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A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs


Postby dogplodder » Mon Sep 03, 2018 7:09 am

Route description: The Loch Mullardoch Munros

Munros included on this walk: An Riabhachan, An Socach (Mullardoch)

Date walked: 07/07/2018

Time taken: 12 hours

Distance: 29 km

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It was one of those times I maybe shouldn't have gone. Five days earlier at my uncle's funeral in Kent I was walking in heels across uneven grass and, not looking where I was going, stepped into a dip and went over on my ankle. It was painful and I thought how ironic it would be to break an ankle in a cemetery and not on the hills. I hobbled around for the rest of the day and it was still giving stabs of pain walking about the house a few days later. But I figured it would be fine with the support of boots and by Saturday I'd be good to go.

My ribs and right shoulder were also still a bit sore - legacy of an incident in the Mamores which I'd been advised would take 6 weeks to recover from. I was on the cusp of 6 weeks and had decided to take that prediction literally. So I wasn't quite in full working order..... but then at my age when is that likely ever to happen? :shifty:

In my defence, it would have been hard to pull out. This was the second booking I'd made with Angus the boatman. I'd called off the first when thunder was forecast and it didn't seem a good idea to risk a lightning strike on an exposed ridge. I didn't want to have to cancel again. In addition to that, Feng's father (on holiday from Singapore) was keen to climb some Scottish hills and this date suited them.

This time the forecast was good. I had booked the boat for 9.00 am, which was half an hour later than I wanted, but another group had bagged the 8.30 slot. I then allowed too much time for the drive to the start and with Feng's speedy driving we arrived at the lochside in time for the 8.30 sailing and spent half an hour dancing about swatting midges as we waited for the boat to return. :-x

I'd heard this was a bad summer for clegs so had asked around about the best deterrent and someone said they'd had some success with Listerine (Original) for their horses. I duly left home slathered in a potent cocktail of Listerine (for the clegs), Skin so Soft (for the midges) and Smidge (in case the Skin so Soft didn't work). Knowing clegs can bite through clothing I'd also put on two layers - not what I'd have chosen to do in this unusually hot summer.

Ian, Mei, Feng, Koon waiting for the boat to return
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When the boat returned there was another delay as Angus refuelled. Once on board we each paid our £25 and were keen to get going but Angus explained there were three more booked for 9.00 and he would give them another few minutes to appear. Five minutes later they hadn't shown and with a whoosh of anticipation we were off at last. The adventure had begun!

Except that it hadn't because Angus looked back and saw two figures on the crest of the road leading down to the loch and very obligingly (for them) turned the boat and went back. The two boarded full of apologies, but still we couldn't go as there was another in their group who hadn't yet appeared and we had to wait for her. It was then I realised that when it comes to hills I'm not a very patient person. (Moira would say she's been aware of that for a long time!) It meant we were starting on this walk an hour later than I'd hoped we would. Not a good start.

There they are
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The wake from the boat leaving the dam (for the second time)
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Angus suggested dropping us off where the loch narrows, giving access to the ridge of Meall Bac a' Chul-dhoire. This seemed like a good plan but I'm not sure if it's any better than using the path along the Allt Coire a' Mhaim, the normal descent route from the main ridge to the loch.

Our drop off point and Angus leaving
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I felt euphoric to be dropped off in this remote beautiful place. There was something strangely satisfying about knowing there was no way back except by walking and I always feel it a privilege to see parts of our amazing landscape that can't be reached by road. We set off traversing the west side of the ridge, gradually working our way to the top of the minor summit. There was no path and within 15 minutes I was struggling to keep up - due to nausea, gut pain and legs like lead. What a time to discover I had a dodgy gut! :?

It was a situation where had we been anywhere else I might have suggested Plan B for me, while everyone else continued with Plan A. But I didn't have that choice - I was committed to the long walk back and would just have to get on with it. So while the others went on at their own speed I did my best to keep up, with occasional regrouping at key points.

