When I left home in Badenoch it was minus ten and it looked set for a glorious day of frigid cold and crisp sunshine. By Inverness the cloud was down to sea level and by the time I passed the Glascarnoch Dam the hill tops were clear but the world had managed to filter out all traces of colour and had turned to monchrome.
The waters of Loch Glascarnoch were frozen, set to the consistency and colour of concrete. The green foliage of the pines had turned to white, and each blade of grass carried its own frosted pattern. There wasn’t a breath of wind and when I turned off the car engine and stepped out the silence was overwhelming. The world was frozen solid – the murmur and mutter of every stream and burn had been choked to silenced by the weather’s iron gauntlet. I was delighted – this was exactly what I had hoped for.
Am Faochagach, 3130 ft/954m is the high point of a great tangle of hills that lie between Loch Glascarnoch and Strath Vaich. Like its neighbours, Am Faochagach, 3130 ft/954m is a big, bluff, rounded hill but does have the advantage of offering tempting glimpses into the secretive and rocky Coire Ghranda that lies between Beinn Dearg and Cona’ Mheall, and of the northern tops of Alladale and Corriemulzie.
There are only two types of weather conditions that make climbing Am Faochagach feasible. During a long, dry spell or a day like this when the boggy, waterlogged approach from the A835 has been frozen solid. You can climb this Munro via long walk-ins from the Glascarnoch Dam or from Strath Vaich in the east, but the obvious approach, from the A835 at the bridge over the Abhainnan an Torrain Dubh is both pathless and exceedingly wet. The crossing of the Abhainn a’ Gharbhrain, which drains Loch a’Gharbhrain and connects with Loch Glascarnoch can often be impossible in wet weather – at other times it usually requires you to get your feet wet by wading! In such conditions it’s worth trying to cross above Loch a’ Gharbhrain, but bear in mind that you’ll have two burns to cross - the Allt a’ Gharbhrain and the outflow from Loch Coire Lair. This hill is best kept for a period of dry weather or very cold winter weather when the ground is hard and the rivers are frozen over.
Some walkers had obviously set off before me – I followed their tracks through the white frosted grass of the moors that led to the Abhainn a’ Gharbhrain which, while still running, took some careful rock-hopping to negotiate. The river was considerably easier to cross than normal, although two of the walkers who had left before me were obviously experiencing some difficulty slightly further upstream.
Once over the waterways the ascent is fairly straightforward. A north easterly line climbs steep heather covered slopes on the south bank of the Allt na h-Uidhe and then a more easterly direction climbs steeper slopes to the spine of the hill’s elongated ridge. With clouds swirling over the summit it was easy to understand why several folk I know had reached a cairn that lies on this ridge and thought it was the summit. The top is still a good half hour away!
Am Faochagach, other than the views I’ve mentioned and good views back across to the Fannichs, doesn’t have any great outstanding feature other than exhibiting the effects of solifluction on its wide summit slopes. The effects of what, you may ask?
Under the conditions in which I climbed Am Faochagach, solifluction is very pertinent. In the freezing cold regions of the Arctic this kind of soil creep is quite commonplace and it’s caused by waterlogged earth moving down the slope over frozen ground. In the Arctic regions of course the top layers of earth can be waterlogged due to melt and slide downhill over the permafrost but here in Scotland we don’t have a permafrost, at least not nowadays. Could these effects of solifluction on Am Faochagach date back to those distant days when Scotland had glaciers, or at least a permafrost? Could be, but for the moment what it means is that every so often, on the final summit slopes of the hill, you have to step up a series of little embankments. Come to think of it I’ve seen a similar thing on A’Cailleach in the Monadh Liath!
Unfortunately cloud obscured any views from the summit cairn, but I was delighted to have climbed the hill again. I had been waiting for the right conditions and now I could tick the hill off – one of the few remaining Munros for my third round!
Approx Time: 4-6 hours
Access Point: A835 NW end of Loch Glascarnoch
Translation: place of the shells
Pronunciation: am foechakach
Route: Start at the bridge over the Abhainnan an Torrain Dubh. Cross the moorland in an easterly direction passing between Loch Glascarnoch and Loch a’ Gharbhrain. The crossing of the Abhainn a’ Gharbhrain will entail wading to a greater or lesser degree depending on the weather conditions. Once across the river turn NE and climb the steep heather slopes to reach the main ridge just south of the summit. From there the going is easy along a broad and obvious ridge.