Friday, 7 August 2009

43,42: two wee gems in the Mamores

Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnein Beag    7th August 2009

Third day running of good weather!  Anne was ready for a rest day, so that meant I could do a Mamore traverse - starting in Kinlochleven, with Anne driving around to pick me up in Glen Nevis.  And so the plans were laid.

Looking back down on Kinlochleven from 300m up the path
At 10.40am, I was deposited in the car park in Kinlochleven, and set off up through the woods.  The initial maze of paths was a little confusing, but soon I was on one which climbed steeply up out of the village to the north east.  It was hot work, climbing 300m in the first kilometre, with the sun shining overhead!   The path soon emerged from the woodland and onto the open hillside, and the gradient decreased making the going a bit easier as I passed around the north flank of Meall an Doire Dharaich.

Soon the path reached a cross-roads at the landrover track from Mamore Lodge to Loch Eilde Mor.  My way was up the good stalkers' path that we had descended 2 days earlier, coming down from Binnein Mor.  Before long, I was climbing more steeply up below Sgurr Eilde Beag, and into Coire an Lochain.  Leaving the main path, I struck across to the right over easy springy turf towards the pyramidal Sgurr Eilde Mor's south west corner.

Sgurr Eilde Mor from Binnein Mor (left)

(below) looking north through Coire and Lochain to Binnein Beag, with Aonach Beag in the distance across Glen Nevis

I was already at 750m, so the summit was only 260m above, but it was a stiff climb!  A steep ascent on bouldery ground, with a series of short steps, the final one leading out onto the summit at 1010m.  An excellent viewpoint all around: to the east, a wide expanse of moorland and lower hills;  to the west, the Mamores - Binnein Mor dominating the foreground;  to the north, the conical peak of Binnein Beag (right).

(left) view from Sgurr Eilde Mor's west ridge, where I stopped for lunch, looking across to Na Gruagaichean (in the distance) and the grassy ridge linking Binnein Mor (to the right) and Sgurr Eilde Beag (on the left).

By now it was 1.30pm and time for lunch, so I chose a dramatic perch on the west ridge, a couple of 100 metres from the summit, overlooking the lochan below - a perfect spot! 
looking down from my lunchtime perch to the weird shaped lochan 250m below
After a 20 minute rest, it was time to head off down the hill, using a scree slope to drop rapidly down to the stalkers' path through the coire below.    A series of zigzags led down to a crossing of the Allt Coire a'Bhinnein at 630m, then the path followed a steadily rising series of curves around the flank of Binnein Mor, and up to the lochan between Binnein Mor and Binnein Beag at 740m.  

Binnein Beag (above) is a perfect little cone, with evenly steep slopes all round.  A good path led me steeply up through bouldery ground to the small summit area, where I was glad to have a seat (15.25) and a cup of coffee.  Unfortunately, a short shower arrived there a few moments later, so it was cagoule on, and shelter behind the (small) cairn.

Which way down?  I decided to head directly down in the direction I was aiming - towards the north west.  This proved a little hair-raising down a steep scree-filled gully for a hundred metres or so, until the slope eased off.  A return to the lochan might have been wiser!

On the summit of Binnein Beag, with Binnein Mor behind (right)

Easier gradients lay below, and a steady descent over grass and heather brought me down to the Water of Nevis, just crossable on boulders, then up the other side to join the (surprisingly boggy) path through from Loch Treig.  

(left) looking back up to Binnein Beag from the Water of Nevis

A rapid 3-mile walk, and soon the Steall meadows were in sight, with the Steall Falls in full flow (below).  

Anne had just timed her arrival perfectly, so we walked together down through the woods to the car park.  

2 Munros.
15km walk.
1300m climbing.
7hrs 20mins. 

A wonderful day's walk over two delightful little Munros 
.... which turned out to be the last outing of the 2009 season, with work and other holiday plans during September and October. 

