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
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|
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 on Ben Tarsuinn, with A' Mhaighdean|
|Fionn Loch from A' Mhaighdean|
|Looking back up the corrie between Ruadh Stac Mor and A' Mhaighdean|
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!)
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.