Zero five zero, six nine nine or rather Grid Reference 050699 on OS Landranger map 19, was the key. If, tonight we pitched the tent here, then tomorrow we could probably complete the circuit in one go. Ron came back from the bar with the necessary refreshment, putting the pint glasses carefully on the table. I looked up enquiringly. Laphroiaghe replied. Good.I’ll look forward to that.The circuit being planned was of the six remote Munros in the south of the Fisherfield Forest. The position we had chosen to pitch our tent was near enough to the first summit, A’ Mhaighdean (pronounced Vyejun), to give us a flying start but sufficiently close to the return leg of our journey to avoid a long detour when we would inevitably be tired. So, as evening closed in, we left the comfort of the hotel and took the track leading to the Heights of Kinlochewe. A fork left and four further miles along the glen took us to the south eastern tip of Lochan Fada and the appointed rendezvous. So far so good.
A hurried breakfast and we were off. Even at this hour you could tell it had all the makings of a fine day - which was a relief. We could do without any navigation problems. The round we had planned wasn’t really a round at all, rather a combination of two distinct groups in the shape of a letter ‘Q’. A’ Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor on one side of Gleann na Muice and Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh, Sgurr Ban, Mullach Coire Mhic Fearchair and Beinn Tarsuinn on the other. A’ Mhaighdean is regarded by many as the remotest hill in Scotland and although there are others that might run it close, there is no doubt that on reaching the summit you will not need much persuasion to agree to this general consensus. Looking down on the Dubh Loch guarded by the ramparts of Ben Lair to the south and Beinn Dearg Mor to the north, all before you is that magic combination of water and rock. Not a road or any other sign of civilization in sight.
The next top, Rhadh Stac Mor, like so many peaks in this area, hovers tantalisingly around the magic 3000 feet mark and it had taken a recent evaluation by the Ordnance Survey to sort out the sheep from the goats. For this is the edge of the Highlands before it slips into the sea. But what goes up must come down and begrudging every foot we descend into the glen. Our next objective, Beinn a’ Chlaidheim is out on a limb. In fact, it is more often climbed from the north after spending the night in the bothy at Shenavall. We had considered this option starting and finishing at the bothy but we worried that the rivers guarding access might, if it rained heavily, become impassable. It’s a long way from Macclesfield just to have a pint in the Dundonnell Hotel. But any way up is steep, so to mitigate the grind and save as much height as we could a decision was made to cut across the slope towards the two lochans that nestled in the bealach between Chlaidheim and Sgurr Ban.
After a not particularly quick up and down of Munro number three, we found ourselves an hour later, back where we had started. This was the moment of truth. Several thousand more feet of ascent and descent on one hand, or bale out and leave the remaining three for another day. A can of McEwan’s gave a helpful spring in the step, but the more sober reason for continuing was the weather. The terrain, often boulder-strewn and scree-riven, is hard enough work at any time, but matters are made considerably easier if, on the descent from one peak, you are able to pick out the best way to the top of your next objective. So, we bumped along, up and over Sgurr Ban and Mhic Fearchair until the final summit eventually came into sight.
Once Beinn Tarsuinn was reached we stopped for a moment to retrace on the ground the journey we had first seen on the map. One last look before descending the seemingly never ending ridge back to Lochan Fada. Our original plan on reaching the tent was to cook but by that stage we were past eating and just wanted to get back to civilization. Our day was done and we decided like Longfellow’s Arabs to fold our tents, or rather tent, and as silently steal away. It was more of a plod really, but our pace quickened as the Kinlochewe Hotel came into view. The order was placed at the bar. Two Laphroiags, please. Make it doubles.