Carn Ghluasaid - 957m
Creag a' Chaorainn - 998m
Sgurr nam Conbhairean - 1109m
Sail Chaorainn - 1002m
A' Chralaig - 1120m
Stob Coire na Cralaig - 1008m
Mullach Fraoch-choire - 1102m

Sunday 21st October 2012

Weather/Conditions: A subtle sunrise in the morning. The summits were covered in a murk which isn't so fun to walk through, but it lifted off during the day. Sail Chaorainn saw a change in conditions and I climbed A' Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch-choire in golden sunlight and wide vistas. It made the miles fall easily. A long walk back to the car over the trackless moor then down to the car for a long drive home. Dusk through Glen Garry was just amazing (blue sky and pink clouds), mist clung to the fields. Got home in darkness but happily at a reasonable time.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 29.6km / 2100m / 9h 30m
Accompanying: Alone

Before the weekend, my grand plan was to start at Loch Lochy on Saturday and move onto Loch Cluanie on the Sunday. Instead I went rock climbing at Auchinstarry (and fell of Nijinski many times), then drove north in the evening. The familiar drive up the A82 never gets boring. Even in the dark, I pass familiar places, know which mountains I'm passing, where the views are and where the glens lead. North of Fort William, it gets more unfamiliar. Spean Bridge, Letterfinlay and Invergarry silently slid by. In darkness, I passed the Cluanie Dam sooner than expected, waited for the kink in the road then pulled in whatever layby awaited for me there.

It was getting on for midnight and I really couldn't be bothered putting the tent up. The back seats of the car it was. To my surprise, I slept well considering I was huddled up in the back of an Aygo. The alarm was set and I woke only occasionally for a stretch of the legs.

In the morning I was pretty reticent to move. Feeling cold, I made a big cup of tea and scoffed a bowl of breakfast. (And smashed the bowl. Oops) I confirmed I had found the correct car park in the darkness the night before, then packed my stuff. I wasn't particularly bothered about what time I got going, I didn't feel as if I was about to walk 20 miles. I could happily have stayed in the car if it weren't for my restless half gnawing away.

I headed up the track to Carn Ghluasaid, feeling the effort. I noticed another guy who was maybe 20 minutes behind me. The morning colours were amazing, but I felt pretty tired and not so inspired to move. Wind blasted up the indistinct ridge to the summit plateau, I felt cold. Through the mist, I found the cairn without any issues. Five minutes in the shade of the wind and I was about to head off when the guy behind me caught up.

Since the mist was down, and my compass wasn't working properly (the dampening liquid had escaped) I joined him as we went onto the big hill of this range, Sgurr nan Conbhairean. The guy's name was Paul, who said he only had 40 Munros to go until the end. He said he was finishing his Munros and Tops on Toman Coinnich but didn't mind which of the two adjacent Munros he finished on. I said I had 60 Munros to go, then realised that chat like that made me sound like I was pretty close to the end. Eek.

But it was good to have met Paul. He was pretty keen on moving fast (I faff around by comparison) and I guess his momentum rubbed off on me. I went from having internal thoughts like, maybe I could just do the two or three hills, to having something to chat about and thus shoving the internal conversation into the background. We got over Creag a' Chaorainn to Conbhairean in good time. Without much delay at the misted summit, we continued to Sail Chaorainn - an easy Munro with just 80m height gain.

Paul was continuing onto the Munro Tops to the north and I was going to backtrack to A' Chralaig since the weather was improving. We parted ways at the summit and I contoured below the Drochaid towards A' Chralaig. The sun had returned, I was moving well, self-sufficient and happy. I think mountains are harder to digest when you can't see them. When the sun comes out, the whole game seems to change.

I plodded on up to A' Chralaig and on the summit ridge, I was for a moment above the localised cloud. I could even see the point right beside me where the cloud was forming against the ridge crest. The huge summit cairn followed soon after and I just knew now I wouldn't back out. The car was far away now, but I was going to head to Mullach Fraoch-choire, backtrack to A' Chralaig and walk the miles to the car.

