A Challenge of a Lifetime: Conquering Mullardoch in a Day
by andrewdoggett » Mon May 28, 2012 12:25 am
Munros included on this walk: An Riabhachan, An Socach (Affric), An Socach (Mullardoch), Beinn Fhionnlaidh (Carn Eige), Carn Eige, Carn nan Gobhar (Loch Mullardoch), Mam Sodhail, Mullach nan Dheiragain, Sgurr na Lapaich, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, Toll Creagach, Tom a'Choinich
Date walked: 26/05/2012
Time taken: 19.35 hours
Distance: 57.6 km
Ascent: 4965m68 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).
And it's here that you'll find a mountain challenge known as 'The Mullardoch Round'. Over 57 km with 5,000 metres of ascent lie 12 (mostly) spectacular Munros.
It was at my first Walk Highlands meet in Kintail that I first met Monty; we were challenged by other members of this website to a walk off along the Brothers and Sisters of Kintail. We walked together; we laughed together; and he is someone I now regard as; and am proud to call; a very close friend. We've walked together since; pushing each other further than we'd go alone. Somewhere along the line we got to talking about 'The Mullardoch Round' Can it be walked in a day we wondered? I think; from the first time we talked about it; we knew we were going to give it a go. The stuff of dreams; a true challenge; one with an uncertain outcome; and one that precious few people ever have completed.
More often than not; I'm in the hills with Scraggles; he's a close and loyal friend; someone who'll always be there for you and stand by your side; we've spent hours walking the munros; drinking in the pub; sharing stories; walking our dogs; bonding. He's a cracking chap. He was in.
Tim I've now known and been close friends with for years; he loves these 'once in a lifetime' test yourself challenges. He was never in doubt either. So that's four of us…
On one of my Mountain walks; I can’t remember which; I came to think about giving something back. The wilderness has always been close to my heart; keeping it wild; leaving it as much as is possible untouched by mankind; footprints aside. So I came to decide upon the John Muir Trust; to give something back for the many hours of fulfilment I’ve taken from the mountains of Scotland. Many of you have already made a donation on our fundraising site for this challenge - thank you - from the bottom of my heart - it means an incredible amount to me - and your messages of support and banter kept us going. We're currently at over £1200 for the JMT thanks to you - and still going. Any donation is much appreciated at...
May 26 was set to be our date with destiny (weather permitting) for some time. There was training; some practice walks; a massive reduction in alcohol intake for Scraggles and I. And before we knew it; it was May 25.
It's fair to say things got off to a fairly shaky start - it was as if the omens were against us - someone, somewhere was telling us this was a really bad idea. We heard; but we never listened…
Firstly; the weather wasn't good; or rather it was so good it was bad. Scorchingly hot; cloud free; on a monster of a walk with precious few watering holes on route due to the nature of the high ridge walk. From before we left I was worried about hydration; heatstroke.
Next; Scraggles broke down on route to Mullardoch. We arrived at the stricken 'Scooby' at the same time as Keith from Aberdeen. In ten minutes he had Scoobs up and running again; a blocked fuel filter. You'll have to do better than that to get out of the walk said Tim. Onwards.
A sign for 'Mullardoch' appears. The adrenalin levels rise.
The drive down Glen Cannich really is quite something; you can feel yourself getting lost from mankind as you sink ever deeper into remoteness. Deer line the roadside and drink from the river and lochans on route; largely unfazed by human presence. This is mountain territory like no other. In a word. Unspoilt.
Then we arrive at Mullardoch; share warm greetings with Monty and unpack the car, or at least try to. As I raise the roof a click confirms the lid internal to the boot has released meaning we're left with a boot full of walking gear that we can't access… Tim saves the day; some lunatic idea to use Monty's walking poles to push the boot lid down. Several minutes later; and after much judicious manipulation of lucozade sport bottles with said poles, and the roof springs into life. It'll take more than that to get me out of the walk the boys say. We laugh.
Monty has written a pre Mullardoch song - he's promised to record it and post it here. I love it. He's prepared printouts for us so we learn the lines, and a sing-a-long ensues. I love the song. It sums up how we felt. Anticipation. And companionship.
We bed down trying to get some sleep. I'm restless throughout the night. It's hot; and in truth; I'm nervous. This is a big one.
