We had booked a static caravan in Cannich, at the excellent Cannich Holiday Caravans, where Matt and his son can't be more helpful. The van was spotlessly clean, midge-free and cosy, with all linen etc included. The site was very, very quiet though, despite the time of year, with only one motorhome on site and a few statics occupied. In the village, the Spar was open, but the pub was still closed. I suspect some people are waiting until the 15th July when places can open indoors, but there needs to be a balance struck between enough visitors to enable some of the local tourist economy to prosper, and too much that will inundate what few establishments are open, (irrespective of, and notwithstanding Covid concerns). We hardly had opportunity to speak to anyone, but there was an odd, subdued atmosphere.
But all that aside, we had a good, dry forecast, with little wind, so despite our post-lockdown corpulence, we settled on an anti-clockwise round of Carn Eighe, Beinn Fhionnlaidh and Mam Sodhail. I had wanted to check out the descent route which takes in the demoted Munro Sgurr na Lapaich, (no, not that one, another one!), so decided that an ascent up the boggy Gleann nam Fiadh, along the splendid East ridge onto Carn Eighe, the brutal and demoralising there-and-back on Beinn Fhionnlaidh and finally up onto Mam Sodhail before taking the ESE ridge off.
There is a new car park 200m before the old one at Chisholm bridge, all part of the hydro scheme mitigation I suspect, and this has a splendid new path that deposits you out on the improved track into the glen. There was evidence of disturbed earth everywhere, and I correctly assumed that this was to bury the new pipe from an intake somewhere near the outflow of the Allt Toll Easa. It had replaced an altogether rougher old track, so all things considered, it isn't an additional eyesore, and in my opinion preferable to wind turbines.
The continuation up the glen got ever prettier as we walked, the bell and cross-leaved heath heather both blooming purple, and the clouds gradually lifting. The bog is and was as ever, tedious, until we started to ascend on the surprising but altogether too short-lived stalkers path into the garbh coire, where we gained the eponymous bealach, and picked our way up the loose and steep path onto P1131. At one point there is what's left of a staircase of natural slabs arranged no doubt by a Victorian stalker for his laird, and still most welcome today. Paul spent much of the day questioning Sir Hugh's methodology as he scanned around at the demoted munro and the what appeared tiny Beinn Fhionnlaidh from this high eyrie, where so many 'tops' and summits are well above 3000ft, yet hardly get a mention. He was also dismayed at the large loss of height necessary after summiting Carn Eighe, in order to tick off Beinn Fhionnlaidh. It certainly is a head-game, as you have to come back the way you went, but we just 'got on with it', aided by a sandwich and some pain killers, which improved the mood.
On the return, you can make a traverse of Carn Eighe's Western flank to avoid a lot of effort, but this is best done from a flattening at the 1050m contour. This time we took a faint trace which started lower, and although we ended up on the main 'path' eventually, I still think it would have been easier to make the direct ascent to the pre-requisite height first, as we spent a fair while 'off-piste' as it were. That said, Paul's drugs had taken effect, and we marched steadily to the ostentatious summit cairn of Mam Sodhail in good order.
The cairn is hollow, and most grand, testament to its importance to the OS during their survey. There we met the only other folks of the day, a couple and a young stalker out for a walk from their cottage on Loch Affric. We tugged our forlocks and pressed on. The views were great in the clean light, with Skye on the horizon, Rum, Torridon, Kintail, Knoydart, Lochaber and Ben Nevis easy to make out amongst the myriad hills.
The descent along the ridge was a treat, well, at least as far as the boggy ground at the foot of Sgurr na Lapaich, but we were tiring. There are a few steep little bluffs on the descent through the rocks, and the wet and eroded ground demanded concentration to add to our physical fatigue. We made it down to the track and Affric Lodge eventually, and tried to console ourselves along the long 3.5k road tramp that we had made a good time at just over 10 hours for the 30k and 1800m of ascent, but it was still a drag at the end of the day. We passed some optimistic loch-side campers on the way, and winced at the bare legs and arms as the midges sharpened their teeth in the encroaching evening light...I suspect they were first timers!
An absolutely fabulous day, with three highly prized munro ticks, views to die for and only one rain shower in the whole day. If only the Slater's Arms in Cannich had been open, we would have gladly put some funds into the local economy, but instead had to make do with a visit to the Spar and a cosy caravan. Still, you can't have everything.