La Grande Moucherolle, Vercors Plateau

The weather forecast was pretty dismal for second weekend that I had in Grenoble, and so a weekend trip to bag another Alpine peaks were out of the question! Instead, I turned my attention to a smaller but equally as impressive peak in the immediate vicinity of Grenoble: La Grande Moucherolle.

La Grande Moucherolle, Vercors Plateau

The public transport around Grenoble and its suburbs is fantastic, with frequent bus services reaching the base of many good walks in the area. We had been given a ticket pre-loaded with ten TAG journeys on urban buses and trams, and when planning for the second weekend I was there, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that I could get as far as les Saillants-du-Gua (about an hour away by bus) using the ticket on the number 17 bus. There is also another “Flex” bus service from les Saillants to Prélenfrey, but this has to be booked in advance (and owing to the ever-changing weather forecast I hadn’t got around to planning a route until the Friday evening – too late to book!). This left me with 1900m of ascent to the summit of my objective for the day – La Grande Moucherolle – and I decided this would be worth it to make the most of the free transport.

The forecast was pretty terrible, and the rain was meant to start around midday at the latest. Hence, I opted for an early start, and after catching the 7am bus from Trois Dauphins, I was walking by 8am. The first part of the route was nothing but a drag – for the sake of saving time and getting into the mountains as quickly as possible, I’d opted to walk along the road. A few hours and 600m of ascent later, I arrived in Prélenfrey, already feeling tired. Fortunately, my route then took me off-road and wound its way up through forest tracks to eventually reach the Barquette des Clos, a small shelter perched on the impressive Balcon Est. I was relying on there being a source of water at the shelter, as I had read previously, but upon reaching the so-called source I was dismayed to find it was completely dry. I decided to press on, but keep a careful eye on how much I was drinking. The rain that was forecast hadn’t materialised either, and the sun had made an appearance, making the lack of water even more frustrating.

The beautiful Balcon Est path, looking southwards down the edge of the Vercors Plateau

My route to la Grande Moucherolle was via the Col des Deux Soeurs, which is gained via a loose scree gully between the Deux Soeurs, with a few rocky steps of British grade I scrambling standard. There are vague signposts to the col, but they are not necessarily to be relied upon. From the Barquette des Clos, the best route is to follow the Balcon Est for a few kilometres until you are directly above a refuge at the top of the Col de l’Arzelier telesieges. Here, a good path branches off right and zigzags its way up the grassy slopes beneath the cliffs of the Deux Souers. Upon reaching the base of the cliffs, it traverses northwards back towards the col. A signpost marks the obvious start to the route up to the col. It isn’t until you reach the base of these cliffs that you truly realise their scale, which is quite breathtaking and also intimidating, especially when traversing under then.

Traversing under the Deux Soeurs

Traversing under the Deux Soeurs

The gully to the col didn’t pose too many difficulties, but was a little loose in places. I had a bite to eat once at the col, enjoying the unique limestone landscape that makes up the Vercors plateau, before taking a vague path that lead to the base of the eastern ridge up la Grande Moucherolle, a ridge which warrants an Alpine grade of F, and felt around I/II British scrambling grade. It is a little exposed in places, especially at the top, but there are quite a few options to limit the exposure. I couldn’t see any need for a rope, unless your party is particularly inexperienced.

Looking back down the route to the col

Looking back down the route to the col

La Grande Moucherolle from the Col des Deux Soeurs

La Grande Moucherolle from the Col des Deux Soeurs

The eastern ridge of la Grande Moucherolle

The eastern ridge of la Grande Moucherolle

The summit commands an extensive view southwards across the Vercors plateau, and despite being very tired from the climbing and dehydrated from my lack of water, I decided the it was definitely the worth the ascent. It helped that I had the summit to myself, and I spent quite a while taking in the view. The time was now mid-afternoon and I was conscious that the last bus back of the day was at 7pm. With this is mind, I threw away my original plan of descending via the Pas de l’Oeille, and instead went back the same way as I ascended.

The summit

Looking southwards down the edge of the Vercors Plateau

Looking southwards down the edge of the Vercors Plateau

The descent dragged on and on, and by the time I reached les Saillants, I was tired and completely dehydrated. I hadn’t paid too much attention to the actual distance of the route – as I previously mentioned, the planning was a bit last minute – and so I was very surprised that when I had a closer look at the map that it came to a shade under 30km. No wonder my legs were aching! I had a quick coffee in a coffee opposite the bus stop, before catching the 6pm bus back. Strangely, the weather had stayed dry all day, and did so until the minute I stepped back inside my appartment – perfect!

Aiguille de Goléon

During my time in Grenoble (see this post), I trying to make the most of every opportunity I got to get out into the surrounding mountains. One of my objectives was to get at least one Alpine route done, and after some extensive research, a guy on the UKC forums suggested that the Aiguille de Goléon’s voie normalle from La Grave would be suitable as a solo ascent. As I was out on my own, the prerequisites for any route I did were that it was technically easy enough to climb without a rope, and also that any glaciers crossed were (relatively) uncrevassed and considered “safe”. Aiguille de Goléon fitted this description perfectly, having only a small uncrevassed glacier and a long, exposed but technically easy (maybe UK scrambling grade II, UIAA I) ridge to the summit.

