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The Fisherfield Six
by johnnyhall » Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:59 am
Route description: Fisherfield 6, from Shenavall
Munros included on this walk: A' Mhaighdean, Beinn Tarsuinn, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Ruadh Stac Mor, Sgurr Ban
Corbetts included on this walk: Beinn a'Chlaidheimh
Date walked: 25/10/2010
Time taken: 13 hours
Distance: 47 km
Ascent: 2820m2 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Garmin log http://connect.garmin.com/activity/54476254.
Full flickr photo set http://www.flickr.com/photos/recipher/sets/72157625121384751/ (apologies for the poor quality, they are all iphone photos, I broke my camera).
Hi. This is my first post here - warning, it's a touch long and rambling. I originally posted this on my blog, and I've linked to this above. I hope that's ok.
Recently, I decided to get out and about in the hills a bit more, and spend a bit less time racing (running mostly) and bit more time hillwalking. I've got several plans in my head which have never been fully formed.
One of those plans was to get out and do some 24-hour overnight trips into the hills, on foot and by bike. Over time, these ideas became a bit more serious and adventurous and I resurrected an idea I had to venture into the Fisherfield Forest. I realised that my current overnighting kit was probably a bit inadequate (2 man tent, lightweight summer down bag, heavy rucsac, MSR Reactor stove) for the task, so I gathered up all my unused gear and put it on eBay and after weeks of deliberating, researching and discussing, I had completely revamped my gear. So much so, that for this trip, I used a new shelter, bag, sleeping pad, rucsac, poles, stove, duvet and windproof jacket. Barely anything I own is well-used now, but it's all lightweight and functional, although there does seem to be a bit of a learning curve with some of it. I'll cover some of the gear in later posts.
I decided that I wanted to try an 2-day, overnight trip into Fisherfield to climb the Fisherfield 6 and An Teallach, walking about 15 miles a day, camping somewhere around A' Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor. However, plans are fluid and finding a 2 day window of reasonable weather was proving difficult. I spotted that Sunday and Monday (yesterday) looked ok but we had dinner plans for Saturday night, meaning that I'd not have a full 2 days (and, importantly, enough daylight) to get round. So, I set my sights on the Grey Corries and set off north late Sunday morning.
Just before the turn at Dalwhinnie, I made a last minute decision to keep heading north and adjusting my plans in my head, I realised I might just have enough daylight to get the six done if I missed out An Teallach (covered in new snow and no ice anyway, not the best conditions for climbing) and covered enough ground in the few daylight hours left to me on Sunday once I arrived. Madness (Walkhighlands recommends 12-18 hours for this trip, not including the walk in and out from Shenavall, which is 9 miles - I had 13 hours of daylight to include the walk from the car). To be fair, I don't think I fully realised how much of a task it would be.
I got to Corrie Hallie just before 3pm after a painless journey and after making the only decision left to make (shoe choice, I went with the trail runners rather than the winter mids, and left the Kahtoolas in the car), I set off. I figured that I had about 3 hours to get as close to Ruadh Stac Mor as I could, walking past Shenavall, over the river, across the bog and up behind Ruadh Stac Beag. I had worked out I had to cover about 9 miles from the car, so I set to my task, got my head down and tried to keep the pace high. With fresh legs and no major climbs to cover, this was achievable. There was only one other car parked, with two older boys gearing up to walk in.
I made 2 mistakes on the first day, neither were critical but both were annoying. The first mistake happened at the high point of the path to Shenavall. I set my camera up on the Zipshot tripod (another new purchase) to take the first of many (planned) photos of me in the mountains and as I strode off, the camera was blown over and smashed on the ground. The damage was minimal yet devastating - the zoom mechanism was broken and the camera rendered useless. From then on, I was forced to use my iPhone to take photos, which isn't the best landscape camera ever made. Still, nothing could be done about it.
I got to Shenavall in about 90 minutes, keeping a decent pace up. I was welcomed by three young deer who obviously are very used to human company, despite the remote setting. Then I had to cross the river. I took my socks off and just waded through in my Terrocs. Pointless, since my socks were soaked through anyway about 30 seconds after hitting the bog. Mistake two happened here - my water bottle with energy drink fell out of the side pocket of my pack. Not devastating but probably meant I'd be running on empty the next day (I was).
I then motored up Gleann na Muice and turned up the stalkers path up the Gleann na Muice Beag aiming to bivi at the top near Lochan Feith Mhic'illean. I made it to the Lochan in 3 hours just as it was getting dark, found the best camp spot I could and set up my tarp in the mounting darkness. I made a bit of a hash of it because the sleeping area was sloping and in the dark, I couldn't avoid the tarp slumping in the middle (I need to practice in daylight in the back garden) but it was good enough. I then had to set up my quilt, bivi bag and sleeping pad, again something which needs a bit of practice. I had a lovely rock to lean against to cook my dinner but it started to drizzle, so I retreated under the shelter. The food was lovely, my first time with Fuizion food and it tasted like real food, which is perfect and unexpected.
