Last week I was working for Steven Fallon Mountain Guides over a long weekend on the Hebredean island of Rum, during which we did a full traverse of all 7 of the mountain tops which constitute the Rum Cuillin. For full blog, click on - http://www.stevenfallon.co.uk/blog/2018-07-06-rum.html
I have several munros close to home, living as I do in Stirling, and the most prominent are Ben Lomond to the West, Ben Chonzie to the North East and and Ben Vorlich and Stuc a'Chroin to the North. I have climbed the latter ones many time, usually taking the standard route in from Ardvorlich on Loch Earn, but I have also done them from Glen Ample over Ben Each. On the summits, I have always looked at the surprisingly wild country to the south, and the beckoning nature of the two ridges that bind the Gleann Dubh Coirein (The Valley of the little Black Coire), and promised myself that I would do them one day.
One thing that had put me off was the fact the bridge over the Keltie Burn had been washed away in a storm some years ago, and there were therefore two difficult burn crossings to be made in normal Scottish conditions...well, that and the expected bog once over the bealach at Meall na h-Iolaire. But here we were, the chance to scope out another route, excellent blue skies and the ground as dry as it was ever going to be. It's on!
I parked at the forestry road end a couple of kilometres past the tourist honey-pot of Bracklin Falls, (though I doubt there was much of a fall in these conditions!), and got out the bike to cycle as far as I could up the track. As I was doing so, I greeted a chap who was planning on camping out, and he informed me that Drummond Estates had reinstated the bridges. Hurrah! As we chatted, we spotted our first Red Kite of the day, and I was to have them circling overhead for many hours as the walk progressed, and added bonus. They weren't the only things in flight though - The heat had all but suppressed the midges, but the horseflies, a.k.a. clegs in Scotland were out in force. I had liberally applied Smidge, which seemed to stop them biting, but by heck they were annoying until over 600m or so.
I dumped the bike at Arivurichardich, where some guys have apparently rented the old bothy and have done it up for stalking and the likes, and set off up the feint path. Though it is shown on the OS map as going right over to Loch Earn, it doesn't. It sets off up my panned descent route at the bealach, so it was off piste after I reached the high point at 580m, and I lost height as I waded through the swamp grass to gain the SE ridge of Ben Vorlich. It was very hot indeed, and I was glad of the 3 litres of water I brought. I didn't want to bank on the burns, knowing that even if they weren't dry, they would be very brown and acidic. The Allt na Dubh Coirein was exceptionally low, more resembling things I have seen in Argentina than Scotland!
There is nothing exciting about the slog up the ridge, other than it's remoteness and expanding views, though the kites added entertainment, as did another hovering bird of prey that you may be able to identify but I am not good at my birds :( Before long I was at the summit at 985m, which I predictably shared with folks coming up the standard route. The views were expansive indeed. I chatted with one chap, and said that I was planning to try some scrambling on the connecting ridge to Stuc a'Chroin, and he said he'd watch me first before trying it! I had once backed of before when I had my young son with me, and know of a couple of fatalities and injuries there, so I planned to be cautious. There is a much easier path that takes the shallow coire to the NW, but I knew the other path, though steep and loose, is easy enough if I decided to back off.
Once at the foot of the boulders, I elected to follow the path to the second terrace, but could not find any decent rock to start on. Maybe a little higher? And so it went - Every time I went higher, looking for a decent place to start, I was faced with loose piles of choss and vegetation. I suspect there may be cleaner rock around to the SE side, but that has much greater consequences in the case of a slip. Eventually I made the top, and the cairn memorial to a member of Falkirk Mountaineering Club. I peered over the edge to see if I could spot a decent route, but simply put, I couldn't. I am sure there may be a safe-ish route, but I don't think it's a coincidence that there is little in the way of a route description anywhere, as it is a pile of teetering blocks waiting to fall in my opinion.
I rested a minute at the summit a little further on, slightly miffed at my cowardice but knowing that I had made the right decision, when I was joined by the chap from Vorlich who concurred on the scrambling decision, and Bill, (the chap I had met at the start of the day) who had ascended my planned descent route from his camp. We decided to wander down together, and had a lovely chat about mutual folks we knew from our days in the Carronbridge Hotel and further afield in the hills. Folks of Bill's advanced years (76) who are still on the hills always inspire me to keep going. Well done to him!
I was so glad of the bike for the final few kilometres of the descent, and even more glad of the cold beer in the garden when I got home after the unusually short drive. A great day's recce, and a very satisfying route.
