Rock climbing at Craig a Barns

When the sun is shining, there is nothing better to do than to go rock climbing. A couple of weeks ago we headed to one of my favourite climbing venues: Craig a Barns near Dunkeld, more specifically Polney Crag, a classic Central Scotland venue. It is popular for its ease of access and great selection of single and multi-pitch climbs between Very Difficult and E3.

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A sea of green!

You can access the crag by taking an old military road West from Dunkeld for just over a kilometre before reaching a large dirt layby on the right (you will  have to bump your car up onto the curb). You then need to walk over a fallen down fence and follow a well defined path up to the right, where you will step out of the trees at the left hand side of the crag. Alternatively you can get the train (the station is just south of the town) and walk north through Dunkeld to access the military road west, out of the town.

Your main relocation point of the crag is the well defined abseil point; Hairy Gully, found in the middle of the wall. Be aware though that if wet, this gully can be rather slippery, muddy and generally horrible.

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Jess abseiling down Hairy Gully.

Polney Crag is home to a couple of fantastic VS 5a climbs: The Rut*** and The End***. Both are well-protected but will certainly get your heart racing as you pull through the crux moves, however, you will top out with a smile on your face. There are also many climbs to enjoy at V Diff, Severe and Hard Severe but be careful as some of them are poorly protected and would have the potential for a nasty ground fall if a slip were to occur.

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What a place to be!!

I have been to this crag a number of times now and each time I have been able to explore a different section of the place. It is also a super training ground for those wishing to move into the world of multi-pitch climbing. The rock can remain dry from tree cover but is quite vegetated in places meaning that on occasion, a sling around a tree is the obvious bit of pro.

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#belayselfie

So please go and enjoy Craig a Barns, lead your first V Diff, climb your first multi-pitch route or simply enjoy the excitement of The Rut. Watch out for that Hairy Gully though.

Enjoy!

 

Guide books:  Scottish Rock – South, Highland Outcrops and Rock Climbing in Scotland.

Jessica and Chris’ TGO Challenge Part 5: Tarfside to Montrose

We were so close. Just two more days of walking and we would complete the challenge. I tried not to get ahead of myself though, as the walk from Tarfside to the North Water Bridge campsite was 27km. They were a very warm 27 km!

We went back to the church, were the TGO volunteers had based themselves, to fill up on bacon rolls and tea, before we headed off. Because the volunteers were all experienced challengers, they were able to give us some route suggestions for the last two days of our trip. They pointed out to us some new bridges that were not on the map but would take us through a more interesting part of the valley, rather than the long road we had originally planed.

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A beautiful morning in Tarfside

This route took us east on the road from Tarfside to a bridge near Millden Lodge. From there we followed the land rover track on the south of the river to a new bridge just before the Rocks of Solitude. It is not on the map but we were assured it was there. Happily the information was spot on, even if we did have to double back through a herd of cows to find the bridge we were looking for; it was a great walk.

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Land rover track can be beautiful

It had been incredibly hot and there were a number of “let’s get the boots off” stops and also “quick, let’s eat the chocolate raisins because they are melting” stops. Fortunately crossing the bridge meant we would soon be under cover of trees, which was very welcome indeed.

Throughout the day we had been in contact with our friend Steph, who after a few phone signal problems, found us just as we were taking a path marked Rocks of Solitude. She brought with her, her 6 month old son Callum, who is the most chilled out toddler ever, until you take him in a buggy over a rough path that is. This made for a short visit but it was lovely to see them both and share a part of our walk with them. Thanks Steph and Callum!

Walking past the Rocks of Solitude and on to the blue door walk just north of Edzell was really gorgeous, and we have to once again thank the TGO volunteers for the tip. However, despite the shade of the trees the heat was relentless, and when we arrived in Edzell we made a bee-line for an ice cream. It was here that we would do our last bit of food shopping, which included a litre of cider to drink at the camp site a little bit later on. It was apparently my job to carry this.

