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4 posts • Page 1 of 1
Mullardoch 12 in a weekend (a guide for non-athletes)
by rustille » Sun Aug 01, 2021 9:55 pm
Munros included on this walk: An Riabhachan, An Socach (Affric), An Socach (Mullardoch), Beinn Fhionnlaidh (Càrn Eige), Càrn Eige, Càrn nan Gobhar (Loch Mullardoch), Mam Sodhail, Mullach na Dheiragain, Sgùrr na Lapaich, Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan, Toll Creagach, Tom a' Chòinich
Date walked: 25/06/2021
Time taken: 29 hours
Distance: 62 km
Ascent: 4900m6 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
A fantastic hike with amazing views, but timing of the weather, backpack weight, and stamina are critical to your enjoyment.
Approximate hiking times including all stoppages except overnight camping:
- Friday 2 hours to near summit of first Munro on north bank.
- Saturday 10 hours to complete all of the north side (4 Munros) and camp just beyond the river on the south bank.
- Sunday 17 hours to complete all of south side (8 Munros) and return to the car.
- Total 29 hours.
I completed the Mullardoch 12 with my cousin Snowfox over a weekend in late June 2021. I would say we are moderately fit, not athletes, but not couch potatoes either, I’m 39 and he’s 54. We would typically complete a walk at the shorter end of the guidance times given on official Walkhighlands routes. Note our times were significantly affected by us carrying heavy backpacks – there is some merit to trying to do this in one very long day instead with a lot less kit.
Route direction, anti-clockwise, north bank then south bank, starting and ending at the northern carpark at the dam, at the east end of Loch Mullardoch.
It's pointless attempting this hike if the visibility will be poor. If it's too cold or wet you will be carrying more weight, but if it's too hot you will quickly run out of water, and probably end up sunburnt. I advise attempting this hike around the summer solstice to maximise daylight hours. We did this trip over two full days plus an initial 2 hours on the first evening (to avoid the potential for any noise camping at the carpark). It had been raining for the previous week, so the streams were topped up and the weather conditions were just perfect. Daytime temperatures at ground level were up to around 21C, but thankfully on the sunniest day (Sunday), there were still some clouds to prevent us being burnt to a frazzle. Wind speed was highly variable, often it was very still even on the summits and ridgelines, but at other times the wind was gusting through. When we were in an area of high midge and deer fly activity during the long tussocky descent to the river from the north side, we were grateful for the wind. Flies were avoided when camping by selecting exposed locations, and the rest of the time we weren’t overly bothered by them.
The south side takes a lot longer to complete than the north side due to the significant south-westerly detour from the loch which includes Munros 5-8 (when walking anti-clockwise). The outstep to Sgurr nan Creamanthain (Munro 6) is significant and morale sapping, knowing you are walking ever further from the car, but the extra effort is well rewarded by the best views of the whole trip, and some lovely terrain. For those of you who are less adventurous or that have less time, it is an option to ‘cut the corner’ and reduce the hike to 8 Munros by skipping Munros 5-8. We believe many of the people we encountered who used the ferry service followed this approach.
Safety note: We generally had a serviceable 4g signal on all summits, and exposed higher ground.
On the Friday we made our way from the carpark at about 7pm after eating a meal at the chip shop in Drumnadrochit, both of us having had a long drive to get there. Note the access road to the dam is quite hairy, it’s about a 30-minute drive along a narrow, windy single lane road to the carpark. I was constantly worried about crashing into a car coming in the other direction, but thankfully this didn’t happen. We each brought our own car, if I were to do this trip again, I would have left one car at the carpark at the south end of the dam and the other at the north end, thus saving a few kilometres of walking along the road at the end.
