A runners perspective

I hope this blog is of use/interest to walkers, runners and cyclists living in or intending to visit Scotland. Most of my entries below are described as long-distance runs - just because that's currently what I enjoy doing...

Friday, 31 March 2017

"Linear" Fisherfield 6

Distance: 30 miles (49km) Ascent/Descent: 2430m/2480m 
Start/Finish: Corrie Hallie (Dundonnel) - Poolewe 
Terrain: 50% good trail, 50% mountain 
Transport: Westerbus Poolewe - Dundonnel in morning 
Route: Route + GPX

Forget the summits - the stalkers' paths thread a fantastic route through this epic landscape and provide a point-to-point trail run that can be extended as and where you want.  Of course I apparently can't forget the summits, not this time anyway, maybe next time, I'd like to think I'll be back in this area perhaps doing the Cape Wrath Trail or on some other self-inflicted adventure.


Yes it's been a while.  Been doing plenty of exploring, hiking, camping and running, just got out the habit of posting about it.  This particular journey was too nice not to share though.  I have a video version of the report below if you don't get motion-sickness!

There's a bus service from Gairloch/Poolewe at 7:50am that passes Coire Hallie en-route to Ullapool. The right of way sign at the roadside indicates 18 miles to Poolewe, so the bus would be fine for this. However, for a journey of 30miles that included the Fisherfield summits,  the bus would get me to the start far too late.  Thankfully my dad was happy to drive my car back to Poolewe and do his walk down to the shore of Loch Maree from there, so I could start a wee bit earlier.

So around 7:15am I was following the stoney track towards the moorland beside An Teallach as I had last done many years ago as a student with a group of mates and a hangover!  The car had indicated 2degC but once out of the shadow of the hillsides it felt much warmer and I had to remove the merino top.  It would get much warmer - Shorts and T shirt throughout from here on!  The track wound ahead into a wild scene of snow-speckled mountains, a very inspiring start to the day and already I was buzzing with anticipation.  After passing the only 2 others I'd see in the area that day, I took a moment to take in the view over Shenavall Bothy set beneath the S slopes of An Teallach, surprisingly snow-free.

I had to drop down to and cross the river beneath me, then it would be mostly trackless cross-country and mountainside for the next 12 miles.

After pulling myself up onto the heather on the far side of the river, the onward route was upwards, finding a route up onto the shoulder of Beinn a' Chlaidheimh.  The going was pretty rough at first, just picking my way through leggy heather, more and more exposed rock to help progress as height was gained.  It was already rather warm - the temperature probably not even in double figures but with the sun's rays and lack of a breeze it was feeling quite exotic!  A lizard, basking in the Spring sunshine, darted under a rock as I clumbsily approached.  As my mouth was already dry, I took a diversion to a cascade and enjoyed gulping the fresh cool water, taking a short break to enjoy the situation and pick my route up the line of outcrops above.  I basically ended up following a fairly direct line up onto the N shoulder of the ex-Munro (now a Corbett?), it wasn't as steep as it looked from head-on but still I wasn't running anymore, and
making use of all limbs!  Snow appeared between the slabs, and once above them the angle eased and a stony/snowy climb lead to the narrow summit, which was an incredible place to be on this fine day, the views of An Teallach, and out to sea, were special.

I hadn't seen anyone since the couple heading for a traverse of An Teallach, and I wouldn't see anyone
until nearly arriving into Poolewe that evening.  Not even fresh prints in the snow.

I was still unsure what the conditions would be like along the ridge, and if I'd encounter hard packed ice which I certainly wasn't equipped for and would have to retreat.  I was glad to be heading mostly S so that I was descending on the less Wintery side of the mountains!

The next hill was Sgurr Ban, which looked intimidating until I realised I wasn't going to be heading directly up its N ridge, and instead arcing around a nice lochan onto a much easier-angled slope of boulders from the E.

Sgurr Ban whilst descending Beinn a' Chlaidheimh
Still my progress was relatively slow, not just because of the constant transition from snow to rock, but also because the views around were too distracting!  The top of Sgurr Ban is quite a large bouldery place.  From the top I could see the route ahead up Mullach Coire Mhic Fearchair and once again I felt intimidated!  Any path that may have existed was buried, so I just picked the line with the most exposed rocks and went for it, taking care rather than rushing.

