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Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair


Postby Mal Grey » Sun Mar 12, 2017 8:36 pm

Munros included on this walk: Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Sgurr Ban

Date walked: 28/02/2017

Time taken: 7.5 hours

Distance: 16 km

Ascent: 1200m

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Or “A Big Mulla’h ‘Fhearchair of an overnighter”

At last, it was time for our roughly annual trip to the Winter Mountains of the Highlands. Actually, it has been 2 years since we last made it, when the weather didn’t play ball at Camasunary, and 3 years since we actually made it to any summits of note. So would the weather gods relent this time?

Meeting up with Steve at Perth’s Tiso Superstore, Nige and I had driven up from the South East on the Saturday. We headed onwards in convoy, heading for Gerry’s. Or should I say Simon’s, as Gerry’s son now hosts at this (in)famous hostel in Strathcarron. It being 2 years since we’d last met up all at once, the first night celebrations went on a little longer than they might have done, but we knew the weather was poor the next day. Simon proved a most genial host, but otherwise the character of the hostel remains mostly unchanged. Monday onwards looked a little more hopeful…

And so it turned out. A day mountain biking up to Glenuaig lodge from Gerry’s on the Sunday stretched the legs and cleared the hangover, so on Monday morning we were up and ready for the off. The weather was sublime, and the views from the bunkhouse superb.


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We didn’t need an early start, for we’d only got to walk in to Lochivraon bothy today. It took the better part of an hour driving past wonderful white snowy mountains to get to the layby near the track down to Loch a’ Bhraoin itself. Here a lonely signpost gives a hint of the size of the wild area we were about to head into.


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Packs were heavy with overnight gear, bothy coal, winter ironmongery and essentials such as 6 hipflasks and a guitar. Steve realised an ice axe was a useful “Croc” carrying attachment.


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The track heads down towards the Loch, before you head off along the northern shore of the loch. Today it was a joy, not a trial, to lug our loads along with snow all around and the sun warm on our faces. Across the loch, the northern peaks of the Fannaichs, Sgurr Breac and A’ Chailleach, looked wonderful, whilst far ahead a distant glimpse of Slioch tempted us onwards.


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Despite the loads, and the shingly nature of parts of the loch-side path, the bothy came into view after less than an hour and half. Or should I say the lodge came into view, as this is the building that stands out in the landscape. The location, today at least, was fabulous.


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The bothy itself lurks behind the lodge, a simpler, but welcoming old barn.


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Inside its well sealed, has a good stove, and several sleeping platforms downstairs, as well as a loft above for more folk if needed. The luxury, though, is the toilet and sink area at the other end! Even with the water off (or frozen!), this was rather posh for us, as a bucket filled with stream water would easily replace a flushing cistern!
After settling in, we wandered back outside to sink in the view as the light softened in the evening.


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A bothy night followed, a few drams and a little folky music. We’d carried in plenty of coal, but there was loads already, so no rationing was required. Still, the stove, good though it was, struggled to heat a large room with a tin roof and cold stone walls!


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Tuesday would be our big day, walking further into the Fisherfield Forest to attempt Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and Sgurr Ban. However, we were still in bed when the door opened and a stranger wandered in. Mark was on his way to do an even bigger day – adding Beinns Chlaidheimh and Tarsuinn to our intended pair. He was gone an hour ahead of us after dropping off his overnight gear.

The day started with a walk in of about 3 miles, up the wide valley. With a little fresh snow, damp stuff, it all looked fantastic and though the sun was rapidly defrosting everything low down, the night had been cold enough that the bogs had a hint of useful crust. At first we followed the river, before contouring round the lower slopes of Creag Rainich’s outliers to enter the glen above Loch an Nid. Always ahead of us lay the glistening summits of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and its tops.


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As we rounded the shoulder, our planned route opened out ahead of us. With the slopes and ridge of craggy Sgurr Dubh well defended, especially under new snow, we intended to reach the ridge between it and the summit by ascending Coire Gorm to the bealach of Cab a Choire Ghuirm. On the other side of the corrie on the right, Sgurr Ban is more rounded, and between the two lie an amazing expanse of bare rock slabs.


