Saturday 7 May 2016

Sgurr Choinnich & Sgurr a'Chaorachain

A bit of an iffy weather forecast again - strong winds, increasing throughout the day - but we haven't found the forecast to be particularly accurate of late, so we decided to go for it. We could always come down if the winds got too bad!

Railway crossing at Craig - views north west

We had an early start from the campsite, so we were parked up and ready to go before 8:30am. The little forest car park at Craig wasn't signposted from the A890, so we missed it the first time and drove past - for future reference, its to the north of the road at the very eastern end of the village...

Bridge over the River Carron - views west to Fuar Tholl

Once over the road and the railway crossing (over the road from the car park access track) we marched off east along a track (almost a road - it's been recently improved for some works going on up the glen) which initially runs parallel to the main road, before it turns south crossing the River Carron and away up the glen of the Allt a'Chonais.

Rafe and Jim on the track east above Sloc Mor

It was easy walking and we didn't really notice the ascent - there were great views, ahead to Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and behind to the wonderful Torridonian hills - Fuar Tholl, Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor. 

Looking back (west) to Fuar Tholl and Glen Carron

Closer by, were some mature Caledonian pine woods, wrapped around the lower slopes of the hills - their wildness somewhat lessened by the new access track and pipe laying going on at it's side - hopefully it won't be too long before nature covers up the scars!

Another track headed off to our right into the Sloc Mor gorge - it looked like a lovely low level wander (a future evening dog walk perhaps!) but we continued on the main track towards the head of the pass - despite a few other turn off's the route was obvious...

Our first view of Sgurr a'Chaorachain from the track above Sloc Mor

As we neared the top of the woods, our first view of one of our Munro objectives of the day, came into view - Sgurr a'Chaorachain - just a sprinkling of snow across the top. We were glad that we had left our heavy winter gear back in the car - it would have been serious overkill!

Moruisg and Sgurr nan Ceannaichean from the track into Glen Allt a'Chonais

We passed through a deer gate and onto the open moorland  - and into a strong and icy wind blowing up the glen. Jim and I looked at each other. If this is what it was like at 300m, what would it be like at 1000m?

To our left was Moruisg - a Munro we climbed in February - we had hoped to combine it with Sgurr nan Ceannaichean, the hill now looming above us, but the wind had been so strong that we had bagged the Munro and made a quick getaway back down into the safety of the glen. Would this happen again?

Views back to Fuar Tholl, Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor

We were beyond the works and the new road/track now - and although the track continued to be excellent, it felt far from civilisation. The views were wide and the weather wild - the glen a wind tunnel, it was hard to make headway. But we had good views of the two Munro objectives for the day, at the head of the glen.

Rafe and Jim - views south along Glen Allt a'Chonais
to Sgurr a'Chaorachain and Sgurr Choinnich

We were soon nearing the head of the glen and stopped to look at an interesting "bridge". The wires looked somewhat loose and flappy for anyone to make a dry crossing of the Allt a'Chonais.

Wire bridge over Allt a'Chonais

It wasn't our route today though! We continued along the good track until we saw a small gorge and some waterfalls - a definite photo op - and we veered off to have a look...

Glen Allt a'Chonais with views to Sgurr a'Chaorachain and Sgurr Choinnich

We soon wished we hadn't, as the bank was rough and boggy. But by that time we were near the point where we needed to ford the burn - so we just slogged on. The little gorge and waterfalls were worth a gander though!

Waterfalls on Allt a'Chonais with Sgurr Choinnich beyond

Rafe and Jim ablve Allt a'Chonais

As we had made our way up the glen, the wind had lessened. Whilst it wasn't tee shirt weather, we were certainly feeling more confident about getting to the top.

Rafe - Ford over Allt a'Chonais

Now photographs sometimes just don't do things justice - the steepness of hills, the pointiness of ridges, the gnarliness of scrambles...

