Thursday, 16 June 2011

3,2: A'Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch-Choire

A' Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch-Choire    16th June 2011

Steadily closing in on that elusive last Munro!   The final quest has been plagued by one of the most unsettled early summers for years.  Finding good weather days that coincide with work-free days has proved to be a challenge.  And so, needing only two more good days, the long weekend of Selkirk Common Riding looked like an opportunity.  I was working in Glasgow on the Wednesday, and Anne wouldn't be free until 3pm, so we planned to meet up in Stirling at 7pm.  Anne travelled up by bus and train;  I drove up from Glasgow after my meeting.

We had a lovely run up via Loch Lubnaig, Tyndrum, Rannoch Moor and Glencoe, and reached Spean Bridge where we had booked B and B at The Braes Guest House.  In  addition to the comfy room, friendly welcome and good breakfast, this proved to be an inspired choice, as the lounge provided panoramic views to the Grey Corries and the bedroom to Aonach Mor ....

Aonach Mor from Braes Guest House, Spean Bridge
But, before "compleating" on Aonach Mor, I still had to climb A' Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch-Choire above Loch Cluamie, so that was the immediate target.

So, on Thursday morning, we set off from Spean Bridge;  we were a little later getting to the starting point on the shore of Loch Cluanie, as road works meant a diversion round by Fort Augustus and Invermoriston.

So it was 10.50am when we set off from the tiny car parking area, crossed the road, walked 10m up the track, and then struck off right at a cairn up a small and initially rather damp path, heading directly up the steep slope ahead.  Behind us, the views across Loch Cluanie  opened up nicely, and the overcast sky started to show signs of breaking up.  Loch Cluanie itself was like a sheet of glass.

view across Loch Cluanie to the South Glen Shiel ridge
The path quickly climbed out of the damp lower ground,  and started to climb steeply up alongside a small burn.  We continued relentlessly upwards on the path until it reached the broad southern ridge of A' Chralaig ("the basket") at around 750m.  An hour an a half into our walk, and most of the hard work was over!

gradient lessening as we reached the ridge - view across to Am Bathach
By now, the summit was in view, about a mile away, up a broad, stepped, grassy ridge.

on the ridge of A' Chralaig at about 800m
We continued over a couple of minor bumps on the ridge;  although I usually like to visit any Munro tops,  I decided against a detour out to A' Chioch ("the breast"), a Munro top on a long grassy ridge out to the east, which didn't look very enticing, and would have added a tiresome re-ascent.  Maybe I'll come back and visit it some day!

on the path round the rim of the eastern corries, before the final rise to the summit of A' Chralaig
Despite the earlier patches of blue sky, the clouds were beginning to build up, and there were clearly some showers around - hopefully, they would all miss our hills.  Two and a 1/2 hours from the car, we arrived at A' Chralaig's massive summit cairn - reminiscent of the Three Brethren back home!

Anne at summit of A' Chralaig
Time for a rest and a bite to eat, sitting on a nice ledge of flat stones with our backs to the cairn.   As we sat there, the clouds were rolling up behind us, and the first few wisps of mist started to catch the summit.  It was time to move on.

Anne sheltering while the shower passed over
The ridge ahead to Mullach Fraoch-Choire ("hill of the heathery coire") looked good, and we set off along it, descending slowly at first, then down a few rocky steps.                                    
Less than ten minutes after leaving the summit, a squally shower caught us - wind and cold rain.  Fortunately, there was a handy sheltering place behind a little rock wall to the right of the path, so we "cooried doon" there for 10-15 minutes while the shower passed by.

The sun and blue sky re-appeared, but there was still a cold wind, so we kept on our extra layers as we descended down to the next bealach, then made a gentle ascent to the next top, Stob Coire a' Chralaig.   From here, the full profile of Na Geurdain ("the jaggies"), the south ridge of Mullach Fraoch-Choire, came into view.  Looked like fun!

Na Geurdain from Stob Coire na Cralaig

looking back towards A' Chralaig from Stob Coire na Cralaig
First, a short descent down a narrow ridge to the next bealach at 950m, then a short ascent up to the start of the pinnacles.  A traverse along the crest itself would have been tricky in places, but it was straightforward to follow the path all the way as it wound its way through the pinnacles, first on the right, then crossing over to the left.

