Two Fisherfields from Heights of Kinlochewe

26 09 2011

Sun 4 September 2011

Having already done four of the ‘Fisherfield 6’ Munros from Shenaval Bothy last summer, I just had two left to do and thought the Heights of Kinlochewe approach looked the nicest as it visits some stunning scenery en route.

Despite the walk starting out on very good paths as far as Lochan Fada, and having a decent path from there to the col between my two mountains, I found the day very tiring indeed – maybe I’d lost a lot of fitness in the two intervening months since my June ‘peak-bagging’ fest when I collected a great many ‘remote’ Munros (despite a couple of trips to the Lake District). These two are still classed as remote via this approach however so maybe I’m just being too hard on myself?

I set off around 0840 from our holiday let in Kinlochewe, got my fold-up bike out of the shed and pedalled off down the road. It is less than a mile to the carpark at Incheril where the tarmac comes to an end and, after passing through a gate in the deer fence, the landrover track heads round into the beautiful curved valley to the Heights of Kinlochewe – a little white estate house. The track is superb and mostly flat so fairly good progress can be made along it for the next couple of miles to the house. Just before the house I branched off on the left fork to start up the hill into the side valley towards Lochan Fada.

I’d read about the problem immediately facing me on various walking forums – the second gate in the deer fence… The problem is that the little side gate is fine for walkers but the problem for cyclists is the fence built round the side gate. This was one place where having a fold-up bike, while not ideal rough track transport, comes into its own. All I had to do was drop the handlebars and the saddle, stand the bike on its rear wheel, pull the gate past it, nip round over the nearby stile and then collect my bike from the other side. Folks with normal mountain bikes have had to take off wheels and suchlike and have still had huge trouble with their handlebars – one guy even humped his bike precariously up over the high stile!

The track then headed off uphill with only short flat sections so I did more pushing than riding – but I knew it would come into its own on the way back down. The scenery was distractingly pleasant and there were few midges so the next couple of miles to the end of the landrover track were pleasant in the warm sunshine.

I saw a quarry hole about half a mile from the end of the uphill track and wondered whether I should have left the bike there as there was a good place to hide it but continued to push it up the hill. In hindsight, it would have been a much better place to leave it as, even descending, the track above became too steep and rough for me to ride. Still, when I reached the end of the landrover track, there was a signpost which I could lean the bike up against and chain it up. I toyed with the idea of chaining the bike to the post but suspected it would be easily removed from the ground so thought it was best just to immobilise the bike with the cable instead and use the post to keep it upright out of the undergrowth.

I waved goodbye to the bike, told it I’d be hours, and set off along the well-made newly-stoned path towards Lochan Fada. After another mile or so my objectives, Beinn Tarsuinn and Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, hove into view mainly in sun and only the latter with his head periodically in the clouds.


My Objectives


Looking Back to Heights of Kinlochewe

I studied the south-eastern ridge of the Mullach as it has two tops on it, one of which I fully intended to bag, the other I wasn’t so sure as it is pretty scrambly and I was on my own. The track to the loch is about three miles and passes over hummocky ground so is full of ups and downs – the view ahead is ever-changing and stunning though.

At first the main point of interest was the back of Slioch – the peak of Sgurr an Tuill Bhan (a top on the main ridge) was arrow-sharp and looked very imposing. I was about to take a wonderful picture of it with the sun highlighting its sharpness when I ran out of film and had to stop to change it – by the time I’d done, the sun had gone off the peak and didn’t fully come back onto it again. Oh well – can’t be helped.

After a mile or so I passed through a fence where the path was older and less well-made – it was still firm and dry though so I could keep up my good progress. Pretty soon after, a row of narrow lochans appeared below me lining the valley bottom all the way to the start of Lochan Fada. They were mirror calm and the mountains either side made the scene very beautiful indeed. As, despite it being a Sunday, I was the only person in the long valley, it was also very peaceful.

As the path only leads to Lochan Fada, just as I neared the lochan, the path headed downhill through some very wet ground to the loch – I needed to head off in the opposite direction. I could see, just ahead, a humpy ridgeline rising up above the bogs and heading towards my hill so thought that would be the driest place to ascend to the col between the mountains – I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be a path across such featureless terrain though. However, when I reached the ridge, there was a path heading off up it proving most walkers think the same way.


