Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fisherfield Round 8-9 June 2012

A 24 Hour Version of my 2011 Round, 59.8 miles, 25,500 feet, 23 hours 50 mins

Despite having completing my Fisherfield round twice in 31 hours, I really wanted to complete this fine round in 24.  I'd worked out that I was unlikely to complete the full 2011 round in 24 hours, and in any case, there was too many out-and-backs for my liking.  After mulling the possibilities over for a while, I decided upon a logical line that omitted the long detour out to the eastern Fannaichs and also the rather pointless ascent of Meall a Chrasgaidh.  In addition, I replaced the rather tedious valley section from Loch a Bhroin to Fisherfield with a continuation of the ridge line to Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair.  If there was time I could add in the splendid Corbetts of Beinn Dearg Mhor and Bheag.

The cloud that hampered the night section (Photo - Ian Charters)
So its was that I found myself at Dundonell on an overcast but decent enough evening, this time with the welcome road support of Ian and Pauline Charters.  Having brought the attempt forward due to deteriorating weather I set off at 10:17pm. The linking section to Inverlael is one of the delights of the round - a gently rising path that crosses the divide between An Teallach and Beinn Dearg, with stupendous views of An Teallach giving way to a rich tapestry of sea loch, forest and mountain fastnesses.  In the gathering gloom I just about made it to the road without the aid of a torch, skidding down the steep final slope in my ancient trail shoes.  Just after midnight I arrived the first rendezvous at Inverlael, but the only car was not Ian's.  What to do?  I had nothing but a bumbag - no food, no water, no coat and no map.  In the abscence of any other plan, I nibbled on a bar and flashed my torch pathetically, calling out for Ian.  With no response, I walked slowly to the end of the car park.  Relief!  There lay Ian's car and after hammering on the window, out came Ian.  A quick feed and restocking and then onward up the long forestry track toward Beinn Dearg.  As I rose out of the forest a light drizzle fell which turned into a grey blanket of thick mist on the summit ridge, the tinder dry slopes having been replaced by slippy grass and greasy boulders.  I hadn't checked my torch batteries and the light was somewhat feeble in the misty darkness.  Going up was okay, if a little slow, but coming down demanded attention to the feet and the map and compass, making for a frustratingly painstaking descent of Eilidh nan Clach Geala.  The trail shoes were not up the job and I found myself slipping repeatedly despite the slow pace.  I knew that this section would be demanding in the dark and it didn't disappoint.  On the map the slope up to Ceann Garbh looks innocuous enough, but in reality it is a complex juxtaposition of small crags, boulders and tussocky grass. I held a constant line by my compass and slip-slided my way up the slope and then over the boulders to Meall nan Ceapraichean.  It was now 3am, a time when I had anticipated a reasonable light this far North West, but there was little sign of dawn.  In the mirky darkness I bumbled down the boulders to the slightly confusing terrain beneath Beinn Dearg.  I must have missed the stalkers path that should have cut across my path and ended up in an unfamiliar place, having to reset my course until after some while I made the wall that leads up to Beinn Dearg.  The light was still very poor and the rocks slippy, so I rather tentatively picked my way down to the bottom of the slope that leads up to Cona Mheall, but from there on things got better.  Half way down Beinn Dearg, I emerged from the mist to reveal a glorious sunrise over the Fannaichs, glowing pink above a blanket of cloud beneath.

A fine day beckons over the Fannaichs (Photo - Ian Charters) 

There was no hiccup this time as I reached Ian's car at the roadside, ready for my breakfast, a change of top  and a brief reprieve.  In the cool of the early morning I made steady progress up Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich, just managing to keep out of the clouds which stretched away to the East like an extended wooly blanket.The rocks over Sgurr Mor were still somewhat treacherous, so my pace was somewhat gentle but the morning was fine.  It soon became clear, however, that my legs hadn't recovered from the battering over the past 10 days and my progress remained rather laboured.  On the descent of Sgurr nan Each I inevitably slithered into the bog as a result of my trail shoes being wholly unable to cope with the wet tussocky grass.  I was taking an age and was not enjoying the experience.  I couldn't see much possibility of completing within 24 hours and concluded that if I continued like this I would have to retire at the next support point.  I had simply done too much over the past 10 days, was grossly overtired and no amount of desire would overcome that.  I plodded a little dejectedly up Sgurr Bhreac, but by the summit I had recovered a little poise and as the ground dried and the mists cleared further, the tide began to turn in my favour.  Instead of getting slower and slower, I was actually improving.  By the time I reached Ian at the col before Groban, my spirits had risen considerably and after refuelling and changing into shorts and tee shirt, commenced the grassy roller-coaster to the ridge leading up to Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair.  This is a fine crest replete with pinnacles and views that extend to Torridon, An Teallach and the rest of Fisherfield.  Without stopping I continued down the white rocks from the summit and on to the towers of Beinn Tarsuinn, before slithering down the screes to the pass below A Mhaighdean.  The bog was beautifully dry with cracked peaty hollows and crackling grass, but I had long since run out of water and none was to be found.  On the summit of the Maiden I met my first (and only) people of the day who must have thought I was nuts to run up in shorts and tee shirt and then set off immediately after recording the lap time.  In a rising wind they were huddled in gloves, coats and hats, quote rightly admiring what is one of the best views in Britain - the Western seaboard seen over a myriad of lochans, crags and rough wilderness that makes A Mhaighdean one of the most remote peaks in Britain.
Approaching Shenavall (Photo - Ian Charters)

It is a long way down from the next peak, Ruadh Stac Mor, but I was now becoming increasingly confident that I could make it within 24 hours and I pushed on as best I could in the strong Easterly breeze.  The bog was as dry as I have known it at Larachantivore but its still a bit of a slog over the moor and a thrash across the rivers until you reach the haven of the bothy at Shenavall.  By now, my feet were sore, my shoes were falling apart and my shoulders were aching from carrying a rucksack, but with just one major hill to climb, the end was in sight and after a feed and change of clothing I set off for the monumental climb directly up Sail Mor.  For those not acquainted with this route, it rises 850m in just over a mile of pathless, heather strewn and bouldery mountain wall.  The first time it is very intimidating, but having done it a few times, I knew what was in store and just set about pulling my aching limbs upward.  Not that this makes it physically easier, but the mental battle has been won.  72 minutes later I lurched over the summit in a gale, and somewhat apprehensively skittered down the scree to the col where the wind was rushing up from the corrie wall, threatening to knock me off the mountain.  The mist hung over the towers above rather ominously and my favourite mountain took on a rather more malevolent nature.  I changed my mind more than once before going for the pinnacles and in the event, by timing my jumps between wind gusts and hanging on tightly, managed perfectly easily over the Corrag Buidhe pinnacles and the great leaning tower of Lord Berkeley's Seat.  Today there was no view of the yawning chasm beneath and in any case, I didn't investigate too closely in the gale.  After Sgurr Fiona I just wanted to get back.  The dryness of the ground made for an easy trot down the Glas Alt Mor and with 10 minutes to spare I ran up the familiar red van in to which I was quickly hustled to escape the voracious appetites of the midges.

Ian and Pauline's Photos

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