TWIN Munros of almost identical appearance and height, 1181m Mam Sodhail and 1183m Carn Eige, the highest hills west of the Great Glen, lie only half a mile apart on the north side of beautiful Glen Affric.
From the intervening 1044m dip, the climb of just 137m to Mam Sodhail (“mam sool”) is ridiculously easy. Twenty minutes will suffice.
Given that distance and ascent, I would reduce Mam Sodhail to subsidiary Top status.
Running south-east from the main spine of the hill are three craggy ridges. The most northerly goes over 996m Mullach Cadha Rainich, not named on the map, and terminates on the magnificent prow of 1036m Sgurr na Lapaich. Dominating the head of Glen Affric, and often mistaken on approach for Mam Sodhail, it was an original Munro, but demoted in 1921. Almost three miles from Mam Sodhail and with a rise of around 110m from the intervening dip, Cos Raineach, it has strong claims to be restored.
The horseshoe route Rhona and I followed, Sgurr na Lapaich to Mam Sodhail and return by Coire Leachavie, offers not only an airy ridge walk but a marvellous insurance policy should the Top one day be restored to Munro status.
From the Glen Affric road-end car park, follow the track to Affric Lodge and the wooden bridge over the loch, well recognised from many a pictorial calendar. On our day the water was like a mill pond demanding a photo stop. Just before the lodge is a mapped path, in fact a well-surfaced narrow track, that links Glen Affric and Gleann nam Fiadh.
Climb north, then west, to where the path takes a sharp loop at 480m, just before the high point.
Leave the path and head west, seeking in places a partially cairned path of old through roughish terrain. The path becomes grassy, curving north-west on the north side of the Allt na Faing to reach a Y-junction, map ref 165244. Follow the side stream, west then south-west, to reach the Lapaich ridge at map ref 160239. [If misty, bear west from the mapped path.] From there a good path, keeping west of the crags, heads up the prow to a small cairn. A stony traverse then leads to the bigger cairn on Sgurr na Lapaich. It is an easy walk along the steep-sided, undulating ridge, narrow in places, past Cos Raineach and the 996m Top and so to Mam Sodhail.
With its commanding position, 1181m/3875ft Mam Sodhail was an important peak in the Ordnance Survey’s primary triangulation of Scotland in the 1840s. Surveyors occupied the summit for a month in 1848, building a stone tower 23ft high, though not quite so high now. As it was cold, we sheltered within the rectangular interior. The conditions looked just right to see a Brocken Spectre and so it turned out; the best I’ve seen for quite a while. Descend south-west, passing the ruins of the surveyors’ stone shelter, to reach a flat part from where a stalkers’ path cuts south through a craggy area, descending in zigzag form to upper Coire Leachavie. In poor visibility, take care to find the path at the breach in the crags. If in doubt, continue as far as the 1108m spot-height of navigational importance, then retrace steps. If the path is snow-bound, return over Sgurr na Lapaich.
The well-graded Coire Leachavie path eases the 750m descent over 2½ miles to the Loch Affric path. It is then a glorious two-mile stroll back to the car park.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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