An Unexpected Journey
Thursday morning 05.45 – the alarm doesn’t wake me as I am already wakened by the rain pounding the bedroom window. I have a long day ahead of me traveling to Aberdeen, Elgin and Inverness for work, always a long day in the car.
07.00- I arrive at Dundee to pick up a German work colleague. The surface water has made the short trip to Dundee akin to driving with my eyes half closed – spray and heavy rain make the road treacherous. I’m dreading the hours ahead already! Aberdeen comes and goes and there is no relent, the radio forecaster tell us that the band of rain is moving north. A likely story, I think it’s moving at the same speed as my car!
We reach Elgin and its lunch time. Soaked again as we run to the shop to grab a sandwich! Next stop inverness then the drive back through the Highlands to home! My colleague was looking forward to today – not for the work, but for the views of the magnificent Scottish scenery – how disappointed he must have been by the time we reached a – yes you’ve got it – a drenched Inverness! The cloud hangs low around the Kessock Bridge – we can only just make it out as we approach Inverness from the A96.
The radio then tells us of lengthy delays on the A9 but then goes on to say that in the west – the weather should clear to blue skies!! A snap decision is made – let’s avoid the A9 and head home using a wee detour – via Glencoe!!! I need no excuse, a visit to one of my favourite haunts and a chance to show my new friend some rugged Scottish Landscapes.
Of course mid-afternoon as we leave Inverness it’s still battering it down with rain and there are no guarantees that the good weather (and thus views) will materialise!!
However, as we pass Loch Ness and reach Fort Augustus – we notice things getting a tad brighter – soon the rain stops – “ WOW- look at this “ “this is breath taking” “ what amazing scenery”. Just some of the comments now coming from the passenger seat! I know he aint seen nothing yet ! lol
Passing Loch Lochy, we make our first non-work related stop! The reflections on the flat loch, as the mists start to lift from the Munros across the water are stunning! So far the car tells me we have done nearly 275 miles and about 7 hours of driving. I don’t care – the mountains are appearing and I feel just about as excited as my German friend who is witnessing these for the first time. I know better lies in wait for him!!
Passing through Fort Bill and the skies are now a glorious blue, crystal clear clarity. The rain was miserable but it has cleared the air punctuating the blue and green landscape. This is going to be a grand trip through Glencoe! Across the Ballachulish bridge and Glencoe is now in sight, drawing us in with its magnificent skyline.
A few stops and the usual touristy piccies, and I remember I have some walking gear in the car from last weekend!
“How do you fancy a wee hike to one of the finest viewpoints in Scotland” I ask…
An excited “YES” is the reply and I pull up at the familiar Altnafeadh. Some light hiking boots and adorned and we head up to the small peak of Stob Beinn a’ Chrulaiste with about an hour to sunset. We make good progress and sit for 30 minutes on the subsidiary peak – soaking in the views and atmosphere.
His first trip to the Scottish Highlands and my friend is really enjoying it. Can’t recall how many times I have stood here but it always takes my breath away- what a place. The sun is lowering and the wet steep terrain isn’t for first timers in the dark so we gingerly descend, reaching the car with the sun setting over the western end of Glencoe. The light on the descent was amazing and I could help but snap happily away- it was starting to feel Autumnal!
Soon we were passing Rannoch Moor and the familiar landmarks that scatter the road en route home. Dusk at Tyndrum but the Green Welly shop was still open. Some food needed and a chocolate bar and crisps purchased as the light fades. I have to drive past my house to drop my colleague off in Dundee, but I don’t mind. He spots a few bright shooting stars and I wonder if a meteor shower is passing overhead.
9.15pm and I arrive at the Dundee hotel to drop of my colleague. I hope he will remember this day (well the last 7 hours of it) for a long time. All that is left is a 20 mile journey home and I arrive, shattered (but satisfied) after a longggg dayyyy.
My car tells me I have driven 431 miles and been at the seat for 10 hrs 15 minutes !! However the 90 minutes in the Coe made it all worthwhile – an unexpected journey indeed!
