This weekend I was working for Steven Fallon Mountain Guides on the Rough Bounds of Knoydart, picking off the munros of Sgurr na Ciche, Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr nan Coireachan. The full blog can be read at http://stevenfallon.blogspot.co.uk/
Yesterday I was on Ben Nevis with my friend Paul and one of his business suppliers and my client Ray. Ray was wanting to do the National Three Peaks, but in a more leisurely and enjoyable manner than simply charging across the country up and down the hills in the dark. We decided that as the weather was benign, an ascent of the Ledge Route and a descent of the C.M.D Arete would show him the best the Ben had to offer around on the North Face, rather than a traipse up and down the Pony Track.
We took the scenic Moonlight Gully Buttress variant, crossing No.5 Gully higher up, which avoids the wet and chossy sections of the route, and provides a great feeling of being 'in' the mountain as opposed to being 'on' it. We re-joined the standard route at the improbable teetering block, and then enjoyed the easy scrambling all the way to the summit of Carn Dearg.
We then joined the throng heading for summit, but not after peering into the various gullies as we skirted the North Face. At one point the sun broke through the cloud just enough to give us a brocken spectre down Gardyloo Gully - This is when the sun's rays create a halo around your shadow on the mist, and is thought to be the origins of the story of halos on angels. You can walk for years and not see one, and this was both Ray and Paul's first.
After a bite to eat, it was off South Eastwards alongside the Little Benva Face, descending awkwardly over the boulder field to the new cairn at the top of the Coire Leis, and then onwards onto the C.M.D. itself.
The weather was just good enough to allow us to stick to the crest the whole way, being careful when the dampness affected the grip in places, but enjoying the airy situation. Finally it was the final pull up to the summit of the Carn Mor Dearg at 1220m. By now the cloud was in and the temperature was 6c, so we wasted no time in heading down.
After a heavy shower and some bog-trotting in the lower reaches of the route, we were back on the excellent path down to the North Face car park quickly, and completed the route in just over 7hrs, a really good time. All that remained to round off a great day was an evening in the Clachaig! ;)
On Monday and Tuesday I was out with David and his dog George (named after George Mallory, yet a bitch!). We had a bluebird day on the Ledge Route of Ben Nevis on Monday, and even picked up a hitch-hiker. We were getting a snack at the C.I.C. hut in Coire Leis when a lady approached us, apparently lost. She had been directed to climb her first Scottish mountain, and the highest to boot, by the CMD Arete as her first day out in Scotland!
The 'advisor' was working for the SYHA, and his instructions to just turn left at the CIC hut may have been technically factually correct, but hardly appropriate. After a chat about her experience and fitness, it was clear that she would be capable of joining us on our ascent, and David graciously allowed her to tag along.
We had the most enjoyable scramble/walk, taking the easier Moonlight Gully Buttress route across No.5 Gully and thus avoiding the wet slab and chossy parts of the ledges. The rock was warm and grippy, and we moved steadily and safely up the route, with Katie really being thrown in the deep end of Scottish hill walking - She loved it. The summit soon came after we left the quiet and solitude of the North Face and joined the throng on the Pony Track. Here she was treated to a piper too, bringing a tear to her eye as she enjoyed her Scottish dream.
The day was rounded off with a nice meal in the Grog and Gruel, whereby Katie treated David and I to dinner and a few pints by way of showing her gratitude. Most appreciated, as we had all had a great day. Good luck on your travels Katie.
The next day was not as pleasant weather-wise, more a 'business as usual' Scottish mountain day - Cloud down to 500m at first, very slowly lifting, and drizzle and rain most of the day, annoyingly intermittent, causing us to put on and remove our waterproofs incessantly.
We did the round of Coire a'Mhusgain, taking in Sgurr a'Mhaim and the Devil's Ridge, Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean. David's remit was for more grass and less boulders for George's sake, and high enough to escape any sheep. This route seemed to fit the bill, but as we soon realised, there were scores of sheep on each and every ridge. Yet there were no sheep in the valleys for some reason. That reason soon dawned on us - they were all up high to escape the midges, attempting to maximise the breeze. This made for interesting walking as George had to be watched constantly, or put back on the lead, which David does most efficiently, employing a devious rustling of a mini-cheddars packet and the occasional titbit!
The walk was predominantly done in clag, but the clouds did finally lift as we descended, giving a fine end to the walk down the North ridge of the final munro. We bade our farewells as we walked towards the car park, as the midges dictated that there was to be no lingering.
A great couple of days.
At the weekend I was working for Steven Fallon Mountain Guides on the Monar mountains. Visit http://stevenfallon.blogspot.co.uk/ for the full blog.
Last week I was working for Steven Fallon Mountain Guides in the beautiful Knoydart peninsula. We had glorious weather to say the least - See http://stevenfallon.blogspot.co.uk/ for the full blog
This weekend I was working for Steven Fallon Mountain Guides in the remote and beautiful upper Glen Affric area. This is one of the series of glens that stretch east to west across the wild hinterland of the highlands, each enclosing lochs such as Loch Affric, Loch Mullardoch and Loch Monar. Glen Affric can be accessed from all axes of the compass, but each involves a long walk or cycle, so the fact it hosts Britain's most remote Youth Hostel at Alltbeithe is most welcome. This was our base for the Saturday evening.
