The South Shiel Ridge – The Magnificent Seven – [# 177 – 183]

Creag a’ Mhaim (947m);  Druim Shionnach (987m);
Aonach air Chrith (1021m); Maol Chinn-dearg (981m);
Sgurr an Doire Leathain (1010m); Sgurr an Lochain (1004m);
Creag nan Damh (918m)

  • Pronunciation:             Krayk er Vime; Drime Hyunoch; Ernoch ur Chree; Merle Heen Jerrack; Skoor un Thurrer Leheen; Skoor un Lochan; Krayk nern Dav
  • Translation:                  Cairn of the Pass; Ridge of the Foxes; Ridge of Trembling; Bald Red Head; Peak of the Broad Oaks; Peak of the Small Loch; Crag of the Deer
  • Total distance:              25.9km
  • Total time:                     8hrs 26mins
  • Total ascent:                  1758m
  • Weather:                        A fine dry and bright day. Sunny spells with only moderate winds.
  • Start location:              The car park beside the Cluanie Inn on the A87 Glen Garry to Kyle of Lochalsh road. [OS Map Sheet 33 – Grid Ref: NH 076 117]
  • End location:                The car park beside the Glen Shiel battleground memorial on the A87 approximately 9km west of the Cluanie Inn. [OS Map Sheet 33 – Grid Ref: NG 994 134]
  • Map:                                A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

West from the summit cairn on Aonach air Chrith to Druim Shionnach (L) and Creag a' Mhaim (R)

The view west along Loch Cluanie

The weather forecast suggested that today would be the best day this week – being mainly dry and bright as a result of a weak high-pressure system making its way over the western Highlands. We therefore decided that this would give us the most favourable opportunity to tackle The South Shiel Ridge: an 11-12km high-level traverse that incorporates the summits of seven Munros! This is a linear walk with the end of the outing finishing about 10km further west along Glen Shiel from the starting point at the Cluanie Inn – so the use of a second vehicle parked at the end point is extremely helpful to avoid a long (and slightly uphill) walk along the A87 road back to the starting point.

The Murnos of Spidean Mialach (L), Gleouraich (R) and Sgurr Mor (in the background) from the SE ridge of Creag a' Mhaim

So, in very promising weather, we left our roadside camping spot near the Cluanie Dam and headed west along the A87 to a convenient lay-by near to the end point of our walk. We left the ‘van at this roadside location and headed back eastward along Glen Shiel in the car to the starting point by the Cluanie Inn. As we sorted our gear for the day another car joined us in the Cluanie car park. However, we began our walk before the couple in the other car had started to get kitted up and so we didn’t get a chance to chat to them before we left.

Looking west from the slopes of Creag a' Mhaim to Loch Loyne below

With Loch Loyne in the background - Elaine ascends the final few metres to reach the top of Creag a' Mhaim

Looking west along The South Shiel ridge from the summit of Creag a' Mhaim

Our route began with us walking a couple of hundred metres east along the A87 passed the front of the Cluanie Inn to gain the access road to the Cluanie Lodge located on the south side of Loch Cluanie. Near the beginning of this estate road a bridge crossed a narrowing at the west end of the loch before the road veered round the north-eastern flank of Druim Shionnach – just above the Cluanie Lodge, which sat on the lochside. Beyond the lodge the road, which by this point was a rough land-rover track, ran southward in a series of broad scallops around several spurs that stretched down from the Munro Creag a’ Mhaim above. At one point we glanced back along the track and saw the couple, who had parked beside us, walking up the track a few hundred metres behind us.

Around 6.9km from our starting point we reached a solid stone bridge over the Allt Giubhais burn, where just prior to the bridge a path on the right hand side left the track and began a long tight zigzagging ascent of the SE ridge of Creag a’ Mhaim. The path was in excellent condition but was always quite steep. As we ascended higher the views opened up to reveal a long vista down the length of Loch Loyne to our ESE. Although I searched for the couple who had earlier been following our route along the estate track I couldn’t see them on the path leading up the ridge and imagined that they had perhaps only been out for a short walk.

Looking WNW from Creag a' Mhaim to Druim Shionnach

Elaine ascending the rocky spine leading to the summit of Druim Shionnach (Loch Cluanie is in the background)

Elaine sitting at the summit cairn on Druim Shionnach

As we neared the top of the ridge the angle eased off and we soon reached the summit cairn of the most easterly (and our first) Munro of the ridge: Creag a’ Mhaim at 947m or 3,107ft. As I arrived at the cairn from the southeast the chap from the couple that I’d lost sight of earlier arrived at the cairn from the northeast direction, followed shortly afterwards by his wife. It turned out that the guidebook that they’d used as a basis for their outing suggested ascending the first Munro by leaving the estate track earlier than we did. They did, however, note that their ascent route, although probably steep like ours, was also quite boggy underfoot. [Aside: I’d recommend the route that we took as the path is very straightforward and in good condition. It also provides some excellent rewarding views to the south and east, as there are no nearby peaks in either of these directions.]

We stopped for a snack on the summit and chatted briefly with the couple about our respective routes to the top before they headed off to the next peak ahead of us. We followed on a few hundred metres behind them as we headed west, dropping down off the summit to a col before a steady straightforward ascent up the other side. Towards the top of the ridge a thin spine of standing rocks made a fun obstacle course for us to negotiate before we reached the top of our second Munro, Druim Shionnach, at 987m or 3,238ft.

