A’ Chralaig & Mullach Fraoch-Choire

16 06 2012

Sat 5 May 2012

A’ Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch-Choire were the last two hills I had left to do in Kintail… and I’d been putting them off for a while and making various, usually weather-related, excuses as I had a notion that I’d hate the narrow pinnacled ridge to the Mullach. But I was attending my walking forum’s Kintail meet and there was another guy, Ricky, who planned to do the two Munros so we linked up to do them. Linked up, that is, apart from the fact that I was doing a completely different start from normal and also collecting a stray Munro ‘top’ at the start of the walk. So, we arranged to meet on the hill, near the summit of A’ Chralaig, at 1300 hours.

I set off around 0930 from the Cluanie Inn which was Richard’s and my luxurious accommodation for the weekend.

View from the Room

My Hills from the East

Richard still has a bad knee so was doing a different walk along the track towards Tomdoun (from where he actually did the Munro at the end of the South Shiel Ridge, Creag a’ Mhaim, up the excellent stalker’s path). My drive was shamefully short – just around 2 miles up the road – but I didn’t fancy adding 4 miles to what would already be a hard first day. As I had no intention of going up the steep and almost pathless slog onto A’ Chralaig which everyone else uses, I drove about a mile past the track through An Caorann Mor to where a superb and well-graded stalker’s path zig-zags up to Coire a’ Chait – I knew this would be a far better way up to the end of the ridge and only adds 15 minutes of road-walking at the end of the walk along a comfortably wide and grassy verge..

There were great views across Loch Cluanie back to our hotel and to the peak Richard was climbing…

As I arrived in the mouth of the corrie the stalker’s path got fainter until, about half-way across the corrie, I lost it altogether. I continued along the pretty burnside and there were bits of path where other walkers and deer had trod so it wasn’t so bad. However, being under time-restraints, I was going faster than I would have liked and starting to tire. My ‘top’ of A’ Chioch wasn’t in sight until I passed over the bealach between A’ Chralaig and Drochaid an Tuill Easaich. When it came into view, I found I had to ascend partway up the ridge to A’ Chralaig and then quite a way into the next corrie and almost track back to the end of the ridge nearest A’ Chralaig before I could get round a fierce gorge going down to the glen below – also the side of the ridge was too steep for ascent before that.

Looking Back Across Corrie to Bealach

The going was quite good however and I soon reached a short, steep and quite stony little slope up onto A’ Chioch’s ridge. From there I met a superb little path along the almost level ridge and fairly bombed along for the mile or so to the summit.

I couldn’t stop at the top as by now it was more or less midday and I still had to get up onto the main Munro to meet Ricky so I just did a quick about-turn and bombed back along the ridge. I did notice, however, that the views were absolutely superb – especially to Mullach Fraoch-Choire, my second Munro of the walk.

I met a guy coming along the ridge the other way as I neared the end – we were equally surprised to see each other as not many people will bother with this top. As I was running so short of time, I quizzed him about which way he’d come down off A’ Chralaig – he said he’d come down the very steep and direct route down a nose from the ridge. I’d been looking at this bit and could see it was an obvious time-saver but was worried that it would be unnervingly steep for me – he said it was fine.

The nose up to the main ridge was extremely steep, but not uncomfortable, for ascending – I might not like to descend it though! I collapsed at the top of the steep climb for a good 10 minutes in the sun as I was out of the wind, completely puffed, and found it was only 1230. I was also by now on the main ascent route so would be able to see Ricky as he approached. There was a great view of the lovely ridge I’d just been along from my vantage point…

Ricky hove into view around 1240 and looked to be going very well so I thought, seeing as I was feeling old and knackered, I’d best set off slowly towards the summit before he reached me. There were a few very hard-frozen patches of snow to cross. I didn’t find these particularly comfortable as the ridge was by now feeling quite narrow and there looked to be a huge, steep drop into the glen below the snow patches. Also, although they were crossed by footprints, when I tried to use the footprints to put my feet into, I found they’d been melted and frozen a few times so were very rounded. This meant my feet were all over the place, adding to my general insecurity. In the end I put my microspikes on for the final climb to the summit – probably a bit of overkill but I’d brought them so why not?

We reached the summit at the same time and sat for a short break for coffee and cake/biscuits (he had home-made cake which looked excellent). More great views – this time across to the Conbhairean Munros which I’d so enjoyed on my last visit.

After five minutes or so, we set off down the clambery ridge towards the second ‘top’ of Stob Coire na Cralaig, at first on hard snow so I kept my spikes on momentarily. When I could see we’d run out of snow I removed them and we continued to clamber along the ridge.

