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Foinaven take 2

Foinaven and Arkle (on my way home from work the next day)

Foinaven (left) and Arkle (on my way home from work the next day)

Alisdair, who told me about the Foinaven traverse last year, and dropped me off for that walk, was keen to try it himself, but not keen on doing it alone. As soon as we both had the same day off and the weather looked half decent, we decided to give it a go.

His wife dropped us off a bit to the north of where I’d started last time, so we were coming at the northern peak from the northern side, rather than across the lochs slightly south of it. It was quite a boggy walk in but had such a gentle elevation rise that before we noticed we were already about 250m up.


Jackets off as we get to the steep part!

From here, it was quite steep with spongy grass slowly turning into slabby rocks. We also hit cloud very soon, probably at about 400m. This meant the last 500m was done essentially blind in using the “just keeping walking on the highest bit you can find” method. Admittedly, I did pull out the compass occasionally because there are some cliffs and crags on the northern side of the peak that I didn’t want to get caught up in. I was also a bit worried because last time I was up here I overshot to the north and ended up on a little false peak instead of the main one.

Eventually, after meandering upward through the cloud for a quite a while, I looked up and saw a cairn! It looked too big for any waymarker or subsidiary peak cairn, and once we got to it, it certainly did seem to be the highest point around for a while. We jested about my amazing navigation for a while, to walk straight up to the summit cairn on a broad peak in almost complete white-out, but sadly I think it was just a fluke!

This was not the highest summit of Foinaven, just the most northern peak, Ceann Garbh (ken garve) . . . translates to “grey head” or “grey end” I think, so “the grey peak at the end of the ridge”.

We walked south along the ridge line (again, using the “walk on the highest bit you can find” method) until quite soon there was a clear path all the way to the actual highpoint, Ganu Mor (I don’t know what Ganu is, but “mor” is big).

Getting off this peak was slightly harder as the peak is quite broad with 3 separate ridges connecting into it. I pulled the compass out, Alisdair used some common sense and pretty soon we found the track. The quartzite up here breaks down and changes colour where people walk all the time so you end up with quite a clear path most of the time.

Once we were back on the ridge, navigation was pretty easy – just don’t fall off the edge! There was still quite a bit of snow in the corries, but I was definitely NOT going to play in this stuff! Sheer cliff and probably overhangs below what looked like a solid surface.

Snow bank hanging in the corrie

Snow bank hanging in the corrie

The cloud did clear occasionally to give us some views, but not enough to be worth taking the camera out (no more photos for you, sorry, but you can check out my previous Foinaven walk if you want to see what it looks like)

The walk was longer than I remember, with a lot more ups and downs. There is a section with no clear path that you need to scramble off the side of the ridge a little . . . last time I tried going too high and had to backtrack. This time I overcompensated and took us too low and made life harder than it should’ve been. Maybe one day I’ll get it right! It was also a very difficult walk for me. The rocks were very slippery (quartzite, covered in cloud . . . what did I expect??) and my shoes did not seem to be gripping at all. I ended up crouched down and using both hands for many sections because my feet were sliding so much. Still, no injuries.

When we got onto the broad summit at the southern end, I pulled the compass out again. We were still completely in cloud and there are some steep corries around this section. I wasn’t worried about falling in (we could see well enough to not do that) but I didn’t want to go the wrong way and have to backtrack to get out. We got off here OK, then kept heading south-east to get back to the path. Last time I went due south, over the quartzite slabs, but with the trouble I was having with my footing I thought I’d be better off fighting through bogs that slipping on sharp rock. As it was, the bogs were not as bad as they looked.

Once we got to the track it was a pleasant, but long, amble back to the carpark north of Achfary on the A838.And perfect timing to meet our lift back home! It was an enjoyable day out. I enjoyed chatting to Alisdair during the day. The lack of view was disappointing in some ways, but it was also quite interesting and impressive to walk the ridge while hidden in cloud. I’d never choose to walk it in that weather, so it’s nice to have seen it like that. Funnily enough the cloud had cleared and we had a stunning view of the entire ridge on our drive home!

Foinaven_Route Foinaven_Elevation



  1. anna says:

    Snow!! That bit looks like a scary walk!

    • Helen says:

      It probably looks worse than it was. Being on top was fine, and maybe less scary than when we could see how far down it was. Walking onto the snow would’ve just been really dangerous (and stupid!).

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