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Rain, sun, wind and cloud: Mullardoch variations

Rain, sun, wind and cloud: Mullardoch variations

Postby Driftwood » Sun Aug 07, 2016 11:39 pm

Route description: The Loch Mullardoch Munros

Munros included on this walk: An Riabhachan, An Socach (Mullardoch), Carn nan Gobhar (Loch Mullardoch), Sgurr na Lapaich

Date walked: 14/06/2016

Time taken: 10.25 hours

Distance: 32 km

Ascent: 2100m

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After staying in Cannich for two days, with one walk in Strathfarrar, I wanted to include another longer ridge. The forecast was for worsening weather during the day, with wind and rain to follow, discouraging me from a wildcamp along Glen Affric. But the north Mullardoch hills seemed a good day's walking and required minimal driving. So I packed and prepared then drove the pleasant single-track road along Glen Cannich.

I parked on a grassy area in front of the north side of the dam, where there were already two other cars. That appeared to be the nearest parking, since there were notices forbidding parking further up by the top of the dam.
Loch Mullardoch Dam from the parking

It was a beautiful morning with blue skies and lavish sunshine when I set off at 9:15. Past the dam, I noticed several boats and tractors drawn up on a slipway area, the Loch Mullardoch "taxi" service. The broad track continues, rising and falling several times as I approached signs of activity ahead.
These turned out to be more tracks and buildings under construction alongside Allt Mullardoch, about a mile from the main dam. Work was already well underway, so I made a diversion up some heathery slopes to avoid the machinery. The usual route along these hills heads across to Mullach na Maoile (visible here), but my plan was to follow the track for another mile uphill.
Hydro and track construction near Allt Mullardoch

The large bulldozed track continued for some way, though quieter now, then stopped, leaving an older hill track that felt less intrusive. I continued uphill alongside the Allt Mullardoch, feeling warm in the mid-morning sunshine but wanting to make progress while the walking was straightforward. I was heading not for the first Munro, Carn nan Gobhar, but the Top Creag Dubh about 1.25 miles further east along the ridge.
Approaching Carn nan Gobhar (centre) and Creag Dubh

When the track turned right (eastwards), I continued alongside the burn for a while, part of the way along traces of path. Then I paused for a snack and to top up with water, trying to ensure that I had enough for the long ridge ahead. If the weather kept this warm, then it would take a lot to stay hydrated.
Refreshed and prepared, I struck uphill over heathery slopes, then those gave way to thinner turf and scattered stones as the gradient became easier. There is a large and well-built cairn, very substantial for a "mere Top", which offered a fine view of the ridge ahead. Or at least halfway, for the bulk of Sgurr na Lapaich concealled the hills beyond. There was also a lot of ascent to go, so no time to be dallying and taking in the panoramas.
Onwards from Creag Dubh

From Creag Dubh, I descended a broad ridge southwest then turned more westerly for a similar ascent. Carn nan Gobhar is broad enough that I lost sight of its cairns during the ascent, but easy going and took only 25 minutes more. This was helped by cloud coming from the east, overtaking me and brushing past the very tip of Sgurr na Lapaich.
Sgurr na Lapaich from Carn nan Gobhar

I only paused long enough for a few photos, then headed downhill. This becomes steeper than the ridge so far, but even over stony ground was not bad going. I was a little more concerned about the path ahead, especially if the weather following me caught up while ascending the rugged-looking east ridge of Sgurr na Lapaich. There was already a brisk breeze and the forecast suggested wind strong enough to have an affect on walking, as well as showers.
Clouds crossing Strathfarrar to Creag Dubh

I paused in the shelter of a massive boulder just before Bealach na Cloiche Duibhe. This offered enough of a wind-break to take an early bite of lunch and consider the route. Closer up, the ridge didn't look quite so formidable, though it would be exposed to most weather coming in from the east. Cloud continued to build and get lower, bringing hints of rain, so I pulled on my waterproofs. It shows how much the temperature had dropped that I didn't feel overheated despite the extra layer for the subsequent ascent.
I noticed two figures in the distance descending the south ridge past Sgurr na Clachan Geala, presumably to avoid the weather. But I carried on to meet the thickening cloud despite wind-blown drizzle. There is an unobtrusive but very helpful path that made the ridge a pleasure to walk, fading a few times for boulder-fields but starting again soon after. Some banks of dirty snow lay here and there, so I tried to avoid them in favour of solid footing.
I did eventually leave the path much higher up, turning left rather than crossing a further stretch of snow. The rough boulderfield called for care, especially in dense cloud and drizzly wind, but I found my way to a rock shelter around the squat stone-built trig point, about 1.25 hours after Carn nan Gobhar.
Sgurr na Lapaich trig and shelter

