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The Mountain Goats v The Mullardoch Munros
by J888ohn » Wed Jul 04, 2018 4:48 pm
Route description: Tom a' Choinich and Toll Creagach, Glen Affric
Munros included on this walk: An Socach (Affric), Beinn Fhionnlaidh (Carn Eige), Carn Eige, Mam Sodhail, Mullach na Dheiragain, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, Toll Creagach, Tom a'Choinich
Date walked: 30/06/2018
Time taken: 27 hours
Distance: 58 km
Ascent: 2946m11 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).
Lee and I have done quite a few multiple munro days and weekends and had been planning this for 2 years, the Mullardoch Round. 12 munros in a day, the Holy Grail of multiple munro days, something which only a few people achieve and a challenge to test us to our limits.
One of our first considerations was our route. From our research almost everyone tackled this in an anti-clockwise direction from the dam, doing the northern 4 first then the 8 southern ones. We could find no explanation as to why and logically, to us, it seemed better to do it in a clockwise direction, doing the 8 with fresh legs.
Next was timing. Straight off we agreed that we needed as much daylight as possible so looked at a weekend as close to midsummers day as possible. After all it's never that warm and sunny in Scotland so exposure wouldn't be a problem...... An early start would be necessary to get us back at latest just as it was getting dark.
Accommodation. We knew we had to start very early in the morning so had decided to take my wife's estate car, park it at the dam and turn it into a makeshift bothy. That was until I lay down in the car and realised that, even with the back seats folded flat, there was still a big gap between the front and back seats. A quick conversation with Cannich Campsite meant we could go there, park the car outwith the campsite and therefore sneak out early in the morning and drive off without disturbing everyone else. The campsite was only 9 miles from the dam too so was an ideal basecamp.
Food and drink. We both carry 3ltr platypus water packs which is usally ample. We knew we would have to top this up and I hoped the 3ltrs would do us until we dropped down from the 8 and got to the loch. For food we each carried 4 of the Wayfarer food packs, 1 mint cake, many fruit bars, dried fruit, jelly beans and energy tablets. I even took some Hydration tablets for the first time.
Gear and packing. We wanted to be as light as possible but as prepared as possible, a careful balancing act. The weather forecast was good so I ditched my usual backup fleece preferring to take a long sleeved, lightweight running top and a T-shirt for once the sun was up. The waterproof jacket was always getting packed but the waterproof trousers were ditched until the last minute when a forecast said there was a chance of rain (I think their meteorologist needs training!). Gaitors were left at home, spare socks were carried, lightweight gloves and hat (considered leaving these but the weight was negligable). We shared the 4 required maps between us and had a GPS each. To be honest, when I packed then lifted my rucksack I was suprised at how little it weighed and spent hours worrying I'd forgotten something important. I'd considered using my trail walking trainers instead of hiking boots for this but decided they did not offer enough protection for my feet or ankles, considering how clumsy I am at times. We each had a headtorch and had purchased a bivvy bag too.
So the car was packed and off to Cannich we went, arriving mid afternoon on Friday with plenty of time to set up camp, get a good meal at the local pub and be in bed for 6.30pm.
My friend, David Parry, runs a not for profit organisation called Team Akobe Marathon (find it on Facebook). The goal is to motivate people to be active, whether it is to walk a mile right up to something extreme like this or an Ultra Marathon. The point is to get off the couch! He sets many challenges through the year and had kindly allowed this to be a TAM, with special medals if we completed it. I promised to try to keep the community updated if we got a signal.
I hate getting up early, even for work, but the alarm went off at 1am and I was up like a shot, excited and keen to get going. Lee was too and we had a breakfast pack then set off for the dam. It's funny the things you see in the countryside when you are an urban dweller. Within a few miles I had seen two badgers running along the road. I have never seen one of them before except when they have been run down on the motorway.
Parked at the south end of the dam and set off at 2.10am. It was dark, cloudy and quite cool. We set off up the private road but soon had to leave this and negotiate our way through the pathless heather hill side. This was a nightmare, but one we had known about and again thought it would be better to tackle with fresh legs. With it being dark there was very little to navigate with so we used the GPS, a handy deer fence and a tactic of head west with an uphill angle to make our way through it. We stayed to the east of Allt Fraoch-choire, were fighting against the natural growing angle of the heather and it felt like it was pushing back against us. It was damp from the overnight cloud too and before long our trousers were wet above the knees. So much for not needing gaiters.
