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Oh Fadha Where Art Thou?

Oh Fadha Where Art Thou?

Postby BobMcBob » Sun Apr 05, 2015 1:17 pm

Munros included on this walk: Beinn Fhada

Date walked: 25/06/2012

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 15 km

Ascent: 1309m

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I hope it's OK to write a report on a walk I did nearly 3 years ago. I was clearing out some folders on the hard drive and found this, fully written but never submitted. So here it is..

Attempt Number 1 : 23rd June 2012

I always like coming to a new area for the first time, because I like exploring. I like that feeling of getting to know somewhere - the way unfamiliar features become passing acquaintances and eventually old friends. And there's no better way to get to know an area than to explore it on foot and get a look at it from high up.
I've never been to Kintail before, other than to drive through it on my way to Skye, so when I parked up at the campsite in Morvich I was excited and expectant. And out of the van window I could see this

which immediately got me excited. A nice nobbly ridge, and me a big fan of nobbly bits, well I needed to go and explore.

Although the best way to explore somewhere is on foot, in these modern days of interwebs, toplap computers, and strange wireless witchcraft, the less adventurous (and lazier) part of my character likes to let my fingers do some walking first. I find this helps to make sure you do actually get to explore the interesting nobbly ridge, and not some other less interesting and not nobbly ridge. So with the aid of a map and a compass and WalkHighlands I found out that the ridge I could see was the south ridge of Beinn Fadha and is best used in descent from that summit, otherwise the interesting nobbly bit becomes a very nasty falling-offy bit. Right then. Just need some nice weather now.

The next day was nice when it started. The forecast said that the cloud would come in later on, so displaying my usual total lack of forethought I had a nice long lie in and set off at about 11am. The path towards Beinn Fadha begins as the path towards the Falls of Glomach, so if the weather wasn't great I could abort plan A (nobbly ridge) and switch to plan B (splashy gorge). Let's go exploring!

To be honest, the first part didn't feel a lot like an exploration. There was some evidence that others had been here before me.



The last photo marks the point at which I had to choose plan A or plan B. I chose plan A. This would turn out to be either a brave and adventurous decision or a foolish mistake, depending on your point of view.

As I wandered along the extremely well made path my mind wandered elsewhere. I was thinking about exploration and this led to explorers - Shackleton, Scott ….. Kirk. Would I end up beating a ridiculously dangerous retreat, dying in the snow, or snogging a blue woman in a spangly bikini? (Hint: it's one of those, and it wasn't cold enough for snow or hot enough for bikinis. Also, bikinis don't suit me). Meanwhile, the path remained very good. Very good indeed. In terms of exploration this was more like a walk down an unfamiliar high street. It carried on, gaining height steadily, and views began to open up before me.

That rounded peak is called Meall a' Bhealaich. Remember that name and the rugged, steep face on the north (left-hand) side because it's going to play a big part in this story very soon.

The path carried on and shortly I arrived at a cairn where one path went left up towards a pass and the other went right. I was pretty sure I needed the right-hand path but decided on a map check just to be sure. It probably won't surprise anyone here that it's very difficult to find Beinn Fadha on OS Landranger sheet 435, since that's a map of An Teallach and Slioch. Done that wrong then. Ahh well, there's a good path and I do have a 1:50,000 map on ViewRanger on the phone. I'll be fine. As it turned out, having no map would have made the day a lot less dangerous.

In Coire an Sgairne I met the only people I saw all day. A couple with a dog, and another chap, were chatting together. I said hello but carried on walking up to the bealach. As I arrived up there, very suddenly, the clag came in. Within seconds the nobbly ridge and the way to the summit had disappeared from view. I'd already read that the summit is a big plateau where navigation in mist can be difficult. And here I was with no map. In any case, I didn't want to go up there and get no views and nor did I want to tackle the nobbly bits in the mist. So I sat down and waited. The other three arrived and the chap on his own happily disappeared into the cloud, which swallowed him within a few paces. The other couple decided to turn back.
"Take care," said the woman, "Don't take any risks."
"Oh no, I won't", I said, lying to both of us.

I wandered down out of the wind and dug around in my rucksack for sandwiches and waterproofs. I also found the correct map, stuffed down the bottom. Before the cloud had dropped I'd had a glimpse down into the valley on the other side and it looked inviting. I could see a way down on the map, just needed to go back to that pass I saw earlier. All that stood between me and there was the aforementioned Meall a'Bhealaich and the map suggested, at least to my eyes, that I could go over the top of that, shimmy down a crag or two, wiggle right a bit, and be there in minutes. I set off quickly as the cloud was getting thicker, and made Meall a'Bhealaich in good time. Map check, careful compass check, and then set off. Visibility was now about 2 feet. Sometimes I could barely see my own boots. I walked carefully downwards, following only the needle of the compass, when some extra sense made me stop. I bet we've all had it, the feeling that there's... nothing... in front of you. Sounds change, or maybe we can sense space beneath us. I could see nothing but cloud, but the cloud directly in front of my feet looked..whiter. I picked up a small stone and tossed it in front of me. It disappeared without a sound. I had to get down on all fours to check but yes, this was definitely that first crag on the map, and one more step would have taken me over the edge of it. OK, now I was getting scared. I should have turned back, I knew that, but a stubborn part of me wanted to go play on the rocks. I pondered for a minute or two and then the cloud thinned a little and I could see a way down so I went for it. It wasn't the most pleasant scramble I've ever done. In fact it was downright dangerous, slithering and grabbing hold of grass, moss, and bits of rock that broke off in my fingers but somehow I made it down in one piece. The plan from here was to jiggle right a bit, but from where I was now standing it was obvious that wasn't going to happen. A buttress of sheer, wet rock blocked that route. Going left took me to a sheer drop. Going forward took me to a slightly less sheer drop, and I knew going backwards was crazy. Round about this time several phrases started going through my mind. Most of them had the word 'stupid' in them, all of them contained expletives. Most of them were directed at me. Forwards it had to be. If the first crag had been dangerous, then the second one was almost suicidal. I part climbed, part slithered, and part fell down it, picking my way down little cracks and across narrow ledges on wobbly scared knees. Thinking back I'm actually quite chuffed I managed to climb down it, but that's completely overridden by the fact I'm really cross at being stupid enough to have had to do it in the first place.
At the bottom I looked back up at it but I couldn't even see it. I'd had enough for one day now, all thoughts of going over the pass had completely left my mind. I went back to the campsite, showered, and then biked to the Kintail Lodge Hotel where I had a nice big meal and calmed my nerves with several beers and a few drams of a particularly excellent Balvenie Single Barrel.
The next day the only walk I did was to the campsite shop for paracetamol. But the next day...

