Thursday, 25 July 2013

Day 76 - Cluanie Horseshoe

16 July

I awoke at Cluanie, surprised to see the weather was not as dreadful as had been forecast. It's always a good way to start the day.

This was a good day from the outset. A couple of things happened. Before I began my Round, I got an email from a guy called Alan who had finished his Munros and logged them all on his website. His site had been an inspiration to me when I was 16 years old and getting into mountain climbing. He told me he'd left something underneath the cairn on Carn Ghluasaid for me, and sent pictures showing it's location. I remembered this almost as soon as I'd woken up and immediately looked forward to the day.

Then Lorraine McCall texted me; would I be around to go out for dinner tonight? Hell yes! You can't do much better for a walker on a long trip than to go for dinner. Suddenly I had the focus to get the day's hills dispatched really quickly.

I first did the Cluanie Horseshoe last October. It was a day I immensely enjoyed, and the 30 kilometres was a boost to confidence. They're strange mountains, because when you look up from the roadside at Loch Cluanie you just don't see a thing. The mountains might as well not exist. But when you get high up on them, they gradually open out until you're looking at mountains of immense form and beauty. I could almost go as far to say they're my favourite mountains in the Kintail region. I tend to think the peaks of the main Glen Shiel ridges lack a form and individualism.

I got up onto Carn Ghluasaid in good time (just over an hour) and was really glad to have the sun shining down on me. The wind was pretty strong, but I don't mind that. Rain can seem depressing but wind seems to bring the mountains alive. I got to the cairn and lifted the stone. And there was a wee bottle of Bunnahabhain that had sat there for three months, just waiting for me to pick it up. Many thanks, Alan!

The next two Munros, Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Sail Chaorainn, went really quickly. In fact, I had my three Munros done within just over two hours. I was steaming today. The prospect of dinner in the evening was an amazing drive.

The route to A' Chralaig crosses some rough ground, traversing grassy hillsides and avoiding crags. Keeping the speed of the first few Munros, I went into an automatic state of moving, just processing the ground ahead and working with it. In such states, you forget where you are, and look around and realise you've made great progress. A long haul up the ridge of A' Chralaig brought me to the summit cairn. I'd broken the back of the day; just Mullach Froach-choire to go.

As is usual, this is another hill that didn't seem as big as before. I'm sure I was out of steam last time I did this one. At this pace, it was an easy addition; five Munros completed with surprising ease.

At the top of Mullach Froach-choire, I met a woman and her two sons, who impressively had just done A' Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch-choire at the ages of 10 and 11. We chatted for a short while and I saw them off, eventually spending nearly half an hour on top of the hill, then back to Glen Shiel, down to the road.

Half an hour of unsuccessful hitching later, and the family from Mullach Fraoch-choire arrived back and gave me a lift back to Lundie.

Lorraine and I ate in the Cluanie. Thanks Lorraine for the evening – and the map.

Lorraine did a continuous Munro round a few years back, over a horrendously wet summer, walking the entire way, including paddling out to the islands. She has an utterly inspirational article on, which boosted my enthusiasm for the whole idea before I began. Have a look. She's also in the process of writing a book about her trip, too.

It's surreal to identify experiences that have otherwise been so personal to me, with someone else. It was chill-out time. The hills for the day had been done and I had a few precious hours just to sit and think about nothing else.

I told Lorraine about my coming days: North Shiel Ridge, and the Mullardoch/Affric round, all within three days. It was a sobering thought for myself, but if I could do it, I'd be back on track.

It was like a barrier between me and the rest of the Munro Round. I felt that if I could just get through Glen Shiel and Affric, I would only have northern Scotland to go. A nice thought.

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