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Scotland's Watershed part 12 The Ups & Downs to Fionn Bheinn
by rohan » Tue May 21, 2019 3:45 pm
Date walked: 09/04/20193 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
not from part 11b
For those that are interested in such things it includes the following
Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan
Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich
Sgurr nan Ceannaichean
Carn na Breabaig *
Beinn na Feusaige
Meall a'Chaorainn *
Bidean Clann Raonaild
* = 1st ascents by me.
I hope 2 different ways I have labelled the photographs aren't off-putting, I'll try to be a bit more consistent next time.
Tuesday 9th April
This comes with a warning, don’t go walking with a grumpy old git, it will end in tears, recriminations and may even jeopardise the whole walk. I had a few days before family commitments and the weather forecast was good but snow persisted on higher ground. I decided to risk it and although my pack with all the extras (crampons, warm gear) weighed 13kg before water, I felt fit enough to continue with my walk. On this day, way to the south of me, Sam Hewlings was starting his continuous Watershed walk of the whole UK ‘Shed. Mentally I wished him luck and suspect he will overtake me before my own finish. My walk started badly. Somehow I mixed up my bus times and ended up missing my connection at Inverness by 45 minutes. The next bus with a connection to Morvich was over 3 hours away so I decided to take a chance and catch the first Fort William bus and try and hitch from Invermoriston. If all else failed I would have a 3 hour wait at Invermoriston. I was lucky, after about 15 minutes a young woman stopped and although it was going to take her 6 miles beyond her home, took me to the Invergarry turn off where my chances of a lift would improve. This was incredibly generous of her and I forgave the rather hair raising journey that followed which involved her steering with her knees at one point as she wanted to show me a video on her mobile. Sure enough after she dropped me off, I quickly got a lift all the way to Morvich with a man returning to Skye after a holiday. No more crazy driving and I reached Morvich at 5.30, a good 2 hours ahead of the bus and only 2 hrs after my planned arrival.
The grumpy old git was not around as I started out. Walking up to the caravan site I met a number of people out for a stroll in the fine afternoon sunshine. They were all keen to know where I had come from with my full pack and I had to admit, barely a mile. I once stayed at Morvich and my impression then was that it was ok if you were in a caravan/campervan but they barely tolerated tents. Today the stand offish impression was re-inforced by the signs (toilets for the use of the residents only). I was lucky, the ranger was around and let me use his toilet and fill up with water (the latter, on this occasion more pressing). After a short discussion about snow cover (very little) I continued and wondered if I should have put sunscreen in my pack instead of crampons. The last vestige of human habitation was passed half way up Gleann Còinneachain where there was a forestry (I presume) worker’s caravan and vehicle on the other side of the river.
I crossed the high point of the pass and rapidly descended towards Loch a’Bhealaich and my intended campsite.
DSC_0629 by Seal54, on Flickr
The crescent moon above the bulk of Beinn Fhada
Dusk descended with me just as the path became indistinct amongst the boggier ground around the loch but I was happy to find a dry, flat spot to pitch. I expected to sleep well having not the night before but as the sun had sunk, so had the temperature and for the first part of the night (despite plenty of warm gear) I was just cold enough to be kept awake.
DSC_0632 by Seal54, on Flickr
Wednesday 10th April
I expected to wake with the sun hitting the tent but a temperature inversion put paid to that. I was aware that if I got a move on I may have a good view above the cloud but a weak sun started to penetrate the cloud as I packed up a sopping wet tent over breakfast.
DSC_0634 by Seal54, on Flickr
Sun trying to break through
DSC_0635 by Seal54, on Flickr
By nine I was at the fence line that crossed the path and that followed the Watershed up the slopes of Sgùrr Gaorsaic.
DSC_0637 by Seal54, on Flickr
The fenceline disappearing into the mist
I was a bit perturbed to find that I was struggling with the walk. My pace was such that a snail would have appeared like Usain Bolt compared to me. I had felt fine the previous day with a 14kg pack (1 litre of water) covering the 7.5 miles in a reasonable time and I had been doing plenty of walking since February. The overcast conditions didn't detract too much from the view back to Bheinn Fhada and my slow place gave me a chance to stop and look back.
Panorama Beinn Fhada and Gleann Gniomhaidh by Seal54, on Flickr
There is no discernible path up the Watershed route of this Corbett but the initially grassy then increasingly stoney slopes were easy enough, so I put my tardiness down to lack of sleep and reminded myself that unlike Usain, I wasn’t out to win any races or break any records.
I heard but didn’t see plovers. The frogs I encountered in February appeared to have disappeared without leaving a trace. There were other signs of spring though, alpine lady’s mantle leaves and some green growth of sedges
The cloud broke below me but perversely increased above so that Sgùrr nan Ceathramhnan‘s summit became permanently encased in cloud. I was relieved that the warm sunshine of yesterday had not materialised but hoped that the cloud would clear for the highest part of the Watershed. I had been lucky with both the other peaks over 1130, Ben Alder and Ben Lui, with excellent weather. “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…!” I also recalled that other significant landmark, the most westerly point of the Watershed way over near Barrisdale, from which the cloud cleared just after I arrived. I hoped that SNC would offer the same delight. Before I left home the forecast for the week couldn’t have been better with just cold night temperatures in the glens to be aware of.
DSC_0642 by Seal54, on Flickr
Cloud clearing from Loch a' Bhealaich
DSC_0650 by Seal54, on Flickr
Panorma at the summit of Sgurr Gaorsaic with Sgurr nan Ceathramhnan in cloud to the left
From Sgùrr Gaorsaic’s summit my immediate descent was barred by a steep snow bank. With an ice axe I would have been happy for a direct descent but as it ended in some rocks I played safe and went round its southern edge re-joining the fence for a short while before it went direct up to SNC’s west top and me, the Watershed and estate boundary headed up to the unnamed 910m prominence.
DSC_0654 by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0656 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking south to Ciste Dubh from 910 height
DSC_0657 by Seal54, on Flickr
SNC still in cloud
https://flic.kr/p/252qmoi by Seal54, on Flickr
Panorama at 910 height
After that and before I hit the cloud level at about 1000m I felt it was time for an early lunch. I stopped and cooked up an experimental mixture of couscous, dried veg and dried chestnuts. The latter added nothing to my tried and tested midday Watershed cuisine and will not be included in the future. Sustained by my early lunch I entered the cloud and soon thereafter reached the West Summit of Sgùrr nan Ceathramhnan. This is the highest point of the Watershed but the cloud showed no sign of shifting.
DSC_0662 by Seal54, on Flickr
West Top summit
DSC_0660 by Seal54, on Flickr
Snowbank at summit
With the main summit being a short way off (but not actually on the Watershed) who would miss it out? I would, that’s who. I set off with good intentions, slightly wary of the snow bank that may have hidden a cornice especially given the cloud, but this soon ran out and I was on the rocky ridge to the main summit. Wetness and soft snow clung to the rocks but there was nothing difficult until my foot slipped alarmingly and my bottle went. In truth, I think I lost my bottle some time ago. I am not entirely sure when or where it went (if anyone finds it, please return it to me, it is sorely missed). Whilst I was not as comfortable as some, I used to enjoy a good scramble and it is not just about being on my own as until a few years ago this wasn’t a problem either. What is clear is that it is getting worse not better and I need to get a grip. All- in-all this meant that I failed to visit the summit of SNC for what would have been my 2nd ascent and from a different approach. This is no way to treat a fine hill.
Enter the grumpy old git, stage right. My mood on the descent from the west top was not good. I berated myself for giving in so easily, I started to berate myself for being so slow and I forgot the first rule of this walk, enjoy what you do. I sang “Because I’m bad, I’m bad come on…” I had been looking forward to this descent. It looked interesting with ups and downs and twists and turns but my mood was about as twisted as it got. I was leaving Glen Affric behind and soon to my right I would see Loch Mullardoch and Glen Cannich. I was progressing past the big glens. I was making progress but even this didn’t cheer. The views began to open up and the sun finally came out but to no avail. My route took me over Stùc Beag and Mòr, Stùc Fraoch, all munro tops which meant that, combined with my previous ascent of SNC from Mullach na Dheiragain on a 6 munro day out from Altbeithe YH, I had done all the Munro tops of SNC, something that didn’t occur to me until writing this report. “Heaven knows I’m miserable now…” Maybe my mood might have improved had I known that. As it was it took the improving weather, the hills and their surrounds to nudge me out of my mood to some extent. Loch an Fraoich-choire was a Mediterranean blue down below and I started to hanker after a swim.
