It had been three years since this
when Dan and I traversed the whole of the Mamore ridge in torrential rain. http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=13581
A few days later we had the challenge of the Mullardoch Round suggested to us. I mentioned it to Dan at the time and having done all 12 of the Mullardoch munros before, I told him I believed it was impossible. However, Dan being Dan, he managed to convince me we were going to attempt it in 2012 before he went away to Australia for six months. Unfortunately, on the days we had planned to do the round the weather was not good and I had exhausted myself the day before by doing Carn an Fhreiceadain and Geal Charn Mor above Aviemore so was in no fit state to make the attempt.
This did not stop us from thinking that one day we would eventually manage to conquer Mullardoch. About six months ago Dan texted me saying he had four days off work in July and asked whether I was free. My reply was a one word question asking, ‘Mullardoch?’. Dan replied instantly saying that was exactly what he was thinking. And with that, the plan was set.
Living in Birmingham and Hull, Loch Mullardoch isn’t exactly the easiest place to get to when you only have Monday morning until Thursday afternoon. To make things even more complicated Dan is a doctor. He was working nights for the eight days before our trip and wouldn’t finish work until 8.30am on the Monday morning that we were due to head up to Scotland.
It is fair to say that not a lot of planning went in to our Mullardoch expedition other than what time and where I would meet Dan. The rest was simply back ourselves physically and go for it. The travel plan was that I would meet Dan off the 2.15 train at Edinburgh, drive to the Mullardoch dam, have a quick bivvy next to the car, set off at 02.30am and hope we were back down for some time on Tuesday evening.
The travel part of the plan worked out. Dan’s train was on time which was a relief, and we were soon in the car and on our way. Dan looked tired from his night shifts and I was concerned about him being in a fit state to make the attempt. The other massive problem was that Dan had participated in Wakefield marathon on the Sunday morning between his night shifts, completing in 3hrs 22 mins. How I wondered could he do that and then 36 hrs later even consider doing the challenge of a lifetime?
We made good progress up the A9, only stopping for a wonderful all day breakfast at the Newtonmore Grill, undoubtedly the best food stop in the whole world. Eventually we reached Cannich and took the turn up towards the Mullardoch dam. The weather was perfect and I couldn’t resist looking up at the view of the hills which nearly resulted in me driving us off the side of the road into Loch Carne. Fortunately, despite his tiredness Dan was still pretty alert and stopped me in time. We arrived at the dam at 8.30pm, packed our bags and took a couple of beginning of challenge selfies.
I was well aware that Dan needed his sleep and I had driven the best part of 500 miles so I was also quite tired. The bivvy, along with the transport arrangements, is the only other part of the trip I had planned. Instead of us pitching a tent, getting into our warm sleeping bags and being comfortable, we were going to bivvy without sleeping bags or any form of mat. The idea was that we would be so miserable we would be desperate to get up on Tuesday morning.
Having found an appropriate spot in amongst the heather next to the dam, we got the bivvy bags out and opened our cans of Morrisons Value Bitter. An odd choice many will think, but it is a little lucky superstition that we have had since I purchased four cans in Fort William for 60p in 2010. Having drunk three of the cans in the Glencoe Youth Hostel on that particular trip, we have kept one special can that now comes on every trip. Here it is
but for Mullardoch, as the bags were already fairly heavy, it remained in the car.
The midges were out in full force and Dan found it very difficult for a while, as unlike my bivvy
he didn’t have a midge net.
After finishing the wonderful cans of bitter it was time to sleep. As hoped, it was extremely uncomfortable and I couldn’t sleep at all thinking about the ridiculous challenge we were about to undertake. Many things were going through my mind. What happens if we run out of energy at the far end of the lake which is miles from anywhere? What happens if we have an accident? Can Dan read a map?
It was cold and it was damp (the inner of my bivvy bag was soaked), and at 01.20 it was only getting worse. Having had about half an hours sleep and seeing we only had an hr until the planned set off time anyway, I asked Dan whether we should just go for it. ‘Yes let’s do it Ketz’ was the reply from the bivvy bag about a metre away. We packed up, got the boots and within five minutes were ready to set off.
