A week in Glenshiel

It’s been a busy start to the New Year – I’m working on three websites at the minute (including one for myself, watch this space!) and I’m also doing teaching assistant work alongside my PhD – which explains the lack of posts recently. The week after New Year’s, from 4-11 January, a group of 19 of us from Lancaster University Hiking Club headed up to Glenshiel for the annual club “Winter Trip”. Two years ago, we went to Badrallach, near Ullapool, and got blighted with all manor of bad weather, culminating in some of the worst storms Scotland had seen. The year after, we spent the week in a couple of cottages in Roy Bridge. The weather was better (marginally), but I was injured and hence out of action. Hence, fingers and toes were crossed for some better luck this year!

The week started relatively well, and with a 7am start on the Sunday we almost managed to beat a band of bad weather heading in at midday. Our walk, the three Munros of Carn Ghluasaid, Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Carn na Coire Mheadhoin, was picked strategically to be as east as possible (within reason) to again minimise the chance of the weather, which was coming in from the west, hitting us. The early start paid off as we got a few good views from the first summit, though things deteriorated from then onward. By the time we were returning from the third Munro the conditions were “full-on Scottish winter” – i.e. white-out and blowing a gale – which meant that as we descended below the freezing level the snow turned to rain and by the time we reached the road for the 3km walk back to the car, we were already soaked. I left my bag with Lorna and ran on ahead to pick up the car. Some of the others had been less willing to leave their beds earlier and by all accounts got the brunt of the weather on the third Munro (good navigation practice at least!).

Good time for navigation practice!

Good time for navigation practice!

Monday had already been written off to a 110-mile tour taking in some of the highlights of the ruggedly beautiful western coast of Scotland, including Sheildaig and Applecross. The sandy bay of An Cruinn-leum offered some fantastic sand dune running and impossible bouldering, whilst the pub in Applecross provided a very welcome coffee.

An Cruinn-leum

Tuesday wasn’t any better, but with the amount of water that had fell out of the sky over the past few days, we decided the Falls of Glomach were at least worth a visit. This also had the advantage of giving the opportunity to ascend the Munro A Ghlas-bheinn should the weather improve: It didn’t, but a few of us went for it anyway! The Falls were mightily impressive, both in their height and also in the amount of water plummeting over them. A Ghlas-bheinn was surprisingly good fun, and although it didn’t stop raining the entire day, a steep snow slope up to the summit and a devious route down just about made it worthwhile. I always think it feels more rewarding when you’ve been out and done something relatively big even though it’s awful weather.

Falls of Glomach

Falls of Glomach

Wednesday; more of the same! Lorna, Imogen and myself drove to the start of the Five Sisters, sat in the car hiding from the rain for a while, and then drove back. Some of the others got halfway to the start of the Forcan Ridge and then decided to head back. It did mean that I got the chance to go for a long run: Up Coire Uaine, over its western col to the Ratagan Forest, around the Ratagan Forest for god-knows-how-long trying to find my way out (the map lied!), over the hill and subsidiary tops of Sgurr a Bhraonain and then back down the road to Sheil Bridge.

Thursday now seemed like our only hope, with the forecast bad again for the following day. It was hence time to make a second attempt at the Five Sisters, and so whilst Jim, Ben and Stephen retraced their steps from the previous day up to the start of the Forcan Ridge, and as Richard et al. were enjoying the South Shiel ridge, Lorna, Imogen, Darren and myself were tackling the relentlessly steep slope running at an average angle of 35 degress from the A87 to the summit of Sgurr nan Spainteach. The snow was frustrating at best; at first it appeared solid on top, but every couple of steps you’d sink right through to knee-depth (or deeper!). That being said, I do love a good snow slope and I definitely enjoyed the 900m of ascent we polished off in under two hours.

On the ascent of Sgurr nan Spainteach

On the ascent of Sgurr nan Spainteach

We did get the occasional view!

We did get the occasional view!

Unsurprisingly, the views were nearly non-existent, except for a few breaks in the cloud here and there. The complexities of the ridge made up for this however; complexities not because of technicality, but rather because of the devious route it took, embracing everything from super-steep snow slopes (usually in descent) to twisting rocky passages. The descent from the third of the three Munros it passes over – Sgurr Fhuaran – was particularly steep and devious, and looking back at the summit from Shiel Bridge on a clear day, you can see why!

