North of Loch Cluanie lies this little known group of three Munros stretching back from the A87 towards the wilds of Glen Affric. In order, south to north, the group comprises Carn Ghluasaid at 957m or 3140ft, Sgurr nan Conbhairean at 1109m or 3640ft, and Sail Chaorainn at 1002m or 3287ft.
The starting point for this wonderful day out is in the amply-sized parking area on the Loch Cluanie side of the main A87, at the point where the road from the west sweeps briefly north to follow the shore of the loch as it approaches an island. It is marked on the maps and identified in guidebooks as the ruins of a cottage called Lundie, of which little now remains.
From here you cut back west along the line of the old military road. This takes off from a layby on the other side of the A87, and passes a poignant memorial before starting to climb, parallel to the north shore of Loch Cluanie.
Half a kilometer or so along the old road you take an obvious path heading north from it. This is pretty damp in one or two places, but rapidly becomes one of the best paths you are likely to find up a mountain anywhere in the north west highlands. Of good quality and well graded this takes you to and then up the south west ridge of Carn Ghluasaid; and continues right onto the summit plateau.
The rather featureless nature of the summit plateau might make locating the summit difficult in low visibility. It lies close to the the top of the steep cliffs that mark the abrupt end of the plateau on its northern side.
The path onwards heads north west, towards the obvious high point of the group, Sgurr nan Conbhairean; though if you want to pay a call to the Munro "Top" of Creag a Chaorainn on the way you will need to keep to the right of the main trodden path, which bypasses it.
Sgurr nan Conbhairean, usually translated as peak of the keepers of the hounds is in every sense the highlight of the outing. With a summit that lies some 80ft higher than the (rather better known!) Snowdon it commands superb views in all directions, and especially north to Glen Affric and beyond. We think we could see the striking whiteness of Beinn Eighe, in Torridon, in the distance, but could not be sure. This is not the sort of mountain on which you find - or want - a viewpoint telling you what you are looking at...
The onward route descends north west then north towards the narrowing ridge and the bealach south of Sail Chaorainn. After the peaky splendour of Sgurr nan Conbhairean this comes as something of a surprise, being much more "Lakeland" in feel. Sail Chaorainn is marginally the highest point on a northern spur that is most clearly defined by the sharp defile that separates it from Carn na Coire Mheadhoin, a little further north and only one metre lower. This would be a far harder day out if this northern top were only a little higher and formed the Munro.
Sail Chaorainn must also qualify as one of the quietest places in Scotland on a still summer's afternoon. Several miles into the wilderness from the nearest main road - or any road - there is nothing at all to hear above the very occasional bird noise. What luxury!
The return route is not as demanding as it might have seemed when descending Sgurr nan Conbhairean. This can be bypassed to its west on the way back by a well defined path that leads you round towards the bealach between Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Drochaid an Tuill Easaich.
Most guide books direct you over to Droichaid an Tuill Easaich before descending its south ridge to meet the old military road again. For us, though, the real value of an excellent path like the one up Carn Ghluasaid is in descent; so our alternative route was to range freely round Coire nan Clach below the plateau of Carn Ghluasaid before meeting the ascent path on the south west ridge, and following it easily back down to Lundie.
We climbed this route in August 1999, under clear blue skies. In over eight hours out on the mountains we didn't see another soul, either on these mountains or, as far as we could see, on any of the neighbouring mountains. You'd have to go a long way to find a better day out in Scotland.
And the very best bit was reserved until right at the end, when, about half way down Carn Ghluasaid, we had our closest ever encounter with one of the residents. The photo, bottom right, does little justice to this magic moment.
Visitor InformationView Location on Map
Carn Ghluasaid is 957m or 3,140ft;
Sgurr nan Conbhairean is 1,109m or 3,640ft;
Sail Chaorainn is 1,002m or 3,287ft.
The route described here is about 15km or just under 10 miles in length, and involves some 1220m or 4000ft of ascent.