Wednesday, 24 August 2005

3,4 and 5; 6, 35 and 1800

Final outing of 2005.  Read on to figure out the numbers!

Late summer, and Fiona (and her belongings) needed to be fetched home from Nethy Bridge.  With an eye on some big hills to the west of the Lairig Ghru, I set off a day early, and parked the Espace in the evening in the big lay-by just beyond Coylumbridge.  Hopes of a good sleep were dashed - a big wind blew up, and it rained pine cones all night!  At least that meant an early start!

The day (24th August 2005) looked unsettled - a mix of blue sky and big clouds, and still blowing quite hard.  Anyway, I drove down to Coylumbridge, unloaded the bike, and set off up the track as far as the Cairngorm Club footbridge.  I could have cycled on up the path, but was planning to return a different way, so left it there chained to a fence.

Now 8.25am, time to start walking - through the beautiful pines and up the Lairig Ghru path (left).  By 10am I was well up into the narrows, at the point where the Braeriach path branches off, but had to take shelter for 15 minutes under some boulders from a very heavy shower.

The shower passed on, and I struck off up the path gradually rising up the ridge of Sron na Lairige.  Hard work, being blown around by a strong wind, and pelted every now and then by a passing shower.   As the ridge levelled off, the wind dropped and the going got easier.  Enjoyed spectacular views down into the Lairig and across to Lurcher's Crag (right).

Passed over the tops of Sron na Lairige at 11.45, the dropped down into the dip, before striking more steeply up the ridge towards the summit of Braeriach (Braigh Riabhach).  Cloud coming and going, but good views into Coire Brochain.  Reached the top (Munro number 3 in rank of height) at 12.30, ate lunch and rested for half an hour or so in the lee of the cairn.  Not another soul to be seen anywhere around!  Blissful.  

The wind was lessening, and the cloud base lifting as I set off westward across the wide eery plateau (left) towards the 1235m point, then south to Einich Cairn, and on past the "wells o' Dee" to Carn na Criche (at 1265m, the highest Munro Top in the list).

Now the sun appeared, although it was still windy, as I continued easily down round the head of the coire, then up the rocky ridge to Sgor an Lochan Uaine (also known as the Angel's Peak).

(right) Sgor an Lochan Uaine and Cairn Toul from Carn na Criche:

What a viewpoint!  Promoted to Munro status in 1990, it now proudly stands as the 5th highest mountain in Scotland (1258m).  Some would argue it is just a top lying between Braeriach and Cairn Toul - but its position and remoteness (I was 18km from the car, and had been on the go for 6.5 hours) make it a worthy Munro, in my opinion!

(left) Braeriach from Angels' Peak

No time to linger long, though, as I headed on down the bouldery slope to the next col, and then up the next short ridge to Scotland's 4th highest mountain, Cairn Toul (more properly Carn an t-Sabhail,  hill of the barn).  Another superb viewpoint, looking across the 2000ft deep gash of the Lairig Ghru to Ben MacDui.  Click here to see the view from the other side!

Allowed myself a 5 minute stop here (now 3.15pm) before heading off south round the lip of Coire an t-Saighdeir to the final top of the day, Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir.   The furthest point of the day (20km out) deserved a slightly longer rest - I allowed myself 10 mins!  

(right) Cairn Toul from Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir

Now, if I were completely crazed by this Munro lark, I could have continued on a couple of miles to The Devil's "Point", but it's a big drop, and would mean a huge walk back, so decided to leave that for another day ...

Instead, I retraced my steps to the col, with the wind now dropped and the sun at my back, and the bike (and car) like a distant mirage, encouraging my tired legs on the homeward path.  By contouring across behind Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochan Uaine, I was able to save some climbing, although no saving in distance.  What a different scene on this side of these mountains - instead of the cliffs and coires of the Lairig Ghru, the backs of these hills drift away into the Moine Mor's miles of peat bogs to the west.  

Following various intermittent paths and sheep tracks, I gradually traversed across to find the path leading down through Coire Dondail into Glen Einich (left).  

