IT’S one of the great dilemmas for peak baggers - just what is the best approach to tackle the elusive mountains of Fisherfield?
When we first climbed them, there were six Munros in the round (there are now five, Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh being recently demoted to a Corbett after satellite re-mapping).
The perceived wisdom of the time was to use the bothy at Shenavall as a base, set off early in the morning and work your way clockwise round all six.
Even from this advance outpost it’s a huge day. If you want to add the walk-in to the bothy and then out again it’s massive. But then every variation on these hills means a big day, and there’s also the potential problem of notoriously difficult, sometimes impossible, river crossings.
That first circuit took us around 12 hours. There are good paths when you are on the higher parts of the hills but the terrain in between can be brutal. Sgurr Ban’s jumbled boulder field, with some rocks the size of cars, is tough going even with a vague path valiantly trying to wind its way through.
The reclimb to the fifth peak, A’Mhaighdean, from Beinn Tarsuinn, is also strength-sapping, a loss of height that would be psychologically damaging at any stage of the day never mind after four Munros.
My main memory of that trek is a dehydrated trudge over the last couple of peaks, struggling to put one foot in front of the other. Any thought of enjoying the views was long gone, my only target a couple of ticks and an end to the toil.
My strategy for subsequent visits has been to savour these wonderful mountains, taking them in two or three at a time. This still means long days whichever way you approach.
The two most westerly peaks, A’Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor, can be approached from Poolewe, a lovely circuit which offers some of the best scenery in the country.
That may entail an overnight stay in the barn at Carnmore. Be warned - it’s not five-star. It’s probably not even no stars to be honest. An earthen floor with ferns growing through it should have been a clue but at least it has a roof and it’s dry.
Then there’s the long way in from the Heights of Kinlochewe, best for Beinn Tarsuinn and Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and, if you don’t mind the reclimb, Sgurr Ban can be tacked on as well. A bike would speed things up here.
We have also climbed these three from the Loch a’Bhraoin track to the east, a route which offers the chance to ascend Sgurr Ban on the massive slabs which remind you more of a moonscape than a mountain slope.
There’s an option to drop off Beinn Tarsuinn and work your back to round to pick up the track but the ground is rough and it’s not easy walking. Going back over Fhearchair and then dropping down the next col seemed a better choice.
When Beinn a’Chlaidheimh was still one of the big boys, I tackled it and Sgurr Ban from Corrie Hallie. The track in makes for fast walking and as long as you can get across the waters of the Abhainn Loch an Nid this route is a good option.
I got a real soaking on this expedition but not because the river was running high. No, this was during a heat wave and as I over-confidently boulder hopped I slipped off one rock and ended up on my backside in the water. There’s never an easy day with these rivers.
And finally, for something totally different, there’s the track in from Gruinard Bay which takes you through some remote country and offers the chance to climb Beinn a’ Chaisgein Mor and Beag en route. Variety is the spice of life - and of Fisherfield too.
(First published Daily Record, June 12, 2014)