Loch Affric – Kintail Lodge Hotel
02 February 2012
32.9 km/476 m/09:00 hrs
My last backpacking trip had been three months ago, and I thought it was about time to get out on a nice long walk, it’s only a bit over three months until the TGO Challenge, after all!
During the week I had been looking at various options – the weather was supposed to be best in the Northwest Highlands, I needed a route over two days with about 25 km each day, and also a hostel/bunkhouse at the end of day one, because camping would not be possible with the ground frozen solid. And a pub near the accommodation would be a bonus, of course…
In the end I settled for a walk from Loch Affric to the Kintail Lodge Hotel, which fulfilled all the above conditions, apart from the fact that it was a bit longer than 25 km, it was actually nearly 33 km on the first day. I knew that this would be hard, considering that I was completely out of practice, but I would just see how I would get on and hope for the best.
I arrived at the empty car park at Loch Affric at 08:00 and started walking just before sunrise, first following the track to Affric Lodge and then the good path along the north bank of the loch.
It was very cold, and the loch partly covered with a thin layer of ice.
Mullach Fraoch-choire at the west end of the loch.
An Tudair with Creag Coire nan Each behind, on the left.
Looking back across Loch Coulavie and Loch Affric.
At the end of the loch, the path joins the Landrover track that comes from the south bank and leads west along the River Affric.
Beinn Fhada (zoomed).
Entering the West Affric Estate.
At the side of one of the tributary streams of the River Affric, I saw this box which looked like some kind of trap, but that didn’t seem to make sense because the inner was not enclosed. Later at home, I did some research online and found that it is a mink raft. They normally float on the water and contain a clay pad which collects footprints of minks to monitor their presence in a certain area, so that they can be captured to control their numbers, if necessary.
This one apparently had been removed from the water because of the freezing weather conditions.
The glen widens, just before the Youth Hostel is reached.
Alltbeithe YH is now closed for the winter, and will re-open in April. During the closure, one room in the annexe stays unlocked and could be used as a shelter in an emergency. It contains several bunk beds, but only three mattresses and one blanket.
Ciste Dubh and The Five Sisters ahead.
The rather dodgy bridge across the Allt Gleann Gnìomhaidh – one plank is missing, one is loose and the remaining ones were slippery as they were covered in frost. I was clinging to the wire ropes while I made my way across very slowly…
Soon after the bridge, Camban bothy comes into sight, very welcome as it was time for a lunch break.
For someone arriving at the bothy in the dark, this sight might be a bit unsettling…
The bothy consists of two rooms with several sleeping platforms and a fireplace in each room. Reports and photos of various past refurbishments of the bothy are in a frame on the wall.
Following the Allt Cam-bàn.
Every few minutes, a stream has to be forded, which is normally not a big problem. But in cold weather like this, they were partially frozen and on some occasions, I had to wander up- or downstream a bit to find a suitable place to cross.
The Five Sisters.
In some places the path had turned into an ice rink, but I managed to avoid the ice by walking on the grass on either side of it.
One of the tributary streams of the Allt Grannda flows down a steep rock wall in a series of waterfalls, and flows right across the path.
The impressive Allt Grannda waterfall.
Shortly after the waterfall, I caught the first glimpse of Gleann Lichd.
The bothy itself is locked, as it belongs to a Mountaineering Club, but the tiny shelter at one end is open to everyone.
I had a quick look inside, there is not much space at the moment because the place is filled with empty white bags from path repairs.
And THIS… (possibly the latest in ultralight hillwalking gear?!)
Sgùrr an Airgid and Beinn Bhuidhe (zoomed).
Looking back to Sàileag.
I arrived at the Kintail Lodge Hotel shortly after 17:30. The last nine kilometres or so I had been walking on the hard Landrover track in Gleann Lichd, and from Morvich, even on tarmac. My knees and ankles had been hurting the last couple of hours, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk tomorrow’s route as planned.
If I felt good, I wanted to walk via Bealach an Sgàirne and Gleann Gnìomhaidh – if not, I would shorten the day by getting a bus to the Cluanie Inn and walking north from there to join Glen Affric for the way back.
I had the whole Trekker’s Lodge to myself, and the few other guests in the bar were not very talkative, so I was glad that I had brought a book. When I got up from my seat after dinner, I could hardly walk… I went to bed early, read a bit and decided to follow Plan B tomorrow.
Cluanie Inn – Loch Affric
03 February 2012
24.3 km/447 m/08:00 hrs
For today, rain or snow showers were forecast, approaching from the west in the morning. But when I opened the curtains and looked out of the window, I couldn’t believe my luck: Blue sky and not a single cloud to be seen!
After a quick breakfast, I packed my rucksack and walked to the bus stop in Shiel Bridge to catch the 09:14 bus to the Cluanie Inn.
Loch Duich on a cold, clear morning.
When I arrived at the Cluanie Inn 15 minutes later, it felt already warm in the sun.
Morning sun on Loch Cluanie.
I walked along the A87 to the start of the track to Glen Affric, turning round regularly because I couldn’t take my eyes off the snow covered South Glen Shiel Ridge.
Signpost at the start, with Am Bàthach in the background.
And another one of the South Glen Shiel Ridge…
Am Bàthach, with the start of the Three Brothers Ridge visible behind.
I had the sun and the (light) wind in my back, a perfect day for walking.
Bealach a’ Chòinich and Sgùrr an Fhuarail.
Some of the streams were a bit difficult to cross, because they were partly frozen, and I could never be sure if the ice would be strong enough to hold my weight. At this point I put the MicroSpikes on – and managed to get across this and all other streams with dry feet.
The MicroSpikes were also very useful for crossing large ice patches on the grassy slopes.
Looking into Coire Odhar, Mullach Fraoch-choire on the left.
Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan.
Looking into Fionngleann, Beinn Fhada dominating the view – Camban bothy is just visible in the sun, a bit left of centre.
Descending to the River Affric, I came across an aircraft wreckage I had not heard of before. Later I found out it was from a crash in 1942, and the crew survived as they had managed to abandon the plane before it hit the ground.
Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan.
The bridge across the River Affric.
Bridge and Alltbeithe Youth Hostel.
View back to Beinn Fhada.
Walking along the river in the sun, it was still very warm, but in the shadow it had been quite chilly already.
A last look back along the glen, Beinn Fhada in the centre.
At Athnamulloch, I had my last tea break, sitting in the sun on the bench outside Strawberry Cottage.
Looking back to Athnamulloch, now lying in the shadow.
Walking along the south side of Loch Affric, I was in the shadow for the rest of the walk. But it was nice to see the evening sun on the hills on the other side of the loch.
The beach at the end of Loch Affric and Sgùrr na Lapaich on the right.
Màm Sodhail, hidden behind a Scots Pine.
“Wad of cotton wool” floating above Coire Coulavie…
It was almost dark when I arrived back at the car, and I took one last photo with the camera perched on one of the picnic tables at the car park.
When I arrived back home, I had difficulties getting out of the car, and it took two days for my legs to get back to normal, especially walking down the stairs was quite painful.
I think I overdid it a bit with the length of this walk, but at least it was a good training for the Challenge – my longest stage will be almost 33.5 km, and the sooner my legs get used to this, the better! 😉