I’ve had a hat trick of successful photography trips this year, Scotland then Iceland then Lofoten, with almost unbroken sunshine on every trip. With that in mind I am certainly due some bad weather and what better time to put it to the test than in mid-December in Scotland! So like any hiking plans this one is fully dependent on the weather, but I like to plan on perfect conditions and prepare for the worst!
I am returning to the area known as ‘The Great Wilderness’ more formally the ‘Fisherfield Forest’ which lies south of Ullapool and north of Torridon. This Fisherfield Forest is ironically almost devoid of trees, it is so named because it is a deer forest maintained for stalking deer. I am going with Guy Richardson who accompanied me on both my past two trips to the area. This time around we plan to walk to A’Mhaighdean from ‘the other direction’ from the north-east, walking the Fisherfield 6 from Carnmore.
The Fisherfield 6 are so named because they are(were) 6 Munros in Fisherfield hikable in a single long day. Recently the first peak on the route, Beinn A Chlaidheimh , has been downgraded to a Corbett since it is 2ft short of Munro status. We plan to complete a slightly extended version of the hike in 3 and a half days. That should allow us plenty of time to take photos (weather permitting) and also accounts for the fact that there are only 6 1/2 hours of daylight at this time of year!
Below is a Google map of our planned route:
View Great Wilderness II in a larger map
When planning routes for trips I often follow the same process. First I research the area I would like to visit to find out what the terrain is like in general and what routes there are that might have footpaths/tracks because you can cover much more ground and it is easier to navigate! In this case I have read many trip reports that talk about boggy river crossings at the start and end of the hike, heavy going scree on the mountain tops, but also incredible views. Many of these trip reports have ‘snapshots’ to accompany them which give an idea of the potential of the area.
Once I have a vague plan in my head I will go onto Google Earth and look at maps (or turn on Gavin Brocks OS maps overlay) to determine points of interest and viewpoints on route. In particular I look for steep gradients (cliffs), pools of water, winding streams and waterfalls, all of which are likely to provide good photographic opportunities. Of course a great view is nice, but great light is just as important and so I use TPE (The Photographers Ephemeris) to determine the locations of sunrise and sunset and anticipate where shadows will fall. The best locations are those which offer multiple options, this is one of the reasons why at the end of Day 2 we are heading west to an area that I know to have fantastic potential from my last trip.
I try to associate photographic locations with areas of ground that I suspect will be moderately flat and dry and therefore suitable camp spots. I also like to make sure there is a good water source nearby or at the very least on route. In this particular case I should be able to melt snow so water wont be a problem.
Once I have a route plan I look at the time we have available and the amount of daylight and try to reconcile possible sunrise sunset locations with the amount of hiking that is necessary. I then consider the walking ability of myself and anyone coming with me and the kind of distance we can realistically cover with a heavy backpack. With this in mind I know that ‘Day 1’ is likely to be the hardest because it has the greatest climbs and descents as well as a lot of scree underfoot. The amount of exposure on this day (walking along a high mountain ridge potentially covered in snow) also makes it the most dangerous.
Lastly I make a few backup plans (in my head) so that if we have a bad day of weather we aren’t caught out! In this case we can delay by a day, but if it looks unsettled for a period of days then there are many day hikes and more sheltered camping location to be found in NW Scotland.
If the forecast and recent weather is to be believed we are going to have a fair amount of snow on the peaks themselves and perhaps some further down. Whilst that will hopefully make for fantastic photos, it does make walking more tiring. We will both be bringing crampons (spikes that attach to the sole of your boot) and an ice axe (used for self-arrest in the event of a fall). That combined with warmer clothing, warmer sleeping equipment and more food (you need more food to stay warm in winter) leads to a additional 5kg weight. My total pack will weigh around 27kg, the heaviest I have ever carried. My rucksack isn’t a great carry overloaded like that so I am not looking forward to that aspect!
I wish I could afford a lighter down jacket that actually fitted me. My current Alpkit Filo is warm enough but it’s also 900g. You can get warmer jackets that weigh half as much, but unfortunately they don’t fit me as well and a longer custom jacket is incredibly expensive! I’d also like to get a lighter bag than my Alpkit Skyehigh 1000. It really is fantastically warm but it’s a hefty 1.8kg, 800g heavier than my -5 degree bag which I have used around freezing, but probably isn’t warm enough at 10 below, which is what I want to allow for.
For those interested here is my full kit list for the trip! Download the Excel Spreadsheet
As I write this I am probably at my lowest fitness level ever. It’s a big concern so I will be running or rugby training every day until I go. Let’s hope its not too little too late!
As if it needed repeating this entire trip is dependent on the weather. In fact its odds on to be cancelled, but I’ve planned it anyway, afterall, the last 3 plans came off without a hitch. Just don’t come back here and say ‘I told you so’ because I’ve already learnt before the hard way!
In the meantime I will be folllowing the Mountain Weather Information Service forecast for the NW Highlands with interest.