Luckily the cloud was an inversion, so as we climbed up into the clear air we could see where we were going and aimed for the low point to the east of Munro 1, Toll Creagach. Soon we didn't need the head-torches as the sun was rising in the east behind us and the sky was starting to turn a beautiful red. As we made the low point the moon was still shining high in the west, and it turned out our world was one of peaks breaking through a complete carpet of cloud inversion. With the mixture of light from the moon and sun it was an amazing spectacle, almost mystical like we'd literally climbed from one world to another.
The hike up to the summit of Toll Creagach was routine, which was great because I couldn't stop taking pictures. Then the magic happened. A tiny slither of red appeared above the mountains in the east and, quicker than I thought, a new red sun started to rise. It was spectacular. The contrast of the black mountains, grey cloud and red sky with the glowing sun in the middle is something that will live with me forever. I was so glad we'd got up early. With the moon set in the west it felt like we were between two days.
The summit of Toll Creagach was flat and expansive and was a great viewpoint for what was going on around us. I wandered round for a bit taking some photos. The way ahead to Tom a'Choinich was clear to see and looked spectacular in the light of the early morning.
Once we'd taken in the views we set off for Munro 2, Tom a'Choinich. This was all pretty routine and it didn't take long to summit. The sun was rising quickly as was the temperature and by the time were reached summit 2 it was time to ditch the long sleeves for the T-shirts and get the sun cream on. It was still early morning!
The next section of the hike was where the fun started. The ridge is easy to follow but as we approached the minor summit (I use minor very loosely!) it got steep, twisty and a bit exposed. Excellent, just the stuff we like! It was tough compared to the previous two but quick enough and we popped out onto the summit. It felt like we'd climbed high enough for this to be number 3, Carn Eige. I wasn't happy though. Something didn't feel right. I checked the GPS and map several times and realised we were on Sron Garbh. Seriously, this wasn't a Munro after that climb??!?!?!? Carn Eige was still a fair distance away and we had to walk over two further minor summits to get there. I'd mistaken Loch a Choire Dhomhain for Coire Lochan which added to my confusion. Onwards then, and as we got to Stob Coire Dhomhnuill we got our view of Carn Eige and Mam Sodhail. They were monsters!
It wasn't particularly taxing hiking along here but occasionally there were some rocky bits to scramble across and plenty to keep our interest, as well as the constant views all around.
The final climb up to Carn Eige was again steep and rocky but once we were at the top it was so worth it. Now there was a kind of rainbow haze in the sky above the summits, the sky was clear blue and everything above the cloud inversion was so green and lush. Beinn Fhionnlaidh was directly to the north of us and looked tiny compared to Carn Eige but was itself over 1000m. That was the thing with this walk, very rarely were we below 1000m but we seemed to be continually ascending and descending a fair distance, or that was what it felt like at least.
I wasn't particularly hungry here, we'd been munching a fruit bar on each summit but it was getting warm. I didn't think we'd went through that much water either, but didn't check. We'd discussed leaving our packs on Carn Eige to walk to Fhionnlaidh but that was discounted so we could keep water with us, plus we were hoping we could avoid having to summit Eige again to get to Mam Sodhail. The climb down Eige was really steep and loose and was slow going. Fhionnlaidh looked close but took us just over an hour to summit. With it jutting out from the rest of the hills it was a great viewpoint and from here we could see our next 4 Munros all gathered round Gleann a'Choilich. There was some distance to go and we were only on number 4.......
Lee had started talking about where to get water from. To be honest I wasn't sure where. I'd read there was maybe something between Sodhail and Socach but didn't know where. Everywhere was still covered in cloud inversion so I said if we get round the 8 we can shelter in the cloud and cooler temperatures and assess from there. I decided to concentrate on Mam Sodhail first. Looking at Carn Eige from Fhionnlaidh there was a path off to the right that seemed to bypass the summit and the rock fields that had fallen onto the western face of the mountain. We'd had experience before of traversing through rock fields, it was a very slow, awkward and foot punishing exercise which I wanted to avoid. We decided to see where this path led us and try to skirt round the bottom of the rock fields then take a diagonal line up to the col between Eige and Sodhail.
