Mullardoch and Affric, May'13
We'd planned this trip for early May, so as to avoid midges and hopefully get some spring sunshine. We were in the Affric area for 3 days hiking over some fairly remote Munros.
The trip began on the Saturday with a boat journey along Loch Mullardoch. Karl, the previous boatman has now retired to Denmark and Angus has taken over the business. He's a great guy and sped us rapidly along the loch. If you get a chance to do this trip and it's a bit breezy or cold, bag the front of the boat ! Arriving in sunshine at 'Seldom Inn' we started on the path heading westwards.
Around 1.5km into the walk, the path crosses the burn via a new bridge and there on, we were jumping peat-hags until we reached the first rise. Grassy slopes ahead took us onto An Socach, our first Munro of the day. We had lunch near the summit and took in the views all around.
There was a fair amount of snow around, nothing difficult and some folk enjoyed a few bum-slides on the way. An Riabhachan next, this is a long flat-topped mountain and we were stuck in mist along its length. As some folk didn't want or need to do the next two Munros, we split the group, some heading directly down to the loch, the others continuing along the ridges - we agreed a meeting point on the lochside. I took the guys along the crests - we bagged Sgurr na Lapaich in mist with the navigation off being a bit testing. Up to Carn nan Gobhar and the cloud began to lift giving us a fine view of the route back to the dam.
The other guys weren't at the arranged meeting place, so I headed back along the loch to find them at the next river crossing. The new bridge that we were told was there couldn't be found, so with care the group got across - we also helped a couple of backpackers too (they were on the TGO coast-to-coast challenge). The day was finished off with a very pleasant walk along the lochside under blue skies.
Day 2 began again with a boat trip along Loch Mullardoch, this time Angus dropped us off at the foot of Beinn Fhionnlaidh. Gear sorted, we headed directly up this hill. There's no beating around this, it's a slog ! But once up, the views are stunning, particularly down the length of Loch Mullardoch.
Forecast was telling us that mist and wind would pull in by mid-morning, so after a quick food break at the col between Beinn Fhionnlaidh and Carn Eighe, we set off. Following a grassy break between boulders, we picked our way to the high col between Carn Eighe and Mam Sodhail, the cornice over the eastern side of the col was most impressive, particularly considering this was May ! Up to Mam Sodhail's summit, we were now in mist.
A short break, we then about turned and quickly bagged Carn Eighe's summit. Some navigation next in occasional white-outs took us to the pinnacles - the snow actually seemed to aid progress around these. Over some tops, narrow and scrambly in places, we rapidly found Tom a'Choinnich. I was expecting the descent of this to be a little challenging with snow-cover, but the ridge down was clear and obvious, everyone making quick progress down.
Our last Munro, Toll Creagach was a pleasant walk up grass covered slopes, with the skies beginning to clear as the summit was reached. All that was left to do was walk down to the dam - I jogged ahead to pick up the Land Rover to save people the 1.5km back along the road.
Weather on our final day wasn't looking nice. Our hardy group weren't to be easily put off and began our day with a cycle along Glen Affric in the direction of Altbheithe Hostel. We stopped at a high point on the track, about 3km into our journey. As we were debating the moutain route and the weather, one of the estate workers pulled up in his 4x4 and chatted to us - amongst several of his expressions, 'I wouldn't be going up there' made the group decide to bin the day and we ended up at the Bog Cotton café for some well deserved breakfast rolls and hot drinks. The mountains will be there another day, and we'll be there to climb them. So the story is to be continued, watch this space !
I stayed in a wooden pod at Cannich Campsite, well recommended ! Some of the group stayed at Bearnock Hostel which they thoroughly enjoyed.
More photos of the trip are on our Flickr site.
Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg arete, Apr'13
Jim Groark took a couple of clients onto Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg arete in late April. Here's his take on the day :
I met Andy and Elisabeth at the Visitor Centre, Glen Nevis, in lovely warm weather and sunshine! We bumbled up the tourist path as far as the Halfway Lochan, enjoying the views and exceptional weather. A pleasant relaxed walk, maybe too relaxed, as Andy decided to run back down to the car for a better warm up! (I wouldn't mention the forgotten sarnies in the car Andy!). From the Halfway Lochan we continued north easterly on the CIC hut track, then dropped down to cross the Allt a’ Mhuilin burn at a suitable spot, then up the rough ground leading up to Carn Beag Dearg (1010m). Above 800m there was a lot more snow cover, and the wind had picked up enough to put on jackets, hats and gloves. The path was much better higher up, but we got blown about a bit while heading over Carn Dearg Meadhonach (1180m) to the Munro of Carn Mor Dearg (1220m). On the old neve snow, we donned ice axe and crampons, and practiced “walking like John Wayne” so as not to trip over your own crampon straps. High up, the day had a real Alpine feel to it, with cloudy conditions breaking sometimes to reveal fabulous views of the North face of Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, and the Mamores all around.
We then crossed the Carn Mor Dearg arete which was quite narrow in places, and exciting in full winter conditions. The old abseil post to escape into Corrie Leis is no longer there, it has been replaced by a masterpiece of a cairn. (Very pretty, but no good for abseil rope retrieval!) But we had no need, or desire to change our plans, and plodded steeply up to the summit of the Ben (1344m), where the clouds kindly cleared again for more spectacular views all around. From the summit we practiced the 231 degrees pacing for 150m, then the 281degrees directly to the top of the zig zags on the tourist path. Snow was good, so took the direct line to the Red Burn /tourist path meet, then bumbled back down the track to the cars, back in t-shirt weather again!
Aonach Eagach, April'13
Jim led a group on a fine dry day in late April along the Aonach Eagach. Here's his take on the day....
I met Jim, John, Roy, and Jane at the parking area below Am Bodach in Glencoe. The weather was looking good - quite cold and overcast, but dry, and the clouds were well above the summits most of the time.
We all headed up to the first summit with good views of the Three Sisters and Ossians Cave. There we were, well dressed and prepared for a full hill day, when half a dozen men went fleeing past in shorts, trainers and next to no kit - two did come back later looking a little sheepish, I suspect the descent of the Chancellor had made them re think their plans!
After a brew on Am Bodach, we scrambled our way along the ridge proper. It was a wee bit windy, but dry rock boosted everyone’s confidence. There was the occasional little patch of snow, but not enough to warrant ice axes and crampons. With the cloud level high, we had spectacular views in all directions, even the Ben had a cloud clear summit! After the first Munro summit, Meall Dearg (951m), we had the delights, and exposure of the Pinnacles. The cars on the A82 looked like Matchbox toys from up there!
Finally, we got to the second Munro, Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (957m) in good time, and descended westwards down on to the old Glencoe road, and the Clachaig Inn for a well deserved pint. As usual it was pretty full ! We discovered the mad runners we saw earlier were all on a stag weekend!
More photos are on our Flickr site !
Ben Lui Munros, April '13
Jim was leading a group onto Ben Lui and its neighbour Beinn a'Chleibh. Here's his take on the day.
The weather forecast predicted that Sunday, 21st April would begin with high winds and precipitation, but would improve as the day went on, so Jim met Valerie, Lynn, John, and Fiona at the Glen Lochy car park on the A85 to Oban at 10 a.m. for a later start. The walk got off to an interesting start, with a river crossing followed by a railway crossing. Jim tried out bin bags as waders, but failed miserably, and got wet feet! (Note to self… just have to man-up, and wear crocs to cross river, then put boots and socks on!) That was just the start of it, recent wind had brought down a lot of trees, so the weaving, obstacle course through the trees and a second river crossing would have daunted Indiana Jones!