Autumn is now here. This is good news for me. As much as I long for long summer days, the long days mean that if you want to watch the sun rise or fall from a summit, it either means a super early start , late finish or better still a wild camp.... However as the days shorten it provides the opportunity for after work hikes with grand sunsets and getting home at a reasonable hour! After our Swiss adventures, I was keen to get back into the Scottish hills again. A Tuesday had enjoyed blue skies so I left the house after getting in for work and headed north. Initially I had planned on Birnam Hill but I decided on slightly higher option. Vrackie gets a good 5 or 6 ascents a year (mostly in the winter) but I headed up here hoping to reach the summit for sunset. The start of a bug was biting but I toiled on and reached the summit with about 15 minutes to spare until sunset. A few other hikers lingered but soon left me to my own devices and I relaxed and watched the sun set behind the following days weather which was starting t show itself on the western horizon!
Film here - https://www.facebook.com/steaming.boots.71/videos/738439266344741/
Beinn a Ghlo was glowing as the last rays caught its corries and slopes and soon the temperature was dropping. Getting my head torch ready, I descended quickly. However by the time I had reached the forest it was pitch dark! There is something primeval about walking through the darkness, it always seems to re connect me to the earth!
Another fine outing...
Having walked back to Arolla after our adventure to La Cabane des Dix, the weather apps were now getting a good bashing as we decided where to head next.
A familiar location was showing the best signs and we headed for Saas Grund. Rock climbing had been on the agenda, but the plummeting temperatures and snow to a lower than usual level, saw us looking for ferrata fun!
Usually a busy bustling valley, we arrived and immediately noticed how quiet it was-end of the summer season (or so we thought!)…
Next morning we headed up the Hohsaas cable car and disembarked at the middle station. About 40 minutes later and we were clipping onto the steel wires. 900metres of ferrata fun now lay ahead of us. The weather was overcast but any icy gale was blowing but our steady progress upwards kept us warm!! Soon we were enjoying airy positions and climbing the ladders towards the top of the first peak. A new bridge has been erected – however Gerry had already done this route and was keen to try the variant. Initially I thougt this may be the easier option , however this was quickly dismissed as a narrow rooftop arête had to be cross – utilising a snow filled crack about the width of a ba hair to teeter across! The next section up to the summit from the col was the highlight. Airy scrambling with sections where there was a lot of space under our feet were enjoyed. Verglas and patches of snow meant concentration was required! The strengthening gales had the advantage of clearing the cloud and by the time the summit was reached, the skies were turning blue. What a grand summit and the views were great. Looking over to the Weissmeis and Trift glacier we noticed a huge avalanche tip and number helicopters circling. Not good sign.
We headed back down the path and were soon enjoying the sunshine. We caught the cable car and headed back to the hotel, thoroughly satisfied with our outing J
Later I googled the avalanche- turns out it was caused by glacier collapse and the village had been evacuated 24 hrs before we arrived !!
Certainly explained why it was so quiet!!!
After a busy year, a last minute Alpine adventure was decided on and the Steaming Boots Team headed out to Geneva on an early September flight.
Arriving on the Saturday afternoon we were looking forward to some late summer fun with four days of outdoor escapades planned! However the weather was decisively “Scottish” when we arrived with heavy rain and gales, not the late summer arrival we were hoping for!
We picked up the hire car and made our way for Arolla and the Kurhaus Hotel. In the prior days I had seen pictures of the sun loungers in the front garden of the hotel on social media. Tourist were out soaking up the sunshine, but by the time we reached the winding road taking us up to the hotel, it was obvious that these photos had been the last summer photos for a while!! The rain quickly turned to snow and by the time we arrived the sun loungers had a good covering of snow!
Over tea we discussed our options. We had planned a hike to La Cabane des Dix and then a hike up to La Luette but with winter arriving early the conditions were a little different to what we had expected!
Come the morning we called the hut – 15cm of fresh snow had fallen up high –mmmm ….
Might make the Pass de Chevres ladders interesting! We decided to head up to the pass and assess the conditions once we got there. It was a cracking morning as the overnight storm clouds gradually lifted revealing the majestic Swiss Alps in their snow covered glory.
The snow lay thick on the ground but the path was still obvious – well until we reached the Pass de Chevres!
