A Long Way for a Top (Ceathreamhnan E Top)

19 11 2013

Sun 4 Aug 2013

I’d had such a lovely time sleeping in my car on the Cannich Camping and Caravan Site the month before, that for my August Scottish trip, I decided to stay there again even though I’d run out of Munros to do there. Although I didn’t have any Munros to do, I did have a couple of Munro Tops which I’d missed out in the area and was keen to rectify that.

One missed top was the East Top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and the other was Meall Mor, Lurg Mor’s smaller satellite which I intended to approach from Strathfarrar along Loch Monar via Pait Lodge. The decision maker was that the three week summer we’d had (a brief heatwave in July) had ended and rain and clag were yet again forecast. For those who read my blog posts regularly, claggy hills are my usual fare. As the navigation for Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan’s east top is simplicity itself, that peak won!

After a great night’s sleep once again, I stirred myself around 9am and headed off down Glen Affric for the carpark at the roadend. There I donned a full set of waterproofs to start, despite it being mainly dry, as I can’t be bothered to keep putting them on and taking them off. That seemed to put a jinx on the rain and I only had one brief shower.

It’s a long walk of about 8 and a half miles along the glen to the Scottish Youth Hostel at Alltbeithe but there is a choice of two good tracks, north and south of Loch Affric. I decided to go out on the northerly track as I’d cycled the southern track before to get to An Socach. The very bad weather I had on An Socach was one reason why I had this single ‘top’ left to do as I’d been going to add it in on that walk. But originally, I should have added the top into my Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan walk from Glen Elchaig but I knew I already had a big day and, after brief consideration on my approach to the main Munro, I’m afraid I wimped out!

1North Glen Affric Track

1Glen Affric to MFC

I set off at a good pace and found the walk really interesting on the way out – I really felt I was heading off into the wilderness – the youth hostel is the only building down West Glen Affric after you’ve left the couple of buildings at Athnamulloch. The track was high above Loch Affric with great views to Mullach Fraoch-Choire and passing through beautiful Caledonian Pine Forest remnants.

1West Glen Affric from North Track

1Mullach Fraoch-Choire from Affric

Just above Loch Coulavie, the track descended to where I could see a couple apparently dithering. I knew there was a burn crossing around where they were but all the burns had had good bridges so far so I was a bit puzzled as to what they were doing. As I reached them, I saw there was no bridge over this burn and it was fairly in spate with all the stepping stones being covered. There wasn’t a great depth of water covering the stones though and, after choosing the place where they were nearest to the surface, I hopped across without any mishap. I thought my successful crossing would encourage them but they continued to dither for a long time after I’d left. As they had walking poles and I didn’t, I didn’t feel I could offer any useful assistance really…

In another mile or so, the track dropped down to join the South track – this is the point you leave the loch and the scenery changes to grassy wilderness – I really loved the feel of this section of the walk…

1West Affric Lochan

1Beinn Fhada from West Glen Affric

I was very taken with the long east ridge of Beinn Fhada dominating the distant view in the middle of the glen – that also has a top I haven’t done but the approach would be too long this way… I passed a couple of lonely ruins across the river – the glen was obviously more populated in the past.

1West Glen Affric Ruin

Since the point where the tracks had joined near Athnamulloch, I’d been studying the track and wondering how cyclable it would have been for my little fold-up bike – I decided it was a bit too rough really. Just as I was contemplating the track, a man cycled past me on a mountain bike. He looked to be having a rough ride but I had to admit he’d soon left me way behind. Beinn Fhada was looking even better just beyond the winding river now…

1Beinn Fhada & Affric River

Just after the cyclist passed, it started with the only shower of the day. While it was the only shower, the weather didn’t really pick up again until I was on my way back in the evening.

1Beinn Fhada & Alltbeithe

Five minutes later, I reached the hostel where their wind turbine was whizzing soundlessly away despite it not being very windy. The man with the bike looked like he was going to be staying at the hostel – either that or he was taking advantage of the building to shelter from the shower. There is an unlocked toilet here and I was glad to escape the rain for a few minutes in there myself.

1Alltbeithe Hostel
Alltbeithe Hostel with my intended peaks behind

A stalkers’ track sets off immediately behind the hostel up the Allt na Faing and takes you up to the col immediately before the east ridge of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan – I headed off up it. By the time I stopped to look back down on the hostel the rain had stopped.

1Alltbeithe from Stalkers Track Ascent

The track up to the bealach was superb and pretty easy going, although it did seem a bit longer than I was expecting. The eastern tops were in view all the way up…

1My Tops from Stalkers Path Ascent

When I eventually reached the bealach, I found another path running along the ridge from An Socach to my tops. Now my only problem was that I wasn’t sure which was the official east top. I’d originally thought it was the second peak from the bealach but I’d have to wait until after I got back home to check my Munro tick map and the books. That meant I’d have to do both the peaks on the end of the ridge at the very least. I found the climb to the first peak of Stob Coire nan Dearcag (3089 feet) quite strenuous as I think I was starting to tire by that point…

After the first peak there was a short but steep dip to the second peak of Stob Coire nan Cloiche (3150 feet) so I hurried on. On looking back, I was impressed by the look of the first peak…

1Stob Coire na Cloiche Before Descent

Unfortunately, when I reached the second peak, I was suddenly seized by doubts. I could see another rise about half a mile further on – what if that was my top? I couldn’t do such a long walk and not get my top or I’d never forgive myself. After some deliberation, I decided I had to go further to the next rise to make sure that wasn’t the east top. With an inward groan I set off.

1Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan's Possible East Top
Or is it the next bump?

1SnC East Tops from East Ridge
Looking back again
1Ceathreamhnan's East Tops

When I reached the top of the ‘bump’, I could see it was nothing more than a slight rise on Ceathreamhnan’s eastern ridge after all! By now I was feeling very tired and was having a huge inward battle with myself about whether I should continue to the summit of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan. Of course, as I’d already done the Munro, I didn’t have to but it seemed a dreadful thing to approach so closely and then turn my back on it and walk away. Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan is such a beautiful mountain and I felt I’d somehow be insulting it.

After quite a few minutes agonising over a coffee, I just couldn’t face the extra climb – I had quite a big enough day as it was. Sadly I took one last look, sent a silent apology in the mountain’s direction and headed off back along my ridge for the bealach.

1Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan East Ridge
Looking back…

1Carn na Con Dhu from SnC East Tops
Looking Across to Carn na Con Dhu

On reaching the dip between Stob Coire na Cloiche and Stob Coire nan Dearcag, I felt I really couldn’t face the steep climb back up the latter and set off down the slopes on the right (I really am getting very lazy!)

1Stob Coire na Cloiche

That turned out to be a mistake as the slopes were steep, holey and rough – it probably took me twice as long to reach the path again than if I’d stayed on it over the peak. I think it would probably have been less effort too…

1Ill Advised Descent from Col
My rough descent from the col

I had a pleasant walk back to Athnamulloch where I decided to go back on the opposite track along the south side of the loch. Just after the cottages at Athnamulloch, I looked back to see the light behind me was becoming quite interesting…

1Dramatic Light on river at Athnamulloch

The light on the calm section of river ahead was beautiful too…

1River Affric near Athnamulloch

1Athnamulloch Calms

As I left the river, the track became very monotonous and seemed to go on forever – I dearly wished for my bicycle to speed the miles. As most of the miles I’d done that day were on hard and stony tracks along the glen, my feet started to get very sore. By the end of the five miles along the track (seemed more like ten!), all I wanted was to see my car and sit down. The evening light had one last nice surprise for me when I reached the final river bridge and the track up to the carpark…

1River Affric from Carpark Bridge (evening)
From the river bridge

1River Affric Bridge (evening - cropped)

I then hobbled very wearily to my car past loads of folks setting up camp in their caravanettes despite notices in the carpark asking them not to and there being plenty of other places near the roadend to park up instead.

Stats: 23 miles, 4043 feet of ascent (approx), 8 hours 15 minutes

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14 responses

24 12 2013
Scotlands Mountains

I felt your pain on the return walk ! Bike job for me nowadays :)

26 12 2013
mountaincoward

Yep – I definitely normally get the bike out for that kind of thing, especially when the tracks are hard – that really gets to my feet on a hot day!

24 11 2013
McEff

That’s a long, long walk for a missing Top. I climbed Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan from the north a few years ago, cycling a few miles along estate roads to Iron Lodge to make things shorter. Even then it was a long walk. I doff my hat to you.
Cheers, Alen

26 11 2013
mountaincoward

Got some equally long routes to missed tops to do – one was the aforementioned Meall Mor next to Lurg Mor – I’m quite looking forward to them though. I seem to enjoy the long distances rather than the up-climbing nowadays.

23 11 2013
fedupofuserids

Great pics :)

I didn’t see much of Affric when I visited, only rain!

26 11 2013
mountaincoward

Affric ended up being just about my favourite place in Scotland so I’m going again next year whatever. I’ve been reasonably lucky with the weather there compared to other areas…

21 11 2013
bob

You’ve got more dedication than me Carol. I don’t remember that track with any fondness at all. It’s a killer return. Good luck with Meall Dearg and the Northern Pinnacles if you are doing all the tops.

21 11 2013
mountaincoward

Ugh – I’m dreading that one! My friend went up to the little col between Meall Dearg and the pinnacles and went from there – it was much easier but still very crumbly :-(

20 11 2013
LensScaper

Some superb photography, Carol – especially in those first few images on the walk-in to the Hostel

20 11 2013
mountaincoward

I liked the light at the end of the day when the sky became ‘interesting’ :-)

20 11 2013
CairnStoner

Great pics Carol, looks amazing. The section on trying to be sure you’d reached the highest point made me chuckle. I know I’ve visited multiple high points to be sure I’ve been to the summit on at least one occasion.

20 11 2013
mountaincoward

I really should have continued to the summit of the Munro again – I still feel guilty about that – it’s a great peak!

19 11 2013
jackie sowrey

I really like the third photo Carol, love the winding path and the trees.

19 11 2013
mountaincoward

It’s a really pleasant walk to do… one way – coming back is pretty hard though as it’s a pretty long day!

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