I intended to speed up my trip report writing and catch up with the pile of backlog stories... But I was ill all weekend and couldn't even think about it... Just as well, weather outside was disappointing as well, so at least I won't be kicking myself that I wasted a sunny Saturday...
I guess I'm back on track again so my next story from hillwalking hols will cover a couple of less known Grahams near Fort William.
When we say Fort William, we think Nevis, Mamores, Grey Corries, but who would bother with names like Aodann Chleireig and Meall Onfhaidh aka Fassfern Twins??
These Grahams don't have their own WH route yet and I'm not surprised, considering their location just north of A830, about 15km west from Fort William. They are surrounded by bigger, more attractive hills: Gulvain and a few interesting Corbetts to the west, Meall a'Phubuill to the north, even on the eastern side, the long ridge of Druim Fhada (another Graham) attracts more attention. Some folks may notice the Fassfern Twin when walking up Gleann Suileag to the bothy, but very few are bothered to visit the two Grahams, which is a shame. They may be grassy and below 700m, but they offer a superb outing off the beaten track and with excellent views to surrounding higher mountains. We didn't see the full extent of the panos as the cloud was covering the Nevis Ridge, but we took some decent photos and enjoyed a lovely walk. We also had to invent our own descent route, face some very boggy ground and, in my case, fight the b***dy migraine
The walk starts from Fassfern and we parked at the car pr ark for Forest Walks, where one can spend some time eating lunch on picnic tables There's also an info board with woodland walks marked:
IMPORTANT!!! At the time of our visit (22 June 2015) there was extensive tree feeling taking place along the RED TRIAL (western side of Gleann Suileag) and the access to the forest here was restricted. The walk-in to Suileag Bothy was still open and unaffected.
The tree feeling meant we could not descend the way Graham Guide suggests (down the shoulder of Druim Beag) as this would mean walking right through the middle of the mess... We decided to adjust our route and take in an additional top, Beinn an-t Sneachda, to avoid the tree feeling area.
We began our trip by taking the track on the eastern side of the glen, through the forest. To start with, it was a nice stroll with green grass and green trees around ...
...some small obstacles could easily be jumped over...
...but soon we emerged on a newly bulldozed track. Parts of the forest on this side has also been cut and Kevin wasn't happy:
Across the glen, on the lower slopes of Aodann Chleireig, the work was carrying on as normal (it was a Monday after all). Lorries, chainsaws, woodcutters. We could hear the noise very clearly. Kevin spent some time photographing the machinery
I was already developing a migraine attack, which made me furious - why does it always have to come when I'm on the hills and spoil my day!!! I popped up a double dose of ibuprofen - I was desperate to complete this route no matter what!
The track descends slightly before crossing An t-Suileag on the bridge (the bothy is a few hundred metres up the river) before ascending to the col between Meall Onfhaidh and Meall a'Phubuill. Most people climb the Fassfern Grahams in combination with the Corbett, but as we had already done Meall a'Phubuill (last year, walk in from Glen Loy), we aimed for the Grahams only. In my opinion, MP is better done from the east, this way one can walk the whole length of its lovely ridge and visit all its tops, rather that a quick nip-up to the summit.
We crossed a gate (not padlocked) and continued on the track uphill, now much rougher underfoot. The bothy was just below us, and across the glen, we could see how far the bulldozed track was going:
Higher up, the track follows a small stream, Allt Fionn Doire. The day was rather cloudy, but forecast suggested some sunny spells developing in the afternoon, so we hoped to get some sort of views from "our" hills. They were not the highest in the area, after all!
We left the track at 028841, just before it crosses the stream. There is another track, very faint and boggy, ascending the slopes of Meall Onfhaidh, but we ignored it, as it was easier to simply strike up in a straight line. The first 100m of ascent was wet and squelchy, a few peat hags and muddy puddles to avoid (no surprise here!). This photo (looking down into Glen Loy) shows the initial boggy ascent in the foreground:
On the map, the northern slopes of MO look benign, not too steep and no real crags, but in reality, there are some rocky outcrops to omit and the ground was soaked (it had rained the previous day), so we had to be careful not to slip. I was struggling a bit, with annoying bells ringing inside my head I guess even the bats have left my belfry by now!!!
The way up:
Luckily, the steep, slippy section didn't last long. It's less than 350m of ascent from the point where we left the track to the summit of the Graham. The last 100m, once we hit the ridge, was much less steep and I actually began to enjoy the experience!
The views from the higher ground were splendid even with the lower cloud cuddling the tops of the Munros. To the south, some interesting Ardgour shapes emerged:
The summit is just up there:
So here we are, on top of Meall Onfhaidh. According to Graham Guide, the name translates as "the hill of the storm", but the wind has actually dropped when we reached the cairn and midges came out. Thankfully, not in large numbers.
