Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh (916m); Sgurr Ban (989m);
Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair (1019m) & Beinn Tarsuinn (937m)
- Pronunciation: Bine uh Chly-ev; Skoor Ban; Mooluch Korrer Veek Errorcur; Bine Tarshin
- Translation: Mountain of the Sword White Hill; Hill of the Corrie of Farquhar’s Son; Transverse Mountain;
- Total distance: 41.1km
- Total time: 13hrs 14mins
- Total ascent: 1988m
- Weather: Glorious. A little high cloud to start, then blue sky all day. Very light breezes.
- Start / end location: Road side lay-by on A832 about 4.5km west of Braemore Junction. [OS Map Sheets 19 & 20 – Grid Ref: NH 163 761 (Sheet 20)]
- Map: A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window.
It has been almost a week since we were last out on the hills – for no other reason than the weather has been atrocious, with the tail end of hurricane Katia producing storm force winds and driving torrential rain for central and northern Scotland. This has not yielded particularly good mountaineering conditions.
Another issue we’ve faced is that many of the remaining Munros pose quite a logistical challenge to access: and probably none more so than the Fisherfield Six located east of Poolewe. We’d deliberated some time about the best way to approach this range without resorting to overnight backpacking – although this would possibly be the optimum solution. Eventually, however, we decided to break the range down into two outings: one to cover the eastern four Munros, and another day to complete the western two.
Today, it was the turn of the eastern four, which found us cycling in beautiful weather 6km along the north side of Loch a’ Bhraoin to access these mountains.
The route began at the roadside of the A832 (Dundonnell to Braemore Junction), which was the same starting point for our ascent of the western Fannaichs back on 6 August. This time we used our bikes and quickly covered the kilometre or so along a gravel estate track from the road to the north-eastern tip of Loch a’ Bhraoin. From the head of the loch a very rough land-rover track continued all the way along the loch-side to the holiday cottage, called Lochivraon, at the western end. In many places the track consisted of a thick layer of loose gravel, which was often impossible to cycle on. In these sections our bike wheels sunk a couple of inches below the surface of the thick gravel, which meant that the front tyres were forced to plough a furrow through the gravel powered by the back tyres that lost traction with every revolution. It was generally easier to get off and push! A few steeper rocky sections completed the mountain biking fun. We locked our bikes at a metal gate by Lochivraon (house).
From the end of Loch a’ Bhraoin we continued west along a fairly reasonable path where many of the boggy sections could be easily bypassed. After about 4km we rounded the base of Creag Rhuigh a’ Bhragdad – a rocky promontory – and descended into the head of a long (unnamed) glen that ran in a north-south direction and contained Loch an Nid.
Essentially, the range of four Munros that we aimed to climb followed the line of this glen on its western side, and by this point we still hadn’t quite decided the best way of tackling them: south to north, vice versa, or breaching the line somewhere in-between, which would need doubling back on ourselves and crossing one of the summits twice! The reason that we even considered the latter option was that between the second and third Munros (Sgurr Ban and Mullach Coire Mhic Fhreachair) lies the fantastic looking Sgurr Dubh Slabs: an expansive, fairly easy-angled section of smooth rock face that looked an absolute delight to scramble up. From the map, we thought that from the top of the slabs we would be able traverse northwards into Coire nan Clach and then contour round the east of Sgurr Ban to reach the bealach at Am Briseadh (650m) before then ascending Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh. This would have avoided crossing Sgurr Ban twice.
However, from where we stood at the corner of Creag Rhuigh a’ Bhragdad, the two kilometre traverse along the side of Sgurr Ban looked quite challenging as it consisted entirely of a huge field of quartzite boulders – definitely not fun! So, instead, we decided to continue north passed Loch an Nid where we could attempt to cross the Abhainn Loch na Nid river (quite originally named!) and climb directly to Point 650 (m) via the less rocky slopes on the eastern flank of Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh.
We walked along the eastern shores of Loch na Nid and were rewarded with excellent views of the Sgurr Dubh Slabs and the other huge set of slabs to the right hand side of Meallan Laoigh – geologically it really was a fascinating landscape. Beyond the northern tip of the loch we searched for and found a reasonable spot to cross the fast flowing and swollen river Abhainn Loch na Nid. We had anticipated that we might struggle to cross some of the burns in the area due to the recent heavy rains and so had come prepared with our sandals. We were glad of our forethought as we changed our footwear and began to wade across the river. Once across we dried our feet, donned our boots and gaiters and climbed due west towards the lowest point in the ridgeline above.
