The things we learned while attempting the Fisherfield Munros
Last week, I had several big Munro walks, including the infamous Fisherfield Munros, standing between me and compleation of my first round. This week, I still do! But in the meantime, I have learned a lot about tackling big hiking days in Scotland.
The Fisherfield Munros take in a round of five Munros and a Corbett, which is so close to being a Munro it was classed as a Munro until a couple of years ago when it was remeasured at 914m. This makes Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh just 0.4 of a metre shy of being a Munro.
The hike is normally done over two or three days. First there is a walk of 7km walk from the nearest road to reach the Shenavall bothy, which most people use as a base for the Munros walk. This walk itself is not a stroll. It is a hilly hike on a rough track and while carrying a rucksack that is stuffed with overnight kit.
From Shenavall, the Corbett and Munros are usually attempted in one long day. It’s suggested by WalkHighlands that this can take between 12 and 18 hours. Most people I have spoken to take around 13 or 14 hours. Then there is another walk back to the road.
Timing is also crucial because it’s a good idea to have the maximum daylight for the walk and dry weather. If this happens to coincide with a pre-planned weekend to the north-west of Scotland for a short holiday then all the better. Which it did for the G-Force and I last weekend.
We had been discussing an attempt of the Fisherfield Munros for years. G last did it when he was “hill walking fit” and on his own. He completed it in a brilliant time. I said that we needed to be sure we were fit enough before we headed to Shenavall. The G-Force agreed.
When things don’t go quite to plan
G made a fairly snap decision that we would walk the Fisherfield Munros. The weather suddenly looked good for the Saturday – and less so for the following days – and he suggested we walk in on Friday evening.
I understood this decision.
Sadly, G had forgotten to tell me about the plan until I arrived home at 4pm from a busy day of decorating at my daughter’s student flat and an hour before we planned to set off.
I thought his decision was a bit rushed.
Thankfully, I had already done most of my packing for our short Munro bagging break so I added in a few items for the overnight camp.
At this point I felt excitement but also trepidation about the Fisherfield Munros.
I was anxious because I wasn’t sure we were Munro bagging fit. We have not walked a lot of Munros this year and I had also been struggling with hayfever and asthma problems. However, we usually rise to a challenge so I trusted in that.
There was also the long drive north to Ullapool.
G had thought the drive would take four-ish hours. After about five hours, when we still had not arrived anywhere near Ullapool, I began to worry a bit more.
In fact, it took about six hours to reach the start of the walk at Corrie Hallie on the A832 because of speed restrictions, road works, a stop to buy supermarket food, a stop for petrol and another stop for fish and chips at Aviemore.
It was close to 11.30pm when we parked Fern the Campervan and set out on the path towards Shenavall. I was already tired. I thought it was too late to be starting a walk.
I said: “Are you sure this is a good idea?” G said: “I am not really that sure but I think we will be fine.”
So we pulled on our rucksacks, switched on the head torches and started the hike towards the bothy. The path was rocky and it seemed very, very long in the darkness. If you have ever walked in the dark you will know how this feels because there is nothing to look at but the dark and the light of your head torch.
I said: “I am still not sure about his and my rucksack is heavy.” G said: “If you were in the right frame of mind this would feel like an adventure.” I said: “It is too late to feel like an adventure.”
At 1.15am I called for a halt to the walk. We had not reached the bothy, although G kept saying it wasn’t far away. I was so exhausted I felt dizzy and I had been coughing badly for much of the walk. I needed to lie down to sleep.
We agreed – sort of! – that we would search for a place to pitch a tent amid the wet and boggy land at the side of the rocky path.
We were both disappointed that we had not reached the bothy but we quickly fell into a deep and exhausted sleep.
Sadly, my sleep was cut short by a punctured NeoAir XLite Therm-A-Rest and I was forced to lie uncomfortably on the cold, hard ground. At least my sleeping bag, the Vango Ultralite Pro 200, was warm and comforting. Read the review.
The start of a hard Munros day
I know that G slept because he was snoring next to me while I lay awake on the flat Therm-A-Rest. However, he didn’t sleep for long and he wasn’t in the best of moods when he awoke at about 8am. My mood was worse due to the above.
Reasons why we were both none too happy:
- G’s expensive and precious tent was pitched in a very wet area of ground.
- The tent would need to be taken down and repitched at the bothy.
- It was 8am and G prefers a far earlier start.
- We were still at least an hour’s walk from the bothy – and that was before a huge day of hiking five Munros.
- The coffee was weak.
- The breakfast was too small.
- He was tired.
- I was very tired.