Conveniently, there is a coach service that runs from Grenoble to Briancon, via La Grave. I picked up a ticket from Grenoble’s Gare Routiere on the Saturday morning (at the rather steep price of €17.35 for a single) and jumped on board the 11:45am coach, which got me to La Grave for 1:15pm. There is a road that takes you right up the valley to Valfroide, but I unfortunately had to walk this section. I didn’t really mind though, as it was a pleasant walk with plenty of lovely scenery and quaint hamlets along the way. Clouds started rolling in on the zig-zagging ascent to the Refuge de Goléon, and for a moment I thought that it might rain. I didn’t stop at the refuge, but instead carried on for a few more kilometres up to the end of the valley, past the Lac du Goléon and unique marsh-lands that lie beyond it.

Lovely bivvy spot for the evening

Lovely bivvy spot for the evening

The clouds started to clear somewhat as I set up my bivvy. I went for a quick walk up the first part of the route to make my life easier in the darkness of the next morning, before retiring to my sleeping bag for a cold night’s sleep.

I awoke to a thin layer of ice over my belongings, and was very glad I’d packed my down jacket, which stayed on for a good proportion of the ascent. The route didn’t really require quite as early an “Alpine start” as the 4.30am that I chose, but I wanted to be at least nearly on the ridge for the sunrise. This paid off, because after initially getting lost on the morraines (I’m seriously getting worried about my cairn-following abilities, after the Pointe de la Réchasse incident as well), I was treated to the most spectacular sunrise just as I reached the ridge. The route to the ridge was mainly on rocky glacial morraine, with a small uncrevassed glacier to reach the ridge.

Sun rising as I reached the ridge

Sun rising as I reached the ridge

Fantastic gradient of colours in the sky

Gradient of colours in the sky

I’ve seen some good cloud inversions in my time, but the one that I was treated to whilst scrambling my way up to the summit was undoubtedly the most spectacular I’ve ever witnessed. At first, the clouds were bathed in a rich yellow light and everything around was painted golden. As the sun rose, the yellows were replaced by a vividly blue sky with crystal-clear white clouds beneath. The odd cloud forming interesting shapes on the horizon just added to the picture-perfect views. The position of the ridge certainly helped: On the left-hand side the views extended for out to the Mont Blanc range, whilst on the right the much-closer Écrins National Parc showed off it’s highest peaks. To top it all off, the scrambling was good fun and the rock quality surprisingly sound. There were plenty of exposed sections which made the views seem even more stunning.

Barre des Écrins and la Meije on the other side of the ridge

Barre des Écrins and la Meije on the other side of the ridge

Looking back down the ridge

Looking back down the ridge

Even though it was bitterly cold on the summit, I made a point of hanging around and taking in the views. Descending the ridge included a few small sections of easy down climbing, but nothing too difficult at all. As I was crossing the glacier, the groups that had set out at a later time (perhaps 6am) from the Refuge de Goléon were just making their way up; I was smug in the knowledge that they’d missed out on one of the best sunrises I’ve ever seen. In fact, the cloud inversion had began to dissipate, making me doubly glad of the early start.

Views from the summit (spot Mont Blanc!)

Views from the summit (spot Mont Blanc!)

Unfortunately it did mean that I had a 5 hour wait in La Grave for the bus, but that didn’t really bother me as I was still high off what a fantastic morning I’d had.

Lac du Goléon (left), La Meije (centre) and Refuge du Goléon (right)

Lac du Goléon (left), La Meije (centre) and Refuge du Goléon (right)

Vanoise: Pointe de la Réchasse

After a quick wander up the Rocher de Villeneuve on the day we arrived, and a rainy forest bimble the following day, we finally set off in earnest for our first Alpine adventure on the Tuesday afternoon. The goal was Pointe de la Réchassee from the Col de la Vanoise refuge, a route offering a small amount of glacial travel and a long but not too difficult rocky ridge to a summit offering fantastic views out over the extensive Glacier de la Vanoise, all at the grade of “Facile”. I’ve just completed writing a detailed route description on Camp to Camp, and that can be seen here.

As a rule, camping and bivvying is not permitted in the Vanoise National Park, with the exception that some refuges may permit it outside upon payment of an “hors sac” fee of around €3.50 to cover use of facilities at the refuge. Unfortunately, the Col de la Vanoise refuge isn’t one of the refuges that does permit it, but fortunately being Alpine Club members and being under 25 meant that it was only €7 to stay in the refuge itself. This was quite welcome as it meant we didn’t have to drag heavy bivvy gear up with us as well, just a sleeping bag liner instead.

