It all started so well….way back in October and a day was spent on the wonderful Grey Corries. Some early snowfall had coated the mountains with a dusting of snow and with the next few days set fair we traversed the Grey Corries under a blue sky and on top of a white blanket- it was brilliant! If this was a precursor of what was to come we were keenly anticipating the next few months!
However ,as we now know , the next few months couldn’t have been any worse! December came and went and only a few days of snowfall seemed to happen, anywhere! Slim pickings were to be had and as for the snow resorts, they must have been struggling. The technical axes were gathering dust, however the hiking boots were still steaming and getting used lots! I early December an inversion forecast saw me head to Scotland’s 10th highest peak, a snowless Ben Lawers and although there was a distinct lack of the white stuff and a stiff breeze (read gale force wind) it was a fine day out above the clouds….
The forecast was good for the following day to and we got the boots on again and traversed over Ben More and Stob Binnein , requiring a car at Inverlochlaraig and one at Benmore farm.
As December grew older, the wish for some significant snow dwindled so I decided on bagging some Corbetts and headed for the far North. Car camping and three remote Corbetts were bagged, taking in the winter solstice on the way …. Still little in the way of snow though!
January and February are usually relied on to give us winter at some point – not this year though! One week appeared to show a return of winter and I headed to the same spot in Glencoe giving two rather different winter days on the hill. However this was a fleeting glimpse only and snow expert Ian Cameron acknowledged that by this time it was one of the least snowy winters in 70 years!
Then as a final insult as February drew to a close – we experienced the hottest February day on record – with some spots exceeding 18 degrees centigrade! A few days were spent crying but then I decided to embrace the weather an got the tent out and enjoyed a starry summit camp in the Perthshire hills – I’ve had far colder camping in mid summer!
As meterological Spring started we at last got some snow! However at this time of year the snow that settles doesn’t tend to hang around too long, but we took full advantage with some trips to the Haggis Hill and finally up a route (of sorts) – Broad Gully in Glencoe (the Quarks were still gathering dust ;)).
Into April and the Cairngorms received up to 40cm of snow – the most recorded this winter – the following weekend I headed up the Fiacaill Ridge and had a great day – however it was too little too late!
So that’s about it – looking forward to Summer now, however Ne’er cast a Cout till May be out – I’ve climbed Number 2 Gully on the Ben well into May so hop remains …….. ;)
Its been a while since I updated my blog so thought I better get back here and update on whats been happening! Its been a really busy few months at work so apologies that his site has been kept up to date, but I have still managed to get out and aout at the weekends, which has definitely kept my sanity levels low with the madness of work over the last few months!! lo
As always , Glencoe has been visited. My first visit here was during a weekend when the forecast was wild so I planned on a photography trip up Beinn a' Chrulaiste. When I arrived , the weather turned out much worse than I (and the forecast !) predicted. So a day was spent lower down on the hill, but still managed to get some nice shots and even getting out and about lower down felt worthwhile... Wee vlog below:
My next trip to Glencoe came only a week later and the conditions couldn't have been more different!! Thomas Heaton wa sup in Scotland for a week and we arranged to meet in Glencoe and go up …. you guessed it - Beinn a' Chrulaiste. Given the superb wintery conditons here over the prior week, we knew it was going to be busy on Stob Beinn a Chrulaiste, so we decided to head up the mountain on a route I thought would be a little quieter , and it certainly was! Leaving the house at 3 am I met Tom early and we were hiking before 6am. It tunred into one of those perfect hiking days (not so good for photography) but absolutely perfect winter conditions to do a loop over Chrulaiste a fine day indeed. Link to walk report here :
Below are mine and Toms videos from this splendid day on the mountains of Glencoe:
It was a few more weeks until I returned to Glencoe and although the above videos give the impression of a fine winter - it had been anything but ! My quarks had gathered dust and I had managed no winter routes, not even broad gully! I always like to get a wee ascent or descent of Broad Gully in at some point in the winter and when a brief wintery spell hit at the ed of March , we headed straight for it, ascending the zig zags to gain access to the Corrie. Always a fine mountaineering day this and what great fun we had, and I was happy that I had managed a route (albeit probably the easiest in the area;)) . Glencoe , whatever the weather or conditions, never fails to disappoint....