When I first did Toll Creagach I approached from the Glen Affric side. From the Mullardoch side, in the pitch black, I had no idea what lay ahead on our way up. As I suspected it would be, the ground was rough and there was no path. With only the headtorches to help us it was difficult to see where we were going. I was also having a problem with my Weetabix chocolate breakfast drink that Dan had bought for me the night before. He was adamant it would work wonders in the morning. Whatever it was supposed to do certainly wasn’t working and was making me feel quite sick, and very dehydrated. After about an hour of tortuous terrain we reached the crest of the ridge. From here it was a nice gentle stroll to the top and we arrived at the summit at 02.56am, the earliest either of us had ever been on top of a munro by a long distance. Normally we are very late starters. After taking a photo of the beginning of sunrise
we were ready to head for Tom a’Choinich.
I had vaguely worked out a time plan for the day and was hoping to be on the top of Tom a’Choinich within 45 mins of leaving the top of Toll Creagach. Unfortunately I had forgotten how far it was between the two hills and it took us an hour to reach the top. I was already starting to worry that we were getting slightly behind schedule, even though it was not yet 4am. The sun was beginning to rise and the views were beginning to open up. I had never in twenty-two years of munro bagging ever experienced a cloud inversion. What a time to get one.
We didn’t spend long on the top of Tom a’Choinich sadly and as we left it behind it dawned on me that it had been at least fifteen years since I had been from Tom a’Choinich to Carn Eighe along the ridge between the two hills.
I had never realized it was quite as impressive as it is. At this point our pace was blistering and we made excellent progress. As I stole a march on Dan on a steep uphill section, I was temporarily slowed when he said he was mentally shattered and might need an emergency bivvy. “Oh no, what a disaster!” I thought. Fortunately, he soon overcame his fatigue and we marched on towards Carn Eighe. I told him he could sleep tomorrow. The fabulous ridge had many undulations and was quite narrow in places, and the views were absolutely sensational.
We reached the top of Carn Eighe at 5.08am, a little after I had hoped. On the top I had another first and rather sensational experience, a brocken spectre.
After spending a quite a long while waving at myself in the reflection like an idiot, we decided it probably was time to tackle one of the more mentally draining parts of the day, Beinn Fhionnlaidh.
Beinn Fhionnlaidh is one of my favourite hills. In another epic day, I first climbed it when I did the six munros on the horseshoe around Gleann a’Choilich in a day from the Alltbeithe Youth Hostel. Setting off with the intention of climbing Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, Mullach nan Dheiragain and An Socach as suggested in the SMC guide, I couldn’t resist upon reaching the top of Mullach nan Dheiragain, running down from the top to the Abhainn a’ Choilich before beginning the long re ascent back up the other side of the valley to reach the top of Beinn Fhionnlaidh.
When you are doing a challenge like Mullardoch round, a detour like Beinn Fhionnlaidh is something that you just don’t want to have to do. From Carn Eighe you have to lose 351 metres in height down to the Bealach Beag, going in the opposite direction to where you need to really be going. Upon reaching the top you then have to retrace all of your steps back up to the top of Carn Eighe before moving on. For this section of the walk we had decided we would give our feet a rest from our boots and wear trainers. Once sorted, we ditched our bags near the top of Carn Eighe and ran down to the bealach between the two hills. From here the climb up Beinn Fhionnlaidh is easy and we were on top by 05.50am. I turned to Dan and said I could sit here all day and it isn’t hard to see why
We ran quickly back to the col and made our re-ascent up Carn Eighe in good time. As the terrain was then very rough again we decided the trainers were not working. With the boots back on we headed for number five, Mam Sodhail. From Carn Eighe it is an easy walk and definitely the easiest part of the day from a psychological point of view. For once, we were knocking off two tops in quick succession. Upon reaching the massive summit cairn on top of Mam Sodhail we stopped to look at the surrounding hills as the cloud was breaking up. We could see across Kintail and Knoydart in one direction
and across Beinn Fhionnlaidh towards Torridon and Fisherfield in the other
Having climbed Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan twice before and knowing how far it was even on it’s own from the Alltbeithe youth hostel, this view had made my heart sink when we reached the top of Mam Sodhail.
I was in desperate need of food at this point as well. I had only eaten five chocolate chip Tracker bars for breakfast along with my Weetabix drink and I was beginning to feel a bit dizzy. It seemed a little early at 7am to be delving into my bag for the lightly salted Kettle chips and the lemon cake, but that’s what it was going to take to sort me out. The lemon cake in particular tasted really special.
It looked like an easy descent to An Socach from here. For some reason I could remember being shattered between these two hills when I had walked the horseshoe previously. It soon came flooding back. The descent was extremely rugged and very steep which was not what we wanted at all. Despite the tough descent, we made quick progress up An Socach from the col and were soon on top. Dan enjoyed a sing song on the summit and showed off his most prized possession (despite being a Leeds United fan), with fantastic views to Glen Shiel behind him.
