I have been bagging Corbetts intensively and in a three day trip to the north of scotland, my friend Ben and I marked four summits. Three of the Corbetts were new to me. The second day we headed to the Foinaven ridge.
Instead of accessing Foinaven from the south, which would have been like walking the same track we did on beef day to Arkle and Meall’s Horn, we decided to follow a loop from the north as suggested by Walk Highlands. In hindsight, I’m not sure I’d recommend this route and plan to return to the area at some point to hike from the south.
Foinaven Walking Circuit
We parked in a small rest area off the A838 and just north of Gualin House. To start the route you have to walk a bit along the A838. Walk Highlands suggests you follow the loop clockwise, but we decided to go counter-clockwise. I don’t think this made much of a difference to the overall impression of the walk.
There are about 4 km of wet marshy terrain to reach the base of the start of the ascent on the north side of the Foinaven ridge. It had been quite a dry spell, but the ground was still sodden.
As we walked we talked about our hopes that the cloud would come down and the delay would lift. The weather had been generally very good in the previous days and we were looking forward to a brighter sky again. The area is spectacular and we had heard that the Foinaven ridge is great so we really wanted the cloud to lift.
The route for the first section was undulating until we reached the mountain itself, after which it was relentlessly steep. We needed to fight our way through a maze of boulders and rocks and also avoid a steep section of high crags.
It was not easy to find the route and especially since we faced a thick cloud all around. I think I lost my sense of humor for a while as we made our way uphill in the wet. There was a feeling that anywhere else in Scotland would be basking in the sunshine, as we trudged up a steep mountain in the cloud.
Luckily my mood improved a bit as we got higher and eventually we could see patches of clouds breaking up and blue sky peeking through. The sun was working hard to dissipate the clouds and there were flashes of heat.
We entertained ourselves by looking at and naming as many wild flowers as we could.
Higher still, the slopes turned into a jumble of rocks and we climbed up them to finally reach the ridge. The clouds thinned enough that we could see more along the ridge, although at no point was the entire Foinaven ridge revealed.
We walked south to reach the cairn that marked the 914 m summit. This mountain is about to be a Munro. Ben and I decided to sit on the ridge for a while, hoping the cloud would go away.
It was hot even at this altitude and we enjoyed seeing glimpses of the surrounding landscape as the clouds came and went.
A man we had met earlier that day came to the ridge and we chatted for a while. He had taken a route from the south and enjoyed a more cloud-free ascent.
descent of Foinaven
For the descent route, Ben and I headed east of the ridge. We were expecting a fairly easy descent on a well traveled path, but this was not to be. The tread came and went and was mostly gone when we encountered wet ground, swamps, boulders and rocks.
It turned out to be a very difficult route overall, with a steep descent no easier than the ascent we had encountered earlier that day.
At some point, Ben got a little quiet and lost his sense of humor a bit. At least we hadn’t done this at the same time!
Finally, we descended below the cloud line and were able to see farther. We saw a wide path in the glen and headed towards it. The track was much easier to walk and undulated to the north.
We were both feeling fatigued and the sun was now shining brightly but we enjoyed this section. We were grateful for the beautiful views to keep us going and somehow found some lively talk to keep our spirits up until we could see the way back where we had started.
There was a final sting in the tail as the track turned west and headed uphill for the final kilometer.
Overall this is a challenging route with little in the way of finding easy routes. Ben and I promised to come back another time to try the route from the south and complete a full traverse of the ridge, but on a day when the sky is clear.
Foinaven route details:
total ascent: 1091m
Route: Got up
Bagged Corbetts: 120