It has been a good year - 22 new Munros - my equal highest total in a year - and the target now within reach!  Compleat in 2011?


posted 03/10/10

Thursday, 6 August 2009

44: Unexpected difficulties in Glencoe

Sgor na h-Ulaidh     6th August 2009

A changeable day - should we climb or not?  Still undecided, we drove round to the Glencoe visitor centre, and had a wander round the exhibitions and nature trail.  About 11am, the cloud showed signs of lifting off the tops, so we drove a short distance along the A82 and parked in a layby near the start of the way up to Sgor na h-Ulaidh) peak of treasure), my final Glencoe Munro.  I had climbed all the others 30 years earlier, from SU camps in Glen Etive.  Somehow, this one had been missed.

Aonach Eagach
We had fine views across to the Aonach Eagach (notched ridge) on the north side of the glen, but our target today was a more modest one, Glencoe's easiest(?) Munro, hidden behind Bidean up a little-frequented glen.  

The approach began easily up the tarred road towards Gleann-leac-na-muidhe house.  However, the owners clearly didn't like their privacy being invaded by walkers passing in front of their windows, so had set up a by-pass path, signposted round a boggy field, joining the track again beyond the house.  Access rights?  

approaching Sgor na h-Ulaidh

We followed the track for another mile or so, until it degenerated into a path alongside the burn.  The original plan had been to ascend Aonach Dubh a' Ghlinne, then on to Stob an Fhuarain (peak of the spring) and complete a clockwise circuit, but the path led us on up the valley towards the foot of Sgor na h-Ulaidh, so we decided to do the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction.  The path wasn't great, and we found it hard going - maybe tired legs after yesterday's walk in the Mamores.  We continued up grassy slopes to the right from the valley towards steeper ground leading towards the summit ridge.

The way ahead was up increasingly steep broken grass and rock slopes.  One guide book warned of a tricky descent, but it looked pretty straightforward.  We picked our way upwards, until we found ourselves on a steep section of greasy rocks and wet grass.  On a dry day, we would have negotiated this without a second thought, but today we suddenly found ourselves in unexpected uncertainties.

I tried up one way, until a few metres above Anne, then retreated - no secure holds, and everything damp and slimy.  Try again, more to the right.  Same result.  Felt quite shaken.  Maybe we should descend a bit, then make a detour further to the right.  No, this is ridiculous - there must be a way up - it's hardly even a scramble!  Third attempt, and this time we were up and through the tricky bit.  Almost defeated by 5 metres of greasy rock!  

view down summit gully
Above, the way to the summit was easy, with the slope easing until we reached the ridge (with views to the south), then a short ascent up the ridge to our left and on to the summit itself.  The clouds enveloped us as they swept in on a south west breeze.  

The summit itself was too windy for a comfortable rest, so after peering down a gully on the north side,  we found a sheltered nook a short way down the east ridge to eat a sandwich (3.20 - 3.40).  

The clouds swirled around us, giving tantalising glimpses in various directions.

Stob an Fhuarain from Sgor na h-Ulaidh

The clouds lifted again as we made the descent to the bealach below at 860m.  

An easy 100m ascent, passing a tiny lochan en route, and we were on top of Stob an Fhuarain at 4.20.  

The wind had dropped, and the sky was clearing, so time for another rest, cup of coffee etc before continuing along the broad undulating ridge of Aonach Dubh a'Ghlinne.

Sgor na h-Ulaidh from Stob an Fhuarain;  Anne at the tiny lochan
Looking back across to Sgor na h-Ulaidh, the "tricky but" looked completely innocuous - bizarre!

looking up the valley - descended down to long grassy slope to the left
Unfortunately, the pleasant stroll along the ridge had to come to an end as we had to face the 500m unrelenting, gruelling, grassy descent back to the path in the valley below.  

We were very glad to get back on to the track, then round the house by-pass, and back down to the car.  7pm.

1 Munro + 1 Top, 1100m ascent, 11km walk,  7.5 hours

(written 11/09/10)

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

46,45: Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor

More Mamores!   5th August 2009

After a week or so at home, and with the weather forecast looking a bit more settled, we headed north once again on Tuesday 4th August - this time aiming to "compleat" the Mamores.  

