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MULLARDOCH & MONAR

When we were climbing the Munros, the mention of Mullardoch was never met with enthusiasm because the distances tended to be long and we had experienced more than our fair share of bad weather there. However, this is where you find the true Munroist. The round of Loch Mullardoch, twelve Munros in two to three days, is one of the great Munro challenges. Jonathan Pyman, when completing the round on two cold but bright November days, describes camping on the ridge of Mullach na Dheiragain: ‘Camped on the ridge, the temperatures plunging in the still air, stags boomed in the Glen, and the water bottle froze next to my skin’.

The area also includes Lurg Mhor, which competes with A’ Mhaighdean and Carn an Fhidhleir for the title of most remote Munro. In total there are thirty Top 500 Summits in this area, more than in Ireland, Wales or England, making this the most concentrated mountain area in Britain and Ireland.

The Top 500 Summits are:

1    Carn Eighe                                                 3,881 ft       2    Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan                     3,776 ft

3    Sgurr na Lapaich                                      3,776 ft        4    An Riabhachan                                          3,704 ft

5    Sgurr a’ Choire Ghlais                             3,553 ft         6    An Socach                                                  3,507 ft

7    Toll Creagach                                            3,458 ft         8    Sgurr a’ Chaorachain                             3,455 ft

9    Maoile Lunndaidh                                     3,297 ft         10  Beinn Fhionnlaidh                                  3,296 ft

11  Sgurr na Ruaidhe                                      3,258 ft        12  Carn na Gobhar                                        3,258 ft

13  Lurg Mhor                                                  3,238 ft        14  Bidean a’ Choire Sheasgaich                  3,100 ft

15  Moruisg                                                      3,045 ft         16  Sgurr nan Ceannaichean                         2,997 ft

17  Aonach Buidhe                                         2,949 ft          18  Aonach Shasuinn                                      2,913 ft

19  Sgurr a’ Mhuilinn                                      2,884 ft        20  Sguman Coinntich                                    2,884 ft

21  Faochaig                                                   2,848 ft         22  Carn a’ Choire Ghairbh                            2,838 ft

23  Beinn Tharsuinn                                       2,831 ft         24  Sgurr na Feartaig                                      2,831 ft

25  Beinn a’ Bha’ach Ard                                2,828ft         26  Bac an Eich                                                 2,785 ft

27  Meallan nan Uan                                       2,749 ft        28  Sgurr na Diollaid                                        2,684 ft

29  An Sidhean                                               2,671 ft         30  Beinn Dronaig                                            2,615 ft

There are two walks which define this region, both being tough, remote but very satisfying:

1   The round of Loch Mullardoch traversing twelve Munros, eight of which are top 500 summits.

2   A visit to Lurg Mhor and the head of Loch Monar, a walk into one of the most remote parts of Scotland.

1. The Round of Loch Mullardoch

Distance 35miles (56km), height climbed 12,500ft, time taken 3 days.

Munros climbed, in order for anti clockwise circuit:

Carn nan Gobhar  (3,258ft), Sgurr na Lapaich (3,776ft), An Riabhachan (3,704ft), An Socach (3,507ft), Mullach na Dheiragain (3,224ft), Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan (3,776ft), An Socach (3,022ft), Mam Sodhail (3,875ft), Carn Eighe (3,881ft), Beinn Fhionnlaidh (3,296ft), Tom a’ Choinich (3,649ft), Toll Creagach (3,458ft).

Ironically these Munros have become more difficult in the last hundred years following the building of the Dam at the east end of Loch Mullardoch. In the nineteenth century Sir Hugh Munro would have driven his dog-cart along a carriage-way from Cannich to the Benula shooting lodge west of Loch Mullardoch, giving him much easier access to the more remote Mullardoch Munros.

This classic round was completed in March 1962 by Richard Gilbert and Alan Wedgewood. There is a superb description of their circuit from the dam at the eastern end of Loch Mullardoch in the book ‘Wild Walks’ by Richard Gilbert and Ken Wilson.

Loch Mullardoch
Loch Mullardoch

Twenty seven years later, in November 1989, Jonathan Pyman completed the round. His round was shorter than Richard Gilbert’s as he went round the western end of Loch Mullardoch and up Mullach na Dheiragain instead of going via Iron Lodge and the falls of Glomach.  The route below follows Jonathan Pyman’s round which goes over all twelve Munros. 

 This is a very tough round and it would certainly be prudent to allow three days. I suggest starting at Loch Mullardoch Dam and traversing the hills north of Loch Mullardoch on day one. Camp around Coire Lungard or near the west end of Loch Mullardoch. The second day will take you south of Loch Mullardoch and over Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, one of the ‘High Priests’ of Scottish mountains. Depending on how the day goes, it is likely that you will camp near Carn Eighe giving a relatively short final day back to Loch Mullardoch Dam.

Park at the Dam at the east end of Loch Mullardoch and follow the Stalkers path for 1.5km east  along the north side of the loch. Turn right and follow a stalkers path as it climbs north on the east side of the Allt Mullardoch.  After two kilometres Coire a t-Sith is reached. Now head north west directly for the summit of Carn nan Gobhar. Descend just north of west to the grassy bealach na Cloiche Duibhe then ascend the rocky east ridge of Sgurr na Lapaich, the high point of the day.

