North Glen Shiel Ridge

We spent this weekend up in Glen Shiel, getting back to work on slowly paring away at the list of Munros I haven’t visited yet. I’m still a bit ambivalent about the whole ‘bagging’ thing, but there’s no doubt that the discipline of working through a list of hilltops pushes to you visit corners of Scotland that might otherwise be overlooked in the rush to the obvious honeypots. I’ve been over the 5 Sisters a couple of times now, but for some reason, have never turned right at the top of the ridge to cross the 3 Munros at the ‘Brothers’ end of the ridge. We’d discussed various options in the preceding week, including the Mullardoch 12, but with three dodgy knees between us at the moment, we eventually settled on an option that gave us more options for cutting things short if anyone’s joints started giving cause for concern.

The weekend didn’t quite go according to plan from the outset; we were 10 minutes out of the house and heading for Strathblane when my phone rang. Cat answered it, and relayed the message that we had a call out for someone who’d got themselves into a fankle over by Loch Lomond. As we were going to be driving past anyway, it seemed rude not to go and help out, but by the time we got free from that, we were running a bit late to make the Co-op in Balloch and had to rely on the local supermarket in Drymen for some supplies for the weekend.

We’d opted to take the van for the weekend, but Cat can’t drive that yet, so I had a long wearisome shift behind the wheel before we arrived at Loch Cluanie and found ourselves somewhere to park up for the night. Despite Cat giving the dogs a bonus walk while I was off doing my MRT thing earlier, they were still pretty frisky as we tried to get off to sleep, and we’d had a short, intermittent sleep when my alarm went off at 6.30am the following morning.

IMG_0799 - Version 2We dropped off ‘Rat Bike’ at the Cluanie Inn carpark; the drawback to this route was that I’d be cycling 7km along Glen Shiel to collect the car at the end of the day. ‘Rat Bike’ is a scabby looking old singlespeed made up from my parts bin that is perfect for getting left in situations like this, as the initial appearance of its rusty pink frame with a variety of touch ups in different shades is grim enough to make it unappealing to the passing bike thief, and it was cheap enough to throw together that it wouldn’t be a disaster if it did get stolen. More importantly, I can lock it up somewhere and not spend the day worrying about whether it’s safe.

IMG_0751We parked up below the Bealach an Lapan and, inspired by the gathering cloud of midges, got kitted up and moving up the hill as quickly as we could. The climb up to the ridge is unrelentingly steep, but has the advantage of letting you cover the 500metres of height pretty quickly and, after a quick pause to stick on another layer and try out the chocolate orange Digestives we’d found in the shop, we carried on up the easier angled slopes to the summit of Saileag, our first Munro of the day, arriving there about 90mins after we’d set off.

IMG_0750I was pretty pleased with the pace we were setting and, more importantly, that after just a couple of weeks of stretching and strengthening at the physio, my knees felt much more stable and stronger than they had for a while. We carried on along the ridge towards the next summit of Sgurr a Bhealaich Dheirg, making quick progress along the slightly narrowing ridge and sizing it up for potential winter fun factor. The summit cairn involves a slight detour off the main ridge over some very easy bouldery terrain, and we paused at the top for some food, noting that there was a distinct autumnal quality to the temperature that encouraged us both to stick on another layer and some gloves while we sat.

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The most easterly ‘Brother’ is Aonach Mheadhoin, about a kilometre and a half further on, with around 200m of height to lose and regain. Cat was beginning to feel a little discomfort in her knee on the descent, but it eased as we climbed up to the windswept summit cairn and carried on to the final top of Sgurr an Fhuarail which offered more prospect of a bit of shelter from the chilly breeze. We arrived there just before 1.00pm which came as a pleasant surprise to both of us given neither of us felt that we’d been pushing particularly hard.

Given how early it was, it seemed a reasonable decision to carry on an head for Ciste Dhubh, even though it means dropping to Bealach a Choinich at 600m, then climbing 400m again up the long draggy 2km ridge to the top. In the event, it turned out to be a bit over-ambitious on Cat’s knee in particular, and by the time we made our way back down to the bealach from the summit, she was in a fair bit of pain and facing the prospect of a 4km walk back to the Cluanie Inn along a fairly rough, wet path.

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The midges were waiting for us back at the road, making the most of the time it took me to unlock the bike, stick the front wheel back in and set off back to the car while Cat took refuge with the dogs in the pub. The first three kilometres are just sufficiently uphill to let you feel it in the quads at the end of a long day, before the road mercifully turns downhill and lets you freewheel the rest of the way to the van and the return journey up the glen to join Cat in the pub for some food, a review of how broken our respective knees were, and some ‘joined up’ thinking about aspiration v’s ability for Sunday – the tourist thing at Glenfinnan it is then!

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