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Fisherfield 6 - many midges and a late escape.

Fisherfield 6 - many midges and a late escape.

Postby mproudfoot » Mon Sep 06, 2021 4:51 pm

Route description: Fisherfield 6, from Shenavall

Munros included on this walk: A' Mhaighdean, Beinn Tarsuinn, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Ruadh Stac Mòr, Sgùrr Bàn

Corbetts included on this walk: Beinn a' Chlaidheimh

Date walked: 04/09/2021

Time taken: 13 hours

Distance: 30.84 km

Ascent: 2310m

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I do apologize in advance for the length of this report - it's not a quick read, so if you're reading it on the porcelain throne, make sure to get up before your legs go numb :lol:

Having started ticking off munros back in 2014 after my wife had signed us both up for a charity Kilimanjaro ascent, and with a 3-year hiatus after 3 years living in the very flat American midwest, it was only after around 150 munros that I realised that I had really gone about it the wrong way. Making the mistake that many make, of focusing largely on the easier and closer (to home) munros, I started noticing that most of those remaining were the more technical, remote or physically challenging munros. So, perhaps a little late, I changed tack and started focusing on those further north, as well as the the more scramble-orientated ones such as An Teallach and most of the black Cuillin.

In the back of mind however, I knew that tackling the Fisherfield munros was always going to be one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest. Firstly, I'm not a massive fan of wild camping - even when camping in a campsite, I rarely sleep, and I was not enthusiastic with the idea of carrying camping gear from Corrie Hallie over to Strath na Sealga, pitching up and trying to sleep before a big mountain day, then returning and trying to sleep a second night in the same place.

I had thought about splitting the six up - maybe tackling the Eastern 4 (I never considered missing Beinn a' Chlaidheimh - it's a magnificent mountain and you never know, maybe one day it'll be re-measured and promoted again) in a shorter trip in and out from Corrie Hallie or Kinlochewe, and the Western two from Poolewe, and that's the way I was leaning. At least it was until the last weekend of September 2021, when my mountain buddy John and I took on a full An Teallach traverse, including the pinnacles, both munros and all 7 tops. For that entire, there was an inversion in every direction as far as the eye could see, and looking south into The Great Wilderness, I made the decision that I would just go and do the whole round of six the following weekend (weather permitting of course) - as my usual hill-homies all had plans made already, it would be a solo affair, which was ok with me - I find the longer walks are sometimes better solo, being able to set your own pace, stop where you like, and how long you like, without having to consider anyone else.

Beinn a' Chlaidheimh rising out of the cloud, with most of the Fisherfield munros behind it.

I packed up work early on the Friday afternoon - it had been a week of mixed hours - some early starts, some late finishes, but the flexibility allows for the occasional early Friday finish, and as I had packed the car the night before (apart from the food/drinks in the fridge), I was out the door by 2pm. The drive from Helensburgh to Corrie Hallie should be around 4-4.5 hours depending on traffic - but the A82 was pretty terrible all the way up (in hindsight, I should have taken the Stirling straights and gone up the A9 and joined the A835 past Inverness). I won't get into a debate about campers and motorhomes here but I had all kinds of legislation ideas about banning anything bigger than a VW transporter in my head as I sat behind the 8th lumbering white road whale in a row as I crawled my way up to Fort William, then up to Drumnadrochit where I left the A82 and heading up the back roads to join the A835 just before Contin (or "Kickyer" as those of us with a childish sense of humour sometimes call it). It was just past 7pm by the time I got to the large layby at Corrie Hallie, and I wasted no time - boots on, pack hoisted onto my back, car locked and I was away up the track through Glen Chaorachain in a race against the fading light. Though cloudy, it was still fairly warm and by the time I had reached the ford at the top of the forest, I was already a sweaty mess - not a great start! A cairn at or near the highest point of the walk-in (a little over 400m) was reached just beyond the point at which we had turned off the main path for An Teallach's Sail Liath the weekend before. At that point, I pulled the head torch out, and doused myself in Smidge. There was a very faint breeze at that height, but not enough to deter the little biters, so I knew I was in for some serious midge-time down in Strath na Sealga.

