Cambusbarron climbing

On Saturday, we managed to get out into the sun and squeeze in our first outdoor climbing of the year!

Cambusbarron West Quarry (Fourth Quarry) is our nearest climbing crag and on such a beautiful day it was a lovely place to be.

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Sven leading  Still Better than Peak (VS 4c), the obligatory first climb of all our visits, and Chris ready to climb.

This crag catches the sun, dries relatively quickly and has some nice views from the top. The rock is dolerite and can be loose at the top, particularly after the winter, so helmets are definitely highly recommended! Many of the climbs are steep and it can intimidating for less confident climbers. There are good anchors at the top and we’ve taken lots of friends and family to try out an exhilarating abseil. In the summer, you just have to watch-out for midges among the trees: we’ve had to pack up and run away very quickly, when the breeze has dropped.

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Chris happy to be out climbing again, belaying at the top of Cha (S 4a), Jessica and Chris on Not Easy Contract (E1 5b)

You will often find a few members of the University of Stirling Mountaineering Club there, but despite the gorgeous conditions, we had it to ourselves. Access is very easy, just a five minute flat walk from Old Drove Road in Cambusbarron (Stirling), the start of which gives fantastic views across to the mountains, making it a nice venue for a quick after-work climb.

Nevis Gorge and Steall Falls

Following our day out with British Mountain Guide Andy Cave, we decided to take a wander up to the Steall Falls in Glen Nevis. It was raining and we had wanted to make the most of the hotel facilities in the morning, so this short walk was ideal. From Fort William, you take the road all the way to the end of Glen Nevis where there is a free car park. A good path leads away into the dramatic gorge, however it is rough and at times the ground drops away steeply, so care and good footwear is needed.

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View up the Water of Nevis from the path

After winding through the forest, with the river rushing over rocks below, you come out into an open valley. The huge Steall Falls are immediately visible pouring down the hillside ahead. The path leads off east down the valley, but you can turn right towards the river to get a bit closer. A wire bridge crosses the river, which is not for the faint-hearted. A hut is situated on the other side and a boggy walk to the base of the falls is possible, but according to Chris wasn’t worth the muddiness, as the views are actually better from the river.

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Steall Falls in the cloud

Harry Potter fans might recognise the landscape from the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Harry battles the dragon.

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This bridge requires a lot of concentration (it is also right at the end of the walk and it’s therefore not essential to cross it!)

This is a brilliant walk for groups of friends or families wanting quick access to some wilderness and spectacular scenery, the rocky path might add an extra little sense of adventure.

Distance: 3.5 km / 2.25 miles

Ascent: 220 m

Time: 1.5 hours

#makewintercount

About a month ago I received an email from the British Mountaineering Council informing me that I had won the #makewintercount competition that they had been running all winter with Lowe Alpine. I was astonished! This grand prize consisted of two nights in a hotel and a day out with British Mountain Guide Andy Cave for two people. Chris and I were obviously thrilled.

We spent a week or so wondering where we would be going, before finding out that we would be based at the Isles of Glencoe Hotel, which looked wonderful. Andy got in touch with us and we gave him our experience and what we hoped to get out of a day with a mountain guide. We then watched the weather forecast extremely closely for the week before the trip, excitedly trying to guess what routes we might be able to do.

We escaped the Glasgow rush hour on Friday evening and made it to Glencoe before Andy, who was driving up from England. From the hotel reception we could see the pool, and to reach our room we walked through the lounge and dining area, which had a lovely atmosphere. Our room was far beyond our expectations: large, with doors opening out onto Loch Leven.

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View over Loch Leven from our bedroom door

Upon meeting us for dinner in the restaurant, Andy also gave us two new Peak Ascent rucksacks, provided by Lowe Alpine as part of the prize. The food was delicious and we spent a very pleasant evening getting to know Andy, discussing our options for the following day and making our plans.

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My first try at making and using coils

We usually have very early starts when going out on the hills, so we had expected we would miss breakfast on Saturday, but Andy assured us there would be plenty of time, which made Chris happy. Having packed our new rucksacks, we set off just after 8.30am to Glean Spean. It was warm, with freezing level above the summits, so there was not going to be much ice. Andy had suggested climbing a little-known ridge in the Creag Meagaidh hills, which he knew well, and where there would be a suitable route whatever the conditions. Here, Chris and I could get ourselves up, with Andy demonstrating new techniques and providing guidance. This suited us perfectly, as although it would have been fun for Andy to lead us up something difficult, we had decided that we wanted to use the day as an opportunity to develop our own skills and gain the confidence to try more technical winter terrain by ourselves. Chris has some winter climbing experience but I have only walked in winter, and although I have been on a couple of introductory winter skills courses, when we are out together, we generally avoid steep ground.