After setting off a short distance on this drizzly June evening, we looked across the loch at the route, the summits hidden in the clouds. Having studied all the weather forecasts available, I was confident the weather would improve the next day (and it did). After Snowfox muttered that he thought the weather would be like this the whole weekend, we stopped at the first gate for a photo. Photo taken we carried on along the shale track, then turned at a modern building of unknown purpose and followed the track up the hillside beside a stream. After an hour or so, as the gradient steepened and we followed indefinite deer tracks across the grassy terrain, Snowfox suddenly remembered he had left his walking poles back at the gate by the side of the loch. Well, we weren’t turning back, so I gave him one of mine and we carried on. As a side note, the poles were gone by the time we checked at the end of the hike.
After another hour or so it was starting to get dark, and I thought we would need to make camp for the night, sadly before we had bagged the first Munro. With this decision made, we looked for some flat ground close to the summit (at around 800m altitude). Although we found quite a good spot, we erected the tent sideways to the slope which meant Snowfox kept sliding onto me during the night, as I was pressed against the flysheet. Neither of us slept well, but it was lovely hearing nothing but the sound of the occasional bird or deer in the distance. Snowfox woke up at one point attacking the flysheet, he thought he heard a mouse trying to get into his bag outside. Over the next few days, we saw countless frogs and newts, so I suspect it was more likely to have been one of those.
On the Saturday we got up at 6am and were in awe of the view upon opening the tent door. After making a breakfast of porridge and coffee (Snowfox had forgotten his teabags), we decided to hike up the first Munro without our bags. The first summit was quickly attained by some scrambling up the rocky final few hundred metres – this was made quicker and easier without the bags. Unfortunately, the cloud level was inconveniently around 950m altitude which meant we were in the murk. After descending to pack up and continue, we attempted to skirt round the mountain to the second summit. This was a good idea in principle; however, the hillside was steep and covered in scree – I was regretting my decision to wear approach shoes at this point. Eventually we got round the corner and on towards the second Munro.
Snow fox, a keen twitcher, pointed out a ring ouzel tracking us as we hiked towards the second Munro. Once again, as we ascended above 950m we were back in the clouds, the climb was quite rocky, with plenty of snow still around, up to a metre deep in parts. At the summit of the second Munro, we started to pierce through the clouds and were in a lovely temperature inversion. Although the second Munro of the hike, this was my 50th overall, and by the end of the 12 Mullardoch Munros, I would be at 60 in total. We continued on to the third Munro, and passed below the cloud level at times, but sadly the clouds obscured all the summits, so at this point we couldn’t get a good appreciation of what was to come.
The trail to the third Munro was mostly a narrow earthy track bounded by mossy grass, and some ridgelines in the mist. It was fun seeing the steep rocky outcrops appear out of the cloud ahead of us, like medieval forts. I’m sure the views at this point would have been great on a clear day, but the hike was enjoyable, nonetheless. It was at this point we met the first person we had seen since we started; I call him the ninja as he just appeared unannounced behind us on a narrow ridge and carried on going. Without pausing he responded to our hello and quickly disappeared into the clouds ahead of us. He was obviously attempting the route all in one day, wearing not much more than a leotard, and carrying just a PLB and an energy-gel. Very risky, but less of a burden than what felt like the wardrobe I was carrying on my back. Shortly after the ninja left us, Snowfox spotted a golden plover.
For the summit of the third Munro (An Riabhachan), we once again passed up above the clouds into the heat of the sun, and had it conquered by 11am. As we descended to continue to the fourth Munro (An Socach) the cloud level lifted a little to around 1100m, and as a consequence we started to be able to see a considerable number of summits all around us, particularly to the north-west. The views were stunning, some of the highlights included Torridon, Skye and the Cuillins. An interesting thing happened at this point which was that a Ptarmigan pretended to be injured and thought it was doing a great job leading us away from its nest. It didn’t realise that the route it was leading us on was the main trail and we were going that way anyway. Eventually, after escorting us for a few hundred metres, the Ptarmigan, well satisfied with its efforts, left us alone. I still think about that poor bird doing the same routine every time a walker passes, if only she had made her nest a little further from the path! Shortly after this point we started to meet clusters of hikers coming in the other direction, all of them had taken the ferry to the west end of the loch. This is definitely a recommended option for those of you who want to experience these mountains in a more manageable fashion.
