My TGO Challenge friends David and Sue had agreed to join me on my bid to tackle the Fisherfields, Fannichs and any other nearby hills we had time for in a year none of us could do the Scottish Backpacking Challenge. This is Part 2 of our trip – enjoy!
Day 5 A’ Chailleach and Sgurr Breac
I awoke to the patter of rain – I thought! But on opening my eyes a very different vista greeted me. The outside of my inner was black. The noise of rain was in fact the noise of 100’s-1000’s of midges!!! Pitter patter pitter patter they went! I grimaced at the prospect of so much as going to the loo which was by now becoming an inevitable morning necessity. Arming myself with Smidge, midge net and a full set of clothes I exited very fast indeed, keen not to let any inside nor to have them follow me. And so the day began. Our plan was to have a large breakfast at the Whistlestop Café where David had been assured we would be welcome having not managed to get in for tea the previous night. We wanted some energy for the next set of hills. We readied ourselves for 9am when it opened and David went to reserve a table. Alas – it was Sunday, and the café was closed!!! Thwarted and not fancying our cereal bars we went to the small tearoom at the petrol station. This was a well worthwhile sojourn where the owners – from Essex - made us very welcome and gave us a plentiful breakfast at short notice and at a very acceptable price. The weather was glorious which meant my Salomon shorts and Icebreaker T were perfect as airy and quick drying if it got hot on the ups. I opted to use my Vaude Brenta 30 daysack and David offered to put the Fjallraven Bergen 30 pack to the test. Today’s destination was the Western Fannichs, A’Chailleach and Sgurr Breac, starting from the big bend in the A832 near Loch a’ Bhraoin.
Our late start at 12 noon meant our original plan to do four of the Fannichs was reduced to a more sensible two as we wanted to drive straight north afterwards for an ascent of An Teallach the next day whilst the weather held. Our line of ascent led us straight up the nose of Druim Reidh via Leitir Fhearna. It is steep and not immediately obvious but a good path soon had us on the ridge and contouring towards the col.
The summit of A’Chailleach was soon reached after crossing just one patch of rather unpleasant soft steep snow and meeting a couple with two very friendly collies. The great thing about the Vaude pack is its mesh back which allows for good ventilation so despite it being pretty warm my back was not too damp! The summit was wonderful and sunny and a great spot for lunch.
And once again we had superb views all round with excellent views along the SW ridge towards Slioch, Torridon and the Achnashellach hills.
From A’Chailleach to Sgurr Breac it is an easy hour’s walk which gave us great views of the other Fannich hills we hoped to be doing in a couple of days. We passed a tad more snow en route that had survived the wonderful sunshine.
Sue and David stopped briefly to enjoy the summit with views of the next group of Fannichs behind.
David found the Fjallraven very comfortable and its longer back suited his taller frame (if around 6’ this pack works well). It can get warmer on the back than the Vaude but is very comfortable and is easily adjusted. Our route back was along the crest of the Druim Reidh ridge to the end where David did a final pose before we headed back down. Beyond the forest and A832 bend start point can be clearly seen.
En route back to the car we couldn’t resist a cool paddle before the long drive round to Badrallach Bothy - a wonderful spot where you can stay in the bothy or camp - which lies down an 8.5 mile narrow twisty road on the north side of Little Loch Broom with superb views over to An Teallach and Sail Mhor.
Sadly on arrival Sue had some perturbing news from home so we had to decide what to do. After much discussion it was deemed that our walking week should continue unless there was a further call which required her to go home. And so our sights were set on An Teallach for the next day.
Day 6 An Teallach
Another glorious morning greeted us at Badrallach Bothy although we had found it hard to sleep as so warm. But at least there were showers and a small kitchen area with a fridge and sink and it was wonderful to escape the midges!
Armed with our Vaude and Fjallraven daysacks and once more in shorts, vests and Ts we headed off to Dundonnell for our ascent of An Teallach. We had originally wondered about doing the whole Horseshoe round from Corrie Hallie but as none of us had been up before decided we would go and judge how difficult the scrambling was this time for future reference. The initial route up was reminiscent of the route south out of Loch Torridon towards Bealach na Lice over slabs. Ahead the bulk of Glas Mheall Mor loomed hiding the Munros and main ridge behind.
