A Return to the Five Sisters

29 06 2014

Sun 8 Jun 2014

Richard’s and my first day back in Kintail and I decided to tackle the short, steep but interesting route back onto the end of ‘The Five Sisters of Kintail’ to collect the previously missed ‘Top’ of Sgurr nan Saighead as I knew Richard would love it.

Photos by me & Richard Wood as marked – click on for full size/resolution
On turning off onto the end of the Morvich (south) road, we were pleased to see six new parking places had been set up for walkers. There was only one car there – a guy was just getting his bike out to cycle the road part of the full ridge walk – as we parked up. The parking was free too.

Unfortunately for Richard, the start of the steep ascent up the waterfall gorge is pretty near the start of the walk so there was no time to get warmed up properly. The start of the track wasn’t clear and we ended up asking a nice old local who was just getting out of his car whether we had the right track or not – he confirmed we had.

It was warm and sunny as we plodded up the vehicle track which goes up just after crossing the burn to a small dam and water supply for the village. At the end of the track, a good path heads steeply upwards onto a heathery ridge beside the spectacular gorge. At this point we were ascending the NW ridge of the ‘Fifth Sister’ – Sgurr na Moraich. I fully intended to include this peak this time – as one of the sisters, it’s only right really. I had an idea Richard might not want to though…

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Sgurr na Moraich (Richard’s photo)

Originally, I’d planned to ascend the steep NW ridge of Moraich from the top of the waterfall path but, ultimately, decided to see what it looked like from the col between that and Beinn Bhuidhe – I had a feeling it would be easier and might even tempt Richard then…

When I’d last done this path, at the end of a terrible day on The Five Sisters, I’d hated the part where it contoured the steep ground high above the gorge – but then I’d been having a bad day. I was pleased to find that the steep ascent to the traverse, and the contouring above the gorge were actually fine. We were a bit surprised at this point to meet a guy coming back from the Five Sisters already!!

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The Gorge – Sgurr an t’ Searraich above (Richard’s photo)

High above Loch Duich
It’s a long way down to Morvich
High Above Morvich

The fact that I’d been having such a terrible time on my last visit to these hills explained why I had the top of Sgurr nan Saighead outstanding… Basically, I’d been so terrified by that point that I just wanted to finish the ridge and get back down to the valley. That meant I insisted we follow a grassy shelf across the back of the peak just below the summit instead of including it. Now it was pay-back time – Richard was happy with our return though!

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Following the burn up to the col (Richard’s photo)

The path continues alongside the burn to the col, finishing with a superb red-rock gorge, where spectacular views of Glen Lichd and Saighead’s corrie burst into view – also the fine ridge of Beinn Fhada – one of my objectives for later in the week.

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Red Rock Gorge (Richard’s photo)

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Back down to Sgurr An t’ Searraich – a peach of a hill (Richard’s photos)
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Sgurr nan Saighead Front
Sgurr nan Saighead Corrie

Beinn Buidhe from col
Beinn Buidhe from col

Beinn Fhada from Beinn Buidhe
Beinn Fhada from Beinn Buidhe Ascent

After quite a while taking photographs and admiring the view, we plodded up the good path towards Beinn Bhuidhe in the sunshine. I’d read that this peak was quite scrambly and was wondering whether to contour around the summit but decided to wait and see how it looked. We were soon heading steeply up to the summit on a great path which avoided all difficulties. I was a bit surprised by my first glimpse of the descent the other side though – it looked a bit fierce.

The descent started down a very steep gully towards a void on the left and very steep slopes on the right – I could see a small grassy platform to land on between them though… I scrambled easily down the fairly-tight gully and onto the grassy stance where there was another steep gully to descend. Just below this I could see the path we’d taken last time which had passed below the peak to our eventual descent.

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Me Scrambling Down First Gully (Richard’s photo)

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First Gully (above) Second Gully (below) (Richard’s Photos)
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Ben Bhuidhe’s Tooth (Richard again)

Beinn Buidhe - scrambly!
Dramatic Beinn Buidhe – we came down left-hand side (my photos)
Beinn Buidhe Bypass Path

We were soon down the second gully and onto the ridge – the views along the stunning ridge were spectacular. However, it was at this point, looking along the narrow, undulating ridge towards Saighead, that my unease from my last visit started to resurface. There were huge and fatal drops off to the left and the right-hand side was as steep as I remembered it and dropped a full three-thousand feet to the valley below. Luckily, the ridge was wide enough to proceed safely and had a good path.

Buidhe to Saighead Ridge

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Top of Fatal Drops to the Left (above) Long Way Down (below)(Richard)
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I noticed I was extremely cautious along the path and wouldn’t stop to take many photos unless I reached a wider section which felt more comfortable. Luckily, Richard was going nuts with his digi-camera and got some really great photos for me!

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Proceeding Cautiously!

Sgurr nan Saighead Again
Sgurr nan Saighead (my photo)

We eventually started the steep climb up Saighead which was further than it looked and yielded more spectacular views into the void of the corrie on our left. I was pretty much in full blinker mode by now though and I ignored anything except the path and proceeded with caution to the summit.

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Scrambly Bit (above) Twin Peaks (below) (Richard’s photos now for a while)
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Ascending Saighead in Full Blinker Mode

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I Didn’t Look at This!

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Approaching the Summit

Richard wanted to take a break but it was quite a cold wind and, unfortunately, I didn’t feel easy enough to stop long and used the cold as an excuse to make an immediate return along the ridge after having a quick look around. I was very pleased we weren’t continuing to Fhuaran which still looked monstrous to me!