Looking back to Slioch’s Rift Valley – Beinn Eighe in the Gap

The ridge and path eased the fairly boring ascent through the bogs and up the hillside alongside the burn to the col. Further up, above the steepest part of the rise, the path became a lot more sketchy and I ended up crossing the burn for a firm and flat-looking ridge between other burns coming in from the corrie above, thinking that’s where the path had gone. I was wrong and ended up with my only rough walking of the day until the ridge ended and I recrossed the burn to rejoin the path again.

I reached the col soon after and peered round the small intervening peak of Meall Garbh to see the ascent ridge of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair – a ridge I’d been worrying about as it looked fearsomely steep in the guidebooks. It didn’t look any less steep than I’d been imagining – steeper if anything – but I thought the route up it looked like it would probably be okay really.

I wasn’t worried about ascending it (I never am worried about ascents), just having to descend something steep and loose. I turned my attention back to my first peak – Beinn Tarsuinn. It looked easy and grassy but reasonably steep – I wasn’t feeling very energetic at this point. There was no obvious path anywhere that I could see so I set off up the small rocky steps at the base of the peak for the steeper grass above.

Still unable to see any path – surprising when you consider I was now on the main trade route of the ‘Fisherfield 6′ – I just headed off up the steep grass. The climb was very tiring indeed and, unusually for me nowadays, I kept having to stop for a rest. Despite finding a sketchy path quite a bit higher up, I found the climb absolutely exhausting – definitely the hardest part of the day! I finally staggered onto the final summit ridge where it flattened off and I joined a much better path. There was a short walk along the ridge past some sandstone blocks and the summit cairn appeared. The views over the edge of the peak to the north down Gleann na Muice and west to A’ Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mhor were fantastic.


Fisherfield 4 and Gleann na Muice


Ruadh Stac Mhor (l/h pointy summit), Beinn Dearg Beag (r/h pointy summit) and Mor


Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair and his two tops

Nearer to hand was the spectacular western ridge of Tarsuinn which led over ‘the Billiard Table’ – a large flat grassy area buttressed by crags, and then on down the narrow rocky ridge to the col. That wasn’t my route however and, despite originally wanting to nip down to have a quick look at the Billiard Table, I found I really didn’t have the energy, bearing in mind I had the much bigger Mullach still to do.


The Remarkable Billard Table


View from the Descent down Gleann na Muice to Beinns Dearg Mor and Beag
and (below) Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair

I headed off back along the short summit ridge and down a proper path which zig-zagged down the steep grassy hillside for the col. That petered out before the rocky bands at the bottom however so no wonder I didn’t see it from below. A couple were just starting their ascent so I headed over for a quick chat – mainly because I wanted to quiz them about the descent from the Mullach (in true coward fashion). They had come that way and assured me the mountain was fine and the descent would be no problem for me.

When I reached the col a few minutes later I sat and had a quick coffee and studied my next ascent. It was basically in two halves – first of all very steep grass indeed with a couple of rocky steps – that part looked firm enough so didn’t really worry me. Then it was followed by what looked like a path setting off at a less steep angle up steep scree or boulders (impossible to tell from that distance) which then petered out further up (I suspected boulders then). The ridge then flattened out a bit more before a final steepening to the summit. Before that there was a narrow path passing across the northern face of Meall Garbh – that looked mainly okay but had a short section where it rose above a small area of crags and looked a bit precarious. Well, there was only one way to find out what the rest of the route was like and that was to get going so I packed up and set off.

The path across the face of Meall Garbh was mainly okay but was a little hairy above the short section of crag – not too worrying though, you just had to watch your footing. I was then at the foot of the daunting ridge to the Mullach.

A good path set off up the very steep grassy section. There were two sections of scrambling – one very short and insignificant, the other only slightly longer and harder. No problems so far then…


Looking Back at Beinn Tarsuinn

I then reached the top of the firm grassy section and the path up the boulders or scree I’d seen from below. It was actually boulders but the path was mainly fairly firm scree and had a good zig-zag. The path was only short however and then I was faced with a steep section of boulders – ugh. These aren’t usually too bad to ascend but I knew they’d be unpleasant on the way back down as that’s when you tend to find the wobbly stones. I also always have a horror that the whole thing could turn into a huge rockslide!

