A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Mullardoch Munros

16-17 Jul 2016
Two days hiking up the Munros surrounding Loch Mullardoch. John and Steven were leading ...

photo 2 With some less-than-clement weather forecast, (read 60mph wind and rain), our original plan to do the Northern Mullardoch group was postponed until Sunday, and a more modest and appropriate plan was formulated to do Toll Creagach and Tom a'Choinich from Glen Affric. We elected to do them in an anti-clockwise direction so as to avoid the craggy South ridge of Tom, be (relatively as it turned out) sheltered on the ascent from the Bealach Toll Easa and finally to allow us to assess the wind conditions over less challenging ground.

The plan came together nicely, and we set off from Chisolm bridge up the extensively widened and muddy track that appears to be the precursor to a hydro scheme I suspect. Due to this, I chose to turn NE up a faint old track that skirts the crags of Beinn Eun, and make an easier ascent up the Coire an t-Sneachda (no, not THAT one), and onto the broad S ridge. It was a good choice, and we enjoyed the relative shelter until the ridge proper, when the wind started to be felt properly. One chap had a couple of hundred metre chase to get his hat back, and I was impressed when he did!

photo 2 We wasted little time on the summit of Toll, and still out of our waterproofs, we set off WSW towards our next target, mindful of the black clouds to the WNW. We soon had to stop and get our Goretex on, and the rain set in for the next 4 or so hours, stinging our eyes in the gusts. Still, it could have been worse we cheerfully said, and of course, it could.

The rocky path onto Tom is a delight, but we had to take care on the final 30 metres, as the wind was whipping around us. We made the summit in good order, and even managed a photo! Again, we didn't wait any longer than it took to send a text to Steven to ask him to bring some extra boots for Sunday, as someone's sole was coming away. The wonders of modern technology that we can do that from a windswept Scottish mountain eh?

photo 2 We retraced our steps back to the bealach, before taking the intermittent stalker's path towards the glen. On the way, we met two very bedraggled looking folks with camping gear. I joked that I couldn't believe my eyes, and they told us that they had been blown off the Carn Eighe ridge, and had had to camp in the valley, and were having to go over the bealach to get back to Mullardoch. It kind of vindicated our decision, and we wished them well as they splashed and toiled up past us, poor souls. That said, MWIS had been quite unequivocal about the forecast, but each to their own as they say.

It was then just a case of the plod back along Gleann nam Fiadh and the mess of a track that they are bulldozing for one of the new hydro schemes that are proliferating. I do hope it is sympathetically finished off, as it is a real eyesore right now, let alone a gloop of slurry due to the machinery. A really good and enjoyable day, despite the doom and gloom of a forecast. Just adjust your plans, don't just disregard it and go whatever, be prudent, and with some decent kit, you'll still have a fine day on the hill.

photo 2 Then came Sunday. As I said above, we had postponed the Northern group for a day, and as the wind was forecast slightly less, we went for it. The first adventure was the boat trip along the loch. Angus the boatman seemed keen to show us his skills, and we whizzed along into the white horses, bouncing wildly. The guys in the stern were facing the spray, and were soaked. Us up front were bounced and jarred relentlessly, and Nick did a stirling job as a wave-break on the very bow. It would be fair to say we were all relieved to get onto 'dry' land. But dry it was most certainly not!

The boat ride saves you the relentless plod along the loch, and we just had to cut up the hillside and get onto the S ridge of An Socach. The problem is that the ground is riven with peat hags, and is very soft going in normal conditions, so today it was very boggy indeed. At least when we got onto the ridge it was better, but to be replaced by the wind.

photo 2 Days like these are often described as 'character building', and we certainly had ours built. What is normally a wonderful high-level promenade of broad and narrow ridges which are pleasing but never technical was transformed into a succession of head-down marches, braced against the wind and persistent rain. It speaks volumes for the team as despite being soaked to the skin, (no amount of fancy Gore-Tex can keep conditions like that out for that long), the high-fives were still had at the summits, and the stoic humour continued all the way round, even when we had to re-trace our steps for 50m after a slight technical glitch on trying to descend off the complicated summit of Sgurr na Lapaich. Oops!

I was beginning to question my resolve as we descended off the final summit of Carn nan Gobhar, as I was heartily fed up of being soaked and buffeted. Surely I had 'enjoyed' such conditions before? I felt slightly mitigated when we met Steven at the Mullardoch dam, where he was already in dry clothes having finished an hour before us. No, he hadn't been as drenched on these hills before, and of course, he has done then 17 times!

photo 2 I always think weekends such as this, where we have to take the vagaries of the Scottish weather, test everything. Our kit, our route planning, our fitness, and most of all, our resolve. It's all too easy to just decide to not make the trip, to not face the elements, to take the easy option and stay at home. But, if you do decide the experience is worth the struggle, once the kit is packed away dry, you have a cup of tea in your hand, and the blurry pictures on your laptop, the memories are all the sweeter for the effort.

Well done to my group for being such great company, and great sports.

More photos by John and Steven are here on Flickr.

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