Saturday, 11 June 2016

Mullardoch Munros

An Socach, An Riabhachan and Sgurr na Lapaich from Toll Creagach
Climbing An Socach in the morning heat

An Socach summit
Breaking through the cloud - looking back to Sgurr na Ceathreamhnan

Looking east down Loch Mullardoch

Carn Eighe and Mam Sodhail from An Socach

 icloud message from Monar munros

Across the bealach to An Riabhachan

Sgurr na Lapaich and Loch Toll Bhearnach from the east
Mullardoch dam and the new hydro scheme road

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Ascent:      1765 metres
Distance:   23 kilometres
Time:         9 hours 48 minutes

m   An Socach                          1069m      2hrs 29mins
t     An Riabhachan west top    1040m
t     South-west top                   1086m      3hrs  39mins
m   An Riabhachan                  1129m       4hrs  2mins
m   Sgurr na Lapaich               1150m       5hrs  56mins
m   Carn na Gobhar                   992m       7hrs 19mins

Day 2 of the Affric - Mullardoch round started shortly after 7am. The others had bivvied on the dry ground and we had been spared the midges by a fresh easterly night breeze. My Hilleberg Akto tent is not heavy but along with stove, pans and food for two, it made for a heavier pack than I would have liked for the slog ahead. An Socach lies at the western end of the Mullardoch ridge and involves a 700-metre climb to its summit from our camp spot by the river running into Loch Mullardoch. It is one of the half-dozen most remote Munros and the guidebooks advise access via Iron Lodge, not a route I had ever taken. I had climbed it twice in each direction along with the other three Mullardoch Munros. Once by taking the boat from the Mullardoch dam and climbing it from the south-east and once as a three-day hike along the Strathfarrar four, the Achnashellach five and then An Socach and the rest of the Mullardoch munros from the north-west. Today would be a reversal of the east to west traverse in 1991, a day that remains one of my favourite days on the hills.

We were helped at the start by almost two kilometres of a path used by eight track vehicles that rises northwards to over 500 metres. We walked like zombies in our own zone - low cloud made for limited visibility, a poor night's sleep, and in my case no water - I had not wanted to top up from the river. We breached the cloud level at about 450 metres and gazed in awe at our hills of yesterday and the still distant prospect of An Socach. Emerging from the cloud meant that we had lost the cool conditions and the heat of the day was set for boiling. We reached the outlying south-west ridge of Meall Shuas and enjoyed the wonderful combination of the mountains set against azure skies and the glens filled with the dense white cloud, it never ceases to inspire you.

There is a long flat ridge that arcs round before the final 350 metres of climbing to the summit. John and I veered off to the right and found a gurgling spring for a long drink, to fill our bottles and to take a cooling wash in that order. Then the slow plod to the summit each step a personal duel with gravity. Gregor and Mark were ahead and relaxing at the summit when we arrived. There were perfect conditions and we enjoyed 15 minutes of respite before setting off for the long steep descent to bealach Bholla and then a matching climb to the west top of An Riabhachan.

We met a South African walker, who was on the descent full of the joys of having bivvied on the ridge and waking to the temperature inversion and the sensation of being above the clouds. John and I were making steady progress using our years of experience to pace ourselves for the long hot day ahead. When we reached the south-west top and after I had cooled myself down in the adjoining patch of snow, we settled for a longish break and let Gregor and Mark off the leash. Gregor had to drive back to Glasgow and my stuff was in his car. Mark would transfer it to his car and John and I would take a more leisurely stroll over these fine mountains. They had disappeared along the ridge to the summit and started the descent down Creagan Toll an Lochain before we set off.

The long ridge of An Riabhachan provides easy walking over 4 kilometres and as we were halfway down the descent to the 820m bealach below Sgurr na Lapaich we met a single woman walker. It was after 1pm and she wanted to know how long to An Socach, we told her two and a half-hour and warned her that it was an equally long return. I pointed out the route off An Riabhachan to the shores of Loch Mullardoch that would save a lot of additional climbing but explained that the path along the shore does not make for easy walking. She wanted to be back at her car by 8pm but I doubt that she would manage it much before 10pm. We continued to the bealach and had no difficulty climbing the first hundred metres to where fresh springs provided more cool water. After that, it was back into automatic for the remaining 250 metres of the climb to the rocky summit.

Sugar na Lapaich has ambivalent characteristics, a real mountain feel with rocky ramparts, a wonderful Corrie to the west and a commanding position. But it is a difficult slog from any direction and the summit is a bit of a jumble of rocks. We ate what food we had left; at the end of a two-day romp around the hills, this is always a bit of shock. I had not brought any chocolate, it was too hot, and eaten my last roll on An Riabhachan, so some fruit and nuts and one of John's oat bars together with another slug of spring water. The descent is a bit tricky, there was still some soft snow resting on massive boulders and then the boulders themselves before a final curving descent down a grassy path to the gorgeous grassy meadow above Loch Toll Bhearnach - what a wonderful camping spot.

The climb up Carn nan Gobhar is fairly straightforward, not too steep and not too long, we passed the true summit and headed to the more southerly top, which has a cairn and a view. Chance for our last stop of the day. My feet had become increasingly sore during the last descent and it was of some comfort that we could see the scar of a new track leading up from the loch, yet another new hydro scheme under construction. We dropped to the bealach and headed down but we had not gone far enough to find the stalker's path so it was steep grass following a roaring underground spring that surfaced every now and again and provided more cool water.

My feet were struggling to cope by the time I reached the bulldozed track. I had mixed feelings about the track, this was a beautiful glen with the burn cutting through rock bands and birch and rowan trees along its banks. It was now an ugly gash with the massive pipes being buried beneath the much-disturbed ground and a battery of buildings at the lochside, although some of these would disappear with the construction workers and vehicles once completed. On the other hand, it provided an easy walk out and that included the final kilometre along the lochside that had been anything but an easy path on past walks. We passed the dam and the strange collection of boats and sheds and arrived back at the car where Mark was waiting.

Gregor had got off at 4:30pm, later than expected but he too had suffered sore feet. Wet socks, tight shoes, heat and rough terrain are not a recipe for happy feet. We drove down to Cannich and decided to stay at the well managed and attractive campsite. After erecting our tents, a shower and a tidy up of our gear we were in time to go back into Cannich and chance our arm on getting some food at the Slater's Arms. As the campsite warden told us, don't expect any smiles or food. We discovered what he meant as we were put in waiting because we had not booked a table in advance; what sort of place does he think he is running? Then we remembered that the campsite also hosts lots of caravans and caravaners tend to plan ahead not live for the moment. I explained that I would not be able to climb the Strathfarrar four munros tomorrow as planned. They had already made alternative plans on the basis that I would be unable to walk. Mark would give me a lift home after a morning walk up the Corbett, Beinn a' Bhathacch Ard in Strathfarrar.  John would stay on for a couple of days to complete his corbetts in the Affric area.

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