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Enjoying our last camp site

The last part of our day involved crossing the wobbly bridge out of Edzell and the long and exhausting road to the North Water Bridge campsite. It was a tremendous feeling knowing that we had reached the final campsite of our challenge, and we were able to share it with challengers that we had met at Tarfside, which really reinforced just how much we enjoyed the social aspect of the TGO Challenge. We enjoyed our last camping meal and we certainly enjoyed our cider before getting into our sleeping bags for the last time.

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Our last camping meal, we were joined by Callum (left) and Fred (centre)

We were woken up early by the sunshine on another stunning day. It was hard to believe that in 12 km it would all be over and we would be sitting in Montrose celebrating with the other challengers.

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#Tentlife

We had been given an adventurous route by the volunteers in Tarfside, which involved a lot of rough ground on the west side of the Esk river. However with Jessica’s blisters causing a sharp pain with every step, we decided that, “flat ground” pain was better than “rough and uneven ground” pain, so we opted for more land rover track and road to lead us to the beach at Kinnaber Links, just north of Montrose.

From the North Water Bridge camp site, we headed east to a railway bridge, where we followed a path on the west side of the Esk river to Logie Mill before heading west back to the main road.  A very short walk on the main road lead us back to our challenge friend, a landrover track, which took us to Hillside then east to a huge Maltings factory.

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The flat lands on the east

It’s incredible to think that when we started our challenge the only industry we came across were a couple of hotels, a very small cafe and some sheep. But now there were large towns, a massive factory, big restaurants complete with a children’s play area, but still there were sheep.

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One of the many stops on our last day

It had taken many a snack stop to get us to this point in the day and sadly the chocolate raisins in our home made trail mix were finished and we were left with only a small assortment of seeds. Not to worry though, we were so nearly finished and there was only a couple of kilometres between us and the finish point. “Boof, to the sea!” Jessica yelled (that classic mountaineering phrase) as we broke through the trees and onto the beach but not before checking out one more interesting and pretty flower, obviously.

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There is always time to stop and appreciate nature.

We had made it! We had just walked across Scotland! With our feet in the sea and huge smiles on our faces, it made for an incredible moment and one which we will remember forever. It was only a short walk along the beach and into Montrose to the official signing out point where we would later have a celebratory dinner and drinks with all the other challengers that had also finished on the Friday.

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Boof to the Sea!!!!

It was fantastic to see everyone there, many of whom we had met along the way or had spent the last few days with. The social aspect of the challenge was incredible and a real pleasure to be a part of. Thank you to all of you for your encouragement and friendship. A special thanks to Fred and Callum who we spent the last two nights camping with and met up with us on the beach as we walked into Montrose.

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WE DID IT!!!

Writing this now, its hard to believe that we actually walked across Scotland! It was such a special journey for us both and one that we would love to take on again in the future, and despite leg and blister drama we both had a fantastic time together away from busy everyday life. We thoroughly enjoyed, the simple life of the TGO Challenge.

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Walking down to Montrose

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We will always have great memories from our challenge

Thank you:

A huge thank you to Jen and Ade who came to our rescue in Braemar, and your chat was amazing as always; to Steph and her son Callum for keeping us going towards the end; and finally to my Dad and Cath who drove us to our start point and were there to welcome us into Montrose. The support from both of our families and friends throughout the challenge was fantastic. We are also very proud to have raised £818.11 to split between Bliss and Scottish Mountain Rescue, two charities we are proud to support (you can still donate by clicking the links in the text or here: Jessica & Chris’ Justgiving pages).

Day 13 – Tarfside to North Water Bridge (27km 10 hours)

Day 14 – North water Bridge to Kinnaber links and Montrose (12ish km 5.5 hours)

Jessica and Chris’ TGO Challenge Part 2: Drumnadrochit to Aviemore

It dawned on us as we were leaving the Lochness Backpackers lodge at 7am on day four, that we had forgotten, in our planning stage, to factor in just how long the walk to the port to catch our ferry across Loch Ness to Inverfarigaig was. After walking for about an hour across Drumnadrochit, we reached the ferry to find 10 other challengers waiting patiently for the boat man. Gordon Menzies, who incredibly, has been running this service for TGO Challengers for over 20 years,  arrived promptly at 8am and before we knew it we were crossing Loch Ness, watching his entertaining Loch Ness monster presentation and listing to his funny stories.

