Friday, 25 June 2010

33: Weird rock formations on Ben Avon

Ben Avon (Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe)   25th June 2010

Despite many weekends and trips to the Eastern Cairngorms, often camping at Braemar or sleeping in the back of the Espace, Ben Avon had remained unexplored.

The obvious route is to approach from the south, but following perusal of the maps and various books, I decided that an approach from the north would be more interesting - giving a good cycle run in, and a chance to explore some of its more interesting granite tors, and include a couple of extra tops on the way.

And so it was that Anne and I headed up the A9 (once again, but first time this year!) and then off to Grantown-on-Spey.  We arrived on a pleasant summer evening, and pitched our tent at the (deserted) campsite just on the edge of the village.

Next morning looked fine, so we made an early start for the drive up to Tomintoul (the highest village in the Scottish Highlands).  We parked the car in the car park at the south end of the village, on the minor road to Delnabo, at about 9.15am, and unloaded the bikes.

approaching Inchrory
Initially the track was a little rough, but improved where the main "road" joined us across the river at Delavorar.  The next hour or so was a delightful cycle run up the wooded glen, gaining height gradually, until we reached the shooting lodge at Inchrory.  Shortly beyond Inchrory, we abandoned the bikes at a bridge where the track turns sharply west to follow the River Avon.

It was now 10.30am, and a beautiful warm (but lightly overcast) morning, and already we were above the 400m contour.  A fine stalker's path took us steadily up on to Carn Fiaclach - good walking, dry underfoot.  Following the (sometimes intermittent) path, we passed to the west of Meall Gaineimh (1m short of being a Munro top).

approaching Clach Bhan (right) - East Meur Gorm Craig in the distance
I made a detour to explore the massive granite tors of Clach Bhan (below) - and had some fun exploring around and over them, including finding the hollows on top which were reputed to ease childbirth for any pregnant women who sat in them! 

Clach Bhan
The Great Sphinx of Ben Avon?
the hollows on top of Clach Bhan
After some clambering around on the (very rough) granite, I hurried on to rejoin Anne on the main path, and we continued another mile or so to reach the summit of East Meur Gorm Craig at 12.30.  This was our first Munro top, and the cloud was breaking up to give some fine blue patches, so we stopped here for lunch.  To the east, the high heather-clad moorland rolled away endlessly.  To the west, rocky cliffs fell away dramatically, with some snow lingering in sheltered north-facing gullies.

on East Meur Gorm Craig

From East Meur Gorm Craig, we dropped down to rejoin the path as it continued on towards Big Brae (below). 
heading towards Big Brae (with its own rocky tor)
Our presence sent a large herd of deer running away over the moorland (above).  

Once beyond the head of the coire, we struck across to the west, and up easy grassy slopes to reach the top of West Meur Gorm Craig (left), our second Munro Top of the day.  A fine little rocky top, perched above steep drops to the north, and looking across the coire to the previous top.

It was now 13.25, so we stopped here for a second lunch, and to admire the view, especially to the north.

From here, it was an hour's walk across the deserted plateau to reach the maim summit.

Initially, the route was across a flat stony area, then  we threaded our way up a short steeper section covered in boulders, Mullach Lochan na Gabhar.  A large tor ahead looked like it might be the summit, but as we reached the next skyline we realised that it was actually Clach Choursaich.  Up here in mist could be confusing - bad enough on a clear day! 

After visiting Clach Choursaich, we contoured around a wide depression, then up the final slopes to Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe (which might mean "the bed of the yellow stag" or "the hill of the bright one").

summit tor, Ben Avon
Impressive rocks!  Very similar to the summit of Rough Tor on Bodmin Moor that we visited later on in the year.   
Anne on the summit - a good spot for a cup of coffee!

Beinn a' Bhuird seen through a "window" of Ben Avon's summit tor

scrambling around on the summit rocks

What a fantastic place - and we had it all to ourselves!

A worthy Munro number 250!

We spent 40 minutes scrambling around and over the summit rocks, and admiring the views across to Beinn a Bhuird.

However, time was marching on, so at 15.20 we began our descent.   To begin with, we headed back NE along the highest part of the plateau towards Mullach Lochan na Ghabhar - easy going over short grass and small stones - then headed off NW toward Stob Bac an Fhurain.

