Sunday 12 September 2021

Contrasting Days In The Hills: Quinag & Sgurr Mor

Alex Roddie approaching Sgurr Mor in the Fannaichs

Some days hill weather is kind, some days it's cruel, many days it's a bit of both. On two days last week I had the first and the last. The first was on a walk on Quinag with Alex Roddie and Rob Finch, a trip that had been long in the planning. Last autumn Alex ran a charity fundraiser for the John Muir Trust, auctioning a copy of his new book Wanderlust Europe and a day out on the hill with him and me. Rob won the auction and said, appropriately, that he'd like a trip to a JMT property. Due to the pandemic and being rather spread out - Rob in Southampton, Alex in Lincolnshire, me in the Cairngorms - it took a while before we finally sorted out dates. It would be early September. And Quinag would be the hill.

Alex on Spidean Coinich, Quinag

Alex on Sgurr Mor, Fannaichs      

We met at the excellent Forest Way Bunkhouse, where we stayed for two nights. The forecast was mixed but suggested an 80% chance of clear summits the afternoon of our first day after a cloudy morning with drizzle. We decided to go for Quinag. It might be worse the next day. The morning certainly brought cloud and rain. The afternoon didn't bring clear summits. The afternoon was just the morning continued.

Rob and Alex on Sail Gharbh, Quinag

Most of the day on Quinag we were in the cloud. Much of the time it rained. Much of the time it was windy. All of the time it was damp. The wettest day on the hills since sometime in April for me. And the coldest. I wore three layers and wished my base layer was thicker and had long sleeves. I hadn't worn that much clothing since April either. Preparation for the changing seasons, I thought.

Rob and Alex somewhere on Quinag

This was one of those days when I was glad of company. I suspect I'd have given up and gone down fairly soon if on my own. But with others the day was still enjoyable. Neither of them had been to Quinag before. Now they'd been up two of its three summits but not seen it. Something for them to look forward to! (You can see what Quinag looks like in this post).

Back at Forest Way we discovered that we'd picked the wrong hill. Another party staying there had been on An Teallach. It was cloudy but dry. On Seana Bhraigh Rob's friend Matt had views and no cloud or rain. He could see the big cloud sitting on Quinag.

Rob and Alex somewhere else on Quinag

Thankfully Forest Way has a good drying room or we'd have had a soggy start the next day. Not that we stayed dry for long, though the reasons were very different. Rob and Matt were going off to do hills further north. Alex and I headed east to the Fannaichs, an area I think very under-rated. The forecast suggested a hot day. The forecast was right. It was very humid too and calm. Sweating occurred. On Quinag we had seized every brief respite from the wind to pause and rest. Here we longed for a breeze. The few times one blew we stopped and relished it. My t-shirt, too thin the day before, now felt too thick. My feet, chilly on Quinag in mesh trail shoes and thin socks, now felt they were exploding out of those same shoes, swollen with the heat. Indeed, before we reached the main ridge my feet were aching so much I stopped and removed the insoles and my socks, much, I think, to Alex's surprise. It worked. My feet felt much better the rest of the day.

Alex in the Fannaichs

Whilst the summits were clear and there was sunshine at times the air was mostly hazy. It felt thick. Views faded into pale shadows. The sky was streaked and dappled with grey. And very bright, making for challenging photography. But at least photography took place. On Quinag quick grab shots with my smartphone were enough, my camera ending up in the pack. 

As we approached Sgurr Mor, the highest Fannaich, we had dramatic views of Sgurr nan Clach Geala, second highest but most impressive, with Alex admiring its huge gully-riven cliffs.

Sgurr nan Clach Geala

From Sgurr Mor we descended to a bealach past a small stone hut - duck when you enter - and then along an old stalkers path where the rocks had been cleared to either side to make a path that was, as Alex said, almost a holloway in places. We thought of the huge effort required to shift all those boulders, some of them really big. 

As the afternoon began to turn to evening the clouds thickened and the haze grew. Shaded layers of hills receded into the solid air. Bands of gossamer-like mist began to form, spreading out below the distinctive outline of An Teallach.

An Teallach

We needed headlamps for the last hour or so, again the first walking I've done with one since early spring. Despite the heat the day had felt autumnal. The grasses were turning red and yellow. The haze didn't feel like one of high summer. And there were only a few midges.

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