An overnight trip bagging the five Munros around Gleann na Ciche with a wild camp on Carn Ghluasaid
Wild Camp just off the summit of Carn Ghluasaid (NH 146 125)
Elevation Gain: 2,344m
Hills: Mullach Fraoch-choire (Munro, 1,102m), A' Chraileag (Munro, 1,120m), Carn Ghluasaid (Munro, 957m), Sgurr nan Conbhairean (Munro, 1,109m), Sail Chaorainn (Munro, 1,002m), Carn a' Choire Ghairbh (Corbett, 865m)
Route: View on OS Maps
Saturday 19th September 2015
It had been over a month since my last excursion, to the hills east of Loch Treig, and when a nice spell of high pressure finally look set to coincide with a weekend I was keen to make the most of it and get over to the Northwest for some Munro bagging. My planned route was based on one from Dan Bailey’s Great Mountain Days In Scotland book. I modified it a little, extending it out to take in the fifth, much lower, Munro out on a spur and tacking on a Corbett that provided a logical high route back towards the car.
It was bright and sunny for the drive across to Glen Affric and I made good time to arrive at the Chisholm Bridge parking area at around 10:15. This is where I parked for my epic round of the Eastern Affric Munros back in 2010. For some reason I thought this was the closest you could get to Loch Affric without permission to continue on to the private house and so it was that I shouldered my rucksack and set off across the bridge and along the road.
It dawned on me shortly after setting off that I had got myself mixed up - there is indeed a car park close to Loch Affric and that it would have better served my purpose. I had parked at Chisholm bridge previously because that is the access point for the eastern pair of Munros and therefore had minimised walking at the end of the long day. Now I had unwittingly added 4 km to my route which was fine on day 1 but somewhat of a chore on day 2.
Anyway, once the tarmac was done with I passed the River Affric parking area and crossed the bridge across the river itself. A vehicle track continued on the south side of the loch and under blue skies and the green of late summer Glen Affric looked splendid and I was in an upbeat mood. The purple heather lining the track was liberally draped with cobwebs catching the morning sun and there were very few people around. I breathed in the fresh air and made good time along the road which rises and falls through the trees, occasionally giving beautiful views down to the loch itself and to the distant hills rising beyond it.
Beyond the end of Loch Affric the track dropped down towards the River Affric and the cluster of buildings at Athnamulloch. There were excellent views up the long northeast ridge of Mullach Fraoch-choire which I was now aiming for. Sadly, the blue skies were slowly disappearing as grey clouds moved in and the highest Munros disappeared into the clag.
Beyond Athnamulloch the track became grassier and wetter but I soon found my way to the well-hidden footbridge across the Allt na Ciche. A faint track continued on the far bank of the stream and I followed this for a short way before deciding to cut my losses and head across to pick up the ridge that rose up towards the nose at the end of the Mullach's ridge. There were various plantations but it looked like I might be able to miss the trees.
The climb soon gave me views into Gleann na Ciche which I would be circling over the next couple of days and then I had a couple of deer fences to clamber over before I finally hit the steep pull onto the ridge.
The ascent was steep at first but I eventually reached an easing where the main ridge began, stretching away to the top of the Munro and then via a slender arete to the summit itself. The views behind as I rose were excellent down Loch Affric though it was clear that the cloud was thickening and the conditions gradually deteriorating.
After a pause for a snack break I pushed upward, following the undulations of the ridge as it rose toward the top. There were good views across Gleann na Ciche to the Munro of Sail Chaorainn and I occassionally got a view into upper Glen Affric on the other side with the red roof of the Alltbeithe Youth Hostel visible below the clagged-in peaks.
The ridge stretched out before me and I followed its easy line up to the Munro top where I finally caught up with the mist that was lurking at around 1,000m. The views sadly disappeared but through an occasional thinning I could glimpse the onward narrow ridge and the steep rise to the Munro summit. The infamous pinnacles on the south ridge also appeared out of the gloom, looking quite fearsome from this angle.
From the mist-bound top there was a short descent down to a surprisingly narrow ridge that ran up to the main top. The ridge narrowed to a sliver of rock with the occassional path on the southern side. With steep drops on both sides and a bit of a breeze I took my time crossing this but the fun was quickly over and then it was a steep pull up to the summit of Mullach Fraoch-choire.
I was back in the clag and so sat down in the wind shelter near the summit cairn for a snack. Once out of the wind it was much warmer and the early start caught up with me as I dozed off for about ten minutes! When I came to I realised that the clag was thinning and breaking and grabbed the camera in time to get a couple of shots, the view to the western neighbour of Ciste Dubh, back down to Affric and along the connecting ridge towards A' Chraileag.
The moment didn't last long and I was soon gathering my stuff and heading off to the south, making my way down on what is a very straightforward path that suddenly puts you right in amongst the pinnacles. With a the camping bag and greasy rocks I wasn't fancying crambling so stuck to the bypass path. This proved quite exhilirating enough with some eroded and scrabbly sections
Soon enough I was past the final pinnacle and following the ridge as it curved around to the west, giving me some misty views back up towards the summit behind me.
Ahead of me the next Munro of A' Chraileag was still shrouded in the clag.