I dragged myself up the boulders to the short section of flatter ground above – this was shortlived however and was followed by a very steep section of huge boulders. I hauled my way up the best route I could find and was pleased to see I was then on a narrowish flat ridge along to the summit cairn which was a short stroll away.

I was pretty exhausted by now and had to have another rest at the summit – it was another great view in all directions though.


Looking Back to my Walk In

I saw my next top along the south-eastern ridge was very near to hand and there was only a small intervening dip – it was boulders all the way however… After a couple of minutes I set off for the top where I promised myself a longer break.

I reached the top easily and in not many minutes where I settled down for a snack and another drink while I studied the scrambly peak further down the ridge. It didn’t look bad from where I was sitting and I thought I could manage the scramble up to the first peak, but I’d read descriptions of the route before and I believe there is another peak behind which is the summit and is much harder to get to. Being alone, pretty tired, and not the most confident of scramblers, I thought it best to leave it for another day and probably an approach from the east via Loch a’ Bhraoin. It was a pleasant, sunny and scenic spot for a break so I allowed myself all of five minutes or so before I headed off back for the main summit and my descent down the steep ridge.


The Scrambly Top


Glen an Nid


Back to Main Summit from First Top

I’d been hoping I could contour back across from the top to below the worst boulders at the top of the ridge but the ground was too steep for traversing long distances across wobbly boulders so unfortunately, I found myself back at the top of the very awkward clamber down the huge boulders. The section was fortunately fairly short-lived and I managed to get down it without mishap.


Looking Back to Scrambly Top from Descent

The flatter section was fine but the next steepening down the following section of pathless boulders was a bit unpleasant and looked a bit too steep for mountain cowardly comfort really. I concentrated on where I was putting my hands and feet and just looked forward to the top of the grassy section – I eventually reached it. From there the good path made the rest of the descent straightforward and I was soon back on the col. Despite its much bigger size, effortwise, I’d found Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair easier than Beinn Tarsuinn.

After recrossing the deer track under Meall Garbh I decided to have one final break on the col in the lovely sunshine and finish my flask. I watched a couple below me who’d headed into the corrie below Meall Garbh – I thought they must have been heading down into Gleann na Muice but they seemed to be trying to head upwards again at the other side of the corrie – I couldn’t figure out what they were trying to do.

As I set off down the track following the burn from the col, I saw a man in red just ahead – no idea where he’d come from as I hadn’t seen him on any of the hills. He was descending the track about 100 yards ahead of me. Suddenly he’d disappeared and, despite him being in red and me looking around everywhere, I never saw him again! Just then, a shower I’d seen in the distance over Heights of Kinlochewe hit and I donned my waterproofs. It was only light rain however and only lasted about 20 minutes – it did made the descent path pretty muddy and slippery though.

I made good time back to the end of Lochan Fada where I tried to sit at the end of the lovely loch on a little gravelly beach – however, the midges were waiting there and it was impossible to remain so I set off back to my track.

The next miles to my bicycle seemed pretty long and the scenery heading back this way wasn’t as interesting but I kept looking back at the lovely light on the calm lochans.

I was very pleased to reach my bike, have a rest, get my stuff organised and then head off down the track – initially wheeling the bike down the steep, rough section of track to the quarry hole. I then managed to ride nearly all the way down to the awkward gate, only having to dismount for the very steep section at the end. Then it was the same performance of collapsing the little fold-up, standing it on end, going round via the stile and rescuing it from the other side of the gate.

It was by now a beautiful evening and the white house and the two ruined houses nearby looked very romantic in the fork of the valley. I’d run out of film again now though and didn’t have a spare so just set off down the good glen track. The track was so good I absolutely flew along it and was back at the cottage in no time where Richard informed me he’d nipped up the nearby Corbett of Meall Ghuibhais via ‘The Pony Track’ while I’d been gone – he’s going to have more Corbetts than me soon!.

