Our blog - Mullardoch, 7-8 Jul'18

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

Mullardoch Munros

7-8 July 2018
Two days of guided hiking on the Munros surrounding Loch Mullardoch, just north of Glen Affric. John King was leading....

Day 1 - North of Loch Mullardoch To the west of the Great Glen, and north of Kintail, lie the highest peaks of the northwest Highlands. Long, complex mountain chains above scenic glens give some of the best hill- and ridge-walking in the Highlands. We were there at the weekend hoping to experience some of that whilst walking parts of one of Scotland's classic mountain traverses – the Mullardoch round – summiting nine of the round's 12 Munros over two days.

Loch Mullardoch was dammed in 1951 for a hydro-electric scheme and the concrete dam is still the largest in Scotland. I met our group for the weekend – Gill, Chris, Rachael, Roger, Neil and Raymond – by the dam early on Saturday morning. The weather was glorious, and the views to the peaks on the way up the glen had been fantastic. Sheltered behind the dam the midges were out, so we hastened towards the Mullardoch Ferry, run by boatman Angus. Getting a ride along the loch on a boat saves a lot of rough walking by the loch shore and makes reaching the four Munros to the north of the loch a more achievable objective. We got a perfect ride along the loch on the boat with stunning views, particularly of Beinn Fhionnlaidh, one of the summits for our second day.

The level of the loch was very low after the recent heatwave and also because water is pumped from Loch Mullardoch to maintain the level of Loch Beinna' Mheadhoin, another hydro loch in neighbouring Glen Affric. According to Angus the water had dropped 6ft from just the day before so we were dropped at the narrowest section of the loch as it wasn't possible for the boat to go on any further and we made our way toward An Socach from there. It was hot work climbing away from the loch shore following a broad ridge, covered in peat hags, but the walking was fairly straightforward given how dry the bogs are at the moment. As we climbed more onto An Socach, following the rim of CoireMhaim, we caught a fleeting glimpse of a white-tailed eagle taking off and flying round a buttress – an impressive sight. The terrain got progressively better as we ascended and it was nice to reach the level summit ridge and walk easily round to the summit trig point – Munro #1 of the day!

We took a good break at the summit, with some sunbathing going on for the second weekend running, and enjoyed great views north to Torridon, west to Skye and south to Affric, Kintail and Knoydart. We headed on from here and followed the rough, undulating ridge eastwards, reaching the high rooftop of An Riabhachan where the easy walking resumed once more, granting access to the summit of the days second Munro in time for lunch. It is a 300m descent to the next bealach from there but the route heads down a lovely narrow ridge crest, which takes your mind away from how much height you're losing and then a short, sharp ascent gains the summit of Sgurr na Lapaich, the day's highest summit. From the high point, you could literally see from coast-to-coast, with Inverness and the Moray Firth clear to the east and the Minch in the west. A small herd of wild goats were grazing about 20m below us and there still some big patches of snow hanging in there in some sheltered locations of the mountain's impressive eastern face.

As we picked our way down from Sgurr na Lapaich we found one little patch of snow hidden in a hollow right beside the path and took advantage of the opportunity to cool down. It wasn't quite as hot a day as it has been recently but it was still very warm and it was lovely to stuff some snow into our hats! Overall, the descent is rough with boulder fields to cross in places, but lower down we picked up a path which cuts across the Bealach na Cloiche Duibhe and onto the slopes of Carn nan Gobhar, the day's fourth and final Munro. It is a tough wee climb at the end of the day with tired legs but you are rewarded from the summit with more great views, especially across to the nearby Strathfarrar Munros and back to Sgurr na Lapaich, definitely the most impressive peak in the area.

An easy descent leads off east to the next bealach then south down slopes of grass and heather, eventually picking up a new hydro track back to the dam. It was nice to see the first cloudberries of the season starting to fruit as we descended. We were back at the dam in exactly 10 hours, a good time for this big day, leaving plenty of time for a good restful evening ahead of an even bigger second day!

Day 2 - South of Loch Mullardoch

Sunday dawned much greyer, with a low cloud base, gusty wind and light drizzle. It definitely felt like normality had returned to the Highlands! At least there were no midges. We met early and set off on the boat again just before 8am. It was a very different ride from the previous day with big waves and lots of spray making for a wild feeling trip along the loch. Angus dropped us on the opposite shore to the day before and we cut a diagonal line up the hillside heading for Beinn Fhionnlaidh. It is a pretty steep pull up onto this first Munro but we dispatched it quickly, reaching the summit in just over two hours. This was Raymond's 141st Munro, marking the halfway point towards a full round, but while there had been some atmospheric mist swirling round as we climbed, the summit was unfortunately fully in the clag.

We briefly emerged from the cloud as we reached the next bealach but climbed quickly back into it on the other side. Our route cut across the flank of Carn Eighe, which was rough going in the wet conditions, reaching the bealach with Mam Sodhail and we took in this 1181m summit with it's enormous summit cairn as our second Munro of the day. It is a quick traverse back to CarnEighe, the highest summit in the northwest, and it was nice to know that generally we were headed in the homewards direction from there.

The conditions were pretty inclement at that point so we didn't hang around for long and made our way eastwards following the high ridgeline toward Tom a' Choinnich. In my opinion, this is a very underrated ridge. It is remote and committing – going along it is realistically the only way back to the dam - with lots of switchbacks, views down into wild corries, ups and downs, and narrowness giving great, interesting walking all the way. We took a good break at the bealach before An Leth-chreag and with the sun starting to make an appearance it was nice to get the waterproofs off for the first time all day. Then it was onto the day's fourth Munro summit.

Descending down the east ridge of Tom a' Choinnich we got an amazing view of a full rainbow crossing right over the bealach ahead of us – probably the best view we saw all day. From the bealach it was an easy climb to the summit of Toll Creagach with some welcome relief from all the climbing as we headed over the incredibly flat west top. After a short break at the summit we headed on down into Fraoch-choire. We found quite a nice way down, taking it easy as some knees were starting to feel the strain of the weekend's efforts. About half-way down we watched a herd of deer running across the coire ahead of us, with some fawns making lots of noise. Soon after we joined the “path” down through the trees in the lower part of the coire and it was a very pleasant return to the dam, again made easier by how dry it has been. We were back in 11 hours, two great days and nine Munros successfully completed!

More photos by John King are here on Flickr.

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