Regardless of the relatively lighter bags, it was still hard work ascending the 1100m to the refuge. We were rewarded with lovely views back down the valley and dramatic views of the highest peak in the area, La Grande Casse, capped by isolated low-lying cumulus clouds. The clouds didn’t extend as far as our peak, and that allowed us to have a good look at the route we were to take the next morning. From the description it wasn’t all too clear which way our route would actually take us, but we felt confident all would become clear in the morning.

La Grande Casse and Refuge du Col de la Vanoise

La Grande Casse and Refuge du Col de la Vanoise

Pointe de la Réchasse

Pointe de la Réchasse (left) and its voie normale (via the grassy nose and rocky bands)

As we were catering for ourselves, we were placed in the “Refuge d’Hiver” (the winter refuge), a portacabin-like building that serves as a refuge out of the summer season when it isn’t guarded. We had quite a peaceful night after the group of Russian’s we were sharing it with eventually quietened down, and I felt quite awake and rearing to go when we awoke at 3.30am. After a cereal bar and a couple of swigs of water, we were on our way, following cairns across the moraines of the Glacer de la Réchasse on what we thought must have been the correct route.

How wrong we were: The cairns eventually disappeared and as the sun rose we realised that we far too far left on the morraines – the trail of cairns we had followed must have either been for an older version of the route (when the glacier took a different shape), or perhaps a different route entirely. We lost time crossing a snow patch to the bottom of a set of rocky bands, before regaining the main route and ascending the bands to the Glacier de la Réchasse. We’d given ourselves plenty of time, and indeed there were still a good number of people still behind us on the route.

Arriving at the Glacier de la Réchasse

Arriving at the Glacier de la Réchasse

After crossing the glacier, we gained the long summit ridge by a rocky step (around the left of the ridge) that was a little bit tricky. It was then easy scrambling along the initially narrow ridge, giving us plenty of time to admire the view over La Grande Casse to our left and the Glacier de la Vanoise to our right. We spotted a piton half-way along (at a little notch) which was used by a guide and two clients to ascend onto the ridge, in doing so overtaking us. I wouldn’t recommend this ascent, as it is the start of the ridge that this would miss out that offers the best scrambling and hence the most fun. After a bite to eat on the summit we descended back to the notch and decided using the piton to abseil would be a much better proposition than down-climbing the tricky step up onto the ridge.

The beginning part of the long ridge up to the summit

The beginning part of the long ridge up to the summit

Impressive views over La Grande Casse

Impressive views over La Grande Casse

We followed the correct route down to the refuge, which was as simple as could be in the daylight. It is cairned well all the way, though what threw us off must have been a snow patch covering where the path splits in two at the very start of the route – we forked left up a valley, whilst the actual route trends right up a grassy nose.

After a coffee (lemonade on Lorna’s part) at the refuge, we descended on the GR55, passing through the picturesque but crowded Lac des Vaches.

Lac des Vaches

Stepping stones over Lac des Vaches

Attack of the flies: Why not to bivvy without a midge net!

It’s not often that you get perfectly still bright sunny days out in Snowdonia, which probably describes why bringing a midge net didn’t even cross my mind on a bivvy trip me and Lorna did a couple of weeks ago. Bad mistake…

The Saturday was spent enjoying an impressive spectrum of colours and smells in the gardens of Powis Castle with my Mum and Dad, before we all headed to Snowdonia on the Sunday. The plan was for us to do a walk on Sunday and then for them leave me and Lorna there few a couple of days of Alps training. The walk we chose was the popular Carnedd Llewellyn horseshoe from Llyn Ogwen – comprising of the summits of Pen yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Daffydd and Carnedd Llewellyn. It’s a route I know well, but one that Lorna hasn’t done for many years. Unexpectedly, it was quite cloudy and Carnedd Llewellyn – the highest mountain in Wales outside of the Snowdon range – has a whispy covering for most of the day. It was still very hot though, and this made for hard work; by the time we were back at the car I hardly felt like the walk-in to our bivvy spot of Llyn Bochlwyd!

Powis Castle

Powis Castle

Clouds rolling over the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen

Clouds rolling over the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen

We picked the windiest spot we could find for the evening, though that only amounted to the odd breath every now and then. After a quick swim, we settled down for our tea of couscous and quiche, and before too long a black cloud of midges had descended. Even after applying Avon Skin So Soft (which apparently is a good midge repellent, though I’m not so sure I agree now), we were still being plagued, and so headed to bed. Unfortunately for me, the drawstring closure on my bivvy bag (an Alpkit Hunka) doesn’t close properly, and even if you do close it properly it’s very difficult to breathe inside the bag – a bit of a design flaw. This meant that I was still being plagued and after an hour or so of torture I gave in and somehow managed to squeeze into Lorna’s hooped bivvy bag (it’s a good job we’re both thin!) and finally got some sleep.

Lovely sun set

Lovely sun set

 

Main Gully Ridge, 3***

The midges were still out in full force the next morning, and so our breakfast of Sainsbury’s Basics scotch pancakes (surprisingly tasty!) was rather rushed. We dumped our gear around the far side of the Llyn and started the slog up to the base of our route – the three-star grade 3 scramble of Main Gully Ridge on Glyder Fach’s northern face. The route follows a vague ridge line that borders Main Gully on the right, before traversing left across the Chasm Face and joining up with other routes on the face for a few hundred metres of fantastic grade 1/2 scrambling. Even though it was only 7am, it was already very hot work and we had to have a large rest at the base of the route to recover.

