Marking the end of the superb weather Scotland experienced in 2018, me and the wee man headed for Fifes top adventure spot - The Elie Chain Walk and had a great time :)
Glas Maol Summit Camp
Scotland hadn’t seen weather like this in years – a proper summer arrived and I was determined to make the most of it, as opposed to waiting till normal service resumed and then regretting not getting out!
The week before I enjoyed an emotional wild camp on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe and with the good weather continuing, I decided to head east this time. I didn’t have as much time so I decided on Glas Maol which would give me easy access from the height of the Glenshee Ski centre. During the day the temperature had risen above 30 degrees in parts of Scotland, and in fact some locations had recorded their highest ever temperature, maybe it was a good evening for heading high and enjoying some cool breezes!
Leaving the car in the evening I started on the short hike through the ski centre before reaching the steeper slopes that would lead me to the summit. Lots of places to pitch and I eventually back tracked to the edge of the summit plateaux , close to where the track headed up. My reason was two fold ; firstly I needed to be back home early and secondly the views from here were fantastic looking over the Cairngorms – what a place to camp! There was a slight breeze which was lovely and no midgies – yes NO midge, doesn’t get more perfect than that!! Lol… An early start saw me take in the sunrise over Lochnagar and I was soon heading back to the car and homewards before the majority of people had risen from their slumber – a cracking evening on the hill….
Losing someone close can take its toll…. Before my Mum passed she wrote me a letter and I said to her and myself I wanted to keep it for a time when I was as close to the heavens as I could get and this trip was the appropriate spot and time for this…
2018 – what a summer!! With tent having been finally taken out of storage after the winter (I had planned a few winter camps but time seemed to beat me) I had taken full advantage of the superb weather that Western Europe had been experiencing. After a fine few days out in Applecross with Thomas Heaton, I was keen to get out ASAP and had my heart set on the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe.
Arriving to the pipes in the Coe, I was soon heading up the familiar path, passing the day adventures on their way down. I often get asked about the weight in my pack and although I don’t weigh it, the only time I did, the weight of the camera and filming equipment actually equaled the weight of all the camping gear combined! Although not a light weight traveler (impossible to do with all the equipment !) I do try and carry as little water as possible due to the weight it adds. A Sawyer filter accompanies me and today it came in handy as I reached the corrie and filled up for the night ahead. If I thought the trek up to this point was tough going, I was about to really feel the weight as I carried on to the corrie rim and make my way round the famous cliffs. There was no rush so I slowly trekked on upwards and took frequent stops. Its amazing how the troubles of normal life leave you in these conditions, although I had one very important reason for coming up here which is explained at the end of the video and made this trip an extremely emotional one for me (see video and first paragraph)….
My main concern on the ascent was related to finding a suitable pitch on the summit of SCNL. I have been up here loads, but the majority of these visits have been when a deep layer of snow has settled! I didn’t want a repeat of my Torridon trip a few years previously when I spent about 90 minutes searching for a flat piece of ground without tent shredding rocks!!! My fears were growing as the entire journey round the corrie to the summit comprised of said sharp rocks!!
However as I reached the summit I spied a flat area of grass about 5 meters from the summit which turned out to be perfect for the tent (a one man tent that is!!!).
I set about setting up for the night and was done by sevenish. A few hours to play with, so I decided to head to Bidean. A lovely (pack less) trip saw me stood atop of Argyll and Bute all by myself , a wonderful moment (better was to come though).
A little more than an hour after setting off from SCNL , I returned and set about replenishing the lost calories, the light was absolutely magical and I had a glorious vista to enjoy whilst scoffing my evening dinner.
He next few hours were some of the best (an emotional) I have enjoyed on the mountain and I hope the video , and photos , does it justice. It was the perfect way and place to read my letter and say goodbye in my own way.
A few tears shed and night was soon gathering seed around me. I got my head down and woke a few hours later at 3.30am.
The dawn light lit the sky and heart filled the skies above me (perhaps a sign). A few more photos taken, but I spent more time just enjoying my surroundings and counting my lucky stars that I was privileged enough to be in this spot in these conditions.
The adventure wasn’t over yet. I decided to head back down the other side of the corrie and a few tricky steps later (well tricky with a huge ruck sack on!!) I was back in the corrie and beating a retreat to the car. Early morning whilst most of the world slept and I had enjoyed yet another fabulous adventure and met deer, bunting and a host a wildlife the majority of the population may never see.
