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The fortress has fallen!

The fortress has fallen!


Postby BlackPanther » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:55 pm

Corbetts included on this walk: Foinaven

Date walked: 12/08/2017

Time taken: 11 hours

Distance: 30.4 km

Ascent: 1505m

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Apologies for delayed posting of my Foinaven story - life keeps me busy all the time!

The Foinaven Fortress has been the sole red balloon on my Corbett map in the area north of Ullapool for a few seasons. We climbed everything around it (Arkle, Meall Horn, Cranstackie, even the less known Sabhal Beag) and we photographed the Fortress from every possible angle. It looks wonderful dressed in white but I doubt it would be an easy walk for winter conditions! :lol:
Foinaven (right) and Meall Horn (left) covered in snow, seen from Sabhal Beag, spring 2017 (spring???? :shock: )
Image2017-04-17 sabhal beag 038 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
The topography of Foinaven is quite complicated, but the main ridge consists of six tops, located linearly. Describing the route in detail can be tricky due to lack of names for particular tops. Here is a snap of Foinaven from Arkle (taken in September 2014) with the 6 main tops indicated with numbers:
Imagearkle 312-001 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Starting from right to left:
1. Creag Dionard 778m (not named on maps)
2. Pt 808m (not named on maps), sometimes referred to as "the start of the summit ridge proper"
3. 816m (not named on maps), known as Lord Reay's Seat
4. 869m (not named on maps), sometimes referred to as "Foinne Bheinn"
5. Ganu Mor 944m - the true summit
6. Ceann Garbh 902m, aka the North Top.
There are three ways of tackling this hill. First, the route suggested by WH, from the north, starting from near Gualin House on the A838. It is indeed the quickest way to reach the summit but it only takes in 2 out of the 6 tops and it doesn't visit the most spectacular part of the ridge. Second is a longer walk from Loch Stack. This option is suggested in SMC Corbett Guide and we liked it from the moment we first saw Foinaven - this was the way to do it, full-on ridge fun, visiting 5 out of 6 tops en route!
Of course, it is possible to combine the two routes by traversing from Loch Stack to Gualin House over all 6 tops, but this requires two cars or a friendly taxi driver :D
On our previous attempt in August last year, we were forced to abandon the hopes for reaching the summit due to foul weather - winds 50mph :crazy: It would be sheer madness to attempt scrambling on the loose scree in such conditions. We turned back after reaching only the first top, Creag Dionard, and we had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat. The Fortress stood unconquered.
I was hoping for a spell of good weather for WH Meet this year so we could attempt a full traverse of Foinaven, but again, it wasn't meant to be.
At some point, I considered trying the easier option from the north, just to turn that bl***dy red balloon into blue one!!! :evil: But Kevin, with his usual stoic attitude, said: patience. Good things come to those who wait.
Foinaven from Cranstackie, summer 2015:
Imagecranstackie 157 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Eventually, the right day has come. Weather forecast was promising. A chance of passing showers in the morning but improving later on, light winds and what's important, no heatwave. I didn't fancy a long, exhausting day in +30*C and killing sun :? I'd rather put up with some cloud, well, as long as I get reasonable views from the summit.
As it turned out, weather cooperated for most of the time and the few obstacles we encountered didn't stop us from successful claiming the top of the Fortress :D
The Naismith time to reach Ganu Mor from Loch Stack is 5 hours. We took 6, with countless stops for photos & videos, also we encountered some scrambling, easy but eroded underfoot, on the traverse between the 2nd and 3rd top. Nothing complicated though... More about that later.
Allow another 4-5 hours for return, there's plenty of re-ascent on the way back and NO BYPASSES on the ridge proper!

Track_FOINAVEN 12-08-17.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts


It was a lovely Saturday morning, and the forecast showers haven't arrived yet when we started from the Loch Stack car park. We moved quickly to run away from a huge swarm of hungry midges residing in the bushes around the car park. The white rocks of Arkle loomed over the loch... We remembered our visit to this mighty mountain, a fantastic walk in itself. One to re-do in the future:
2017-08-12 foinaven 003.JPG

Ben Stack seen from the bridge over Allt Horn. This wee Graham is a beauty. We want to come back and re-climb it in full winter gear (if we get any winter this year ha-ha-ha)
2017-08-12 foinaven 022.JPG