I found Ricky was a much faster walker than me so I was a bit inept on the clambery bits as I was going a bit too fast to co-ordinate properly but we soon reached the easier grassy ridge just below the climb to the Stob. It was a short, sharp ascent and Ricky was trying to hold a conversation with me but I was too puffed to talk much. We had a tiny rest on the top’s summit for me to get my breath back and then continued along the lovely sweeping ridge down to the next col above the descent route to Coire Odhar.

From here the path to Mullach Fraoch-Choire reared up quite steeply on a narrowing ridge but there was a great path so, apart from by now being knackered and hardly keeping up, I was fine with it so far. We both took photos back to A’ Chralaig…

I was a little worried about what lay ahead though as this was the section I’d been dreading… At first we were on a small but safe-feeling path along the top of a narrow ridge – the path was pretty firm so I was happy enough. There was then a small and narrow clambery section to go up onto a small tower but it was okay.

Then we got to where the path set off down to the right on the very craggy side – I looked and it was a pretty horrible drop into the corrie. Still, the path, although slightly loose and only about 10 inches wide, wasn’t too bad as it descended to a low point. Ricky had gone off above this section to have a play on the pinnacles so I was alone. There was a small section of path which caused me a little pause for thought… it was a little rocky step to clamber up. However, going up it was easy enough and there were plenty of good handholds so I was soon heading steeply back up again hoping nothing nasty lay around the corner from the pinnacle I was heading up to. Ricky was already approaching that bit after his clamber along the pinnacles – he said they’d been okay apart from one bit he’d had to jump about 4 feet down.

We rounded the pinnacle and the path swapped back to the side which was just steep grass and scree and was absolutely fine again as it headed upwards towards the end of the ridge and the start of the final climb up to the summit. I was surprised the path had been so short and had been fine really – in fact, surprisingly, I’d quite enjoyed myself! We were soon up the short but steep climb to the summit where there were a few people and dogs around. We had another break sat in the shelter of the cairn in the sun and admired the views all around.

The north-eastern ridges of the mountain looked great but had a bit too much snow for my liking – I’d originally intended to go down one of these ridges, mainly because I thought I wouldn’t want to re-do the ridge we’d just done – the normal route.

NE Ridge

However, I decided I’d be quite happy to go back along the ridge again but just asked Ricky to wait at the bottom of the rocky step on the nadir of the path on the bad side.

I found the ridge path slightly worse in descent and we met quite a few more parties coming up who had to wait until I’d clambered down various bits as I was being a bit cautious. Ricky very kindly waited just below the small bad step and encouraged me down it, after which it was all plain sailing back to the col above Coire Odhar. I decided to take the normal descent route down the corrie but Ricky had his eye on a grassy ridge descent further along so we split up again. After a loose zig-zagging path down the corrie wall, I was in the corrie, back out of the cold windchill and in full sun.

Ciste Dhubh from Coire Odhar (above) The Pinnacles (below)

I’d heard the descent down out of the corrie was supposedly slippery and wet but I found it fine.

I was soon in the An Caorann Mor valley which is the route through to Glen Affric – a reputedly very wet valley! Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, at the head of the valley, was getting lots more snow, as were the Affric hills in general.

Despite the weather of late not being particularly dry or spring-like, I found the glen was pretty dry and managed to get through it completely dry-shod. I’ve only walked it once before coming back (or rather running away) from Ciste Dhubh opposite and we got pretty wet feet. Richard says maybe someone’s taken the plug out!

It’s probably 3 miles walk out of the glen but for the last couple of miles the track is a very pleasant and dry landrover track so I could amble along looking at the views.

Upon reaching the road I had a mile to walk back up it but it was pleasant walking in the sunshine and the traffic was pretty light for a Bank Holiday weekend really.

So, all in all, a much better walk than I thought it would be but a pretty hard day! I was extremely knackered for the rest of the evening!

13 miles, 4647 feet of ascent, 6 3/4 hours



4 responses

19 06 2012
Scotlands Mountains

On my first visit to these two I never knew the pinnacles existed and they came as quite a surprise.Especially as they were covered in snow 🙂
I must have been a lot fitter then as I dropped down into Glen Affric YH for lunch before walking back over tha pass and driving home.


19 06 2012

I found it a really hard day. I’d originally planned to descend the NE ridge and come back through that valley and over the bealach between the Conbhairean range and these… I was so tired that evening I was really glad I stuck to the standard route.

And it wouldn’t be at all like a mountain coward to not know about obstacles like the pinnacles in advance! LOL I spend hours studying the guide books, photos and people’s reports looking for things like that!


16 06 2012
Paul Shorrock

A productive day out Carol 🙂


17 06 2012

Yeah, the first week of that fortnight was very productive… then the second week we got nothing done at all!


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