North Glen Shiel

Cluanie Horseshoe topographical map

The Cluanie Horseshoe
To the east and strictly not part of Glen Shiel, there is the Cluanie Horseshoe. To call it the Cluanie Horseshoe is a bit of a misnomer, as strictly speaking the horshoe faces Glen Affric, however loch Cluanie is the direction from which most walkers will attempt these summits. To walk this ridge in one day would require a long walk over its five munros. The ridge walk can easily be split into two days, and judgeing my the footpath that is what most people elect to do.

Mullach Fraoch Choire
seen from A' Chralaigs north ridge

A' Chralaig seen from Mullach Fraoch Choire

Looking north from Mullach Fraoch Choire
to Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan

The western section holds the summits of A'Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch Choire. Both are over 1100m with A'Chalaig the higher of the two at 1120m making it the highest summit in the Glen Shiel area. A fine ridge links the two summits which becomes spectacularly narrow for the final ½ km to the summit of Mullach Fraoch Choire. The ridge narrows to a series of pinnacles which provides some sporting scrambling opportunities. Most people, however, elect to traverse under the first pinnacles to the east on a well worn path. The path is easy, but nonetheless exposed with one small section requiring hands on rock. The second and third series of pinnacles are traversed to the west on a less exposed slope, however these pinncles don't appear to be as difficult as the first group.

The Pinnacles of Mullach Fraoch Choire

The steep path traversing under the pinnacles

Under snow, the traverse of the pinnacles can be quite difficult. Under such conditions the path that avoids the pinnacles is transformed into a fourty degree snow slope just above a 100m cliff. This occurs when the path traverses the southern pinnacles to the east.

A deep gap separates the two summit groups making up the Cluanie Horsehoe. There is no path joining A' Chralaig with Sgurr nan Combhairean. From the saddle between these two summits at 730m, it requires over 375m of re-ascent to get to either summit. Sgurr nan Combhairean is the highest mountain of the esstern group of summits, forming a hub joining the other two summits. Together with Sail Chaorainn and Carn Ghluasaid, they form an impressive corrie rim around Coire Sgreumh, and is in my opinion one of the most spectacular corries in the Cluanie Group of summits. When seen from the west however, these summits form an unassuming profile of smooth grassy slopes.

Looking north from Sgurr nan Combhairean
to Sail Chaorainn

Sgurr nan Combhairean seen from its
eastern ridge

Carn Ghluasaid seen from the west

Sgurr nan Combhairean is a summit where many people leave their rucksacks before walking out to climb Sail Chaorainn, the outlying munro to the north. This summit lies at the northern end of a grassy plateau, beyond which the ridge narrows to a slightly lower subsidiary top. To the east of Sgurr nan Combhairean is the summit of Carn Ghlusaid, the most easterly summit in the Cluanie group of hills, and the most unassuming. Rising only 60 meters from its saddle with Sgurr nan Combhairean and lying a whole 150m lower than its parent peak, it raises the question as to whether this summit is likely to be demoted from the munros list.

The views north from these summits are wide, taking in the Moray Firth to the northeast and the massive bulk of the Affric Summits to the north. It is also a good place to observe the transition in weather from west to east, while Glen Shiel is seen to be overwhelmed with cloud, the Moray Firth can often be seen to be bathed in bright sunshine.

The North Glen shiel Ridge
The traverse of the five sisters of Kintail is a classic walk and is regarded by many as the best walk in Scotland. The route follows an airy - but not difficult crest across some very photogenic peaks. There are one or two simple scrambles involved but they are short and perfectly straightforward - even with a backpack - with little exposure. The principle peak, Sgurr Fhuaran, demands some route finding skills under winter conditions to avoid crags that are found on the crest of the ridge.

The eastern five sisters ridge

The two highest sisters

Sgurr na Carnach seen from Sgurr Fhuaran
Five Sisters topographical map

The entire walk is reckoned to take about 6 - 9 hours according to many guidebooks and it's well worth traversing in nice weather. The approach from the road up the eastern side to Bealach nan Lapain is very steep but grassy and quite easy.

The eastern ridge of Sgurr Fhuaran

The most northerly and broad sister

Sgurr nan Spaintech, Sgurr na Carnach
and Sgurr Fhuaran seen from Saileag

The brothers of Kintail form an eastward continuation of the five sisters of Kintail from the Bealach nan Lapain. The crest of this ridge is generally more grassy with rocky sections being localised around the summit areas. There are some easy scrambling sections, particularly just west of Aonach Mheadhoin and on Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg (which sits just off the main ridge).

Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg seen from the west

Saileag seen from Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg

The summit of Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg

Saileag is the westernmost summit on this ridge, a rather unassuming dome shaped ridge, but one offering the best view out west to the five sisters. The ridge east from Saileag undulates over a ricky crest, and a one point provides a brief scramble down a crest with smooth slabs down one side of it. Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheig is the most spectacular summit. The ridge is more rocky, with its main summit sticking out slightly from the main spine of the ridge along a narrow crest. Its large summit cairn occupys the entire crest, and getting round it requires a bit of a downward diversion.

Sgurr an Fhuarail
and Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg

Ciste Dubh with Beinn Fhada beyond

The ridge further east is more rounded and grassy to the summit of Aonach Mheadhoin. Though just to the west of the summit, the ridge narrows considerably to provide an interesting short scramble. It is, however, a scramble that is easily avoided by a path that traverses easily below this pinncle section. Beyond Aonach Mheadhoin a grassy ridge links in the subsidiary top of Sgurr an Fhuarail. From here, an easy grassy ridge heads southeast down to the Cluanie Inn. Another ridge drops north down to the Bealach a' Choinnich from where Ciste Dubh can be climbed.

Ciste Dubh seen from Sgurr an Fhuarail

Ciste Dubh seen from An Socath
to the northeast

Am Bathach - east of the Kintail ridge

Ciste Dubh is the 4th summit of this group, but is more a mountain on its own, sitting on the north side of a 600m saddle. This summit sits quite a way back from the road and is best reached from the road near the Cluanie Inn via a good stalkers path. The final route to the summit follows a well worn path along an increasingly narrow ridge. The is some exposure, particularly on a section that traverses a steep slope, but only the keen will find anything difficult.

Beinn Fhada and A' Ghlas bheinn
Beinn Fhada is a mountain of two halves. The eastern end is high plateau rimmed by impressive crags and steep slopes. The western end comprises a shapely crest with one 'bad step' - a 40ft high slabby face that was very slippery in the wet when I tried it. Either way it's a nice mountain that looks very nice from the north and quite daunting when seen from Loch Duich.

The Gates of Affric seen
from Sgurr Gaorsaic

The northern corries of Beinn Fhada

The northern corrie of Beinn Fhada

A' Ghlas bheinn can easily be linked in with Beinn Fhada from the 'Gates of Affric' - a deep bealach linking the two mountains. The ascent from here follows a broad ridge over many false summits. An ascent of this mountain can be made from just about any direction.

Glen Affric

A' Ghlas Bheinn seen from Beinn Fhada

There are many other summits to climb particularly those around Glen Elchaig.

The summit plateau of Beinn Fhada

A' Ghlas Bheinn from
Ratagan Youth Hostel