9 Fannichs and the conditions of a lifetime
by wildmountaintimes » Tue May 18, 2021 10:37 pm
Munros included on this walk: A' Chailleach (Fannichs), An Coileachan, Beinn Liath Mhòr Fannaich, Meall a' Chrasgaidh, Meall Gorm, Sgùrr Breac, Sgùrr Mòr, Sgùrr nan Clach Geala, Sgùrr nan Each
Date walked: 15/08/2020
Time taken: 20 hours
Distance: 37 km20 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).
As we usually do while planning for the next weekend away, we checked the weather for the Fannichs hoping for some good news after the last couple of wet and windy trips. We were in luck. With almost wall-to-wall sunshine predicted for the whole weekend with wind speeds in the single digits and summit temperatures in the low teens, our mind was made up.
The original plan had been to approach from the south - parking at Grudie power station on the A832 and making the long approach via a tarmac road past Fannich Lodge to the foot of A'Chailleach. This would make a circular route finishing back at the car - albeit with a long walk in and back out. Aimie didn’t fancy this route and wanted to do approach from the north, starting at Loch Glascarnoch and ending at Loch a'Bhraoin. This would leave us with a 14km road walk back to the car. For some baffling reason that escapes me now, I actually agreed to this.
We set off from Glasgow at about 4pm on Friday afternoon once Aimie had finished work to allow us an early start on Saturday morning and not have the 4-hour drive eating into our walking time. The drive was a delight from Aviemore onwards, as the roads were almost deserted and everything was illuminated with golden light from the setting sun.
We arrived at the parking area at the head of Loch Glascarnoch at around 9pm. There were already a few cars parked up along with a camper van, and a row of tents set up on the grass. After finding a parking space, Aimie set off up the road to try and get better pictures of the sun setting behind An Teallach while I stayed at the car and kept moving in an attempt to keep the midges at bay (it didn’t work). With Aimie back, we got the tent from the car and ventured down the track to find a space for the tent, as all the spaces next to the cars were taken. We passed a weather station and dropped down a grass verge to an area of flat ground beside the Abhainn an Torrain Dubh and thought it looked like an ideal pitch. It probably would’ve been if a few million midges hadn’t already decided to set up camp here. This was, without a doubt, the worst midges we had ever experienced. The tent was put up with much haste and we retreated to the safety of the car to sit as it would’ve been impossible outside. We decided to forego dinner as that would’ve required being outside to use the stove so we settled on snacks and made quickly for the tent when it was time for bed.
We woke up in the morning to the sound of rain which hadn’t been forecast. Upon opening the door to the tent, we discovered that it wasn’t raining at all and that the noise had been caused by the sheer volume of midges and the force with which they were hitting the tent. We packed the tent up as quickly as possible while running around on the spot and waving our arms like mad then headed to the car to pack our weekend packs. Thankfully, away from the water, the midges weren’t quite as ferocious but midge nets and a liberal coating of insect repellent were still required.
Once all packed for a weekend away from the car, we followed the wooden signpost pointing the way to Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich which took us briefly along the verge of the A835 before following a path off to the right which lead into the forestry. There was a thick mist even at ground level and we had no view at all of our targets for the next 2 days. The temperature in the fog was stifling and we weren’t far along the forest path before layering was being rethought. We suspected we were in an inversion but, with a long approach to the first Munro, it would probably have burnt off by the time we were high enough. It was eerily still with not a breath of wind which meant the midge nets were essential attire, at least until we gained a bit of height.
As we came to the end of the forestry, we missed a branch off to the right leading down to the river which our route would follow. Instead of being on this path, were contouring around the bottom of a hill which turned out to be the Corbett Beinn Liath Mhor a’ Ghiubhais Li. When we realised, I suggested a route straight down through the heather to meet up with our intended route but I was overruled and we retraced our steps until we reached the fork in the path. The path was pretty wet and required some deviation from it to pass around some massive bogs. Eventually we reached a bridge over the Abhainn a'Ghuibhais Li, stopping to refill our water which we’d already made a fair dent in due to the heat and humidity.