En route to Sgurr na Lapaich from Carn nan Gobhar (Heather Thomas Smith)
En route to Sgurr na Lapaich from Carn nan Gobhar (Heather Thomas Smith)

Descend south  west to the Bealach Toll an Lochain then ascend a ridge north of west with steep cliffs on the north side to the long flat summit of An Riabhachan. Traverse the north east summit, the main summit and the west summit, before descending to the Bealach Bholla. A final ascent takes you to An Socach. From here descend south west to Coire Lungard, camping here or nearer to Loch Mullardoch at the end of day one (the midge could be a problem if camping close to Loch Mullardoch).

In the morning ascend south from near the western end of Loch Mullardoch to the summit of Mullach na Dheiragain. This is followed by a long walk south west over a high ridge before a final ascent of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, one of the toughest Munros, and the furthest point from the car back at Loch Mullardoch Dam.

You are now on the long ridge north of Glen Affric which will eventually take you back to the start point. Descend steeply down the curved east ridge of Ceathreamhnan and continue east along the ridge to An Socach, just over 3,000ft. As there is only 400ft of ascent to reach the summit it does not qualify as a Top 500 Summit. Descend north east to the Bealach Coire Ghaidheil at 2,350ft. A long ascent of 1,500ft north east and the summit of Mam Sodhail is reached.

Mam Sodhail and Carn Eighe from the south (Chris Wood)
Mam Sodhail and Carn Eighe from the south (Chris Wood)

Descend north from Mam Sodhail and skirt round Carn Eighe to head towards Beinn Fhionnlaidh. At the Bealach Beag you are only about one mile from the western end of Loch Mullardoch where you started the day but have walked and climbed a long way, so it might be time to look for a place to camp for the night.

From the Bealach Beag it is a short climb up and down remote Beinn Fhionnlaidh, then retrace your steps this time going to the summit of Carn Eighe, the highest point of the circuit at 3,881ft. There is nothing higher in Scotland north of here. A long, twisting but high ridge of three miles now leads to Tom a’ Choinich. We traversed this in mist and great care is needed not to lose the way. After Tom a’ Choinich a short descent takes you to the Bealach Toll Easa then a longer ascent leads to the final summit of the round, Toll Creagach. Descend the north east ridge of Toll Creagach which brings you back to Loch Mullardoch Dam and the end of one of greatest mountain circuits in Britain.

2. Lurg Mhor

Distance 20 miles (32 km), 6,600 ft of climbing

Top 500 Summits climbed, Lurg Mhor (3,238ft), Bidein a’ Choire Sheasgaich (3,100ft) and Beinn Tarsuinn (2,831ft)

The circuit of Lurg Mhor and Bidein a’ Choire Sheasgaich (known to its friends as ‘cheesecake’) is a classic walk in the north west highlands. It takes you to one of the  most remote mountains in Scotland, Lurg Mhor, and the rarely visited western end of Loch Monar where we saw wild horses. There are some surprises along the way, the rocky north face of Bidein a’ Choire Sheasgaich and the knife edge ridge of Meall Mor, a Munro Top, although this latter can be missed out by descend between it and Lurg Mhor (care required). This is a walk for experienced Munroists with a good head for heights.

On the ridge between Lurg Mhor and Meall Mor (Heather Thomas Smith)
On the ridge between Lurg Mhor and Meall Mor (Heather Thomas Smith)

The route starts at Craig on the A890. Follow a forestry road from Craig which crosses the railway line and goes east through the forest then south above the Allt a’ Chonais. It may be possible to drive to the end of the forest. When the track goes left towards Glenuaig Lodge, fork right on a stalkers path that crosses the river then ascends south west to the Bealach Bhearnais. Ascend south west then south to the summit of Beinn Tharsuinn, then descend to the Bealach an Sgoltaidh beneath Bidein a’ Choire Sheasgaich.

The ascent of the north face of Sheasgaich is tricky and we were soon stuck on a rock face that we somehow struggled up. Don’t do that. The SMC guide suggests bearing towards the right from the bealach then scrambling up a steep path to emerge on the near level ridge above. From there continue to a small lochan then climb steeply to the summit. Descend south east to the col at 2,400ft west of Lurg Mhor. Climb east to the summit of Lurg Mhor. There are big craggy slopes on the north side.

From the summit of Lurg Mhor, we continued east for a short distance then made a direct and steep descent to the head of Loch Monar, care needs to be taken on this descent. Alternatively go over Meall Mhor and about a mile further east it is possible to descend to Loch Monar.  From the west end of Loch Monar follow a stalkers path, which eventually peters out, up the west side of the Allt Bealach Crudain back to the Bealach Bhearnais. It is over 1,000ft of ascent from Loch Monar to the Bealach Bhearnais, which is tough at the end of a hard day.

Lurg Mhor from Ben Dronaig
Lurg Mhor from Ben Dronaig