The path did indeed lead us to a traverse but disappeared quite quickly leaving us to pick our line through the slope. It wasn't too steep but this far into the walk and the heat meant our feet were starting to feel it. I was conscious that Lee had slowed down and kept asking if he was ok. He wasn't, he was struggling. I thought that maybe the thought of water was playing on his mind but he was really struggling with the heat. Sods law as I was hoping the cloud would stay it burned off in a matter of minutes. We were both wearing hats but when Lee took his off his head was really red from overheating. We ended up stopping and sitting on one of the rock fields of Carn Eige's western side. I could see the huge summit cairn of Sodhail, it wasn't far away and I could also see the low point we were aiming for. Lee was saying he probably couldn't make Sodhail. We certainly couldn't stay where we were. The mountain was shielding us from the breeze and the sun was reflecting off the rocks so it was baking hot. I had to get him shelter, shade and refuelled. I was feeling a bit hungry but ok energy wise. I convinced Lee to take a bar. He struggled to eat it cause his mouth wasn't creating enough saliva and he wasn't particularly enjoying it. I knew he was eyeing up the river in the valley. We talked for a few minutes and agreed to go for Sodhail and take lunch in the shaded side of the cairn. With being up so early our body clocks were all over the place. We hadn't eaten anything proper for 9 hours so it was time for lunch.
We both made our way round to the low point and thankfully found another path that took us up towards it. I think this lifted Lee's spirits as we were no longer going ad-hoc cross country. The climb up to the summit of Sodhail was again steep and twisty through the rocks. I let Lee lead as he has a very steady pace going uphill and I described him as like a diesel engine, just keeps going but rarely stops. I think he took it as a compliment
The cairn on Sodhail was huge and thankfully gave us some shade even in the high sun. Definitely lunch time so we had a meal pack, mint cake and bars. This was when we checked the water situation. Down to a litre each. Feck. Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan was miles away and there was still Mullach na Dheiragain to do after that before dropping to the loch. This was becoming a big problem. I'd already been rationing my intake in case Lee ran out.
The best option we had was to drop down towards An Socach and hope to find water. I knew we couldn't do the rest of the south side without it and saw there was a good trail out of the valley below to Loch Mullardoch so we at least had a way out. We both felt better after lunch but the climb down from Sodhail took it's toll on our feet. Steep, rocky, awkward and sloping off to the right, by the time we found a path it felt like I was walking on the coarsest of sandpaper, it was very uncomfortable. I'd hoped to save my other pair of socks for the north side but couldn't hold out. It was a big drop from Sodhail to get to the climb up to Socach, something that took us below the water table. All of a sudden I heard the sound of a bubbling stream. WATER!!!!!!!! Where was it?????? Just down the slope from the path a small underground stream had appeared from under the grass. It was falling over a tiny waterfall into a pool. It certainly looked clear and fresh and at this point neither of us were particularly caring. I had some purification tablets if needed. A quick taste confirmed it was clean and fresh. Excellent. Both Platypus were filled to the brim and off we went, relieved to have solved the water situation and have another 3ltrs each. If we hadn't have found that the hike was over.
Despite An Socach being one of the smallest Munros on the route it was not easy. Our louping feet didn't help, neither did the false summits. We rested for a long time on the summit considering our options. Time was going on, we both agreed the 12 was gone. Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan looked still miles away and huge. It would take quite an effort to get up that, then we had to wander along the ridge to Dheiragain. We couldn't up the pace. Between the fatigue, heat and now our damaged feet we were going as fast as we could. At least the views were good. We were now close to the Glen Shiel Munros which we'd completed last year and were able to pick out summits that we'd been on. Another meal pack was consumed here along with more mint cake.
We changed socks here and examined our feet. Lee had a couple of blisters that we took care of with compeeds. My feet just looked worn. The change of socks helped for a short period of time but the sandpaper feeling returned all too quickly.
The hike to Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan was long, tiring, hot, rocky and steep. It's a stunning mountain to look at and I did appreciate the technical aspect of it. There were several steep climbs to plateaus then the final climb to the summit is very steep and zig zags up. Again Lee was in the lead, by this time I was happy to follow his heels. The summit is quite narrow and is a superb viewpoint. We could see the Cullin ridge in Skye to the west and Torridon in the north with Beinn Eighe very distinctive on the skyline.
Now we discussed how to get back to the car. It was an 8 mile walk along the loch back to the dam. That was so demoralising and I didn't know if my feet could take it. Lee said we should get to the 8th, Mullach na Dheiragain, we should see if we have a signal, contact one of our wives to get them to give us the number for the ferry. Good plan, a glimmer of hope. Another water check, down to a litre each again!!!! No obvious water source until the loch, time to ration again.
Off to the 8th we went. The descent from Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, if you're not in our condition, is brilliant. A steep and narrow ridge with loads of steps and turns. Unfortunately, my feet especially, were not loving anything but flat ground. Any large step or uneven ground and I got a shoot of pain through the sole of my foot. Luckily the walk to no 8 is quite gentle and undulating. The sun was starting to go down and some cloud had gathered out to the west which gave a nice view over towards Skye.
Once at Mullach na Dheiragain we had a mobile signal so I managed to contact my wife Manda to get her to google the number for the ferry. She got it for us and I phoned it. Answer machine. Bugger. Left a message anyway and told him we'd be down in an hour.