Fortunately, the cloud level was high enough so we got a great view out over Loch Duich on the descent, a view which we couldn’t help thinking reminded us of the view of the Pap and Loch Leven from Sgurr nam Fiannaidh.

Loch Duich and Sgurr an t-Searraich, aka the Pap of Glencoe and Loch Leven!

The final day was again spent avoiding the bad weather, though in the end the bad weather didn’t turn out to be so bad! We visited Glenelg, the Brochs of Glenn Bheag and Arnisdale, and got some fantastic views of Rum and Eigg on our drive back from Arnisdale. Ironically, the best weather of the week by far was on the drive home on Saturday, with crystal-clear skies and beautiful snow-covered summits!

The Brochs of Glenn Bheag

The Brochs of Glenn Bheag

Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn

Great lighting!

Great lighting!

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!

The snow is here! Exploring the Munros of Loch Lomond

I thought we might get a little bit of snow for Lancaster University Hiking Club’s first Scotland weekend trip last weekend, but I didn’t envisage we’d be wading through waist-deep stuff most of the weekend. We were staying at Beinglas Farm Campsite, at the very northern-most end of Loch Lomond in Inverarnan. This offered easy access to not just the Arrochar Alps but also the Munros to the north-east of the campsite, on which I spent most of the weekend.

The initial plan on Saturday was to bag all five Munros to the north-east of the campsite, namely: Beinn Chabhair; An Caisteail; Beinn a’ Chroin; Cruach Ardain and; Beinn Tulaichean. However, logistics dictated that only four (missing out Beinn Chabhair) were realistically going to be achievable and so we headed up to park just south-west of Crianlarich to start the walk up Coire Earb. The weather was pretty miserable at first, with plenty of sleety snow as we hacked our way up onto An Caisteal’s northern ridge. Things cleared up, fortunately, and we even got a bit of a view from the summit. As it was the first fall of snow, no freeze-thaw cycles had occurred and hence it was all very powdery and pristine, which made for hard going as we waded our way onto Beinn a’ Chroin, via a steep, exposed and somewhat direct route up it’s north-western face. The clouds cleared on our way up and we got some stunning views over the surrounding Munros and down to Loch Lomond.

Pristine powdery snow! Just off the summit of An Caisteal.

Pristine powdery snow! Just off the summit of An Caisteal.

The wind was biting and I don’t think I really warmed up all day long, even on the ascent. When we reached the col between Beinn a’ Chroin and Cruach Ardain, some of the group decided to head down, whilst Calum, Jim, Laura, Daniel, Ben and myself decided to head on. By the time we reached the summit of Cruach Ardain (which we later discovered wasn’t actually the summit; how frustrating!), it was already dark and as we didn’t fancy adding an extra couple of hours navigating in the pitch black out to Beinn Tulaichean and back, we decided to head down instead.

Great views when the clouds cleared!

Great views when the clouds cleared!

That evening, the campsite owners were hosting a bonfire and firework display. We received a phonecall just after leaving our final summit to say our van would need to be moved as it was too close to where the fire was going to be (Daniel had the keys), but when we returned we found they’d decided to crack on without us and instead had left a good layer of ash on the van. More annoyingly, they showed clear disregard for any tents nearby (i.e., ours) and gave them a good coating of ash as well.

The forecast was much better for the Sunday, and as I decided it was about time that I run up my first Munro. I’d weighed up the snow the day before and decided it wasn’t icy enough to warrant crampons, and that fell running shoes would be fine. Of course, I had in mind that I might need to turn back before the summit of my target – the most western of the five behind the campsite: Beinn Chabhair.

The weather was perfect, and the bog to Lochan Beinn Chabhair fortunately frozen – for the ascent at least! It took me 52 minutes to run the 3km and 500m ascent to the lochan, with a few stops to de-layer and take on some food. A lot of time was spent skirting around unfrozen sections of the bog. From there, where there were another few guys starting their ascents, I started the wade up onto Meall nan Tarmachain on Beinn Chabhair’s north-western ridge. The “ridge” was very undulating, with chest-high snow drifts in places, and by the time I reached the summit I was feeling physically drained. I finished off my first PowerBar, started on my second (my “emergency” one) and ate a handful of snow, before slipping and sliding my way back along the ridge and down to the lochan. The descent was, fortunately, effortless, and I did literally slide most of the way down. I really enjoy descending in deep snow!