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Andy showing Chris methods for getting us safely over short steeper sections

We had a leisurely start, with Andy showing us some of the gear he uses, before setting off along the forestry tracks on the north side of the A86 east of Tulloch.

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Andy ahead and Chris with the coils as we climbed a snowy slope. Note his shiny new Lowe Alpine Peak Ascent rucksack. It’s a great colour!

After a small river crossing and a sandwich pause, we emerged from the forest and headed west towards the steeper slopes. Visibility wasn’t great, so we made sure to get a few navigation and decision making tips. We headed for the east ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn, trying to choose the least boggy route. Once properly on to the ridge and with less grass between the snow patches, we stopped to put our harnesses and helmets on and get our axes out. As the ridge got steeper, Andy showed us how to move together and to make coils with the rope to give the other person confidence and support against small slips. Chris usually leads whenever we are out in the mountains, whether walking, scrambling or climbing, so having Andy with us, gave me the opportunity to lead a bit and practice some rope skills myself.

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Getting used to moving together

Andy gave us a good range of helpful suggestions for moving on steep, but not overly dangerous, ground without having to stop and climb pitch by pitch, which will be really useful for us in the future. By staying on the ridge we also avoided any risk of avalanches; we could see the debris of these in the coires either side of us.

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Having fun!

Once onto the the flatter ground near the summit, Andy told us how it can be useful to keep the rope on in poor visibility; by keeping a good length of rope between you, the person behind can catch the other if they fall through a cornice! He also demonstrated that it can be advantageous to calculate the bearings and distances you will need to use after topping out in order to keep away from the edges and the cornices, before you start climbing, not when you reach the top.

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Nearly at the summit: protecting ourselves from the risk posed by invisible cornices

We used bearings and timing to navigate from the summit in the cloud, walking one in front of the other, rather than together, to help keep ourselves accurate. Then we headed down the south ridge until the cloud started clearing and we got some lovely views of the mountains to the south.

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Summit selfie!

We made our way back down to the forest as the sun was getting lower, dousing the landscape in a beautiful light, and followed a stream through the forest to the track which took us back to the car.

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Mountains just appearing through the cloud

Happily we made it back to the hotel in time for another very large and delicious dinner. After dinner Chris and I said goodbye to Andy, who would be leaving early on Sunday morning, and had a final drink on the sofas by the fire in the lounge area.

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Descending in the sunshine

In the morning, Andy had indeed left before we were up, but we stayed to test out the pool and the sauna, before consuming an enormous breakfast from the buffet.

It was a brilliant weekend and a fantastic prize. We learnt loads and Andy gave us lots of recommendations for places we should visit and routes we should try. We left full of new confidence and inspiration to get out on even more adventures.

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Post-mountain dinner (photo credit: Andy Cave)

Thank you very very much Andy, Lowe Alpine and the BMC!!!!

Turning back: Beinn Bhuidhe

The weather forecast was pretty bad for last weekend but we are aware that during the TGO Challenge in May, we will have to walk whatever the weather. We therefore decided to try to get out anyway. Not knowing many decent long circular low level walks (please send us suggestions if you know of any!), we decided to try for Beinn  Bhuide, which includes a very long walk-in along a flat track from the head of Loch Fyne. We were hoping that by the time we started ascending, the weather might have cleared up. We also knew there was easy parking for the campervan for both Friday and Saturday night.

It was an extremely dark and wet drive up on Friday night and sounded just as wet when we woke up on Saturday morning. Having finally beaten the struggle to get up, we headed off in all our waterproofs up the track towards the Fyne Ales brewery (Achadunan brewery on the OS maps). It is a long trudge along the bottom of Glen Fyne and many people cycle it. The river was very high and flowing seriously fast, as were all the channels coming off the hillside: it was an impressive sight through the mist.

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The River Fyne looking scary

Eventually, you come to a gate, where a sign asks bikes to be left, and you walk through some hazel woods. We passed a closed up lodge, Inverchorachan, and started to climb, following a path from just the other side of the second gate through the deer fence. The path was quite steep and muddy, but leads up the south side of a gorge, where the stream was raging just on our right. We could see the water tearing off pieces of the bank and throwing up the stones at the edges: it was pretty spectacular.

Before the gorge widened out, there was one particularly tricky but short section, that definitely requires hands on rock. It’s probably not too much trouble in the dry, but is definitely something to think about in the wet if you aren’t confident with that sort of thing.

