Gairich to Sgurr na Ciche - a Rough Bounds Ridge Epic Walking

Between lochs Hourn and Shiel, the gnarled and intricate terrain of the west highlands reaches peak intransigence. A tangle of folded uplands and remote, boggy glens, the infamous Rough Bounds, or Na Garbh Chriochan, could hardly have been better named. Nothing is a pushover here. Go for broke with this biggie. Forming a barrier between Loch Cuaich, Glen Kingie and Glen Dessarry, a single great ridge leads west from the peripheral peak of Gairich to the craggy cone of Sgurr na Ciche in the hard heart of the Knoydart hinterland. A long and arduous route with access to match, this is a rewarding expedition for those who thrive on challenge. There's just one question: go all-in on a light one-day push, or bulk up for a weekender with a high camp or bivvy en route? Either way you're in for a memorable journey.

Gairich and the Loch Cuaich hills from Sgurr an Fhuarain  © Dan Bailey -
Gairich and the Loch Cuaich hills from Sgurr an Fhuarain

See our article on this route

Fetching Map

Detailed description

NM9874891584 Go through a gate and follow the track west. Stay right at a junction above Strathan, then turn right on a steep uphill track on the west side of the Dearg Allt (clearer than the path marked on the map on the east bank). This leads up the burn onto the broad saddle between Fraoch Bheinn and Sgurr Mhurlagain. A choice of routes - all fairly boggy - leads down the far side of the col to Kinbreack bothy in the wild open expanse of Glen Kingie.
Gairich from Kinbreack bothy in wild upper Glen Kingie  © Dan Bailey -
Gairich from Kinbreack bothy in wild upper Glen Kingie
© Dan Bailey -

NN0016396068 Head north alongside the burn to its junction with the River Kingie. There's a choice of fords, but in spate conditions it may be necessary to divert a long way upstream. Briefly follow the north bank of the river, then climb grassy slopes to join an old estate track which makes a rising traverse towards the bealach between Gairich and Sgurr an Fhuarain.

NN0070298288 Cross a bridge (a good place to stash overnight packs), join a second track, and follow it northwest for about 500m. Turn right onto a fantastic old stalker's path (they don't make them like they used to) that zigzags the steep ascent onto Gairich Beag. Cross this broad shoulder, then climb steeply, passing a tiny lochan in a hollow before following the edge of the Coire Liath cliffs up onto the domed summit of Gairich.

NN0258299589 Retrace your steps down to the bealach, then leave the track to climb rough grassy slopes onto the east ridge of Sgurr an Fhuarain; it's a long slog up to the day's second summit and the only Corbett on the route. Continuing west, descend the pleasant grassy ridge into a col. From here a historic stalker's path zigzags up the steep southeast spur of Sgurr Mor. From the east top a short rocky crest leads to the cairn on the summit.
Sgurr na Ciche from Sgurr Mor  © Dan Bailey -
Sgurr na Ciche from Sgurr Mor
© Dan Bailey -

NM9652598043 A clear path descends quite steeply south-southwest, leading over the knobbly shoulder of Cadha Riabhach and down to a little col. Climb onto the grassy dome of Sgurr Beag, then descend yet another nice old zigzagging stalker's path to a low col. The ridge now continues up to the summit of An Eag. Most Munro guides break the range into three shorter day trips, which may help give this non-Munro ground in the middle of the ridge a wilder and less-trodden feel.

NM9434095867 Descend west-northwest into a rugged col, with a line of old metal fence posts for company. Ascending to Sgurr nan Coireachan, a path weaves among the rocks, though incorporating some of these short slabby outcrops adds some scrambling interest. Above the steep climb a gentler crest curves up to the cairned summit.
On the brilliant Garbh Chioch Mhor ridge  © Dan Bailey -
On the brilliant Garbh Chioch Mhor ridge
© Dan Bailey -

NM9329795833 Back on well-trodden Munro bagging ground, descend a steep, eroded trail - more fence posts - to the knobbly Bealach Coire nan Gall. With a dilapidated stone wall and a well-worn trail to show the way, climb to a mini summit, then continue up the rocky ridge onto Garbh Chioch Bheag. Entertainingly rugged, but with only brief hands-on moments, the ridge continues to the airy summit of Garbh Chioch Mhor.

NM9094996099 A short scrambling downclimb leads to a lower summit. Here turn right, zigzagging down steep rocky and eroded ground into the dramatic high col of the Feadan na Ciche. Overnight packs can again be stashed here. The ascent of Sgurr na Ciche follows another heavily-worn trail, first up and left, then straight uphill on the right side of a bouldery scree slope (some care with rockfall required if parties are above or below you) to reach the easier-angled stony slopes east of the summit. With fjord-like Loch Nevis far below, and ranks of gnarled hills all around, this really is quite a spot.
Sgurr na Ciche from Garbh Choich Mhor - no easy routes here  © Dan Bailey -
Sgurr na Ciche from Garbh Choich Mhor - no easy routes here
© Dan Bailey -

NM9020696681 Return to the Feadan na Ciche. Heading west-southwest, a rough trail descends the boulder-choked bed of a deep gorge cutting down to the open slopes below. As the gorge opens out, bear left and follow the clear path across boggy slopes below the craggy west wall of Garbh Chioch Mhor. After about 1km the path descends quite steeply beside a burn. Join an eroded vehicle track cutting southeast across the slope to the floor of Glen Dessarry.

NM9141994887 Turning left, follow the main track down-glen. Approaching the first big forestry plantation, there's a choice of routes: the indirect forest track; or the shorter but rougher path above the woods. Though it can be a bit soggy underfoot it's probably best to stick with the latter, which leads in about 3.5km to the cottage at Upper Glendessarry. From here it's the best part of 5km on a stony estate road, potentially a bit of a trudge but a quick and easy finish if you get into your stride.

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Further Routes

by Dan Bailey UKH

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