How lucky are we who stay so close to these sacred mountains……
So the fine weather continued to bath Scotland in sunshine and after a long day at work I headed east to meet Gerry with a climb in mind. Our plans were to head up and over the South Peak before heading directly up to the summit of the Cobbler. However as light faded we decided on a plan Plan B was then scuppered as we were devoured by the Midge !! However a fine evening was still enjoyed as we threaded the needle and headed home just before darkness caught us up!
A world class photographer as well as a YouTube sensation worldwide, Thomas Heatons work is absolutely fantastic. I have been following Thomas’s work for over two years now and regularly tune in twice a week for his excellent and entertaining films from around the globe.
When a message appeared in my inbox asking for some company on a Scottish Adventure, it didn’t take me long to accept! Initially it looked like July was going to be the date for our adventure, however when the usual May heatwave took hold in the North West Highlands, I dropped Thomas a line asking if he would be available to come wild camping for a few days at short notice. I was able to take time off work and we organised a rendezvous point and time in the glorious North West of Scotland.
The week before,I had also spent a weekend in the northwest Highlands. I had bagged an Applecross Munro in glorious weather. It had been perfect for hiking – not too warm – 13 degrees at sea level and a stiff breeze to keep me cool and as I made my way anticlockwise round the Beinn Bhan circuit, I knew this was where I wanted to show Thomas. The views in all directions were stunning for the duration of the walk and I really hoped he would find a suitable shot to make his travels worthwhile.
So a week passed and we entered the bank holiday weekend. Glorious weather and a bank holiday meant one thing – it was busy!! However I was hoping that our planned vacation location would be quiet. Not many people are aware of this stunning mountain and it really is a hidden gem! Having been away the prior weekend I was pushing my luck at home and brownie points are in negative equity as I write this! I think the next few weekends I’ll be spent back home!!
Leaving late morning I had about a 3.5hr journey to Applecross along the torturous A9. Spare a though for Tom though as he had been presenting in Wales the day before, then drove all the way up (albeit with a stop in the lakes!).
Pulling up at the layby in Tornapress and it was one of those rare moments in Scotland when you open the car door and the heat hits you! The air con had been keeping me cool at a balmy 20 degrees but the cars thermometer wasn’t lying when it was telling me it was 27! I lazed about waiting for Mr Heatons arrival, even enjoying a bit of sunshine on the parched grass.
Before long the familiar Heaton mobile was approaching, I recognised it instantly from his vlogs and films and our adventure began. We pulled on our monster packs for the first time and set off for a 3 day adventure on Beinn Bhan! The stalkers path made progress easy going and we met a few walkers heading off the hill (it was now 4pm) and to my delight we were told that they hadn’t seen any other campers – looked like we were going to have the mountain to ourselves – perfect……
The path diminished as we headed towards the first nights camp, and it also started to ascend. The heat was intense but a slight breeze was presently itself every now and again making things bearable.
Soon we crested the first incline and the Lochan (tonight’s pitch) presented itself – a private beach under the imposing eastern cliffs of Beinn Bhan. An absolute sublime spot and one I had ear marked for a wild camp the week before – just didn’t realise I would be fulfilling this tick so soon!
Tents were erected and my first port of call was to make use of my “dad” swim shorts that I had bought. The water was warm and the May sun had done its work making my dook refreshing but not hypothermia inducing. Refreshed I returned to the beach and we set about getting some tea before Thomas scouted out the area for some photography.
Tea scoffed and we had a couple of hours to wait until sunset which was just before 10pm. As often happens though as dusk approaches the breeze died down and this meant one thing at the lochside – the dreaded midge took to the air.
Now I have witnessed clouds of midge and in fact have seen midge far worse than what we were about to experience, but I have never experienced the “sound of the midge”! We were sat facing the shores of the lochan and we both turned to each other having heard a drone. “did you hear that” “yeah – must be someone close by with a drone?”. So we stood up and turned around, expecting to see a drone flying towards us. Instead we soon realised where the sound was coming from! As the wind dropped a sea of midge had taken to the air on across the moorland directly behind the beach! What could have been a nightmare turned out to not be too bad. We both smothered ourselves in a combination of deet and smidge and it seemed to work. In addition to this there were on brief periods when the winds dropped and they became airborne and as soon as there was any hint of the breeze they landed took refuge in the dried heathland! To be honest, I don’t think I recorded a single bite – amazing when I think of the sheer numbers that rose to create the nightmare hum!
