The Best Views of the Week: Triple Buttress of Coire Mhic Fhearchair

There’s a saying often used within the sporting community … Go big or go home. I’m glad to say that we didn’t choose the latter despite staying lower and leaving the munros aside. Bruce has done the ‘Torridon Giants’ previously and I wasn’t particularly inclined, legs tired after all the other strenuous stuff this week. However, the route did most certainly did not disappoint and afforded spectacular views of the Torridon giants along the way.

Beinn Eighe Path

Starting the walk, we headed up the very good path between Beinn Eighe and Liathach. A sign of my weary legs lay in my stumbling a little on too many occasions, not lifting my feet enough when walking. This is a telltale sign at the end of a long training run when I’m needing a rest!

The path climbed gradually but we quickly worked up a sweat. Where did today’s heat come from? It was rather warm! There was a breeze as we got further up and this was a blessed relief.

The Wind Picks Up

Over the stream on the huge stepping stones, Bruce recalled there was another river crossing. There wasn’t – it’s just that the previous time he was on Beinn Eighe the rain was pouring down and the stream was huge and in spate. Thankfully not the case today.

We did feel the full effects of the wind though as we rounded past the cairn. It was gusting really strongly at times and I honestly felt like I was being lifted off my feet a couple of times. I’m glad we hadn’t planned on going high as this certainly would have deterred me.

All around, the views were amazing. So many big mountains and such clear skies. This is most definitely a walk for those who don’t want to be overly challenged but wish to appreciate the Scottish landscape in all it’s glory.

Loch Choire Mhic Fhearchair

Approaching the Coire from the side of Sail Mhor, I was impressed by the waterfall cascading down. We’d met a couple not long prior to our arrival who’d seen it blowing upwards in the wind. The gusts had subsided when we got there so everything was as it should be.

Climbing up, my knees were a little grumpy, feeling the effects of several days on the hills. The path stepped up with stones laying a staircase on which to plod. It was so worth the effort when the top was reached. What a view!

With the warmth of the day it was such a lovely experience to sit on the rocks enjoying the sunshine. The loch looked incredibly inviting but I bet it was cold.

Retracing Our Steps

This is an out and back route, so we about turned and headed back. There were quite a few others enjoying the same walk and we stopped and blethered to them along the way, also taking time to look around and appreciate the views again.

As we rounded towards the stream and into the shelter between the mountains any hint of a breeze died. The further we went, the greater the warmth, and by the time we were on the descent towards the car park it felt like we were walking in an oven! I know I shouldn’t complain, we don’t get many hot days in Scotland, but this was just so unexpected!

Overall verdict, we finished our holiday on a high. In terms of scenery this was definitely the best of the week! Great planning, Bruce! (Again)

Achnasheen: Amazing what’s on the doorstep!

After a fair soaking yesterday, I went to put the boots outdoors (having removed the newspaper that had been absorbing the water overnight) to experience two joys of nature.

One, the Scottish midge. Out in force, they were keen to make my acquaintance. They tend not to be bothersome if there’s any sort of breeze. Sadly today, all wind had died!

The second was the deer making their way into the garden. Along the road, up the drive and over the fence they went. They paused to look but continued on their way when finding I meant no harm.

Fionn Bheinn

Staying in an Airbnb in Achnasheen, Fionn Bheinn literally involves going out the gate and turning right. Bruce has previously done this munro, albeit he didn’t get views, so I put my trust in him to lead the way.

The reason we went up here is not because Bruce is ‘banking’ in preparation for his second round of munros, but due to the weather forecast – a little bleak for today. We had, according to our friends at the Met Office, until 1 pm before the light rain would commence, after which it would be on for the day.

Sealskinz Rock!

The path up was boggy from the outset. Bruce mentioned having walked up the clearly visible track on the previous occasion; we decided against crossing the bridge sitting at a very jaunty angle, instead opting to continue along the path. Hindsight is a great thing – it appears we probably should have crossed the bridge. Our boggy path continued up the hill, climbing gradually, then petering out to nothing. I was extremely grateful of Bruce’s suggestion to wear my Sealskinz. These wonderful socks saw my boots get soaked (again) while keeping my feet themselves dry and happy.

