Martin on Cnicht

Martin on Cnicht

Sunday, 1 May 2016

2 to 6 May – A Loch Mullardoch Circuit

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A Walk on the Wild Side

Thursday

M and D leave from Manchester city centre 5.15 pm. Pick up J at Carlisle.

Stop at Black Bull, Moffatt, for a meal.

Lovely evening and fine views - reach Pitlochry 10.30. Faskally campsite.

Friday (entry by Dave)

Up at 6, away by 6.30, arrive Loch Mullardoch 9 am. Wait for Nick, who arrives at 9.55.

Set off 10.15, heading for Carn nan Gobhar (CnG) (992m). Follow the loch for a while and then head up a stream (Allt Mullardoch). M appears to have too much in sack. Nick is disturbingly un-style conscious with an 11 year old sack. Only two straps! John has a new Karrimor Condor sack that is even more complicated than Dave and Martin's.

Stop for break at top of stream. Tea all round. Cags on as v windy and drops of rain. Head off up CnG, which we get to after frequent stops. Visibility in cloud not so good. Overtrousers on for N,D and J (M's were already on - to the amusement of all as they look as complicated as J's sack).

The next target is Sgurr na Lapaich (1150m) which is supposed to be a narrow ridge. Not the way we went - steep slope and a climb through snow were enjoyed by D and M. Nick not so happy (used his axe). J definitely not happy with our route. But J is a purist. Reach summit trig point around 4pm.

See note 1

Some were feeling tired, so we decide to camp at nearby lochan. Set off on compass bearing. But instead of going down to Loch Mor we go over the other side (to the south) just a brief way to pitch. This means we won't have to ascend as much in the morning.

Tents soon up after a false start. Meals and plenty of sleep etc etc.

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M was declared by N to be a 'style victim' - a reference to his cag. Dave tries to get in on the act by putting on his waistcoat and tea-cosy, but he's a poor second. (See top photo – Ed)

Saturday (entry by Nick)

This is Nick's return after a long absence - he hasn't really featured since Vol 1 of these diaries - this is Vol 19. After said 10 year absence some of Nick's gear is the subject of ridicule from his fellow walkers. His only new item is a stove, his last one having relaxed into a few unrelated rusty pieces.

The day started clear and cold - it's impossible to button a shirt with frozen fingers!

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Left campsite at 8.30 having packed wet frozen tents.

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Regained the col in warm sunshine.

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Then a long hot climb with good views of Loch Beag and Loch Mor, to reach the An Riabhachan ridge.

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M burst through from the back to reach the summit first.

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Part way up the cloud came down and cags were donned fearing yesterday's weather. Fortunately it cleared in gaps along the ridge. Luckily at least as we descended at right angles…

See note 2

… to a small bump (1040m) and then down to a col where we stopped for a brew (Bealach Bholla). As we rested, two people who had set off from the car park at 5.45 am passed us. They beat us up An Socach before returning to their car. 'A good day's walk.'

We set off some time later to climb An Socach. The sun was out again and the views were excellent. Eventually reached the summit, where our two new friends with very small bags were relaxing in the sunshine. We sat and took in the awesome vistas - by now as far as the horizon in all directions. There were guesses at naming some of the Torridon tops in the distance.

Descent was initially easy, over grassy slopes above Coire Lungard, but turning down steeply towards Loch Mhoicean the going became more difficult.

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See note 3

Dave raced into the distance. J asked what was Dave's secret breakfast menu? I (Nick) went more slowly, my toe joints painful as my boots didn't expand in the right places. At Loch Mhoicean we stopped to sunbathe for a while before more descent down a reasonable track towards Iron Lodge. An excellent view, part way down, of a classic glacial valley.

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'Iron Lodge' appeared to have stone walls and a partially constructed felt roof - we couldn't see any old iron anywhere!

See note 4

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Further down the path to Carnach, M having persuaded us to avoid Mullach na Dheiragain, we passed sheep with fluffy white lambs for M to photograph, then a large herd of red deer and a herd of Highland cattle with calves.

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Crossing the Allt na Doire Garbhe by the bridge at Carnach (uninhabited but in good repair) we sat and pondered the climb ahead, managing to talk it down to 'only 850 feet'.