A' Chralaig from Na Geurdain
Anne on the split rock just before the final climb to the summit
The walk from Stob Coire na Cralaig to Mullach Fraoch-choire was definitely the best 40 minutes of the day!  Once past the final pinnacle, a short climb up a grassy slope led to the summit - with another (not quite so) large cairn, and a circular stone shelter.

summit of Mullach Fraoch-choire   - 2 to go!
The weather had improved again, so we found a comfy spot to sit an enjoy the view down Glen Affric and eat our second instalment of lunch.  Only 2 more Munros to go!

Glen Affric from the summit of Mullach Fraoch-choire
After half an hour on the summit, we headed back along the pinnacled ridge - making a few detours this time to explore the crest.  

on the way back along Na Geurdain
At the bealach, we decided not to take the path down into Coire Odhar, but climbed back to Stob Coire na Cralaig, and descended down its SW ridge - grassy all the way, but quite steep lower down.  This gave good views of the waterfalls of the Allt Coire a' Ghlas-thuill, but was quite a tiring descent.  Perhaps Coire Odhar would have been a better choice.

Eventually, we reached the valley floor right on the watershed, and followed the boggy and intermittent path south until it joined an old metalled track, which led down An Caorainn Mor to the car - about 3 miles.

An excellent day.   The big question:  would the weather hold for "compleating" on the Aonachs tomorrow?

Aonach Mor from the Command Monument above Spean Bridge
A check of the on-line weather forecast at 7.30pm showed persistent rain and low cloud for tomorrow and Saturday, so we decided the celebrations would have to wait.  Who wants to get soaked on their last Munro?!

Looks like the weekend of 2-3rd July will be the next opportunity!  Maybe see you then?


2 Munros + 1 top (twice!)
14 km walk 
1200 m climb
7.5 hours 


left car

reached ridge

A' Chralaig (M)
13:20 - 13:40

Stob Coire na Cralaig (T)

Mullach Fraoch-Choire (M)
15:10 - 15:40

Stob Coire na Cralaig (T)

back at car

written 18/06/11

Friday, 3 June 2011

6,5,4: Fisherfield Trio

Beinn Tarsuinn, Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair and Sgurr Ban   3rd June 2011

Yesterday had been a 10 hour day for only one Munro, and had left me feeling pretty tired.  Was I up to another big day with 3 Munros and 2 tops?  These were the questions going through my mind as I woke early in the car park at Kinlochewe.   At least the weather was looking good ...

Base Camp - Kinlochewe car park!

Beinn Eighe - a dramatic backdrop above Kinlochewe
After an initial start up the wrong road (!), I set off by bike at 8.20am, and made good speed along the excellent farm road on the north bank of the Abhainn Bruachaig, towards Heights of Kinlochewe.  

On the way, I passed a young couple heading in the same direction (later referred to as "the greyhounds" by another group I met on the hill!).  The first significant obstacle appeared after 5km, when the bike had to be manhandled up over a high ladder stile.  The track continued now, uphill, for another 3km up Gleinn na Muice.  Most of this required pushing the bike, but I knew it would be worthwhile for the return journey.

At the top of the track, a confusing sign indicated 2 footpaths - but with arrows pointing in the wrong directions!  Someone had helpfully scrawled "consult your map" on the sign!  I followed the excellent, newly rebuilt path heading towards the mountains.  Directly ahead lay all my target hills (except Sgurr Ban, hidden behind the Mullach) ...

L to R: Beinn Tarsuinn, Meall Garbh, Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair, east top and Sgurr Dubh
To the left, Slioch ("the spear") rose steeply above the moor, looking more like its name from this less often viewed direction.

Slioch, from the east, with Sgurr an Thuill Bhan the prominent spear-like peak on the right
A couple of miles up the path, Lochan Fada came into view (and I was overtaken by "the greyhounds" - the benefit of having young legs!)

view along Lochan Fada, with Beinn Lair on the left
Just before the main path dropped down to the shores of the loch, I struck off to the right on a small path heading roughly towards my hill.   Unfortunately this path soon petered out (it might have been better to continue down to the shore and find a better path from there), but the way ahead was fairly easy going across gradually rising moorland towards Meall Garbh.

view across Lochan Fada to its outflow down Gleann Bianasdail

the Mullach from just above Bealach Odhar on my way up Beinn Tarsuinn
The slope gradually steepened as I toiled upwards keeping to the right hand side of a prominent ravine coming down below Bealach Odhar.  Crossing the burn above the ravine, I made my way up a series of sandstone layers on the left, and then more steeply up grassy slopes to join the path leading up to the summit of Beinn Tarsuinn ("the transverse mountain").   The "greyhounds" scurried past on their way down!

