North Shiel Ridge
Ciste Dhubh to Sgurr Fhuaran

Wednesday 17th July 2013

Weather/Conditions: Cold, wet and windy all day. Very little views up high!
Distance/Ascent/Time: 22.1km / 2450m / 9h
Accompanying: Alone

Glen Shiel finished! I began this day at Lundie, surprised again that the weather didn't seem to be as bad as forecast. This day took in the seven Munros north of Glen Shiel from Ciste Dhubh, over the "Brothers" (3 Munros), and to the Five Sisters (3 Munros). It was a day I'd also done a couple of years ago. It was a hard day back then and I hoped I wouldn't find it too difficult today.

Ciste Dhubh (Munro #1) was the natural outlier, and it was a drag to have to go all that way out before getting into the rhythm of the North Shiel Ridge proper. The walk up to Ciste Dhubh was a mixture of hard work, sweat and a head thinking “Oh god, there's still so far to go.....”. After the nice weather in the morning, rain sheets came up Glen Shiel and the sky darkened. That'll be the good weather gone, then.

While the rest of the country was bathing under stifling heat, the Northwest Highlands were misty and wet. And I was up on Ciste Dhubh getting blasted by wind and rain. At one point, I got very cold. If the whole ridge out to Sgurr Fhuaran was like this, was a I going to make it? My mindset was a bit negative and I was almost tempted to head down after Ciste Dhubh. But then I thought, there's no good reason to head down after one, why not just try the Brothers, on which there are three Munros? If I did one, I'd definitely do three.

I started the long plod into the clag up onto the Brothers. The weather had eased after the initial spurt of rain on Ciste Dhubh, and when I got onto Aonach Meadhoin (Munro #2) I got a good feeling that the day would 'go'. If it stayed like this, only patience would limit me.

The remainder of the ridge was a blur of silent mist, paths, rocky steps and compass bearings. The saddle between the Brothers (3 Munros) and the Sisters (3 Munros) is Bealach an Lapain. I stood here, four Munros down, knowing it would be crazy not to finish now.

More compass bearings brought me to more cairns, each one identified on the map, each one expected. There was no joy of reaching the summits of these spectacular Munros: the joy was in knowing there was one less to go.

But after the mental block on Ciste Dhubh in the morning, I carried a sense of lightness over these mountains, and finally dragged myself up Sgurr Fhuaran; an immense mountain which holds a degree of secrecy despite it's position right beside the road to Skye.

I headed direct down the west ridge, which drops in crazy steepness for 1,000m directly to near-sea level. You don't quite realise how big Sgurr Fhuaran is from the road until you go up or down it's west ridge! The bottom was deja vu, like being back in the Campsie Fells just north of Glasgow: sheep grazed land, with bracken growing silly-high, and the basalt bedrock showing here and there in boulders or scree. Very Campsie.

A final crazy river-wade (nearly up to my waist!) and I was back on the road. I spent half an hour trying to hitch, but no one would pick me up, despite standing beside a layby. Rain was threatening, the air was stuffy and humid... to be rained on was the last thing I needed. I couldn't hope to walk back up the glen.

Just as I was on the phone home, looking for a taxi, two woman from Edinburgh finally pulled in and gave me a lift back up the glen. I made sure they knew how appreciated it was!!

I told them I'd been waiting half an hour.

“Aye, no one gives folk lifts any more these days.”, the woman said.

They dropped me back at the Cluanie. I got a change for clothes and a freshen up, and I headed out of Glen Shiel for the last time, a wee chapter of the Munro story finished. I headed to Cannich and changed plans to do Strathfarrar the next day instead of the killer Affric round. Rush was loud on the car, and I was quite content though getting tired. When it transpired there was absolutely nowhere to camp around Cannich, I finally parked up in a layby not far short of midnight and tilted the seat back and fell asleep in the car.

In my experience, sleeping in the car is never a good idea, but it wasn't so bad...

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 9.10am Cluanie Inn
(1.50) 11.00am Ciste Dhubh
(3.35) 12.45pm Aonach Meadhoin
(4.14) 1.24pm Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg
(4.54) 2.04pm Saileag
(6.18) 3.28pm Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe
(7.50) 4.00pm Sgurr na Carnach
(7.28) 4.38pm Sgurr Fhuaran
(9.00) 6.10pm A87 by Achadh nan Seileach
Uploaded: 2019-02-14