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

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

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

rannoch

View of Rannoch Moor

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

looking-back

Looking back to Stob a Choire Odhair

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

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

on-the-ridge

Elliot on the ridge

summit-selfie

Windy Summit

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

broud-ridge

View down the west shoulder of Stob Ghabhar

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

black-and-white

way-down

Looking back at our day

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

Details

Distance: 17km

Time: 8 hours

Accent: 1189

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

Comments

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

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

Ben Ledi

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

p1060190

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

20170114_110618

Beautiful conditions

Details

Distance: 10km

Ascent: 760m

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

Summit: Ben Ledi (879m)

p1060201

The Trossachs looking wonderful.

Comments

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

p1060209

Happy walkers!

Snow on Beinn Ghlas!

Winter has well and truly arrived in Scotland!

20161119_104819

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!

20161119_102548

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?

20161119_102615

Photo by Chris

img_4950

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.

20161119_125704

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

20161119_122132

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.

img_4966

Photo by Chris (on Jen’s phone)

img_5021

Jen’s panorama

20161119_110005

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!

p1050907

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.

p1050910

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.

p1050912

Sgurr Eilde Mor

p1050913

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!

p1050915

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.

p1050919-1

Descending onto the ridge

p1050918

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.

p1050928-1

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.

p1050940

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!

p1050946

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.

Traprain Law: Climbing in the sun.

Rock climbing + sunshine = a very happy Chris! That’s what I got last week as a couple of friends and I headed to Traprain Law for a day of trad climbing.

Traprain Law lies just outside of Haddington near Edinburgh and is made up of two crags: the Lammer Wall and the Overhang Wall. Both have good climbing graded from Very Difficult to E1 and on good rock called trachyte. Parking is limited, as it’s on a verge beside a single track road, so it pays to get there early.

20141123_113732.jpg

Access is very easy!

We were the first to arrive that day and chose to start on the Lammer Wall. This friendly angled slab can feel quite technical due to some small holds and small gear. This can make for some interesting climbing, especially on the M.S. route (HS) which does look a bit on the blank side at first glance.

Moving over to the Overhang Wall we get to my favourite climbs at this venue: Great Corner (severe) and Sabre Cut (VS 5a). These are both great and rather different climbs: great corner as you can imagine, is climbing up through a corner with good holds and big gear with some bridging required. Sabre cut has a great technical start on small holds before stepping out onto an exposed flake which can really get the blood pumping.

p1030582

Nice belay

Climbing on the overhanging routes requires more technical skill as well as a profound belief in your rock shoes. To say its polished is an understatement and in the SMC guide it describes the friction as a wet bar of soap! I wholeheartedly agree. Take care on these climbs and be ready for some super slippery rock.

p1030584

Traprain Law is a lovely venue which can become a nice sun trap in good weather, although due to the nature of the terrain it can stay wet, so I would recommend letting it dry for a day after heavy rain.

Big thanks to Sven and Kirsty for a great day climbing.

My top tip:

Wear your helmet! While we were on the Overhang Wall, someone climbing The Chute E1 5b fell off and his gear came out. He was very lucky to be ok, the name of the route coming into effect, but he did hit his head and one of the first things he said after the fall was “I should have had a helmet on.”

 

 

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.

P1050259

Almost at the bealach

P1050257

Enter a caption

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.

P1050264

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).

20160820_124552

Looking out to Loch Etive from the summit of Stob Dubh

20160820_125004

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.

P1050273

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.

A Quality Mountain Day in Glencoe

Saturday was to be Chris’ last quality mountain day (QMD) before heading off for his Mountain Leader assessment, and what a quality mountain day it was!

Bidean Nam Bean and its neighbour, Stob Coire Sgreamhach, have been on our radar for a long time; we have just been waiting for a decent weather forecast to get out and do them. So we picked up our friend, Kirstie, at 7.30am on Saturday and drove up to Glencoe in the sunshine feeling very excited. We parked at the smaller of the two car parks halfway along the glen giving fantastic views of the Three Sisters, and set off towards the footbridge across the River Coe, whose water was a very enticing turquoise below.

P1040782

The path rises steeply up the valley

The path leads up between Aonach Dubh on the right and Gearr Aonach on the left, into Coire nan Lochan. Once up fairly high the towering walls and pinnacles of Stob Coire nan Lochan are very impressive. There was still a lot of snow in the gullies running down between the towers, which was marked with the zig zagging tracks of skis.

P1040786

Coire nan Lochan

Here we left the path and moved up the slopes on the right to the bealach (saddle) between Stob Coire nan Lachan and Aonach Dubh, then followed the ridge to the summit of Coire nan Lochan, admiring the crumbling pinnacles along the edge.

P1040789

The views were amazing: it was so clear that mountains extended in all directions and Ben Nevis was clearly visible, huge behind the Aonach Eagach ridge. From this point, you can see much of the rest of the walk: the ridges between the summits of the two munros and the path out through the Lost Valley (Coire Gabhail). We could also see that the descent into the Lost Valley was covered in snow and very steep.

P1040800

View of the ridge to Stob Coire Sgreamhach

We descended down to the next bealach with Chris spotting us on the steep sections and began climbing the ridge to the summit of Bidean nan Bean, which still had some snow on it. Here, we again marveled at the views and enjoyed a sandwich stop, during which we were joined by a Snow Bunting that wasn’t at all bothered by our presence.

Wandering along the next ridge section was lovely: the visibility was by far the best that I have ever experienced in Glencoe, and we gained the second munro summit easily.

We then had to decide how we were going to get down; this was causing a sort of bottleneck for all the other walkers up there, as the summer descent route was covered in what looked like an almost vertical wall of deep snow, which was clearly unusable without crampons and axes.

P1040814

The way out

Some people were either going all the way back the way we had come, making an extremely long day and others were going to try to get down the ridge beyond Stob Coire Sgreamhach. We decided to simply climb down the snow-free rocks and grass, thus bypassing the steepest section of snow. This wasn’t easy and Chris did an excellent job of guiding Kirstie and I down. The pair of walkers following just behind us and knocking rocks down towards us, did not help our descent. So, if you are ever above a group on steep, loose ground, please wait for them to move to safety before trying to descend yourself…..it might save a nasty accident!

P1040821

A steep descent!

Once onto the snow, we were able to move quite quickly down the slope and into the Hidden Valley with its towering cliffs on all sides.

P1040819.JPG

It’s a beautiful place, with the entrance blocked by gorgeous woodland and massive boulders, the smaller of which are worn smooth by a river that seems to have now disappeared underground. Picking our way through this was good fun and we saw a Blaeberry/Bilberry bumblebee (Bombus Monticola) queen on the flowering Blaeberry/Bilberry. These are my favourite bumblebees and are quite scarce. You are most likely to see them in upland areas; they are easily identifiable by their big red bottoms and yellow striped thorax.

P1040824

The Lost Valley

The walk out from this point is lovely, with waterfalls and pools on the right, so clear you can barely see the water, spring flowers emerging and steep cliffs above.

P1040826

Two of the Three Sisters

So altogether we had an absolutely fantastic day, perfectly finished by a delicious meal at the Rod and Reel in Crianlarich.