Sunday, 15 August 2010

12: An Socach

An Socach  (Glen Affric)    15th August 2010

Next morning, and once again the car park at the top of Glen Affric was alive with midges!  Cloud low, but forecast to "burn off" by mid-morning,

Today's target was my sole remaining unclimbed Glen Affric hill - An Socach ("the snout").  A small hill, but a long way in ...

I set off on the bike at 8.50am, following the forest track on the south side of Loch Affric.

Affric Lodge, across the loch
I made steady progress (despite tired legs from yesterday) along the ups and downs of the track, and, sure enough, the mist started to break up, and blue sky appeared above, with splendid views of the surrounding hills.

An Tudair, Mam Sodhail (just visible) and Carn Eighe, across Loch Affric

An Tudair across Loch Affric - blue sky!
Beyond the loch, the track dropped down to the river crossing at Athnamulloch, with great views up the glen ahead.

looking up the glen to Beinn Fhada

Mullach Fraoch Choire above Athnamulloch
 Beyond the bridge, the track deteriorated and the going was reduced to near walking speed, but I managed to continue for 2.5 km to the foot of the Allt Coire Ghaidheil, which was where I intended to finish my walk.  The 11 km had taken an hour and a half, but I reckoned it would be well worth it, especially on the way back.

Perversely, the track improved again beyond this point, and another 40 minutes on foot brought me to Alltbeithe (Glen Affric Youth Hostel).  As I walked, I met a few youth hostellers heading out of the glen.

Alltbeithe - Glen Affric Youth Hostel
At 11.10am, I was glad to sit down outside the Youth Hostel for some food and coffee.  I was joined by another lone walker who had come across from Glen Shiel over the top of Ciste Dubh already that morning!   We set off walking together up behind the Youth Hostel, but I think his morning exertions had taken their toll, and soon he dropped behind me.

I followed the excellent path steeply up alongside the Allt na Faing (another one - see yesterday's blog), and was soon up into Coire na Cloiche ("the coire of the stone").  Not sure if it was named after a specific stone, as there were plenty lying around, or perhaps the crags of the hill behind the coire, Stob Coire na Cloiche.  

By now the midday sun was beating down fairly mercilessly, so I was glad to be able to replenish my water supplies so high up.  At 600m, I reached the bealach, and looked over to Mullach na Dheireagain.  

Decision time:  to the right, the direct route up An Socach;  to the left, Stob Coire na Cloiche, an outlying top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan.   My legs said "right", but my head said "left"!   

Left it was - and so my protesting legs carried me up the short ridge, with a wee scramble through a rock band, to reach the top at 13.15.  Apart from the satisfaction of gaining another "top", this wee peak proved to be a fine viewpoint, and an ideal place for lunch!

Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan from Stob Coire na Cloiche
looking east form Stob Coire na Cloiche towards An Socach, with Carn Eighe and Mam Sodhail in the distance
Rested, fed and coffeed, I headed back down to the bealach, then up the winding path to An Socach.  A lonely tent was pitched beside the path on the first bump.

looking back to Stob Coire na Cloiche, with Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan behind
One final pull up on tired legs, and I was on my 272nd Munro, An Socach, at 2.20pm.  Two other walkers were there, too, so a chat and a photo opportunity.

weary Munroist on An Socach
The broad south ridge provided a pleasant highway back towards lower ground, with fine views back up to the mountain from An Sornach, the curving ridge below.  A "sornach" is something like an open fireplace made of stones, so not sure why the ridge is so named, unless it refers to the way this ridge curls round the open end of Coire Gaidheal.

south ridge of An Socach, with Sgurr nan Conbhairean across Glen Affric

looking back to An Socach from An Sornach
Finally, a steep grassy descent back to the bike.  Stopped for a long chat with a local man and two German friends, before pedalling off back down the glen to the car park.

