South Shiel Ridge:

Creag a' Mhaim - 947m
Druim Shionnach - 987m
Druim Shionnach West Top - 938m
Aonach air Chrith - 1021m
Maol Chinn-dearg - 981m
Sgurr Coire na Feinne - 902m
Sgurr an Doire Leathain - 1010m
Sgurr an Lochain - 1004m
Sgurr Beag - 896m
Creag na Damh - 918m

Saturday 10th October 2009

Weather/Conditions: All sorts of weather in one day, but mainly cloudy, with some wind (but less than expected) for most of the way across the ridge. A front hit us on the way up the last Munro Creag na Damh and the rain and wind really came in there. Sunrise and views were a good bonus beneath walking in the cloud.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 26.6km / 1900m / 9h 35m
Accompanying: Michael

Having done the Buachaille Etive Beag the day before, this was the second day of the weekends hillwalking with Michael, walking across nothing less than the South Glen Shiel Ridge, a route which I have wanted to do for years. Such as was the case with this walk, the reality of a dream rarely meets hopes or expectations, though it was a great day nonetheless. It was fantastic to finally do this walk which has the reputation of being the Munro baggers dream - seven Munros strung out along a 12km ridge.

Approach to Creag a' Mhaim

We started walking at 5.10am, following a 4.30am (I think) start. We took it easy in the morning, slowly getting up, and cooking breakfast in the cold darkness near the Cluanie Inn. It was early, but what the heck. Early is our forte. We left the Cluanie Inn in darkness, following the road east for a hundred metres or so before following a track out beneath Creag a' Mhaim. Route finding in the dark isn't terribly easy, but we found our way. The head torches went off in the dim light of morning and we followed the track as light crept over the horizon. Dawn was breaking.

Then we did what you shouldn't do in hillwalking, ever. We broke a rule... When w arrived at the Drochaid an Uillt Ghiubhais, where Michael suggested we head directly towards Creag a' Mhaim. I was dubious, and we headed our separate ways, him going up, and me taking the stalkers track around the back of the hill. The last conversation we'd had got a bit heated, but we kept in contact by phone.

Creag a' Mhaim and Druim Shionnach

The stalkers track up Creag a' Mhaim was wonderfully constructed, and I got to see the sunrise over Loch Loyne from here. It was a terrible slog, but I was putting pedal to the metal, given that I had to meet up with Michael at the top. I even met a guy half way up who had camped out the night before. We traded a few words, but I was on my way. I arrived at the summit cairn but Michael was further on, having got to the top before me. Id have to get on my way, but the summit views were spectacular with a low sun mixing with blue skies and shifting cumulus. Just the conditions that I love. After a brief pause at the summit, I headed on my way to Druim Shionnach.

It looked like a bit of a long walk to Shionnach, but the walk turned out to be quite swift. I was still moving quickly because Michael was ahead, but took time to enjoy and photograph the views around about. The mixture of cloud and light was very striking; the colours at this time of year are beautiful when the sun hits the slopes. To add my enjoyment, the ridge to the summit was fairly narrow and a brief pleasure to clamber across on the way up. a path wound around the side, but I made sure to keep to the crest. I arrived at the summit cairn soon after, but still no Michael.

Aonach air Chrith and Maol Chinn-dearg

It was on the way down Druim Shionnach that I met up with Michael, and we continued to walk over Shionnach's west top then onto Aonach air Chrith. A short ascent brought us to it's summit, where we made a little navigational cock-up and began walking off it's north ridge. When the mist cleared, we knew we weren't on track, backtracked to the summit and took a careful compass bearing off. It was the west ridge we needed to be on, and knowing this for certain, we continued to Maol Chinn-dearg. The ridge was rough, rocky and the rocks were wet. A little care was called for, but we were on the straight and narrow towards Maol Chinn-dearg and there should be no problems in getting there either.

There were some views towards Loch Quoich and the south too - well worth seeing.

At Maol Chinn-dearg's summit, we made the same mistake again as on Aonach air Chrith and headed off it's north ridge. Seeing our mistake again, we contoured the hillside again and headed off in the right direction. I wouldn't have thought it was so easy to go wrong on the South Shiel ridge, but apparently it is. There are paths all the way, but just as long as you make sure you leave the summits in the correct direction...

