Another long day in Glen Affric – [# 242 – 244]

Mullach na Dheiragain (982m);  Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan (1151m) &
An Socach (921m) 

  • Pronunciation:            Mooluch nuh Yerrigan; Skoor nern Kerravnun; Un Sorcoch
  • Translation:                 Summit of the Kestrel; Peak of the Quarters (land shares); The Snout
  • Total distance:             47.5km
  • Total time:                    10hrs 47mins
  • Total ascent:                 2079m
  • Weather:                       Overcast and very dull – like twilight all day. Cloud level mostly above the highest tops – dulling down with some distant hill fog in the afternoon. Cold in a strong breeze on the summits.
  • 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.

Sgurr na Lapaich (R) and An Tudair (L) poking through the mist from the south side of Loch Affric

After a really long day yesterday our intension was to climb a slightly shorter route in Glen Strathfarrar. However, Glen Strathfarrar is a private estate and only allows vehicle access at certain times of the week. I knew that this was the case, but didn’t know that the glen is closed to vehicles all day on a Tuesday (today) and on a Wednesday morning (until 13.30).  This completely scuppered our plans!

Midge defence required even when cycling

The only alternative that we had in the local area involved another massive day out from the head of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin – it wasn’t a prospect that we were looking forward to, but as the forecast for later in the week was for the weather to deteriorate we were left with no option but “to go for it”.

The route involved a long bike ride to reach the start of the walk and as I prepared our bikes for the trip I noticed that Elaine’s back wheel was almost flat. This was most likely a slow puncture and so I investigated by placing the inner-tube in a bucket of water – but couldn’t find any leaks. After reassembling the tyre and wheel I loaded the bikes on the car and we travelled back to the end of the public road along Glen Affric to the car-park that we’d used yesterday.

The shingle beach at the west end of Loch Affric with Creag a' Chaorainn behind

Mullach na Dheiragain (L of centre) from the col above Coire na Cloiche

As we unhitched the bikes from the bike-rack we came under attack from hoards of midges – it was horrible. Thankfully we’d had the foresight to pack our midge hoods (nets) and so we began our cycle wearing them – very fetching!

From the car-park we took the estate track that crossed the River Affric before then travelling west along the south shore of Loch Affric. The track was quite rough as it undulated its way through some beautiful Caledonian pinewoods to reach the west end of Loch Affric. At the head of the loch we took the track on the right that followed the River Affric as it flowed into the loch. We passed a small cottage on our left before crossing a sturdy bridge to the north side of the river. From this point on the track became much rougher and steeper, forcing us to push our bikes up the worse sections. In places the track resembled a dried up river bed strewn with grapefruit sized boulders. It took us all of our skill and concentration to ride some of the downhill sections.

The summit of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan from the col above Coire na Cloiche

Elaine arriving at the summit of Mullach na Dheiragain with Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan in the background

Eventually, we got to within a kilometre of the Alltbeithe youth hostel – advertised as the remotest in the country. We had cycled 12.6km of some of the toughest terrain either of us had done before – all we had then to do was climb three Munros in about 7.5 hours, and then repeat the cycle back – and this was supposed to have been an easier day!

We locked our bikes together and left them lying in the heather before completing the journey to the youth hostel. The remoteness of this hostel means that you have to take in all your own food and take out all your rubbish. In many ways it is like a glorified bothy – albeit with hot showers and electricity courtesy of a wind turbine and PV (photovoltaic) solar panels on the roof. We passed just to the north of the hostel as we climbed the hillside to a deer protected enclosure, which we entered as we followed a well-constructed walkers’ path along the course of the Allt na Faing burn. The path climbed steadily into Coire na Cloiche and then on up to the top of the corrie’s headwall to reach a col on the ridge above. This ridge joined Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan to the west with An Socach immediately to the east.

Cameron at the summit cairn on Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan

The opposite side of the col from our ascent route was barred by steep craggy cliffs and so we turned west and climbed about 100m further up the ridge until we located a safe line traversing down into the corrie at the top end of Gleann a’ Choilich. We negotiated our way down through some grassy terraces to reach the east side of the tiny Loch Coire nan Dearcag at which point we climbed back up out of the corrie to a low col on the ridge between Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and Mullach na Dheiragain. Once at the col we turned right (NNE) and walked 2.5km over a couple of subsidiary tops to reach our first Munro of the day, Mullach na Dheiragain, at 982m or 3,222ft.

Up to this point the weather had been fairly bright but with high cloud cover well above the tops of all the summits locally. However, although the cloud base remained high, the cloud cover seemed to thicken causing the light level to reduce considerably – it almost seemed like twilight. The wind had picked up, and with the associated wind-chill effect we were forced to pull on our hats and gloves: another fine August day!

The summit of An Socach from the col above Coire na Cloiche

We had to retrace our steps back along the entire length of the ridge passing the col where we’d joined it from the corrie below to reach the start of a fairly sustained ridge climb to the summit of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan. At 1151m, or 3,776ft, this was once again quite a lofty Munro and should have offered us a great vantage point. Unfortunately, the edge had been taken off the views because in the intervening time between our first Munro summit and this one, the thickening cloud had begun to descend in places resulting in a faint translucent mask hiding the detail of the surrounding peaks.

Looking west from the summit of An Socach to a misty Carn Eige and Mam Sodhail

We didn’t linger long at the top before we headed towards our final Munro by descending steeply down the start of the long east ridge. After crossing another couple of subsidiary peaks we arrived back at the col above Coire na Cloiche, which we’d crossed earlier in the day. This time though we continued eastward to climb easily and quickly to the summit of An Socach at 921m or 3,022ft. It had already been a long day and so having bagged this third Munro we quickly retraced our steps back to the col and then from there headed south and down the path towards the youth hostel. As we exited the deer protected enclosure we cut directly across the final heather slopes to reach our bikes.

Let’s just say that the 12.6km bike ride back was rather taxing to say the least. If anything, it was slightly harder than the outward journey – or with tired legs it certainly felt that way.  As if to add insult to injury the midges were out in force again and so we had to resort to cycling with our midge nets on. It wasn’t that we were cycling too slow, but instead, as we descended quickly down some of the steeper sections we were hit in the face by clouds of the little horrors, which would get in our eyes and mouths. Not nice.

We got back to the car 10 hours and 47 minutes after we’d left it – so much for an easier day. Still, we now had the hard Glen Affric Munros behind us!

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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2 Responses to Another long day in Glen Affric – [# 242 – 244]

  1. Sally B says:

    My brother-in -law has told me that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh in Fisherfield Forest, near Ullapool, currently on the Monro list, misses the cut-off by just 44 centimetres — and looks like being reclassified as a Corbett. Not that you will worry. Love the midge protection!

    • Hi Sally,

      Yes, we have been aware of the debate over one of the Fisherfield six falling just short of the magic 3000ft mark. The Scottish Mountaineering Club is the official custodian of the Munro list and it is considering the implications of the updated measurements. It seems that it [the SMC] is waiting on the new height being ratified by OS mapping before it makes any changes to the list. We haven’t yet done the one in question, but will do so soon – irrespective of whether it stays on the list or not. We started out with the aim of climbing 283 Munros and hopefully that is how many we’ll do.

      We’ve have just finished a great week by managing to climb 15 Munros in six days – and some of the days have been quite long. The only problem with such progress is that I’m always left playing catch-up on the blog!

      Elaine passes on her best wishes to you and Geoff and we both hope to see you next time we’re back in Malvern.

      Very best wishes,

      Cameron & Elaine

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