The Cluanie peaks formed a sun-swept jumble of rocky peaks; ridge upon ridge piled on top of one another. Affric's humpbacked forms rose to the north and beyond I got glimpses of the North Highland peaks. I dropped my rucksack below Stob Coire na Cralaig then continued over the top of it without the weight. The pinnacles of the Mullach brought me out onto the top. I called home to give a good update. I also wanted to share the place with someone. This was amazing. For all my reticence in the morning, how amazing to finally be here and have the opportunity to see this. Within 24 hours of being at home, to gazing out over the entire West Highlands bathed gold in sunlight. This is what keeps me hillwalking, week upon week for years. This space, this opportunity. I looked out over Affric and remembered August's trip. That was a tough one. I wondered whether the brutality was a one off.

In the end I spent a lot of time on the summit of Mullach Fraoch-choire. I got tired on the way back to the rucksack and walked back to the summit of A' Chralaig feeling wasted. In the afternoon light (which had rolled around way too fast), I headed on a vague beeline back to the car. A lot of miles were behind me, a good few were still to come. I descended into Coire a' Chait to come over the hillside to Loch Cluanie. Although I was tired, I noticed the miles pass by with a sense of ease. The ground became steep, I was traversing grass, but it was joyful. Sun beams lit up Glen Shiel. Some cars passed by below, the pace of life was gentle and all seemed well.

It was only when I reached the home-stretch back to the car, that I ever felt this mounting tiredness might be taking the piss. But still I was moving fine, and reached the car in a reasonable state. Intensely happy, settled and content; my only negative was that I wouldn't be able to stay longer.

The sun disappeared leaving a pastel sky of blue and pink. I drove past Glen Garry with mist licking the fields and the sun fizzling out in the west. Pure content. My jaw hit the deck when the huge Streap/Sgurr Thuilm passage appeared on the horizon. They are so steep. It's like a great gateway. I've always driven these roads at night so the scenery remains fresh - surprising given all the time I've been exploring the Highlands. It got dark in Fort William and I stopped at the Esso for a top-up of petrol. (The only place open on a Sunday night) In Glen Coe, the dark sentinels arched over the car windows and on Rannoch Moor, a low Moon burst into illumination from behind the soaring black arms of the Buachaille Etive Mor. I could barely keep my eyes on the road.

Mist fell in the valleys of Crianlarich, but I got stuck behind a particular southbound car on the Loch Lomond road. I couldn't find a place to overtake; he had a habit of doing 80 then slamming on the brakes to 40. He tended to keep his beams on, resulting in me getting beamed back by oncoming cars repeatedly. He tended to drift to the wrong side of the road on blind corners of the Tarbet road. I really couldn't have got in front of him any sooner, and only managed that on the dual carriage at Balloch some 30 miles after I got stuck behind him. As I overtook, he violently served into my lane. I saw him look over at me as I passed, and he swerved back in line. I could have sworn he was on drink. Or drugs. No doubt it was probably the most dangerous part of the entire weekend.

But I got home, mightily happy and at a pretty reasonable time: about 9pm. (stark contrast to the Skye epic: 4.30am including hitting a deer on Rannoch Moor)

From the gloom of a isolated morning, I'd had one of the most deeply happy days of all my mountain days. It's probably the easiest 30kms I've ever walked. I'm sure it was Hamish Brown who spoke about days beginning in despair and ending in glory. This was one of those days, and I really don't know why; it was so good.

360° Panoramas

Sail Chaorainn

A' Chralaig

Mullach Fraoch-choire
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 8.10am Car park, Lundie
(1.40) 9.50am Carn Ghluasaid
(2.25) 10.35am Creag a' Chaorainn
(2.50) 11.00am Sgurr nan Conbhairean
(3.30) 11.40am Sail Chaorainn
(4.30) 12.40pm Bealach Choire a' Chait
(5.20) 1.30pm A' Chralaig
(6.10) 2.20pm Mullach Fraoch-choire
(6.25) 2.35pm Mullach Fraoch-choire (left)
(7.20) 3.30pm A' Chralaig (return)
(9.30) 5.40pm Car park, Lundie

Written: 2012-11-09