T is for Tom a’ Choinnich & Toll Creagach

18 10 2011

Sun 2 October 2011

This walk was planned to be a round but ended up more of a T-shaped walk due to the very soggy conditions in the glens!

The first day of Richard and my October trip to Glen Affric, staying in the superb log cabins behind the Slaters Arms pub in Cannich, was due to be fine weather. Indeed, we awoke to sunshine and calm conditions – great! We’d decided to break ourselves in with Tom a’ Choinnich and Toll Creagach. A quick breakfast and we were driving down the glen to park at the entrance to Gleann nam Fiadh near the end of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin. As soon as we set off in the car though, the heavy showers started…

We parked up in a very heavy shower and decided to wait until it stopped before we got out to kit up. The midges were particularly bad where we were parked so the car was steaming up merrily with the windows shut. After quite a few minutes the rain stopped and we dived out to get ready. Just as we’d got our stuff on, the heavy rain started again so we decided to get back into the car until the shower stopped.

After another five minutes or so, the shower abated and we stepped out to cross the road onto the good track rising into the glen. We were lucky in that there were no more showers but the cloud base was pretty low where we were headed. No matter, there were no difficulties on the two hills.

Very soon after rising up the first hill and going round the corner, we found the path split. Funny – the map didn’t say anything about that. I decided we had to carry straight on ahead (the right-hand fork) so we headed on across very boggy ground. A minute or so later, the proper path came back to join us – people had obviously decided on a totally pointless and extremely wet shortcut instead of following a slight zig-zag on the good track! We made a mental note of that bit for our return!


Gleann nam Fiadh Track (looking back towards carpark)

Ahead of us was a wall of very low cloud hiding Toll Creagach at around the height of craggy Beinn Eun. Wet slabs glistened all along the wall of the hill – I was a bit perturbed as I knew that side of the hill was supposed to be a straightforward descent – the map said it would be better further west though around where two burns came down the hillside. As we passed the foot of Beinn Eun the good path ended and a soggy, grassy one started to follow the river up the glen. We noticed at this stage that a man was following us with walking poles and seemingly catching us up very quickly.

We floundered on for nearly another mile where we then reached the path coming down beside the burn from the col between our two hills, the Allt Toll Easa. My original plan had been to continue up the glen to where the path rose gently up into the low corrie and saddle of Garth Bhealach to the west of Tom a’ Choinnich. However, this was another mile and a half of floundering in the wet and I could see Richard wasn’t happy.

The guy behind caught us up and we exchanged pleasantries and I asked him what his plans were. He was planning the two hills from the track up to the col. Richard and I debated the merits of the high-level approach as opposed to the soggier, but potentially more interesting round I’d originally planned. In the end, we decided it was better to go straight up this path to the col between the two hills and hit the drier and higher ground as early as possible.

We had a further route choice of whether to go up the South-East ridge of Tom a’ Choinnich or all the way to the col and then the East ridge. In the end, I decided we would go all the way to the col and do the East Ridge twice. As it was low cloud, that would mean we would know what the steep ridge was like and also how to find it from the summit in the thick mist – basically a confidence thing. Richard was undecided at this point about whether he would do the two tops to the west of Choinnich but was thinking he wouldn’t bother as he isn’t really into top-collecting.

We set off up the steepish path beside the burn behind the other gentleman. It was a good path and zig-zagged nicely up the hillside and was pretty firm and dry underfoot. We noted further up that the other guy had set off for the South-east ridge – the recommended route in the guide books. We debated about it but I decided I really wanted to stick to doing the East Ridge in both directions so we continued to the col. The path deteriorated slightly towards the bealach and it got a bit wetter but presently we arrived on the col and I peered up our very steep-looking ascent ridge. I hoped it was okay…

Just then, the cloud started to clear and we got some good views of the ascent – it looked reasonable – I decided it was probably steep but straightforward. A good track set off up it anyway. We headed off up steeply…

As we neared the top with me in the lead, I decided I wanted to make things slightly more exciting and, instead of following a grassy zig-zag to the top, I wanted to do the more scrambly route up the rocks on the apex of the ridge. Richard enthusiastically agreed and we followed a sketchy path up the rocks – it was still very easy but added a little more spice to the route and was great fun. We saw the other guy just heading towards the summit.

The huge summit cairn shelter was very near to the top of the ridge and we soon joined the guy at the shelter and asked him what his SE ridge route was like. He’d enjoyed it – it did look nice from where we were now the mists were clearing – maybe next time then. As we sat and chatted and had a coffee and snack, the cloud cleared more and more around us and beautiful views across Loch Mullardoch started to open up.


Clearing Western View (Beinn Fionnlaidh Behind)

After our break, the other guy set off down the East Ridge for Toll Creagach and we headed west to have a look at the tops. Richard said he’d come and have a look and decide when he saw them. Although the map reckoned it was around a 300 foot re-ascent to come back from the two tops to Tom a’ Choinnich, it looked really easy so he decided he’d come along after all.


Tom a’ Choinnich First Top (R Wood)

We bounded off down towards the first unnamed top which was so insignificant and easy we were surprised it had been accorded the status of a separate top. As we headed west along the narrower ridge across the tops, the views became better and more extensive. We could hear rutting stags roaring in the corries both sides of the ridge to add to the atmosphere of the walk. The views ahead and to both sides were stupendous and all the cloud had now gone. We both had our cameras out and were clicking away.