Caolasnacon camp site on Loch Leven
Where to camp?  The site at Glencoe village looked a bit up-market, so we drove on towards Kinlochleven, and stopped at Caolasnacon.  A lovely spot at the narrowest point of Loch Leven, looking across to the hills.  The grass was a bit muddy, the track down rough and rutted, and the facilities a bit basic, but we were won over by the beautiful location and view.  So... tent up!

Next morning, we were up at 8.30am, and drove round through Kinlochleven, then up the narrow road to Mamore Lodge, which looked rather bleak and forlorn.  Paid the parking fee(!), and set off up the track at 10am.  Nice to be starting at 200m above sea level.

view back to Kinlochleven from high on the zig zag path up Na Gruagaichean

Followed the track, then excellent stalkers' path up into Coire na Ba - surrounded by the steep slopes of Am Bodach to the left, Stob Coire a'Chairn ahead, and Na Gruagaichean to the right.  Soon, we struck up to the right on a poorer path, boggy at first, then improving higher up, which doubled back in a huge zig-zag up the western slopes of Na Gruagaichean. 

Am Bodach from the slopes of Na Gruagaichean
The view across the coire to Am Bodach's steep east face was most impressive.

The path ran horizontally for a while, then eventually steepened, and led out onto a windy bealach at 783m.  It didn't feel like August - more like November!

Superb views all around.

Ben Nevis and CMD behind An Gearanach and An Garbhanach
from the upper slopes of Na Gruagaichean
From the bealach we followed a steep path on loose rock and scree to Na Gruagaichean's NW top (12.45).   Along the short narrow windy ridge, we met a large group of Outward Bound students, struggling along with large packs.  

Passing them, we made the short steep 30m descent into the nick between the NW top and the main summit of Na Gruagaichean ("the maidens").

(right) looking back to the NW top from the nick (windy!) between the two summits

The wind was fierce and surprisingly cold on the broad main summit, so we descended towards Binnein Mor, down the east ridge, to find a sheltered spot for lunch (13.05 - 13.25). 

Binnein Mor (and south summit) from Na Gruagaichean's east ridge

A rocky descent led to the bealach at 950m, followed by an easy walk on grassy slopes over the south summit to Binnein Mor (14.30).  

We wobbled our way along Binnein Mor's summit, an arete of giant boulders, for the view down the north ridge to Binnein Beag.  Excellent views across upper Glen Nevis to Ben Nevis, the Aonachs and the Grey Corries.

Anne on the summit of Binnein Mor
Returning to the south summit, we continued south east to Sgor Eilde Beag, the last top of the day. 

(right) Sgurr Eilde Mor above the bizarrely shaped lochan, viewed from Sgor Eilde Beag 

Once again, we appreciated the superb network of engineered stalkers' paths which criss-cross the Mamores.  A series of evenly spaced zig-zags led us down to join the main path below, which led us south west towards Kinlochleven.  

Off the summits, the wind dropped, and the sun came out for the last hour or so as we followed the path, then track, back to the car at Mamore Lodge.

2 Munros + 3 Tops
13km walk
1150m ascent
8 hours

Saturday, 25 July 2009

50,49,48,47: Mullardoch Marathon

At last .... into "those last 50 Munros" ... so I'll include a countdown in the titles of my blog posts from here on in!

Plodda Falls
After the "Fisherfield adventure" (last blog entry but one), we were in Aberdeen for Fi's graduation, in Paisley to "granny sit" for a few days, and at home entertaining German visitors.  We got away again on Wednesday 22nd July, and headed north up the A9 through heavy showers to camp at Cannich.

Thursday and Friday were forecast to be showery at best, wet at worst - and so it proved!  The Dog Falls and Plodda Falls (right) were impressive, though!   Saturday, however,  sounded promising ...

The prime target was to climb the 4 Munros on the north side of Loch Mullardoch: An Socach, An Riabhachan, Sgurr na Lapaich and Carn nan Gobhar.   A big day, and only possible in a single day by being ferried up the loch to save a long trudge to the foot of An Socach.

