Friday, June 26, 2015

Carn Ghluasaid, Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Sail Chaorainn

Time, weather, busyness and tragedy have meant that I haven't climbed or walked much in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland for several years. This week I was able to take up temporary residence at the "Trekkers Lodge" a bunkhouse immediately behind The Kintail Lodge Hotel, and spend three full days in the hills. I didn't go there with very high hopes, I didn't know if the bunkhouse would be any good, and the weather forecast was poor and deteriorating. Nevertheless, I packed the walking gear, (the waterproofs, maps, compass, hats, gloves, boots, GPS, food, drink) into a rucksack; and loaded the car with fuel and a choice of fine CDs and pointed North and West in search of Munros!

The bunkhouse turned out to be great. I had a single room (a cupboard!), and that came with kitchen/toilet/shower/drying room facilities for £16.50/night. That's about the same as a SYHA would charge for shared dormitory
accommodation which comes with all the associated inconvenience of shared space, and snoring room-mates! Sometimes when I wake up in the very early hours I like to read; not possible in a dorm. I also seem to have developed an allergy to something in spray deodorants, and I dread walking into the room when I will sleep to find someone venting the perfumed haze into air. The bunkhouse at Kintail is also about 30ft from the bar, which means that if after a long day on the hill you don't fancy cooking - you can make use of their pretty decent food. The fact that they also have a real-ale on tap and thirty malt whiskies available is an added incentive.

Many years ago I walked the long South Glen Shiel Ridge on a church walk, in which cars were carefully placed at the far end of the walk the previous night to bring us back to our starting point. The North side of the glen isn't walkable in the same linear fashion, but divides up into several distinct groups of walks, from the celebrated Five Sisters in the West to Carn Ghluasaid in the East. It's five years since I walked on the Five Sisters ridge, and I had never been to the eastern end of this group at all, so I began my walking at Loch Cluanie, at a layby marked as 'Lundie' on the OS map (although apart from the layby, there isn't actually anything there other than the road). Access to the hill at Lundie is via an old military road which runs parallel to the A87, westwards towards a distinctive radio mast. Any doubts as to the route are quickly erased by a signpost which points walkers towards Carn Ghluasaid along the track from the road.

Once at the radio mast a long climb winds its way all the way onto the mountain' broad summit, and large cairn. The first mile or two of the route are rather oddly marked by roadside reflective posts. The route is in places boggy, but this path provides a fast and straightforward route up onto the ridges. I climbed through
solid cloud - the views of surrounding mountains were spectacular but momentary. These are relatively lonely hills too (especially during the week). I saw only one other soul all day. There have been many times in which I have teamed up with other walkers in the hills - but every time I met this guy he emphasised that he was there for solitude and disappeared quickly!

Sgurr nan Conbhairean is a fine peak, with much to admire even in poor visibility. Its' graceful lines, and steeply sided ridges guide the walker through the fog up to its cairn at 1109m. Sail Chaorainn and its northernmost top (where there is allegedly a fine view!), feel like an extension of Conbhairean. I climbed them, before heading back towards the main summit, but turned westwards at around 1000m to bypass the mountain top itself.. All the walking books are unanimous in the recommendation of a descent via Drochaid an Tuill Easaich, and its' long grassy southern ridge. This slopes back down to the old military road, along to the radio mast and on to the car at Lundie.

It wasn't the most epic day in the hills I have ever had, but I returned to the pub feeling reasonably satisfied with my efforts. It was good to be back in the hills of the NW after a long break, I felt reasonably strong,
and the day had progressed without incident. This was a fine day's walking which needs to be done again with a view! Even better, the hotel staff pinned up the next day's forecast - and it was looking like a long dry day with some serious views would be on offer. I finished my pint, and went to bed, with an early alarm set for the next day's challenge.

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