Braeriach: Testing my limits

We climbed Braeriach in April and I will always remember it!

Braeriach is the third highest mountain in Britain, but also very remote and difficult to reach. It is situated in the Cairngorms, south-east of Aviemore and can be accessed a variety of ways: one is as part of the Cairn Toul – Braeriach traverse, which encompasses those two munros, in addition to The Devil’s Point and Sgor an Locahin Uaine; another is as a circular route from Whitewell. As we have already climbed the other three, we chose the latter route.

The forecast wasn’t too bad although MWIS advised that it might be quite windy (up to 40mph), but we wouldn’t be going over any particularly difficult terrain, so we thought it was worth a try. As a long route it would also be good practice for our TGO Challenge.

P1020174.JPG

At the Cairgorm Club footbridge in the forest

We parked at Whitewell and set off early through the Rothiemurchus Forest on excellent forest tracks. These Caledonian pine forests are wonderful; they are home to capercaillie, red squirrels and pine martin and definitely worth a visit themselves. We navigated the tracks to the Cairngorm Club Footbridge, then followed the path south-east towards the Lairig-Ghru. We continued gradually climbing upwards through the forest above the Allt Druidh. The forest thinned and we were no longer protected from the wind; Braeriach was hidden in cloud ahead of us.

P1020175.JPG

The Lairig-Ghru looking ominous ahead

The path eventually drops down to the burn and the path from the Chalamain gap comes in from the left. We crossed the burn and started to climb steeply up the ridge on the west side of the Lairig Ghru, still on a fairly good path. However, we soon hit snow, it was still windy and the visibility deteriorated; we could see down the steep cliffs into the Lairig Ghru but not much else. We pushed on but the wind got stronger and stronger; we decided it was time for a break and lunch in the red cafe (our group shelter). Finding a flat sheltered spot on the steep rocky ridge wasn’t easy, and keeping hold of and getting into the shelter was even less easy!

P1020179

At this point I couldn’t raise the camera above my waist….

A group shelter gives tremendous relief from difficult conditions, and this was no exception, except that the material violently battering the back of our heads was a constant reminder of what was waiting outside. We were also sitting in a lot more snow than we had anticipated. We had already come a long way, but we started discussing our options: the strong wind and poor visibility wasn’t a good combination, so did we want to head back or carry on? We decided to continue a little further and see how we felt: we were well-equipped, we had lots of time and we could turn around at any point. So after a short but vigorous battle with the shelter which didn’t want to go back into a rucksack, we headed on up the ridge. The clouds had actually lifted somewhat while we were resting, which gave us more confidence, but as we approached Sron na Lairige, the wind roared down the valley pummeling us relentlessly. We had a further battle to get our waterproof trousers on, which stopped the wind biting our legs, but it was starting to become mentally challenging for me, as well as physically challenging. We began to walk for a few minutes, leaning heavily into the wind, then stop and turn our backs to the wind briefly, while I regained my breath, before continuing in this manner.

P1020181-PANO.jpg

View on the summit of Braeriach

As we got closer to the summit, we changed direction, the ridge narrowed considerably and we moved quite carefully. Suddenly the wind dropped. It was an incredible relief. My hair had been flying about my face, making it difficult to see, so I quickly took my hood and buff off ready to re-tie it in the calm, when a huge gust hit us and knocked us both onto the ground. I was shocked: I had never felt wind like this. Whenever I moved, the wind picked up the snow and shot it in sharp spikes into my face, while my hair whipped my eyes. It was awful, so I crouched on the floor with my eyes closed waiting for it to calm down. It did a little. We moved forward cautiously. Then there were more gusts; we tried to move down north off the ridge slightly but having been driven to the ground again, the wind pushed me across the snow even while I sitting down! This was terrifying, I had never felt so out of control. I rolled onto my side and dug my elbow into the snow to stop myself from sliding, unable to see much due to the snow in my eyes and face. Chris wasn’t struggling so much, possibly because, unlike him, I was wearing my large backpacking rucksack to get get used to it before the Challenge and it was acting like a sail; he came and crouched behind me. We couldn’t stay there, so we crawled forwards: the ridge was broader ahead. By this point I had had enough, I wanted to get down.

