South Glen Shiel Ridge

This has been a long time coming. All the years of driving through the glen or looking at it from the peaks on either side and saying “I really have to go there…”. It’s one of those hill days that deserves the weather and the right conditions, and the right place in your head. Rushing it would be rubbish, it needs time, attention, savouring, and an overnight on the ridge. I think this week I kinda got all of those.

The forces of darkness had aligned themselves with the A82. 17 sets of roadworks, mostly with lights, but one had my old favourite “The Convoy System”. Hooray. But the best obstacle was between Ardlui and Tarbet. A “Wide Load” boat on a trailer, jammed nose to nose with a lorry which was towing another lorry. They couldn’t pass, reverse, help themselves or each other. The Northbound cars manged to squeeze past carefully, but nobody wider or Southbound was going anywhere. I wonder how the situation resolved itself? When I got to Fort William I immediately headed to the Nevis Bakery for an award winning pie and an above average cuppa. Refueled. I also bought a big cookie with Smarties on it and put it in my rucksack for later.

The drive to the Cluanie Inn is a joy. Scotland is great, it really is. I know the treeless, hydro scheme scarred landscape is of our own making, but damn it’s beautiful. I parked opposite the Inn, saddled up and set off up the Old Tomdoun Road.

The old road is a fine if long approach, rough broken tarmac and stone bridges, ever changing views. I’d like to follow it to it’s end, although the swim across Loch Loyne where the raised water level has submerged the road would not be my favourite. I cut off onto a stalkers path and that was me onto the ridge. The sun was already very low (curse you demons of the A82). I got to Creag a’ Mhàim in time to watch the sun set. The ridge from here is a mix of scrambling, bimbling, rock-hard snow, and moonlit views. By the time I got to the unfortunately small summit of Aonach air Chrith it was time to stop, it was black, cold and I was hungry. The next bit of the ridge has exposed wee bits of scrambling and it looked like I was going to be traversing the flanks of a zebra, vertical stripes of black rock and white snow. I had to pitch the bivvy.

I was a little unnerved by this I’ll admit. At 1010m it’s the highest point on the ridge, it’s not flat and there’s big drops all around. So needless to say all the guy points on the bivvy were used and the pegs hammered in with a big rock. Once I was in my sleeping bag and dinner was made, it was okay. I could only see upwards to a crescent moon wheeling through a indigo sky busy with stars. I lay there munching on my Smarties cookie, Orange Goblin on the ipod, warm and comfy, the cracked cornice five feet away didn’t even enter my mind.

I had a good night, winds were light and although the air was chilled I left the zips on the bivvy open and just kept my bunnet on. I looked out around 0600 to see the horizon to the East aglow, the sun was thinking about making an appearance. I’d just lie back for a bit and wait for it. I missed the sunrise due to snoozing but still, it was looking very nice indeed when I stuck my head out. Breakfast was a muesli and hot chocolate delight. It’s a stunning spot to wake up on, not so scaryat all  in the daylight. I was surrounded by grand, snow streaked mountains, it was warming quickly, I had to go. My trouble is standing looking about me for these indefinite periods of time. I don’t care for the ticking of the summit, it’s the being there that’s important to me.

I was right about the next bit of ridge though, scrambly, steep, hard frozen snow with wee touches of exposure. A daytime excursion for sure. The ridge changes all the way along, from sweeping grassy hillside to sharp arete, hands in pockets to hands on rock. It pulls you onwards always, the next top looks the best, oh no the next one is, ah but looking behind maybe that last one? The distance doesn’t seem to matter as there’s constant input from the ridge and the surroundings, as you head West more scenery opens up and the perspective is constantly changing.

Sgurr an Lochain is steep though, just when you least expect it. A fine peak, the best looking one from the road. After that it was down to the spring below Sgurr Beag to refill the bottles and a wee bit of lunch in the sunshine. Final stop on the ridge was Creag nan Damh , a rugged wee bugger. I hung around for a while enjoying the views to the West, but time was marching on while mentally I was still sitting on the side of my bunk looking for my vest. The descent down Am Fraoch-choire to the road is probably best saved for the last outing on your old knees. I wouldn’t take new knees down that way, you’ll probably invalidate the warranty.

The road. It’s pish. Drivers are arseholes and can’t work their lights, steering and people walking by the roadside apparently. Tarmac makes my feet hot. And it’s a really long way from the Battle of GlenShiel (1719) to the Cluanie Inn carpark (2000hrs) on the A87. But it’s nice to have done the whole round on foot.

I really enjoyed it. The mountains were fantastic, the weather was a dream, walking the ridge at night was exhilerating, the bivvy made it a wee adventure and, the kit was good (more of that later). Never saw a soul either.

And I got a touch of the sun. Good grief.

Edit… Just remembered my emergency stop in Glen Coe when a stag wandered out onto the road and stopped. It turned to look at me and I half expected it to pull out a Magnum .44 and challenge me.

10 thoughts on “South Glen Shiel Ridge”

  1. Nice one,it sounds like you had a grand time of it…barring the obligatory roadworks(they always seem to increase in number at this time of year,somethin’ to do with councils panic spendig the last of their yearly budgets methinks).Anyway great to hear of your mini epic,damn fine photos too,especially the sunset one,it kind of evokes something old-godly and ancient.
    May I also commend you on your ecellent choice of music…orange goblin…great stuff.Sunset in the hills for me usually consists of a bit of classic THERION or even a bit of me old mates ACRIMONY.

  2. It is an odd feeling the sun sinking when you’re on the tops. I never get used to it. I think it’s because I know that nine times out of ten I’m staying up there, so there’s a sharp intake of breath and I carry on.
    In the dark.

    Also on the ipod was Maynard Ferguson, Celtic Frost and the God of War II soundtrack. Nothing if not eclectic :o)

  3. I’m not normally the jealous type but, in this case, I’ll make an exception. That looked like a grand day oot. Nice one chief :o)

  4. It was mighty fine. The hills are great, and I’m glad I took my time.
    It’s put me all out of kilter though. I spend yesterday thinking it was a bank holiday or something, and today I’m getting work calls and I’m thinking “Why are you phoning me at the weekend?”

    I’ll be fine by Monday…

  5. It sounds like you had a great walk.
    And it looks spectacular – your photos really do take us there with you, mate.

    I even managed out the chair myself at the weekend (sorry – I should have asked you to sit down first, before hitting you with that bombshell – apologies). Not on your grand scale mind you – I was in Comrie helping a friend out who’s building an extension to his stone built house. He’s recovering from a minor heart attack (if there is such a thing!) so he’s got his 10,000 steps a day to do, so once we downed tools on the Saturday afternoon, it was a quick drive over to the Sma’ glen up behind Crieff. A couple of hours gentle stroll around the hills – never more than a few hundred metres up, but a sunset to rival your own, with clear blue above, save for a bright shiny moon.

    It’s the first time I’ve felt alive in ages.
    And the only special kit I needed was me scarf & bunnet!

    If I get any good photos back from my olde worlde film camera, I’ll pass them on. ;o)

  6. Ah, good lad. It’s nice up there.

    It is indeed the getting out of the chair and doing soemthing. It’s not about the peaks, I suspect that all they give you is a convenient point to turn back at :o)

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