Although I’ve been hoping for the snow to return to Scotland, I couldn’t quite believe it this morning when we woke to see a white scene at all levels. Almost in celebration, we planned a Munro ‘bagging’ day in the Fannichs. With the group still untrained in the use of ice axes and crampons, they seemed a little nervous as we got off the minibus on the A835 to be welcomed by a strong and very cold wind. However, but it was the almost immediate stream crossing that proved our first challenge.
Having found a way across without getting wet feet, we followed the Allt a Mhadaidh for about a mile before cutting left towards the beallach by Loch Sgeireach. The wind died and left clear skies giving incredible views in all directions. After the last few days, it was great to be able to share a beautiful Scottish winter day with the group, and I found myself stopping regularly to take in the magnificent terrain. Slowly but surely, we made our way up onto the north ridge of Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich, where we were able to see the majority of our planned route stretching out in front of us for the first time. Seeing all four peaks was exciting, but also a little daunting.
On the top of the ridge, there were large areas that had been scoured by the wind, leaving frozen grass. We spent some time looking at rime and talking about the way in which the wind redistributes snow around the mountainside, before deciding to stop for ‘first lunch’. In search of shelter from the wind we headed across to the other side of the ridge where, as if to prove what we had just been saying, we found huge deposits of snow left by the north easterly winds.
After a brief refuelling stop, our ascent of Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich was relatively painless and we reached the top as the cloud started to swirl around the summits. Dropping down to the south west proved more awkward than expected. The deep build up of fresh unconsolidated snowfall hid the large rocks beneath, making the going very slow as legs kept disappearing waist deep into rock and snow. It was at this point that we seemed to naturally join up with the other group on the hill, lead by Ian Carter. This wasn’t planned, but definitely ended up working to my advantage as Ian seemed to spend a lot of time trail blazing through the fresh snow at the front, leaving me with the easy job of bringing up the rear.
Our ascent of Sgurr Mor took some time but, with the stunning conditions, it was a pleasure to make the most of a day in the Scottish winter mountain sun. Arriving at the summit, our highest point of the day, gave amazing views and the group were thrilled to be able to look at the immense An Teallach that we were on yesterday. With a great sense of achievement, we afforded ourselves a prolonged stop for a rest and ‘second lunch’, as well as taking advantage of the photographic opportunities. The descent of Sgurr Mor turned out to be a bit simpler, made even easier by the group’s discovery that backsides can be more stable than feet. With Ian and I walking at the front and rear, it felt like we were leading the seven dwarfs.
The top of Carn na Criche, although standing at 961m, does not classify as a Munro and the group almost seemed to sense this as we went straight over it with it much recognition. The only hesitation was caused by the cloud, which closed right in, prompting the emergence of compasses from pockets for the first time today. However, the decent from the top followed by the climb up Meall a Chrasgaidh seemed like nothing after the earlier ups and downs, and it was with a sense of completion that we took another break before descending.
We can only have been sat there for 2-3 minutes before the cloud closed right in again – this time accompanied by a bitterly cold north easterly wind that had the group wanting to get out of there fast. Thankfully it died down, or we found a bit of shelter, before too long leaving us with a relatively relaxed period of picking our way through the snow drifts and steep sections on the eastern slopes on our way down to the road.
I have a suspicion that this snow won’t last long, but it’s been wonderful to be able to enjoy it today, and to share it with the group.