walkhighlands

The Tale of the 9 Fannichs

Munros: A' Chailleach (Fannichs), An Coileachan, Beinn Liath Mhòr Fannaich, Meall a' Chrasgaidh, Meall Gorm, Sgùrr Breac, Sgùrr Mòr, Sgùrr nan Clach Geala, Sgùrr nan Each

Date walked: 19/10/2021

Time taken: 10.55 hours

Distance: 39.9km

Ascent: 2800m


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This was to be sixth and final instalment of what had so far been a reasonably productive bagging trip. Yesterday, our hike up the solitary, yet splendid, Seana Bhraigh took us to a grand total of ten Munros, three Corbetts and two Grahams for the week. It had not escaped our attention that today was a unique opportunity to nearly double our Munro total for the week, and leave us heading back to Wales feeling positively smug.

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The others at the beginning of their walk


Our plan was to traverse from west to east. Fortunately, we had a number of vehicles on the trip, enabling us to complete a linear route. Nine made the trip north, however, we divided into three groups for this final odyssey, this being a candid assessment of our capabilities, as well as a precautionary measure in response to potential recurring injuries. This tale then is of myself and Owain Evans who, perhaps foolishly, decided to go for the nine!

We left the car park at 7.22am with the air motionless. Invariably, this led to a mighty ‘attack’ from the midges which meant that we did not hang about on this first flat section. The well-made track soon took us east of Loch a Bhraoin. We then continued along the track which headed south along the edge of Allt Breabaig.

After another 200m we turned off the track and followed a reasonably distinct path up the nose of Sron na Leitir Fhearna. At this point the Fannichs were shrouded in thick mist down to around 700m. Our mood reflected this, knowing that we had barely scratched the surface. The path soon steepened and the inevitable zig-zagging began. Owain was leading here and the pace I thought was ferocious considering that this was only the opening round. However, I kept my head down and said nothing, thinking that showing weakness now would be tantamount to defeat. Will this come back to haunt us?

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Sweating profusely, we made it up to the nose of Druim Reidh. After a quick drink (this guzzling occurring whilst moving as we were always conscious of time). The next section was pleasant due to the gradual nature of the climb. Approaching 800m the path began to contour round in a south westerly direction with the aim of arriving at Bealach Toll an Lochain (815m). Now in thick mist the path became indistinct as it traversed the boulder strewn side of Toman Coinnich. Thankfully, Owain took the lead here as he seems to have a nose for keeping to an intermittent path.

Arriving at the Bealach, the path to our first Munro A’Chailleach was visible ahead. Fuelled by ‘summit fever’ we charged to the summit of our first of (hopefully) nine Munros for the day. This was a bittersweet moment. This felt like hard work to gain our first Munro hence our satisfaction at summiting, nonetheless, should it have felt that hard? After all, this was only one of nine. The summit push again left me pondering whether this will come back to haunt us…

After the briefest of stops we made haste back to the bealach. Two options confronted us now. We could simply contour round to the next bealach between Toman Coinnich and Sgurr Breac (the second Munro) or head up the Munro Top and claim another tick, if top ticking is your thing (is it not enough to tick the Munros??). A rational choice would be to take the former and maximise our energy reserves for the latter half of the walk. No prizes for guessing what the outcome was. It was a direct hit of Toman Coinnich. Although I’m content at present to bag all the Munros, what if a day comes in future where I decide to bag the Tops as well? Better to tick, just in case…

Still conscious of time we didn’t bother to stop on Toman Cinninch and progressed swiftly down to the bealach, before ascending the second Munro of the day, Sgurr Breac. There was no doubt in both of our minds that we felt that three mountains had so far been bagged. Yet the count was two, and still seven to go….

Briefly pausing on the summit of Sgurr Breac to take a bearing, still in denst fog, the needle led us in an easterly direction. A clear path took us steeply down to the next bealach. Having researched beforehand we were painfully aware that we dropped to 550m here, every step therefore simultaneously bringing us literally and psychologically down, conscious that all would have to be regained.