Reaching the pass, the Cheilon Glacier lay below us with the Cabane des Dix in view now. We descended the ladders carefully and the next 1.5hrs were a bit tricky – a snow covered boulder field made progress slow but soon we were across the glacier and ascending to the Hut.
It had been an adventure even reaching the hut. At a height of nearly 3000m and a lofty position it is situated in a spectacular position with Mont Blanc de Cheilon dominating the location. A near empty hut saw us have the luxury of a dormer room to ourselves. The evening meal was great and we settled down for the night planning to have a look at La Luette in the morning….
Monday morning and the weather was looking good. We didn’t leave too early but still manged to watch the sunrise as we headed towards La Luette and its glacier. A small lake provided a grand mirror and photo opportunity for the sunrise. Soon we were putting our gear on for the glacier crossing. The fresh dump of sow had obscured any track that may have shown on a dry glacier so we proceeded with caution! We progressed well but with about 200m to go of the crossing we decided to turn around. Large crevasses and the unstable top layer of snow being enough for us to retreat!
The situation was superb and we stopped again to get more photos, taking our time descending to the hut!
A brief bite to eat and we were on our way again – back to Arolla and reversing our previous days adventure – glacier crossing, ladders, hike to the valley. Lower down the landscape had transformed from the previous day and the Alpine meadows had returned to their green status after a monochrome day the day before!
Back at the car and we made plans for the following two days adventure
I was knackered… Another long week and being held up at 11pm in bridge traffic meant a 1am finish on the Thursday night – could I really be bothered heading for a wild camp about a 2hour drive away on a Friday evening? Maybe just relax, crack open a beer and watch the footy?
The good forecast saw me dump the beer and footy idea and I was soon on a familiar road headed for Glencoe. “90% chance of cloud free summits” one forecast read, with others along a similar vein. Pulling up at the car park under Stob Coire Raineach, I questioned my sanity. Cloud filled the sky as I watched the que of traffic coming off the hill. However, I eventually sorted myself out and was soon ascending the path to the bealach on Buachaille Etive Beag. Last time I had visited it was snowy and blowing a hooly! This time the wind was lighter and the ground was green and not white. Physically I was feeling strong, mentally – I was exhausted….
I sat at the twin cairn gaping at the cracking view to the big Buachille and eventually dragged myself up to start the final ascent to the summit of Stob Coire Raineach. I had planned on another camp on Chrulaiste – however I guessed it would be busy with the forecast and the weekend looming. I was hoping for a quiet time up here J
The ascent is a little rocky in places from the bealach, but I was soon on the top taking in the views. At first glance I thought I would easily find a pitch with numerous grassy spots, however finding a place with grass and no rocks proved impossible. Eventually I succumbed and relied on the air ground sheet to do its best. Had I had my old rolly up ground matt, I’d have been in trouble ;)
Tent up, tea on and sunset was approaching. That wasn’t the only thing approaching – cloud was hugging the summits now and any thoughts of a spectacular sunset were dashed! 20.45 and I headed to bed- knackered!
Usually I sleep poorly on wild camps but tonight I slept soundly…. Until 03.49 am! I wasn’t sure if I was still dreaming but the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of propellers and engine noise was growing to the point that I eventually literally jumped out of the tent thinking the helicopter was about to join me inside. The cloud hadn’t cleared and the helicopter passed up the glen with it spot light illuminating a huge triangle of space. This wasn’t good, I hope all involved are safe and well. Watching in the darkness from the summit I could see the rescue operation unfold for the next hour somewhere in the darkness towards the top of Beinn Fhada. Once again it shows the bravery and dedication these heros go through to help someone likely to be a stranger.
I headed back to bed hoping that all involved were ok.
Sunrise was due at 06.15, so I set the alarm for 5.15, but for the first time, I slept right through it!! I woke with about 10 minutes to spare. At first glance it was still cloudy and I contemplated going back to sleep. However I thought I better check the eastern horizon – just in case! I was glad I did because the sunrise was spectacular… In a frenzied 10 minute spell, I fumbled with lenses and tripod’s and got the camera set up just in time to watch the sun illuminate the clouds and then rise over the banks of fog that covered Rannoch Moor – an amazing sight! It was over just as quickly as it arrived and I was soon checking my weather app. Blues skies forecast – mmmmmm – Not here, not now and in fact the low cloud rolled in reducing visibility to zero – time to head off… I descended quickly into the gloom and was back at the car for about 09.30.
