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.

Snow on Beinn Ghlas!

Winter has well and truly arrived in Scotland!

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By the end of what felt like a long week, I was not impressed at the prospect of getting up at 5.30am on Saturday morning to make our way to the hills known as the Lawers group. All the photos of snow covered mountains we were seeing were very good motivation though, and we were soon extremely happy we made the effort.

Having collected Kirstie at 6.30am, we drove through a dark and frosty morning up to Killin. We arrived with half an hour to spare before meeting another friend Jen, so we shivered and yawned our way to a coffee shop that was just opening for tea, coffee and orange juice. Once Jen and Siula (Jen’s gorgeous dog) arrived, we piled ourselves and all our gear into her Landrover to get up to the Ben Lawers car park. The road doesn’t get gritted, so we thought it might be a bit treacherous in our car.

The hills were completely plastered in snow, much more so than we had anticipated and the weather was beautiful, so we were already very excited. We set off through the snow from the car park towards the nature reserve felling very happy!

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Photo by Chris

Upon entering the reserve, we saw lots of red grouse sitting in the snow, looking very conspicuous with their dark plumage – why don’t they change colour in winter like the mountain hares and ptarmigan?

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Photo by Chris

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Photo by Jen

We made our way slowly up the hillside, with plenty of pauses to admire the view and take pictures. We dug a seat out of a snow drift, so we could admire the spectacular scenery while having lunch.

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We reached the summit of Beinn Ghlas, just after 12 where Jen generously supplied some Port and delicious chocolate as it was her birthday.

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Jen and Siula near the summit (photo by Chris)

As this was our first winter day of the season, we decided not to push on over the steeper slopes to Ben Lawers (which had just disappeared in a big cloud!) and risk descending in the dark, but instead to enjoy our success and head back down with plenty of time for playing in the snow, making snow angles and drinking hot chocolate back in Killin.

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Photo by Chris (on Jen’s phone)

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Jen’s panorama

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A happy birthday girl!

Well-done Jen for excellent driving over steep ice! It was a brilliant day, finished off perfectly with burgers, beer and wine at home.

Details

Distance: 7.5 km (10.5km if you include Ben Lawers)

Duration: 5 hours (due to much dog and snow-induced fun)

Ascent: 858m (968m if you climb Ben Lawers too)

Munro summit: Beinn Ghlas (1103m)

Comments

The hills of the Lawers group are nice munros if you don’t want too much ascent, as the car park is nice and high! Killin is also a very nice village to stop off in on your way to or from the hills, with some really lovely waterfalls.

Note: do not forget your camera when it is beautiful and snowy!

Na Gruagaichean (but not Binnein Mor)

Last weekend we decided to venture slightly further north beyond Glencoe, to investigate the Mamores, a range of hills that I have never been to, and Chris hasn’t explored much. Chris had a route in mind that takes in the summits of Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor from Kinlochleven, and looked interesting but not excessively long, which is important now the days  are shorter.

We left Stirling at 6.30am, which was the earliest that didn’t feel too horrendous for a Sunday morning. The route starts at St Paul’s Church in Kinlochleven, which is quite easy to find: take the first turning right after crossing the bridge in Kinlochleven and it is the white building at the end of the road. There is a car park to the right of it and the path passes between the church and the car park. Almost immediately, you reach a t-juntion where you should turn left, then keep right and follow the path marked Loch Eilde Mor. It was very chilly to start with but we soon warmed up as the path steepens through the deciduous woodland, which was very beautiful in its autumn colours. After crossing a stream, there are a few different worn paths but they all seem to go the same way. We soon came out of the wood and onto the moorland, where you must be sure to look behind you as the views of Loch Leven are stunning!

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Looking back to Loch Leven

We followed this path until we came to a landrover track, where we took our first Brunch bar stop. When you reach the track, the path onwards is visible continuing in the same direction, but starting from a bit further left along the track. This takes you along the hillside and around Sgor Eilde Beag, where we passed a couple who weren’t looking too happy and could only mutter “it’s a bit wild up there.” Indeed, it was definitely getting windier, so we found a sheltered spot before turning into Coire an Lochain for a sandwich.

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A good path heading towards Sgor Eilde Beag

Once in Coire an Lochain it was a lot colder: there were the first patches of snow on the ground and ice on the water. After continuing on for a few more minutes, we realised that we had taken a lower path that was leading towards Sgurr Eilde Mor, so had to cut left to the path we needed, which was slightly higher up the hill. The light was very strange, with sunshine behind and below us, but very black clouds in front. Sgurr Eilde Mor rose smooth and cone shaped on our right and we could see the dark shapes of many more hills and valleys in the cloud ahead. At this point we discussed some alternatives for when we reached the ridge, as the weather was looking rather menacing and it was already cold and windy.