The line of Main Gully Ridge, 3***

The line of Main Gully Ridge, 3***

We decided to move together at the start, but after gaining the ridge by an easy groove I was presented with a foothold-less chest high block that I didn’t like the look of. I think the guidebook talked about “pulling strenuously over a block”… I shouted down for Lorna to put me on belay, placed my trusty number 4 nut safely in a crack and awkwardly heaved myself over the obstacle. The next couple of steps weren’t much easier and so Lorna stayed belaying me whilst I worked my way up the difficulties, placing a few slings along the way. After creating a nice belay, I brought her up before pitching the next bit again to overcome pretty much all of the difficulties that the route posed. It is this section that gives the ridge its grade 3 rating.

The start of the grade 1 Main Gully (left) and Main Gully Ridge (right)

The start of the grade 1 Main Gully (left) and Main Gully Ridge (right)

From then on, we moved together, practicing placing gear on the rope between us even though it (or the rope) weren’t really necessary at this point. This style of movement – moving together in “Alpine style” – is different to usual “pitched” climbing in that no belays are taken and both climbers move at the same time. It is generally used on “easier” ground where the chance of a fall is less but still present, and it is typically used in Alpine ascents where moving at speed is imperative. Coils of rope are taken around the chest to leave 10-20m of rope between climbers (depending on how hard the ground is). The leader places gear – known as runners, as the rope runs through them – which the second then removes, trying to keep two or three bits of gear on the rope at the same time. The rope can also be wound around rocks to help increase the friction in the event of a fall.

Moving together at the top of Main Gully Ridge

Moving together at the top of Main Gully Ridge

This initial plan was to then drop down to Llyn Bochlwyd, pick up our bivvy gear and walk over to the base of the Clogwyn y Person arete for the following morning. However, we were both far too worn out (I blame the heat!) and so instead we simply headed down the Gribin ridge and stayed at Llyn Bochlwyd for a second night – totalling an impressive 3km for the first day’s walking! Of course, being the weather as it was, another swim was simply compulsory!

Lovely views of Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr

Lovely views of Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr

 

Bristly Ridge

It wasn’t quite as midgey on the Monday night, but I still had to resort to Lorna’s bivvy bag again. The following day, instead of climbing again, we thought it would be a good option to take our bivvy gear with us and walk out to Capel Curig over Bristly Ridge. This proved as strenuous as I had feared it would be with 15 kg of gear on my back (I weighed it when we got home!), but it definitely served good Alps practice. For me, Bristly Ridge surpasses most other scrambles I’ve done – it is such a good quality route for its grade, and there is lots of exposure to be had by taking the most direct line.

The Great Pinnacle. The way down in to the right.

The Great Pinnacle. The way down in to the right.

There are lots of feral goats on the Gylders. It's impressive watching them negotiate the steep rocky steps that us humans struggle with!

There are lots of feral goats on the Gylders. It’s impressive watching them negotiate the steep rocky steps that us humans struggle with!

The walk out seemed to go on forever, made only worse by hoards of horse flies that bugged us (pun intentional!) for most of the descent of Y Foel Goch. After what seemed like an age, we arrived back in Capel and caught the bus to Betws-y-Coed and then the train back to Chester, via Llandudno Junction.

Sharp Edge with Sir Chris Bonington

As chancellor to Lancaster University, and honorary president to our hiking club, we like to invite Sir Chris Bonington along on one of our walks during the summer term. He’s always very happy to oblige, and this year chose Mungrisdale as the destination. It goes without saying that this trip is more popular than usual, and twenty-six of us set off en mass from the Mill Inn. Chris had suggested the route, which was up the relatively unfrequented eastern ridge onto the summit of Bannerdale Crags, and then across and up the much more frequented Sharp Edge onto Blencathra, before returning via the grassy ridge-line of Souther Fell.

Starting off on Sharp Edge

Starting off on Sharp Edge

The ridge up Bannerdale Crags made for a refreshing change from the usual route via Bowscale Tarn, and offered great views back down Bannerdale itself. The group split at the col before Blencathra, with some heading straight up the broad north-eastern ridge and the rest of us opting for Sharp Edge. A cliché it may be, but it felt a bit of an honour to be scrambling alongside such a legendary mountaineer with such impressive routes to his name. The grade I ridge was, as always, great fun.

Compulsory photo! On Sharp Edge.

Compulsory photo! On Sharp Edge.

Chris had his fair share of “are you who I think you are?” en route to the summit, and the day was in danger of turning into more of a photo shoot  than a walk when we actually reached the summit. Our route back over Souther Fell was much more quiet, and a perfect end to a brilliant day out which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. Chris was ever-grateful and made the point of making sure we knew so, adding that he was looking forward to next year’s outing – so am I!