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Heading Back

I decided we should ignore the route back up over Beinn Bhuidhe and follow our route from last time along the track past the summit and then contour back to our ascent path down to the col. On reflection, the narrow and airy bypass path had so many small difficulties, I think it would have been better to retrace our steps up the gullies – I didn’t find them scary at all but was quite uneasy on the traverse path.

Luckily, we soon reached an easy grass traverse around Beinn Bhuidhe’s craggy cone and had a very slight reascent to reach our path down to the col. When we reached the col I decided that was a truly great place to take a break – out of the wind, in full sun and with great views – I felt I could sit there forever. Richard had decided not to do Moraich and I’d decided to take the easy route to its summit from the col so he would be able to see when I was heading back.

Eventually, I decided I’d best make a move and set off on a superb and easy path between many humps to the easy summit of Moraich. I must be the only person who likes this peak the best of all the Sisters! It was just so relaxing and easy and there were lots of photo opportunities with little lochans and the like in front of the surrounding peaks. The rest of the Sisters Ridge looked truly spectacular from here.

My photos of the Moraich extension…

Sgurr na Moraich from Buidhe Col
Sgurr na Moraich from Buidhe Col

Moraich Start - nice
Interesting start from col

Glen Lichd - Long Way Down!
Glen Lichd

Beinn Fhada from Moraich Lochan
Beinn Fhada

Moraich Humps

Moraich Lochan

Sheltered route to Moraich Summit
Sheltered Route to Summit

Rest of Sisters from Moraich Return
The Other Sisters Are Lurking

It was while I was framing the distant peaks in my camera lens above a lovely little lochan that I noticed they were disappearing into a grey murk – the weather was coming! I hurried off to the summit after taking a look around at where Richard was sat.

Now this is a very strange part of the story. I could clearly see Richard sat where I’d left him and a guy was just approaching him after ascending the burn to the col. I could see the guy turning to converse with Richard and then heading to sit beside him. They sat companiably for a while… The funny thing is that, when I asked Richard about him later, he’d seen absolutely no-one – he wasn’t winding me up either, he hadn’t seen a soul in the area all the time he’d sat there – weird! My theory is that either the guy was a ghost, Richard was too exhausted to see him or maybe he had a brief encounter with what was actually a lady and he didn’t want to admit to encountering her briefs!

The rain I’d seen coming had now hit… Our plan had been for Richard to head off down the burnside track when he saw me leaving the summit and, when I reached the col, he was long gone. It didn’t take me long to catch him up on the tricky path with two good legs to his one though…

I found the descending traverse above the gorge no more scary than the ascent had been and happily bounded down to the village, waiting occasionally for Richard to sit and rest his hip or catch up. Time to hit the Kintail Lodge bar for essential rehydration! Just another couple of photos first (first two are mine):

Nice Light on Morvich Saltmarshes

Causeway & Morvich Estuary (green)

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Lovely Rhodies (Richard)

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Driving Back Round Morvich Road – Moraich & Serraich (Richard)

Stats: 3808 feet of ascent, 8 miles, time not recorded as Richard’s hip wasn’t going well!

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11 responses

3 07 2014
Paul Shorrock

Great post Carol, with the usual bag of superb images! Well done both of you!!

I’ve only driven past the Sisters, so I must be due a trip. The first time I went up that way (travelling to Skye) the causeway across the loch near Allt a’Chruinn hadn’t been built, and all the traffic for the Skye ferry had to go via the bridge at Morvich – you can imagine what fun that was!

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3 07 2014
mountaincoward

It used to be like that everywhere back then though – plus there wasn’t anything like the traffic we have nowadays…

About 5 years ago, we all got routed around the quiet side of Loch Ness for a road accident (A82?) – now that was fun!

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30 06 2014
chrissiedixie

Love the spooky bit! I’ll go with your first theory, that the guy was definitely a ghost!

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1 07 2014
mountaincoward

I’m definitely still wondering – I favour the ‘ghost’ theory though as I like things like that! 🙂

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29 06 2014
McEff

I did Saighead the other way, from the Five Sisters, and I was totallly k******d by the time I got there. One of the few things I remember is those sloping crags you have a picture of, which I thought were pretty impressive.
Don’t remember seeing any ghosts, mind – male or female. Makes you think, that sort of encounter.
Cheers, Alen

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1 07 2014
mountaincoward

I think we’re allowed ‘knackered’ on here! 😉 I’m hoping it was a ghostie 😉
Carol.

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1 07 2014
McEff

It might have been a knackered ghostie.

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29 06 2014
fedup

Excellent photos 🙂 I wasn’t sure if the five sisters where dog ‘friendly’ but looking at your pics the terrain looks ok, its probably more if I can handle the narrow bits 😉 Cheers Simon

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1 07 2014
mountaincoward

I’m sure both you and the dog will be fine. I just find the ridge too ‘airy’ – there probably aren’t many real difficulties. The worst bit for the dog will be the downclimb at the end of Spainteach – check my other 5 Sisters post for a good photo of it…
Carol.

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29 06 2014
bob

Another top in the bag. I’ve only climbed the Five Sisters once but it was a great day. There’s something to be said for adrenalin giving you more energy on the hills as I always find scrambling over rocks less tiring than plodding up a similarly inclined easy slope. Great photos as usual. Hope Richard’s hip gets better. A lot of towns these days have a sports injuries clinic and the Doctors in them are pretty good at fixing problems. They sorted Alex’s foot out with special insoles in his boots.

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1 07 2014
mountaincoward

I’m the other way round – I find clambering up rocks using hands and feet very tiring indeed. That and the adrenalin knackers me completely!

I’m hoping we can get Richard’s hip sorted. We have a really good sports injuries clinic near here but it’s private and I don’t think he could afford that now he’s retired 😦 He definitely needs orthotics though as he’s sort of ‘crooked’!
Carol.

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