Wet! Wet! Wet! Giving Am Faochagach Some Welly!

Route: Am Faochagach

Munros: Am Faochagach

Date walked: 02/10/2019

Time taken: 5.5 hours

Distance: 14km

Ascent: 700m

The trouble with Munros is that they just have to be done. And some just have to be done somewhat more than others. What I mean by that is that there are some Munros that you do simply because you have to. You don’t do Liathach or Alligin or An Teallach, for example, just because you have to – you do ‘em coz you damn well want to. But there are others…well…you just want to get them out of the way and done.

That great soggy sponge pudding of a hill Am Faochagach might well be one of them. I mean, only a mile in from the road you risk getting swept away into the depths of Loch Glascarnoch and maybe being minced through an electric turbine or two. That is not nice. Moreover, you know that even if you do get across the river you’re going to spend a good portion of the day up to your neck in bog and ooze. And what’s the reward at the end of it all? A ridge with about as much excitement as the small ads page of the Inverness Courier. You’ll get some good views, on a good day (Page Three now, rather than small ads, with lots of dramatic protrusions all about). But mine wasn’t a good day. Showery cloud was pouring across from the north, obscuring anything above three thousand feet as it went, and sometimes spilling lower into the glens and corries.

But maybe we had better start at the beginning…

I had read a good few reports on this venerable site and took a major executive decision. Wellies would be the order of the day. I wanted dry feet and I wanted them all day. I wanted to be able to march proudly onwards and upwards without having to spend the day prancing from slippery tussock to slippery tussock, making circuitous detours, and inevitably ending up with boots filled with noxious slime anyway.

I wasn’t even over the style beside the road before the wisdom of wellies was vindicated. On the other side of the fence lay a patchwork of well-filled, black and totally interconnected pools that not even the finest pair of Scarpas could possibly have negotiated unfilled.

I marched across the whole lot with Euclidian precision, not caring a damn, and thus setting the tone for the day to come. Yessir! Get yourself some wellies and turn a bog into boardwalk!

(I am a crofter, by the way, and go through wellies at a terrifying rate. If it’s not one thing it’s the other. Walk on some barbed wire: end of wellies. Stick the prong of your pitchfork through the toe: end of wellies. I curate a whole museum full of dead and mortally wounded wellies. But I don’t care! I can pick up another pair for a mere £11.99 at my local emporium – the Lochcarron Spar (no conflict of interest to declare). That’s what I call value.)

So I followed the obvious track towards the river, already feeling disgracefully smug, sloshing merrily along. And boy, it was wet! Perfect terrain for squishing and squelching. I tramped blissfully through the mire, as happy as a pig in shimmering manure. Dry feet, dry socks, no leaping about trying to avoid this or that, and therefore taking the direct route and saving time and energy.

I was beside the river in what seemed like no time. This was the big unknown. Would I have to don the deep-sea diver’s suit, stashed cunningly in the depths of my pack, to get across? I turned left for a few yards up the track along the bank, and there was a handy cairn, no doubt indicating a good crossing point. Whoever put that cairn there deserves elevation to the Peerage, or at the very least the Presidency of the Scottish Mountaineering Club. It was spot on. The river was flowing fast, but not high. Its potential for mischief was very obvious, but eyeing the sinuous line of rocks across that babbling brook, I could make out a likely route. I was carrying my walking shoes, in case I ever needed them, in a separate small pack on my right shoulder, and after a moment’s reflection decided the pack was light enough not to upset my balance for the traverse. I love stepping stones, especially the random ones arranged higgledy-piggledy by Nature that require a balletic negotiation and the occasional committed leap. I got across easily, only twice having to use rocks just slightly below the surface. For those two moments, the wellies (£11.99, Lochcarron Spar (no commercial interest)) were once again the bee’s pyjamas, or the cat’s knees, or something like that.

Now then. Listen up, folks! Not only will this walk report be brimming with more watery metaphors than the collected works of Herman Melville, it will also be positively overflowing with bucketsful of INCREDIBLY USEFUL tips for getting up and down the waterpark known laughingly as The Heathery One.

(Who named this mountain? Did someone take a short peek at it through dodgy optics from a great distance – Sauchiehall Street, perhaps, or the top of the Scott Memorial – and in their great wisdom decide that the one thing that distinguished this sopping lump from every other Highland hill was the presence of …er…heather?)

You already have Tip Number 1: wear wellies. Here is Tip Number 2; once over the river, keep your wellies on! Yessir! The aquatic obstacle course is by no means finished. Not by a long length of gushing hosepipe.. Skirting round the moraines is sodden enough, but once you start properly upwards, and think that some relief may be due, it gets worse instead of better. Now you are into inundated peat hags fed by a myriad runnels and rivulets easing down and across the hillside to irrigate the merry burn known as the Allt na h-Uidhe. The allt tumbles down in a riot of noisy little waterfalls, their rush and tinkle providing the perfect soundtrack to a day drowned in moisture.

