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Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich


Postby Mal Grey » Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:29 pm

Munros included on this walk: Sgurr a'Mhaoraich

Date walked: 05/04/2016

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 11.1 km

Ascent: 1001m

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Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich


The road to Kinloch Hourn could almost be the definition of the “Long and Winding Road”, and must be one of the UK’s longest cul-de-sacs. There’s something exciting about turning off the A87 and heading towards distant Kinloch Hourn, 22 miles of single track road through spectacular scenery. At first, the scene is almost pastoral, winding through woods and fields past farms and the occasional house. As you approach the Loch Quoich dam, the scenery becomes wilder, and the road a little rougher, before you contour the flanks of the great hills of Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach, above the open waters of the loch, beyond which lie the fabled hills of Knoydart.


Unfortunately, it always seems to be raining when I drive this wonderful Highway to Heaven, and it was no different on the day in early April on which my old mate Steve and I approached the bridge over the northern arm of Loch Quoich, the day after our walk to the Easan Dorcha “Tea House” (http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=61672). Here we intended to park at the foot of the path climbing to Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich, but roadworks mean all the obvious spots were full of piles of gravel. Instead, we carried on until a big, slightly soggy, gravel area by the sheepfold instead, which was actually conveniently half-way between the two paths we were planning to use for our ascent and descent. As we got ourselves ready, I spotted a lone canoe on the loch, and I must admit I became a little jealous, for the waters were calm and quiet, and instead of paddling out into tranquillity, I was choosing to head up into the clouds and no doubt rain heavier than the gentle spitting drizzle we were currently experiencing. However, I was determined to get a hill in on this trip. I’d been in Scotland for 10 days now, 8 of which were spent on and around Loch Maree in the canoe (or pulling it for hours across highland tracks, another story of more interest to canoeists: http://www.songofthepaddle.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?51245-The-Pirates-of-Loch-Maree-and-the-Portage-to-Nowhere ), and Steve had joined me specifically to get a mountain in, so motivation quickly returned.


We walked along the road back to the point where the stalker’s track up Bac nan Canaichean leaves the road, and started our climb. This must rank as one of the easiest ways to get to 800m that I have done, even easier than that on Gleouraich opposite, and we wound our way steadily up the hillside towards the hanging ceiling of grey clouds, with occasional glimpses of the hills around us.


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At around 700m, the track levels off for a while, skirting the edge of the slopes falling to the grey waters of Loch Quoich.


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Tussocky brown grass gives way to short grass studded with stones, before the slopes steepen towards the subsidiary top of Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach. Here we came across our first snow patch. The night before, we’d spoken to a group in the hostel who’d done this hill that day, and they’d suggested we’d not need winter gear. We hoped they were right, as we’d taken them at their word, and left the ice axes in the car. Fortunately, the snow was old, sugary stuff, but plenty firm enough for kicking steps up, and we were never exposed to any drops.


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We didn’t pause on the top here, dropping onto the continuation ridge towards the Munro itself. Most of the books seem to be a little dismissive of Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich, but I was pleased to find that, glimpsed through the odd gap in the clouds, the ridge ahead looked interesting.


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Occasionally, the clouds would lift a little and allows us glimpses into the coire below us, Coire a’ Chaorainn, which must be magnificent to see on a fine day.


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I’d been a little worried about not bringing winter gear, justifying it by telling myself it was too warm for ice, and that we could always turn back. Ahead of us, the ridge loomed upwards into threatening clouds, and as we approached the summit slopes, we were forced from its edge onto its flanks by glimpses of wet rocks and snow patches. This may prove to be a doddle in good weather, but today it seemed wise to follow the many footprints outflanking the steepening on the southern side. This led us into a snowy bowl, which we would have to cross before climbing out of the far side and returning to the ridge above the outcrops. I was pleased to find that the snow remained in good nick, there was no long drop below us, just a gentle run out, and that I’d probably not have used an ice axe even if I’d brought it with me. Just my paranoia of being out in the hills on snow with 25 years of winter walking experience telling me I should have brought the gear!


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Regaining the ridge, ahead lay the summit headwall. OK, maybe that makes it sound a bit more dramatic than it was, but the ridge does meet the flank of the mountain and the way ahead suddenly steepen. We worked our way upwards, sometimes on rock, sometimes on snow. At one point it took us close to the edge for a short steep section, and below and to the right was a drop into the corrie. I will fully admit that here I would have preferred to have the ice axe with me, as for the first time there was a slight possibility that a slip could take you into dangerous ground. I stopped and assessed the risks. The snow remained firm, the distance was short. We had a brief chat, deciding that the risk was manageable, and I shortened poles and started upwards carefully. It was easy in the end, and soon I was on the summit ridge, looking back as Steve appeared over the edge, looking more dramatic than it actually was.


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The clag was down properly, but it wasn’t raining, and we headed onwards to the summit, after checking the compass bearing.


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It was pretty bleak on top, there was no shelter from a damp, chilly wind, so we dropped back down the ridge a little before stopping for a soup and a sandwich and a good look at the map. Lunch over, we briefly returned the way we’d come. Our choice of descent route, though, was different to the ascent, and we needed to find the gentle looking south ridge. A bump and slight dog-leg in the main ridge meant that a direct compass bearing was better than following the ridge, and with the clag properly down it was time to trust our navigation and head off into the unknown. It felt as if we should be following the ridge, but the compass said no, head off to its side, and of course, it was right.


