In the months before lockdown a plan was hatched to attempt the multi-day, 35 mile Mullardoch Circuit. The round, taking in 12 Munros on the ridges to the north and south of Loch Mullardoch would be a significant advance in Steve Murray's quest to bag all 282. The weather and conditions had to be right owing to the committing nature of the route and our small team of four set forth on Saturday the 28th of May 2022. Accompanying Steve Murray were Steve Green, Caroline Weale and Dave Mannion.
Day one saw the team drive up to assemble at a car park near the north end of the dam at Loch Mullardoch. Tea, coffee, flapjack and cakes were on hand as Steve and Bev had pre-positioned in their van earlier in the day and generously offered refreshment before setting off. The parking area to the southern end of the dam was the planned meeting point but was not accessible due to a locked gate on the access road.
Our departure time was 5pm and the team were accompanied by Bev and Hal the dog for a couple of miles until the track gave way to cross-country walking. The first Munro, Carn nan Gobhar was summited and after descending the bealach to the west we set up our first camp site at about 9pm and an altitude of 770m. It was windy and colder than hoped for but the terrain around the small loch gave us a reasonably hard surface to pitch tents, shelter from the elements and plenty of fresh water.
The next morning saw another cool start but the wind had eased. The going underfoot was mostly reasonable but areas of scrambling with heavy rucksacks made for a demanding day. Later in the morning the fine weather deteriorated and much of the day was spent in rain and cloud. Three more Munros, Sgurr na Lapaich, An Riabhachan and An Socach (Cannich) were achieved before descending the western end of the ridge and arriving at the river crossing at Gobh-alltan.
At this point the group split into two pairs. Caroline and Steve Green elected to return to the dam via the vague path along the northern side of Loch Mulllardoch. The cold, wet and demanding terrain were taking their toll and although not an easy option it was without doubt safer for the two to remain at lower altitude. Steve Murray and Dave continued with the planned route and headed up to summit Mullach na Dheiragain before camping again below the bealach to the south west at 800m. It was still light at 9:30 when the tents were pitched. Here it was not so easy to find a good camping surface as the ground was broken and boggy but also without an obvious good stream for fresh water. The terrain, however, provided shelter from the worst of the wind and rain.
On the final day an early morning start for the resident ridge-campers saw us on the trail by 7am. The weather was initially cold and damp with sleet, snow and hail showers. The first Munro, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, was summited within an hour followed by An Socach (Affrich) and Mam Sodhail. Paths were relatively easy to follow for the most part but care had to be taken when navigating in grey, cloudy conditions with map and compass being regularly used to back up decisions. The traverse to Beinn Fhionnlaidh was a vague path and felt much further than anticipated. Our rucksacks were deposited near the path when we made our way north to this outlying Munro. Approaching here at midday the weather began to clear up with less frequent showers, mostly snow near the tops and sunshine in between.
After returning by the same path we retrieved our rucksacks and had a bite to eat and soon after were on top of Carn Eige. Snow was now lying on the high ground but mostly slushy and wet. There were elements of scrambling to gain the last two Munros, Tom a'Choinich and Toll Creagach which made for tiring progress. The scenery, now more visible to us in the latter part of the circuit was spectacular as were the ridges themselves.
Our long and demanding day was not yet over. The descent following the Allt Fraoch Choire was a long and haphazard route through boggy, heathery and waterlogged peaty terrain. There was no specific path and the going was, once again, very tough. The dam was easily visible for a long time before we were walking on a dry and stable surface. At 9:30pm when we arrived at the car park Caroline was snug in her tent doing her best to avoid the midges. Steve and Bev had already left in their van for a pre-booked campsite. Their walk along the north side of the Loch had taken until 6pm to complete. On arrival at the car we immediately decamped and headed for the Premier Inn at Inverness where we were able to shower, have a comfortable night's sleep and a decent breakfast in the morning before driving south.
The total distance travelled on the Mullardoch Circuit was 38 miles and total ascent of 5100m. It was a tough challenge throughout and made more difficult after the initial weather forecast had taken a turn for the worse. Nonetheless it was a successful trip with all 12 Munros bagged in a single weekend. It was a serious test of resolve, both mental and physical and a trip not to be underestimated owing to the relentless nature of terrain, uncertainties of conditions and committing nature of a route that leaves no easy escape option should things go wrong.
Well done everyone, a harsh weekend with a sunny outcome.