The Five Sisters of Kintail

Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, Sgurr na Cranach and Sgurr Fhuaran


 

The five Sisters of Kintail is one of the great ridge walks of Scotland and I was determined to do it some day. In June 2013 I finally took up the challenge! For this walk I've inserted some of my times as it was essential that I reached the end of the walk in time for the Citylink bus back Cluanie.

I used the Cluanie Inn's 'taxi' service to take me down Glen Shiel to the start of the walk at NH 00798 13622. The path starts just behind the chevron road sign.(09:06)

There is no question that this is a steep climb - from the road to the Bealach am Lapain there's a climb of 480m in less than a kilometre - an eye watering 1 in 2 gradient.

The path clambers up the hillside and then traverses across to the forest..

A look back down to the A87.

The path cuts around the top of the plantation...(09:32)

.....before turning uphill at a small pile of stones. 

The photos below give an idea of the climb to the bealach which is alternately, badly eroded, wet, slippy and rocky. 

The summit of Beinn Odhar comes into view as...

.....the bealach is reached and the main ridge path.(10:23)

....which comes off Saileag to the east. That hill would be part of the the next day's walk.

From the bealach this is looking east up Glen Shiel with the hills of the South Glen Shiel ridge beyond.

The east top of Beinn Odhar, at 878 m, is the first peak to be climbed. 

Looking back to Saileag (left) and Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg (centre) 

The walk along teh ridge is an entertaining switchback. 

Looking across Glen Shiel to Sgurr na Signe - 945m (in the centre) and The Saddle -1010m (on the right) with the notorious Forcan Ridge leading up to it.

Heading for Sgurr nan Spainteach.

Looking back down Beinn Odhar's ridge to Saileag and Sgurr a Bhealacih Dheirg.

Approaching the summit of Sgurr nan Spainteach with the bealach between Sgurr na Carnach (on the left) and Sgurr Fhuaran on the right.

The summit cairn on Sgurr nan Spainteach (11:31)

Beyond the summit the first Munro of the day comes into view, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe.

Many reports describe the descent from Sgurr nan Spainteach down to bealach as having some rather exposed scrambling sections. These had worried me a little!!

The first one was just a careful scramble down over boulders....

.....as seen above and nothing to worry about. Surely that couldn't be it?

Dropping down further there's an ominous sudden drop of the hillside.

The path passes this cleft with views of Sgurr na Carnach  and Sgurr Fhuaran (under the cloud)...

...and then the path comes to this sudden drop and it's a long way down.

Reports suggest going down either to the left or the right and there are, indeed, two obvious routes down the rocks. I chose to go down to the right using five points of contact (and in one or two places six - feet, hands, bottom and rucksack as there was nobody watching!).

This is the 'cliff' looking back up - the easiest and least exposed route seems to be the one on the left (looking up). In actual fact I found it quite an interesting scramble down. I took my time and just five minutes separate this and the previous photo. (12:07)

Down at the bealach the path heads up towards Sgurr na Ciste-Duibhe....

.....whilst looking back reveals Sgurr nan Spainteach in all its rocky glory.

Initially, the path heads straight for this gully but...

...then twists to the left and ..

....approaches the summit from the south west.

The summit cairn of Sgurr na Ciste Duibh is at 1027m. (12:21)

There's now a drop of 178m down to the Bealach na Craoibhe...

.....and then a climb of 153m to the next Munro, Sgurr na Carnach.

There's an excellent and easy path, with views of Loch Duich , Skye and the cloud covered Cuillins.

A thousand metres below is the A87 down in Glen Shiel.

The path finds an easy course down to the bealach..

.....where Sgurr na Cranach looms above.

At this point the clouds over the Cuillins lifted and I was able to take this telephoto shot which has been heavily sharpened. The Cuillins are about 30 miles away. Also just visible are the waters of the Sound of Sleat near the Glenelg ferry

From the bealach there's a view down Coire Domhain with Glen Affric in the distance. (13:17)

Looking down to Loch Duich with Shiel Bridge at the head of the loch.

Down at the bealach this is looking back to Sgurr na Ciste Duibh. (13:22)

From the bealach the initial climb is through rocks..

....and then up the ridge to reach..

.....Sgurr na Carach's cairn at 1002m. (13:39)

Looking down Glen Affric with Loch Affric in the distance, roughly 11 miles away.

Looking over Loch Duich towards Lochalsh with the small island of Glas Eilean.

The Isle of Rhum is about 40 miles away in this sharpened image.

The way on to the day's third Munro, Sgurr Fhuaran means another descent of 133m followed by no less than 200m of ascent.

The drop down off Sgurr na Carnach is quite steep....

....including a gentle scramble...

....before the path reaches the Bealach na Carnach

Then it's a slog up the hillside....

...with a pause to look back at Sgurr na Carnach.

The path climbs through boulders.....

....to Sgurr Fhuaran's cairn at 1067m. (14:34)

Looking down the east ridge to the head of Glen Affric.

Ok! so all we have to do now is to get down to sea level!

Ahead is the fourth sister, Sgurr nan Saighead, which isn't a Munro even though it's 929m above sea level. Presumably this is because it only rises 100m from the bealach.

The path, initially, looks as though it's going straight down into the glen but..

.....then bends to the right...

.....to drop down to the bealach where for a short distance there is a lovely level path with no rocks! (15:08)

Sgurr nan Saighead  has some truly awesome cliffs on the east side and from here looks as though it ought to be a Munro!

Looking back Sgurr Fuharan also has some spectacular cliffs above its corrie.

The path crosses an old stone dyke....

.....as it starts to climb....

....towards the first of the cliffs.

I had thought I might go over the top of Sgurr nan Saighead but there's a by pass path that avoids the ascent and I really needed to be down at Ault a'chruinn for my bus back to the Cluanie Inn, so I decided to head along the slopes of the hill rather than over it.

The path is reasonably clear and after crossing a rocky sections...

.....Beinn Buidhe (the fifth sister) comes into view.

The main path is rejoined and there's now a superb path along the edge of the cliffs almost to its summit.

Looking back to Sgurr nan Saighead's cliffs and Sgurr Fhuaran (on the right).

The track drops down to a depression just below Beinn Buidhe's summit...

.....before it heads along on it's west side.

From here on it's downhill all the way across grass with quite a clear path.

As the ground steepens, the track heads towards the Allt a'Chruinn and becomes less distinct. Luckily there's no need to cope with the bog ahead.

There's a rather attractive waterfall...

....and then it's time to cross the stream.

Once across there's a boggy path..

....which quickly improves.

The approach to Ault a'chruinn is spectacular and a great end to the walk as.

...it contours high above the loch...

...before dropping down the stalker's path..

.....to reach a deer fence and stile..

....and finally a well made path down to..

.....the hamlet of Ault a'Chruinn. I arrived at 18:05, nicely in time for a cup of tea and cake at the restaurant by the junction of the A87. I was more than pleased with my time of exactly 9 hours including several refreshment stops.

 The bus stops on the main road at the junction and was bang on time at 18:45. Mind you the fare of 7.50 for the 12 miles back up to the Cluanie Inn was a surprise! The driver said, "7.50, would you believe."