Our main issue was that any route from the North North East, from the traditional starting point of Corriehallie on the Dundonnell road, involves various river crossings of the Abhainn Strath na Sealga and /or the Abhainn Gleann na Muice. In dry conditions these can just be a splash across in a pair of sandals. In spate, they are simply impossible, being wide and with strong flows. Andrew needed these munros to leave him with only three left before his 'compleation', and having had three previous attempts cancelled, flexibility and determination was key to achieving our objective.
I had read about an approach to the hills from the South, along a very good estate track from Incheril. The recent work on one of the now ubiquitous small hydro schemes had the added benefit of even more mitigation work on the track and path, and finally it's main attraction was that although in the wet conditions forecast there would be a number of smaller burn crossings, none of them should be a game-changer.
The forecasts of late have been unreliable even by normal British standards, and MWIS even pointed that out on their synopsis. We had moved the days back accordingly, but eventually realised that we would simply have to go for it, so met at Incheril at 4pm on the Tuesday afternoon. There was sufficient shelter from the trees in car park to encourage the midges to make a pre-emptive attack as we donned water proofs, so we wasted no time in setting off.
The plan was to walk in to the end of Loch Fada and make camp. It had the benefit of being open ground, so with sufficient wind to remove the midge scourge, but unfortunately has a dearth of dry flat ground, and indeed, we needed to tuck in behind a hillock to avoid the worst of the wind. You can't win eh!? We had both travelled comparatively lightly, and had made good time, so once dinner had been consumed with a cup of tea, it was really just a case of hunkering down. Both tents coped admirably with the conditions, and the wind wasn't too bad over night, though it rained on and off.
The route the next day was only 21k, but with over 2200m of ascent. The main challenge however was the terrain. We would be pretty much pathless all day, over tussocky, bouldery, wet ground. It promised to be tiring, and accordingly we set off at 05:45am, giving us plenty of time to move at a pace that was comfortable. The visibility was never good, and although the cloud did eventually lift a little at the end of the day, most of it was spent in the murk of drizzly rain, and the compass was out on more than one occasion.
First there was a long rising traverse under Beinn Tarsuinn to reach the open bealach of Pollan na Muice. There are a lot of Muices in this story, and Google tells me that it is Scots Gaelic for pig, so it could be either from the shape of the topography, as per Badenoch, or indeed pigs were reared here in centuries past. If it was the latter, they would surely have needed those wee corrugated sheds, as it's a wild old place! ;)
A'Mhaighdean, (The Maiden), the most remote munro, and the one with one of most wonderful views refused to reveal her charms, so after a brief cup of tea in the howff at the bealach, we carefully ascended Ruadh Stac Mor, being ever aware of the loose rock on the eroded path. (A howff is a rudimentary shelter, usually just an enhanced cave or in this case, a space under a big rock with space for 3 or 4 folks). After ticking that summit, we re-traced our steps, and from then on went 'off-piste'. We picked a line just NE of Stac a'Chaorrainn, between the two burns, finally swinging S as the slabs steepened. It was really pleasant, and would have been a joy in clear conditions. The cloud lifted a shade, enabling us to see the grassy treadmill facing us on the ascent to Loch a'Bhrisidh from the glen.
We crossed the burn in Gleann na Muice as high as practicable, as there was still a prodigious amount of water draining off, and had a tricky little crossing of the largest burn just West of the marked waterfalls on the OS 1:50k. It cascades in a serious of slabby shelves, tempting to just paddle, but slippery with a consequential fall. A little casting about found a reasonable one, and after that, it was just a slog, and a long one at that.
I always find the ascent of Sgurr Ban a pull, but this one seemed to pass relatively quickly as we chatted and did random quizzes to distract the mind from the toil. Again, the summit was heavily clagged in, so we immediately set off for Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair on a bearing. There is a faint path through the boulders, but I still started up it a few metres too far West, but quickly rectified that, gaining the loose but efficient zig-zag path to the summit. I won't rattle on again about what views we didn't have of Beinn Tarsuinn's ridge etc, as it was the story of the day I suppose, so without further ado, we set off down.
On the descent we met the only folks we saw all day, a chap and his dad making a steady ascent of our hill after doing Beinn Tarsuinn from the same direction as our walk-in. They had seen our tents, so we knew they were still stoically facing up to the wind. There is a good little bypass path that skirts Meall Garbh, and deposits you at the bealach before Beinn Tarsuinn. It can be tricky in winter conditions, but today was no problem. We had a final snack to give some energy for the final big pull, and then went for it. I like the summit of Beinn Tasuinn as it has a great photogenic slab from which you can get the shot with An Teallach behind you, and most of the 'normal' route. But today...... :(
So that was that. Five munros done. Okay, we had not had the best of views, and the route was esoteric and tiring, but a good alternative in the conditions, with a much higher chance of success than dicing with the rivers farther NE. It was very atmospheric in its defence, in the swirling, brooding cloud. The descent was done rapidly, as there is a boggy path that runs to the E of the burn draining the Bealach Odhar, and we were back at the tents by 17:00.
We realised that if we ate and then went to bed, it would be a very long night, and of course didn't really have an updated forecast (for what it was worth!). We therefore took the decision to make a hot meal of our remaining dehydrated packets, (which always taste soooo good after a long day on the hill), pack up, and walk out. Okay, it would mean that we had been on our feet for the best part for 14 hours, but the palpable sense of satisfaction carried us through.
We bid a rapid farewell at the car park as the midges moved in rapidly again, and both set off to our respective accommodation for a shower and some welcome dry clothes. Job done.
Thank you to Andrew for allowing me to explore a new route, and for the company as we slogged the kilometres away through the bog. Good luck on your final summits!