After realising we weren’t going to be eaten alive (at first I was scared that the only remnants of us would be a pile of bones on the beach!) we made our way to a rising that overlooked the Torridonian Mountains. A small lochan (or Tarn if you live down south) provide some foreground interest and we set up waiting for sunset! What we did immediately notice was a low lying haze – unusual for evening and something seen in the early morning before the sun burns it away. As we scanned the horizon though, it became apparent as to what was causing this – moorland fires! A large bloom of smoke was rising to the south in Strathcarron and a major blaze had taken hold a few miles to our south. It was a serious fire and one that raged for the next two days on the hill… more of that later!
As the sun faded and the moon rose any chances of a spectacular sunset were quashed as the smoke rose and produced a haze in front of our mountain view. Got a few good shots though but we decided that we would return here to capture sunrise. Back to the tents and a quick “wee dram” was enjoyed in good company , before hitting the hay – for 4 hours!!!
A few snaps from Day 1:
03.30am and I popped my head out of the tent – the light of dawn was approaching and things were looking good – very good! The hike form the beach to the “tarn ;)” took about ten minutes and we were off ASAP. The next hour was glorious as the dawn light lit the scattering of clouds above Beinn Damh, they turn bright pink before fading to allow the sun to rise above the Torridonian peak! 6 am and we were back at the beach, having had our breakfast we decided to tackle the ascent up on to the mountain early, before the heat of the day would make it 10 times harder – a good decision!
Beinn Bhan is similar to Ben Nevis in that one side is dramatic cliffs whilst the opposing side slide gently down to sea level! Our ascent was through the dramatic corries and cliffs of the eastern face. Making sure we had collected enough water we made our way (slowly and paced) into the corrie. It wasn’t even mid morning and the sun was beating down on us whilst the peat fires rage to the south. It really felt like we were in Africa as opposed to Scotland! The usually boggy ground was burnt dry and no moisture remained. Weeks without rain had left the landscape a tinderbox dry. For us, this made underfoot conditions better than what would normally be experienced but it also left the landscape vulnerable as we would soon see as we went higher. The headwall of the corrie was reached and next was the main hiking challenge of the trip – a steep pull up the headwall! Slowly slowly was the order of the day but we had all the time in the world! Soon we were cresting the corrie headwall and looking at new views which stretched in all directions. To the west lay the sea board with The Cuillin of Skye taking centre place – never tire of this view! Whilst inland , the Torridonian peaks took on a new aspect as our viewing platform was now a few thousand feet higher and closer!
Next pondery was where would we camp. Ditching the bags we went for a long wander around the plateaux and eventually decided on a fine spot at the northern end of the mountain, a good choice Mr Heaton (has a cracking eye for a spectacular camp spot!). I was delighted with this as it meant I got to explore more of the mountain and a part I hadn’t visited the week before!
Camp set and it was now time for an afternoon nap. We had spent a bit of time wandering the plateaux and when we returned to get our bags we spent time at another lochan – cooling our feet and enjoying lunch!
I headed into the tent and opened the outdoors – hoping for some airflow – that failed!! I found myself sliding down my ground mat as I as sweating so much!
After 30minutes I extracted myself from the sauna to find Tom fast asleep OUTSIDE the tent on his ground mat. I quickly copied this and before nodding off – smothered myself in factor 50 to save waking up like a lobster! Afternoon nap done and I went for a wander back up onto the plateaux. Smoke filled the dry, heaving air and the views were now extinguished – in all directions! Fires towards Diabeag and Torridon now accompanied those to the south that we had seen earlier, and the Torridon peaks had now disappeared. It was surreal. Haven’t experienced being in the hills with such fires so close before and even the corrie next to us was full of smoke which made the cliffs a little grey and hazy. The sea views were gone too, and although I couldn’t see it, I read later that another fire had been started at Sligachan over on the Isle of Skye that has caused considerable damage.
Back at camp and Thomas was now up. Time for tea. The sun was starting to get lower in the sky and as its rays filtered into the corrie next to us , they caught the smoke and streams of light were lacing the air behind us.
To our delight as we got up from tea and looked north, the wind direction had changed and the smoke that was obscuring the mountain views was now being blown westwards out to sea – a stroke of luck!
Once again we waited on dusk and sunset to see if it would be as good as dawn had been all those hours ago – it seemed like weeks since we stood taking sunrise photos that morning. Cloudless skies allowed a full moon to rise to our south and we snapped away. No clouds meant less interest but I wasn’t complaining, it been a while since I had experienced two wild camp on the mountain as good as this!
As the light faded we could now see the flames from the wild fires over at Diabeag, this didn’t look good – we counted at least three fires from our position……. Cameras were packed away and out came the remains of the Tomatin whisky. To both our shock, we found ourselves in our duvet jackets and woolly hats were donned! I wouldn’t have expected to be doing this a few hours earlier as we melted at 750 metres!