In the pictures Allt a'Chonais looks like a gentle little burn, shallow and rocky, meandering along the glen. But the rocks were small, a good distance apart, not very stable and the water was pretty deep in between - Jim is a foot taller than me and is blessed with superhuman balance and the ultimate confidence that goes along with it. He also doesn't carry the camera! He hopped and skipped across and stood with his hands on his hips watching critically whilst I tried to emulate him. Rafe of course thought this was all a game and insisted on gambolling about in front of me and generally getting in the way. I got about three quarters of the way across before being faced with a greasy, green pebble as a target. which had been a wide step for Jim, but was a jump too far for me!

There's nothing like a paddle on a chilly morning to wake you up!

And if you're wondering about the second wire bridge, it was looser and flappier than the first!

But the south side of the burn was a good spot for a snack and a drink, whilst my feet dried off...

Stalkers path into Coire Leathad an Tobair with views to Sgurr a'Chaorachan and Sgurr Choinnich

Off we went again - south west now, in the sheltered glen above Allt Leathad an Tobair, with Bealach Bhearnais as our next waypoint. Apart from a bit of boggy stuff just after we forded the burn, the stalkers path was good and the going easy - a lovely walk.

Rafe and Jim ascend towards Bealach Bhearnais in Coire Leathad an Tobair

Views back (east) along Allt Leathad an Tobair

Jim - ascent to Bealach Bhearnais

As usual, the views improved as we ascended. The path was so good and the ascent so gradual that we had plenty of time to enjoy it all as we walked.

Views back (east) along Allt Leathad an Tobair to Sgurr nan Ceannaichean

The wind seemed to have dropped off completely...

Bealach Bhearnais - view to Sgurr nan Ceannaichean - a good place for a first lunch

Once at Bealach Bhearnais, we took a sharp left and climbed up to a second bealach (sh 637m), stopping for lunch just before we popped over the top - expecting the wind to be whistling through the gap - but no, when we got there, the air was still.

Kim ascends out of Bealach Bhearnais - views to Sgurr na Feartaig

We got our first view of Streangan nan Aon Pacan-deug, Sgurr Choinnich's west ridge, to the east - as well as the pointy Munro, Lurg Mhor, across to our south.

Rafe - that's not the summit! - at bealach (sh 637m NH063447)
Views south  to Sgurr na Conbhaire and Meall Mor beyond

Sgurr Choinnich and ridge to Sgurr na Conbhaire from bealach NH063477

Jime and Rafe begin ascent of Sgurr Choinnich

The first real ascent of the day began, along an obvious path up the nose, winding through bands of rocks, with the occasional bit of very easy scrambling.

Rafe and Jim - Sgurr Choinnich - Streangan nan Aon Pacan-deug

Lurg Mhor and Beinn Tharsuinn from ascent of Sgurr Choinnich

It was steep at times, but the 350m or so of ascent passed quickly, with the views all around us opening up all the time. Many photographs were taken.

Jim - ascent of Sgurr Choinnich - views south to Meall Mor and Lurg Mhor

And there was hardly a breath of wind throughout the climb.

Views north from ascent of Sgurr Choinnich into glen of Allt a'Chonais and to Sgurr nan Ceannaichean

Jim - ascent of Sgurr Choinnich

Suddenly there were views ahead, to the east - a wonderful undulating ridge, with plenty of snow still hanging from the northern edge over Coire Choinnich - easy, airy walking...

Jim and Rafe on Sgurr Choinnich ridge - views east towards summit

Jim - Sgurr Choinnich ridge

Sgurr Choinnich ridge - views west

Jim and Rafe nearing Sgurr Choinnich summit

We were soon at the summit - Sgurr Choinnich (Munro 139, 999m) - it was rather hazy and the camera isn't as good as the eye - but the views were extensive, across hills already climbed and hills for the future.

Looking back (west) along ridge from Sgurr Choinnich summit (Munro 139, 999m)

Jim and Rafe - Sgurr Choinnich summit ridge - views south east to Mullardoch hills

Looking back (west) along Sgurr Choinnich ridge

The most immediate hill being Sgurr a'Chaorachain, just across Bealach Coire Choinnich, our next objective, just to the east. Off we went...

As we neared the end of the summit ridge, Loch Monar appeared - we're much more used to seeing it from the Glen Strathfarrar end.

Sgurr a'Chaorachain and Loch Monar from eastern end of Sgurr Choinnich ridge

The moment we stepped off the summit ridge, the wind started, a strong easterly, icy and in our faces. An extra layer was definitely required!

