A luxurious weekend away in the country – Steall Hut

Steall Hut, taken in February 2011.

Luxurious might be pushing it a little bit, but for £4 per person per night, Steall Hut is definitely well worth the money. After a recent refurbishment, the hut not only comes with a gas supply, but also a gas-powered generator and running water (provided the stream said water comes from isn’t frozen…). The hut is situated at the base of Steall Waterfalls, in the stunning surrounds of the tranquil Glen Nevis. Here, the Nevis river peacefully meanders along a the flat-bottomed valley, providing a perfect backdrop for a weekend’s get-away. The word Steall itself actually translates as “spout”, and the traditional name for the falls, An Steall Ban, means “white spout”, and the area itself contains a number of ruins of a past settlement.

The hut itself, owned by Lochaber Mountaineering Club, and also the path up Steall Gorge, managed by the John Muir Trust, have both seen upgrades in recent years. Most notably, new gas hobs have been installed, the previously-stolen generator replaced, and an arguably over-dramatic “Danger of Death” sign installed at the end of the public road and the start of the Steall Gorge path.

As is usually the case, we didn’t leave campus until gone 5pm on Friday, and so it was gone midnight when we started the half-hour walk in to the hut. The walk in involves an infamous wire bridge, which always seems much more daunting in the dark. After a quick discussion about the routes we were planning for the following day, we headed to bed.

Richard and myself had originally planned to do the Ring of Steall, but owing to the very windy weather forecast and the members of the group, we decided exposed scrambling probably wasn’t the best option for the day. Instead, I chose a horseshoe of Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnein Beag. Jim and Calum, who originally had planned to go climbing, instead opted for a scramble up the NE ridge of Binnein Mor, and Richard tagged along with them.

The walk in to the base of my route was a rather long 7km up the valley, and a few others who wanted an easier day tagged along until we started the ascent. We had started in the rain, but by the time we were half way up Sgurr Eilde Mor’s NE ridge, the clouds had started to lift and we started getting some great views. The descent route down the SW ridge was a bit hairier than I’d imagined. It started off with a narrow ridge, before deteriorating into a steep boulder/snow slope. Alex, who was new to crampons, did well to negotiate this steep section without too much difficulty.

We had a quick break at Coire nan Lochain, before picking up the obvious path leading to the col between Binnein Mor and Beag. The ascent of Binnein Beag’s broad southern shoulder involved a bit of scrambling up boulder fields and rocky steps, but it was only made tricky by the amount of ice that was about (we had opted to remove our crampons due to the lack of snow on the ridge). The shoulder was in a great position and offered a considerable amount of exposed, making it fun, exciting and well worthwhile. The summit, whilst being quite broad, is in a prominent position and offers great views in all directions. We spent a while refueling and taking in said views.

Summit of Binnein Beag

The walk out seemed to take an age, and we eventually arrived back at the hut at 8pm, pretty knackered and ready for an evening of cheese, wine, port and whisky.

The next day, we awoke to a perfectly clear sky and quite unbelievable visibility. We’d talked about the two Munros on the western end of the Mamores the evening before, and with the weather being as it was, any achey legs and tired eyes were ignored in favour of another day out in the hills. Jim, Richard, Calum, Laura and myself were the only ones that fancied the option, and so we set off at 9am back to the minibus, dumped our heavier gear and drove further down the glen.

Great views across to Ben Nevis from Mullach nan Coirean

The ascent of Mullach nan Coirean’s northern ridge was arduous, not just because of the day before but also because the sun made it quite hot work. We were pleased to find a well-made paved path (described by Laura as “cute” in reference to it looking a bit like a garden path!) weaving its way up through the forest at the base of the ridge – this certainly made things easier going.

As I thought might be the case, as soon as we reached the summit plateau, we were faced with a bitterly cold wind. We didn’t hang around too long – just long enough to take a few photos and grab a bite to eat. Jim described it as one, if not the, coldest day this winter, and I’d be inclined to agree. The weather closed in slightly as we traversed the ridge to Stob Ban, but fortunately the views still remained when we reached the summit.