Attempt Number 2 : 25th June 2012

Here's what the path up through the valley looks like in nice weather.

Meall a'Bhealiach didn't look half as scary with the sun on it. Even so, I didn't want to go and look close up. It was a gorgeous day and I had a score to settle with Beinn Fadha. I made it to Coire an Sgairne easily and it looked a lot prettier than it had 2 days before.

I was pushing hard, keen to finally make the summit, and I carried on up to the bealach where I'd waited on my last visit, turned right, and started the final push to the summit. It was a slog if I'm honest. Once onto the plateau it wasn't too steep but the ground was energy sapping and it was just relentless. It was a case of just following a compass bearing, putting my head down, and getting there. But once there.. oh my.
I'm fascinated by the way every region of the Highlands has its own distinct and unique character. From a pure walking point of view I prefer the massive ruggedness of Wester Ross or the knife-edge excitement of Skye. But for sheer verdant photogenic beauty I've yet to see anything that matches Kintail. I was tired when I made it to the cairn but that didn't matter as I was happy to just rest and take it all in.
View from the summit looking NW down the ridge to come

The best views were to the south...

... but the ones to the north weren't bad either. This is the valley I was heading for on my aborted descent 2 days before.

Fantastic views down into Gleann Lichd and all along the Five Sisters ridge




And so, after a lunch, I headed off across the plateau toward the ridge. And what a ridge it was.

It was pretty hard work though. I'd pushed too hard on the way up to the summit and my legs were tired. Down, up, down, up, down up. Not that I should have been surprised. I had, after all, done this entire walk on the basis that it had a nobbly ridge on it. But right then I could have done with it being slightly less nobbly. However the views were still captivating.
Towards Morvich and Loch Duich


Down, up, down, up

Back towards the summit

Favourite view of the day. The Forcan ridge behind one of the Five Sisters

The one really scrambly bit was a little over halfway along. It wasn't exposed or technical but it was pretty slippery.
Scrambly bit.

It was hard work but the views were stupendous throughout

So verdant

I dropped off the end of Beinn Bhuide and found my way around some fences back to the path. It had been a spectacular day. I've read that Beinn Fadha is not a popular walk because its summit isn't very interesting. But the views from that summit, and adding the ridge on as a descent route made this a walk I'll long remember.

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Re: Oh Fadha Where Art Thou?

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Apr 05, 2015 11:33 pm

Great report, and some great pics. The ridge and the sisters are on this year's list, having done the South Ridge with the Saddle and Sgurr a Signe last year, and seen these alluring hills in the distance.

Your travails in the clag sound seriously dangerous - you did well to get down without any injury :shock: . Really dense clag - with a few metres or less - is very scary for all the reasons you describe.
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Re: Oh Fadha Where Art Thou?

Postby Highart13 » Sat Apr 11, 2015 8:29 am

Laughed out loud at some parts of this report, and fantastic images too :clap: :lol:
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Re: Oh Fadha Where Art Thou?

Postby simon-b » Sat Apr 11, 2015 9:15 pm

A bit of a story there, Bob. That descent on the first day sounds well intense. I've had white out in winter, but don't think I've yet experienced such thick mist in summer. The ridge sounds excellent. I did Beinn Fhada myself that year, two months after you. The nobbly ridge looks very familiar; I could see it from a place at which I've stayed in Kintail twice. A great area. As I added A' Ghlas-bheinn, I missed out on the scrambly ridge. Your route shows that quality can be more important than quantity of Munros.
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Re: Oh Fadha Where Art Thou?

Postby litljortindan » Tue Apr 14, 2015 9:32 pm

Great story and excellent pictures. I also do try to go to new places each year and I agree Scotland has great variety compared to other countries I'm familiar with e.g. England, Wales, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Faroes -all a lot less varied I'd say.
Went up this hill from the west in 1996 or 1997 and stayed at Camban overnight before walking out south with the flu, so an awful second day.
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Re: Oh Fadha Where Art Thou?

Postby weaselmaster » Tue Apr 14, 2015 9:55 pm

Enjoyed that. Have been up Fhada twice - once in combination with a'ghlas-bheinn and once the long way from altbeithe.
I'm keen to do the Hunter's ridge that you managed, not least as it has a Munro Top along it - thanks for posting some pics.
Sounds one for a nice clear summer's day :wink:
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