I enjoyed Dogplodder’s report of her approach to the Fannichs which popped up again recently on the front page of Scottish Walk Reports. The question in the title to her report is apt.
I must say that I have never used the eastern approaches to the Fannichs on my visits and so have never experienced the bogs that those approaches involve. The “problem” with the southern approach (if there is one) is the long approach up the private road to Loch Fannich. But once at the start point for An Coileachean, the route is straight up with minimum bogginess factor.
If like me, you are not concerned with the so called “purity” of the approach, then a mountain bike comes in most useful.
The day before I had climbed the two most westerly Fannichs. Today I wanted the option of completing the remaining seven, but was not sure whether my fitness would be up to this. So the southerly approach was the logical one for this if I felt up to all seven.
I was at the start point, a layby almost opposite the entrance to the road to Fannich Lodge, around 6.15am. It took me almost half an hour of faffing to get myself sorted out, including assembling the bike. So I was not off until 6.40am. Apologies to the occupants of the campervan which was parked up there if I disturbed you.
So off I went up the private road and was soon passing the locked gate with three signs imploring you to keep it closed. Although the height gain is not great at the start of the road it took a while for me to get going. A few nights’ poor sleep left me with that slightly under the weather feeling, but I persevered. The first couple of miles through the forest and parallel to the River Grudie are pretty. From the bike point of view there is the bonus of having a tarmac covered road.
The weather was iffy. All of the tops were covered. The forecast was not promising in terms of views, though there was likely to be little rain and the wind was supposed to be moderate. Still when one has come so far….
As you emerge from the forest you are into the open glen and the scenery becomes wilder, or would do perhaps but for the ever present pipe line to your right and, eventually, the works associated with the dam at the end of Loch Fannich. There was a short sharp rise to a bridge by the house of Aultdearg with its crumpled Saltire hanging limply from a pole. Then came a long flat and speedy section along the valley bottom adjacent to the river again.
The road deteriorated a little where it split with a turn to the left to go to the base of the dam at a bridge and then ceased to be tarmaced at a second junction 500 yards further along at a sign announcing the Fannich Estate. But the way remained good and the road reverts to tarmac once it rounds the southern spur of An Coileachan ¾ mile or so beyond some quarry workings. From there it was an easy ride.
I stopped at what looked to be a relatively new deer fence with attendant cattle/deer grid at the Alltan Caoruinn. I stashed my bike under the bridge there and headed north on a line diverging from the fence. It had taken me almost an hour to reach this point almost a mile short of the Lodge and its attendant buildings. The ground was remarkably dry, almost crunchy under foot. It only took me about 20 minutes to reach cloud level. From there it was a straightforward plod up to the summit. I reached it at 9.30am – so 2 hours 50 minutes from leaving the car. An Coileachan is the cockerel - this chicken was well and truly plucked if you ask me.
I did not expect any views and I did not really have any. At one point a gap in the cloud let me see the bump of An Eigin to the south east. But it was pleasant enough sitting there with a gentle breeze having my second breakfast.
OK, time to move on. A couple of hundred yards to the north and then swing around to the north-west and down to the Bealach Ban. I had only just started the rise up to the south-east top of Meall Gorm when this happened.
What a shock! Unfortunately it did not last very long but the cloud now seemed to be less grey. I took a layer off. I passed by the south-east top and up the barely perceptible rise towards Meall Gorm and its ruined shelter a couple of hundred yards before the summit cairn.
It was 10.45am. The clouds had lifted again to some degree and I could see Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich and Sgurr nan Each. Even Sgurr Mor was threatening to clear. There was a convenient flat rock bench for me to sit on whilst I took on some more food. The cloud swooped down again and I was enveloped once more in the grey gloom.
I pondered now which route to take next. Still uncertain of my fitness I wondered whether an option might be to miss out Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich and to do the other four Munros, leaving BLMF as an easy day at some other time. Alternatively I could do BLMF and Sgurr Mor and return to Fannich Lodge via the stalker’s path that leads down the south ridge of Meall Gorm – but that would mean missing a wanted top, Carn na Criche.
From the summit of Meall Gorm a stalker’s path took me down to the next col and passed along the flanks of Creachan Rairigidh and on up to the top of Meall nan Peitheirean. The cloud had lifted on this section. Above I could make out a small figure making his/her way up Sgurr Mor having come from the way I had now determined to go, i.e. BLMF.
Rather annoyingly the path that cuts across the face of Sgurr Mor was banked out with snow. Without an ice axe I was not going to risk crossing it. It did not look as though anyone else had done so either. This meant an additional 100ft or so of climbing before I could contour around the slopes and pick up the path coming down from Sgurr Mor.
There is a small stone shelter on the lower slopes of Sgurr Mor that was soon passed. The path continues avoiding the next bump to the south (briefly disappearing before reappearing after 200 yards or so, with an alternative over the top of the bump) and descends to the bealach below BLMF. Here a stalker’s path trends up to the left, created by the casting aside of rocks, at times passing through a knee high canyon. It is beautifully graded and takes you round to the north ridge where a large cairn is found that guides you up the final rocky blocks to the summit.
The more direct way (my way down) is to follow the stalker’s path for a couple of hundred metres and then to go straight up, probably quicker and certainly rougher. But by the time I reached the top at 12.50pm the heavens had opened and it was a little unpleasant. There are two cairns, quite close together, at the top. I stayed long enough for a photo and to take a bearing, and tottered off over the rocky blocks.