Stob Ban’s northern ridge

One of the main reasons for doing this walk, for myself at least, was Stob Ban’s northern ridge. Jim, Calum and myself had been over it almost exactly a year ago, in the pouring rain and with zero visibility. Even then, we got a good sense of exposure and I made a mental note to myself that I must do it again in good weather. The ridge starts with a narrow exposed section with a little bit of scrambling, before descending steeply over a number of tricky rock steps. Last time, we found it awkward and time consuming as the rain had made the ridge very slippy, but this time everything was frozen and with crampons on it felt much easier. One of the aforementioned rock steps had a bit of ab tat (a piece of rope tied around a rock left behind by someone to abseil off) and so I thought I’d test out the club’s new scrambling rope that I dragged around the walk with me, and also practice South African abseiling before my Mountain Leader Assessment in a few weeks.

Looking back on Stob Ban from the ridge

It started snowing quite heavily on the way down, leaving a good thick layer on the already-frozen ground, which was quite lethal. Added to that the fact that we were a bit behind schedule and so making a fast descent, this resulted in numerous falling overs, including a quite comical one where Calum seemed to end up facing completely the wrong direction.

The drive home was quite eventful as well, and at times we were in a complete white-out on the motorway – something I’ve never experienced before (and don’t wish to experience again!).

A weekend in Glen Nevis and a day on the CMD Arete

I’ve been waiting to climb Ben Nevis for years now and I finally got my chance this weekend with the Hiking Club’s trip up to Steall Hut in Glen Nevis. The hut itself is owned by Lochaber Mountaineering Club and is a rather basic cottage, boasting gas and running (cold) water but not much else. Apparently they had a generator but it got stolen a number of years ago. It’s the perfect kind of place for me, in a beautiful location a few miles walk up the glen from the end of the road and across the river by a wire bridge. I think I may have fallen in love with the place.

The wire bridge

The wire bridge. Crossing it upside down is optional!

Steall Hut

Steall Hut in Glen Nevis

The journey to Scotland wasn’t without incident. We had particularly high winds and the going was very slow up the M6 and M74 – down to 40mph in places. The amount of cars pulled over on the hard shoulder because of the winds was unbelievable. Because of this we didn’t get to the hut until 2 am and weren’t in bed until 3 am after settling in and having a wee dram of whiskey.

Day One

Up early-ish the next morning to see a noticeable change for the better in the weather. The wind had died down and the rain had disappeared, which was good as the plan was to ascend Ben Nevis via the CMD Arete – a route that I didn’t fancy in the howling winds of the night before!

Start point: Steall Hut, Glen Nevis, NN 178 684
Summits: Carn Mor Dearg, Ben Nevis
Distance: 7.7 miles / 12.4 kilometres
Ascent: 4480 feet / 1370 metres

The route started following the well-trod path up Glen Nevis alongside the Water of Nevis, before branching left up one of its tributaries just before Steall ruins. This brought us into a quite stunning flat bottomed valley between the CMD Arete and Aonach Beag. At this point the sun came out and gave some quite magical views over the Mamores to the south.

The Mamores

Sun breaking through the clouds with views out over the Mamores

The Mamores

Looking out over the Mamores

The valley raised to form a col between Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Mor, giving even more spectacular views. The snow had started to harden at this point and it was time to don our crampons and brace our ice axes.

The Mamores

The Mamores from higher up in the valley

The route up to CMD was particularly steep and hard work. 400 metres vertically were climbed in 800 metres horizontally, which would have been tough even without the snow and ice. The views from CMD over its Arete were worth it, although the wind was so ferocious up there that we didn’t hang about for long. Fortunately it died down somewhat whilst we were on the Arete and I managed a couple of photographs towards the end. The snow conditions were ideal for me, nice and frozen making the crampons as effective as possible. There was a lot of water ice frozen on the rocks but it didn’t pose too much of a problem.

The Arete is a fantastic ridge, narrow enough to offer fantastic views and a little bit of exhilaration but wide enough to make you feel comfortable. It’s long as well, which adds to its appeal. I’ve never been up Ben Nevis before but I’m very glad that my first time was via this brilliant route.

The CMD Arete

Crossing the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.

CMD Arete

The end of the CMD Arete from half way along

The ascent to the summit of “The Ben” saw our first cloud of the day and make navigation rather tricky in the near whiteout conditions. Fortunately we have an extremely competent leader within the group who was able to pace out our ascent and descent with pinpoint accuracy.

Summit of Ben Nevis

Myself on the summit of Ben Nevis. Apologies about the quality, but it wouldn't be the same without a summit shot!