The only storm, I have to say, was howling inside my skull and I had to pop more painkillers before I could sit down and enjoy my summit break.
Kevin, of course, was in his element The cloud was slowly lifting and he couldn't miss the opportunity for another photo session:
The mountains to the south and west, apart from Nevis and Mamores, were just about cloud-free at the moment, so the result were some nice panos of more distant peaks - something I didn't expect from a Graham summit.
Gulvain was in clag when we started the ascent, now it was slowly shaking off the cloud. We spotted two people ascending the Munro - that was the only other hillwalkers we noticed that day. Fassfern Twins ain't exactly the most popular mountains in Scotland!
The midges were getting worse so we finished our snacks (midge-flavoured tomato sandwich sounds great ) and began the painful descent to the col between the two Grahams. I say painful because I wasn't in the best shape. The only problem here is the steepness, so in wet conditions care should be taken, so easy to slip and roll down this grassy slope!
The best view at the moment was to the right, where the east face of Gulvain simply took my breath away for a second. Wow!
There are also lovely views south along Gleann Fionnlighe, the usual approach for Gulvain:
The slope drops all the way to around 350m and from here, we had another 300m to climb up the steep side of Aodann Chleireig. A similar story to the previous hill: steep, wet, squelchy and no path, but in such scenery I didn't dare complain...
Gulvain from the slopes of Aodann Chleireig:
Meall Onfhaidh seen from its twin brother, our descent route wend down the ridge to the left:
And again, like with the previous hill, all rocks and crags here can be avoided. As this photo shows, there is enough grassy ground to skirt around them:
...but I couldn't resist a wee rock-game (can't really call it a scramble):
The summit area has at least three different cairns, we opted for the one that seemed the highest
Kevin on the summit of our 39th Graham. We climbed all our Grahams together and we share our stats, unlike the count for Munros and Corbetts, where he is in front of me, albeit not by much As for Lucy, she bagged her 4th and 5th Graham that day
A few panoramas of surrounding mountains to enjoy:
Zoom to Sgurr Mhor, methinks:
Looking south from the summit, we could see the long shoulder of Beinn an-t Sneachda, framed by the Ardgour-Moidart panorama. We remembered that we couldn't descend the traditional way (down Druim Beag) due to the tree feeling, so we opted for traversing to this top (there's very little drop between the two) and finding our way down the southern side of Beinn an-t Sneachda, straight to the main road below.
The traverse was easy and it turned out, that Beinn an-t Sneachda was even a better viewpoint than the Graham summit, with superb vistas to the east and south. even with some cloud still hanging around, it was still a great place to be
The Mamores cleared and they even enjoyed some sunshine:
View down to Loch Eil and Ben Nevis (what was visible of it):
This is an intriguing lumpy ridge, to the south just across the loch. Sgorr Craobh a'Chaorainn?
Simply stunning, despite the gray sky. Ardgour-Moidart pano in full splendour. The Fassfern Twins are really blessed as superb vantage points. On a better day views would be even more extensive. A perfect place to play hillspotting game.
Believe me or not, I spotted An Sgurr on Isle of Eigg!
Having spent far too much time on the lower top, we began the painstaking descent down to the glen. On the standard descent by Druim Beag, it is possible to pick forest tracks about half way down, but the southern slope of Beinn an-t Sneachda is pathless. We kept a straight line, avoiding the most soaked sections, and aimed for the houses of Corriebeg. The descend was actually quite pleasant, not as steep as we expected, and with lovely views to Ben Nevis:
Finally, we picked some sort of animal path and followed it down to the squelchy bottom of the glen. Here, we wasted more time trying to reach the road - the final 500m or so were a real swamp, we had to take a detour along an old fence and through a wet pasture. Eventually, having climbed over the final fence (barb wired, but not very high) we landed on the main road just east of Locheilside Station. Walking the 2km along the busy A830 was not the highlight of the day and we were glad to reach Fassfern and the car park.
As soon as the access issue is gone, the Twins can be climbed without the detour we had to take and it will make the round much more pleasant. I'd still suggest visiting Beinn an-t Sneachda for the views. I'm not surprised so few people visit these hills, as they are overshadowed by higher mountains around, but it's a bit sad that most hillwalking visitors to this area rush up Gulvain without even giving the twins a second look. Hopefully I managed to convince a few fellow Walkhighlanders to pay a visit to these much neglected little gems.
My next story involves a very steep Munro-Corbett combo in Glen Coe. Watch this space
Travel and Coronavirus
Temporary Coronavirus restrictions and travel advice applies until Monday 26th October.
Click for details
Share your personal walking route experiences in Scotland, and comment on other peoples' reports.
Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.