Walk report here :
and vlog below:
I had arrived in Sutherland yesterday after a four hour drive and immediately set about tackling Ben Hee. A grand day on the hill saw me back at the car by dusk and my first task was finding a spot to park the car for the evening. I had spotted a large quiet area and headed for that as darkness fell.
The stove was soon on and I enjoyed a cracking tea and the rest of the evening was spent reading my book and watching YouTube videos in the passenger seat!! Eventually bed called and I clambered into the boot and fell into a long deep sleep.
Waking at a late time of 07.45!! (shock horror !! well it was still dark!) I managed to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag and get my kit ready for today’s adventure. The hill I had chosen was a 3 minute drive down the road and has one of the longest hill names I can remember seeing !! - Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill sits above Loch More and before long I was striding along the track beside this northern Loch. The views along the loch to Ben Stack were fantastic and a halo of cloud circled the peak with the top popping out above – how I wish I had chosen that peak today!! Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill was looking a little less inviting with a layer of cloud sitting down from about 500m, and little sign of any protrusions above it! A good ATV track leads up the hillside just before Aultanrynie is reached, but beyond this I knew it was going to be pretty much pathless with rough ground in the clag – and it was. As I reached the ridge, I as well and truly in the clag! Up and down I went over Meallan Liath Beag and it was not until I started the pull up to the higher ridge between Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill and Carn Dearg, that things started to change. The higher I got and I started to notice little breaks in the cloud. I was sitting between some ill-defined layers of clag and every now and again I’d get a glimpse through the clag to see – erm well more clag . Up I went and I soon found myself on the higher ridge and I had to drop a little height. It was probably the summit of Carn Dearg providing shelter, but for a short spell some brightness appeared and I was accompanied by my my brocken with is glories and a fog bow – always a nice sight J However this didn’t last long and as I ascended towards the summit of Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill the clag fell about me again! It was now white with ice and the wind was strengthening . I didn’t linger long and started down southwards off the summit. It didn’t take long but soon the cloud started to break so I headed towards the edge of the ridge and I got lucky. For about half an hour, the clouds parted to give me some smashing views over Sutherland and out towards Ben Stack , it was amazing as the sun was lowering to the south and the clouds rolled about the lochans and hills, a fine sight indeedJ As quickly as it had dispersed, the clag filled in again and with the sun lowering I descended a little quicker. A section of peat hags had me cursing but after what seemed like an age I found myself back on the ATV track. A quick hello to a few herds of deer and I was soon back at the car and first task was getting a brew on! By the time I got the car sorted the darkness has won its battle and I was already readying myself for the winter solstice hike the following day.
It was the week before Christmas and I had to use up my remaining holiday entitlement before the end of the year. With the kids at school and my better half working, I had a week to playJ
Monday had seen me head for a day trip to Ardgour and Tuesday was an indoor day as a large Atlantic weather system swept over Scotland. The forecast for the rest of the week was changeable across Scotland – apart from the far north! So decision made – I was headed for Sutherland! Leaving the house at 6am, I arrived on the shoes of Loch Merkland four hours later at 10am. At this time of the year the days re short (an even shorter the further north you go) so I was aware I needed to get cracking and I had decided on Ben Hee as it would fit in with me getting back before dark. The plan there after was to enjoy some carlife (;)) and spend the next three days in this area.
The forecast was looking good and I set off in glorious sunshine with little wind. Numerous herds of deer greeted me as I headed up the track and towards the Allt Coire a’ Chruiteir burn. The skies were still blue but as the summit of Ben Hee came into view I noticed it was capped in cloud, which was skudding over the summit . The path was ok, but had been eroded away by the burn in places, but I wasn’t complaining as it was dry and nicer than the rest of Scotland. Once out of the wee glen the winds picked up and it was cold!! The pull into the cloud and towards the summit was also the freezing level and a white rim coated the rocks as I approached the cloud capped summit of Ben Hee.