Ah bliss - a real path again, and by 5.45pm, I was dropping down towards the outflow of Loch Einich.  Last time we were here, Anne and I were floundering through deep snowdrifts.  Today was a lovely warm evening.  

After 9.5 hours, I spotted the first other person I had seen all day - a solitary camper by the loch side!

I was now off the hill, but the road home was a long and wearisome 11km on foot.  At 8pm, my bike was a very welcome sight, waiting patiently to whisk me back to the car in 15 minutes downhill all the way!

A mega-day:  6km cycling, 35km walking and 1800m of ascent.

PS did you get all the numbers on the way through?

(written by D. Bethune, 19/02/10)

Sunday, 7 August 2005

tidying up in the central highlands

After our summer week on Mull, Anne and I got away for a few days camping at the start of August.  The target was a few Munros in the southern central highlands - nothing spectacular, but 3 good hill days, taking my Munro tally from 184 to 188.  Into the last 100!

This blog is supposed to be about the last 50, so I'll press on and just give a very brief description of these hills.

5th August 2005  
Beinn Bhuidhe (Loch Fyne)

Cycled 5km up the glen from the head of Loch Fyne, then walked to Inverchaorachan.  Steep but well made path up the side of a series of waterfalls.  One rather dodgy exposed step required high above the ravine.  Boggy coire above, then steep scramble to the ridge.  Cloud was down on the summit, so only occasional glimpses of the view.

6th August 2005
Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil (Glen Dochart)

Camped at Luib in Glen Dochart.  Again, started by bike - 3km along the main road to the Auchessan road-end.  Fairly easy tramp across rising moorland, then a short steep grassy ascent to the top of Meall Glas.  Wide and pleasant high level walk along to Beinn Cheathaich (top).  Then down and up (very steeply) to Meall a' Churain, the northern top of Sgiath Chuil (left).  

I had unfinished business here:  I had been on this top back in 1983 on a Mountain Leadership Training expedition, but, unbelievably, had not bothered to stroll along the 1km almost level "ridge" (above) to the summit.  Today that omission was rectified!  

And a good summit it was too;  a small crag overlooking Glen Dochart, with views across to Ben More and Stob Binnein (right).  A place to linger on a summer afternoon!

7th August 2005    
Beinn Mhanach

Another warm sunny summer day.  Time to seek out the shy and retiring Beinn Mhanach, lurking behind its better known neighbour Beinn Dorain, at the head of Auch Glen.  We chose to climb it from Achallader Farm.  

Followed the good (but rather boggy in places) path up the glen behind the farm into the strangely bumpy Coire Daingean, then on up to the col between Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Achaladair.  

From the col, we followed the narrow path leading round behind Beinn Achaladair, and finally on to the rounded hump of Beinn Mhanach , but taking in the top Beinn a'Chuirn (left) at its west end first.  Rolling hills. 

Sunbathed on the summit and admired the views over to Beinn a' Chreachain (right) and down Loch Lyon before reluctantly heading back by the same route.

(written 17/02/10)

Monday, 25 July 2005

summer on Mull

After all the excitement of the Cuillins, the rest of 2005 was a bit calmer.  In fact, the next outing was back to this islands - but this time Mull rather than Skye.

We were spending a week's holiday there with friends Birgit, Timo and Esther from Berlin, and were blessed with some great weather.

Lovely views of the Black Mount across Rannoch Moor on the road up ...

A highlight of the week was celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary with a sail to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles with Turus Mara.

The sea was like glass, and we landed on both Staffa (my third time) and on Lunga.

Completed our celebration with a meal at the Italian Restaurant at Salen!

The forecast was for the weather to stay good on the next day, so it was off early to climb Ben More (again, for me, the third time).

We decided to make it a circuit, climbing up to the col you can see in the photo (the lowest point on the skyline), then up over A'Chioch and to the summit from the west.  This is much more fun than the tedious slog up the north ridge from Dhiseig.

