Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Cluanie Ridge

On Friday night I headed up north to stay up at the Cluanie Inn with friends Colin and Neil - with the aim of walking the 7 Munros of the Cluanie Ridge on the Saturday.  We stayed in the Club House which is located in a separate building that sits alongside the main hotel building.  The rooms were great, and on opening the windows we were treated to the sound of the Stags bellowing errie in the night.  Welcome to the Highlands in Autumn!

On the Saturday morning will stocked up on a full Scottish Breakfast, packed the pack lunch that the Hotel provided in our rucksacks and headed off for our walk at half 9.  Sun was shinning, wind was calm and the Stags were making themselves heard once more.

Neil and Colin, Ready for a long day of walking

The start of the walk follows the private road between the Cluanie Inn to Tomodoun.

Looking north back torwards the Cluanie Inn.
The road slowly climbs the lower reaches of the Southern Ridge, providing great views over Loch Shiel.

 We ignored the first path up to first summit Creag a' Mhaim as Colin had done a recce back in August and found it to be boggy and hard going, instead we continued on the road to a path the south west end of ridge.  The path is well maintained and zig zags it's way up to the top.  The view looking back eastwards towards Loch Loyne was spectacular.

View from half way up Creag a' Mhaim, looking east towards Loch Loyne
We got the summit feeling fresh and revealing in the great weather and stunning views.

Summit of Creag a' Mhaim, 947m

Viewing looking north towards Loch Shiel

The Cluanie Ridge was stretched out before us, all the first summits were clear of cloud, but the end of the Ridge had their heads in the clouds.

View looking West along the Cluanie Ridge
As there was six more Munroe's left to cover we didn't hang around, and jogged the descent down to the ridge and headed onto to next summit Druim Shionnach.

Looking west from ridge towards Druim Shionnach

The southern side of the ridge gently slopes away and is covered with grass, heather and rocks and makes for good running.  The northern side of the ridge drops away steeply into cliffs, one would want to take care when in cloud, thankfully it was clear at this stage.
Looking back east towards Creag a' Mhaim

Druim Shionnach summit cairn, looking west towards the next Munroe, Aonach air Chrith
We arrived at Druim Shionnach, 987m, pretty quickly, paused from some quick photo's, even some cheesy ones!

Neil pointing out where we'd come from - the Cluanie Inn.

Progress to next Munroe was slower thanks to the steady climb up to the highest point on the ridge - Aonach air Chrith at 1021m.

Aonach air Chrith
Once passed the summit the path is initially just grassy and gentle, but then descends via some of the most technical crags on the route.

We caught two fellow walkers on the descent down the crags, they were planning to do all 7 munros, but suspect they will have been too slow to do it before nightfall as we only just managed it.

Looking back to the craggy descent, looks rather more benign than it was.
It was now after nearing 2pm and while making good progress still didn't have lots of time to complete the walk before nightfall so, inspired what we do in ultra-marathoning, we eat our sandwiches on the ascent up Maol Chinn-Dearg.  Some of the ascent was rather craggy and steep so one breathed in half of our sandwiches.

Maol Chinn-Dearg summit, 981m
The further west we went the lower cloud base was so when we arrived at the summit of Maol Chinn-Dearg we were in cloud for the first time.  As the wind had picked up we didn't hang around at the summit and headed west once more and down out of the cloud.

Looking south towards Loch Quoich

The descent from Maol Chinn-Dearg and traverse of the ridge to Sgurr an Doire Leathain offered lots of good ground so were were able to jog most of it.

View west towards Sgurr an Doire Leathain, hidden in cloud
Just before the summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathain the wind picked up and drizzle was falling so for the first time we all donned our jackets.

Just before the summit, looking back east
The summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathain at 1010m was well in cloud so no views to admire, so again headed on after the obligatory photo.

Sgurr an Doire Leathain summit, 1010m
During the descent from Sgurr an Doire Leathain the clouds opened up briefly and we were rewarded by a great cloud scape, with clouds above and below us, with an occassional ray of sunshine breaking through it all.

Cloud scape on the descent from Sgurr an Doire Leathain
The next munroe, number 6, Sgurr an Lochain should have offered great views of the ridge spread out to the east, but alas was in cloud.

