A two night round of the nine Fannaich Munros completed as a figure of eight
Date: 24th to 26th May 2016
Hills: Sgurr nan Each (Munro, 923m), Sgurr nan Clach Geala (Munro, 1,093m), Meall a' Chrasgaidh (Munro, 934m), Sgurr Mor (Munro, 1,110m), Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich (Munro, 954m), Meall Gorm (Munro, 949m), An Coileachan (Munro, 923m), Sgurr Breac (Munro, 999m), A' Chailleach (Munro, 997m), Groban (Graham, 749m), Craig Rainich (Corbett, 807m)
Weather: Mostly sunny with a cold, blustery wind at times. Misty in the mornings but generally improving
Route: Click to view on an OS Map
Tuesday 24th May
A fierce northeasterly wind tore across the exposed hillside somewhere below the Munro Meall Gorm. Though it was late May the cloying cloud and high windchill meant that hoar frost was slowly forming on exposed grasses and rocks. I dug a wooly hat out of my pack and cinched my hood down even tighter.
The trip had started the previous morning. I’d escaped Aberdeen before the worst of the rush hour commenced and enjoyed a steady drive across to the north west. Low cloud had obscured the hills but there were signs that it was lifting and breaking a little by the time I pulled up in the Lochivroan layby on the Dundonnel Road.
After following the realigned path through the woods and crossing the river Cuileig I started the walk up into the fastness of Coire Braebaig. Two years ago, almost to the day, I had sped through here as part of a slightly mad 40km dash to make the train at Lochluichart, having spent four days wandering the wilds of Fisherfield. That day the cloud had been low and a steady rain fell, the streams were in spate and I paused only briefly at the very top of the pass for a damp lunch break. Today it was quite different and I very much enjoyed the walk up through the coire.
The main track runs on the east bank of the allt but I persevered with the fainter track on the west bank for perhaps longer than I should have. All the time ahead of me a bank of roiling cloud was spilling off the mountains, generating some dramatic views. Down in the coire it was warm and sunny with a nice breeze keeping the temperature in check.
Once I crossed the allt and joined the main track, progress was quicker and about an hour and a half after leaving the car I found myself in the small stone shelter at the very top of the pass. Here I had a quick snack break and then picked out a line that would take me up and onto the Fannichs ridge, somewhere near the diminutive Munro of Sgurr nan Each, the most westerly of the 7 Munros to the east of the bealach.
Though apparently steep from a distance the slope was easy angled and I picked my way up, enjoying increasing views down to Loch Fannich. I continued to watch the cloud base as it stubbornly clung on at around 850m. I gradually approached the satellite top of Sgurr a' Chadha Dheirg which was disappointingly holding onto the cloud. From here an airy ridge walk through the damp cloud got me up to the mist-bound Munro of Sgurr nan Each where I paused for a late lunch, hoping a twenty minute break might give the cloud a chance to lift and break.
Though there was an occasional thinning, the break never quite happened and so I continued on, following the ridge towards Sgurr nan Clach Geala, the next Munro. Below the ridgeline I bumped into a guy eating his piece. He was up from London for the week and just overjoyed to be out and about, even with a bit of cloud spoiling the views. We had a good chat, about mountains and adventures, and during this time the conditions improved markedly. As he headed off to Sgurr nan Each I continued north, following the ridge and then climbing the long but well trodden slope to the top of Sgurr nan Clach Geala.
Back in the gloom the upper slopes were adorned with a large snow patch that disappeared off eerily into the mist. There was a fresh wind blowing and I was glad that the path gave the collapsing cornice along the upper rim of the coire a wide berth. Amazingly as I arrived at the summit cairn the clouds parted and suddenly the hills north and west, most notably An Teallach, were revealed. It was stunning. Further down I had heard voices and they were now revealed to be a party of about 12 who suddenly swarmed up to the summit, took a few photos and then disappeared off into the cloud.
