This weekend I had an incredible hike above the clouds on Schiehallion (blog post to follow). The skies were blue above the inversion and the clarity was crystal clear with views from one side of Scotland to the other! It was a near perfect day, but not a 10/10. The reason for no full marks is that it is mid January and we only crossed two patches of snow (10m in size!). The hills were very black and reflect the mild winter we have had. This mild weather means that when the cold snaps come along we need to be ready - and I was certainly at the ready last weekend after a rare snow fall blanketed the Highlands.... Camera in hand headed to th Blackmount.....
Drive along the A82 towards Glencoe and at any time of the year and in any weather, you will hit a piece of road that has numerous photographers standing and waiting with their tripods! The stretch of road I am referring to is just before reaching Glencoe from the south where it crosses the infamous Rannoch Moor, the views here from the road side are stupendous and photographers flock here (and rightly so) to capture reflections of the Blackmount or the endless expanse of Rannoch Moor to the east.
I’ve driven past this spot many times and have stopped at Loch Ba myself to snap the early morning mists rolling over the Am Monadh Dubh. However, Munros and Corbetts aside, I have never ventured into this area to explore it a little further. The fearsome reputation of Rannoch Moor is legendary with hidden bogs and deep peat lochans ready to swallow you up. This maybe another reason I have steered clear! Well after this week’s return to winter I decided I would remove this trip from the tick list. Snow had fallen for three days prior to the weekend but the winds on the high tops were forecast to remain relatively high and this was the excuse for me to try out my route – “The Loop of Achlaise”. I had done a bit of research on the web but couldn’t really find any information on this loop. My plan was to link the four 500m peaks that surround Lochan na h-Achlaise, starting with an ascent of Glas Bheinn to capture the sunrise.
Sunrise was at 08.39 so the alarm was set for 5am and I was out hiking by the back of seven. I suspected that I would be on pathless ground until I reached the WHW, and from the off this was the case. A slight hiccup saw me returning to the car after only 5 minutes walking, to pick up the cameras I had forgotten (seeing as I was wanting to explore other viewpoints and photography angles of the Blackmount) this may have been rather annoying had I realised further from the car!! Second start and within 10 minutes I had already been floored twice by ”The Swamp”! This snow was fab and had blanketed the landscape, but it soon became obvious that in the days preceding the snow, the weather hadn’t been at freezing point! Thus the snow covered unfrozen ground, insulating it from the subsequent frosts and this led to rather treacherous underfoot conditions. Focus was now on my feet. “The Swamp” was in charge and I hadn’t even stepped foot on Rannoch Moor yet!! I was beginning to think this may be a tougher day out than the ascent and length indicated! Windless when I left the car, the marked increase in wind was noticeable as I reached the summit of Glas Bheinn. Unprotected from the moor the Northerly swept across Rannoch’s lochs and burst onto the summit. Undeterred I set about getting my camera gear out and it didn’t take long for my fingers to numb! However I was treated to a grand dawn and sunrise, with the first light hitting the Blackmount and turning the summit ridges pink – it was perfect and worth the numb fingers!!
Photos taken I then started to think about the hike again. I had spent 1.5 hrs on the summit and time was marching on. I headed back down the hill, skirting the forest and managed to avoid the hidden dangers (one bog pool revealed itself and lets just say it wasn’t shallow! Vegetation was key as I picked my way around flat snowy patches which had hidden dangers lurking beneath!
I crossed the A82 and headed for a telecoms station before striking uphill towards summit two – The Mon. I was still taking my time as the snow was soft and the ground pathless (not to mention the views – that were stunning and also hindering my progress!). However I eventually reached the summit, and the views – in all directions – were fabulous. Loch Tulla stretched out to the SW and Rannoch Moor with its Lochans dominated the Eastern horizon. The Blackmount also look great and this also gave me a different aspect from what I was used to. A couple of summit cairns and I then noticed another – this time it was a memorial to a fallen climber who passed in 1962, a poignant reminder that this landscape can be cruel and must be respected. The views from this memorial were amazing.