Last week was spent walking in the Northern and Western section of the Cairngorms, basing ourselves in Glen Feshie. The weather was very warm indeed, and on one day we even set off at 05:30am in order to be up and down our objective before it got too hot. Even then it was 20c on the summit! Not a problem we often have in the UK, let alone the highest area of upland in the country.
What was noticeable was the lack of wildlife, and I can only surmise that it must have been keeping in the shade....that is except for black flies. They had a field day in the light winds, and our heads resembled 'Pig Pen' from Schultz's Charlie Brown cartoons!
Still, I am not moaning. Off to Rum this weekend coming, so hoping for good conditions to continue.
A splendid week on a 'Luxury Glencoe and Highland Perthshire' trip. Stayed at the Fortingall Hotel and Glencoe House. My word, not my normal haunts, but most pleasant!
After a week of cycling around Skye and the Inner Hebrides in good conditions, the weather couldn't possibly hold....could it? Well, yes it did. Gordon and me had our next instalment in the final few munros of his campaign, and we had wisely booked Angus the Mullardoch boat man for a return trip up the loch.
The morning was simply beautiful. Still, warm and fragrant with the gorse in bloom in earnest. We made the drive along to the Mullardoch dam from Cannich, and joined a boat full of folks who were being dropped off at various points around the loch. It was idyllic to be whizzing across the millpond-like surface, knowing all the effort it was saving, with the mountains all around, still sporting some fair old snow patches.
We were aiming for An Socach and An Riabhachan, and Angus dropped us and a couple of others just past the narrowing of the loch, so we made a rising traverse onto An Socach's SE ridge. We noticed quite quickly that there were ticks on our clothes as we passed through the nascent bracken, and I mentioned it to a few of the folk I saw in shorts. Watch out!
It was incredibly hot work ascending, with my thermometer reading never less than 24c, and up to 30 c in the coire out of the breeze! There was also the largets hatching of mayfly that I have ever seen, and they plagued us almost to the top. Tickly but benign little beasties. We played leap frog with a chap who kept resting in the heat, and had a good chat with him on the first summit. He was tired, but planning all four munros. We aimed to descend after the second one, and even that one Gordon wasn't sure if he had not done it before, but we wanted to be safe, not sorry, so bagged it.
The steep grassy descent into the Gairbh Coire would have been very tricky if wet, but it was as dry as a stick, so we made steady progress down to the burn, and then picked up a very rough track back down to the stalker's building at the loch side, where Angus was waiting for us. It was great relief to get on the water and get a breeze in our face, let alone the ease of getting back to the dam.
We flew around the route in a very respectable 6hrs, but it's fair to say the heat took its toll. Not many munros left now Gordon...... :)
OK, it's not mountaineering or even hill walking, but I had a great time last week on this job. The pics speak for themselves.
Monday and Tuesday I was assisting Gordon on some of his last few munros as he comes to the end of his campaign. We had fantastic conditions Monday on lonely Sgurr Mor, and even had a relatively dry tramp out into Glen Kingie and a trouble-free crossing of the burn - Most unusual!
Tuesday was 'Conditions Normal' for Scotland in April, with gusting wind, rain, sleet and hail. Luckily we only had one of the group known as the Rough Bounds, so made a hit-and-run assault before it really turned nasty.
These hills are never easy, and require a lot of effort to get in and out of, not least the interminable Loch Arkaig road!
Good luck on your last few Gordon, and see you at Cannich soon.....
Jon and his gang had a great few days with me in Skye last spring, and asked me whether I could recommend a venue for a subsequent trip. I suggested Glencoe, based at the Clachaig of course. Being spring, I was hoping for some dry conditions, and maybe even a little snow to show the area off at its best, and I wasn’t disappointed – The late falls in March and the following cool temperatures meant that the higher hills looked positively Alpine. The challenge with that however was that few of the team had axe or crampon experience, so a little coaching was required.
For the first day we chose the two summits of the Buachaille Etive Beag, (the Little Herdsman of Etive), as they have good access, are lower than the Bidean massif, and therefore less snowy, and a good introduction to the area. We made quick progress up the good (though unfortunately eroding, given its age) path to the bealach, and then after plenty of photographs, (two of the guys are professional photographers), turned NE and up the rocky broad ridge to the first summit. The views were predictably fabulous, and much snapping ensued. It is always good to be able to sit back and let the vistas speak for themselves, rather than having to enthuse about their presence through a veil of mist or rain, assuring folks that it really IS breathtaking, if only they could see it! It was 360 degree mountain beauty. Wonderful.
