Foinaven and Arkle from Loch Stack

Hillwalking route up Foinaven and Arkle from Stack Lodge

From the western end of Loch Stack, a fine estate track heads into the hidden wilderness of Reay Forest below Foinaven and Arkle. Rough and steep ground is then tackled to gain narrow crests of these complex and superb mountains.



Route outline


  Map base ©OpenStreetMap
Corbetts

Ganu Mor, Foinaven

Arkle

Ascent 2175m (7130ft)
Distance 31km (19m)
Time 11:30hr
Start/finish Lochstack Lodge
Grid Ref : NC269435
Terrain
easy hard
Nav
easy hard
Effort
easy hard
Scenery
ok fab


Heading in from the western shores of Loch Stack, this is an excellent hillwalking route taking in the two quartzite Corbett peaks of Arkle and Foinaven.

A fine track leads to the remote base of these mountains in the Reay Forest wilderness. Thereafter terrain is often bouldery and pathless for much of the route over the summits and mountain crests. This is a challenging route where navigation skills and route choice will be tested.



Route map




Route description


1. Getting to Stack Lodge

Lochstack Lodge

In the far north of Scotland, Foinaven and Arkle lie in the vast area of Reay Forest and overlook the A838 travelling from Lairg to Laxford Bridge and Rhiconich.

A few miles south-east of Laxford Bridge is Loch Stack and at its western end is Stack Lodge, connected to the road by a wooden bridge and private road. This is where the route begins and there is ample roadside parking.


2. Foinaven, Ganu Mor

Stepping stones over the Uidh an Tigh Sheig

From the roadside, head north-east up the private road, over a bridge and past Stack Lodge . Now a fine track, the route makes a way initially east then north-east to Loch an Nighe Leathaid at the foot of Arkle.

The track turns sharp left (north-west) and makes its way around the northern flanks of Arkle to end up at the outflow of Loch na Tuadh, which is crossed using some stepping stones . The track then turns right and now quite rough, aims eastwards for just under 2km towards the foot of Foinaven.

At a convenient point, most likely around the 250m contour , leave the track and cross heathery ground heading up the fall-line ahead. You'll meet a line of old wooden posts - following these will lead you to the base of scree directly below Cadha na Beucaich. Above doesn't look a particulary easy way to access Foinaven's crests, but it is more straightforward than it looks - just keep to the centre of the bowl and climb directly up the scree.

Reaching Cadha na Beucaich, where there is a small stone shelter , Foinaven begins to show its fine crests and ridges. There's some easy scrambling to enjoy on the ridge heading north-west, but take care, particularly in wet conditions as the quartzite boulders can be very slippy.

Leaving the shelter and bealach behind, aim north-west on a faint path on the bouldery crest up to A' Cheir Ghorm . The spur heading north-east from A' Cheir Ghorm is most impressive !

Leave A' Cheir Ghorm and continue along the ridge, bouldery in bits, grassy in others, over one more rise and onto Foinaven's summit, Ganu Mor . The flat summit crest has two small cairns 150m apart, of which the western marks the top. Stunning views from here and on clear days you can see to Orkney !


3. Arkle

Arkle from below the Cadha na Beucaich screes

On Ganu Mor, about turn and retrace your steps along Foinaven's crests to the shelter on Cadha na Beucaich . Begin to descend the scree below Cadha na Beucaich - it may have been a trudge up, but if you enjoy downhill scree-running, this is a pretty good 'un and will bring a smile to your face.

The line of old wooden posts is met again. Follow these posts southwards and lower down, cross the track that you followed up from Stack Lodge, then aim over lumpy heather-clad ground for the eastern end of Loch na Tuadh .

Cross the burn flowing into the loch (some care required in spate), then keeping some crags ahead on your right, climb up heather clad slopes.

Ground levels out somewhat and Arkle's eastern shoulder comes into view, scree everywhere. Look to the left (south) side of this shoulder and the base of a relatively easy route can be picked out. This line follows stunted heather for the most part, avoiding boulderfield, scree and rocky outcrops.

Ascent is steep and gradually boulderfield replaces heather, but it's not long before the crst of Arkle's eastern spur is reached and terrain becomes more manageable. Arkle's broad summit crest is reached - time for a break on the small cairn that sits on the summit and take in the vast views.


4. Return to Stack Lodge

Ben Stack on the return along the Lochstack track

As Arkle is protected by buttresses and crags around most of its western and northern flanks, the most direct return route to Stack Lodge begins by about-turning and returning along Arkle's eastern shoulder.

Continue retracing your steps down the boulders and scree, then heather to the Uidh na Tuaidh and cross it again to get onto the northern side of the burn.

Keeping to the northern bank of the burn, then around the northern side of Loch na Tuadh, plod over heather and grass to reach the Lochstack Lodge track just east of the stepping stones over the Uidh an Tigh Sheilg.

Retrace your steps back to Stack Lodge and the roadside.


5. Alternative return via Lone

On Arkle's ridge heading to its southern summit

If you've manange to sort out transport with a car at Achfary, or don't mind a 4.5km walk back along the roadside from Achfary to Stack Lodge, then you'll be able to enjoy the finest hillwalking aspect of Arkle.

Heading south-west from Arkle's summit, the ridge narrows and an amazing causeway of quartzite is crossed - some care required, particularly if damp ! This leads on to a minor summit at 751m.

The ridge then broadens and a faint path is followed down to a col, then up to Arkle's southern summit .

Now on a very broad and flat plateau of small stones, head southwards. After around 500m, the plateau is left behind and the final descent of the day begins. Using lines of grass between slabs and rocks, descend in a generally southwards direction, taking care not to be pulled too far to the right (west).

Eventually a track above the Allt Horn is picked up and this is followed for around 4km through some forestry , past Lone hut , the south-eastern end of Loch Stack and Airdachuilinn House to end at the roadside near Achfary, from where it's around an hours walk back to Stack Lodge.





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