Saturday, 25 July 2009

50,49,48,47: Mullardoch Marathon

At last .... into "those last 50 Munros" ... so I'll include a countdown in the titles of my blog posts from here on in!

Plodda Falls
After the "Fisherfield adventure" (last blog entry but one), we were in Aberdeen for Fi's graduation, in Paisley to "granny sit" for a few days, and at home entertaining German visitors.  We got away again on Wednesday 22nd July, and headed north up the A9 through heavy showers to camp at Cannich.

Thursday and Friday were forecast to be showery at best, wet at worst - and so it proved!  The Dog Falls and Plodda Falls (right) were impressive, though!   Saturday, however,  sounded promising ...

The prime target was to climb the 4 Munros on the north side of Loch Mullardoch: An Socach, An Riabhachan, Sgurr na Lapaich and Carn nan Gobhar.   A big day, and only possible in a single day by being ferried up the loch to save a long trudge to the foot of An Socach.

A phone call to Karl, the Mullardoch boatman, revealed that Saturday was also to be the last day before he "took the boat out of the water" (presumably for the stalking season), so we claimed two spaces on the 9am run up the Loch.

view up Loch Mullardoch from the dam;
Glen Affric hills to the left, Mullardochs to the right
Saturday dawned bright and sunny, and we left the campsite before 8.30am for the drive up to the Mullardoch dam.  Sure enough, Karl was there waiting for us and 4 other walkers in his little boat.  

Soon we were speeding up the loch, with mountains on each side.   The other 4 passengers had done the Mullardochs the day before - in mist and rain.  Today their target was Beinn Fhionnlaidh on the south side.  It turned out one of them had a Selkirk connection - small world!  En route, we handed over a fistful of notes to Karl as he regaled us with stories of escapades on the hills with stalking clients.  

The 8th passenger in the boat was Karl's puppy.  "What's his name?", someone asked.  "Foot", came the reply!   Had we heard correctly?  Seemed a strange name for a little dog! We must have looked puzzled ...  "Foot", he repeated.  "I've another, older one - he's called Bigfoot!"  Even if you're not intending to climb any Munros, the trip is worth it just for Karl's sense of humour!  By the way, to "book" your trip, phone Karl on 01463 761360.

the long approach to An Socach from "Seldom Inn"
By 10am, we were disembarking at "Seldom Inn", a hunting lodge about 8km up the loch, and waving goodbye to Karl, Foot and the other 4 passengers.  

From the landing place, we followed a good stalkers' path up the valley for around 3km into Coire Mhaim.  From the coire floor, we picked a route slanting up to the left across the head of the lower coire, then steeply up on to the ridge to the left.  

approaching An Socach
Once on the ridge, the slope eased, but it still took longer than we expected to reach Meall a'Chaisg, then on round the upper coire (below) to the summit of An Socach (one of 3 Munros of that name - one of the others lies west of Glenshee, and the other, just across Loch Mullardoch in Glen Affric).  An Socach means "the snout", but the Glenshee one was more like An Soak-ach, due to a heavy shower as I was descending it! 

Anyway, I'm digressing ... By the time we reached our first summit, it was already 13.10.  However, it proved a good resting place, with fine views all around, especially to the west and south.

view to An Riabhachan from An Socach
30 minutes rest, lunch eaten, and it was time to get on the move again.  The next Munro was An Riabhachan (meaning "the striped one").  Once again, we were surprised that it took us nearly 2 hours to cover the 4/5 kilometres to its summit.  It was a lovely walk, though.  
First, we descended gently around the north rim of the coire and over a minor protruding top (left), which may be "the snout" which gives the mountain its name, then more steeply down to Bealach Bholla (at 860m).  

Next a steep ascent to An Riabhachan's (nameless) west top, a grassy bump overlooking Coire Mhaim.  From there, a short shallow descent and re-ascent to the (also nameless) SW top, with a short rocky scramble to its summit.  The stroll along An Riabhachan's long grassy summit is described elsewhere as "a grand highway", and so it is.  Almost level for 2 miles, easy going underfoot, and wide views to left and right.  We touched the summit cairn in passing, but continued another kilometre or so to the NE end of the ridge before stopping for a "second lunch" at around 15.30. 
Sgurr na Lapaich from east end of An Riabhachan

From there, we descending down the ridge of Creagan Toll and Lochain, with Loch Beag and Loch Mor (imaginative names!) in the deep coire to our left, and the daunting peak of Sgurr na Lapaich ahead (right).  

This time we dropped fully 300m to the bealach, with 300m unrelenting climb back out.  

With the afternoon wearing on, from about 2/3 of the way up this slope, I cut across to the outlying top, Sgurr nan Clachan Geala (the peak of the white stones), while Anne continued steadily up towards the summit.  The white stones can be most easily seen from the Affric hills as they lie on the southern slopes.  

Sgurr na Lapaich from Sgurr nan Clachan Geala
Reached the top at 17.30 - with 3 more summits to go, it was just as well it was midsummer!  This top has dramatic views down into Loch Thuill Bhearnaich, but there was no time to linger, so I hurried back across the and up the final terraced slopes of Sgurr na Lapaich (left), where Anne was waiting patiently.  Again, it would have been nice to stay longer, but it was now 18.00, so only time for a quick bite and cup of coffee.

distant windmills from the summit of Carn nan Gobhar
The descent from Sgurr na Lapaich (peak of the bog) was the hardest part of the day.  The path started well, then got lost among a steep boulder field that required careful movements.  

Once below this, the path made a strange little zig-zag over a dune-like mini-ridge, then continued more easily down to the next bealach, Bealach na Cloiche Duibhe (pass of the black rock - not sure which of the many it was referring to!) at 796m.  

From there, it was an easy gentle climb to the final Munro, Carn nan Gobhar (hill of the goats), with its broad stony summit.  Strangely, another Carn nan Gobhar is exactly the same height (992m) and only a few miles away in Strathfarrar.   Paused here for a 5 minute rest, now 19.15, and the sun staring to get lower in the sky behind us.  It was a lovely clear evening, though, and with the light behind us, the views ahead were very clear.

looking down Strathfarrar from Creag Dubh

With now weary legs, we were glad to see that the tramp across to the final top was an smooth, gentle grassy one.  I reached the final top, Creag Dubh, at 8pm.  Meanwhile Anne contouring across 100m lower down to reach the broad south-east ridge that would take us home.  We managed to get very close to a large herd of deer, before they noticed us and headed off across the ridge.

We contoured round, heading down a gentle but steepening ridge, which the map promised us had a path zig-zagging down its lower slopes into Coire an t-Sith.  Unfortunately the path was pretty vestigial (at best), and didn't improve much down in the valley fo the Allt Mullardoch.  

With dusk staring to fall, it seemed a tiring trudge down to the loch, then along the shore back to the dam.   Glad to see the car was still there as we reached it at 10pm, 12 hours from "Seldom Inn"!

A big day!   4 Munros + 4 Tops, 23km walk, 1800m climb, 12 hours.

Back at the campsite, we were too tired to cook, so it was sardine sandwiches, then bed!