Beinn Fionnaidh and west end of Loch Mullardoch
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View back from pathless grassy slopes to drop off point
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Negotiating peat hags
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After the long dry spell the peat hags were bone dry (or so I thought). Since I was the donkey's tail I thought I'd save time by walking along the dry peat corridors, rather than round, or up and down over them. This worked fine until I misjudged what was dry and what wasn't, sank into peat up to my knee and in trying to extricate that leg ended up with both legs stuck. The more I tried to get out the deeper in I went and I was afraid I'd pull a foot out and leave the boot behind. I remembered then another Walkhighlander's tale of getting stuck in a bog at the foot of Beinn Sheasgarnaich and having to be hauled out by his mates.

I yelled to the others that I was stuck and all four of them came bounding back. The main problem was how to pull me out without getting stuck themselves. Fortunately I was near enough to solid ground for Ian to reach me without being sucked in and he managed to yank one leg out enough for me to get the other one out. No damage done except that after 10 minutes up to my knees in wet peat my boots were soaked through and I had no dry socks to change into. Likely to get blisters then. So from the person who had organised this walk I had now become, with my dodgy gut and wet feet, its greatest liability. And there was more to come. :oops:

Wet from the knees down
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Looking back to where it happened
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Once we reached An Socach's south ridge the going became easier.

An Socach's south ridge
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The views were improving all the time and the weather had turned out to be perfect with clear visibility, blue sky, high clouds and a slight breeze higher up to keep the insects away.

View south across Loch Mullardoch to the Affric hills
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My friend Mei was climbing her first Munro and before you all shout at me about the wisdom of taking someone to the west end of the Mullardochs for their first Munro, I knew from a recent walk up Stac Pollaidh she was fit, sure-footed and had a good head for heights. I knew she would be fine. But even so, I was impressed by the way she was tackling this, with no word of complaint, no saying she couldn't do it, and at places where I thought I might be advising her which way to go, she was leading the way. :thumbup:

Nearing An Socach summit
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At the top we met up with the three others who'd been on the boat, which was reassuring to me that maybe I hadn't slowed us down as much as I felt I had! One of them kindly took a group photo for us. We had taken 3.5 hours to reach the summit from the lochside and that would have been a bit less without my close encounter with a peat hag! :roll:

An Socach summit (1069m)
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My gut wasn't right and my feet were wet but I was so chuffed to reach this point that none of that mattered. I was particularly pleased for Mei and Koon. This was their first Munro - and what a fabulous one to climb for your first! Remote and with great views of Torridon and over to Skye it was going to be a hard one to follow.

View north
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Zoomed to Torridons
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After a leisurely lunch, soaking in the views, we were off again along the ridge snaking east. From here to the Bealach Toll an Lochain was the best part of the route. It's not difficult but has enough of interest to keep you watching your step, as well as superb views in every direction. There was one rocky step I found difficult, so back tracked slightly and found another way up on the left of the path.

The ridge heading east
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Looking back at An Socach's east ridge
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For comparison An Socach's east ridge 2 months earlier (taken by Ian when he did the 4 plus the walk back)
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Looking back from An Riabhachan
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An Riabhachan summit (1129m)
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We were in a celebratory mood. It was a second Munro for Mei and Koon, a third for Feng and two new ones for me. Ian had done the four a couple of months earlier and walked back by the lochside so for him the new experience was the boat trip and walking the ridge the other way round. 8)

An Riabhachan ridge looking towards Loch Mor and Sgurr na Lapaich
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Loch Beag and north to Loch Monar & Maoile Lunndaidh
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When I had first suggested this trip I had said we would see how it went before deciding how many Munros to include. If we were going well and enjoying it we could do all four but if we'd had enough we could descend by Sgurr na Lapaich's south ridge, which I'd done before and found to have no difficulties (although that had been in November when high bracken wasn't an issue). So when we reached Bealach Toll an Lochain we sat down to discuss our options. Mei said she didn't mind which way we went but would prefer no more ascent, which swung things in the direction of descending to the lochside. But the descent from the bealach looked rough and pathless so Ian volunteered to scout ahead and see if what looked like might be a path traversing the west side of Sgurr na Lapaich's south ridge was an actual path or not. He went off to check and reported back that it wasn't.