The final section felt quite alpine with its rocky summit falling sharply down above snow in front of a backdrop of glaciated Torridonian peaks!  The part I was most worried about was a narrow path on the NW side of Meall Garbh.  I had the trekking poles at least to test the snow in front.  There was only one short bit where the steepness is such that the "path" felt a little exposed above a steep bank of snow.

I was glad to get safely onto the W side of Meall Garbh, and have another micro-break, looking across Lochan Fada to Slioch.  A fairly easy (and less snowy) climb got me on top of Beinn Tarsuinn, the summit cairn guarded by a crow who promptly flew off to another cliff-edge as I approached.  I felt a bit guilty about moving this crow along, I hope he came back to his spot once I'd moved along.

The ridge narrowed nicely, and eventually I reached a cairn marking the start of a plunge down towards the bealach between Tarsuinn an A' Mhaighdean.  This was loose in places, and also a long way down, nearly down to 500m.  The peat hags weren't too bad and was soon finding a trace of a path up below a line of outcrops on the E slope of A 'Mhaighdean.  I used to poles to march up here, even though the angle was easy I'd ditched running uphills hours ago - saving the running muscles for the last 14 miles back to civilisation.
The ridge on Ben Tarsuinn, with A' Mhaighdean
I wasn't getting sick of the views, now able to look across and appreciate the bouldery summits I'd already crested earlier, and then a very different view South of the Torridon mountains, and then yet another very different view W out over the Atlantic Ocean with Skye and the Hebrides - particularly the Clisham Range,  visible above low mist.

Fionn Loch from A' Mhaighdean
Before reaching the final summit - Ruadh Stac Mor - which was probably as red as my face at this point in the day, I had to negotiate some snow banks and crags, done safely by dropping more E first before NE down to the slabby bealach.  Ruadh Stac Mor's terraced S slope was mostly snow free thankfully, but it was still bloody steep and loose, following a feint route marked by a cairn (from the crest of the bealach) that takes a diagonal line sort of NE up between a gap in the the mountain's rocky defences.  I was gasping a bit when I finally reached the top, and the view was worth the hype, but once more I wasn't hanging around, quite keen to get the dodgy descent off this lump behind me so I could relax a little and enjoy running again, and on trails!

Looking back up the corrie between Ruadh Stac Mor and A' Mhaighdean
It felt so good to get onto that stalkers track down from the bealach towards Carnmore.  Running again, and loving it, such a great place to enjoy this.  My hunch is that the journey on these trails between Poolewe and Corie Hallie would be equally as enjoyable/spectacular as the journey upon the summits, and one day I may just have to come back to do that instead!  Sometimes the best views of mountains are from beneath, not above.

 And what an area to spend the night too - it seemed almost rude to charge through this landscape on this perfect day without putting up a tent and spending an evening watching the sunset,  then soaking up the solitude beneath the stars.   (On the counter-side, the wine did go down well back in Gairloch later!)

Descending above Dubh Loch, the cliffs plunging down into the opposite shore looked like the front cover of a Norway cruise brochure!  And once down to the loch shore side, the view back up to the summits was equally dramatic.  The sun was getting low by the time I'd crossed the short causeway and heading W, slowly away from the loch, beneath the shadow of Meall Meinnidh, and other lofty peaks in front reminding me I still had a fair way to go before reaching the coast.

However, the path was excellent and the running felt easy compared to the up and down over boulders and snow earlier.  Finally the path crested a low rise and the edge of the forest above Kernsary became visible - the track ahead disappearing into it via a gate and stile.

The change of scene was pretty at first, but the track got a bit boggy in a couple of places so I was glad to get it done.  Once past Kernsary farmhouse, where signs make it clear walkers and climbers are welcome on the estate, the path is now firm gravel all the way down to the head of Loch Maree where the River Ewe starts its short and rapid journey to the ocean.  It was along this final stretch of road through the woods where I saw the only other people that day (since An Teallach).  The had set not long before I arrived at the car.