P1020186

How we’d been feeling a few minutes earlier!

I honestly have no idea how long we were in this wind but it suddenly disappeared again. We walked calmly but warily to the summit, where there was no wind at all and we could take our gloves off and have some food. However, we could hear the wind roaring like a massive waterfall around the corries just over the edge, it was very strange. Once again we discussed the options: earlier in the day, we had decided that we should return by the way we had come, rather than complete the circuit, as we knew the way and could follow our prints if necessary. Now, we looked at the map and decided the fastest way down and out of the wind was to continue east and descend into Gleann Eanaich as planned.

P1020187

As we left the summit, the wind hit us again, this time pushing us downhill from behind. It was difficult not to go too fast and to prevent my rucksack from coming round to my front! However, we descended quickly and soon it was just a surreal memory. The slope was steep, and we “skiied” in our boots down some gullies still full of snow. We lost the path and picked our way down the steep hillside to the track clearly visible below us, passing a couple of reindeer on the way. We didn’t even get too wet crossing the bog to get to the track. Then it was simply a trot in calm weather along landrover track all the way back to Whitewell, occasionally looking back and thinking “did that really just happen?!”

P1020189.JPG

Desending steeply down into Gleann Eanaich

Back at the van, we had tea and hobnobs before driving up to Glenmore Lodge for a delicious dinner to celebrate another successful adventure.

Once home, we checked the reports from the Cairngorm weather station, which had recorded gusts over 80mph at lunchtime and reaching 90mph by mid-afternoon.

P1020185.JPG

Proof we were actually fine despite a little too much excitement!

I think I tested my limits further than I ever have in the mountains that day. However, I didn’t panic, I didn’t cry, I didn’t freeze: we were fine, I was fine. I’m proud to know we can cope with difficult situations. Chris actually enjoyed himself!

However, when MWIS forecast 40mph winds two weeks ago, I changed our plan from climbing a ridge on Ben Nevis to rock climbing at Dunkeld…..

 

Munro summit: Braeriach (1296m)

Distance: 26km / 16.25 miles

Ascent: 1217m

Duration: 9h 15mins

 

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.

20170406_190526

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.

P1020124

#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.

20170406_192449

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.

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.

P1060132.JPG

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.

P1060139.JPG

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.

 

p1060144

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.

 

20170101_140352

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.

p1060160

Catching the sun’s first rays

20170102_085714

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.

p1060170

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!).

p1060167

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.

p1060182

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.

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.

bridge

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.

cairn-of-fence-posts

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

sunny-mist

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.

 

river-lyon-and-lawers-group

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.

Isles of Lewis and Harris: beaches and eagles

Lewis

Having had a fantastic day on Liathach in Torridon on Sunday, our plan was to spend the rest of the week getting a taste of the Isles of Lewis and Harris on our very first trip to the Outer Hebrides.

So, on Monday morning we caught the 9.30am ferry out of Ullapool to Stornoway. The water was incredibly calm and remained so for the entire crossing. We saw gannets for the first time, skimming just above the sea, identifiable by their large pale beaks and black wing tips contrasting strongly with their white bodies. We also caught a glimpse of two small fins side-by-side behind the ferry, but we couldn’t tell whether they were dolphins or porpoise. We spent some time during the crossing with all our guide books, climbing guides and maps (of which we had many!) out, constructing a plan of action for the next few days.

The ferry arrived in Stornoway in the early afternoon; we had read that this was by far the largest settlement on the islands, so we went for a wander around. Unfortunately we were rather underwhelmed and soon headed off for wilder areas.

Our first destination was the beach, Traigh Uige, at Timsgearraidh on the west of the island, which I think we read was the nicest on Lewis. The drive lasted about an hour, mostly through empty low-lying bog, containing very little but short brown grass and lots of lochans. This doesn’t sound very appealing but in the sunshine it was surprisingly attractive, with the golden brown contrasting with the bright blue of the sky and water.

