A day out on Ben Nevis: Ledge Route and CMD

We’d been hoping to do this route for about a year, we’d even put aside a birthday weekend and recruited friends to join us about a month ago but it wasn’t until two weeks ago that the weather and free-time aligned.

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Amazingly our friends were also free, so we met at the North Face car park just before 8am, after a horrible-o’clock alarm and a very misty drive. We set off through the cloudy woodland at around 8.15am and were soon rewarded by emerging above the clouds and the view the cloud inversion through the trees.

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At the bottom of Ledge Route, ready for some scrambling!

We headed up the glen to the CIC hut on the excellent path, with the north face of Ben Nevis shrouded in cloud above us. We had a rest and a sandwich before attacking the steep scree and grass that takes you towards the foot of the Carn Dearg Buttress, into the mouth of Number Five gully and the start of Ledge Route. We began this 450m Grade 1/2 scramble by climbing up what seemed to be a very rocky stream before turning off right up an extremely wet and slippery slab. This required a lot of care, was rather scary and made me a little apprehensive of what was to come if this was just the start!

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Wet and slippery!

However, this was definitely the hardest part and the rest of the route was wonderful! The four of us moved in and out of the mist, briefly getting glimpses of the towering cliffs around us. It was fabulously atmospheric and we stopped often to absorb our brilliant position on the crest.

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The scramble was over all too soon and we emerged at the top near Carn Dearg, so had a fairly long walk over the rocks through the cloud before we came upon the crowds coming up the Tourist Track.

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Scrambly scrambly

Sadly there were no summit views so we didn’t linger long, but continued on to begin descending the boulder field leading to the ridge connecting to Carn Mor Dearg. Moving down over the boulders wasn’t easy but the clouds began to break and we could suddenly the extent of the surrounding mountains.

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The ridge walk is really long and very enjoyable. The rocks and the steepness of the drops down into the coire to our left required a lot of concentration; fortunately we have recently discovered that Tesco’s Finest Triple chocolate cookies make great and uplifting hill snacks, which helped to combat the tiredness!

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A super long ridge walk!

By the time we were making the ascent up to Carn Mor Dearg, the clouds were gone and we could fully appreciate the entire route we had taken earlier in the day and Chris was able to point out all the other exciting lines that we have to go back and do another day!

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The North Face of Ben Nevis

We almost thought we’d managed a whole day out in Scotland without any bog, but we found plenty before we joined the path at the bottom of the valley again and I ended up with a very wet bottom!

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Looking back along the ridge  and out to the Mamores

This is a fabulous day out and was well worth the wait! Looking forward to more ridge walks and scrambling again soon now. Thanks Kirstie and Sam for joining us and to Chris for route-finding in the mist!

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Sam trying to fly!

Munros: Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg

Time: 10 hours

Distance: something like 20-ish km or 12.5-ish miles

 

 

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This is why we climb Scottish hills…..

If you needed reminding how beautiful Scotland is, a day like last Sunday would do it!

For us it started at 7am in the van above Loch Tulla, where we had tinned spaghetti and sausages for breakfast, with the sun shining on a frosty landscape, below a perfectly blue sky.

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Our breakfast view out of the van door: Loch Tulla and Beinn an Dothaidh 

We set off to climb Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a Chreachain at about 9am from the car park just off the A82. It was -3 degrees and we were wearing all of our layers! Having walked for 20 minutes and just passed Achallader farm, we realised neither of us had a compass, so Chris had a nice early jog back to the van while I sat and watched the lapwings in the sun, which was just starting to warm up.

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Morning sunshine feels good

The path continues through fields along the base of the glen until it crosses an old bridge just below a ruined farmhouse. Land rover tracks then take you above the Water of Tulla on the north side opposite a lovely remnant of old Caledonian forest.

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Chris checking out the collapsed bridge

A tiny cairn and a faint path mark the spot to leave the track and descend to the river. The bridge has been washed away so the river is not passable in spate. The water wasn’t high on Sunday, but it also wasn’t really warm enough for me to be very happy about taking my boots and socks off to wade across the river – the cold left me breathless and unable to speak for a minute or two when I reached the other side!