Stats: 20 miles, 3960 feet of ascent, 9.5 hours

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12 responses

30 09 2011
Tango

Hello Carol, a very nice account, im in agreement with Simon about that Billiard Table,thingy!!! ive never heard of it but would like to be stood on top of it any day!! looks awesome, ideal place to have a break.. Also 20 miles isnt bad going at all! that makes for a long adventure…well done. im going to look on my mapping for the Fishfield mountians…thanks.

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30 09 2011
mountaincoward

I’m not sure, but I think someone camped on it once? It looks a bit hard to get tent pegs into though – I can imagine it only has a thin veneer of grass. I wish I had nipped down to it now to be honest, but when you’re actually there and feeling knackered, it’s hard 😉

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2 10 2011
Tango

I know what you mean about just poping of to another summit!!! before you know it! its another 2 hours & 4 miles added onto your trip!!..Im a bugger for sticking to the route ive planned,”must get the tops done”syndrome!!! & i probably miss out on loads of things going on around me!!!….Well still some excellent photos Carol thanks Terry….

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28 09 2011
Alex.

I`ve never been in to Fisherfield via the Heights of Kinlochewe.It looks good from the pics and the good bike track is a bonus at my age 🙂
I`ve still got these two to do again for second round so will bear it in mind.Hopefully the price of petrol will have plummeted by that time 🙂

I`m with David on the digital idea.You can get free programmes that will reduce the size of prints by batch in a single click.I invested in a slide scanner for my old slides but it`s so laborious I can`t be bothered completing them.Will probably end up on Ebay 🙂

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28 09 2011
mountaincoward

To be honest, the main reason I’m sticking with film (apart from being a total Luddite 🙂 ) is that I think it’s better (by that, I’m not saying my photography’s brilliant). I also like my SLR and am very used to it and don’t really want to learn a new one. Digital SLRs are also pretty expensive. My camera was only £40 and the replacement lens I bought (the Zenith one didn’t zoom) was only £100. I couldn’t use a non-SLR.

That route in via the Heights is superb scenery so well worth a trip.

David – replying to your last comment on here as, for some reason, there isn’t a reply button under your latest comment. Thanks for the link to that report – really enjoyed it. Was interesting to see they’d taken many of the same photos (same viewpoint) as me – of course, theirs had come out somewhat better! I think that if you approach the scrambly top from ‘the back’, i.e. as you come up from Loch a’ Bhraoin, it’s a bit easier. Worth a look anyway.

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27 09 2011
David Seòras

The Loch a’ Bhraoin route is a good one. Did that earlier this year under a bit of snow and really enjoyed it.

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27 09 2011
mountaincoward

So did you do that scrambly top on the Mullach? If so, what was it like?
Carol.

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27 09 2011
David Seòras

nah, cowarded out of that one myself. If it was summer time and dry then I would have.
There;s a good account here including one photo of a small part of it; http://www.corbetteer.co.uk/munros/tr/fisherfield/

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26 09 2011
fedupofuserids

Some nice pics MC & great report as usual on what must have been a rare sunny day. I’ve never heard of the ‘Billiard Table’, something else to go on my ever growing to-do list 😉

Simon

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27 09 2011
mountaincoward

A rare sunny day indeed for me – I very rarely get them in Scotland! Despite it being a hard day, I really enjoyed that walk 🙂
Carol

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26 09 2011
David Seòras

That’s still a pretty big day out there. And surely must be time to go digital now, no danger of running out of film then… 😉

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26 09 2011
mountaincoward

Nope – still not going digital! To be honest, by the time you’ve loaded your photos onto your PC and had to shrink them all to a sensible size so that you can use them on blogs and suchlike, it takes just as long as scanning them in from prints. And as to running out of film, the risk of that tends to make me a lot more selective so I think that’s a good thing. I’ll go digital when I can’t get film any more 😉

It was a nice day anyway, and that area around Lochan Fada is really beautiful so I’m glad I chose that route. I still intend to go in again via Loch a’ Bhraoin though to pick up that top as I’d like to see that route too 🙂
Carol.

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