DSC_0663 by Seal54, on Flickr
Stuc Bheag Summit
Pano SNC by Seal54, on Flickr
Clearing weather on Stuc Mor, looking back to Stuc Bheag and SNC
DSC_0672 by Seal54, on Flickr
Loch an Fraoich-choire
DSC_0676 by Seal54, on Flickr
Stuc Mor from Stuc Fraoch
DSC_0678 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking east from Stuc Fraoch over Mullach na Dheiragain and Beinn Fhionnlaidh and Affric hills beyond
DSC_0679 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking ahead to Carn na Breabaig and An Socach
Looking west to A' Ghlas Bheinn and Falls of Glomach by Seal54, on Flickr
I tried to capture the successive ridges fading in colour against the sunshine but with my mobile as camera this wasn't particularly successfull and post editing didn't do much to improve them.
DSC_0683 by Seal54, on Flickr
light changing across the ridges
DSC_0687 by Seal54, on Flickr
Panorama from Creag Ghlas, SNC on the lefthandside
Looking back from Creag Ghlas, SNC was now clear of all cloud but I wasn't tempted to run back to the summit. Loch Mullardoch was now in view but the light played tricks on me and I thought (until I checked the map) that it was a forestry plantation as it showed dark green.
Loch Mullardoch shadows by Seal54, on Flickr
Loch Mullardoch shadows
When planning my route at home, I thought Loch Sgùrr na h-Eige looked a promising place to camp but dismissed it as being too early to stop. This changed as soon as it came into sight on the descent from Creag Ghlas. It was smooth as glass with not one ripple stirring its surface. The sun was out. I had wanted to camp down in the glen near Loch an Droma but I needed a swim first. The air temperature was pleasant but the water was a different matter. It was BALTIC. My feet were numb within seconds. “Walking on Broken Glass…” I realised that at a height of 570 m, it had probably been frozen not that long since. My swim turned to a quick splash aboot but that was enough to restore my mood for the time being. I could have continued to near Loch Droma but here was an ideal campsite. Oh, to have a double-ended tent. My dilemma was to face west for the sunset or east for the sunrise. I chose the former because that included the loch and I was more likely to be awake for the sunset. I make no apologies for the surfeit of photos of this wonderful loch. The colours constantly changed as the sun went down.
DSC_0697 by Seal54, on Flickr
Reflections of a bruised sky in Loch Sgurr na h-Eige
DSC_0699 by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0702 by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0703 by Seal54, on Flickr
Tent pitched, I settled down to watch as the sun slowly sank (“Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”) but it was a good 1 ½ hrs before the sun set and low cloud on the horizon meant that it was obscured. Relaxed and a lot happier I expected to sleep well. Unfortunately, this was not to be. I was warm enough but was restless and didn’t fall over until the early hours. ”Restless…”
Thursday 11th April
Another auspicious Watershed day with this time 32 years ago, Dave Hewitt setting out on his remarkable and ground breaking journey to be the first to map and complete the Scottish Watershed in a continuous walk. No internet (no Walkhighlands!), no mobile phone and, no lightweight gear to lighten his load but at least he had youth on his side. Dave’s account both inspires and humbles me in my feeble crawlings along his route.
I was woken by an unfamiliar bird sound. It sounded a bit like a goose, clearly an alarm call so I reckoned my tent must be the cause. I poked my head out and was delighted to see a diver on the loch. I should have recorded the sound but this didn’t occur to me until later.. It wasn’t making the familiar “loon” noises but I decided that it was probably a red or a black–throat. I don’t carry binoculars (a weight and space issue) so couldn’t be certain. I felt honoured to be woken in such a way and managed not to disturb it too much in packing and leaving. Distracted by the diver, I all but missed the sun appearing over the shoulder of Beinn Fhionnlaidh. “Sunrise, Sunrise…”
DSC_0708 the diver by Seal54, on Flickr
Spot the birdie
DSC_0707 by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0710 Final look at the loch by Seal54, on Flickr
Farewell to the loch
In the clearer morning light, the jagged outline of Skye could just be picked out.
DSC_0712 Looking to Skye by Seal54, on Flickr
Skye just visible
DSC_0713 Looking back up the ridge of SNC by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking back up to SNC
There was the final bit of the ridge before the steep descent to Loch an Droma. The views of Loch Mullardoch in the morning light from Sgùrr na h-Eige were mystical with the silvery ribbon of its feeder river looking as convoluted as the Watershed. Through the glen ahead, Beinn Dronaig's summit ridge could be seen
DSC_0715 Misty Mullardoch by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0718 dramatic lighting over Bheinn Fhionnlaidh and Mullach na Dheiragain by Seal54, on Flickr
Bheinn Fhionnlaidh and Mullach na Dheiragain
DSC_0717 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking back up the ridge to SNC
DSC_0719 End of ridge by Seal54, on Flickr
End of SNC descent ridge above Loch Droma, Beinn Dronaig visible through the glen
The glen was barely reached before the start of the ascent up Càrn na Breabaig, a Graham and a first ascent for me. Near the summit a plover called in alarm above my head, a short distance later I almost stepped on another one. I didn’t delay, she had probably been sitting on eggs and I didn’t want her to lose them to the cold or a passing raven.
DSC_0725 An Socach from Carn na Breabaig by Seal54, on Flickr
An Socach showing a fair bit of snow
DSC_0726 Looking back to Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan by Seal54, on Flickr
An Socach doesn't present its most attractive side from this viewpoint but it still appeared to be holding plenty of snow.
After another steep descent the ground was full of peat hags and lumps that defied the 10m OS contours and seemed last twice as long as the distance covered. Loch Mhoicean looked temptingly close for a swim but I didn’t digress. Looking back there were views to Iron Lodge and possible civilisation, depending on your definition of the latter. Meall Shuas is a mere bump on the way to An Socach whilst the route continues round the head of Loch Mullardoch but a good spot for lunch. The grumpy old git had returned as again I gave myself a hard time for progress made.
After lunch the summit of An Socach came (relatively) quicker than expected and with it a bit of an improvement in mood. More plovers seen and heard on the way. This is my second visit to this Munro, the last being as part of a trip round the 4 Munros above Loch Mullardoch. That was on a wonderful May day 17 years ago. Having taken the third boat of the day, my partner and I managed to overtake the various groups from the 2 previous boats; changed days and fitness indeed. I don’t think there was any snow left on my last trip. Today the east facing corries still held a good quantity of snow and the ridge to the summit had patchy, soft snow covering the path. I could now see Loch Monar for the first time and waved goodbye to Loch Mullardoch. Beinn Dronaig and Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich were clearly visible. I took some time taking photos as there were now a new set of hills to enjoy.
DSC_0728 View to the Affric Hills by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0729 Summit ridge of An Socach by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0730 approaching summit of An Socach by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0733 Trig Point An Socach by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0734 Loch Mullardoch from summit, An Riabhachan by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0735 TP An Socach by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0736 Summit An Socach , looking to Loch Monar by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0737 Lochs Mhoicean and na Leitreach towards Iron Lodge and Carnach by Seal54, on Flickr
I still had plenty of energy and time so hoped to make it over An Cruachan to the start of what I knew would be a trudge across the low boggy ground between Lochan Gobhlach and Loch Cruoshie.Descending the relatively gentle slope, a smell of smoke was alien to my nostrils but I could see no sign of where it originated.I was distracted from walking by trying to find a decent patch of snow to slide down on. All I could manage was a very dignified but short slide.
DSC_0738 just a short slide by Seal54, on Flickr
This seemed to have the effect of draining me of energy in an opposite way to the rejuvenating powers of the lochs I swam in. Lower down the descent from An Socach the ground again became increasingly peaty with hags to avoid/traverse. Below An Cruachan I realised that I had wanted to go out and visit the trig point at Beinn Bheag. I didn’t feel like doing it tonight so decided to camp under An Cruachan and tackle its steep (but short) slopes in the morning. I camped facing west, hoping for a good sunset but like last night whilst the sky turned red at around 8 ish, this faded as the sun sank below the clouds. I was weary (2 nights of poor sleep, surely tonight I would sleep well) and slightly annoyed with myself for not continuing. A snipe drummed as I fell asleep early only to wake a short time later to toss and turn for the next few hours.
Friday 12th April
Oh for sleep but another fine day dawned with a temperature inversion coming and going, leaving strands of cloud and me eager to get up and away to catch the best of it.
Early morning panorama An Socach by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0752 by Seal54, on Flickr
An Socach and An Rhiabhachan
DSC_0753 by Seal54, on Flickr
It was a short grunt up An Cruachan to its large cairn which the sun rose over and where the views were excellent in the morning air. A previous visit here 5 years ago hadn't produced much in the way of views.
DSC_0759 An Cruachan sunrise by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0764 Cairn shadow selfie, Beinn Dronaig in cloud to the right. by Seal54, on Flickr
Panorama looking north from An Cruachan by Seal54, on Flickr
I decided that Beinn Bheag was a little too far despite its trig point, the penalty for failing to continue last night. I was aware that on my actual route I faced 2 miles of bog and peat hag to the stalkers path up Beinn Dronaig which would require all my strength and single mindedness and no time for grumps. It reminded me of the stretch of Rannoch Moor from Meall a’Gortain to Ghlas Bheinn, although slightly shorter. I dropped down to two stalker’s paths that came in quick succession. The first was off to Iron Lodge, the second which I was able to follow for all of a 100m was the one to take to Maol Bhuidhe bothy above Loch Cruoshie.
