Kintail

Kintail's Bookends, Brothers and Sisters, 13-14 September'20

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. Autumn is approaching as we hiked up Munros in the Western Highlands. John Hepburn was leading.

Kintail's Bookends, Brothers and Sisters



Kintail's bookends

Day one start point was at Lundie, on Loch Cluanie, our objective for the day was the three Munros which stretch out to the north. This was a fairly short day and with a poor morning forecast we opted to put our start back to 9.30am, time for everyone to enjoy a hearty breakfast. The first part of the hike which winds its way on to Carn Ghluasaid's west ridge is on good stalker paths which helped our group make short work of their first Munro of the day, Carn Ghluasaid. Its summit cairn sits on the edge of a steep northern coire and provided little shelter for a break, so we kept pushing on. As forecast, the morning low cloud and clag began to lift and break up and we were able to pick out the coire edge which we planned to follow to our next target, Sgurr nan Conbhairean. There were a couple of tops which we by-passed and before we knew it we were atop our next Munro, Sgurr nan Conbhairean.

With the strengthening wind forecast, along with heavy downpours, we had the option of calling it a day at this point and descending down the ridge, Drochaid an Tuill Easaich, and back to our start point. But the group were a hardy lot and keen to push on to our third Munro of the day, Sail Chaorainn. It's an out and back hike, and conditions underfoot made for good progress, third one in the bag. I knew we'd have our work cut out on the way back, walking into a gale force head wind is never advisable, but it was only for a short spell before we peeled off before the summit of Sgurr nan Conbhairean to head down its west ridge. Out of the wind, spirits rose and we enjoyed a rather squelchy walk off the hill. We had hoped that instead of finishing up on the road we could cross the Allt Coire Lair and finish on the Old Military Road, but the usual crossing point was a torrent and our only option was the road. Quick march to the cars and off to try and get kit dry for tomorrow. A good effort in tough conditions !

Day two's forecast was again for gale force winds and heavy showers, with maybe a couple of hours weather window in the morning. Our targets were Beinn Fhada and A'Ghlas Bheinn, which we have now renamed 'the hill of false summits'. Today's group, as yesterday, Davie, Paul, Jonny, Linda and Johnston. We met at Morvich and had a lovely walk up Gleann Choinneachain - a good footpath that follows Strath Croe up the glen, with the only drawback being for the distance you walk, you never really gain much height. The path took us to the first problem of the day, crossing the Allt Coire an Sgairne ! The crossing point was do-able, but we would definitely get wet feet, did we want that so early on. I remember in a previous blog that higher up where it split into tributaries a crossing point could be found - sure enough with a bit of rock hopping and poles for balancing we were over and back on our path.

The path zig-zags up onto a broad bealach marked with a cairn before turning south to ascend the wide slope of Beinn Fhada. The weather was still clear and the views over to Coire Caol and Coire Gorm with their sheer rock faces and serrated ridges are impressive. We were now exposed and starting to feel the gale force winds which had been forecast for the afternoon, along with some wintery feeling showers, no time to hang around on summits ! A quick bite, some pics and off we went.

Earlier we had met three other walkers and they were just leaving the summit as we arrived, we headed down, following the same path but now heading for the path junction that would give us the option of doing A'Ghlas Bheinn from Bealach an Sgairne. This would be unlike the route the three walkers had taken - the direct route over Meall a'Bhealaich and picked their way down the craggy east side to reach Bealach an Sgairne at the same time as us. I had told the group that it would be about 1hr there and 45min back, I had given them false hope! A'Ghlas Bheinn has its fair share of false summits and it was with some relieve to eventually reach the true top. No dramas on the return leg, water levels had dropped and we crossed without difficulty, a quick bite to eat, and off down the Glen at a nice pace to start, leader in front, leader stops to hold open gate for group, group inject pace! What can I say! It was a satisfying feeling to get all our objectives ticked off in such testing conditions.



Kintail's Brothers and Sisters

The forecast had been looking poor for a good few days, the previous two days on Kintails Bookends had been wet and windy, and Sunday now looked like being even worse. So with reluctance a decision was made to cancel Sunday's walk - we would regroup on Monday and tackle the 5 Sisters ridge. Thinking was that if it was still windy, it would be behind us for a good part, and there were no river crossings!

We met at the intended finish point and shuffled cars to the start, it was still a bit dreich, but the wind had abated and the rain had turned to drizzle, visibility was poor, but the hope was that conditions would improve as the day progressed. We started on the diagonal path heading up to the gap between Sgurr nan Spainteach and our first Munro of the day, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe. Todays group was Steve, Lesley, John and Linda, and they took the first long climb in their stride. We were soon atop our first Munro, the rain had gotten heavier and visibility was still poor - not the weather for hanging round on summits ! It's a quick descent down to Bealach na Craoibhe from where we were starting to get glimpses of the steep climb to our next Munro, Sgurr na Carnach. The climb was bouldery, but short, and before long we were at the cairn. We took the decision to get down to the next bealach and look for some shelter to get a bit of lunch before the longer climb up Sgurr Fhuaran. On reaching the bealach, we socially distanced behind a grassy mound and enjoyed a well earned snack.

The cloud cover was starting to break up and the hope was still that we would have some of the later part of the ridge in good visability. A steep pull up got us onto our third Munro of the day, Sgurr Fhuaran and thereafter a short traverse west to round its northern cliffs took us back on the main ridge aiming northwards. The next two sections of the ridge can feel really dramatic, the slabby cliffs of Sgurr nan Saighead's east and north-east faces drop away vertically and make for some great photo opportunities !

Although the cloud had lifted and the rain had stopped, the rock was still pretty greasy, so we avoided the steep scramble up Beinn Bhuidhe, opting instead for a bypass path around the west side of the crest. This did take us a bit low, so after we rounded the shoulder we had a short climb back to regain the path and descend down Coire na Criche to aim for waiting cars. The day ended well and the group were pleased to have completed the ridge, well done all for a great effort and good company. The trickiest part of the walk was the stepped rock section of the path just after the style about 400m from the finish - incredibly mucky - we all had slips - we must have looked like we were walking on ice covered rocks !

More photos by John Hepburn and some of the participants are here on Flickr.



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