We weren’t altogether sure how easy it would be to access the col at Point 650 (m) as the 1:50,000 map showed an unbroken escarpment of cliffs that needed to be overcome. However, as we approached the band of cliffs they turned out to consist of broken crags that were easy to climb over or around as required. Once we reached the col with its two tiny lochans we turned north and climbed over a subsidiary top at 815m before dropping slightly to reach another col immediately below the summit of Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh. A slightly steeper climb brought us out at the summit cairn at 916m or 3,005ft complete with stunning views of the castellated ridge of Am Teallach (north) and the fascinating geology of Beinn Dearg Mor to the northwest with its hanging corries. To the south, from the direction that we’d just come, the view was dominated by the huge grey-white expanse of the Sgurr Ban. The whiteness came from the quartzite boulders that lay jumbled everywhere across the mountain’s rounded summit dome. A cairn could be clearly seen adorning on the very top of the dome and, a little off to one side, the slightly higher and darker peak of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair just protruded above Sgurr Ban’s profile.
We turned back south and retraced our steps to the col at 650m. From here the long 2km NE ridge of Sgurr Ban looked formidably tiresome with its never-ending run of ankle-twisting boulders to contend with. As it turned out, it was a reasonably strenuous ascent, but nothing like as bad as it looked from below: there were quite a few sections of quartzite bedrock to walk up, which broke the monotony of boulder hopping. Partway up the ridge we came upon a tiny shelter that was roughly constructed of rock slabs – complete with an igloo-like roof. Whether I’d have trusted the roof not to cave in is another matter, but I guess that in the desperation of a storm it would provide basic shelter from the elements. After a bit more effort negotiating the boulders we arrived at the large summit cairn on Sgurr Ban at 989m or 3,245ft where we enjoyed more magnificent views in every direction.
The descent down the south ridge of Sgurr Ban brought us to a col before an exceedingly steep ascent of a scree path began. From the col it actually looked impossibly steep, but as with most routes through steep broken crags, the path ingeniously “found its way” up to the summit of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair at 1019m, or 3,343ft – the highest of the Fisherfield Munros. From this position we were able to unlock the view to our fourth and final Munro of the day, Beinn Tarsuinn, to the WSW.
We descended the steep south ridge to a small col with Meall Garbh (851m) and were relived to find a convenient path that bypassed this subsidiary peak by contouring round its western flank to reach the Bealach Odhar immediately to the east of Beinn Tarsuinn. Another quite steep climb up the hill’s eastern ridge brought us out on the summit at 937m or 3,074ft. This summit, being slightly off to the west of the straight line through the other three Munros brought outstanding views down through Gleann na Muice to An Teallach, the glens northern guardian. It was a superb vantage point as the glen was flanked on the left by A’ Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor (both Munros) and on the right by the three Munros that we’d just climbed.
We were still a long way from home and it was already 17.00 as we retraced our steps back to Bealach Odhar where we disturbed a flock of ptarmigan and a herd of red deer hinds plus one resident stag. Once we arrived we then followed a line around the southern nose of Meall Garbh before heading ESE across the wide expanse of Coire Mhic Fhearchair. We were bound for Bealach na Croise. The terrain was pathless, but it wasn’t as boggy and wet as I thought it would be. When we reached the Bealach na Croise I was really pleased to find a small cairn marking the descent into the long glen that would take us back to the path we’d used earlier to reach Loch na Nid. The cairn gave us hope that there might be some kind of path through this glen, which was not indicated on the OS map. The cairn did indeed mark the start of a reasonable path – we were in luck. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, the path at one point aimed to cross the burn running through the glen, but never materialised on the opposite bank. There was nothing else for it but to forge our own route for over 2km until we finally reached the path at the bottom of the glen that took us back to the holiday cottage at Lochivraon where we’d left our bikes. En route through the glen we heard a few stags roaring – the rut has begun.
By the time we arrived back at our bikes the twilight was deepening – and it was a race against time to get back to the road before we were overcome by darkness. Sadly, as we were both pretty tired after our long trek we were outpaced by the onset of night and we only managed to cycle a couple of kilometres along the track before we felt that it was simply too dark to cycle the rough track safely. We used our small LED head-torches, which were adequate for walking with, to see us push our bikes safely back along the remaining 4.5km of track. We arrived, exhausted, back at the roadside in the pitch dark, some 13 hours and 14 minutes after we’d begun our walk. It was our longest day – but at least it had been the perfect weather for such an epic adventure!
Our consolation for being out so late was that when we were walking along the loch-side we were rewarded by the company of a beautiful ¾ waning moon, which rose above the silhouette of hills to our east and shimmered with warm yellow to orange hues that reflected wonderfully on the rippling surface of Loch a’ Bhraoin – quite magical.
[Our first Munro today, Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh has recently been re-surveyed and found to be about 0.4m or just over 1 foot below the magic 3000 feet demarcation height for a Munro. The custodians of the definitive Munro listing, the Scottish Mountaineering Club, has yet to announce whether Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh will remain a Munro or loose its Munro status. Until this issue is settled, Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh remains a Munro, which we climbed today.]