A fine afternoon on the Bonnie Banks and we met amongst the crowds gathered at Tarbet.
Follow link for Film of adventure
A special concoction of 100%deet and skin so sft was essential and did a grand job at keeping the other locals at bay!
Setting off on calm waters we paddled across Loch Lomond to the Eastern shores, aiming to find Rob Roys Cave near Inversnaid. The inky black waters barely had a ripple on them and soon the views were opening up to the Arrochar Alps to our West. A quick look at the Inversnaid waterfall and we were soon passing the well marked CAVE sign !! Deciding that a scramble up the rocks from the shores was not too inviting we set our sights on a break at Inveruglas Isle on the west side. A small bay and we were soon exploring the ruins of The clan MacFarlanes chieftains! A welcome break but we still had a paddle back to Tarbet – arms well exercised and a fun afternoon on Loch Lomond….
Meallan nan Uan and Sgur a’ Mhulinn
Not planning on being on these summits at sunset and a rather mixed bag of weather, I was looking forward to a couple of new Corbetts without thinking about videoing or taking photos! These hills are on the eastern fringes of the North West Highlands and I didn’t expect too much in terms of aesthetic beauty – or photo opportunities!
I did expect a good bit of exercise and the joys of being out on the open air, experiencing the hills and weather with no need to worry about setting tripods up , framing shots, pieces to camera etc etc The usual additions to my adventures….
The forecast was showery with wind speeds up to 40mph on the tops and it proved correct. What wasn’t correct however was my forecast of no photography!! I was so glad I packed my camera ! This evening’s hike gave a great example of how photography can sometime produce magical moments when the weather is poor and captures the landscape in a different and perhaps better way than had it been blue skies and no rain!!
Coming off Meallan nan Uan I could see the darkness approaching from the North West… I zipped up my jacket, pulled down my hood and cracked on into the approaching storm!! The skies darkened and as forecast the maelstrom hit. The rain was torrential and wasn’t even hitting the ground. Finding a large up turned rock, I took shelter. It was at this point I noticed the amazing light and layers of grey and ridges that lay to my west and north. The storm was passing but the opportunity to snap some pictures was just arriving in my mind! Careful not to soak the camera, I took it out and snapped a few quick shots.
I could see the remnants of the cloud hanging on in some of the Glens and shafts of light illuminating the glen floor. The last of the rain left and I set the mini tripod out and got the 55-210mm lens out. Just as this shower was passing another ferocious fellow was entering the Eastern end of Glen Elg. The contrast was great and I managed a few snaps before being engulfed again.
Camera away I got moving again up the grass, wet , pathless slopes to Sgur a’ Mhulinn. This being a little higher than the first Corbett, it seemed to catch the wind easier. I was being blown all over the place, but on the plus side the sun came out for the summit. A few snaps and I was descending down the nose of the southern ridge with the bog and peat hags looking up at me. The going was slow all the way back as the sodden tusky ground was hard going.
Eventually back at the car, I realised that this wasn’t just a bit of mind and body exercise but exactly the right time and conditions for Landscape photography – who needs sunrise and sunset ;) A cracking pair and evening out!!
Summers as a youth were spent in the East Neuk and Elie. Hours on the beach (whatever the weather) and as we grew into our teens we spent the long weeks of summer exploring the coastline (as well as other activities that we shan't talk about!!).
The chain walk was always an adventure, at least once a summer we would hear the whirr of helicopter blades head towards Kincraig Point and hear about another rescue from those cut off from the tide or unfortunate to take a tumble. The parents would forbid us from going on The Chain Walk by ourselves, so as teenagers that's exactly what we did! Fortunately no harm came to us but a love for adventure was starting to emerge from these early adventures :)
As an adult, I still love the Chain Walk - it an excellent half day with the walk back along the top of the cliffs almost equally enjoyable even if less thought is required.