4 hours after leaving Kinlochewe, I arrived on the dramatic summit of Beinn Tarsuinn.  The approach had been up mainly grassy slopes; in contrast, the north side of the mountain was composed of sandstone cliffs dropping away to the top of (another) Gleann na Muice.

from the summit,  looking down to "the table" on Beinn  Tarsuinn's west ridge

from Beinn Tarsuinn,  Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair looked dauntingly massive

looking north from Beinn Tarsuinn's summit
After taking in the panoramic view, I "cooried doon" in a wee hollow behind the cairn to eat my sandwiches, and to get out of the strong breeze blowing in from the west.

a fine spot for a bit of lunch! - 6 Munros to go ...
After a chat with another group of walkers, I set off back down the east ridge towards the Bealach Odhar - nice to be going downhill for a while!

Meall Garbh ("rough lump") sits between Beinn Tarsuinn and the Mullach, but fortunately there is a handy little by-pass path skirting under the cliffs on the north side.  Once at the next bealach, the climb to the summit of Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair was easier and shorter than it had looked earlier.  The 250m climb was initially up through sandstone outcrops, then on quartzite boulders, so there was plenty to think about, using hands and feet and walking pole to progress.  Soon enough, the slope eased, and the huge summit cairn was just ahead around the final curve of the ridge above shattered cliffs. 

approaching the summit of Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair, with Sgurr Ban beyond
Only 5 to go!  Stopped for a while to chat with a "cheery trio".  It turned out than one of the three was on her 4th last Munro - so just one ahead of me - and planned to continue over Sgurr Ban and Beinn a' Chlaidheimh - leaving just two more - oddly enough, Beinn Bhuidhe and Meall Buidhe ("yellow hill" and "yellow hill"!)  I wonder which of us will "compleat" first?

On Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair - 5 to go - Beinn Tarsuinn in the background
Now it was time to pay for yesterday's decision - out and back to Sgurr Ban.   I scampered off down the steep path, leaving the "cheery trio" to descend more slowly.  In places it was possible to leave a footprint in the dry white quartzite sand on the path - almost like beach sand.  The next bealach was at 820m, so quickly reached, especially slithering down the last steep section of path on very loose scree.  

looking back to Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair from Sgurr Ban - scree path clearly visible
 The ascent to Sgurr Ban didn't take long - only 160m of ascent - then a walk across the huge level summit plateau to the cairn.  Again I was glad of the shelter from the strong westerly breeze, while I refuelled with food and coffee.

Sgurr Ban's amazing stony summit plateau - looking from the cairn towards An Teallach
Well, that was the last Munro of the day, but I still had to return over the Mullach (unfortunately), then take in its two outlying tops on my way "home".  

Once again, the re-ascent wasn't as bad as it looked, and probably vindicated yesterday's decision.  As I'm not intending to complete a "second round", I cut off from the path below the summit, and contoured across (over some massive boulders) to gain the east ridge.  The east top was only 500m away, with a re-ascent of only 20m, so hardly deserved its "top" status.  However, it was a good place of another short rest, and gave good views across to Sgurr Ban (below).

well seen why it is called Sgurr Ban ("the white peak")
Ahead lay one more top, Sgurr Dubh, reached along a narrowish ridge with "easy scrambling" according to the guide books. From the east top, it certainly looked inviting!