Eventually, we got out the tree line, and headed directly up Ben Lui (to avoid covering the same ground twice). The ground was quite steep with a thin layer of snow, so ice axes were at the ready. The final summit ridge had some large cornices, and visibility was generally poor with the occasional break in the cloud. It was windy on Ben Lui (1130m), “Hill of the Calf”, so we set a bearing for the bealach, where we had a brew in more sheltered conditions. Valerie impressed us all with her piece making,… slice one bread roll, add one complete hard boiled egg, then devour!
Then we headed up Beinn Chleibh (916m), “Hill of the Chest”, and got there in record time. With conditions being still pretty poor, we went back to the beallach, and negotiated a couple of deep snow banks to get back down into Fionn Choirein. Rather than struggle through the trees again, we followed a new (very boggy) path that follows the Eas Daimh burn all the way back to our rail and river crossing start point. Just to taunt us, as we looked back, both summits were looking splendid under clear blue skies!
Hill running navigation weekend in Pentlands, April'13
I was asked by Dave Scott from Scottish Hill Runners to put together a 2-day navigation course aimed specifically at hill-runners. With the hill running calendar about to go into full swing and with the Highlander Mountain Marathon at the end of April, we went for this weekend early in the month.
|Planning a route from Allermuir|
A full quota of 12 people booked on, ranging from beginners who had a little experience to those who had a solid grounding, but wanted to brush up on their skills.
So we met on the Saturday morning at Midlothian Snowsports Centre below the northern Pentlands. The centre provided us with their meeting room - the perfect size for all 14 of us. The morning covered the basics - getting to know maps ( comparing different ones with their sizes, contours, features and more) giving grid references, compasses, estimating distances and timings and how to navigate successfully. After lunch we then headed into the hills to put it into practice. Snow was on the hills and it was cold, but bright. Initially walking, we gradually introduced running into the navigation with everyone ending up working in pairs and being scattered over the summit plateau of Capelaw Hill while following bearings.
|Running on a bearing down Allermuir|
After everyone finished for the day, Dave and I headed back out into the Pentlands to mark the course for tomorrow. A dark red glow lit the evening sky - I got off the hills at around 9pm.
Day 2 also began with a classroom session, this time we introduced hill-races and discussed different types, how to plan a hillrace and the approach leading up to it and talked about safety and what should be carried. Mountain marathons were brought in, particularly talking about route choice. We ended off the classroom bit with some ideas on nutrition and how to get out of 'being lost'. After a quick sum-up, we aimed back out onto the hills, this time getting the group back into their pairs to follow the mock mountain marathon course we'd marked the previous evening.
|Day 1 finished, a jog back to base|
Great fun and I'm sure everyone got a fair bit out of the days. Hopefully we'll be doing another later in the year.
More photos are on our Flickr page. You can find out more about Scottish Hill Runners on their website.
|Running the mock mountain marathon|
Laggan Munro weekend, Mar'13
Richard lead a group over the Laggan Munros on a wintery weekend in March. Here's his thoughts on the days....
The first day of our Laggan weekend was a frosty start with some ice on the bike ride in, but not too much! We made excellent time and it looked promising as we left the bikes on the shores of Lochan na h-Earba. It felt like the wind would shift the cloud and Beinn a'Chlachair was looking clear and wonderful on our ascent up the slopes of Creag Pitridh, but soon the cold wind and cloud engulfed us. It wasn't too difficult going up to the first summit and we had soon negotiated the steep rocky descent to the col before a long steady plod up mixed snow slopes to reach the very cold summit of Geal Charn. Alas the whiteout conditions prevailed and we wandered about the blank canvas of snow and worked our way down the the next bealach in good time. Crampons were necessary most of the day due to odd patches of solid neve and ice, but really came into their own on the steep rocky climb up onto the plateau of Beinn a'Chlachair. Sadly the weather did not abate and we were buffeted along in a fresh blizzard all the way to the summit in a very thick whiteout. It was a turn around after touching and back into the maelstrom for a wee while before descending quickly down safer snow slopes and eventually out of the cloud to the bikes for a speedy ride to the cars (apart from the broken peddle).