After supping the golden nectar we again headed to our tents for a few hours sleep…
Some snaps from Day 2:
4am and tripods were being extended and shots composed. It was good, but not as good as the previous morning. After a few shots at the campsite I decided to head up on to the plateaux, after that shot to Skye that I was after. I was so excited when I got there – the full moon was now starting to set – right over Skye. I quickly set about getting some snaps – what a place this was!!!!
The sun was now up and heat was intense already – 5.50am and it felt about 18-19 degrees!!
A quick coffee and we decided to descend via the shoulder. Another decision I was ecstatic about as we were exploring new ground ! Although pathless, the dry conditions made progress easy and after a few hours heather bashing we soon found ourselves back on the stalkers path that we had used 3 days before.
Having been fantasying about cool beers for the majority of the trip, our focus now turned to a full Scottish breakfast!! By 9am we were sat at the Waterside Café in Loch Carron. Options were – Full Scottish Breakfast, The Mega Breakfast or THE CHALLENGER breakfast! We both took the challenger option and I don’t think I have ever seen such a large breaky!! As well as quantity though – was quality – this was superb! An absolutely great way to refuel and also to end our 3 day Applecross Adventure.
It was a pleasure to meet Thomas and spend three days on the mountain with him. His work and professionalism is second to none and he is a thoroughly top bloke to spend time with. Really looking forward to seeing his film of this adventure (add link) this is how all adventure/photography films should be J
Some snaps from day three:
After an evening at The Bealach na Ba waiting for a glorious sunset (that didn’t happen!), I headed for the shores of the beautiful Loch Maree. I had arranged to meet Gerry in the car park where we would get some kip, rise early and perform an aquatic raid on the mighty Slioch!
The light was fading when I left Applecross but the roads were quiet (if you don’t count the herds of deer!) and things were looking good. An amazing part of the country and the drive down “that “ road and on to Shieldaig, through Torridon to Kinlochewe was lovely. It was past 11 by the time I pulled up to join Gerry (and two mobile homes) in the car park that was to be our home for the next few hours. A quick hello and I was soon rearranging the boot of the car into a bedroom. After what seemed like minutes, I was woken by a knock on the back seat drivers door. Gerry was up and ready to go! The sun was already up and the light was fantastic looking over Loch Maree to Slioch. Yellows and pink hues lit the sky above the mountain and coffee was enjoyed with a little porridge, before a short portage of the boats to the shores. A little after six and we were off, paddling across calm waters. The crossing was short, only about a kilometre or so and by half six we were transforming from paddlers into hikers! In just over 3km you ascend to the 981m top of Slioch so there is little time for a gentle approach! You are pretty much straight into it and ascending the slopes! Into the corrie and the gradient settled for a short distance before the final and steepest section up the “spear”. The weather was on the slide and the lovely colours we enjoyed over breakfast had now been devoured by monochrome greys! However the cloud was still above the summits and the views from the top were fantastic. The eye is drawn down the length of Loch Maree, but turn your head to the north and east and Letterewe and Fisherfield provide a stunning vista.
The wind was picking up as the weather front approached so we didn’t linger. Memories of previous turbulent loch crossings were in the forefront of our minds! We needn’t have worried . Although the wind had increased the loch was still passable with care and before long we were back loading our cars up and starting our long journey home! It was 10am ….
After a grand day on Bheinn Bhan, I wanted to head somewhere to have picnic. Seeing as I was at the bottom of theroad to Applecross, I decided to head to The Bealach na Ba and enjoyed a dinner with a view. I hung around and did some photography until the sun had disappeared.... next day was an adventure on Slioch on the kayak
A long weekend and the weather had ben glorious, so I packed my gear (and kayak) and headed for the northwest highlands! I was due to be meeting up with Gerry to tackle Slioch via Kayak on the Monday so had the Corbett book out looking for some hills I had yet to climb. Immediately I was drawn to my remaining Applecross Hill – Bheinn Bhan….
I had always fancied climbing here and the hill looked good and the weather superb so I decided it was time to get this one in the bag! Unlike the other Corbett in Applecross , I decided not to cheat (joke!!) and started at sea level and the start of the famous Bealach na Ba road. Last time I had driven to 2000 feet and easily bagged Sgurr a’ Chaorachain (my wife even accompanied me some of the way on that trip!!). However starting 2000 foot further down the mountain meant today was going to be a tad more challenging! The weather was perfect or hiking – it was sunny, a little breeze and the temperature was reading about 14 degrees at sea level – not too warm (unlike my trip here the following week with Thomas Heaton)!