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The Water of Tulla and Beinn Achaladair

 

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Cold, cold, COLD!

The faint path continues up through the woods on the other side, gradually fading as you reach fenced areas. After a bit of meandering we found the tiny underpass (even I had to bend down!) under the railway and started to climb more steeply between the Allt Coire an Lochain and a deer fence. Behind the fence, the forest is regenerating well, demonstrating the impact high numbers of deer and sheep have on this landscape.

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To the right (west) Beinn Achaladair looked very impressive above the lovely old Scots pines, with snow still shining in the gullies. To our left the Allt Coire an Lochain bounced, sparkling down layers of flat rock steps. We picked one of these steps that was warm and dry for our first sandwich stop (cheese and chilli jam) before crossing to the other side.

 

 

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Allt Coire an Lochain

The climb up the grassy slopes on the left (east) of Coire an Lochain to the bealach is relentless, but was redeemed by the magnificent view across Rannoch Moor that was gradually revealed with each pause and, higher up, looking down on Lochain a’ Chreachain, which, still in the shade, retained it’s layer of ice.

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Lochain a’ Chreachain

Upon reaching the bealach we had the wonderful realisation that we were surrounded in every direction by mountains as far as we could see! It was fantastic and something that I have never experienced in England or Wales.

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The other side

It took about three hours to reach this point but once on the ridge, despite a few snow patches still clinging on, we sped up considerably.

The visibility was utterly amazing: beyond the empty expanse of Rannoch Moor, the bulk of Ben Nevis stood massively above the Mamores, but in front of yet more rows of distant snowcapped mountains.

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The emptiness that is Rannoch Moor. You can also make out the Buchaille and Ben Nevis (would’ve been clearer if my camera hadn’t had an empty battery and I hadn’t had to take all these on my phone…)

The summit of Beinn a Chreachain was easily visible and we paused to enjoy the views of endless mountains and the remoteness: we could see one house and no roads at all!

We dropped steeply off the summit and made our way across the slopes towards Meall Buidhe, where we could see north across the empty expanse of moor once again.

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Now you can definitely see the Ben 🙂

The climb up to Beinn Achaladair is steep and more rocky, but once at the top, we could have stayed there for hours admiring the landscape.

Then began the descent via the ridge south to the bealach above Coire Daingean.

We filled our bottles in the tumbling Allt Coire Achaladair (totally delicious water!), before navigating the long, boggy path back to the carpark.

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Getting a drink from Allt Coire Achaladair

We are so lucky that all this is only an hour and a half from home.

We could not have asked for a better day: it was simply beautiful and just reinforced how much we love exploring Scotland.

Munros: Beinn a Chreachain (1081m) and Beinn Achaladair (1038m)

Distance: 21.5km / 13.5 miles

Duration: 8 hours

Comments: Do it on a clear day!

 

Rewards

We were trudging through warm, wet cloud, sliding on slushy snow, mud and grass. We were hot, we couldn’t see anything and we were asking ourselves why were we doing this.

I had even climbed this munro before!

But was the cloud brightening? Why did I feel like I wanted to put my sunglasses on when visibility was so low? Could we see blue above us or was it a trick of the light?P1020919-COLLAGE

Yes, that was definitely a glimpse of blue sky…. And of a snowy mountain side….oh, but it vanished back into the cloud again.

Our trudge was definitely more hopeful and expectant now!

Then quite suddenly it happened: we popped out above the cloud into a fantastic world of sunshine, blue sky and sparkling snow and ice.

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The sun was actually warm and there was little wind, so we had to strip down to our t-shirts. And the views……they were incredible…..mountain tops poking out of a fluffy white sea as far as we could see in all directions.

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Often, summiting a munro involves dashing to the top, looking around for half a minute while being blasted by wind, and being blown back down to find some shelter before having a sandwich, with all your layers on. Not on this day though: on this day we spent 40 minutes on the summit, enjoying our lunch and gazing around in wonder – without even having to put gloves on – before descending back to the damp, grey world, everyone else was spending their day in.

