Saileag Three & The Misplaced Cairn

25 05 2014

June 2009
This was another uneasy day I had Munro-bagging in Kintail back in 2009 when I was a lot more cowardly than I am recently…

To do the ‘Saileag Three’ as I call them (I believe everyone else calls them ‘The Brothers’ as they are next along the ridge from The Five Sisters) we (the long suffering Richard and I) drove up Glen Shiel until we reached the end of the last forest on the left near the top of the road hill, then parked at the foot of the path going up the burn issuing from Coire Cadha. From there we headed up the east bank of the burn to where the path peters out at a sheepfold and then, still on the same bank, to the right of the Steall Ban falls. The route was wet but pleasant – the weather wet but not quite so pleasant – at least the cloud was mainly off the tops.

(click on photos for larger versions)
I kept looking at a group ascending Sgurr an Fhuarail straight from The Cluanie and wondering whether we should have gone up that way. I wanted to do the Munro ‘top’ but it didn’t look far from our first Munro to do a quick detour so I thought I’d just see how I felt on the summit. As we reached Coire Cadha, I saw a guy heading up our route who had decided to follow the south ridge of Aonach Meadhoin all the way up – it looked pretty steep going. I was hoping to beat him to the summit but Richard was dragging as he hates ascending without a path.

About the area of the conjunction of the burns in the corrie, I decided it was a good time to head off up to the ridge – the contours agreed with me too. We were soon on the ridge, just behind the other chappie. The ridge went up in short bursts but the last short section to the top looked steep – it was – I felt like my nose was nearly touching the grass! We arrived on the summit just after the guy and I had a look across to the top of Sgurr an Fhurail to our right. I also looked left along our ridge and thought it didn’t look quite as straight-forward as I was hoping so decided to miss the top. We had a quick break and hot drink and continued left.

Ciste Dubh
Ciste Dubh from the summit of Aonach Mheadhoin

Aonach Mheadhoin
Aonach Mheadhoin (looking back)

The ridge down from Aonach Meadhoin to the col was better than it had looked – slightly rocky and sometimes narrow, but fine.

Aonach Mheadhoin fm West
Aonach Mheadhoin from West (the top of Sgurr an Fhuarail peeping out behind)

The slope up to our second Munro, Sgurr a’ Bhealaich Dheirg, was just rising grassy humps so was also fine. However, the Munro was by now going into cloud.

Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg
Sgurr a’ Bhealaich Dheirg

There was a longish climb up a reasonably steep grass slope into the mist but still very comfortable for my nerves. The path zig-zagged up the last section, going first left across the back and then right again to the eastern end of the summit ridge where there was an interesting snow trough right across the ridge. It looked a really nice grassy summit.. but where on earth was the traditional cairn? I then remembered something about the Munro book saying a cairn on one of our Munros was along a short ridge.

Richard suddenly said he could see it and I peered into the void where he was pointing. About 50 yards away there was a misty looking man-made tower – unfortunately the ridge to it looked awful! It was very narrow and rocky and, just to make it even more awkwardly narrow, someone had built a dry-stone dyke (wall) along the middle of it! As we set off towards it, we were sliding about on wet, greasy rock.

I was furious and let out a loud string of what is fondly termed ‘invective’. It was quite a long and coarse rant and the other chap who had been in front of us and was just returning from said cairn, looked a little shocked. Richard just shrugged at him and explained I didn’t like where someone had put the cairn! I just stated my view that, in Kintail, every mountain had to have a drama – even if it had to be a manmade one like this one and that I was certain the nice grassy summit ridge behind us was much higher! It had to be really as the ridge we were setting out along was a ridge which descends to the north of the mountain so, being a descending ridge, surely must have been lower. There certainly wasn’t much in it!

We groped and slithered our way along the ridge above the misty void on either side (I always think misty voids are far worse than ones you can see). I tried one side and then the other but didn’t like either – I continued to swear. Finally we made it to the cairn – Richard was probably walking but I was on all fours all the way gripping the wall. I just quickly touched the cairn and headed straight back. Richard said he could see how much I liked it…

A Stupid Place to put the cairn!
A Stupid Place to put the cairn!

Back on the safety of the grassy summit ridge we headed along in the direction of Saileag – a hill I knew had no malice as I’d seen it when we did the Five Sisters earlier in the week. The connecting ridge was similar to the previous one but the drop on the right was craggier and steeper and the ridge was quite a bit rockier with small crags across it here and there.

It was crossing the back of one of these rocky outcrops that we nearly had a disaster. There was a very craggy end that had a narrow path along the right-hand side near its top and above a sharp drop, the path then climbed up the side to the top of the crag to continue along the ridge. As is traditional when I’m unsure I sent Richard past me to scout it.

