The Mountain's Silhouette

Hiking and backpacking in the mountains of Scotland

Sgurr a' Mhaoraich

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Distance: 14.32 km
Ascent: 925 m
Time: 6hrs 30mins
Munros: Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich (1,027m)
Weather: Early high cloud clearing to blue skies. Very cold with snow above 700m
Route: Click to view

The twists and turns of the Kinlochhourn road are probably enough to make most people wish they hadn’t bothered with breakfast. I was driving and even I felt a little funny as we booted up under steely skies besides Loch Quoich.

The previous day I had driven through almost continual rain from Aberdeen to Invergarry, a small village nestled comfortably in the Great Glen. Even a detour further south late in the afternoon to Glenfinnan (location of the viaduct made famous by the Harry Potter film franchise) had not given me any respite and it had been with some trepidation that we discussed our proposed route over a pleasant pint or two of the local Garry Ale in the Invergarry Hotel on Friday night. The baked whole sea bream I had for a main was delicious but the staff seemed a little dour.

In the end, after a good night’s sleep in the brilliant Invergarry Lodge hostel, we had nothing to worry about. The MWIS forecast entirely failed to materialise and as we put our first steps on the stalkers path leading up to Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach there was already a brightness gleaming through the clouds.

It was my first time out in this part of the country and I was instantly won over by the wildness of it. Though there is a dam, pylons and associated road, the mark of humans feels muted by the splendour and isolation of the peaks which surround this loch.

I should mention that today was a special day for one member of the Stocket Hillwalking Club. After 16 years, Tony was about to complete his Munros. It was to be a day of huge enjoyment, starting out with a photo opportunity lined up along the path above the parking area with great views east down Loch Quoich and over to Gairich.

From there we began the long but easy climb up the excellent path which gradually brought us above the waters of loch, the mountains across the water gradually losing their cloud caps. There was a dusting of snow on the peaks that led out towards Knoydart as well as on the Munro of Gleouraich to our east.

However, the party piece during the early stages of the day was the South Glen Shiel Ridge which came into sight as we climbed up below the flat summit of Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach. The long line of Munros each had a cap of fresh white snow with the line drawn distinctly a quarter of the way down their side; a calendar-perfect view of Scottish mountains.

We continued on and as we tracked back slightly to the summit cairn of Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach the sun was definitely out and blue skies were spreading all around us. It seemed like we had chosen the right place to be as further south there were high banks of cloud that blocked out the view of Nevis, the Grey Corries and the Glenfinnan Hills.

From the summit of Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach you get a great view up to the much higher summit of Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich, a delightfully undulating ridge leading the eye westward to the frost shrouded peak.

We made our way towards it, following the well worn track that keeps close to the crest of the ridge and crosses a couple of dry stone walls. After the second of these the path climbs up, close to the crags that separate the steep northern slopes from the more gentle eastern approach.

The final slope up to the rocky eastern col was very steep and covered in powdery snow with some vegetation poking through in places. We picked our way up the slope until we came out on the top. Immediately we had stunning views west to Loch Hourn, the mountains of Knoydart, and out to the Black Cuillin on Skye.

It was a delight to climb up the final snow-covered slope to where the summit cairn stood on a rocky shelf.

The views were simply incredible. This summit occupies an enviable position, commanding fine views of the encircling mountains and far out to the western isles. As well as the close by Saddle and Beinn Sgritheall, we could see Skye, Eigg, the Affric hills and further north to Liathach in Torridon.

Once everyone had gathered on the summit the celebrations could begin. Various people, including myself, had carried up bottles of champagne which were placed in a nearby snow drift to chill. Then we prepared the avenue of walking poles for Tony to run through and touch the summit cairn. Once there he had a cork to pop and soon the champagne was flowing freely, accompanied by cake and the most spectacular views you could ask for. We spent a happy hour up on the summit.

After the celebrations it was time to continue with the traverse. Although there are a couple of different options to continue on from the summit, the general consensus was to drop down west to the lower top of Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich Beag and then return to the roadside in order to get back to the cars.

The feeling of space on this part of the hike was quite incredible. All around us the snow-capped mountains shone brightly in the midday sun. Fluffy white clouds drifted through a blue sky. It felt like with just a couple of big steps you could be in the heart of Knoydart or scrambling along the Cuillin ridge. Days as pure and brilliant as this one are rare in Scotland and it was a privilege to be out breathing in the cold, clear air and seeing these spectacular sights.

The initial descent from Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich is steep and stony, a faint path picking its way through crags and rocks and occasionally sending you close to the edge of the western ridge. This gave dramatic views across to the Saddle and beyond.

At the bealach we paused briefly before continuing up the more gentle incline to reach the summit of Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich Beag. From the wide summit I continued some way to the west to get a perfect view over Kinlochhourn, down the stunning Loch Hourn and across to the mountains of Knoydart.

After this people started to pick their own way down off the hill. My own route took me down besides a developing stream that gathered more tributaries as it fell until it grew to be a significant water course. Here, deep in the corrie and sheltered from any scrap of wind by the surrounding mountains, and with the sun beating down out of an unbroken sky it was swelteringly hot.

Layers were lost as we eventually picked up a boggy path that followed the stream which now cascaded on our right down towards the road in a series of waterfalls. It wasn’t always pleasant going but eventually we made it down to the road and began the somewhat arduous walk back around to the cars.

The going along the rolling road was enlivened by the sighting of an eagle (or some other large bird of prey) circling above Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich’s south-eastern shoulder, and later a stag which paused just above the road in a perfect tourist office approved pose. Finally the blue waters of Loch Quoich appeared and we were back at the cars.

We now had a long wait for the rest of the group to get back. Everyone had got quite separated and so I took the car back long the road a couple of times to round up stragglers. Between these we lazed around in the beautifully warm late afternoon sunshine.

The drive back was just as twisty as the way in had been but now we stopped a couple of times to take photos and stretch tired legs. We got back to Invergarry Lodge as the sun sank behind the hills and then it was into celebration mode: a speech, gin and tonics and then a great meal followed by singing and chatting late into the night.

I’m quite envious that I won’t get to do this one as my last Munro; it made for a great day out. Still, it had brought me one step closer to my 2010 goal of 100 Munros, and with a brilliant MWIS forecast posted for Sunday it looked like Munos 99 and 100 would very shortly be in the bag.

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