The view SW was over to our second, more snowy summit of Stob Dubh, framed as it is to the eye by Loch Etive and Stob Coire Sgreamhach. This evidently called for some ‘skills’, and after descending to the bealach, we had a quick-fire session on step-kicking, self-belay and ice axe arrest, which the chaps literally threw themselves into with gusto. I was very pleased with their enthusiasm and quick-learning, so was happy to press on higher. The ridge to Stob Dubh is not terribly narrow, but under snow and old cornices it is sufficient to get the pulse racing on the last few steps, especially for those not keen on any exposure at all. Again, despite some wobbly knees, everyone made it up steadily and safely, their progress a credit to them.
After many, many photos, (and why not, it was worth it!), we made a pleasant and steady descent for a celebratory, ‘isotonic’ pint, dinner and then Saturday night in the Clachaig. It was packed as usual, but the duet were too quiet and genteel for the noisy chatting crowd, and it wasn’t until they ramped it up around 11pm that the usual jigs and reeling took place amongst the more restless. Still a good night nevertheless, but not up to ‘normal’ Clachaig standards I am afraid.
Sunday promised to be even better weather-wise, and didn’t disappoint. We did the round of Coire Lochan, up the NE ridge, down the NW and into the coire. It was simply splendid. Alpine in feel, the deep spring snow readily avalanching on slopes all around us as we ascended safe from any danger, but adding some real frisson, especially as we saw several off-piste ski tourers make daredevil descents on both Coire Lochan and off Bidean nam Bian. The route narrows towards the top, and some careful down-climbing is required on a little notch, made interesting by the snow cover. We chatted to a chap descending, who had opted to bypass this, but I judged that to be more dangerous on the wet and loose snow and rock, so we simply cleared the snow, uncovered the holds, and made a textbook crossing.
The way is then steep but simple, and before long we were on the large and spacious summit. I will just let the photos speak for themselves rather than rattle on more.
The descent West was done through virgin snow covering boulders, and I had some fun slipping and ploughing through to clear a good track for the team. Once past the top of Broad Gully all difficulties cease, and it was just a case of chat, photograph, slip and slide down, photograph, photograph, chat. I knew I had a happy team!
An exceptionally enjoyable trip for me, and I do believe for the guys too. The weather, the conditions, the location, the company, the craic - Unbeatable all. Thanks for all being such sports, and see you next year in Kintail.....please bring the weather with you again!
The next instalment of Paul's 'Highest Points of Europe' campaign is also the highest in Northern Europe and Scandinavia in particular, the Galdhopiggen, 2469m. It is in Norway, the Jotenhiemen national park, 4hrs drive North East of Oslo, and access is from Spiterstulen, a cross-country ski centre at the end of a long unclassified rubble road which gave Paul some 'moments' as we slid and wound our way upwards. Once there, the Visdal valley opened out, with wonderful views Southwards.
The only other folks there were four skiers, and that should maybe have given us a clue as to what was to follow - Although we were well into Spring, Norway (like Scotland) had had a lot of late snow, and there was a very deep covering all around. We hoped the slightly lower temperatures over night would have frozen things up a little, especially as we had at the last minute decided against our snowshoes. Big mistake. Huge.
As we left even the car park, we were immediately in soft, wet snow over our knees, and soon to our waist. It was almost impossible to make progress, and I despairingly suggested we give up, and try to hire some snow shoes. The problem was the long road back to 'town', (nowhere is particularly heavily populated over there), even if we did find some, as well as poor weather coming in that evening. One of Paul's strengths is his eternal optimism, and he suggested if we persevered, gained height, the snow may consolidate. To cut a long story short, it did, very gradually, but only after much wading and floundering. Also, the weather closed in, giving whiteout conditions regularly. Luckily there were a good few cairns just when you needed them, and we slowly made our way to the ridge at around 2000m.
The problem was the time it had taken. Only just over 2k, 900m of ascent in 4.5hours, and we still had 500m to go and we were rapidly running out of steam! Add on the zero visibility and things weren't looking good.
It's odd in situations like this, as sometimes what appears to be bad luck or misfortune actually is really serendipity. Paul suffered a strain to the calf, probably caused by him compensating for an ankle sprained a month or so ago. Add this to the exceptional effort required to make any progress, and we knew the game was up. Typically, we still stopped to eat and take on fluid, but within a very short time, we knew the only sensible thing was to descend.
