The Glen Shiel Ridge

This walk began by Loch Cluanie at a place I’ve camped before. That was a few years ago now but it was a good spot by the bridge near the inn and I always remembered it as being the start of the ridge walk. It was the last place I camped with my dad so it holds a special little memory for me. The very first picture shared on the Last Wolf Instagram is of him pitching the tent there.

The other member of the Last Wolf 5:30am Club for this trip though was Stickless Steven. Steven because it’s his name and stick-less because, well he is. The importance of this will come into our story later. We had been up since about 4:45am, after not much sleep in the back of the cars. Steven was in his new car and every time he turned around the alarm went off. He slept with the keys in his hand and I thought he did really well to be so swift in switching it off whenever he moved. It was probably a good idea then that we had decided on sleeping at the layby end point, miles from anywhere, instead of the car park full of tourers and campers.

We made good time as you tend to do at that time of the morning. We crossed the bridge over the loch and fired up the track that eventually goes all the way to Loch Loyne. On the stretch before the Cluanie Lodge my black lab and veteran bagger Thorin spotted the deer herd ahead and went after them. They teamed up with another group until there was around thirty of them all heading the same direction. The lodge and huge estate is up for sale, if anyone has a spare three million pounds.

Branching off the main track to our hill path a few miles later, the start of the heavy work for the day was under way and it was still only just after six am. It was a hard pull getting up Creag a’ Mhaim and I felt all my 44 years but I took heart knowing that the next six wouldn’t involve such a long climb for this is a ridge walk. The Glen Shiel Ridge, 7 Munros in total, one of the finest in all of Scotland. Many times have I made the drive through the glen, the Road to the Isles, and looked up longingly at the ridge, but I had never been up onto it before.

We summited at 7:26 and saw the next one straight away. It was windy with a bit of cloud cover so we didn’t spend a lot of time on the tops. Or even in the bealachs; this wouldn’t be a day for hanging around. You need a lot of speed on this ridge to get it done in good time, especially if any mistakes were made, which are coming. The next couple of Munros were completed fairly easily, though by the third I could feel my legs starting to slow down considerably and the cloud really starting to come in and impede our progress.

Cloud cover is bizarre. I’ve written about it before ( and here it comes up as a topic again because the effect it has is so confusing and disorienting. Those who have attempted to traverse mountains encased in cloud will know what I mean and maybe will have made the same mistakes. Even armed with compass and map, your head does funny things and your body feels like it should be going one way when in actual fact it should be going the opposite. Three different compasses showed us three different norths. And none ‘felt’ right.

Unknowingly, we headed off the mountain, confusing Sgurr Coire na Feinne for the fifth Munro and only the briefest of glimpses of a tiny truck driving along the A87 made me notice we were heading the wrong way. This is a recognised route for the mountain so the worst that would’ve happened would be that we were halfway between both our cars and only completed half the mountains of the ridge but it was annoying to have to climb back up a top we had already summited, expending valuable energy and rapidly killing our aching legs.

Then even more confusingly it happened again. On a rain covered summit we missed the path leading to the next mountain and mistakenly thought it was the last one. By this time we were done in. Wet from rain, constant cloud not letting us see where were going, aching legs, the brief sun glimpse that had warmed us briefly had seen seemed a long time ago. Metallica took us up Sgurr an Lochain and Stickless Steven’s phone confirmed where we were. One more still to do. As if mocking us for that whole section of the ridge we hadn’t seen, the cloud cleared enough for us to see where we had come from and finally where we were going, the last mountain of the day.

The walk up Creag nan Damh wasn’t as bad as I had pictured. We just wanted down by this point and maybe this thought kept us pushing on. I was leaning heavily on my stick, it helping greatly with the downhill sections and loose rocks. Stickless Steven did not have any of this extra help, but then I do have nearly ten years on him. The stick was to prove invaluable in the next section though when we came of the top far too early. I blame my eagerness for us to get back, exhaustion and the want to never do anymore uphill as long as I live on us taking what looked to be a path, and halfway down realised it was just a load of scree-fall. Dangerous ankle breakers for sure but there was no way we could climb back up with our shot legs, and we could see where we needed to be so decided to continue down a steep rocky and grassy hillside that has likely never seen any human footprints before.

Following the stream, the Am Fas-Allt to the path we should’ve been on, the stick played a major life saving role in crossing the river many times, flinging it back and forth so we could both balance safely over the slippery stones. We passed a waterfall that isn’t on the OS map. Eventually getting to the path, it really wasn’t much better than coming off the mountain freehand, we had lost time yes but suffered no injuries and saw a completely untouched area usually only seen by deer.

It was a long walk, and reminded me of one of the perils of Scottish hillwalking, getting lost and how good it was to have someone as an extra pair of eyes, to bounce ideas off and reassure you that this is the right decision. And as for the stick, man the stick is just so useful. I can’t recommend one enough. Exhausted, we made for home, the thought of a four hour drive wasn’t a good one.

Live deliberately


Currently listening to: Wapentake