|On Creag Pitridh|
Our second day saw the promise of a couple of hours of snow or sunny spells depending on the forecast and they even mentioned the hills south of Tulloch Station. Well we had neither really as we headed up the fresh snow covered slopes of Stob Coire Sgriodain and into the white room again choosing a eastern slope to work our way up to avoid the worst of any wind and limit the avalanche danger. It was cold on the summit ridge and we struggled to find any respite for some food for a while as we traversed the rocky snow covered maze of knolls between the two Munros. As we cleared the rougher ground and began the climb up the very snowy (1-2 feet deep) slopes towards Chno Dearg our pace slowed after all the trail breaking and the sun even tried to break through, but it wasn't to be and the whiteout remained with us to the summit. After a bit of food and drink we prepared for some potential sliding down the hill, but the snow was so deep that we just floated on our feet almost all the way down! It was a lovely afternoon out of the cloud and we enjoyed some more feasting on the crest of a medial moraine before descending through the bog to reach the track back to the cars. A great weekend with lots of smiles and laughs!
Ann, one of the group, also let us know her thoughts....
We had the most fantastic day... Richard was an absolute hero navigating, having left the first Munro in watery sunshine to a white out which lasted for several hours. He got us to the top of the second and third hill with absolute perfection as the cairns were covered in snow and capped with a rime frost and not an inch out. Got a bit giddy and thought we were in Antartica walking in the steps of Scott, but reality struck when I tripped over my crampons!!
As usual another 'braw' weekend with lots of encouragement, snackette breaks and laughs.
Here was the plan for the day.
|On Beinn a'Chlachair|
Invercauld Munros, March'13
We'd put together a weekend based in the Invercauld area, just north-east of Braemar. Our goal was to hike up the 4 Munros over two days, starting with Ben Avon on the Saturday. Forecast was looking particularly poor in the Eastern Highlands - new snow, driving snow and very strong winds ! Based in Aviemore for a few days prior to the trip, I headed up to the Cairngorm ski area on the Friday afternoon - skiing was closed and I could hardly get out of the car due to the winds ! So, reluctantly we cancelled our Saturday hike up Ben Avon and Beinn a'Bhuird and postponed it until later in the year.
Forcast on Sunday still wasn't great - winds still quite strong and some fresh snow expected. However the two Munros we were aiming for, Beinn Bhreac and Beinn a'Chaorainn are much lower than the Avon/Bhuird duo, so we went ahead as planned.
|Sunrise at the Lecht on the way over to Braemar|
We met up in the Linn of Dee car-park, got on our bikes and cycled over a light dusting of snow up Glen Lui. After dropping bikes off by Derry Lodge, we headed on foot on a fine path into Glen Derry. Further on, we left the path and continued over heather. Ice-axe and crampons were needed on the icy slopes below Beinn Bhreac, but we made quick progress, reaching the summit around midday. And midday means lunchtime, so we huddled in the 'bothy shelter' out of the fairly strong wind and blowing snow.
|On Bein Bhreac's summit|
The Moine Bhealaidh plateau north of Beinn Bhreac is normally a tiring, boring trudge, but today it was a delight ! The snow had compacted between the tussocks and hardened making for easy and smooth progress - so unexpected ! We did however have quite a bit of whiteout to contend with - some testing navigation. Dave is 'top' bagging, so a detour of around half an hour took us over to Beinn a'Chaorainn Bheag, the mist magically lifted and wind dropped, giving some lovely views. Over to Beinn a'Chaorainn and back into mist and wind, we decided not to hang around, but instead head south and dropped into Glen Derry. Time for our afternoon grub !
|Approaching Beinn a'Chaorainn's summit|
The beautiful walk back through the glen and the regenerating forest was sparked by an inquisitive group of deer, checking us out from a distance, but not overly bothered. Back to the bikes, a few inches of snow had fallen - making for an interesting cycle back.
All in all an exceptionally fine day out !
More photos are on our Flickr website !