Glen Affric Five - or a date with destiny
by old danensian » Fri May 20, 2016 6:07 pm
Munros included on this walk: Beinn Fhionnlaidh (Carn Eige), Carn Eige, Mam Sodhail, Toll Creagach, Tom a'Choinich
Date walked: 14/05/2016
Time taken: 11.15 hours
Distance: 34 km
Ascent: 2150m6 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).
Mam Sodahail, Beinn Fhionnlaidh and Car Eige were the fixed targets for the day, the three central Munros on the northern side of Glen Affric. However, the most important opportunity was to make my first visit to a glen about which people had eulogised and encouraged me to visit for ages. David Hayman's re-runs of the old Weir's Way; browsing through my old copies of W A Poucher's books of photographs; the redoubtable McNeish; my stack of old Colin Baxter calendars: they all portrayed a glen of beauty and allure.
With Fife Flyer's invitation to join his merry band on a boat trip up Loch Mullardoch, the orbits of fate had finally aligned themselves to lure me there.
My chilly day began at 7.15am from the car park at the end of the Glen Affric road and, although the start was clear in my mind, it's end still remained an uncertainty. What would influence decisions in the last stages of the day? Would the decision to descend simply be down to an imminent physical collapse or a supposedly sensible one based on the need to be capable of a big day to follow?
It was -1 when I left the car park after sharing plans and a brief conversation with a fellow walker at the pay-and-display machine. We shared the track towards Affric Lodge for a while before her red jacket disappeared up a path to the right and started her ascent to Mam Sodhail via Sgurr an Lapaich.
"Maybe see you later," we chimed in unison.
My own start to the day had been influenced by my desire to enjoy Glen Affric and also to take advantage of a longer yet more gentle gradient up Glen Leachavie. Contours on the map were well-spaced all the way to the head of the glen and suggested a less demanding approach than the high-level route. It would emerge from the corrie within a hundred metres of the top. I can do without steep, brutal slopes if they can be avoided: it must be something to do with age.
Anyway, after nearly six kilometres, a quick incline from the Affric track revealed the path stretching ahead just as I'd hoped. It wasn't an amble, but it wasn't a slog and an hour later I was pondering a potential quandary. The rim of the corrie was banked with snow and the occasional shadow hinted at a cornice or two that might hinder progress. I could work out a safer diversion that would bring me out on the ridge to the east of Mam Sodhail, but didn't fancy the tightly bunched contours that needed crossing to get me there.
Getting closer however, I could just make out the faint line of footsteps in the snow, so progress along my original route was possible. In the end, my planned route was all I hoped it would be, and worthwhile recommending to anyone wanting a gentler, back door approach to Mam Sodhail. The bealach was largely bereft of snow, and at close-quarters proved to be far more benign than the impression given from below.
A sturdily built, but roofless, stone shelter was passed on the way to the top. Then, just ten minutes after emerging from Coire Leachavie, I was standing by the ice-encrusted summit cairn enjoying the extensive views.
While reveling in the panorama, and looking at the traverse across the back of Carn Eige to Beinn Fhionnlaidh, a familiar red jacket appeared . Kaye, it's wearer who I bid au revoir to less than three hours earlier, arrived within five minutes of my own arrival on the top. So there's clearly not much difference in the time it takes when selecting the route to the top.
There then followed a bizarrely coincidental conversation.
5000 : 1 may have been the odds offered on Leicester City this season, but if anyone had the nous to open a book on this coincidence it would have been even longer: sadly I doubt I would have taken them up on it.
The odds of two WalkHighlands members meeting one another on a hill must be pretty short nowadays. However, throw in the variable that Kaye's declaration revealed and they will lengthen considerably.
"That's two hundred and twenty eight for me now," she said.
"What?" I replied. "That's my tally now as well."
"Destiny," Kaye said.
I'm sure there'll a statistical geek out there somewhere who can calculate the odds on two random strangers meeting on the top of a Munro and they've each climbed exactly the same number. If there is, there's just one thing I can say: "get a life."
For both of us the next stage of the day had identical objectives: traverse across the back of Carn Eige to Beinn Fhionnlaidh before returning over the former and crossing the pinnacles to Sron Garbh. For the sake of company and conversation, we joined forces.
Apart from shunning the obvious track, which in my foolishness I thought was heading far too low, we headed north to the outlying spur of Beinn Fhionnlaidh. After a bit of a bouldery teeter we found the path descending from Carn Eige, which made progress far easier. At the bealach bags were shed for collection on the return and we proceeded to enjoy the spectacular views into Mullardoch.
It was tempting to linger. Kaye had plans to descend from Sron Garbh into the Gleann nam Fiadh and on into Affric. By now however, I'd given voice to a plan of my own that would possibly extend the trip and bring the day's Munro count to five: take in the Toms and Toll Creagach as well. I was up there already, so why not. I could take it easy, there was no rush.
"Go on", said Kaye, "you'll manage it easily." Ah, the faith of youth I thought.