The route ahead was pathless, heathery and wet and gained height slowly - around 150m in 2km. As we picked our route through this tough ground, the mist was getting noticeably thinner and the sun starting the burn through to reveal patches of clear blue sky. We were soon stopped in our tracks by the sight of our very first fogbow, standing out as a bright white arch against the dull mist.
The hills were finally starting to reveal themselves above the inversion with Meall Gorm and its 922m top visible directly ahead of us and the pointed peak of Sgurr Mor to our right. By now, it was 9.45am and we’d been on the go for almost 2.5 hours. The temperature and tough terrain made for sweaty work and thoughts turned to cooling down in the high loch we could see in the map. It wasn’t too far from where we were so we made a beeline for it over the peat hags. Luckily, we’d brought swimming stuff with us on the off-chance but didn’t expect to get to use it, nor so soon!
Our pool for today was Loch Gorm, at a height of 540m. The steep crags of Meall Gorm’s 922m top plunge straight down to the water’s edge with the 633m Meallan Buidhe opposite, almost completely enclosing the loch. The water was crystal clear and freezing, but exactly what was needed as a cool-down in what was already a sweatfest of a day. We spent half an hour floating and paddling around before drying off and sunning ourselves on the rocky shore.
Finally managing to drag ourselves away from our blissful location, we had to endure the horrible sensation of putting our sweaty clothes back on top of our nice, fresh skin. Ready to go again, we clambered across the tussocky ground around the edge of the loch and made a beeline for the 565m point on the map where we finally hit a proper path after so long going cross country. We were already running low on water again and it didn’t look like there’d be any chance to fill up our bottles for a long time once we were up high so we sat our bags down and set off to find the waterfall that we could hear tumbling into Loch Gorm. The ground was steep with long grass and heather to negotiate but it was a worthwhile endeavour as it would turn out to be almost 5 hours before we found another water source.
Bags back on, we started the steep ascent of An Coileachan, today’s first Munro. The path we were on continued up the Bealach Ban between An Coileachan and Meall Gorm but we were taking the direct route off to the left up steep and craggy ground. It was somewhere on this slope where I must have expended all my calories consumed so far that day, as I stopped where I was, threw my bag down in (admittedly) a bit of a huff and crammed in a couple of breakfast bars in record time. The heat was really taking it out of us. It was with relief that we finally reached the top of An Coileachan at 12.30pm, the first Munro of 9 over the next two days. From here, we saw that the cloud inversion was still holding strong to the south, completely obscuring Loch Fannich. There was a distinct lack of wind on the summit which would’ve been perfect for one of those rare summit spots where you can sit in short-sleeves and enjoy the view in the sun but that lack of wind resulted in the one thing we didn’t want - MIDGES. We took a few photos and decided to set off without eating, hoping to find somewhere quickly where we could rest without being pestered.
We dropped down 150m to the Bealach Ban which was mercifully free from midges so we cracked out the sandwiches and crisps and reclined on the grass, enjoying the conditions. A broad shoulder curved up from here towards a stony ridge, at the end of which was our 2nd Munro of the day, Meall Gorm. This is a fairly inconsequential summit, summed up by the small pile of rocks serving as a cairn. We now had the view of Loch Fannich that we missed from An Coileachan and, to the south west, the craggy northern side of the supposedly-dull Fionn Bheinn. Directly in front of us further along the ridge the pyramidal peak of our fourth Munro Sgurr Mor was prominent but first we had a 3km out-and-back to Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich.
Descending from Meall Gorm, we met an older man at the side of the path who was struggling with the heat. We had a chat about the lack of water on the ridge and he informed us about a spring near the path that skirts round underneath Sgurr Mor and onto the ridge that leads to Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich. This was welcome news, as a look at the map revealed a lack of water sources without a big descent from the ridge and even then there was no guarantee we’d find any, what with the dry conditions we had been experiencing. We reached the point where the path starts to curve away from the main ridge, tightly hugging the edge of the coire above Loch an Fhuar Thuill Mhoir and knew to start keeping an eye out for the spring. It wasn’t long before we could hear the trickle of water and we soon located the source of this noise just below the path near the top of the coire. There wasn’t a lot of water coming from the hill so there weren’t any deep pools or fast-flowing falls to fill up from, and there were signs of animals all around, so we decided to fill up straight from the source. This required a bit of digging at the rocks and moss around the spring so that we could get our bottles close enough to fill up. Big gulps up water taken and our bottles refilled, we set off along the grassy ridge towards our target summit.
