The Glen Affric giants – [# 239 – 241]

Mam Sodhail (1181m); Beinn Fhionnlaidh (1005m) & Carn Eige (1183m)

  • Pronunciation:             Mam Sowell; Bine Ee-yoonly; Karn Ayr
  • Translation:                  Breast-shaped Hill of the Barn; Finlay’s Mountain; File Cairn
  • Total distance:             29.6km
  • Total time:                    9hrs 39mins
  • Total ascent:                 2004m
  • Weather:                       Overcast with a mixture of bright spells and the occasional drizzly shower. Hill fog sporadically covered the peaks.
  • Start / end location:    Car park at the (west) end of the unclassified public road in Glen Affric. [OS Map Sheet 25 – Grid Ref: NH 200 234]
  • Map:                                A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

The Glen Affric estate-keeper's cottage

Cameron approaching the summit cairn on Sgurr na Lapaich

Looking WNW from Sgurr na Lapaich to the summit of Mam Sodhail (slightly covered in mist)

Mam Sodhail (L) and Carn Eige (R) from the summit of Sgurr na Lapaich

Cameron on the giant summit cairn of Mam Sodhail

Once again we travelled along the length of Glen Affric, passing the starting point of yesterday’s walk, to reach the end of the public road – some 16km from Cannich. At the end of the road we parked in a large forestry car-park before continuing on foot along the estate track on the north side of Loch Affric.

After 1.5km we came to a tiny peninsular that jutted south into the loch and which hosted a grove of Caledonian pines surrounding a beautiful estate keeper’s cottage and out-buildings. On the other side of the peninsular was the estate house itself, which was shielded from view by the trees.

Just before reaching the estate cottage we turned off the estate track north and upwards on an excellent footpath. The path continued north for about 1km before it turned sharply west and followed a diagonal line that ascended at an easy angle along a steeper escarpment of hillside. After another kilometre the path reached the top of the escarpment and performed an almost 180° hairpin bend before slowly curving northward again to eventually reach Gleann nam Fiadh.

At the hairpin bend we left the path and, heading east, crossed some marshy ground that slowly climbed upwards until we were at the bottom of the SW ridge of Sgurr na Lapaich. We climbed this ridge to the summit of Sgurr na Lapaich (1036m), where we greeted by a respectable cairn and a rewarding view of the long connecting ridge to Mam Sodhail and Carn Eige a little to the north. The peaks came in and out of view quite quickly as the mist cleared and then covered the summit – this happened throughout the day.

Beinn Fhionnlaidh (L) and Coire Lochan from near the summit of Carn Eige

We descended by about 100m from Sgurr na Lapaich’s summit before slowly ascending the long ridge to reach the massive summit cairn of Mam Sodhail at 1181m or 3,875ft, which just emerged from the mist as we approached. The cairn was easily the biggest one we’ve seen on our trip so far – it almost resembled a Broch. However, unlike a broch, it didn’t have an entrance door, and at first we thought that it might have been solid. Closer inspection – by actually climbing up the stone wall – revealed that it was hollow inside. Interestingly, although the outside was of a round construction the void in the middle was almost perfecting square. So, we sat in the square hole in the cairn and sheltered from the strong, cold wind as we ate our lunch.

From the summit of Beinn Fhionnlaidh looking ENE to Loch Mullardoch

We left the cairn at the summit of Mam Sodhail and descended north down a steep rocky ridge to a col below Carn Eige. Although the summit of Carn Eige was only 400m away horizontally to the NE of the col, our next objective was Beinn Fhionnlaidh, some 2.8km further on to the north. We could have reached Fhionnlaidh by climbing Carn Eige first, but we would have had to climb it again on our return leg. Instead, we traversed round its western face at a height of 1050m. As we continued along this contour we eventually intersected Carn Eige’s NNW ridge that dropped to a broad col to the south of Beinn Fhionnlaidh. We crossed a subsidiary top at 917m before then climbing steadily to the summit of Beinn Fhionnlaidh at 1005m or 3,297ft. From the summit we had some lovely views down the length of Loch Mullardoch and could just make out the north side of the massive dam that created this huge reservoir.

From the summit of Beinn Fhionnlaidh looking back south to Carn Eige (foreground) and Mam Sodhail (background R)

We retraced our tracks back to the NNW ridge of Carn Eige and this time continued upwards above the 1050m contour to reach the summit at 1183m or 3,881ft. This is the highest peak in the area and the 12th highest Munro. From this top we could look back to Mam Sodhail just a kilometre away and see just how dominatingly large its summit cairn was – even in the hazy mist. At only 2m lower than Carn Eige, the cairn on Mam Sodhail provided a good landmark and reference point.

Looking east from the summit cairn and Trig Point on Carn Eige

Our route back to was via Carn Eige’s spectacular east ridge that stretched for over 2.5km before attaching itself to the WSW ridge of Tom a’ Choinich (one of yesterday’s ascents). We climbed over three stunning tops (Stob a’ Coire Dhomhain, Stob Coire Dhomhnuill and Sron Garbh) that arced around the southern craggy rim of the corrie above Loch a’ Choire Dhomhain. Once we reached Sron Garbh we turned south and then SE to follow a steep ridge that dropped into Gleann nam Fiadh below. There was no obvious path down this ridge and we had to make one or two adjustments to our course to find a suitable line. Eventually we reached the path running through the glen, which we followed eastwards along the north side of the river.

The east ridge of Carn Eige leading to Sron Garbh at the far end

Although the path continued along the north side we crossed to the southern bank before the river became too difficult to ford. We then walked for a further kilometre on the south side until we intersected the path that ran south from the glen back to the Affric Lodge (the path that we’d used part of earlier). By the time we’d begun crossing this hinterland between Sgurr na Lapaich and Am Meallan we’d both agreed that it had been a very long and tiring day and so we would tackle one of the shorter routes in Glen Strathfarrar tomorrow.

Eventually we reached the Affric Lodge and Keeper’s cottage and were left with only 1.5km of walking to reach the car – some 9hrs and 39mins after setting out this morning.

From Sron Garbh looking west to Mam Sodhail (L) and Carn Eige (R)

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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