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It was these slabs that were one of the things that had drawn me towards this eastern approach to this pair of remote hills. They seem to be almost unheard of, but I’d seen some images of them and was intrigued to see what they looked like in the flesh. They are enormous, and down their flanks tumbles a wonderful water-slide.


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The way ahead was clear; we’d ford the river, which was simple today with the water low, and then ascend the snow-clad slopes beyond, angling left at the back of the corrie to the bealach above. This proved to be a reasonably easy approach, though the snow was making it a little bit more of an effort, soft and unconsolidated, if only ankle deep.


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All the way up, the slaps lay to our flank, and now I could see how unique they are in these isles. Today they were dank and dripping, but they look like a very different way to approach a mountain, so perhaps I shall return.


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The headwall at the back of the corrie now lay above us. In the end, this wasn’t too steep, just a bit hard work. Steve and I alternated breaking trail. With the snow soft and the angle modest, you couldn’t fall far if you tried, you just sank, so walking poles were more useful than axe or crampons.


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We reached the col. Wow, simply wow. This was one of those moments which leave you breathless. Ahead, line after line of magnificent mountain crests marched, sparkling, into the distance. The Torridonean hills marked the horizon, and between us and them lay the fabulous hills of Letterewe, Slioch dominant. Nearer at hand, Beinn Tarsuinn looked sublime. For a while, we simply stood and stared.


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To our left, the summit of Sgurr Dubh looked almost menacing, a white-clad series of pinnacles and turrets. I’d considered coming up this way, for it is supposed to be only a modest scramble in summer, but was very glad we hadn’t for it looked exposed and intricate, if short.


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Ahead of us lay the east ridge. Whilst not as spectacular as Sgurr Dubh, it still looked a little tricky for us rusty southerners, and with a hint of ice on this windswept spot, we donned crampons and untied the ice axes. Traditionally, this takes Steve flippin’ ages, as yet again he’s not quite got around to adjusting them in advance for the 25th year running…whereas Nigel and I have both bitten the bullet and upgraded to more modern quicker-to-fit designs.


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I led onwards, alternating between wading through soft stuff on the right side of the ridge, and tottering over snow and ice clad rocks on the left side. The terrain wasn’t difficult, but interesting enough to bring a welcome sense of adventure to our ascent. This was proper winter mountain walking.


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Pausing briefly on the subsidiary eastern top, we dropped to a shallow bealach before finishing our climb on easier slopes.


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We were on top of the world, or so it felt. All around us, the hills were clad in shimmering white cloaks, peak after countless peak marching ever onwards to the horizon in every direction. To the north, the sun-touched flanks of the legendary An Teallach were browner, but to the west and south, we could have been in the Alps.


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(Click on image for better panorama)
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Gazing towards Beinn Dearg Mhor’s impregnable looking peaks, we could see that the threatened afternoon showers were building.


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Looking down at our descent, where the ridge dropped away into the void between us and Sgurr Ban, a figure was moving steadily upwards. This proved to be Mark, our fellow Lochivraon resident. After a brief chat, he pressed onwards, 3 out of his 4 now under his belt.


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The descent looked steep, and the snow on this side had proven soft and slippery, but with nothing to bite into. Worse, it covered sharply angled rocks. We removed our crampons, Mark confirming they were of little use and if anything a liability as it would be all too easy to twist an ankle in such terrain and conditions. This wasn’t something we wanted 7 miles from the nearest road. We zig-zagged down, trying to link the softer snow patches together, as the ridge got steeper and steeper. A small band of crags on the map seemed to block the direct route to the bealach, so we angled slightly right before traversing leftwards back to the col. About 5 minutes before we got there, the threatened snow squall arrived, and suddenly the world was very different, visibility dropping to a few metres. Still, we were soon down, and once more swapping ice axes for poles for the ascent ahead.


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As soon as we started the steady climb to Sgurr Ban, the clouds splintered, letting shafts of bright sun shoot through and light the slopes between swirling clouds. These are some of the best moments in the hills, I think, better even than the sunniest days, as the atmosphere is utterly magical.