By the time they had reached the end of the summit area the cloud was truly breaking and soon I was enjoying sweeping views across the Fannichs and west to Fisherfield. Northwest the hills of Coigach and Assynt could be seen.
The descent down the northeast ridge of Sgurr nan Clach Geala is excellent fun, winding its way down and through a series of rocky pinnacles. There is a good path all the way with dramatic views down into the yawning upper reaches of Coire Mor, the aptly named big coire!
Soon enough I was down at the side of the small lochan which had a remnant snow patch collapsing into it like an iceberg. Further down the slope I left my sack by a conspicuous boulder for the short detour to the summit of Meall a' Chrasgaidh, the third Munro of the day. By this time the good weather looked to be here to stay. A bright sun beat down and clouds were becoming ever more broken.
It was a quick climb up to the stony plateau which enjoyed excellent views across to An Teallach, looking very close across the russet moorland. There were also views down over Loch a' Bhroain towards Fisherfield and further off in the northwest to Beinn Dearg and its retinue of hills. The summit was splendidly deserted and I sat down for a few more minutes breathing in the views.
After this short break I followed my steps back down to my bag at the bealach. I was now contouring around the head of Coire Mor, over the subsidiary top of Carn na Criche and then up to the highest point of the trip, Sgurr Mor, standing tall at 1,110m. Now that I was around on the northern side of the Fannichs the views opened up into the series of hidden coires, many containing small lochs.
Off to the left I could see the scree slopes of Beinn Liath Mhor Fannich which I was aiming to summit before finding a spot to camp. Though the conditions were good there was a cold, blustery northeasterly wind that made me think a slightly more sheltered spot would be better for the night ahead.
It was a stiff climb up a well worn path to the summit of Sgurr Mor which I reached sometime after 4pm. It felt like the hills were quieting down after a surprisingly busy weekday. I found some shelter from the wind in the lee of the large summit cairn and sat down for some food and to admire the views.
From here the neighbouring Munros looked positively diminutive.
By the time I was ready to leave there was a more threatening look to the sky and I was glad to be leaving the exposed summit.
There was a quick descent off Sgurr Mor and then I followed a worn path which curved around onto the ridge leading out north to Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich. The ridge was very stony and at one point I came across a wee stone shelter.
I left the ridge path occasionally to inspect the impressive view which was opening out across Coire of Loch a' Mhadaidh and off towards the Ullapool hills. The light was changing as cloud started to build back up again.
At the bealach below Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich I missed the (obvious) stalker's path which winds around the western side of the hill and instead clambered up blocks and then up through boulders and stones to the rocky summit. This is a great perch with excellent views to the Beinn Dearg group. I stayed up on the summit for a few minutes enjoying watching the late light start to work its magic across the hills.
I carefully made my way back down to the bealach where I had left my pack. Here there was running water and at least some shelter from the wind which had been steadily rising during the afternoon. In the end I found a slightly lumpy spot to put the tent, but it did enjoy an excellent view out across the coire towards where the sun would be setting in a few hours.
I settled into the usual evening routine, sitting in the doorway with a great view as I cooked up a few different courses for dinner. As the sun sank cloud started to come in over the bealach and envelop the tops of the hills. It made for some dramatic light as the views came and went.
Later in the evening I walked up the stalker’s path to get a different perspective on the Beinn Dearg group. As I dropped back to the tent I found a pleasant place to sit and sat here, with a podcast on, watched the cloud billow and the sun set towards the slopes of An Teallach. It had been a superb first day with only the first summit lost to cloud.
Wednesday 25th May
The next morning a quick peek out of the tent revealed that I was now firmly in the cloud. I was able to the check the Mountain Weather UK app on my phone and confirm that, like the previous day, conditions were set to improve.
There didn’t seem much point in hanging around at a misty bealach so I had breakfast and got packed up. I made my way back up the ridge towards the col below Sgurr Mor. Shortly after the Sgurr Mor track branched off, the path back up to the ridge met a snowpatch and so I scrabbled up steep ground and around its upper edge to finally join the wide ridge.
