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Heaven and Hell in the Monadhliath

Heaven and Hell in the Monadhliath


Postby jupe1407 » Sat Nov 26, 2016 1:10 pm

Route description: Carn Dearg, Carn Sgulain and A'Chailleach

Munros included on this walk: A' Chailleach (Monadhliath), Carn Dearg (Monadhliath), Carn Sgulain

Date walked: 24/11/2016

Time taken: 10 hours

Distance: 26 km

Ascent: 1099m

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After a magnificent walk on the snowy ridges of Carn Dearg and Sgor Gaibhre/Beinn Pharlagain on Sunday, the almost worryingly perfect winter weather seems to have continued all week. With one eye on the forecast, I'd loosely arranged to take Thursday off to walk with a friend of mine, Rob, who had the whole week off. Another ridiculously short notice annual leave request was duly submitted on Wednesday night, after a last check of the forecast pretty much confirmed it would be almost perfect winter walking.

Our chosen targets were the Monadhliath mountains, north of Newtonmore. A triple of (apparently) fairly unexciting munros, which are either a spirit-crushing bogtrot in summer, or a race to get out before darkness falls in winter. The last few days of cold night-time temperatures would have frozen over most of the boggy stuff, but we'd have around 8 hours of daylight, which meant we'd almost certainly be walking out in the dark.

The next decision is which way to walk these. We decided on anti-clockwise as we could get the first two munros done reasonably early on, giving us the option to either continue to Carn Dearg, or chuck it if a slow deep-snow trudge looked likely.

We duly arrived at the usual car park on an utterly baltic Thursday morning, just as a glorious sunrise was in the offing. At this point I was quite annoyed to realise I'd left my camera in a drawer at home, so all of these photos are mobile phone shots. At least it saved me 500 grams :lol:

Image
Sunrise from the Car Park

After a fairly quick gear sorting exercise, we were off up the path following the Allt a'Chaorainn. This was treacherously icy in places but nothing unmanageable. Soon the track degenerates to what i can only assume is a boggy shambles in non-icy conditions, and the river must be crossed (easily) aiming generally uphill to the old hut. We lost the faint path early on but just bashed through the heather and snow, soon reaching the old shack, and stopped in there for a quick bite to eat.

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Approaching the shack

It's a fascinating wee building, with names of various visitors etched into it's panels, the ceiling and even a wee "bothy book". It was a fine wee place to get a seat before continuing up the snowy slopes.

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Heading on up...

There's a slightly steeper section after the hut before things kind of flatten out to a gentle uphill pull. By now the snow was a good bit deeper, and annoyingly soft, which made for slow progress through the various drifts.

Image

However we plodded on and eventually reached the foot of the day's first munro, and indeed my 150th, A'Chailleach. The last 120m of ascent was pretty quick as we found what would prove to be one of only two stretched of solid snow all day :lol:

We soon reached the large summit cairn.

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Munro no 150, A'Chailleach - continuing my run of significant numbers on less than exciting summits :lol:

A quick bite to eat here, then we headed off for the short stretch out to Carn Sgulain. This must be a tad boggy in summer :lol: We dropped steeply down to the stream dividing the two hills before a seemingly endless deep snow trudge to the fenceline, which feature us falling through the snow a couple of times into thankfully frozen boggy dips. It was hard work, but nice to look at :lol:

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Up out of the Allt Cuil na Caillich


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Reaching the fenceline


From here it's a short pull up to what must rank as one of the blander munros on Sir Hugh's list. It's almost of Tom Buidhe proportions. Still, a winter coat makes even the duller munros look nice, and there were cracking views all round, and looking north we had a good view of the sheer desolation of the Monadhliath. Other than a few distant turbines, there's literally nothing other than rolling hills for many miles.

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Carn Sgulain Summit


It was still before midday, so we decided to walk a mile or so of the plateau along the fenceline to assess the snow, and our interest in trudging through 4.5 miles of it to reach Carn Dearg. Around the summit of Meall a'Bhothain we decided to carry on, as were weren't awful for time and the likelihood that we would rue not bothering with Carn Dearg and having to come back to it in future :lol:

The first couple of miles were OK, however the last few days started to catch up with me, with my feet starting to hurt in the stiff soled boots a little, and the less than brilliant idea of going to a fairly tough spin class the night before combining to slow me down. Even walking downhill in deep snow was tedious and I was almost beginning to wish we'd chucked it after Carn Sgulain :lol:

Image
Following the fenceposts...for miles


I couldn't even use the age-old photo-stop-which-is-really-a-breather excuse (it's not quite the same with a mobile phone) :lol: However much I was disliking the terrain, it was impossible not to appreciate the views, both of the wilderness of the Monadhliath, and the crystal clarity of the surrounding mountains, which looked magnificent in snowy garb.

