Langden from the Trough of Bowland

The closest hills to Lancaster are the Bowland fells, and whilst we go there plenty enough for runs and bimbles, we don’t often make a full day out of it. My Mum and Dad were coming up to Lancaster for the day on Wednesday 11 December, and so I thought it would be a good opportunity to explore a valley I’d been looking at on the map for quite some time. Namely Langden, rising from the Trough of Bowland just-north of Dunsop Bridge.

The  day was one of those cold, crisp and clear winter days, and despite the sunshine a biting wind reminded us it definitely wasn’t summer. A good track leads up alongside Langden Brook for a few miles, before reaching the site of “Langden Castle (ruin)” (as marked on the map). The castle turned out not to be a castle at all, but a small stone building that definitely wasn’t in ruins. After a spot of lunch, we worked our way south-westwards on a good path that traversed its way up Fiensdale before throwing us out onto the expansive moorland at the top of Fiensdale Head.

“Langden Castle (ruin)” marks the spot of this building on OS maps

Looking down Langden Beck

Looking down Langden Beck

 

Walking up Fiensdale onto Fiensdale Head

Walking up Fiensdale onto Fiensdale Head

Fortunately, a fence was in place to guide us across the moor, and a vague path existed either side of it. A few flag stones were laid here-and-there, but for the most part we had to negotiate peat hags and vast bogs, which I have admit that I quite enjoy doing – I think for the same reason that I enjoy stupidly steep slopes, that “it’s a challenge”. The views aren’t amazing from up on the Bowland summits – they are too plateau-like for that – but you do get a real feeling of wilderness, despite being relatively close to civilisation. We descended via Bleadale and got back just about in the light.

The Glenfeshie Munros and Loch an Eilein

‘Tis the eve before Christmas (actually, it will be the wee hours of Christmas morn by the time I finish writing this post!), and to get you in a Christmassy mood and distract you from the storms hitting the UK at the moment, here’s a post about the snowy Cairngorms!

I still stand by the statement from my post about a backpacking trip to Braemar in February, that the Cairngorms is one of my favourite places in the UK. I love the wilderness, the vast scale of the mountainous terrain and the unique flora and fauna, from glens full of distinctive Scotts Pines to snow-white ptarmigans camouflaged against their snowy backdrops.

For the second year on a row, the Hiking Club decided to put on a winter skills course – provided by Paddy Cave from Mountain Circles – to introduce newer members to the world of winter walking, taking place on the weekend of Saturday 7 December. The rest of us took the opportunity to get out and do some quality walking in the area. Initially people had been talking about all sorts of routes, from Braeriach to Bynack More, but in the end we decided it was much easier to all head down to Glenfeshie for the two Munros to its east. The most northerly one, Sgorr Gaoith (aka Sgorr Gooey), a group of had done the year before, but the most southerly, Mullach Clach a Bhlair, most of us hadn’t. Some guys opted for an anticlockwise route (Mullach Clach a Bhlair first), with the option to miss out Sgorr Gaoith. Lorna, Imogen and Darren opted for Sgorr Gaoith first (which they hadn’t previously done) and in a bid to prove it’s not just about the bagging, I tagged along.

Despite the relatively good forecast, the clouds blanketed anything above 600m and there was a fairly strong wind to contend with. We’d had snow down to campsite level on Friday night, but the temperature quickly rose as the day progressed, and by the time we returned on the Saturday evening, it had all melted. After the usual excessive faffage on the campsite, we finally left at 8.30am and we were walking for soon after 9am. A good path lead us on a pleasant walk up through the Inshriach Forest and onto the western shoulder of Sgorr Gaoith. The path soon petered out as we made our way up the shoulder and onto the summit, using the opportunity of a partial white-out to practice our navigation skills. It was more micro-nav all the way across the plateau to Mullach Clach a Bhlair, and we made use of pacings, bearings, timings and plenty of contour traversing (namely around Carn Ban Mor) to reach the final summit.

The descent to Glenfeshie was via a 4×4 track that runs nearly to the summit of Mullac Clach a Bhlair, meaning we were down in the valley in less than an hour, and managed to make it back to the minibus in just enough light to save using head torches.

Summit of Mullach Clach a Bhlair, complete with

Summit of Mullach Clach a Bhlair, complete with “auxiliary contour”.

Good track all the way down from the summit.

Good track all the way down from the summit.

Loch an Eilein and the best tea shop in Scotland

I had planned all along to go for a run on the Sunday, and choosing Loch an Eilein as the location for the venue fitted well with dropping some others who were going Corbett bagging north of Glenmore. Me and Lorna have been for a few walks around Loch an Eilein in the past and its one of my favourite places in the area; indeed, it got voted “Britain’s best picnic spot” back in 2010! My run comprised of the small hill Ord Ban (which offered surprisingly expansive views of the surrounding mountains), followed by a loop of the loch.

The rest of the day was spent in a fantastic little tea shop called The Potting Shed, drinking plenty of coffee and sampling some of the impressive number cakes they had on offer. The place was charming and I’d highly recommend a visit to anyone in the area!

An extended Coledale Horseshoe run

Extended Coledale Horseshoe route

Extended Coledale Horseshoe route

There aren’t many places in the Lake District that I haven’t explored yet, but until a few weekends ago, the hills around Coledale was such an area. Whilst I’m not a Wainwright bagger by any stretch of the imagination, I do admit that I’m generally fond of ticking things off lists and my chosen list, in England and Wales at least, is John and Anne Nuttall‘s list of mountains in England and Wales over 2000ft (with a prominence of 50ft or more). There are 443 of them altogether, and I’m about halfway there.

