Our blog - Kintail, 15-16 Sep'18

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

Kintail's Brothers and Sisters

15-16 September 2018
Guided weekend bagging the Munros on Kintail's Brothers and Sisters ridges. Christine Menhennet was leading....


Day 1 - The Brothers

It's impossible for your spirits not to soar as you drive towards Cluanie Inn; you are surrounded on all sides by impressive mountain ridges rising steeply from the glen and tempting you with their serried summits, hidden corries and shattered crags. This is why our eager little group of aspiring Kintail ridge walkers gathered in the car park, undaunted by the somewhat wild and woolly weekend forecast. Admittedly it was a little dreich as we set off having shuffled cars to the route end, but we had high hopes for weather windows, hatless moments and glimpsed views!

Following a mixture of faint paths and deer trogs we got off to a brisk start heading up the glen of the Allt a Caorann Beag (stream of the little Rowan tree). David put in an early request for minimal river crossings and expressed his dislike of wet feet, so no pressure there, as fellow guide Hannah and I picked our route across the burnished but boggy hillside! We spotted a huge herd of deer on the slopes above us and already we were getting clear glimpses of the impressive peaked ridge that leads to Ciste Dubh (the Black Chest), which came into full view once we reached the broad bealach between Ciste Dubh and Sgurr an Fhuarall. The pace slackened a tad as we climbed onto this lopsided looking ridge from where we got fabulous views down into remote Coire nan Eun with its distinctly striated northern slopes, caused (we think!) through soil creep known as solifluction. Ciste Dubh (979m) is a spectacular viewpoint for all routes into Glen Affric and we were lucky enough to get these views, but this lovely hill is also notable for having possibly the least impressive summit cairn in Scotland; this did not however, stop us from having lunch No. 1 here, nor Julia, Lorna and Moira from striking their first cairn pose of the day!

Once back at the bealach we were hailed by 3 lovely chaps who were clearly having fun but also clearly had very little clue about map reading; Julia and I tried to put them right and it must have worked as we saw them in the Cluanie that night – it seemed that being map challenged was not an unusual experience for them! A prolonged steep climb finally brought us to the summit of our second Munro, an exciting 1001m peak in the middle of a horseshoe shaped mountain with an unexciting name Aonach Meadhoin – Middle Ridge. So far we had experienced a few short sharp rain showers but nothing to inhibit our views along the area's extensive, twisting ridges and down into empty, wild glens.

After a photo stop here, we continued west along the Brothers' ridge, walking into a chill wind and watching as swathes of black clouds rolled in from the south-west, each one a threat, but each one dissipating over the Saddle or the Forcan Ridge just beyond us. The relatively benign weather allowed for discussion and banter and by now, two distinct group characteristics were developing – the men tried to solve the world's banking problems whilst the women practised gymnastics at every cairn opportunity! Our third Munro of the day was Sgur a'Bhealaich Dheirg 1037m (Peak of the Red Pass), the biggest and finest mountain on the Brothers Ridge and marked by a hand crafted cairn. Whilst enjoying our second lunch here, Shona and Dot in particular, were greatly chuffed by the long view back to where we had come from and also by the fact that looking west, they could see that our final Munro of the day was a little lower than Munro No.3!

Munro No. 4 of the day was the rounded summit of Saileag 956m (the Heel) and from here, elated after a relatively weather free day of classic ridge walking, we made the very steep and boggy descent to the car park below.

Day 2 - The Sisters

Today's mountain weather forecast for Kintail was not jolly; heavy rain, possible sleet and winds gusting up to 60 mph - not ideal for ridge walking. Would anyone turn up at the day's meeting point given the forecast?! Well, fortune favours the brave and seven game souls joined Hannah and I for the start of our Day 2 walk.

Our group of seven included a newbie to the group, Tatiana – just arrived from Russia on holiday, her first visit to Scotland and her first proper hill walk; it was bucketing down and blowing a hoolie, but Tatiana was smiling!

After some thought, Hannah and I agreed that we should at least start the walk and once on the ridge, make a decision about onward progress once we had all felt the impact of conditions. These days, after a steep start through the forest, a relatively good path makes a steady traverse up the steep slopes below Bealach an Lapain, emerging onto the Sisters' ridge between Sgurr nan Spainteach and Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe(1027m), the southernmost of the Five Sisters of Kintail. During the initial steep climb Tatiana thought she had made a big mistake coming on the walk (after all she was on a 40 degree slope, allegedly, the longest continuous slope at this angle in Scotland!); however Hannah convinced her otherwise and after a quick lesson in the use of walking poles and spurred on by dramatic views of dark clouds hurtling across distant summits, streaked with white burns, our Russian guest buckled down and plodded onwards and upwards. We stopped briefly at about 800m in order to fuel up and don additional layers against the anticipated wind-chill and then made our way up onto the bouldery section of ridge approaching our first summit; looking back down from here, we could see another graphic example of ridging formed by soil slip and all the slopes gushing with white water.

Given the wet and blowy conditions we decided against the scramble up Sgurr nan Spainteach to our east and made our way instead up to the summit of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe where Tatiana received a heartfelt round of applause! Then came the hard call; it was wet and very windy indeed, buffeting some of us off our feet; we had at least another 10k to go including a couple of exposed narrow sections of ridge with very limited escape options. After some debate, Hannah and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and that descent was our best option, a decision with which even the ever questioning Pascal agreed – although he did wonder if we might have time to sneak in Sgurr Fhuaran from Morvich before heading to Inverness for his train to London! Our (polite) answer – the mountains will always be there Pascal!

Thanks to everyone for a great 2 days and hopefully you will get to walk the full Five Sisters ridge soon, in somewhat calmer conditions.

More photos by Christine Menhennet are here on Flickr.

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