DSC_0767 Maol Bhuidhe bothy by Seal54, on Flickr
Low down the slight breeze was absent and the day warming. Just the time to discover that I was virtually out of water (how did you manage that, idiot). I was essentially sticking to the Watershed although it was not easy to see exactly where it went on this low level but uneven ground. It crosses a few lumps all around the 310m height the first carrying a name Cnoc a Mhoraire (which google translates to Hill of the Lord) with plenty of others slightly lower it was hard to keep a track of which was the right lump to cross. A compass bearing from each top would have helped as there was no water running in any direction. I came to the group of small lochans halfway across only to discover that I was on the wrong side of the them (the watershed goes between 2 on the Atlantic side and one the North Sea side but all were very shallow and muddy. One did carry a good reflection of Lurg Mhor where my one attempt to fill my water came to an abrupt end as the ground around the open water of the loch was extremely soft and I was in danger of disappearing for ever into the bog. As I pulled my sinking boot out a smell of hydrogen sulphide (rotting eggs) put paid to any idea that I wanted water from this source.
DSC_0768 Lurg Mhor reflection by Seal54, on Flickr
I was relieved, then, when checking my map, to find that the Watershed went very close to the Alt Loch Calavie (no guesses where that had come from). I then heard the unmistakeable sound of running water and soon found not only the aforementioned Alt but a decent dipping pool and I was soon having a pleasant dip (after filling my water). The sun was warm, the water not as cold as Loch Sgùrr n h-Eige so I stayed in a bit longer than 10 seconds. In fact, it was difficult to tear myself away but I still had mountains to climb.
DSC_0769 A swim by Seal54, on Flickr
The water had worked its magic, I was soon across this difficult stretch and at the stalkers path that I was only too happy to take up Beinn Dronaig. The grump had disappeared again after my dip and hopefully wouldn’t return, a good stalkers path taking all the hard work out of the ascent. This path, like many others, is starting to fall into disrepair with vegetation taking over. The days of the quad bikes and bulldozed landrover tracks are upon us. As I climbed Beinn Dronaig I at last saw the source of the smoke smell, or at least where it came from as I couldn’t actually see the fire. It was over behind Carn na Sean-luibe and appeared to be in one spot. I presumed that it was a controlled fire, the winds were very light.
DSC_0770 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking back across the moorland to An Cruachan
DSC_0771 by Seal54, on Flickr
Loch Monar now visible
DSC_0773 by Seal54, on Flickr
The Torridon hills started to appear out of the haze.
About ½ km from the summit, I saw a figure standing amongst some rocks. At first I thought it might be the trig point but it was far too early, then I thought it was another walker, albeit one that was standing very still. The latter appeared to be confirmed when it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. No walker appeared though and when I reached the rocky outcrop I could see the trig point ahead and realised that by some quirk in the landform I had been able to see it (then not) amongst the outcrop.
DSC_0776 by Seal54, on Flickr
Beinn Dronaig Trig Point with An Cruachan and An Socach behind
DSC_0778 TP Beinn Dronaig by Seal54, on Flickr
I was pleased that I had a view. Last time (5 years ago) I climbed Beinn Dronaig there had been cloud and nothing else. Today the smoke from the fire did mar the views to the west and haze meant that it was more difficult to see any great distances but the view north of the continuing Watershed was pleasing. In the sunshine I took an extended break to cool in the pleasant breeze and lunched at the summit checking the MWIS - fine weather to continue but with the addition of my favourite, WIND. Increasing this afternoon then 35-45 mph SE winds by tomorrow afternoon. The temperature was also going to drop and there would be a significant wind chill and sub-zero overnight temperatures. I was glad that I had packed my warm clothes. Ah well at least I should be over Bidean a’Choire Sheasgaich and within striking distance of Achnashellach if needed. My mood was also improved by a couple of encouraging e-mails. Thoughts of failure on SNC and slow progress were banished for the time being, I had a fine mountain up ahead to look forward to. A good hour passed and I could not put off my descent any longer. On my last outing to Beinn Dronaig I had come up the stalkers path then I had continued along the ridge before cutting down to Beinn Dronaig Lodge, an estate bothy, open to walkers when not used for stalking. It has the wonders of a flushing loo (as long as you fill the cistern) but it was not in my sights today. I was all too aware of previous ‘Shedders views regarding the descent from Beinn Dronaig.
Dave Hewitt in “Walking The Watershed” says “Outcrops were everywhere, causing much weaving to-and-fro, up-and-down like a ball on a bagatelle board. Bloody Ordnance Survey”. (His map had shown no crags)
Peter Wright “The Ribbon of Wildness” talks of a steep descent whilst Chris Townsend says “…then began a difficult and hazardous descent down the steep, greasy, craggy north face of the hill.” He added that it was “like Ben Lui all over again”. Ben Lui is surely the benchmark for all Watershed descents and I had no strong desire to repeat that. I decided to head a little further on before heading down and took a long (about 200m) zig then zag which got me down quickly, with no real problems and not that far from the Watershed.
DSC_0790 by Seal54, on Flickr
The descent behind me
DSC_0792 Loch Calavie by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0793 by Seal54, on Flickr
Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich looking like a shark's fin
DSC_0795 smoke haze by Seal54, on Flickr
There is very little respite before a slightly less steep ascent to Sail Riabach. With the wind increasing, I decided that I would seek a camp site on the lee side of the ridge and when I got there I easily found a sheltered site with fabulous views of Coulin and Torridon Hills except that the smoke that had been coming and going all afternoon now almost blotted out the view – “Smoke gets in your eyes”. I did try to phone to check that it was indeed a controlled fire but whenever I got a signal it dropped as soon as I tried to phone. After a fine day the sunset was again slightly disappointing with the sky turning slightly pink early on then the sun dropping below the cloud but I loved my campsite, high above Loch an Laoigh with Bearnais bothy just visible across the loch below the west end of Beinn Tharsuinn.
DSC_0797 Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0798 Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0799 smoke obscured view by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0800 Beinn Dronaig by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0801 Campsite below Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0802 Coulin and Torridon by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0805 by Seal54, on Flickr
Last of the sun
Saturday 13th April
Route on Watershed
Another fine but freezing morning with fine views dispelled the despair of another night of little sleep.
DSC_0809 Coulin and Torridon by Seal54, on Flickr
The tent had been sheltered enough but the wind sighing through the crags above me was loud enough to keep me awake. I will sleep one day! The tent had a layer of frost, the grass crackled underfoot and the lochan had a thin layer of ice. I had every layer plus hat and gloves on as I breakfasted and broke camp. “Cold, Cold, Cold…”
DSC_0811 by Seal54, on Flickr
Ice on tent with Torridon behind
The sun soon melted the frost when it hit it but the stiff S.E wind had a chilly edge and I kept all my layers on. Patches of snow were ice hard and I detoured around a small steep snow bank on the last steep pull up Beinn a’Choire Sheasgaich. The sky was a cobalt blue and the day promised to be the best so far.
DSC_0812 by Seal54, on Flickr
Cobalt sky and hard, hard snow
DSC_0813 by Seal54, on Flickr
Beinn Dronaig to the south
As often happens, the strength of the wind on the summit was much reduced and I was able to enjoy stunning views in the morning sunshine. An Teallach joined the throng of mountains to the north and nearer to hand the Watershed was clearly followed over Tharsuinn and Choinnich, Chaorachain.
Stitched pano at summit of Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich. by Seal54, on Flickr
My log for my first ascent in 2003 (just 3 weeks and 15 Munros before my Compleation) records that the August day was 99% wind and rain and 1% sun. I took virtually no photographs of any of that long day when we approached from the North (Craig)and continued onto Lurg Mhor before returning via Bealach Bernais. A few years later (I did not record the precise date), I accompanied my friend Cathy, also on her countdown to compleation, in fine March weather. On that occasion we had benefited from a lift to Ben Dronaig Bothy with Tom Watson the Attadale Head Stalker.
Today, after taking a few photos, I discovered that my mobile had only 20% battery left. It had lost 55% since the previous evening despite being on super saver-mode. I switched it off totally and I now blame my tired brain for a) causing the problem b) not immediately realising the cause. I didn’t need my mobile except for photos and contact with the outside world. The latter was mainly with my daughter and we had been messaging each other about a family get together the following Tuesday. She knew I might not get a signal but I did worry that she may start to worry if she didn’t get contact for a couple of days. The following photos were taken before I realised my battery was dying.