I reached the next top on the ridge which once again threw me into the clag and the next time I got a view I was much further south, looking along the wide bowl of Coire na Craileag to Gleann na Ciche and a final glimpse of Loch Affric.
The views became limited again as the ridge slowly rose up towards the Munro summit of A' Chraileag.
Suddenly out of the gloom loomed the substantial summit cairn. I set my bag down and again found a sheltered spot out of the cold wind. The clag was still threatening to break but the views were limited. At one point the views to the south opened up and I could see the Clunaie Inn down in the glen far below. Beyond it the dark peaks of South Shiel Ridge could be seen.
With little chance of improvement I shouldered my bag and continued on. The day was advancing and I now had a choice: to continue on across the Bealach a' Chait and along to the Munro of Carn Ghluasaid which sits out on a spur, or drop down here and find somewhere to camp before the bealach. A small lochan had caught my attention and it was looking particularly attractive now as the low cloud put a damper on my plans for a spectacular high camp.
I followed the continuation of A' Chraileag's summit ridge as it looped around the craggy head of Coire na Craileag and then found my way off the end and down towards the bealach. I soon dropped out of the clag again and spotted the lochan below, following steep grassy slopes down towards it with views back to Loch Affric.
As Id escended, the Munros beyond Bealach a' Chait, Sgurr nan Conhaibearn and its neighbour Saill Caorainn, msotly emerged from the clag.
This improved the prospects of a clear camp and so after refilling my water bottle in one of the streams feeding the lochan, I decided to carry on down to the bealach and then make my way up to the next Munro where I planned to camp.
It was a steep descent down to the bealach, with multiple crags blocking the route but I found my way down and was soon enjoying the views into upper Gleann na Ciche. Here a path leads down into the gleann which would have provided an easy escape route had the weather turned worse.
Under brightneing skies and with the surrounding tops now clear I started the steep ascent up Drochaid an Tuill Easaich on the other side of the bealach.
I quickly gained height back and was soon looking back across the bealach and up towards A' Chralaig, now clear of clag itself. To the southwest I could see the whole of the South Shiel Ridge.
Once past the steep part the ridge flattened out and the walking became very pleasant. The cloud base had lifted enough to let a little more light in the views became more expansive with hints of sunlight brushing the mountains.
However, trouble was brewing in the west as the Kintail hills were gradually shrouded in murk and drizzle.
The ridge walking up here was excellent though and I was soon looking along to Sgurr nan Conbhairean and the top to the east. It was clear I was going to have to part-ascend Conbhairean to avoid the steep upper sides of Coire Lair.
From here the actual Munro of Carn Ghluasaid is hidden and getting there would mostly involve descending. The joys of Munro bagging....!
After the craggy northern slopes were left behind I made my way across the southern shoulder of Sgurr nan Conbhairean, trying to avoid gaining height that would only be lost in a few moments. Eventually I worked my way across to the southeastern ridge where I picked up a path that followed the rim of the Glas Bealach. The next summit, Creag a’ Chaorainn was actually blocking my view of the much lower Munro of Carn Ghluasaid.
With brightening conditions I stuck to the high ground, making my way along the broad summit ridge of this Munro top (?) and enjoying the views down the incredibly steep north face down into the delightfully named Coire Sgreumh. There was a light and colour in the landscape and I thought there might even be a sunset if the sun found a suitable gap between mountains and clouds.
Once along the ridge I got my first view proper of the unassuming lump that is Carn Ghluasaid. Significantly lower than the other hills on this round I was soon down and making the short re-ascent up to its flat summit. I’d been pondering the question of water and pitching but saw that there were a few signs of trickling streams coming off the plateau.
I made my way up to find that the wind was still blowing stringly in from the southwest. The summit cairn was a welcome sight and after taking in the views I left the bag there to have a scout around, investigating near the summit and then eastward where there was a slightl dip.
It was all much of a munchness in terms of wind so I decided to go for a spot just off the summit plateau, slightly protected by a slight raise and an area where the ground was grassy and dry. The tent was up quickly and a short way downhill I found running water to fill up my reservoir.
I retired to the tent, grateful for the shelter from the wind and heated up water for soup whilst watching out of the door to see if a sunset show was on the cards. In the end, though the sky went a kind of blush pink, there was very little show, and soon enough the light was fading and the early autumn night was making its presence felt. On this side of the hill I only had dark views across the wild and lonely Coire Sgreumh, and though it has a hydro road there was not a light to be seen in the dark night.
I heated up dinner (Fuizion Lamb and Pearl Barley) and settled into my sleeping bag with an episode of The Trail Show podcast. The wind continued to buffet and as the evening progressed the cloud dropped once again until a fine drizzle could be heard against the fly.
Sunday 20th September
I woke to a grey, cold and somewhat dismal morning. Low cloud was all about me and the wind was still blowing strongly across the summits. Despite the weather though I made an early start, eager to get moving and finish off the rest of the Cluanie horseshoe – two more Munros and then a choice of two different Corbetts to get me back to Glen Affric.