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(Click on image for better panorama)
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As we reached the rounded crown of Sgurr Ban, the clag caught up with us again, and we could only just make out the large cairn in the gloom.


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It was time for a compass bearing to get on line for our descent – eastwards then curving southwards to contour below the prominent spur of Meallan an Laoigh. The terrain was now difficult, despite the easy angle, for the area is a vast boulder field, and the holes and the angles of the rock were all covered in snow that would not support any weight. Great care was required, but all of us had the odd incident where knee or ankle were twisted or strained a little; luckily none of which led to injury.


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We dropped steadily down, and after what seemed like ages we were back level with the other side of the slabs, looking down on the tumbling waterslide.


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Finally, we crossed the same stream, and headed over the glen to meet our outward route, closing the circuit.


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The walk out seemed long and wearying, but it was only an hour and a bit before we saw the welcoming bothy ahead. Mark had just beaten us, having somehow added 2 more big hills into a day only an hour longer than ours. Good effort, especially when he told us he’d set off driving from home in Perth (I think) at 2.30 am. Funnily enough, he was asleep by 7.30, before we’d even finished our dinner. Another pleasant night around the fire brought to an end a truly memorable day.

In the morning, we had a lie in, before walking out under more blue skies, for Steve had to depart for home that afternoon.


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Eventually, we reached the road and our cars.


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This had been one of our best trips in the 30 years or so we’ve been coming to the hills in winter. We headed for a celebratory all day breakfast in Ullapool, after which we went our separate ways. Steve had to return home to family and to work, whereas Nigel and I would move to Sail Mhor Croft for a few nights of luxury, and a couple more days in the hills…the story of which will be told in other posts.

Edit: 2nd and 3rd parts if interested
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viewtopic.php?f=9&t=70565
Last edited by Mal Grey on Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:51 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby rockhopper » Sun Mar 12, 2017 9:15 pm

There are good overnighters and there are magic overnighters - this was definitely in the latter section :thumbup: Glad to see that you got such great conditions after 3 years of no summits - very enjoyable :clap:

Mal Grey wrote:Traditionally, this takes Steve flippin’ ages, as yet again he’s not quite got around to adjusting them in advance for the 25th year running…whereas Nigel and I have both bitten the bullet and upgraded to more modern quicker-to-fit designs.
Know what you mean - my old salewas are adjustable then fixed using a split pin - hence the reason they're set in advance for a particular pair of boots - cheers :)
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby malky_c » Sun Mar 12, 2017 9:44 pm

Ah, lovely 8) . Fantastic trip, and a great bothy night by the looks of it. Had planned this a couple of years ago but the weather was too poor - settled for the nearby Creag Rainich instead. At least there were still good views of the slabs from there, which are well worth seeing.

I'm convinced that there's a conspiracy against getting the best weather at the weekend this year. Even when it's nice, the temperature seems to increase by about 10 degrees for the weekend, then start re-freezing the following Monday :twisted:
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby litljortindan » Sun Mar 12, 2017 9:53 pm

That is great.
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby roscoT » Sun Mar 12, 2017 11:47 pm

A great read Mal, some truly awesome pictures in there. What a weekend!
Thanks :clap:
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Mar 13, 2017 12:41 am

One magical image after another - just wonderful! A real vicarious pleasure to read. :clap: :clap: :clap: (Not envious at all, btw. :roll: )

I still have these to do, in any season. Planned the route 3 years ago, but still haven't managed to get that far North.
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby teaandpies » Mon Mar 13, 2017 1:06 am

Awesome :thumbup:
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby Mal Grey » Mon Mar 13, 2017 11:13 am

litljortindan wrote:That is great.


roscoT wrote:A great read Mal, some truly awesome pictures in there. What a weekend!
Thanks :clap:


Alteknacker wrote:One magical image after another - just wonderful! A real vicarious pleasure to read. :clap: :clap: :clap: (Not envious at all, btw. :roll: )