We drove to a spot marked on the OS map with parking and a picnic area, just north of Eader Dah Fhadhail, and found it to be a designated camping area with toilets, showers and a utility room, run by a crofting association. The beach is just behind a small band of sand dunes and is lovely: beautiful white sand and sea so clear and blue, we quickly decided that we had to have a swim!

p1050595

Sunny Traigh Uige

p1050601p1050606

Eventually, feeling invigorated, we headed back to the van for dinner. The following morning, the sun was still shining and we drove up to Aird Uig to look for some sea cliff climbs. We parked at the end of the road opposite a house that is being run as a cafe and craft shop, or “open house” when the cafe is closed: a lovely idea. Aird Uig looked like a very unusual place, full of long low buildings with flat roofs. Some of them were nicely done up as holiday accommodation, others appeared to be in the process of renovation and quite a few were in very poor condition, lacking windows and surrounded by broken cars and engines. Apparently it is an old RAF base and the community are now doing lots of work to bring in visitors and provide jobs and business for locals.

p1050614

So where are these cliffs?

p1050617

We headed west from the centre of the village along a track and then down towards the north side of a lochan and the cliffs. The views were great but we weren’t very successful at finding the climbs; unfortunately, this seems to be a regular occurrence for us with sea cliffs. In the early afternoon we headed back to the van for the drive down to North Harris.

Harris

As you head south from Stornoway, the landscape changes: it starts to get hilly, and we drove along a really beautiful valley, with Loch Aireasort in the bottom, before reaching much more rocky terrain. We were looking for a shop to stock up on milk but didn’t actually find one until Tarbert the following day, so make sure you plan food shopping carefully!

We turned off the main road just north of Tarbert and drove west along a narrow, single track, windy and humpy road.The next day’s walk was to start from this road and I had spotted a small beach and a parking area at the end of it, which I thought might be somewhere nice to stay for the night. This road gives easy access to the Forest of Harris and part of the way along it we spotted a sign for a Golden Eagle observatory, which was very exciting: Golden Eagles were one of the things I was particularly hoping to see. At the end of the road, we did indeed find a lovely beach, parking, a wild campsite and a toilet, again run by the local crofting association. Be prepared to have to get out and chivvy the Highland cows out of the road though, they really weren’t bothered by the van at all. That evening we were able to have dinner with van doors open looking right down onto the beach.

p1050628

Traffic jam

p1050635

Dinner with a view at Huisinis

p1050652

Breakfast in the sunshine

After a sunny breakfast on the picnic benches above the beach, we headed off to start our walk; this time the cows were lying in the road and wouldn’t move until I went and stood over them. The walk starts at the access road to a power station about 3/4 of the way along the road, just before a little castle (Abhainn Suidhe) if you’re coming from the west. It follows a tarmac track up past the power station, but before we had even walked 1 km, we heard a raven making a lot of noise and realised that it was mobbing something very large indeed: my first Golden Eagle sighting! The eagle dwarfed the raven, which chased it round the valley before we lost sight of them over the hills. I couldn’t believe it and was so excited as I hadn’t really expected to see one. However, the Forest of Harris reportedly has some of the highest nesting density of Golden Eagles in Europe, so it’s a good place to spot them.

p1050664

Glen Ulladale

Once past the power station, the track gets steeper and climbs up to a small dam at the end of Loch Chliostair. Here, a path follows the west side of the loch; there is steep hillside on both sides and I spotted another eagle come over the top and slowly circle it’s way around to our left. Then we heard a strange yapping sound and another came into sight near the first and they circled together for a while before splitting up. The one that was yapping made a sudden drop towards the hillside at one point and we could see flashes of white on its underside, suggesting that it was a juvenile.

