Every now and then it does me good to have a day when the mountains remind me who is boss. I headed for the Fannichs again, parked at Lochdrum on the western edge of Loch Droma, crossed the dam and followed the hydro-board track that climbs slowly up the glen. I was running, so travelling light. So light in fact that I had left my compass in a cupboard in Inverness. As I gazed skywards at Sgurr Mor and Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich, both enveloped in thick mist, I knew I could rue my forgetfulness.
It was slow going. The path disappeared, leaving me to slop through bog around Loch a’Mhadaidh and up to the bealach between Meall a’Chrasgaidh and Carn na Criche. Now in the mist, I heard the grunt of a stag without being able to see the beast. I gained Carn na Criche and then Sgurr Mor, at 1,110m the highest point in the Fannichs, easily, taking care on the latter ascent to swing to the east so I would pick up the ridge to Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich.
The mist seemed thicker on the south side of Sgurr Mor, reducing the visibility to about 20 metres. I ran for around 15 minutes, dropping at first, then reaching a plateau, before beginning to climb again. A wall of boulders reared up in front of me, which I took to be Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich, and I made for the top.
Confusion suddenly reigned. Was this Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich? Or had I inadvertantly wandered south to Meall nam Peithirean, one of Sgurr Mor’s tops? I convinced myself of the latter and descended rapidly to where I had left a path. The path had vanished. Bugger. I was lost on mist-shrouded mountains. And as anyone knows who has been in this situation, thoughts and fears start to run wild. It’s not a healthy state of mind.
All I could sensibly do was re-trace my steps to Sgurr Mor, from where I’d at least be able to get my bearings, even if I couldn’t take a bearing. I hadn’t seen a soul all day when six Englishmen appeared out of the mist. Map in hand, I asked for clarification on where I was. ‘Scotland,’ came the inevitable gag from the joker of the pack. Hilarious.
As they were destined for Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich, I walked with them for a short while and soon realised that I was right all along. I escaped the mist as soon as possible, heading due north off the Munro down steep slopes and eventually back to the hydro-board track. As I ambled back to the car, hungry, thirsty, leg-weary and just a little fed-up, the mist began to lift. Typical isn’t it? Still, lesson learned – albeit a boring one: never forget a compass.