DSC_0824 Looking south Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0823 Loch Calavie and Bein Dronaig from Bidean a'Chore Sheasgaich by Seal54, on Flickr
I stowed my poles and started down the descent route. My 16 yr memory played tricks with me. I recalled following a wall up much of the ascent from the col. In my log I wrote “A nice ascent, scrambling in places”. The north ridge was in shadow today and the ground frozen solid. I kept on expecting the wall to appear but the path was clear enough. At the 852 point I looked back and tried to boot up my phone to take a photo of the very attractive looking cone of Bidean. It did not have enough juice to fire up having lost another 5 % since the summit (only a few minutes further back). Only then did the penny drop and it was a huge clang of a drop. I had left my phone in a tent pocket overnight and an outside pocket (for ease of access) as I walked. I had made a fundamental error and one that I am usually aware of. The down turn of temperature had drained the battery. I immediately transferred the phone and juice bank to next to my body for warmth.
After the 852 point the descent steepened significantly. Care was needed as the descent was in shade and frozen solid.There were a couple of small patches of black ice which would have taken me off if stepped on so the short 150m section took time. I saw my first people of the walk on the summit of Beinn Tharsuin, initially just one then more. The 6 men, a group of friends, descended quickly and we met just above the col, shortly after the start(end) of the wall. So much for my memory. I was glad of the break as we chatted about the Watershed, routes and wind. Their up-to-date info was that the wind speeds were going to be slower than forecast yesterday and not much more than the current speeds. They had possibly seen my slow progress down and asked about the ascent, I advised that the route up was frozen hard but ascending would be a lot easier than descending. They would be going on to Lurg Mhor before returning via Bealaich Bhearnais. I joked that we would meet there later. I was more serious about this than my tone. I really just wanted to lay down and sleep. It was not so much that the grump had returned, more a reluctance to continue.
Once the group moved off, I decided that an early lunch may boost my flagging energy and mood (following the phone debacle). I thought the wall offered some shelter from the wind and set up the stove. Next brain hiatus ensued. For some reason I decided for a change to cook my Batchelors Mac ‘n’ Cheese. I am not particularly fond of these and they are fuel hungry and are usually left for emergencies. I also failed to spot the crack in the wall that allowed the wind to whistle through. It took me several minutes to realise that precious fuel was being lost to the strong draught the cooker was in (but not me). My lighter also ran out of fuel (I had emergency matches). I tried to shield the cooker but eventually moved it to a better position. I reflected that it is these sort of multiple errors that can lead to real problems in the hills. Eventually my lunch was cooked and it was dire. I struggled to eat it and realised that I had spent more than an hour without progressing. On a more positive note, I now had a phone that had a 50% charge. If I kept it switched off it may last.
I need to draw a veil over my struggles up Bein Tharsuinn with no energy. On reaching the ridge I turned east and the wind was hitting me from the SE. it was certainly cold and whilst not strong enough to impede progress, it was tiring walking almost into it. I would have it against me up and over Sgurrs Coinnich and a’Chaorachain. I did not feel like I had the energy to walk into it for the next couple of hours and to be frank, I wasn’t enjoying myself. At the lochan shortly before the summit any thoughts of a rejuvenating swim were banished as the wind would have whipped away my clothes unless I could have pinned them down safely whilst I swam.
DSC_0826 A windy lochan on Tharsuin by Seal54, on Flickr
Summit Beinn Tharsuim by Seal54, on Flickr
Stiched panorama from Beinn Tharsuinn's summit. by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0832 Looking to Torridon and Coulin by Seal54, on Flickr
Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0834 back along Beinn Tharsuin to Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich by Seal54, on Flickr
Stiched panorama from end of Tharsuinn's ridge by Seal54, on Flickr
I descended to Bealach Bhearnais, and, having taken so long to get there I fully expected to see the group of friends appearing having completed 2 Munros to my 1 Corbett. I decided that I would leave the Watershed at this point and walk out towards Craig, looking for somewhere sheltered for a camp site. This felt a weak decision but if I didn't sleep again it would take forever to follow the 'Shed route to the A890.
Route off the Watershed
I was desperate to get somewhere out of the wind so that I wouldn’t be disturbed but hopes of a wind free spot by the river were dashed. I contemplated walking out to Gerry’s Hostel but this maybe full and noisy too, perhaps the current proprietor would allow me to pitch in the garden? On the plus side the path then the track, meant that I could walk without thinking, mainly downhill and tiredness didn’t matter. I stopped for a fuel-up of oatcakes and cheese which also helped.
Just above the start of the forestry and with camping options running out I came across a stag calmly grazing. He was totally unperturbed by me and I was able to retrieve my phone, switch it on, remove my pack and walk closer without him moving off. Eventually he did depart in a nonchalant and unhurried way but not until after I had managed a couple of shots. I suspect that he may well have been “home fed”.
DSC_0846 by Seal54, on Flickr
There was a flattish spot of ground and although not totally sheltered (or totally flat), I decided that it would have to do for a camp. Whilst I was pitching, the first of the group of 6 came past. They asked why I didn’t go down to Gerry’s. They were staying there and there was plenty of room. I only had tenner on me and they weren’t sure if plastic was accepted but they kindly agreed to cover my costs(£20). No more persuasion was required, I packed up and followed them down.
Despite having passed Gerry’s a number of times, I had never stayed at this legendary hostel (the first independent hostel in Scotland). I have received differing reports of the welcome Gerry gave when he was alive and running the place. Dave Hewitt speaks highly of Gerry and his stay there (he met a friend of my parents there back on his Watershed journey). Others have been less complimentary. I had a very positive experience there. The 6 blokes offered me food (not needed) and I was able to wangle a lift to Inverness the following day, the latter very much needed as transport links in this part of Scotland on a Sunday are still very limited with the first and only train not until after 4pm. Nothing was too much trouble for Simon (Gerry’s son, I later realised) and he was happy for me to pay by internet banking when I got home. I was able to charge my phone battery and let my daughter know that I would be travelling home. I slept soundly but apparently without snoring, talking or walking. A good night’s sleep finally got rid of the grumpy old git, but I wonder if allowing the moody git on my walk also affected my decisions and also my progress. I worried that I was no longer enjoying the walk the way I had been and this dented my confidence in completing the journey
Next day 4 of the guys were off to do the Strafarrar 4, 1 was going south via Kyle of Lochalsh and 1 was going south via the Achnasheen and Inverness route. Spoiled for choice I chose to go with Ian to Inverness. We left after all the others and it was only then I discovered why one of them had looked so familiar. He was a major hill runner and had held various titles in the sport. My interest was that I marshall on the Stuc a’Chroin Hill race and he has won that on at least a couple of occasions.
With the weather taking a downturn and with various commitments on my horizon I wondered when I would get back to the ‘Shed.
Talk amongst yourselves while I spend the next fortnight at home....
Friday 26th /Saturday 27th April
With no plans to go away (was I still making excuses?) and generally being under the impression that the forecast was dire, I was taken aback when reading a WH query re an approach to Maoile Lundaidh that the forecast was good for the foreseeable (Thanks, Jupe1407). It was late in the day on Friday but I flew around packing my bag and also packing for the Stuc a’ Chroin weekend (May 4th). I planned to be in Strathyre for helping with the latter from Thursday (setting up /marking the course) through to Sunday. This meant that instead of public transport I would need to take my van, leave it at Achnasheen, catch the train to Achnashellach and walk back to Achnasheen via the Watershed. I would then travel on to Strathyre. This is one of the few occasions on the Watershed that lends itself to an almost circular trip. I thought I would make the 15.00 train on Saturday afternoon but having set out from home at 08.00 and managing to stock up with food on the way, I actually made the 12.21 with a few minutes to spare. A major panic attack that lasted most of the short train journey took me by surprise. I am not sure where this came from or why but speculated that it was to do with rushing to pack my bag with last minute stuff before catching the train. Alternatively, was it fear that after my last outing's struggles that I just wasn’t up to this walk? I have no idea; it was very uncomfortable while it lasted.
The descent from the carriage at Achnashellach was a bit precipitous. (they do have a step but I got out the wrong door) and I took a few minutes to recover myself and repack my bag before setting off along the forestry track back along to Craig. I didn’t need to have an overnight at the hostel there was plenty of time to get to Bhealach Bhearnais. I had no further problems with panic attacks and indeed forgot all about it until checking my notes for this WR. Orange tip butterflies flew along the verges and a green hairstreak tried to tempt me to photograph it but I was singularly unsuccessful with my mobile phone. Following the track back up to Bealach Bhearnais I just met one couple on bikes, coming down after an enjoyable day on Maoile Lunndaidh. This was to be my last direct contact with humans for 3 days (not counting the road and rail crossings. There was no need to use the wire bridge to cross the river but a pair of trainers had been dropped (dumped?) at the bridge.