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Goodbye Drumnadrochit.

The weather was lovely once again which helped make the crossing even more special. One of the aspects of the TGO Challenge that was most appealing to us was that we could plan to go to places that we had never been to before: Loch Ness was one of them.

After a very interesting scramble out of the boat and onto the so-called pier, we had our breakfast of granola and milk (powdered milk and water: you learn to love it) before starting out on what would be a lot of road walking in hot temperatures. We took the feet busting B851 as far as Aberarder house then SE uphill on land rover track to a very well positioned lunching lodge, fully decorated with deer antlers.  Once again, we could see rucksacks lining the entrance, so we sat with other challengers and snacked on some of our homemade trail mix.

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Getting onto the “pier” was a challenge. 

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As we made the final push of the day, over the hill and down into Glen Mazeran, we stopped and turned around to look back at the impressive West coast hills, only to realise that we had walked from there only 4 days ago. This was the first time that we really felt the scale of the challenge we had undertaken.

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Our campsite in Glen Mazeran

The sun woke us up early the next day, making it too hot to stay in the tent, but we took our time to enjoy our breakfast before heading off for the day.  Jessica’s ankle pain had not eased off overnight as much as we had hoped, but as we slowly passed a number of challengers, who had dotted themselves throughout the glen and were still packing up their tents, the views down Glen Mazeran did well to distract us slightly from the worry and in Jessica’s case, the pain. We then headed NE along farm tracks; the fields either side were full of different types of birds including lapwings, oyster catchers and possibly a snipe, then we turned south for a long climb up to the trig point on Carn Dubh Ic an Deoir. Along the way we met up with an American family from Alabama who were also on the challenge. We were all finding the steep ascent, as well as the heat, pretty tough when Steve Jackson, the dad, said “one step at a time, that’s all we can do” simple but true words that would stay with me for the rest of our challenge.

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Air those feet

There was a small matter of an electric fence to navigate as we descended towards the red bothy (aptly named with its red roof). After we crossed the surprisingly dry peat hags, we picked up another land rover track leading to the bothy. The land rover track is usually the annoying hard slog at the end of our mountain days, but we had now fully embraced it as a friend, that was until a steep downhill section became a problem. Jessica’s ankle had finally eased off and was not causing much of a problem now. However, the downhill had caused the pain to move to her knee but fortunately we arrived at the bothy before the pain became worse, and found a rather nice camping spot on a beach close to the River Dulnain just below the bothy.

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Heading down to the Red Bothy

Once the tent was up and dinner had been eaten, we were able to enjoy the rest of the evening being warmed by the gradually lowering sun. One thing we learned on our trip was that TGO life is a simple life, and lying down in the grass watching the clouds go by, all the while being in the mountains and away from any distractions, was a wonderful way to spend our evening.

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Another cracking morning

Aviemore was only 12km away but there were still some obstacles in the way: the so-called Burma Road, a long and intimidating track over a bealach and down to Lynwilg, and the heart-pumping crossing of the A9! The pain in Jessica’s leg made for a steady walk over the hill, stopping occasionally for feet airing and snacks. It was another very hot but clear day so we were treated to some spectacular views of the northern corries and the rest of the northern Cairgorms. As we came into Lynwilg we were very happy to find some cake in a little hut, alongside some pig food and an honesty box for money, with all the proceeds going to the children who made the cake. We had our cake and watched the pigs who were definitely after some. We did not get them any pig food. Sorry piggies.

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The Burma Road stretching into the distance. 

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Looking over to the Northern Cairngorms.

