Munro Madness: Summit Camping in Kintail

After my original plans had to be scrapped due to Calmac ferry issues, I was in need of something else to fill a few days off work. I had enjoyed an epic day on my bike a couple of weeks before, so I was keen to start ticking off some hills again. The forecast looked good across all of Scotland, so settling on a destination wasn’t easy at all, but I eventually decided on a trip to Kintail to tackle 9 Munros – A’Ghlas Bheinn, Beinn Fhada, Ciste Dhubh and the Brothers and Sisters of Kintail.

[May ’21]

The drive from Ayrshire to Morvich to start my adventure was a reasonably long one, taking a little over 4 hours including a toilet stop. The NTS car park was already full, but thankfully a very kind lady was heading off for a few nights so allowed me to park in front of her. I was ready to start walking at around 1030 and had estimated around 8 hours of effort to get me to the summit of Ciste Dhubh, my overnight halt. Before then were a couple of Munros to tackle – A’Ghlas Bheinn and Beinn Fhada. I set off from the car park and passed the campsite in Morvich before joining a path into Gleann Choinneachainn.

Gleann Choinneachain

Having read a number of reports online, the easiest way to combine these was by using the stalker’s path that climbs up the glen and over the bealach between the two mountains, which is exactly what I did. I reached the highest point of this path around 90 minutes after setting off from Morvich and from here it was a fairly steep pull to the summit of A’Ghlas Bheinn. Although dry, it was overcast with a gentle breeze, so overheating wasn’t an issue. Another hour saw me to the summit of my first Munro of the day, where I was rewarded with lovely (albeit slightly hazy) views across much of the NW highlands.

Lonely Loch a’Bhealaich
Kintail’s Munros from A’Ghlas Bheinn

I hung around just long enough for a quick snack and a few photos and was soon on my way again, retracing my steps back towards the bealach and then down the stalkers path for a short distance before turning off and heading for Beinn Fhada. The descent was quite significant and meant I had around 600m to reascend to reach the summit of my second Munro of the day, but I was in good spirits and wasn’t too unhappy at the prospect of so much down and up.

I made steady progress along the good path and turned off this at the 800m mark to head more directly towards the summit, seeing a mountain hare bounce across the hillside in front of me. One last pull and I reached the summit of Beinn Fhada, my second Munro of the day. Once again, I stopped for another snack break in the large sheltered cairn before heading on my way towards the third and final Munro of the day, which was rather a long way (and a huge down-and-up) away…

Beinn Fhada’s summit

From the summit of Beinn Fhada I headed for Sgurr a’Dubh Doire and upon reaching this minor summit, took a more direct line towards the glen below.

Specks of light on Ciste Dhubh

The terrain was punishingly steep and not an enjoyable experience at all. I made better progress than I thought though, reaching the Allt Cam-ban around 75 minutes after leaving the summit of Beinn Fhada. I enjoyed one last rest stop next to the river and enjoyed the sunshine and the fine views before reminding myself I had one last job for the day – Ciste Dhubh, in a straight line! I was also now carrying 3.5l of water to see me through the night, so my pack was heavier than when I was fresh at the start of my day. Lovely…

The Affric Kintail Way

Just like the descent on the other side of the valley, going up wasn’t really much fun at all. The terrain was just a little too steep and grassy to be comfortable, leading to a few stops and much swearing. There was nothing else to do than steadily work my way towards the summit though and I had all evening to do it if required, so there wasn’t any rush. The excellent views around me were also a great excuse to stop for a ‘photo’.

The 5 Sisters of Kintail
Upper reaches of Glen Affric

I finally reached the summit of Ciste Dhubh around 90 minutes after crossing the Allt Cam-ban hundreds of metres below. The total day’s effort was 15.4 miles in 8 hours, with almost 2400m ascent. Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I found an excellent spot on a large flat area just north of the summit and set up camp for the night. This was the first proper outing of my new Alpkit Elan hooped bivvy, which I’d bought last summer and hadn’t managed to use yet. I couldn’t have asked for better weather or a more epic setting for my first night in it!

A great first bivvy spot

With camp set up for the evening, I scoffed my dinner and changed into my sleeping clothes before settling down to enjoy the sun setting over the many surrounding peaks. What an awesome way to spend the evening.

Mountains for miles!

Despite being extremely comfortable in my bivvy, I found it nearly impossible to get any sleep. I’m not exactly sure why, but I thought it might have had something to do with being in the bivvy for the first time and there being a little more in the way of ambient noise than in a double-skin tent. I reckon I managed a couple of hours of sleep in total – not ideal given the task at hand the following day.

Getting such a small amount of sleep meant it was rather easy to be up for sunrise, so I got up and packed away my gear and headed off just after 0430. The sun made an appearance a few moments later after I left the summit of Ciste Dhubh, so naturally I stopped for a few photos and to enjoy the beautiful colours.