DSC_0874 by Seal54, on Flickr
Later on the path there was a trail of tangerine peel then a half chewed and spat out tangerine. For some reason I associated these with the trainers. With a full pack myself I didn’t do anything with these but left them visible in the hopes that someone descending would lift them. Grumpy old git was in danger of returning but with the anger turned outward it wasn’t so self-destructive as the previous outing.
The snow cover was much reduced but so was the water in the burns. I was able to top up shortly before the Bhealach but was slightly concerned that this would become a problem over the next few days. The warm, pleasant day was cooling by the time I climbed to the Bhealach and a flat campsite just over the 637 point with a view to Lurg Mhor and Bidean a’ Choire Sheasgaich. There was a remnant of drystone dyke, possibly the same one as on Bidean and Beinn Tharsuinn. So far, so good and no sign or even thoughts of a grumpy old git.
At the Bhealach, looking back at a very dry Alt Leathad an Tobair by Seal54, on Flickr
A bit of stone wall by Seal54, on Flickr
I reached the point on the Bealach Bhearnais where I had turned off the Watershed and was looking forward to fine weather for the crossing of Choinnich and Chaorachain. I had last climbed this pair March 2003 but whilst I marked this in my diary, I failed to write up that day trip. The only memory I have was that they were a fine pair but there were no views on a miserable day.
Sunday 28th April
Rain drumming down on the tent woke me at 06.00 but I wasn’t eager to set out in this and slept on until 07.00 by which time the rain had stopped. Low cloud was hanging around the summits but with a good forecast I was optimistic. The ground was thirsty for water and my tent left a visible dry patch amongst the damp. I saw my first showing of mountain everlasting and more alpine lady’s mantle. I didn’t stop to take photos, I have plenty and decided that I would only photo new plants. It was a delightful broad ridge to the summit with rocky steps and very safe, short scrambling opportunities. I was soon singing “Stairway to Heaven”, followed by “Mythical Kings” due to the cloud forming and dispersing and that followed by “Diamonds on the soles of my shoes” as water droplets sparkled in the fresh foliage.
DSC_0884 by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0885 by Seal54, on Flickr
Tent-shaped dry patch
DSC_0886 by Seal54, on Flickr
The sun came and went and views were ephemeral and atmospheric.I was surprised at how quick Choinnich’s cairn came and had to convince myself that I had reached the summit, the cloud cover confusing the issue. Onwards to Chaoraichan and the descent to the col removed all doubt. In the shifting cloud, Loch Monar came, went and came again. Its water level was low and although controlled by SSE, the low level probably reflects the low rainfall experienced over the past few months.
DSC_0887 by Seal54, on Flickr
Panorama towards Sgurr Chaorachain (left) and Loch Monar (right) by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0893 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking back along Choinnich ridge
Sticking to the crest was easy enough as was the climb to Munro number 2 today, rocky but no real scrambling. The cloud continued to lift and shift until I reached the col, but this added to the drama of these hills rather than detracted from the view. Once the cloud lifted for good I strained to see the eastern seaboard but whilst Loch Carron to the West was clear enough and although I managed at one point to convince myself that I could see the Moray Firth, I eventually had to admit that it was just cloud. My lack of memory of these 2 fine hills has now been replaced by a good solid memory and I was aware that I was back to really enjoying this walk. Gone, gone, gone was the grumpy, pessimistic old git, there was a smile firmly plastered on my face.
DSC_0890 by Seal54, on Flickr
Misty Sgurr nan Ceannaichean
DSC_0894 by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0895 by Seal54, on Flickr
Another look back
DSC_0896 by Seal54, on Flickr
Loch Monar from the col
DSC_0899 by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0900 by Seal54, on Flickr
The cairn sheltered the remains of the trig point. There was no sign of the flush bracket but one stone loosely lying to one side had a circular hole that may have once heId the spider. Looking out to Chaorachain’s top, Bidean an Eoin Deirg I was realistic enough to decide against walking out to include it. Ah well, I will just have to come back another time to take in this fine viewpoint and make do with the ones I already had. Meanwhile I had a 700m descent to the glen floor.
DSC_0901 by Seal54, on Flickr
Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor
DSC_0903 by Seal54, on Flickr
Damaged trig point Chaoracahin
Panorama Sgurr a'Chaorachain, looking back by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0909 by Seal54, on Flickr
Was this where the TP spider was?
Descent from Chaorachain, Maoile Lunnaidh ahead, right of centre by Seal54, on Flickr
As I descended Sron Frianich (Chaorachain’s NE ridge) views to Coulin and Torridon opened up as the cloud dissipated.
Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and Moruisg looked tempting across the glen but I still had the biggest descent and climb of the day but I felt positive about this, none of the doubts of my last outing hanging around to drag me down.
DSC_0916 by Seal54, on Flickr
views of Torridon appearing
DSC_0917 by Seal54, on Flickr
Ceannaichean and Moruisg
DSC_0922 by Seal54, on Flickr
Coulin and Torridon Hills now very clear
I chose a poor line off the ridge and ended up on a slippery, loose steep hillside, with each step threatening to dislodge the ground beneath me, taking me off down the hill with it.Black, moss coated slabs with no hand or footholds drove me back up and i found a better line a little further over. This wasn’t enough to dampened my mood. I heard my first cuckoo of the year. Celandine and viola were bright yellow and purple splashes amongst the greening vegetation. Again there were plenty of deer and I saw a cyclist below me heading out of the glen, presumably having climbed Maoile Lunndaidh. Nor did the prospect of the 550m re-ascent the other side of the glen bother me. My most pressing issue was once again water but the other side of the path there was a big enough stream for me to reload (but nowhere for a swim) and I also took the opportunity to have a good long lunch break in the sunshine. I could get used to these!
aborted and actual route down from Sron na Frianich (approx) by Seal54, on Flickr
There are no good ways to describe the first 300m climb up Sgurr Ceannaichean via the Watershed. From the glen the best way would be the stalkers path approx. 1.5km to the west. Indeed, I think Dave Hewitt ascended by that route. Apart from blaeberry flowers there was little to distract me from the slog upwards.The views started to open at around 600m Trying not to repeatedly stop and look at the views back (failing totally) I finally reached the summit of this Corbett. Last time I was at the summit; this hill was classified as a Munro. I hope that it is still visited by walkers ascending Moruisg. It doesn’t say a lot for those who miss it out as it “fails” the Munro test by just a few feet. The views to the north represent the start of some of the best views of the whole Watershed so far and given the ground that I have covered so far with exceptional vistas all the way, I make no apologies for this claim.
DSC_0927 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking back to Chaorachain and Choinnich
DSC_0928 by Seal54, on Flickr
View up Gleann Fhiodhaig
DSC_0929 by Seal54, on Flickr
Panorama from Summit Sgurr nan Ceannaichean looking west to north by Seal54, on Flickr
Panorama from Summit Sgurr nan Ceannaichean looking North to east by Seal54, on Flickr
Panorama from summit Sgurr nan Ceannaichean by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0937 by Seal54, on Flickr
Summit Sgurr nan Ceannaichean
It is a fine walk round to Moruisg, sticking to the crest rather than the path. I stopped at the col for an early tea and later discovered that I must have left my Swiss army knife there. I do not know when I bought this knife but it is probably over 20 years old and has covered a lot of miles and hills with me. I once before thought I had lost it and it turned up in the wrong compartment of my rucksack. So far that hasn’t happened and I need to resign myself to its loss. Ironic that I would lose it after descending the Hill of the Merchant as I would have to go and find a merchant to sell me another.
DSC_0940 by Seal54, on Flickr
Ceannaichean from Moruisg
Plans to camp on the summit of Moruisg were abandoned. On the west side, the terrain is a mix of moss and cropped grasses and sedges but once on the flat summit plateau it is an uninviting mixture of stones and gravelly beds. Plovers cried and wheeled around as they had done on all the previous summits. There were 3 separate cairns strung west to east along the ridge. This wasn’t an issue as I was going along them. I guessed that the smallest, middle one was the true summit and this turns out to be right. Like Ceannaichean, this is only my 2nd ascent of this fine hill, the last time being 17 years ago.
Summit Panorama Moruisg by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0950 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking towards Fisherfield and The Fannaichs with the low left/right turn of the Watershed in front of them
Panorama from Moruisg by Seal54, on Flickr
The views this late afternoon were fine, with the Watershed laid out as a twisting turning route to east then west to east again and west ahead. Not only this, the ring of mountains encircling the Watershed must surely have at least one mountain that features in many people’s top ten. First are the Coulin hills above Glen Carron with Fuar Tholl, Sgurr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor. Moving round round comes Liathach and Beinn Eighe , Meall a’ Guibhais, then Slioch. Letterewe and the Fisherfield Hills with An Teallach behind and then the northern Fannaichs and finally and way down the popularity stakes, Fionn Bheinn. The last section from Glen Sheil to Bhealach Bhearnais had felt less twisty and by the time I finish this trip I will have finished with OS sheet 25 with the feeling that I have made a lot of progress north, not of course that I am tracking my progress…but northward trend has well and truly dissolved back to the usual convulutions. I am no complaining, this means at each turn, I have a new aspect to enjoy.
