Saturday 14 March 2015

Sgurr Breac and A'Chailleach (Fannichs)

Sgurr Breac, Leitir Fhearna and Sron na Goibhre from the start of the walk (NH162761)

We set off from the layby beside the A832 with blue skies and blue misty hills all around with two Munro's in The Fannichs' our objectives for the day.

It was a touch chilly, there had been a hard frost overnight, so we were layered up from the start - we could strip off once the sun warmed the day, or if that first wee hill, directly ahead (Leitir Fhearna) was a s steep as it looked.

About 100m along the road - it might be an A road, but it was quiet and still, it felt remote! - before heading south along the excellent landrover track towards  Loch a'Bhraoin and the hills.

West over Loch a'Bhraoin from NH158750

Just before the loch was a locked gate with a map and an explanation sign - the estate are doing work along the loch shore - planting trees and refurbishing the boathouse - they asked that walkers take a new path constructed through the forest plantation to the east.

The new path took us over a small footbridge and into the woods - Rafie was super happy, he likes a few trees - but there has been some recent wind blow and the track was blocked on a couple of occasions by fallen trees. It was a bit of a scrabble to get around one particular fall - and rather muddy.

Jim - Leitir Fhearna from footbridge over Abhainn Cuileig (NH158750)

The track very soon brought us out at the eastern end of Loch a'Bhraoin, where the Abhainn Cuileig starts its journey east - great views of the loch and of our route ahead...

Rafe and Jim - Stalkers path leads towards Leitir Fhearna

We followed a reasonable stalkers path through the bog, just starting a gentle ascent,  Leitir Fhearna looming above us. The stalkers path turned towards the south east, around the hill, and we took an indistinct quad bike track off to the right, aiming directly for the shoulder of  Leitir Fhearna.

The over night frost had nicely frozen the bog - it made for much easier going than on a warmer morning!

Rafe and Jim - Ascent of  Leitir Fhearna

Steep always means a quick ascent - it wasn't long before we were getting good views...

Loch a'Bhraoin andMeall an t-Sithe from Leitir Fhearna

It was a bit on the hazy side - but eyes are better than a camera lens - we were soon pointing out known hills, climbed and on the list to climb.

Rafe and Loch a'Bhraoin on Leitir Fhearna

There was a little bit of very easy scrambling up the nose of  Leitir Fhearna - it would have been rather boggy in places if it hadn't been for the ice. There wasn't enough ice to bother us though, just the occasional slippery rock to be avoided.

Looing north east from Leitir Fhearna

Once over the nose, the ascent relented, and we had a gentle stroll over heather and grass on a somewhat intermittent path - Rafe had found snow and was throwing it about and trying to catch it again.

Rafe and Jim - Ascent of Druim Reidh to Toman Coinnich

There was a bank of cloud hanging over our destination, the wide ridge led us upwards towards snow and mist - the forecast had been for excellent visibility, so we were hopeful that it would soon clear out. The views were moody...

On Druim Reidh - ascent of Toman Coinnich

We were following a track that made for easier going, but it was soon obvious that it wasn't following the ridge, but heading into the coire - a quick detour to the left led us up onto ridge of  Druim Reidh, just as it started to narrow, with cliffs and cornice hanging from the eastern edge.

Rafe and Jim - Ascent of Toman Coinnich

The cloud blew in and out - sometimes it was clear, other times it was thick mist - but the summit didn't show itself...

Cornice above Choire Bhric from ascent of Toman Coinnich

Until we were suddenly there - a small cairn marking the summit of  Toman Coinnich, a Munro Top.

With the clag down and a cold wind blowing over the snow fields, it wasn't a place to hang about - so after a summit photo or two, we headed off in the direction of Sgurr Breac - our first Munro of the day...

Toman Coinnich (Munro Top 181, 935m) 

Or so we thought! About 50m from the summit we realised the slope aspect was just not quite right - back to the summit then, to take a bearing!!