The ridge was broad and mostly grassy with occasional large areas of shattered rock, one of which featured a tiny stone shelter that we had a quick look inside. The path skirted around a rise and, beyond this, the view to the north west opened up and revealed a huge vista over the Destitution Road towards An Teallach, with the Coigach and Assynt peaks visible to the north.
We reached the summit at 4.20pm - safe to say we hadn’t exactly been setting much of pace today! We had the summit to ourselves and with the heat, no wind whatsoever plus the views, we ended up staying there for 40 minutes. We were camping on the ridge anyway so we didn’t have anywhere to be in a hurry. From our vantage point, we had a good view towards our next couple of Munros. It was now that our thoughts turned to where we would camp that evening. We intended on camping out on a summit and had wanted to make it to Munro number 6 which would have been Sgurr nan Clach Geala. A closer look at the map suggested that this wouldn’t be possible as the summit looked small and craggy. From here, we could see that the summit of Meall a’ Chrasgaidh looked nice and rounded so decided that would be our campsite for the night.
It was 5 o’clock when we set off back along the ridge towards Sgurr Mor. We left the stalkers’ path and headed over the rise that we’d skirted round on the outward journey, aiming directly for Sgurr Mor. A steep pull up had us on the summit at 6pm. At 1110m this is the highest of the Fannich peaks, with good views towards Sgurr nan Clach Geala and the jumble of Torridon peaks beyond. Annoyingly, the lack of wind meant this summit was also swarming with flies and midges so we set off quickly after getting a few photos. On the descent to the col between Sgurr Mor and the Top Carn na Criche, Coire Mor that lay between us and Sgurr nan Clach Geala was filled with the roaring of stags. This was a remote spot, with nobody else around, the sun out, no wind, and the early evening sun starting to cast long shadows over the landscape so we sat for a while just listening to the stags and enjoying the situation we found ourselves in.
As we started the ascent of Carn na Criche, we spotted a tiny lochan (a large puddle would probably be a more accurate description) to our left, so made use of this chance to try and cool ourselves down slightly. I kneeled down beside it and cupped some water in my hands to throw over my head and face, while Aimie wet a t-shirt to wrap around her head Once over Carn na Criche, we crossed the huge bealach and started up the stony slopes of Meall a’ Chrasgaidh, reaching the summit at 7.25pm.
The views of An Teallach from here were even better, being closer now and with no high ground in between. There was even an inversion forming out to sea behind An Teallach and we knew we were in for a good night with this as our view. There was a slight problem, in that the summit area was a lot rockier than it had appeared from our vantage point on Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich when we had decided to camp here. Dropping down a bit from the summit, we managed to find a narrow patch of slightly-sloping grass just about big enough for the tent.
With the tent erected and dinner eaten, we headed back up to the cairn to enjoy the sunset. The surrounding hills were bathed in pink and orange light, with an orange band on the horizon behind An Teallach as the sun dipped lower. It was back at the cairn that we realised we had nothing to charge our electronics. We had a battery pack, but I had just got a new iPhone and brought the wire for that with me, not realising that they had changed the connection on it and it no longer fit the USB port on the power bank. Aimie brought hers but had left it in the car (of course… ). We had both used a lot of battery that day with the amount of photos we had been taking, plus we were using the OS app to navigate so we had to limit the photography from here on in. With the sun now over the horizon, the sky turned a wonderful cobalt blue colour with an intense red band silhouetting the jagged peaks of An Teallach. We wrapped up warm and watched the stars gradually appear as the sky darkened,. We watched satellites on their unrelenting journeys across the sky; shooting stars appear and then burnt out in an instant; the Milky Way visible to the naked eye, arching directly over our heads. We struggled to tear ourselves away from the celestial display, eventually retiring to the tent some time after midnight.
