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Fionn Bheinn and the Maiden Voyage

Fionn Bheinn and the Maiden Voyage

Postby andygunn23 » Thu Jan 02, 2020 5:28 pm

Route description: Fionn Bheinn, Achnasheen

Munros included on this walk: Fionn Bheinn

Date walked: 03/08/2019

Time taken: 24 hours

Distance: 30 km

Ascent: 1033m

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Fionn Bheinn and the Maiden Voyage


Social norms tend to dictate that once you have passed through the education system and into a steady job the next step to prove you’re succeeding in life is to begin to look at owning a property of your own. Boring...

Deposits are expensive, but arguably so are packrafts. Believe me, I have tried every which way to justify this decision to myself, the best is simply; I know what makes a better story.

I can’t recall where the notion of owning a packraft began, or how it grew to the idea that a packraft was an as essential piece of hill walking kit as a tent. It honestly wasn’t a spur of the moment decision and I spent a significant time researching but struggled for weeks to bite the bullet. After an evening in the climbing wall, pumped full of adrenaline and endorphins I finally committed to ordering in a customised Alpackaraft Explorer 42 with the Cargo Fly all the way from Colorado.

“Our lightest and most compact multi-person packraft… It can also comfortably be paddled by two smaller adults looking to save weight and bulk on long traverses and adventure races.”

Full specs can be found here, but most important to me is that the 279cm long packraft weights a mere 3.74kg and can hold an astonishing 272kg of weight.

(Reading that back it may sound like a sponsored review – let me assure you that’s not the case! Although if they expand to the UK, hit me up...).

Being a complete novice to packrafting one of my biggest requirement was being able to fit two people and all our associated kit – if you’re going to get into difficulty, better to have someone to share it with… A problem shared is indeed a problem halved. Also, it also had to pack down to no bigger than a two-person tent.

By the 3rd August 2019, when we set off from Aberdeen I had owned the packraft for a couple of weeks and had done a few trial runs out near Aberdeen, but this would be the maiden voyage.

Having done the 9 northern Fannich Munros just under a month prior with the other Andrew, Fionn Bheinn seemed like a good tester. I wanted to be far enough into “wilderness” to ensure a proper test, but the “safety net” of the landrover track meant if anything went wrong, and we got wet, it would be a miserable and long, but easy walk back to the car.

The plan was to park at the end of Loch Luichart, follow the landrover track all the way to the northern shore of Loch Fannich before crossing and setting up camp for the night. Initially or intention was to approach Fionn Bheinn from the north and then trace our steps, so effectively having two crossings of Loch Fannich.

An idea of the set-up; packraft in my backpack (44L), along with sleeping bag, food and clothes. Paddles and buoyancy aid strapped loose on the outside. Worked well, but we did have no real wind to contend with

Andrew had a similar sized backpack (if not smaller) and took the tent with some of the packrafts accessories. Considering it was a summer overnighter our packs were slightly heavier than what I have become accustomed to, but still remarkably light considering we were carrying a flippin’ boat. Well nearly.

An Coileachan

It took us slightly longer to get to the start. Halfway to Inverness it dawned on me that in my efforts to ensure I remembered all components of the packraft, that I had accidentally packed my bivvi bag rather than my air mat – easy mistake, they are near identical sizes. This prompted an emergency stop in a Tesco Elgin to pick up a £5 summer festival mat. We also ended up picking up some hitchhikers just north of Inverness.

At the eastern end of Loch Fannich

The plan was to cross just after Fannich Lodge which would give us a direct crossing of just over 1 kilometre, but also the option to paddle further west if all was going to plan.

I was super confident of the packrafts abilities and rigidity, but I hadn’t fully tested with all the gear, and its associated weight. This would also be Andrew’s first outing in the packraft and at this point I only had one paddle. I must admit as we walked along the northern end of Loch Fannich with the light beginning to fade, I was getting more and more apprehensive.

We marched in at a lightning pace but weren’t ready to unpack and inflate the packraft until 18:30.

Our crossing site with Fionn Bheinn in the background (right)

Anything that needed to stay dry was packaged into the dry sacks and clipped into the inner tubes towards the stern (back) of the packraft. I filled my rucksack with Andrew’s rucksack and anything leftover before strapping to the front of the packraft with my homemade set-up. All super valuables (e.g. phones, camera and car keys), were placed into the “Bow Bag” which is the black bag attached to bow (front) of the packraft, unsurprisingly.

Just about ready – Yes Andrew is wearing Christmas boxers.

With the crossing probably being a bigger “component” of this outing than the actual Munro itself, I also took along the long-forgotten GoPro to take in some of the action, and also document our final moments if we drowned...

So, all the photos from the crossing are directly from the GoPro which was taking a photo every 5 seconds – yes this took a LONG time to deleted unwanted photos…

I will share some of the photos first before my thoughts:

Also compressed into a short video - not sure if it will load on Walkhighlands?! Link to Flickr should work (in purple below black screen)
ImageLoch Fannich by Andrew Gunn, on Flickr

“Must get a second paddle”

Post “Yes it’s waterproof, give it a dunk”

Paddle faster if you stick your tongue out…

What a buzz!

Looking back


Front rigging

When we first set off the additional weight made paddling far harder than previous trial runs in Loch of Skene – this made me more nervous and I ended up putting far too much effort into each stroke rather than focussing on a good paddling technique.

