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Triple Munro hike: Sgùrr Chòinnich, Sgùrr a’Chaorachain & Maoile Lunndaidh
Reaching the second mountain summit of the day in the spectacular Highlands area of Glen Carron, a quiet confidence seeps in.
A glance at my watch reveals it has taken three-and-a-half hours to summit two Munros, Sgùrr Chòinnich and now Sgùrr a’Chaorachain.
My husband Gordon and I have covered seven miles and climbed almost 4000ft – and it is not yet lunchtime.
“Not bad,” I thought, especially after so many months away from the mountains due to Covid restrictions.
I consider the day’s plans and say to Gordon: “Just one more Munro to do. It’s not so difficult is it?”
His face reveals more doubt than I was hoping for. “I’m not sure we are even half-way,” he says. “Have you checked the map?”
He is right. Without properly considering the facts, I’ve falsely congratulated our progress.
Looking ahead at the route on paper, I realise we are barely a third of the way.
Bike and hike
The day had started with an almost continuous uphill bike ride. For more than three miles, we pushed hard climbing from a forest car park at Achnnashellach, just off the A890, any around 200ft elevation to almost 1000ft.
It was a challenging way to launch a big mountain journey but it made sense to reduce the mileage to walk – and we knew the end of the day would be a joy as we whizzed back downhill on two wheels.
Most people, including route guides, suggest Sgùrr Chòinnich and Sgùrr a’Chaorachain are best walked in one outing, leaving our third Munro of Maoile Lunndaidh for another day.
However, I had a hunger to tick off the three summits in one trip. With only eight mountains left to finish my first round all 282 Munros I was keen to reduce the tally.
I guess it would have been a good idea to consider our lockdown fitness – or lack of – and also to take into account the forecast for a very hot day, but, as I said, I felt a driving mission to compleat. (Note: the archaic spelling of a Munro completion.)
First Munro of the day
Leaving our bikes beside the wide track at Pollan Buidhe, we begin the climb to Sgùrr Chòinnich on foot.
A comical river crossing by way of a basic wire bridge takes us to a well-formed mountain path. The dry, dusty track zig-zags steeply upwards. Higher up, the route changes to a fainter path with a gentler gradient as we head walk alongside the rushing waters of Allt Leathad an Tobair.
We stop to refill our already near empty water bottles and enjoy the high-rise views of mountains all around. The sun shines and the earlier low cloud floats away.
Heading towards a low rise between the western flanks of Sgùrr Chòinnich and another mountain, Sgùrr na Feartaig, the ascent once again steepens.
Turning east, our route winds around and between the rocky crags of our first Munro summit. A few short scrambley sections call for hands, as well as feet, but it is easily manageable.
Finally reaching a high point of 3277ft, we sit for a while next to the small cairn. The views in all directions are breathtaking, with mountains near and very far including Torridon and the remote Fisherfield forest.
On to Munro two
Persuading ourselves to leave our wonderful vantage point, we continue east to the far end of the summit ridge and descend on rocky terrain.
The path comes and goes but it’s mostly easily visible. Suddenly, we are treated to a stunning vista over Loch Monar far below before we start another climb.
Although steep, the path zig-zags upwards and before too long we’ve reached the second summit, Sgùrr a’Chaorachain at 3454ft above sea level.
At the large shelter cairn, two other walkers are resting and we stop to exchange Munro bagging stories.
More fantastic panoramic views include easily recognisable Torridon summits to the north and the Munro, Lurg Mhor, to the south.
It’s here that my previous confidence is dented with the realisation of how far we still have to walk.
A hard fought Munro threee
Yet, still, I’m upbeat because I’ve bagged two of my last Munros. My tally of 276 Munros has taken me a decade and only in recent years has it seemed possible I might one day compleat.
As we descend, at first on a faint path and then by tramping over a rough terrain of grass, moss and rocks, then peat hags and bog, we dare to look upwards to the next summit.
The huge hulk of of Maoile Lunndaidh looms ahead and to the distant east. I question our sanity on a hot summer’s day and then notice another solo walker making far quicker progress behind us.
Normally, Gordon and I are quite swift Munro baggers but it feels like we are hiking through treacle.
With heavy, tired legs we are committed to completing the round of three Munros, although I can see we are both lacking our usual enthusiasm.
We spot a faint path, which we had not expected, rising up the first western flanks of the mountain and make a beeline for this.
Fortunately, the weather is still fine and the views continue to provide superb rewards as we climb laboriously uphill.
The ascent of Maoile Lunndaidh proves to be one of many false rises and summits. We climb upwards, finding short sections of paths in between thick and pathless vegetation again.
Carn nan Fiaclan at 3267ft – almost as high as the first Munro – gives false hope, before a small cairn – also not the summit – rises ahead on the wide final ridge hike of Maoile Lunndaidh.
And so it goes on, until we start to wonder if we had somehow missed the summit. Finally, there it is, a large cairn marking the high point of 3297ft.
The cycle back
Taking care not to say anything to Gordon this time, I quietly consult the map to assess how far we still have to go to reclaim our mountain bikes.
My heart drops, especially as I realise I’ve finished all my food except for a couple of pieces of sweet Scottish tablet.
It takes in excess of another hour to make our northerly descent on the open slopes of rocks, heather and grass before reaching a small lodge and a wooden shelter at Glenuaig and then on to a wide track at the base of the glen.
The tablet offers a brief energy boost as we walk in tired silence for another hour back west towards Pollan Buidhe and the relief of swapping feet for wheels.
The ride back to Achnashellch is exquisite. It is a huge relief to be suddenly pedalling easily downhill and eating up the final miles, while also relishing a cooling breeze in early evening temperatures tipping 27C.
The full distance turns out to be 20 miles with a total ascent of almost 5900ft.
Summer bike and hike kit list:
- Mountain bike, puncture repair kit, bike helmet
- Walking boots or trail shoes
- Walking clothes
- Waterproof jacket
- Gloves and hat
- Spare layers, including an insulated jacket
- Food and water
- Map and compass
Three alternative routes:
- Walk Sgùrr Chòinnich and Sgùrr a’Chaorachain in one outing.
- Walk Maoile Lunndaidh in another outing
- Walk Sgùrr Chòinnich and Sgùrr a’Chaorachain and add in the Corbett Sgùrr na Feartaig.