I’d chosen to run the route, which encompassed none-less-than twelve Nuttalls, to see how my fitness was fairing up on a big mountain route. It worked out at around 24km with 1600m ascent, and took 3 hours and 8 minutes. In stark contrast to previous weekends in Scotland, the weather was incredibly mild, and despite being in shorts and a t-shirt I still found that I was far too hot hacking up onto the north-eastern ridge of Grisedale Pike. The views were non-existent but the running still very pleasant along the ridge over Hopegill Head and out to Whiteside and back. There were momentary lapses in the cloud cover and I did got some good views out over north-western Cumbria. Grasmoor was a bit of a slog, as was the out-and-back to Whiteless Pike; I’d chosen to do Whiteless not because it lies on the natural horseshoe (because it doesn’t, at all!), but because I’d never done it before.

My original plan was to run back over Scar Crags and Causey Pike (two more Nuttalls!), but that would have resulted in a couple of kilometres up the road, and so instead I descended via Outerside, which is instead I believe a Wainwright! This part of the route, despite my aching legs, was the most enjoyable of the day, probably due to the fact that I was finally out of the clouds. All-in-all, a very enjoyable day and I’ll definitely be back in better weather.

The legendary Aonach Eagach

The words “Aonach Eagach” are enough to send shivers down the spine of many a hillwalker, conjuring up images up knife-edge pinnacles with stupendous exposure extending mile after mile after mile, finished off with all the complexities and challenges that the Scottish weather has to offer. Oft-described as “Crib Goch on steroids” and widely heralded as the “best ridge on mainland Britain” (it is presumably the Cuillin ridge on Skye that wins the overall “best ridge in Britain” title), the (in)famous Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe is a grade 2/3 scramble running between the summits of Am Bodach and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, the highlight of which is a kilometre-long exposed section of “crazy pinnacles” from Meall Dearg to Stob Coire Leith. It is this section that gives the ridge its reputation and under a covering of snow makes the route a real mountaineering challenge, with a winter grade of II/III in the hardest of conditions. The name “Aonach Eagach” translates to “notched ridge”, which is an apt if not somewhat underwhelming description.

Lorna, Imogen and myself decided that last weekend’s Lancaster University Hiking Club trip to Glencoe would be a perfect opportunity to do the ridge, and so with the sentiments of the previous paragraph running through my head, I found myself on the slog up Am Bodach at 8.30am last Saturday morning, after arriving in Glencoe at 11.30pm the evening before. Lorna and Imogen had done the ridge before, in some deep and wet snow back in 2010, whereas it was my first time. On paper, the ridge shouldn’t have posed any problems for the three of us – in fact I’d read that it gets its grade more due to exposure and commitment, rather than technicality, and we’re all comfortable with exposure and used to commitment (the Alps is good training for that!) – but somehow the legacy and aura of the ridge still made me a little tentative.

Imogen tackling the first of the difficulties

Imogen tackling the first of the difficulties after Meall Dearg

We’d packed climbing gear, comprising a half-rope, a few nuts and hexes, lots of slings and the usual harness, helmet and so on. In the summer, the ridge is a sole-able scramble, however in the winter it is more common to move together on a rope and even pitch certain parts. We weren’t entirely sure how much snow was up there, but had imagined it would be a lot icier than it was.  Crampons were donned before the first tricky steps down at the start of the ridge, but we decided to leave the harnesses off for the moment.

The hardest parts of the ridge were probably the down climbs (as demonstrated nicely by Lorna here!).

The hardest parts of the ridge were probably the down climbs (as demonstrated nicely by Lorna here!)

The ridge looking rather ominous ahead

The ridge looking rather ominous ahead

The snow wasn’t too deep, and there wasn’t too much ice, making it easier going than we’d imagined. We soon found ourselves overtaking a roped party on the summit of Meall Dearg, before tackling the pinnacled section that, by that time, I was very-much-so looking forward to. It didn’t disappoint. The exposure was a-plenty (bar the clouds obscuring the view) and the scrambling challenging but extremely fun and long-lasting. I’ll spare the details, save to say that it lived up to its reputation as the best ridge in mainland Britain. We ended up taking our climbing gear for walkies, though others on the ridge were roped up and we noticed some newly-placed ab tat along the way.

Lorna and Imogen on the

Lorna and Imogen on the “crazy pinnacles”

The early start was worth it, as we were back down at the campsite whilst it was still light, at just after 4pm. We bumped into the guys that we overtook in the Clachaig later on, and they hadn’t got down until 7pm, after descending Clachaig Gully. The ridge itself took us 3.5 hours from summit to summit.

Looking back on the ridge

Looking back on the ridge

Sgorr Dhearg’s NE ridge

The scrambling fun didn’t stop after the Aonach Eagach! Lorna had suggested doing Sgorr Dhear’s NE ridge, and coincidently a few others had independently been thinking the same thing, so a fairly big group of around ten of us set off early on the Sunday morning. The ridge, which gets a winter grade of I, was exposed and not altogether straightforward in places, and to steal a phrase from the guidebook we were using, had “a real mountaineering ambience”. Other rather apt phrases from said guidebook describe it as an “easy but invigorating scramble” with “exposed aerial passages”. This all made the slog up to the ridge from sea level seem worth it in the end.

Ascending Sgorr Dhearg's NE ridge en masse

Ascending Sgorr Dhearg’s NE ridge en masse

The impressive head wall of Sgorr Dhearg

The impressive head wall of Sgorr Dhearg

The morning was overcast, but the sun did make an afternoon appearance as we were making our descent. By the time we were setting off back to Lancaster, the sky was clear! All-in-all, another brilliant weekend in Glencoe. Bring on next year!