1 Munro + 1 Top
11km walk + 22km cycle
800m climb
11 hours


left car08:50
left bike10:20 - 10:30
Alltbeithe Youth Hostel11:10 - 11:25
Stob Coire na Cloiche (T)12:55 - 13:10
An Socach (M)14:20 - 14:40
back to bike 15:50 - 16:15
back to car park17:35

Saturday, 14 August 2010

15,14,13: Glen Affric circuit

Mam Sodhail, Carn Eighe, Beinn Fhionnlaidh, Tom a'Choinich   (14th Aug 2010)

It had been a productive summer - now down to only 16 Munros still to climb.  We had to return home at the start of August for various meetings, and a visit from Cat and Teun.  With a few days left before the start of the new term, and a good forecast, I headed back up the A9 (but just me this time) to see if I could add the 4 remaining Glen Affric Munros.

Friday 13th, and a slow run north with heavy traffic.  Fish supper at Beauly, e-mails from just outside Cannich campsite (their free wi-fi doesn't stop at the fence!), then on up to the top of the glen.  Parked there at 8.30pm.  We had remarked earlier in the summer how few midges there seemed to be this year - maybe the cold winter had killed them all off.  But no - they had just been biding their time - and now it seemed every midge in Scotland was in Glen Affric! I didn't venture far out of the car!

midge carnage
Next morning was the same!  I set up the stove on the picnic table to boil the kettle - then dived back into the car until it was ready!  See midge carnage (right).  The stove burned up a few thousand, but zillions escaped!  Definitely the worst midges I have seen since SU camps in Glen Etive in the 1970s!

Anyway, at 8.45am I set off (very!) briskly up the track towards Affric Lodge.  The sky was overcast, but the forecast promised it would lift as the day progressed.

misty morning on Loch Affric
20 minutes walk along the track to Affric Lodge, then sharp right up a good stalkers' path - midges still following!   The path then turned sharp left to slant up a steeper section, then sharp right again up on to the moorland.  Here I overtook a strangely clad motley group of walkers, then struck off left across the moor towards the foot of Sgurr na Lapaich.  A very rudimentary (or should that be vestigial?) path wound its way across the (fairly dry) bog, with intermittent marker posts to show the way.   The path petered out at the Allt na Faing ("sheepfold burn") so I headed up the heathery slopes on the left, and thence to the small notch at the foot of Sgurr na Lapaich's ("peak of the bog") south ridge.  

summit cairn, Sgurr na Lapaich
Here the path reappeared, and would its way up between rocky outcrops to the misty summit, with its large and prominent cairn (left). 

Once again, a repeated name - with the Mullardoch Munro, Sgurr na Lapaich, not far away to the north.  I guess a lot of Munro's could be well-named as Sgurr na Lapaich!

11.10am.  30 minutes ahead of schedule, so a good start to the day.  Time for a rest!   

... and the sun started to break through - perfect timing - opening up views down to the valley below.

To the west, the broad grassy ridge towards Mam Sodhail looked inviting, although the mist was still hiding the summits of both Mam Sodhail and Carn Eighe (the 14th and 12th highest Munros, and the highest north of the Great Glen).

the ridge west from Sgurr na Lapaich towards Mam Sodhail (completely hidden) and Carn Eighe (just appearing)
A striking feature of the initial part of this ridge is a curious 3m high escarpment running along the ridge, apparently caused by some sort of landslip (seen below, in retrospect from the Mam Sodhail - Carn Eighe bealach).

looking back to Sgurr na Lapaich (with escarpment) and Mullach Cadha Rainich from the Carn Eighe - Mam Sodhail bealach
Leaving Sgurr na Lapaich behind, I made rapid progress along the broad mossy ridge, up and over Mullach Cadha Rainich ("hill of the bracken pass") - craggy on its north side, grassy to the south -  then along a strangely lumpy section, before reaching the narrowing (but grassy) ridge as it swept up to the summit of Mam Sodhail ("hill of the barns") .

the bumpy section between Mullach Cadha Rainich and Mam Sodhail
the grassy ridge leading up to Mam Sodhail - and a tiny bit of blue sky appearing above the bealach
To the right, the long east ridge of Carn Eighe appeared out of the mist, with its unexpected pinnacles, which I hoped to visit later in the day.  Carn Eighe (or Eige) itself still had its head in the clouds!

looking across to Carn Eighe's pinnacles, perched on an otherwise grassy ridge

Carn Eighe's steep SE face above Loch Uaine - certainly green (uaine), but a bit small to be called a "loch"

An hour and a half after leaving Sgurr na Lapaich, Mam Sodhail's summit cairn loomed out of the mist.

