A Soaking on An Socach (Affric)

18 10 2011

Mon 3 October 2011

Woke to a lovely sunny morning and looked at my watch – I was horrified to see it was 0925! The weather forecast had said the good weather was due to break by afternoon and I wanted to do the long journey to An Socach in West Glen Affric. I leapt out of bed and rushed around, making it down to the carpark at the end of the Affric road around 1030.

An Socach with Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan Behind (from Mam Sodhail)

I hurriedly assembled my fold-up bike and got my bags on while Richard, who wasn’t coming up the hill but planned to walk locally, took photos of me and the bike. We noticed it had started to spit with rain a little. We then said goodbye and I hurried down to the bridge over the river leading to the forest track on the south side of Loch Affric – the northern track doesn’t allow cycling.

Ready for the off – me and the brave little fold-up bike (R Wood)

This photo of Richard’s amused me enormously with the threatening shadow! 😉

The River Bridge from Carpark (R Wood)

The track started off through a gate in the deer fence and then went off uphill – I noted how rough and stony the path was – not ideal for a little fold-up road bike. I intended to take the bike to the last cottages in the glen at Athnamulloch four and a half miles away. I had hoped the track would be quite flat but it was either uphill or downhill most of the way – bad news for me as I generally don’t ride up the hills when I’m loaded up with bags and out for a long day – I find it wastes too much effort. Due to the increasing roughness of the track I also had to walk some of the downhills too. The path is actually firm but has very large stones embedded in it which are pretty unrideable with small wheels and also wouldn’t have done the bike any good.

West Affric from the end of the loch – An Socach’s South Ridge Just Showing in middle of photo

Although it was raining, the rain was pretty light and, as I hate getting hot, I was still in my t-shirt and hadn’t put any waterproofs on at all. However, after about 3 miles or so, the rain came on much heavier and I had to stop and put full waterproofs on. The wind, a westerly so blowing against me, was also increasing steadily in strength. I bounced along the track until it split and my branch headed off down to the cottages at Athnamulloch.

I could see an open shed which I’d have dearly loved to stow my bike in but also noticed there was a vehicle outside the white cottage. The cottage looked fairly abandoned though and I’m sure it isn’t lived in.

Nearer to the cottages I had to get off and push the rest of the way as the bike was bouncing all over the place on the riverside stones. Just before the cottages I had a choice – I could either go through a very deep-looking flood on the main track, or I could take to a grassy path along the riverbank over a single plank bridge across a tributary. I didn’t fancy the flood so had to carefully carry the bike across the slippery plank, hoping I didn’t fall in as the water was quite deep and about 3 feet down. I made it across the bridge and saw a quarry hole ahead which would shelter the bike from the strong wind and the elements. I lugged the bike up over the main river bridge and cabled it up in the quarry hole – quite a cosy spot.

I set off uphill on the even rougher track round the corner past the final cottage – that one did look lived in. It is still another couple of miles before the first stalkers’ track turns uphill for the corrie to the east of An Socach and the track became even hillier.

Eventually I came to a river bridge and my route turned off uphill. I’d originally planned to take the second track up from the Youth Hostel at Alltbeithe, bag the eastern top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and descend by this track but by now the weather was so awful I decided against the extra journey, thinking I’d see how I felt after An Socach.

The track rose fairly steeply up beside the burn to start but then flattened out to a very soggy, grassy vehicle track into the very long corrie (more like a hanging valley really). I was upset to see at this point that my ascent ridge, rather than being the one which had been in view up to now, was actually about a couple of miles away. The route was largely flat but there were two major rises, the second one being up to the col way in the distance.

After the first rise, the track got stonier and became firmer and less boggy so I managed to make better progress. There was a good-sized stream running down the zig-zags from the col but it was still stony and firm so my boots didn’t get any wetter and my feet were still dry so far. From here the climb up to the eastern top of An Socach looked huge and steep – I wasn’t feeling very energetic by now. I hoped the hillside would shelter me from the gusting westerly though.

At the col, there was an area of peat bog to cross but it was quite possible to find firm, stony ground across it. I thought I could possibly see a path heading upwards round to the north of the peak so headed that way. Indeed it was – a very good path. It started off avoiding the initial steep rises via a couple of large zig-zags and then just headed straight off up the final steepness. The climb was a bit easier than I’d expected apart from a couple of times getting caught by the wind trying to hurl me back down the slope, but it was mainly sheltered during the climb.