Sgurr an Lochain, 1004m
Having followed the path continuously all along the ridge it felt natural to keep following the path at the summit, and being in cloud there was little to hint that it might be in the wrong direction.  I was a bit unsettled though as I recalled Colin showing me the map earlier in the walk and mentioned that one of the summits had a short out and back section.

We got out the first compasses to double check the direction of the path we were on, were expecting west, but it suggested we were heading north.  This just didn't feel right as we never recalled making a right turn at any point during the ascent.  A second compass agreed with the first. But still we weren't convinced, finally smart phone with compass agreed as well.  Three blokes think west, three compasses say north.

Out comes the map on Colin's phone, then the actual OS map.  Yep there is an out and back on this munroe, with a T junction just before the summit that we missed.  We back tracked and eventually found the path to the right heading off to the west.   Relieved to have caught our navigation mistake before it we wasted too much time/risk heading off down a very steep descent, we then made our way down out of the cloud and heading back west towards the final Munroe of the day - Creag nan Damh.

I polished off the last of my food just before the ascent and enjoyed this final climb.  Neil and Colin were reporting being pretty knackered on this climb, but with all my ultra races and training found myself nearer the end of journey still with plenty of energy.  The last hundred foot of the climb I just let rip and ran up to the summit, bounding up like an excited puppy.

The summit was only just in cloud so we get occasional hints of views around. It was no 4:50pm with the first hints that sunlight was diminishing. 
Creag nan Damh
Colin produced a hip flask with Highland Park Single Malt Whisky so we all celebrated with a invigorating swig and then followed the ride down to the south west.  A little way from the summit the route heads down to the foot of crag that you then have to scramble up.  Behind the summit of this crag the sun shone through the cloud and evoked a scene that would have been placed in a druid ceremony.

Last scramble before the final descent.

The scramble up required some good stretches off the arms and legs to get to the required hand holds and foot holds, all made a little tougher by being over 7 hours into the walk and having bagged 7 munros. The view back down the crag was impressive though!

View back down the scramble crag
As we descend the ridge we finally got out of cloud and were rewarded a great view down the glen to sea Loch Duich.

His raised his arms and the clouds parted revealing the way ahead
We could see the forest next to where the car was parked so it felt very much like we we'd back down soon.  The descent down to the bottom of the glen was wet, muddy, slippery, steep and slow going.  My right knee became pretty painful with the constant twisting steps down.  Colin and Neil were both having their own battles too.

It took us another 1:40 to get down to the car, only 2 1/2 miles away but it was a real slog.  It felt like the end of the glen never got any nearer, and the path that we hopped would improve as we got to the bottom of the glen never improved, only got boggier.

One final hurdle was a small river we had to cross, we couldn't spot any bridge so stepped across the stones, Neil with his long legs made it across without incident, me and my short legs ended up slipping and only just avoiding getting wet, while Colin slipped on the first stone and ended up in the drink and waded across the rest of the river.

Once over the rive it was easy walking back to the car, just before it got dark. By the time we had driven the 6 miles back up to the hotel it was dark.  One more surprise was awaiting us - right next to our accommodation three female red deer were standing close by and looking right at us.  They didn't show any fear, were calm and just watched us.

Deer at the Cluanie Inn
Speaking with bar staff later it turns out that visitors often feed the deer so they often come looking for easy picking.  After a good meal, a few beers and lots of banter we finally turned in.

The next morning we work to brilliant, unfortunately Colin needed to be back in Aberfoyle to be with his family so we all headed back home straight after breakfast.

Not before a few final photo's.  The following captures the Cluanie Ridge in all it's glory.  Sadly the staff accommodation and generator and equipment rather spoiled the otherwise epic view.

View of the Cluanie Ridge from the Cluanie Inn.

The drive home was stunning, especially the descent down to Loch Garry, the Loch sparked in the early morning sunshine whilst banks of mist boiled around the loch, forest and hills producing scenes of jaw dropping beauty.  Alas we were in too much of hurry to stop and take photo's, so I only have memories of this. If only I had a means for downloading images from my head... Just wait a few more decades perhaps...

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