This massive cairn (left) is 4-sided and hollow, but with no entrance - apparently built by the Ordnance Survey to house surveying instruments.

Despite the mist, my stomach was saying "lunchtime", so I "cooried doon" in the shelter of the cairn, hoping for the sun to break through - but it didn't - yet!

From the cairn, I followed the path down to the bealach above Loch Uaine, and emerged into sunshine again.  What a difference 100m can make!

The original plan had been to continue up the other side to Carn Eighe (only a kilometre and a drop of 130m separates the 2 Munros), but I could see that it would be easy to contour across the west side of Carn Eighe, and make first for Beinn Fhionnlaidh.  Carn EIghe could wait for later.

heading across the back of Carn Eighe towards Beinn Fhionnlaidh
Once across the back of Carn Eighe, I joined the path leading down from Carn Eighe's summit, making a short detour to the intermediate top, Stob Coire Lochan.   Really nothing more than a bump on the long ridge out to Beinn Fhionnlaidh, but a good viewpoint nonetheless. 

Stob Coire Lochan and Beinn Fhionnlaidh - with An Socach and An Riabhachan (Mullardoch) behind
Here I stopped for 5 minutes to take in the view down to (naturally) Coire Lochan (is that the name of the Coire or the name of the Lochan?!) and its outflow - would you believe it? - Allt Coire Lochan!  

Another short drop to "bealach beag", then a 150m grassy climb to Beinn Fhionnlaidh's short summit ridge.  An hour and a half after leaving Mam Sodhail, I reached the summit cairn, and met my first other human being for 6 hours!  Enjoyed a chat for a while, before he headed off back down towards Iron Lodge.   

happy Munroist on Beinn  Fhionnlaidh
Beinn Fhionnlaidh is a fine peak in its own right, and one of the hardest Munros to get to. The options are either the long walk out and back from Carn Eighe, a long cycle and walk up Glen Elchaig or a trip up Loch Mullardoch by boat, followed by a 750m unrelenting slog to the summit.  Whichever way, it is worth the effort - a fine viewpoint in the middle of nowhere.   

It was now mid-afternoon, the sky was blue, the sun warm, and I could easily have dozed off leaning against the cairn!

view across Loch Mullardoch to (the other) Sgurr na Lapaich, from Beinn Fhionnlaidh
Lovely as it was sitting alone on Beinn Fhionnlaidh, I was aware that I was 15km from base, and had 5 tops and 2 Munros still to visit, so my 25 minute idyll had to come to an end, and at 15.10 I set off back along the ridge towards Carn Eighe.  

Carn Eighe (left) and Mam Sodhail (right) from Beinn Fhionnlaidh
This time by-passing Stob Coire Lochan, it took just over an hour to reach the next Munro, a 350m ascent following the curving ridge around its massive northern coire.   Hard going on tired legs up the steep middle section, but soon I reached its rounded summit plateau, and patted the massive cairn and trig point.

view north from Carn Eighe
I found a nice place to sit, looking north over the very blue lochan towards Beinn Fhionnlaidh and the Mullardochs.  I also discovered that there was a strong mobile signal up there, so was able to speak to Anne back home in Selkirk.  However, the midges - which I thought had been left behind - reappeared, so it was soon time to get moving again.

But what a prospect - a delightful 5km high level walk (never dropping below 960m) over 5 tops to the day's final Munro, Tom a' Choinnich.

First, a gentle stroll down then along a broad grassy ridge to Stob a' Choire Dhomhain ("peak of the deep coire"), passing a couple setting up a tent in a green hollow for an overnight camp.