After peering down into the depths of Coire Sgreumh I took the bypass around the side of Creah a’ Chaorainn. By the time I reached the Glas Bealach the mist was thinning and it was with fresh enthusiasm that I followed the path that clings to the precipitous edge of Sgurr nan Conbhairean’s southeastern ridge.
Back into the mist I went, soon emerging on the small summit area where there is a cairn and a very well constructed wind shelter/coffin (?). There wasn’t much to be seen so the wind shelter was a welcome place to hunker down in for a snack and a few glugs of water.
As with the day before on Mullach Fraoch-choire the mist thinned and occasionally parted to reveal long views down this mountain’s impressively steep slopes. I even got a brief view of the ridge linking me to the next Munro.
I hung around for a little while, hoping for a more general clearing but when that didn’t happen I shouldered my pack and set off. Dropping out of the clag down the western ridge I followed it as it curved around the edge of Upper Coire Sgreumh and then struck north for Sail Chaorainn.
Below the clag it was turning into a promising day and as I followed this excellent ridge brief holes in the clag allowed glorious rays to descend onto the floor and sides of Coire Doe. The rays tracked northward until they illuminated the appropriately named Lochan Uaine, choked with green algae.
At the end of the ridge I dropped briefly down before climbing back up onto the plateau of Sail Chaorainn, a very oddly shaped hill with two tops separated by a significant notch. To the east sunshine could briefly be seen across Glen Moriston and to the west the clag was slowly lifting from yesterday’s hills. I got occasional impressive views down into Gleann na Ciche.
The Munro summit is at the end of the plateau, a small cairn on top of a rib of rock.
I spent a while enjoying the views that were continually improving and then made my way across the notch to the more distinctive but ever so slightly lower northern top. Looking back Conbhairean was still shrouded in cloud but most other peaks were now coming clear and sunshine was slowly spreading across the landscape.
Encouraged by this I checked my map and chose to do the more northerly Corbett, Carn a' Choire Ghairbh, hoping it might give some good views into Glen Affric and the high hills further north as they cleared.
There was a rough and trackless descent to the bealach at the head of the coire containing the Allt Mor and then an equally rough climb up the Corbett’s southwestern shoulder. By now the views were much improved and I could see the summits of yesterday as well as the distinctive twin top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan.
There was a distinctive cairn just short of the summit which offered excellent views down upper Glen Affric and then I made my way up to the top itself where the cairn sat on a rib of rock. The views from here were expansive, the whole Cluanie horseshoe visible as well as the high hills across Loch Affric. I found some shelter from the wind and sat down for lunch.
From here there were a few different options: drop down to Loch Affric side and walk out that way, drop down to Loch Sguid (great name!) and walk out via the Allt Mor, or continue all the way to the end of this ridge and then drop down close to the far end of Loch Affric. The first and last options had paths marked descending the hill and in the interests of staying high whilst the weather held I decided to try option 3.
I descended from the summit, following a fenceline and enjoying glimpses of Loch Affric. Then I negotiated the boggy bealach, riddled with peat hags, and started the climb up. Here I met the first person I’d seen since the River Affric car park who had attempted my intended route in reverse. He warned me the marked path was non-existent and new plantations and deer fences made it almost impossible to the reach the A llt Mor track. I thanked him for the information and decided to amend my plan and drop down to Loch Sguid and the Allt Mor.
I continued along to the next top from where there were excellent views to Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin in its wooded setting, and then started to drop down, angling off to the south. Eventually a steep coire presented itself and I followed this rapidly down to the coire floor, floundering through thick heather until I popped out on a vehicle track right next to the tin hut marked on the map.
I had a final stop here, looking out across the waters of Loch Sguid to the alternative Corbett of Aonach Shasuinn and noted that the skies were rapidly darkening again. From here it was a straightforward, though slightly circuitous route back to Glen Affric. I followed the landrover track along until a bridge crossed the Allt Mor. The spacing of the slats was enough to give me a moments pause suspended quite high above the water but I hurried across and set off down the south bank.
The track undulated its way above the Allt Mor until it rounded the bend and Glen Affric opened up below me. I reached the turn off for the track down to the Glen and followed it as it quickly narrowed to a pleasant path. I had last ascended this on the TGO Challenge in 2013. It wasn’t quite so sunny today but the woods were still full of colour and the Allt Mor is a constant accompaniment on the higher stretches.
Eventually I came down through the woods to the outward track and followed this back to the River Affric bridge. Here I sat down on the bench for a final snack break and to sort my things out for the roadwalk. Sadly in the calm below the trees the midges found me and then, to compound things as I hurried off, it even started raining a little. Now I just had the unnecessary mile and half back to the car which passed without incident and was fuelled mainly by Fruit Pastilles, the last of my supplies.
Back at the car the midges made a meal of me whilst I changed and I drove quickly down the glen with all windows open to try and escape their wrath. The long drive back to Aberdeen passed quickly enough and it was very satisfying to arrive back home with 5 new Munros bagged and my total now just two away from the significant sounding 200!
The weather had been less stellar than forecast but views from two out of five Munros was okay and the quality of the ridges is such that I will have no problem in repeating them at some point in the future. An excellent round that gained a lot of character by doing it from Glen Affric rather than Cluanie.