Friday’s forecast was great for the mountains and as we were heading for a weekend on Skye, why not bag en route, another couple of the shapely Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) on this well known North West Highlands ridge? Plus we hadn’t managed onto any summits since June because of weddings and being abroad and other commitments. Time to get back in the saddle again……
For another venture onto this superb ridge see:Hiking the South Glen Shiel Ridge
After some muesli, fruit , toast and gallons of tea in our excellent Airbnb above Invergarry, we set off at 9.15am for the beautiful 25 min drive to Glen Shiel. The Highlands were looking fantastic in their autumn raiment with the moorland and mountains now tawny, amber and gold against the deep blue of the sky and the lochs. It’s my favourite time of year for colour and light.
Got boots on and checked our gear at the parking lay-by on the A87, where an obvious track across the very wet moorland began. It led us fairly gently up the Druim Coire nan Eirecheanach ridge. We could hear Red Deer stags bellowing around the glen, the rut in full swing now. It’s such a primeval, wild sound. At one point we startled a stag with his small harem of hinds.They watched us curiously for a moment before they were ushered away into a deep corrie, out of sight. He wasn’t allowing any rivals, even unlikely human ones!
I was slightly concerned at the thick mist which was swirling round the summits above us – our Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) gets it wrong SO often, it’s depressing! Ah well, onward and upward, if there’s on thing we can’t do anything about it’s our fickle weather.
I’d spied an ominous looking craggy bump on the ridge and sure enough, suddenly it loomed above us. But it was easy enough to by pass on the left, on steepish but safe ground. I had once descended this ridge many moons ago, but didn’t remember anything dodgy about it. I think my vertigo and balance is just getting a little worse with age, making me more nervous than I used to be about anything that might require good balance over a drop.
In 90 mins we arrived on the first summit and Munro, Maol Chinn Dearg which translates from the Gaelic as the Bald Red Head – not a reference to someone follicly challenged, but describing the shape of the mountain top and its reddish rock. Not that we could see much of it! Cold, clammy mist swirled around us, blocking any chance of a view.
Nothing for it but to enjoy some comfort snacks – chocolate and crisps for me , a chicken tikka sandwich for Chris as we sat in the gloom, feeling a bit despondent ( understatement, I was seething with annoyance.) What happened to the 90% likelihood of clear summits promised, especially here in the North West? In my head, I was already compiling my measured letter of complaint to the guy who runs the MWIS. Dear Sir, your forecasts are crap…..
My mood lightened when 4 beautiful Ptarmigan emerged from the whiteout, making their way over a little outcrop of rocks in front of us. Gorgeous birds, their greyish mottled plumage was already turning white in preparation for winter. Birds of the Arctic and high places and always a thrill to see. They are very reluctant to fly off, to save precious energy, so they tend to stay close and keep a wary eye on you.
After getting a few shots, I suddenly realised that the mist was lifting like a veil and lonely Loch Quoich 3,000 feet below was coming into focus. Ah, me of little faith! In minutes, layer upon layer of mountain peaks emerged from their blanket of cloud. This was more like it!
Happy again at getting the promised reward for our efforts, we skipped off down the path, marvelling already at the clarity in the air. Away to the west, Skye’ s Black Cuillin Ridge was sharply outlined and beyond that, shimmering on the Sea of the Hebrides, was Barra in the Western Isles.Wow, this was special.
The ridge fell and rose gently, with many dramatic rocky drops on the Glen Shiel side but wide, steep ground on the other. It made walking a pleasure for me, no scary bits.The panoramas all around were stunning.
In about an hour we had reached the second Munro, Sgurr an Doire Leathain, the Peak of the Broad Thicket (not that I could see any hedge) but broad it certainly was. The summit cairn sits out on a small spur, giving great views of shapely Sgurr an Lochain, the third Munro we hoped to summit. As its name implies, there is indeed a tiny lochan below its summit slopes.It’s a grand looking mountain in its own right.
Loch Duich was now visible to the west, our route to the Skye Bridge. Opposite us, was the steep wall of the Five Sisters of Kintail ridge but the angle made it look like a fairly uniform massif – the best views of it are from the Mam Ratagan pass (the route to the Glenelg ferry) or by driving east from Skye on the A87, when it’s shapely summits are seen to full effect. It makes for a great day on the hills too.
The Saddle and the famous Forcan Ridge were also crystal clear.It was a joy just to sit and absorb it all. But our day on this much loved series of summits was now coming to an abrupt close. We had underestimated the time it had taken us – half hour stops on the summits didn’t help plus my constant stop – start for photos – and we reckoned it would be another 90 mins to and back from Sgurr an Lochan. Plus our plan was to then retrace our route and head down the same ridge we’d ascended. Without including stops for a break or two, we had another 3.5 hours or so of walking ahead and it was already nearly 2pm. Our route in total was around 13.5km (8 miles) with 1422m or 4,600 feet of ascent, so a good enough day all in as it was. We would have made it back ok in the gathering twilight, but Chris’s hips were giving him a lot of gip, surprisingly. Not something he’s had before but he was feeling it on the ascents. Pointless to be rushing at another summit, when we’d had such a great day already, plus we’ve done it before so we decided to call it a day.
So we sat a bit longer and had our chicken sandwiches and flask of good old Knorr’s Minestrone soup, picking out the mountains we recognised. There was a sea of peaks all around, a jumble of craggy summits and ridges, the Highlands in full glory. Even Ben Nevis , away to the south above Fort William, made an appearance, it’s wedge shape unmistakable. And of course the sea and island were close by. Roineval on South Harris rose in pale blue above the Trotternish ridge on Skye – always a joy to see Na Hearraidh!
We both felt a bit weary in the legs making our way back along the humps and bumps of the ridge.My youngest son Gregor recently did this ridge the way it should be done – in one go! Bagging all 7 Munros in one long 9-11 hour day. Our easy peasy 2 summits today paled in comparison.
Down, down we finally went, the excellent path soon seeming endless and the car tantalisingly far away below. The cars travelling to Skye looked like little matchbox vehicles from our lofty vantage point but my legs were now feeling like they definitely wanted to be in one of them!
Oh the joy of achievement and relief that the hard work was over, when we reached the Megane. Boots off (my trainers always feel like slippers when I put them on) and then we sank gratefully into the car but so buoyed up that we’d broken a dry patch in terms of our hiking the mountain.It was good to be back.