Tuesday 25 April 2023

Spring Backpacking In Glen Affric

I woke to a tent crackling with frost. Outside mist hung low over the mountains. The sun was already breaking through though, picking out distant summits with bright gold light. 

I’d walked in the day before on the Kintail-Affric Way, here a forest track, above Loch Affric. The forest was glorious in the spring sunshine, the walking easy, and there were good views over the trees and the loch to the mountains.

Well beyond the last trees I camped near the river Affric. Sand martins recently back from wintering in Africa prospected for nest holes along the sandy banks. The sun set over silhouetted mountains, bathing them in golden light. A lovely, calm, peaceful evening.

The night was crisp, cold, and starry. There was no wind and the tent was soon damp inside and out from condensation and dew, dampness that quickly froze. I crunched around on the frozen grasses marvelling at the sky, the stillness, and the quiet.

By the time I was ready to set off the sun had dispersed the mist and the day was warming up. I climbed the long track up to a high pass, the Bealach Coire Ghaidheil, where I could look down to Loch Mullardoch and to mountains all around.

The first part of the ascent was beside a deer fence enclosing the banks of the Allt Coire Ghaidheil. Inside the fence trees, outside no trees. The ground vegetation looked healthier and more profuse inside the fence too.

The map showed a path from the bealach making a traversing ascent across the slopes of the hills above before ending without reaching anywhere in particular. I couldn’t remember ever taking this path so rather than leave it after a short while and climb directly to the ridge above I followed it as it meandered round the hillside with excellent views of Mam Sodhail and Carn Eighe, the two highest summits north of the Great Glen.

Towards its finish the path became more dramatic, running along the edge of steep craggy drops. When the path faded away it was only a short climb up onto the south ridge of Mam Sodhail and then to the summit with its massive circular cairn, built by the Ordnance Survey in 1848, and tremendous views. The wind up here was strong and cold. A haze was beginning to develop in the distance. The first sign the weather was changing.

I had intended on descending by the path into Coire Coulavie and camping somewhere in this long corrie. However a big bank of hard snow blocked the start of the path down the corrie headwall. Without ice axe, crampons or footwear suitable for kicking steps I decided going down this was unwise. Instead I took the long ridge out over Mullach Cadha Rainich to Sgurr na Lapaich, a much better option on a sunny day anyway as the walk is excellent and the views superb. There were snow patches along the ridge but they were small. The hills felt in spring mode, winter long gone.

But for the fierce wind I would have camped somewhere on this ridge. As it was I took the intricate, cunningly designed narrow path through little crags on the steep south-east slopes of Sgurr na Lapaich to the flatter, boggy ground around the Allt na Faing.

The wind was just a breeze down here. However finding flat ground that wasn’t oozing with water proved difficult and I ended up walking further than planned, much further than if I’d taken the Coire Coulavie route, and camping just in the forest amongst big old pines. Not far away was a deer fence with many young trees inside it. Around my camp there were no saplings and the ground was trampled by many deer. This part of the forest is not regenerating.

The next day I woke to a dry tent and a stronger wind. The sky was overcast, the tops hidden in cloud. A very short walk led down to the car. I drove home in light showers. My first spring backpacking trip this year was over and so was the first extended spell of fine weather. The following day it poured down, the day after it snowed. The hills are white again. 



  1. Nice description of tremendous hills

  2. Great photos, Chris, looks like you had the best of the weather ☁️😊 All the best from M&H xx

  3. Thanks for taking us along.