SO much for good May weather during our week’s stay in Ullapool. It was colder than at Christmas – only 4C and with overnight flurries of snow in the town.
Nevertheless, on day one the Mountain Maid and Hare, plus Jimbo, Alan and I, opted for Am Faochagach; infamous in terms of pronunciation, river crossing and navigation.
Hillwalkers may have difficulty in attempting a polite pronunciation of the hill’s name, which likely translates as the place of the shells, from faochag meaning a whelk or periwinkle – an apt description of the rounded top whose summit area, with its solifluction lines, is as bald as a shell.
The hill is bounded to the south by Loch Glascarnoch, and to the west by a line of delightful lochs that eventually flow via the Abhainn a’ Gharbhrain into Glascarnoch, only formed when the Glascarnoch River was dammed at Aultguish. Traversing the low-lying boggy area at the western end of the loch, then having to cross the Abhainn a’ Gharbhrain, may be the biggest challenge of the day on this the popular route. If in spate, the river may well preclude a day on this hill, though in the middle of a dry spell you may wonder what all the fuss is about.
My first visit to Am Faochagach, a solo winter outing, was also the occasion of my first whiteout. Ever since then I have treated the hill with the greatest of respect and even on a good day it is easy to be disorientated on its spiralling ridges.
From the parking area by the Abhainn an Torrain Duibh, just off the A835, map ref 277743, head across the very boggy area, nowadays with a worn path, to a hidden-at-first island where the Abhainn a’ Gharbhrain splits in two just before its outflow into Loch Glascarnoch. This island may help in the crossing but even in summer wet feet are likely.
Once across, a good path leads by the edge of glacial moraines on the left that hide Loch a’Gharbhrain and so to the flanks of the hill and the east bank of the Allt na h-Uidhe. Follow the well-defined path in a north-easterly direction, then more steeply to reach the gentle broad southern ridge, by now at a height of 800m. It is easy walking on stonier terrain, NNW over a 845m spot height, north to a col, then north-east to the 954m/3130ft summit; a superb viewpoint, especially north-west to the craggy escarpments of Beinn Dearg and Cona’ Mheall.
Take your pick of two cairns on the small stony dome.
We had enjoyed a lovely start to the morning but on ascent the distant build up of cloud, threatening in appearance, presaged the accuracy of the forecast hail and snow showers. By the time we reached the top it was miserably cold and with no views. We waited, hoping to continue to Cona’ Mheall, but eventually concluded that it was to be a one-hill day.
Take care on return to the col – it is all too easy to head towards Meall Gorm.
For a different but harder return route, we descended south-west from the col on steeper, rougher ground to the narrow plateau south of the crags of Cnoc na h-Iolaire, then steeply again to meet the outflow from Loch Coire Lair. It is then a half-mile stroll to the northern end of Loch a’Gharbhrain. The loch’s two inflows can often be crossed dry-shod but the prospect of a paddle by the water’s edge may be enticing!
Wander round the western shores and so back to the island on the Abhainn a’ Gharbhrain.
Map: Ordnance Survey map 20, Beinn Dearg & Loch Broom
Distance: 9 miles
Terrain: Boggy ground, river crossing, then good hillside terrain
Start point: Parking area by the Abhainn an Torrain Duibh, map ref 277743.
Time: 5 to 6 hours
Nearest village: Garve
Recommended refreshment spot: Aultguish Inn, by Garve
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North east