More Classic smaller mountains: Fionaven the Reay Forest North – West Sutherland.

I have promised a pal that we will climb the Corbett Fionaven she has been waiting to climb in for a while. I hope next May when I am fit enough still to climb a big mountain after my health recovers. Its up in the North West beyond Laxford Bridge on the A838. I love this mountain been very lucky to climb it about 10 times. It is spectacular and can be seen for miles the shattered quartzite makes the hill look white and in winter it’s a wonderful day. It’s a long day and if you combine a climb with the ridge and its tops you will find it hard going. I love the names of this hill Gannu Mor, Lord Reay’s seat, A’ Cheir Gorm, Creag Urbhard. Loch Dionard and Strath Dionard. It is a place a love with many great days spent her. In the early days we would add the Corbett Arkle to the day, it was rush, rush, rush in these days. How daft we were. The last tine I was on Fionaven it was a slow day but I loved looking into these wild Corries and the vast expanses of wildness.

MAP

unro, Foinaven is – regardless of status – a truly magnificent mountain. A complex massive of narrow, shattered quartzite ridges, Foinaven gives a memorable expedition. To me it can be a great long hill day and the very fit can add it along with Arkle. It was always another special hill way before some of my team mates pals had backed it in the Grand National at odds of 100/1 in 1967.

Fionaven falls twelve feet short of the required 3,000ft for Munro status – and is all the better for it! It is a long and complex hill with many hidden secrets in winter a fine traverse. The views are superlative and it’s a massive amount of rock and shattered Corrie’s that with the view to the sea and the huge moors this is the wild North. It now has an Estate road that takes you in to Strath Dionard and Loch Doinard that you can cycle in. In the very early days there was no such access. There was a no bikes sign but as the track I was told the road was partly funded by SNH I wonder if it’s still inforce or even legal?

Foinaven is a range in itself, offering an abundance of wild and characterful terrain to explore. That said, the track down Strath Dionard has somewhat tamed that wild feeling “Despite the track the mountain’s location at the extremity of the northern mainland will hopefully ensure its quiet demeanour remains intact. The scale and complexity of some of the cliffs only becomes apparent once you are stood beneath them. There is a lifetimes worth of exploring to do here – assuming you are not easily spooked by loose or unstable rock!” SMC Guide

Northern Highlands North (SMC)

Edited by Andy Nisbet

The first of three comprehensive guides detailing the rock and ice climbs of the Northern Highlands. An indispensable guide covering the climbing north of Inverness from Beinn Dearg to the north coast and eastwards to the Wick sea cliffs. Also includes Orkney and Shetland. Covers the popular cliffs at Reiff and Ardmair.

This is an SMC climbers’ guidebook, published by Scottish Mountaineering Press.

£25.00

This was a place I loved the old classic Corriemulzie Mountaineering Club Guide of 1966  a rock and Ice Guide to Easter Ross, this guide that I still have gave me some great ideas of climbing in this area.  Some of the great names put up routes here, Lovat, Weir, Clough Sullivan, Park, Tranter and Rowe.   It had a history in the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team; we had to visit this wild place.

I climbed here a lot in the mid 70’s we had a long day on the routes South Ridge Right Hand section it was a modest 300 metre VDIFF it was long loose and tricky route finding. The RAF Kinloss Team had put up a few routes in the past and we followed a tradition from the 50’s. It was the Team Leaders Pete McGowan last weekend we climbed another route and got back about 0100. I remembered the walk out in bright Moonlight and seeing the fish in the river by torchlight. It was an introduction to big loose mountain routes and a huge experience for me. Next day we were up Ben Kilbrek no stopping us then. I am sure there was a big accident where two climbers were killed here in the 60’s and that put a few off climbing here? The late Blyth Wright told me of these stories many years ago.

This was from my diary “I remember having a fun day but lots of crazy route finding and near misses with loose blocks and the late Jim Green missing me with a huge one that crashed down beside me. The smell of cordite stays with you as the rocks smash down the cliff. The climbing gear in these days was limited, protection basic and we had big bags and big boots it was a scary day but what a place to be. It was along climb 1000 foot but so many variations were possible and our route finding was basic. Thinking back it was a massive learning curb and a big serious place to be, Jim must have smoked 50 fags on that route.

The walk out was long and seemed to go on for ever as we then did the traverse of the mountain.

Another was in the early 80’s – I was just back from North Wales at Valley and back in Scotland. We had very big bags and a wild VS route with a very young Pam Ayres of about 1000 feet loose in places and we had a shower of rain making the rock very slippy. On the summit we sunbathed and I fell asleep. When I woke Pam had the rope and the rock gear in his bag he did not realise we still had the ridge and a long walk out ahead. Another time (We even took a boat into the loch by Sea king for the Estate many years ago and after we put it into the loch climbed all day. Was that cheating? ) We did many more routes over the years and never saw anyone on the cliffs. The winter potential was incredible and we climbed an ice fall with the late Mark Sinclair in the early 80,s. I know that the late Andy Nisbet and others did some wild climbing here on the main cliff. I took a few of the young rock jocks in to the cliffs and they learned about loose rock and mountain routes.

This was a route I did a few times it was classic scramble with a big walk in.

“Almost at the top of the country now, and we visit the beautiful Foinaven. Wild, rugged & remote (once you’ve left the NC500 superhighway), what more could you ask for? Our last route on the mainland is Ganu Mor Slabs (Grade 3 ***).

A huge plate of immaculate gneiss perched above one of the roughest and wildest corries in the country. Serious and committing but never technically hard, with views over hundreds of square miles of empty Sutherland. When combined with the (almost as good) North Face of Cnoc Duail and the Lower Coire Duail Slabs it makes a superb scrambling day.”

In winter it is an incredible place with so much to climb for the modern winter climber but remember you are a long way from home, be careful and have fun. You will be far from the winter crowds but that’s what makes this mountain classic.

https://www.smc.org.uk/publications/scrambling

To me it was a classic scramble that I was glad I had a rope with me at times.

Sadly I cannot find any photos on the cliff but I will spend some time going through my old slides they must be there.   The views of the far North of Scotland are unique and it’s a place despite its length to savour before the big walk out. I once had a sunset as we walked of it was a magical experience.  

In April 2009 hill runner Manny Gorman set out on a continuous, unmotorised journey around the 219 Corbetts – Scottish mountains between 2500-3000 feet high – covering a staggering 2600 miles & 420,000 feet of ascent, by foot, cycle and yacht, in a record 70 days. It was just supposed to be a fun adventure holiday for him and his partner Brenda, but the wildest Scottish weather, complicated logistics, calamitous injuries and a final vicious twist in the tale ensured it was one of the toughest journeys possible within our own shores.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Books, Corbetts and other hills, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, People, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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