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Some tasty treats inside

 

It was a lovely walk through birch woodland as we descended the glen, and crossing the A9 was not as hair-raising as it could have been. It had been a painful descent though and although we had reached the safety of the Aviemore Backpackers Lodge and had a delicious pint of beer in hand, knowing that there was still a long way to go, I could not help but think that our challenge attempt was in jeopardy.

Day 4: Drumnadrochit to Glen Mazeran –  26km + 3km from hostel to ferry port (12 hours including a 40 minute ferry)

Day 5: Glen Mazeran to Red Bothy – 19km (8 hours)

Day 6: Red Bothy to Aviemore – 12km (7 hours)

 

Stanage: Intro to Grit Stone

Stanage Edge is a 4km wall of grit stone located on the Hallam Moors east of Sheffield. It is separated into three different sections: Stanage North, Plantation and Popular. All of this together offers you over 1300 climbing routes, giving you plenty to go at no matter what grade you climb.

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Stanage Popular

We had two days in which to sample the most popular climbing venue in the UK and after a delicious breakfast of French toast, we headed up the short hill to the base of the crag. This only took us 5 minutes. We wanted to start on something simple, having never climbed on grit before, so we chose an easy looking gully for our first climb. We both thought that we would be in for a tricky couple of days, as our easy gully proved to be cold, slimy and awkward.

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#vanlife

However, as the sun began to poke through the morning clouds and after getting a couple more climbs under our belt, we started to get the feel for the grit stone. It was new to us both and the super wide cracks and sloping edges do take a bit of getting used to. By the end of the first day we had climbed over 10 routes including: Crack and Corner S 4b, Mississippi Buttress Direct VS 4c and the classic Flying Buttress HVD 4a.

As day two began, after more French toast of course, we were back on the grit and flicking through the Rockfax guide book for the next climb. We never had to look far. Be warned though, when the guide book says it’s a popular crag, it really means it. We were staggered by how quickly the car park would fill up and just how easily your plans for your next route could be thwarted by other enthusiastic climbers. Everyone at the crag was friendly and it made for a great atmosphere and a real buzz about the place which was brilliant to be a part of.

Having added Bishop’s Route S 4a and the brilliantly intense Hollybush Crack VD to our ever increasing tally of climbs, the sun was setting on our Stanage adventure. We had been here for two days and we had barely scratched the surface of what’s available. After our cold and awkward start we were both leaving with fond memories and the fact that this is a terrific place, well deserving of its superb reputation. We can’t wait to get back some time in the future.

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Sun setting on the last climb of the day.

Top tips:

Be sure to get there early as the car park fills up quickly so by mid-afternoon you may be struggling for a space at Stanage Popular.

Bring big gear, and lots of it! You will find plenty of use for your biggest hex, torque nut or cam.

Blowy in the Black Mount: Stob a Choire Odhair & Stob Ghabhar

Recently I had the opportunity to climb two new munros with a friend from work. Stob a Choire Odhair and Stob Ghabhar were the munros of choice and as the forecast was looking good, apart from the wind (but more on that later),  we decided to get a nice early start on Saturday morning.

A short approach from the carpark at Victoria Bridge, near Bridge of Orchy, leads you to the base of the first munro, Stob a Choire Odhair.  A path north, just after a green hut on the main landrover track is the direct way onto the mountain. This good path becomes a relentless plod, especially as the last kilometre and a half is very steep. You are rewarded however, with some terrific views over Rannoch Moor to the north east and Glen Etive to the west. As the wind started to pick up, we huddled down behind the rocks on the summit for some food and a cup of hot squash.

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View of Rannoch Moor

As we descended the west ridge towards Coirein Lochain the wind eased; this was mainly due to a mountain being in the way, and we had an opportunity to really take in our surroundings. We were walking through a corridor, with white hills in all directions, as well as spectacular views of inhospitable land making us feel very small indeed.

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Looking back to Stob a Choire Odhair

As we ascended the north bulge of the Aonach Eagach (not the famous Glencoe ridge) it was hard work due to the very soft snow lying on top of wet turf and scree: uphill swimming I think they call it.

