• TWO WET DAYS OVER TEN MUNROS IN GLEN SHIEL

    Published 20th August 2018, 11:51

    I OFTEN think the best hill days are not the ones filled with sunshine but those with moody, shifting cloud and transient glimpses of the landscape.

    The recent hot, dry spell has seemed almost alien. Sure, it's good to have settled conditions when you can sit around at summits for hours, but let's be honest, you soon grow bored of that.

    These conditions are not a great fit for our mountains. We are better served when the vegetation is lush, when the water is flowing, when the craggy faces seem to be shedding rivers of tears. I had to keep reminding myself of that during two big days in Glen Shiel last weekend.

    The forecasts were all over the place, ranging from sunny breaks to constant rain, from 60 per cent chance of views to a miserly 20. The only way to deal with this anarchy is to pick the one you like best and cross your fingers.

    It all seemed benign enough when we started out for the seven Munros of the South Shiel ridge; banks of static white cloud hanging around the necks of the hills at various levels, peaks sticking up here and there. The promise was of ever-changing moods.

    That notion was soon dispelled. As soon as we left the track and chose the direct ascent route up Creag a' Mhaim, the mist closed in and the drizzle started drizzling. It didn't stop until we were were descending from the final summit, Creag nan Damh, some six hours later.

    The initial climb was very wet underfoot, as if the rains were delighting in their spectacular return after being chained up for so long. Our arrival at the first cairn was an opportunity to take off the boots and pour out the excess water before wringing out the socks.

    We only met two other walkers the whole day, one who had come up on to the wrong summit in the grey, the other whose misery seemed to have rendered him speechless.

    The only differentiating factor in the procession of summit cairns came courtesy of the number of fingers held up. The flip side was that we weren't hanging around. On dropping off the ridge, we were relieved to see that there was still a landscape out there. We even had a rainbow guiding us down, handy for the two white water crossings.

    Our spirits weren't dampened though, and next morning we were ready to go again even with a feeling of deja vu about the atmospherics. Sure enough, ten minutes in and the mist and drizzle arrived as we slogged our way up unrelenting grassy slopes to catch the start of the Five Sisters circuit.

    The rain had at least stopped by the time we reached the big cairn on Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, just another big pile of grey stones set against a lighter grey background. But en route to the next peak, Sgurr na Carnach, the cloak of invisibility lifted. A freshening wind was blowing the cloud out, and the rain went with it. It had taken eight Munros, but we could finally see something.

    Suddenly everything seemed more dramatic; height and distance more pronounced, peaks, ridges and rivers showcased in a more understandable scale. These moments of revelation are always the best part of a walk in the Scottish hills.

    Now the way ahead was clear all the way down to Loch Duich. We skipped over the highest point of the day, Sgurr Fhuaran, then down towards Sgurr nan Saighead.

    This imposing peak is classed as a Munro Top, and to me it highlights the vagaries of the list. When the last tweaks were applied, Sgurr na Carnach was re-classified as a Munro rather than a Top. On that basis, it seems odd that Sgurr nan Saighead was ignored – it certainly has the same perception of required height and distance.

    The long overdue break in the weather stayed with us over the remaining ups and downs of the ridge. It closed in again as we made our way down the wonderful Allt a' Chruinn path to the finish but by this point it didn't matter. In fact, if anything, it added to the beauty of the descent.

    The deep, verdant gorge provides some jaw-dropping moments; at one waterfall it seems the ground just drops away completely beneath your feet, a natural infinity pool. It seemed a fitting finale to two wet, but classic, days over ten Munros.