I won't harp on about the times; I'll post a picture of the route with the split times when we 'left' key points on the route. With the weather forecast we had; today was never going to be about times; it was going to be about survival. But to kick things off; we left at 02:35 under torchlight. And it was 14 Degrees Celcius. The ascent of Carn nan Gobhar is punishing; steep and through deep heather. We're breathing heavily; Monty later tells me the only thing that kept him going was seeing how much pain I was in. Thanks pal. Not soon enough we're through that and the slope eases, as does the terrain which is now short grass and heather with a jumbled mess of rocks. Monty and Tim push on for the summit; whilst I have a chat with Scraggles; his knee is hurting; but he's still up for it. Onwards then. The sky starts to turn orange with the soon to be rising sun as we reach the first summit. The torches are long since off; and it's just gorgeous. It's fair to say wild camp on A'Mhaighdean aside; I've never been on the summit of a munro @ 04:15!
It's a short descent to the beallach before a stiff climb to the summit of Munro number 2; Sgurr na Lapaich. We stop only once; to take some pictures as the sun rises and paints the mountain with a warm golden orange glow. So that's two done. I have some data signal and make a post to Talk Highlands "Mullardoch underway... Up on the north ridge, tracking to schedule, two munros down, and Montys still with us.."; a thread we would later learn got quite some interest with fantastic messages of encouragement and well wishes. How we wished we could have seen those on the hills. Thanks Guys!
It's a decent descent from 2 but the ascent of 3 (An Riabhachan) is gentle and straightforward. We push on up at a gentle pace of about 3.5/4km/hr to avoid any lactic acid build up in the legs and before long we're at the top. Scraggles knee is still playing up but he's here; keeping the focus.
We're travelling light today; this is no walk to be carrying anymore than you need to; stopping isn't an option; we don't want a tent and sleeping bag attacking the mind; telling us to stop. So I'm carrying the lightest pack I've ever taken into the hills:
- Emergency Lightweight Bivvy Shelter for 2
- Fleece (in case we need to Bivvy)
- 2 litres of Lucozade Sport (in my platypus)
- 1 Slice of Pork Pie from Tebay Services - love that farm shop
- 15 high energy bars
- 2 Kendal Mint Cake
- 1 Packet Jelly Babies
- 1 Sunblock Cream
- 1 Hat / Cap
- Hydration Tablets (to add to water when Lucozade dies)
- Spare pair of socks (to ease pain on feet later)
- Two walking poles; primarily for the descent to take a little off the joints
- Satmap; iPod; iPhone
- 1 PowerMonkey (to recharge Satmap on route)
- 1 Skye Hi T-Shirt (to fulfill a promise to Graham)
So, number 4 (the first of the An Socach's) is reached via a stunning ridge walk; steep descent and then a half decent climb of a couple of hundred metres or so. There's a large group camping / bivvying in the beallach that we almost pass through undisturbed (it's just before 07:00). Monty was talking to them the afternoon before - they've bought a boat up and are walking back to the damn taking in the four Munros on the North Ridge.
Now for the first time, we can truly see what's ahead of us; and number 6 which marks the halfway point in distance as near as makes no difference seems an eternal distance away. Tim shakes his head when I point out the route.
There's a breeze which we're thankful for; and hope it continues throughout the day. We're all on the top of 4 by 07:15 - so that's 4 hours and 40 minutes to see off the North Ridge. Good pace; and 15 minutes ahead of our schedule at this point which Monty now tells me he thinks was ambitious. Scraggles starting to show signs of wear; knee being more troublesome; Monty's starting to hurt in the legs; and no wonder, we're the best part of 2,000 metres of ascent in. What a character; he turns to Scraggles and says 'Come on I'll get you round' even if Tim and Andrew go on ahead. And he means it. Mentally he's as strong as an ox - too strong. "I'm not sure my legs are up for it either, but I'm going to give it a go" he says.
So Scraggles is still in. We descend to the river and it's there that the enormity of what lies ahead coupled with pain in the knee leads Scraggles to call it quits. He looks to me for advice. I tell him only he can decide where he's at, mentally, as well as physically. I believe the real challenge of the Mullardoch lies here; or at the latest at the summit of 5. For once you commit to 6 you'll find yourself headed to the summit of a Mountain that Walk Highlands itself describers as "in the heart of the wild at the head of Glen Affric, and most walkers will need an overnight stay". There's no way out from there; no short exit. From here, by the river that's the choice, after the best part of 2,000 metres of ascent and just under 20km you're faced with a decision. Can I do another 3,000 metres of ascent and the best part of 40km - forget the morning - that's some hoof in it's own right!! Scraggles bows out; I'm pleased; safety first; I know him well; and he knows himself well. He knows with his knee, and in this heat, this one is too much.