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Just occasionally, we experience an extra special reward for our uphill struggles.

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A Ptarmigan: spending all year high up on Scottish mountains, it must be one of Britain’s hardiest birds?!

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Winter has arrived in Scotland: Meall Ghaordaidh

As winter approaches, what constitutes a “good forecast” has a tendency to change slightly. Take yesterday for example: 30-40mph winds with difficult walking conditions on high ground and severe wind chill might sound unpleasant but there was also 80% chance of cloud free munros and excellent visibility. Actually not so bad for a Scottish winter day (we can always turn around if it’s too bad!).

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Another thing to remember when planning routes at this time of year is the dramatic change in daylight hours; in about six weeks, we’ve gone from nice long days to pitch dark beofore 5pm. It can catch you out!

Sunshine through the spindrift

So Kirstie and I decided to stretch our legs and enjoy a bit of sunshine and possibly some snow (!?) with a wander up Meall Ghaordaidh. It’s not a particularly exciting munro, but the route is fairly short, important as we weren’t starting early and Kirstie is recovering from an arm injury. Situated north-west of Killin, it was also in an area we haven’t explored much.

And it was most definitely worth it: a long steady climb but wonderful views of snow-capped hills and great to be out in some snow for the first time this winter (I think it can officially be called winter now!).

Summit views appreciated very quickly!

On the last stretch to the summit, we were bent into the wind, with heads down to protect our eyes. We remained at the summit for about two whole minutes, which was all we could take with the spindrift being blasted into our faces.

A short way down again and we were out of the wind and able to sit and savour our lunch, sweet tea, the views and the simple fact of bring out on such a fine day.

Details

Distance: 9.5km (5.9miles)

Duration: 4h50m

Munro summit: Meall Ghaordaidh (m)

Ascent: 895m

A solo van adventure and Buchaille Etive Mor

A few weeks ago I decided I should take Bruce (our campervan) for a trip on my own; I haven’t done this before as I’ve only recently started driving it.

The Scottish forecast was best in the west on the Sunday, so I decided to attempt Buchaille Etive Mor. This is the magnificent mountain that dominates the entrance to Glencoe, where it looks virtually impregnable. However, there are two common (non-climbing) routes up: Curved Ridge, which is a wonderful 240m grade 3 scramble, and the walkers route up Coire na Tulaich.

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View from the van door: early morning mist over Loch Tulla

I had been looking for simple munros to try on my own, but I thought that although these munros have the potential to be challenging, I have climbed Stob Dearg twice (once via Curved Ridge and once in a blizzard), and with a good forecast it was likely to be busy so I wouldn’t be on my own up there.

On Saturday afternoon I drove up to the view point situated just before Rannoch Moor, where there are three large car parks. I spent a very pleasant evening reading and writing in the van, wrapped up in my down jacket and watching the sun go down behind the mountains.

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Buchaille Etive Mor in the sunshine

As night fell, it definitely felt autumnal and I had to get all the blankets out for the first time this year. It was a little strange being in there on my own and I had to tell myself a few times that the noises outside were really not likely to be axe-murderers creeping about!

I got up early and drove to the layby at Altnafeadh in Glencoe used by everyone heading up this mountain, but at 7.15am it was already packed! I always love the drive over Rannoch Moor and that morning it was the most beautiful I have ever seen it: mist was caught on the water and the rising sun was shining through it, turning everything pink.

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The route up Coire na Tulaich

I managed to get a spot in the next car park but that was also filling up fast. I had breakfast and set off at 8.30 feeling excited but a little nervous, as despite the sunshine in the valley, the ridge was shrouded in cloud. As I passed the main parking area, I was informed by people with bells that it was the Salomon Glencoe Skyline Race that day!

I headed off past the Lagangarbh hut and up the walkers route onto the ridge. It is a steep and fairly relentless climb up Coire na Tulaich, but a good path has been constructed and there were lots of people to say hello to. As I reached the ridge, the cloud was still clinging on, but through occasional breaks, the stunning views were revealed. The path to the summit of Stob Dearg was helpfully marked with little red flags for the runners. However, near the top I met the pair who had the job of removing them all.

