walkhighlands

Dheiragain and Ceathreamhnan from Glen Elchaig

Munros: Mullach na Dheiragain, Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan

Date walked: 08/09/2021

Time taken: 13.5 hours

Distance: 41.5km

Ascent: 2061m

Since the Covid rules were last lifted allowing we Sassenachs over the border, Karl and myself have enjoyed three trips into the hallowed land: one to the Galloway hills in June, one to Torridon in July and the third to Kintail in September. The highlight of our Kintail trip was this round of Mullach na Dheiragain and Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, starting with a cycle-walk up Glen Elchaig and finishing with a descent via the Falls of Glomach before the cycle back. Despite some good walks on the other trips, including a repeat traverse of Liathach, I hadn't been motivated to write up any reports, or indeed contribute anything to the WH site since last autumn (though I have read many reports and discussion threads with great interest). But this particular walk seems to have broken the malaise and re-kindled my desire to share some words and pictures. So, here goes.


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With a good forecast for Wednesday the 8th, the alarm went off at 5am in my tent at the Morvich campsite where we were based (great campsite, if a tad expensive). This would allow for a leisurely breakfast, we figured, as well as a sufficiently early start for what was obviously going to be a long day. We were also well fortified by the fish supper we'd enjoyed the previous evening, consisting of hot smoked salmon, smoked mackerel and the finest king prawns either of us had ever tasted, courtesy of a local fishmonger who visits the site in a van every Tuesday. Our lamp-lit breakfast had perhaps been a little too leisurely, as it was about 6.15, and already quite light, by the time we drove out of the campsite - though no doubt still early enough to annoy other campers!

A few miles up the road towards Kyle of Lochalsh we turned right for Killilan, following the narrow road along the western side of Loch Long, which was smooth as a mirror, reflecting the first blushes of sunlight on east-facing hillsides. At the junction just before Killilan, where the public road continues south to Camas-lunie, we parked the car on the well-kept gravel lay-by and got the bikes off the rack.

The still air was pleasantly cool as we started cycling along the tarmac towards the farm buildings and dwellings of Killilan. The brightness of the sky was muted only by the lightest of high-altitude clouds; the day promised to be a fine one. The remarkably smooth surface of the road, which was a treat to cycle along, continued much further up the glen than we expected. At one point, before an awkward gate through a deer fence, the tarmac was replaced by a cindery gravel surface, but after that the tarmac reappeared in varying states of completeness and the surface was always smooth enough for a comfortable ride. As we progressed the remote beauty of this glen became increasingly apparent.

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A beautiful morning in Glen Elchaig


With the slopes of Carn an Cruithneachd on our right, we slowed up the first significant gradient on the track, but even this was really quite gentle. A slight downhill followed and suddenly the signpost indicating the path to the Falls of Glomach appeared, where we left the bikes.

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Looking towards the Falls of Glomach


We continued walking up the main track for a further 3 miles, passing Loch na Leitreach, to Iron Lodge.

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Loch na Leitreach


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Looking back to Carn an Cruithneachd


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Allt Domhain at Carnach


At a fork in the track a signpost pointed to Iron Lodge down to the right. Reaching this felt significant: at last we had left the road up Glen Elchaig and were heading onto higher ground - still on a big track, though.

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Iron Lodge (main building hidden behind the tree)


As we started to climb up the hillside to the first sharp bend in the path, Karl felt out of breath and had to stop.

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Looking down Glen Elchaig from the zig-zags above Iron Lodge.


