Toll Creagach - 1054m
Toll Creagach West Top - 951m
Tom a' Choinich - 1112m
Tom a' Choinich Beag - 1032m
An Leth-chreag - 1051m

Saturday 19th May 2012

Weather/Conditions: Generally pretty settled weather, freezing around about the summits. Overcast with sun breaking through and some mist on the ridges. Heavy snow above 600m, avalanching on all aspect, which was my reason for turning back on Sron Garbh.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 20.4km / 1150m / 7h 20m
Accompanying: Alone

These two summits were my first real venture into the Affric/Mullardoch hills, a range that has a curious tendency to give an ass-kicking. I was visiting the region because I'd had a plan to do all the 12 Mullardoch Munros in 2 or 3 days. I'd set off the previous day with good intentions, but bad weather and bad ground conditions contributed to a deteriorating morale. I was stopped almost as soon as I'd started. The following day (the 19th), I set my sights elsewhere, and decided to give the five Munros above Glen Affric a try. At least this time I knew what was coming!

I hadn't set an alarm and came around when felt right (after 17 hours sleep!). I parked at the Chisholme Bridge and headed off for Toll Creagach at a stride. This was probably down to impatience, but I also knew that if I were to do the five planned Munros, I'd really have to move. I wanted to be up there now! Toll Creagach's southern flank was really one big treadmill, the trig point arrived in time. I shot some photos, glad to be up here with minimal fuss and finally on the tops after yesterdays setback. No doubt there was more good stuff to come.

With Toll Creagach done, I set off toward Tom a' Choinich, the second Munro. I enjoyed romping through the snow, getting to experience these conditions, which for all intents and purposes felt like winter. Tom a' Choinich's east ridge was a nice scramble up some rocks, which at the time seemed quite exposed. (Looking back its nothing really).

This summit seemed to be really busy, as though everybody in the region had all gathered on Tom a' Choinich and no other mountain. The scene around the cairn was suddenly social. Ahead, Carn Eighe looked absolutely huge, all arms sprawling, every aspect loaded with snow and it's head lost to the mists above. I felt a pang of the adventure, the "call of the wild" as the cliche goes, and it struck down deep. I was ecstatic.

Others mentioned they were just doing the one hill day, maybe two, but I mentioned my intent on going for Carn Eighe and beyond. "Stay safe", someone said. "I will", I replied. They left for the glen, I turned in the direction of Carn Eighe and set off, utterly thrilled by what I was going to do.

Perhaps the snow highlighted the topography of these mountains, but I was absolutely stunned by the dizzying drop into Coire Domhain to the north. Such a great volume of space. I've been back in summer a couple of times since and interestingly it's never looked the same. I went into mist on the way up An Leth-chreag and got a photo with the axe on the cairn.

I guess it was all going a little too well - and inevitably, something did eventually upset the rhythm. Two things: first of all, every aspect of snow slope was avalanching. I was fine because I was on ridges, but every slope was scoured by point-release avalanches and I was so aware. Second, as I approached the nose of Sron Garbh, my main thought really was that it looked really damn steep.

I continued up carefully, linking islands of safety between the loaded snow slopes, but the higher I went, the more I realised I was going out on a thread of safety. Once on Carn Eighe, I didn't want to descend the mountain faces, so I'd be looking at coming back this way. I simply reached a point where I felt going further was beyond the realms of safety, and once up on the ridge to Carn Eighe, I might struggle to find a safe route off.

I wasn't disappointed, I was just thrilled at having pushed myself as far as I could go, safely. I knew my acceptable limit, and I'd just butted up against it. It would have been a great effort to have reached Carn Eighe, but today it wasn't to be. Incidentally, I've also been back to Sron Garbh since (a couple of times) and it feels nothing like as steep as it did on this day. I guess everything takes on a very different vibe when the hillsides are loaded with snow.

I dropped south into Gleann nam Fiadh for a long, joyful romp out to the Bridge where the car was parked. The day had been a roaring success, and has always remained so in my memory. It was also excellent to have some good times after my rubbish attempt on the big round a day previously.

From Glen Affric, I drove south to stay with James in Fort William, and stopped by the Heather Hat boulder in Glen Nevis for some climbing before it got dark. The next day was the Easains at Fersit.

As a last note, I finally managed the round of 12 Mullardoch ("Maol Ardaich") Munros in August 2012. I did it with Struan on two generally overcast, summery days with a bivvy on An Socach 906m Top. It was two punishing days, and I repeated the same thing in the summer of 2013 as part of my Munro round in 98 days. These hills have always been an ass-kicking, I expect they may always be!


200° panorama, Toll Creagach, looking north
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 10.25am Chisholme Bridge
(1.55) 12.20pm Toll Creagach
(2.20) 12.45pm Toll Creagach West Top
(3.10) 1.35pm Tom a' Choinich
(3.30) 1.55pm Tom a' Choinich Beag
(3.55) 2.20pm An Leth-chreag
(5.00) 3.25pm Sron Garbh turn around
(7.20) 5.45pm Chisholme Bridge

Written: 2014-11-05