On reaching a boggy plateau with lots of lovely peat hags between two hills, we realised we’d veered off course a little. Our target required us to cross the bogs, so we hopped across as best we could, largely managing to stay out of anything too deep. 

Be Who You Want To Be

As we made our ascent, I spotted a small herd of deer. They were standing on the hillside grazing, but on catching a whiff of us or hearing our voices, they stood to attention. The leader then broke into a run, pursued by the rest of the herd. They paused, assessed the situation and saw we were still headed in their direction and ran again.

So, nothing unusual in this. However, what amused me greatly was that they were followed by two sheep. The sheep, mirroring the movements of the deer would pause, then run again as the herd moved. I like to think that although they maybe couldn’t quite hack the pace they’d been accepted as part of the group.

Head for the Trig Point

The clear skies allowed us to see the trig point in the distance. Not having a path to follow, we opted to cross the hillside diagonally, following a line to the summit. This, while providing a direct line of ascent, also put pressure on one leg, so I opted to zig zag a little, heading upwards towards the path that we could see leading down from the top.

Pretty soon we reached the path we’d been targeting from afar, and being on more solid terrain again it was an easy pull to the trig point and the summit. It was well worth the effort. The views were amazing! Bruce, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of hills was able to point out the highlights.

We also spotted a larger herd of deer, around two dozen, grazing on the lower slopes. Sadly, they didn’t have any others in their midst – no sheep, cows, goats or others apparent.

Finding the Path on Descent

One of the frustrations, or pleasures, of hill walking can be finding a good path on the descent having slogged up the hard way. Going down, we knew we wanted to aim for the small dam as this was the top of the track, so took a direct route to get there, picking up a path along the way.

Again, it was very wet and muddy underfoot as we happily squelched along. The bog was visible in all it’s glory and we were happy to have a target in mind for a dry descent thereafter.

Weather Forecasting

The Met Office were pretty much spot on. As we came towards Achnasheen, making good time down the track, we felt the first fine drops of rain. True to forecast, we reached our door just ahead of 1 pm, the proper rain starting pretty much as we crossed the threshold.

A worthwhile outing, I’m now just keeping everything crossed that the Met Office have got it wrong for the next couple of days as they’re not looking the best!

Maoile Lunndaidh: A Hard Earned Munro!

Look out for passing trains!

One of the more remote munros in the Glen Carron area, Maoile Lunndaidh required a bike in to make life a little easier. Best laid plans, we parked up at the Forestry Commission car park at Craig before crossing the road and then the railway line. It never ceases to amaze me when in rural Scotland how you can just cross the railway line with nothing more than a sign reminding you to look out and listen for trains!

Biking in

Safely across, we then followed a good track for our ‘bike in’. This was 5.4 miles in total and required a fair amount of pushing, my legs not being that used to being on the bike, especially with the added weight of a rucksack on my back, hiking boots, and flat pedals rather than SPDs.

Despite the walk breaks, we managed to reach the forestry plantation where we’d leave our bikes within the hour, this confirming it was quicker than walking all the way in. We stopped to chat to a family who were heading for some neighbouring munros, subject to the dogs getting across the river. I told them about Munro Moonwalker’s exploits with his friend’s dog, Scoop, and left them to ponder this further. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you’ll need to read the book!

Going up: steeply!

Our route guide had suggested a steep, pathless climb, but I’m not sure either of us fully appreciated what lay ahead. Thanks to the earlier rain leading us to set off late morning, the ground was rather boggy, and we plowtered through the mud, squelching as we went.

Having crossed the An Crom-allt, the real ‘fun’ began. The route guide suggested heading straight up over the heather, the gradient easing around 800 metres. This meant climbing around 400 metres. To add insult to injury, part way up the climb the heavens opened and the rain came on. Fantastic! A nice chilly downpour just to complete the experience. Thankfully it was relatively short-lived!