The hot weather had us stop for a good break at the col and had kept us pottering at a slow pace to avoid any further cases of heat exhaustion after our experience on the Fisherfield day. Two chaps did zoom by in what seemed a great rush, sweat pouring off their brows, so we assumed they must be trying to do all the pinnacles. Later we met them rushing back having not done so! But from the col it was not long before we found ourselves making the steady ascent of our first Munro of the ridge, Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill. And what a view greets you once at the summit!
And a zoomed in shot showed what lay ahead should we choose, The Corrag Bhuidhe Pinnacles and Lord Berkeley's Seat.
The route between Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill and the second Munro ‘Sgurr Fiona’ is straightforward with some minor scrambling to Sgurr Fiona’s top which you can really make as hard or easy as you like. On a dry summer’s day like this we could pretty much pick and choose but it would be major expedition in Winter. We did need to pack our trekking poles away for part of the ridge but found the Vaude and Fjallraven packs very comfortable to scramble in. Sue and David’s Innov-8 boots were great on the rock and pleasantly light and my Hanwag boots proved to be incredibly grippy even at a very steep angle.
And Sgurr Fiona’s summit once again proffered superb views towards Lord Berkeley's Seat and the Pinnacles although all had gone a bit grey and rain looked imminent.
We had some fun scrambling down.
Our route now led us past the steep and marvellous rocks of Lord Berkeley’s Seat which as you edge round take on the appearance of a face.
But for some odd reason we never actually went on the seat itself instead aiming for the higher top of the Corrag Bhuidhe (actually the OS 1:50 000 map doesn’t make it very obvious which bit it is!) which gave us an even better view of the ridge crest and the path that flanks any difficulties if the weather is bad/windy or to avoid the abseil section further on, except when there is snow when would probably be worse than the ridge crest.
Descending towards the next section I looked back to take a picture of David on the Corrag Bhuidhe and although it does not show the drop off to my right it shows that the rock is good for scrambling on in dry weather.
But as the weather looked like it was about to change - with thunder clouds looming -we decided we ought to head back to Sgurr Fiona and skirt round the west side of Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill to save re-ascent. En route we had an excellent view down into the Corrie that nestles Loch Toll an Lochain.
The alternative choice if starting from Corrie Hallie would have been to do the two Munros in a clockwise round via Sail Liath and descend via Glas Mheall Liath, as shown below, this might be a future trip as, having seen what is there, I would like to give the full horseshoe a go.
A final glance back showed where we had been, on the highest of the Corrag Bhuidhe Pinnacles.
Overall our ascent and bit of fun exploration took 7 hours with breaks and lunch so it is a very manageable day if you don’t want to tackle the whole ridge but still want to include both Munros. However I would definitely recommend the horseshoe if you enjoy scrambling and have a head for heights; I would certainly go back to do that. There is only really one tricky bit that requires a rope and this can be avoided, but like any mountain outing it needs to be treated seriously. Reaching the car in the afternoon meant we had plenty of time to go shopping at the Dundonnell stores – which, as we found out, were several miles away from Dundonnell! But at least that night’s supper at the bothy included some fresh produce and a decent bottle of wine!
Day 7 Meall a’ Chrasgaidh, Sgurr nan Clach Geala (twice!),Sgurr nan Each, Sgurr Mor & Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich
Today we had decided to go back to cover the Fannichs in the main central section which meant 5 Munros (6 if count fact had to do one twice!) with a start from Loch Droma on the A835 heading back East again. It meant an early rise as needed to pack all our gear from the bothy but we were parked and ready to go by 9.10 am. The weather was now on the change and we were presented with quite a grey windy day – but still warm enough for shorts to begin with! My Salomon shorts had certainly been getting plenty of wear as had my Icebreaker T which still smelt as fresh as a daisy – to our hill noses anyway! Our start from Loch Droma was easy and is a quick way into the hills.
From the track it is easy to follow a path by the Allt a’ Mhadaidh to Loch a’ Mhadaidh before heading up onto the slopes of Creag Raineach Mor and towards the col below our first Munro of the day, Meall a’ Chrasgaidh. Interestingly it was here we hit our first problem of the trip, bad steep corniced snow! To avoid it we ended up ascending the very steep grassy slopes on the East side of the Munro which led us virtually straight on to the top – not recommended for anyone who does not like ‘steep’! It would also have been terrible if wet or snowy. The summit was surprisingly windy and Paramo jackets came out for the first time in days.