Jim and Rafe descend into Bealach Coire Choinnich with views of Loch Monar

But we found a sheltered spot in the bealach, behind some rocks, for a second lunch. A warm cuppa was certainly welcome.

Descent from Sgurr Choinnich with views to Sgurr a'Chaorachain

Before ascending the next hill - Sgurr a'Chaorchain - through a couple of big patches of rather sloppy snow. It still felt like winter up there.

Jim and Rafe - ascent of Sgurr a'Chaorachain

The views continued to be great though - it even looked like it was getting a bit brighter...

Looking back (west) to Sgurr Choinnich from ascent of Sgurr a'Chaorachain

Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and Moruisg from ascent of Sgurr a'Chaorachain

Sgurr Choinnich from Sgurr a'Chaorachain

Loch Monar from ascent of Sgurr a'Chaorachain

Sgurr a'Chaorachain summit (Munro78, 1053m)
Views west to Sgurr Choinnich

We didn't linger on the summit - Sgurr a'Chaorachain (Munro 78, 1053m) - the icy wind continued to blow. A few minutes to take in the scene and for the usual photo session, and we headed along the broad north ridge...

Views east to Bidean an Eoin Deirg from Sgurr a'Chaorachain summit

Before decending steeply on pathless slopes into lower Coire Choinnich, aiming for a point east of the confluence of Allt Chonais and Allt Leathad an Tobair, avoiding the glistening bogs we could see around this confluence.

Sgurr Choinnich from Sgurr a'Chaorachain

Rafe and Jim - descent from Sgurr a'Chaorachain - views north

Sgurr Choinnich from descent from Sgurr a'Chaorachain

It was hard work at times, slippery and damp with the occasional rocky bit, but it was a quick descent. The wind soon dropped off as our height decreased - it soon felt mild and muggy...

Sgurr Choinnich, Bealach Bhearnais and Sgurr na Feartaig
from descent from Sgurr a'Chaorachain

Rafe and Jim - descent to Pollan Buidhe - views north

This crossing of Allt Chonais, a bit further up the glen, was much easier than our first crossing - shallow and with plenty of stepping stones - and I made it dry-shod this time.

Our descent route from Sgurr a'Chaorachain

Rafe - plodging in the burn by Pollan Buidhe

We tucked into a third lunch next to a little burn that ran into the river.

Third lunch by the burn (Pollan Buidhe)
with views to Sgurr Choinnich

Before wandering back down the glen back towards Craig.

The walk out - track along Allt a'Chonais

The wind was still whistling through the pass - but this time it was blowing us on our way.

Last views of Sgurr a'Chaorachain and Sgurr Choinnich

It was a 5km walk out, but the sun was shining and we'd had another wonderful hill day - two more Munro's completed and a view of the Torridonian hills ahead to finish off. Perfect.

Views west to Torridon hills from track above Sloc Mor

Route:  Achnashellach Forest car park, Craig (NH039493), S from car park, cross A890 and railway crossing opposite, E then S on track to fb over River Carron (NH048493), S then SE on track above Sloc Mor Gorge and above Allt a'Chonais, continue through gate onto track into the wide glen of Allt a'Chonais, at NH074468 take path S to river, ford Allt a'Chonais at NH077465 and continue S then SW on stalkers path above Allt Leathad an Tobair to Bealach Bhearnais (596m), SE to bealach (sh 637m), E on path ascending Streangan nan Aon Pacan-deug ridge, Sgurr Choinnich (Munro 139, 999m), E to Bealach Coire Choinnich, E to Sgurr a'Chaorachain (Munro 78, 1053m), N on pathless open hillside, descending steeply into Coire Choinnich aiming for Allt a'Chonais E of its confluence with Allt Leathad an Tobair, (avoiding the bogs around this confluence!), ford Allt a'Chonais, W then N along track returning to start.

Statistics:  Distance: 20km  Ascent: 1230m  Time: 8 hours

Map:  OS Explorer 429 Glen Carron & West Monar

Sgurr Choinnich

Sgurr a'Chaorachain

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