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Sgurr Eilde Mor

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Menacing clouds ahead

Before the ground began to drop away we left the path and moved up to the left, soon finding a path which climbed steeply but without difficulty right up to the little bealach (saddle) north-west of Sgor Eilde Beag summit. It was very windy!

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Kirstie on the ridge – it was hard to hold the camera still!

We moved slowly up the ridge to the middle point between the three summits, whilst being buffeted about and having tiny, hard bits of snow driven into our eyes. Crouching down below the mid-point, we decided that we didn’t fancy doing the two summits in this weather, and the quickest way back would be via Na Gruagaichan. The ridge to that summit however is narrower on the map than the ridge to Binnein Mor, so we decided to have a look and see if looked feasible in the wind, and if not we’d re-assess. Following a bearing down, the ridge appeared below and is indeed quite narrow. However, the wind soon dropped and the cloud thinned, making it a really nice ridge walk, with stunning views under the clouds.

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Descending onto the ridge

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If you look back along the ridge as you come towards the far-side, you can see the north side is in places almost a flat vertical wall; this isn’t noticeable as you cross because the path stays slightly to the south, just below the crest.

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On our way up to Na Gruagaichan

We had another sandwich huddled in the shelter of a low, semi-circular rough wall of stones before making our way up Na Gruagaichan. The climb wasn’t too difficult, but it is quite rocky in places. At the summit we were pretty much in cloud again so we headed south down the broad shoulder until we were just under the cloud and the other mountains reappeared, topped with a smattering of snow.

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The route follows this shoulder until it becomes much steeper, then you have to choose your own way down. We took a more westerly line, which was quite easy while there was still snow on the ground but became slower on the steep, slippery grass. Eventually we met the track again and followed it east for a short distance before finding the path off it that leads back west and down to Kinlochleven. This last leg was surprisingly long but we finally came out exactly where we started, and having changed our boots, we made for the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe, to revive ourselves with hot chocolate and chips!

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Sunshine on the Pap of Glencoe

Details

Distance: approx. 12km (would be 14km with the second summit)

Ascent: approx. 1179m

Time: 6.5 hours

Summits: Na Gruagaichan (1056m) with option for Binnein Mor (1130)

 

Comments

A really stunning little ridge walk, with fabulous views, that made me want to go back to the Mamores and brought the Ring of Steall higher up the to-do list. It could be a great route for winter.

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.

Camping in the Cairngorms

Walk report

Last week I created my “munro map” on the Walkhighlands website, which showed me just how few I have climbed and filled me with motivation to get up some more at the weekend. Chris also had his new MSR Wind Burner stove to try out and our tent hadn’t had an airing for a while, as we’ve been using the van for our trips (eg. Kintyre, Cairngorms and Galloway and Dumfries), so I suggested that we go for a two day walk with a wild camp. On Thursday evening, we got the OS maps out and Chris showed me all the multi-day walks he has done in the Cairngorms, and I proposed a trip that combined two routes from the Munros book (Cameron McNeish) and included five new munros for me and four for Chris, with an obvious area for a camp (the first time I have come up with a route for us!).

We left on Friday night and drove up to Braemar with our usual lunch boxes of pizza for dinner; it such a bright night, the moon was casting shadows on the mountains. We had a fairly laid back start on Saturday, not leaving from the Lin of Dee until about 9.20am. We set off following the signs up the track through Glen Lui, towards Derry Lodge, as we had done a month or so ago. We stopped for snack but our break was cut rather short by the large number of midges, many of which were hiding in Chris’ rucksack. Rather than heading north into Glen Derry, we continued east to the Luibeg Bridge. This whole section is fairly flat with excellent paths and lovely scenery: we spotted lots of male bumblebees on the Devil’s-bit scabious and a red squirrel near to Derry lodge.

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After the bridge, there is a little bit of ascent that gives you good views down Glen Dee and Glen Geusachen, and then as the path curves around the bottom of Carn a’Mhaim, you get the first sight of the Devil’s Point and the Lairig Ghru.

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View from the Luibeg Bridge

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The Devil’s Point

We left the main path up the Lairig Ghru and crossed the river Dee at the bridge, heading up to Corrour Bothy. It was actually the first time that I had been inside a bothy and I honestly think that in summer I’d rather camp, although I can see that it would be much nicer in there if the weather was bad!

I actually found this long flat first stage the most difficult of the day; we left the bothy and attacked our first real ascent at 2pm and I found it much more enjoyable, perhaps due to the effort distracting me from aching feet and shoulders! Once onto the plateau, we nipped up to the Devil’s Point, where I looked up from chatting to sudden and absolutely amazing views that makes it feel really remote. There were also a couple of ptarmigan that waddled along ahead of us for a while: seeing them always makes me happy.