By this time, we were getting thirsty and had drunk all our water. We saw a waterfall in the distance and went off the track a short distance to find a weak flow of water in the heather and moss (marked on the GPS log). I think had it not been raining for the much of the previous week this would have been dry, so I would not rely on this spot to take on water. Besides this there were very few options, except for some small pools, or by taking large detours involving a long descent down to a lochan or stream.
By 2pm we had climbed the 4th Munro, An Socach (the northerly one, note there are two mountains with the same name on the route). The flat grassy path allowed for very rapid progress from this point, all until the final, pathless steep descent through tussocks down to the river. Paths appearing and disappearing seemingly at random is a feature of the Mullardoch 12. My knees don’t like descents, especially on rough ground, so this long descent was murder. Not helped by the large number of deer fly looking to drink their fill at every opportunity. Luckily for me they were much more interested in Snowfox’s blood, and in the end neither of us were bitten. I think Snowfox avoided being bitten due to his well-developed ability to sense a fly landing on him, and then rapidly swatting it. During the descent we were treated to lovely views down towards the river and could see a number of ruins dotted across the glen. A bright red tent was visible by the river in a lovely spot, the deer-fly seemingly not having put them off pitching there.
Once down at the slow-moving and shallow river, which was less than 6 inches deep, we easily forded it. Note that in walking boots we could have kept our feet dry, however given the heat and following a long day’s hike, we were more than happy to let our feet soak in the river. At this point we thought we’d stop for dinner, then proceed up the 5th Munro (Mullach na Dheiragain), the first on the south bank before making camp for the night. Neither of us had ever tried freeze-dried meals before, Snowfox brought a Firepot Orzo Bolognese, while I brought an Expedition Foods Beef Stroganoff. Although mine was ready in about 7 mins, Snowfox’s took 15 minutes to cook once the boiled water was added to the bag. I think if we were in winter, the Firepot food would be cold by the time it was edible. However, in summer, this turned out to be a really tasty meal, very much like real food, I could imagine eating it at home. My meal on the other hand was rubbish, besides adding too much water, it was very oily, and the beefs bits were tiny. Still, it was edible, and had the higher calorie count of the two meals, 800 vs 635 kcal.
After dinner, and some lazing around by the river enjoying the magnificent views (note, stay right by the water to avoid the flies) we began our hike up the 5th Munro. As we passed the ruin by the river, we noticed a number of bird of prey carcasses inside. We were not certain of the species, but they were very large, possibly eagles, and must have been baited or otherwise killed by humans and brought to this spot. It makes me very sad to think that someone would do this, especially in such a remote wilderness.
On the hike up Munro 5, there was a good Agrocat track for quite some distance and we kept a lovely stream on our left-hand side as we progressed up the mountain. We had spied some waterfalls and potential camping spots in advance from a distance during our descent from the 4th Munro, and we were hoping our gamble at trying to camp at high level rather than beside the river would pay off. As we got higher and higher, it became a gamble between finding a good flat spot near running water, and getting too high and having to turn back. In the end we found the perfect flat spot at 500m altitude with a waterfall behind us and the lovely sound of running water to lull us to sleep.
The next morning, we got up at 5am, after sleeping like logs, the weather had been mild overnight. We had breakfast while soaking up the stunning view along the loch then packed up and set off. The weather forecast correctly predicted this would be the hottest day of the trip with full sun all day, but thankfully there was the occasional cloud to stop us from being completely burnt to a crisp.