I woke up the next morning at 05.45, just in time to see the sun rising above the hills to the east across the Dirrie More and Loch Glascarnoch. Below us, between our hilltop sleeping quarters and the sunrise, was a thick blanket of cloud with just a few ridges and peaks breaching the inversion. Aimie was still asleep in the tent so I spent a long time myself taking photographs and soaking up the silence while watching the sun begin to turn the surrounding peaks pink. From up at the summit cairn, I could see over the bealach between Sgurr Mor and Sgurr nan Clach Geala (where we were heading next) that the inversion was just as good to the south.
With Aimie awake and my phone full of as many photos as my rapidly-diminishing battery would allow, at 07.00 we broke camp and headed for the 6th Munro of the weekend. The descent was pathless so we headed south to the bealach at the head of Coire Breabaig intending to follow one of the burns marked on the map up to the ridge but managed to pick up a stalkers’ path coming out of the corrie. A steady incline brought us out onto the ridge and revealed what should’ve been a view over Coire Mòr but were instead greeted with a sea of cloud; rippled like waves, with ridges and peaks rising like volcanic islands from the ocean. We were on the summit within an hour of setting off and were treated to expansive views, with Fionn Bheinn to the south poking through the cloud and the giants of Torridon looming large to the west.
We carried on along the ridge which curves east for a bit before it descends to the col at Cadha na Guite. The S-shaped ridge of Sgurr nan Each meandered gracefully before us; the cloud still lapping at its slopes. We stopped at the pass and left our bags for the out-and-back along the ridge. Looking up, we were greeted with our Brocken spectres projected onto the cloud opposite. Another rare meteorological phenomenon to go along with the previous day’s fog bow!
By 9am, we were atop Munro number 7 and decided to stay awhile, soaking up the sun in and, of course, the views. It was hard to leave this idyllic spot once we’d eaten but two further Munros and a gargantuan road walk lay between us and the car so we dragged ourselves away with difficulty and made for the spot we’d left our bags. Munro number 8 - Sgùrr Breac - lay 3km away to the west and would involve a descent of 250m, followed by an ascent of another 450m. This is probably the reason these are done as part of two separate walks!
With our bags on, we started to drop down into the inversion over wet, pathless and uneven ground. The slope was littered with hidden burns and grassy steps which required care when placing our feet. As we dropped further into the cloud, our surroundings seemed to take on a much bleaker feel. Where not long before, we had sun and warmth and light, now everything was wet and cold and grey. Not long before, we could see for miles; now visibility was reduced to metres, and the cloud seemed to muffle all sound, other than that of our footsteps and breathing. This featureless environment had a disorientating effect, as when we reached the floor of the corrie to start the ascent of Sgùrr Breac, I somehow managed to unwittingly turn myself 180 degrees and start heading back up the slope we’d just come down!
Now facing the right direction, we briefly picked up a path marked on the map then veered off on one that wasn’t and began the climb. The path picked its way through craggy ground before becoming more ridge-like as height was gained. With this came flashes of bright blue sky through breaks in the cloud and sunlight once again illuminating the hillside. I was glad to be out of the desolation of the corrie! The ridge flattened out as we neared the summit, with the path passing close to some crags which looked impressive in the shadows cast by the late-morning sun. Cloud lazily spilled over the ridge; like watching Niagra Falls tumbling over the edge in slow motion. At 11.30, a long 2.5 hours since leaving Sgùrr nan Each, we were on the summit of the penultimate Munro of the weekend. Thoughts were already turning to how long the rest of the walk was going to take us, the time it would take us to walk the road section, not to mention the length of the drive back to Glasgow with work the next morning so we were quick to push on.