- My grumpiness had a direct effect on G’s mood, which made him quite grumpy although perhaps not as grumpy as me!
In the end, we set off for the bothy. The day promised some amazing weather but I could hardly be bothered to register the warm sunshine and fabulous views of the glen, loch and high mountains because I felt to horribly tired.
I was not in the right mood to appreciate any of it and as we re-pitched the tent at the bothy, I said: “Do you really feel like doing these Munros?”
G said: “Yes. Well, sort of.”
I said: “I am too tired.”
G said: “You will be fine. You are fit enough. You will love it in the end.”
The push for Munro one
Most people start with a steep ascent of the Corbett followed by the five Munros.
We didn’t. (But later on we wished we had.)
Having looked at the map we decided instead to walk the glen path around the Corbett and then climb up the first Munro, Sgurr Ban. I think we were both looking for an easier start to the day because of tiredness and the flatter glen route was tempting.
Although it was easier to walk at first it meant we had a lot more time to bicker (mainly because we were not out of breath climbing up a steep mountain).
We argued loudly about why things were not going so well with the walk before we moved on to “our life in general”. Many couples will know how these things can escalate!
(I would like to apologise to anyone who had their peaceful trip to this fabulous wilderness area of Scotland ruined by two idiots arguing as they tried to hike last Saturday.)
After a lot of harsh words, some silence, a bit more arguing and some general indecision (I really wasn’t feeling like a huge Munro bagging day by this point), we thought we might just make it to the summit of Sgurr Ban.
We had by now given up most hope of doing all the Munros. We both felt hugely dispirited and, of course, this did not improve our moods.
The climb up Sgurr Ban felt painful, both physically and mentally, and several times we stopped to question if it was worth it.
I said: “What is the point? We will need to return and do this again anyway.”
G said: “I agree but it will make us feel better if we do one of the Munros. If we push on there is a chance we could do another three over the back.”
I said: “Do we have time for that?”
G said: “No.”
I said: “So what is the point?”
It went on like this as we picked our way over rocks and boulders and pushed on with grim (or idiotic?) determination for the summit. I am not sure if I even looked around me, which is very sad since I later realised this is one of the most stunningly scenic places to walk. At that moment, however, I wished I was anywhere but on this mountain.
The pain after the summit
I felt like an idiot and a failure. Although we did reach the top of Sgurr Ban there was little joy. I knew we would be back again when we finally returned to walk all the Fisherfield Munros.
I also knew we had a very long walk back to the bothy and then another two hour walk to return to the van.
As we descended the hill through thick and unforgiving heather and then back along a never-ending path through the glen, my thoughts whirred around my head.
I had so many regrets and irritations. If only we had left earlier the night before. What if my my Therm-a-Rest had not punctured? Why did we have to argue for so long and waste so much time? What is wrong with me that I have to cough so much while walking uphill?
And…”Why can’t I be teleported back to the van so I do not have to walk this endless bloody path through this crappy glen with all my horrible thoughts making me feel so wretched?”
Finally, we did make it back to the bothy but everyone we met had completed the full Fisherfield round. They seemed so buoyant and upbeat. I know it’s mean to say but it made me feel even more wretched, rather than happy for them.
I wanted to hang my head in shame and flee the glen. Which we did, after a sit down and a cup of tea kindly supplied by another walker. She also gave me some paracetomol and suggested I might need rest to recover from the chest infection. I hadn’t realised it was a chest infection although it dawned on me that my symptoms were far worse than asthma.
You learn more from failure
It is said you learn more from failure than from success. In this case, I agree, although it took me a couple of days to be able to reflect. There were many aspects to the Fisherfields trip that we could have done better. There were also some things that were simply unfortunate.
I have now had a glimpse of what will be required to complete the five Munros and one Corbett. We actually did a large amount of the full walk except we did not climb four of the Munros. The glen path was still very long and it revealed we are capable of this even when we are not feeling in the mood for it.
I am sure I will manage it in full next time if we plan the adventure with more accuracy and we have a real desire to achieve.
We went on to walk nine other Munros in the Ullapool area over the following three days and I thoroughly enjoyed these. They were also long days but the weather held and the long the sun shone the brighter my mood became.
The north-west of Scotland is truly a fantastic place to be bagging Munros and I am again looking forward to an attempt of the Fisherfield Munros. I am thinking of making it a lightweight hike in one big effort from road to road and without an overnight stop. I will, no doubt, blog when it happens.
To date I have walked 236 or 282 Munros. I have fewer than 50 to walk, which really does feel rather awesome! I have my Munro bagging mojo back again!