The summit of Munro 5 was easily attained by 7:45am, then we continued along a lovely ridgeline to Munro 6, Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan. This was the Munro we had been looking forward to and it did not disappoint. Although a massive detour from the circular route around the loch, this was well worth it, and the mountain was made all the more stunning by the snow hugging the coire. It was around this time that Snowfox realised just how much of a detour from the lochside we would be taking (I think next time he will study the map a little more closely in advance 😉). By 10am we had conquered Munro 6 and were rewarded with stunning views the whole way to and from it. In the distance on another summit further west I saw a hiker in a red jacket also admiring the view. This was one of the many times on the hike that I missed not having my DSLR and tripod. There’s just no way I could have carried the weight and bulk of it, but as a consequence my photos had to be taken with my phone, which although it did an admirable job, just could not compete with a DSLR with the right lens. Anyway, my eyes and mind were the best camera I brought with me, I can never forget those views of Torridon and Skye.
As we descended towards Munro 7, the second An Socach, we passed a lone female hiker coming the other way who had done a bike and hike from Glen Affric. Munro 7 was hard to identify since it could have been any of the summits between Munro 6 and Munro 8, Mamm Sodhail. After completing Munro 7, we stopped for lunch, and a ‘Mullardoch 12 in a day’ guy raced past us. He expected to be finished by 7pm, which meant we would take a lot longer with our heavy packs (11pm as it turned out!).
After lunch we headed off towards the cluster of 3 Munros, Munros 8,9 and 10, which would mark our return to the main route along the south side of the loch. These Munros loomed over us as we approached. We could see a few people dotted around the summits and some well walked routes heading into Glen Affric, where presumably a number of these hikers had come from.
After clearing Munro 8 just after 2pm, which had a pretty solid cairn on top, we skirted along the side of Munro 10 (Carn Eige) on our way to Munro 9, Bheinn Fhionnlaidh. This was alright, mostly on mossy ground with the occasional scree. Luckily, we found a small spring (marked on the GPS log) that crossed the trail and took a much-needed drink. We thought this might be the last water stop on the route, so drank our fill in addition to refilling our bottles. After this brief water-stop we found a good spot to dump our bags, allowing us to race up Munro 9, before returning to collect our bags and complete Munro 10.
Unencumbered by our bags we were off like rockets; Munro 9 was a direct assault up a well-worn rocky path – now we could get a brief taste of what the ‘Mullardoch 12 in a day’ brigade felt. At the summit we had a great view of the remaining route (pretty much the entire length of Loch Mullardoch). We tried to keep morale up by convincing ourselves that most of the climbing had been done, and this would essentially be a flat walk till we descended to the dam. Of course, we both knew this was a lie, but kept up the charade none-the-less.
By 5pm, and with 48 of the ~62km hike under our belt, we were on the summit of Munro 10, Carn Eige, with just two Munros left to do (plus a number of other Munro height summits on the way). For a significant part of the remaining route there was some pretty technical scrambling to do. Usually, I love this type of terrain, but by this point in the day we were starting to tire, and our backpacks weighed heavily on our backs, we chatted less, stopped less often to take photos, and basically kept the heads down. From this point on we didn’t see another soul until we were back in the carpark. It was still hot and sunny, and despite slathering on factor 50 earlier in the day I was beginning to burn. There was barely a breath of wind on the summits, an unusual occurrence in Scotland, but which added to the serenity of the views whenever we took a moment to stop and appreciate them.
By 5:50pm we were on the summit of Munro 11, Tom a Choinich, only 1 Munro left to do, but we knew the remaining journey would be harder than that, and it was. The technical scrambling continued, this route would be treacherous in bad weather.
By 7pm we had travelled ~52km and were on the summit of the final Munro, Munro 12, Toll Creagach. Sadly, this summit was a little bland, with little to identify it apart from an old rusty iron pole. From here we could see the finishing line (the dam), but one more summit remained. As we first descended, Snowfox was keen to divert from the route, straight down to the loch-side and follow it along to the dam. I had concerns that this could end up being a big mistake, on the basis that if it were a good idea, everyone would be doing it. I managed to convince Snowfox to make this one final ascent and with that completed we could see the final descent to the dam.