As we hit the top of the Aonach Eagach, that wind, wow! It was ferocious as it pounded us from all angles meaning we took our time crossing the west ridge connecting us to munro number two, Stob Ghabhar. The strong winds meant only a few minutes were bearable on the summit, plus the time for a summit selfie, obviously.

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Elliot on the ridge

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Windy Summit

As we descended the broad west ridge of Stob Ghabhar, the wind continued to accelerate, driving our feet through the snow as we leaned into each strengthening gust. Blocks of snow were lifted high into the air just as the spindrift would spiral around us, temporarily causing a white out.

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View down the west shoulder of Stob Ghabhar

As we dropped down the SW side of the mountain, we were happy to be sheltered from the wind. From there, a bit of bum sliding took us down the slope which would lead us south to the main track, along the river and back to the car, finishing off a very memorable day.

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Looking back at our day

This was a physically demanding day due to the strong winds and snow conditions, but it was also a great one. A big thanks to Elliot for his company and suggesting the route, I hope we can get out again in the future.

Details

Distance: 17km

Time: 8 hours

Accent: 1189

Munro summits: Stob Ghabhar (1090m), Stob a Choire Odhair (945m)

Comments

This is a really nice day out: two munros with a funky ridge to navigate as well. Be prepared to feel every meter of accent though.

Also, in winter conditions you must be well prepared in terms of planning and equipment. My ski goggles were my favourite piece of kit: with the strong winds and spindrift they really were essential. Make sure you have a pair.

Glen Lyon: Last Munros of 2016!

With a busy Christmas and New Year period ahead of us, we thought we should definitely squeeze one last adventure into 2016. We decided on Glen Lyon, a place we have never been before, and to tackle an 18 km loop taking in four Munros! We packed our bags and the van before heading up on the Friday night, looking for an early start on the Saturday morning, knowing that the short days would be a factor if we didn’t get an early start.

From the car park, the sign posted path takes you through recently torn down woodland and out onto a Landover track. From here, you can see where you will be descending, four Munros and 18km later. But first you must skirt round more woodland and cross a dodgy bridge to get your first glimpse of Munro number one, Carn Gorm. It was a cold morning, bringing to mind the “be bold and start cold” philosophy, but you soon warm up by gaining the ridge of Carn Gorm and heading for the summit of the mountain. Behind you there are lovely views down Glen Lyon, but the view was short lived as, typically, the cloud came in just as we gained the summit.

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I went first to test it out…

By this point the wind was blowing hard and a compass bearing off the top was needed to gain the ridge onto Meall Garbh; here we moved down off the path for a few minutes of shelter, food and to revive the icy fingers. A good mountain track and fence posts lead you to Meall Garbh, where a strange cairn of old fence posts greets you as you reach summit number two.

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Cairn of fence posts

From Meall Garbh you head east and gain a large plateau as you approach Carn Mairg. From here be sure to take in the superb views of Schiehallion to the north east and we were also lucky enough see a Brocken Spector! The Carn Mairg summit seems to made up of broken down tors, these crumbled rocks would have been broken down by years of freeze – thaw cycles cutting through cracks of the old stones

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The sun trying it’s best.

Unfortunately though, the cloud had once again come in, only offering us a short glimpse of the terrain ahead and the final Munro of the day. From Carn Mairg you head east down a ridge to a saddle, and then south before you must take a dog leg in order to reach the summit of Creag Mhor. The cloud persisted, not allowing us any views as we reached the saddle just before the summit, with only map and compass leading the way to the top of Munro number four! Wahoo! They also lead the way down, heading west to the ridge leading to the torn down woodland and back to the van. As we dropped down out of the cloud and views opened up, there was time before it got dark to get a few pictures of the River Lyon and the Ben Lawers range as they came into view.