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West to Buchaille Etive Beag (the Wee Buchaille) on the way up

I sat on the summit to have a few sandwiches (cheese and chilli jam), and was soon joined by a magnificent raven, who watched from a nearby rock. It has obviously learnt that walkers are a soft touch, as it soon hopped very close to me to take some sandwich crusts I threw down and, as the summit got busier, it moved from group to group, with it’s finest prize being half a ham sandwich from someone generous!

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North across Glencoe

Happily the cloud did lift a little more, permitting a few glimpses of Rannoch Moor to the east and Loch Leven down the valley to the west. I then returned back to the spot where I had joined the ridge, but rather than descending the same way, as we had done on a previous winter ascent, I continued west before turning south-west towards Stob na Doire. Despite being on my own, I was having a fabulous time!

The descent from Stob na Doire requires a little care as it is very rocky, then there is the final section of proper ascent up to Stob Coire Altruim. From here, it’s a simple walk along the ridge to the second munro, Stob na Broige. This summit was very busy, so I found a comfy seat among the rocks to the west of the cairn, to eat my final sandwiches and admire Loch Etive and Buchaille Etive Beag.

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Loch Leven through the clouds!

A misty drizzle settled on us, so I headed back to the path that descends the north side of the ridge between Stob Coire Altruim and Stob na Doire. It is mainly a steep grassy slope with a gravelly path worn into it, with a few badly eroded and steep sections. About halfway down, I also discovered some steep slabby areas that had to be crossed carefully. One section made me a little nervous looking at it, and had Chris been there, he would have gone first to “spot” me (stand below to catch me if I slip); as it was after a good look, I put my poles away and headed calmly down backwards. A few bum shuffles and careful foot placements were all that was required; I was pleased with myself as I really dislike down-climbing.

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My raven friend

There are stepping stones across the stream at the bottom and I paused for a last snack on the other side. It’s a great valley, surrounded as it is by such steep mountain sides, but the midges soon had me moving again, following the excellent path down the Lairig Gartain and back to the carpark.

I returned home invigorated and full of excitement about my first proper solo mountain trip!

Details

A fabulous ridge walk in a stunning location!

Distance: 13km/8.25 miles

Time: 5.5 hours (Walkhighlands suggests 7-9 hours)

Ascent: 1110m

Munro summits: Stob Dearg (1021m) & Stob na Broige (956m)

My 1st solo munro: Ben Chonzie

I climbed my very first solo munro on Saturday. This may not seem a particularly big achievement but it was a new experience for me to be out in the hills on my own, since almost all my hill walking and Scottish mountain adventuring has been done in Chris’ company.

I picked what I’d heard was a simple and boring munro to try on my own: Ben Chonzie is a lonely munro surrounded by heatherclad hills south of Loch Tay. It also isn’t too far to get there, as I have just started driving and this was just my third proper distance journey on my own in the car.

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The track up from Glen Lednock

The drive up Glen Lednock was lovely, although very slow and windy, and the walk, which starts from an obvious parking spot before the road becomes private access, was much more pleasant than I expected. I imagine that this might be the best time to climb this munro as the heather is in flower so the lower slopes are a mass of purple, which is beautiful. It’s quite a steep climb but also short! I reached the summit in 2 hours, despite sitting in the heather and blaeberry for a while (the blaeberries are also ripe and tasty now).

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Vast swathes of Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris)

Most of the route is on landrover tracks; there is short section of path that could possibly be hidden in poor visibility or snow, then there is a fence to follow to the summit, so route finding was ridiculously easy. The long string of people and dogs also meant it would have been hard to get lost!

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Relaxing in the warm heather

I would definitely recommend this as a good munro for anyone wanting to build up their hill walking confidence, as I was.

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Nice views west from near the summit

Details

Munro summit: Ben Chonzie (931m)

Distance: 12.5km / 7.75 miles

Ascent: 712m

Duration: 4 hours

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?!”

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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.

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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