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The stream above Inverchorachan was very impressive and we were pretty wet.

Beyond this, there was a big waterfall coming down the head of the valley, and the sun actually came out for a few minutes, allowing us to eat a sandwich in the dry and admire the scenery.

Having dried out ever so slightly we set off again, trying to follow the path that was occasionally visible between the snow patches. The sun didn’t last long and the drizzle soon had us putting our hoods and gloves back on. The ground was quite eroded by water and soon became steeper again as we moved up on the left of the large waterfall. The snow was slippery and the ground wasn’t frozen meaning progress was fairly slow.

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Once up onto the next flatter section, the path crossed several streams. The first just required a minor detour, but the next was definitely not possible at the usual crossing point, so we followed it upstream to try to find somewhere safer. The wind had picked up and it started raining heavily,  quickly soaking us again. Having seen the sunshine,  I felt more demoralised than I had before drying out. We struggled along the steep stream bank, passing a fork – meaning we now had two streams to cross rather than one – and eventually found a suitable spot. It was very fast and deep, preventing us being able to place our poles in it for balance, but was easily jumpable.

As we started back down the other side looking for the path and somewhere to cross the next one, we were both starting to think this was not going to be an easy summit. We were now walking away from our destination, which was totally in cloud, and all we could see were a lot of steep hillocks rising into the murk, which in poor visibility was going to be a nightmare to navigate. We managed to cross the next stream but we had lost a fair bit of time and it was now around 1.30pm. We sheltered behind a rocky outcrop, had some food and discussed our options. We were still 1.5km from the summit. There were more streams that might prove impossible to cross. There was a steep section ahead that would be tricky in the horrible melty snow. There wasn’t going to a be a view. We had a long walk out even from where we were, and importantly, if we headed back now we’d be down in time for a beer at the brewery! We had some hot squash and turned around.

 

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It took a while to get down the steep sections but we didn’t encounter any problems. The weather also continued to tease me into taking my waterproofs off before raining again 10 minutes later. The track out along the valley definitely feels long on the walk back but some dancing Highland cows and the biggest herd of deer I’ve ever seen provided some distraction.

And we did indeed make it to the brewery in time for a drink and a venison sausage roll.

 

Details

Distance: 21.5km if you make it to the summit (we walked about 18.5km)

Munro summit: Beinn Bhuidhe  (948m)

Region: Argyll

Time: 7 hours without reaching the summit in unpleasant conditions (7-8 hours usually)

Comments:

Don’t be afraid to turn around if you’re not having fun! Yes, it’s good to get to the top but you are also out there to have a good time! Also, take a bike.

Whiteout on Beinn Tulaichean

We hadn’t had a proper day in the hills since Helvellyn in the Lake District at the start of the year, so we were determined to go out last weekend. The weather forecast didn’t look too bad but we couldn’t take the van, meaning that we needed somewhere not too far from Stirling (I get grumpy at horrendously early weekend starts!). We settled on Beinn Tulaichean and Cruach Ardrain near Crianlarich in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. These hills can be climbed either from the north or from the south; we decided on the latter (because that was the first route we saw!).

The route starts at Inverlochlarig, which is at the end of a very windy but pretty road off the A84, past Balquidder, and along the banks of Loch Voil. There is a good car park (free) with a shelter and a bench inside, providing an ideal spot for getting ready when it is pouring with rain – this was not the weather that was forecast!

We set off fully waterproofed, along the road, over a bridge, to a stile on the right, signposted for our hills. This slightly boggy path leads up onto a landrover track that runs up Inverlochlarig Glen. We followed this for less than 1 km then started thinking about heading up the slope on our left. There was no obvious path, it was sleeting and the cloud was pretty low so we couldn’t see far anyway. We left the landrover track just before coming to a gate and picked our way up via the easiest looking route.

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It was a bit murky and warm as we left the landrover track

The sleet soon turned to proper snow with big, fat, soggy flakes and started to settle, despite the ground not being frozen at all and therefore really wet. The visibility also dropped considerably. Our aim for the day quickly shifted from climbing two munros, to seeing how far we got and cooking lunch on Chris’ stove.

