Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Sgurr nan Clach Geala summit towards Sgurr nan Each

Monday/Tuesday, 19/20 June 2017

Ascent:       2720 metres
Distance:    38 kilometres
Time:          13 hours 21 minutes

An Coileachan                       923m      2hrs 51mins    
*Meall Gorm S.E. top           922m      3hrs 33mins
Meall Gorm                           949m      3hrs 50mins
*Meall nam Peithireen           974m      4hrs 21mins
Being Liath Mhor Fannaich   954m      5hrs 15mins
Sgurr Mor                             1110m     6hrs   8mins
*Carn na Criche                     961m     6hrs 44mins
Meall a' Chrasgaidh               934m     7hrs 28mins    
Overnight camp                     847m     7hrs 51mins
Sgurr nan Clach Geala          1093m    8hrs 25mins
Sgurr nan Each                       923m     9hrs  8mins

* top

At last a sortie into the munros, the first this year although a dozen or so corbetts climbed as I approach their compleation. All my remaining 25 munros, apart from Tarmachan, are in the far north or Skye. The Fannaichs were the last remaining group of hills, all the rest other than Skye are singletons. I had been waiting for a weather window in what has so far been a terrible June. It was to be wet on Monday but clearing mid afternoon and Tuesday morning was to be dry but with fog at the start of the day. It would be possible to climb them with an overnight camp on the ridge, which is my favourite way of walking the longer ridges. It has provided some wonderful outings and rich pickings during this round of munros. During overnight camping walks I have bagged big hauls of munros at South Cluanie (9), Five Sisters and Four Brothers (8), Knoydart (3 and 4) Cairngorms (9 and 6), Glen Afric and Mullardoch (9), Seana Braigh and Beinn Dearg (5), Fisherfield (5) and Lochnagar (7).

If I made an early start from the tent on Tuesday I could also be back to meet a long standing academic colleague from Warwick University who was working in Scotland for a couple of days. The trip was on. The 190 mile journey north was in mainly dry weather and I was inured to the frustrations of the A9. There were  no stops until 1pm at the friendly transport refreshment bar at Tarvie, north of Contin. A cup of tea and chat with the motor cyclists who were starting the North Coast 500 mile drive put me in the mood for the walk even though the rain clouds were hovering over the Fannaichs. I parked at the end of Loch Glascarnoch and after some friendly banter with three young Singapore tourists who were enjoying a twelve day holiday in Scotland, I was walking by 1:30pm.

I had climbed the seven Fannaichs from the Loch Fannaich side on one occasion but knew from other visits into the eastern Fannaichs that the route to An Coileachan was long, typically 3 hours, and unforgiving  though boggy ground with a steep final climb to the ridge. A light rain prevailed for an hour or so but I found the good track through the plantation to a bridge over the Abhainn a' Ghiuthais Li, which was in spate from the summer rains of recent days. I continued on the track for a while before realising that it was not going to turn back to the second bridge so I had to drop down 60 metres to the bridge across the burn. I could find no path after crossing the bridge so made a beeline for Loch Gorm and eventually found a feint path running above it to the start of the steep north flank of An Coileachan. I made good progress to Bealach Ban where I dumped my rucksack before attacking the final 150 metre climb to the summit. For the first time since the start of the walk the sun had made an appearance and I was 15 minutes ahead of my schedule.

The views had cleared over the past hour and as I began the long walk along the ridge it felt as if I had made a good call. I could see the whole of the ridge ahead with Sgurr Mor looking like a bright green volcano and Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich was a long diversion away from the main ridge. There was a strong westerly wind blowing into my face although it did not slow progress. There were no other walkers out and above us only sky so the moorland birds and the occasional herd of deer were the only company.

It is easy walking over to Meall Gorm, there is a top the same height as An Coileachan and then a long flat ridge to the highest point. It is another pleasant stroll to Meall nam Peithireen, which nestles under the armpit of Sgurr Mor. I followed the path that traverses under Sgurr Mor to the ridge leading out to Beinn Liath Mhor where I dumped my rucksack and had a short break for food and drink before starting the 3 kilometre out and back route. I followed the path that took me to the opposite side of Beinn Liath Mhor, a mistake, and then had to climb the slabs from the opposite side of the hill to the summit.

I found a more direct descent down the slabs and the walk back was fairly swift. I collected my rucksack abefore climbing the final 150 metres to the rather desolate and untidy summit cairn on Sgurr Mor. I spent 10 minutes or so at the summit admiring the moody evening skies with rain clouds coming in from the west and shafts of light picking out bright enclaves of green along the ridges. It was getting quite cold so I added a jacket for the descent. It was over rough broken rock and probably the slowest section of the walk despite going downhill. The climb up to the outlying top of Carn na Criche was on a wending grassy path.

