Sunday, 30 May 2010

38,37: Ceathreamhnan and Dheiragain

Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and Mullach na Dheiragain

These two remote Munros have been on my target list for a year or two, but require a good long day to reach.  The chance came along at the end of May.  With Anne off to Whithaugh Park with Selkirk High School youngsters for a week, I had deliberately kept my diary free, and fingers crossed for a good week of weather.  And so it proved ...

Firstly, names!  Often shortened to "C and D" for fairly obviously reasons, but 2 questions to be answered:  what do the names mean, and how should they be pronounced?

Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan means the "peak of the quarters", pronounced approximately "scoor nan kerrufnan".  Mullach na Dheiragain means "hill of the kestrels", pronounced "moolluch na Yerakin".

base camp at Killillan
I had figured out a circular route beginning and ending in Glen Elchaig, which should take around 12 hours - maybe 14 hours if I included a detour over An Socach - so an early start we required.

I drove up on Saturday afternoon - coffee at Blair Atholl Watermill (highly recommended) and fish supper at Kyle of Lochalsh - and parked in the car park at Killillan, where the public road ends.   Fell asleep in the back of the Espace to the sound of rain on the roof!

looking toward the hills from Carnach

Woke at 5am - rain had stopped, but cloud ominously low, so snuggled back down in the sleeping bag.  Had another look at 7am, and spotted some blue sky through a break in the could, so got up, had breakfast, got the bike out ready to go, and set off up Glen Elchaig at 8am.

Initially a tarred road, then a good landrover track gradually climbing up the glen, past the Falls of Glomach.  Reached Carnach at the top end of Loch na Leitreach, 11km up the glen, at 8.55am and tied up my bike.  I could have cycled on up to Iron Lodge, but the plan was to come off the hill above Carnach on foot at the end of the day.  A pleasant half-hour walk brought me to Iron Lodge - the herd of cattle seemed unperturbed as I walked through them!   

Form Iron Lodge to the first top, Mullach na Sithidh, was only 4 miles on the map, but took fully 3 hours.

The first section was hard work, following a good path as it zig-zagged steeply up the side of the classic u-shaped valley, providing a great view back down the glen (right).   

Within a few minutes, though, the gradient eased off as the path wound its way up the hanging valley to Loch an Droma.  

Just beyond the loch, I branched off the main path to cross a couple of large burns - fortunately each was spanned by a construction of old railway sleepers.  

The steep grassy slopes of Mullach Sithidh now stood directly ahead, and had to be tackled pretty well head-on.   This was hard going, but glimpses of the snowy summit of Ceathreamhnan (left)  encouraged me to continue (and gave an excuse for photo stops).  Even on reaching the crest of the ridge at about 700m, it was still a long slog up the summit ridge.  

At 12.25, I flopped gratefully onto the summit rocks, sheltered from the cool breeze by the small cairn.  1 top down, 7 more to go!

Cac na Con Dhu from Mullach na Dheiragain,
with Ceathreamhnan in the distance

The cloud that had been lingering around the tops had now lifted clear, and the way ahead to Ceathreamhnan along the broad ridge of Mullach na Dheiragain was now visible (right).  After a 20 minute rest, it only took 10 minutes to reach the summit of Dheiragain, around its eastern coire.  A 5 minute pause there (12.55-13.00), before continuing along the ridge to the next top Cac na Con Dhu, with the bulk of Carn Eighe and Mam Sodhail across the deep glen to the left.  

Here I met the first other walkers of the day, who had come up from the Glen Affric side and were heading out to Dheiragain.  Continued over Cac na Con Dhu's multiple summits (not sure which bit is the highest) and paused for a rest on a rocky outcrop looking towards Ceathreamhnan at around 14.00.  

on the summit of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan
The ridge ahead looked quite daunting, but proved shorter than it appeared.  Only the last 50m required careful footwork up a steep snowy crest to the summit (15.00).

After a brief pause for a photo (left), I continued gingerly along the snowy arete leading to the snow-covered West Top. There were no footprints, so looked like I was first person along there today!

Soon, I was climbing up the snowy slope to the west top - only 8m lower that the main summit, giving Ceathreamhnan its characteristic twin peak profile.

In contrast to the main summit, however, the west top proved to be a broad plateau, covered in packed snow, with dramatic cornices at its northern edge (right).

looking down the north ridge from Ceathreamhnan's west top
The views to the west were now superb, with the clouds dispersing to reveal blue sky over the distant hills and islands.  Time for a longer rest before making the descent and return to Glen Elchaig!

The homeward route looked inviting, down the initially snowy north ridge, then over 3 further Munro tops - Stuc Bheag (1075m), Stuc Mhor (1041m) and Stuc Fraoch Choire (918m).  

This was a lovely descent - all the hard work now over, the weather improving, and fine views in all directions.   

Time to stop and enjoy the view from each of the three rocky tops in turn:  Stuc Bheag (16.00-16.10), Stuc Mhor (16.25-16.40), and Stuc Fraoch Choire (17.05-17.15) overlooking Loch an Fraoch Choire.

looking back to Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan's main top from the north ridge (right)
west to Skye from Stuc Mhor on Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan
Leaving the final top at 17.15, a long grassy descent led down to Loch Lon Mhurchaidh, where I joined a stalker's path leading down beside a lovely waterfall to Carnach.

Then came the most nerve-racking part of the day - negotiating a herd of highland cattle with their calves.   I'm glad to say they behaved well as I made my nervous way through them and safely back to my bike at Carnach at 18.45!

The return cycle back down the glen only took 45 minutes, mostly freewheeling - a good way to end  a long day.  

Tired legs - so decided to treat myself to B&B and a bath at the Balmacara Hotel - bliss!


2 Munros + 6 Tops
22km cycling
21km walking
1600m climbing
11 hrs 30 mins

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