As opposed to coming back down the same way, I decided to drop down over Sail Gharb and hoped to snap a photo of Loch an t-Seilg. I wasn’t sure whether the cloud base would enable this , however the views soon opened out and the views over to Ben Hope and Ben Loyal were fabulous. I was a bit jealous as these near bye peaks were cloud free. A few more snaps and I was soon chasing the unset down the hill to get back to the car before nightfall.
Back at the car and I found a larger parking area to spend a cold night in the car before another adventure on the Thursday J
11pm and I settled down and a few hours later I was up again feeling excited at what lay outside the tent doors. Getting up and looking outside the tent at 03.45 and it was glorious. There was still about an hour till sunrise but there was no wind and no sound – a bit surreal actually but absolutely perfect. Excited for the Arete I was soon rock hoping my way to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg where I watched the sun rise over the Aonachs to the east and light up the north face of the ben – one word – stupendous!
The next few hours were bliss, easy scrambling over the arête an upon reaching the end of the arête , another treat lay instore. A family of very friendly snow bunting welcomed me and kept me company whilst I enjoyed another snack. This was turning into one of those mornings that would live with me for the rest of my life. Someone was definitely smiling down on my from the heavens J
By 0530am I was pulling up the final slopes towards the highest point in the UK. There were a couple of tents but the occupants were still in dream land. I had the summit to myself as I did 6 years previously after a fantastic winter round – what a place!
After lingering about, I soon reversed my route and was soon striking camp under a blue sky and a glorious morning. I started meet the first people I seen since leaving the car park the day before – weekend warriors like me were surprised to see me heading down the way so early, after their super early starts. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they had already missed the best part of the day ;)…..
Solo Backpack to Britain’s Highest Mountain via The CMD Arete
Having a bucket list is a good thing, but in some cases (as in mine) it can also be a bad thing! The reason is two fold ; firstly my bucket list is endless, every week I seem to add more and more to it and I should rename it “my dreams” ; secondly, in this case specifically getting the conditions at a time when I am free has been a major pain ;) So many times I have noticed a weather window and for one reason or another I cannot make it to the hill and this has prevented me from ticking this one off the list.
Not this time though. The weather gods had been smiling down on Scotland for months and when I noticed the high pressure system centered over Ben Nevis, I knew this was the time to start planning.
My last trip here was an absolute belter – another high pressure weather window but that time it was the middle of winter and I experienced one of my best ever days in the great outdoors (see bottom of report!). Today and the seasons were flipped, middle of summer and rather warm. My planning had, as usual, looked for the nearest water source to my intended campsite, however with the months of dry weather I was skeptical on whether the stream would have any water in it! So an extra , extra heavy backpack. My photography gear weighs the same as my camping gear and now I had 3.5 liters of water to humph up the mountain! Ho hum…..
My plan was a steady hike to Carn Mor Dearg to find a pitch with one of the finest views in the UK – The North Face of Ben Nevis! In addition to my water research I had also been scouring the web for others who had done the same but it seems not too many others have! This usually means that finding a suitable pitch can be difficult and my memories of other trips round the arête (in summer conditions) were of lots and lots of rock and not much grass!! But nothing ventured, nothing gained so I set off under a blazing sun in the hope that I’d find a semi flat area to pitch up!!
As usual the views were fabulous. The steady pull up Carn Beag Deargs slopes was punishing! Lots of stops were required and you can imagine my bipolar response when I eventually reached the stream just about 900m up! It was full of water! My anger at this act of nature not drying up in the heatwave and causing my knees and shoulders to suffer more than normal was soon replaced by joy as I splashed the cool water over my face and cooled off and rehydrated . I refilled all my water carriers to keep me going for the next 24 hours which was re assuring J Coffee was not going to be a problem in the morning!
After my lengthy water break I shouldered the two ton bag and trudged on. The views were really opening up now and the cliffs of the North Face are a sight any hill goer should experience.