Image
Across to the 'Gorms


Finally, Carn Dearg was almost within reach, with just Carn Ban to negotiate first.

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Carn Ban and Carn Dearg


As we approached the top of Carn Ban, the sun started to cast that golden late afternoon light on the hills around us. It was quite glorious.

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Late afternoon light on the Cairngorms


Carn Dearg seemed to be taking an age to give itself up. We struggled through deep snow, a couple of mini stream gulleys before finally reaching the last portion of the ascent. Absolutely shattered, we dumped the rucksacks before making the quick walk to the summit. Carn Dearg is surely the finest of the these three munros, with a nice ridge profile and a dramatic summit, with the cairn right on the edge of precipitous cliffs. We took a few photos here, before heading off, mindful that we had a likely pathless snow and heather-bash ahead of us for the next hour or so.

Image
Carn Dearg summit at last!


The descent, although initially pleasant in deep soft snow, soon became a bit dodgy as we were "finding" holes all over the place which we sank into all too regularly :lol: This was however compensated for with absolutely stunning views as the sun dropped and the skies glowed beautifully.

Image
Sunset and snow


We reached (thankfully) the base of the slope, before crossing a couple of streams. The next section, on tired legs was gruelling. A couple of Km of pathless deep snow and heather, with a few boggy traps hidden by snow for good measure. It seemed to take an eternity, and by the time we gained the more visible section of the ATV track the last of the day's light was fading.

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Last light


It was head-torch time when we reached the rather rickety-looking bridge, before another pathless heather and snow bash to reach the landrover track. It was briefly extremely relieving to hit a track, until i check the GPS and discovered we still had a 3 mile walk on hard ground, in winter boots to deal with. I was pretty much wiped out by now and as much due to tiredness as anything, managed to lose the falls contest 2-1, the first being the best just as we reached the landrover track. I believe I got as far as "there's the landy track, thank fu.." before going my length forwards :lol:

By the time we eventually reached Rob's van, I was temporarily a broken man, until I had a drink of juice and changed my socks and got into trail shoes. This was quite blissful, to say the least.

As tiring as today had been, and as miserable as a lot of the terrain had been, the walk had been a good one, with absolutely perfect clear winter conditions all day. Having said that, I'm quite pleased I won't have to do these hills again, though I may visit Carn Dearg on it's own sometime, in summer, after a 4 week drought :lol:


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jupe1407
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Re: Heaven and Hell in the Monadhliath

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Nov 27, 2016 1:28 pm

Gorgeous pics. Even the most nondescript hills are great when the weather's like this!!
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Re: Heaven and Hell in the Monadhliath

Postby Mountainlove » Sun Nov 27, 2016 7:41 pm

Well done ¬ I remember that walk being pretty tough in snow less conditions! But the photos made up for it, you got some lovely shots!!
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Re: Heaven and Hell in the Monadhliath

Postby JEfoundmybootsagain » Mon Nov 28, 2016 1:16 am

Now that's what they look like. Did these 3 20years or so ago. No snow at lower levels and nice day when left car park. lot of snow up high and whiteout from Carn Sgulain over to Carn Dearg. Absolutely freezing. One of these days when it was too cold to unzip, so just hold your pee in for hours til down. Wasn't sure I was going to make it. Love the photos.
JEfoundmybootsagain
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Re: Heaven and Hell in the Monadhliath

Postby jupe1407 » Mon Nov 28, 2016 9:17 am

Alteknacker wrote:Gorgeous pics. Even the most nondescript hills are great when the weather's like this!!


Thanks Alteknacker ... I'd says these are definitely "winter hills". Most of the munros on or near the A9 probably fall into that category, especially the west Drumochters.

Mountainlove wrote:Well done ¬ I remember that walk being pretty tough in snow less conditions! But the photos made up for it, you got some lovely shots!!


Thanks ML ... I can imagine it'd be tough in summer as well, as there look to be long stretches of unpleasant and boggy terrain + long walks both in and out. They're not easy :lol:

JEfoundmybootsagain wrote:Now that's what they look like. Did these 3 20years or so ago. No snow at lower levels and nice day when left car park. lot of snow up high and whiteout from Carn Sgulain over to Carn Dearg. Absolutely freezing. One of these days when it was too cold to unzip, so just hold your pee in for hours til down. Wasn't sure I was going to make it. Love the photos.


That sounds like pretty tough going, at least i had the views to motivate me :D
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jupe1407
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