A phone call to Karl, the Mullardoch boatman, revealed that Saturday was also to be the last day before he "took the boat out of the water" (presumably for the stalking season), so we claimed two spaces on the 9am run up the Loch.

view up Loch Mullardoch from the dam;
Glen Affric hills to the left, Mullardochs to the right
Saturday dawned bright and sunny, and we left the campsite before 8.30am for the drive up to the Mullardoch dam.  Sure enough, Karl was there waiting for us and 4 other walkers in his little boat.  

Soon we were speeding up the loch, with mountains on each side.   The other 4 passengers had done the Mullardochs the day before - in mist and rain.  Today their target was Beinn Fhionnlaidh on the south side.  It turned out one of them had a Selkirk connection - small world!  En route, we handed over a fistful of notes to Karl as he regaled us with stories of escapades on the hills with stalking clients.  

The 8th passenger in the boat was Karl's puppy.  "What's his name?", someone asked.  "Foot", came the reply!   Had we heard correctly?  Seemed a strange name for a little dog! We must have looked puzzled ...  "Foot", he repeated.  "I've another, older one - he's called Bigfoot!"  Even if you're not intending to climb any Munros, the trip is worth it just for Karl's sense of humour!  By the way, to "book" your trip, phone Karl on 01463 761360.

the long approach to An Socach from "Seldom Inn"
By 10am, we were disembarking at "Seldom Inn", a hunting lodge about 8km up the loch, and waving goodbye to Karl, Foot and the other 4 passengers.  

From the landing place, we followed a good stalkers' path up the valley for around 3km into Coire Mhaim.  From the coire floor, we picked a route slanting up to the left across the head of the lower coire, then steeply up on to the ridge to the left.  

approaching An Socach
Once on the ridge, the slope eased, but it still took longer than we expected to reach Meall a'Chaisg, then on round the upper coire (below) to the summit of An Socach (one of 3 Munros of that name - one of the others lies west of Glenshee, and the other, just across Loch Mullardoch in Glen Affric).  An Socach means "the snout", but the Glenshee one was more like An Soak-ach, due to a heavy shower as I was descending it! 

Anyway, I'm digressing ... By the time we reached our first summit, it was already 13.10.  However, it proved a good resting place, with fine views all around, especially to the west and south.

view to An Riabhachan from An Socach
30 minutes rest, lunch eaten, and it was time to get on the move again.  The next Munro was An Riabhachan (meaning "the striped one").  Once again, we were surprised that it took us nearly 2 hours to cover the 4/5 kilometres to its summit.  It was a lovely walk, though.  
First, we descended gently around the north rim of the coire and over a minor protruding top (left), which may be "the snout" which gives the mountain its name, then more steeply down to Bealach Bholla (at 860m).  

Next a steep ascent to An Riabhachan's (nameless) west top, a grassy bump overlooking Coire Mhaim.  From there, a short shallow descent and re-ascent to the (also nameless) SW top, with a short rocky scramble to its summit.  The stroll along An Riabhachan's long grassy summit is described elsewhere as "a grand highway", and so it is.  Almost level for 2 miles, easy going underfoot, and wide views to left and right.  We touched the summit cairn in passing, but continued another kilometre or so to the NE end of the ridge before stopping for a "second lunch" at around 15.30. 
Sgurr na Lapaich from east end of An Riabhachan

From there, we descending down the ridge of Creagan Toll and Lochain, with Loch Beag and Loch Mor (imaginative names!) in the deep coire to our left, and the daunting peak of Sgurr na Lapaich ahead (right).  

This time we dropped fully 300m to the bealach, with 300m unrelenting climb back out.  

With the afternoon wearing on, from about 2/3 of the way up this slope, I cut across to the outlying top, Sgurr nan Clachan Geala (the peak of the white stones), while Anne continued steadily up towards the summit.  The white stones can be most easily seen from the Affric hills as they lie on the southern slopes.  

Sgurr na Lapaich from Sgurr nan Clachan Geala
Reached the top at 17.30 - with 3 more summits to go, it was just as well it was midsummer!  This top has dramatic views down into Loch Thuill Bhearnaich, but there was no time to linger, so I hurried back across the and up the final terraced slopes of Sgurr na Lapaich (left), where Anne was waiting patiently.  Again, it would have been nice to stay longer, but it was now 18.00, so only time for a quick bite and cup of coffee.

distant windmills from the summit of Carn nan Gobhar
The descent from Sgurr na Lapaich (peak of the bog) was the hardest part of the day.  The path started well, then got lost among a steep boulder field that required careful movements.  