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We could see the stalkers path climbing steeply up by the Allt Coire Easaich (it wasn't easy) and its waterfalls.

The path was good if steep until it disappeared, necessitating a vertical climb (really! - Ed) up a stony, grassy, gravelly gully. By this time I was far behind and was glad I'd managed to 'sell' my small spare gas cylinder to Dave earlier in the day. My feet were sore and my legs ached. J hung back a little to point the way and we landed up on the shore of Loch Lon Mhurchaidh at about 5 pm. It was a slightly damp and heathery site, but with good views across the loch towards A Ghlas Bheinn, Sgurr Gaorsaic and Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan 'that most celebrated of West Highland peaks'. 'A superb and complex mountain of many ridges, peaks and corries' ... 'in a very remote and wild situation'. We'll see about that tomorrow.

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Dave's stove has now completely given up, despite J's engineering skills, so D was resigned to borrowing to cook his evening repast.

The only trouble with this site is there is no stream nearby, so good planning is needed to avoid an early morning hike.

The sun's now disappeared and the wind has dropped. Good job it's too early in the year for midges!

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Sunday (entry by Martin)

6.30 reveille, away by 8 am. Frost overnight, but cosy on the heathery site. Wake to a blue sky and calm Loch Lon Mhurchaidh - ducks waddling gently across, fish catching flies, reflections of Ben Attow, views to Sgurr Gaorsaic and to our target, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhan (SnC).

We continue up the stalkers path, across a stream,

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and eventually the path steepens, pointing us up the NW face of SnC before petering out.

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It was a long hard pull some 2500 feet up this hill, but the views from the summit, reached at about 11.30, made it all worthwhile. Met two people from Halifax on the way up.

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Brew stop on the summit, facing south with the Kintail peaks nearby and others, like Nevis, clear in the distance.

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Realising this was not our only peak for the day, we eventually donned our heavy loads and trudged (with some standing glissades) on. A splendid if undulating ridge, without difficulties, eventually led to An Socach (920m),

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whence we descended to Bealach Coire Ghaidheil for a welcome brew near a stream a few trifling feet beyond the col. J was having a bad day. He had just fallen over at the end of a snow slope and banged his knee painfully on rock.

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After recovering from his prostration he skilfully brewed up and then knocked over his tea, wetting things and burning his sore leg. Whilst he was fetching more water his stove, borrowed by D, succeeded in lighting the grass, and J's anorak came within a hair's breadth of destruction, saved only by D and M's quick thinking, which unfortunately used up the water and meant another trip for J, who found this brew stop somewhat exhausting.

We continued onwards and now saw quite a number of people on the hill - we'd only seen four people on the entire trip up to this point. A well graded path led most of the way to a cairn where we rejoined the ridge before proceeding to our third Munro of the day, Mam Sodhail (1181m), where there's a giant cairn.

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On the slopes up to MS is a ruined house! The ridge here is quite interesting, with bits carved out of it near the cairn before MS.

Here I left the others, being the only one of us intent on going up the outlier, Beinn Fhionnlaidh (BF)(1005m) - lower than than those around it but proving to be a worthwhile peak. I went down to the col overlooking Loch Uaine, then contoured north to the ridge between Carn Eighe and BF. Left rucksack, zoomed down hill, plodded up to join three others on the summit of BF.

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Lingered there as the views were exceptional. Fine view down Loch Mullardoch;

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Skye in all its glory; Torridon. But in particular this summit gives a bird's eye view of the Loch Mullardoch circuit, all the peaks showing clearly.

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I reluctantly headed back towards Carn Eighe (1183m), the highest summit in the area.

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Stopped for chats with three groups of people. Saw the other three on the ridge heading east. Everyone else seems to be heading west. One gent seemed to have had a Vesta meals display cabinet emptied into his rucksack. The ridge to Tom a Choinich (TaC)(1111m) was less undulating than the An Socach ridge, and the four subsidiary summits, thankfully, required little effort. There was a pleasing gendarmed section where the path by-passed some rocky spires (airy drops beside it) and it hugged the ridge less precariously elsewhere. I could see the others ahead on TaC. I think they were deliberately going slowly. By the time they had reached the col beyond that summit I had almost caught up, and I reached them just as the campsite had been decided upon on a flat promontory beside some snow, to the south of the col, above Allt Toll Easa. A selection of meltwater streams and excellent flat, dry pitches.