The normal way to continue from here is southwest, but again I planned a variation. Sgurr na Clachan Geala to the south is a Munro Top, so I wanted to include it in the walk if at all possible. That seemed quite testing due to the weather conditions reducing visibility to only 30-40 paces and the rocky ground, including steep corries and precipitous crags dropping away to the east.
I took a bearing slightly west of south to avoid those corries, probably more west than was actually necessary. Then, after 600 paces, cautiously east of southwards. Those brought me up to a stony bealach, then the ridge narrowed to ascend. As often in the cloud when picking targets just a stone's throw away, it felt a much longer distance and ascent than the map indicates. But I eventually reached the summit about 25 minutes after its parent Munro. Time for another cairn photo in the mist while trying to shelter my camera from the weather.
Sgurr nan Clachan Geala

I was uncertain about continuing through this weather, but the wind was bearable and drizzle also seemed to be stopping. So I took a northwesterly bearing to descend, first over stones and rocks then more grassy ground. That brought me to thinning cloud and glimpses of the corrie ahead. I continued a descending traverse over damp and boggy ground to join the southwest ridge of Sgurr na Lapaich.
Sgurr nan Clachan Geala towards Creagan Toll an Lochain

The breadth of hill behind me offered some protection from the wind, but even so the weather seemed to be improving. I crossed the damp bealach with clear views of a further considerable ascent, a path winding up Creagan Toll an Lochain. There is a lot of height to regain from the bealach, but I found it very comfortable going in the cooling breeze. Cloud swept by, but its base rose as fast as me, so I wasn't in the mist for long and even the high ridge ahead was soon clear.
Ascending Creagan Toll an Lochain

I took a break at the large cairn partway along An Riabhachan, mainly because it offered some helpful shelter from the gusting winds. Another walker appeared far to the west - probably almost a mile away - but retreated southeast towards Sron na Fritha instead of approaching. So I had the hills to myself and had another installment of lunch (it was 2:15pm) while relishing the sunshine.
An Riabhachan back to Sgurr na Lapaich

The wind speed made me wonder again whether to continue or retreat as everyone else seemed to be doing. It felt over the forecast 30+ miles per hour (that was for 900+ metres and I was at 1100+ metres on the ridge), but the footing was dry and secure and I've experienced worse on other days. So I decided to continue once refuelled, enjoying the stunning surroundings now that I could see them once again.
An Riabhachan from the west top

Moments after that photo, I met a female ptarmigan with several chicks. As often happens, their camouflage meant that I only noticed them once already close. So I took a rapid diversion to let her get back to sheltering the chicks, turning left off the path from the western top. My diversion led down some steep ground, then a mountain hare bounded away over stones and grass. I followed them at a much more cautious pace to rejoin the path, staying with that down some rocky "steps".
An Riabhachan west ridge and An Socach

There's a further top along this ridge, which I visited trying not to miss any. Then rejoined the path (which bypasses it close by) for the descent to Bealach Bholla. There's some mild semi-scrambling along this stage, so I was glad that the bulk of the hill sheltered me from the wind which had been blustering across the ridge. There were views across to the Loch Monar hills, with shadows over those I'd walked last year and an enticing look at their neighbours to the northeast.
The Loch Monar hills

I headed onwards, with another ridge to ascend beyond the bealach. An Socach is quite narrow and steep from this angle, but a path guides upwards and there are only a few hints of scrambling. From memory, there nothing that made me stow my walking poles, though sometimes I did need a hand or other contact to help steadying. Though it may feel quite different in wetter conditions, or if the wind had come from another direction.
An Socach across Bealach Bholla