1000m, 1100meters – up I went. The terrain felt more like central Spain with the arid conditions and dusty paths, it hadn’t rained in over a month and the ground was showing it! Dust was soon replaced by rock and I was soon cresting the North West ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach and the views of the Aonachs came into view. Possibly the best viewpoint on the route, I stopped and eyeballed the landscape from its summit, desperately seeking out some greenery and a possible pitch for my SCARP1!.
The bealach between Carn mor Dearg and Carn Dearg Meadhonach looked a possible site so I headed down to have a look. However about 20 meters from the summit I found a very small area of grass on a slight slope that looked like it could work. I took the backpack off and lay down on the ground. A bit lumpy but it would do. Right on the edge I wouldn’t have pitched here had there been a NW gale flowing but I knew it was to be calm and my exped mat would flatten any lumps and bumps outJ
Tent up and I was knackered. I lay down outside and snoozed for some time in the warm sunshine – not often you can do that at 1200m in Scotland!
Waking up in the early evening and things were looking great, I bumbled about some more and by 9pm the light was starting to turn into a photographers dream. Deep reds came out as the lower sun hit the north face and Carn Mor Dearg and I spent the next two hours snapping away and enjoying myself on the summit of Carn Dearg Meadhonach.The slight breeze that had accompanied me up (and was most welcome) had now died away leaving a breathless evening. This can sometimes be a bad omen for Scotland as the lower the wind, the higher the chance of the midge finding and eating you!! Not tonight though, I was truly blessed to be up here and experiencing this, it was well worthy of its place on my bucket list.
Better was to come though.
After an amazing day above the clouds on Ben Lawers, I decided to leave my gear in the car and head back out on the Sunday. Meeting Gerry in Inverlochlaraig, we moved our kit into his car and promptly set off back along the wee road and round to Ben More Farm.
To change these hills into a novel outing we had decided to traverse the hill from here back to Inverlochlarig. The weather was stunning and as we headed up the relentless slopes of Ben More we were in the shelter of the wind but also in the shade. Blue skies dominated and the views back over Glen Dochart were stunning and we soon found we were above the clouds that lay back over the Glens and inland. The sun greeted us as we reached the summit but so did the winds. It was blowing a hoolie and standing still was fun on the summit and start of the descent. Due to this we decided on a lunch break down at the big boulder at the Bealach. Refuelled we set about Munro number two. Stob Binnein always looks super imposing when you are coming off Ben More, however it’s not too bad and we soon found ourselves on the summit J The wind was not as bad here so we stopped and took some snaps before heading off towards Inverlochlaraig and the highlight of the route. The long sweeping ridge of Stob Binnein is the best part of the day and wit the Trossachs and SW Highlands spread before us, the views were stunning.
A fine day on the mountain and a new way of traversing it!
“The Highest tops will be above the inversion” read he MWIS forecast.
So I packed my bag Friday evening , set the alarm early and looked forward to the following day.
Crack of dawn start (well middle of the night start!) and I arrived in the car park with no other cars being present. Things didn’t look too promising on the way up as I could see the cloud whipping over the top of Beinn Ghlas. I suspected that the force of the wind was moving the cloud lower down , up and over the summits, meaning no wonderful inversion shots!!
Hey hoy, I carried on and up the slopes of Beinn Ghlas and was soon being battered by the gale force winds! However as I ascended I started to get brocken spectres and before long I emerged out of the cloud and on the summit of the first Munro the sun was shining and I could see above the sea of clouds. The only other peaks visible were Ben More and Stob Binnein (my destination the following day).
The winds were lively and I soon descended down and then the short trip up to Ben Lawers. Here the wind was even more ferocious and getting my camera to stay upright on the travel tripod was proving difficult for the filming!! Some more shots and videos and I enjoyed the summit to myself for about 45minutes before descending back down through the clouds and back to the car. A fantastic trip and nice to see so many brockens keeping me company J
Some thoughts and reports from my outdoors activties...