The descent down was in the dark and followed a short ridge emerging at the start of the flat bottomed valley we started the walk in. It was then just a case of retracing our footsteps back to the hut for a few beers, some home-brewed blackberry wine and dehydrated vegetable tikka and rice (yum yum!). Unbelievably we were out for 11 hours!

Day Two

The next day we took it easy and took a leisurely wander up the glen, having a look at Steall waterfall along the way.

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall across the Waters of Nevis

Glen Nevis

Looking down Glen Nevis towards Steall Hut

Inside Steall Hut

Inside Steall Hut

Steall Hut

Steall Hut

Overall we all had a fantastic weekend and will definitely be returning next year. I highly recommend the hut to anyone wanted a bit of peace and tranquility – it’s a fantastic place to get away from the stresses and worries of life.

A sunny Sunday stroll over Striding Edge

This was a walk I did with the Hiking Club at uni on 12 December 2010, but I enjoyed it so much (and got quite a few half-decent photos) that I thought I’d post a bit about it here. Helvellyn is famed as the second highest mountain in England, and that fame certainly makes it a popular choice. I’ve been warned that during summer Striding Edge becomes the Lake District’s equivalent to the hiker’s motorway that is Snowdonia’s Crib Goch. Understandably so though, as it is a beautiful and rewarding ridge with an equally rewarding summit at the end.

Start point: Glenridding, NY 385 169
Summits: Birkhouse Moor, Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Raise
Distance: 8.9 miles / 14.3 kilometres
Ascent: 3300 feet

Believe it or not, this was my first ever time along Striding Edge and on top of Helvellyn. It’s one of those hills that I’ve had in my sights for years but have never got around to. As such I was very-much looking forward to this walk and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint. The area had been in full winter conditions the week before and I was initially annoyed that the majority of the snow had thawed when we got there, but in hindsight it was probably for the best that my first time over Striding Edge wasn’t laden with ice axe and crampons.

Although there were clouds in the sky, the sun still shone through and we got a fantastic view out over Ullswater whilst making the ascent to Birkhouse Moor. Unfortunately this was marred somewhat by a dirt-biker that was up there churning up the countryside.

Ullswater

Ullswater and Glenridding from the ascent to Birkhouse Moor

Striding Edge looked absolutely stunning bathed in the sunshine, a sight that no photograph can do justice to. It was a real pleasure and I felt almost a privilege that my first time across the ridge was in such glorious weather. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, despite patches of verglass making it a little tricky. We thought that crampons might be needed for the final slog up to the summit but as it turned out convenient steps had been cut in the snowy areas.

Helvellyn, Red Tarn and Swirral Edge as seen from the base of Striding Edge

A few of our group headed off up one of the gullies on the face of Helvellyn – not for the faint hearted!

Striding Edge

Striding Edge in the sunshine

Striding Edge

Looking back on Striding Edge

Helvellyn

The final drag up onto Helvellyn

The summit of Helvellyn offered some lovely views back over Striding Edge and Red Tarn. It was, as predicted, rather busy up there.

Striding Edge and Red Tarn

The view of Striding Edge and Red Tarn from the summit

Summit of Helvellyn

View from summit of Helvellyn

Summit of Helvellyn

Cornice on the summit of Helvellyn

Apparently a girl from the University of London fell through a cornice on the summit of Helvellyn a few weeks before we were there. She was okay, but unfortunately in subsequent weeks two men fell to their deaths on Swirral Edge, unrelated incidents whilst the ridge was in full winter conditions. These tragedies highlight the danger mountains can present, as well as the care that needs to be taken.

Shelter on the summit of Helvellyn

Shelter on the summit of Helvellyn. Those snow patches were as icy as they look!

It wasn’t long before the clouds came in however, and by the time we’d finished our lunch we were completely immersed. From Helvellyn we went on to Raise. The clouds did clear but it was dark by the time they did, so no opportunities for photographs. It was a rather bright night and despite the darkness we managed to finish the walk without needing to reach for the head torches!

We finished in the Traveller’s Rest pub, which – to my dismay – boasted beers from one of my favourite breweries, Hesket Newmarket. The dismay was due to the fact that I was driving the minibus back and couldn’t drink, hence ending up with a cup of instant coffee, which along with the log fire, was still very welcome after a long cold day in the hills.