View from the ascent of Beinn Chabhair. I didn't take my camera, so had to rely on my phone.

View from the ascent of Beinn Chabhair. I didn’t take my camera, so had to rely on my phone.

By the time I was back at the lochan, my feet had recovered from the near-frostbitten state they were in on the way up (note to self: must invest in some waterproof socks) and the PowerBars had started to work their magic. The run back to the campsite was very enjoyable – despite an excessive amount of bog-wading – and I took the time to take in the surroundings in the euphoric I’ve-just-ran-up-my-first-Munro, my-toes-don’t-have-frostbite state I was in.

I can’t wait to get some more Munro runs in over the winter!

Vanoise: Dome de Sonnailles

With the weather still firmly in check after Pointe de la Réchasse, we decided to take a rest day before our next summit attempt. So, it was in the intense mid-afternoon sun that Friday brought that we found ourselves making the steep and relentless ascent to the Refuge de la Vallette for the Dome de Sonnailles (PD) the following day. The weather forecast was for “unseasonably hot temperatures” of nearly 40C at 1000m, and mid-thirties in Pralognan. Even at 8pm in the evening at the refuge, at an altitude of 2590m, the thermometer in the shade read 25C. It was no surprise then that our bivvy outside it was by far the warmest bivvy I’ve ever experienced in the Alps!

Our route up was straight from the campsite, through the Foret d’Isertan and via the Pas de l’Ane. The forest brought some welcome shade, but we were soon out into the open on a steep zigzagging path, scrambling our way through the seemingly impassible crags bounding the top of the forest on the map. This devious route brought us out to the more open ground through Pas de l’Ane and west of the Cirque du Petit Marchet, bringing striking views of the surrounding mountains.

Marmot

A marmot takes a fancy to Lorna’s leg!

Great views of le Petit Marchet and the rest of the Vanoise

Great views of le Petit Marchet and the rest of the Vanoise

The refuge was in an equally as striking position, commanding brilliant views right down the Prioux valley to the Aiguilles de Peclet and Polset. We were welcomed warmly by the guardian (who was particularly friendly and spoke very good English), and we paid our €3.70 each for the right to bivvy outside and use of the facilities. The refuge was fully kitted out for self-catering folk like us, and we made use of it to boil some water for our couscous. The whole place had a very cosy feel, right down to hand-sewn cushions and decorative wallpaper (it even has hot showers). I have to admit I was a bit disappointed we weren’t staying in the refuge! I would definitely recommend making a point of visiting the place if you’re in the area.

Refuge de la Valette

Refuge de la Valette. The hut on the right is the dining room and also acts as the refuge d’hiver (winter refuge).

We’d spied out a bit of the route the evening before and so we were confident we knew where we were going when we set off at 4am the next morning. I was soon down to t-shirt and rolled-up trousers as we made our way via a well cairned path up the moraines. At around 3000m we eventually reached a steep snow slope (about 35 degrees) that lead up to another patch of scree and boulders and finally the glacier to the rocky summit. The snow was extremely soft, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the slope, which gave the route a proper “mountaineeringy” feeling and probably is what warrants the grade of PD (Peu Difficile).

Early morning on the snow slopes up Dome de Sonnailles

Early morning on the snow slopes up Dome de Sonnailles

An early-morning band of rain passed through just as we were reaching the summit, and we had a few short showers and general drizzle, along with a lot of atmospheric clouds swirling around our summit and neighbouring ones. It all made for very dramatic lighting and it was quite a novel experience to be in bad weather on an Alpine summit – something which is usually to be avoided! After a bit of a walk on the Glacier de la Vanoise, we headed back down before the sun hit the already soft snow to make it more unstable. We were the only ones up on the summit, and we didn’t see anyone else until we were nearly back at the refuge at around 10am, when two others passing us heading for the summit asked how the route was.