Whilst descending I also became aware for the first time of minor twinges in my knee, understandable perhaps when walking briskly down a precipitous path. It was not long since I had recovered from a prolonged knee injury and therefore, despite their trifling nature, alarm bells were ringing, and ringing loudly too! A good path heading north from the beleach would have me back in the car within the hour. My attitude at this point oscillated wildly between a cavalier conviction that all would be well, and extreme caution thinking that this could inhibit any form of exercise for months. Also, the mountains will always be here won’t they? Nonetheless, I needn’t tell you which attitude won the day…

Arriving at the lowly bealach we were surprised to see a young couple coming up from the north, having followed Allt Breabaig. We were also out of the mist again which gave us a glimmer of hope that the clouds may well lift today. However, it also provided a sobering glimpse of what lay ahead. Pathless, and as wet as a soaking sponge, an impenetrable sea of green grass lay overhead, which to us looked as inviting as a bar without beer.

Following a bearing directly east we aimed for Cadha na Guite, the saddle between our next two Munros, Sgurr nan Each and Sgurr nan Clach Geala. Trudging upwards at what felt like a snail’s pace, heads were down and conversation was kept to a minimal. Deciding against the wearing of leather boots to prioritise speed, this is where we came to regret the decision. However, slowly yet irrevocably, our mood began to improve as we knew that once at the next bealach the two most challenging climbs of the day would be completed.

Like clockwork, we both increased the pace, and in what felt like a short climb we arrived at the bealach. Mood lifted and a fresh spring in our step we left our bags at the bealach and swiftly darted along the well-made path to Sgurr nan Each. Summiting in this instance however became a matter of secondary importance. Only minutes later a break in the clouds provided a stunning vista of the protruding peaks of Sgurr nan Clach Geala and Sgurr Mor, their green towering flanks creating a wonderful sense of awe. Cameras out, we snapped away in every direction, acutely aware that this may be our only sighting of today.

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Pictures taken, and freshly energised after the briefest of spectacles we roared on, with a resoluteness for the first time that the nine can and will be done! From the bealach a climb of nearly 300m awaited us and the clear path continued in the opposite direction, zig-zagging north towards the summit of Sgurr nan Clach Geala. In retrospect, I think we underestimated this climb. Being on the well-trodden path and still prancing like a Duracell bunny, the pace was needlessly relentless. By implication, the climb felt longer than it needed to be, falling steadily into the false summit trap, the mountaineers equivalent of ‘are we there yet?’

A new thought wriggled into our heads now. We were conscious that another group of ours must be a short way ahead by this point, they having come up near Allt Breabaig to the lowly bealach before turning east. With the clouds still enveloping the hills the panoramas could not be savoured. Sweat dripping profusely as we summited the windless Munro, the chase was now on to catch the remaining four. In our minds at least, this was the mountain stage of Wacky Races.

We followed the narrow yet distinct path down in a north easterly direction to around 900m and proceeded to take a bearing north. It corresponded with the path which took us west of the small pond marked near Clach Mhor na Beuchdaich on the map. Soon we descended low enough to be out of the clouds again and directly ahead was the humpbacked Munro of Meall a Chrasgaidh, with its summit just above the cloud line. It was here were we came across a small green tent, perched on a delightful little spot overlooking the cliffs of Am Burach towards Loch Mhadaidh to the east.

Bags were left again at the bealach as this was another out and back route. Enjoying the fresh wind on our backs we walked on enthusiastically, with the intention to get back to our bags at the earliest possible moment having agreed to stop for lunch. Also, by gaining number five of nine we knew this would give us a psychological boost, safe in the knowledge that we’d be over half way in terms of elevation gained and Munros bagged for the day.

Powering towards the summit voices could just about be discerned in front of us. Was this the other four who we had expected to have at least caught a glimpse of by know? Encouraged, we dropped another gear and within a few seconds figures could just be made out on the cloud line. One…two…three….only three? It can’t be the others then. With our minds deep in thought of where they might currently be, a fourth figure appeared. Seconds later it was beyond doubt as there identifies revealed themselves.

Smiles all round at the belated (in our minds) meeting, one of them asked in bewilderment where were our bags? Explaining that we left them at the bealach the inevitable quip soon followed from Dafydd…’they don’t count if you leave your bags in the bealach’!! After a brief chuckle and exchanging pleasantries we departed in our respective directions. Minutes later the rocky summit of Meall a Chrasgaidh was reached. Despite achieving Munro status, we didn’t really think much of it, perhaps due to its relative size to the two ‘Sgurr’s’, and it being a laborious out and back exercise.

