Off to Fisherfield to look for Donnie
by dogplodder » Wed Nov 18, 2020 6:34 pm
Route description: Fisherfield 6, from Shenavall
Munros included on this walk: Sgùrr Bàn
Date walked: 31/08/2020
Distance: 30 km13 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).
1. When I stood on Creag Rainich a few weeks earlier I meant it when I said this was probably the closest I'd get to the slabs of Sgurr Ban. Given we'd discussed doing it this way with Huff n Puff the previous year I'm not sure why I thought that... except that a suspected dose of Covid in March had knocked the stuffing out of me and I didn't think I could do it.
2. The day we went was the day Donnie Campbell was in Fisherfield and we wanted to cheer him on at the summit.
3. After almost 2 years building up to it, it would be my dog's first Munro.
In a strange twist my previous dog's first Munro was Beinn Tarsuinn and her summit photo has Sgurr Ban in it. Those who've read my report of that day will know it was sadly also her last.
Beinn Tarsuinn with Callie (Sgurr Ban on right)
Our grandkids were distraught and so were we. Our previous 4 dogs had all been rescues but we didn't feel up to a long wait for a suitable match so knowing full well it was a knee jerk thing we drove south to pick up an 8 week old black lab pup from a keeper in Glen Esk.
She was an enthusiastic pup, the thug of the puppy class, chewed furniture, rearranged the garden and took longer than we thought she would to toilet train. But she quickly learned to recall to the whistle and being from the gundog side loved to retrieve. We called her Keira which is Irish Gaelic for dark-haired girl.
Too much exercise early on damages the joints so we took it slowly, gradually increasing distance. We reckoned she was hill ready at 20 months, annoyingly just as lockdown started, but as soon as travel wasn't restricted to 5 miles she did a few local hills then Carn na Saobhaidhe, which she managed no problem apart from getting a leg stuck down a cattle grid. Next up was Creag Rainich (when I thought I was as close as I'd ever get to Sgurr Ban), Meall a' Bhuachaille and Creag Liath.
Creag Rainich with Keira (Sgurr Ban behind)
The MWIS forecast for 31st August was for 90% cloud free summits and Ian and Julie were both free that day. I'd been following Donnie's tracker and knew that on 31st August he'd be doing Slioch, the Fisherfields and An Teallach. I didn't know in which order he'd do the Fisherfields but if Sgurr Ban was his last of the 5 we were in with a good chance of seeing him. So I pitched the idea we'd aim for Sgurr Ban, going in via Loch a' Bhraoin and walk up the famous rock slabs. They liked the idea and since two of us were in a household bubble we weren't bending covid rules. It was a deal.
We parked in the usual lay-by on Destitution Road with the plan of walking to the bothy to leave a stash of food there for the return, which we did. With a thick layer of high cloud the sky was grey and light wasn't great so there are no photos until about half way from the bothy to Loch an Nid. I didn't know what to expect from the path beyond the bothy but it was pretty good and before long we could see the crags of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and the rounded dome of Sgurr Ban.
Sgurr Ban is rounded hill on far right
It doesn't feel like proper wilderness when you come to a fence with a gate and a polite notice asking you to close it behind you!
Loch an Nid and Beinn a' Chlaidheimh
The prominent lump is Meallan an Laoigh
We decided we would skirt round Meallan an Laoigh and strike up the slabs to the north of it. We hadn't been sure if the river flowing into Loch an Nid might need to be a waded, but the water was low enough to cross with boots on. We then passed east of Meallan an Laoigh before heading for the start of the slabs.
Sgurr Ban's slabs from Creag Rainich
Ian had been up the slabs before but had forgotten about the rocky gully or he would have suggested crossing lower down. So there was a little bit of a scramble at that point and we were on to the slabs. The slabs are at their steepest here with occasional easy scrambling up rocky steps and shortly after crossing the gully Julie had a scary moment on wet rock that left her needing a sit down and a bite to eat to recompose herself, which she did very quickly. After that she and Ian walked together while I walked ahead to try to figure out the easiest route up.
Above the gully
Start of the rock slabs
I'd brought a bottle of water for Keira but we came across enough rock pools on the way up that I probably didn't need to.
Rock pools always need close inspection
After the initial steepness the slabs leveled out, but it wasn't a smooth runway that a plane could land on, with cracks, fissures and patches of grass that aren't all that visible looking across from Creag Rainich
Creag Rainich from almost level slabs
I started to wonder if we'd make it to the top in time to see Donnie. I texted Pete for a tracker update and just as the slabs turned into boulders got a reply that after an early start on Slioch, Donnie had headed straight for Stob Ban and was now on his way up the Mullach. What I suspected might happen - he'd been and gone! But it was good to have that info rather than have us hanging around the top not knowing.
