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5 Munros for the price of 6 in Glen Affric

Written by Fiona

August 24 2011

Five Munros in one day would be more than enough for most people. That’s five Munros with a total ascent of 2,300m (the combined height of Snowdon and Ben Nevis!). It is also five Munros with a total distance walked of 37km (23 miles). But, in fact, the “Glen Affric 5” is actually six Munros!

The Munro day was the last “big one” that the G-Force had to complete in his first round of all 283 Munros. He’s walked more Munros in one day before, but the ascent and descent and the long distance to be covered between the Munros meant that this would be one of his toughest yet.

Despite being relatively unfit for hill walking (too much triathlon-specific) I decided I’d like to join him on the challenge. I’m glad I did, but it left my legs in tatters!

Er, so the map says, we have to do that Munro twice?

Glen Affric is a stunningly beautiful area of north-west Scotland and for the entire day on Saturday we were blessed with great views over this majestic estate.

We had planned to do the round of five in the more traditional clockwise direction but at the last minute we had to change the route because of hill stalking. I’m pleased we did. We were worried about a continual head wind but, in fact, the route back-to-front meant we reached a good height quickly and on fresh legs.

Not everyone would walk the five Munros in one go. It would be perfectly reasonable – and actually pretty challenging – to ascend the two Munros, Toll Creagach (1054m) and Tom a’ Choinich (1111m) in the east on one day and the other three, Carn Eige (1183m), Beinn Fhionnlaidh (1005m) and Mam Sodhail (1181) in the west on the second day. Many people choose to wild camp in between.

But the G-Force doesn’t like to do reasonable, especially when he has his sights set on his “final” Munro.

The first Munro of the day, Tom a’ Choinich (1111m), entailed a very long, ascending hike. While rarely ridiculously steep, the repeated ascent and descent en route, combined with the many kilometres, saw us taking hours to reach this first summit of the day. I thought we’d never make it but we walked on, never going too fast so as to reserve energy, chatting, stopping for tea and biscuits, and then walking some more.

The second Munro, Tom a’ Choinich, actually seemed a little too easy in comparison. Having walked to the first summit, we retraced our steps towards the trough of the bealach and then hiked a steep ascent to Munro number 2. This was steep, and rocky, but seemingly short.

With two Munros under our belt I suddenly felt that another three might not be so difficult. But then the G-Force pointed towards the next Munro in the far distance. It was (literally) miles away! While still maintaining a good height on the rounded ridge, our walk involved lots of ascent and descent, climbing up and down other mountain tops that don’t qualify as Munros and/ or Corbetts, but really should, given their high majesty.

A short nap on the top of Munro 3 (and 5)

The feared headwind didn’t materialise, but a strong side wind did! I was blown to my knees a couple of times and in the end the G-Force took to holding on to me to stop we going over the edgy bits. After many days of walking Munros I’ve overcome some of my fear of edgy bits but when it’s a strong wind I try not to look over the edge but instead focus on the “in front”!

Stopping for our second lunch of the day I took another wee look at the map. I like to look at the map prior to each Munro, or a Munro pair, so I hadn’t really taken in the extent of the next trio. “Er, but, it looks like we’re going to have to ascend that Munro twice,” I said, pointing a quivering finger at the middle Munro of the next three, Carn Eige.

“That’s right,” replied the G-Force.

“Did you mention that before?” I asked.

“Yes, I think I did,” he said.

“But that means we’ll be walking six Munros but will only get to tick off five… that seems like an awful lot more effort than I’d envisaged,” I said.

“Yep,” retorted the G-Force.

“Hmmmmm,” I thought.

The smile on the face of Munro bagger with only 3 to go

The only advantage of walking one Munro twice is that we got to leave our rucksacks on top of the middle Munro, Carn Eige, while we walked to the most northerly of the trio. Walking without a rucksack feels like pure bliss for about 10 minutes, before your body simply gets used to the lack of weight and again focuses on the sore legs.

This Munro also included a huge downpour and strong winds. It also featured the greatest ascent and descent of any other Munros that day. Some 350m of climbing, simply to return to Carn Eige!

Coming back up to the summit of the Munro that we’d already summitted felt like torture… but knowing that there was “only” one Munro left to summit that day kept us smiling.

Then again, my legs really weren’t feeling too happy and the final hike to Mam Sodhail, with a lofty 1181 summit, was a slog. The sun decided to shine again and we promised ourselves a wee slug of whisky as a reward at the top of this Munro. You really had to be there to have seen the pure joy on the G-Force’s face as he realised he only had three more Munros to climb to compleat his full round. I was delighted for him.

The thing about Munro bagging is that sometimes the Munro is close to your start point, while on other occasions it is miles and miles away. Having walked a total of 6 Munro summits I had been hoping for a quick shuffle back to the car. But, no luck. The hike back was close to six miles and much of this was on very sore leg muscles. I find the descent is more painful than the ascent and I could feel my thighs suffering with every step.

Finally we reached a flatter, forest trail which would have lifted our hearts if it wasn’t for the sudden  meeting with a furious cloud of midges. I have an allergic reaction to the wee beasties and so I am always very concerned about being bitten. The bites swell and stay painful and itchy for many days afterwards.

The last few miles of the walk saw my with my trousers ticked in my socks, my jacket sleeves tucked in gloves and a midgey net over my head. It wasn’t a good look but it helped to fight off some of the insects.

Chatting over the day during a much need evening meal the G-Force and I smiled and spoke of real happiness. Glen Affric is a superbly beautiful area and we had risen to the challenge of walking so many Munros in one day. We had enjoyed fair weather and each other’s company. We felt properly exhausted, but in that nice tingling way.  What a great way to spend a day!

Now the G-Force only had 3 Munros left to walk.

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