I visited the East Top of An Socach, then a pleasant stretch of ridge to the main summit. The wind remained strong, so I did take care - especially to avoid my faded but invaluable mountain cap from being blown away. These tops show off the impressive eastern corrie, with crags and very steep green slopes dropping away from a long south ridge. The afternoon sunshine (it was around 4pm by now) didn't suit photography in that direction, but I could admire familiar and yet-unvisited hills off to my northwest.
Torridon beyond Bidean a' Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor

With the afternoon passing and long distance still to go, I only took a brief break on the wind-blown top. Then headed round the ridge, following the path and a curious sort of trench (though not much use for walking out of the wind). The hill descends only gradually at first, but that offered magnificent prospects over the deep corrie towards the other Mullardoch hills and their neighbours. This photo shows something of the cloud front much further east, approaching rather swiftly as the afternoon drew to an end.
An Riabhachan from An Socach

The high ridge also afforded me a view of three Corbetts quite close to the west. I'd walked (blundered might be more accurate) over Sguman Coinntich only four days before. Apart from seeing what I had missed then, it also helped to confirm some of the route taken when I'd gone astray. And there's always room in a walk report for a view that includes the Skye Cuillin.
Sguman Coinntich, Faochaig and Aonach Buidhe

The strong wind persisted during my descent, quite possibly funnelled along Loch Mullardoch. It's about 3 miles just go get down from An Socach, even before the very long walk out beside the Loch, which started to seem like a doomed race against the incoming weather.
Descent from Meall a' Chaisg

The walking was still easy, only becoming a bit steeper once I turned east and aimed towards Meall Bac a' Chul-dhoire.
Common cow-wheat

There are a lot of peat hags in this section, calling for a decision on which way to head. I took the easiest option (more or less the WH route) of turning left across the peat, which was pretty dry and springy walking at the time. So they did need some diversions, but didn't add much difficulty. The best way across peat hags, at least when they're dry, seems to be walking along the base, rather than trying to climb in and out repeatedly.
An Socach east top across Coire Mhaim

After a stop for water and crossing Allt Coire a' Mhaim, I joined the track and followed it downhill. There were some fenced enclosures in the corrie, which I didn't investigate but looked like tree plantings. The track sheds some height and accompanies the stream towards a building and the junction of several paths.
There was a lot of fern beside the track, giving me a foretaste of the lochside path ahead. This starts out quite gently, but is soon clinging to steep vegetated slopes above the north short of the Loch. The path rises and falls, with some burns to cross, made trickier where the hillside has slipped away to the bare rocky lochside below. I'd decided to wear my waterproof overtrousers, not due to the weather but as additional protection from tick attention.

The cloud came in, looking dark ahead though late-afternoon light still reached me from behind, to the west. Although the wind continued, it brought only slight sprinkles rather than real rain. But it was enough to encourage me to keep up as good a pace as I could manage for the very long and rough path. Narrow sections high above the landslips were much more unnerving than anything high on the hills above, making me particularly relieved that the weather was remaining dry.
Passing beneath Creag a' Chaise, I met one group who seemed unphased by the conditions. They were more wary of me, but trotted easily down to the lochside where several of the Billys put on a display of head-butting.
Wild goats on the lochside path

Further slogging along the path brought me to a broader burn crossing, though this posed no problems in the summer conditions. This was also a welcome end to the rough path around steep slopes. That felt enough of a relief that I didn't mind some wetter ground and the path becoming fainter. From map-checking afterwards, I may have found more of a path if I'd turned left and uphill, but instead kept more-or-less contouring eastwards along the lochside.
Allt Taige

I continued to the south of a small conifer wood, by which point there wasn't much more than a deer-path through the ferns. There were hints of drizzle, but I was walking briskly enough that the early evening felt fairly warm. I eventually left the path to cross an old fence-line which brought me to the construction site beside Allt Mullardoch.
The hydro work had long since finished for the day so I could walk straight through and rejoin the large bulldozed track. On my way out, I noticed a concrete pillar on some raised ground at the north end of the Mullardoch dam, looking like a trig point but presumably just made to build the dam.
Track leaving Loch Mullardoch

Once back at the car, I was glad to change from boots to lightweight shoes and have beaten the approaching weather. This turned out to be good timing, since rain began around the time that I reached Cannich and fell heavily for the rest of the evening. Only one mistake spoiled the day, since I managed to leave my walking poles at the packing area. And, worse yet, I didn't discover that until nearly two days later when I was many miles away in the Cairngorms.

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