I met Paul, Andy, Vilma, Rita and Christine at the car park at the Cluanie Inn, along with Hugh, who is a trainee Mountain Leader about to take his assessment. He was looking for what are known as Quality Mountain Days, or Q.M.D's, which are a pre-requisite of a Mountain Leader assessment as demonstration of experience and learning. I knew we would indeed have two quality mountain days!
We set off along the road to warm our legs for the grassy climb up Route One onto the SE ridge of A'Chralaig, our first munro. The weather was cool but sunny, with a fresh NW breeze, ideal for keeping the midges off. Rita and Vilma are from Lithuania, and I was surprised they were so well wrapped up, as I presumed living alongside the Baltic, they would be accustomed to the cold. They are of course, but see us Brits as quite eccentric in our ability to withstand the cold and wear little, rather than defend against it as they do. I promised them they would soon be stripping off layers, and sure enough they did, and even got down to only three layers, whilst I had on a vest!!
The views got ever better once we gained the ridge, with Ben Nevis's silhouette clear to the South, and the whole of Kintail looking stunning with the definition from the clouds. The summit soon came, with the most splendid cairn, and we rested a while taking in the views, before setting off for the narrower Mullach Fraoch-coire. The ridge is a high promenade with big coires either side, and finishes with a little light scrambling on a narrow path before the summit. The team enjoyed this immensely, with plenty of time for photos.
After a break on the summit, it was down the broad N ridge in a direct line for the hostel. Beautiful Glen Affric stretched out to our right, and the mighty Sgurr nan Ceathremhnan in front, our objective for tomorrow. We sent a large herd of 50-60 hinds off in a run as we descended, and they circled us warily. Once through the thriving area of woodland regeneration common in the area, it was over the well-engineered bridge to the hostel, and a very warm welcome from Audrey the warden.
Alltbeithe is a gem, removed from the internet and mobile phone signals. Warmed by a wood-burning stove, and equipped with cooking facilities and clean water, it has all you need for a cosy evening's rest. The girls had brought some whisky too, (along with enough pasta to feed an army), so we slept soundly after a communal dinner and chat!
We set off early on Sunday, aware we had a big day ahead. The weather was cooler, maybe 12c, and around 8c on top. There was much lower cloud, so we only had brief glimpses of the grand coires, and we were in and out of waterproofs incessantly. We maintained a good pace all day, practicing timing our legs and other bits of navigation with Paul who was keen to learn. We bagged An Socach, then the long ridge of Mullach na Dheirigain, which is one of the most remote munros, as well one of the hardest to get to. A good prize for Hugh, Vilma and Rita as munro virgins! By the time we had reversed our steps and were on the NE ridge of our highest summit Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, we were beginning to feel it in our legs. Christine was steady and determined as usual, and had told us earlier that as she was a new Grandmother, she was to known as Grannie Mountain by her grandchildren. I didn't need encouraging to ensure she was reminded of her new name as we toiled up the final slopes, with a distinct running order randomly yet naturally decided by age!
As we topped out, we were almost above the cloud, and we were treated to a fog-bow, where the sun casts a shadow of the mountain onto the cloud, and you get a bright white arc. Poor Chris didn't manage to see it as we whooped, hollered and pointed as she climbed. After the group high-fives and photos on the summit, we set off down, but I suggested we should be on the lookout for brocken spectres, where the same phenomena gives an eerie halo to the shadow of a person on a cloud. Within minutes it happened, and this time Chris was lucky enough to see it, along with Paul, before the sun went in again.
We took Route One down into the coire before crossing over Stob Coire na Cloiche, and soon picked up the descent path back to Allbeithe. As we got below the cloud it warmed up, and even Vilma was down to just a base, mid-layer and down gilet! Once back at the hostel, we had a quick cuppa and snack, collected the gear we had left, said goodbye to Audrey, and set off for the Cluanie and the cars.
Now the walk from there over An Caorann Mor is wild and beautiful, but unfortunately dreadfully boggy. Add that to the fact we had heavy packs and legs that had been working for 9hrs already, and it would be fair to say we didn't exactly enjoy the walk out. It just goes on forever....and a wee bit longer than that! We made the Cluanie for 20:30, so only a wee bit outside our target time, but we joked that to look at a 12hr route in the comfort of your home weeks before seems fine - Once you have done it, you know you have earned your rest and ticks on the munro chart.
The steak and ale pie and pint in the Cluanie was a perfect end to a cracking weekend. Upper Glen Affric is not an easily won group of mountains, wild, remote and demanding. They feel all the better for it however, and I will remember that fog-bow summit for a good while. The company was excellent, and even despite that brutal walk out, I feel we may have some more mountain addicts in the making in our Lithuanian ladies. Welcome to the madness!