East and West Meur Gorm Craigs from Stob Bac an Fhuarain (Lochan Gabhar just visible)
looking down the ridge towards Clach Bun Rubhtain

weird face on Clach Bun Rubhtain
There was time on Stob Bac an Fhurain for a 5 minute stop to spy out the route ahead, before heading off down the ridge towards the next point of interest - the dramatic rocks of Clach Bun Rudhtair ("stone of the needles"), Ben Avon's highest tor.

Beyond and below, we could see or descent route along the broad grassy ridge of An Druim Lom and back to the valley of the River Avon.

It didn't take long to get down to the rocky tor, where we marvelled at its weird shapes:  one part like a huge face, another like a small dog scrambling up the rocks, and another looking like a bird perched high up on the rocks! 

The 2 km stroll along the gently descending grassy ridge was a pleasure - with only the final slither down a steep sandy path to the river giving the knees any pain!

Debris entangled in the deer fence told a story of huge Spring floods, but today the river was in its bed and no danger to anyone.  

We followed the deer fence for a few hundred metres, until we could join the land rover track where it crossed by a plank bridge.

From here, it was only a 2km walk, on now weary legs, down past the Linn of Avon to our bikes by the bridge above Inchrory.

It was good to have a seat by the burn for 15 minutes or so, before heading off down the track/road on our bikes.

Although only gently downhill, gravity assisted our run down the valley, and we were back at the car at 7.30pm, exactly an hour from Inchrory.

the Linn of Avon

1 Munro
2 Tops
24 km by bike
18 km walk
820 m climb
10 hours 15 minutes

(written 13/02/2011)

Thursday, 3 June 2010

solo day revisiting Cuillin peaks

Sgurr na Banachdich and Sgurr Dearg

What changeable weather!  After the continuous low cloud of Wednesday, this morning I was greeted by a clear (although hazy) sky.  Perfect conditions for today's plans.  

All my previous encounters with the Cuillins had been with a group, usually including at least one more experienced person.  Today, the plan was to go on my own, but to hills that I knew were well within my capabilities, because I had been up both of them twice before.  In addition, I planned to be at the In Pinn in time to get some good photos of Winky, Pam, Tony and Andrew making their ascent.

Sgurr Dearg from my route up Sgurr na Banachdich

So, at 10am I set off from the Youth Hostel down the road to the Glen Brittle Hut, then turned up the path past the Eas Mor.   Above this impressive waterfall, I made good progress up into Coire na Banachdich. 

The plan was to get to the col, and head up to Sgurr na Banachdich by its south ridge. However, feeling a wee bit adventurous, I decided to take a rising traverse up an obvious line I could see slanting across the west face of Sgurr na Banachdich.  

I crossed the burn, and climbed upwards quite steeply on grass and rock to gain the start of my traverse.  This proved to be a broad sloping shelf of broken ground (right), with crags above and below, which led upwards with excellent views down to the coire below. 

Eventually, this led out on to Banachdich's west ridge, and I joined the more usual path coming up from Coir' an Eich at about 800m. 

Sgurr na Banachdich's west ridge, leading out to Sgurr nan Gobhar, just before I joined the main path
looking down Banachdich's south ridge toward Sgurr Dearg
By 12.30 I was on the Banachdich's summit (for the third time).  

I found a good spot right on the ridge crest just a few metres south of the summit to have a lunch with a view!

And what a view (left)!   Banachdich's south ridge below my feet;  Sgurr Dearg beyond, with the top of the In Pinn peeking over;  Sgurr Alasdair in the distance;  vertiginous drops down towards Loch Coruisk on my left!  All rock - hardly any vegetation anywhere.

As I was sitting virtually astride the ridge, some members of a group had to use my shoulder as a handhold as they made their way from the south ridge up towards the summit!  

After half an hour or so enjoying this airy perch, I set off carefully down the rocky ridge.

on Banachdich's south ridge

On a previous (misty day) we had by-passed the South Summit on its west side, and I decided today that "discretion was the better part of valour", especially as I was on my own - but that's a Munro top I may want to return to some day!

