative shelter again and had a fairly gradual descent back to the cars, even seeing a mountain hare and a few large herds of deer on the way. We reached the road around 5pm, 8 hours after starting, tired but satisfied after a fine winter hillwalk!

Day 2 - Carnan Cruithneachd

After the surprise weather and snow conditions of yesterday we met up as planned for the Five Sisters of Kintail. However much discussion before arrival based on snow observations from yesterday and weather conditions today with stronger winds brining lots of snow we changed our plans! Our group size dropped as some folk were heading home early.

Boldly we set of for a distant cousin of the sisters Carnan Cruithneachd. It's a wild wee Graham that looks down on Glen Elchaig. It was a pretty wild day and we headed out form the national trust outdoor centre at Morvich. We were actually quite sheltered on our approach and only a few sleaty showers fell on us whilst chasing some feral goats through the forest. As we climbed up out of the Glen on a good track we got our first glimpse of the summit looking pretty white and clear of cloud always a bonus! As we looked back towards the sisters they were engulfed in cloud and wind and snow looking pretty unpleasant. We were all quite pleased not to be there. By the time we struck off over the open hillside the clouds and snow were coming for us it was only a matter of time. When we summited our wild rocky peak in the wind and snow it was very atmospheric and not too welcoming so we found some shelter for lunch before descending into a blizzard. The snow line fell as we descended and by the time we were back in the trees they were pretty white and we were all feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. It was only fitting after a good walk out into the sleet and wind that we headed for the Kintail Lodge Hotel for a hot drink before heading out separate ways.

More photos by John King and Richard Kermode are here on Flickr.

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