Hiking A’ Chralaig And Mullach Fraoch Choire (With Ciste Dhubh)
Most people tend to do A’ Chralaig (A-HALEK) (1120 metres) and Mullach Fraoch Choire (MOACH-HOOVE-HOYER) (1102 metres) together and head back down the glen to the car park. Due to the relative simplicity of this hike I decided to incorporate a third munro and a corbett, Ciste Dhubh (KEESHTE-DOO) (979 metres) and Am Bathach (AM BARRACH) (798 metres), on my way back. This involved a slight detour and a tough slog but the views were well worth the extra hassle.
Clear days on the summits will provide you with spectacular views over Loch Cluanie to the south, Glen Affric to the north, and the neighbouring munros to the east and west. The location of these peaks is great for a weekend’s climbing because there are 21 munros to choose from; all of which are in close proximity.
If you have already checked out my South Glen Shiel Ridge article then you’ll know that you’re in the same area. The road from Invermoriston to the Isle of Skye is surrounded by towering munros on either side almost all the way along. Several of these can be completed on the same day.
According to the official map of the counties of Scotland, you are actually starting the hike in the southern tip of Ross and Cromarty, although you will venture into Inverness-Shire as the day goes on.
If you’re coming from Inverness, follow the A82 for 28 miles (45km) to Invermoriston. Here you’ll take a right turn onto the A887 which is the road heading towards the Isle of Skye. The Cluanie Inn is located 25 miles (40km) along this road and the day’s starting point is in a big lay-by just under a mile before the Inn. It’s a big lay-by on your right-hand side and its just along the road from here where you’ll start the ascent of A’ Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch Choire.
If you’re coming from the south then just follow the A82 all the way north until you reach Invermoriston. Afterwards, the same directions apply.
For this route your vehicle can be left in the lay-by, the starting path is a couple of hundred yards down the road and the end point comes out at around the same place.
For the exact location check out the map at the end of this post.
I’m only classing this as a ‘hard’ hike due to the inclusion of Ciste Dhubh at the end. If I had only done A’ Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch Choire, then this would definitely be more in the easy-moderate range.
The hardest part of the first 2 munros is the steep, grassy slope directly by the roadside which is relentless and feels like it never ends. After this initial section, it’s plain sailing along to A’ Chralaig and gets even easier as you head over the ridge to Mullach Fraoch Choire.
Now, if you do choose to add on Ciste Dhubh at the end then this is where things get tough. The proper, defined trail up to the summit is actually from the roadside and over the Corbett, Am Bathach. Because you’re coming at it from the relatively untouched eastern side, there is no real path and the ascent is a long and arduous slog over mossy terrain. This took a good hour but, in my opinion, the views on top are the day’s most rewarding. If you’re lucky, you may also spot a herd or two of deer grazing on the eastern flanks.
I would only recommend tackling Ciste Dhubh if you have a lot of hiking experience and are in good physical condition. If you just fancy the first 2 munros then it’s a much more relaxing and straightforward hike.
Duration & Length
Just the 2 peaks: 4 – 7 hours
With Ciste Dhubh: 6 – 9 hours
Length: 11 miles (17.7km)
If you do lots of hiking and consider yourself in good shape then 6 – 8 hours for all 3 munros is more than achievable. If you’re just starting off and haven’t done much hiking then I would aim for around 8 – 9 hours.
If you plan on just doing the first 2 peaks then the faster hiker will take around 4 – 5 hours. If you’re slower then 6 – 7 hours is more realistic.
Where To Stay
Like for most munros in this area, your best option is undoubtedly the Cluanie Inn which is in close proximity to the start and end of the hike. There’s also the Shielbridge Caravan Park and Campsite which is 11 miles (17.7km) past the Cluanie Inn and is the best option for campers.
You can, of course, choose to do wild-camping anywhere you like! For this, I would recommend that you keep a close eye on the weather and bring all the appropriate gear.
From the lay-by, the starting point is about 200 yards west along the road (going away from the Cluanie Inn). There’s a defined path rising up to your left which you’ll follow for a matter of seconds before turning off to your right onto a much boggier and steeper footpath. This is to be followed all the way up to the top of the ridge. You can’t really go wrong here, it’s simply a case of following the trail which goes directly up for the most part, with the occasional section changing into a zigzag to make the ascent slightly easier.
This is a hard slog and undoubtedly the most difficult part of the first two munros. You’ll be pleased to know that the worst is behind you when you reach the top of the ridge. As you climb, looking back every ten minutes or so, you should be able to see your car down by the roadside gradually getting smaller and smaller. The views of the South Glen Shiel Ridge across the road, and of Loch Cluanie itself, get vaster the higher you get.