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It started snowing properly

Having climbed a fence, we were struggling to find a way up and around a steeper section. The wet snow was just compacting under our boots and sliding down the grass, making walking up very difficult and resulting in me lying on my stomach in the snow a few times. It was also incredibly warm: there was no wind and despite only wearing our base layers and waterproofs, we still had to take our gloves off to try to stay cool. At this point we met a father and daughter who were coming down, having sensibly backed off higher up as they didn’t have crampons and the visibility had gotten really poor. We followed their tracks up until they stopped, at which point it did get steeper, so we got our ice axes out and carried on carefully. We made it to a flat area that we had seen on the map and stopped for first lunch.

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Lunchtime. Total whiteout conditions by this stage.

I gave Chris a MSR windburner stove for his birthday in September but he has only used it a few times, so rather than take sandwiches as we usually do, we had decided to try out two meals that we might want to use whilst on our TGO Challenge. The first was  sun-dried tomato and garlic flavoured couscous with Matheson’s smoked sausage. The water took about 2 mins to boil and was poured onto the couscous and sausage and left for three minutes. The result: deliciousness! Tasty, super fast and definitely one to use again.

We packed up and carried on into the whiteness; up some even steeper ground that was quite fun and onto a narrower ridge. Here the ground was very confusing and not at all what it appeared to be on the map, which made for some challenging navigation for Chris, as by now we couldn’t see further than 10-15m, although it had stopped snowing. Eventually, having almost bypassed it, we climbed up some rocks and onto the summit; we dug around at some lumps of snow and uncovered a cairn so it must have been the summit right?

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Where’s the view? Are you sure this the summit?

Having eaten some chocolate, drunk some hot squash and laughed at the fact we could be absolutely anywhere, we decided that rather than struggle navigating down to the saddle between the two munros and making our way down to the landrover track from there, it would be easier and much quicker to follow our tracks back the way we came.

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Following our tracks back down

Once back at our flat area again, we had a second lunch of smash and smoked sausage, which was also a huge success and the first time I have eaten smash (besides the spoonful I was given to taste a fortnight ago when Chris bought it). So we now have two very fast, light and filling meals that we can use on our trip making this a very successful day!

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The first break in the cloud

The temperature had dropped a bit as we made our way down, but eventually the clouds started to break and we got a few glimpses of the hills around us. Once under the cloud,  where there was less snow, the descent was pretty difficult as it was still extremely slippery and not much fun, but it was nice to get a bit of a look at our surroundings, which turned out to be pretty nice, as we made our way down the last section and back out to the car.

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Inverlochlarig Burn

Details

Distance: ~9km

Ascent: 809m

Duration: 6h

Munro summit: Beinn Tulaichean (946m)

Comments

As we didn’t see anything, we can’t really comment on the views, but from what we could tell at the bottom there wasn’t much of a path, so in poor weather good navigation is necessary.

Always bring the appropriate equipment: despite how mild it was when we set off, we still carried our ice-axes and crampons. Also, always be prepared to adjust your plans: we very quickly chose not to bother with the second summit and decided our aim was not to gain a summit at all but to test our stove meals instead, something we could do at any altitude and in any weather. The pair we met had also changed their plans, backing off because they didn’t have the necessary equipment. The hills will be there another day!

Ben Ledi

Ben Ledi is perfect when you want a shorter day out: it is a very popular corbett just outside Callander. Having been up twice in bad weather, I had never really considered what you might see from the top, so the wonderful views we had 10 days ago were something of a surprise. The “sledging” was just an added perk! We didn’t even have to get up too early….perfect!

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First snack stop: we were sheltered from the wind for the first section of the walk.

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Beautiful conditions

Details

Distance: 10km

Ascent: 760m

Time: ~4.5hrs (dawdling, chatting and digging holes in the snow)

Summit: Ben Ledi (879m)

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The Trossachs looking wonderful.

Comments

A brilliant, popular and very easily accessible shorter walk (see Walkhighlands for route details). However, it still needs to be taken seriously, particularly when the forecast isn’t great: we have experienced some pretty uncomfortable conditions up there in the past. Although short, some sections of the ascent are quite steep and it’s quite exposed near the top. Car parking can also be limiting if the conditions are good.

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Happy walkers!

New Year in the Lake District

Rather than celebrate the New Year in Scotland as we usually do, this year we decided to go away in our campervan. One of the wonderful things about a van is the freedom it provides to choose where to go without having to book anything or rely on good weather, as we used to for camping trips. We can also take all our gear,meaning that whatever the weather, we can do something. So, on the 29th , we had a look at the weather forecast: it was going to rain over New Year and then turn cold, which ruled out any climbing. The band of rain was going to move down the country on the 1st, leaving nice weather behind it in the Lake District, so that was where we decided to go.

