Friday 17 July 2020

Am Faochagach - Allowed out in the hills at last

We know we've been so lucky - the coronavirus that has devastated so many lives has only touched us indirectly - minor inconveniences brought about by the lockdown - a lockdown which we have spent living in a lovely village on the Moray coast with wonderful neighbours and a supportive community.

We know we've been lucky, so lucky... But we've still missed the hills.

The start of the path to Am Faochagach just west of the Torrandhu Bridge - views north

So, as soon as we got the go ahead, feeling somewhat flabby and not-hill-fit, we headed out for a shorter Munro walk - Am Faochagach. We've kind of been saving it for a winter day, but it seemed like a good option to get us back into the swing...

Views east over Loch Glascarnoch from near the start of the walk

On the grey, but bright morning, we set off from the parking area beside the A835 by the Torrandhu Bridge - the car park was full, but everyone else seemed to be going south towards the Fannaichs. We squelched north, across the moor on an obvious, but very wet (very wet!) path through the bog.

Crossing the moor with Am Foachagach ahead

Jim and bog cotton - crossing the moor with Am Foachagach ahead
The famed river crossing loomed...

Jim - Abhainn a'Gharbhrain
The guidebooks/websites all said that we'd need to wade across the Abhainn a'Gharbhrain (and that if in spate it might be impassable). When we got there the water looked low - it had been reasonably dry last week. Aww, surely we'll find a place to cross dry-shod!

So we spent 10 minutes walking up and down the south bank looking for that place to cross without getting we feet...

There's a likely spot - nope, can't jump that far...

Maybe - definitely not, too slippery...  etc...

OK - So, it was off with the boots and roll up the trousers. The water was well above my knees and Jim was fair comical with all his slipping about.

I bet everyone looks for a place to get across without messing about without taking off boots and socks - don't bother, it really is a wade.

Crossing Abhainn a'Gharbhrain
Initial ascent of Am Faochagach - views north west towards Beinn Dearg

And then it was just a matter of crossing the flower strewn moor on a much improved grassy trod, ascending slowly to the shallow bealach between Sron Liath and Am Foachagach's southerly undulations.

A damp ascent of Am Faochagach

Views back (S) over Loch a'Gharbhrain to the Fannaich hills from ascent of Am Faochagach

As we climbed the aspect improved - we were soon getting good views of the Fannaich Munros to the south and increasingly Beinn Dearg and friends to the west.

Waterfalls on Allt na h-Uidhe

The path ascended gently beside the Allt na h-Uidhe and it's pretty waterfalls for a while, before striking off, somewhat damp underfoot, towards the shallow bealach between Am Faochagach and Meall Gorm - never very steep, an easy meander...

Jim - waterfalls on Allt na h-Uidhe

Views west to Beinn Deag from ascent of Am Faochagach 

Jim - ascent of Am Faochagach 

Views west to Beinn Deag from ascent of Am Faochagach 

A few rocks poked their way out of the grasses as we neared the bealach, the sun came out, and suddenly it was a glorious day...
Views south west from bealach between Am Faochagach and Meall Gorm

Jim - bealach between Am Faochagach and Meall Gorm

The views opened up further - the wild and empty lands to the north, a rolling greenness, stretching as far as the eye could see.

Views west from bealach between Am Faochagach and Meall Gorm towards Am Faochagach

Am Faochagach wasn't far now - a couple of gentle grassy undulations, with Beann Dearg and Cona Meall looming in front - seemingly only a hop and jump away.

Jim - nearing Am Faochagach - views to Beinn Dearg group

Nearing Am Faochagach - views to Beinn Dearg group

Nearing Am Faochagach

Nearing Am Faochagach - views to Beinn Dearg group

Beinn Dearg and Coire Granda

It was definitely time for a spot of lunch - but there was a chilly wind blowing across the tops, the cloud had filled in again. It felt cold. There was little in the way of shelter from the breeze across the open undulations - so we descended slightly below the last bealach before the final summit pull. Once off the top, the wind dropped and it felt more like July.

Not the greatest view for lunch - but out of the wind
- last shallow bealach before Am Faochagach

Sitting on our waterproofs, we looked out over a muddy, peaty bowl (obviously popular with the local red deer) in Coire Gorm towards the Inchbae Forest and a distant Ben Wyvis. There was just enough blue sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers - always a good sign. 

We munched on our sarnies and breathed in the Highlands...

Views back (S) from final gentle ascent to Am Faochagach summit

Onwards and upwards. 

We passed a group of young men who were descending with the usual cheery hello and then we had the hill to ourselves - we saw nobody else until we got back to the car.

Jim - nearing Am Faochagach summit

We sauntered on, an easy pull up to the summit of our first Munro of 2020 - Am Faochagach (Munro 209, 954m) - wonderful...

Am Faochagach (Munro 209, 954m)

The summit plateau was wide - and we crossed over to it's western edge for a better view of the Beinn Dearg group - great memories of a wonderful four Munro day across there...

Views to Beinn Dearg group from Am Faochagach summit

Views to Beinn Dearg group from near Am Faochagach summit

The usual descent route is to turn around and march back the same way - but whilst wandering about on the western edge of the plateau we spied a likely way down and after a quick map consultation, headed off onto Coire Crom Dubh towards Cnoc na h-Iolaire.