Walking back over Souther Fell

Walking back over Souther Fell

Scrambling with bivvy gear – Alps training!

It seemed like a fantastic idea to do a grade 3 scramble fully laden with bivvy gear as perfect Alps training – we weren’t so sure of that half-way up Pinnacle Ridge, being thrown off balance by the huge bags on our back on every move we made! The idea came about when deciding what kind of “Alps training” to get done this weekend – climbing, fitness, getting used to lugging big bags around – when it dawned on us we could roll them all into one in a somewhat epic route from Patterdale back to Burneside, via the brilliant Lakeland classic grade 3 scramble of Pinnacle Ridge.

Despite the heavy load, I was thoroughly enjoying heaving myself over rocky steps and teetering over pinnacled crests. The ridge is in a fantastic position, the exposure is quite considerate and on a dry day (which it was) it is one of the most satisfying climbs in the Lakes. The technical difficulties are low for the most part, except for one pitch, the “Crux wall”, which amounts to a 10m wall of around Diff standard. The pinnacles themselves – which come after said wall and form the iconic picture of the ridge given in any guide book you see – are a lot easier than they look, but nonetheless are seriously exposed and a slip at the point could prove fatal. Despite its exposure, the ridge is surprisingly sheltered, and even on days when you’re being blown about all over the place on the summit, only a few breaths are felt on the ridge.

Imogen on the

Imogen on the “crux wall” of Pinnacle Ridge

Lorna, Imogen and me on the final pinnacles of the ridge

Lorna, Imogen and me on the final pinnacles of the ridge

I always forget how draining scrambling and climbing can be, and after the ridge I was already quite tired – I wasn’t looking forward to the walk over Fairfield and Red Screes and then up the other side of the Kirkstone Pass yet to come! We soon settled into a good pace and the sunny weather and plethora of typically-Lakeland views took my mind off my weary legs and aching shoulders. The lure of the Kirkstone Inn was too great when we reached the pass and we decided it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to rehydrate here before finding a bivvy spot somewhere towards Thornthwaite Crag: The choice of beer on my part as the rehydrating fluid probably wasn’t the best one!

By the time we had settled into our comfortable spot  just below the summit of Caudale Moor, the sun was already setting and the lighting changing to a lovely golden red. It’s always a special feeling, being up in the mountains late in the evening when everyone else is making there way home, and this occasion wasn’t any different. Some of my favourite moments in the mountains have been lying in my bivvy bag, gazing up at the stars, enjoying the cold evening breeze brushing across my face.

Our bivi spot in the evening

Our bivvy spot in the evening

The next morning, weather still in check, we summitted Caudale Moor, followed shortly by Thornthwaite Crag, Harter Fell and Kentmere Pike. By lunch time, we had made good progress and were just starting the ascent to Sleddale Forest and Potter Fell. Unfortunately, this meant leaving the well-formed paths of the Lakes’ more popular fells behind, and despite the dry spell of late, the going got considerably tougher! There were vague paths here-and-there, but for the most part we found ourselves bog trotting and marsh hopping over strangely spongy ground that we couldn’t help thinking we might disappear into at any moment. We were rewarded for all this hard work by the most amazing forest of bluebells just east of Staveley – photos nor words do justice to the breathtaking blue sea of delicate flowers that carpeted the entire forest floor. A perfect end to a lovely few days in the fells.

Ascending Potter Fell - you can see most of day two's route, from just past Red Screes onwards

Ascending Potter Fell – you can see most of day two’s route, from just past Red Screes onwards

Photos don't do it justice!

Photos don’t do it justice!

More sun on the Isle of Skye

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was last on Skye, but the Hiking Club was running a Jubilee bank holiday weekend trip to Skye for four nights, and as a driver I got the trip for £20, so I couldn’t really miss out on the opportunity! This trip took place from 1-6 June.

Elgol

Boats in Elgol Harbour

It was rather dull when we left Lancaster on Friday afternoon, but the further north we headed, the better the weather got. Rannoch Moor and its surrounding mountains looked fantastic as we drove over it in the evening light. After a few stops at Lesmahagow (for chips!), Hamilton (for tents), Luss (to swap drivers) and Fort William (for money for the campsite), we finally arrived at the campsite in Sligachan at just before midnight. It was still surprisingly light and I managed to pitch my tent without a head torch.

Saturday

The next day, we decided to ease ourselves in with a walk up the fantastic mountain Bla Bheinn (Blaven). It’s the only Munro on the island not on the main Cuillin Ridge, but arguably offers better views. When there sun is out and there are no clouds, the panoramas from the summits are simply stunning. The traverse of Bla Bheinn and its neighbour Clach Glas is a mountaineering classic, offering extremely exposed climbing at Diff level. Unfortunately I only read about the traverse after I’d got home and so it was too late! As it was, our ascent up the eastern ridge gave plenty of fun scrambling opportunities.

