My second tour of duty in 3 days, swapping one geological marvel (the Cairngorms) for another (the Great Glen area). We were three, with overlapping aims in mind but a common goal: to complete the Loch Mullardoch four. Alan and David needed only do An Socach. I had to do An Riabhachan as well. After an absence of 17 years, I was back on Loch Mullardoch, in better conditions: better weather, with the benefit of longer days and with a boat trip thrown in!
Alan and David by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Plan A was as follows: Alan, David and I would take the boat to the mid point of the loch, roughly 5 miles from the dam and claim An Socach as a trio. I would then dash across to An Riabhachan. Alan and David would accompany me to the bealach from which they would descend to the lochside to begin the long 5-mile trudge back along the infamous 'path' back to the dam. However, if they both felt fit they would chum me up to the summit of my untamed Munro, despite having done it only the year before albeit from Glen Strathfarrar. then back down to the lochside for the trudge. Full of motivation I had planned to push on to Sgurr an Lapaich before heading down to the path, thus saving myself roughly 5km. It was agreed that whoever got back to the car first would wait patiently for the other.
The back story however is that when I spoke to Angus the ferryboat chap the day before to book the outward journey, he mentioned the possibility of a return trip... I should've kept this little nugget of info to myself but I blabbed (I would fare poorly in the secret service). This was an irresistible prospect for David. His father's argument that this represented an additional unplanned expense of fifty quid just didn't stick - he just wouldn't let go I didn't care either way, although when, on the way out I clocked the state of the 'path' I will admit that I felt tempted by an easy speedcruise back to the dam. I was also a wee bit tired after my 38km cycling and walking tour of Ben Avon and Beinn a'Bhuird less than 48 hours before. So I was open minded. Anyway...
As we 'berthed' by the lochside, Angus dropped the clanger. A earlier party, who were doing the same two as me, had booked him for 4pm. A lone chap (David, another one) had booked him for 5pm, or 4pm if he did his circuit at a good pace. The five were an hour ahead of us, David only half an hour. The die had been cast. I must doff my hat to Angus who is a fine marketer and perhaps also a keen reader of character. Although he is a stalker when he doesn't ferry walkers at speed across the reservoir, his knowledge of the natural world probably extensive, he clearly has a finely developed insight into the human mind and frailties
Angus the boatman leaving us stranded! by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Beinn Fhionnlaidh by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Loch Mullardoch by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
upper ridge of An Socach by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
I should have found the prospect of an easy way out liberating. In fact I found it constraining. Suddenly the walk became bounded by a schedule I had not counted on. So in warm sunshine and clouds of midges we set off along the muddy track which runs along the north side of the Allt Coire a'Mhaim (don't cross the bridges). The going was messy but easy and we were making good time to reach the south ridge which leads up to An Socach. We could even see 4 figures ascending, west and then north.
Hills in West Benula Forrest? by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Meall a'Chaisg, An Socach by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
2015-06-27 12.26.04 by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Western ridge of An Riabhachan by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
We seemed to make time up on them as one appeared to be struggling. As we gained height, the weather began closing in and the wind was stiff and cold. I turned around and noticed that my own companions were finding the going a bit tough up the steepening slope. We regrouped but in the end I had to go and claim the summit on my own. I was cold and soon wet so a quick stop to don the waterproof trousers proved necessary.
I soon got to the summit which was shrouded in clag and much wetness falling from the sky. This was in line with the met office forecast so I had expected it but it was still a disappointment. Ten minutes later David and Alan joined me. They are more impervious to the cold than me, so we had to revise our plans: I would leave immediately to go up to An Riabhachan whilst they would return to the lochside from the bealach Bholla. There they would wait for me and either hold the 4pm boat for us three or ask Angus to come back for us at 5pm.
Without further ado, I literally bounded down the east ridge of An Socach, negotiating its steep slopes and the step down to the bealach. It's quite a descent as much height is lost. Which means of course that much and more height must be regained to get to the next summit which is 60m higher. But I must have been racing down as I was closing in on the four whom I had lost track of in the clag and rain.
Bealach Bholla (I think) by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Glen Affric hills by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
As I started gaining height, on the way up to the 1040m top, I turned around and clocked Alan and David negotiating the step. Satisfied that they were making good time, I resumed my wild ascent. I soon caught up with 3+1, +1 being David (the other one) who was booked for a 5pm return. Eventually we all met on the cairn on the 1080m top and gazed NW towards the summit proper - another 1.5km to go, which I covered quickly with one of the women who belonged to the party of 3.
At the summit cairn we met the five who were due back at the loch for 4pm. They were cutting it rather fine, as although it was 2.45, I reckoned the drop down to the path and the last stretch to the lochside would take over an hour. We had a chat about their timing and their proposed route and they left. Meanwhile I looked around me and saw that An Socach had cleared and the views over the Glen Affric hills were splendid. We could also see the Cuillin ridge but nothing could be seen northwards, only bits of Loch Monar but none of the Glen Carron hills. As to Torridon, nae chance. Very disappointing but as they say where I come from: C'est la vie
Summit cairn, an Riabhachan by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Eastern ridge of an Riabhachan by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Looking north, Loch Monar by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Sgurr an Lapaich by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
An Socach by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
More summit cairn shenanigans by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
We left the three (one of whom was indeed injured) to continue their steady progress to the next two Munros and David and I started the walk back down. It was actually fairly pleasant underfoot, just grass on slopes that were reasonably even and with a not too uncomfortable angle. I even crossed a large patch of snow! As we were gabbing, but also keeping the other five in our sight, we strayed quite far west and missed the bridge which crosses the Allt Socrach. So we traversed the slopes and forded the Allt just south of the bridge. A fairly good track beckoned and soon enough we could see folk on a small rise by the loch, first two figures, then a few more. I fully expected to hear the roar of the motor as the boat sped away back east but as we got nearer it became apparent that they were waiting for us. We upped the pace and reached them at around 4.20!
Beinn Fhionnlaidh by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
in Coire Socrach, looking back up by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
2015-06-27 16.30.05 by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
We hopped on board, Angus switched on the ignition and off we went, the roar of the engine and the bumps in the water making us feel at once enclosed and elated. It was a strange sensation! The views down the loch as we looked back were gorgeous - all shades of grey (not 50 though, much more tasteful ), Beinn Fhionnlaidh to the south, An Socach and An Riabhachan to the north, receding from us. I had my back to the 'path' but I will confess to feeling a great sense of satisfaction at having avoided the long trudge back. Whether it was worth the extra 25 quid pp is another story!
Toll Creagach? by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Looking west by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr
Another great day and my last Munro for a few weeks.
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