4 days of backpacking around Loch Mullardoch in some of the wildest country that Scotland has to offer. 55km, 5000m of ascent (and descent), 12 Munros and 3 nights sleeping above 800m. Add in a few midges, a lot of rain and poor visibility and you’ve got an epic adventure.
I keep a diary on my phone which I complete at least once a day, sometimes more. For this trip I’ll share extracts of it.
Day 1 10.18pm: Drove to Loch Mullardoch and started my 4 day backpack at 6.30pm. Stopped at the Stalker’s House on the way, the stalker was out so had a chat to his wife about my route. She was happy as long as I stayed high and she thanked me for calling in. Least they won’t mistake me for a deer and shoot me now. It means I’ll have to camp up high tomorrow which is a pain and makes it a big day. Walked over Carn nan Gobhar, the first Munro of 12. First day done, only 2.5 hours but 7km and 850m of ascent. Poor visibility, long wet grass, midgy, wet feet, no view. Then in the last 30 minutes before dark the cloud lifted and the Lochan I was to camp at appeared out of the gloom amongst some of the wildest country I have ever seen. My heart leapt at the view. Got the tent up just as it was going dark and had my cous cous and tin of mackerel washed down with vast quantities of tea. Now for a bit of whisky and some sleep.
Day 2 5.17pm: Day 2 has gone well. Weather was damp with low cloud to start with but cloud lifted and the tops have been clear for most of the day. No sun, bit of a breeze and fairly cool, so perfect. Really wild walking along narrow ridges, saw 1 other person all day, as I was coming down from An Socach, my last peak of the day. Saw 3 huge birds circling around the coire just before An Socach. Definitely not buzzards, much bigger than that with patches of white on the underneath of their wings and completely silent. One circled right above me and watched me carefully, probably trying to decide if I was a threat or not. For a moment I wondered what it would do next, then it flew back to join its companions and they all soared high into the sky and disappeared. Could they have been eagles? Just the sort of place eagles might live. Amazing to see 3 of them at once, just me and them high up on the ridge.
After An Socach I had to descend to the valley, wade the river and re-ascend back up to 900m. My body is working well, not too tired after 18km and 1800m of ascent which I’m really pleased with. Slight twinge in my left knee which might be caused by using only 1 pole and always having it in my right hand. Hope it doesn’t get worse. Food is also going well, the tins of mackerel seem to make a big difference. Just got wet feet all the time, trying to dry them out now. Not sure what the weather has in store. Had a message from Jim (my brother) jokingly asking whether I have good boots, coat and tent as there’s a deluge on its way. Met Office still reckons rain tonight then dryish tomorrow and better the following day.
Day 2 9.07pm: 4 hours sat alone at 900m, wind blowing. It’s got warm, as forecast. No rain yet, that will come in an hour or so. Could be in for a rough night. As long as the tent stays up I’ll be fine. If it doesn’t I am screwed. I couldn’t be more remote if I tried. And I’m completely alone. Still got cold feet…..
Day 2 10.12pm: Rain has started. Still windy. Can’t sleep. Suppose tent leaks? Feet are warm at last.
Day 3 6.30am: Woke to find the rain had stopped but still a good breeze. Completely dry inside the tent. Forecast has changed and now says heavy rain for this afternoon and evening. Only got a short day fortunately.
Day 3 2.40pm: Today has gone OK. A shorter day, only 5 hours. Just as well, weather has been awful and I’ve got a huge day tomorrow. Still, 13km, 1200m of ascent and 3 Munros done today so not bad. I’ve done all 3 before but that’s not the point of the walk. It was bad weather last time I did them as well. Navigation was spot on again today, using timings is the way forward and has been amazingly accurate. I read the contours a lot as well and take compass bearings to make sure I’m not heading down the wrong ridge. Glad I bought a proper map, contours aren’t nearly clear enough on the ones I print myself. Met 2 young lads on their way up as I was descending Sgurr Nan Ceathramhnan, they had stayed near the hostel at Glen Affric last night. Wonder how they are doing in the bad weather. Now got 6 hours in tent before dark, alone. Got 4g though so lots to read and still got some whisky left. Am camped at 1100m just below the summit of Mam Sodhail. No view and very wet, but warm and no wind. One more day to go. Legs getting a bit tired but knee fine, using 2 poles instead of 1 seems to have sorted it. Still got wet feet. Tomorrow I have 20km to walk but only 1300m of ascent, not much more than today. Hills get a lot more rounded as well so easier walking. Probably 8 hours of walking. Finished by 4pm if I’m lucky.
Day 3 4.08pm: Nothing like a storm at 1100m to test your tent. The rain is beating down. Come on tent, let’s see what you’re made of. Still a long way from civilisation. And let’s see how good my mental resilience is.
Day 3 11.50pm: Tent did well, as did my mental resilience. It rained heavily for 7 hours until 10pm. I read the papers and dozed. I woke at 11.30pm to find a strange quiet and an eerie glow shining from outside the tent. I looked out and there was a full moon shining out of a starry sky with dark peaks sticking up out of the cloud in the valleys below. It’s cold again, need more clothes on.
Day 4 5.45am: Awake early after all the sleep I got yesterday. Will get an early start, there’s more rain coming in later. The tent outer is sodden but the tent inner is bone dry which I’m impressed with. Cloud is high and all the peaks are clear with cloud in the valleys. Can see the Cuillin Ridge out to the west. Amazing morning to be up here.
Day 4 6.11pm: And I’ve done it. I was going well today and the kms seemed to disappear under my feet. Up Mam Sodhail then contoured round Carn Eighe and left my sack near the col and did an out and back to Beinn Fhionnlaidh. Met the 2 lads I saw yesterday near the summit. They’d camped near the col, said they’d got very wet yesterday afternoon and would probably miss out the last couple of peaks on the ridge as one of them was struggling. I saw them one last time the other side of Carn Eighe drinking cans of beer at 9am. Maybe that’s why they were struggling.
The narrow ridge after Carn Eighe was good fun, then the ridge broadened and the last 2 Munros, Tom a Choinnich and Toll Creaghach were rounded and much easier. I dropped down from the Bealach after Toll Creaghach and came down the valley, very rough going but not too steep. Started to think about the rest of the day and wondered whether I should inflict myself on the Tesco in Inverness looking and smelling like I did after 4 days on the hill. Saw some pools in the stream below and decided to have a quick bath. Very cold but refreshing. Then down into a beautiful pine forest and found a map case on the ground complete with map and Silva compass. No name on it. Very wet so obviously been out last night. Someone will be cursing themselves. Wonder if I can track its owner. If not, I need a spare compass to keep in my Mountain Rescue jacket. Back at car at 2.30pm. 8 hours walking. Was just walking up the road at the end when a group of maybe 10 smartly dressed youngish people walked in the other direction, all dressed in the latest sports fashion and I could smell the girls’ perfume. Definitely not out hill walking and yet there’s not much else to do around there. All a bit surreal after 4 days of seeing only 3 other people. I said hello to them and tried not to laugh when I thought about how I must look to them. No matter, they haven’t just walked round Loch Mullardoch.
Postscript: The owner of the map case was quickly found after a bit of detective work and the power of Facebook. Have to buy myself a second compass now.
Copyright of all text and photos, Jane Ascroft 2021