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The MunrosThe Munros
The ridge leading to Sgurr nan Saighead
The ridge leading to Sgurr nan Saighead
Country: Scotland.
Location: Glen Shiel.
Accommodation: Cluanie Inn at the east end of the glen. Youth Hostel at Ratagan (2.5km along Loch Duich from Shiel Bridge) Kintail Lodge (hotel) at Inversheil. Campsite at Shiel Bridge.
Transport: The A87 runs along Glen Shiel with a number of buses per day.
Maps: Landranger Map 0033: Loch Alsh, Glen Shiel & Loch Hourn
Trip Date: 30 June 1993
Also See:
North Kintail Ridge to Saileag by Paul Kennedy
Introduction

A classic day out on the Scottish hills is the traverse of the Five Sisters of Kintail. This range forms the rugged and steep north wall of Glen Shiel. The slopes dropping into Glen Sheil rise in great sweeps of heather and grass up to scree and crags on the tops. Luckily for the walker there are several long ridges climbing onto the range and a couple of accessible bealachs (cols). The Five Sisters consist of 3 Munros, a Top (above 914m but not considered separate peaks) and a hill - Sgurr na Moraich at 876m. The Munros are:
Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (peak of the black chest, 1027m)
Sgurr Fhuaran (meaning obscure, 1068m). and
Sgurr na Carnach (1002m - a new Munro in August 1997).

The Top is Sgurr nan Saighead (peak of the arrows, 929m).

This route includes the Munro of Saileag (little heel, 959m) and so may make the day a bit strenuous - thus a couple of exit routes avoiding the last couple of Sisters are included.

Route

The day starts at a point along the A87 about 1.75 kilometres east of the bridge at the site of the 1719 Battle of Glenshiel. Here there is a wide break in the blanket of spruce that stretches from the bridge to almost Cluanie Inn. If you are based at the Ratagan Youth Hostel the day will start earlier with a walk along the shores of Loch Duich on a country road to Shiel Bridge. A bus can be caught here.

There is a bit of a path heading directly north up onto the open hillside. This continues steeply and indistinctly up grass slopes until the top of the ridge is gained at Bealach an Lapain (723m). I found it slightly easier to traverse east a bit until over the spruce trees and then ascend (just as steeply) up a wee ridge.

From the col, turn your back on the Five Sisters and head east up easy grassy slopes on a well-defined path. Within an hour the broad top of Saileag is reached. This gives a good view back westwards to the rest of the days walking. Fit walkers can continue along the ridge to bag Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg (peak of the red pass, 1038m). The detour will add at least an hour to the journey (3 kilometres of walking with 130m of ascent for the round trip). Return from Saileag to the col - in mist make sure that you don't head off down the north ridge from Saileag. The detour to Saileag will add less than 1.5 hours to the day with 240m of climbing.

The summit cairn of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe
The summit cairn of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

A distinct path wanders west along a narrower ridge from the col to the Top of Sgurr nan Spainteach (peak of the Spaniards, c.990m). This is not counted as one of the Five Sisters. Further on the ridge drops more abruptly to the next col with a short rocky pitch giving some variety. Before the climb to Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe is reached, the ridge develops a curious double crest which may be confusing in misty weather. However by carefully following the path there should be no difficulties. Your second Munro of the day is reached up steep stony slopes to a large cairn.

Continue west and then NW down to the Bealach na Gaoithe (850m). The path climbs north up a broad ridge to Sgurr na Carnach (your third Munro of the day) and then descends its rather steep north side on a broad, ill-defined ridge to the Bealach na Carnach (868m). The steep and bouldery south face of Sgurr Fhuaran looks daunting but the path makes an easier than expected zigzag progress up to the summit of the Munro.

If you are just bagging Munros or want to shorten your day then Glen Shiel can be quickly reached down the west ridge from Sgurr Fhuaran - a fairly steep descent over stoney and then grassy ground. Once level ground is reached, walk downstream to the bridge just short of Loch Shiel and cross it to get to the A87 road.

Sheil Bridge and Ratagan
Finally, the clouds part to show Sheil Bridge, Loch Duich and Ratagan (YH)

To continue along the ridge, drop down the west ridge and then NW across the northwest face of Sgurr Fhuaran to a grassy col. The more adventurous can take a direct route straight down the west edge of the northwest face. This starts with a scramble down a rocky gully and then a pathless descent through boulders and little crags until the col is reached. Beyond the col, the path climbs up steadily to Sgurr nan Saighead with an interesting little drop on the east. Over the sharp summit of the Top, a fine narrow ridge drops down and then up to Beinn Bhuidhe - the steep drop to the left is easily appreciated via the views down the several clefts that the path skirts.

Beinn Bhuidhe provides another short-cut back to Glen Shiel by dropping down its NW ridge to a col at 443m. A steep grassy slope then drops to Loch Shiel, the bridge across River Shiel and the A87 road. A slightly better route is to descend west to the Allt a'Chruinn to pick up a path that follows the stream. This allows you to inspect the waterfall on the steep lower slopes of Sgurr na Moraich above the head of Loch Duich. Another advantage is that once you have gained the A87 there is a hotel just down the road towards Shiel Bridge.

To complete the traverse of the Five Sisters, descend NNE from Beinn Bhuidhe to a small col and then climb up the south-east ridge of Sgurr na Moraich to its rounded, grassy summit. Glen Shiel is reached by following the Allt a'Chruinn. You can drop down to the path by the stream by either descending south and then west to below the 443m col or by descending sharply WNW to get to the path just above the waterfall.


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