Monday, June 29, 2015

A Chralaig & Mullach Fraoch-Choire

After a lovely day-off, wandering about in Plockton and reading, I had one day left to enjoy the hills. The weather forecast, however, was rather discouraging! In fact the forecast strongly suggested that I abandon the exercise and go for something in the drier East of the country. I had a map of the Monadliath with me, and was tempted to walk there on my way home. I decided against that, simply because the hills of The Monadliath are within easy reach of home, whereas time spent up in Kintail was a scarce resource I could not afford to squander! Instead I elected to have a go at the two hills in the Cluanie Inn area which I had yet to ascend: A' Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch-choire.

The access point for these hills is via the same gate in the fence on the main road by Loch Cluanie as the dreaded An Caorann Mor path, from the Cluanie Inn to Glen Affric. After less than fifty yards on that track, by a tiny little cairn, a path veers to the right and climbs very steeply up the shoulder of A'Chralaig's South ridge, labelled as Fuaran Mor Chluainidh on the OS map. The path is steep, wet and slippery. In places it is like a less-well used version of the steep pull from Crianlarich up Ben More. After about 700m, the ridge both narrows and the gradient eases off - and really enjoyable day of ridge walking commences.

The weather forecast was a bit grim so I took the precaution of starting my walk fully Goretexed, awaiting the promised rain. By the time I made the ridge I was absolutely cooking and had to start shedding layers. The forecast seemed reasonable enough, it was cold and cloudy and a downpour felt imminent. Cloud was blowing around in the wind when I reached the summit of A'Chralaig, an airy place crowned with a cairn the size of a lighthouse. Someone has spent a huge amount of time and effort up there building it,
it made a nice place to sit and have breakfast, but I couldn't help wondering why they had bothered going to such great lengths in so remote a spot!

The route between the Munro's is simple enough - follow the ridge Northwards to a subsidiary top, and turn eastwards, then follow the curving ridge as it turns back Northwards over an ever narrowing ridge to the peak of Mullach Fraoch-Coire. The top in the centre of this ridge, Stob Coire na Craileig is a fine little mountain in its own right, shapely, steep-sided and featuring a nice little summit with a cairn. It was on this top that I had a wonderful surprise... instead of the expected rain showers, the cloud lifted, the sky turned blue and the whole ridge was exposed! Then the cloud seemed to evaporate from all the adjacent mountains too - providing breathtaking vistas of many of the ridges I had climbed over the preceding days.

As I made my way along the ridge I was uncertain as to the best route off. The books suggested that the best route was to completely retrace my steps over A'Chralaig, but the ascent path up the front of the hill was extremely slippery and I really didn't fancy it. Furthermore, this was my last walk before heading home and I was in a hurry. I hadn't seen my family for four days and was anxious to get going. I had started walked before 7am, with the thought that I could do a days walking and be back for tea, or better still to collect my daughter from school! Different walking books recommend different quick-ways down off the ridge, pointing walkers either to go westwards from the ridge's lowest point either North or South of the top called Stob Coire na Craileig. The first option didn't look promising, however there is a bit of a path heading down through the scree between Stob Coire na Craileig and Mullach Fraoch-Choire - so I elected to use that on my way down.

Mullach Fraoch-Choire is a delight! The ridge to the summit contains a series of lovely pinnacles which can be climbed or circumvented. A path winds its way in and out of these rocky spines, crossing the ridge several times and winding along some fiendish ledges that look like part of the set from Lord of the Rings. It wouldn't be hard to imagine Gandalf himself beckoning walkers along these paths. For a bit of added excitement, in several places these ledge-paths appear to be slumping away from the side of the mountain, and should be used cautiously, especially after heavy rain.

My early start (and weekday walk) meant that I saw no-one on these hills at all - I had this vast, beautiful playground all to myself it seemed. The second Munro summit meant time to stop, and fuel up with some food and drink before picking the descent path back down to the An Caorann Mor track, the car and home. And I was back in time to get my daughter from school!

These two are absolutely splendid mountains, beautiful, with stunning views and lovely features. They are right by the road, and easily accessible too. Both of them can be comfortably climbed by the route described, and be back at the car in around 5 hours. If you are a hillwalker who is new to Kintail and are wondering where to start - I'd suggest these. They are tremendous introduction to a great area of The Scottish Highlands!

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