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From the top of the Devil’s Point

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Having taken in the endless landscape as best we could, we retraced our steps back to the top of the path above the bothy and then followed the edge of the plateau over one summit and on to the summit of Cairn Toul.

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Happy summit selfie (Cairn Toul)

Both of these summits are made up mainly of boulder fields, which isn’t too bad for the ascent but makes descending a bit trickier. At the top of Cairn Toul there are two cairns, the more northerly one (the second you reach from this direction) is the highest but the first is worth going to as the views are better, and they are pretty spectacular.

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On the way to Angel’s Peak

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Admiring the view

It didn’t take us long to follow the top of the cliffs down and then climb up to the top of the Angel’s Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine), which was our final munro of the day.

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Down into the Lairig Ghru

We then left the views of the coires, the Lairig Ghru and Ben Macdui behind us and descended south east down the ridge. There was no path here and we just picked our way down the patches of grass and boulders aiming to camp somewhere near the bottom of the saddle above Loch nan Stuirteag. As we wanted to be near some water and the flatter areas at the bottom looked boggy, we moved onto the north eastern side of the ridge and found a flattish patch near the streams that become Allt Luineag: it turns out slightly damp grass and moss makes a very nice tent base: easy to put the pegs in and very soft to sleep on.

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A lovely evening

The tent was up in minutes; we love our tent, it’s so sturdy and easy to put up and down. A herd of about 20 red deer watched us as the sun dropped. Dinner was also ready in minutes, which was a vast improvement to our last camping trip when we froze waiting to eat half crunchy, barely-warm noodles. So we were very impressed with the MSR stove performance, although conditions were very benign: there was almost not enough wind to keep the midges at bay.

We both had a lovely sleep: decent camping mats and sleeping bags have made a world of difference to our camping experiences! We woke up in a cloud as usual but the sun was trying to break through as we left camp at about 8.40am.

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Misty morning

Once we were up the steepest section of Monadh Mor, visibility became pretty poor and as the slope flattened off we started navigating properly and I got some great practice walking on bearings and timing distances. There was no obvious path and we walked to a bearing all the way to the saddle between Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain, where the cloud lessened a little and clear path led up to the trig point.

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Chilly on top of Monadh Mor; not much of a view either.

All we needed to do from there was find our way down onto the track beside the river Dee to the White Bridge: easier said than done. We didn’t really want to climb the steep looking Cairn Cloch-mhuilinn and there was a lot of bog between us and it, so we tried a short-cut down beside the Allt Garbh straight to the track. No luck. Once around the shoulder of Cairn Cloch-mhuilinn, it became steep and there were other streams and gullies to cross, so we bashed through the heather all around the shoulder, under some slabby cliffs, back to the flatter ground leading to Carn Fiaclach. Short cuts never work and we had to break out the chocolate raisins! There was still no sign of a path and the ground wasn’t very easy as we made our way towards Carn Fiaclach. Don’t go right up this: it’s steep down the other side! We had to go down the south side and stomp through the heather and lumpy, holey ground right down to the track.

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The Allt Garbh is very pretty

I have to say, these last two munros were not much fun to get off and wouldn’t be much fun to get up either, so this route is a great way to get them done, without making a special trip for them. We had a paddle in the stream and ate our last rolls before marching along the path to the bridge. Here we had a little lie-down in the sun and some more chocolate raisins. From this point there is only the 5km or so to walk back along the track to the Lin of Dee, which didn’t take too long; we were back at the van by 4.30pm and ready for a meal in Blairgowrie on the way home.

A superb weekend!

Details

Distance: ~42 km

Time: 2 days (9 hrs + 7 hrs)

Summits: 5 munros, the Devil’s Point, Cairn Toul, the Angel’s Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine), Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain

Comments:

Two good length days with a long flat walk-in and out. Excellent first day! Lots of  good paths but also some sections with no paths, so good navigation required in poor visibility. Good area to camp halfway with access to water. Not too boggy except for some patches on descent on the second day.

 

Most useful piece of kit/advice:

Jessica says: Make sure you know how to use a map and compass and take midge repellent. Chocolate raisins were also essential for this walk.

Chris says: For long distance walks it is important to conserve your energy. Using walking poles is a great way to do this: it saves the knees on the down hill a bit too.

Buachaille Etive Beag, Glencoe

Buachaille Etive Beag is a ridge in Glencoe that comprises two munros: Stob Coire Raineach and Stob Dubh. It is less well known than its neighbour Buachaille Etive Mor, but it is also considerably easier. As the weather forecast wasn’t wonderful for Saturday, we chose this ridge for this weekend’s outing with two of Chris’ old work colleagues, as we wanted to take them out in Glencoe and it would be doable even if the weather was poor.