As I made my way on down the ridge (right), I stopped to chat to the lady of a couple I had met earlier down in the coire; lower down, I also spoke to her husband who was waiting for her.  They asked for a recommendation for a Cuillin guide, so I passed on Winky's contact details (who else?).

Soon I was down at a notch on the ridge and faced with a small rock step.  In fact it was the col, but I hadn't quite realised it, and instead of climbing up the rock step as I should, I headed down and round, which then meant a bit of a hairy ascent up a steep loose scree-covered slope to regain the proper path up Sgurr Dearg.   

climbers descending the In Pinn's west face, seen from Sgurr Dearg

Once back on track, the climb to the summit of Sgurr Dearg was straightforward, and I soon emerged opposite the In Pinn's west face at 2pm.  

I was expecting my friends to get there at about 2.30pm, so I sat and watched some groups abseiling down the west face (left). 

After enjoying this spectacle for a while, I decided it was time to head round to the other end of this bizarre blade of rock, so I carefully made my way down the sloping rocks below, and round to the foot of the east ridge ("tourist" route).

Classic view of the In Pinn from Sgurr Dearg - groups gathering at the foot of the east ridge, and one climber on the top.

I found a good vantage point on An Stac opposite the foot of the east ridge, and watched the sport from this viewpoint - groups of climbers making their way up the east ridge!

Busier that Selkirk High Street on a Saturday afternoon!  There was quite a queue at the foot of the ridge, with an average wait time of about 1 hour!

I realised how lucky we had been back in 2005 when Iain, Pete and I climbed it with Winky and Donna - the weather wasn't so good then, but that meant there was no queue - so no time for me to get nervous!

It was now 2.30pm, and right on cue, Winky, Pam, Tony and Andrew appeared up over An Stac behind me, having had an exhilarating scramble / climb up its east buttress.

They joined the "queue" at the foot of the East Ridge (right), and got themselves sorted out, ready for the ascent.

Eventually - after more than an hour's wait - their turn arrived.

Meanwhile, I remained on my comfy vantage point, drinking coffee and watching several groups heading upwards.

(left) First, Winky leads the way up the initial crack, showing where to step over on to the ridge proper, and then continues on up to the midway belay stance.

Tony, Pam and Andrew follow on.  

Here's Tony just on to the ridge proper, with Pam coming to the "step across", and Andrew following up behind.

And now the intrepid trio swarm up towards the belay point, where Winky is ensuring that they are safe.

It'll be a tight fit for 4 all on the tiny ledge at once!

... but they all do manage to squeeze onto the stance.  

Here's Winky heading off up the most exposed and steep section just above the stance, while the other 3 wait for her to give the "climb when you're ready" signal from the top.

Another pair are coming up from below - traffic management required!

... and soon they all arrive onto the easier final section - not so steep, not so exposed!

Just a walk to the top from here!

Meanwhile, I left my perch, and scrambled up the sloping slabs below the In Pinn's south face and back up to Sgurr Dearg, to watch the descent!

(below) Tony appears over the top, looking very pleased with himself!

And soon Pam and Andrew join him on the summit ledge.  

Now it's time to get ready for the abseil ..

Tony is first to go over the edge (right) ....

... and Pam soon follows ....

... then Andrew, with a fine view of Sgurr Thearlaich, Sgurr Alasdair and the Great Stone Shoot (below)

Having just descended, Andrew surprised us by immediately setting off back up the hard way!  

This ascent was in memory of his mother, who had fallen off the In Pinn's west face as a young woman.  She had survived the fall, but had never climbed again.

Here he goes ... with us shouting encouragement and advice ... and very soon he was back up to the top!  

Well done, Andrew!

Andrew's route up the east face (left).

So, a great day had by all, and plenty to chat about as we headed off down Sgurr Dearg's west ridge, and back down to Glenbrittle YH at 7pm.

Then farewells to Winky, Tony, Pam and Andrew - and a hope that we might meet up again on some other summits before too long!

Sgurr Dearg (right) from Glenbrittle Youth Hostel

written 28/01/11  DB

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

36, 35, 34: A wet day on Skye!

