I love a hill. I particularly love a munro. But once you’ve done a few of them they start getting a wee bit further away and a wee bit harder to get to. The opportunities to knock off big numbers in a weekend start to lessen or at the very least necessitate a bit of imagination and creative route craft.
I had still to do the group of three behind Altbeithe and the A’Chralaig to Mullach Fraoch Coire ridge in Kintail and so an idea was born.
I rocked up at the lay-by just east of the Cluanie Inn one drizzly blustery Friday morning, and there was really not an awful lot else for it but to begin the thankless yomp up the south-western slopes of A’Chralaig.
To my surprise there was actually a half decent path which zigzagged its way up the side of a burn as views started to open up behind me of Loch Cluanie.
I’d actually been dreading the initial ascent with the big pack on but in truth I must be getting fitter than I realise as I was up at the 700m levelling off in gradient without too much of my usual swearing. Before too long I’d made it to the top of A’Chralaig, albeit with sweeping panoramic vistas of not very much at all.
The wind was beginning to howl with speeds of 55kmph forecast and whilst it was a bit of a concern with a ridge to traverse it was never “blow me over” windy and so I continued with diligence but not too much fear.
At this point however I was starting to wonder if I was perhaps wasting what felt like it must be a cracking wee ridge on a poor weather day.
Nevertheless, I persevered and just before the ridge narrows and sweeps to the right the cloud began to lift and revealed what a delight this mountain really was.
The route to the top of Mullach Fraoch Coire looked thrilling and once the top was reached I was treated to a look right back along the full length of the ridge to A’Chralaig.
From here it was decision time. My intended overnight destination was a wild camp outside Altbeithe and so the WH route for a day hike back down the ridge and west into the Caorran Mor wasn’t going to help me here. A few weeks previously I’d had a good look at Mullach Fraoch Coire’s northern slopes from Glen Affric and they looked like a feasible descent route, so I opted to head directly north.
It was the predictable squelchy pathless faff but elevation was lost quickly and that was the name of the game with Altbeithe soon in sight.
After a couple of episodes of rather ungraceful clambering over the fence around a plantation not represented on the map I eventually made it down into the glen where camp was established for the next two nights.
Day one hadn’t really drained me the way I feared it might. It was the first time I’ve lugged the big pack up munros but I still felt pretty good by the time I was in my sleeping bag. The following day would enable me to walk with the smaller lighter day-pack on so I was looking forward to feeling unburdened.
After a good night’s sleep I set off up the very good path up behind Altbeithe and upon looking back I had a clear view of my pretty direct descent route from the previous day.
The bealach was reached without much drama and a very short scuttle was made up to An Socach which must suffer from impostor syndrome given the height of some of its neighbours. It feels more like a subsidiary bump than a munro.
Mullach Na Dheireagain looked an affy long way away from here. When I’d looked at the route with WH saying 9-11hrs my usual bravado of “that’ll take me about 8hrs then” was starting to take a reality check. This was going to be a long day.
From here a decision was made to contour across Coire Nan Dearcag as I had no desire to be yomping over the top of Sgurr Nan Ceathramhan twice and I preferred to get any pathless terrain out of the way early doors while I was still relatively fresh.
The bealach at the other side of the corrie was reached without much trouble, the pathless terrain not being as boggy as I had feared. And I now looked forward to what had looked from An Socach to be a lovely flat smooth grassy walk to the outlier Mullach Na Dheireagain. However my hopes were soon dashed when it became apparent I’d be dealing with bouldery humpy-bumpy terrain most of the way.
The top of Dheireagain was reached with some relief. And whilst the views towards Sgurr Nan Ceathramhan were delightful, they also served to remind me how much still needed to be done.
After an hour I was back at the bealach and starting to feel pretty exhausted. And so my emergency can of Red Bull was put to use to try and get me going again. I stopped briefly to chat to a couple of older fellows from near Bristol who were doing the three in one day with the help of bikes from Cannich.
The additional caffeine propelled me up the ridge towards Ceathramhan’s summit and there was a real feeling of being way higher up than anything else in the area.
The clag rolled in as I reached the summit with no views to report and when that happens up there you need to be careful to choose the correct route down as there are four ridges that tail away from the top. I assume this is where Sgurr Nan Ceathramhan gets its name, with the translation as far as I can gather being something along the lines of “Peak of the quarters”.
Even having bagged my three intended munros, there was still work to be done. The south eastern ridge down off Ceathramhan is hugely enjoyable but it goes on forever and my right knee was beginning to shout at me from an old football injury.
Solpadeine Max aided my descent back to the bealach.
By the time I reached the tent I’d been on the hills for nine and a half hours, bringing me down a peg or two from my earlier bravado.
Needless to say, I didn’t need rocking and a restful sleep was enjoyed.
I woke at about 7:30 to the sound of drizzle on the tent but I couldn’t hang about. I’d left word with my fiancé to call the cops if I hadn’t checked in by 5pm on Sunday so I simply had to pack up and crack on with it.
As it happened it wasn’t too bad. The drizzle was on and off all morning but not the sort that soaks you through.
The Caorran Mor proved to be a boggy trial at times but it also had the feeling of remoteness with the local deer striding about the place.
After stopping briefly to chat to a trio of chaps looking for the path up Mullach Fraoch Coire I had soon overtaken Am Bathach and was back at the car in Glen Shiel.
Five more munros ticked off the list but Mullach Na Dheireagain feels like a feather in the cap. I don’t think I’ve climbed a munro yet that has felt as remote as that one. It was a pretty ambitious expedition with a fair bit of commitment. But when the clouds lifted the rewards were there for all to see.
As I continue on my munro journey I am more and more inclined to spend nights out wild camping and joining up routes. Glen Affric offers many opportunities to do that. It really is a wonderful place.
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