Across the top of Beinn Fhionnlaidh we could see the Mullardoch Four looming large in the distance.
Behind us in the other direction we could see our next objective, the monumental Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan. This is certainly one of the finest hills on the Scottish mainland.
One of the remotest munros, I knew it would be a key moment in the day and one I had been worrying about for weeks because of how far we would be away from the car. I knew the top was still a long way from where we were but if we could get to the top, not only would we have done more than half of the hills, we would be turning back towards home from the furthest point. It was absolutely boiling hot by now despite only being 8.45am and I was glad of the five litres of water I was carrying
Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan has a very long undulating arm. I had previously only done it in dreadful weather. The second time I ruined my phone by getting water damage after checking to see whether James Milner had signed for Manchester City from Aston Villa. It was the only place I had reception and it was very important to me to find out.
Once over the undulations ridge the final pull to the summit is phenomenal.
We reached the top at 09.50am. Many people say that it is like standing on the top of the world when on top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and we sat there for quite a while. After a bit more food it was time to head for number 8 which I had told Dan was easy. Mullach na Dheiragain is probably one of the hardest munros to do. It’s out on a limb in the middle of nowhere above the remote end of Loch Mullardoch, and to access it is problematic in all directions.
I thought that as we were now making the turn for home that psychologically it would be more straightforward. At this point I was so confident that I texted my dad to say “Number 7, nearly there, only Jerry and the Mullardoch 4 to do”.
How wrong was I?
We headed north along the ridge back towards Loch Mullardoch. I had told Dan to imagine it as just an arm down to the lake. Unfortunately, once you reach the bottom of the arm a relatively long ascent takes you back up to the small top of Carn na Con Dhu. Once on top of that you then lose all of that height before you re ascend it all to reach the main summit of Mullach na Dheiragain which lies about two kilometers further along the ridge. As we had assumed this would be one of the easiest parts of the day and virtually forgotten about it, it was a real blow that it was taking so long. By now I could tell that Dan was starting to struggle due to his lack of sleep. When we did eventually reach the top he looked shattered.
I was still feeling relatively decent and from here I thought our descent back down to Loch Mullardoch would be fairly easy. Gentle grass slopes was what I had assumed were ahead of us. We headed north over Mullach Sithidh before dropping down into the very wet and very boggy Coire Aird. I hadn’t looked at the map to see how far it was to the lake so was very surprised when I actually saw how far it was (now I realize to the river crossing at the Gobh-altan is almost two miles).
As we tried to hurry down, for the first time during the day my feet began to hurt. It was now 11.45 and we had been walking continuously for the best part of twelve hours. The descent seemed to go on and on and with number 9, An Socach, looking like a long and arduous climb back up, morale was not high. That was until I noticed what looked like a path heading up An Socach. We decided to head in a direct line for it and had suddenly concluded that the re-ascent would be easy and that we would be on top before long and 'waltzing' to the finish. But this is Mullardoch Round and nothing comes easy. It took us about another 45 minutes to reach the river and upon crossing we thought it was time to ditch the boots again as our feet were so sore. Whilst we put the trainers back on we commented on how Beinn Fhionnlaidh now looked totally different to how it had before, and worryingly, how far we were from the lake.
I knew looking at the map that An Socach was 50 metres higher so we could clearly see that the re-ascent was big.
After having a lot to eat (the Fox’s Jam and Cream biscuits were particularly special), and re applying generous amounts of sun cream, we headed up the path. It was unbelievably hot now and massive numbers of huge flies were irritating us. The path became very muddy but after a bit of a slog, we reached the top of the arm of Meall Shuas that runs south west from An Socach. From here the path runs out but the terrain was pleasant and the going was very easy. We thought the final climb up to the top up the west slopes looked quite easy and that it wouldn’t take us very long. Looks can be deceiving. This was the hardest 300 metres either of us will ever climb. Both of us struggled up slowly and ground to a halt with about 100 metres still to go to the top. We sat down for ages. Dan later told me he was broken at this point and was going to get the bivvy out. After some time we managed to sort ourselves out and finally reached the top at 2.23pm. For motivation we were going to do our Judy Murray fist pump impression on the top. The real thing is the greatest sight in sport
and sadly, my impression could not compete
Continued in Part Two http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=45361
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