Walking on the excellent track was fast and because we started early, we were confident, we had enough time to finish before dark. We stopped for the traditional photo by The Arkle Gate, the entrance to Ked Forest...and the kingdom of wild and unknown!
2017-08-12 foinaven 032.JPG

Past the plantation, the track zigzags up the slopes, following Allt Horn through a lovely, deep cut glen. Views behind us, back to Ben Stack and Loch Stack were splendid:
2017-08-12 foinaven 037.JPG

Inside the hanging glen, with the first signs of weather breaking:
2017-08-12 foinaven 048.JPG

The track along Allt Horn climbs all the way to 500m, the high col between Foinaven and Meall Horn. About 100m below the highest point, we stopped to put on waterproofs as the forecast band of showers was on the way from the north-west.
The first glimpse of "our" mountain, not looking promising at the moment...
2017-08-12 foinaven 064.JPG

The cloud moved very quickly and by the time we were ready to walk again, it was already embracing Arkle:
2017-08-12 foinaven 067.JPG

Black Panther - the wet edition:
2017-08-12 foinaven 070.JPG

In the rain, we reached the col and turned left, up Creag Dionard. We remembered from our previous visit, that the lower reaches of this top are pretty boggy - now, it was some squelchy marching with water above and even more water below :lol: Thankfully, higher up the slopes become more rocky so the boggy bits can be avoided.
About half way up Creag Dionard, the rain stopped and the cloud disappeared as quickly as it showed up. Arkle was basking in sunshine again:
2017-08-12 foinaven 075.JPG

Looking back to Meall Horn and the boggy col:
2017-08-12 foinaven 090.JPG

Cloud dying slowly over Ben Hope:
2017-08-12 foinaven 101.JPG

We decided to skirt below the summit of Creag Dionard, especially that we had been to the top of it before, and we wanted to save time for the ridge proper. Going now was on rocky terrain:
2017-08-12 foinaven 108.JPG

Our target, some cloud still lingers, but we were positive we could do the ridge today. I was not in the mood for turning!
2017-08-12 foinaven 109.JPG

We climbed to about 740m then contoured around Coir' a' Chruiteir, following a faint path (probably just a deer track). It is possible to save some ascent by taking a grassy ledge about 50m lower down, but we didn't know about it until we reached the next top. We used this grassy ledge on the return route. It can be to the very left of this photo:
2017-08-12 foinaven 115.JPG

Cranstackie and Beinn Spionnaidh, a fantastic pair of hills, too. There is a plane crash site on Cranstackie, shame I didn't know about it when we climbed this duo:
2017-08-12 foinaven 123.JPG

We aimed straight for the next top. No 2., 808m. It becomes rocky higher up:
2017-08-12 foinaven 131.JPG

View to tops no. 3 and 4 and no, there is no bypass!
2017-08-12 foinaven 130.JPG

The climb to top no. 2 is straightforward. The real fun begins from now on! I posed with Cranstackie duo behind me...
2017-08-12 foinaven 159.JPG

...before having a quick look towards the next target. Hmmm... There is a path following the ridge along Lord Reay's Seat:
2017-08-12 foinaven 144.JPG

...but first, we have to get down and that might be tricky!
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 160 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Essentially, the descent to the col, Cadha na Beaucaich, involves roughly 120 m of scramble-ish terrain, including two of what I called "bad steps". The first one, just below the 808m top, is easier. The second one involves some clever route picking, but it can be negotiated with care. It is important to stick to the very ridge, where an eroded path shows the way. Any attempts to shortcut or circle around would take you to no-mans land.
Looking up at the eroded section:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 171 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Lord Reay's Seat and the path from just above the second "bad step":
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 172 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Negotiating the bad step:
2017-08-12 foinaven 175.JPG

From above, picking the right line can be tricky. I managed to find a "chimney-like" section which I descended with no problem. Kevin tried to be brave and take a "direttisima" down, which put him in a precarious position, with his bum exposed above the drop :lol: :lol: :lol:
20170812131207(1).jpg

Panther, heeelp me I'm stuck!!!
20170812131207(4).jpg

Can you take my walking pole, it's in the way!
20170812131327(1).jpg

I climbed up to him and he passed me his pole and the heavy camera. Without the additional burden, he could now use both hands and it didn't take him long to scramble down the rock.
I admit I was giggling impolitely through Kevin's "ordeal" but to be honest it is harder to descend this section than to climb back up it - I'll get to it :D
This is how the "bad step" looks from across the bealach:
20170812132125(2).jpg