Sgurr Dubh from the east top
First a straightforward descent to the next bealach, Cab a Choire Ghuirm ("notch of the blue coire"), followed by a very "interesting" scramble up a rocky ridge, then over and round a couple of pinnacles to reach the top.  A faint path showed the best way, mainly keeping to the right side, but plenty of "hands on rock" was required to progress safely.  I was acutely aware that there was no-one else around to pick up the pieces if I made a mistake.

looking back over the scrambly section of Sgurr Dubh - Beinn Tarsuinn behind
Anyway, there were no mishaps, and soon I was safely on the top of Sgurr Dubh.  So, a "white peak" and a "black peak" only a mile apart!  I continued to the next little bump on the ridge, and sat down to enjoy the view.  Minutes later, I was surprised to see two walkers appearing up the east ridge, having come up over the Sgurr Ban slabs from Loch an Nid.

from Sgurr Dubh, looking down over the Sgurr Ban slabs to Loch an Nid
 By now it was nearly 5pm, and I was still far from base, so began the descent down the easy southern slopes of Sgurr Dubh, following a line of crags (below) down to around 700m, where a way could be made down through the crags into Coire Mhic Fhearchair.

looking back up from Coire Mhic Fhearchair to Sgurr Dubh, from just below the line of crags 
Once across the burn flowing out of the coire, it was possible to contour easily across a wide gently sloping grassy area to reach the foot of another parallel line of crags,  Creag Ghlas Bheag.  Beyond this, the moorland sloped down towards Lochan Fada, and the main path home.   

All that remained was the 2  mile walk back to the bike (it seemed a good deal further on weary legs!), then a fine downhill trundle to Heights of Kinlochewe, over the ladder stile, and a fast cycle back down the valley to Kinlochewe.

A great expedition!


3 Munros + 2 tops
19 km walk + 16 km cycle
1600 m climb
11.5 hours 


left car

left bike

Lochan Fada

Beinn Tarsuinn (M)
12:20 - 12:40

Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair (M)
13:45 - 14:00

Sgurr Ban (M)
14:45 - 15:00

MCMF east top (T)
15:55 - 16:05

Sgurr Dubh (T)
16:30 - 16:55

Lochan Fada
18:00 - 18:05

back to bike


written 13/06/11

Thursday, 2 June 2011

7: one of the lowest, but certainly not easiest!

Beinn a' Chlaidheimh   2nd June 2011

After the wonderful weather at the start of May, the rest of the month was a big disappointment - unseasonably wet and windy almost every day, especially in the north west.  I had earmarked the week beginning 28th May, while Anne was away at Whithaugh Park on a residential with Selkirk High School pupils, to try to get down to the last 2 Munros.  As the dates approached, the weather forecasts showed no sign of improvement.  The weekend arrived, but I decided there was little point heading off into the murk, so stayed put in Selkirk.  By midweek, it looked like there was a fighting chance of getting 2 or 3 good days towards the end of the week. And so it was that, on the Wednesday afternoon, with the Espace packed with sleeping bag, bike, walking gear, food and maps, I set off.  Headlights were required on the Edinburgh by-pass at 5pm - not a promising start!   Anyway, I arrived ay Corriehallie at 10pm on a drizzly evening, parked up, and crawled into the sleeping bag.

Next morning, 7am, was bright and breezy - a blue sky, with some white fluffy clouds speeding past.  Looked like the long drive had been worthwhile.  I set off up the track at 8.30am, chatting to a group of 3 who were en route to Shenavall, one of whom was hoping to climb his last Corbett.  My plan was to climb Beinn a'Chlaidheimh and (possibly) continue to Sgurr Ban.

Ahead and to the right, An Teallach (22 years since I was up there!) started to appear as I made steady progress up the track.  It was a good track for walking, but would have been too rough for the bike.

up the Corrie Hallie track, with An Teallach to the right
After 3 miles steady walking, I reached the highest point on the track at 380m - what a pity I had to drop back down to 120m to cross the river (and climb back up again on the way back!).

Beinn a'Chlaidheimh was now visible ahead - and free from cloud ...

R to L:  Beinn a'Chlaidheimh,  Sgurr Ban (with cloud cap) and the east top of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair
... although the jagged ridge of An Teallach was tearing the clouds dramatically on the right.

