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The darkest day- nightmare on the Fannichs
by Mountainlove » Thu Sep 12, 2013 2:38 pm
Munros included on this walk: A' Chailleach, Meall a'Chrasgaidh, Sgurr Breac, Sgurr nan Clach Geala, Sgurr nan Each
Date walked: 06/09/2013
Time taken: 14 hours
Distance: 29.4 km
Ascent: 2683m24 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).
I had planned to visit the far north for months and with a fair weather window approaching my plan had been to climb the 9 Fannichs over 2 days, with a wild camp at night. An easy plan, which ended up oh so wrong.
My perfect summer outings have left me lazy. For the walk I had printed out a basic map, not worrying with printing out the most important parts at a larger scale. I had my GPS – what could possibly go wrong?
On the drive up north the night before
I had driven up the night before and wild camped at Intake next to the road. Weirdly the midges had attacked me violently at my car, but a few yards down towards the burn, under a tree surrounded by bracken and heather they seem absent - strange but it suited me well.
I had not been worried about an early rise and when I woke naturally after a good night sleep, I was more than ready to go. For some strange reason it would take me 2h to pack to pack things up and have breakfast.
Early morning fog on the water
Driving to the parking area, I locked my car and walked along the path. It was a lovely day, sunny with some clouds and the path towards the bridge, was heavenly easy. I got to a signpost and a bit confused which way I should go, I dug out the GPS and map.
The boat house
Shortly after, an elderly group of hill walkers caught up with me. I had seen them in the distance and could not believe the speed they walked and caught up with me. Saying hello they had their map and GPS ready to hand and pointed out the right way.
All between 65 and 70s, they put me to shame. Fast walkers they were indeed and struggling with my rather heavy backpack (I had packed seriously warm gear) I would not have been able to overtake them. They were lovely and sharing some stories, we made our way towards the first 2 Munros.
The weather which started out so great, turned and tick rain clouds came in from the south. Soon we were in the clag and short bursts of drizzly rain, made us dig out the waterproofs. I learned that they were on a weeks walking holiday and were part of a walking group founded over 30 years ago in England, which were now over 60 members strong. They had hired a bus and were dropped off and on at various locations, based on their fitness level. One of the members in the group, had only climbed 1 Munro the previous day…age over 65- good on him!!
The rain approaching
When we reached the summit of Sgurr Breac it was time to say good bye. They wished me luck and saying fare well I made my way up to Munro No3.
Part of the group
This is when things started to go wrong.
With the hills now clear out of the clag, as the weather had changed to sunny, I had only briefly checked my GPS, to make sure I was heading in the right direction. A big hill was straight ahead of me and I was more worrying about the height I would loose, than paying any attention to the map…it was there clear in front of me, so what was there to check.
Would you, without checking the map class this as 2 Munros?
I climbed down the steep slope and by the time I reached the valley a crumbled shelter was my resting area and a left walking pole poked in to the grass made me chuckle. High above me was the next Munro and without any paths I decided to head straight up.
The crumbled shelter
With the heavy backpack it was hard going and never ending. When I finally reached the top, I could have kissed the cairn and looking around the views were stunning. I took some pictures and moved along the clear path in a westerly direction.
The top cairn
The views around
This was the most stunning walk so far; as the clouds had cleared and gave views towards steep cliffs. Stopping frequently I took pictures and made my way towards the wee loch at Clach Mhor na Beachdaich at 870m. Digging out the GPS, I waited for the signal and for the first time during the day paid some attention to the map. Looking for the next Munro I was confused. The Munro I was supposed to climb (Nr 4) seemed to be behind me???
How was it possible? Logic answer the GPS must be wrong. Walking around it became soon apparent that the GPS was right. But WTF??? Sitting down with the map and GPS it started to dawn on me – I missed a Munro.
Some not so nice words crossed my lips, but what to do? Should I carry on? Ignore the Munro and do it another time? I checked the map and soon realized that it would be a terrible long way for one Munro. I felt like crying, but there was no way around it – I had to turn back…it was the most sensible thing to do.
Looking towards Meall a Chrasgaidh
As the heavy backpack would only slow me down, I decided to ditch my bag on a big, easy to see rock. I don’t know what made me mark the spot on my GPS- but it would save my life later. With no heavy burden to carry, I sprinted back to the top of Sgurr nan Ciach Geala for the second time. Standing at the top yet again I realized that I had been careless and left my mobile in my bag, but there was no way I would go back to retrieve it. I just had to be careful!
Towards Sgurr nan Each
Walking carefully I moved past the top and made my way down and up Sgurr nan Each. Cursing my own stupidity – it would have been so much easier climbing this top first (Argh) I reached the summit, Stopping only briefly I turned around to climb Sgurr nan Ciach Geala for the third time that day
Looking towards Loch Fannich
Looking around the sun had started to set and dark clouds approached from the north. By the time I reached the top (Groundhog Day) the visibility was gone –scary! Not lingering I moved along. Looking down the slope, were less than 2h ago the bag has been clearly visible, the ground was covered in clag. The relive that I had tagged my backpack was great, but I wanted to test myself to see if I could find it without the GPS. Walking down the path I walked and walked and, but the bag was no were to be seen. Scary!
Walking around I switched the GPS on and only with the help of it, I managed to relocate the bag much further up the hill than I had thought I had left it. Shouldering my bag (I was so relieved) I realized that with the thick cloud and darkness approaching I was better to stay put were I was. Moving down to the wee loch I looked for a flattish area and put up the tent.