The climb proved a bit rough for Esther, who wasn't used to such rough terrain, but Timo, Birgit and I enjoyed every minute.  

Once at the col at the top of Gleann na Beinne Fhada, it is a lovely ridge walk over a' Chioch to Ben More.

It's quite a steep and rough scramble on to the summit, then suddenly the views open out to the west.

Here's Birgit heading up the last steep section, with A'Chioch behind, and the mainland in the distance.

All the hard work is worthwhile!

View from the summit to the north west over Ulva and out to Coll and Tiree.

Then we trundled back down the "tourist route" and along the road back to the car.

For many people, BMM is their final Munro - for me it was my 9th - it's too good to keep until last!  But, the route over A'Chioch is definitely the way to do it.

(written 15/02/10)

Tuesday, 31 May 2005

Cuillins with Winky (part 3b)

2pm, on the bealach looking up the east ridge of Am Basteir.  Looks fine, though a bit steep and rough.  Off we set, up the increasingly narrow ridge, with huge vertiginous drops to the right, and rough steep slopes to the left.  Bare rock everywhere.  Soon we reached the narrow section 2/3 of the way up, and peered down the "bad step" (right).

Now, if the bad step were anywhere else, you would slither down it without too much trouble.  The problem is that it drops about 4m into a notch on a ridge that is only a couple of metres wide, with huge drops on each side, so there is no room for error if you tried to make an uncontrolled descent!  This is where we had turned back in 2003.

Apparently, there used to be a large boulder in the notch, which made the bad step a lot easier that it is now.

So, we roped up again, and one by one we did a mini-abseil into the notch.

Pete descending the bad step (above) and me (left).

From the notch, the route to the summit was easy - less steep and narrow than the lower section.

Suddenly, we were there, and peering over the sharp drop towards the Basteir Tooth.

Now I really could say that "compleating" the Munros was a possibility - exactly 100 to go, and none requiring rock climbing ...

.. except, of course, the small matter of negotiating the bad step on the way back down!

Iain (right) on Am Basteir, with view to Sgurr a' Fionn Choire and Bruach na Frithe.

(below) west ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean and Knight's Peak (so-called Munro top!) from Am Basteir

The skies had cleared, and the day was now perfect - blue skies, very clear visibility.

So, back down again.  

The bad step was negotiated (with a little help from my friends), and in no time we were back down to the bealach, then round below the north face of Am Basteir, with spectacular views up to the Basteir Tooth (left).

Hmm.. don't think I'll ever climb all the "tops" as well as the Munros!

Easy wander up Bruach na Frithe.  Enjoyed the views.

Bruach na Frithe is reckoned to be the easiest of the Cuillins, but is a spectacular peak nonetheless (below).

Here we parted ways.  Iain, Pete and Winky  returned to Sligachan, while I continued down Bruach na Frithe's north ridge, then took the path back to Glen Brittle.

The next 2 days were to include ascents of Sgurr Alasdair, and the southern peaks, but the weather was absolutely foul in the morning, so we decided to call it quits.  We had enjoyed three superb days - many thanks to Winky - and would be back sometime to enjoy the other peaks.

(written 30/01/10)

Cuillins with Winky (part 3a)

So, mission accomplished!  The hardest Munro climbed.  Only 101 to go, and all within my grasp.  Aha - but what about Am Basteir - didn't we get stuck there 2 years ago, and had to retreat?

"Meet me at Sligachan tomorrow at 9am" were Winky's parting words:  Am Basteir (plus Bruach na Frithe and Sgurr nan Gillean) here we come!

So, next morning Iain, Pete and I met Winky;   blue sky around, but clouds gathered on the tops:

We set off at a good pace up the path across the moor, beside the Allt Dearg Beag, continuing straight on where the Sgurr nan GIllean path turned off to the south, then up the slabs beside the Basteir gorge.   

The pace soon slowed down as we slogged up the scree above Coire a'Bhasteir.  The previous two days had taken their toll!

Correction - my pace slowed down - the other 3 waited patiently for the old man as he toiled up the path (left)!