With the clouds lifted above the summit and conditions remaining dry we had no cause for complaint regarding the weather so far. It had been warm enough to avoid warranting a second layer thus far and remained so for the latter half of journey. We made it to our bags without issue, despite Owain’s worry that they may be tampered with. No cause for alarm, the bags were there, and crucially, our lunch was unmolested. It had been a lengthy excursion so far so lunch was a lackadaisical affair, relishing the tranquillity of being ‘alone’ in the world.

Carn na Criche was our next destination, our second Top of the day. Untroubled this time by having to decide whether to summit or contour around, the only logical way of arriving at the foot of Sgurr Mor was to proceed directly over its crest. Shorter than the climb up the previous ‘Sgurr’, it was however a steeper climb with Owain doing well again to navigate the intermittent nature of the path. Despite being refuelled this was a demanding undertaking, perhaps the result of the inevitable fatigue kicking in.

We were back in thick fog before the summit with the cloud now settled at around the 1000m mark therefore it was a pleasant surprise when the summit cairn finally came into view. Squatting just off the cairn was a couple who appeared to be in a state of total serenity, unperturbed by the density of the fog. Good on them!

This was another big tick as we knew that all the major climbs of the day were completed. A good path now took us initially in a south easterly direction before turning directly east. Height was quickly lost and we were now back in hunt mode. Can we catch the other four before Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich, the seventh Munro? The going was now easy as a gentle path continued in a north easterly direction towards the summit.

It wasn’t long before we made out the four figures of Dyfed, Dafydd, Steve and Chris. Sadly, the cloud line descended again which meant the next Munro was disappointingly obscured. We caught them just before the final summit push. No pleasantries were exchanged this time as the focus was solely on summiting. The map shows Munro number seven to be another out and back, on a gentle path with minimal climbing. Expectations however didn’t conform to reality. As is often the case, when expecting something to be ‘easier’, it turns out to be quite the opposite, and Beinn Liath Mhor Fanniach turned out to be a hard-earnt Munro, unequivocally deserving of its status I must add.

To get to the actual summit should also not be underestimated in foggy conditions. The path, as shown on the map, skirts its left shoulder, never going above the 900m mark. Two options present themselves. From the small pool before the initial climb a bearing can be taken directly, as another group in front of us did. Alternatively, as we did, you can continue along the path to its highest point before taking a bearing directly east over some tricky boulders. Moods lifted, although sadly the clouds did not, we learnt that the other group was Scottish. Remarking back Dafydd said that we’ve come up from Wales for the week, before adding with a sense of irony (I hope), ‘where we have REAL mountains’! Perhaps he should have waited until we arrived safely back at the car before his tongue-in-cheek comment?

Smiling, and saying our goodbyes we followed a back bearing to the main path. After several careful moves over greasy boulders we headed along the distinct path in a south westerly direction, reinforced by the fact that we were now a bigger group, and with it, that sense of togetherness made finishing seem all the more feasible.
Heading back towards Sgurr Mor the path gently gains height. After a nameless top, marked with a height of 944m on the map, it begins to contour around before arrowing south. The clouds once again lifted and the broad undulating ridge revealed the final two Munros of the day, the next objective being Meall Gorm. The expanse gave us a strange yet affectionate feeling that we were walking along our native mountains of the Carneddau, the largest contiguous area of high ground in all of England and Wales.

Thanks to its undulating nature we made short work of the first ‘top’ of Meall nan Peithirean. After a brief debate on whether this was an official Munro Top, the map revealed it to be a couple of meters short. Strangely, as is often the case with the subjective nature of the Munros list, it was still 22m higher than the next ‘official’ Munro, it topping out at a mere 949m. Not that anyone complained at this point. At this late stage of the day, where fatigue increasingly become a factor, we appreciated the benign nature of the climb. One to go….

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Without formally declaring a break, I think we sensed a short pit stop was required before the final hurdle. All I had remaining at this point was a pork pie which is something I don’t normally pack. It’s usually my emergency food if I know we’ve an epic in store. Anyhow, the long and the short of it is, the pork pie went down a treat. I would be understating the act, which lasted barely seconds, even if I used the adjective ‘devoured’ to describe my actions.

Powered by the pork pie we set off for An Coileachan. A reasonably distinct path leads us off the summit, and after hitting a minor top, it descends down to Bealach Ban. We knew from the map it was an appreciable drop, dropping to 775m, however, with fatigue now pervasive, it appeared and felt like more, especially with An Coileachan towering above in the background. Adding salt to the wounds, the descent was strewn with football like size boulders which meant the path quickly disappeared and progress was painstakingly slow.

