Glen Shiel

South Glen Shiel Ridge, 22-23 April 2019

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. Hiking the Munros on the South Glen Shiel Ridge over 2 Spring days in late April Steven was leading.

South Glen Shiel Ridge

Day 1 - West South Glen Shiel Ridge

The mountains in the South Glen Shiel Ridge form a chain of peaks, including 7 Munros, stretching west to east. With the ridge dipping rarely below 800m, hiking the peaks over one day is not too arduous. But sometimes, you just want to take the pace down a bit and relax a bit more, which is why we'd put on this event - we were aiming to bag the Munros over two days.

I met our group (Margaret, Mark, Trevor, Alex, Nick, Penelope and Brian) in Glen Shiel in glorious conditions and the first thing we did was shuffle the cars so as to avoid a walk back along the road. Usually I would intend to hike from west to east, keeping winds on our backs, but today the winds were forecast to be quite strong and would blow up from the south or south-east - we would do our planned route in reverse, starting from around halfway up Glen Shiel.

We began following a well defined stalkers path uphill. Quite quickly this seemed to disappear into the undergrowth, but we continued following the crest of Druim Thollaidh, a bit narrow in places which felt slightly un-nerving with the strong winds blowing over. Up to Sgurr Coire na Feinne, at 902m is not a Munro and time to relax for a bit to take in the views - the hardest part of the day had been done !

Downhill for a little bit, we met a couple of guys laid down by a fair amount of kit, but putting on a good pace. They were backpacking the route taken to set the record for the most Munros in 24 hours, but taking 4 days instead. They'd certainly picked the right weekend for this ! We let them past and continued at our pace uphill towards Sgurr an Doire Leathain, our first Munro of the day. There as still some snow in the northern coires and one-or-two small patches by our summit, which jutts our slightly northwards from the main ridge. Time for some lunch, views and photos !

Sgurr an Lochain next, on the way a couple of little scrambly bits (can easily be avoided) and some dark chasms to peer down into. Up to the summit, it was now just after midday, so we found some shelter out of the wind and tucked into our lunches.

The next summit, Sgurr Beag, like Sgurr Coire na Feinne is under the magical 914m height, so not a Munro (someone in the group found out over a pint in the pub later, a "Corbett Top"). It's often by-passed, and as such one of the places on the rigde to replenish water bottles. Our group had other ideas, we would aim up it ! It's a fine spot for views, but with our last Munro in sight, we didn't linger long.

A fine wall was followed downhill to the col below Creag nan Damh, where the small lochan there held some frogspawn, some of which had just started to hatch. Here we had a decision - which route would we take down - if we returned to the col, we could leave our rucksacks ! Nope, we'd go over and down the north-east ridge. Some of our group could sniff the summit and off they quickly hiked, the rest of us catching up shortly after. Cloud was beginning to form, but our efforts were being rewarded with some stunning views. Time for another well earned stop !

The route down was probably the most knarly part of the day, it looked as if snow had only recently left parts of the path that came and went. Further down, we picked up a stalkers path to follow, but only after we'd stopped for another break for more views. The ridge had one final surprise - the forest above the roadside - much of it had been blown over and we all felt like "George of the jungle" hoping over and ducking under the tree-trunks and branches.

Day 2 - East South Glen Shiel Ridge

Like yesterday, forecast was for a breezy day, so again we opted for an east-to-west route and did a car-shuffle, leaing a few cars by where we started yesterday and others near the Cluanie Inn. The Cluanie Inn is undergoing a major refurbishment and was closed. One slight problem with our planned route was a band of snow on our first Munro of the day, Creag a'Mhaim - it looked as if we might have to continue to the stalker's path up the south-eastern shoulder rather than a direct ascent.

From by Cluanie, we began our hike on the old road that heads towards Loch Loyne. As we neared the base of Creag a'Mhaim, the snow patch higher up looked avoidable, so a decision was made to make a direct ascent of the peak. Off the road, over a deer-fence, we picked up a faint path to follow up hill. The path came and went and gradually we were on the crest of the northern shoulder of Creag a'Mhaim and before long on the summit, having avoided that patch of snow. The cairn was large enough to shelter behind and we obliged, taking a pause for views and food.

The wind seemed stronger than yesterday, so we didn't hang around too long and began our hike along the wide grassy crest towards our second Munro of the day, Druim Shionnach. A few ptarmigan popped up out of the rocks and grass, some appearing not at all bothered by our presence. The ridge narrows as the summit of this peak is nearer and particularly with the wind, we took a cautious approach. Summit gained and we could relax !

With the wind blowing continously, not only did we decide to carry on, but also stick a windproof layer on to keep out the cold. This section of the ridge is quite different from the rest with a wide crest covered in thick deer-grass. We found a peaty hollow in which to hide over of the wind, and with it now being well after midday, unanimously decided it was lunchtime.

Lunch done, the highest peak in the range was next - Aonach Air Chrith ! The wide expanse of grass now behind us, the south-eastern crest of Aonach Air Chrith was ascended. With large drops to the south, topped with snow cornices and with the strong southern blowing over, we kept well away from the edges. Some lovely views were had from the summit, particularly with the weather improving.

Our last Munro lay ahead, but in our path there were some bits of scrambling - normally not a problem, but the wind stubbornly stayed, making for interesting progress. The group coped well and before long we were climbing our last uphill of the day up to Maol Chinn-dearg's summit. Our descent was by the delightful grass-covered northern spur of this Munro, on the way Penelope pointed out the strange rock that had fallen downhill making a weird furrow in its wake ! Lower down we picked up a zig-zagging stalkers path further down to follow back to the roadside - some of us short-cutting the route (me ? - guilty as charged).

A great couple of days on a superb ridge with a lovely group of keen hillwalkers !

More photos by Steven are here on Flickr.

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