Having stopped walking, my body cooled down rapidly and shivering and tired I crawled into my sleeping bag. The temperature was 5C. Even though food was not on my mind, I forced myself to boil some hot water, but during the process the wind picked up and threw the stove over. The remaining fuel table only managed to heat the water to a luke warm temperature and opening the instant noodle pack I had brought along, I realized that the seasoning was missing. Half cooked, luke warm noodles without any flavour are rotten and without any motivation to even brush my teeth I tried to sleep.
Unfortunately nature had other ideas. Strong winds and rain started to batter my wee single tent. The side of the tent bulged inside and out. Having never tested that tent in similar conditions, I was anxious, but it stood up bravely and kept me dryish. Waking up frequently through out the night, it was one of the worst nights I had camping and when I woke up to the sound of rain during the next morning I felt really really tired.
My wee tent
A look outside revealed that I was still in a thick and wet cloud. I got dressed inside my sleeping bag (not easy, but I wanted to keep warm), packed my bag and without any kind of washing or brushing teeth (I was beyond caring) I looked around. Visibility was down to 20 yards. Digging my GPS out I realized it was flat, as over the joy of finding my bag, I had forgotten to switch it off over night. Getting my compass and map, I realized that the map had suffered water damage and the print had started to wash out and the remaining sheet of paper was now 4 bits of papery mush which was falling to bits. I cursed and had to make a decision…should I walk on without a map in thick clag, or give up and head back.
It was a hard decision to make, but with no mobile signal to check the weather (last time I had checked it was supposed to be dry all morning and showers through out the afternoon) I decided that it would be a sensible thing to climb one more Munro (I was so close) and return to the car. Checking what was left of my map, I could just make out a grassy gentle slope towards the left hand side of the mountain and decided to use it as a way to get back to my car.
Things can go worse.
Lack of sleep, breakfast or water (could not even be bothered with it) clouded my brain and I made the worst possible mistake. I climbed up Meall a Chrasgaidh and on my return I turned left. My over tired brain did not make the easy consumption that on my return left would be right. Walking down the slope in the thick clag, I did not realize my mistake…but was confused how steep the slope was. By the time I reached rocky outcrop I was even more confused…this was not on the map. Inching my way down the wet slope, I was on the way down the boggiest hillside I have ever encounted.
The worst waterlogged ground ever!
Tired, wet and fed up
Cliffs were everywhere and walking zickzack along the side of the mountain I tried to find a way down. It was horrendous, ankle deep in a waterlogged ground and the only happy thought left was the fact that I was getting down.
When I reached another outcrop I had a rest. Looking down and saw the most stunning dragonfly covered in water droplets.
It was the first time I smiled that day.
Finally after a terrible climb down, I reached the ground and thinking it could not get any worse I saw a loch. A loch? From what I could remember there had not been a loch on the map. Digging out what was left of the map, I realized I was on the wrong side of the mountain.
I seriously started to hate myself by that time- this was beyond stupid. I now had to walk even further, but with compass bearing of 320C I trotted along. Walking through waterlogged ground over endless moor was not as bad as I had thought. I made progress. Getting further down the clouds also allowed brief glimpses in the distance and when I saw the road I was so happy – finally I was on track and saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
My map before it fell apart completely
On a loch
Walk along the burn...the one I had to cross was half the size
The last obstacle was to cross a burn on my way to the bridge. While taken off shoes and socks I was attacked my midges, but managed to get over to the other side. The path at the start of the bridge never looked so good.
4h after setting off in the morning I arrived at the car by lunchtime and was greeted by a group of people with the word…’ Oh short day today?’
Through gritted teeth I answered…’No I left yesterday’, which was answered with a 'Oh'.
Sitting down in my car was such a relieve and my first stop, dirty and smelly as I was, was the supermarket in Ullapool for some much needed fresh food.
by Backpacker » Thu Sep 12, 2013 3:02 pm
I'm convinced you're a bit nuts but I'm wanting to try something similar next year
by SAVAGEALICE » Thu Sep 12, 2013 3:25 pm
by LeithySuburbs » Thu Sep 12, 2013 3:37 pm
by basscadet » Thu Sep 12, 2013 3:54 pm
I do think the Fannaichs are a cruel set of hills though.. Only been twice, both times I have had some kind of catastrophe..
by mountainstar » Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:01 pm
Love the soggy map photo
by dogplodder » Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:07 pm
Pity you couldn't have got through that plantation to the road at the end of your weary trek.
And what a good thing you'd taken a fix on your bag!
by scoob999 » Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:39 pm
One thing though, when you get lost do extra hills like me! not the same one 3 times
P.S buy a laminator it'll keep your map in one piece I dare say you'll be dying to get back and get them finished now
by litljortindan » Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:47 pm
by riverlodge » Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:51 pm
mountainstar wrote:Mistakes like that happen to most of us, even if most of us would not admit to it...
by The Rodmiester » Thu Sep 12, 2013 5:04 pm
by scottishkennyg » Thu Sep 12, 2013 7:01 pm
by Tomsie » Thu Sep 12, 2013 7:10 pm
Look forward to your return report
by Essan » Thu Sep 12, 2013 8:03 pm
I do wonder whether you might have done better using just a (proper OS) map instead of relying on an electronic device? But that's just me being old fashioned (I've never used a GPS and therefore always know where I am, rather than where a machine says I should be - and OS maps have never in my experience disintigrated on the hill, although the have been known to be blown away ....)
With a tent etc I don't think you were ever in danger - so just a good old fashioned epic. I know the feeling when you finally see the road!
A good tale
by tomyboy73 » Thu Sep 12, 2013 8:50 pm