Peter Walker: Track 4527 in area near Loch Duich to Cannich (Britain)
Alltbeithe Munros - There And Back Again
Length: 40.0km, Creator time taken: 10h20m, Ascent: 1704m, Descent: 1704m
Places:Start at NH08760 12093, Carn na Con Dhu, Mullach na Dheiragain, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan [Sgurr nan Ceathramhnan], Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan East Top, Stob Coire nan Dearcag, Stob Coire na Cloiche, An Socach, An Socach West Top, end at Start Logged as completed by 1
Being a slightly obsessive child fixated on mountains, maps and guidebooks has generally served me well into my adult life, but it'd be somewhat disingenuous of me not to admit to it having the odd drawback. Those teenage years spent poring over cartography and freebasing relevant texts left me awash with ideas. Which was all well and good, but my brain eventually decided 'that's quite enough ideas now, thankyou'. So, realistically, I haven't thought of any genuinely new hillwalking itineraries in about 25 years, but I probably shouldn't bleat, given that my cranium has far too many 'mountain concepts' stored up for a sensible life anyway.
And so it was that a fortuitous juxtaposition of 1) a Scottish holiday, and 2) lockdown allowing the gaining of a bit of fitness, for a change, led me to an outing I first dreamt up in the 1980s. Sgurr na Ceathreamhnan is a mountain whose stature is only matched by the challenge of its pronounciation, a complex of sharp ridges secreted in the wilderness at the head of Glen Affric. Remote as it is, it's trumped in the accessibility stakes by a peak on one of its subsidiary spurs, Mullach na Dheiragain, a genuine contender for the most distant Munro. Averse as I am to camping under or cycling to mountains (I like my nocturnal comforts, and my brain can't cope with mixing my forms of self-propulsion) it had to be a walk-in-and-out-from-a-road-in-a-day job. And so it was that I parked up at 7am just east of the Cluanie Inn on the A87 road that leads to Skye. I drowned myself in sunblock and Jungle Formula, loaded up with sausage rolls and Lucozade, and sallied forth under overcast skies that the forecast promised would clear.
The first section took me through the An Caoran Mor, a deep low pass that leads to the lonely Alltbeithe Youth Hostel (Britain's remotest) at the head of Glen Affric. Said YH is 10km away, and the map shows a path all the way. Fortunately other readings had enlightened me as to said path's true nature, and after about a quarter of the distance a nice cuddly 4 wheel drive track gives way to a comically ghastly quagmire. There's sort of a path over this section, but it lurches wildly between tangibility and memory as it wends (and squirts) its way over the top of the pass and down into the glen. A quirky little suspension bridge crosses the river, and an arcing course takes you past another swamp to reach Alltbeithe. The hostel was closed (presumably Covid-related) but there were some tents pitched in the garden. This meant the 'walk in' section was done, and I tried to shut out the prospect of 'the walk out' over the same ground (and much more tired) that would need completing later.
Anyway, properly upwards. An excellent stalkers path climbs from the back of the hostel, contours the hillside, then strikes up to the col at the foot of Ceathreamhnan's east ridge. This deteriorates in its upper section into (surprise surprise) a bit of a quagmire, and as the clouds weren't receding I was toiling up into ever thickening mist. On reaching the col I felt I needed a round of sausages and extensive Lucozade gluggage (other sports drinks are available) to fight off a bit of a Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul. Vaguely restored, I decided to leave the third Munro of the proposed route (An Socach) to the end of the day if at all, it being a shortish up-and-down from this point. So, first up, the logistically challenging Mullach.
To reach it I went along Ceathreamhnan's ridge for about 150m until finding a small cairn (of the sort of size that makes its permanence highly dubious). From here I dropped down north to make a cautious descending traverse of the craggy hillside, aiming for the outflow of Loch Coire nan Dearcag which would occasionally appear through the mist. This point gained, it was a straightforward but pathless pull up to a col on Ceathreamhnan's north-east spur. This section is quite complex and needs good navigation skills, but it avoids the need to climb the whopping Ceathreamhnan twice.
From here it's still a fair way to the objective, first over the substantial subsidiary top of Carn na Con Dhu before a final straightforward climb to Mullach na Dheiragain. Remote and inaccessible though this mountain is (I had walked about 18km to reach it), it didn't stop five other blokes being sat by the cairn as it materialised through the mist. Much banter about the insanity of our being there ensued, and that was before two ladies in their twenties in lycra shorts with a Jack Russell in tow rocked up. On being asked where they were going next they pointed vaguely into the murk and said 'another five or six over there' before adding (unnecessarily, one could argue) 'we're mad for it!'. Time to go before Amelia Earhart and Lord Lucan put in an appearance.
So, back to that col past Carn na Con Dhu and a long climb up what must be a very scenic ridge (that I obviously couldn't see) to Sgurr na Ceathreamhnan. This summit, one I had thought about and aspired to for over thirty years, I had to myself. But the craggy slopes and pendant ridges were invisible in the incredibly resilient fog, so I didn't linger. Instead I skipped down over the various lumps and bumps on the east ridge, gradually and slightly frustratingly emerging from the cloud, eventually regaining the Col of Sausage Rolls from the morning. Feeling generally fine I decided I would nip up An Socach after all, dumping my rucksack for the 30 odd minutes it took. It would have been daft to make myself walk all the way in again just for that one.
The prodigious walk out was something I had fairly successfully in shoving to the back of my mind. But once I'd dropped back down to Alltbeithe (into the most maddening blazing sunshine) it became a grinding two hour reality. Lucozade, stream water and cereal bars were devoured with the same enthusiasm I was using to swear loudly at all the insect life now taking a vampiric interest in me. The feet got wet, the heels were painfully shredded, but the miles were ground out and upon reaching the more amenable 4 wheel drive I had sufficient energy left to pretty much jog down in...all that aerobic training actually paying off.
Once back in the car a quick celebratory bang on the steering wheel slipped out...I'd waited quite a long time for that one. What next? Let me see what the old memory bank throws up.
Uploaded on: Wed, 14 Jul 2021 (21:02:02) Linkback: https://mountainviews.ie/track/4527/ To download GPS tracks you must be enrolled and logged in. See "Login or enrol", top right - quick and easy.
Comment created by melohara Aug-07
Well done Peter. Inspirational - if you weren't fit before you were certainly fit afterwards....
Comment created by simon3 Jul-15
That's quite some walk. Whatever file slimming was done appears to have evened the speed you were going at.
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