The first day was the 'Brothers of Kintail', and we met at the Cluanie Inn car park, (very handy for refreshment at the end of a walk one finds). After some car shuffling, we set off around 9am. It was a large group of myself and Manny along with Laura, Beth, Diane, Michael, Roger, Johnston, Neil, Rosalind, Helen, Christina and Gordon, so there were plenty of folks to chat with as we plodded up the grassy and wet ascent of Ciste Dhubh, our first munro. There is an airy path that skirts the sharp feature of An Cnapach, and this then leads onto the narrowing ridge to the summit, where there is a broad mossy bank for a snack and rest. It is then a long descent to rather lower than one would like before another grassy pull up on to the false summit of Sgurr an Fhurail at 987m. Another up and down leads to the second munro of Aonach Meadhoin. By then it would be fair to say some of the group were realising these Kintail hills are both stunningly beautiful but steep!
The next summit of Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg has a little scrambling to a large airy cairn, and we all had some fun taking various posed pics and scrambling along various lines on the ridge. From there the dramatic ridge line to the Five Sisters of Kintail stretches out in from of you, and it looks like the route goes on forever! One of the guys asked tentatively 'is that the next one'?, and I assured her we couldn't see our next hill, which was nearer, but smaller, and therefore hidden from view. I think my reply was viewed as 'guide speak' (like we do! ;), and there was relief when the summit of Saileag did come into view, much closer on the ridge.
We lingered on Saileag, taking in the next day's walk which was tantalisingly laid out in front of us in the afternoon sun. Then came the descent. It is a steep and badly eroded path from the Bealach an Lapain, and has become even more eroded since the munros have become ever more popular. So whilst relatively quick, it is hard on the knees, needs concentration, and is very wet and boggy where it isn't stony. We all made our own way down in our own way, with a variety of pirouetted tumbles and slips. Thankfully they only resulted in wet backsides and bruised egos, but it was with relief and wobbly legs that we all got down to the cars eventually. I don't think I need to use much poetic prose to illustrate how keen the guys were on the following days ascent up the same slope, but Johnston's exclamation that it was an hour of 'unremitting gutrot' did make us giggle.
Sunday morning found us back at the foot of the 'unremitting gutrot' again after leaving cars further down the glen. The plan was to do the munros that make up part of the Five Sisters of Kintail. There was a good deal of gallows humour as we set off, but the consensus was that it wouldn't be so bad in ascent, and it wasn't. We really did motor up the hillside, blowing the stiffness out of our legs by an all-out assault on the 600m of direct ascent, no stopping. We felt like we had achieved a summit once we attained the bealach!
The continuation ridge and the three munros must be one of Scotland's finest walks, and the effort of the undulations is forgotten with just one look at the views. The ever-present cloud never touched the summits, and indeed cleared off the summit of the distant Ben Nevis at times, but it did enhance the definition of the hills. We could see Rum and the Skye ridge, North to Torridon, and of course many hills to our South such as Knoydart etc.
There is one small down scramble before the first munro of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, but the rest is simply rocky paths. On the summit, we were joined by a young lady to whom Manny asked 'where have you come up from'? She replied 'France', much to everyone's amusement and her embarrassment! We told her we were suitably impressed at her speed!
The next summit was Sgurr na Carnach, and the final one Sgurr Fhuaran. On this one Christina and Helen both celebrated their First Fifty munros, and were accordingly accepted into the Society of Committed Munro Loonies.....i.e. They are now officially hooked.
It was here we had a decision to make. Make the easy but steep descent down the WNW ridge of Sgurr Fhuaran, or continue over the rest of the Five Sisters. Roger was keen to press on, but the majority of the team felt they had achieved an awful lot in the two days, with a not inconsiderable ascent/descent metreage. We therefore elected for the knee-jarring but direct descent, which also benefits from great views up Loch Duich in front of you the whole way.
It is here I think a special mention should go out to Laura and Michael. Laura is very new to munro bagging, having returned to the hills after a good lay-off, yet she kept smiling the whole way despite her tiredness. Michael by his own admission doesn't get out quite as often as he would like, and took a small tumble on the Saturday pulling his groin. Despite this, he battled on stoically, and never ceased to be cheerful and happy. He had given 99% by the time we got to the last burn crossing where the team kindly waited for us, and the final 1% was lifting his leg over a large boulder to cross. No-one could have asked for more, so very well done!
All we had left between the cars and us was the River Shiel. Manny smugly produced his crocs for the paddle across. We looked briefly at him, at the water, and at the cars, and all just charged across! What price some damp socks when a rest, a meal and a pint is in the offing!?
A fantastic two days. Super hills, great company, and for once this year, almost good weather!