I stopped today above Loch Cnoc na Mointeich on another fine viewpoint for my camp. I had been sleeping well, I was pleased with my first day’s progress and although I knew there was a good deal of difficult terrain up ahead, the ascents and descents were of a lesser degree than today. The fine, dry, windless weather made progress a good deal easier and the whilst there were still watery holes to swallow a misplaced boot the dry ground had made for straightforward passage. My heart was singing once more and the black cloud that had followed me from Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan to Bhealaich Bhearnais was no more.
Monday 29th April
It was the sound of plovers that woke me this morning and another call that I again failed to recognise. A beautiful morning greeted me when I put my head out of the tent and I danced around taking photos before getting on with packing up the dry tent and moving on. I decided that I wouldn’t have an early morning dip in the loch. The day looked like it was going to be a hot one and whilst I can have more than one swim a day, I wasn’t ready for one just yet. The Watershed was calling.
DSC_0953 by Seal54, on Flickr
Early morning view
DSC_0955 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking towards Achnashellach over Loch Gowan with Fionn Bheinn
DSC_0956 by Seal54, on Flickr
View over Carn Breac to Slioch, Fisherfield, An Teallach and The Fannaichs
Stitched Panorama looking North from Cnoc na Moine by Seal54, on Flickr
It was slow terrain of bog and leggy heather but after crossing Cnoc na Moine, I headed for the very visible track that goes down to a level crossing over the railway line. David Hewitt looked in vain for a path but found none. This track is a fairly recent addition to a path marked on my OS map and is close enough to the Watershed to give and easy passage. However, there appears to be a rash of new tracks hereabout, bulldozed into the hills in none too subtle a manner and visible for miles around. Shortly after Cnoc na Moine I disturbed a group of deer and worried that I would either drive them into a train or onto the road and cause an accident but they veered off before reaching either of these. Just before crossing the railway line I filled up with 3 litres of water from the Allt Gharagain. With low hills ahead I wondered if there would be any more, good opportunities for water. I had plenty of fuel to boil water if needed so didn’t worry too much. All-in-all I was in a pretty laid back, nonchalant mood as I approached the railway. I could hear if a train was coming so didn’t bother to check my timetable or the actual time as I couldn’t hear one. I may have been a bit more alert if I had known either of the latter 2 pieces of information. I crossed the line and had just closed the gate when a train whistle blew, loudly and alarmingly close (there is a bend in the track just east of the level crossing so visibility is limited) 10 seconds later a train trundled by and gave me a friendly toot. "Train Whistle Blowin'...."
DSC_0964 by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0966 by Seal54, on Flickr
Given that I had time to get my phone out and take photos, I probably had plenty of time but it did feel ironic that with 2 hours between trains, I happned on the line just as one came by.
Next hazard was the road. I used to favour this route for getting to Skye rather than driving up through Glen Sheil but the promotion of the NC 500 means that this once quiet route is now very busy. Still it is apparently very good for the businesses along the route. I made it across in one piece and spent a few minutes studying the “standing stones” on the other side. My thoughts turned to my van, just 4 miles up the road at the Achnasheen. It could have been a good escape route but none was needed on this fine day. I had the Mile Dubh to cross before passing a lochan and heading up Carn Beag. Trying to stick to the Watershed to keep my feet dry in this low boggy ground was nigh impossible but as only the wettest parts were truly wet it wasn’t really a problem. I came across butterwort (I had already seen milkwort and lousewort in flower) at a stage I have never knowingly seen before with a little pyramid shape in the centre where the flower stalk will eventually emerge The lochan wasn’t deep enough for a swim although I was now keen for one.
DSC_0971 by Seal54, on Flickr
"Standing Stones" with Moruisg behind
Mile Dubh crossed there was now deep heather on the steep slopes of Carn Beag that went against the grain and I chased yet another herd of deer up to the Trig Point. Breaking onto the summit ridge was cue for a “Wow, Wow, Wow” moment. If I thought the views from Moruisg and Ceanaichean were good, the lower stand point here showed the grandeur of the aforementioned hills to their full advantage. Giants were looking down on me but I felt encircled and protected. Looking back, Moruisg looked like a huge bird its back to me and the south east ridge an outstretched wing sheltering a brood. This image was strengthened by streams and forestry lower down the “wing” looking distinctly feathery.
Panorama from Carn Beag by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_0976 by Seal54, on Flickr
Moruisg as the sheltering bird
DSC_0981 by Seal54, on Flickr
Trig Point Carn Beag
I had previously visited the trig point on Carn Beag on a foul April Day when I also included Carn Breac and Beinn na Feusaige. In logging it on the Trig Point UK website I spoke of miles of peat hag and bog and zig-zagging all over the place to avoid sinking up to my neck and there being no views. On that occasion I resorted to using the newly built track (hydro associated). Today the views were excellent and the first part of the route to Beinn na Feuisaige was not noticeable for big peat hags. I was drawn to Lochan Sgeireach and its beautiful sandy beach. An ideal lunch spot with the ability to conserve water plus a chance to cool off under blue skies. What a back drop to my swim, Beinn Eighe and Meall a’ Guibhais created.
DSC_0991 by Seal54, on Flickr
The lochan was very shallow (not up to my knees) and I started to sink into the peaty bottom beyond the sand before I could properly swim. I compromised by lying in shallow water kicking my legs. It was bliss after the hot, sweaty morning’s walk and I could have stayed there for the rest of the day. Instead I dried off as I ate my lunch but enjoyed the extended break.
I joined a fence that appeared at the col and happily followed it up to the summit of Beinn na Feusaige, a Graham. Again the views were stunning totally unlike my previous visit in 2016. Looking back over Moruisg and the Watershed to the south and west, the cone of Bidean a'Choire Sheasgaich was still distinct. To the north, the whole panorama from the Coulin round to the Fannaichs were getting closer and An Teallach was clear beyond Fisherfield. This stunning view more than compensated for again not being able to see any sign of the Eastern seaboard but also made tomorrow's walk from Carn Loisgte out to Fionn Bheinn look like a stroll in the park
DSC_0995 by Seal54, on Flickr
Summit Beinn na Feusaige
DSC_0999 by Seal54, on Flickr
Shadows over Fhionn Bheinn (centre)
DSC_1000 by Seal54, on Flickr
Slioch, Fisherfield, An Teallach and The Fannaichs
I didn’t need to look at the map to see the way to Meallan Mhic Iamhair and lemming-like followed the fence into peat hag hell. I am not sure if leaving the fence and heading over the broad col at its highest point (and Watershed route) would have made much of a difference but the hags were wearing and seemingly never ending (and I couldn’t fail to forget that Foinn Bheinn with its infamous hags was ahead of me). It felt like groundhog day and I renamed it peat bog day but all things do come to an end and I was finally climbing the rockier but rather lumpy Meallan Mhic Iamhair.
DSC_1003 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking back to Peat Hag Hell, which actually looks benign in the photo
DSC_1004 by Seal54, on Flickr
View north from summit of Meallan Mhic Iamhair
I found the descent the other side also longer than expected due to a series of rocky crests that crossed the hill like waves (Surfin’ USA). I passed a random cairn on the way down, its purpose wasn't clear.
DSC_1005 by Seal54, on Flickr
Cairn on hillside
Another small ascent took me about half way up the side of Carn Breac, before I headed down to the head of Loch na Moine Moire and a less satisfactory camp site for the night. Views ahead were straight into Torridon with Loch Coulin with Beinn Eighe behind. The shafts of sunlight striking Liathach distracted from the bog and I almost lost a boot at one point, not noticing that the ground was less substantial than the surrounds. I spotted a single frog on the descent, the first on this outing, then a face in the side of Beinn Liath Mhor, although it failed to translate as well to a photograph.
DSC_1009 by Seal54, on Flickr
Sunbeams on Loch Coulin, Beinn Eighe behind
DSC_1015 by Seal54, on Flickr
Golden Loch Coulin
Panaroma on descent from Carn Breac by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_1022 by Seal54, on Flickr
Shafts of sunlight on Liathach
DSC_1024 by Seal54, on Flickr
Spot the face or possibly a person
As a postscript to a rather gloopy day in the peat hags I managed to spill hot chocolate over me, the tent and everywhere. Sticky goo and only half a cup to drink but despite the peat hags, despite the spillage, despite the lack of chocolate there was still no grumpy old git and I slept reasonably.
Tuesday 30th April.