Now here I should explain. When I picked Karl up from his home at the start of this trip, he sounded terrible - full of what seemed to be a cold. I was rather concerned. He told me he'd recently had a flu-jab and had ended up in bed for three days; but he was ok now, he said. He just had the remnants of congestion, which sounded worse than he felt, he said. It wasn't Covid, because his doctor tested him for it when he complained about the symptoms; it was probably just a bad reaction to the flu-jab. So we packed his kit into my car and drove off. On the Monday we went up Beinn Fhada and A' Ghlas-bheinn, and he'd struggled a bit on that, muttering some pretty negative remarks when he saw the huge drop to be negotiated between Meall a' Bhealaich and A' Glas-bheinn - "that looks horrible", he said. Indeed, despite being unhindered by any particular health issues myself, I couldn't really disagree with Karl's assessment. It did look a pretty daunting gulf. I expected him to bail out at the bealach, after the somewhat tortuous descent, but he wanted to keep going up the other side, and did so, slowly, only to be dispirited again when we reached the top of the steep section and saw the ridge undulating its lengthy way towards the summit. The clag and persistent drizzle didn't help, but such was his suffering that he seriously couldn't see how he was going to manage Dhearagain and Ceathreamhnan, which we had originally planned for the next day. However, having gained the summit more quickly than expected, descended the tussocky west ridge and had a food break, we hit the easy going of the forest track through the Dorusduain plantations, which made Karl feel so much better that he said all his negative feelings had melted away. By then we'd decided, in any case, to have a rest day. During that time he could see how he felt and decide whether to join me for the big walk on Wednesday. And as luck would have it, the MWIS forecast suggested Wednesday was going to be much nicer than Tuesday anyway. So we spent Tuesday mooching about in Kyle, rather gratified that we couldn't see the hills for rain and clag. Over a coffee in Hector's Bothy, looking across to a shower-veiled Skye, Karl announced that he was up for the big one.

So, here we both were, and Karl was starting to suffer again. Of course, he could have turned back at this point, but he was determined to keep going despite giving me the feeling that the pace I was setting was too fast (he usually out-paces me). After a while the gradient of the wide track eased off and Karl started to enjoy the walking again, across the wild, ragged moorland towards the headwaters of Loch Mullardoch.

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Footbridge near the tiny Loch na Droma - Mullach Sithidh and Mullach na Dheiragain ahead.


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Toad


Just past a second tiny lochan, a cairn marked a track branching right towards Gleann Sithidh. We could see Loch Mullardoch not far off, whose waters were very low. Karl had also been eyeing up the slopes of Creag a' Choir' Aird on the far side of Gleann Sithidh, which he thought looked unreasonably steep. That was where the SMC guide said to go, but Karl thought the profile round to the left looked more reasonable and wondered if we might go up there instead. I said I thought we'd probably be better off following the route described in the guide, as we weren't familiar with the terrain.

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Footbridge over the Abhainn Sithidh - an otherwise potentially problematic crossing.


Expecting a potentially difficult crossing of the Abhainn Sithidh, we were pleased to find a footbridge over it, albeit with very widely spaced planks! Thus we entered Gleann Sithidh. As it happened the path took us up the glen without any sign of the branch-path heading round to the left, indicated on the map. So the decision was sort of made for us. Plus, the slopes up to the col just south of Creag a' Choir' Aird looked more amenable from here.

At a point where the path came close to the Abhainn Sithidh, we refilled our water bottles from the exquisite jumble of sparkling cascades - synesthesia of liquid light and whitening noise; polyphony of colliding parabolas fplashing in harmonious dissonance. The sun had broken through the thin cloud and the air had warmed considerably at this idyllic spot, prompting us to put on our sun hats. I was feeling quite excited at the prospect of gaining the ridge on which our first Munro of the day stood. Karl was a bit more subdued, but positive enough to prepare himself for what we both knew was going to be a steep slog. We went further up the track to where it seemed to disappear in the peat hags, then struck diagonally up the grassy hillside to a small spur which led to a slight shelf cutting diagonally back left to the col. This was all very steep and all the more arduous for being pathless. We took a very slow pace, but as the slope steepened Karl soon had to stop for a breather. We started again at the same pace but after a bit I glanced back and saw he'd stopped again, well behind. He was pretty annoyed, but instead of putting it down to his congested state, which was obviously the problem, he was tending to blame the route, my pace, the whole enterprise. In the end I felt forced to say "you shouldn't have come", yet I knew how much he wanted to do it, really, and so did he. He could always have turned back; I certainly wasn't going to persuade him to carry on if he'd wanted to jack it in. But somehow he couldn't bring himself to do that. So he struggled on, doggedly, contradicting his own negative comments and tacitly clinging to the thought that the first Munro was just above our heads.

