Fisherfield – Shenaval Trip, Part 1

4 08 2011

Walked 16 May 2010

All photos taken by my companion Mike as I left my camera in the bothy!

I had originally planned to go to Shenaval Bothy over the weekend at the start of my rota’d week off from work. However, it got to the day before I was due to set off and it had turned out no-one on my original list of folks could make it so I was on my own. At the last minute Monty came to my rescue and said he could probably make it for the end of the weekend – phew! So I still set off on the Friday and stayed at the Ledgowan Bunkhouse for 2 nights as I still had a lot of Munros to do in the Carron area…

On Saturday, amongst blizzards and freezing gales, I clawed my way (literally) up Maoile Lunndaidh, clinging to rocks while thinking any sane person would have baled out by now. I couldn’t believe it was such atrocious weather in mid May! Most of the time I couldn’t stand up and there was literally ice forming on my soaking wet face (note to self – must grow a beard! ) I battled across the plateau from the summit to pick up the middle peak (where the only nice view of the day was the cornice round the narrow corrie on the left) and then the ‘top’ then blew back to the summit cairn and hurriedly descended. During this ordeal, I noted to my dismay that I was far less fit than I imagined! I put this mainly down to having just recovered from a severe throat infection which had laid me low for the last 2 weeks.

Sunday I just mooched around Loch Maree until I deemed it a good time to walk into Shenaval. The walk in felt much longer than I remembered (about 4.5 miles) – the weather had suddenly turned pretty warm, and there was a lot more ascent than I remembered from my An Teallach walk with the Open University walking club (I was probably busy gabbing all the way to the hill that time). The walk in took me 2 and a quarter hours and I arrived around 1600. There was noone there at that time but there were signs of habitation – I was quite surprised as I thought the place would be empty in the week.

People started arriving in ones and twos until, by the time Monty arrived in the early evening, there were 9 of us in total! I chatted to people as they arrived and you couldn’t have met a nicer (but quite diverse) bunch of people. There were 2 young lads who seemed experienced bothiers, 2 young lads who I think were bothy virgins, me, Mike & Monty (all around the same age) and 2 older guys – (if the young lads are writing reports somewhere they’ll probably just say there were 4 young guys and a bunch of old gits!)

Thinking back to my not great walk up Maoile Lunndaidh, I started to warn Monty about my complete lack of fitness and doubts about whether I could do the Fisherfield 6 (I was sure I couldn’t) almost before the poor guy got his pack off… I’d also been talking to Mike who was also staying in the upstairs room and it turned out he was going to do my more modest plan for the next day – A’ Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor… only he was going the opposite way round to what I’d planned. This meant that, if I accompanied him, I would be descending the ‘bad bit’ on Ruadh Stac Mor – the scramble of the crag band. He was sounded out as to whether he could stand company and it was decided I would tag along with him for ‘the 2’ – I did warn him I would need help getting down the scrambly bit though… Poor guy – imagine suddenly being lumbered with a mountain coward!

My Good Companion!
Mike Outside Shenaval

Around 2300, everyone turned in for the night. As I lay there waiting to sleep, I was thinking that I should really ‘grow some balls’ (as my shift leader keeps telling us) and do ‘the 6’ with Monty – I was feeling very guilty about letting him down and wimping out after originally saying I’d do them. I decided to give him a shout when he got up the next morning and tell him my change of plan. However, during the night, the weather grew steadily worse – first the wind picked up and then the heavy showers started. Monty started to get up around 0600 and I debated whether I should go with him or stick to the night before’s plan – the rain was still pattering on the skylight and the wind sounded worse – I thought I’d better just do Mike’s walk…

About 0700 Mike got up so I thought I’d better stir myself. We were probably off by around 8 and making our way across the substantial boggy and pathless area towards the 2 river crossings. We managed to find bits of paths through the gorse and keep out of the bogs and soon reached the first river. We were lucky that, in a short time, I’d found a very wide bit where it was only a couple of inches deep so we decided to run across that bit. So that was one river crossed dryfoot… We crossed more bog and then reached the second river, the Abhainn Gleann na Muice. We had a quick recce in both directions but this one was definitely a wade. From a coldness point of view, I don’t mind wading rivers at any time of year, but from a sore feet on rocks point of view, I hate it! However, I managed to get across without hurting my feet once – the stones seemed quite smooth.