On to objective number three – Meall Beag. I dropped down to the Bealach and found a sheltered boulder to have my first food break. The solitude was intense, a Saturday with fine weather after a cold snap, not many hills would offer this magnitude of wilderness so close to the A82. With food in my belly, the hike up Meall Beag wasn’t too bad and I soon found myself on another top, dumb founded by the views but also back into the whistling northerly!
The next part of the adventure was the part that was going to require the most concentration – Crossing Rannoch Moor to find The West Highland Way. Map and compass out. Although the clarity was crystal and no clag was in, I need to dog leg around a water course and a number of lochans marked on the map. From the high point of the summit, I could see where these should be, but the snow hid them. Wary of what lies beneath, I proceeded with extra caution as I dropped in to The Swamp proper! As earlier, the drop in height also meant a (significant) drop in wind speed. I got to my first waypoint, took another bearing and started to head towards the WHW. The weather conditions were now superb. Blue skies and no wind and it felt Alpine with the rising Blackmount ahead. I spotted a Drumlin rising from The Swamp and headed for its summit. Once there I stopped again and spent an hour basking in the sunshine and taking photos – doesn’t get better than this. Absolute solitude with stunning scenery with the weather gods smiling down – the sunglasses even made an appearance!!!
Eventually I dragged myself away and picked my way through the last of The Swamp. The WHW was a welcome sight after all my bog trotting! I headed past Ba Bridge until I reached the ruin of Ba Cottage. Originally I planned on taking the track marked on the map from here back to the road; however the weather was so good I decided on completing the four hills and headed up Beinn Chaorach. I was knackered and must admit to not enjoying the swamp fest between the WHW and the summit. I thought I had left The Swamp behind but the summit plateaux was just as bad if not worse than what I had experienced previously in the da. Added to the fact that I hadn’t eaten in hours, I felt relieved when I slumped on the summit. It was now 14.30, and I needed to be home before 18.00 for family commitments. Cue my emergency supply of wine gums. These were devoured and the sugar rush saw me with a spring in my step as I headed toward the A82. The sun was now threatening to fall behind Stob a Choire Odhair but its lower rays lit up the watery landscape revealing strings of Gold that ran through The Swamp below me- a fine sight!
Soon I was padding back along the A82 – just in time for sunset – so along with all those photographers that I passed I managed to snap the iconic view to the Blackmount too. Reflections galore as the skies changed colour for the final time before darkness fell. Back to the car and back home – in the nick of time!!
You know it’s been a long day with a heavy pack when you are in pain holding the steering wheel and changing gears!!! The hardest and toughest outing for some time….. Never under estimate “The Loop of Achlaise”!!
Short film here : https://www.facebook.com/steaming.boots.71/videos/615153092006693/
We chose the 2nd to head out on a brisk New Year’s hike and eventually we settled on a relatively nearby hill - the magnificent Beinn a' Ghlo:) The forecast was for some buffeting up high but when we stepped out of the car the wind was nil and there were promising signs for a smashing sunrise.
As with many of these "local hills" it’s been ages since I've been up them, gallivanting to the far flung reaches of Scotland "bagging the Corbetts!", and I've been missing out. What a cracker this fella is. I've lost count on how many hundreds of times I've hit the dual carriage way and looked up the face of Carn Liath and used it as a judging station as to whether I may get views on the hills I’m headed for! It always looks close to the road and accessible but the feeling you get as soon as you head past its summit and towards the interior of the massif is somewhat different!
As we took a leisurely pace along the farmers road the skies caught fire above Ben Vrackie and shafts of light filled the sky as the sun rose under a blanket of cloud off to the south east. A cracking start to the day….