Bla Bheinn

Bla Bheinn south west top from the main summit

Blaven

On the south west summit of Bla Bheinn

After the walk, we drove further down the road to the little harbour of Elgol, and spent a while exploring its rocky beach and interesting sea cliffs. Boats from Elgol will take you to the beautiful secluded Loch Coruisk.

Elgol

The Black Cuillin from the beach at Elgol

The In Pinn

Mouse taking shelter under the In Pinn

Richard, Mouse and myself had planned an Alpine start on the Cuillin ridge for the following day, and so that evening we drove the minibus down the Glen Brittle and bivvyed outside. The Alpine start was for a number of reasons: To avoid crowds on the In Pinn; to avoid the heat of the midday sun, which I never thought would be a problem on Skye; simply to give us more time to get more of the ridge done and; it’s good practice for the Alps! After a rather uncomfortable night’s sleep with a large rocky digging into my back, we were up at 4am and walking for twenty-past.

Sunday

Our route was up Coire na Banachdich, firstly to the summit of Sgurr Dearg and the In Pinn. The walk in started without a cloud in the sky, but by the time we had got to the summit, the clouds has rolled in and were whipping up over the summit with impressive speed. The sight of the In Pinn silhouetted against these fast-moving clouds made it look rather daunting. The wind was cold and even with an insulated jacket on I struggled to keep warm at the belay points and on the climb. It was Richard’s first outdoor climb, and what better what to start than with an exposed ridge followed by an even more exposed abseil, all in bitterly cold winds!

After the climb, we took shelter on the other side of the summit and had a bite to eat – I say a bite, neither of us had eaten since breakfast at 4am and I consumed three bagels in quick succession and Mouse demolished a whole Jamaican ginger cake.

For Sgurr Dearg, we followed the ridge towards Sgurr na Banachdich and onwards over Sgurr a Ghredaidh and Sgurr a Mhadaidh. The section after Sgurr na Banachdich is absolutely fantastic – it’s not technically too difficult, but has some fantastically exposed scrambling with breathtaking views. There were a few parties on this section roped up, but we didn’t feel it necessary at all.

Loch Coruisk

Loch Coruisk from the between Sgurr na Banachdich and Sgurr a Greadaidh

Sgurr a Mhadaidh

Me on Sgurr a Mhadaidh

From Sgurr a Mhadaidh, we headed down towards the col before Sgurr Thuilm. This was the descent route described by the book “The Munros” by Cameron McNeish, however we soon found ourselves presented with a knife-edge crest with a number of roped parties climbing towards us. Whilst descent would have been possible, the down climbing wouldn’t necessarily have been easy and we have just got in everyone else’s way who were ascending. We instead cut off the ridge and headed directly down scree interlaced with rocky steps and boulders into Coire a’ Ghreadaidh. In retrospect, the best option would have been to retrace our steps to An Dorus (The Door) and descend the large path from there. In the coire, we stopped by a stream for a good half an hour and took in the afternoon sun. We were back at the minibus for 3pm.

That evening, after Sarah set fire to a trangia by putting petrol into it instead of meths (possibly my fault for storing my petrol by the meths…), we headed to the pub to sample some of the Isle of Skye Brewery’s finest ales – I particularly recommend Pinnacle Ale! We chatted about the day and our adventures – the other group had been up the Corbet Glamaig via some very steep scree slopes.

Monday

I think we must have still been tired from the previous day, because Mouse, Richard and myself all opted for some coastal bagging as opposed to another day on the ridge. We drove north, firstly to the Old Man of Storr. The Old Man is one of many rock stacks protruding from the mountain The Storr, each one as impressive as the next.

Needle Rock

Needle Rock next to The Storr, taken from the base of The Old Man of Storr

Staffin Bay

A bit of promotion for the Hiking Club at Staffin Bay!

For lunch, we headed further up the coast to Staffin Bay, where some brave souls decided to take a dip in the sea – it was a bit cold for me! After a spot of lunch, we drove back to the campsite so everyone else could grab their swimming gear, and then down Glen Brittle to the Fairy Pools. This time, nearly everyone entered the water, but not for long as it was rather cold! The highlight had to be swimming under an underwater arch in one of the many plunge pools.

That evening, we practised a bit of crevasse rescue on the campsite, before heading to the pub once more.

I think we all wished we could have stayed for longer, but the minibus was due back on Wednesday and so unfortunately Tuesday was home time! To break the day up, we set off early in the morning and stopped off a few times along the way. The first stop was at the iconic Eilean Donan castle, near Glen Shiel – we contemplated going in, but it was £6 each and so decided against it. We stopped once more at The Clachaig for lunch, and of course in Lesmes for chips a few hours later!

The combination of good weather and the fact that we were on the island for longer than our usual weekend trips means this trip will stick in my mind for a long time. It was a brilliant weekend!

Eilean Donan castle

Eilean Donan castle

Fell running on the Glyders and Carnedds

It dawned on me last week that I only had two weeks to go until the Three Peaks fell race and that the last long run I did was the Edale Skyline fell race a good few weeks ago – time to put some proper training in! I’ve also entered the Welsh 1000m Peaks race in June and so I thought I’d use the opportunity to recce the only part of the route I’ve never done before – Y Gribin ridge onto the Glyders.