Abhainn Allt na Sealga to Beinn Tarsuinn

When we’d got our boots back on we headed towards Larachantivore cottage and log cabin – we had a good peer through the windows – as you do – the chalet was beautifully furnished and, luckily, there was noone in to peer back out at us indignantly! From the cottage a good stalker’s track sets off up Gleann na Muice and branches after little more than a mile up Gleann na Muice Beag, rising gently towards Loch Beinn Dearg. Then a great zigzag takes you up onto a high moor where you soon branch off before some lochans across pathless ground and follow a river back up behind Ruadh Stac Beag – a nice looking pointy hill…

Beinn Deargs from Below Ruadh Stac Mhor

There are sketchy bits of path and we soon came to the 2 lochans which we passed between and headed off up the grassy lower slopes of Ruadh Stac Mhor. It looked quite a climb but we were amazed how quickly we were at the start of the bouldery final climb to the summit. At this point we found we had caught up the 2 older gentleman from the bothy who’d set off half an hour before us to do ‘the 6’. (I was later surprised to find that they just happened to be friends of my friend who keeps my caravan on her land in the Northern Lake District!). Due to Monty’s famous speed and fitness on his walks, we kept expecting him to pop up on the summit as well after having done the 6!

Me & the 2 Cumbrian Guys on RSM

Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair – Misty & Scary

View from Ruadh Stac Mhor

We had a quick break while I had a study of our descent – after an initial small and easy craggy bit, it was steep boulders down to the crag band – hmmmm… We found a couple of paths descending the boulders but I was very uneasy – it was very steep below us and got even steeper until the ground just disappeared – I could see the level ground was a very long way below us at this point and suspected crags. I told Mike I wasn’t greatly happy with where we were descending and that I would be happier further left over the little flat grassy apron immediately above the crag band and the col. At least I thought I would stop at the grassy bit if any of the boulders took off down the hill. We traversed across the hillside until we were over the grass at which point I continued down happily… until we reached the top of the crag band! I hadn’t expected such a big drop – the band looked small in photos…

I again told poor Mike I wasn’t at all happy and had no idea how he would get me down. He took it quite calmly and started to look for possible routes down. There was a sloping ledge full of loose stuff a few feet below where we were standing and he clambered down and went to the right across it towards a horrible looking black gully which looked to descend the hill vertically – ugh! I said I wasn’t going down the gully from that height but he said he could see a few potential routes down and for me to follow. I cautiously descended onto the loose stones on the ledge and hesitantly made my way along it, clinging to the rocks above me to my side – Mike was helpfully pointing out handholds to me.

I reached his position and, at first glance, it looked awful. However, he pointed out a few options and I picked one possible route where we could clamber down a bit further to a squeeze – however the rocks to the side didn’t look firm. Poor Mike had to go and see if they were. Nothing fell off so we deemed it to be safe enough and I followed down and through the gap. He then found a couple more steps down by which time we had probably descended about 15-20 feet. He went to investigate the gully and jumped down into it – only to immediately set off rapidly on a rolling staircase of loose stone. He quickly stopped himself with the rocks at the side – I looked less happy than ever. I eventually lowered myself tentatively into the gully with a firm grip on the rocks at the side and managed to get down it a few more feet where, to my relief, there was then a little scree path going left and down to the col and a small cairn – shame there isn’t a small cairn at the top of where you’re supposed to descend!

Phew. I’d only sworn once and had apologised to Mike for being such a pain on the way down but he was cool with it – he said his wife was quite like me on that kind of thing so he was used to it. But that was the bad bit over and now we could look forward to the very easy and mainly grassy ascent of the spectacular A’ Mhaighdean. We paused for quite a while however and both marvelled at how on earth we’d got down where we had – it looked awful. Some of the bottom bits were jutting and overhanging – in one place looking like the prow of a ship. (Turned out later the 2 older guys had found themselves directly above that bit and had to reascend and try again!)

Ruadh Stac Mhor’s Crags from A’ Mhaighdean

The path up A’ Mhaighdean was a delight – no difficulties and was pretty steep so you were soon up on the summit ridge where superb views started to unfold. The mountain basically has 2 easy grassy sides and the rest is a pure splendour of sheer high crags, buttresses, ridges – all overlooking beautiful lochs. I’d certainly agree it must be one of the best views from any Munro! Just to make things even better, it came out really sunny and we were totally out of the wind so we had a good break – Mike taking photos and me lazing in the sun and eating and drinking. There were a couple of lovely foreign girls who offered to take our photos on the summit – I hurriedly thanked them but declined as I won’t have photos of me marring mountain vistas!

