Friday, September 03, 2010

122-124. The Five Sisters of Kintail (Sgurr na Ciste Dubh (105), Sgurr na Carnach (134), Sgurr Fhuaran (70)), 31/08/2010.

Having wanted to climb the Five Sisters since she was a wee girl, mum was keen to join Hilde and me when we expressed an interest in walking the ridge, so she came up for the day. Surprisingly, the weather was splendid. With slightly tired legs and a sextagenarian in tow, we anticipated a longish day, but we crested the ridge at the 'Peak of the Spaniards' (not one of the sisters) relatively swiftly. It was a steep climb and we left the path after a short while, but the going was easier once we were on the top. You may recall mum's penchant for flora and fauna from previous episodes - this was satisfied by a small covey of ptarmigans that she was able to get very close to.

After a motivational mars bar on the summit, there was a good, slightly scrambly section of ridge (that would have been described as 'rugged' in a guidebook) before the first munro. There wasn't too much reascent to Sgurr na Carnach, but the prospect of lunch at the top of Sgurr Fhuaran was needed to keep the legs going on the steep 200m of ascent up to it. By this point, the lion's share of the climbing had been done, but there were still two sisters to go. There were some fairly spectacular views of the whole of Scotland from here. Ben Nevis was clearly visible, as well as Torridon and the Cuillin on Skye.

The next section of ridge was arguably the best, with huge vertical sheets of rock shooting down on one side of the ridge and a narrow path winding along the top. On the fourth sister, we were unsure whether we had done 4 or 5, since the literature was unclear which of Sgurr na Spainteach and Sgurr na Moraich was the fifth peak. Fortunately, we met a couple of other walkers who were adamant that we still had one to go. This peak was lower and had more gentle slopes, so was easy enough to climb (with liberal use of chocolate bar bribery), but it meant that we had little in the way of a path for the descent. We should have gone direcly south from the summit to try and reach the path in the valley as quickly as possible, but instead we decided to aim for the finish. This meant we had over an hour of awkward and uncomfortable descent over the heather and grass before we got to the path. To cap it all off, the path was midge-infested.

Despite this slightly unpleasant descent, it was a great day's ridge walk and a great achievement for mum, climbing 3 munros in a day for the first time.

Looking towards the first of the Five Sisters from the Peak of the Spaniards.

Back along the ridge after the fourth sister.

The whole ridge from the final summit.

A view from the east, where one can clearly make out the 5 peaks.

121. Carn Mor Dearg (9). 29/08/2010

Despite bright sunshine in Fort William, an eerie and atmospheric experience awaited us up on The Ben. In climbing round via Carn Mor Dearg, we not only took in another Munro, but also experienced a completely different side of Britain's tallest mountain (in more ways than one). Setting off just before 9am, we were probably just outside the first thousand people to set out up the highway-like path. With so many people around, Hilde and I were in excessively competetive spirit and didn't allow ourselves a breather until we were out of sight of the crowds at 650m. Amongst the people we overtook were the usual ill-equipped motley crew, some of whom were armed with no more than the two layers of clothing they were dressed in (not even water or decent shoes). A few were even turning back by this point.

Anyway, we were glad when we were able to head round the north face and away from the crowds on what could easily be its busiest day of the year. There was a bit of reascent to get onto Carn Mor Dearg itself, but we were soon climbing the path and trying to chase away the mist ahead of us. The Scottish mist is a stubborn beast, however and everything above 1100m remained covered. The summit was also pretty chilly - well below freezing, which combined with windchill will have meant about -10C. My thoughts went out to the walkers on the tourist route and hoped there weren't any problems there from these unseasonal conditions.

It was now that the real excitement began - the Carn Mor Dearg Arete, or CMD for short. There was some good scrambling to be had, although there was quite often a path too. The ridge was wide enough (usually 2-3m) so as not to be too scary, but then the drops were sufficient to still make it quite exposed. The mist (which at times was present on one side of the arete, but not on the other) only added to the atmosphere. Apart from one other scrambler that we witnessed behind us, we also had the place to ourselves.

Soon, however, we were joining the throngs on the summit plateau (some of whom we had seen on the way up several hours earlier) and then beginning the long trudge down to the Ben Nevis Inn - 1300m+ of descent is quite wearying on the joints.

Hilde on the CMD Arete

Attempting to catch the mist-on-one-side-only phenomenon.

The summit mob.