Once over the gentle crest of this top, the ridge changed direction suddenly, with a row of jagged teeth sitting incongruously on a narrow section.

from S.a'C Dhomhain to the pinnacles, S.C. Dhomhnuill and Sron Garbh
the pinnacles, up close
The pinnacles provided some minor scrambling fun, before continuing to the next top, Stob Choire Dhomhnuill ("peak of Donald's Coire"), scarcely a top, just a bump on the ridge - the Munro committee were clearly in a generous mood hereabouts!  

Carn Eighe to Sa'ChD:  1km, 50m ascent, 20 minutes
Sa'ChD to SChD:  1km, 30 m ascent, 15 minutes
SChD to SG: 1km, 30m ascent, 10 minutes

Only Fafernie on Cairn Bannock is easier than that!

Still, I'm not complaining - it was a lovely stroll along the ridge - broad and green, then pinnacles, then broad and green again - to Sron Garbh ("rough nose").

looking back over the pinnacles to the grassy top of Stob  a'Choire Dhomhain (hardly a "stob" from this angle!)
Sron Garbh effectively marks the eastern end of Carn Eighe - beyond it the ridge drops to 960m, before rising to An Leth-Chreag, the western outlier of Tom a' Choinnich.  An appropriate place, then for a 10 minute rest, slug of coffee, and whatever was left in the lunch box.  It would have been possible to drop down from here to Gleann nam Fiadh, but I was going well, and decided to press on for the net two tops and Munro.

Despite the dip in the ridge, it still only took 25 minutes to the next top, An Leth-chreag ("the half-rock").  Then 10 minutes to Tom a'Choinnich Beag (a lovely little peak), and 15 minutes for the final pull up to Tom a' Choinnich ("hill of the moss") at 6.35pm.

I had last been here back in 1981, when it was my 22nd Munro, with Anne and Marjory, and  got to within a 100m of the top again in 1983 after climbing Toll Creagach, but it was late October and the rocky east ridge was very icy, so I turned back on that occasion.

Toll Creagach from Tom a' Choinnich

looking SE from Tom a' Choinnich towards Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin
 Another 10 minute rest on this last summit of the day.  I had wondered about the route of descent - down the SW ridge? or down the E ridge then down the glen? Viewed form the summit, the SW ridge looked very inviting, so that was the decision.  And it proved to be a good one, with a good path all the way, dropping fairly gently for the first kilometre, then more steeply down Creag na h-Inghinn ("the daughter's crag") into Gleann nam Fiadh ("Glen of the deer"), and still catching the sun, while the glen below was already in shade.

The last 15 minutes of descent brought a lovely surprise - the evening sun shining on the heather was filling the air with the most amazing scent of honey.

An hour after leaving the summit, I was back down to the main stalkers' path down Gleann nam Fiadh - and the midges!!   No time for lingering here!

Tom a' Choinnich (right) and Carn Eighe (left) from Gleann nam Fiadh
So, a quick march down the path, which soon turned into a track, and at 8.45pm I reached the road.  I found the bike I had stashed there the previous evening, and cycled back up to the car park as rapidly as my tired legs would allow.  Boots off quick, and into the car before the midges descended in their zillions!


4 Munros + 8 tops
28 km walk + 2 km cycle
1950 m climb
12 hours 


left car08:45
Sgurr na Lapaich (T)11:10 - 11:25
Mullach Cadha Rainich (T)

Mam Sodhail (M)12:55 - 13:10
Stob Coire Lochan (T)14:00 - 14:05
Beinn Fhionnlaidh (M)14:45 - 15:10
Carn Eighe (M)16:20 - 16:45
Stob a'Choire Dhomhain (T)17:05
Stob Choire Dhomhnuill (T)17:20
Sron Garbh (T)17:30 - 17:40
An Leth-chreag (T)18:05 - 18:10
Tom a' Choinnich Beag (T)18:20 
Tom a' Choinnich (M)18:35 - 18:45
Gleann na Fiadh path19:45 
back to bike at road20:45
car park20:55

written 22/04/11