Loch Mullardoch

An Socach & An Riabhachan

The climb to the second top of An Leth-Chreag was a little steeper, looser and longer but we were soon at the summit cairn. We decided to have another break for coffee and another snack and Richard dumped his pack and set off to look at the continuation ridge to Carn Eighe. I went along to have a look at the route to Carn Eighe and also at where we would have come up – it would have been a nice ascent. By now it was beautifully sunny and we were in no hurry to leave the scenic tops.

Heading back to Tom a’ Choinnich…


(R Wood)

Eventually we plodded off back up the easy slope to Tom a’ Choinnich where we decided to have yet another short break in the sun and admire the views across Loch Mullardoch.


An Socach again


Tom a’ Choinnich South-East Ridge


Toll Creagach

We then set off back down our steep East Ridge to the Bealach Toll Easa.


South-East Ridge & Route In

There was an easy rise to Toll Creagach’s western top where there is then a perfectly flat and easy grassy walk across to the final rise to the main summit. As I’m a huge fan of grassy ridge walks, I really enjoyed strolling across this bit.


Looking Back to Tom a’ Choinnich’s Steep East Ridge

The climb to the actual summit though seemed quite hard to both of us and seemed to go on for ages. There was also a very cold wind on Toll Creagach’s summit so, after a few photos and another quick coffee, we set off down the southern slopes for the soggy glen.


Sgurr na Lapaich

We had hoped for a path but didn’t find one until by the side of the burn and nearly back down in the glen. By coming down the southern slopes, we’d missed out about half a mile of bog in the glen so Richard was happy about that. The two and a half miles or so back through the glen to the carpark seemed pretty long, but then walk-outs usually do! We were in a pretty happy state though as the day had turned out so nicely 🙂

Stats: 12 miles, 4184 feet of ascent, 6 hours

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13 responses

6 11 2011
Paul Shorrock

Great trip report, Carol, with some super images!

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18 11 2011
Carol O

Thanks Paul – after such a grey start it was lovely when it came out so nice and sunny 🙂
Carol.

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24 10 2011
Susie

That all looks and sounds lovely, apart from the boggy glens.

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24 10 2011
mountaincoward

Yeah it was – but we got fed up of wading the glens in the end and went down to the Borders early to walk there instead – we got hail there and torrential rain but at least the ground wasn’t as wet!

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24 10 2011
David Seòras

really good to see you got nice weather, the pics are looking wonderful in that glorious light.
The continuation of the walk from Tom a’Choinich to Carn Eige is well worthwhile, although there maybe a couple of tricky parts for you. One of my highlights from a few years back. A spot of high level camping over a couple of days which takes in the Affric Munros.

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24 10 2011
mountaincoward

I was originally going to do a walk which continued on to Carn Eighe and Beinn Fionnlaidh from Tom a’ Choinnich but it was our first day up there that week so I thought we’d just break ourselves in gently with those 2 – if I’d known the weather was going to cr*p out for the rest of the week, I’d probably have stuck to my original plan. I was looking at that next section after the col towards Carn Eighe and it looked fearsome but the books say there’s a kind of staircase up it (Victorian stone pitching?) so I think I’ll probably be okay. At any rate, I’ll be okay going up it – if it’s bad, I’ll take another route back down (which I probably will anyway as I prefer a ’round’ to an ‘out and back’…

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24 10 2011
David Seòras

yeah, the staircase is something else, although can be difficult to spot. Its on the right hand side of the worn path up Sron Garbh and I was on it before I realised. It is much easier going than the worn steep loose path up. It does make a very long day though especially if doing Beinn Fionnlaidh as well. There’s also a small section with a couple of pinnacles to get around on the traverse from Sron Garbh, nothing too strenuous with a path cutting back and fore but exposure may be a problem?

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24 10 2011
mountaincoward

Hi David,
Thanks for the info on the staircase. I’ve been looking at pics of the pinnacle bypasses and they don’t look too bad. To be honest, I found the Affric area’s hills quite comforting – they had a nice feel about them and I wasn’t having any worrying moments on them at all so I think I’ll be okay.
Carol.

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19 10 2011
fedupofuserids

NIce to see some clear shots from the top – glad it fined out and you managed to enjoy the day. I had ‘heavy showers’ for a week so Richards praying must have paid off. Does he do requests ?

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20 10 2011
mountaincoward

LOL – if he did, I’d have requested some for the next day for An Socach!

Thanks for the ‘like’ BTW 🙂
Carol.

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18 10 2011
mountaincoward

LOL to the good weather – perhaps Richard had been praying the night before – you never know 😉

I often look for (very easy) scrambly routes up stuff if there’s no exposure and sometimes do gully scrambles on the small gritstone crags near where I live ‘cos they’re nice and grippy. But if there’s any exposure, even a narrow but straightforward ridge or a steep slope makes me queasy! It all depends whether I feel threatened by a big drop or not really…

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18 10 2011
Scotlands Mountains

Praise the Lord….Carol eventually gets good weather on the Scottish hills 🙂

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18 10 2011
bob

Great Photos Carol.Looks a great day after a wet start.I remember the Affric hills as long remote walks and big skies.I see you are starting to look for scrambling routes up hills now.It gets addictive You,ll be doing easy rock climbs before long as its a natural jump up in preparation for skye 🙂

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