We descended into Coire Aird. This was a welcome, grassy, soft and fairly steady descent as we followed the Allt Cam down to the loch. We still hadn't found water but there had to be some down here. Luckily we again found a little babbling stream and filled both platypus and my spare sports bottle which we'd also finished. I tried not to think about the ferry as it would give me false hope, but once the loch was in view I couldn't help it. We had no mobile signal now so we didn't know if it was coming. It wasn't. At least now we had water again.
As we descended we noticed a land rover track and joined that for some better ground. This took us close to the loch and we dropped onto the sand, the water level was really low, and followed this round the eastern then northern shore. We knew the path from the northern Munros to the loch was high above us and neither of us could face the ascent, so we took the long way for a shortcut and just followed the line of the loch. That was fine on the sand, I got some relief. Once onto the pebbles and rocks it was agony on my feet.I really started to slow and lose my focus. That did me no good at all, what could I do anyway? It was walk or I'm not getting back to the car. Lee was now in the lead and I had to focus on staying with him. If he was suffering he was doing a good job of hiding it from me. He was probably more focused.
He suggested I stopped and ate something. I had another fruit bar. I didn't want to but he was right. We've been climbing mates for many years and know each other well. I can't actually think of a time we've argued and we always look out for one another. It helped to focus me and gave me a little bit more energy.
We walked right along the north shore until we got to the narrowing point where we turned due north to go meet the path which had now dropped to the lochside. I was hoping for a nice path to get out on. It wasn't. It was basically a trail that had been trampled through the long grass and ferns and was full of hidden rocks, dips, inclines and all sorts of things my feet hated. I had to ask Lee to stay closer to me. If I could just focus on his heels I could keep a decent pace with him, if he pulled away I just faded. He was definitely suffering now but charged on and stayed strong. Strong minds were what was needed now. I gritted my teeth, breathed through my nose, concentrated on my breathing and said very little. He knew if he stopped I would just shut down, he was right.
It's a shame we felt like this. The sun was setting behind us and now and again I would turn round and see the Munros we'd been on bathed in the evening light. The contrast of the green hills to the blue water was striking but I just did't want to stop to get my camera out.
As midnight drew closer the light faded fast so we had to get the head torches out. Navigating like this got harder and harder with our tired minds and the on/off path. Lee suggested we bivvy. I was already lying down on my bag but I thought the dam was maybe 3km away and had set my mind on getting to the car. We continued for a short distance and finally saw what looked like the dark silhouette of the dam in the distance. It was too far. We lost the path again in a large flat grassy section of land, crossed a fairly large stream hopping across rocks, then lost the path again. This was getting us nowhere, Lee was right, time to bivvy.
This was a new experience for me. I put on my long sleeve top on top of the t shirt and with great relief removed my boots. I stretched my feet and the skin felt like it was a size too small for my feet. It was great to have the boots off though. Got into the bivvy bag and wedged myself between some rocks in the grass.The midges saw their opportunity and descended, to be honest I was beyond caring and just cocooned myself in the bag, squashing any invaders. Lee was knackered and was snoring within a few minutes! He really can sleep anywhere. I must've dozed off too but woke up hyperventilating. I didn't really register why and dozed off again. Woke up again doing the same thing, this time took it a bit more seriously. I was cold. I'd expected this to be a warm, cosy experience but the condensation had built up on the inside of the bag. I got my jacket on, the only layer I had left. Still cold. Hood up, hands in pockets, stuff it, need to sleep.
The sun started to come up. I was still cold. Stuff this for a carry on. I asked Lee if it was time to go. He was cold too. We looked about and there was enough light. We were actually lying just off the path. Anyone coming along would've tripped right over us The silhouette was the dam. Now we had a target. The rest had given our feet some time to recover but it didn't take long for the pain to return. We didn't care, we were getting to the car, getting back to the campsite and getting a shower. Suddenly our sleeping bags seemed like 5 star luxury.
A hydro road appeared. Hallelujah!!!!! We made for that. I was better on this but Lee's boots don't agree with hard flat surfaces. It was my turn to take the lead. We walked shoulder to shoulder until we were past the dam on the north side. The car was round at the south. No easy way was obvious to get to it, we had to take the road. We'd just ran out of water too. I told Lee to just wait at the junction and I'd go up the hill to get the car. 5.15am on Sunday morning I made it to the car, exactly 58km since we started and just over 27 hours later. We'd left pork pies and spare water in the car. I gleefully munched one as I drove down to get Lee. He looked so dejected, sitting with his midgy net on and his boots and socks off. I was shocked when I saw his feet. His toes looked like pictures I'd seen of frostbite, except they were pure white instead of black. I chucked him his Crocs (or dignity leekers as I call them ) loaded his gear into the car and we were finally on the way to the campsite. What a relief!