An easy descent soon brought us below the clouds. These were due to have cleared by 1pm, but clearly hadn’t seen the forecast as they were stubbornly clinging to the summits for the whole day, though the odd bright patch scuttered across the hill sides. Looking across to our ascent ridge, we could now see that subsidiary summit we’d crossed in the clouds.


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As we reached wetter ground, we started to get some proper views. The cloud were a little higher than before, and the views into Knoydart becoming spectacular.


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For some reason, having removed our waterproofs, Steve had a super-hero transformation, turning into The Blue Gimp whilst my back was turned.


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The final slopes were romped down easily to the point where we joined the stalker’s track down to the road. This proved to be a little wetter than the excellent ascent track, but speeded our process to the road. To the south, Sgurr Mor was finally clear of cloud.


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A short walk along the road brought a return of the rain, but only a light shower, and soon we were back at the car. It had been an excellent walk, just enough interesting terrain to avoid it being a featureless trog, and the conditions actually make it more satisfying in many ways. And at least I’d managed one summit this "winter"!


As we returned through the roadworks, they were in the middle of digging a trench so we had to wait for a few minutes. This was no hardship though, for ahead of us a magnificent rainbow stretched over Glen Quoich, a fitting end to a superb day on the hill.


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Last edited by Mal Grey on Fri Apr 22, 2016 8:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby BobMcBob » Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:46 pm

Splendid stuff with some great photos. I've never been down that road and I toyed with the idea the very same day you did this walk. In the end I went for Loch Arkaig instead and judging by your photos you definitely had the better of it :)
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby Jaxter » Fri Apr 22, 2016 2:23 pm

totally agree about pants weather sometimes increasing the satisfaction! You against the elements :D

Glad you managed to get some views though, a wee bit of cloud lifting occasionally makes everything seem so much better :lol: I've still to do this one so will looking forward to the long and winding road :D
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby Cairngorm creeper » Fri Apr 22, 2016 7:19 pm

It looks all looks very atmospheric from your photos .
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby Graeme D » Fri Apr 22, 2016 10:52 pm

You missed me by a couple of days! I got a good eyeful of Mhaoraich on the way up Gleouraich and checked out future ascent routes. Must say that is the first time I have seen a Blue Gimp on a Munro! :lol:
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby Mal Grey » Sat Apr 23, 2016 8:53 am

BobMcBob wrote:Splendid stuff with some great photos. I've never been down that road and I toyed with the idea the very same day you did this walk. In the end I went for Loch Arkaig instead and judging by your photos you definitely had the better of it :)


Thanks. The Arkaig road is nearly as long, and definitely more windy!!!
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby Mal Grey » Sat Apr 23, 2016 8:55 am

Jaxter wrote:totally agree about pants weather sometimes increasing the satisfaction! You against the elements :D

Glad you managed to get some views though, a wee bit of cloud lifting occasionally makes everything seem so much better :lol: I've still to do this one so will looking forward to the long and winding road :D


Cheers. Over the years I've become more wimpy about weather, but this reminded me that its often worth going out anyway. Its a good hill.
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby Mal Grey » Sat Apr 23, 2016 8:56 am

Cairngorm creeper wrote:It looks all looks very atmospheric from your photos .


Aye, felt it, especially on the snowy bits below the dripping rocky outcrops looming out of the mist. Thanks.
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby Mal Grey » Sat Apr 23, 2016 8:57 am

Graeme D wrote:You missed me by a couple of days! I got a good eyeful of Mhaoraich on the way up Gleouraich and checked out future ascent routes. Must say that is the first time I have seen a Blue Gimp on a Munro! :lol:


They're very rare, thankfully. Though I'm sure Steve said something about seeing a Grey Gimp on the hills on many occasions over the years, can't think what he'd mean...

:crazy:
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby dogplodder » Mon Apr 25, 2016 8:14 pm

Love this hill and even in the cloud it's got that magical quality. 8)
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Tue Apr 26, 2016 7:43 pm

dogplodder wrote:Love this hill and even in the cloud it's got that magical quality. 8)


Great report and I agree about the magic. The photos are wonderfully atmospheric.

This is one of my favourite hills I've done (so far) in Scotland (and not just because of the weather I was lucky enough to have - http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=60802 ).

Tim
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby jamesb63 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 8:04 pm

Really enjoyed your report Mal ,and I do like the russet colours
of the hills in your photos :clap: :clap:
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby Silverhill » Wed Apr 27, 2016 9:43 pm

This is a great hill, shame that you didn't get all the views. Though the cloud does add drama to your pictures. I remember that headwall. It did come as a bit of surprise after the easy ridge! 8)
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Apr 28, 2016 10:21 pm

Thanka again folks.


Tim, you're linked report is full of some fantastic photos, really interesting to see the ridge without clouds all over it. Looked far harder in the mist than it actually is.
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Re: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Oct 15, 2018 3:07 pm

Nice to see this one in green.

I walked it in white, and - wusses both - we must have skirted the scrambles, because I have no recollection at all of scrambling. But nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed walking the ridge from Sa'M to Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach - fantastic views.
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