The contrast with my previous Munro outing couldn’t have been more stark. When I’d bagged Sgiath Chuill in April it had been a sub-three-hour smash-and-grab on a single Munro. This latest trip was a three-day extravaganza incorporating nine Munros, several more tops, two wild camps and one notable absentee.
The Fannichs (or is it Fannaichs?) is the collective name given to a string of high tops that lie scattered above the northern banks of Loch Fannich, itself situated approximately 14 miles south of Ullapool in Scotland’s wild northwest. There are nine Munros in the gang, or 10 if you count Fionn Bheinn (which we won’t) — an outlier on the south side of the loch that gives the range its name.
Four of us had been scheming on the Fannichs since the cold days of January, forming a plan to take out all nine in one May weekend, by which time we reckoned the temperatures would be more conducive to high camps in the Highlands but wouldn’t yet have allowed the midges to make the prospect utterly unappealing.
So myself, Big Rick, and Jamie set off from Destitution Road (aka the A832 west of Corrieshalloch Gorge nature reserve) not long after 1pm on the first Friday in May, skirting the eastern end of Abhainn Loch a’Bhraoin and heading south on a gradually rising stalkers’ path which tracks the Allt Breabaig to its source high above the northern tip of Loch Fannich.
Our first destination was the high col between Sgurr nan Clach Geala and Sgurr Breac, which we reckoned would be an ideal camp site for the opening night. And it proved so when we eventually reached it, after labouring up the boggy side of the stream with our heavy packs; not having done ourselves any favours by missing the point where the path crossed the burn.
But after nearly two-and-half-hours we were able to unburden ourselves of our tents (me and Jamie) and tarp (Rick), pitch our chosen shelters for the evening ahead, then look forward to the first two Munros of the weekend sans sacs. The hills in our sights were the two westerly Fannichs, the aforementioned Sgurr Breac (999m) and its almost identically tall sister, A Chailleach (997m).
Having negotiated the initial steep but enjoyable pull up SB’s eastern flank on a narrow, craggy path, the ridge opened up in front of us and it was pleasant walking on mossy grass and softish snow to the summit and the panoramic views we had been waiting for expectantly all afternoon. Torridon and Slioch looked almost Himalayan in the west, Fisherfield’s mountains collected to the northwest, but it was the toothy menace of An Teallach that repeatedly drew our eyes to its jagged ridge in the foreground.
We still had a bit of toil ahead of us before the end of the working week though, so we didn’t hang about for long before heading on down the path towards A Chailleach. It soon became clear that there was a good degree more down-and-up between these two Munros than we’d been willing to admit to ourselves beforehand, but considering what was in store the following day we reckoned we’d best get used to it so we plodded on, reaching the top of A Chailleach exactly two hours after setting off from the tents.
It was the best part of the day weather wise and we enjoyed the evening sun on our backs as we began the not inconsiderable descent and then re-ascent of Sgurr Breac, by now looking forward to the freeze-dried delights of our Friday night pouch meals and the arrival of a latecomer to the party.
The journey back to camp took exactly half the time of the outward leg, which saw us in our tents just after 8pm and fed by 8.45pm, by which time we could just make out Stevie D on the stalkers path below. Having tanked up the road from paid duties in Glasgow that afternoon, he had the luxury of learning from our mistake and managed to stick resolutely to the path, thus making good time and joining us at 9pm in time for last orders at the chocolate bar and the kind of sunset that makes you glad you went to the hassle.
The sun sets behind Sgurr Breac, with An Teallach’s ridge just visible beyond the Druim Reidh from our camp site
We toasted absent friends with peppermint tea (Neily the mountain goat, who had been instrumental in organising this trip, had very reluctantly admitted defeat to a viral infection and called off through gritted teeth that morning) then settled down to get some rest before what promised to be a brute of a Saturday stroll.
Friday’s stats: distance covered 15.5km; 1345m ascent; 1060m descent.
To be continued…
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