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Toiling up the grassy slope to the col of Creag a' Choir' Aird, looking up Gleann Sithidh


And so, eventually, after many stops to admire the view /curse and recover, we hit the ridge.

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On the ridge at last, looking north-east to the Mullardoch 4.


Almost immediately Karl's mood lifted. After a brief pause we plodded on, still very slowly.

As we gained height towards Mullach Sithidh, the gradient steadily steepened. Karl was stopping frequently again. He looked up at the peak ahead, with what appeared to be a cairn on it, and asked "So that's the first Munro then?" It was no use kidding him; I had to break it to him that the actual Munro was behind the slightly lower top that we could see. But - and this was the good news - there was only a very slight drop between them. Despite this good news, Karl was dispirited. We plodded on in silence, slowly, stopping every few paces. "Is it possible to escape from the col?", he asked. By "the col" he meant the bealach between Carn na con Dhu and Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan. My answer to that, right or wrong, was that by that point the quickest route back would probably be to continue over Ceathreamhnan as planned. We plodded on, at first in silence and then in conversation about Karl's symptoms (which included a bit of nausea) being akin to those of altitude sickness. This seemed to make sense since his congestion affected his breathing, which in turn will have restricted the amount of oxygen getting into his blood stream.

At last we reached the feature that had appeared to be a cairn, which turned out to be a small rock tor, at the point that had appeared to be the summit of Mullach Sithidh, which turned out not to be, but was close enough, and with little enough further ascent to what manifestly was the summit, to not be dispiriting even to Karl. :)

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Looking back down the ridge of Mullach Sithidh to Creag a' Choir' Aird, with Carn na Breabaig behind and Aonach Buidhe behind that


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Carn Eighe and Mam Sodhail from Mullach Sithidh


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Mullach na Dheiragain from Mullach Sithidh, with Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan in the background


From the summit of Mullach Sithidh, Karl could see that our first Munro, Mullach na Dheiragain, was barely any higher than where we stood, and that the gap between was both short and shallow. No complaints! We noticed there were a few other folks at the Munro summit. A short, gentle descent took us into the gap and to the rocky slope on the other side. Though this was a bit steep, Karl got up it surprisingly quickly and it led satisfyingly to a short, narrow ridge which was very enjoyable. Two chaps of about our age plus a younger one were still at the summit. We exchanged greetings as we touched the cairn and admired the view. They'd all come up from near Altbeithe Youth Hostel at the head of Glen Affric. The hostel itself was of course closed, like most others, and they were wild-camping. The younger man asked me if I'd take a photo of him and duly handed me his iphone. This happens to me quite often, I find, maybe because people notice that I'm carrying a camera. I've become quite familiar with the camera function of iphones for that reason alone, since I've never owned an iphone and never will. Needless to say, I dutifully obliged (what else can one do?).

We found a nice perch nearby, threw off our rucksacks and sat down for a rest, a drink, and a bite to eat. It was 12.45. "It's nice up here, isn't it?", I said. I was pleasantly surprised that Karl actually agreed. I think he was happy just to be able to sit down for a while, with the prospect of some nice level and downhill walking to come.

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Summit of Mullach na Dheiragain


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Karl on the summit of Mullach na Dheiragain - look at that smile!


After a good lunch break we donned our rucksacks again and set off south along the broad, grassy ridge. It was pleasant, easy going and the prospect ahead looked very inviting. Karl's attitude was now much more positive.

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The ridge ahead to Carn na Con Dhu and Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan


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Twin peaks of Mullach Fraoch-choire and Stob Coire na Cralaig


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Approaching Carn na Con Dhu


We made quick progress on this easy section to the slopes of Carn na Con Dhu. At a steady pace we got up these without too many stops, but the undulations of the rocky top started to get to Karl and he requested a sit-down break. It was very nice just sitting in the sunshine up here amid all this magnificent scenery. The two older chaps who were behind us passed us by and we didn't expect to see them again. But when we eventually got up and ambled on we soon, to our surprise, caught up with them as they, in turn, sought out a suitable spot for a little siesta.