 

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Glen Lyon and the Lawers group

This was a lovely walk and great for ticking off Munros. But the views, when we could see them, where terrific and I really appreciated getting a great view of Schiehallion, and the Brocken Spector made it extra special.

 

Distance – 18km/11.25 miles

Time – 7.5 hours

Ascent – 1310m

Summits – Carn Gorm (1029m), Meall Garbh (Carn Mairg) (968m), Carn Mairg (1042m), Meall nan Aighean (Creag Mhor) (981m)

Top tip – Layer up! With it being winter, it’s important to stay warm, and having a good layering system also allows you to manage your temperature a lot more easily.

Liathach

In April 2015 Jessica and I travelled to the beautifully wild Torridon to walk, climb and scramble over as much as we could in the time we had. There was one great challenge that had eluded us on that trip and now we had the chance to go back to that amazing place and see if we could conquer it: the Liathach ridge!

I had first set eyes on the great mountain on that trip a year and a half ago and I remember being completely awe struck when I saw that immense fin of rock sticking out of the ground. It had an intimidating presence and looking up at the Am Fasarinen pinnacles in the middle of the ridge, I knew it would be a great adventure. So when planning our October holidays to head to the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris (blogs to come) we could not resist taking the opportunity to sneak over to Torridon on the way.

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Wonderful rock layers on the way up

We parked at the car park about 800m east of Glen Cottage on the Glen Torridon road (A896). We had spent the night there in the van but we did notice that it filled up quickly. Knowing it was going to be a tough day, we set off early, and with plenty of sandwiches, to tackle the ridge from east to west. The initial ascent looked impossible but from the car park there is a steep and hidden path that follows the river, Allt an Doire Ghairbh and passes over some blocks to gain the ridge just east of the first munro, Spidean a’ Choire Leith. The path was good all the way and for your efforts you get some stunning views of Beinn Eighe and beyond.

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First breathtaking view as you reach the ridge

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The ridge to the first munro (the distant summit)

Now that we had gained the ridge, it was still hard going to gain the summit of Stob a’ Choire Liath Mhor and on to Spidean a’ Choire Leith, but the views in all directions were breathtaking and once perched on the top of the munro you get your first look at the impressive Am Fasarinen pinnacles.

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First view of the pinnacles

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Looking back along the ridge and over to Beinn Eighe

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First munro summit

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A steep scree slope led us off the top and down on to a platform just before the pinnacles. We put our helmets on and had the rope ready for deployment as we moved on to the scramble with tremendous excitement. It does not break you in gently. The first moves are traversing knife-edged rock with the kind of drops beneath you that give you butterflies in your tummy. There is no letting up as we continued weaving through blocks and going up and over some very exposed spikes. It was thrilling and at times a bit scary but the scrambling was never too hard making the traverse a lot of fun for the experienced scrambler.

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Coming over the pinnacles

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Don’t look down!

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Happy Jessica

As we reached the end of the pinnacles, the scrambling eased off, so we stopped for a bit of food and to marvel at the terrain we had just covered and the beautiful weather.

With the thrill of the Am Fasarinen pinnacles behind us, we began the lovely walk up to Mullach an Rathain, the second of the munros on the ridge, taking in the fantastic views of Loch Torridon, Beinn Alligin, the Northern pinnacles and also taking a look back to admire the view of the great journey we had just had.

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Looking back at our day

We munched down some more food, took the obligatory summit selfies and descended south into a huge scree chute before picking up a good but steep path that would eventually lead us to the road and back to the van.

Progress was held up however by three rutting stags having a good old shouting match, which we were able monitor with Jessica’s monocular.  It was great to see this huge show of strength and to see them do so on such steep ground was very impressive and made a fine end to the day.

Details

Distance: 11.2km

Ascent: 1311m (ooft!)

Time: 8 hours

Munro summits: Spidean a’ Choire Leith (1055m) and Mullach an Rathain (1023m)

Comments

The Liathach is a tremendous day out and one I will remember for a long time. It is one to save for good weather as some of the scrambling would become treacherous in poor conditions.