A wider pano:
2017-08-12 foinaven 193.JPG

We crossed the col and headed up top no. 3 (Lord Reay's Seat). To begin with, the path is just eroded:
2017-08-12 foinaven 188.JPG

...but higher up we met some large boulder to clamber over. No real scrambling as such (unless you attempt to go straight up the overhanging rocks) and the eroded path avoids all difficulties. It's very unstable scree though, so care is needed.
Can you spot the Panther?
2017-08-12 foinaven 208.JPG

The 808m top and the scrambling descent route in its full glory:
2017-08-12 foinaven 210.JPG

Heading towards top no. 4, Fionne Bheinn:
2017-08-12 foinaven 212.JPG

View back to Lord Reay's Seat:
2017-08-12 foinaven 217.JPG

On the summit of top. no. 4, Kevin checked his watch and said, we were running out of time. I was surprised as I felt we've been doing well so far, but he said we had hardly enough daylight left! Only five minutes later he admitted, he got his maths all wrong and we still had 7.5 hours of daylight left, plenty enough to reach the summit and walk back!
Confused Kevin on the summit of top no. 4:
20170812134727(1).jpg

To reach top no. 5 (the true summit!) we still had another 1.5km to walk along the ridge, but it was now easy terrain:
2017-08-12 foinaven 222.JPG

We took some photos from Fionne Bheinn, I wish I could put them all in this TR but it would make my report too long, so just a glimpse of what we saw:
The ridge of A' Cheir Ghorm, Cranstackie in the background:
2017-08-12 foinaven 230.JPG

Land and sea entwined:
2017-08-12 foinaven 223.JPG

A' Cheir Ghorm again, from the traverse to Ganu Mor:
2017-08-12 foinaven 236.JPG

Fionne Bheinn and more distant Arkle from near the summit:
2017-08-12 foinaven 246.JPG

The summit of Ganu Mor has 2 cairns, the western one is marginally higher, but we headed for the eastern one first as it offered more shelter. It wasn't too windy but at 900m the temperature dropped to less than +10 and we felt cold :? Time to wear hats and gloves!
With Lucy (her 51st Corbett) on the top of Ganu Mor. The Fortress has been conquered :D
2017-08-12 foinaven 272.JPG

The western top (no. 6 - Ceann Garbh) was only a short walk away but we were tight with time so decided to leave it out. We would love to return to Foinaven at some point and do the WH route which includes this top.
2017-08-12 foinaven 252.JPG

Looking back south towards the lower tops, including Lord Reay's Seat and A' Cheir Ghorm ridge:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 279 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Zoomed - the steepest section:
2017-08-12 foinaven 261.JPG