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Descending from Carn na Con Dhu towards Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan


On the way down from Carn na Con Dhu we glanced down Gleann Sithidh and I remarked that it looked an awfully long way without a path, thinking of Karl's question about a possible escape route. "I think I'd rather collapse on the way up the next one than down there", he said. It was obvious to both of us that there was no point in turning back now.

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Looking down Gleann Sithidh


Even Karl had to admit that the ridge up to Ceathreamhnan looked good. We were both thinking of how best to manage it. Karl said he'd count 20 or 30 paces then rest. I agreed and suggested that he go in front so that he could set the pace and I wouldn't be constantly having to look back to see if he'd stopped.

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Coire nan Dearcag


Our other problem was that Karl had run out of water, so now we were on the lookout for any springs or streamlets or clean puddles. On the way down to the bealach we came across one or two puddles but they were rather muddy. Even so, Karl semi-filled his bottle from one of them just in case he got desperate. I said he could have the rest of my water if he got desperate. So we reached the bealach and, with Karl taking the lead, began the ascent of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan. As the gradient got a bit steeper Karl began counting 20 paces, but increased it to 30 as it wasn't too bad. He went quite quickly too. Whereas normally Karl is happy to go along with my preference for keeping to a steady pace that we can sustain without stopping, under the circumstances he found it easier to go in quicker bursts and then rest. I was happy to go along with whatever worked best for him; and this method did seem to be working. As the gradient steepened, he reduced the number of paces to 20, but still managed them quite quickly, with maybe 30 seconds or a minute's rest between bursts.

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Looking back along the ridge to Carn na Con Dhu, the two other chaps coming up behind us


We noticed the other two chaps following up the ridge lower down and were surprised they hadn't overtaken us by now. Karl was in good spirits; he felt he could keep up what he was doing and was encouraged by the fact that we were getting ever nearer to our final Munro of the day. It would be more or less all downhill from there, apart from a couple of minor ascents. Our frequent breathers gave us ample opportunity to admire the wild corries on either side of us.

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An Gorm-lochan


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Karl forging ahead up the ridge of Ceathreamhnan


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Looking back down the ridge to Mullach na Dheiragain


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Mullach Fraoch-choire


The compensation for the ridge getting ever steeper was the fact that the steeper it got the nearer it visibly got to the summit. It was in any case a nice ascent on a clear track. Then suddenly we were there, at the summit cairn. Karl was astonished at the abruptness of this deliverance from purgatory. Taking in the magnificent view, dimmed only by the rather hazy atmosphere, we sat down by the cairn and got the water bottles out. Mine was still half-full, to put an optimistic spin on it, so I told Karl to empty the puddle-water out of his bottle so he could have some of my nice clean cascade water. The puddle-water looked surprisingly pure as Karl ruefully watched it dash away down the grass. This made me feel all the more obliged to give him most of mine, but I did leave myself a bit. I thought we were bound to find a stream somewhere on the descent off Creag nan Clachan Geala.

Checking the time, it was about 3.30 - later than I hoped it might be, considering the remoteness of this summit. We'd reserved half our food rations for this point, intending to finish it off here, but in view of the late hour we just had a quick snack. Meantime the other two chaps arrived and we exchanged greetings again. They asked which way we were going down and we said over the west top and down to the Falls of Glomach. They looked thoughtful and said nothing. Then one of them asked if I'd take a photo of the two of them and handed me his iphone. I couldn't very well refuse, so dutifully obliged for the second time today. Ironically, I forgot to take any pictures with my own camera while actually at the summit! :roll: On our feet again, we clambered along the splendidly narrow west ridge. It was some distance along here that I realized my oversight. The summit was still in view, with our two friends still standing on it, so I quickly got the camera out and snapped a shot.

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Summit of Ceathreamhnan (where the two figures are) from the west ridge.