The path, or more accurately watercourse, eventually diverges from the burn and the hill steepens once more towards the ridge. Is this the moment to abandon the wellies? Tip Number 3: NO!! Keep ‘em on, guys and gals! This here slope is as full of slosh and squelch as everything you have so far encountered.

First rainbow of the day

As I toiled upwards through the ooze I began to wonder whether I might end up wearing wellies for the whole ascent. Would that be a first? Might it be something for the Guinness Book of Records? Hell, maybe I could do a lucrative deal with Dunlop and become the first Welly-wearing Compleatist.

Looking towards the Fannichs and Sgurr Mor

Near the top of the slope, just a little way below the ridge, an amazing thing happened: the ground became more or less dry and…yes…dare I say it… hard. It was strange to feel terra firma resisting my weight at each step, instead of sucking me down like quicksand. I didn’t trust it, though! No sir! I turned left to head north along the ridge and after a few yards there they all were again: Olympic swimming pools, Romney Marshes stretching to the horizon, the bogs of Connemara transported to a Highland hilltop. OK, I exaggerate just a tad, but there was, to be sure, yet another band of oozy peat hags. Wellies still on, I marched across ‘em without a care. So, Tip Number 4: Keep them wellies on even at the ridge!

It was only as I began to ascend the first slope on the ridge that I had the first intimations that now might be the time to switch to less sensible footwear. The wellies no longer felt right on a firm terrain paved with scattered sandstone rocks. Just over the brow of the slope was a very visible little cairn. I stopped and decided to abandon the wellies and put on my walking shoes. (Yes, shoes. Tip Number 5: Never forget H W Tilman’s rule of thumb that an extra pound on the foot equals twenty pounds on the back.) I would leave my wellies here inside my spare pack while I finished the ascent.

There may be many among you who think that, for the moment anyway, we are done with tales of flood and inundation. Not a bit of it! As my wellies came off, my waterproofs came on. Cold rain had begun to drive in. Off came my Tilley hat, on went my waterproof, lined, ear-hugging Beechfield (my sea-going hat, that one, twenty-eight thousand ocean miles and still going strong). I laid the welly bag in the lee of the cairn and headed north.

Visibility was down to a few tens of metres, but before long I could hardly see a damn thing – the rain had clogged the lenses of my glasses. It didn’t matter. I knew that the wind was from the north-north-west, and that as long as I kept it fine on the port bow, as it were, my course was good. So I strode into the wind and rain, keeping it lashing my left cheek. Water below had now been replaced by water above. It seemed that on this hill there was no escape.

I eventually made landfall at the summit cairn. As I stood there and looked around into a sea of drenching nothingness, the Deities smiled. Yessir! Maybe there is justice in this world after all! I had endured my trial by water and so earned my just desserts. A hole appeared in the clouds. The sun appeared, for a minute or two, in the hole. The mist cleared, just a little, revealing glimpses of the Deargs to the north and even the Fannaichs to the west. All was well with the world.

At the summit a hole appeared in the clouds

A glimpse of the Deargs, and the second rainbow of the day

I retraced my steps along the ridge, now revealed in all its lumpen, curvaceous glory. No crags or corries here, mate! With the wind now on the starboard quarter and, for the moment, moisture-free, I navigated back to my welly depository. A flock of fifteen ptarmigan crossed ahead, flashing white and warming my old heart too.

Welly bag still intact

Less sensible footwear

Less sensible footwear replaced with really, really, sensible footwear

Nobody had pinched my bag or wellies, which was not surprising, seeing as I had the whole aqueous landscape to myself for the whole day. I changed back to my wellies, leaving my waterproofs on – a wise move given the inevitable showers yet to come. Then it was off to attack once more the deep oceans lying in wait lower down the hill. Shod in my magic rubber boots, it was of course a doddle. Recrossing the river from the other direction, the stepping stones presented a different set of challenges, but nothing that couldn’t be solved with a skip and jump here, or a more considered underwater foot placement there. I sloshed and squelched back over the final stretch of bog to the road, my feet still as warm and dry as when I had set off.

Fuzzy picture of the return crossing

It seems that the median time for this hydrous hill is about six hours. I shaved half an hour off that, no doubt due to the ease of progress from road to ridge. I don’t have youth on my side, by the way. I can still remember when threepence got you into the Municipal Baths, as the local swimming pool was then known. Nowadays I don’t regret forking out £11.99 (Lochcarron Spar – no commercial interests etc.) to keep myself OUT of the water.

Is that the end of the story? No sir! When I got home I took my map out of my bag and laid it on my writing table. I got out a ruler and my best pen. It was time the hill had a new and more appropriate moniker. On the map I drew a line through the words Am Faochagach. Above it, in large letters, I wrote AM FLIUCHACH – THE WET ONE.

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Comments: 27

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Roger T

Location: Wester Ross
Occupation: Writer
Interests: Ocean sailing, hill walking, music, ornithology
Activity: Munro compleatist

Munros: 80
Corbetts: 7

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