I set off along the well-constructed stalkers path and after a few kilometres soon branched off and started to head uphill headed for the small lochan. The views to this point were good with the Torridon hills starting to show themselves. However as I reached the loachan the true grandeur of this mountain revealed itself! Similar to Ben Nevis , one side of this hill slopes gently down to sea level, whilst its eastern side holds some of the most dramatic scenery in Scotland! I was blown away by the views and as I skirted the lochan I found a cracking private beach!! I was starting to hatch a plan for my adventure the following week !
From the lochan, I headed into the Corrie and to be honest I couldn’t see a weakness to get up the steep headwalls! However I kept the faith and soon started up a steep grass slope which eventually took me to the mountains magnificent plateaux. Some snow still held onto the Corrie rim and care was required to get past this , a slip here would have serious implications!
If I thought the views of the eastern cliffs were good, I was amazed to find the views from the plateaux were even better! The high mountains of the NW highlands lay before me and the crowning glory lay to my south west with the Isle of Skye and other islands of the inner Hebrides lying before me. The sun sparkled on The Minch and I was in heaven!!!
The breeze was lovely and I sat at the summit for a good while enjoying the views. Not wanting to leave , I eventually dragged myself away from the summit, but the walk back was just as good as the walk in. The views down the south of the hill were just as stunning!
Eventually I got back to the car and immediately started on my next adventure – The Bealach na Ba Road…….
Possibly my favourite way up the Buachaille and certainly one of my favourite ways to spend an evening. With the days drawing out, we headed to Glencoe as most people were thinking of heading home. The weather was ok but set to improve as the evening drew on. After leaving Altnafeadh we took the familiar path round and past the waterslab, with the scrambling soon starting. The clouds started to clear and Rannoch Moor was lit up behind us as we leisurely picked our way up the ridge. It never fails to impress!
After enjoying the ridge I scrambled up Crowberry Tower to enjoy tea with a view - what a place!
Soon I was joining Gerry on the summit of Stob Dearg, but the most tricky part of the day still lay ahead - the descent into Coire na Tulaich. Although well into May, substantial amount of snow remained. A simple slip would result in reaching the bottom in a world record time, so ice axes came out to aid our descent and possible any trip we could have encountered!!
Another fine day on The Buachaille!
Winter weather windows can be short lived, but can also show off Scotland’s mountains at their best (no better place in the world !). High pressure was visiting, but only for the morning so I set the alarm for 3am. I needn’t have bothered as I was wide awake before 1 am and by the time 2 am came round I decided just to get up and go!
A moonlit night greeted me as I headed off and the frost glistened at the side of the road. Crieff, Comrie, Lochearnhead, Tyndrum all came and went with no sign of life at all. Driving through the night and I pulled up in Glencoe at around 4.15am. I was excited as the weather was cold but it was still and patches of mists had given some variation on the drive , this was going to be good, as long as those mist patches weren’t lingering on any summits!
My initial plan was to head up one of the easier gullies in SCNL, however the avalanche forecast had made me alter my plans, and I decided I wanted to enjoy a sunset from Stob Dubh. Setting off about 4.45 and the moon shone brightly in the sky to the west. I probably didn’t need my head torch but kept it on until the bealach, spotting the hundreds of eyes watching my progress up the hill! The bealach between the two Munros was reached and I stopped here to get the crampons and axe out for the last section. Over The Big Buachaille, a faint band of blue was starting to silhouette Stob Dearg, I had about an hour to get to the top.
The sound of crampons biting frozen snow now accompanied me and on reaching the spot height 902m a grand view welcomed me. Dawn was now eating away at night and the moon was setting over the Bidean Massif and the sweeping ridge up to Stob Dubh was inviting me on. I followed its crest upwards and the views opened up. Mist lay low in the glens and the howling winds that accompanied me on many trips this winter were only a memory. The blue hues were now taken by high cirrus turning pink as I reached the summit. A short distance later I set up the cameras, just in time to watch the sun rise to the north of Schiehallion between Stob Dearg and Stob na Doire. Not a drop of wind as I sat down to enjoyed breakfast with a grand vista, watching the peaks illuminate as the first rays of sun lit the up one by one. After an hour, I pulled myself way from the top and enjoyed a sublime descent, again following the sweeping ridge back to the bealach and eventually back to the waking world….
Some thoughts and reports from my outdoors activties...