John was leading our final Fisherfield trip of 2015. A mixed bag of weather was forecast, here's his tale of the weekend....
We all met at Corrie Hallie and after checking kit in the sunshine, we set off on the path to Shenevall. In a breeze too, so I was happy.
After looking in at the bothy, it was off with the boots and on with the crocs for the crossing of the Abhainn Strath na Sealga, which is a river that can be quite problematic when in spate. Today it was a skoosh, and we splashed happily across in the pleasingly cool water. Another 40 minutes brought us to our camp spot for the weekend, a wee island of smooth grass in the Abhainn Gleann na Muice, and we pitched our tents and prepared a meal. The evening view back to An Teallach was beautiful, with the sun igniting the reds and greys of the sandstone and quartzite in turn. The rain came on just as we finished eating, so it was an early night.
With the removal of Beinn a'Chlaidheim from the Munro list, it is now possible to avoid it from our route by ascending eastwards to Loch a'Bhrisidh up rough but relatively easy-angled terrain, and then take the grassier ascent of Sgurr Ban. This we did, having paused at the loch for an atmospheric snack, where we saw a little newt, quite rare these days. The ascent is relentless, but it is still easier than the boulder field farther to the east. It is a shame to miss off Beinn a'Chlaidheim, as it is a fine peak, but it does make the demanding Fisherfield round a little less so from a camp site in the Gleann na Muice.
From the quartzite boulders on Sgurr Ban, we crossed to sandstone at the summit of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, where we discussed the route ahead. Would we descend as planned after Beinn Tarsuinn, taking the route down Gleann na Muice, or would we continue on to get all 5 munros today? A text came in from Steven who had seen the forecast. Sunday afternoon was to be sunny, but very windy indeed, following heavy rain in the morning. So the plan needed a review. The majority were in favour of pressing on - the weather was good, the views excellent, and the prospect of a long night in Midge Central did not appeal.
We crossed to Beinn Tarsuinn by the excellent path that skirts Meall Garbh, and then made the pull up to the summit, with its excellent boulder on which to pose, with the Gleann and An Teallach as a backdrop. The descent includes the flat feature known as the 'tennis court', and we all agreed we did not fancy being a ball-boy!
As we crossed Pollan na Muice towards A'Mhaighdean, it would be fair to say a little encouragement was necessary. The Fisherfield round, (be it 5 or 6) is a committing and challenging day, and the wet and hag-ridden area before A'Mhaighdean's easy slopes are usually where folks really feel it. Stevie made a detour to find good water, and this was appreciated by more than one person!
Eventually we made the summit of A'Mhaighdean, the most remote Munro, to be rewarded by the famous view NW. It was my fourth time here, and the first time I have had the view, so I was most happy. After a pause for photos and snacks, we descended to the high bealach between there and our final Munro, Ruadh Stac Mor. Nick decided he had had enough ascending for the day, and set off down the stalker's path which was to be our descent. The rest of us made the loose and bouldery climb to our last summit, a satisfying fifth Munro for the day.
We had decided to use the stalker's path rather than make the bouldery descent NE off Ruadh Stac Mor, and that meant we caught up with Nick, who had waited at the river crossing before the main path, resplendent in his midge hat - Yes, they were out again. All that then remained was the long walk back to Gleann na Muice and our tents, which we all made whilst praying for a breeze.
The forecast was for strengthening winds, but it just didn't happen. We got to the camp to find clouds of midges, so all we could do was dive into our tents and zip the inners tight. I would estimate I zipped a couple of thousand in with me, and spent the night squashing them whilst they in turn fed on me.
Sunday dawned bright, but the wind that picked up a little in the small hours died again, so we hurriedly packed and headed for Shenavall. By the time we got there, the wind was strong, and the sun was out. We decided on a late breakfast, as no-one had been able or willing to prepare anything at camp, and we were lucky that the bothy inhabitants were having a lie in, probably due to their carry oots judging by the remnants!
Suitably fortified, we set off for the 3hr tramp back to Corrie Hallie in the glorious if hazy sunshine, revelling in the warm, strong wind that was blowing the midge corpses from our hair and their memory from our minds....well, almost. The fitter members were soon away, and luckily the rest of the party were all sharing transport, so were able to have a rewarding pint together at the Dundonnell hotel.
The trip was thus cut short by a day, which would usually spell despondency. That wasn't the case though - We had achieved our goal of the five Munros, we had had a briefly enjoyable but memorable spell in an idyllic camp spot. We had had constant views whilst on the hills, and even the weather which finally forced the exodus was a warm but very strong wind, positively welcome after the grey, damp stillness of midgemageddon. This trip had been originally planned for May, but was postponed due to the wintery weather then. We knew summer was a risk, but it was worth it to get the day on the hill we did. Irvine Butterfield in his book 'The High Mountains' says 'these are some of the finest viewpoints, if not the finest, in all of Scotland, and a visit is an unforgettable experience'. He was not wrong.