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A round of Loch Errochty to bag a foxy wee Graham

A round of Loch Errochty to bag a foxy wee Graham

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Sun Mar 17, 2019 5:20 pm

Grahams included on this walk: Creag a'Mhadaidh

Date walked: 16/02/2019

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 22.5 km

Ascent: 700m

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For various reasons (mostly the dreaded Flu, despite having been vaccinated, followed by the usual on-call nonsense :roll: ), I hadn't managed to get a walk done all January, and by mid-February I was getting a bit stir-crazy. The first free day I had was the Saturday 16th Feb, and given my recent flu, I didn't want too much ascent, but I was keen to get a reasonably long walk done to get the year started. After some perusal of the nice new SMC Grahams book, I found a one-sentence description of what sounded like a long but straightforward route to bag Creag a' Mhadaidh, the Crag of the Fox: "The ascent from Trinafour (parking at NN725649 or at NN725644) can be made via a pleasant circuit aroung Loch Errochty (22km; 360m; 5 h 30 min)".
Their distance assessment looks to be pretty accurate, but their estimate of the ascent involved is way out: when I drew it using the "Draw Your Route" tool on the Walkhighlands website, it came out at over 800 metres, and it certainly felt a lot more than 360 metres :roll: !! I've split the difference for my WR and called it 700 metres of ascent, but it may actually be slightly more, depending on one's exact route.

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I drove up to Trinafour reasonably early, being mindful of the limited daylight at this time of year, and thankfully I just about managed to squeeze my car off the road at a short bit of pavement just before the bridge over the Errochty Water on the B847 immediately west of Trinafour, with my wing mirrors folded right in. Parking is definitely a bit of an issue for this route!
WR1 - Trinafour with bridge.jpg

It was quite a steep initial climb up the unclassified road that heads north from here, but at least when I reached the start of the hydro track that heads along the north shore of Loch Errochty, it couldn't have been more obvious.
WR2 - Start of Errochty Dam track.jpg

Soon enough the Errochty Dam itself hove into sight, looking pleasingly monumental from here!
WR3 - the dam looking rather monumental in the distance.jpg

Some lovely lichenous oaks and Scots pines at this point:
WR4 - nice lichenous trees.jpg

Loch Errochty is one of the Highlands' large "hidden hydro lochs": it is difficult to get more than a glimpse of it from any main road, but it is quite sizeable, and actually looked intimidatingly large on the map :shock: . It was therefore quite a relief to finally get past the dam and start walking along its northern shores. There was a grand view along the loch from a pile of hydro pipes, presumably intended for a pipeline of some sort. The prominent hill at the head of the loch here is not Creag a' Mhadaidh, sadly, but a pointier eastern outlier called Sron Chon.
WR5 - Loch Errochty with hydro pipes.jpg

There was a nice hazy view across the loch to one of the local Corbetts, Beinn a' Chuallaich, which dominates the loch's southern shoreline:
WR6 - nice hazy view of south shore hills.jpg

The Errochty Dam was looking no less monumental when viewed from the west:
WR7 - looking back towards the dam.jpg

I headed further along the north shore track, eventually reaching a signed gate between Hydro Board land and one of the neighbouring estates. This appears to be named as the "Sron Gate", presumably after Sron Chon which looms up just to the west.
WR8 - the Sron Gate.jpg

The track wound its way around the southern flanks of Sron Chon, and soon Creag a' Mhadaidh itself finally came into view above the western end of the loch. Not the pointiest of hills, admittedly :lol: , but I was glad to see it at last!
WR9 - Creag a' Mhadaidh at the head of the loch.jpg

Just as I approached the western end of the loch, the clouds briefly parted to the south to give me a glimpse of snow-capped Schiehallion, looking rather impressive from here. This is one hill that can NEVER resist getting in on the photo action :lol: !
WR10 - distant snow-capped Schiehallion.jpg

Now, I was starting to worry about the link-up between the north shore track and the Graham summit itself. The SMC Grahams book very much skims over this, but a glance at the map (as well as some other WRs, including the nice one by BP) shows that the north shore track peters out immediately short of a stream in the midst of some forestry, a good couple of kilometres short of Mhadaidh's eastern flanks. There was also a substantial waterway in the way, the Allt Sleibh. Soon enough I reached the big gate into the forestry (locked, but there is a good ladder stile just at the side) and I decided to press ahead regardless and just see what the lie of the land was once I got to the end of the track.
Looking back to the forestry gate:
WR11 - looking back to forestry gate.jpg

...And onwards into the trees:
WR12 - into the trees.jpg

Soon enough the main forestry track ended at a stream, right enough, just as shown on the map. However, I'm never averse to a bit of bush-whacking, so I crossed the stream (still with more or less dry feet :) ) and headed on into the sitka monoculture. To my considerable relief, a rough ATV track (not really visible until you are actually on it) started on the other side of the burn and headed on west into the forestry. Before long the trees started to thin out, and the ATV track soon exited the forestry via a rather rickety gate in a line of fencing.
WR13 - rough ATV track going on to gate in forest fence.jpg

The next obstacle was much more formidable, however :shock: ! Just west of here I came to the Allt Sleibhe, which turned out to be a bit of a raging torrent, being swollen with a whole lot of recent snow-melt and therefore in full spate :roll: ...
WR14 - the Allt Sleibhe looking formidable.jpg

There was no way that I was going to be able to cross this safely, and there is no foot-bridge, so I head up to the north-west along the near bank of the Allt, hoping that I might be able to cross it higher up where it joined a tributary burn, the Allt Poll Dubh-Ghlas. There were at least some nice waterfalls on the Allt Sleibhe en route:
WR15 - Waterfall 1 on Allt Sleibhe.jpg
WR16 - Waterfall 2 on Allt Sleibhe.jpg