View NE to Ben Hope:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 268 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Ceann Garbh and Cranstackie in the shadow of another cloud arriving from the west:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 280 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Kevin posing on the summit of our 129th Corbett :D
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 283 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
The clag has come eventually and covered all views, but not a drop of rain fell from the sky. We rested by the larger cairn, eating lunch and waiting for the cloud to pass which it did in 10 or so minutes. As it brightened again, we traversed to the true summit, a nice viewpoint to the waterlogged world to the west of Foinaven. To the very right - Ben Stack, behind it on the horizon - Quinag:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 289 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Summit snap once again, the other cairn in the background:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 287 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
The full-blown panorama of Foinaven-Arkle group from Ganu Mor:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 301 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
We left the summit at 3 pm which left us enough time to walk the ridge carefully, at slower pace, take even more photos and enjoy the mind boggling scenery. There are so many hidden corries, rocky pinnacles and strange rock formations here. Not enough time in one day to explore everything but let the pictures speak for themselves...
Panoramic view of the southern tops of Foinaven, including Coire na Lurgainn:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 308 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Foinaven and Arkle:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 309 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Kevin tackling the wobbly descent to Cadha na Beaucaich:
Image20170812154547(1) by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Me below the overhangs of Lord Reay's Seat:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 325 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
The Seat in the afternoon sun:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 331 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
We crossed the col and stood below the bad step. But this time we knew the terrain and it's easier to go up steep cliffs than scramble down... Kevin didn't even wait for signal :lol:
Image20170812160411(1) by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
I was a bit more cautious...
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 335 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
...but the scrambling proved an exciting exercise!
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 339 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Higher up there is more loose scree and larger rocks, so finding your balance is essential, but we moved quickly:
Image20170812161442(1) by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
The higher bad step from below is nothing, just a large rock to step over:
Image20170812161623(4) by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Sometimes, all fours are needed if a loose rock goes from under your feet... The Seat in the background:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 344 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Back on top no. 2, one happy woman:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 363 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
It was only 4pm (we returned from Ganu Mor to pt. 808m in just 60 minutes) so we decided to descend lower down the ridge, find a good rock to sit on and rest before the final return to Loch Stack. On the way down, we agreed to take the grassy ledge, the only bypass possible on this traverse. It leads past a tiny lochan, not marked on any maps. Kevin of course kept stopping for panoramas:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 371 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
The grassy bypass:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 375 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Looking back across Coir' a' Chruiteir to Pt. 808m:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 377 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
We picked a good dry rock and sat down for a wee picnic, with the fantastic view down to bealach Horn, Meall Horn and the hills beyond:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 382 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Finally, we retraced our steps back to the bealach and down the stalker's track. Weather was still nice as we walked down and the surrounding mountains basked in sunshine. We felt an overwhelming joy of success, it was something we planned for years and at last, the Foinaven Fortress has fallen!
The white cliffs of Arkle:
Image2017-08-12 foinaven 388 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
We returned to the car just in time to avoid the next passing shower (and swarms of the wee black army). We took 11 hours to traverse Foinaven and get back. We spent lots of time recording the views and enjoying the scrambling, but in case of the Fortress, you'll need the full day to really get close and personal with this mountain. I still feel we didn't discover all of Foinaven's secrets and as I mentioned above, we'll be happy to return and explore this fantastic Corbett even more.
So the Fortress has fallen. We took it as a good omen for the coming autumn. May weather be bright and the winds stay low :D
..........
In my next report I will return to Torridon for more Corbetts.
Last edited by BlackPanther on Tue Nov 26, 2019 8:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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BlackPanther
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby Mal Grey » Tue Aug 29, 2017 10:42 pm

What a fantastic mountain, and that definitely looks like the best way to appreciate all its hidden nooks and crannies. Great report, as always. You could have nipped up Arkle again on the way back :wink:

Still on my list, one day!
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby Cairngorm creeper » Tue Aug 29, 2017 11:23 pm

Fabulous report and great way to approach Foinaven. We attempted the same route on a very hot day on July but had to turn turn back at Fionne Bheinn as hubbys asthma was playing up in the heat and it was going to be a tough walk out, but definitely want to go back and try the same again. We avoided the second scramble coming down from Lord Reays seat by going down the scree to the left, very very loose :crazy: On the next section we found the rocky tower was much easier to scramble over than it lucky and nicer than the bypass path.
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby Walk cycle » Wed Aug 30, 2017 12:01 pm

Well done to you both, I'm really pleased you had such a successful walk and the photographs are excellent. This is indeed a mountain that has plenty to offer and I would certainly go back and complete the whole traverse, transport allowing. The photographs of the route up and down the 808m peak are really helpful to other walkers as some information in books I had read about that part of the ridge seemed vague but your photographs and description are usefully illustrative. I, for some reason, went too far on to the scree when reascending Lord Reay's Seat and ended up on some terrible scree and I did slide about a metre down and I was very alarmed at the time. Very few people seem to climb Foinaven maybe due to location but it is one of the three best hills I have walked so far (Beinn Liath Mhor and Arkle the others). :clap:
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby PeteR » Wed Aug 30, 2017 1:56 pm

That looked superb :clap:

I will definitely be returning to your report as part of my pre planning, as you have approached it exactly as I intend to at some future date.
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby denfinella » Wed Aug 30, 2017 5:41 pm

Fantastic! The best and most useful photos I've ever seen of the full ridge, and I think it's just about persuaded me to do the same route when we finally get back up that way.

Foinaven's got a sort of mythical status in my mind after a spending a full week in Durness. The weather was terrible - we attempted it on the best day of the week from Strath Dionard and had to turn back.

