A perfect day above Glen Strathfarrar – [# 245 – 247]

An Riabhachan (1129m); Sgurr na Lapaich (1150m)
and Carn nan Gobhar (992m)

  • Pronunciation:             Un Reeavochan; Skoor na Lapeech; Karn nern Go-er
  • Translation:                  the Grey (or Speckled) One; Peak of the Bog; Hill of Goats
  • Total distance:             18.9km
  • Total time:                    6hrs 41mins
  • Total ascent:                 1569m
  • Weather:                       Beautiful – sunny and warm with high cloud.
  • Start / end location:    By the power station at the end of the public road along Glen Strathfarrar. [OS Map Sheet 25 – Grid Ref: NH 183 381]
  • 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.

Monar Dam holding back Loch Monar - at the west end of Glen Strathfarrar

Monar Dam in Glen Strathfarrar

Today we travelled NE through Strathglass on the A831 from our base in Cannich to reach the tiny hamlet of Struy (“strath” translates to mean a wide, flat-floored valley through which a river runs – in this case the River Glass). Struy is literally the gateway to Glen Strathfarrar as there is a locked gate that restricts vehicle access to the glen to certain days of the week and specific periods during those days. (There is no access restriction for walkers and cyclists – however the glen is 17 miles long and today’s three Munros start at the very end of it.)

Driving across Monar Dam in Glen Strathfarrar

The four Munros to the north of Glen Strathfarrar from high up on Meall Garbh

The summit of An Riabhachan from the eastern top

We called at the cottage beside the gate to gain access and then proceeded to drive the full length of the glen – all 17 miles of it – to reach the start of our walk. The glen was really stunning – perhaps one of the best glens that we’ve travelled through – and in getting to the end of it we had to drive across two dams – the Monar and the Loichel. This in itself was fun and offered some spectacular views from the ramparts – especially on Monar Dam, the only large arch dam to be built in the UK, at 520ft long and 123ft high. These dams, along with other less conspicuous ones, make up a vast network of hydroelectric-power generation in the glen. Indeed, we noticed that quite a few of the major burns were quite dry despite the recent heavy rains, and we discovered that many were diverted higher up on the hillsides in order to feed into the hydro network.

It was at a power station high up in Glen Loichel that we finally parked our car to start our walk. We followed a track along the north side of Gleann Innis an Liochel, which after 1km turned into a stalkers’ path. After another 1.5km the path crossed the Allt an Eas Bhain Mhior burn at a ford and then continued to snake its way SW around a little rib and on towards Loch Mor. Some 600m before reaching the loch we veered west off the path and headed towards the broad NE slope extending down from Meall Garbh – avoiding the steep crags on the north side of Loch Beag. Once we’d gained the crest of Meall Garbh we began the long and fairly relentless 300m ascent of the north ridge of An Riabhachan. The angle remained relentlessly steep and the terrain was littered with dinner-plate sized slabs of stone. It was never technically difficult – only tiring.

Elaine sitting on the summit cairn on An Riabhachan

Sgurr na Lapaich from Creagan Toll an Lochain with Loch Beag (L) and Loch Mor (R) below

When we reached the top of the north ridge we turned west and followed a reasonably level ridge for 600m to reach the summit cairn on An Riabhachan at 1129m or 3,704ft. We retraced our steps back to the top of the main ridge where we descended sharply east along the Creagan Toll an Lochain [ridge] to a col below Sgurr na Lapaich. From the col we climbed steeply again up the broad NE slope to reach the summit cairn and Trig Point on Sgurr na Lapaich at 1150m or 3,773ft. This was the highest of today’s three Munro summits and offered us some spectacular views in all directions. We looked back west to the splendid northern cliffs from where we’d just come on An Riabhachan and then onwards to our next peak. To the northeast we could clearly see the four Munros on the north side of Glen Strathfarrar (still to be tackled), and immediately to the south the subsidiary peak and associated jumble of cliffs of Sgurr nan Clachan Geala looked magnificent.

An Riabhachan from the slopes of Sgurr na Lapaich

Sgurr nan Clachan Geala to the south of Sgurr na Lapaich

Cameron sitting on the summit Trig Point on Sgurr na Lapaich

The summit cairn of Carn nan Gobhar with Sgurr na Lapaich (R) and Sgurr nan Clachan Geala (L) in the background

We headed ESE from the summit down a ridge to a col, staying to the right of some steep north facing cliffs. The descent had a few tricky sections to negotiate including down-climbing through jumbles of large boulders. These obstacles were short-lived and we were soon at the col below our third and final Munro of the day. We then climbed a broad ridge in two tiers to reach the summit of Carn nan Gobhar at 992m or 3,255ft. The highest point and hence the summit was at the first cairn we reached by our way of ascent from the west, although a larger cairn lay just a 150m further on. We crossed to this cairn “just to make absolutely sure” we’d bagged the right summit point, but as we looked back we could see that the smaller cairn was actually at a slightly higher point on the summit plateau.

From the larger (second) cairn we descended due north down a huge broad slope. At around 700m (contour line) we veered of this broad easy-angled slope northwestward and down into the glen containing the Allt Garbh-choire burn. There was no path down or along the floor of the glen and the ground was very rough. Once we reached the floor we continued along the course of the glen until it began to veer right to avoid a small hillock (point 438m on the OS map). We crossed over this hillock, avoiding the absolute summit by arcing round to the right slightly, and then dropped very steeply through a sparsely populated glade of deciduous trees to reach the top of a large diameter water pipeline. We walked down a service road running alongside the pipeline back to the power station where we’d left our car. A huge plume of frothing water was cascading from an outlet just below the power station and we were sprayed with a fine refreshing mist of water as we crossed the bridge to the car.

Looking down from Carn na Saile Leithe to the Hydro power station in Gleann Innis an Loichel

Elaine crossing the bridge by the hydro power station outlet in Gleann Innis an Loichel

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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