2nd June 2010  Sgurr na Eag, Sgurr Dubh Mor, Sgurr Alasdair

After the fantastic blue-sky day on Monday, and the glimpses of sun through the mist on Tuesday, it was a bit disappointing to wake up on Wednesday morning to find the cloud was well and truly down on the hills this morning as I peered out of Glenbrittle Youth Hostel.

However, as agreed, I met up with Winky O'Neale (Cuillin Guide par excellence!) and her 2 clients for the day, Pam and Tony.   The decision was to go for the 3 southern end Cuillin Munros, and hope for a better day tomorrow for Pam and Tony to do the In Pinn.  That suited me well, as it would allow me to keep my Munro tally clocking up.

So, off we drove down the road, and parked at Glenbrittle Campsite at 9.20am.  The first 10 minutes was dry, then we were into the cloud as we marched up the track into Coire Lagain. Soon we branched off the main path, to cross the coire to the foot of the Sgumain Stone Shoot.  Steady upward progress on big wet boulders.  

Tony, Winky and Pam on the Sgumain Stone Shoot
Half way up we met a group of climbers looking for the route up to The Cioch, but they seemed to be unsure of the way, or whether they were capable of it.  We were very glad we had a reliable guide!  Soon we reached the col, and then quickly dropped down to Coir a' Ghrunnda, very spooky in the mist, with huge boulders looming up around the lochan.  From here, the going was easier, up rough and broken ground, to reach the rocky summit of Sgurr nan Eag at 1pm.  This must be one of the best viewpoints in Scotland, but I'll need to return another day to see it!

David, Pam and Tony - summit of Sgurr nan Eag
There was a cold wind, but it was nicely sheltered below the cairn, so we rested for 30 minutes, eating lunch.  Then tIme to move on again, initially retracing our steps, but keeping to the ridge as it descended northwards.  An Caisteal loomed out of the mist ahead, and we skirted it below its eastern flanks, passing some incredibly contorted peridodite boulders en route.  Returning to the ridge beyond An Caisteal, we scrambled up to reach the summit of Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn (a Munro top) at 14.40.  Rather than stop here, we dropped down a little on the east side to a sheltered platform (below), where we left the rucsacs, and put on harnesses.

From here we scrambled down below dramatic pinnacles to the col on the ridge linking to Sgurr Dubh Mor, then scrambled up the other side (roped for security on the damp rocks) to the summit.  Again, no view, so a quick about turn, and retraced our steps back to the rucsac howff.  40 minutes out to Sgurr Dubh Mor, and 25 minutes to return.

For here to Sgurr Alasdair on the main ridge is "rock climber only" territory, with the "Thearlaich-Dubh gap" slicing across the ridge.  

To avoid this, we took an easy path which led down below the T-D gap, and across the southern face of Alasdair to gain the bealach between Alasdair and Sgumain.   

We traversed a short distance across to the foot of a greasy chimney (right), which was to be our route of ascent (the more direct ridge to the summit is blocked by a "bad step.")

We roped up for the climb up the chimney, which required a few tricky (for me!) moves, but at least it wasn't exposed.  

The last shove up out of the top required some commitment.  "Just go for it", said Winky, "I've got you on the rope!"

From the top of the chimney, steep broken ground led up to the summit of Sgurr Alasdair, the highest point on Skye, adorned with a line of Tibetan-style prayer flags!  Now 17.10, but still no view, and a biting wind blowing the drizzle into our faces, so we didn't even stop on the tiny summit - each of us just touching it as we passed over, and down the east ridge to the top of the "great stone shoot" (below).

From the bealach, the "great stone shoot" drops more than 1000ft down to Coire Lagain below - the shortest and quickest descent route from Alasdair, but certainly not the pleasantest (especially on a claggy day like this).

descending the "great stone shoot"
Photo (right), taken on the following day, shows the summit of Sgurr Alasdair, the bealach, and most of the stone shoot.

"Awful muddy gravel slide" might have been a more apt name for it.  The consistency on this wet day was like ready-mix concrete, and we each descended independently under partial control!

We all breathed a huge sigh of relief once we reached solid ground again in Coire Lagain.

Fron Coire Lagain, we followed the good path back down towards the campsite, where we emerged into brilliant sunshine and a heatwave at 7.30pm!

Worth doing again on a clear day!

3 Munros
1 Top
10 hours