The walk starts at the car park opposite the “beehive” cairn, which you see on the right before you pass the Three Sisters.  We started in the drizzle along the good path that heads into the valley. As you progress, you need to make sure you take the path that climbs up the left hand side of the valley rather than the one that follows the stream along the bottom. The path soon steepens and becomes almost a stone staircase, which means you rapidly gain height but also have to stop to take your waterproofs and extra layers off! This path takes you straight up to the bealach (saddle), part way along the ridge, which boasts some nice flat rocks that are perfect for a sandwich and drink stop.

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Almost at the bealach

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From here you can choose which peak you climb first; we went north-east (left from the bealach) and up the short steep ascent to the smaller of the two munros, Stob Coire Raineach. As we left the bealach, the cloud came in, so it was a misty and atmospheric climb, with just the briefest of glimpses of how amazing the views from the top must be. The wind caught us occasionally on the way up which was nice and refreshing but unusually, there was very little wind at the summit. After trying and failing to take a few photos through the breaks in the cloud, we headed back down the stony hillside.

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Summit of Stob Coire Raineach

The climb to Stob Dubh is longer than to Stob Coire Raineach. When you look the opposite way (south-west) from the bealach, the summit that you can see is not Stob Dubh: you have to climb this, and then there is a little bit of descent before the final ascent to the second summit.

As we came down towards the bealach, the clouds cleared so we were able to distract ourselves from the effort of the second climb with the stunning views, both back across Glencoe to the Aonach Eagach and forwards, down to Loch Etive. The cairn marking the summit of Stob Dubh is not right at the end of the ridge, and it is worth continuing the short distance past this highest point to get the best views (and have another sandwich).

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Looking out to Loch Etive from the summit of Stob Dubh

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Team photo

To descend, you simply retrace your steps along the ridge, which is nice and wide but still has some very steep drops off either side, making it a pleasant ridge-walk.

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The Lairig Gartairn and Buachaille Etive Mor behind

We had a final pause for a drink and a snack at the bealach again before descending the path back down into the valley. Here, the steps that brought you quickly up seem a lot bigger (particularly for little legs like mine) and make it hard on the thighs and knees. However, it doesn’t last for too long and you are soon back on the flatter ground leading to the car park.

This only took the four of us about 4 ¾ hours, so there was plenty of time for a drink at the Clachaig before heading back to Stirling, where there was still time for a cup of tea and a chat before going home for dinner.

Details

Distance: 10km

Time: 4-6hours

Summits: 2 munros, Stob Coire Raineach and Stob Dubh

Comments:

A nice ridge-walk that doesn’t take too long and isn’t too strenuous; perfect for anyone wanting to experience the beauty of Glencoe without taking on some of the more challenging routes.

Not too much bog…. I actually took my gaiters off, which doesn’t happen often these days. We would recommend good boots though as the terrain is rough and rocky.

Most useful piece of kit/advice:

Jessica says: Remember your poles, they were great for getting me up the steep bits and helped my knees going down the big rock steps.

Scottish landscapes

After our holiday to the French Pyrenees, it was time to get back into the Scottish mountains. After a look at the forecast and the walkhighlands website, Glen Isla was the destination. Neither of us had been there before so we were excited to discover a new part of the country.

We packed the van and headed in the direction of Braemar and up to our starting point in Glen Isla. With our route taking in the munros Glas Maol and Creag Leacach, along with Monamenach as a cheeky corbett, it was going to be a longish day with a decent amount of UP! So no sleep in for us.

As we made our way up the glen the views did not disappoint and gaining height rewarded us with excellent views into Canness Glen and Caenlochan Glen.

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It was a great reminder of the beauty of the Scottish hills: they may not have the height or as many trees as let’s say the French Pyrenees but they do have a special charm about them, particularly with the flowers and LOTS of mountain hares about.

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Two munros down, and with tiring legs, we navigated our way over the last of the humps and bumps to the top of Monamenach and back to the van for an epic dinner of sausages and sweet potato mash.

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On Sunday we decided to explore the  incredible Scots pine forest in Glen Derry, which is part of the Mar Lodge estate, now managed by the National Trust for Scotland. Trekking up from the Lin of Dee carpark and past Derry Lodge, there is a lovely circular walk up and down the forest and river. In the forest we found some stunning views of the trees, lots of baby Scots pine trees, some bees hard at work and even a great spot to stick our feet in the river.

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It was great to be back out again after a few weeks and we are looking forward to more summer adventures soon.