The Fisherfields are also known as Scotland’s Great Wilderness, and they are in situated south of Ullapool, north of Torridon. The area and particularly the round of six mountains caught my imagination when I hiked the Cape Wrath Trail last year. The Fisherfield 6 are known for their dramatic peaks and ridges and breath taking views from the summits.
I wanted the physical and mental challenge and I felt that completing this round would help me feel ‘readier’ for the Pacific Crest Trail.
We ‘walked in’ from Kinlochewe on an unseasonably hot day. After a leisurely day walking thought the Letterewe Estate we camped by the causeway.
The causeway and the views on approach are well worth the walking effort, even if you have no intent of doing the Fisherfield round. The causeway enabled us to walk between Loch Fionn and Loch Duhb – the Loch of light and the Loch of dark.
My plan was to summit all 6 mountains and then camp at the bottom of the last hill, Bein a ‘ Chaidheimh. I’d walk back to Kinlochewe the next day.
I went to bed early and said my goodbyes to Simon as we were parting ways the next morning. The plan was to solo the Fisherfield 6 whilst he had further research to do the in area. I crawled into my tent, reluctant to tear my eyes away from this landscape. The hills tucked us in to the north, south and east and Loch Fionn lay calm and serene to our west.
I’d set my alarm for 5:15am but I’m awake and it’s only 5. It’s going to be a long day – at least 12 hours of walking – so it’s important to get as much of the day as I can.
I’m buzzing with nervous energy.
Packing up my tent in the moon’s gentle light, there’s a harsh quality to my thoughts.
Why am I leaving the place that had held me last night to venture alone into these mountains?
This thought opens the way to old familiar thoughts. Questions that bore me, but that I still feel compelled to itch.
Will I manage?
Do I have the navigation skills?
And the fitness?
Will I make good decisions?
What if I make fool of myself and need to call for help?
What if this shows me I’m not ready for the Pacific Crest Trail?
But now I feel a comfort as I remember the quiet confidence I saw in Simon’s eyes last night as we talked through my plan.
He had a calm expression as we confirmed our meeting time and point for the following day: Kinlochewe car park at 3pm. I’d searched for, but found no concern in his gaze.
I leave our camp and walk up this steep path, allowing this soup of doubt and hope to settle within me.
I’m in motion. Desire stronger than fear.
8:12 am. Ruadh Stac Mor (The Red Stack).
A stalkers path and a fun scrambly pull has led me to this summit.
From this height I can see clearly in every direction.
9:17 am A’Mhaighdean (The Maiden).
The second hill right across from me looks easy to access from the beallach. But the remaining hills seem miles away. They loom massive – crags, dark mounds with dramatic ridges.
11:15 am Bein Tarsuinn (the Transvere hill).
I’ve scrambled to Cairn on A’Mhaighdean (The Maiden). There’s a dramatic plunge to the crags at Dubh Loch and Fionn Loch lays beyond. Mountains frame my every view. It seems a shame to move on so quickly but there’s about 4km to the next Munro.
I’d struggled to find the path up the slope of this hill. In my impatience I’d just ploughed up a fairly direct line. But given the steepness the going was heavy and I questioned my waymaking.
And then, as if the gods were watching my struggle, a very handsome dark haired man clad in running gear emerged from above me.
I waved and called to him, asking if he’d found a path.
In his Spanish accent told me he was on the goat’s track and I should be too. With a friendly laugh he continued to skip down the hill.
I turned a few minutes later to see if I could pick him out on the landscape – but he’d moved so quickly I couldn’t decide if I was seeing his bright green t-shirt – or just sphagnum moss.
As I made my way along the ridge I saw two figures coming towards me. An older man and woman greeted me with generous smiles. We blethered for some minutes. I enjoyed their company, particularly their relaxed way of being. They’d been picnicking on the ridge and didn’t seem to be in any hurry.
They shared they were also undertaking the Fisherfield round but unlike me from the traditional direction. Nervously, I asked if they thought I’d complete the round in time.
Their reply: “Easily and with time to spare” .
And for the first time in 6 hours, I allow myself to relax.
This is after all one of the reason I come to the hills. To stop thinking. Or at least to think more slowly.
1.20 pm & 2:30PM Mullach Coire Mic Fhearchair and Sgurr Ban (the white Peak)
Despite my efforts I’m finding it harder to stay with the hills. I’m feeling less connected to the ground beneath my feet. Rather my attention is on time moving too quickly.
4:45 pm Bein a ‘ Chaidheimh (The hill of the sword).
The wind has picked up. It’s blowing in about me. Standing here on this ridge I invite and welcome the aloneness.
This massive vista with layer upon layer of land-mountain-sea scape is everything. I feel my smallness. I feel this place’s indifference to my ‘me-ness’. Not in a unkind way but in a way that somehow expands me.
I’m tired and part of me is already picking my way down towards the heather, the river and the flat grassy patch where I’ll pitch my tent and cook my dinner.
Yet another part of me wants to linger and understand what I know in this moment.
I understand that my completion of mountain rounds don’t matter. Nor my fearful thoughts and feelings.
I understand that what matters is getting to places of deep beauty. To moments of connection to things greater than me.
I understand that when I slip outside the smallness of my mind, when I stop trying to control everything, then there’s room for expansion.
This is what the Fisherfields have told me as I embark on the Pacific Crest Trail. Completing the PCT doesn’t matter, nor do the limiting thoughts and feelings throughout the journey.
It’s getting in the way of beauty that matters.
“There’s a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” – Cheryl Strayed