Was it worth it?
This was something I pondered for a while on my own once I was home on Sunday. I was in bits. My feet and legs were aching, I couldn't put on socks or shoes and had to walk about in my hiking sandals (or dignity leekers as Lee calls them ) My body felt weird, I was hungry but not wanting to eat anything. I'd been hydrating all day and strangely didn't feel that tired despite only having a few hours sleep at the campsite. All I could remember was the pain and struggle of the end.
I was sorry for the worry we'd caused to our wives. I wasn't that conscious of times on our hike but Manda told me when I'd contacted her on the 8th it was 7pm. She'd even offered to come get us until I explained it was walk or ferry, no car access. Lee had text his wife too at that point. For the rest of the day we had no signal, we'd checked several times to try to let them know what was happening. They know we're good together, that we look after one another, but it stil didn't stop them worrying.
I felt responsible for Lee's pain. This was my idea, we'd planned it together but I'm the one that comes up with these big walks and started to think I'd forced him into it. I hadn't, of course, (Lee feel free to comment otherwise ) but I still felt responsible for it going wrong.
I decided to download my pictures. Wow. The things we'd seen, the sunrise, inversions, moon set, the peaks everywhere. I remembered the climbing before the pain, the great ridge walks, the rocky ascents that I love, the massive Munros we'd summitted, and just the general experience of doing something that not many people had tried and seeing things I might never see again. We'd met and chatted to a lot of people on our journey too, as usual all friendly hikers who are all too happy to have a chat about what we're all up to.
In the end I believe it was worth it. It's an adventure we'll never forget. We pushed ourselves probably beyond our limits and came out the other side with no more than a few injuries that will heal. I was proud of our achievement. There was no "what if" thought in my head. We were never going to manage the other 4, 8 was a massive achievement. We'd worked great as a team, we'd been resourceful in finding water (we'd both consumed over 10 litres!!!! ), we'd looked after one another, helped one another and most importantly stayed together. There was never a bad word between us and we constantly bounced thoughts and ideas off one another about how best to move on. That was awesome in my mind. We'd also got great support from the Team Akobe community on Facebook and I hope it will act as motivation, not to necessarily do what we did, but to just get out and explore and enjoy the countryside.
This wasn't about bagging the Munros, this was about two mates being out having an adventure, and we certainly managed that!
by gld73 » Wed Jul 04, 2018 5:07 pm
by Borderhugh » Wed Jul 04, 2018 5:37 pm
You didnt half pick one of the warmest weekends to do it.
Its a big undertaking whatever way you go. I am of the opinion anti-clockwise is the way to do these.
I had planned to do it over a weekend but ended up doing it over 3 days including the boat trip.
The view down the Glen from the top of Beinn Fionnlaidh to SNC is quite breathtaking and looks an awful long way.
I am never doing that walk out along the north side of the Loch again; it took us 7 hours.
by big tommo » Wed Jul 04, 2018 6:33 pm
As John mentioned we've been walking together for some years now and know when each other are needing a boost. You always need to work together when out in the hill's if not mistakes will happen.
Was certainly worth the pain to get the views and pictures we got on this outing. Some big climbs out there on this route but stunning views to be had also. The walk out was horrendous though boat next time I was digging deep head down getting on with at this point, I knew John was suffering never seen him like this to be honest. I tried to keep him feeling positive and to dig deep himself which I knew he was doing. Darkness fell and more and more mistakes were happening so the decision was made to bivvy first experience for us both. I thought I'd had a rubbish sleep but as John mentioned I was out cold the rest of the walk out was tough going my feet were in bits. my Scarpa Manta classic boots are great when up high climbing over rocks but when it comes to flat roads there's no give in them and i felt it walking down the road to the junction.
John let me sit at junction while collecting the car and took the opportunity to let my feet breath heels were shredded and few blisters on either feet. Glad to reach the tent and sleeping bag When we attempting it again John? Go for the four first next time yeah it was long yeah we put our bodies to limit but we worked as a team and got each other through it. Onto our next outing
by soapy27 » Wed Jul 04, 2018 7:52 pm
by weaselmaster » Wed Jul 04, 2018 10:46 pm
It's one I've thought about trying to do in 24 hours, not sure that I could manage it. I've done the circuit twice, anti-clockwise both times and psychologically it would make sense to me to get the 4 northern ones done first. Might try it next summer
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