The path continues to another smaller loch before dropping down into Glen Ulladale (Gleann Uladail). As you descend, Sron Ulladale starts to come into view on the right. This is a massive fist of rock that bursts out of the hillside and towers over the valley as a magnificent overhanging cliff. It has been described as the finest inland precipice in the UK, and if you are a climber, it hosts some famous long hard climbs. Great big boulders litter the grass below, which are quite fun to climb around, and stags were roaring just the other side of the valley.

p1050666

p1050672

Photos just can’t do justice to Sron Ulladale

We returned by the same path, and nearly bumped into three red deer, fortunately without a stag. We also saw two Golden Eagles above Creagan Leathan, soaring close together and occasionally diving towards each other, whereupon one would flip upside down and they would clash talons. It was amazing to watch. Our last sighting of one was a juvenile again, with white patches under its wings flying low over Lag MacCodruim.

Once back at the van we made for Tarbert, which isn’t very big but there was a shop, so we stocked up on milk, bread, and the real essentials: hobnobs, twix and twirls. We also had hot drinks and cheesecake in the hotel next to the ferry port. Then we carried on towards West Harris, making for Luskentyre (Losgaintir). Right at the end of the road, there is parking, more toilets and a beautiful beach (Traigh Rosamol), where we watched the sun set; the calm sea only broken by a cluster of fins crossing the bay. Then we drove back along the road a short way and camped at one of the designated spots.

p1050706

Traigh Rosamol

When we woke up in the morning, the tide was out, leaving a vast expanse of sand, upon which we made dams and drew giant penguins as we waited for it to warm up a bit.

p1050720

Traigh Losgaintir: where’s the sea?

Then we moved on to explore some of the other beaches, which were all absolutely stunning: probably some of the nicest beaches I have seen.

p1050723

p1050724

Traigh Lar

For lunch, we parked at the end of the road beyond Northton (Taobh Tuath) and ate overlooking another beautiful beach, before taking the track through the gate, which leads to a string of small pretty beaches. The sea looked so gorgeous that we braved the cold again and went for another swim!

p1050748

Traigh na Cleabhaig

p1050752

We couldn’t resist a final dip

We had to head back to Tarbert that night as our ferry was very early the next morning, so we began to make our way northwards again. The very large beach of Traigh Scarasta looked very inviting for a final walk, but we could not find an obvious way to get onto it from the A859, so we carried on a little further to a parking/camping and picnic area just north of the golf course. From there, if you walk north along the road a little way, there is a gate into a field with information about the standing stone, and from there you can walk down to a more hidden beach behind the dunes. There was no-one else there, so we tucked ourselves into the edge of the dunes and made ourselves hot chocolate, with just a seal and a dolphin/porpoise for company.

p1050773

Hot chocolate and hobnobs on the beach….what more could you want?

p1050775p1050778p1050781

Comments

These islands are a wonderful place to explore, with some absolutely stunning beaches and they are ideal for campervan trips. Just make sure that you have plenty of food with you as there aren’t many shops open out of season except in Stornoway and Tarbert.

CalMac Ferries: Ullapool – Stornoway £67.90 ; Tarbert – Uig £42.20 for two people and a 6m-long van.

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.

p1050527

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.

p1050529

First breathtaking view as you reach the ridge

p1050533

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.

p1050543-2

First view of the pinnacles

P1050541.jpg

Looking back along the ridge and over to Beinn Eighe

p1010013

P1050550.jpg

First munro summit

P1050552.jpg

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.

p1050559

Coming over the pinnacles

p1010024

Don’t look down!

p1010031

p1010035

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.

p1050575

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.

Exploring the West Coast: Northern Kintyre and our first otters!

Last week it was our birthday (we have our birthday on the same day!), so we planned to go away for a trip in the van over the weekend. Originally we were going to leave on Friday evening, but one of our gifts was two MASSIVE steaks, which we really wanted to eat, so Friday night became steak (they were so big we had to share one) and wine night and we set off on Saturday morning instead.

The forecast wasn’t great and we had been so busy we decided to explore the West coast rather than climb mountains. Our planning consisted of checking Google Earth for nice looking beaches and driving to them! I decided we should aim for Kintyre, but with just two days we weren’t going to be able to drive far south so we decided on a route that stayed north with some nice beach options.