Descent from Toman Coinnich into Bealach a'Choire Bhric

Once heading in the right direction, we were soon descending out of the mist and into Bealach a'Choire Bhric - the sun was shining through the mist over the cornice into the Coire Breac, which was still full of swirling cloud...

Brocken Spectre!!!!!

It was a fleeting but excellent view - I just wasn't quick enough with the camera. It was the first time conditions had ever been right for us - our first brocken spectre.

Druim Reidh and 'Choire Bhric from ascent of Sgurr Breac

The cloud and mist were still blowing in and out - one minute we were in bright sunshine, the next thick clag - but the sun seemed to be winning.

Ascent of Sgurr Breac

The ascent of Sgurr Breac was through a mixture of grass, heather and boulders - a massive cornice hanging off the northern cliffs. The views were improving every minute.

Toman Coinnich and Druim Reidh from Bealach a'Choire Bhric

Once on the summit plateau we headed east for a couple of hundred metres, through bright fog and over blowing snow fields, to the true summit at the far end.

Jim and Rafe - Sgurr Breac summit plateau

Rafe and Jim - Sgurr Breac summit plateau

We took the obligatory summit pictures on Sgurr Breac (Munro 138, 999m) in white cloud - with blue sky above! We hung about for a few minutes in the hope that the mist would clear but...

Sgurr Breac (Munro 138, 999m)

We had just set off again, heading west back across the summit plateau when Jim, looking back pointed incredulously - the mist had cleared. We ran (yes, ran) back towards the summit - I was taking photo's as I went - before the cloud came down again! We got our first view of Sgurr nan Clach Geala, another of The Fannichs.

Jim and Rafe on Sgurr Breac summit plateau

Once again we headed west across the summit plateau and retuned to  Bealach a'Choire Bhric - no brocken spectres now, the mist was burning off and the views were wonderful.

Looking back (east) to Sgurr Breac from Bealach a'Choire Bhric

We ascended back towards the Munro Top, Toman Coinnich - what a change when we got there - although there was still a cool wind, blowing over the snow, it felt almost balmy compared with our last visit only an hour or so before!

Rafe and Jim - Toman Coinnich from Bealach a'Choire Bhric

Seemed like a good place for a spot of lunch. Jim scouted off, looking for a sheltered place amongst the rocks, whilst I took many photographs.

Jim looking for a sheltered spot for lunch
Druim Reidh from Toman Coinnich summit

A'Chailleach and Bealach Toll an Lochain from Toman Coinnich

After a cuppa and a sarnie (and several other choice delicacies) somewhat out of the wind, we continued west into Bealach Toll an Lochain looking up to A'Chailleach, our second Munro of the day - certainly more snow on this one! Our descent route was in clear focus - Sron na Goibhre ridge - there was a nasty looking cornice hanging off the eastern edge - I was definitely dubious.

Toman Coinnich and Bealach Toll an Lochain
from ascent of 

The ascent of  A'Chailleach was joyous...

Rafe and Jim - Cornices on A'Chailleach

The views opening up all around us as the mist dissipated further. We could see Fionn Bheinn over Loch Fannich, less snow over there than there had been when we were there, last month.

Loch Fannich and Fionn Bheinn from ascent of A'Chailleach

Rafe and Jim - Ascent of A'Chailleach with views of Sron na Goibhre ridge

The ascent eased off after we passed the start of the Sron na Goibhre ridge (didn't look so bad now close up!).

Toman Coinnich and Sgurr Breac from ascent of A'Chailleach

And we headed off across the snowfield towards the summit - it was absolutely glorious!

Jim and Rafe - Ascent of A'Chailleach

Rafe - A'Chailleach (Munro 144, 997m}

The summit of A'Chailleach (Munro 144, 997m} was a little more generous with views... It wasn't perfectly clear, there was a definite haze across the distant hills - we didn't care!

Toman Coinnich and Sgurr Breac from A'Chailleach summit

We descended back to the start of the Sron na Goibhre ridge - it definitely didn't look so savage now that we could see that most of the snow had blown off and that there were gaps in the hanging cornice. We agreed that we would go look, and if it looked too risky, we would go back via our ascent route.