Once you reach the top of the initial steep climb, you’ll see the ridge gently rising up ahead of you. This allows for a much easier walk as the ridge bumps its way up to the top. It then heads northwest (a sharp left) and all the way along to A’ Chralaig’s giant summit cairn. To date, it’s the biggest cairn I’ve seen on top of a munro, a good 2.5 – 3 metres in height.
I was unfortunate enough to be engulfed by a huge cloud when I reached the summit so couldn’t really see anything at all. On a clear day, however, you’ll get great views of your surroundings as well as the whole of Loch Cluanie to the south.
After enjoying your first munro of the day, briefly follow the ridge straight ahead before a rocky section which involves quite a steep descent. Take care here and simply follow the path. The joining ridge across to Mullach Fraoch Choire is visible straight ahead. There are several slabs and pointy rocks all the way across which makes it look quite daunting from afar. On approach, however, the path becomes clearer and very simple to follow across the ridge. Just take care on a couple of the extremely rocky sections. There are clear bypasses going around some of the tougher sections which may involve a bit of scrambling but nothing too severe.
Not long after the brief scramble is the summit of Mullach Fraoch Choire. Again, you’ll be greeted with some outstanding views; most of them straight ahead looking over to the munros of Glen Affric. You can also enjoy looking back over the ridge you have just traversed, the distances looking much longer than the easy walk suggested.
You now need to head back along the rocky ridge until you reach a clearly marked path going down to your right. There’s a tiny cairn here as an indicator.
Take care as you descend down the steep, scree-covered slope.
You now have two options: head back to the car park by bearing left through the boggy glen or cut straight across the glen over to the base of Ciste Dhubh. It’s an unmissable mountain with its green slopes and pointy peak.
If you choose the former then the return is pretty self-explanatory. Follow the boggy path until you reach a marked track which leads all the way back to the main road.
If you choose the latter then read on!
Like I already mentioned, the ascent up Ciste Dhubh is undoubtedly the toughest of the day. Follow the grassy descent after the scree slopes, taking care to stay left of the river, for just over a mile (1.6km). This is a tedious walk and it feels very slow as you see the pointy summit of Ciste Dhubh slowly getting larger right in front of you.
Cross the river at the base of the munro and choose where looks best to start the climb. I took a relatively straight route all the way up to the basin just below the summit. You can maybe make it slightly easier for yourself if you bear right and follow the ridge up to the summit, but this may mean quite a long detour.
Going straight up the side is a long, slow, boggy slog. The gruelling ascent can maybe be compensated for by the epic surrounding countryside and feeling of complete isolation.
As you continue to slog up, keep your eyes peeled for herds of deer, and your ears pricked for roaring stags, especially in autumn.
Once you get to the basin, the final climb lies just ahead. Again, it’s just a case of following the mountain up towards the summit. If occasionally glance behind you, you’ll be able to see the peak of Mullach Fraoch Choire and its ridge. At this point, it will probably feel like a distant memory!
There are grassy slopes around the small cairn on top which serve as great resting spots to catch your breath and take in the wonderful scenery.
The descent back to the car park is relatively straightforward. On a clear day, you can almost see the entire route back to the car from the peak of Ciste Dhubh. Follow the path along and down the narrow ridge. Soon afterwards you’ll start to drop quite dramatically over some quite rocky and boggy terrain.
Reaching the bottom of the initial steep drop, you have two options. You can either follow the glen all the way down to your right or you can go up and over the corbett, Am Bathach.
My plan was to take the glen down because I was quite exhausted at this point but, not long before, I met 2 hikers who both recommended that I go up and over the corbett. Although it may not look this way at first, it’s actually quicker and you avoid some extremely swampy terrain.
I followed their advice and, even though it pretty much finished me off, it did turn out to be a dry route back to the car. It’s a simple case of following the path over the corbett and straight back down the other side, with the main road right at the mountain’s foot. From here, it’s another 2-minute walk back to the car.
A’ Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch Choire are 2 of the easier munros with, excluding the initial steep climb, a relatively easy hike covering both the peaks.
If you’re fit and do lots of hiking, or just an extremely determined munro bagger, then Ciste Dhubh is a great add-on. The hike over to it and up the east side is certainly difficult, but the staggering views make it more than worth it.
As always, thanks very much for reading and if you have any questions, or want to share your experience, then please leave a comment below. I respond to all of my comments. 🙂