By the time I was back at the col, the rain was easing off and I could see down either side of the ridge between swathes of cloud. The cloud lifted as I approached the final rise to Sgurr Mor. Passing the stone shelter again I investigated it - it could make a damp if cramped life saver in foul weather, but the floor has relatively flat slabs. At this point Sgurr Mor was clear with a vortex of cloud swirling by its north-east face. It is a good pull up. There is a path but most of the way up it was covered by the remnant of a cornice. Only towards the top did it re-appear. Of course, as I reached the summit, the cloud come down again but not before I had glimpsed down the precipitous north-east face.
I settled down in the lee of the substantial cairn, not that the wind was doing much at that point, to have a late lunch. It was 1.50pm. Not long afterwards, three guys from Gloucester arrived having come in via Loch a’Bhroin. They settled down and we had a good natter.
After a good long stop I followed them north-westwards. The drop towards Carn na Criche is quite deep. But there is a path and the angle up to the top was easy. I had missed Carn na Criche on my previous visits to the Fannichs. Now I was able to “collect” it – just three more to do now. It was clear and, turning to look at Sgurr Mor, I saw that it was clear as well. C’est la vie. There is a fine view from Carn na Criche up Sgurr nan Clach Geala’s north-east ridge and, if you look for it, Loch a’Mhadaidh.
So now there was a diversion out to Meall a’Chrasgaidh. Rocky ground led down to the broad wet col. The ground was sufficiently stony to hop from stone to stone where needed to avoid the risk of wet feet. This area could have been somewhat wetter I imagine. There was then a worn path heading straight up the slopes ahead. Looking to my left An Teallach was clear so I thought that I would have good views of it at the top. But by the time I reached the top, only the second clear top I had, An Teallach had been blanketed. Nonetheless the views to the two western Fannichs that I had been on the previous day, to Sgurr nan Clach Geala (also clear now) and north-east to the Beinn Dearg group were nice. Slioch was also maintained a brooding presence. 55 minutes to here from Sgurr Mor.
The descent back to the wet col was swift and was followed by a short steeper pull back to the deer grazings of Am Biachdaich. I made my way first towards an obvious erratic and then just to the west of the lochan that nestles at the foot of Sgurr nan Clach Geala’s north-east ridge. Here I picked up a path of sorts and also the cloud again. The north-east ridge is probably the narrowest in the Fannichs, but in the cloud I could only sense the exposure. Old patches of snow plunged down to my left into grey depths. I passed a couple of rocky knolls and a father and son duo descending - father not impressed with the conditions. There was now drizzle in the air. It is a long haul up, 800 feet or so from the wet col to the shattered trig point and the cairn a little further beyond. My legs were now starting to feel the effects of a long day.
I walked straight by the trig and cairn, there was no point in stopping, and along the crescent shaped summit ridge. A path continues down the north ridge. I stopped to talk to a guy who was making his way up – he had just 10 more to do to compleat. The cloud had lifted once more by now. Sgurr nan Each looked quite small below. I could see down to Loch Fannich – it looked some way off and I knew that I would have to get there!
At the bealach I stopped and sat on a rock to gird my loins and psyche myself up for the final ascent of the day, oh and to stuff my face with jellybabies. Suitably sugared up, the zig zaggy ridge to Sgurr nan Each passed without incident and reaching the top I had a third clear summit. It was 5.15pm. Sgurr nan Each - peak of the horse - the horse broken, and me? I was still hanging in there. A brief shower passed over. Loch Fannich looked no closer. My route of the day formed the skyline to the east and north (though of course BLMF and Ma’C could not be seen). Fionn Bheinn was still stuck with a cloud cap. Slioch was there glowering away with a backdrop of black cloud. The Torridon giants were somewhat obscured by the gloom. The Strathfarrer 4 were prominent.
Having refuelled I set off down the south ridge. From the col with Sgurr a’Chadha Dheirg (point 866 on the 1:50000 OS) it is possible to descend to the east to the moors of the Allt a’Choire Mhoire where there looked to be a track running around the foot of Druim Reidh. Alternatively you can climb over or flank Sgurr a’Chadha Dheirg. I took this last option as I could not be bothered to climb the 200 feet over this top. The slopes were not too bad but it seemed to take an age to drop down to the peat hags on the col with Torran Ruadh. I even had to take a rest at one point where I finished the last of the two litres of fluid I was carrying. Although it was not a warm day, there was a steady light breeze that was dehydrating.
From there I made my way direct to the track by Loch Fannich dropping down to the track via a break in the trees clearly shown on the map at NH183689. From here it was 2 miles to Fannich Lodge and the further ¾ mile or so to where I had dumped my bike. I cannot say that this was the most favourite part of the day with the track through the forest being particularly oppressive, but at least I was able to obtain some more water and there were no midges. And the Lodge looks a fine building, the kennelled dogs to the rear barking as I plodded by.
The bike retrieved, I then had the most wonderful ride out speeding along with the wind at my back, my sore feet forgotten. On a couple of occasions deer stood to watch wondering what this flying object was before, at the last moment, sensing danger perhaps, prancing off out of harm’s way. The scent of pine filled my nose as I passed through the forest near the end – wonderful – and I was then back at my car at 8.40pm, exactly fourteen hours after setting off.
This is a great walk and a good challenge. Others have posted TRs similarly and, of course, it can be extended to include the western two Fannichs to make the challenge harder, though that probably means finishing at Loch a’Bhroin if starting with the cockerel.
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