Trio complete tough Mullardoch Munro round – and raise funds for MRT
Three friends, Rob Wight, Iain Cameron and Graham Kelly (aka Beardy) recently completed a huge day out in the Scottish mountains. They walked the Loch Mullardoch Round of 12 Munros over 57km and including 5000m of ascent. The challenge aims to raise funds for Lomond Mountain Rescue Team.
Why the Mullardoch Munro Round?
Considered by many as one of Scotland’s ultimate mountain day routes, the Mullardoch Munro Round appealed to Rob and Iain after they completed another Munro classic, the Mamores in a day, some four years ago.
Mulling over a new challenge, they decided it should be the 12 Munros circuiting Loch Mullardoch in north-west Scotland. They invited a friend, Beardy, to join them. Apparently he said yes without hesitation.
The trio needed to wait until there was a loosening of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and it was vital they had a good weather window. This came on Friday and at 3am they started the tough day out.
Beardy is a member of Lomond Mountain Rescue and Rob is a trainee, so they decided to turn the challenge into a MRT fundraiser.
What is the Mullardoch Round?
Located in a wild and remote area in north-west Scotland, Loch Mullardoch is reached on a single track road through Glen Cannich. The route starts at Mullardoch dam, at a height of less than 50m.
The 12 Munros surround the loch and include:
- Carn nan Gobhar (993m)
- Sgurr na Lapaich (1150m)
- An Riabhachan (1129m)
- An Socach (1069m)
- Mullach na Dheiragain (982m)
- Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan (1151m)
- An Socach (921m)
- Mam Sodhail (1181m)
- Beinn Fhionnlaidh (1005m)
- Carn Eighe (1183m)
- Tom a’Choinnich (1112m)
- Toll Creagach (1054m).
Most people split these Munros into a few days of walking, taking in the mountains on the north of the loch, the south of the loch and three at Glen Affric.
The route mainly follows good paths on the ridges. There are some off-trail sections, especially on the long descent from the Mullardoch summits to a river crossing and before the climb up on to Mullach na Dheiragain / Sgurr nan Ceathramhnan ridges. The is often described as the psychological crux of the round. There is also a tough final descent through heather and grass tussocks back to the dam.
It’s vital that you are prepared for this route. The summits are remote with little or no shortcuts and in anything less than perfect weather, navigation would be even more important than usual. The trio started early on the north hydro track to gain easy time and to ensure they were back off before dark.
Great times and tough times on Mullardoch 12
Rob, Iain and Beardy set out from the dam to complete an anti-clockwise route of the 12 Mullardoch mountains. They were out for 19 hours, although there were plenty of stops to chat to other walkers and to refuel.
The trio suffered few low points. They all found the last descent the hardest, especially a final section where they needed to tramp through heather and were faced with an onslaught of midges.
Iain said by then his shoes and wet socks were rubbing his feet. He added: “I ended up with terrible blisters and every step was painful. This turned into a bit of a penance.”
Beardy said he slightly lost his sense of humour in the final stage. He added: “It was because we had been out for so long and we were all keen to return to our vehicles by then. The terrain of heather and tussocks made progress slow and frustrating, plus the midges were fierce.”
Beardy had also been very nervous before the trip. He said: “I wasn’t sure if I had the confidence to go in the first place. I was worried because I had not completed a big outing like this for a long time and there was the addition of being away from the hills and mountains during lockdown so I was worried about my fitness.
“I had to set off early from home on Thursday to ensure I would be there to do the walk. But as soon as we were walking, I knew it would be fine. It turned out to be a fantastic day and with two great people.”
Meanwhile, for Rob, being mentally prepared for tough times helped him to avoid feeling low. He said: “I’d researched the route thoroughly and I had climbed all the hills at least once before. I knew what to expect.
“I was ready for the gruesome slog from the loch up the steep northern shoulder of Mullach nan Dheiragain.
“I was prepared for the leg-sapping ascent of Beinn Fionnlaidh, which is a there-and-back outlier.
“And the walk out was always going to be a nasty heather-bash on exhausted limbs. Mentally, I was prepared for all these things and it was never as bad in reality as it was in my head.
“To be honest, I was buzzing the whole time. It was a heady mixture of excitement, adrenaline, sugar and caffeine.”
Overall, there were so many highlights for the three walkers.
Iain describes his highs as: “The sunrise at 5am on the first Munro, the lovely weather throughout and the sublime scenery of the wild land.”
He also enjoyed meeting many friendly and encouraging people while they walked and, ultimately, the sense of achievement at the end.
Rob believes that for these types of challenges “it’s who you do it with that’s the most important factor”. He added: “The three of us are a good fit. We have decent hill sense, a similar pace, a good attitude and we were really positive and supportive.
“It was great that we were all willing to grind it out and still be up for a bit of a laugh even during the toughest moments. Sharing this round with Iain and Beardy was the real highlight for me.”
Beardy agreed that “the good company made the day very special”. He said: “We all got on so well and we were very supportive of each other.
“I had said to the others that if they saw we taking out my spare pair of socks they would know I was at a low point. Those socks never came out.”
Rob reveals more highlights. He said: “Every single summit felt like a victory. I was buzzing.
“It was also heavenly pulling on fresh socks at the summit of Munro number six. I felt like I was walking on clouds for the next half-hour.
“Then, when we broke open an emergency bag of chocolate raisins, I thought that crap chocolate had never tasted so good.”
He added: “It felt like such a huge privilege to be out all day in the most remote and beautiful hill country in Scotland and while the weather was perfect. There is a feeling of sheer satisfaction in digging deep and grinding out an impressive day in the hills.”
Beardy sums up his day: “After feeling pretty nervous in the run up to the outing, in the end it was a pleasure and privilege to have shared a day in great company traversing some of the finest Munro summits.”
Tips for the Mullardoch Munro round
Be prepared to be on your feet for a very long time. It’s important to have the mental and physical resolve to complete the round because there is no escape route apart from to drop down to the shore of the loch, but even then it’s a long walk out on rough terrain.
Nutrition is key. Rob said: “It’s important to keep eating all through the round. Beardy worked out that we each burned 8000 calories.
“Basically, you need to eat something every 20 minutes or so on the move. I tended to grab a snack bar at bealachs and summits.”
Enough water is vital, too, especially on a warm day. There are two refill points en route (after the first four Munros and on the bypass path to Beinn Fionnlaidh).
Rob said: “I carried two litres when possible as it was a warm and often sunny day. Then we refilled when we could.”
At one point later in the trip, the trio were all very low on water. Beardy said: “We discussed what to do and looked at the map. We made a decision to detour a little to a fresh spring.”
Rob added: “It was a fantastic moment when we found a spring of cool, clear water on the slopes of Carn Eigh.”
Care for your feet. Compeed blister plasters and climber’s tape will save the day. Rob said: “If you feel any niggle with your feet, stop and fix it immediately. You don’t want to walk 50km on blisters.
“I stopped to tape up two toes and later on to apply Compeed to the balls of my feet.”
Light and fast: The trio travelled light, basically in trail running gear. Rob said: “The forecast was perfect, so we could carry a lot less than if it was a bad weather day.
“I took a lightweight runner’s waterproof jacket and a lightweight insulated jacket, just in case.
“I also had my emergency bivvy bag. Mainly, we had food in our rucksacks.
“It’s a calculated risk and if the worst happened and we had to stop, it would have likely been for just a few hours of rest.
“We also took headlamps, which we used at the start of the walk but we didn’t need at the end because we were back just before it got dark again.”
For details of a Mullardochs Round route see Steven Fallon’s website.