Last time I was here was a cold Autumnal Day and we had the route to ourselves - the next ferrata for us was to be in Switzerland so this provided a good warm up ;)
Summer holidays now still have a chunk of time at Elie and this summer we had already had a number of great adventures with the kids down here including a wild (ish) camp a few days before :
The kids are now int double digits (just) and it was about time they experienced he chains of Elie!! With my parents word of warning from 25 years ago still ringing in my head I took no chances and helmets and a short rope were packed........
A fine summers at and the parking area near the olf course was heaving! We were not getting the walk to ourselves today and who can blame anyone for a grand day out in summer in Elie.
Helmets on and some advice handed out to start with and we were off. Taking our time and exploring the large cave / over hang and nooks and crannies along the way. There aren't really any difficult sections and the chain and cut foot holds are really helpful. However there are a few places were a tumble would result in a trip to hospital at least. We got the rope out on one occasion for the first of the longer descents but it wasn't tested thankfully. We were all having a blast!
We were soon passing the impressive Basalt Columns at the end of the bay and enjoying every minute. The showers kept at bay too which was great as we could see a few potent rain cells across the forth
All too soon and the waters of Shell Bay came into view. Another fine scramble along the chains had been hd. However the fun wasn't over as we headed back over the top of the cliffs enjoyed superb views across the Forth- exploring the old WW2 building was fun oo. A superb day out - definitely given the thumbs up by all the family (well maybe not granny ad grandpa;))
Taking the Kids Wild (ish!) Camping…
Half way through the summer holidays and into my last week off work and there was one good weather day left (if the weather forecasts are to be believed!), so I gave the kids a few choices of possible activities… A bike, a hike or some camping. Unenthused I got a bedraggled “camping I suppose” answer!
Didn’t seem like my love for camping was a genetic factor then! With this in mind I wanted somewhere not too wild and somewhere we could bail out if the forecast bad weather moved in early! The forecast was for a fine evening and rain moving in around 8am the next morning. The grandparents live in the East Neuk and I know the area well, having spent all my summer holidays as a kid roaming the beaches and nooks and crannies on the coast down here. With my son suffering from nearly every allergy under the sun I knew I wasn’t going to going too wild and remoteJ
A nice flat area of grass next to the lighthouse and “Ruby Bay” was my intended pitch, but with this area on the Fife Coastal Path and also a very popular short walk I didn’t want to pitch up too early. Discrete camping and leaving no trace was the topic of conversation as I explained my reasoning to the kids as we headed off around 8pm. Two tents, four sleeping bags (yes 4!) three ground mats, four pillows (yes 4!) jackets, gloves , stove, sweeties, hats, extra socks and of course ipad, pods phones headsets (I needed a backup in case the TGO failed to entertain ;)). The load was heavy but I managed to get the kids carrying their own pillows (they were the ones who demanded two pillows each! Lol).
Before long the tents were up. Sunset was around 21.30 so I quickly set the kids a task of collecting some deadwood for a fire – if they could find enough! A handful of twigs arrived and the handful slowly grew larger as electronic devices drifted out of their thoughts. The forecast of clear blue skies failed to materialise though and sunset was a rather uneventful short burst of crepuscular rays - I was a little disappointed – but the kids were too busy looking forward to the camp fire to even notice J
With dusk approaching we got the fire going on a nice wee spot (below the high water mark) and it lasted longer than I thought, probably a good hour! Had my son had his way it would have been a 5 minute roarer with him wanting to add everything on at once lol! The only Apple that was being utilised was my daughters evening snack – an apple! Fire done and darkness had descended, we all had head torches so set off along the beach on a night time walking adventure (well that’s what the kids were enjoying!). 11pm arrived and it was time to get them to bed, I was also getting up at 04.30am to try and see if we would get a decent sun rise! The weeman was keen on joining me but I knew I’d let him sleep if he wasn’t already awake!