Anyway, we reached the bealach at midday, and discussed our route up the west ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean.  

We were to use the "tuning fork" chimney to the "tooth arete", as I had done back in 2003 (see blog).

"OK - I remember it being a bit scary, but I know I can do this!"  "Oh, yes, and we will descend the same way ..."  "Hmm, that might be trickier!"  Anyway, we set off along the ledge to the foot of the chimney, and were soon roped up, and making our way up.  

Here's Iain coming up the tuning fork ...

Next was the arete itself (site of the former "gendarme", which fell off a few years ago, making the route a bit easier, but leaving the "tooth arete" very exposed.  

As the Skye Scrambles SMC guide states, "Make some delicate moves in a very exposed position to pass the stub of the former tooth".  We did!

Here's Iain again (left), stepping across the arete itself - I was safely up already, but the slight camera shake tells a story!

And all safely arrived above the crux (Winky and Pete, right).

Oh ... not quite ...  that appears to be Iain's hand just appearing over the last bit ... is someone belaying him?

It gets easier from here, although still quite exposed and steep in places.

On up across the strange concrete-like section of rock, and then through the "window" (right).

A few more metres easy scrambling, and we were on the summit - a tiny platform, with great views all around (below).

My third time here:

1981, with Anne (by the "tourist" route)

2003, with John, Donald and Tim (ascent by the West Ridge, descent by the "tourist route"

and now, once again by the West Ridge.

1pm, and time to head back down the ridge.   

Soon we wer back down to the crux.  

Winky decided I should go first, so ... deep breath ... then lower myself over the edge ... good, found the foothold  ..... step down to the ledge ... turn around .... edge towrds the arete  ... bold step across   ... hands onto the other side ... work way round the block ... safety!    

And here's Pete starting his descent (right) ...

Then back down the "tuning fork", round the ledge, and back to the bealach at the foot of the east ridge of Am Basteir.

Am Basteir (right),  Sgurr a' Fionn Choire (left) and Bruach na Frithe (centre behind) from the west ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean.

This rough ridge was our next challenge ....

continued on next blog post

written 310/01/10

Monday, 30 May 2005

At last - the "Inn Pin"

And so the big day had arrived - by nightfall, I would either be on my way to compleating the Munros, or I would have bottled out ...  which was it to be?

The weather looked promising - blue skies overhead - a "round of Coire Lagan" the target.  At 9.15am, we met up with Winky, Donna, and Pete McIntosh, another Inn Pin hopeful.   All set off eagerly enough up the path into Coire Lagan.  However, the blue sky soon disappeared, clouds rolled in, then light rain began to fall.  Into Coire Lagan, we reviewed the situation:  given the weather, we decided to give Sgurr Alasdair a miss for today, and head instead for Sgurr Mhic Choinnich via Collie's Ledge.

So, leaving the good path behind us at the lochan (above), we began the ascent of the Great Stone Chute (right).  Hard going - for every step upwards, we seemed to slide back down half a step, as the scree moved beneath our feet.  The main stone chute leads towards Sgurr Alasdair;  about half-way up, we headed to the left and onto more secure footing, continuing upwards to Bealach Mhic Choinnich.  Time for a pause, some food and drink, before roping up for the ascent of Collie's Ledge (below).  

By now we were into ragged cloud, with the light rain turning to snow - the blue skies had long since departed.  

The ledge was pretty simple scrambling, after the initial moves to get to its start from the bealach.  The biggest hazard was the melting snowflakes washing sun tan lotion into our eyes!  An absorbing half hour or so followed as we slanted across the mountain side, with steep drops into Coire Lagan below us to the left.

Collie's Ledge led us to the north ridge of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, not far below its summit, where a massive boulder provided a shelter before we pushed on up easily scrambled rocks (but with prodigious drops below) to the tiny rocky summit.   