The path up Carn Liath is pretty straight forward if not relentless and it soon spits you out on the summit. It is here the walk starts to open out and on the descent to Bheinn Mhaol the views to the rest of the mountain open up (or clag in depending on the weather !). On our journey the winds had now hit their forecast speed and the constant hail/snow was pelting any part of bare skin. Hoods up, googles on and cocooned in our own wee worlds we continued to a sheltered spot at the low point between Liath and our next objective – Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain. Lunch was had and plans hatched. We would summit the next Munro and then head back to this spot and follow a fine stalkers path that headed back to civilisation. The wind wasn’t letting up (either were the machine gun pellets!) so we hit the summit, took some bearings and turned on our heels. Dropping back down below the cloud and following the stalkers path, you get a great feeling of the size of the mountain and the giant rounded corries makes it feel expansive and wild. The tops were still covered but the giant spurs and rounded shoulders make you feel totally insignificant. I reckon a wild camp may be in here later in the year when the nights start to stretch out. Definitely a hill I’m going to explore more off…….
It been a year of up and downs for Steaming Boots and now on the first day of 2017, I thought I’d go back and look at what my top ten adventures have been. Looking back now, a lot has been packed in and its been hard to narrow this down to ten! – anyway – here we go :
In at Number Ten- Witnessing The Falls of Glomach
Back in the summer I had a week exploring a part of the country I had never visited before – the area around Glen Elchaig. I hadn’t heard of this waterfall until I was exploring a route to a remote mountain called Sgurr Gaorsaic…. The weather had been poor but this certainly added to the power of the falls when I reached them. Tucked away and not easily given up The Falls of Glomach blew me away with the sheer beauty and show of natures power. An amazing place and the highlight for me during a 4 day adventure in Glen Elchaig….
Number Nine – Experiencing a wild camp in the Letterewe Wilderness
This makes it in at number nine, and what an experience! I don’t think I have ever witnessed a sky as starry as I did on this trip. No idea if this is listed as a star gazing spot (a little difficult to reach right enough) but my god - the milky way spread out as I looked toward the sky and the Aurora came briefly too-what a night it was! Beinn Lair must be one of the most dramatic Corbetts with its northern cliffs dropping to a dramatic cleft separating it from Fisherfield- would highly recommend a visit but come in from Poolewe to witness the full beauty ! Along with the positive highlights, I will also remember this trip for a few other reasons – the ground mat exploding and suddenly being placed in a snow globe (read down feathers filling the tent!)- cue a last minute evacuation in deteriorating weather. Also getting to within a few hundred metres of perhaps one of the most remote Corbetts in Fisherfield and having to turn back!
All in all probably the best kept secret in Scotland …. Get yourself up thereJ
Number 8 – A Kayak Wild Camp with the Capercaillies on Loch Lomond’s Inchlonaig Island
A look at the number eight adventure of 2016 on Christmas Day. I definitely had more sleep on this wild camp than I did last night with excited kids waiting for Santa! Anyway back at the start of October another High Pressure system was dominating and we took advantage with a superb night on Inchlonaig. An advantage of kayak camps is the boat takes the load so we even afforded ourselves two beers each (living on the edge). The paddle across was cracking and we chose a north facing bay just in case the Aurora came to visit (it didn’t!). However a magic camp was had, - beer, fully cooked breakfast (compliments to the over qualified chef ;). And the sound of the Capercaillie ringing in our ears for most of the night J After brekky and leaving the bay exactly as we found it we headed out on mirror calm waters for an amazing paddle across the Loch and eventually back to the cars. Another amazing experience and perhaps one of the last times we will be able to do this…..
Number 7 – Night time ascent of Ben Lomond's Ptarmigan Ridge
After a heavy fall of snow there was a brief lull in the weather and the only way we could take advantage was to get the head torches out. Now this wasn’t an outing in hard crisp Neve under a star lit sky but an outing in soft deep snow with little in the way of ambient starlight. Much care was required but a great adventure experiencedJ
Number Six – Witnessing the Sunrise over a snow covered Glencoe.