From the corrie, the ridge to the summit had looked very long but, as I reached the top of the initial rise I could see that, after a short descent, the summit was quite nearby and there was only a gentle rise to the cairn. Just as I reached the summit cairn and peered ahead to see the eastern top of Ceathreamhnan, the rain stopped and the sun started to come out. I was by now soaked though as the driving rain had got through my jacket sleeves, and the windchill was horrific.

I tried to find a sheltered spot just below the summit behind some rocks to weigh up whether I wanted to attempt to reach Ceathreamhnan’s top and maybe have a quick coffee and a snack but the icy wind was still blasting me. In the end, I decided that, due to being frozen and soaked and having to head into the severe wind and also, as Richard was having to wait at the car and probably hadn’t been out for much of a walk in the heavy rain, I should just head back. I looked regretfully at the top, wondered whether I should cut down the southern ridge of An Socach to save time and distance, then decided to just head back the way I’d come as the wind would be blasting across the southern ridge for the whole descent.

Pretty soon I was sure I’d made the right decision as the rain started again after the few minutes of sunshine. I was soon back along the ridge, over the eastern top and plunging down rapidly to the col. From the col I continued my quick descent to the corrie getting a few more minutes of sunshine before being deluged for the rest of the route.

It took an hour to get back down to the river bridge and the track back through Glen Affric. The track back to the bike seemed interminable on the return journey and had become much more flooded. Annoyingly, there were blue skies and sunlit slopes to the left of me, over the Mam Sodhail range and to my right, over Mullach Fraoch-Choire. I could also see blue skies ahead over Loch Affric but, for my whole return journey, it was like I had my own personal rain cloud following me!

When I finally reached the bike I decided I must have a little break to get a bite to eat and a hot drink. I was shocked to find my arms were so numb I could barely uncable the bike or unscrew my flask. In a couple of minutes I’d finished my break and set off wheeling the bike back over the main river bridge and the plank bridge and along the stony path past the cottages. I saw two estate vehicles on the other track from the side glen and wished I was ahead of them as they might have taken pity on me and transported me and my bike back to base – I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have though – I think they generally have the view that walkers are tough and love those conditions! At least I had time to stop and take a few more photos of the nice (albeit soggy) views across the loch during the ride back…

The ride back seemed much more uphill and I seemed to spend a lot of time pushing the bike. At this point, I was starting to feel that Affric’s An Socach was the most remote of all the Munros! I was by now worrying that Richard would be bored stupid and furious at me being such a long time so tried to hurry, however, I was too tired to speed up any. I found I couldn’t cycle with my hood up so the rain was now running down my neck to add to my misery. After all the heavy rain there were lots of floods across the track which I had to ride through – a risky business when you can’t see any large stones under the water.

Eventually, after interminable ups and downs, the final descent to the gate in the deer fence by the main river bridge hove into view at last. Also, I noticed two gentlemen walking uphill towards me. As I neared them, I thought the guy on the right looked familiar – he was looking at me the same way. I slowed up and he called me by name. I realised it was Mark who I’d been chatting to my latest walking forum – he’d said he was coming to Glen Affric after their meet in Torridon over the weekend. I chatted to him and his friend for quite a while while we discussed the weather and what we’d been up to over the weekend. I then realised I’d better get back to the car and rescue poor Richard. I found him sat in the car in good humour but pretty cold – at least he wasn’t soaking and exhausted like me and the poor little bike.

Stats: 18 miles, 2252 feet of ascent, 6 3/4 hours




5 responses

24 11 2011
A Long Way for a Top (Ceathreamhnan E Top)

Follow-up report for the bagging of the missed top…


24 10 2011
David Seòras

good effort in doing that in that weather. it is pretty remote isnt it?


24 10 2011

It certainly felt it. I’ve done much more remote ones when I look back at some of the stuff I’ve done this year but this definitely felt the longest! Must have been the weather as I had pretty good weather for the other remote ones I’ve done this year luckily 🙂


18 10 2011
Scotlands Mountains

You can book the small cottage on the northern side of the river at Athnamulloch for about £7 a night. Quite plush inside and run by the An Teallach M.C. I reckon you have finished off this section now though so I`m too late in telling you 🙂


22 02 2014

I wish I’d known that! Actually though, it’s not too late and that sounds really great! I didn’t manage to do the eastern top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan so I’d still like to do that sometime – preferably in better weather though!
Thanks again,


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