An early start
Sunrise from Ciste Dhubh

The daunting thing about where I’d camped was that I was able to see almost all of my route for day 2 and it looked a VERY long way from where I was to the end of the 5 Sisters ridge. Still, that’s where the car was, so that’s where I was going!

The first section of the day was the descent of Ciste Dhubh to the bealach below, where I stopped to collect water and have my breakfast. I stopped slightly longer than I thought I would, but it was essential that I had enough water on board as there wouldn’t be any available along the entire ridge.

Setting off once again with a heavy pack, I began the fairly steep ascent (although not as bad as up Ciste Dhubh yesterday) of Sgurr an Fhuarail before a short down-and-up to reach the first Munro of the day, Aonach Meadhoin. This took around 2 and a quarter hours from my camp spot at Ciste Dhubh but also included the time in the bealach for breakfast. I was a little behind where I thought I’d be by this time though, but I hoped I’d manage to claw back some time on the many miles of ridge walking ahead.

The second target of the day was Sgurr a’Bhealaich Dearg, the highest of the Brothers of Kintail. This took less than 45 minutes from the summit of the first Munro. Once again I stopped for a very quick break before getting back on my way as I still had a fair distance left – 2 down, 4 to go…

The third Munro – Saileag – was the smallest of the 6 I’d tackle today and again presented no real challenges. I took around 45-50 minutes to reach this from Sgurr a’Bhealaich Dearg. I was making good progress but was still a little behind where I thought I’d be. Perhaps my goal of around 8 hours for the whole route was rather optimistic, but I do like to challenge myself!

3 Munros to go

There were several kilometres between my 3rd and 4th Munros and I was now feeling very tired and run-down, obviously due to the lack of sleep. Although sunny, there was a lovely breeze, a welcome relief on what could have been an unbearably hot ridge walk.

An hour and 40 minutes later, I reached the summit of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, the first of the famous 5 Sisters and my 4th Munro of the day. This involved a fairly lengthy trudge along the ridge, but there were a few slightly more interesting scrambly sections that were quite fun. Despite me being knackered, it was very difficult not to walk along with a smile on my face – what a setting and what fine weather for walking!

Each down-and-up seemed bigger than the last and they became more of a struggle after each iteration, but after another 45 minutes I reached the summit of Sgurr na Carnach, my 5th and penultimate Munro of the day. The weather was just glorious so I stopped again for a short rest and to admire the awesome scenery for a few moments. As much as I enjoy pushing myself to the limit, sometimes I need to remember why I enjoy being in the mountains so much – the views!

The Saddle
Looking SE from Sgurr na Carnach

By now I was running pretty low on supplies. Having taken a little longer than I thought to tackle the ridge, I was now very low on food especially. I remembered I had stashed a few Snickers bars in the car though and those would get swiftly tanned on arrival. The thought of 3 chocolate bars was enough to spur me on to tackle the 6th Munro of the day, Sgurr Fhuraran, which was also the highest of the Munros I had tackled. The happy chocolate thoughts had done the trick and I managed the next hill in around 40 minutes.

This was the most Munros I had tackled in a day and combined with yesterday’s 3, the most I’d tackled in a single trip too. I was feeling very pleased with myself and after another quick drink and photo break, I ate the last of my food and set off with a smile for the final section of my route.

The smile lasted all of about 30 seconds though – that was how long it took to realise that some dafty had left another hill in the way! Thankfully, I didn’t have to completely reascend Sgurr nan Saighead as a bypass path skirted some distance below the summit, but any ascent at all was exactly what I didn’t need.

After skirting around this top I was now completely out of the wind and the temperature climbed dramatically. I’d have paid many hundreds of pounds for an ice-cold drink right about then! I knew the end was in sight though so I pressed on, slowly making my way down Coire na Criche.

Gleann Lichd

My knees were now extremely tired so I had to stop more frequently than normal. This might have had something to do with the 4000+ metres of ascent (and thus descent). It was here I realised that I hadn’t passed a single person all day and had enjoyed an epic traverse of 6 awesome Munros all to myself.

The final obstacle was a large set of rocky steps after crossing through a deer fence. These weren’t much fun after a long day, but I made quick progress towards the wee buildings below me and the views down Loch Duich were utterly superb, so once again I had a great excuse to stop for a ‘photo’!

Loch Duich and the A87

I finally reached the group of buildings next to the A87 and turned along the single track road back towards the car. I had just over a mile to go and was so glad to be doing this on flat tarmac. It had been an epic day though and the biggest trip I’d tackled to-date, so got my mind wandering to piece together some more epic overnights. I did suffer having not slept a great deal, but I hoped that the next bivvy outing would be better as I’d be more used to it. Time will tell on that one though.

After 9 and a half hours (90 minutes longer than I’d thought) and 15 miles (about 2.5 miles longer than my route told me), my car finally came into view. I also once again remembered my 3 chocolate bars and almost started jogging the last few metres! I was absolutely spent, but couldn’t help smiling when thinking about what an awesome trip this had been. It was my first proper taste of the NW Highlands and I can say one thing with 100% certainty – I’ll be back soon!

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