More immediately we had to take in Carn Eige before anything else was decided. Bags were collected, conversations had with others crossing from Mam Sodhail and the pull up north west ridge began. Steep bits, scrambly stretches and a gradual easing off before the very top: I was grateful to see the cairn and shelter. I'd been on the go for five and half hours now and began to realise that my day, if ambitious plans were to be met, might only be half way through. Words like "biting" "much" and "chew" sprang to mind.
"No," persisted Kaye, "you'll be fine." I shelved my scepticism, and we pressed on to savour the pinnacles and ridge that now lay ahead.
Weaving in and out, following intermittent tracks and crossing patches of snow, the following hour was a joy. Navigating the ridge epitomised everything that's to be admired about high-level walking in Scotland: the views, the challenges, the sheer scale and perspective of our own tiny part in things, and of course the sense of achievement.
By the time we reached Sron Garbh and peered down into the Garbh Bealach, it was about 2.00pm and my decision had to be made. Kaye was heading down from the bealach below and it was clear I had plenty of time to carry on to Toll Creagach if I wanted.
"We did it last week," persisted Kaye, "you'll have no problem." Ay, I thought, but it's my legs I've got to drag round another four Munros tomorrow not yours. She was hearing none of it.
So there it was: I was committed. We bade our farewells and I left my "driving destiny" to descend while I dropped into a low gear and started the climb up An Leath Chreag on the way to the two Toms and Toll.
The prospect ahead can be deceiving. Tom a Choinnich fills the horizon beyond An Leath Chreag and there's no suggestion of anything behind its flanks. You check the map just to make sure you've not got it wrong, but no. There is a lot more hill lurking behind.
After the thrill of the ridge and pinnacles we’d just passed, the next phase of the route is a contrast: long slopes leading to dome-like summits; rounded shoulders and sweeping of scree or vegetation leading gently down to the glen.
It took nearly two hours to cover the ground, climb the two Munros and reach Toll Creagach on the eastern edge of the day's outing. Clear paths simply demanded stamina and the adjustment to lone-walking after enjoying company and conversation for the middle part of the day.
To the east Strath Glass stretched away in a patchwork of browns and greens, while back to the west the snow streaked peaks and ridges of Affric and Kintail filled the horizon.
Thoughts now had to turn to the descent and the lengthy return to the car. I rejected a return to the Bealach Toll Easa from where a clear track ran down alongside the Allt Toll Easa and the Abhainn Gleann nam Fiadh. Instead, after just a couple of hundred metres heading west from the summit of Toll Creagach, I took a b-line to the glen below. Keeping to the east of the Allt a Choire Odhair, the ground stayed dry and no boggy ground was encountered. The gentle slope meant there was no slithering down steep grass or clinging with finger nails to clumps of heather: it was simply a cushioned yomp down a hill, albeit a rather long one.
Meeting the bigger track by the Abhainn Gleann nam Fiadh quicker progress could be made and I started to think that a descent within two hours might be possible after all. The Chisholme Bridge awaited, and I knew there was still going to be another mile or so on tarmac before the car was reached. So it was just a case of head down and get on with it.
The beauty of Affric was spoiled somewhat once the road was approach as construction vehicles were parked up and their impact on the newly laid broad track all too clear to see. Hopefully when the work is finished some effective reinstatement is achieved.
Wearly legs finally stumbled into the car park at 6.30pm, just over eleven hours after starting the day. The lowering sun was beginning to cast shadows and bathe the glen in a softer light. It did little to ease the body, but it certainly cheered the mind and will live as a memory long after the legs have eased.
Yes, Glen Affric was certainly worth the visit and lived up to all the hype it deservedly gets.
Now all I had to do was steel myself for another long day to follow – if Destiny hadn’t already squeezed all the energy from my limbs and lungs.
A combination of determination and companionship made the following day a success – see this for walking in the wake of the speed kings:
It left me with a healthy tally of nine Munros in two days over the weekend, after doing a further two during the previous week.
As I creaked around the house for the next few days, I was accompanied by the other half’s exclamations: “don’t expect sympathy, it’s all your own fault.” I guess she had a point.
by kaye.cantlay » Fri May 20, 2016 8:14 pm
I've been waiting all week for this report
I think I got back to the car at about 5 so you made great time.
I would definitely have joined you for the 5 if I'd not already done T&T earlier in the week.....it's designed to be walked that way
Anyway - I've got some catching up to do now. If only I lived in Scotland and didn't have to work stupid hours....
See you on another summit soon.
by Guinessman » Fri May 20, 2016 9:33 pm
by ceaser » Sat May 21, 2016 9:14 am
Myself and my friend spoke to you as we were descending the outlyer , I recognised you But I was sure I had seen your walking partner before as well .... Her post above reminded me that I spoke to her and her husband on the train to corrour last year .
by kmai1961 » Sat May 21, 2016 10:44 am
Great report, OD, eloquently spoken, as ever.
by simon-b » Sat May 21, 2016 11:50 am
by kaye.cantlay » Sat May 21, 2016 12:30 pm
I'm sorry I didn't recognise you.
I remember you were down to your last 15 Munros or so at that time - looks like you've compleated - and some
Karen - nice to meet you and your friends too....maybe see you on a summit again soon too!