An Riabhachan from Sgurr na Lapaich
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We then had to decide between traversing up on to the south ridge and making a pathless descent that way or continuing up to the Sgurr na Lapaich summit and finishing the circuit, the advantage being we'd have a path to follow. I remembered the south ridge as being straighforward so to reduce further ascent we agreed to go that way. It was a few years ago certainly and memory is a funny thing but I found it more difficult than I remembered. :think:

Sgurr na Lapaich's south ridge
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To begin with it was broad and grassy, but then we reached a boulder field I didn't remember at all and that slowed us down. Once past that it was grassy again, interspersed with terraces of rocky steps, not technically difficult but I misjudged my footing and took a tumble, landing on the same side I'd hurt my ribs a few weeks earlier. I had put my hand out to break my fall, landing on it and wrenching it back the wrong way. So with sore ribs, elbow, wrist and hand I gingerly caught up with the others, where medical doctor Feng checked my wrist and declared it not broken. It later turned out I'd staved the hand which came up in a bruise, but the wrist was okay. Largely intact, but feeling slightly battered, I wondered what else could possibly happen on this walk. :shifty:

I think we were all tired. Apart, that is, from Ian who has the constitution of an ox and covers greater distances doing the Munros than most folk have to, doing it all by public transport.

Still a long way to go
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We had a look at the way off the ridge I'd taken the previous time, decided it was a bit steep and kept going over another rise before dropping down and taking a line in the direction of the loch. By this time I knew I had blisters so was 'walking funny' to keep the weight off the sorest bits. It was also at some point during that lumpy grassy descent I had a bad midge moment and asked Koon if he could grab my Smidge for me out of my bag. He must have been having a similar moment as he had his Jungle Formula out and handed me that instead. It's not a comprehensive survey but after a liberal squoosh of JF I'd say it proved more effective than the other three products I'd used that day. Then for good measure I put my midge net on, which made seeing more difficult but kept the bandits out. I imagine when Koon returned to Singapore he will have taken with him amused memories of a crazy Scottish woman stumbling along in a black veil, after earlier being stuck in a peat bog. :lol:

If we had imagined that reaching the lochside path would be the end of our troubles we were wrong. We still had quite a distance to cover to reach the dam and the notorious path was every bit as bad as its reputation - harder than I remembered it from the previous time - disappearing into bracken almost as high as my head. It was uneven and eroded and because of the bracken difficult to see where to place your feet. By mistake we went to the right of the plantation of pines which was a longer way round and the path seemed to go on and on, so we were very relieved to finally reach the wide dirt track leading back to where we had waited for the boat and back to the car that was parked beyond the dam.

Due in the main to my slow pace we got back to the car two hours later than I thought we would. I had underestimated how long it would take, there were delays with the boat, me getting stuck, longer stops than we should have taken and a slow tortuous final walk along the overgrown lochside path. We had caught the boat at 9.00 am and got back to the car a bit after 9.00 pm so it had been 12 hours, which for a route that WH reckons to take 11 - 14 hours doesn't sound too bad - except that we'd taken the boat along the loch at the start.

Was it a mistake to have taken inexperienced folk there? Maybe, although I was the one who had the problems, not them. They had all done brilliantly. I apologised for my slowness and causing Feng's mother concern when they arrived home two hours later than expected. But on the plus side Feng said that for his dad it was the highlight of his time in Scotland. Getting out in the hills was what he most wanted to do and he certainly got that - with a boat ride thrown in!

Despite the difficulties it was for me a fabulous day doing a route I'd long wanted to do, in perfect weather and with great company. :D
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby Graeme D » Mon Sep 03, 2018 9:56 am

Sounds like one of those you really only get in the hills from time to time! Glad it all ended well though and what a route for your friends to do for their first Munros! :clap:
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby Sgurr » Mon Sep 03, 2018 12:08 pm

I am amazed that you managed to keep on taking the photos with all your problems. Good for you.

dogplodder wrote:the notorious path was every bit as bad as its reputation -


Our son came back that way once and instilled into us "never, never go there unless there is absolutly no alternative".
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Mon Sep 03, 2018 8:25 pm

That must have been painful at the time - but your write it up is brilliant, really had me alternating between laughter and thinking "OMG that could have been me!" - especially getting stuck in a peat hag :lol: :lol:

Glad you've survived and gone on to greater things! A great introduction to Munros indeed, well done to all.
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby dogplodder » Wed Sep 05, 2018 9:46 am

Graeme D wrote:Sounds like one of those you really only get in the hills from time to time! Glad it all ended well though and what a route for your friends to do for their first Munros! :clap:


A hard one to follow without it feeling a bit on the tame side. 8)
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby gammy leg walker » Wed Sep 05, 2018 6:03 pm

FB_IMG_1520689867866.jpg


Dogplodder here is the very picture you were talking about,it's Jonny616 waist deep in a peathag
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby dogplodder » Thu Sep 06, 2018 11:43 am

Sgurr wrote:I am amazed that you managed to keep on taking the photos with all your problems. Good for you.



Good excuse for a break and being slow! :wink:
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby malky_c » Thu Sep 06, 2018 2:19 pm

Going by the photos alone it looked like a good day out but sounds like there was plenty more to it! That's a good first Munro - I bet very few people can count that as their first. Must get out that way again soon 8) .
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby dogplodder » Thu Sep 06, 2018 8:50 pm

Huff_n_Puff wrote: A great introduction to Munros indeed, well done to all.


Felt so proud of this young lady. Here she is on her first Munro and arguably one of the remotest.

IMG_6356-largec.JPG
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby past my sell by date » Sat Sep 08, 2018 9:40 pm

Great report and pics, - and certainly a memorable first Munro, but the lochside path is every bit as bad as it is reported :lol:
Having done both, it is far more enjoyable and probably quicker - to carry on over the two further Munros and then on again to the Munro top of Creagh Dubh, and again round a couple of slight bumps (all on what I term Naismith plus terrain) and then down pleasant heathery slopes to the road just below the dam. I'm sure you'll be really pleased to learn this after the event :lol: :lol: :lol: . incidentally the boatman was a Scandinavian called Carl or Karl when I went up the loch
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby mrssanta » Sun Sep 09, 2018 8:43 pm

Hope you're fully recovered now! Lovely to see people out enjoying their first Munros though.
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby dogplodder » Sat Sep 15, 2018 11:20 am

gammy leg walker wrote:
FB_IMG_1520689867866.jpg


Dogplodder here is the very picture you were talking about,it's Jonny616 waist deep in a peathag


That's the one! I wasn't sure if it was Gammy or Jonny who got stuck. Can happen to the best of us! :lol:
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby dogplodder » Sat Sep 15, 2018 11:25 am

malky_c wrote:Going by the photos alone it looked like a good day out but sounds like there was plenty more to it! That's a good first Munro - I bet very few people can count that as their first. Must get out that way again soon 8) .


You soon forget the negative bits and only remember what a great ridge it is! :D
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby dogplodder » Sat Sep 15, 2018 11:30 am

past my sell by date wrote:
Having done both, it is far more enjoyable and probably quicker - to carry on over the two further Munros and then on again to the Munro top of Creagh Dubh, and again round a couple of slight bumps (all on what I term Naismith plus terrain) and then down pleasant heathery slopes to the road just below the dam. I'm sure you'll be really pleased to learn this after the event :lol: :lol: :lol: . incidentally the boatman was a Scandinavian called Carl or Karl when I went up the loch


Having done the eastern two I thought that, but one of the group was asking for no more ascent so we used an escape route I'd done before and found to be fine - but that was a different time of year with no bracken or midge issues. :shifty:
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Re: A disaster waiting to happen on the Mullardochs

Postby past my sell by date » Thu Sep 20, 2018 2:09 pm

dogplodder wrote:
past my sell by date wrote:Having done the eastern two I thought that, but one of the group was asking for no more ascent so we used an escape route I'd done before and found to be fine - but that was a different time of year with no bracken or midge issues. :shifty:


I was going to ask why you didn't leave out An Socach and head up Riabhachan and back - but you'd done the Eastern two - and that explains everything! I also well know the psychological problems of more uphill - even when you know it's the best way home!
We were heavily laden, - camping gear was much heavier in those days - but I think we took 9 hours to traverse the lochside - and in the knee deep mud around the Chisholm memorial I had visions of Passchendaele :lol: :lol: :lol:
I guess Mei experienced the good and bad sides of Munro bashing
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