Arriving at the bealach we’d disbanded as a group, all of us having chosen our own route through the boulder field. Head down, it was simply the case of ascending the final Fannich, all of us in our own private battle against mental and physical exhaustion. Chris led the way with myself following behind. Time and time again, when you sense the finishing line you find another gear, a reserve of energy, seemingly from nowhere, hitting you like a thunderbolt. Feet motoring and sweat trickling, we finally caught a glimpse of the summit. Another jolt to the system and there we were, at the summit, nine….NINE Munros, in the bag, in a single day! An event to savour if ever there was one as I’m convinced it will never be repeated.

After guzzling down the remnants of our water supply and handshakes all round, there was only one thing left to accomplish, perhaps the most significant of the day. The obligatory summit selfie! This is not something that Dafydd has simply mastered but has become positively renowned for over the years. A summit without a selfie is wanting. Despite taking up half the picture, he skilfully manages to capture the essence and allure of the landscape, notwithstanding every member of the group, fantastic!

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The Obligatory Summit Selfie


Reality now dawned however. Reminiscent of the joy of arriving at Foel Fras, the 15th and final peak of the Welsh 3000s, our minds turned to the long journey to the car park. Looking at my Garmin it showed us to be just over the 20-mile mark. I had measured the route on the OS online map beforehand which put the route at roughly 23 miles. Looming ahead in our general direction of travel was a vast expanse of wilderness, without any sign of a road. Keeping my thoughts glumly to myself I knew this odyssey would not be far off a marathon by its end.

A path could not be found as we began our descent. A bearing took us north, our point of attack being the south eastern corner of Loch Gorm, identified as point 565m on the map. Picking our own route on the descent we were careful not to stray too far to the right where precipitous drops abounded. Legs now in the fatigue zone it was tough going over tougher ground, which was also considerably boggy on the lower slopes. This was not the time to mud slide.

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A short break at point 565m allowed the team to refill their water containers in the number of tributaries filtering down to Loch Gorm. We were grateful to pick up a good path now which contoured around Meallan Buidhe and eventually followed the course of Abhainn a Ghiuthais Li. Slowly the path became ever fainter and Chris made the decision to cross to the left-hand side of the stream, where a clear path affixed itself to its edge.

As we meandered down the valley, the wooded area which needed to be navigated before arriving at Torran Dubh car park never appeared to get closer. In retrospect, it was a pleasant walk, on a dry and springy path, with the turquoise-blue stream always visible as it wounded its merry way down the glen. Babbling and burbling, it sprung over the limestone rocks in its way.

Crossing the river again we finally made it to the wooded area. A short climb rose ahead which took us over the 9000ft of climbing for the day. Not a bad outcome and I would be lying if I said that I was not looking forward to uploading the activity on Strava. Faintly yet unmistakably, the sound of vehicles brought a final burst, enticing us towards the car park where Gari, the elder statesmen of the team, was waiting patiently for our arrival.

Not quite a marathon as the watch adjourned on 24.8 miles. Adding the elevation gain also meant it was easily definable as an ‘epic’, one that will forever in the memory. Is this for you? I think if confronted with good weather and ample daylight this is within reach of any hillwalker with a good level of fitness and stamina. Only a single section was pathless (to gain the bealach before Sgurr nan Clach Geala) and exit points abounded along the ridge.

So, the trip had come to its end, barring a few obligatory and well-earned beers later in the evening. 19 Munros, 3 Corbetts and 2 Grahams (and a number of Munro Tops if that’s your thing). The mountain had remained motionless after Dafydd’s daring quip. Nonetheless, they do say that revenge is a dish best served cold. And on that note, it’s just dawned on me….our next mountain trip to Scotland is this coming February…..

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Activity: Stravaiging
Mountain: Carnedd Dafydd
Place: Glencoe
Gear: Montane terra pants

Munros: 75
Corbetts: 10
Grahams: 8
Wainwrights: 81
Hewitts: 163



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Statistics

2021

Trips: 1
Distance: 39.9 km
Ascent: 2800m
Munros: 9


Joined: Aug 17, 2018
Last visited: Nov 23, 2021
Total posts: 1 | Search posts