I had decided not to camp at Shenavall as every bothy I had visited previously was usually full, and I liked the idea of experiencing the remoteness of the area without the sound of other people during the evening/night/morning. So I kept to the main path down into Strath na Sealga instead of the path down to the Bothy. It's a good track and after around 1hr 45mins, over 5 miles and around 350m of ascent (and maybe a little less than that in descent down into Strath na Sealga), I arrived at the section of track where the WH Fisherfield route leaves the track to cross the river and head up Beinn a' Chlaidheimh. Head torch on at this point, I continued on along the track a few hundred feet and found what appeared to be a good camping spot between the track and river, just before reaching the alder woods.

At this point it was pretty dark, I was damp through with sweat and I just pulled my tent off my pack and started putting it up. I had actually brought my heavier 2-man Vango tent which I use for car camping - heavier by almost 2kg than the 1kg bivvy tent that I had brought back from the US, but I can put this tent up in under 5 minutes and it's fairly roomy for 1-person, so I considered it worth the extra weight. However, within seconds of me throwing the tent down onto the grass to start pitching, I was surrounded in what must have been the most extreme cloud of midges I've ever encountered - and I've encountered a lot of them! It was crazy! Fortunately the head net and smidge kept them off me but they were so bad that I could barely see what I was doing through the thick swarm of insects. I put the tent up as quickly as I could, threw my pack inside, then myself, and zipped up. Now it just me.. and what appeared to be a few hundred midges.. inside the tent. Great :problem:

Cue a fairly restless night - as I mentioned earlier in this report, I generally don't sleep well when camping, and between the midges, temperature management (in/out/in/out of the sleeping bag) and thinking about the next day, I'd be surprised if my eyes closed for more than an hour. I had taken my Kindle as a luxury item so started re-reading James Clavell's Shogun in the hope that i would start drifting off but no joy - so I covered many chapters of that.

I had set my alarm for 4:45am with the intention of waking up, eating some breakfast, checking over my pack, and setting off by 5:15am - I had a stove and a meal pack, but with a vast cloud of midges just visible in torchlight at the entrance to the tent, I gave up any thoughts of cooking, and ate a very dry Morrison's chicken sandwich, and half a liter of pineapple juice. I had some kind of falafel lunch wrap, a banana and several snack bars in my pack, as well as a 2L water bladder filled with Strawberry Volvic (I hate unflavoured water) and another 2L of Lucozade.

Smidged up, I exited the tent, and was immediately swarmed - and what was worse was that a few hundred more seemed to get inside the tent during the 20 seconds it took me to get out and zip it back up. Well, that's something to look forward to later! I moved rapidly away from ground zero and used my head torch to pick my way over to the main track, and then the faint grassy path that took me to the first of three of the day's river crossings. Fortunately as we'd been having a fairly long fry spell, I was able to cross without removing my boots. Just as well really, the rocks in the river were pretty slimy and not particularly barefoot-friendly.

The ascent up the Eastern slopes of Beinn a' Chlaidheimh was a little rough - heather-bashing in torchlight whilst not being able to stop for fear of being swarmed, with sweat already starting to drip of my forehead was not how I hoped to start the day, but that's the way it was, so I put got my head down and put one foot in front of the other. Those first few hundred metres of ascent were probably the hardest of the day (perhaps easier from Shenavall after a bit of a warm-up walk to the start of the ascent), but as I crested the initial section onto a flatter area at around 400m, it was light enough that I could turn the head torch off. I was also able to see ahead now, and above 500m, it looked pretty steep!

Starting to get light, and looking ahead to the steeper part of the ascent up Beinn a' Chlaidheimh

I made my way up through some more heather, some rocks, and found myself on a faint path at around 650m up. I followed that path up and reached the summit ridge just under 900m after around 2hours of leaving the tent. That seemed like a long time just to cover about 800m of ascent with little distance, but I did recall reading other trip reports showing a few hours to get up this one, so I wasn't concerned about my pace - it was more about just making sure I reserved enough energy for the rest of the day.

Summit ridge on Beinn a' Chlaidheimh

At around 7:45am, I reached the summit of this impressive corbett and was able to look around and get a sense of the scale of these mountains. Even with some of the surrounding mountains covered in cloud, and a lot of haze, the views in all directions were stunning.

