Five Sisters of Kintail – [# 184 – 186]

Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (1027m);
Sgurr na Carnach (1002m);
Sgurr Fhuaran (1067m)

  • Pronunciation:              Skoor nuh Keeshta Two-yer; Skoor nuh Karnach; Skoor Ooweran
  • Translation:                   Peak of the Dark Chest; Rocky Peak; Wolf Peak
  • Total distance:              14.6km
  • Total time:                     6hrs 17mins
  • Total ascent:                  1614m
  • Weather:                        Extensive hill fog covering all of the tops. Cleared a little in the late afternoon. A few drizzly showers. Generally light winds.
  • Start location:               Car park on the A87, 1,75km east of the Glenshiel battle memorial. [OS Map Sheet 33 – Grid Ref: NH 008 137]
  • End location:                 Car park on the A87, just to the north of Invershiel. [OS Map Sheet 33 – Grid Ref: NG 942 200]
  • 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.

As viewed from the NW - the summit of Sgurr Fhuaran begins to clear of mist

The forecast suggested that the morning’s dull and damp conditions would improve come the afternoon giving rise to a potentially pleasant and sunny evening. So, armed with this forecast, we opted to wait until noon before embarking on our climb of the Five Sisters of Kintail.

Looking towards the Hill of the Spaniard (Sgurr nan Spainteach) from Bealach an Lapain

We parked the car at the little hamlet of Invershiel at the southeast end of Loch Duich: this would be the end point of our walk. We then headed eastward back through Glen Shiel to our starting point and parked up the ‘van and waited for noon and the forecasted (promised?) improvement in the weather. This improvement didn’t really materialise and so a few minutes into the afternoon we left the ‘van and began the very steep and relentless ascent up wet and muddy slopes to reach the Bealach an Làpain at a height of 750m: a col on the ridge between Saileag in the east and Sgurr nan Spainteach in the west. From this bealach we turned west and made the 1.5km long ascent up the ridge to the summit of Sgurr nan Spainteach (990m) – the peak of the Spaniards.

[Why the Peak of the Spaniards? On 10 June 1719 a Jacobite army of clansmen and Spaniards fought and lost the battle of Glenshiel. Their fight was part of a larger strategy to restore the Stuart King James VIII and III to the British throne.]

Cameron on the summit of Sgurr nan Spainteach - peak of the Spaniard

Here in Glen Shiel the Jacobites gathered from the west, choosing the near hillsides on either side of the river gorge to launch their fight. The Government troops, including clansman and Dutch soldiers, marched from the east. Once in sight of the Jacobite army they spread out on either side of the river gorge. They then moved forward and when in range started to fire four coehorn mortars. These sent cast iron balls exploding up amongst the Jacobite troops. Soldiers, armed with muskets, stormed the positions and the Jacobites fled.

Around 100 Jacobite men and 20 Government troops were killed in the exchange that brought about the end of the “Little Rising” – there would be no further issues by those of a Jacobian persuasion until 1745 when “Bonnie Prince Charlie” arrived in the Highlands.]

From Sgurr nan Spainteach it was only a short drop westwards followed by a simple climb to reach the summit of our first Munro, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, at 1027m or 3,369ft. On the summit was a huge cairn, which in the thick mist, just looked like part of the natural rock structure until we got quite close to it.

Elaine approaching the summit cairn on Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe in misty conditions

Cameron on the summit of Sgurr Fhuaran in misty conditions

We didn’t linger long on the top before we set off again, this time in a north-westward direction towards our second Munro. The route finding was never difficult, but we did have to drop down some steep craggy sections before we were then presented with a stiff climb to the summit of Sgurr na Carnach at 1002m or 3,287ft. Here again the misty conditions prevailed and we were offered no views beyond a few tens of metres in any direction.

Once more there was little point in prolonging our stay and so we departed the summit, this time in a northerly direction, and set a course for a col on the ridge. From this col we then continued north up a fairly steep ridge to reach the summit of Sgurr Fhuaran, the highest point on Five Sisters of Kintail ridge at 1067m or 3,501. The panoramic views still evaded us as the conditions on this summit, as on the other three preceding ones, remained misty. There was little that we could do so we quickly ate a snack and departed the summit bound for the fifth “Sister” as we made our way towards the little hamlet of Allt a’ chruinn by the shores of Loch Duich.

Looking NW from the slopes of Sgurr Fhuaran to Sgurr nan Saighead (R) and Loch Duich

We had only dropped about 50m of height from the summit when a westerly breeze began to disperse some of the mist and cloud, helped also by the warmth of the sun. The mist clung on to the eastern facing slopes as the wind and sun forced it from the western aspects. In doing so, it gave us a remarkable spectacle of one side of the main ridge being scoured clean of mist, which then appeared to have been simply deposited over the other side. This phenomenon only lasted for a short time as more and more of the mist dispelled to leave a wonderful view as we climbed to our last peak of Sgurr nan Saighead (929m, but not a Munro).

Sgurr nan Saighead seen from the SE

From this peak we dropped in a northwest direction, crossing Beinn Bhuidhe (869m) before finally descending further to reach a broad col immediately to the SE of Sgurr an t-Searriach. We dropped down to the north from this col into a small glen containing the infant Allt a’ Chruinn burn. On the opposite side of the burn we picked up a good path that followed the course of the burn right down the sea loch (Loch Duich) and the little hamlet that bears the name of the burn. It was then only a short stroll along the A87 road to locate our car that we’d left parked earlier in the day.

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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