The view south and south-west was captivating, crowded with innumerable peaks that faded into the hazy distance of Knoydart. It was unfortunate that the haze washed out too much contrast and detail to make for satisfactory photos.

Next, we were confronted by the short rise to the west top.

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Approaching the west top


Every bit of uphill was potentially a time-consuming obstacle, but though steepish, this was brief enough for Karl to get up it in one respectably paced go. At the top was the reward of a smooth, almost level plateau, giving an easy stroll with more great views to the pale silhouettes of Knoydart.

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Strange arrangement of stones on the west top


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View towards Loch Duich, through the Bealach an Sgairne between Beinn Fhada and A' Ghlas Bheinn


Indeed the easy ground continued all the way down from the west top, following the rim of Coire Lochain, and over the barely perceptible rise of Creag nan Clachan Geala. This proved a really rewarding section of the walk, out of all proportion to the minimal effort required.

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Coire Lochain


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Creag nan Clachan Geala


But at the end of the little top of Creag nan Clachan Geala we got a good view down Gleann Gaorsaic to the portals of the Falls of Glomach, and saw how far we still had to go. The ground was now much rougher, too. But at least it was downhill. We aimed down a vague ridge, at first veering towards the Allt Coire-lochain in the hope of getting some water - until the steepening, rocky ground persuaded us to aim further left onto the gentler crest. There was no path and the going was fairly rough, but it led eventually to the burn at a point not far west of the track heading north to Carnach. Here we filled our water bottles and quenched our thirsts properly. We followed the burn downstream a bit then veered away to meet and cross the Abhainn Gaorsaic, just before the confluence of the two. A little below the confluence we noticed a very inviting rock pool fed by a small waterfall.

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Nice rock pool in the Abhainn Gaorsaic - all too tempting on a hot day!


Being hot and sweaty, we just couldn't resist having a swim in there. It was incredibly invigorating, but the price to be paid was being eaten alive by midges while putting our clothes back on! We had our head-nets and Smidge spray, and used them, but there still seemed no escape. However, the little itchy bumps that we expected sooner or later to drive us into bouts of frenzied scratching, strangely (and mercifully) never materialized.

Of course that little indulgence made us even later. As we wandered happily down beside the widening burn, considerably refreshed, a late return to the campsite was something we were just resigned to. We were looking out for a path coming down from the Bealach na Sroine, which we would hopefully meet and follow down through the gorge. What we saw first was a sign saying "Danger, Falls of Glomach". We took this less as a warning than as a reassuring confirmation that we had at last reached the top of the falls. We could hear them, too. Furthermore, a very distinct path appeared down to the right, which we followed. It gave us our first glimpses into the abyss.

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At the top of the Falls of Glomach


The path, wide and well-made, zig-zagged down with the obvious purpose of gaining the best vantage points for the falls. We expected the falls to be impressive, but they far surpassed our expectations. This was something else.
Steall Falls may be slightly higher, but that is really a slithering cascade. This, on the other hand, is a sheer, vertical plummet into a savage ravine that acts as a gigantic echo chamber.

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Upper section of the Falls of Glomach


The first vantage point gave an incredible view of the sudden pouring of white water from the placid river at the top, straight down through the air. This was amazing enough, but the second vantage point, where the path gave access to a slabby platform right on the brink of nothing, revealed the fall plunging ever further into the most vertiginous depths. It was impossible to capture the whole of it in a single frame of the camera, even in portrait orientation.

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Lower part of the Falls of Glomach


