Kevin had a few days off to take in March and we somehow caught a week of reasonable weather. With COVID restrictions still in place, we knew we couldn't plan any longer trips, so the decision was taken: March holidays will be spent in Glen Affric. We always regarded this area as our "home territory" (I bet many people from Inverness consider the Affric corner of Scotland as home ground) so this would be 2021 spring staycation. I didn't mind. As long as I can meow on mountain summits, it doesn't matter which ones
The first route we picked was the circuit of Creag Dhubh. A much overlooked Affric Sub'2000-er, said to be a cracking viewpoint. The easiest route starts from Cougie and it can be completed in 3-4 hours, but IMHO it doesn't give justice to this hill. Kevin always looks for "some kinda circular" and he thought we could try approaching Creag Dhubh from the west, using the boggy path known as "public footpath from Loch Affric to Cougie". Indeed, it is only boggy for about 1km, the rest of it is on a newly upgraded access track to Allt Garbh hydro dam. The descent is over some bumpy, boggy ground and through the forest plantation above Loch Beinn a'Mheadhoin.
Creag Dhubh from the Affric car park:
Several warnings for those thinking of this route:
1. Don't reverse it. It is much easier to navigate down the northern side of Creag Dhubh.
2. Don't do it in heavy snow. The upper slopes of the Sub are very bumpy, very easy to fall into a booby-trap under fresh snow.
3. In summer time, expect high bracken (and ticks!) on descent.
4. Be prepared for some forest-bashing!
Even including all the warnings, this is still a nice circuit and much more interesting than the quick up-and-down the track from Cougie.
We started from the Glen Affric car park early in the morning. Forecast was cloudy and cold but dry. Fresh snow had fallen on the higher ground in the previous days, making the peaks of Affric white again.
Sgurr na Lapaich:
The bottom end of the local right of way, called "public footpath to Cougie". Considering the current condition, it should be renamed to "public MUDBATH to Cougie"!
Beware all who enter this boggy world. There will be mud, marsh and fallen trees...
...but ultimately, this public mudbath will take you to a much better track higher up. The target hill can be seen from here:
The tops of Affric from the Cougie track:
The track has recently been upgraded to enable easier access to hydro works higher up the glen (see my TR on Carn a' Choire Ghairbh from earlier this year) and not all scars have healed, like this area, probably used as a quarry:
Overall, it is still a nice walk with good views. This is a rarely visited corner of Affric and the Sub has only 34 registered ascents by Walkhighlanders. For us, it was going to be our 50th Sub'2000 Marylin:
We reached Loch nan Gillean and admired the steep face of Creag nan Calman across the water...
...before going through two metal gates (not all fences are marked on 1-25k map) and eventually finding a suitable spot to start the final ascent:
The ground was very bumpy from the very beginning. If covered in snow, this slopes could easily be responsible for a twisted or sprained ankle
Sleepy moth caterpillar:
We soon discovered that despite the bumpy character of the ground, Creag Dhubh has one big bright side: views! Just look at the views!
It is only 200m of ascent from the Cougie track to the summit, so it didn't take us long. The final stage is steeper (and less bumpy):
As we neared the top, we spotted an eagle flying around. It probably wasn't happy with us spoiling the silence and solitude, so no wonder it took off and disappeared in the direction of Carn a'Chaochain, where it expected to be left undisturbed!
As I watched the eagle flying away, Kevin kept pushing towards the summit:
It was our first NEW listed summit in 2021 but considering the current circumstances, we were still lucky to be able to claim anything new (TUMPs don't really count):
On the final steep push just below the top, even on a grey, murky day, wit such views behind who would dare complain?
Every time we climb a hill, if not in clag, we play "spot the windfarm" game. So far, we only visited a handful of mountains without a wind turbine in sight. There is always one or two of them somewhere on the horizon:
I used to hate windfarms so much, but I guess I must have grown used to them as these days they don't upset me as much. Still I don't want to see them too close to Glen Affric!
On the summit of Creag Dhubh with Lucy (her 18th Sub):
The best views are west to Loch Affric and the surrounding hills, but also across Loch Beinn a'Mheadhoin to Tom a' Choinich and Toll Creagach:
Carn a'Chaochain, the Cougie Graham. We made a longer day out of this one walking from Plodda car park. Apart from decent views, it has little to offer, really:
Kevin's idea of a circular route was to walk around this loch, Loch nan Sean-each, and look for a possible line of descent down to Loch Beinn a'Mheadhoin:
After a short tea break on the summit, we continued along the ridge for about 500m, before descending north to a little dip with a small stream. To reach the loch, we had to traverse some wet ground, but surprisingly, it wasn't as boggy as we had expected.
Looking back to Creag Dhubh across the bog and puddles:
Kevin was the first to experience the lumpy-bumpy nature of the ground around Loch nan Sean-each:
The loch framed by the distant peaks of Affric:
The ridge on the N side of Loch nan Sean-each is partially covered with young forest, but one can easily follow an obvious line west over several minor tops. I had a good look down to Loch Beinn a'Mheadhoin, hoping for a path to join the main track alongside it (Affric-Kintail way), but the terrain was too unfriendly to my liking...
We had no choice but to continue along the wide ridge, which wasn't too bad to walk, a bit bumpy and wet in places, but nowhere near as bad as you might expect. In summer time, this would be a tick haven though.
There was always the option of returning to the upper Cougie track and then retracing our steps, but that would mean about 5km of extra walking, so Kevin was eager to find a shortcut. To return to the upper track, we'd have to cross this boggy area:
The other option was to follow Allt an Laghair to the lower track and face forest-bashing for 300-400m at least:
Kevin assessing the danger
As we set off towards the line of the trees below us, we expected very overgrown, wild ground. It wasn't too bad though. Some waist-high heather, some bog and just above the forest, a large field of dead bracken. In summer months this section would be worse than the dense woods lower down! We concluded, this route is probably best done in spring, before the vegetation becomes too lush:
Forest-bashing proved to be just forest-hopping over heather, lumpy grass and berry bushes. The river helped with navigation:
A small waterfall on Allt an Laghair:
At some point we spied a boggy ATV track which we could now follow to the main track along Loch Beinn a'Mheadhoin, about 1km away from the Affric car park:
By taking this shortcut, we saved ourselves at least an hour, maybe two. It meant we could get home earlier and plan for a longer walk the following day. The forecast was sunny and dry but very windy, so instead of risking being blown off a mountain ridge, we decided to visit a certain remote crash site. Details of this story will follow.
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.