I settled down for the night but my camp spot was poorly chosen and I had to work hard to adjust everything so my bag wouldn't slide down the slope. Then Mr. Stag decided to practice his singing until midnight. At one point he sounded so close, I imagined him trampling on me in the dark. The wind picked up and kept me awake as well, so I dozed fitfully until about 4am it seemed, when the wind dropped before picking up again at 6 (I checked). I got up at 7 and it took me about 45 minutes to clear camp and pack my bag with the wind blowing my gear around.
I didn't bother cooking breakfast, I just stuffed some beef jerky and Clif bar in my mouth and set off. I was planning to make a cup of tea on the summit of the first mountain but when I got there, it was a bit too cold and windy, so I decided against it. I set off at 8am, with about 10 hours of daylight to get back to the car. Of course, the last few miles would be on tracks, so I could walk in the dark but I preferred to get back by 6pm (since I had a 240 mile drive back home).
The day had dawned fairly clear and I could see both the moon and the sun but it was below freezing and there was a bitter wind. Ruadh Stac Mor was the first munro and I had about 500m of ascent from my bivi in a short distance, so it was straight up. The last couple of hundred metres were above the snowline and I was concerned in case the snow was icy, since my running shoes and lack of crampons would be a problem. I figured the snow would still be soft because it was very early in the season and I was proved right. I still had to be careful on a few slopes to avoid slipping. Next trip I'll be packing the crampons and ice axe.
I was moving a bit slowly at the beginning of the day and it took me about 90 minutes to get to the summit. At that point, I was seriously thinking about bagging the trip after A' Mhaighdean and heading back down the Gleann to the car, rather than going over the other 4 mountains. Solo, long distance trips are often just as much a mental challenge as they are a physical one and I was close to the edge. Getting off Ruadh Stac Mor was tricky - the west side of the hill is bordered by steep sandstone crags. There is a path apparently but it was covered in snow and there was no way I was going to find it. I did the best job I could picking a way down but at one point I ended up at the top of a 30 metre drop to the col and had to stow my trekking poles and scramble back up until I found a safe descent route.
I slogged across the col to the snow slopes of A' Mhaighdean, sweating under the sunshine before I could drop my pack and climb up the last couple of hundred metres unencumbered. The top of the hill came quickly and I decided that I would keep going and reassess my position once I got to the summit of Beinn Tarsuinn. I figured that would be the crux of the day, since I had to drop back down to about 600m and then make the longest climb of the day to get to the top. Once that was done, I would be about halfway through the day, with more than half the climbing completed.
It turned out to be an easier climb that I imagined. I managed to navigate quite nicely, avoiding losing unnecessary height and then picked a direct line onto the ridge. That ridge turned out to be surprisingly narrow and interesting with some dramatic crags and drops to scare and impress in equal measure. Again, I had to be very careful on the snowy rock but it passed without drama and I was on the third of the days munro summits. At this point, time was on my side, I'd picked up the pace and I thought I'd have enough time (and energy) to get round all six. Of course, a marathon is only halfway through at the 20 mile mark, and probably, the halfway point for this marathon wasn't going to be until the top of the last hill.
The descent of Tarsuinn was all on snow and was it was fun bounding down to the col. There is a small hill, Meall Garbh to crest before the long climb to the highest munro of the six, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair. There is a bypass path to avoid the 100m climb but I couldn't see it and the slopes looked a bit treacherous, so, after a wee break for some nuts, sweets and water, I bounded (dragged) up the ascent and then down the other side. I kept the pace up over the next climb and it passed quickly enough. The descent proved a bit tricky. Without prior knowledge of the easiest line, from above, it all looked a bit steep and the slopes were covered in snow. I ended up traversing along the ridge a little trying to find an easier angle to get down but there were a few hairy moments where I had to be extra careful not to take the quick way down.
The fifth munro, Sgurr Ban, proved to be the easiest of the day to get up, and the hardest of the day to get down. It took me barely 30 minutes from Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair to get there and I was met on the top by the two other climbers I had seen the day before at Corrie Hallie. They had climbed from Shenavall and were on their second top of the day, with two more to go before the long walk back to the bothy. The first fella was chipper enough but the second didn't say a word and looked a bit on the edge of exhaustion. At this point, it was 1pm and I'd been on the go for about 5 hours and figured I had about another 3 or 4 to go but I'd underestimated how long the walk out from the last munro was, so at this point I was only halfway through the day. If I'd known that at the time, I might have cried, I think.
