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Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich – the peak of shellfish


Looking across Loch Quoich towards Sgurr Mor

RAIN lashed against the windscreen of my car as I drove along Loch Quoich-side. Down here by the loch the rain was intense but through momentary breaks in the cloud I could see the summits. Hope and optimism have to be the mainstays of the Scottish hillwalker.

I had intended taking a romp along the seven Munros of the South Glen Shiel ridge, but an iffy weather forecast put me off tackling a long walk.

On the othger hand, Sgurr a’Mhaoriach, 3369ft/1027m offered a much shorter day and is one of those Munros that I had long felt was worthy of further exploration. I’ve climbed it three times before and on two of those occasions it had to share the day with its Loch Quoich neighbour, Gairich. One Munro in the morning, another Munro in the afternoon, two ticks in the book and I didn’t really get to know either hill.

The other occasion was a day of mist and rain when I sawe virtually nothing. I thought I’d take the opportunity of having a look at Sgurr a’Mhaoraich from a new angle.

Looking down on Loch Quoich and some horrible new bulldozed tracks

On these previous visits I had more or less just tramped up the hill and back the same way, ignoring the fact that Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich is well served by excellent stalkers’ paths that offer a variety of routes to and from the summit. I decided to climb the hill by what has become the normal route of ascent – via the long ridge of Bac nan Canaichean that rises above the northern arm of Loch Quoich, over the subsidiary top of Sgurr Coire nan-Eiricheallach and along the rocky ridge to the final scramble to the summit. Once on the summit, I would gauge the weather prospects and decide on a descent route.

I slept in the camervan overnight and come morning the weather looked decidely brighter. There were still lots of storm clouds blowing over and I reckoned there would be rain, but hopefully later in the day.

The summit comes into view

The climb up to Sgurr nan-Eiricheallach was remarkably enjoyable, with frequent stops to photograph the glowering clouds casting shadows over the hills and across the slate grey of Loch Quoich.

The zig-zagging path I’d been following continued over Sgur nan-Eircheallach and down to the ridge that links with Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich, the peak of shellfish. It was only when I began climbing the steeper, rockier slopes of Mhaoraich’s summit cone that I realised what a craggy place this was. Jumbles of mammoth boulders lay around and the path picks its way delicately through them.

Looking north to the hills of Affric

A bit of easy scrambling took me to the summit and since the weather was looking as though it might turn to rain and cloud I opted for a sstraightforward descent down the hill’s south ridge via Leac nan Gaidhseich and back to the Kinloch Hourn road, a longish and wet descent that was remarkably brightened by the sight of a pair of golden eagles being harassed by raven.

A dramatic sunset over Kinloch Hourn

It was later in the evening as the sun went down that I looked out of the campervan to see a herd of rusty coloured highland cattle padding along the winding road towards me, a scene beautifully backlit by the sinking sun. It made a lovely end to another good day on the hill.

Some late evening visitors

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