We start the ascent of 5 (Mullach nan Dheiragain) or is that Die again? It's hot; seriously hot; and we want to get back up high. We move steadily upwards. It hurts, but this was always going to hurt. About halfway up and it's obvious Monty is in trouble. We've chosen to refill higher up by the waterfalls to save carrying water up the ascent; plus it's safer to drink from higher up. Tim waits for Monty to give him some Lucozade with the plan being for me to push on to the 'water stop' and wait for them there as I rehydrate. That's 50 metres further up; and I see Tim going to get water for Monty from the stream. I know before Tim signals to me that this is where Monty's attempt will end. I descend. We talk. Tim and I are both extremely concerned for him; he looks exhausted and is showing early signs of heatstroke. We'd researched them. At this point the walk is over. First and foremost comes safety and neither Tim nor I is prepared to leave Monty like this. We sit; continue to talk; and drink; Tim and I focussing on rehydrating Monty. We spend about 45 minutes making him drink. He starts to perk up a bit and tells some bad jokes (good sign). The bloody ox insists we continue. "Someone's gotta get this walk done" he says. "You're going to do it". Truth is if it was anyone but Monty (who I know can look after himself) this would have been the end of the walk. We cut a deal that sees us watch him descend and if he goes to a pre-agreed point by the river then we're coming down with him. He descends okay. We continue.
I've taken on a full 2 litres of water in this stop, and leave with a full platypus of another 2 litres. Once at the top of 5 we've no water stop for some time - until near 10 (Carn Eige) - and that's on route to 9 some 20 km away. I add rehydration tablets.
We reach the top of 5 and things are okay. But that was before 6 (Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan). A stunning mountain. But having just ascended some 750 metres to 5 we're now faced with another 400 metres. And it's hot. We don't stop. I lead - as it turns out this will be the last ascent I lead (save for 9) - as from now on Tim will be stronger than I on the ascents. We're both cooked when we arrive at the summit. Tim says to me he needs 10 minutes. I nod. Energy bars by now are nearly impossible to eat. Don't get me wrong; they work; in terms of giving you energy but we've had 7 now, and they're not nice after that many! Time for the Tebay Services Pork Pie then. Yum.
The heat really isn't helping. We're exhausted. Home's not coming to us though. We push on. A poxy little thing is how we describe 7 after the last two beasts (the second of the An Socach's). An undulating ridge takes us there. The scenery is still mind-blowing. In 360 degrees, there is nothing, nothing man made that is. Mountains, in all their glory, on a beautiful day.
The route forward to 8 heralds some good news; I point out to Tim the path traverses the slope taking the steepness out of what will be the penultimate 'big' climb. It's like Christmas. We cheer; whoop; and press on. The descent from An Socach II is steep and the ascent of 8 (Mam Sodhail) is brutal. I'm hurting. It's a weird kind of hurt; hard to describe… I'm not puffing, I don't have leg burn. I just hurt. And I'm using snow to rub across my face to cool down. Nevermind; we get there; and speak to a couple of chaps at the summit. They ask us where we've come from and where we're headed. We tell them. They don't believe us. A minute passes. They absorb. "Christ I thought we were fit" they say as it dwells upon them that we're not joking.
We descend towards 9 (Beinn Fhionnlaidh) and catch sight of what looks like it might be a shallow stream about 50 metres below as we contour Carn Eige. We go to the lifeline. We take out our platypus's. Both Tim and I are two sips shy of empty. We take on another two litres of fluids adding rehydration tablets; and then refill again. We contour around what will be 10 (Carn Eige) and ditch the packs. We'd been saying 9 didn't deserve to be a munro, and joked earlier from the North ridge with Monty that we'd skip it and get it de-classified. It's a decent climb when you get up close and you look at it in it's own right without it being dwarfed by 10. We don't stop and ascend in one strong push.
Quite some reward at the top. A panoramic viewpoint of everything we've accomplished. And everything we need to finish. And a quote that will live on - listen up to the video 'I'm not even tired' Haha bullshit!
So, off to 10, relocating pack on the ascent. I'm really hurting now. But I know we've done it. There's just pain left. No other way out. Tim starts the saying that will see us through 'Let's get this done'. And we do. 10 brings with it a change of socks - we both say it at the same time - uncanny. What a smell, it's not good. My feet, or heels at least are in bits. There's a layer of skin or two gone from both. Tim has a bruised ankle from a bad challenge at football the previous week. It's blue and swollen. Painful. Still; no point whining. Pain is just weakness leaving the body. We push on.