As we descended, we discussed having read that there were two options for the final section of the hike: (1) take the most direct route by dropping into the glen and traversing a long, boggy, heathery section, or (2) overshooting and taking a final ascent on faster ground, but with uncertainty on the final descent to the dam. All the walk reports and guides I had read dropped into the heather, but one or two discussed the ‘high road’ option, though I did not find any article where someone had actually taken it. For this reason, we decided to avoid it, and dropped into the glen.
The initial section down through the heathery bog we made good progress, however there were a number of streams which ran partially underground. These pose a safety hazard as it’s possible to take a bad step into a pothole, which would certainly break a leg or ankle. It did however mean that we could refill our water bottles one last time (noted in the GPS log). Eventually we entered the woods, and thankfully some machinery had been used to cut a path through the extremely dense heather. I think this was the section that some older walk reports said was hellish, but which now actually very pleasant, almost like a Japanese garden in places.
After clearing the woods, we continued walking through heather, following an intermittent path with a deer fence to the side of us. After a while, we passed through an opening in the fence and onto a tarred road (strangely, we did not have to climb the fence or pass a cattle grid or similar), and we knew the adventure must almost be over. We followed the road down until we came to the carpark at the southern side of the dam, wished we had left one car at this side, then followed the road down to the y-junction, dumped our bags (to collect by car on the way out) then walked upto the carpark. Note, as far as we know there is no direct route from one side of the dam to the other. Once at the carpark, we had a final photo together, it was still bright despite being 11pm at night, chatted to a hiker that had just arrived to setup camp, then drove off, collecting our bags on the way. Snowfox later told me he had gone back to the gate at the start of the hike to collect his walking poles, but alas, they were gone.
On the single-track road away from the dam the countryside was alive with wildlife, obviously owing to the light levels and temperature. Bats flew in all directions, I saw a lovely group of 3 stags at the side of the road, resplendent with their velvety antlers. I also disturbed a badger, which decided to run along the road in-front of the car (don’t worry, I drove very slowly) for some time, before realising it would be smarter to turn off the road. I had a 2 hour drive home, which I managed somehow to do. Snowfox, meanwhile lived much further away, and was too tired for his long drive, so he managed to find a hotel nearby that was still open. Note if you find yourself in this situation there is no mobile signal near the dam, or indeed along most of the access road.
Looking back, as with all trips of this difficulty, your mind quickly forgets the bad bits, and all you remember are the good parts. It was absolutely fantastic, the best hike I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a few multi-day hikes, including in Norway. Snowfox also had a great time, and it’s always the case that the second you are off the hills, you begin planning your next adventure in your mind.
I hope this detailed report, inventory, marked-up photos and GPX file helps anyone like us who worries the Mullardoch 12 is too much for them.
INVENTORY, BASED ON TEMPERATURES OF 15-21C AT GROUND LEVEL AND 2 FULL DAYS' HIKING
Note we are not ultra-light hikers, I’m sure there will be plenty of ‘experts’ reading this list who will scoff at my list or want to chip in ideas on how to save weight etc, but this is what we carried. This list provides basic guidance for anyone interested in doing this hike. As always, follow this advice at your own risk.
1. Tech t-shirt long sleeve
2. Shorts with pockets
3. Approach shoes - hiking boots are too heavy for this trek. Make sure your shoes are decent though, they must be able to handle walking along the side of a hill at an angle without rolling (mine were terrible). There is a fair bit of scrambling on route, where you could smash or break your ankles more easily with approach shoes, so this weight reduction option is not without additional risk - you have been warned!