Nearing A’ Mhaighdean Summit

A’ Mhaighdean Pinnacle & lochs

A’ Mhaighdean-Stupendous Drop!

View From A’ Mhaighdean-Dubh Loch

I ventured out onto all the little narrow ridges in every direction, each with its own spectacular view. I pointed Slioch out to Mike as he was thinking of doing it the next day (he was walking out from Shenaval that night to get back to Ullapool and the pub). I’d had a yen since we’d left the stalkers path at the start of the day to follow it back round as I thought the views would be good. Mike agreed to this so we descended the way we came and were soon back on the col.

From there the stalkers path goes between Ruadh Stac Mhor and A’ Mhaighdean and the views are out of this world. On one side, you’re treated to great views of one of the really craggy views of A’ Mhaighdean across Fuar Loch Mor – on the other you have the black, beetling crags of Ruadh Stac Mor – the ones I could feel when we were descending the boulderfield earlier. What crags they are – black and evil looking. I was looking one way and exclaiming in horror – the other way I was enthusing wildly – I must have seemed somewhat schizophrenic to Mike.

Stalkers Track Goes Below Crags on Left

A’ Mhaighdean from a different angle

The path had superb views all the way. We were delighted at one lochan to find it had a mini ‘Chesil Beach’ sand formation. It was lucky that the views were so varied and so good as it was a pretty long walk back to the bothy.

Ruadh Stac Mor & ‘Chesil Beach’

Ruadh Stac Mor & A’ Mhaighdean from Loch on Stalker’s Route

We both said we were looking forward to the re-wading of Abhainn Gleann na Muice as we thought how nice it would be to cool our feet. However, when we actually got to it, we found that, due to our feet being fairly tired by now, it was actually an agony over the stones and we both swore loudly all the way across!

Deer outside Shenaval

Mike left that evening and also the 2 young virgin bothy lads who had been staying in ‘our’ room upstairs – however, I found the lads had left us a little present – upstairs, by my kit, there was a little neatly-tied white plastic bag… with their rubbish in! I don’t think they were being lazy – I think they were just ignorant of the fact that there are no rubbish collections in Strath Sealga and that you’re supposed to carry it out (we burnt as much of it as we could on Monty’s fire later). The other 2 young lads were just leaving to try their luck fishing on the loch and we didn’t see them back until well after dark…

After he’d been out just about exactly 12 hours, Monty arrived upstairs – I hope he doesn’t mind me saying, but he looked really knackered at first. I was quite worried and, uncharacteristically for me (as I’m usually a lazy and self-centred sod), I actually offered to go and get him a hot drink. I thought he’d done the 6 in a pretty fast time. He soon got cleaned up and looked like he was feeling better already and he lit a nice fire with his ‘fire logs’ which everyone enjoyed for the evening. At this point, I should break off this rather long report and put the rest out as a part 2!



4 responses

5 08 2011

HI Carol. Thanks for the invite to Shenavil. It was early in my bagging carreer and i had no idea beforehand what the round would be like. It was also my biggest round at the time. I did not mind that you chose not to accompany me but you would have been welcome company just the same had you changed your mind. Yep I was dead beat when i got back to the bothy. I found it to be a tough round. However after a quick douch and a dab of Nivea I was looking good as ever hahaha


6 08 2011

Yes it was quite early in your Munro-bagging career wasn’t it – but that hasn’t stopped you NEARLY catching me up! 🙂 I’m sure you’ll soon overtake me…

I thought it must have been my coffee-making making you look human again but you say it was the Nivea? Must be potent stuff eh?;-)


5 08 2011

The weather actually Looks fine in the photographs.Glad you got such great hills bagged when you could enjoy them as its not the same doing great peaks in bad conditions where you cant see a thing.Shenaval must be one of the most frequented bothies in Scotland nowadays.


6 08 2011

Hi Bob,
Yeah, the weather improved fairly soon after Monty set off. Perhaps all the wind was coming from him? 😉 Either that or he requested the bad weather to put me off coming with him so he could crack on and not be held up!

I was really surprised how busy Shenaval was during the week – I honestly thought we’d have the place to ourselves. It was busy the 2 nights I was there and then there was just the one guy who turned up on the evening I left. I’d be surprised if the place was ever empty overnight


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