Sron na Goibhre ridge from A'Chailleach

So - crampon time.

Descent from A'Chailleach to Sron na Goibhre ridge

The snow on this northern face was hard and packed . It was good to feel that we really needed the crampons.

Sron na Goibhre ridge

We followed the ridge down, keeping Rafe well away from the hanging cornice.

Bealach Toll an Lochain and A'Chailleach from Sron na Goibhre ridge 

Once past some prominent rocks on the ridge, we started to look for a good place to descent into the coire of  Toll an Lochain. The cornice had smoothed off and the ascent, although steep, was manageable.

Off we go...

Sron na Goibhre

Jim went first, then Rafe and finally me - with the camera - great views!

It was steep. We headed diagonally down across the slope across the snow, descending fast. It was over too soon.

Descent from Sron na Goibhre ridge

Toman Coinnich and Loch Toll an Lochain from descent from Sron na Goibhre

Once over the snow fields we packed away the crampons and headed towards Allt na Goibhre in the coire - Loch Toll an Lochan was completely frozen over...

It was fairly hard going - the sun was out and the bog was in the process of melting - the grass was tussocky and the heather deep - thank goodness we were going downhill!

Toman Coinnich over Allt na Goibhre

We crossed Allt na Goibhre and picked up a faint path through the undergrowth and started the long descent around Leitre Fhearna. The views were, once again, great!

An Teallach from beside Allt na Goibhre

Sron na Goibhre and waterfalls on Allt na Goibhre 

We had a short, scrambly, boggy, slippery bit alongside Allt na Goibhre when it descended via waterfalls, but this didn't last long - and by that time we were rather on the muddy side and didn't care about keeping out of the gunk!

The path, once again, was intermittent, but our objective obvious - we kept well above Loch a'Bhraoin and its famous bogs, but the ground was very wet - if it was worse by the loch, Rafie would've been swimming!

Loch a'Bhraoin - north east from NH144743
We bog hopped and eventually gave up and waded for several kilometres.

We went through a gate into a newly planted tree plantation (it'll be wonderful in about 30 years) and as we reached the far side, couldn't see a gate out - just at the point where we were starting to worry that we would have to climb a six foot deer fence (OK for us, but interesting for Rafe!) or go back and around, the gate appeared - kindly placed in the dead ground of a dip in the landscape!!

Loch a'Bhraoin - and Meall an t-Sithe from NH158748
We were rather happy to meet the better path at the eastern end of  Loch a'Bhraoin - hard work that bog hopping.

West over Loch a'Bhraoin from NH158750
A brown dog went into Abhainn Cuileig by the footbridge and our black and white Rafe came out the other side.

We were back on our outward route now. A short trot through the wood and along the landrover track (although it seemed rather longer than it had this morning) and we were back at the start.

What a great day!

Sgurr Breac, Leitir Fhearna and Sron na Goibhre

Route:  Layby on A832 west of Breamore Junction (NH163761), SE along road for 50m, SW on track to footbridge (NH158750) via new path through forest plantation (well signposted), continue over footbridge and along track to NH158748, SW on indistinct path up Leitir Fhearna and continue SW then S up Druim Reidh, (sticking to the ridge, rather than the quad track), Toman Coinnich (Munro Top 181, 935m), SE  to Bealach a'Choire Bhric, then E to Sgurr Breac (Munro 138, 999m), return to Toman Coinnich, W to Bealach Toll an Lochain, A'Chailleach (Munro 144, 997m), return NE to NH138715 then N along Sron na Goibhre ridge to NH139722 (just beyond prominent rocks), NE off ridge into Toll an Lochain crossing the Allt na Goibhre before the gorge at 600m contour, gradual descent NE round Leitre Fhearna to footbridge at NH158750 (keeping well above Loch a'Bhraoin to avoid the worst of the bog (!) and passing through a fenced area which does have gates at suitable points for the route), return over bridge to start.

Statistics:  Distance: 16km  Ascent: 1180m  Time: 7.30 hours

Map:  OS Explorer 435 (An Teallach & Slioch)

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