A big report to cover an epic day on the South Cluanie ridge! Lost count of how many times I had driven past this mountain range, being 20 minutes from my house. Like the five sisters, which were nailed last year , I had these hills in my sights for some time! The big problem now, was planning a couple of days in advance, and getting the weather.
Fortunately, the forecast looked good for a couple of days, so I put out the word, as I always do, to see if anyone wanted to join me. This is normally met with silence, as all my friends seem to think I am bonkers doing the hills, but this time, my good friend Rab, who doesn’t have silence in his vocabulary, was very excited to join me on my adventure.
Rab was in Fort William with his kids, which meant a later start than planned, but with almost endless day light, this didn’t matter. We met up at 11am, left a car at Shiel and drove to Cluanie to start. It was so chilled, and we were excited. However, the first mistake became apparent early on, the second to come in 30 minutes or so. My mistake, was forgetting my proper socks! I knew this wasn’t ideal, but with it being a warm day, I thought i might get away with it, and having thinner socks might not be so bad…wrong! More on that later.
We decided to take a path we found not long after passed the bridge, taking a more direct route. This route allowed us to gain height quickly, and, although tough, we got our rewards. Rab’s longer legs were making it tough for me, as although substantially fitter, I was taking two steps to his one. Imagine a Jack Russell walking alongside a German Shephard…story of my life really . We decided to have a wee pit stop at a river, which I figured, as was to prove the case, could be our last water for the day, so I hydrated as best I could before filling up. Mistake number 2 about to become apparent…Rab had brought with him, a 500ml bottle of water and some coca cola!! After giving him a telling off, Rab is a Principle teacher of Social Sciences in a High School, so this was a role reversal, I came to the conclusion we had enough, as I had 3 litres, and lucozade…off we went.
It didn’t take long to get to Creag a ‘Mhaim, and when we got there, there was not a breath of wind. Clegs galore. We were pretty much chased off by the wee buggers! Quick tune, great, unblocked views to the east and south. Great views of Nevis range, and further afield. So that was us back on track, and only an hour lost.
We got back to Druim Shionnach and just kept going. We found a fantastic spur, or ledge, that came out of the ridge, which I ran onto like a kid. Rab tried to get on, but the sheer drops either side prevented him. It was from here on that we discovered the true meaning of ridge, with really narrow walkways, and unstable footing. It was here my hobbit stature came to the fore, and big daddy long legs struggled.
We saw a cairn in the distance and thought this was Munro 3, so kept us motivated. Upon reaching said cairn, we celebrated, played a tune and relaxed, only to find upon checking the map, that it wasn’t a summit. Rab by this stage had downed his fluids, so asked to have some of mine. He gave me my bottle back, half a litre lighter, and I realised water could become scarce.
The next summit was Aonach Air Crith, number 3, and the highest of the day. The day was starting to take its toll, and I really began to worry about water. At this point Rab, again, spotted a bank of snow, 2 Munros away, which we hoped would provide us water, but we still had enough at the moment. We sat trying to suss out where everywhere was. It is amazing the different perspective you get from so high up.
Our descent, as so many were, was really tough. Very steep, on unstable ground. Again, I was fine, but the big man found it awkward. It didn’t help that we had a “mini Machu Pichu” towering above us in front. We were soon to realise there were THREE Machu Pichu type ascents to come.
Moal Chinn-dearg gave us great views towards Tomdoun, and Loch Hourn, which have great family connections for me, and it was nice imagining my great grandparents in the Kinlochourn area. It was here my feet started giving me a bit of bother, although nothing I couldn’t handle.
Again it was a tough descent, and it took longer than our ascent up Sgurr an Doire Leathain. We were slowing down now, and in need of shade. We did get some, and we were now by the snow bank we spotted hours earlier. We clambered down a couple feet, and started digging and trying to melt the snow. I still had a good half litre left, but this was not shared between us to melt the snow in the bottles. It wasn’t ideal, but it would give us some hydration, particularly Rab.
Feet now getting worse, we ploughed on, still enjoying the views, and smashed our way up Sgurr an Lochain, which despite it’s name, didn’t have a reachable lochan to jump into, which was starting to be fantisised about.
Again the tough descent followed, and again I felt my feet deteriorating. upon walking the bealach between the two Munros, Rab turned to me to tell me he was all out of water. At this exact moment, he looked to the ground, and what did he see? RUNNING WATER!! It was no more than a trickle, but it was like a gift from above. It was enough to fill our bottles with ice cold mountain water! I don’t care where you go, what you drink, NOTHING can compare to being in a semi dehydrated state, and finding a natural water spring. As we drank, I gave Rab a lecture about his lack of water again. Karma was to bite though…after sitting for 10 minutes, with the weight off my feet, standing up again felt like standing on needles! I could not put any weight at all on my feet. The whole sole of both my feet had come up in one massive blister, and I really doubted whether I could continue,
We carried on, and decided we will get to the next bealach before deciding whether to compete the round. Once we got there, we came to the decision, that there was no easy way down from where we were, so the best route was to climb the last hill. Oddly enough, climbing at this stage was easier than descending. With the end now in sight, we charged! One step at a time, we kept going. And we got there! Hallelluja was belted out by both of us. Success! Magic. The sun setting, the views stunning, and we looked back at what we had achieved. I blasted out a tune, almost in victory. It is amazing what determination can do for you. We both really pushed ourselves, and we did it!
We thought the hard bit was all over, but the final descent, in my condition, was horrible. We lost the proper path, and had to wing it down the hillside. The sun set gave fantastic views, but every step for me at this stage was agony! I literally couldn’t stand, and was crawling at some stages. This was actually a scary thought, and gave me my first indication of what can happen in the hills when alone. I was so glad I had Rab with me, who was fantastic in guiding and encouraging me down, although I snapped at him a few times due to the sheer pain I was in.
When we got to the road, I just fell to the ground in relief. We had made it. It felt like forever since we were on the final summit. We agreed to delete the final two hours from our memory, as we didn’t want it to ruin our day. A fantastic, once in a lifetime day. You can climb for years, and not get a day like we had. The views and company were perfect, and felt blessed as we drove over Mam Ratagan to Glenelg.
We were too late for the pub, so made do with a dram at my parents. Mother proceeded to rip me to shreds for my choice of socks (she still hasn’t stopped), but we didn’t care, as we sunk further and further into the couch! My thoughts were drifting to how I was going to drive back to Glasgow to work a shift in the pub in the morning, lets just say, that shift, the customers weren’t greeted with the friendliest of faces.