Looking over to the impressive looking Beinn Dearg Mor from the summit ridge Beinn a' Chlaidheimh

I'd actually argue that the most impressive looking mountains in the Fisherfields area are the corbetts with Beinn a' Chlaidheimh looking mighty from most angles and Beinn Dearg Mor towering over Gleann na Muice to the West.

After a brief stop for a drink, a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer, and some photos, I moved on. Ahead I could see the first munro of the day, Sgùrr Bàn across what appeared to be a fairly high bealach between the two. With the fairly shallow ascent profile from the lochan, it looked like that the ascent up Sgùrr Bàn was going to be significantly more pleasant than the Eastern slopes of Beinn a' Chlaidheimh had been.

Sgùrr Bàn from Beinn a' Chlaidheimh, with the highest munro on the route, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, poking out to the left, and Beinn Tarsuinn to the right.

As expected, the ascent was fine - I'd read a lot about a slog up the boulders, but for the most part, underfoot conditions were solid - almost like walking up uneven steps, so aside from careful foot placement, there was no drama. I passed a large cairn about half way up, which I later realised was the howf - I hadn't even noticed the "door" as I passed!

Most of the way up Sgùrr Bàn, with the howff barely visible as a wee dot almost directly centre of the image.

One tip for the ascent up Sgùrr Bàn - don't look up, it just makes it seem like the summit is further away than it actually is. Also, don't break an ankle here.. I imagine it could be fairly inconvenient.

I also spotted a mountain hare pelting along the boulders up here - too fast for my camera, but I did snap a few ptarmigans on the way up.

Some ptarmigans (is the plural 'ptarmigan' or 'ptarmigans' ?)

A brief stop on the clag-covered summit for a banana and a few good gulps of water, and I was on my way again.

As I started the descent off Sgùrr Bàn, the next target - the amusingly named Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair (listen to the pronunciation and meaning on the Walkhighland page for this munro), also the highest mountain on this round of six, appeared ahead out of the clag. I struggled to see the ascent route - I could see what appear to be a path winding it's way up the scree but it looked so steep as to be impossible as a walking path - it actually was the route though.

Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair from the descent route off Sgùrr Bàn - you can make out the ascent path as the light-coloured scar going straight up - turned out to be not as bad as it looked.

Fortunately, as most ascent reports confirm, it's not as bad as it appears - the eroded dusty path zig zags up, and it's undoubtedly the quickest descent and re-ascent on the entire round of six.

Looking past Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, over to a cloud-covered Beinn Tarsuinn

A quick summit selfie on the top, and then I moved on.

Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair summit selfie

The descent down from Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair to the bealach was done mostly in the clag for the first 100m of descent, and it's a slow descent, taking place on a ridge of loose rocks and boulders. As the stony section gave way to more grassy steep slopes, a dusty path took me down to the bealach between Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and Meall Garbh. I was happy to take the bypass path, skirting the imposing Meall Garbh over to the start of the grassy ascent up Beinn Tarsuinn.

The actual ascent up to fourth summit/third munro of the day was fairly uneventful - a grassy plod really, but as the clag had lifted, I was treated with some great views back over to the three I had already summited earlier.

Looking back at Beinn a' Chlaidheimh, Beinn Dearg Mor and Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair from Beinn Tarsuinn

I had spotted another person ahead on ascent up Beinn Tarsuinn, and when I reached the top, I spoke briefly to the chap who had come up from his campsite by Lochan Fada - the route in from Kinlochewe I had considered briefly. He mentioned that he was planning to do this munro and Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, (edit - turns out is was coop and he'd already done Sgùrr Bàn before - nice to meet another WHer). And while we were talking, another man came up from the other direction - he had just came in this morning from Poolewe, starting with Sgurr Ruadh Mor! During the day, I met a few other people and it seemed like everyone was tackling these mountains in a completely different way - some from Shenevall clockwise, some anti-clockwise, some from Poolewe, Kinlochewe, some who had camped up high partway through the route and, lower down, even some folks passing through on the Cape Wrath Trail. This place is very remote, and not somewhere you're likely to encounter casual walkers, but there were still a good number of keen hikers and hill-walkers around.

The ascent up the Eastern grassy slopes of Tarsuinn kept it's more interesting side from view, and from the summit, I was able to see it's impressive Western ridge snaking out, including the odd flat area nicknamed the "tennis court", and the pinnacles beyond.

