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Glen Shiel and Kintail Ridges

Following my last two eventful and snowy trips to Scotland some might say that I was being fool hardy,however, the mountain forecast looked stable; light winds clear skies and possible some early morning mist.

I don’t like to waste a day travelling so a stop off in Glen Coe to climb the Shepherd otherwise known as The Buachaille Etive Mor was called for.  I arrived at 1pm, just after Shaun.  We quickly climbed up the steep Coire Altruim, scrambling over steep slabs to reach the minor top in just one hour, a quick jog to Stob na Broige and back down the Coire in less than 2 hours.

The main plan for the following day had been the Kintail ridges, however a minor discussion had taken place earlier about an evening start and a bivvy mid route.  The weather was so warm and still, it seemed a shame to not to take full advantage so 2 hours later we were climbing out of Kintail to the col before Saileag with our bivvy gear.  At 7.50pm we were on the top of Saileag.  It was still t-shirt weather but it was getting cooler.  We moved at a steady pace along the ridge to, first, Sgurr a’ Bhealaich Dheirg, then, Aonach Meadhoin.  The sun was getting lower and the temp was dropping. The next col, Bealach a’ Coinich, had plenty of flat sheltered ground and running water so that made decision simple; bivvy kit out and warm freeze dried food reconstituted.  If you haven’t tried freeze dried over dehydrated you are missing out on a trick.  It’s much tastier and lighter and needs no cooking.  I had chicken in black bean sauce with noodles.

We watched the sky start to darken (It never gets really dark up here) and the surrounding hills go orange then pink.  The peace of the night was briefly broken as a Chinook flew over.  At 5.00am we shook the hoar frost off the bivvy bags, time for a morning walk before breakfast.  We climbed up the airy ridge to Ciste Dhubh.  The sky was so clear.  A cloud inversion was creeping up the valley.  We had brief brocken spectre just after I got hold of the sun.  A quick scramble back to the descent ridge and a jog back to our kit for breakfast.  I had 3 pain au chocolate dipped in hot chocolate.  We quickly packed the kit away and by 6.20am we were on our way again in shorts and t-shirt.  Passing 2-3 big groups of red deer, we dropped down to the valley and crossed to the next range of hills.  It was early morning but the next climb was a belter, 2,800ft straight up a steep pathless mountain not unlike Yewbarrow but steeper and longer.  After bypassing a few steep snow fields we picked up the ridge line dumped the kit and scrambled up the exposed ridge to munro number 5 the impressive Mullach Fraoch-Choire with a spectacular inversion beneath us.

We dropped back to the bags and set off at a good pace over the sweeping, sometimes grassy, sometimes rocky, ridge.  Loch Cluanie was now in view so we knew we were making good progress. We met our first lone walker on the next climb.  For me the beauty of these northern wild hills is not only their remoteness but their solitude and tranquillity; if this was the lakes we’d be stepping over people.  Over A’ Chralaig we were getting dry as we had consumed all the water we carried.  Checking the map we found there were streams in the corrie to the north.  These were still clogged with snow but we managed to find enough to drink our fill and top up our bottles.  The climb up to the Drochaid an Tuill Easiach was quite steep and the heat was taking its toll.  Shaun had drunk nearly all his water (again!) before reaching the top and it had definitely all gone as we reached Sgurr nan Conbhairean.  He decided to take in the view and look after my pack whilst I took the two miles out and back to Sail Chaorainn.   It was here we met the only other walkers on the trip, 2 couples from Aberdeen.

40 minutes later I’d returned and, seeing as I climbed the last top only two weeks previous in a blizzard with full winter kit, we decided to head straight back to the car for some much needed refreshment.  We’d been in Scotland just 24 hours and climbed 9 Munros

Shaun had used up his allotted time off work so after I dropped him back off at his car and he headed for home.  I went down the valley, pitched my tent and ate & drank my fill.  It was only 4.00 in the afternoon and the weather was stunning…What to do? What to do?

19 miles down a dead end road is perhaps the most idyllic spot I’ve ever seen.  Arnisdale faces out on to Loch Hourn, with Knoydart on the otherside.  Admittedly the weather could have made anywhere look good but something to top this little Nirvanna like this would be difficult to find. Behind the hamlet is the majestic Munro Beinn Sgritheall, rising straight up from the shore side. The views out to sea with the setting sun were breathtaking. To have such a place all to myself was a real treat.

Back at the campsite another good feed and some beer. There was a race in the morning call the Dirty 30 so the campsite was full of local runners.  I wasn’t short of company.

I was woken at 5.30am by the race preparations.  The view from the tent was a thick, damp mist over the campsite.  It wasn’t fooling me!  I grabbed some breakfast and drove round the headland – just missing the local wild goats.  I’d planned to do a nice horse shoe of Beinn Fhada and A’Ghlas-Bheinn.  I started up the track, passed a Mountain Rescue Landy and disappeared into the fog.  It was surprisingly humid despite it being so early so I knew the sun was up there somewhere.  I worked out how long it would take me to a vital turn off.  In the poor visibility I had to rely completely on my navigation skills  .I was going well as 65 minutes later, 5 minutes earlier than expected, the turn off appeared out of the gloom.  10 minutes later I broke through the cloud to an azure sky punctuated by the hot sun.  Luckily I was in the shade in the corrie but once on the top the sun was a killer.  I’d drunk as much as I could on the way up and filled up at every opportunity.  The next hill involved dropping all the way back to the vital path junction 2000ft below, before climbing up to a col and a knobbly ridge.  I knew there was no water anywhere and by the time I’d reached the summit of A’Ghlas I was badly in need of a drink.  A long 3000ft steep descent of a grassy whale back of a ridge dropped straight down to a gushing stream.  I plunged straight in to cool off and drink my fill.

On returning to my car I bumped into the MR guys, the first people I had seen all day.  They’d had a late walker lost in one of the glens and they’d just picked him up.   He’d been flown him out with the help of the local RAF Sea King.

Photos of Glen Shiel and Kintail Ridges

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