Boulder field as we neared summit
There were a few folk around the cairn who might have been surprised to see three figures and a dog appearing out of nowhere from the east. For a young dog Keira has developed some strong opinions about fashion items she considers odd and has been known to get vocal about it. One of the summit guys was wearing something she didn't approve of so she barked (quite politely) twice, wagging her tail at the same time. Fortunately he wasn't fazed by this and offered to take a photo of the three of us with the disapproving mutt.
Sgurr Ban summit
Keira's first Munro
Then she went into standard sniffer dog routine searching for whatever might be lurking in these rocks. All my dogs have done this, their zeal often rewarded with pieces of discarded food (if ravens haven't got there first). I'm sure they think the sole purpose of climbing hills is for them to find something delectable like a rotten carcass, bleached bones or half a ham roll.
Sniffer dog in action (Ian's photo)
Sgurr Ban's summit is almost flat so it's not an airy viewpoint like Beinn Tarsuinn or A' Mhaighdean and photos tend to have white quartzite boulders in the foreground. It's easy to see why it was named Sgurr Ban which means the white peak.
After wandering about taking photos we found ourselves a place to sit for first lunch, the second installment saved for down by the river. I always carry carrots for my dogs to have at the summit. They like carrots but I'm sure they wish I would twig that dogs are carnivores and would prefer steak.... but it's easier carrying carrots so Keira got hers here.
View north from summit
Zoomed to Loch na Sealga, Beinn Dearg Mor and An Teallach
Beinn Dearg Mor and Summer Isles
SW to Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and Beinn Tarsuinn
Descent to bealach at Cab Coire nan Clach
As we approached the bealach we had a good look at the path up MCMF. Would we or wouldn't we? I was tempted and I think Julie was too. But the path looked steep and loose which would be fine going up but not so fine coming back down. We still had a long way to go so maybe we should take the pressure off and enjoy a more leisurely pace on the return. So that's what we did.
View east to Fannichs
Descent from bealach
There was a faint path down from the bealach which eventually petered out. It was easy walking and it wasn't long before Ian and Julie were away ahead and I was playing catch up. But there was no hurry and we were able to take our time and enjoy being in these fabulous surroundings on what had turned out to be a beautiful day.
Time for another break to contemplate our surroundings
Ian climbed to right of lump ahead while Julie and I traversed it on left
MCMF from random cairn
The white peak
It was nice to find more rock slabs on the lower slopes of MCMF, of which we took full advantage as they make for such easy walking.
Tilted runway ahead
Julie's dad studied geography and would have told us how this landscape came about. And, as we both agreed, what he didn't know he would have made up and we'd have been none the wiser!
Interesting geological features
Allt an Laoigh and Meallan an Laoigh
Following the allt down
An Teallach beyond Loch an Nid
Julie and I followed Ian's line down which meant crossing the river and rejoining the outward path at a different point to where we'd crossed earlier.
Another of the view north
We'd already agreed that even though we didn't need to take boots off for a paddle, with a long walk ahead it would still be a good idea. So when we were level with our earlier crossing point we made a beeline for it, took boots and socks off and sat for a blissful 20 minutes with hot feet stuck in refreshingly cool water. And amazingly we weren't bothered by a single midge.
On the merits of foot chilling I once did a controlled experiment with a 6 mile walk ahead, giving one foot the treatment but not the other and the one that had been steeped was significantly more comfortable on the remainder of the walk out. Usually I can't be bothered to take the boots off but when there's no great hurry it's definitely worth doing.
Feet steeping point
Once back on the path it was simply a case of retracing our steps to Loch a' Bhraoin, a different colour of loch from what it had been in the morning.
House at Lochivraon
We picked up our secret stash of food at the bothy, and sat on the bench outside for afternoon tea. But it wasn't long before the bothy scout midges found us and put out an alert to the rest of their tribe that supper had arrived. So we fairly quickly packed up and left. It's funny that there were none at the river but hordes at the bothy.
Unlike the overcast morning it had turned into a beautiful afternoon and the dog wasn't the only one who fancied a swim.
Is it okay if I have a swim?
Keira loves swimming so it was good she got a reward for her first Munro, apart from carrots. And I'm glad to report she's done two more Munros since then so hasn't got stuck on one.