I did the run yesterday as a variation on what could be described as the “Ogwen Horseshoe” – along the Gyders, down to Llyn Ogwen and back up onto the Carnedds. The variation I chose came out at 15 miles with 7000 feet of ascent. I parked at the base of the north ridge of Tryfan and headed up to Llyn Bochlwyd before picking up the obvious track up the Gribin ridge. I had a quick look to see if I could spot the Cneifon Arete (translated as the nameless arete) that I’ve fancied doing for a while now, but couldn’t pick it out of the mass of crags lining Cwm Idwal. From the top of the ridge it is less than a kilometre to the summit of the highest mountain in the Glyders – Glyder Fawr, standing at 1001m.

The ridge is down as a grade I scramble, though I definitely think it is at the lower end of the grade as most of the difficulties can be bypassed.

Pen yr Ole Wen

The view of Carnedd Dafydd from Pen yr Ole Wen, taken on one of the few runs when I chose to take my camera with me, over the Carnedds in the April of last year. The weather was quite a bit worse yesterday!

Until late 2010 the listed height of Glyder Fawr was 999m and as such it wasn’t included in the Welsh 1000m Peak race. However, new GPS measurements found the height to actually be 1000.8m and so a decision was made to include the mountain in the two fell running categories of the race. This year, the “elite” mountaineer’s categories will include the summit as well. This addition makes the long fell runners class (A) race a grueling 20 miles with 9000 feet of ascent – why did I enter this!?

From the summit of Glyder Fawr, I headed down to Llyn y Cwn and then onto Y Garn, before taking the eastern ridge straight down to Ogwen Cottage. The past few times I’ve been down this ridge, a new path was in the progress of being built, and it was a relief to see the new path fully in place yesterday – it certainly made the descent easier than the boggy/grassy mess it was before!

I had been planning on topping my water bottle at Ogwen Cottage and so had drank everything I had before I got down to the little takeaway stall in the car park. Unfortunately however, the little takeaway stall refused to fill my bottle up and so I was left with a choice of either water from the outlet of Llyn Idwal or water from the sinks in the toilets that was specifically marked as not drinkable. I presumed that the sink water was marked undrinkable as it was also from the outlet of Llyn Idwal and as I didn’t have much choice I filled up from there. The Carneddau are notoriously dry and I didn’t fancy my chances of finding a source higher up.

My route up Pen yr Ole Wen was via its south-western ridge, a route I’d never done previously. It was a drag and my legs started aching, but a bit of scrambling and the odd bit of steep scree added enough entertainment to keep me going. There was a good deal of snow about on the summit and I chose to eat this instead of drinking the water from down at Ogwen.

I followed the ridge along over Carnedd Dafydd and Llewellyn, before heading over to Pen yr Helgi Du and Pen Llithrig y Wrach and finally down to the A5. The weather closed in on the final section and for the first time all day I was forced to put my windshirt on as it started snowing. By the time I was down at the A5 this snow had turned to persistent drizzle and by the time I got back to the car I was drenched through. I can’t really complain though, as most of the run had been cloudless and with sunny intervals. The run took me 4 hours 30 minutes altogether.

My legs ache now but not too much and yesterday has definitely boosted my confidence that I’m (just about) fit enough for the Welsh 1000m Peaks race. I ended up drinking the water from my bottle and as of yet (touch wood) I haven’t fallen ill!

Sun and snow on the Isle of Skye

Seeing as my last post was well over a year ago, I thought I’d best make an effort to keep on top of this blog from now on! I might even add some posts retrospectively if I get the chance.

This post is about a trip to the Isle of Skye from Friday 30 March to Tuesday 3 April. The aim of the trip was to have a look at parts of the Cuillin Ridge and get a general feel for the place. Skye is completely different to any other mountain range in the UK, feeling distinctly Alpine but with Scottish island weather to contend with. For this reason, it offers difficulties and challenges that the mainland Munros don’t – the fact that Cicerone’s Walking The Munros book has a separate introduction to the Skye section outlining the seriousness of mountaineering in the area says it all!

The shear quantity of exposed gabbro rock makes the mountains extremely attractive to mountaineers and scramblers, and some fantastic fun can be had on many of the exposed and intricate ridges of the Cuillin range. They are often regarded as the finest mountains in Britain.

Friday

Imogen, Lorna and myself set off from Burneside at just gone 10am, in rather dull and cloudy weather. The further north we got, the better the weather became and by the time we stopped at Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond for lunch, the sun was out in full force and it felt like the middle of summer.

We stopped once more on the A82 over Rannoch Moor to make the most of some stunning views by Lochan na h-Achlaise. It’s usually either pitch black or awful weather when we’re driving over the moor and so it was nice to see what this beautiful area looks like in the sun!

Loch na h-Achlaise

Loch na h-Achlaise by the side of the A82. Most scenic road in the country?

Seawater-erosion

Interesting erosion on the beach at Elgol.