From the summit I began to search for a camp spot. It looked as if there might be running water near the top of the steep slopes above the crags leading down to Loch Mhadaidh. After some searching I found a relatively flat patch, never easy in the hills, and pitched the tent. I had not brought a stove so it was a few cold potatoes and chicken before venturing out at 9:30pm to climb Meall a' Chrasgaidh. There were dozens of deer that scattered from the skyline as I climbed the hill. It was no more than a 185 metre climb and the return trip was achieved in 45 minutes including some time for taking in the views from the summit. Unfortunately there was no glorious sunset just overlapping clumpss of grey cloud but the rain held off.

It was chilly night but the tent was pitched in the lee of the slope to avoid the wind. I was woken by the morning light and the plaintive cry of golden plovers at 4:00am. It had rained and the boggy ground had seeped water into the tent but I managed to doze for another couple of hours waking at 6:45am. I had intended to be walking by 7am, so it was a quick cold breakfast -  jam sandwich, some cereal biscuits and banana. There was a thick fog and visibility was down to about 100 metres. I was walking by 7:10am, compass ready to guide me to the lochan at the foot of the slope to Sgurr nan Clach Geala. I was fortunate that the low cloud began to disperse and the mountain loomed out of the cloud ahead. It is a steep haul and I found the path that strikes up the sharp edge and then follows the ridge line. I had once described the route into a dictation machine as I climbed. It was the only time my PA never managed to produce a word perfect script, my poor gaelic pronunciation and panting making that impossible and convincing her that I really was slightly mad.

I reached the summit in less than half an hour from the tent, not bad for 290 metres of climbing in claggy conditions. The 300 metre descent to the bealach leading to Sgurr nan Each was slowed by poor visibility and being unable to see any hill ahead. Had I taken the wrong route? I had left the map in the tent so my compass was of little use. I persevered as the path seemed to know where it was going. As I neared the bealach the shapely profile of Sgurr nan Each appeared ahead. I had lost a few minutes but it is an easy ascent to the fine summit ridge that overlooks Loch Fannaich. I had seen three golden eagles here on a previous visit with my son but today it was a lonely outpost. I doubt there was anyone within 5 miles.

I was still on schedule but could have done without the return up the 300 metres to Sgurr nan Clach Geala. As it happened the morning energy rush got me up in 25 minutes. I lingered at the summit, an untidy small cairn and a broken trig point are not really deserving for this most imposing of summits. The descent to the broad bealach was accompanied by the melodic tweets of the plovers, a couple of chicks ran away as I disturbed their home ground. A large erratic boulder acted as a lodestone to find the tent and points the way up Meall a' Chrasgaidh. I was pleased that I had knocked that off last night. I had achieved my intention to be back to the tent by 10:00am. It took about 15 minutes to drop the tent, pack and root out any remaining food from my rucksack.

The descent was far from relaxing. Below the tent were slippy rock terraces so I had to veer to the north west and follow a burn down to Loch a' Mhadaidh. Loose rock, boggy ground and numerous streams called for concentration. I found a reasonable route across the undulating ground to the north of the Loch and saw two walkers heading in my direction. I figured that they were probably on a path. They were but they warned me that the path came and went. I was able to follow it for about 3 kilometres until reaching a stalker's track. It was another 6 kilometres back to the car. Easy walking although I felt some concern for a Belgian couple who were clutching a badly written guide book for a walk to Sgurr Mor. I had just descended most of the route and I would not wish the descent on anyone, let alone climbing it. I thought of warning them off but they seemed happy and the forecast was good so I wished them well.

The final 3 kilometres of the walk was along the A835 through the Dirrie More. I tried hitching for the first kilometre but the traffic was moving too fast, I made the car by 1pm, spot on time. It took 15 minutes to change and prepare for the journey home. I was pretty well naked when a large Mercedes SUV containing a noisy American family turned up. Sod them I was here first. Unlike the three young people from Singapore that I had enjoyed talking to yesterday, they were fascinated by the scenery and asked about places to visit. The Americans just bawled at each other, ignored the views, gawked at me changing and revved the engine as they continued their drive along the tourist trail.

I wished the dollar would collapse against the pound to deter this sort of gratuitous tourism. Whilst I am at it the Scottish Tourist Board (STB) have scored an own goal by promoting the North Coast 500, it is littered with camper vans, cyclists are being subject to road rage, the B&B's and campsite are full and in Scotland's great wilderness it is even more difficult to obtain a decent meal. No doubt the STB will claim a great marketing success and that they have leveraged in £millions of extra business but it's the exchange rate, stupid. It brings in foreign visitors and prevents UK residents travelling abroad.

Abhainn a' Ghiuthais Li in spate

From An Coileachan looking over Loch Gorm to Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich

Looking along Fannaich ridge from An Coileachan
An Coileachan summit
On the slopes of An Coileachan
Sgurr Mor from Meall nam Peithireen
Loch Broom and Assynt hills from Sgurr Mor
Sgurr nan Each and Sgurr nan Clach Geala from Sgurr Mor
Sgurr nan Each summit looking over Loch Fannaich
Sgurr nan Each from Sgurr nan Clach Geala
Meall a' Chrasgaidh and giant erratic

Heading down to the Dirrie More and Loch Droma

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