Monday, June 20, 2011

Fisherfield Round, 19-20 June 2011

Round of Fannaichs, Fisherfield and Beinn Dearg Munros, 70 miles, 28,000 feet, 37 hours

An Teallach - fulcrum of the round
This round is a magnificent tour of four rugged groups of mountains in what is probably my favourite bit of the Highlands.  The day started well as I rose above the valley mist and I eagerly anticipated a sunny day in the hills as I ascended Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich.

However it was not to be.  Before the summit I entered the mist and from there on every summit was in the cloud and I saw very little indeed.  After losing the way slightly on the descent of Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich I was careful in my route finding and had no more alarms.  The Fannaichs are predominantly grassy hills, but with some magnificent cliffs and some bouldery ground.  there's a bit of this on the long ridge to An Coilleachean, but for the most part its eminently runnable, especially without the rucksack which I'd dumped near Sgurr Mhor.  A quick sandwich and on over the highest peak of the Fannaichs.  I maintained a good pace but was having to work hard and felt a bit sick.  This didn't change until I was forced to slow down once off the Fannaichs, but there's a satisfaction in moving efficiently in wild scenery and I saw no-one.  The descent from the last peak of the Fannaichs is a bit of a green wall where confidence is needed to trot down in the cloying mist.  At the bottom its a tedious tussocky morass, but after 21 miles I reckoned a stop was in order.  I'd done the first section at a fair rate but at a cost.  I was already feeling a bit weary and had now picked up a painful knee.

Still, I was determined to carry on and the slog up the next hill was relieved by the some of the most amazing slabs in the British Isles.  These drop down for about one kilometre in a smooth drop at an angle of about 30 degrees and extend for about a mile across the hillside.  Above is a chaotic pile of boulders that litter the hillside.  Its truly one of the wonders of Scotland that I had not anticipated - one of the joys of an unreccied route.  However the weather was not playing ball.  The drizzle settled in and from then on the day was a soggy affair with no views whatsoever.  Having looked forward to a day in the sun, this was an immense disappointment and coupled with my painful knee, put something of a dampener on proceedings.  I could no longer run downhill and in any case, the wet quartz didn't lend itself to fast progress.  Still, in the wilderness 10 miles from the nearest road there is little to do but press on, and my guesstimate of timings was proving woefully inadequate for the prevailing conditions and my creaking joints.  By the time I emerged from the mists and sloshed through the bog and river to Shenavall Bothy it was 10pm and I was not in the mood for a dark night in the rain on An Teallach.  I therefore readied myself for a cold, fairly unpleasant night in the bothy, given that I was out of food and drink and had no warm clothing.

Yet unbeknown to me an angel in the form of a lad with a full bottle of whisky, spare food, stove and duvet jacket was waiting for me.  A night of abject misery was transformed to a sociable dram or two before settling down for a decent rest.  At 4am I'd had enough, had some breakfast courtesy of my new found friend and the leftover food in the bothy, and set off for one of the steepest ascents anywhere - 850m up in a mile.  Unsurprisingly its an unrelenting slog up heather, boulders and scree to the summit of Sail Liath, the Eastern end of the An Teallach ridge.  This is my favourite mountain in Scotland, with its out-of-this-world sandstone pinnacles, huge cliffs and pointed summits.  I took in all the pinnacles and even in the continuing dreich conditions, counted myself lucky to be there.

At 9am I picked up my food dump, which served as a good second breakfast rather than the evening meal I had intended it to be and set forth along the hill path to Inverlael.  This is the relatively low level part of the route and I had envisaged a fairly dreary interlude between the major hill groups.  How wrong I was.  the path affords wonderful views of the wall of An Teallach which was now revealed, at least in part.  As you proceed, you pass waterfalls and idyllic lochans and traverse above the sea loch, with Beinn Dearg beckoning beyond.  In the dark I'd have seen none of this so I was a happy man again.  That is until the path shown on the map disappeared into the undergrowth and necessitated weaving in and out of the gorse bushes, reeds and drainage ditches.  Still, I could sniff lunch at the next food dump and duly fortified, strode up the forestry track up Glen Squaib.  It was warm in the glen, but it didn't last long as I re-entered the mist and stayed there until the last descent.  These hills are wild, rock strewn and cleaved by great cliffs.  In my minds eye I could see Penguin Gully that I'd climbed in a previous winter, but the scene was rather more of a grey affair on this occasion.  On reaching Beinn Dearg, I took a direct line for the car at Loch Droma and finally followed the stalkers path to end what had been a truly magnificent outing.

PS. The videos were taken subsequently!


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