Up here it was very blowy and I soon had an extra layer on to combat the wind chill and driving mist. It was a shame not to be getting views at the moment, through the occasional look down into the coires below revealed lonley lochs. There was a rare glimpse of Loch Fannich to the south where it seemed the promised sun was already shining.
After crossing the subsidiary top of Meall nam Peithirean I picked up the clear baggers track and dutifully trooped up to the summit of Meall Gorm, the first Munro of the day. It was pretty bleak up at the top, wind whipping cloud over the paltry cairn. I dropped down a short way to the south to find some shelter where I had a quick snack.
With nothing much to see and the wind rapidly cooling me down I got moving again pretty quickly, continuing on to the top at the end of the summit plateau and then dropping down to the col before the most easterly Fannich Munro of An Coilleachean. Here, after some promising brightening, I finally found the views and the cloud rapidly lifted off. I was overjoyed to suddenly be able to see all around me and headed up to the summit with much more energy than my previous cold trudge had allowed.
Up at the summit it was still blowy but the weak sunshine and views were enough cause for a more prolonged stop than I’d managed on Meall Gorm. As I sat the views continued to improve with the Torridon hills visible beyond Loch Fannich and more of the Fannichs themselves emerging. Ben Wyvis still appeared to be stubbornly holding onto a cap of cloud.
Although the Fannich ridge continues southeastward it was now time to leave the high ground for a short while and descend to Loch Fannich. I picked up the gentle slopes of the south west ridge which gave me a grandstand viw of the loch as I descended, aiming generally for the large stand of trees near Fannich Lodge.
The hills were now bathed in warm sunshine and I was soon shedding layers as I lost height. Lower down the ridge meandered into a morass of bog and tussock and I picked my way laboriously over to eventually reach the trees and a decent track.
I elected to follow the path that stuck to the higher ground, bypassing Fannich lodge itself. This involved a lot of ups and downs as the track found the most convenient route for a vehicle. It was a bit demoralising to make such slow progress but the weather was great. Eventually I reached the main lochside track and enjoyed the panoramic view up into Coire Mor, picking out the encirling summits which had formed the bulk of the previous day's route.
The track soon headed into the woods which fringe the western end of the loch's northern shore. There were occasional glimpses of sparkling blue water through the trees. Meanwhile the western Fannichs were drawing closer.
Beyond the trees the track continued with the Nest of Fannich soon coming into view. I passed a guy heading back to the road end (his bike stashed in the trees near Loch Fannich lodge) and had a good long chat with him. His knees were no longer up to big mountain days but he was enjoing exploring hill tracks and land rover tracks with his bike. He told me he often planned trips whilst out and about, just wondering where a distant track he could see would lead him. I filled him in on the details of the hydro tracks on the other side of Loch Fannich which I had used on my way to Fisherfield on a previous occassion and then we parted ways with a cheery goodbye.
Back in marvellous solitude I headed past the ruined cottage and into the Nest itself, a wonderful and evocative place. I found a nice spot a by a stream to sit down for a late lunch. It was early afternoon and I was pleased with both my progress and the way the weather had turned out.
I now picked my way across the marshy ground near the end of the loch and found the track which climbs up to the bealach in the centre of the Fannaichs where I had started my ascent from the previous day.
It's a much shorter ascent than climbing up from Loch a' Bhraoin and without much effort I was picking my way up the final slope to the bealach. Here I soon found the stalker's path which climbs up the slender eastern ridge of Sgurr Breac, my next Munro. This path is truly excellent, quickly gaining height with excellent views back down to Loch Fannich.
I caught and passed a party of school kids with their leader who were definitely enjoying the glorious conditions. They were clearly the party who spend a week in Lochivroan Lodge each May.
The path swung away from the south side of the ridge and put me precariously out above a large snow slope high on the north side of the hill. I could see all the way down to distant Loch a' Bhraoin.