Thanks again for posting.
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby BlackPanther » Wed Aug 30, 2017 6:55 pm

Many thanks, everyone :D :D :D

Hah, so we were not the only ones turning back from Foinaven due to bad conditions... It's a true Fortress - requires a longer siege :lol:

I hope my description & photos will be helpful for those of you who are planning to visit Foinaven in the future. I tried to show the real nature of this mountain. It's very rocky indeed, loose scree everywhere and it should definitely be kept for a good day. But if treated with respect, it rewards walkers with a day to remember :D

I was mildly surprised that we didn't meet a single soul all day. It was, after all, a Saturday and weather (apart from the first morning shower) was good enough. But maybe it was for the better that we had the Fortress all to ourselves. It's such an overwhelming landscape and the ridge seems to go on forever! We will return to this area for sure and to Foinaven hopefully, to explore its northern reaches, but that will have to wait till next year...

At the moment our hillwalking adventures are suspended as Kevin is not feeling well. Just hope it's not as serious as it looks like and he's strong and determined to pull through it quickly.
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby weaselmaster » Wed Aug 30, 2017 8:13 pm

Very helpful and well photographed report, BP - one of my favourite mountains. I had thought about doing a full traverse when walking the CWT but your photos suggest that having a big rucksack on board might cause some problems in parts. One for near the top of the "to do" list however.
Sorry to hear about Kevin - best wishes to you both
Al
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby Alteknacker » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:25 pm

Absolutely phenomenal pics (especially the panos at maximum screen size) showing what an absolutely phenomenal ridge this is. :clap: :clap: :clap: I've just got to get up to the far north...

Hope Kevin is now recovered.
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby BlackPanther » Thu Aug 31, 2017 5:09 pm

weaselmaster wrote:Very helpful and well photographed report, BP - one of my favourite mountains. I had thought about doing a full traverse when walking the CWT but your photos suggest that having a big rucksack on board might cause some problems in parts. One for near the top of the "to do" list however.


I think heavy rucksack could throw you off balance on the scrambly sections - best to either do what we did or full traverse with two cars. Traveling light also means more time to lurk around and explore the ridge :D

Alteknacker wrote:Absolutely phenomenal pics (especially the panos at maximum screen size) showing what an absolutely phenomenal ridge this is. :clap: :clap: :clap: I've just got to get up to the far north...

Hope Kevin is now recovered.


Thanks, but I shouldn't really take the credit for the pictures... it's the ridge itself, one of the most beautiful, magnificent mountains I've done so far. We're lucky to live close to the far north 8)

Kevin's got another meeting with the doc tomorrow as the medication he's been given is not working sadly :( , fingers crossed his pain will be over soon.
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby jerryatrick » Fri Sep 01, 2017 7:23 pm

BP, I so much enjoy your reports, and admire your enthusiasm, they sure take this ancient compleater along memory ridges.
I moaned to OS about the absence of contour lines around Lord Reay's Seat, and eventually they agreed to put in a spot height, which is better than nothing.
Hope you two youngsters are back in rude health (knees etc) toot sweet.
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby simon-b » Sun Sep 03, 2017 12:03 pm

What a great route that was, BP. A good week when I too was in that area, and like you met nobody else on the hills. I hope Kevin's feeling better soon.
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Re: The fortress has fallen!

Postby BlackPanther » Mon Sep 04, 2017 1:52 pm

jerryatrick wrote:BP, I so much enjoy your reports, and admire your enthusiasm, they sure take this ancient compleater along memory ridges.
I moaned to OS about the absence of contour lines around Lord Reay's Seat, and eventually they agreed to put in a spot height, which is better than nothing.
Hope you two youngsters are back in rude health (knees etc) toot sweet.


Thank you :D Always my pleasure to share the story. Would love to compleat the Munros myself at some point, but it all depends on health, really... And no, we're not youngsters, but we feel young and that's what counts :wink:

The Seat is not named on any maps which strikes me as odd as it's such a prominent feature on the ridge.

simon-b wrote:What a great route that was, BP. A good week when I too was in that area, and like you met nobody else on the hills. I hope Kevin's feeling better soon.


It's a great place to spend a few days, if weather smiles. Surprisingly quiet this summer - I guess most walkers don't reach that far north! I've got a list of Assynt hills to repeat in winter - that's if we get a proper winter this year :lol:

Kevin's feeling better but still too weak for hillwalking, we were kicking ourselves on Saturday, such a lovely day and all we could manage was a walk in the woods. But it's all on the right path.
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