After what felt like a long trudge through some fairly rough terrain, I did eventually get across the Allt at its confluence with the Allt Poll Dubh-Ghlas, getting wet feet in the process but at least avoiding drowning, which was handy.
A nice curve on the Allt Sleibhe shortly before the point where I crossed, with Creag a' Mhadaidh's summit environs visible in the distance now:
WR17 - curving on up Allt Sleibhe with Craig a' Mhadaidh summit environs in distance.jpg

Once finally across the Allt, I headed off to the south-west along a forest fence, encountering quite a bit of unpleasantly tussocky bog on the way. It was quite a relief to eventually reach the top corner of the forestry and to gain Mhadaidh's broad north-east ridge, from where it wasn't far to the summit, although there were entertaining sections of peat-haggery on the way up, needless to say :lol: ! As I finally gained some height, however, there was at least a nice long view back down Loch Errochty by way of distraction:
WR18 - looking back towards Loch Errochty on final ascent.jpg

There is a strange but pleasing "standing stone" just short of the summit cairn:
WR19 - standing stone just before the cairn.jpg

At the cairn at last, and looking back east down the loch:
WR20 - looking W down Loch Errochty from cairn.jpg

It's that hairy bloke again :roll: !
WR21 - summit selfie.jpg

Is this the true Graham (and Marilyn) summit, however? As noted on the Walkhighlands website page for Creag a' Mhadaidh, the Ordnance Survey give its western Top, Gualann Sheileach, the exact same 612 metres spot height … so could Gualann Sheileach potentially be slightly higher? I rather hope not because it looks a rather dull hill on the map, whereas Creag a' Mhadaidh at least has that nice view down Loch Errochty. I do take some comfort from the fact that Alan Dawson, co-inventor of the Grahams and keeper of the official roll of Marilyn summits, still lists Creag a' Mhadaidh as the true Marilyn summit on his "Relative Hills of Britain" website - and one imagines that he's likely to have double-checked a thing like that :? . I suppose that if Gualann Sheileach is ever given the crown in the future, I'll just have to come back and climb the blessed thing.
Anyway, I still had to get home, and it was a long way back to Trinafour :roll: ! After the unexpectedly hard slog up to Creag a' Mhadaidh from the end of the North Loch Errochty track, the way back via the south side of the loch proved to be a complete doddle. Even the pathless south-eastern flanks of the Graham proved to have none of those entertaining peat hags found to its north-east, and once I got down a bit, I could soon see a handy footbridge over the grandly named Allt Ruighe nan Saorach, which is the counterpart of the Allt Sleibh at the southwestern (rather than northwestern) corner of Loch Errochty.
WR22 - bridge at SW corner of loch.jpg

Across the footbridge, another excellent track runs right along the south side of the loch, soon passing the rather picturesque ruins of the cottage at Ruighe nan Saorach, which still has a roof of sorts and could potentially be used as a rather rough bothy (although it currently lacks doors and is open to the elements).
WR23 - ruined cottage near SW corner of loch.jpg

A look back towards Creag a' Mhadaidh and the higher hills further to the west, with a bit of snow on some of them:
WR24 - looking back W along loch towards Creag a' Mhadaidh and more distant hills with a bit of snow.jpg

It was a long way back to the car right enough, though, and despite the good track, the last third or so of the South Loch Errochty track runs through a vast sitka forest, resulting in the usual despondency that arises from forestry tracks, where you start to wonder whether you have crossed into some Night of the Living Sitkas universe, and the whole world has been taken over by spruce trees.... Eventually, however, the other side of the Loch Errochty Dam came back into view - rather a welcome sight this late in the day. From here, it wasn't far at all back to Trinafour and my car.
A fine day out, on the whole, and I'd say this is definitely a more aesthetically pleasing way to bag this Graham than the rather uninspiring route from the Loch Rannoch road to the south :wink: !
Last edited by bobble_hat_kenny on Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: A round of Loch Errochty to bag a foxy wee Graham

Postby gld73 » Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:22 pm

Nice report thanks, always nice to note another walk I can do not too far from the A9 to break my journey :D
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Re: A round of Loch Errochty to bag a foxy wee Graham

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:52 pm

gld73 wrote:Nice report thanks, always nice to note another walk I can do not too far from the A9 to break my journey :D

Thanks! Yes, this one is ideally placed for easy access from the A9, as you say. Actually, it is interesting that for somewhere that really isn't far from one of the nation's trunk roads, Trinafour feels so impressively remote :? . I doubt that it sees much passing trade!
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Re: A round of Loch Errochty to bag a foxy wee Graham

Postby BlackPanther » Mon Mar 18, 2019 9:26 am

I'm glad my TR was helpful :D
I always wondered why this route is not described in detail in Graham guides. I've got two and they both barely mention it, suggesting much easier in and out walk from Kinloch Rannoch, but this is the better way to climb Creag a' Mhadaidh. Despite the bush-whacking on the way up :lol:

I remember we descended to the loch shore from the end of the track in the forest, but it was in the summer so water level was low and we made quick progress walking on the rocky beach. It's a lovely area but very quiet, which is perfect for me!
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Re: A round of Loch Errochty to bag a foxy wee Graham

Postby jmarkb » Mon Mar 18, 2019 12:45 pm

Always good to see reports from little-visited places: thank you!

The GPS planner on WH can serious overestimate the height gain where routes traverse across slopes, as is the case for a lot of the this one - best bet is to count crossed contours which can be a bit tedious!

Even if Gualann Sheileach did turn out to be slightly higher, it would not become a Graham as it does not have enough reascent from Beinn Mholach, and it would not affect the status of Creag a' Mhadaidh.
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