Descent from Am Faochagch - views south west

We intended to descend gradually into Coire Lair, keeping above any bogs, but doing any river crossings above Loch a'Gharbhrain.

Jim - descent towards Coire Crom Dubh from Am Faochagach

Looking back (NE) to Am Faochagach from descent into Coire Crom Dubh
Jim - decent from Am Faochagach - views SW over Leac an Tuadh to the Fannichs

Beinn Dearg and Cona Mheall from descent from Am Faochagach

It was an easy descent across the upper reaches of Coire Crom Dubh, but once we hit the upper end of Cnoc na h-Iolaire, we decided not to follow its ridge all the way down, but dropped into Coireag na h-Iolaire - looking back, it might have been an entertaining little ridge...

Jim - descent from Am Faochagach towards Cnoc na h-Iolaire

Loch a'Gharbhrain from Cnoc na h-Iolaire

Looking back (NE) to Am Faochagach from Cnoc na h-Iolaire

Waterfalls in Coireag na h-Iolaire

Descent in Coireag na h-Iolaire - views to Cona Mheall

We picked our way across the hillside - it wasn't a hard descent, occasionally boggy and a bit tussocky, but definitely no worse than the ascent route!

Jim - descent towards Loch a'Gharbhrain 

Heath spotted orchid - decent from Am Faochagach

We were soon down into the glen - it was surprisingly dry - we sauntered, in the increasingly warm sunshine, along the bank of Abhainn Coire Lair looking for a place to cross. It was shallow and pebbly and it wasn't long before we found an easy spot to cross - stepping stones and dry feet.

North into Coire Lair
Jim - after crossing the Abhain Coire Lair - views south

Views north along Abhain Coire Lair towards Cona Mheall

We walked along the west bank of Abhain Coire Lair, taking in the stunning views, to where it flows into Loch a'Gharbhrain - it was just a beautiful spot. Good place for a second lunch...

Jim - Allt a'Gharbhrain - views north to Beinn Dearg group

Crossing the second of the burns that flows into Loch a'Gharbhrain, Allt a'Gharbhrain, was easy too - dry shod, we aimed across the glen to a stalkers path that we could see (and marked on the map) which would take us round the lower slopes of Meall a'Gharbhrain and back to the car.

Allt a'Gharbhrain where it flows into Loch a'Gharbhrain - a lot easier to cross here! 

It wasn't quite as easy as we had hoped - there were quite a few peat hags and boggy bits to be negotiated, rather trying at this point in the day. We were happy to make the short ascent up to the stalkers path once we had crossed the glen bottom - drier ground - and happier still to step onto a reasonable path and the final leg of the walk.

Am Faochagach from by Loch a'Gharbhrain

The path wound in and out of the tussocks and bog, sometimes well laid and good underfoot, other times wet, others rubbly - occasionally it disappeared into the bog. 

Looking back (NE) over Loch a'Gharbhrain to Beinn Dearg group, Coire Lair and Am Faochagach

Jim - stalkers path south of Meall a'Gharbhrain

But it took us gently over the hill...

Loch a'Gharbhrain and Loch Glascarnoch from stalkers path 

New views - south over Loch Droma to the Fannaichs.

Fannaichs from stalkers path south of Meall a'Gharbhrain

The stalkers path met another track running parallel to the road, we turned left here sauntering and squelching back to the car.

Loch Droma and Fannaichs from stalkers path south of Meall a'Gharbhrain

Good to be back.

Looking back (NE) to Meall a'Gharbhrain from stalkers path

Looking back, if we were ever to be back this way, we would modify our route to avoid the peat hags by Loch a'Gharbhrain - see below...

Views west from descent to Loch Droma and A835

Route:  Car parking area beside A835 on NW side on Torrandhu Bridge (NH277742), cross road and take very rough, boggy path NE across moor to cross Abhainn a'Gharbrainn at NH281753 (shoes and socks off!), continue on boggy and sometimes indicstinct path NE around the foot of Cnoc a'Mhoraire and following Allt na h-Uidhe had then making for bealach between Sron Liath and Drochaid a'Ghlas Tuill, N over Drochaid a'Ghlas Tuill and Am Faochagach south top (sh 844m) on indistinct grassy trod, N to shallow bealach (sh 831m), continue N then NE to Am Faochagach summit (Munro 209, 954m), descend SW on pathless hillside, across upper Coire Crom Dubh to Cnoc na h-Iolaire then picking a way through the crags, descending SSW across hillside aiming for Abhain Coire Lair just N of where it flows into Loch a'Gharbhrain, cross Abhain Coire Lair (much shallower, no shoe and sock removal required!), E across moor and cross Allt a'Gharbhrain, SE across moor, ascending slightly to pick up old stalkers path (very wet in places) countouring S then E around Meall a'Gharbhrain, S on old track parallel to A835 which comes down to the road just N of car parking area 
(If we did this walk again, we would descend the full length of Cnoc na h-Iolaire, Creag a'Phrabaich (very craggy and scrambly looking) cross Abhain Coire Lair just S of Loch Coire Lair and head for ruined settlement at Lub a'Gharbhrain and pick up the old stalkers path there - avoiding some peat hags between Abhain Coire Lair and Allt a'Gharbhrain N of Loch a'Gharbhrain)

Statistics:  Distance: 16.5km  Ascent: 900m  Time: 6hrs 30mins

Map:  OS Explorer 436 Beinn Dearg & Loch Fannich

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