Looking over the western ridge of Beinn Tarsuinn from it's summit. You can see the peculiar "tennis court" to the left - a good place for a high camp if so inclined.

The "tennis court" is more interesting from a slight distance than up close - if I were looking to camp high on this route, this is where I'd do it - high enough to deter most midges (at least with any kind of breeze), and flat enough to find a few good spots to pitch up.

The "tennis court" on Beinn Tarsuinn

From the Beinn Tarsuinn "tennis court", looking North directly over Gleann na Muice with the other Fisherfield mountains on either side, and An Teallach rising up in the distance.

I climbed down the steep path from this flat section, onto the main ridge. From here, it's possible to take a direct line up to the pinnacles for a bit of scrambling fun, and if this were not part of such a long day, I'd have considered it for sure. However, I was focused with what lay ahead - the big drop down into a peat bog, and long re-ascent up A' Mhaighdean (nicknamed Armageddon), so I took the bypass path that runs under the pinnacles.

The path down from the ridge into the peat bog that forms the low bealach between Beinn Tarsuinn and A' Mhaighdean is steep. Like really steep.. it zig zags but so rapidly that each "zig" and "zag" is barely a few steps, and the dry dusty surface resulted in some slips, though nothing especially dramatic. Once down off the descent, the path disappeared into the bog, so I made my way slowly over to A' Mhaighdean, trying to avoid the worst of the wet sections as my elevation dropped to just under 520m. The aforementioned recent dry spell made this part tolerable, but it was a fairly unpleasant section - the breeze that had accompanied me for most of the walk above 400m so far, seemed to stop here, and a humid sweat started as I walked over the boggy ground with midges and keds buzzing around me.

At the bottom of the Beinn Tarsuinn descent onto the low bealach and a lot of peat bog between here and the start back up A' Mhaighdean

Up to this point, I had committed to having some lunch here on the low bealach before the assault on A' Mhaighdean, but I had no desire to stop on the bog, so I kept pushing onwards and upwards - until around 780m, where I reached a section with some large boulders strewn around. I used one of these boulders to have a well earned sit down, and broke out the lunch wrap, a bar of Ritter's finest hazelnut chocolate, and nearly half a litre of lucozade. Fifteen minutes later, and feeling somewhat refreshed, I got back on my feet and headed up the final 190m of grassy ascent to the summit.

The views from A' Mhaighdean are much lauded, and rightly so - the views across Fionn Loch to Loch Ewe, over to Letterewe, and back the way I had came were amazing, dulled only slightly by the haze over the surrounding hills. I had another wee seat up here and took in the views.

Looking over Lochan Fada to Beinn Lair from the summit of A' Mhaighdean

From A' Mhaighdean's summit - looking NW over Fionn Loch out to Loch Ewe.

It felt like a huge achievement to get this far, though with one munro still to go followed by the long walk back to the tent, I was not celebrating quite yet. So after a quick photo stop, I headed on towards the final mountain of the day. Looking over to the next target, Ruadh Stac Mor looked fairly intimidating - a big drop, a steep face, and boulder scree.

Ruadh Stac Mor - you can see the line of ascent, but as with Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, it's nowhere near as bad as it looks

However, it really wasn't that tough, although by now I was definitely slowing down. I reached the summit at just before 3pm - almost ten hours since leaving the tent. I started down NW heading between two lochans - another slow descent owing to loose rocky terrain, although by the time I had picked up another path between the lochans, I had already dropped around 300m of height. From there however, the going got a little rougher with disappearing paths, long grass, more bog, and a dwindling breeze.

Eventually after contouring around the base of Ruadh Stac Beag, I hit the path that took me down into Gleann Muice Beag which was a treat for the feet.. back on stable terrain! My pace picked up a little here but I can tell you that the path out to Gleann Muice seems like it goes on forever. At least I had views over to the steep Western flanks of Beinn a' Chlaidheimh, now being splashed with sunlight.

Emerging into Gleann Muice, Beinn a' Chlaidheimh fills the view.

The remaining walk back to the tent seemed just as long - first along the banks of the Abhainn Gleann na Muice, a pleasant trail with the sounds of running water, flanked by my favourite trees, Caledonian pines.

