Creag Toll a' Choin - 1005m
Sgurr a' Chaorachain - 1053m
Sgurr Choinnich - 999m
& Tops, inc. Maoile Lunndaidh

Thursday 10th January 2019

Weather/Conditions: Dry and cloudy in the morning. A pulse of drizzle went through over Maoile and Creag Toll.., giving blowy and cold conditions. Cleared up over Drochaid Mhuilich, and sun fully broke out on the bidean! Best vit of the day. More mist over the two Sgurrs, and overcast but dry on the walk and cycle out.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 21.8km / 1500m / 5h 38m
Accompanying: Alone

The alarm went off at 7am, but I slept in by 90 minutes. One thing I'm not good at is getting up early for these hill days - not that I mind either. I had a breakfast of plain naan bread; it was actually pretty good, warmed up on a gentle heat on the pan. A flask of tea went down. I packed my stuff and eventually set off for Maoile Lunndaidh across the glen.

A bit of background first. In 2012 and 2013, I developed such strong feeling toward these hills. I knew them so well and felt their character acutely. It was strange to think I hadn't been back for five years. And time moves on: what was once a major 'expedition' into some very remote hills was now a perfectly reasonable run-of-the-mill trip. And here I was on some of the quietest Munros myself in the middle of January.

Maoile Lunndaidh & Creag Toll a' Choin

That didn't mean the day was easy. It's been a while since I've taken a big pack up Munros, and I wasn't exactly packing light! The pack weight was definitely felt and it sucked energy out of me. It’s interesting to have Viewranger running, because it confirms that my pace was no lower than any other hill day. I just felt I had to battle a bit more for these miles. I was also on the verge of running out of food, and over the various summits I’d eat my supplies down to just a few slices of chocolate.

Maoile Lunndaidh remains the 'Munro' (says the SMC), but Carn a' Choin Deirg has been found to be the highest point of this plateau. There's not a lot between them; only 30cm, but with the discrepancy in cataloguing I visited both. Well, both that, and the fact I just really like Maoile Lunndaidh. Its quality is in its 'outback' heel of high plateau, overlooking the empty lands of Monar.

I had a bit of a slog up past Fuar-tholl Mor - an impressive cleft in the northern aspect of the hill. My mind wandered to Martin Moran's story of the failed snowhole with his clients. Flippin eck, they must have been a fit bunch to get in here.

The summit itself wasn't up to much; just a windswept, misty place. Every stitch of clothing went on here: I continued on a bearing, walking straight into a damp and gusty wind. Creag Toll a' Choin is marginally higher and is the high point of the mountain.

Bidean..., Sgurr a' Chaorachain & Sgurr Choinnich

Lower down I was glad to be out of the worst of the wind, and the weather cleared over a little too. Drochaid Mhuilich is an impressive location, you get great views from this drochaid down Srath Mhuillich to the loch of the same name, as well as up to the fang of the Bidean. But it also meant I was staring square at the main climb of the day: 500m up to Bidean an Eoin Deirg. Then I slogged the uphill. My steps were slow and heavy, a result of the big pack.

Having paced out the climb and now on top, I dropped the bag at a prominent boulder on the summit ridge. The sun came out; the skies cleared a bit, and feeling ecstatic with the return of light, I climbed the Bidean which is an easy rise from the saddle. There, I came upon the cairn on top, and an awesome view down to Loch Monar. That’s a rare view,I thought. I wondered when I would be back. I watched the sun lighting snow up on the south flank of Sgurr a' Chaorachain, the sailing clouds obscuring Lurg Mhor. The Strathfarrar hills were out too. I thought about Iain Thomson’s Strathmore place. Not forgetting Pait Lodge; this is still there. A few years ago, maybe 2012, I recall standing just beneath the Monar dam, looking up to see the snowy-white pyramid of Bidean. Now I was on the other side, looking down. Happy with my lot and the day being made, I turned around to gain my rucksack, then continued to Sgurr a' Chaorachain.

And so the majority of the day was done. There were still some kilometres to go, but it's really all about the uphill. Moreover, I had a bike in the glen. I barely stopped on top of Sgurr a' Chaorachain, but it wasn't lost on me that I was tracing out that stunning skyline that this mountain takes; a combination of sharp shapeliness, rising in gentles arcs and curves to the summit. I dropped down to the saddle below Sgurr Choinnich, and dropped the rucksack under a boulder in booming wind. Moving without it was so much easier, and I charged up the east ridge. A short walk along the top brought me to the cairn.

Descent and bike out

I'm always looking to take new routes and do new variations on these climbed-before hills. I'd never been down from the saddle between Chaorachain and Choinnich. I picked up the bag again and made my way down grassy rakes. Looking back up, it all seemed a lot craggier! A boulder in the coire wasn't up to much, in spite of first appearances. I scared off some deer, who charged downhill to get away; then I romped over moorland to the glen below. A small river crossing gained the Bealach Bhearnais track, which has been massively upgraded since I last saw it. It’s been widened with a lot of drainage work done; almost OTT! But good to see it won’t rut and erode away any time soon. I didn't cross the crazy wire bridge, and just hopped over stones and was right back to the bike.

I think I will always try and take a bike here now. The flat section in the glen was quite painless. The ensuing downhill to Craig is a straight 300m descent - in a oner, right back to the car. It makes Monar so much easier. I arrived at the car and I was buzzing. I’d got there in no time at all, doubtless having saved a lot of energy and a lot of foot pain. Recently I have used the bike and bothies so much that it's hard to believe I’ve walked so much this previous two years without either. The bike is very, very useful.

So stripping off wet gear, I piled it all into the back of the car, content to head back to Skye and the Manse for one more night. My ‘plan A’ had been to return the following morning to Attadale, for Bidein and Lurg. But in the event, dad was clearing the house out - it was his last night there. Ultimately, I hadn't the heart to wander round some stunning remote hills in clinging, damp mist, just like the past few days. It could wait.

The following day (Friday 11), I left mid-morning and drove to Glen Shiel. Just beyond, I sat in the car on the Loyne road looking at mist-swept Meall Dubh. Another Corbett, yes; but I didn't feel like more moorland romping in damp conditions. I could really could do a climbing session; so I texted Dave and he was up for a garage session in Roybridge. That was good to do, the first climbing in a couple weeks for me. Afterward, I stopped by Keith’s at the hostel for a cuppa and then headed south to Glasgow.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 9.30am Shelter
(1.30) 11.00am Maoile Lunndaidh
(1.48) 11.18am Creag Toll a' Choin
(3.20) 12.50pm Bidean an Eoin Deirg
(3.48) 1.18pm Sgurr a' Chaorachain
(4.15) 1.45pm Sgurr Choinnich
(5.12) 2.42pm Bike pick up
(5.38) 3.08pm Craig
Written: 2019-01-14