The descent of Sgurr Ban starts easily down snow slopes which I loped down but it soon turns into a boulder field which were murderous in my trail shoes with tired ankles. A slip here could have been disastrous so I took my time and picked my way carefully to the col, where I filled up my water bladder with the freshest water in Scotland and continued on.
The climb up Beinn a' Chlaidheimh was quite long but it was broken into two sections which made it easier in my head, despite my flagging legs. There are two tops and I wasn't sure which one was the summit so I visited both. I also wasn't sure which was the best way down to Abhainn Loch an Nid and the track leading back to the car. Again, it looked steep and dangerous to go straight down and I wasn't sure where the recommended descent was, so I doubled back a little and took a longer way down less steep slopes. To get to the river and the exit track, you have to lose about 800m of height and on tired legs, the boggy, heathery, stony slopes were hard work. I just had to get my head down and get on with it. Walking out to the car on long mountain days are always tiring and at this point, I didn't fully realise how long it would be, I figured about 4 miles and maybe 1.5 hours but it turned out to be about 7.5 miles and 2.5 hours. The cruel part of this exit walk is that after losing 800 metres, you then have to climb another 350 up a long, dull track. Most people, I believe just head back to Shenavall before exiting the next day but I didn't have the luxury.
By this time, my feet were on fire, my hamstrings were like piano wire and my shoulders were seizing, my once lightweight pack seemed to have doubled in weight. I suspect that the two walkers I met earlier had dropped some rocks in when I wasn't looking. I plodded on but by the time I started the last climb, I knew I still had a long way to go because I remembered that Shenavall was 4.5 miles from the road, so I still had at least that distance. Eventually, I got to the top and I even picked up the pace on the descent, jogging for a few hundred metres at a time. I arrived back at the car after exactly 29 miles (by my Garmin) and 13 hours of walking, ready for a relaxing 240 mile drive home.
If I'm honest, I was definitely too ambitious. Attempting a round of this length, with limited daylight hours and with little recent hillwalking experience (and I've not been camping in a very long time) was probably too much. When you have so much ground to cover, it's hard to truly enjoy yourself with the pressure to keep going. However, I did manage to get round without too much trouble, though it was extremely challenging. Next time, I'm doing something easier, shorter and with some company.
by PhilTurner » Wed Oct 27, 2010 12:11 pm
Next time you're heading up give me shout and I'm sure I can provide some company. I may request a slightly less torturous route though....
- mountain coward
by johnnyhall » Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:05 pm
I'll let you know Phil. Company is always good (though I'm glad no-one got to see me make a hash of setting up my bivi!). Often times, I prefer not to plan too far in advance, since the weather is so fickle. I don't mind a bit of adverse weather but long days like these are dangerous if the weather turns typically Scottish.
It's a long way but with a lightweight pack, it'd be much more doable from the road in a day. I reckon, without the pack on, I'd have been able to do it all in the daylight available at this time of year with an early start.
On the one hand, it maybe makes it less enjoyable to try to cover so much ground in a single push. On the other hand, it's sometimes the only way to get these things done - I have a young family, and finding time to get away is difficult.
I am eyeing up the Fannaichs now.
- mountain coward
by malky_c » Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:50 pm
by johnnyhall » Wed Oct 27, 2010 3:37 pm
I don't know why I think like this.
- mountain coward
To class effort. Its about time another walker turned up that likes to push themselves. Dooterbang and Doogz excepted. Not sure if I could keep up with you though That was quite epic what with all the new gear and first time camping in those conditions. Superb
- mountain coward
by johnnyhall » Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:28 pm
I think I need to do a few more of these next summer, and see if I can build a bit more robustness into my body. The basic fitness is there though, although I'm just ticking over right now. I'm running London in April and then the Jura Hill Race in May next year, so I should be a bit stronger in the summer. I'm thinking about doing Tranter's Round with a friend at some point. And I've got a great plan for a Corbett extravaganza in Sutherland too.
Now I've had a bit of time to digest it, I'm pleased I got it done before winter really sets in. Considering I haven't done anything of this scale for a while, it's good to know I still can. My body is cursing me though.
monty wrote:sorry Mc. I forgot about you
Everyone forgets me... sob
- mountain coward
by dooterbang » Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:54 pm
Sounds like my kind of day .
I understand the psyche of the challenge .
I will do this next year.
by kinley » Wed Oct 27, 2010 6:00 pm
A lot more snow than I would of thought too
Still a big walk and nicely done too.
Personally I prefer the more relaxed version though
Dare I ask what kind of camera you bust?