Perfect end to a perfect day
Meanwhile what of Donnie? We assumed he'd be back at the van preparing for an early night before tackling the Fannichs the next day. But no he wasn't. Coming off An Teallach in fine weather he messaged to ask Rachael to have his dinner ready early. Then he cycled to where we were parked and as we walked along the side of Loch a' Bhraoin he was heading for the western Fannichs. Rachael and the van were still at the parking spot when we reached the car.
Here's a photo Donnie took that evening looking back to An Teallach
He did the 9 Fannichs, cycled to Ben Wyvis and climbed it too. He then had a 30 minute nap and cycled to start the Beinn Dearg group, then on to Ben More Assynt. He said his legs were feeling it coming off Conival but someone had turned up to cycle with him to Ben Klibreck and rather than keep them waiting he went for it and climbed Ben Klibreck, cycled to the foot of Ben Hope, where after multiple cups of tea at the van he reached the summit at 5.02am on Wednesday.
So without ever planning to he covered his last 28 Munros in under 48 hours - and that was on top of 254 in the previous 29 days. Not only did he beat the previous record but smashed it by more than a week. He found it tough and with a painful ankle (first one then the other) there were times around the 14 to 17 day mark he felt very low. But giving up was never an option and he got through it. He acknowledges he couldn't have done it without Rachael who took leave from her work so she could look after all the logistics of driving the van, providing meals, doing laundry and when appropriate leaving his bike at places for him to pick up and collecting it from other places. It's just as well she's an athlete too. As Donnie said, all he had to do was cover the distance while she did everything else. They make a great team and in our house it was compulsive viewing to follow their dots over those 31 days 23 hours and 2 minutes.
I'm also grateful to them for giving me the incentive I needed to climb Sgurr Ban!
by Huff_n_Puff » Sun Nov 22, 2020 7:47 pm
by prog99 » Sun Nov 22, 2020 11:59 pm
We were up in the area same time as donnie but our schedules didn't quite match up to get a fleeting glimpse.
- Munro compleatist
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by NeepNeep » Tue Nov 24, 2020 11:32 am
by tweedledog » Tue Nov 24, 2020 11:54 am
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- Joined: Jan 20, 2013
- Location: Argyll
by Bod » Tue Nov 24, 2020 3:46 pm
by dogplodder » Thu Nov 26, 2020 2:49 pm
Huff_n_Puff wrote:Brilliant - love the way you blend different stories together, dogs, mountain routes and amazing munroists . Practically this will be very helpful when we get round to visiting the two eastern Fisherfield hills (hopefully next year) but also I love the stories about the dogs and Donnie Campbell's amazing achievement. The photos as usual are great, many thanks.
This is a great route for the eastern Fisherfelds, though it's not much used and apart from Stob Ban summit we didn't see anyone else all day.
by dogplodder » Sun Nov 29, 2020 5:01 pm
prog99 wrote:One of the best (and quietest!) ways into the Fisherfields. The slabs are wonderful.
We were up in the area same time as donnie but our schedules didn't quite match up to get a fleeting glimpse.
It's a great way in and up until the final half hour of the Incheril approach arguably more scenic, with as you say the added plus of being very quiet. Apart from the summit cairn of Sgurr Ban we didn't see anyone all day. But with all this publicity that could start to change!
by dogplodder » Mon Nov 30, 2020 6:56 pm
NeepNeep wrote:Great walk report. I was very sad to read your previous report linked. My dad's black lab met a similar end and that devastated them. So sad. Glad you have hit the hills again and a mighty fine hill at that. Looks like the new addition has mountains of energy so that's probably just the start. Thanks for posting
Thanks NeepNeep. The downside of having a dog is the grief when we lose them, specially in circumstances like these. Sorry to hear about your dad's dog. Yes this one has boundless energy and the main question is how long will I be able to keep up?
by dogplodder » Thu Dec 03, 2020 1:29 pm
tweedledog wrote:Lovely stuff Kathleen. Congratulatory strokes to Keira.
Strokes passed on and hope all's well with the amazing Azul.
by dogplodder » Tue Dec 08, 2020 4:32 pm
Bod wrote:Well done all, and especially Keira for his first munro, rock pool inspections and loch swimming. Magical
Thanks Bod. Is Ritchie still with you?
by past my sell by date » Tue Dec 08, 2020 5:41 pm
by dogplodder » Sun Dec 13, 2020 1:48 pm
past my sell by date wrote:Lovely report and pics. This is a great way into the Fisherfield - but Sgurr Ban is really an "awful" hill - it's just its position that makes it so special. Descending the boulderfield to the North in mist was one of the worst I've been on in Britain - the more so because when the mist cleared it was apparent that if I'd been 200m further L I'd have been on grass
So annoying when that happens. LIke you I always look for grassy bits in boulder fields.
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