Once below this, the path made a strange little zig-zag over a dune-like mini-ridge, then continued more easily down to the next bealach, Bealach na Cloiche Duibhe (pass of the black rock - not sure which of the many it was referring to!) at 796m.  

From there, it was an easy gentle climb to the final Munro, Carn nan Gobhar (hill of the goats), with its broad stony summit.  Strangely, another Carn nan Gobhar is exactly the same height (992m) and only a few miles away in Strathfarrar.   Paused here for a 5 minute rest, now 19.15, and the sun staring to get lower in the sky behind us.  It was a lovely clear evening, though, and with the light behind us, the views ahead were very clear.

looking down Strathfarrar from Creag Dubh

With now weary legs, we were glad to see that the tramp across to the final top was an smooth, gentle grassy one.  I reached the final top, Creag Dubh, at 8pm.  Meanwhile Anne contouring across 100m lower down to reach the broad south-east ridge that would take us home.  We managed to get very close to a large herd of deer, before they noticed us and headed off across the ridge.

We contoured round, heading down a gentle but steepening ridge, which the map promised us had a path zig-zagging down its lower slopes into Coire an t-Sith.  Unfortunately the path was pretty vestigial (at best), and didn't improve much down in the valley fo the Allt Mullardoch.  

With dusk staring to fall, it seemed a tiring trudge down to the loch, then along the shore back to the dam.   Glad to see the car was still there as we reached it at 10pm, 12 hours from "Seldom Inn"!

A big day!   4 Munros + 4 Tops, 23km walk, 1800m climb, 12 hours.

Back at the campsite, we were too tired to cook, so it was sardine sandwiches, then bed!

Monday, 29 June 2009

Fisherfield Adventure

A’Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor    28-29 June 2009

An expedition to the remote jewels of A’Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor had long been in my mind.  It would need an overnight bivvy, which meant finding a suitable porter to help carry the gear!  

The opportunity presented presented itself as part of a week’s camping holiday at Gairloch Sands, with Iain, Julie and Isla.  We all arrived at Gairloch on Saturday 27th, and  pitched our tents close to our favourite spot.

Sunday was a lovely hot sunny day, so Iain and I decided to make the most of the good weather (which might not last), packed tent, sleeping bags, food and clothes, and set off by car on Sunday afternoon, leaving the 3 generations of girls to guard the encampment!

We parked at Poolewe (right) at 4pm, and loaded up our (rather ungainly) rucsacs.

(right) Ready to start at Poolewe.  I'm supposed to be in the picture here, but something went wrong with the self-timer on the camera!

We enjoyed the cycle up the tarred road on the east side of the River Ewe, continuing on a good landrover track up to Kernsary farm, then through a gate into the forest.   

A few 100 metres into the forest, we decided the bikes should be abandoned, and continued on foot, before leaving the track onto a new path, soon crossing a high stile (left) onto the open moorland.  

Beinn Airigh Charr dominated the view ahead initially.

It was a lovely warm evening as we made good progress along the well-built path gradually gaining height below the steep northern flank on Beinn Airigh Charr

A small detour to cross the burn running out of the Strathan Buidhe meant we were past the half way mark, and soon the path started the descent towards the head of the Fionn Loch (right).

(right) Fionn Loch and Dubh Loch, with A' Mhaighdean behind

Soon we were down to the shoreline, and followed the shore round to the causeway, passing a couple in a small tent, camped at the head of the loch.

The causeway (left) was a slight disappointment, not as dramatic as expected, as the loch water level was fairly low.  

It was now 7.30pm, and time to pitch the tent, on a level area just across the causeway (right), with a view to the Dubh Loch, dominated by A' Mhaighdean

With some midges starting to appear as the sun dropped towards the horizon, we headed into the tent for an early night, ready for an early start next morning.

