Sunday, May 22, 2016

Miles in The Mullardoch's

'The Mullardoch's' are the four Munro's which form a set of complex ridges on the North side of Loch Mullardoch. High hills, big climbs, navigation challenges to face, and the real remoteness of these peaks, makes the Mullardoch's a great challenge. My attempts to pronounce Gaelic place-names are often wrong. I had always thought the emphasis was on the first sylabble of Mullardoch; whereas I was appropriately corrected yesterday to Mullardoch. Loch Mullardoch was a natural loch at the head of Glen Cannich in the great inland mountains west of The Great Glen. The addition of a great hydro dam at the eastern end of the loch doubled its length, massively raised the height of the water and changed the glen forever.

Our day began just after 4AM, with a coffee fuelling, then long drive via Inverness, Drumnadrochit and Cannich to the North Side of the Mullardoch dam. There, waiting for us, as promised was Angus with his boat. We had decided against trying to walk the length of the loch, over notoriously difficult terrain, and booked the ferry. ( Many of the hillwalking books do not mention this possibility as the boat service was unavailable for a few years, but is now up and running for six months of the year. It costs £25/person, but speeds down the loch and several takes hours off what is a very long day - especially when long car journey's are also required.

As he took us down the loch, Angus chatted to us about where we were going. He clearly knows these hills very well, and gave us some useful advice about routes and difficult river crossings - and actually took us further along the loch than the website advertises. He dropped us off at the foot of the climb up to the first Munro of the day, An Socach. The boat ride is great, speeding down the loch, surrounded by great peaks and really wild land, in high spirits and with a geat sense of expectation as to what the day might bring.

The loch lies at around 200m, and An Sochach is 1069m high, which gives a vigorous start to the walk. it was warm and humid as we worked our way up the hill's south ridge. One of our number bravely and optimistically went up the first climb in shorts. Many a Munro walk described on this blog are solo walks, in which I trudge around the Highlands like an anti-social grumpy old man! Rumours that a party of friends was assembled for this walk to avoid me paying £75 for the ferry on my own are purely conjecture! I am (contrary to what you may have heard) not 'overly cautious with money' to quite that extent. Happily, for such a long and remote walk, my wife was able to come - along with three excellent friends and neighbours who all happen to have children in the same class at the local school. When the curved summit ridge is made, the top is visible across the corrie - as well as the looming shape of the second hill beyond it.

The gloomy weather forecasters were right. I have often thought that MWIS forecasts are too pessimisitic, but they were exactly right on this one. Not long after we stood on top of An Socach, the clouds swirled in and the rain began. Route finding was fairly straightforward, the well-worn path leads down the Bealach 'a Bholla and into the climb up the western flanks of An Riabhachan. Although we worked hard on this climb the rain poured, the winds picked up and the temperatures plummetted. One of the group started to become very cold indeed, despite being very well encased in themal layers under Goretex, and wearing hats and gloves. We didn't hang around long on the top, but devoured some chocolate and moved on. Even our optimistic shorts-wearing friend gave in to warm trousers!

The long broad ridge of An Riabhachan terminates above the cliffs of Creagan Toll an Lochan, and the descent to the Bealach Toll an Lochan begins. Despite the only occasional visibility, the twisty, scrambly ridges through these hills never fails to inspire and keep the walk interesting. It was also great to extend some of the normal fleeting at-the-school gate conversations into decent chat.

The climb up to Sgurr na Lapaich is hard work. It throws almost 300m of climbing at the walkers already weary legs. Our party member who had got so cold on An Riabhachan needed a good hard work-out to warm up, and Sgurr na Lapaich duly obliged. This is a high and shapely mountain, which as the cloud began to break up, offered us stunning views of hills across Affric, Stratfarrar and further afield. Descending Sgurr na Lapaich also involved negotiating some extensive patches of ice and snow. Throwing all thoughts of dignity to the wind, (most of us) slid down on our backsides at an invogorating rate of knots.

Carn na Gobhar is a pleasant hill, which would fit in well somewhere like Glen Shee, but is outsized and outclassed by the ridges and scale of its Mullardoch neigbours. Yesterday though, it was the one hill which offered us great weather, shining sun and expansive views. Descending via the south ridge and a new hyro-scheme road, we made the dam about 9hrs after we had left the boat. Tired, acheing, hungry and rather pleased about the days work we had accomplished, we made a plan- and met for food in Aviemore on the way home.

A final note of thanks is due to the folks who kept an eye on our kids for th day so that we could get a whole day away in the hills.

How wet was it? You can guage this by the lack of photos on this post.

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