The ascent was very steep and I was less than comfortable, conscious that although grassy it was a long way down if I slipped. There was little choice but to keep slogging on, gaining height bit by bit. When Bruce finally stated that we had reached 770 metres, I burst into tears! Thankfully he missed this as he’d have had no idea what was ado with me, not sharing my trepidation of height. It’s irrational, I know!

Maoile Lunndaidh: the summit ridge

Approaching the ridge, having dried out nicely in the wind, another rain shower approached. A quick decision was made not to don the waterproofs as the previous one had passed over without too much discomfort. This was a big mistake! The spots of rain very quickly turned to hail, blasting us from the side and stinging greatly as they pelted our legs and faces. The shower also lasted a little longer, long enough to ensure that the trousers were completely soaked through and my feet also suitably squelchy!

With no great desire to linger, we crossed the summit ridge, passing the cairns, and pausing only for photographs of the surrounding area. I didn’t even bother looking into the coire, mainly due to the strong gusting wind, afraid I might end up in it if I stepped too close, instead allowing Bruce to be my eyes with his camera.

I’d started to chill following the soaking, so stopped to put on a cosy layer under my jacket, swapping wet gloves for dry, and adding my Tuffbags to keep me really cosy. We managed to dry out in the gusting wind, so waterproof trousers were added for extra insulation too. One thing that did so well today was my new jacket, a Mountain Hardwear bargain from Wiggle. I was very happy with the way it performed in the rain.

Going down: boggy underfoot

Heading off the ridge, we followed a slight path to begin. It was unclear and disappeared at times, leaving us following the Garmin route and our noses to get back to the plantation.

As it transpired, we took our own route, heading more directly towards Glenuaig Lodge and Bothy than we should have. This incurred an extra couple of water crossings, one where we created our own stepping stones to avoid getting too wet as the water was flowing well, another where Bruce decided to lie down (ok, he slipped); there’s a reason why he’s made to go first!

Snack Stop at Glenuaig Bothy

This Bothy is tiny! It may be like a tardis inside, but from the outside it appears like a wee shed! Not one to bank on having space if ever in these parts.

We stopped outside briefly to get rid of the waterproofs before the bike out, and have a quick energy boost. A Mars always tastes so much better outdoors.

A short walk back to the plantation and we reached the bikes. Bruce rode off enthusiastically, leaving me in his wake. My legs took a wee bit of time to warm up, less than impressed with any effort requiring me to stand and pedal, so I got off and walked up the first tiny incline.

Thankfully they eased back into it and despite riding into the headwind it became easier as we went on. Seeing the average mph on my watch and knowing that I was faster on the bike than walking gave me the momentum required.

Typically though, yet another shower appeared. We had just reached some conifer trees so stopped to allow the worst of it to pass, the wind strengthening as the rain blew through. Moving again as it eased off it was hard to determine whether I was getting wet by spray off the trail or rain from above.

It was with great delight that we reached the level crossing once again, signalling our return leg complete. If I’m honest, this is not a munro I’d rush to do again. It was hard won, definitely Type 2 fun, and a tough day out!

Ben Hope: Type 1 Fun

At the Dundee Mountain Film Festival last year I was introduced to the concept of Type 1 and Type 2 fun by one of the speakers. Type 1 fun is joyous throughout the experience, type 2 fun is tough at the time but fun retrospectively. Today was a perfect hill day: the sun was shining, the skies were clear and most importantly, the views were amazing, hence Type 1 fun all the way!

Setting off after a great night in Alness – we stayed at Tullochard Guest House with great hosts, Ali and David, who well and truly make you feel at home – we headed further north to Altnaharra, and then on to Ben Hope, our target for the day.

