The Mountain's Silhouette

Hiking and backpacking in the mountains of Scotland

Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach

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Distance: 12.09 km
Ascent: 1,149 m
Time: 5hrs 40mins
Munros: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich (1,036m)
Weather: Early high cloud clearing to blue skies. Very cold with snow above 700m
Route: Click to view

The stag prancing about in the field besides the Invergarry Lodge Hostel seemed as delighted with the continuing good weather as we were. Under a sky that was patchy grey with bits of blue steadily appearing, we loaded up the cars and set off once again down the twisty-turny Kinlochhourn Road.

It was a quiet Sunday morning with mist blossoming over Loch Garry and hovering like a strange alien ship above the winding river. There was not a breath of wind and gradually the rising sun scattered the remaining cloud. As we parked up besides Loch Quoich we had stunningly blue skies above us.

The stalkers path that rises from the loch side can only be described as a work of wonder. Rising on a steady gradient it climbs besides the chattering allt before swooping across the bare hillside to dangle the hiker high above the northern arm of Loch Quoich.

With the freezing level well below our starting elevation we encountered ice, and later frozen snow up the entire length of the path. Luckily the excellent drainage kept the hazard to a minimum. The sunlight streaming across the mountains south and west of the loch was utterly magnificent. Fresh dustings of snow on Sgurr na Ciche and Sgurr Mor caught the bright sun whilst the heathery hillsides were a fiery orange. The waters of the loch were a deep and brilliant shade of blue. It was a sight of spectacular beauty; lonely and wild and utterly brilliant.

The path brought us along the west side of the lumpy ridge that runs up to the southwest corner of Gleouraich. At times the frozen surface gave the need for a cautious step as the drop to the left is steep and unbroken until you hit the winding river meandering through a frozen swamp far below. It was made more dangerous by the distracting views, both ahead and behind. In front the grand line of the South Glen Shiel Ridge was less snow covered than the day before but no less impressive.

We paused at the small col for a bite to eat and then it was onwards, following the continuation of the stalkers path as it now climbed the shoulder of Gleouraich. At the end of the path a strange stone turret stands, evidently a high perch for shooting from as it had a commanding view down the wide corrie. From here the path remains clear, though it climbs steeply and directly up to the small col to the west of the main summit, and soon our legs were burning with the change in gradient.

Skipping over frozen boulders in the sunshine we made our way up the final ridge to the summit and stood, mouths agape, marvelling at the panoramic views from this stupendous viewpoint.

We had a clear view down Loch Quoich to the Rough Bounds of Knoydart as well as over the hill we climbed the previous day. To the east an inviting ridge, snow glinting white in the sunshine, drew my away to the end where the second Munro of the day, Gleouraich, stood. To the north the Affric hills, including the long ridges of Sgùrr nan Ceathramhnan.

We dropped slightly off the summit to sit in the sunshine to have food and hot drinks.

From here we now had a clear route eastward along the fine ridge. The northern corries of the mountains were dramatic; choked with rock fall and grey-white with ice and frost. Beyond the sun-filled glen the line of the South Shiel Ridge marched on, east and west to where the Saddle lay, just starting to attract a covering of cloud.

We continued along until we came over the top at the eastern end of Gleouraich’s long, winding ridge. This one is snappily called Creag Coire na Fiar Bhealaich but the views were much better than any of our attempts at pronounciation.

From here there is quite a loss of height, down a steeply zig-zagging path with a couple of large rocky slabs, to the bealach which separates Gleouraich from its neighbour, Spidean Mialach.

The re-ascent to the first prominence on the ridge was quite laborious, rising steeply up through scree and rocks and with a path that peetered out once the rougher ground was reached higher up. The steepness slackened eventually though and then it was a more gentle and enjoyable walk along the sinuous ridge, going over a number of false summits, until finally the true summit of Spidean Mialach appeared ahead.

At this time, behind us, the hills of Kintail were slowly being engulfed by a passing snow shower. It wasn’t clear how long this was going to last so I picked up the pace in order to get to the summit of Spidean Mialach whilst it was still clear.

In the end there was nothing to worry about. I clambered up the final few snow covered boulders and stretched out excited fingers to touch the cairn. This was the summit of my 100th Munro!

The views were just sublime. The snow shower, which passed over Loch Quoich and sent tiny flakes swirling gently around us, added another dimension to the views. After taking photos we sat about and had a long lunch, chatting with a lady from Bolton who was on her 50th Munro (not to mention wild camping)!

Once we were done with lunch and with taking in the views it was time to head back down. The south side of Spidean Mialach is fairly gentle and grassy and a clear track, boggy in places, cuts diagonally down from the summit. It angles for the coire to the right of Loch Fearna. We made our way down, doing our best to avoid the worst of the bog, and stopping to take pictures down Loch Quoich.

From below Loch Fearna the ground got increasingly marshy. We picked our way as best we could along the hillside above the floor of the coire until we came along the end of a low ridge that wound its way down past the weather station (?) and down to where we had left me car earlier in the day.

After this it was a simple matter of collecting the other car and then getting prepared for the long journey back to Aberdeen.

The first part of the journey for me was stop start as the light in Glen Garry was stunning. I took several photos of Loch Garry before taking the slightly longer route via Loch Loyne and along to Invermoriston.

After this it was the usual route up alongside Loch Ness, then Inverness and the long cross-country drive to Aberdeen as darkness fell.

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