THERE are tough hill days and even tougher hill days - and then there are the Mullardochs.
The four mighty peaks which form a long twisting ridge up beyond the dam at the head of Glen Cannich provide a challenging day out for most ordinary mortals.
It doesn’t matter from which direction you decide to take them on you know you are in for a long, hard day.
Apart from the big descent and subsequent re-ascent between each mountain, there’s also the small matter of the five-mile path along the shore of the loch.
It starts off as a track, quickly descends into a boggy trot through thick heather before disappearing altogether at times. By the time you reach the sometimes problematic river crossing, you’ve been up and down, around and across through long grass and a series of knolls.
It does improve around the halfway mark, but when you arrive two and a half hours later at the foot of the first hill, An Socach, you already feel you’ve had a big day out.
If you do it the other way round, you know it’s lying in wait for you after a 6,000-foot climb.
So, many walkers will have breathed a sigh of relief when the Mullardoch ferry service was resumed.
Stalker Angus Hughes will save your party the pain of the path by taking them up to the wonderfully named hut, the Seldom Inn, at the foot of An Socach.
The service runs outwith the stalking season, and can also be used to reach the starting point for the Munroists’ other bete noir, the hard to reach Beinn Fhionnlaidh, on the south side of the loch.
It’s not cheap. In fact, at £20 for the ten-minute ride, it probably works out per mile at one of the dearest boat trips in the world.
Some walkers decide to do the full round, anything up to 12 mountains, by camping out overnight. That was the way I tackled them first time, a 24-hour circuit with just a snatched couple of hours’ rest in a large plastic bag.
But if it’s a day trip you’re after and you reckon it’s good value to save you some pain, then Angus is your man. After being dropped off, the ascent of An Socach is a breeze, and it keeps your powder dry for the two big boys, An Riabhachan and Sgurr na Lapaich, lying in wait.
Sgurr na Lapaich in particular is a brute of a hill, beautiful but a punishing push ever upwards, no respite until you reach the massive cairn. You don’t see many people running up this one.
Finally, there’s Carn nan Gobhar, the hill of the goats. And that’s one of the reasons you may prefer to bite the bullet and go for the path.
Between the lower slopes of this hill and the loch there are indeed wild goats, a small herd which forages along the shoreline.
You can usually pick up their musky smell before you actually set eyes on them, especially as their long black and grey coats camouflage them beautifully in the long grass.
The head of the family, the Don Corleone of goats, is a splendid old chap with a long beard. He stands guard in an almost regal manner taking in everything that moves in his territory, and he’s not averse to having his photograph taken.
Boats or goats - it’s your choice.
(First published Daily Record, June 6, 2013)