Upon reaching Skye, we detoured to the scenic harbour of Elgol in the south of the island. It had turned a bit cloudy and the views over Loch Scavaig to the Cuillin Hills was particularly dramatic. There was some rather interesting seawater-erosion in the cliffs on the beach, where the water had eroded the rocks into circular hollows. Eventually, we got to the campsite in Portnalong at just gone 7pm and pitched our tents, made tea and got an early night. The others (Alex, Charles, Daniel and Alex’s Dad, Don), arrived at just gone 1am.

Elgol

Looking out over Loch Scavaig to the Cuillin Hills from Elgol.

Saturday, the Cuillin Ridge

The Inn Pin

The Inn Pin

The weather forecast was surprisingly good for the day and so we all got up early to try and recce as much of the Cuillin Ridge as we could. We headed to Glenbrittle and the initial plan was to have a look at TD gap (widely regarded as the trickiest step on the ridge, graded at VDiff but apparently much harder), King’s Chimney (Diff) and possibly the Inaccessible Pinnacle (Sgurr Dearg). The In Pinn is graded a Mod climb and the only Munro that needs a rope to ascend.

It turned out we had walked into the wrong corrie (Coire Lagan) however and were too far along the ridge for TD gap and the King’s Chimney. We slogged up a scree slope to the left to gain the ridge and scrambled northwards towards the In Pinn, for the most part sticking to the ridge. Dependent on what guide you read, the ridge proper for this section gets the grade of Mod or even Diff, but our scrambling didn’t seem that difficult and so I can only presume that on the odd occasion we strayed from the ridge we were missing out the difficult sections. I probably enjoyed this section more than any other part of the ridge and it felt great to be soloing such an exposed ridge with such good rock and fantastic views.

Next came the In Pinn and Dan led the eastern ridge (Mod), which I found surprisingly easy. There was plenty of exposure and a bit of a wind made it entertaining in places. An abseil off the western face brought us to the main summit area of Sgurr Dearg, where we picked up the ridge and scrambled onwards towards Sgurr na Banachdich. This time the scrambling was much easier, at its most difficult around grade 1. From the summit of Sgurr na Banachdich, Lorna, Imogen, Dan and myself headed down the ridge over Sgurr nan Gobhar, whilst Alex and Charles carried along the ridge over Sgurr a Ghreadaidh. Another scree slope led us down to grassy slopes above the Glenbrittle Youth Hostel and we sat down basking in the warm evening sun.

The Cuillin Ridge

Looking back along the Cuillin Ridge and towards Sgurr Dearg from near Sgurr na Banachdich

We had a bit of an altercation with the campsite owner (I won’t go into the details!) that evening and so decided to move to the Glenbrittle campsite the following day.

Sunday, rain!

The weather was pretty miserable when we woke up and after moving to Glenbrittle we decided the best option was a coastal walk. It didn’t really brighten up all day, though it was nice taking in some sea air and giving our legs a rest after the previous day. That evening a few of us headed to the Old Inn in Carbost, a lovely little pub with log fire, decent beer, Scottish music and a very cosy feel.

Monday, Bla Bheinn (Blaven)

Bla Bheinn

Walking across to Bla Bheinn's south west summit

It was rather windy on the campsite when we woke up and Lorna, Imogen and myself decided the initial plan to recce TD gap and King’s Chimney wasn’t such an attractive idea anymore, and so we decided to do a walk up the only Munro on the island not on the main Cuillin ridge – Bla Bheinn. The others still went ahead with the initial plan.

The weather was actually quite good and it soon turned out that the wind was purely a localised effect on the campsite, as it seemed rather still everywhere else. The route we took up with via Bla Bheinn’s south-eastern ridge to a col between there and the Corbett Clach Glas, followed by a short scramble onto the summit. It is reckoned that Bla Bheinn offers some of the best views anywhere on Skye and it was easy to agree with this as when the clouds cleared we were greeted with some breathtaking views out of the sea and across to the Cuillin ridge. The fact that you are looking right down to sea level makes the views even more impressive.

Our descent was down the south-eastern ridge of Bla Bheinn’s south west summit and then back down Coire Uaigneich the same way as we came up. We stopped for a painfully-cold paddle in Allt na Dunaiche on the way back, which definitely helped revive my weary feet!

It started raining again that evening and so once again a few of us retired to the pub. Unfortunately, this time, they’d ran out of draught beer!

South west summit of Bla Bheinn

Lorna and Imogen on the south west summit of Bla Bheinn

Tuesday, snow!?

We were initial planning on staying up until Wednesday, however particularly strong winds during the night resulted in a few bent tent poles and so we decided to head home early. Also, rather surprisingly, we awoke to a thin layer on snow on the ground in the morning. Driving back it became clear just how much snow Scotland had received – the north-western mainland had a very thick covering and the mountains looked fantastic. A stark contrast to the sunny and warm weather earlier on in the week!

A82

The view from the A82 on the way back. It couldn't be much more different to earlier in the week!

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.