Not the best of campsites and I managed to roll into a tight corner in a dip at the bottom of the tent. Grouse shouting woke me as a pre-dawn chorus at 4.00 am but fortunately I slept again and finally woke to a pair of geese flying overhead and the sound of wind. I had become rather complacent in the fine weather, no rain since the first morning and next to no wind at all. I hadn’t seen a forecast for a few days so maybe my luck was running out. It was oddly misty in the wind so I didn’t hurry over breakfast and packing but by the time I was on the move just before nine the clouds were clearing and the wind was lighter than expected.I hadn’t seen many birds except plover everywhere and a few grouse but another mountain was imitating the shape of a bird with Fuar Tholl looking like a wee, squat, cartoon bird with its beak sticking up.
DSC_1025 by Seal54, on Flickr
This mornings mountain view
DSC_1026 by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_1028 by Seal54, on Flickr
The Fuar Tholl bird
Carn Loisgte is a lumpy hill but levels off at about the 400m mark by which time the whole of the view that was to stay with me for the rest of the day was on show. It is true that some of best views are seen from lowlier hills. In the midst of this were the masts of Bidein Clann Ronaild, my next target, 2.4 km as the plover flies but add on another 1km for the Watershed route that weaves backwards and round the various lochans strewn hither and thither across the ups (all around 430m in height) and downs (around 400m).I have climbed this fine view point before but then it was a quick walk up the ugly track from the road. This was going to take a bit longer.
Panorama Carn Loisgte Coulin and Torridon by Seal54, on Flickr
Panorama Beinn Eighe to The Fannaichs from Carn Loisgte by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_1035 by Seal54, on Flickr
The way ahead
I headed for one of the lochans, it looked good for a swim but was peaty, soft and shallow. Tiny silvery water beetles dashed around zinging of each other like tiny dodgem cars or balls of mecury. I hit lochan heaven at NH052588, a rock fringed lochan with a steep bank dipping into the water on the east side that suggested a bit of depth. My instincts were right and for the first time this trip I was able to have a proper swim. Rather late on I realised that anyone visiting the viewpoint of Bidein Clann Ronaild may have a different view then they bargained for but I wasn’t caring. The sun was out, the water pleasant, the view excellent. I dried off in warm sunshine as wheatears, the first of this trip and a change from the ever present plovers, skimmed across the water catching insects that were droning about.
DSC_1040 by Seal54, on Flickr
Today's swimming pool
Fully dressed and refreshed I headed on and barely (no pun intended) 5 minutes later saw a couple of people heading up the track to the summit of Bidein. My timing had been perfect (or was theirs spot on?). When I eventually reached them I discovered a photographer and “pupil” with every lens and filter you could wish for. I chatted to them until they made it clear that they wanted to get on with the lesson (or maybe my 3 day old clothes were riper than I realised). They possibly knew the forecast as the clouds were building and the sky had turned from a classic sky blue with fluffy white clouds to a variety of grey shades of clouds, something I didn’t really notice until I was heading down to the road. Bidein Clann Ronaild is a really fine viewpoint but its own summit is marred by the large communications mast. I had taken many photos of the views on the way here so decided to take one of a fine viewpoint, spoiled. We do all like our phones to have signals though.
DSC_1042 by Seal54, on Flickr
An alternative view of a viewpoint
but I did take a couple of the actual view
Panorama of Torridon and Loch Maree from Bidein Clann Roanaild by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_1047 by Seal54, on Flickr
Looking back over Carn Breac and Beag to Moruisg and beyond
Inadvertently I had drawn my route on the map going through the view point on the A832, which when I looked down on it, clearly wasn’t on the Watershed which was 1km to the SE. This was fortunate as the crags at this point would have required careful negotiation. I kept high and headed further on to the correct spot to descend. A buzzard rose from the crags below me, the first raptor I had seen since Bneinn Fhada and the only one on this trip. It flew over to the slopes of Carn a’ Ghlinne and was soon lost against the dark vegetation. I could see there was a collection of deer fences to be crossed on both sides of the road, my first since Loch Arkaig, I think. Fortunately, when I descended there were gates in the first set of fences and once over the road, heading round the edge of the plantation, it was easy enough to climb the fence there. The Watershed runs through the plantation but not knowing that there was a gate at the top exit. I chose to stay on the outside of the fence and this led to a stream that was perfect for topping up with water.
DSC_1049 by Seal54, on Flickr
View down Glen Docherty to Loch Maree
DSC_1050 by Seal54, on Flickr
Down by the road
The ground was grass/heather tussocks but easy enough with louse and milkwort in flower. The clouds gave forth spits of light rain but not enough to wet the dried-out ground. Despite the downturn in the weather, despite almost 2 full days of the same views, it was still a real treat reaching the summit plateau and saying hello again to now very familiar mountains that ranged around me. “These are my mountains…” The Coulin and Torridon were slightly fading whilst Loch Maree, Slioch, An Teallach and Fisherfield were coming to their own with the Fannaichs waiting in the wings. Ahead, on the Watershed, there was a broad, gentle, undulating ridge out to An Cabar with Meall a’ Chaorain and Fionn Bheinn behind. I could see the end of this trip, I had banished the grump, re-found my walk and my confidence was growing that I could do this. Sadly, this also meant that I was nearer the end of the “big” hills. For the moment I enjoyed the presence of a trig point that I hadn’t visited before, despite its proximity to a road, the noise of which had all but disappeared. There were peat hags but these were shallow and easily passed. The ever present plovers continued their mournful cries as I turned east again and more deer ran before me.
DSC_1051 by Seal54, on Flickr
Trig point Carn a'Ghlinne looking to Loch Maree
DSC_1054 by Seal54, on Flickr
Trig Point and Fionn Bheinn
When I descended from the minor rise of Carn na Garbh Lice, I came across two, half buried and broken champagne bottles in a shallow peaty dip. I could do nothing about these and wondered at the circumstances that led them to be left there. First of all, why would anyone want to bring champagne to a rather inauspicious spot. There were tremendous views of course so it would have to be someone in the know but surely there were more accessible spots with equally good views (Bidein Clann Ronaild comes to mind). I did not see any signs of ATV track but if there had been that would have given even more reason for whoever who brought them in to take them away. Maybe it was a romantic tryst that went wrong and the bottles were smashed in anger and left. Whatever the reason the hard work of bringing the full bottles up the hill (there was no other rubbish left) had been done so why not take the empties home or were the culprit(s) just too drunk to remember.
DSC_1059 by Seal54, on Flickr
Unnecessary, thoughtless, dangerous rubbish
Leaving the bottles behind but continuing to develop scenarios in my mind, I remembered that back in the Borders, rather than singing songs that fitted my mood or the walk, I made up whodunits and mysteries as I progressed. An Cabar presented a different sort of puzzle. I failed totally to find any indication of summit on any of the peat hags that littered the flat summit area. Eventually I chose one that seemed to be the highest before the short descent to join the fence briefly at col before what was to be my final climb of the day. Bidean Clann Ronaild’s building, mast and satellites 6 km west, had a look of a sailing boat running before the wind On the way down I met Mrs Tiggle-Winkle, clearly on her holidays from the Lakes.
Fhionn Bheinn and Meall a'Chaorainn from An Cabar by Seal54, on Flickr
Mrs Tiggy Winkle by Seal54, on Flickr
The ascent up the shoulder of Meal a’Chaorain turned out to be a delightfully easy walk with short mossy vegetation interspersed with what looked like minor gravel dunes, topped with curved lines of vegetation in the flat depressions they formed in. Deer crossed and rose in the slopes ahead and the summit wasn’t far away when I came across an ideal camp site. I could go onto the summit but remembering Moruisg (albeit a good 200 m higher) and its stony summit, I chose to stay put. I hadn’t been troubled by wind at any point on the walk so far. I still couldn’t get a MWIS forecast but whilst the rain had come in a little ahead of expected, generally I thought that the benign conditions were likely to continue. It could all go wrong overnight as the site had no shelter but I was swayed by the site. I loved this campsite. It was flat, soft and had the best views so far. My granddaughter, always critical of the lack of level campsites I picked, would have nothing to complain baout here. It just lacked running water but as I had plenty and as I only expected a half days walking the next day, this was not an issue. . As the evening progressed the cloudy skies cleared somewhat but as the temperature dropped, wreaths of clouds formed in the glens. “If I lay here, if I just lay here..”
DSC_1073 by Seal54, on Flickr
Minature gravel dunes topped with strips of low heather
DSC_1081 by Seal54, on Flickr
View from campsite
DSC_1082 by Seal54, on Flickr
Fionn Bheinn from the campsite
DSC_1084 by Seal54, on Flickr
Best campsite this trip
DSC_1086 by Seal54, on Flickr
Flat enough for my granddaughter to approve
Wednesday 1st May
Only on the Watershed as far as the col.