Like a complete idiot, I stood right behind him on the narrow path (with a nice big drop behind me) to watch where he went. I didn’t have a hand-hold… He set off up a step or two, decided his legs were the wrong way round or something and jumped down backwards to our stance cannoning into me hard… I think I must have managed to move sideways as he hit me and regain my balance, probably grabbing his rucsac (not sure whether I did or not it happened so quickly). Anyway, suffice to say, I didn’t actually fall off, but it was very close. More swearing, mostly from me at him – although it really wasn’t his fault as I soon realised and apologised – we must be a riot to follow on the hill!

Saileag & near-disaster crag!
The very peaked crag is the one I tried to descend the back of – rapidly!
Saileag & near-disaster crag!

We continued uneventfully up Saileag which was a darling of a hill with, as I’d suspected, no malice at all. We descended uneventfully to the Bealach an Lapain. Now, I’ve always imagined this pass to be unpleasantly steep on the side above the road (we used the other side to do the 5 Sisters and we didn’t have a look at the time) so I warned Richard I may not like the next bit.

Saileag fm the West
Saileag from the West
Saileag

I edged my way over the edge of the pass to where the zig-zag starts and gingerly started down… I could see a van roof directly beneath my feet looking about the size of an ant. All the way down the very crumbly-edged zig-zags I kept imagining that at any moment the path edge would collapse and I would plunge vertically downwards and through the van roof. I was so hesitant I was going at something less than a snail’s pace and fairly flattened back against the ground behind me keeping very low. Richard thought I was being ridiculous but kept himself in front of me on each zig-zag to try to give me confidence in the hope that one day we’d eventually get to the bottom and I’d stop whingeing and give his ears a rest.

About half way down the path trended away left above the forest which looked nice and soft after the van roof – the gradient was much less so I shut up and smiled in relief. We didn’t want to descend right down to the road as we could see that there was a nice forest road to take instead of the horrible walk back up the main road to our parking. Of course, it being Kintail, in our way was a deer fence… and as usual there was no stile in sight (I suppose we were taking a short cut but lots of people had padded up and down the fence around that point). We climbed the 10 foot wire fence and descended short steep grassy banks into the thick forest and landed bang on the start of the forest road.

After a couple of nice bits of forest walking with great views of the South Shiel ridge to the right (so that I could study it at leisure for bits to worry about) and a short section of road we were back at the car and, shortly after that, the pub at Shiel Bridge.

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11 responses

1 06 2014
fedup

Another eventful trip 🙂 Was the cairn on the actual summit or was it on the ridge?

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1 06 2014
mountaincoward

That awkwardly placed cairn along the ridge supposedly is the summit – I just didn’t like where they’d placed it and it didn’t look any higher. It was atop the highest part of the northern ridge just before it descended to the glen behind the hills.

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1 06 2014
chrisharrison2013

Nothing like a few shocks and surprises for a good aerobic exercise. Sounds exhilarating!

Chris

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1 06 2014
mountaincoward

I was more annoyed that exhilarated at the time! Especially with it being so damp and greasy…

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28 05 2014
bob

It was a nylon one but it was so windy the ridgepole went straight through it and the tenants woke up in a puddle. Luckily large quantities of drink the night before provided suitable insulation and it was dry for the other days. Outdoors at least. We were thirsty boys in those days :o)

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27 05 2014
bob

Good to see what they look like. Some of the first Munros I climbed and shortly after my first meeting with Alex his pals and mine all got together at Easter to bag around 12 Munros ( the 7 in a day was a one off, never to be repeated, novelty) We camped at Clunie on green grass meadows then had a big storm during the night. Woke up to the shock of snow covered mountains but it didn’t put us off. Happy days. Lost a tent though as it ripped apart..

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27 05 2014
mountaincoward

Was that one of the old canvas tents or a new nylon one? That would be awful – I suppose at least, if there’s a few of you, you could squash that tent’s occupants into some of the other tents!

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26 05 2014
McEff

Great stuff. Can’t beat a bit of drama on the top of a mountain. Very unnerving at the time but I bet you look back on it and laugh. And I love that first picture of Ciste Dubh. I don’t recall it being as steep at that at the summit. Must be a memory thing!
All the best, Alen

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27 05 2014
mountaincoward

I could have well done without the various dramas Kintail provided me with on my first trip around those hills. I still have to get to Sgurr nan Forcan this June so more drama is around the corner too – oo-err!
Carol.

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25 05 2014
smackedpentax

I don’t thing you are a coward at all 😉 Superb post as always and I wish I had time to do these hikes….too much work and responsibilities these days 😦

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25 05 2014
mountaincoward

I was more cowardly then than I would be now I think – Skye knocked a lot of it out of me!

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