Sgurr an Doire Leathain and Sgurr an Lochain

The day so far had consisted of splitting up and navigation errors, but also some very beautiful views and nice ridge walking. Thankfully, Sgurr an Doire Leathain and Sgurr an Lochain were easier peaks to cross given the weather had cleared. The sun was out in brief intervals and the peaks were very scenic. When we'd come over the top of Sgurr an Doire Leathain, Sgurr an Lochain came into view and whoa! What a wonderful mountain. At the top of Sgurr an Doire Leathain, the first walker we'd seen of the day caught up with us, doing his own east-west traverse of the ridge. We walked close by on the way towards Sgurr an Lochain. There was one tricky bit on the way to the summit - steep enough to be using hands to pull oneself up - but otherwise all easy if a bit of a slog.

But this guy we got talking to (I forget his name) offered us a lift when we mentioned we'd be doing the long walk back up Glen Shiel afterwards. What he'd done was to leave the car at the western end, cycle (uphill!) to the Cluanie Inn and walk back across the ridge. He offered to give us a lift back up the glen while he collected his bike, and we were more than happy to accept the offer.

Across Sgurr Beag to Creag na Damh and Descent

Moving onwards to the end of the ridge, it was a steep descent down Sgurr an Lochain, then over the Corbett Top Sgurr Beag. Michael bypassed Sgurr Beag, so we met on the other side.

Then time for the last one: the seventh Munro, the tenth summit of my day (including three subsidiary tops) and end of the ridge. Creag na Damh was ahead, and all we had to do now was to climb up there and we would descend back to the glen.

Conveniently, the weather decided to close in on the way up, so a summit cairn, the wind and driving rain was what rewarded us at the top. It was rough. We were wet in no time, and we retraced our steps back to the bealach and then down into Am Fraoch-choire. It was very wet and rough going. We had to make sure we descended by the correct route since the corrie was sometimes steep at one or two points. In the shelter of the corrie, the wind and rain had eased off, but we were still as wet as before.


I subsequently found that other walkers went directly from the summit of Creag na Damh to the glen, but at the time reckoned the most logical route to be from the head of Am Fraoch-choire. It was steep at points and perhaps a more arduous way to go, but the waterfall we descended alongside was mind blowing, plunging over the edge of a cliff, then flowing over the top of slabs below. It looked like a smaller Steall Falls and completely worthwhile to see up close.

But we'd lost sight of our pal with the car on our descent and alongside the waterfall, spotted a single figure in the glen below. We raced down to meet up with that figure given that it was probably him, and sure enough it was. He was even kind even to wait about for five minutes until we caught up. Three of us climbed down a steep pine forest, but no real problems presented themselves. It might be a good idea though to avoid that forest and find an easier way down.

So once we were back at the car, we got a lift up the glen - much preferable to walking - and arrived back at the van soaking wet and in good spirits. We brought the guy a drink in the Cluanie Inn before he headed back to the Glen Shiel campsite and we headed home.

And that was it all done. Over the course of the weekend I climbed nine new Munros, which wasn't bad going at all. I'd fulfilled a wee dream of mine (and destroyed the dream in the process, sadly) by walking the South Shiel Ridge and got up the Buachaille Etive Beag, a mountain that had been waiting to be climbed for a long time. If all that wasn't good enough, the choice of music all the way down the road was Marillion. I have no complains whatsoever.

360° Panoramas

Glen Quoich from Aonach air Chrith (120°)

Sgurr an Lochain

Sgurr Beag
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 5.10am Cluanie Inn
(1.35) 6.45am Bottom of Creag a' Mhaim
(2.20) 7.30am Creag a' Mhaim
(2.55) 8.05am Druim Shionnach
(3.55) 9.05am Aonach air Chrith
(5.05) 10.15am Maol Chinn-dearg
(6.15) 11.25am Sgurr an Doire Leathain
(6.50) 12.00 Sgurr an Lochain
(7.25) 12.35pm Sgurr Beag
(8.00) 1.10pm Creag na Damh
(9.35) 2.45pm Glen Shiel

Written: 2009-11-03