Having used up all my easy hills last week, I've been left with a solid week of upcoming big hill days. An Teallach and Fisherfield were to be the first two that I tackled.
I didn't head out early for An Teallach - it rained solidly. Struan left in the morning for Fionn Bheinn, and I waited and watched raintoday.co.uk. An arc of rain was sweeping up Scotland, but after lunchtime, it began to fizzle out. Time to go.
When I did Affric last week, my rucksack seemed far too heavy, even though I was really just carrying essentials. For Fisherfield, I was keen to trim the weight down even further, so I took a day rucksack, plus a sleeping bag, and nothing more. Instead of tins of food or pasta, I just brought bread, bananas, apples, etc.; nothing hot that would need to be cooked with a stove and pot. This reduced-sized rucksack, combined with a pair of trainers (which now have gaping holes) meant I was actually carrying little weight for the size of trip I was about to do. Mum and dad finally saw me off from Corriehallie at 4pm. It was a bit late for comfort, but I knew myself well enough to know I'd get over An Teallach fine.
For those who don't know An Teallach, it is commonly ranked among the top two mountains in Scotland. It really is absolutely magnificent. It may have been the time of day that I climbed it, but not often have I been so humbled by a mountain. I did feel a sense of unease all the way up, as if I were treading on 'it's patch'. It was a mountain content to the gloom of its own making - the Torridonian Sandstone here weathers into a especially sick style of turret and pinnacle; the soils are dark rusted red.
I went into Loch Toll an Lochain first, until the cliffs were closing in all around. The leaden sky didn't help either. I slogged straight up the flank to the first Munro, Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill, and the mist swirled in and out.
Sgurr Fiona followed shortly after, and from there, the celebrated pinnacles of An Teallach were very close by. I did think about putting them off in favour of a non-exposed descent to Shenaval but since the Cuillin days, if I threaten to bottle out of climbing something in favour of an easier option, I have Jo-lynne's words ringing in my ears: "Nah, keep it real!" I had been half-temped to bash down grassy slopes to Shenaval but it really had to be the pinnacles.
They were good fun. I hadn't done them in a couple of years, but with vague memories of the route to draw from, I got over them with ease. By the line of least resistance, they were actually easier than I'd remembered, a lot easier than Liathach and hardly a scramble at all.
I phoned my parents from the far end to let them know An Teallach hadn't claimed me, and also texted Steve my mountains for the Facebook update. Then I headed over Stob Gobhlach and down the scree and heather to Shenaval. It's a relentless, trackless slope of 3,000 vertical feet. Lower down, I disturbed some deer. They let off an amazing throaty grunt when communicating, a lot different from the call of the autumn rut we're used to. More slipping, sliding and climbing, and I arrived at Shenaval in twilight.
The bothy was occupied by three others, and I sat up chatting to a couple of Germans. One guy seemed to be bumming around the Highlands; the other was doing the Cape Wrath Trail. We all got to bed fairly early. I found a spare sleeping mat since I'd left mine behind, and set my alarm for 4am.
Trying to get up at 4am wasn't as easy as hoped, and I slept in until quarter past five. Thankfully, the morning outside looked clear and sunny and I was away by 6am.
The Fisherfield Munros are as remote as they come. Knock these ones off, and I'd have scored a big win. They've long been known as the 'Fisherfield 6', but Beinn a' Chlaidheimh got taken off the list last year (it was lower than 3,000 feet.) and now there are only five. 'Fisherfield 5' doesn't seem to have the same ring, but it would make my day easier!
Before the Munro Round, I'd been prepared to do the 'Six' out of tradition's sake, until I realised that I might be better off leaving the high tops at Sgurr Ban (#5) and going east towards the road at Loch a' Bhraoin. This would allow me to do a through-route instead of a loop, too, and I'd get to see some new ground.
The morning was amazing. Despite being slightly under-hydrated and under-fed, I held a solid pace to Ruadh Stac Mor, which takes so much effort to get to, no matter how you look at it. This hill was the scene of a wee epic when I did them with Mick Coffield. We'd been on the go for 17 hours when we essentially ran out of steam between A' Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor. We slept out in the open at 2,000 feet on the shores of Fuar Loch Mor, and woke up at 4am, shaking with the cold. We then knocked off Ruadh Stac Mor and spent the whole day just getting back to the road. Crazy times.
|A sunny morning at Shenaval, 6am. Raudh Stac Mor (#1) is in shade in the background.|
On this Round, I've noticed that the whole place (naturally) doesn't seem as wild as it had when I first visited at 17. I got across to A' Mhaighdean in good time and thus stood on the most remote Munro. It took a long time to get here, and it would be a long way back to the road. I was quietly thrilled to be alone in such an 'exposed' place as this but logically, I was quite happy with the idea. I was on A' Mhaighdean before 10am whereas when Mick and I did it, we didn't get there until well after 10pm!
|One of the most remote places in Scotland: the summit of A' Mhaighdean.|
I headed eastward down the huge quartzite slabs and boulderfields, down to the glen and out by a rough track to Lochivraon bothy - which isn't a bothy anymore. I sat at the locked front door, under overcast skies and spitting rain. I could smell the fresh paint. Someone must have turned it into a second home or something.
|Having a break outside Lochivraon.|
By the time I'd reached Lochivraon bothy, the magic of Fisherfield had gone. Sometimes in very special areas, you get a sense you're looking at something greater than another Scottish scene. You might feel this in places like the Cairngorms, Ben Nevis, or on Skye. I'd walked into one of these places in Fisherfield and finally had walked back out of it. Loch a' Bhraoin seemed just another slightly drab Scottish glen.
A very long walk eventually brought me back to the road. Mum and dad had walked up the track towards me and I met them 15 minutes from the end. Judging by the relentless nature of the walk-out, I could just as well have walked out to Corriehallie, with An Teallach in view to ease the miles.
I was back by 4pm, a shade less than 24 hours since I left the road. It was an outstanding time to get out of Fisherfield. I was back in the Ullapool digs soon after, with A' Mhaighdean feeling like a long time ago - longer than a few hours anyway.
An Teallach and Fisherfield gave me a crossing of the greatest quality. My fitness and Munro Round momentum has allowed me to get over these ranges with the minimum of sweat. My hope would be that this continues for the remaining remote northwest mountains that still have to be crossed.