It was also getting windy and by the time we were into the middle of the loch there were a few patches of choppy water smashing into the side of the packraft which made things a bit rocky. Probably use waterproof trousers next time or in colder conditions.

On a positive note the packraft felt like a real sturdy beast; it would have taken some amount of movement and waves to capsize. Since this outing (other) Andrew and I took it out on Loch Kinord and intentionally capsized and practiced getting in again – it took a lot of leaning to get it to flip.

Once safely across we stopped off at a little unmarked island and spent a bit of time out in the packraft individually, where it felt like a speedboat!

Myself paddling around Loch Fannich – what a time to be alive

As Andrew had the tent, I left him to scout out a suitable pitch for the night, ideally a very soft one as I doubted my £5 camping mat would provide much support… In the meantime, I deflated and repacked the raft. In an ideal world I’d have left it inflated to give it time to dry but rain was forecast for the next day and potentially overnight so it seemed best to get everything nicely stowed away.

Instantly worth every penny

Andrew picked well

Before heading off to sleep we confirmed due to the worsening weather on the Sunday we would head up Fionn Bheinn and come off the “normal side”, down to the A832 and hitch a ride back to Andrew’s car – this would also mean I’d hitchhiked all 10 of the Fannich Munros.

We woke around half six and thankfully it was dry, but the weather was exactly as forecast so we knew we didn’t have much time in the dry.

Sun rising over Loch Fannich

The midges were starting…

Our intention was to take a straight line across the bog and just north of Loch na Moine Mor and Loch na Moine Beag, this would allow us to go up the north east shoulder, just to the west of Toll Beag.

Everything was going swimmingly to plan, with the exception of the heat and unrelenting midges, until we hit Allt na Moine.

It was only just over a meter wide, but wider that I wanted to attempt jumping in bog…

It was wider than it looks!

We (incorrectly) made the decision to follow the Allt towards the two lochs to find a suitable crossing spot – unfortunately this never materialised, and before long we were at Loch na Moine Mor.

If it wasn’t for the midges I would have gone for another packraft

OS maps now suggested there would be a form of path taking us up towards Sail an Tium Bhain… there wasn’t, well not really.

This was a steep slog and the boggy ground didn’t seem to improve as we gained height.

Bleak – Loch na Moine Mor and Loch Fannich in the background


It was peaceful when we reached the shoulder of Fionn Bheinn but we were stuck deep in the clouds, so views were now non-existent. Once above 700m the ground became more solid underfoot and made the walking seem like a breeze, in comparison to what had gone before it.

Just before the summit, everything seemed to brighten up, and very briefly it threatened a bit of a cloud inversion.

Never really materialised, still atmospheric!

By 11:10 we had reached the summit. This took far longer than expected. Partially due to abandoning the plan for a second crossing, resulting in us taking a more relaxed pace and the eternity we spent crossing the boggy ground.

The Munros are popular and rightly so, so any “firsts” are pretty limited – they’ve even taken a piano to the summit of Ben Nevis. Has a kayak paddle ever been on the top of Fionn Bheinn? I’d suspect not…

…until now

I can’t remember why, but we decided to take the eastern route down Fionn Bheinn, looking back it would have made more sense to head due south to Creagan nan Laogh and down the Allt Achadh na Sine.

The route down was long and boggy (again) and I was a bit apprehensive about the hitchhike, having previously spent over 30 minutes waiting after doing the 9 other Fannichs. The weather also wasn’t great, so we didn’t want to be spending ages waiting in the rain.

Rather wet and outdoor looking, surprisingly the second or third car to go past stopped and offered us a lift back along the A832 to Andrew’s car – they were a Dutch couple who were heading home after a long weekend out in the hills. Thankfully they had a hire car and didn’t seem too bothered about the state of us, very kind.

The drive back to Aberdeen also included picking up another hitchhiker in Garve taking her all the way to Nairn. If memory serves me right, she was waitress working the season in Achiltibuie. After the 9 Fannich’s I remember saying to Andrew that hitchhiking seemed to be quite rare, so 3 separate occasions in one outing was pretty good going, even for the North West of Scotland.

Unfortunately, this would be the first and last hill outing in the packraft for 2019; just due to being busy and other hills not being suitable. Now in the start of the winter, it’ll probably have to wait until the Spring of 2020 to get out again. I do however have some pretty epic routes all planned out, just need to weather and correct wind direction – watch this space…

I also don’t doubt that packrafting has the potential to take off in Scotland, so I’m glad to be slightly ahead of the curve. I look forward to the day I bump into another bunch of dafties paddling across a Loch deep in the highlands!

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Alpackaraft for making an amazing piece of kit. I highly doubt it’ll be my last.


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Re: Fionn Bheinn and the Maiden Voyage

Postby Yorjick » Thu Jan 02, 2020 7:02 pm

A very original post and so well written. Great to see people doing hills by a less popular or less obvious route, rather than following a route from a guide book. I enjoyed your post very much.
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Re: Fionn Bheinn and the Maiden Voyage

Postby Roger n Sue Fellows » Thu Jan 02, 2020 9:42 pm

Next up - Sgurr Mhor - crossing Loch Chuaich to do it. An hour and a bit paddling.

We used an open canoe and had a second summit in mind but it was very hot and we failed to take enough water.

Two paddles would seem a good idea - I'm sure you've worked that out. Perhaps better if they're feathered - blades at near 90 degrees.

Wind will always be your greatest enemy.

Lovely report.
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