Apart from being my 182nd Munro, this peak had an interesting family link.  The first recorded ascent was by Charles Pilkington, a member of the famous Lancashire glass-making family.  An interesting digression is to read his report on this area in the SMC Journal of 1891, with an excellent old photo, showing Sgurr Mhic Choinnich on the right, and the Bealach immediately to its left.  I'm not sure of the exact link, but the Chairman of Pilkington Glass from 1973 to 1985 was Sir Alistair (Lionel Alexander Bethune) Pilkington, so I guess Charles Pilkington must have been some sort of distant cousin?

Anyway, it was a top to savour - a tiny platform with near-vertical drops on three sides, and superb views across the bealach to Sgurr Thearlaich (pronounced "Cherlie" and named after the aforementioned Charles Pilkington) and to Sgurr Alasdair, now gloriously free of cloud (above).  To the south, the view had opened up over Sgurr Dubh Mor, and to the north, An Stac and the Innacessible Pinnacle appeared out of the mist in dramatic fashion (left).

We could have stayed there all day, enjoying the sense of being on top of the world, but we had other business still to do, so it was back down the north ridge (above) to the top of Collie's Ledge, and on down to Bealach Coire Lagan.   

The impending challenge of the Inn Pin was starting to loom large, and when Winky suggested climbing up and over An Stac, I reckoned that was stretching my nervous energy too far.  So, instead we suffered our way up the greasy slabs and scree on its west side with drizzle in our faces.  Maybe An Stac would heave been preferable! 

However, at 3pm we found ourselves at the foot of the east ridge of the Inn Pin (right).  The moment of truth had arrived!

We roped up - Winky leading, then Pete, then me, and Iain bringing up the rear (to catch me if I fell off),  Donna bounded away up unroped - it's all relative!

Winky gave us our instructions - "follow me up the first gully until you get to the sharp edge, then step over it to the right, and carry on straight up until we reach the belay stance half-way up; keep the rope fairly tight between you, and move together"  She didn't say whether I was allowed to keep my eyes shut or not!  

Getting ready at the start of the ascent (right)

In fact it was great fun, so long as I didn't stop to think about where I was, or the huge drops to both left and right!

Iain and Pete were confident enough to take a few photos en route (see below) - I was too busy clinging on to the rock!

Pete (green) and me (red) coming up the initial pitch.  The first bit is steep but not too exposed.

We continued up this section, until the crack we were climbing merged with the vertical south face (above right).  Then a bold step across to the right onto the Coruisk face.  Here the hand and foot holds were smooth and unconvincing, so we swarmed our way up, until we reached the half way belay.

here we are at the belay point half way up - not much space for 3 people.  Winky and Pete smiling - David looking worried!

There's one comfy seat - with a hundred foot drop at your back, and a 500 ft drop below your feet.  

"Help - what am I doing here?"  

"Oh yes, and what about that practice abseil?  Too late now!"

Winky left the three of us secured to the belay, while she headed off up the second half of the ridge.  Soon she was secure up above us, and we continued upward - less steep now, but narrowing in to a proper ridge, with steep drops on either side (left and below).

Soon the top was in sight, and I HAD DONE IT!   Munro 183 - still 101 to go, but all now achievable!

Hand up to touch the highest point, then sit down to enjoy the position - a small slightly sloping area, with some grass, and near vertical drops all around.

(left) on the summit - with the top of Sgurr Dearg in the background.

No time to hang about, though.  Others might be following us up, so it was time to get ourselves down.    Winky's psychology was perfect - if I had tried a practice abseil, I might have bottled out, but now I had no choice:  abseil down, or stay here for ever!

Pete went first, then I followed:

"Ooh! - its a long way down ..."

"Just relax your left hand a bit ... on you go!"

"Hey, this is fun!"

Iain followed, then Winky ...

Was I up there 5 minutes ago?

Handshakes and thanks all round, then a quick descent back to Glenbrittle.

Mission accomplished!

(written 24/01/10)

PS thanks to Iain and Pete for some of the photos

(below)  evening glow on Sgurr Dearg, with the top of the Inn PInn just peeking over ..