Dramatic clouds

Dramatic clouds

Summit of Dome de Sonnailles

Myself on the summit of Dome de Sonnailles

On the Glacier de la Vanoise, with Dome de Sonnailles in the background.

On the Glacier de la Vanoise, with Dome de Sonnailles in the background.

We picked our bivvy gear up from the refuge, and had a coffee and Orangina whilst enjoying the fantastic views. The route down we chose was different to the one we ascended on; via les Béveriers, les Prioux and the long road back to Pralognan.

Back at the campsite

Back at the campsite

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

Snow, in Snowdonia!

Of all the big mountain ranges in the UK, Snowdonia seems to suffer the worst winter conditions, and any snow that does fall there doesn’t tend to stick around too long. This winter has been quite an exception, and I’ve been enviously eyeing up the “Snowdonia Winter Conditions” thread on UKC, jealous of all the talk of Parsley Fern Gulley and “full winter conditions” on Crib Goch and Tryfan’s north ridge. I’d all but surrendered to the fast that I’d missed out on these great conditions in Wales this winter, and so it was a complete surprise on Sunday to find my wading through the white stuff up one of my favourite mountains – Moel Siabod.

Within the space of a few hours on Saturday evening and another few hours on Sunday morning, a very considerable amount of snow had fallen, rendering Pen-y-Pass impassible to my Aunt and Uncle, Paula and Pete, whom we were meant to be meeting in Pete’s Eats that morning. We hastily rearranged our meeting location to Ogwen cottage and our walk, which was meant to be up Moel Eilio, to Moel Siabod instead.

Our route was from Pont Cyfyng, but instead of the usual Daear Ddue ridge (see my post dated January 12, 2011) we headed up the broader north-eastern shoulder and onto Siabod’s north-eastern summit ridge. This final ridge, whilst not being narrow enough to feel much exposure, offers a good bit of easy scrambling and is in such a fantastic position and was covered in so much snow that it had a really mountaineering feel to it. Add the white-out and wind, and for a moment you could have mistaken yourself for being in Scotland.

Siabod’s north-eastern ridge

Said white-out necessitated a compass bearing from the summit, which lead us to the “tourist” route back down to the Afon Llugwy near Plas-y-Brenin. We walked back along the river to the cars, before popping by the Tyn-y-Coed for a well deserved pint of Purple Moose’s finest! All-in-all, a fantastic day out and it was great to eventually be out in Snowdonia in the snow.

Summit photo!

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!).

First time around the Kentmere Horseshoe

I decided that due to the brilliant weather forecast last Tuesday, I’d take a day off the PhD and head up to the Lakes with Lorna, Imogen and their Dad. I’ve been itching to do the Kentmere Horseshoe for quite a while, and seeing it bathed in the sunshine the week before whilst we drove straight past cemented the idea in my mind.

We struggled to find a parking place in Kentmere, but fortunately just as we were driving out of the village, one of the locals offered us use of his drive! The weather was just as good as we expected it to be, and we got some stunning view heading up the Garburn Pass out of Kentmere. A lot of the Lakes had a clear inversion layer just below the summits, and whilst the Kentmere hills didn’t, it was beautiful to see.

From the summit of Froswick. Great inversion layer going on in the distance!

From the summit of Froswick. Great inversion layer going on in the distance!

We headed north from the Garburn Pass, over Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick, ending up on Thornthwaite Crags. There was quite a bit of snow and it was very consolidated, which made descending some of the steeper slopes a bit tricky without crampons. The summit of Thornthwaite Crags was crowded with people and their dogs – presumably most had come up from the north as the Kentmere hills themselves were relatively quiet.

Summit of Froswick again.

From here, it was on to Mardale Ill Bell and then down the Nan Bield Pass to Kentmere Reservoir and back to Kentmere. I took note of some of the gullies onto the Yoke – Thornthwaite ridge, and there looked to be a multitude of easy gullies and interested mixed lines that I haven’t seen described in any book. I was a bit annoyed I couldn’t take another day off and come back armed with climbing gear.

A rather busy Thornthwaite Crags.

We’ve been really lucky with the weather recently and I felt very grateful to be out in the Lakes in such good conditions.

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!