Monday, April 06, 2009

The Dundonnell and Fisherfield Hills: Sgurr Ban (157), Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair (115) and Beinn Tarsuinn (238)

Walk date: 04/05/09
My Munro #'s: 172, 173 and 174

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Skoor bawn - light-coloured peak- 989m
Moolach corrie veechk erachar - summit of the corrie of Farquhar's son - 1018m
Byn tarshin - transverse - 936m

Duration - 08:00-20:00
Distance - 34.2km
Total ascent - 1552m
Weather - very cold, very wet, very windy.
Team - Solo
Other hikers: two from afar

Don't worry, I'm not dead, although my long-delayed first hike of the season seemed to have other ideas at times! Firstly an apology for my absence, but since February I have returned in totality to the dark realm of DIY, with a full re-fitting of the bathroom, including tiling, plastering and painting; it's by no means finished, but I just couldn't stand another weekend in my dusty work clothes rather than in my walking boots. As such, this last weekend saw me return to Ullapool with the Friday and Saturday nights booked into the hostel there, and a plan for hikes on both Saturday and Sunday.

Well, Saturday's hike was the true goal of the weekend as it saw me return to Fisherfield to try and finish the Epic that Paul and I started last year (read account here). That day was some of the wettest walking I've ever done, and although rain was due on this day, it was also supposed to clear up and so I knew it couldn't be as bad. Well...

OK, It certainly wasn't as wet, but it was still soaked, and this being April, the wet at altitude was much colder and indeed for most of the day it was full on snow. I started as before with the long route in westward alongside Loch a' Bhraoin, although this time I walked rather than attempt to cycle along the exhausting loose-pebbled track. When I finally got to the glen of Allt Cul Doireachan I made my way to the river directly and, jumping across a deep section by the near bank, just walked on through the remaining wide but shallow flow.

Having opened the gate to the hills I set about getting onto them, heading first for Sgurr Ban rather than keeping with my original plan of using Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair as an entry point as that way I didn't have to repeat-climb any of the Munros. I made my way up beside the amazing gneiss slabs of these hills (apparently unique in Scotland) and then across to just behind Meallan an Laoigh for the final broad approach as the cloud descended.

The climb up the rest of Sgurr Ban was easy enough but the rain was starting to turn cold. Stupidly, due to the day starting relatively warm I had only put on my light gloves and hadn't put the rain-protector on my rucksack. This meant that my winter gloves at the top of the bag were wet by the time I wanted to put them on. Fortunately, due to the position of the hill I was protected against the increasing wind on the higher slopes. On the wide, rounded summit, however, this shelter disappeared, such was my reward for walking up a shallow snowbank which was long enough that I couldn't see anything but white anywhere for a matter of minutes! With the return of the wind the rain helpfully turned to hail, and I didn't do anything but tap the cairn before dropping to Cab Coire nan Clach and an extremely cold change of batteries for the GPS which saw me resorting to my keys as my fingers were too numb for such a dextrous task.

The climb up Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair was a different affair; it is one steep mountain and my heart sank at the prospect of trying to determine my own route up. Thankfully, with a little wandering back and forth I spotted the excellent path despite the poor visibility and made surprisingly fast progress up the highest summit of the day. Again the top itself was graced with high winds and cold temperature, and on this occasion, the introduction of fresh snowfall.

Unfortunately, due to the cold and a wish to descend quickly I mistook a line on my GPS for the route on to Beinn Tarsuinn, when it was actually a plotted possible route down/up from this hill eastward toward home! I only discovered this after descending 100m and it took a lot of will power to retrace my steps to the summit and then descend the intended south-western flank onward.

The route down this flank was easy enough and a great path on the north-western side of Meall Garbh allowed avoidance of this top. An extremely quick stop for a much-needed late-lunch on this path saw me ready to take on the snowbound lump of Beinn Tarsuinn. There might be a path up this hill, but I don't know as on this day it would have been buried under fresh snow! The climb up Beinn Tarsuinn presented no difficulties beyond the weather and I was soon enough hugging the icy cairn. I managed a couple of quick photos before an about-turn as I started having warm thoughts of dropping below the cloud-line while at the same time cursing the forecasted 'clearing up in the afternoon'!

I returned to the col between Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and Meall Grabh and then dropped off south-east into Coire Mhic Fearchair before re-entering the glen of Allt Cul Doireachan.

Once into the glen of Allt Cul Doireachan, I made my way over rough and wet grass heading east toward Loch a’ Bhraoin. Having avoided the major rivers the going was relatively quick, but I knew I still had the ‘gentle crossing’ that had surprised Paul and me last year to come. This was over Abhhainn Loch a’ Bhraoin, and like last year it had been a mere trickle in the morning, but upon my return it was in full gush. With the loch almost in sight I had no patience for it however, and quickly found a spot where it was safe to jump over the worst and land stably but wetly on some good (submerged) stones and then walk through the rest of it.

After that the loch came easy and apart from a few tricky crossings of the fords along the shore there was nothing to report apart from an insulting cold wind starting up down the glen; a final ‘we told you so’ from the hills I think although it was accompanied by the first sighting of the sun all day! Eventually I left the loch behind me and caught sight of the car. Once in it at 20:00, a mere 12 hours after setting out, I immediately turned on the engine and racked up the heat, stuffed myself with the rest of my lunch and reflected on a huge but satisfying day out. I was so tired that along with high winds greeting me on Sunday morning I didn’t head for the hills that day at all, instead opting for a leisurely drive back to Aberdeen with a paper and a pint to boot, now that’s what I call an excursion!!

NEWSFLASH: I have now booked guided Cuillin ridge hiking on Skye in June, and Paul is coming along! Hopefully I will manage more hiking before then but that will be a heck of a week to report on! See you soon.

The first view of the hills:

MCMF (L) and Sgurr Ban (R), the summits in cloud:

My crossing point for Allt Cul Doireachan:

The impressive gneiss slabs up close:

And from above:

The only photo from the summit of Sgurr Ban:

Likewise for Mullach Coire Mhic Fearchair:

Enjoying the snow down the south-western flank:

A view (!) down toward Allt a Bhealaich Odhair:

The snowy top of Beinn Tarsuinn:
And its icy cairn:

Looking back east:

Looking up at Sgurr Dubh from Coire Mhic Fearchair:

A final look back up the glen:

After 11 hours this was no time for it to start clearing up:

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