The summit of Sgurr Breac was a windy, exposed place and was marked by a pitiful cairn perched on some slabs. Nevertheless there were excellent views all around with the Fisherfield hills now appearing very close at hand. To my east the bulk of the Fannaichs stood arrayed and dappled with sunlight. I had a bite to eat but was keen to keep moving. The good weather meant that a high camp was on the cards and I wanted to get to a good location, ideally beyond the final Munro to get views into Fisherfield.
To the west of Sgurr Breac a winding ridge extends over the subsidiary top of Toman Coinnich and then on to the Munro of A’ Chailleach. This would be the 9th and final Fannaich summit. To the north I could see all the way down to the road where the car was parked - a slightly surreal experience given I wouldn’t be back there for another 24 hours.
The descent was steep in places but on a rocky path that got me down to the next belach quickly. Up the path then wound, heading for the intermediary top with impressive views back to the craggy northern side of Sgurr Breac and along to Loch Fannich which was steadily receding.
From the summit of Toman Coinnich there were excellent views. The dipping sun started to pick out more of the texture of the land and I could see far off north to Sutherland.
There was also a spectacular view closer at hand with the northeastern side of a A’ Chailleach holding in its arms the narrow Loch Toll an Lochain.
On Toman Connich there was a decent sized pool of water adjacent to a grassy sward and I was tempted to pitch here. The hour was still relatively early though and looking at the map and terrain made me think I would find decent spots further west.
I dropped down to the next bealach, the view to Loch Toll an Lochain changing as I advanced.
From the bealach the clear baggers path continued, heading up the slopes to a series of more interesting looking crinkles near the summit. Soon I was high up on the mountain looking directly down on the loch.
There were still a few snow patches up near the summit but they were melting in the sunshine and contributing to a few tinkling streams that might come in handy for water later on. The ridge has an interesting profile near the top but the clear path presented no difficulties.
With the Fannaichs appearing behind me and An Teallach ahead I knew I was almost at the top.
I arrived at the summit to find a much more impressive structure than on Sgurr Breac. Cloud had built during the course of the afternoon and the lower light meant distant mountains were easy to pick out. I settled down to enjoy this final Munro summit of the trip.
From here I could look over the Letterewe wildnerness and out to sea, shining as burnished silver in the late light.
Loch a’ Bhraoin was spread out below me with Fisherfield and An Teallach near at hand across the moorland.
As I sat munching on some chocolate the clouds drifted over and without the sunshine it was quite chilly in the wind. I was now keen to find a good perch to get the tent up and enjoy whatever the evening brought. Looking down the long western ridge of A’ Chailleach it seemed threre might be a good spot a little way below the summit and so I headed off in that direction.
Some way down the ridge I came to a nice notch which led out onto a flat terrace below the ridge. This would shelter me from the easterly wind but provide excellent views into Fisherfield. It also had running water just a little way further down and after a little bit of wandering around I found a turfy spot to get the tent up.
I was pretty pleased with the spot. It was just below the 908m high subsidiary peak of Ceann Garbh a' Chaillich. There were fabulous view across to Slioch with a backdrop of the Torridon hills. I could even see down to Lochivroan Lodge, a white dot at the end of the loch.
There was some great light over the course of the evening and I was able to sit outside the tent for long periods whilst the sun sank. I enjoyed dinner and listened to a couple podcasts, particularly enjoying the wonderfully enigmatic fifth episode of Mountain titled The Angel of Camasunary.
As sunset approached the disc disappeared behind a thicker layer of cloud which threw up a vivid and fiery orange glow beyond FIsherifled.
It had been another brilliant day and I was delighted to have ticked off all the Fannaich Munros in one continuous outing.