4. Hat for sun protection
5. Sports ankle socks, 2 pairs per day. Waterproof ones perhaps?
To carry - total weight approx. 12kg
1. Tent - if your tent is new, make sure you've tested it for size, ours was tight for 2. If the weather is good enough you could just get away with taking the flysheet and leaving the rain cover behind. Plenty of good spots to pitch a tent on soft, mossy ground, and tent pegs will easily penetrate the soil.
2. Ultralight 35-45l rucksack, make sure it's very comfortable!! Mine was rubbish (very uncomfortable) and the waist clip then chest clip snapped on the first day.
3. Marked up maps – makes it easier to tell which ones are the Munros, and which are just summits >914m (there’s a number of them!)
4. Compass - for back up if the visibility is poor, otherwise the overall route, especially on the south side is easy to navigate
5. Inflatable pillow - you may be able to roll up some clothes instead
6. Inflatable sleeping mat - note there are plenty of good camping spots dotted around. The ground is normally very soft, mossy, peaty, grass, so you may get away with a lighter foam mat, or even nothing at all. Worth bearing in mind given the bulk and weight of a self-inflating mat
7. Sleeping bag
8. Travel toothbrush & toothpaste - you'll need this with all the sugar you'll be eating and drinking
9. Emergency space blanket
10. Factor 50 sunblock - trust me, this is essential as you will get a lot of sun exposure while you are out, there is no respite
11. Ankle socks x2 pairs per day - it's lovely to change socks halfway through the day.
14. Compressible down jacket - light, warm, can also be worn in the sleeping bag for warmth
15. Plastic trowel - if you need a number 2
16. Biodegradeable Wet wipes - better than paper for bottom wiping, and can also use them for cleaning your hands (not the same wipe!). Make sure to carry these home with you.
17. Food bags - for storing any rubbish, or any wet items, take a number of these with you (very light)
18. Chlorine tabs - we didn't use these, but still handy in an emergency if you have to drink from a suspect water source. They are very light.
19. Ibuprofen - handy if you get any kind of injury.
20. Platypus 1l hydration bag - think I would have been better with a 1.5l bladder.
21. 1l water bottle.
22. Pot/mug + lid or 1l kettle and mug. Kettle option is good for 2 people since you can boil enough water for 2x freeze-dried meals, plus 2 hot drinks.
25. Cooking gas.
26. Aluminium roasting tray - roughly A4 size, to act as a wind-break for the stove.
27. Basic metal spoon - don't bother with any of the gimmicky sporks, multitools etc, this is the best option, and just as light.
28. Walking pole – one should be enough, but this is an essential item.
Food & Drink
1. Freeze dried meal x2 - go for an 800 calorie option. You only need 1 bag, but it's good knowing you have a back-up in case you have a problem on the second day.
2. Isostar - you will need a whole tub's worth (watch your teeth don't melt). This electrolyte drink is essential, especially in hot weather
3. Energy gels x7 - I used SIS which come in a pack of 7, just remember to space them out over each day
4. Porridge x2 - use something like Quaker Oat So Simple Cuppa Porridge, no need for the expensive expedition food options
5. Soreen loaf x1 - this is full of calories, we ate one between two.
6. Chocolate peanuts x1 - this is high calorie emergency food when you start to flag.
7. Wraps x2
8. Pack of 4 pepperoni slices x1
9. Pack of 4 cheddar cheese slices x1
10. Coffee - just spoon out however much you need into a little tub
11. Granola slices x2
12. Granola breakfast bars x4
by SummitViews » Mon Aug 02, 2021 12:46 am
Outstanding report with great info for the trip provided. Great read, well done
- Posts: 58
- Joined: Apr 1, 2018
by Sspaterson » Mon Aug 02, 2021 3:47 pm
Brilliant report! Really enjoyed reading that. Almost makes me want to attempt it (and I'm certainly not an athlete).
by dogplodder » Wed Aug 04, 2021 3:50 pm
Thanks for a detailed and helpful report on an amazing effort getting round these 12 - which some of us can only dream of, but it's good to read about it all the same!
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