I had tried the year before to experience this but unfortunately the weather didn’t play ball. So when an early dump of snow fell over the Scottish Highlands and was followed by blue skies, I got up nice and early and hiked to find my spot to sit and watch the sun rise. It was fantastic albeit all little chilly-a great way to spend a few hours in the morning and a grand chance at some photographyJ
Number 5 –Wild Camping on Stac Pollaidh – Skies on Fire
Late Autumn and I headed for Assynt. A little unsure as to whether I’d find a suitable pitch (it’s a rocky little fella!) I headed up and eventually found a flat (ish!) piece of ground to place the tent. I then scrambled to the top along the serrated ridge before heading back to the Eastern summit for tea. A little disappointed I didn’t get a red sunset I went to bed hoping for better at sunrise. I woke and there was still cloud about, however there was a long thin break in the cloud to the east, maybe , just maybe the sun could peak through this and illuminate the cloud from below. The next 40 minutes were spectacular with a highlight being a red / pink rainbow over the summit of the mountain created from the sunrise. I had never seen or heard to this before but it was an amazing sight. The arch of the rainbow was much higher than usual and the colours on an around it were amazing. The video and pictures don’t give it any credit! Seen lots of Brocken spectres, fog bows, nacreous clouds etc etcover the years but this was a first… hopefully not the last.. and what a place to witness it J
Number 4 – Summit Camp when the Black Cuillin turned to The White Cuillin…
Deciphering between the top four has been a bit tricky and all have changed places since I started to think about what were my top ten adventures this year! This could easily have ben number one but today as I write this, it comes in a close fourth
Probably my favourite place- anywhere- Skye and The Cuillin are a magical place at any time and in any weather. I had waited for an easterly air flow and got lucky on this trip, some of the best views I have ever experienced. It was a bit windy and I nearly lost all my footage when my tripod fell very near the cliff and the drone was also on its limits here!
I don’t think I have had a better pitch either, perched on the edge of a 2000 foot cliff that fell dramatically into Loch Scavaig! It took a bit of effort getting here, but the end results were worth it, an amazing place and in at number four! – should it have been higher on the list????
Number 3 – A Classic Winter Mountaineering Adventure –Ben Lui Central Gully…
On the very last day of winter we were treated to some wintry cold weather and decided to head to Ben Lui. Not only is this an amazing day out, but we managed to get it on a perfect day with blue skies and a temperature inversion. After an exhilarating climb, the topping on the cake was climbing out of the route to a sea of cloud below us stretching to the horizon with the highest peaks standing clear of the cloud…. An amazing way to top out! We then spent a good hour on the summit taking it all in… One night later and the short film was airing on STV (albeit for only about 30 seconds!!;)) Another amazing experience from 2016 J
Number 2 – The Aonach Eagach
A Glencoe Mountain Summit Sunset and Sunrise then having total solitude to traverse The Aonach Eagach Ridge in Perfect conditions
Having the entire ridge (out and back) to myself was amazing but throw in perfect weather, an amazing sunset and sunrise and a summit wild camp- a world class adventure…. so close to being in at the number one spot…… ;)
Number 1 – A Torridonian Summit Camp with the Aurora Borealis
A perfect February day saw me head up Beinn Alligin with a very large pack looking for a summit camp on Sgurr Mor. The views and weather were perfect- light winds, blues skies and crystal clear clarity! This made the trip memorable – however what really pushed this adventure to the top spot was the amazing light show I experienced for hours on the summit.
As I started taking some night time shots – I saw a faint green glow to the north on some of the snaps. This quickly got stronger and stronger and eventually became an amazing show of the Aurora Borealis dancing above North West Scotland with no camera required. I stood for hours watching the lights, feeing rather lucky to be where I was and for the Aurora to be providing me with some evening entertainment.
I eventually hit the hay and woke to a fabulous morning and sunrise. A truly memorable experience and one that I won’t forget quickly…..
Here’s to many more adventures in 2017 – Happy New Year all
Some thoughts and reports from my outdoors activties...