We woke next day at abut 7am, and were soon setting off up the path past Carnmore, happy to have lighter packs than last night.  Still on the good stalkers' path, we climbed steadily up above the Dubh Loch to around 400m, then struck off to the right, across the Allt Bruthach an Easain towards Fuar Loch Beag, reached by a short climb up a steep grass and rock slope.  Time then for our first rest, on the jumble of massive boulders at the ouflow of the loch (left).

After crossing the outflow burn, we headed on up onto the NW ridge.  

Once on the  crest, fantastic views opened up down to the Dubh Loch, the causeway, Fionn Loch with Beinn Airigh Charr beyond, and righ out to Poolewe on the distant horizon (right).

Initially easy, the first obstacle n the ridge was a slightly exposed clamber up a sandstone step straddling the ridge.  

Beyond this, the going was pretty straightforward for the next kilometre or so up to the 850m contour, until we suddenly found ourselves on a sandstone platform, peering over a 10m drop to a notch in the ridge. A dramatic place!  

(left)  Iain peering over the notch in the ridge.  Fuar Loch Mor and Ruadh Stac Mor behind. 

Just to the left, we found that we could descend a few metres down a sandy gully, then clamber up to the right to a notch which led out to the arete below the sandstone outcrop.  A slightly less secure descent might have been possible on the right, but we didn't try it!

(right) Looking back past the pinnacle to the sandstone platform, where the last photo was taken,

We then weaved around a couple of small pinnacles (left), before clambering up some natural sandstone steps up out of the dip in the ridge, and out onto a grassy plateau area, broad enough to hold a football pitch, in stark contrast to the rocky section.

(below) Looking back to the tricky section of the ridge form near the summit, with the "football pitch" to the right

From here, the summit was quickly reached up an eroded sandy path, and at 10.40am we were standing on the highest point of one of Scotland's finest Munros.  

We remarked on the similarity of the Gaelic name A' Mhaighdean, to both of the English translations words "virgin" and "maiden."  Do they all have a common root?  And how did the mountain get such a name?

(left) The views all around were dramatic, with steep falls to Gorm Loch and Lochan Fada to the south, and across a jumble of complex craggy ridges to Ben Lair and Slioch.  

By contrast, the eastern side of the hill sloped gently away toward the bealach between A' Mhaighdean and Beinn Tarsuinn.  

This was place to linger awhile.

The sky was starting to grey in, so we decided we had better drag ourselves away - there was still another Munro to be climbed, then a long walk home.  We returned to the "football pitch", then found a steep path leading off down to the bealach at 750m below Ruadh Stac Mor.

(right) View from summit of A' Mhaghdean across the "football pitch" to the rounded top of Ruadh Stac Mor 

The climb up to Ruadh Stac Mor was short but steep (left), following a gully up through the initial rock band, then a clamber over boulders to the summit.  

From  the first Munro to the second took exactly an hour.  

Once again, the views were superb, especially to the north towards An Teallach and Beinn Dearg Mhor.  

Spent 20 minutes or so surveying the scene, before heading of along Ruadh Stac Mor's NW ridge.  This involved a short rocky drop off the summit, then a stroll along the almost level grassy ridge for a few hundred metres, before choosing a spot to descend steeply off the ridge on grass and scree to reach the main path coming down from the bealach.  From here, there were great views across Fuar Loch Mor to A' Mhaighdean's NW ridge, with the notch and pinnacles clearly visible in profile (right).

The stalkers' path led steadily downwards to the outflow of Lochan Feith Mhic' illean, then joined the main path through from Gleinn na Muice.   This path led us rapidly back down to Carnmore at 2pm, where we packed up the tent, had some lunch, then loaded up our rucsacs for the walk out.

(left) Dubh Loch reflections from the causeway

From the causeway back to Poolewe took us 3 hours 15 minutes - 9 km walking and 6 km cycling.

A superb expedition - long anticipated and now completed.  Many thanks to Iain for acting as sherpa!

Total walking 30km, cycling 12km, climbing 1300m, time 14 hours (+ overnight)
Munros 232 and 233
Tops 387 and 388