I slept soundly and woke to absolute silence. Not a plover or grouse to be heard, not a breath of wind to rustle the tent. Fionn Bheinn rose in a shapely cone above a muff of cloud. Meall a’Chaorain’s lower summit was blanketed out and the clouds moved and reformed around me as I breakfasted and progressively lost things in an alarming manner. First was the plunger for my coffee. It apparently disappeared into thin air. Logically I told myself that it couldn’t have as I had it in my hand just before I poured my boiling water on the coffee, but turning the tents contents upside down did not reveal it so I had to pour the coffee, jug style into a pot, empty the grounds then pour the rather gritty coffee back into my mug. Next up lost item was a sock. I was in such a magical place, I decided that there could be only one explanation, the wee folk. Maybe they were also responsible for the disappearance of my knife. Blaming the wee folk also meant that suspicion could be removed from me and that meant that I didn’t get annoyed with myself. Needless to say both items turned up; the plunger had fallen into my rucksack and the sock had attached itself to the Velcro on my jacket. The wee folk still had my penknife.
Fionn Bheinn and cloud covered Meall a' Chaorain from camp by Seal54, on Flickr
DSC_1091 by Seal54, on Flickr
Cloud wreathed mountains
DSC_1092 by Seal54, on Flickr
Time wasted on lost items didn’t matter. I was going to have a very easy day. On the downside Meall a’ Chaorain still had not lost its head of cloud and Fionn Bheinn had gained its own cloud topper. Cloud came in and around me and I had to walk on a bearing to the summit of the Graham which came quicker than anticipated, I was closer than it had looked the night before. Not anticipated was the clearing of the cloud to the south and I finally had a good enough signal to catch the MWIS. Looking around the cloud now appeared to be about the 750m level. Down below I could see the challenge of the peat hags above Coire Bog. I fancied that I could see a way through that followed the watershed. With the rather iffy forecast I decided that I would make a decision about going on when I reached the hags. Nothing would be lost by heading down to Achansheen at this point. The other option was continuing on over Fionn Bheinn and descending to Achnasheen via Sàil an Tuim Bhàin. My memories of climbing Foinn Bheinn in poor weather were that there was little to commend this mountain unless you got the views.
DSC_1093 by Seal54, on Flickr
Peat hags at the head of Coire Bog
Fionn Bheinn and Meall a' Chaorain by Seal54, on Flickr
The clouds did not shift and I continued down the rather ugly track to Achnasheen. Later in the afternoon the clouds did part and the afternoon was excellent but this would have been too late for me on Fionn Bheinn. I was happy with my decision, I could have done another 4 km of Watershed and not had the views but I would rather have the best that Fionn Bheinn can offer. I did not feel tired, I had not been riven with doubt and reluctance, it had been an excellent few days in hard terrain but with unsurpassed views, enjoyed in the best of conditions. I wouldn’t be able to return until nearer the end of May but fingers crossed there would still be good, dry conditions for my continuing walk. I have stopped recording how far I have walked as it was having a negative affect however I feel very positive about having made it to the North of Inverness (although I am still to the south of Fraserburgh and Peterhead). The end is beginning to become real.Game on.
Back at th beginning of this report , I mentioned Sam Hewlings setting out on his trek of the whole of the Watershed from the south of England. Now some 40 plus days later, he has already reached North Yorkshire so is flying along. I hope I don't miss him in one of my absences from the 'Shed as he zooms by.
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by helenw » Wed May 22, 2019 9:27 am
by Alteknacker » Sun May 26, 2019 2:56 pm
Firstly the pics. There are so many brilliant pics - which really come into their own on a big screen - that it's invidious to pick out particular ones; but anyway: I loved 0683 - changing light across the ridges; 0697 - Loch Sgur na h'Eige; 0715 - a misty Loch Mullardoch, anyway one of my favourite places; 0718; 0802; 0813; 0935; 1022..... I could go on and on. So many beautiful (if freezing - Lochs too. Given that you seem to have had pretty decent weather overall, I was slightly surprised to read of your finding yourself in grumpy mode at the outset: if the pics reflect what is was like, it should have been brilliant . BUT I have to tell you that I have the patent on labelling photos!!! And my copyright charges are very modest . Actually I really like this practice, because there's quite a difference in the level of difficulty in identifying hills in reality, and doing it on a photo, and I find I can never remember what the hills were when I look back over old pics if I haven't labelled them.
I'm amazed you can do all this heavy up and down stuff over multiple days, and have at least initial difficulty sleeping. I typically find myself so tired at the end of a long day that it's all I can do not to fall asleep without even eating .
I agree that the views from Sgurr nan Ceannaichean are brilliant - at least they were from Moruisg, which I walked a couple of weeks before you (indeed I started at the exact same rail crossing point adjacent to the A890 that you used, and walked the ridge from Carn Liath to Moruisg), without realising at the time that it was on the watershed - didn't quite get to SnC though.
Great stuff all round - can't wait for the next installment.
PS when approximately do you expect to finish???
PPS I'll PM you with details of how to remove the blue underlining and crazy translations of punctuation marks.
by rohan » Tue May 28, 2019 10:29 am
helenw wrote:so enjoying your very non-"feeble crawlings" - looks like I just missed you on Bealach Bhearnais - also saw those trainers (probably still there I thought about taking them but wasn't sure if someone might come back) and I also got grumpy with the tangerine peel on the track - good luck with the rest of the watershed
Thank-you Helen, It would have been good to meet each other at the Bhealach. I hope you had as good a time as me on your walk.
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by rohan » Tue May 28, 2019 11:21 am
Alteknacker wrote:I was really looking forward to this part of your walk through what you call "the big hills", and I wasn't disappointed. A really enjoyable (and really long!) read - enjoyable in many different dimensions.
Firstly the pics. There are so many brilliant pics - which really come into their own on a big screen - that it's invidious to pick out particular ones; but anyway: I loved 0683 - changing light across the ridges; 0697 - Loch Sgur na h'Eige; 0715 - a misty Loch Mullardoch, anyway one of my favourite places; 0718; 0802; 0813; 0935; 1022..... I could go on and on. So many beautiful (if freezing - Lochs too. Given that you seem to have had pretty decent weather overall, I was slightly surprised to read of your finding yourself in grumpy mode at the outset: if the pics reflect what is was like, it should have been brilliant :D . BUT I have to tell you that I have the patent on labelling photos!!! And my copyright charges are very modest :lol: . Actually I really like this practice, because there's quite a difference in the level of difficulty in identifying hills in reality, and doing it on a photo, and I find I can never remember what the hills were when I look back over old pics if I haven't labelled them.
I'm amazed you can do all this heavy up and down stuff over multiple days, and have at least initial difficulty sleeping. I typically find myself so tired at the end of a long day that it's all I can do not to fall asleep without even eating :roll: .
I agree that the views from Sgurr nan Ceannaichean are brilliant - at least they were from Moruisg, which I walked a couple of weeks before you (indeed I started at the exact same rail crossing point adjacent to the A890 that you used, and walked the ridge from Carn Liath to Moruisg), without realising at the time that it was on the watershed - didn't quite get to SnC though.
Great stuff all round - can't wait for the next installment.
PS when approximately do you expect to finish???
PPS I'll PM you with details of how to remove the blue underlining and crazy translations of punctuation marks.
So many things to reply to! Firstly, thank-you for reading and staying with me through it. I was also surprised at my grumpiness which I do think in part was due to my tiredness and resulting errors that made life harder. The hills and a good walk usually banish any traces of low mood for me (and I am not usually prone to low moods). Some walking companions have described me as a "Pollyanna" character, always finding something to be glad about in dire circumstances. Fortunately it appears to have been a blip that caused my motivation to take a dive but my positive memories are starting to wipe out the negatives.
Labelling of photos takes me ages 'cos I should really take a note of what the photos are of at the time taken (or at least 2nd photo of the compass bearing). Back at home I have no idea of what direction I was facing and some of the less obvious hills have me head scratching. Cross referencing the time and other things do help. I am always open to corrections though. Please feel free to share your know-how of labeling but I may find your fees above my (very low) price bracket, hahaha!
I have always had problems sleeping, often more so when I am really physically exhausted, but usually it doesn't bother me and I sleep soundly on the 3rd night. I have changed my eating habits so that I have a big midday meal and top up with oatcakes, cheese and chocolate in the evening. I find that this give me fuel when I need it most and I don't feel too tired to eat.
I have just caught up with your WR for Moruisg. Lovely photos and similar to the conditions I first climbed Moruisg and Sgurr nan Ceanaichean. I'm sorry you missed the latter.
As for finishing, I hope to finish by Christmas but which one....who knows! I have started to dare hope that I will get there and have some ideas of where I may finish. I am tempted by a number of different finish points on the North Coast. More of nearer the time.
Next instalment maybe some time coming. I was going to go back this week but one look at the forecast and I headed to Knoydart for social rather than walking reasons. It was a good choice. I do want to make sure of good weather whilst I remain in the hills as I do not want to waste those great views.. This will become less of an issue nearer the end.
Please do message me with your technical advice but be aware that I need it in basic English, not computer language.
Thanks again for reading my report. I'm off now to put in my tuppence worth on your Moruisg walk.
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