I still have these to do, in any season. Planned the route 3 years ago, but still haven't managed to get that far North.


teaandpies wrote:Awesome :thumbup:


Thank you folks.


rockhopper wrote:There are good overnighters and there are magic overnighters - this was definitely in the latter section :thumbup: Glad to see that you got such great conditions after 3 years of no summits - very enjoyable :clap:


Certainly one of the best, thanks.


rockhopper wrote:
Mal Grey wrote:Traditionally, this takes Steve flippin’ ages, as yet again he’s not quite got around to adjusting them in advance for the 25th year running…whereas Nigel and I have both bitten the bullet and upgraded to more modern quicker-to-fit designs.
Know what you mean - my old salewas are adjustable then fixed using a split pin - hence the reason they're set in advance for a particular pair of boots - cheers :)


Ah, good old Salewa Hard Ice Classics, I bet. These are what I had until 3 years ago, bought in the sale at George Fishers around 1998.



malky_c wrote:Ah, lovely 8) . Fantastic trip, and a great bothy night by the looks of it. Had planned this a couple of years ago but the weather was too poor - settled for the nearby Creag Rainich instead. At least there were still good views of the slabs from there, which are well worth seeing.

I'm convinced that there's a conspiracy against getting the best weather at the weekend this year. Even when it's nice, the temperature seems to increase by about 10 degrees for the weekend, then start re-freezing the following Monday :twisted:


You may well be right about the weekend conspiracy. The weekends bracketing our week were pretty rubbish, the 5 days in between pretty good. Since then, most reports I've seen from weekends have been nowhere near as good from a weather point of view. :(
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby Cairngorm creeper » Mon Mar 13, 2017 12:04 pm

That just looked and sounded brilliant and you have must have the best week of winter weather this season. Can't wait to read part 2. :clap: :roll:
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby Mal Grey » Mon Mar 13, 2017 9:12 pm

Cairngorm creeper wrote:That just looked and sounded brilliant and you have must have the best week of winter weather this season. Can't wait to read part 2. :clap: :roll:


Yeah, must have been. Very lucky this year. Working on part 2...a bit less sunny...but its part 3 where the weather gets even better!
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby dav2930 » Mon Mar 13, 2017 9:28 pm

Just magic...amazing that your annual trip coincided with such a fine weather window! Two fine and remote Munros to have done in winter conditions. Really enjoyable report and superb photos. Magnificent! :clap: :clap:
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby Jaxter » Tue Mar 14, 2017 8:46 am

This is fabulous. Reminds me exactly why I want to return to the fisherfield but with snow around. Glad you had such a fantastic time and thankyou for brightening up my journey to work :D :D
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby KeithS » Tue Mar 14, 2017 9:29 am

You can't beat Fisherfield. :thumbup:
Great read and stunning photos. I enjoyed that.
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby Mal Grey » Tue Mar 14, 2017 2:28 pm

dav2930 wrote:Just magic...amazing that your annual trip coincided with such a fine weather window! Two fine and remote Munros to have done in winter conditions. Really enjoyable report and superb photos. Magnificent! :clap: :clap:


After about 25 of these winter trips, I reckon 5 have been great weather like this, 5 have been appalling, and the rest somewhere in the middle. The rarity is the good weather appearing at the same time as good snow cover for maximum “wowness!”

Jaxter wrote:This is fabulous. Reminds me exactly why I want to return to the fisherfield but with snow around. Glad you had such a fantastic time and thankyou for brightening up my journey to work :D :D


Fisherfield is a challenge anytime, with snow its even better! And thank you, makes a change from your own trips brightening up everybody else’s days! I only get one or two chances a year…


KeithS wrote:You can't beat Fisherfield. :thumbup:
Great read and stunning photos. I enjoyed that.


Thanks Keith, glad you liked it.
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Re: Fisherfield in Winter – Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Postby jacob » Tue Mar 14, 2017 6:59 pm

I've been hanging around on the "outside Scotland" forum a lot (the downtempo suits me better :lol: ) but I just couldn't ignore this post. Very impressive set of photos. :clap:
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