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Good views south east to snowy mountains (Cairngorms?). Cloud has been developing and after a while a few drops of rain forced Dave indoors. They soon subsided and lots of brews etc are under way. We reached here at 7 pm after one of the best backpacking days available in Scotland - five Munros*, six for Martin, brilliant views, superb high camp at 850 metres**. Rich aroma of onions from D's borrowed stove. Total ascent for the day - 1770 metres.

* and ** ...NB Whilst calculating this I realised a 'minor error'. we are actually at NH 149 265 on an undulation before Tom a Choinich, camped at 950 metres (not 850) and we have an unexpected extra two miles to do tomorrow.

9 pm - now time for soup and frankfurters before it gets dark! As nobody will fetch any water for me I have to resort to my 'cleansing' water (which refreshed me considerably earlier) to provide some 'body' to the soup.

It stayed light late, despite cloud.

Monday (entry by John)

0600 and the mist is right down. Brew up tea and porridge and pass stove to Dave. Everyone ready by 7.15. Nick admits to blisters on feet. Move off at 7.20 and come to something with a cairn on it at 7.45. Moving on, we realise it isn't Tom a Choinich. After one more cairn, we arrive at TaC at 8.40.

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The route down follows the fence, steeply. Bealach Toll Easa is marked by a stalkers track crossing the ridge. On into the mist to a flattish bump, then slowly upwards towards Toll Creagach. Arrive at 9.40. No view. Attempts at finishing reels of film. Down eastwards to a col, then NE through a wet, boggy glen, finishing up in a wet, boggy, heathery wood. Emerge at Generator House, then head towards the other end of the dam. Arrive at 11.30am.

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(Added by Martin)

All day breakfast at Dalwhinnie.
Carlisle for J.
Nick goes his own way to Dundee.
15 mile jam on M6.
Back at 8.30 (415 miles)
Report writing for work tomorrow.

Note 1: Sue and Martin were here in 2015, heading from the other direction. We descended the easy northern spur of Sgurr na Lapaich. From CnG we would recommend descent into Garbh-choire then ascent via this northern spur, if conditions are dubious.

Note 2: from what Martin can remember of his 2015 visit, this is the crux of the walk, with care needed on the descent from 1086m.

Note 3: When M & S were here in 2015 they ascended easily via Carn na Breabaig and Meall Shuas.

Note 4: In 2015 it was a comfortably inhabitable bothy.

Martin's comments - May 2016

I started this with the intention of typing a summary of the diary entries from our Mullardoch round undertaken in May 1991, almost exactly 25 years ago, but I was compelled to type the whole lot, if only for Dave and Nick's entertainment (sadly we have lost contact with John). Our diary (Volume 19) contains a photocopy of page 55 of Richard Gilbert's '200 Challenging Walks in Britain and Ireland - A Companion Guide to 'The Big Walks', 'Classic Walks' and 'Wild Walks', the Loch Mullardoch Circuit being 'Wild Walk' number 13. Brilliant books, all of them, but perhaps superseded by more recent publications and blogs.

These days Munro baggers may be tempted to vary the route we followed by heading up Mullach na Dheiragain (MnD) en route to Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan. The ridge between the two could be tricky in poor weather, in which case it may be wise to follow our 1991 route and perhaps attempt MnD as an outlier. Whilst my visits to the area have been in good weather and uneventful in terms of 'difficulties' it is clear from reading Richard Gilbert's account (and his mountaineering skills far exceed mine), that in poor conditions the route we took could be over dangerous terrain with lots of scope for mishaps. Take care!

Looking at those old photos, I see that I still have (and use) a ‘waistcoat’ like the one sported by Dave, and until two days ago the green Karrimor Jaguar 65 rucksack was my primary backpacking sack, having outlived less durable replacements from Golite and Lowe-Alpine. The Phoenix Phreerunner tent is also still going strong.