Wednesday 26th May
After a very comfortable night's sleep I woke to what initially seemed like a repeat of the previous day. I was in thick cloying mist. I lay back down for a more more minutes sleep but was soon back up as all of a sudden the tent was lit up by sunlight. I peeked out to find that I was just above the most magical inversion; fluffy white cloud filling the glen below me whilst the tops of surrounding summits floated on a white sea.
I quickly got dressed and was soon wandering about, admiring this remarkable view.
The cloud gently rose and fell and at one point I had a faint view of a brocken spectre as I peered out over the ledge on which I had camped.
Back at the tent I had breakfast - coffee and the usual cereal bars - and for a treat had the last few blocks of Freia Melkesjokolade that I had brought back with me from Norway. By the time I had finished breakfast the inversion was starting to break and it looked like another great day ahead. I got packed up and got moving, looking forward to some more solitudinous walking now I was heading away from the Munros.
I only really had a vague plan from this point, the main aim being to eventually reach the track running by Loch a' Bhraoin which would take me back to the car. With the weather looking favourable I took out the map and came up with a route that would take in a hill on each side of the glen before finally heading out.
I followed the ridge down some way before the gentler slopes opened up to my west. I descended down to the boggy bealach, looking back to see the cloud boiling off the Munro summit.
My first taget for the day was the flattened summit of Groban, a Graham positioned due west. Getting there involved following numerous winding streams down to the bealach, occassionaly scattering deer.
I angled across to the southern side of the hill where the angle was less steep and after picking my way across the bealach climbed up to the grassy ridge. From here there were excellent views across to the blue waters of Lochan Fhada and Slioch still holding onto some early cloud.
Without too much further effort I was soon on the rocky and rather flat summit of Groban. From here there was a good view across to the Fisherfield hills and back across to where I had camped, the Fannaich summits themselves emerging from the cloud.
A ptarmigan pair mooched around the summit area as I took a phonecall that would have a big effect on the rest of my year. With business completed I shouldered my pack and headed off to the north, looking down on the idyllic waters of Loch a' Bhroain and making my way down towards the Bealach Gorm off to the northwest.
Although this bealach features on some variants of the Cape Wrath Trail there wasn't a particularly distinct track on either side of the burn. I heather bashed my way down, roughly following the west bank of the stream until I got to the boggy watershed below Creag Rainich.
It was warm and still in the glen and I was glad to start climbing again on the far side. I noticed looking back that A' Chaillaich was still holding onto some cloud.
As I climbed up the gentle ramping slopes east of Creag Ruigh a' Bhraghad I noticed a pair of eagles soaring in synchronicity above me. They eventually wheeled off towards Fisherfield as I emerged on the high shoulder almost directly above Loch an Nid. Opposite me across the glen were the distinctive slabs of Sgurr Ban.
I was looking down on the campsite that I had reached at the end of a long day in the Fisherfield hills back in 2014.
From here I turned eastward and climbed up the rocky upper slopes to the summit of Craig Rainich.
From here there were superb views across to the Fannaichs. An Teallach stood near at hand and I enjoyed taking a lunch break up here.
From here it was a case of meandering my way off the hill and dropping down to Loch a' Bhraoin. I headed roughly southeast, soon stopping to have a good chat with a guy who was heading for the summit. He was a keen birder and filled me in on a few his recent spots. He was aiming to drop to Lochivroan lodge and had grand plans for a stravaig through Fisherfield over the next few days.
Slowly Loch a' Bhraoin grew closer and I started losing height. The day was advancing and the slightly flat light of midday was improving with much better colour and contrast as I approached the loch shore.
From the low point on the Craig Rainich ridge I dropped quickly down to the loch, picking up the track and making my way eastward.
With superb conditions I thoroughly enjoyed this last, relaxing part of the outing, munching on peanut M&Ms as I followed the ins and outs of the shore, stopping occassionally to sit by the cool, blue waters.
All to soon it was over though. I passed the branching track which I had taken a couple of days previous and headed up to the road where the car was parked. After a change of clothes and plenty of water I was ready for the long drive back east to Aberdeen and home.