It was supposed to be downhill from here, two piddly little ascents. Well we must have ascended 11 (Tom a'Choinich) at least 5 times; top after top after top. And I'm too tired to read the map. We think we're about to arrive at 12 (Toll Creagach) with me pushing ahead fuelled with the energy of the last ascent when I finally look at the map and have to apologise to Tim. 'This is 11 I say'. 'We've already climbed 11 he says'. The look on my face tells him it's 11. We take yet another summit shot, and press on. There's some steep descents which I lead, my turn to be faster. I deliberately slow it down. Injuries happen when you're tired.
I'm emotional. I know we're going to make it. The mental strength which has shut away all pain and allowed me to physically continue has done it's job and emotion starts to flow. A tear comes to pass from time to time as random thoughts enter my head. Alan (Mountainstar) 'Good luck guys; you will be legends' got me through 11.
12 looks huge. Well actually small. What makes it look huge is it's 12. I'm out of water. Tim has consumed less and offers me some of his. We walk silently before Tim quotes a line out of some film.
Andrew, I know you're hurting.
I know you're tired.
And I know you're hoping for something inspirational from me, but that's just not our style…
Chicks dig scars.
We reach 12. I'm absolutely whacked. We don 'Skye Hi T-Shirts' a promise to Graham who we'd challenged to join us on the round - and I'd said this was the only way Skye Hi was doing Mullardoch. He's a cracking fellow Graham. Strong as an ox. He loved the joke. And I've since posted the photo which captures a moment of elation which took every bit of energy to muster. Tim got me through 12. We got each other through the walk.
Now for the descent; I wish we'd added the Corbett in. I jest you not. The descent from the beallach is truly horrible traversing across the slopes in deep heather. We make short work of it. stopping only twice, and then only because I fall over. We reach the dam hoping Monty is okay and that he and Scraggles are there to pick us up. There's no one there.
We set off on the 1.5km on the road back to the car park the other side of the dam. We can't think. I can't tell you just how far this 1.5 km felt like in my head; shut the pain out. "Let's get this done".
A white van appears after 400 metres. It's Monty & Scraggles. Tim doesn't believe it's them. Scraggles jumps out of the van and comes and gives us a massive 'man hug'. Monty jumps out and does the same. They're ecstatic for us and so proud. It's emotional. Me; I'm just ****, pardon the French. I've got nothing left. Scraggles and Monty (thank you) look after us rehydrating us and feeding us Tuna Pasta - never has anything tasted so good. And then, as we sit in the van and the sweet taste of success sinks in; we share a beer. Monty and Scraggles put us back together again…
Reading the thread on Talk Highlands (Walk Highlands Facebook group) the following day was emotional. We never knew it had such a following. Reading your messages with updates through the day was truly humbling. Thank you for your support. And a shout out to my good lady Victoria for keeping everyone up to date; and for her support and encouragement on this monster.
Massive congratulations to Tim; you're some walker pal; and a great friend to boot. Thanks for the laughs and keeping me going on this beast...
Finally thanks to Paul and Helen for their support on this challenge via Walk Highlands.
And that's it… May 26, 2012. 19 hours and 23 minutes, 57.6km, 4,965 metres of ascent, 12 Munros; and in sweltering heat; the legend that is 'The Mullardoch Round' was tamed for a day.
Scraggles; Monty; this one's for you… Two of my very closest friends… Thanks for all of the memories in and away from the hills - you're both legends in my eyes.
Monty's now modified the Mullardoch Song; so it's out with the anticipation; and in with the result. It retains the companionship; and is I think a fabulous rendition of the hoof!! Listen away; sing along; lose yourself in Mullardoch!!
by RicKamila » Mon May 28, 2012 12:48 am
by Stretch » Mon May 28, 2012 2:26 am
by laconic surf » Mon May 28, 2012 7:13 am
by Lenore » Mon May 28, 2012 7:40 am
by Left Behind » Mon May 28, 2012 8:05 am
- Hill Bagger
- Posts: 79
- Joined: Jan 24, 2011
- Location: Aberdeenshire
by jonny616 » Mon May 28, 2012 8:40 am
by SAVAGEALICE » Mon May 28, 2012 8:53 am
by Steve B » Mon May 28, 2012 9:14 am
Good to see that safety decisions were made when appropriate, easy to get caught up in the emotion and not think correctly, so full credit to you all for that also.
Well done for raising money for a great cause and completing an epic walk. I doubt whether that feat will be repeated any time soon.
by madasa mongoose » Mon May 28, 2012 9:44 am
by BlackPanther » Mon May 28, 2012 9:51 am
by robertphillips » Mon May 28, 2012 10:23 am
by SusieThePensioner » Mon May 28, 2012 10:49 am
by kevsbald » Mon May 28, 2012 10:57 am