We stood and stared at this spectacle for several minutes, absolutely mesmerized. Reluctantly we turned away to continue, as we thought, on our way. But the next zag toward the fall just terminated at a slightly lower point on the edge of the vertical drop, with nowhere else to go. We scanned the ground to the left, but saw only unfeasibly steep vegetation and rock and certainly no trace of a path. It dawned on us, all too slowly, that this wasn't the path down through the gorge, but just access to viewpoints for the falls. Doh! Our only option was to go all the way back up again and try to find the path down. We went right back up to the warning sign, but could only see sketchy tracks all gravitating down to the viewpoint path we'd just come back up. Checking the map, we could see where the path ought to be, but just couldn't see the path itself. In the end we just followed the highest sketchy track until it petered out, then went up-slope. Luckily, after just a few yards we stumbled on a very clear and distinct, albeit narrow, path. This was obviously it. Phew - that saved a complete rethink of our descent route. But what a path! It traversed improbably across the vegetated wall of the gorge, giving a neat, secure surface to walk on, but being only about 9 inches wide it didn't give much room for error. A trip or stumble would have sent you hurtling into the depths. We were amazed. We compared it with the approach along Middle Ledge to the start of the Cioch Nose in Applecross, which has been described as "the most exposed footpath in Scotland". But we thought this was more exposed than that. Beware, unsuspecting tourists with young children!

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Looking back up the gorge to the mainly hidden falls. The path traverses the right-hand (true left) wall of the gorge at approximately the level of the top of the falls, then descends a grassy spur at the end, where this shot was taken.


We reached the grassy spur at the end, which made for an easy descent to the wild river at the bottom. From there we followed a false trail for a bit until going steeply up the bank to find the proper path again, which led us to a footbridge and a more "civilized" path back to the bikes. By then it was 8pm and the light was fading. The midges made retrieving the bikes a trial and forced us to get moving as quickly as possible. But the five-mile ride back was a breeze, nearly all downhill and on a good surface, which made for speedy going. We were back at the car in less than half an hour. Once again the midges made life difficult as we put the bikes on the rack and changed out of our boots.

Driving back beside now invisible Loch Long we spoke of our priorities when back at the campsite: shower, food, hit the sack. "I really fancy a whisky", I said. And for some strange reason that was true, I really did. That idea so appealed to Karl that he suggested stopping for one, if we could find a suitable bar. So it was that our priorities completely changed. We drove straight past both turnings for Morvich and piled into a deserted Kintail Lodge Hotel, where we ordered two Taliskers. Shower, food and sleep would have to wait! I had to hand it to Karl, I don't know how he managed to persevere in the state he was in and see it through. I'm pretty sure I would have turned back quite early on.

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dav2930


User avatar
Location: Cumbria
Interests: Many and varied
Activity: Ambler
Pub: The Mill Inn
Mountain: An Teallach
Place: Glen Nevis
Gear: Marmot Windshirt
Ideal day out: A round of summits with some scrambling thrown in, or a nice multi-pitch climb.
Ambition: No fires, just embers

Munros: 241
Corbetts: 13
Grahams: 16
Donalds: 45
Wainwrights: 214
Hewitts: 163
Sub 2000: 1
Islands: 2



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Statistics

2021

Trips: 2
Distance: 46.5 km
Ascent: 2709m
Munros: 2

2020

Trips: 5
Distance: 57.9 km
Ascent: 5270m
Munros: 2
Grahams: 2
Hewitts: 8
Wainwrights 9

2019

Trips: 16
Distance: 241.95 km
Ascent: 18327m
Munros: 9
Corbetts: 1
Grahams: 2
Donalds: 5
Hewitts: 17
Wainwrights 22

2018

Trips: 13
Distance: 185.7 km
Ascent: 12938m
Munros: 5
Hewitts: 18
Wainwrights 19

2017

Trips: 20
Distance: 324.06 km
Ascent: 21443m
Munros: 4
Corbetts: 2
Grahams: 3
Donalds: 12
Hewitts: 54
Wainwrights 47

2016

Trips: 27
Distance: 432.8 km
Ascent: 27445m
Munros: 25
Corbetts: 1
Grahams: 5
Donalds: 12
Hewitts: 23
Wainwrights 28

2015

Trips: 19
Distance: 302.6 km
Ascent: 16073m
Munros: 11
Corbetts: 2
Donalds: 5
Hewitts: 18
Wainwrights 28

2014

Trips: 13
Distance: 246.3 km
Ascent: 12584m
Munros: 10
Hewitts: 22
Wainwrights 22

2006

Trips: 1
Ascent: 2365m


Joined: Feb 13, 2015
Last visited: Dec 03, 2021
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