Corrag Bhuidhe,  Lord Berkeley's Seat and Sgurr Fiona
Starting to descend, the Abhainn Loch an Nid looked like it might mean getting feet wet, but not too badly.  With all the rain over the previous few days, I had been slightly concerned that the crossing might be impossible.

view up the valley of the Abhainn Loch an Nid 
By 10.30am, two hours from the car, I was at the river bank, looking for the best crossing point.  At close quarters, the river didn't look quite so easy to cross.  Feet were going to get wet, for sure, and it was too rough and fast flowing for bare feet.  So, boots and socks off, spare socks on, and boots back on;  trouser legs rolled up above knees, then head gingerly across.  First 1/3 was on stepping stones, next 1/3 was wading, but less than knee-deep - no problem.  The last 1/3, however, was fairly fast-flowing and thigh deep - no real danger to life and limb, but I was most worried about my camera if I should slip and fall in!  Steady and careful movements, heavy reliance on the walking pole, and - whew! - made it safely to the far back.  Boots off, water poured out, dry socks back on, and damp boots back on.  Now, 2.5 hours after leaving the car, I could actually start to climb my hill.  Beinn a'Claidheimh (hill of the sword) may be the 4th lowest Munro at 916m, but it was proving hard to get!

Next came a steady slog up heathery slopes onto Creag Ghlas, then easier ground over a series of sandstone pavements towards Beinn a'Chlaidheimh's rocky northern end.

heading towards Beinn a' Chlaidheimh's northern end
Had some fun finding a way through various rocky outcrops, then found a tiny path which led up onto the summit ridge at about 750m.

This proved to be (a) a very windy place, but (b) a superb viewpoint

looking NE towards Corrie Hallie, and the approach track

looking NW to Beinn Dearg Mhor and Loch na Sealga

looking north to An Teallach and Loch na Sealga
By now, it was 1pm and the amount of cloud had built up, but, although the clouds were catching some of the surrounding hills, there were passing above lowly Beinn a' Chlaidheimh.

Now on the summit ridge, with long scree slopes to the left, and dramatic sandstone cliffs falling away to the right, it was a short walk over two minor tops to the summit, where I was glad to sit down on the lee side of the ridge, with a strong breeze whistling overhead.

looking north from the summit cairn towards the middle top, with An Teallach beyond
The next question was whether to go on to Sgurr Ban or not.  It would add several miles onto an already long day, and require a decent and re-ascent of over 300m.  On the other hand, if I left it to the next day, it would mean adding time and distance onto a long expedition.

Sgurr Ban and Beinn Tarsuinn from Beinn a' Chlaidheimh
In the end, the sight of low cloud scudding fast across the summit plateau of Sgurr Ban, and more building up behind it, plus the thought of the long walk back out, helped me make my decision - leave it for tomorrow!

So, I headed off SW down stony, then grassy heathery slopes, with a few sandstone outcrops, towards the valley below.  

What an amount of water pouring down the burns on both sides of the glen!

I aimed for a wide gravelly part of the Abhainn Loch an Nid, about a mile upstream from where I had crossed earlier.  Would it be possible to get back across dry-shod this time?  At any rate, it should be a bit easier.

fast flowing burn pouring over sandstone outcrops on east slopes of Beinn a'Chlaidheimh
An hour from the summit, I reached the river and started looking for a crossing point.  A broad area with an island looked the most promising, and proved to be fine - nowhere more than knee deep, and the current much less than the previous place.

Once across, boot emptying, and another change into dry socks was required.

drying my feet after the river crossing - hey, didn't realise the wind had done that to my hair!
(left) Another impressive waterfall, on the east side of the glen just opposite where I had crossed the river.

And so, the long walk home:  

a good path alongside the river to the first crossing point, then back up the track to the plateau, before dropping wearily back down through Corrie Hallie.  

The walk out was the best part of 6 miles, and took 2.5 hours.  

I was glad I had decided to leave Sgurr Ban for another day!

The evening sunshine reflecting off wet slabs made An Teallach look positively volcanic!  (below)

Today's summary:

1 Munro 
23 km walk
1400 m climb
10 hours 


left car

river crossing
10:35 - 11:00

north top

middle top

Beinn a' Chlaidheimh (M)
13:30 - 14:05

river crossing
15:10 - 15:50

back to car

But that wasn't the end of the day - it was completed with a lovely drive around the coast road to Kinlochewe on a perfect evening ....

Beinn Ghobhlach, across Little Loch Broom

Gruinard Bay

Torridon Hills above Poolewe
posted by DB  12/06/11