A little sleep later and it seemed I had only just got to sleep when I woke at 04.30am. A little shifting about and I rose and headed up to the light house to catch the sunrise. It was still a little cloudy but we got a brief blast of pink just before sunrise which was satisfying. Next thing I knew I saw a little head poking out of the tent and the weeman was quickly out and running up the hill to join me. He reached me just in time to see a glowing ball of fire rise over the horizon. The cloud was thin and tick enough to see the fireball and look directly at the sun rising – cracking and he seemed happy – absolutely no complaint or wanting to go back to bed to play with his electronics ! Braw!
Soon both of them were up and by 05.45 we were striking camp. By 06.00 we were heading back towards Grannies looking forward to a full Scottish Fry Up.
The Monsoon arrived at 07.00 and lasted about eight hours!!!
Been looking at getting this done for years! Finally did it nd a cracking day out. The scramble is made by the location and remote feel of this trip, nothing too technical and a grand day out in some big country!
I was 14 years old when I had my first taste of a day in the mountains. A group of older friends were doing a charity hike through the Lairig Ghru and asked if I wanted to join them. I remember being in awe of the massive mountains that reared up on the left hand side as we hiked in towards the Pools of Dee. They were dark and menacing with heavy clouds darkening their appearance. This may have been the initial hook that led to this addiction!
My next foray to this part of the world was back in July 2003 when I was a bit fitter than I am now!. I cycled in and up Glen Dee to continue on foot around six Munros on the Western side of the Lairig Ghru! A long day it was and enjoyable – the navigational skills were also tested that day!! I’ve been back to the Cairngorms lots but never really back into the Lairig Gru to any extent.
When I picked up “Classic Mountain Scrambles in Scotland” (Andrew Dempster) back in the late nineties, I noticed there weren’t too many easier scrambles in the Gorms. Fiacaill Ridge is a classic and has been done many times, but I always fancied Angels Ridge, but somehow had never found the time to try it out – until now….
My brother fancied Braeriach so I suggested a wee detour round to Angels Ridge as part of the route. The long summer days are a fine time to do this as the distances involved are large!
We set off from the Sugarbowl car park around 9am and it was blustery, the forecast suggesting arduous walking on higher areas in the morning – this may have included the 450m start point! It did however have the advantage of keeping any biting beasties at bay!
Soon we were at the Chalamain Gap, boulder hoping our way through as the cloud started to part. The skies were looking good! Dropping down we met the Lairig Ghru and continued up to the Pools of Dee, stopping for some lunch here. It was now after 11- and we hadn’t even started climbing properly yet! The best part of the walk (excluding the scramble) came next in my opinion. Skirting the hillside into the An Garbh Choire produced some stunning views down Glen Dee and also into the massive Corries that dominate the skyline – a superb place and well worth the effort. I had hoped the Corries may have provided some shelter but the opposite was true- the wind was whistling down off the plateau and seemed to intensify as it hit the corrie floor- I was starting to doubt if the ridge option may be a no goer due to the gusty wind!
Stopping at the tiny Garbh Coire Bothy (maybe better described as an emergency shelter!) we had a second lunch before starting to ascend in a steeper fashion! A short time later and we reached the shores of Lochan Uaine which turned out to be a little less windy, strange as this must be one of the highest bodies of water in Scotland perhaps? Third lunch (well sweeties) were had here as we lounged about taking in the views.
The ridge didn’t look too steep or narrow so we decided to give it a go and were soon scrambling up easy angled granite boulders with superb frictional propertiesJ As you get higher on the ridge there are few slightly steeper steps but nothing too difficult- it’s the location that makes this a special scramble!
Reaching Angels peak we decided to nip over to Carn Toul – it looked really close! About half an hour later and we were sheltering in the summit circle! The wind was at its worse here – literally blowing us about and we were glad to descend a little and leave the gales behind!
Back up to Sgor an Lochain Uaine and we had the last peak (or rise in the Plateau) in our sights. The cliffs and Corries that surround Braeriach must be some of the finest in Scotland and the hike round them was superb in these conditions. Although windy the skies were clear and the views amazing.
Knackered, we arrived on Braeriachs summit after four. Now it was the long walk back, finally reaching the car around 10 hours after starting. A long day but definitely worth the effort – a fine day in the CNP.
Some thoughts and reports from my outdoors activties...