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Fiona bagging: Càrn Salachaidh, near Ardgay

Written by Fiona

May 24 2024

With low cloud shrouding hills and mountains on the east coast of Sutherland one Saturday morning, my friend Sophie and I made a quick change of plan from a Corbett to a Fiona.

The advantage of the list of Fionas is that they are smaller in stature than the Corbetts, at 2000ft to 2500ft, or 706m to 762m.

We scouted the map for a hill that was not too far to drive from our overnight van spot and chose Càrn Salachaidh, on the south side of Strathcarron above Ardgay and at the head of the Dornoch Firth.

Ardgay is where I finished a two-day backpacking walk across Scotland.

Bagging Càrn Salachaidh

While the Fionas are lower than the Corbetts they often present a challenge because they are much less walked than other mountains. The Corbetts are the same, in comparison to the more popular Munros, but the Fionas can be an even tougher outing relatively.

This was absolutely the case for our chosen Fiona. While there was a track at the start, that left the side of a quiet singletrack road, west of the small village of Ardgay , the rest of the walk proved to be a tramp on boggy, heathery terrain.

We also walked up into thick clouds and needed to navigate carefully to ensure we made it to the summit.

Still, the first section was fairly pleasant as we followed the track south and with few gradient challenges. As Ace trotted on ahead, thoroughly enjoying herself, Sophie and I walked on and off the track, skirting around boggy and muddy sections while also chatting non-stop. Occasionally, we checked the map to see where we would begin the hill climb proper.

In fact, we turned up the rough and rugged hillside almost at the end of the track. I am not sure why the track ended where it does, in the middle of seeming nowhere, but it does. We crossed a river at this point.

There were bits and pieces of faint trod to start with but most of the next section was on steeper terrain and involved trudging and winding our way through thick heather.

None of this seemed to bother Ace, while, for the humans, it became increasingly challenging. Every so often Sophie and I would spot what looked like a promising bit of trod, only for it to peter out again.

By this point, we had headed into the clouds and navigation became more difficult. Reaching a higher point, at around 500m on Carn a’ Bhealaich, we located ourselves on the map and decided to set a bearing with a compass. This would allow us to keep to generally the right direction, despite having no clear view of the hills. In cloud, time seems to slow and it felt like every 200m was 500m.

Eventually, we could see the rocks that surround the summit of Càrn Salachaidh and we progressed around these and towards a trig pillar marking 647m height.

The contrast of cloud 10 minutes before and a clear sky.

At this point, the sun began to burn through the clouds. Within 10 mins the sky had cleared and we were treated to much wider views. Returning on the same route felt like a very different walk.

We enjoyed warm sunshine – it was actually a little too hot for Ace, who found cool puddles to paddle in – and wonderful vistas over the rolling landscape around us.

It was much easier to track our route back down the Fiona and we could easily see the track that we had ascended earlier. Ace greatly enjoyed the cold waters of the river as we crossed again to rejoin the track. We strolled back downhill feeling a great deal more upbeat.

The total distance was 12.5km with some 760m of ascent. It had felt longer and harder than the stats revealed and I talked with Sophie about my increasing respect for Lorraine McCall, who is currently doing a continuous round of Fionas. This is a huge challenge.

Route suggestion: OS Maps and Strava.

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