I must have had more energy in those days – I wouldn’t nowadays contemplate writing a report of any sort after arriving home late after an early start with a four hour walk and a 400 mile drive. Perhaps that’s how I managed to hold on to my job for so long!

I’ve plotted (roughly) the route we took on Anquet mapping software and that is shown below, with the red triangles representing Munro summits. If you click on the image you may get a slightly larger version, although a magnifying glass could be handy! The route we took was about 60 km, with 5000 metres ascent.

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11 comments:

Louise said...

Wonderful!

Phreerunner said...

An enjoyable reminiscence Louise, especially when I found the photos.

Jean O’Tipe said...

Thanks Martin. Great entertainment too see vintage photos. Route exactly as I envisaged (apart from extra Munro). I need a little less snow than is there at present. Cary

afootinthehills said...

Superb round Martin and remarkably good photographs - they scanned well. At the time you were doing this, we were two months from 'compleating'. Great days.

Phreerunner said...

Thanks Cary, and Gibson. I hope you enjoy your own visit Cary (who is driving up there today).

For several reasons the images had to be taken very quickly. Once I found the old album it took me about two minutes to photograph the 5' x 7' snaps, and another two minutes to download them, before my son called to borrow our digital cameras for a project he's working on. So there were some reflections that should have been avoided but which don't concern me as they add to the 'vintage' authenticity of this posting. If I could find the negatives and get them properly scanned, the images might look as if they were originally taken yesterday.

Gibson, if you are like me you have a record of your 'bagging' trips spread over different types of media. Whilst I enjoy current trips (the Challenge starts next week - food is being assembled) it's sometimes great to reminisce with the old diaries, slides and photo albums.

bowlandclimber said...

Enjoyed that post, thanks for the memory, it had me digging my diaries out.
1993 June 16th - 18th three of us did a virtually identical circuit.
Parked at the damn. We must have been away earlier as we completed the northern arm and had a soggy camp [all under one outer tent]in Coire Na Breabaig. Straight up Mullach Na Dheiragain next morning and along the ridges to Mam Sodhail, don't remember any difficulties although in mist and rain most of the time. We had a high camp at 950m also which I remember from Mike rehydrating his 'Raven' only to find it had gone off. There was no other food left but he didn't poison himself. Finished the ridge next morning with a long glissade.
Great three days - approx 35miles, no idea how much climbing up and down. Now where are those slides?

Phreerunner said...

Excellent. My diaries reveal that I went up Mullach na Dheiragain (and other hills) on a solo trip from Alltbeithe SYHA on 30 June 1985. In nice weather, so perhaps I should dig out the photos! I didn't note any difficulties. But there would have been no snow, only fairly small amounts of which can make some of these high traverses a lot more difficult, and seeing as I was writing this entry for Cary and Alastair, who are both about to visit the area on separate trips on their own, and in view of Richard Gilbert's comments on his wintry experiences there, I thought it wise to warn people to be very cautious at this time of year.

AlanR said...

Some trip that. Excellent memories. Pheonix were big then. (Not the tents, the company)

Orchids and Nature said...

Wonderful pictures, lived every moment, sadly my knees aren't up to it for the distances you cover.

wuxing said...

Martin - thanks a lot for posting this - brought back lots of memories. Always regretted not joining your side trip to Beinn Fionnlaidh but this was before my days of Munro-ticking and I recall my feet were in a bad state after wearing those Koflach plastic boots which - btw - seemed like a good idea at the time but never really delivered to promise. Too stiff for walking and not stiff enough for step-in crampons.

As for the rest of the gear, all the clothing has long since gone but the rucsac, axe and Phoenix tent are still in my possession, however not really 'going strong' as that would imply they are still regularly in use, which they are not.

Nevertheless that was an epic trip - happy days - and all the best for the upcoming TGOC!

Nick

Phreerunner said...

Thanks Alan, David, and especially Nick. Hopefully one day you will find time to dust off that old gear and go for a bimble, Nick. Or even another TGO Challenge?

I could spend a vast amount of time sorting through old photos and diaries. It'll never happen, but I shall continue to try to lift details of the odd trip into the present. This particular 'memorabilia project' was certainly worthwhile.