We set off around 10.30am on Saturday, and drove around the bottom of Loch Lomond to Arrochar. We have been to Arrochar a good few times to walk or climb in the Arrochar Alps, but I had never been any further than than, and Chris has only been as far as the Rest and Be Thankful pass: a nice view point that looks down Glen Croe. From then on we were in new territory for both of us.

We carried on along the A83 to the tip of Loch Fyne, where we stopped to check out a brewery (Fyne Ales) that we had heard good things about in Achadunan. It seems very nice and we bought a few bottles to try; it definitely looks like the perfect place to stop off on the way down from Beinn Buiddhe one day.

Further on, Inverary looked nice and the castle is very impressive. We stopped for a wander at Port Ann and followed the marked trails down to the abandoned Otter Ferry (we didn’t see any otters there).

We then carried on until the turning right approx. 3km beyond Ardrishaig, where we took the B8024 across to the west coast and the edge of Loch Caolisport. We paused for a cup of tea and biscuits just beyond Tighnahoran, but the beach I had been hoping for didn’t look as inspiring as I had imagined; it was a very calm place though (all the beaches were disappointing on Saturday, but we later discovered it was simply because the tide was in!).

We carried on going, whilst starting to think of finding somewhere to stay for the night. There is really very little in that area: there were hardly any cars on the roads and just a few scattered houses and farms.  Kilberry has a shop (I think I remember one) and a café/restaurant/pub but there’s not much anywhere else, except a campsite about 2km before you reach Kilberry.

We drove right down to Loch Stornoway, where we got out to have a look. The water was amazingly still and came right up to the grass, which I had never seen before; we didn’t stay long as the midges quickly found us!

p1050335

Loch Stornoway at high tide

We parked for the night in a layby above Port Mor and from the time we arrived to our departure around 11am, we only saw about 4 cars! The beer from the brewery was very good.

In the morning the sun was shining and we could see the sand at Port Mor, so we found a gate and a muddy path down to the little bay. It was perfect, nobody around, nice white sand, clear blue water and just enough sunshine.

p1050344

Our private beach, Port Mor

Two seals were watching us from some rocks just off the beach along with a collection of shags or cormorants (I’m not very good at distinguishing them).

p1050349The sea was too inviting to resist and not as cold as we expected! We spent a good while swimming, wading, finding beautiful shells and introducing Chris to hermit crabs (which are very cool!), before drying off and finishing our birthday cake (thank you Kirstie!).

p1050347

We then moved on to Ardpatrick: there is hardly anywhere suitable to park but we managed to tuck the van in, and followed a track past Ardpatrick House to another small bay. Seaweed and layers of massive shells lined the top of the beach but beyond that was a large expansive of beautiful sand.

p1050375

Is this really Scotland? Who needs to go abroad!

As we climbed over the rocks to see what was around the corner, I spotted something in the water ahead of us. After a couple of seconds I realised it was an otter, and, amazed, we stopped to watch. We quickly realised that there appeared to be another on the rocks: in fact, there were three, a mother and two youngsters, who she was fishing for. It was incredible; I have always wanted to see otters but had never found any before. We were about 25m away and watched them for nearly an hour; the mother fished almost constantly, and made an unexpected amount of noise when she found something suitable for the young ones, which would promptly leap into the water. Otherwise they would just swim around the shore and roll about on the rocks. Eventually we left them and moved on but ended up just above them. The mum eventually noticed us and dashed back, making a very peculiar huffing noise and led them away tucked in either side of her. They weren’t that bothered though as we saw them again all curled up together on some rocks just around the corner!

p1050384

p1050389

Otter family!

On the way back up the beach, we couldn’t resist another swim, the water was too nice. Then we headed home, following the road to Tarbet and then the A83 back to Arrochar again, via another tea break in Inverary. Overall, it was an absolutely wonderful weekend and we felt like we’d been away for much longer than the two days.