We received a shiny new book of mountain routes for Christmas, with lots of choices for Helvellyn, including Striding Edge, which is reportedly very good. We set off from my parents place on the afternoon of the 31st, but for various reasons made slow progress north. We arrived in Windermere to a very dark and wet evening, and our first two potntial camping spots proved unsuitable. We then made for Ullswater, and found a remote spot to park up and see the New Year in; also possibly the windiest place in the Lake District! However, for two people used to sheltering in a little two-man tent, the pleasure of being in a nice dry van, while the rain and wind beat the outside, hasn’t worn off yet, so we were very happy! Grandma’s Christmas hamper and a bottle of bubbly also ensured we had a lovely dinner.

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Happy New Year!

We had also decided that due to our late arrival and staying up until midnight, we didn’t fancy the early morning required for a hill day. Instead, we had a lie-in, a rare thing in the van, and easy to do as it was bitterly cold outside (and a little inside too) and the wind was still howling.

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Turns out we chose a great spot despite the pitch dark and rain

In the afternoon we went for a gentle stroll along the edge of Ullswater. There is pay and display parking in Patterdale (£4 for the day) and a route perfect for families, if you walk NW along the A592 and take the first right turn, following a track over the Goldrill Beck, through a farm yard (campsite) and north parallel to the edge of the lake.

 

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Ullswater

We walked up to Silver Point and a little beyond before the weather started to turn and the call of the pub became too strong. You can take a higher route back from Silver Point, which actually gives nicer views for much of the way, and can cross the same bridge as you came over, or another slightly further up, which provides access to the very cute hamlet of Rooking.

 

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Sunny New Year’s Day walk

While out, we noted that there might be a fair amount of snow on the top of Helvellyn, which made us reconsider going up Striding Edge as we don’t know the area and the guide book suggested that snow and ice can turn the easy scramble into a winter climb.

Helvellyn

After another night in our windy carpark, with the addition of snow rather than rain, we got up at 5.45am, had spaghetti and sausages (breakfast of champions) and drove down to Glenridding. We parked in the carpark just off the A592 by the information centre and set off in the dark, using our head torches to follow the signs for Helvellyn. The route goes west along a residential road, after about 500m the houses peter away and you follow the road right then left, following the old mining road on the north side of the stream. This runs for about 1.5km to the youth hostel and the disused mine; by this point it was light but the sun hadn’t yet come over the hills. As you pass some holiday cottages there are more signs, keeping you on the right of way and away from the mining areas. We then quickly started to climb steeply, taking the path to Sticks Pass, which zigzags up the hillside before curving into a small gully. At the top of this, you come out onto a large flattish area that still shows lots of signs of human activity. The sun finally emerged over the hills to the east and turned everything orange for a while.

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Catching the sun’s first rays

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The sun just peeking over the hills

We made our way NE to the bottom of the steep valley side and followed the path west towards Sticks Pass and the broad saddle between Stybarrow Dodd (N) and Raise (S), where the ground was covered with a thin layer of snow. A very clear path runs along this line and we made our way without difficulty up to Raise (883m). By this point it was pretty cold and the cairn was coated in ice on the north side; with clear blue sky, the views in every direction were lovely and we could see the summit of Helvellyn ahead.

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Lots of snow and ice on top of Raise

The ground between Raise and White Side is fairly flat and it was definitely chilly in the wind, but on the south side of White Side we were much more sheltered. Then there is a steeper climb up a narrower ridge to Lower Man; we had a pause at the top as it was sheltered again and ate some hobnobs before the final ascent to Helvellyn. It was bitterly cold at the top and very busy by this time: we took a couple of photos and dashed back down to our sheltered spot for a sandwich, but not fast enough to avoid getting extremely cold fingers (the thing that makes me grumpiest about winter walking!).

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Chris is happy

We descended by the same way, until we took the path that peels off E leading down into Kepple Cove. This is a fairly steep descent down to the stream on a decent path and then a stomp out underneath Stang until you get back to the disused mine.

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On the way down after a sunny, snowy, cloudless day

Having anticipated a long day, we were rather surprised to be back at the van by 1.30pm. So after packing away our stuff, we had some delicious hot chocolate and drove back to Stirling, which left us enough time to unpack the van, shower, change and go out for a lovely dinner! Perfect!

Details

Distance: 17.4km

Duration: 6h 15m

Ascent: approx. 1090m

Summits: Helvellyn (949m), Lower Man (925m) and Raise (883m)

Comments

A pleasant walk with some lovely views and good paths all the way. We’ll be back for Striding Edge, returning via the line of summits south down to Grisedale Tarn.