Down the NNE ridge of Aonach air Chrith

We arrived about the same time as the other couple and this time spent a while chatting to them: finding out that they were called John and Jill and were up on holiday from their home in Penrith. They were towards the middle of a two-week break and were staying in a cottage in Glen Nevis – almost adjacent to the beautiful Glen Nevis Restaurant. We told them that we knew the restaurant very well as we’d got married there in 1995 and had only just been there for a meal a couple of weeks ago with my parents. John indicated that they probably would climb the first four Munros so that it didn’t take them took far along the glen from their car, which was parked beside ours at the Cluanie Inn.

West along the ridge to Maol Chinn-dearg with Sgurr Mhaoraich in the background

This time we left the summit before John and Jill, who were enjoying a spot of lunch, and took to the ridge once again, heading towards Aonach air Chrith. After crossing a little subsidiary top on the ridge – marked as 938m on the OS map – we began the climb to the summit: the highest one in the range at 1021m or 3,350ft. This top provided us with some stunning views southward across the glen below to the northern corries of Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach (both Munros that we climbed last week). To the WSW the bulk of Sgurr Mhaoraich and its smaller eastern top of Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach dominated the view. Northwards, the clutch of Munros that formed the northern aspect of Glen Shiel opposite, stretched out from the Five Sisters of Kintail in the west through to Sgurr nan Conbhairean in the east. A magnificent chain of twelve Munros: although not all connected by a continuous ridge in a similar way to the seven on the south of the glen.

Cameron on the summit of Maol Chinn-dearg with Loch Quoich in the background

We left the summit bound for our fourth Munro, a little over 2km further west along the ridge. Another series of rises and falls in the ridge path soon brought us to the summit of Maol Chinn-dearg at 981m or 3,218ft. Here we caught up with a chap walking the ridge on his own. He was from Devon and was in the area bagging Munros as part of his three-week holiday.

We pushed on ahead of the chap following the ridge as it veered round slightly to the WNW, taking in first the subsidiary peak of Sgurr Coire na Feinne (902m). This peak offered us a lovely view directly south along the finger of water that sticks out due north from the main body of Loch Quoich, which runs east/west. The long single-track bridge that crosses this finger of water, and that we’d used last week to reach the start of Sgurr Mhaoraich, could be clearly seen, as too the northern profile of Gairich on the south side of Loch Quoich.

From just east of Maol Chinn-dearg looking south to Loch Quoich with Gleouraich (L) and Sgurr Mor in the background

We continued WNW for another 1.8km to reach the Munro summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathain at 1010m or 3,314ft. From here we looked back and could just make out two walkers arriving at the summit of Maol Chinn-dearg: this must have been John and Jill. We watched as they made their way back down towards the base of Glen Shiel via the long NNE ridge of Druim Coire nan Eirecheanach. This ridge would bring them safely back to the A87 road about 3km west of their car at the Cluanie Inn.

Elaine on the summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathain with Sgurr an Lochain in the background

Looking WNW we could see our next and penultimate goal, the shapely summit of Sgurr an Lochain, only about 900m away. About 2.5km beyond this summit we could see the lower summit of Creag nan Damh peaking over its left shoulder. It did not take us long to reach the cairn of top of Sgurr an Lochain at 1004m or 3,294ft.

Our final Munro summit now lay directly in front of us. The path was clearly etched along the ridge, bypassing to the south the tiny Sgurr Beag peak (896) before it reached the broad eastern flank of Creag nan Damh. Our final ascent of the day brought us to the summit cairn at 918m or 3,012ft.

East to Maol Chinn-dearg (R) from Sgurr an Doire Leathain

West to Sgurr nan Lochain (R) from Sgurr an Doire Leathain

Our descent from this peak and hence the South Shiel Ridge itself was via Creag nan Damh’s NNE ridge. This turned out to be a rather tortuous route for our tired legs. There was a sporadic path of sorts, but it was constantly very steep and often comprised knee-jarring 50cm “steps” down into slippy grass and mud pockets. Eventually we reached a good stalkers path from An Fraoch-choire that led down through a little gorge towards the A87 road.  Once on this path the going became a lot easier until we reached the top of a small conifer plantation, only a few hundred metres from the road. Negotiating our way through this forestry proved to be the “sting-in-the-tail” of the entire walk. The plantation was situated on an extremely steep section of hillside and the ground was mainly slippy with mud and lichen covered steep crags. It took us a little longer than we expected to work our way to the floor of Glen Shiel and the road. Once there, however, a few hundred-metre walk along the road brought us back to our ‘van: and our challenge was now “lighter” through the bagging of The Magnificent Seven Munros of The South Shiel Ridge.

Sgurr an Lochain (L) with part of The Five Sisters of Kintail ridge on the right of Loch Duich

Cameron on the summit of Sgurr an Lochain with the Five Sisters of Kintail (R) and Loch Duich in the background

From midway between Sgurr an Lochain and Creag nan Damh - SSE down Glen Quoich with Gleouraich (L), Nevis range (background), Gairich & Sgurr Mhaoraich

Self-portrait of Elaine and Cameron on the summit of Creag nan Damh

The summit of Creag nan Damh looking east along part of The Shiel Ridge

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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