by wildmountaintimes » Tue May 18, 2021 10:41 pm
With nothing but our walking poles to drag ourselves up as fast as we could, we began the steady climb. I was pushing myself as hard as possible, until my arms and legs burnt from the lactic acid and I was gasping for breath. I turned around to see Aimie was still a tiny speck at the start of the ridge. I guess we won’t be gaining much time after all! I touched the cairn and basically turned straight back around after taking one picture and a video. I passed Aimie and may have told her to hurry up before continuing back down to the bags. Once there, I had some time to pass waiting on Aimie reappearing on the ridge so had some food while I waited. When it was time to go again, we headed off down a path from the bealach that would eventually lead us past Loch Toll an Lochain. What we didn’t realise at the time was that we were on neither of the recommended Walkhighlands descents. Maybe it was due to the almost-dead phone battery that we hadn’t checked the route, but we seem to have just assumed that was the way due to it being a path from a bealach and that it was heading downwards and in the right direction. I slipped on a high, rocky step and let out a shout that must’ve been heard some distance away! Thankfully the large backpack took most of the blow or it could’ve been a painful walk out; it was already looking painful but for other reasons.
The path we had been following continued alongside the loch but gradually got less and less clear, to the point we decided we’’d better use some of the little battery we had left to check where we should be going. It was then that we realised that we were far below the blue line on the map marking our desired route of descent. What we should have done was reascend Toman Còinnich from the bealach and follow the Druim Rèidh ridge which was some 50+ metres above us. We could probably have continued along the route we were on but the going was rough and wet but, with a little bit of pain and extra ascent, we would be on the well-defined ridge which should make for better progress.
We began contouring around the slopes to the nose of the ridge while also ascending to bring us out on the top before striking off to the northeast to follow the stalkers’ path down to Loch a’ Bhraoin. We crossed the bridge over the outflow of the loch at 3.20pm, faced with an 8.5 mile road walk back to the car. We dropped down to the shore of the loch and removed our boots and socks and soaked our battered feet while we contemplated this. We had also run out of water and it was WARM so we got to put the filter to use for the first time - filling up from the moving water of the outflow. We couldn’t face the walk so we began formulating plans to avoid it. We could phone a taxi? We don’t have any battery. We could ask someone to phone us a taxi? We have no money. We could get a taxi to Ullapool, take money out to pay for that taxi and enough to also pay for a taxi back to the car? Too expensive. There was only really one thing for it and that was to don the sweaty socks and boots again and start walking along the A832.
Progress along the verge was slow so we walked on the road until a car or bike or caravan came into view, then it was back onto the verge. At this rate, we were looking at an arrival back in Glasgow some time after midnight. Aimie was behind me, half-heartedly attempting to hitch a lift but this is hard enough at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. After about two miles of this, our luck seemed to be in, as a car pulled over into a lay-by near Corrieshalloch Gorge. A man got out and asked where we were going and THANK GOD he was going the same way. He’d been for a day out on the beach with his two kids who were sat in the back and was on his way back to Dingwall, therefore passing Loch Glascarnoch and our car. On the off-chance you ever read this: thank you for saving us another 6+ miles of torture and sorry for the smell!
by rockhopper » Wed May 19, 2021 12:36 am
Am somewhat envious WR of the month in my book - thanks
by R1ggered » Wed May 19, 2021 2:00 pm
by Bruno » Wed May 19, 2021 2:13 pm
by maxie23 » Thu May 20, 2021 10:18 am
Loved the photos and video .
The swim in the lochan looked fantastic
Heading up that way at the end of May.
I'll maybe stick to shorter walks.
by wildmountaintimes » Mon May 24, 2021 5:28 pm
We definitely lucked out with the conditions. I’m just glad we decided against doing it in the rain like we almost did two weeks before
by jimbell21 » Mon May 24, 2021 8:28 pm
by lowflyer » Sat Jun 05, 2021 9:17 am
- Posts: 11
- Joined: Jul 19, 2018
by Tringa » Sat Jun 05, 2021 12:25 pm
Well done both for the walk and the report.
- Posts: 211
- Joined: Sep 2, 2008
- Location: London
by mrssanta » Wed Jun 16, 2021 9:35 pm
by wildmountaintimes » Tue Jun 29, 2021 3:27 pm
mrssanta wrote:That was brilliant!. Don't want to put a damper on it but I'd always be taking a paper map. They don't run out of battery!
Definitely. We’ve since done our mountain leader training so map and compass has been with us everywhere we’ve been since
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