Our next summit, Sgurr nan Clach Geala, was reached across an easy col before ascending a slightly more interesting ridge in what was now a very strong wind. But the ridges here in the Fannichs are not like An Teallach or the Fisherfields and it is comparatively easy to duck out of the worst of the weather.
And having attained the summit we carried on, me now having donned some running tights under my shorts as the temperature had suddenly plummeted; as David said, very fetching! It was even cold enough for gloves!
Ahead lay our furthest outlying Munro for the day, Sgurr nan Each. From atop Sgurr nan Clach Geala it looked like a very small bump and the problem was we were going to have to come back over our current Munro to tackle the next two!
Surprisingly the summit of Sgurr nan Each was positively calm and we were able to enjoy a non-windy break – our only summit of the day that was still! Beyond we could see the Munro we had to go back over as well as the more distant Sgurr Mor, our next main top.
The walk back over the tops was relatively simple and we stopped to grab a sandwich above Am Biachdaich in another pool of calm. The weather was now pretty grey and uninspiring and extra layers, including Paramo trousers, were slowly creeping on, the temperature drop was very dramatic after all the good weather and we were feeling the chill. On route over Carn na Criche to Sgurr Mor we spotted several good high camping spots. We had originally planned to do a mini backpack over the Fannichs but the forecast had put us off as it was meant to be far worse next day. As we descended Sgurr Mor, our 4th (5th!) Munro of the day, so did the cloud.
As we dropped to the col prior to our last Munro we came across an excellent shelter.
From here a very good stalkers track formed out of the rough boulders contoured round the hill and instead of tackling our last Munro straight on as planned we decided to see what the path did. It took us pretty much all the way round so we ended up climbing our last top, Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich, from the other side. It may have been easier in ascent but I think I said a few choice words and forgot to take a picture – I blamed it on lack of sleep. Glad to make our final descent of the day we did still had a few bouldery bits to come down.
And soon we were back on the good track and returned to the car by 7.30pm. It had been a long day. But as our evening was to be at Aultguish Bunkhouse just down the road we at least knew we could grab a hot bite to eat and a welcome pint of An Teallach Ale at the Inn, which naturally we did!
Day 8 An Coileachan and Meall Gorm
The weather forecast for the day was pretty bad and it had absolutely chucked it down in the night; however, on inspection it just looked a bit grey. Our target for the day was the last two Fannich Munros at the Eastern end of the range which meant we had time for a cooked breakfast first. This proved to be a mistake. Something was amiss with the food and by the time we reached the point at which to park at the west end of Loch Glascarnoch I had two very green passengers. As a vegetarian I appeared to have come off lightly. We debated whether or not to even start but both Sue and David were determined to at least give it a go as we had made a lot of effort to get thus far. I walked behind as sensed the pace needed to be a little gentler in the circumstances. After following an excellent new track above the River Li we headed off piste towards Meallan Bhuidhe.
From here one crosses easy terrain over Meallan Bhuidhe and then up the steeper northern slopes of An Coileachan to its summit. Meallan Bhuidhe proved to be our last view for a while.
Now we were suddenly plunged into cloud and rain, in fact it was horrible and we had soon donned all our waterproof gear, put on rucksack covers and even hats. The driving rain made both the ascent and descent of An Coileachan pretty tedious which was a shame as an interesting little rocky top. From there it was a long meander with compass in thick murk down to the col, on up to a 922 top then West to our final Fannich, Meall Gorm. I led the way as the others were still feeling decidedly off colour. We were not welcomed with any views. And the shelter that had been mentioned in one of the books was not up to the wonderful standard of the previous day’s find which was a great pity as it was a very wet and miserable lunch stop with only me eating very much! The others sat and tried to regain colour. Not worth a photo either although eventually I relented and took one on our way back down to the col as the clouds did roll back for a short time.
And so our penultimate day on the hills saw us Fisherfielded and Fanniched! A pleasant rest was sought at the bridge on the way down! What we did realise was that the Fjallraven Bergen pack had managed to get quite damp inside with the driving rain. We had not put a rucksack cover on it so maybe this should be a consideration. Other than that David found it to be very comfortable as I did my Vaude Brenta, which was pretty dry inside considering. Overall the packs performed well and are both very comfortable to wear. I certainly liked the mesh pockets and top pocket on the Vaude.
We now just had one more hill planned for the next day on our way home. But it was not to be. On return to Aultguish I found out my daughter was in hospital with suspected appendicitis, so our trip ended there having had an excellent round of the Fisherfields, Fannichs and friends!