A river, a caledonian pine, and some mountains. What more could you want?

Just before reaching the bothy at Larachantivore, I found an easy crossing across the river onto the east bank and took the faint path across the bog in a direct line towards Shenavall. Again, this was nowhere nearly as bad as advertised, due to the previous dry week, so I made it across unscathed. The final river crossing was also fairly undramatic, although I did head a little East from the crossing beneath Shenavall. This put me on the wrong side of yet another bog between the river and the track back to the alder woods and my tent. Unfortunately, I underestimated this bog and ended up with both legs up to mid-calf in a deep section of bog and actually had troubler getting one of my feet back out! So after all that, just 2 miles from my tent, I ended up with wet feet and boots/trousers covered in bog slime after all. And to add further to my misery, there wasn't a breath of wind back down here, so the midges were back out in force - latching onto my hands and face as I walked (I was too tired to take my pack off to get the Smidge/net out).

That wasn't the last of the drama though. I got back to the tent at just after 6pm, where there was still a fairly decent cloud of midges outside and walked past it to the river to clean off my boots, then headed back to the tent unzipped the door and crashed down onto my sleeping mat. Another large number of the annoying wee buggers had come into the tent with me, joining those that had come in during the previous night and earlier that morning. So after lying there for 20mins, then changing my socks, I made the decision that I simply could not spend another night there. As tired as I was, i preferred the option of walking back out to Corrie Hallie, rather than another restless night with the bugs. So I packed up in around 10mins and got the hell out of dodge.

The two-hour walk out took me three hours - the ascent back up to the cairn after the Sial Liath path with the loaded pack was not my favourite part of the day, but I felt good about my decision, and with the headtorch lighting my way, I eventually got back to Corrie Hallie - I've never felt so happy to see my car!

As soon as I got to the car, I threw the pack into the boot, got into the back seat and changed into clean clothes. I tried having a nap at this point, but i was getting calf cramps and the post-workout shakes, so dug the Kindle out, and drank lots of the sugary juice stored in the car whilst I read. I ended up setting off for home just before 2am and got home around 6am and straight to bed!

I found it to be a tough day - not even including the walk-in/out on either side - and in particular due to the midges down low, but it was an incredible experience. It felt far more like an adventure than a typical munro walk, and despite the midges, the tired legs and the hot spots/blisters on my feet, I feel fortunate to have experienced it.

Just don't ask me to do it again - especially in midge season!

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Last edited by mproudfoot on Tue Sep 07, 2021 11:53 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Fisherfield 6 - many midges and a late escape.

Postby Coop » Mon Sep 06, 2021 8:15 pm

Great report and well in pal, you took my pic with my flag on Beinn Tarsuinn.
I had already done Sgurr Ban , so it was only mullach coire mhic fhearchair after I left you.
I ended up walking back out and doing Maoile lunndaith on Sunday- another long day !!
Well in again pal
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Re: Fisherfield 6 - many midges and a late escape.

Postby Robert Haynes » Wed Sep 08, 2021 3:29 pm

Had to do a double check on your dates, as I did the short walk into Shenavall and back to Corrie Vallie on the 31st of August, and someone had left their tent in roughly the location you describe as your campsite.

From the north side of Strath na Sealga the Corbetts are exceptionally imposing, and really don't give anything up to their taller neighbours. The north-facing corrie of Beinn Dearg Mor really gives it the look of a smaller version of An Teallach - and you don't need the clouds to be as high to get the full effect!

I probably wouldn't be inclined to skip Beinn a'Chlaidheimh either, it's surely deserving of 'honorary' Munro status. Given the rate of isostatic rebound in northwest Scotland, it may get its title back in a few hundred years!
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Re: Fisherfield 6 - many midges and a late escape.

Postby baggervance » Wed Sep 08, 2021 9:11 pm

Great report. This was my favourite walk of all the Munro’s. Like you I hate camping so I decided to do it in one hit from Corrie Halle. Left the car at 3.20am and arrived back at 8.00pm with only the walk from the top of the bealach back to the car in the rain. The weather up until then had been great and even the rain couldn’t dampen the feeling of completing a marathon adventure. To be fair I did skip the Corbett and cut down to the river when I got to the bealach between it and Sgurr Ban.

Well done - not long to completion

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