Ben Hope signposted from the car park

The route guide suggesting 5 hours walking for 7.5 km, I was concerned that this was going to be a steep, hard slog. In the event, although it was a fairly steep pull, there was a good, rocky path and limited boggy areas. There was some water on the path in places so there’s definitely potential for a mud fest on a wet day!

A stunning waterfall flowed alongside the path after the initial pull up, the path then getting a little muddier as it ascended, unfortunately leading to multiple tracks and increasing erosion.

Waterfall on Ben Hope

The wind began to pick up – the forecast had suggested gusts of up to 50 mph on the top – but the temperature was high, 19.5 celsius at the car park! The wind, although strong, didn’t create any real issues and the warmth of the sun was wonderful! We sheltered behind a large rock for a snack thinking this might be the last respite before the descent.

The path was much clearer by this point and made for easy going. The bouldery path was clear and, despite the wind picking up again, the views were stunning. It was amazing to have such clear skies and beautiful views on a September day. We truly have been blessed with the weather this weekend! We met a few folks on their way back down and exchanged pleasantries as we went. I love hearing stories and chatting on the hills.

Ben Hope ascent

Continuing onwards, it wasn’t long before we saw the trig point, heralding our arrival at the summit.

Ben Hope trig point

Immediately behind it there was a large windshelter cairn and this provided the perfect spot for another break. We were joined by a couple of ladies and their kids, a cosy gathering. I love chatting with children, they’re always a breath of fresh air!

Retracing our steps to descend, I’m not sure if the wind had picked up or if it was just that we were heading into it, but it certainly felt stronger. The descent was quicker though with lots of people to chat to and, of course, continued stunning views.

Ben Hope descent

A truly fantastic hill day! A long way to travel, but well worth it! Most definitely a hill I’d do again! Who’s up for it?

Am Faochagach: Stunning views, boggy paths!

Reported to be boggy, we were prepared with gaiters and our festival wellies for the river crossing. Thinking it’s been relatively dry and with no rain on the horizon we diverted to Am Faochagach on our way to the northerly munros.

We were both a little stunned when we crossed the road to find the bog started immediately across the stile. If this is what it’s like in dryish conditions I dread to think how deep you’d sink in the wet!

Through the initial bog poles came in handy, testing the ground before making the leap of faith across to the next grassy bit. The faint path continued in this vein, marshy and unpleasant. It made for hard going.

Continuing on we reached the river crossing at Abhainn a’Ghrabainn. This is what we bought the Feetz festival wellies for! They’ve been carried on a few outings and not yet been on, but today they were just the ticket. The rocks were far enough apart and the crossing wide enough to be intimidating. The water was also flowing pretty quickly although it was fairly low. Bruce opted for rock hopping – until the ‘plop’ signifying that he’d slipped, thankfully only getting wet up to his knee. I got partway across before retracing my steps and heading further upstream. Walking poles were pulled in the current but gave me a chance to stable myself as I gauged the next foot placement. I was highly delighted to reach the other side dry, albeit with slightly shaky legs.

Onwards the path continued to be boggy and hard going, drying out and becoming better higher up. We finally reached the ridge and the ground levelled out giving blessed relief.

Plateau of Am Faochagach

From here it wasn’t too much further to the summit and the final pull up was gentle. There were two cairns, very close together, and amazing views all around. With such beautiful, clear skies, the slog up was most definitely worth it. Views to the Fannichs, An Teallach, Beinn Dearg, Seana Bhraigh, Suilven and even the top of Stac Pollaidh. Had it been a driech, cloudy day it would have been downright miserable!

Heading back the way we’d come we retraced our steps, experiencing the joy all over again. I ‘enjoyed’ a slip on the mud, landing on my bum, and made it across the river by crossing at the cairns.

Abhainn a'Ghrabainn crossing on the way back from Am  Faochagach

The finale was one leg going down a water filled hole in the bog, causing me to fall over and get one foot completely soaked through. Just as well we were virtually back at the car.

A quick trip down to the river at the parking area saw the boots and gaiters washed off, ready to face another day.