This time were assisted by gravity, and despite needing to be wary of plunging in deeply and twisting a knee, we make steady progress downwards. We knew there would be the opportunity for some good labour-saving bum sliding opportunities lower down, and as we came out of the cloud into sunshine once more, our disappointment at a retreat turned to enjoyment as we whooped and giggled down on our bottoms. We met two young lads, lightly equipped, who thanked us for our trail-breaking efforts. They were resting, and my gut feel was that even using our steps, their wet feet and trousers, coupled with the thick weather on high may have curtailed their efforts too, but we wished them well and continued downwards.
What had concerned us higher up was the effort we knew would be involved in descending too, and despite the welcome slides, we also had much floundering and wading. It was fun, but very tiring. We made it back to the car by 16:40, but having only done half a job, we knew we had made the right decision.
That evening we drove along deserted Norwegian roads to Andalsnes, entering the famous Romsdal and under the super-impressive Trollvegen, or Troll wall. Breathtaking. Immense, Awe-inspiring. How the early pioneers in the 60's thought that was a justifiable climb defies me. Hats off to them! We saw several avalanches and a huge rockfall in the short time we lingered underneath it's foreshortened immensity, enough to leave us cold.
Paul had to rest his leg the next day, so I chose an easy stroll up the Rampestrecken, an unlikely viewing platform at 530m above Andalsnes. Little did I know! In summer, I am sure it's a steep yet simple bimble, aided as it is by some spectacular path-work built by Sherpas in the Himalayan style. I had to make a choice at one point, a Summer route, or a Winter? I reasoned that the residual snow determined Winter, but soon found myself on very steep terrain indeed, with large step-up moves protected by weather-worn fixed lines. I was in the no-man's-land between the seasons, and it was good value for what is ostensibly a tourist route! After rather more toil than I expected, I realised I had gone too high, and was above the ramp, on a route that turns into a via ferrata with some very exposed ground.
I descended quickly, using arm wraps to support me over the mini-bergschrunds, and as a consequence ended up with some nice weals for my trouble. So much for a tourist route :) The ramp was spectacular, and I regretted being alone, as it was a splendid photo opportunity.
The descent was more excellent path building, and the vertical drops explained why it wouldn't be a good route in full winter. I was soon down and showered and regaling Paul with tales of my derring do!
The rest of the trip was a boring drive along the NW coast, around fjords and mountains, over water by ferries and finally to Trondheim, where we saw the excellent Waterboys at the local Blues festival ;)
OK, Norway is eye-wateringly expensive, and not everyone's cup of tea with its rustic charm and lack of night life, but if you add the breathtaking scenery and wilderness experience, I suspect we'll be back for more than just the elusive Galdhopiggen.
Matt and Colm booked a couple of days with me a good while ago, and we chose the Cairngorms. The hope was for Alpine-like Spring ascents, crisp cramponing maybe over the denuding snow fields. What we got was a full-on winter’s day of epic proportions!
Mr. Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) forecasted bluebird day, using words such as ‘certain’ when assessing the chance of a cloud-free summit, so we chose an ascent of Ben Macdui from the ski centre, the normal problematic winter navigation not looking like being an issue. What we got was total clag as we passed the foot of Coire an Lochhain, which set in until lunchtime. I would not choose to go so far onto the plateau in total whiteout conditions, and I had to concentrate very hard on my bearings. I had to walk for 4k from P1083 on dead-reckoning, as there was no features whatsoever.
We were in snowshoes, as there had been a serious amount of snow over the proceeding few days, and we took it in turns when possible to break trail, as even the shoes sank into the deep powder. It would have been simply impossible to cover the ground we did without them. I must admit to being rather pleased when we judiciously checked the GPS at the point I said we had reached to find that I was 100% correct – I do this navigation game so often, but I still get a feeling of sorcery when it all comes together! The point we were at was at the penultimate steepening, just as you ascend off the plateau, and Lo!, the sun came out. Just reward for our efforts!
We marched happily to the summit, gawping and clicking our cameras at the now extensive views. Indeed, our exuberance with the views meant we took a detour to look over Loch A’an, which therefore resulted in lost height above Coire Domhain, a peek down the very steep and corniced Goat Track and finally a tired pull up the Cairngorm for Colm to bag the summit. Again, the views were spectacular, and wrapped against the cold NW we grabbed our last snack before the snowshoe-less descent down Windy Ridge.
A simply sublime day, with the unexpected poor conditions early on adding some frisson I suppose, though I was a bit miffed at the time. The longest and best day on snowshoes in the UK I have ever had. Tired legs all round in the pub!