Nevis Gorge and Steall Falls

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

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View up the Water of Nevis from the path

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

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Steall Falls in the cloud

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

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

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

Distance: 3.5 km / 2.25 miles

Ascent: 220 m

Time: 1.5 hours

Turning back: Beinn Bhuidhe

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

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

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The River Fyne looking scary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Details

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

Munro summit: Beinn Bhuidhe  (948m)

Region: Argyll

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

Comments:

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

Women’s Paramo Velez Light Smock

I do not like waterproofs; but I do like my Paramo!

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My Paramo and I having wintery fun in Glencoe early this year. It kept me snug in the wind and snow on the top of Stob Dearg and comfortable all the way down. Thanks to Isabel Jones for the photo!

I have always disliked waterproofs and have never found them to be very effective. As I started climbing and walking in the Scottish hills, I upgraded from my old Regatta jackets, through two Outdoor Research waterproof jackets, to a Rab Vidda jacket (which was a second-hand emergency buy when I needed a helmet compatible hood for a winter skills course). None of them have kept me dry: not in summer nor winter. So, I would avoid wearing them, often to the point of getting rather wet. I don’t believe that all these jackets can have leaked, which leads me to the conclusion that it is a condensation problem, particularly as I get very warm when on the move. So, finally having had enough of being damp and suffering the awful cold clamminess of wearing a hardshell over a t-shirt in summer, I decided to try something different: I bought a Paramo jacket.

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The peaked hood ensured I was still happy despite driving rain near Loch Lomond in August 2015. Chris is also wearing his Paramo Velez smock (not the light version).

The fabric and comfort

For their waterproof clothing Paramo use Nikwax Analogy waterproof fabric, which works differently to any hardshell fabric: as well as being breathable, Paramo claim the advantage that it isdirectional too. Their waterproofs are made up of two layers: an inner layer, the Nikwax Analogy Pump Liner, which is designed to push water away from your skin and protect your insulation, and an outer layer of directional microfibre that deflects wind and rain. As a wearer, the first obvious difference between this fabric and that of hardshells is the feel: it is very soft. In particular, the Velez light fabric is almost silky to the touch, more so than that of the Velez, which has a slightly tougher material. This means that it is extremely comfortable to wear, even next to my skin.

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It provides great windproofing and insulation in cold dry conditions too! And sheds snow nicely when you fall into a snow drift! Beinn Ghlas in Nov 2016.

Features

The Velez light smock is described as suitable for all outdoor activities; I use mine for walking, munro bagging, back packing, scrambling and winter hill walking and it has been wonderful for them all. The smock has a fully adjustable hood and high collar, which both pull in tight around your face for good protection against driving rain or snow. The large chest pocket is very useful as it isn’t compressed at all by the waist belt of my rucksack, as other pockets usually are. It can fit a lot of items in it, although it isn’t very flattering when full, but that isn’t my priority on the hills! There are two two-way venting zips that run from the bottom of the smock up to the pocket, which also allow access to the two inner zipped pockets; I haven’t used these pockets much as I usually have a pack on, but I use the vents a lot, even when it’s raining. The back of the smock is longer than the front, to keep your bottom warm and dry, without restricting leg movement, and there is a draw cord around the base for adjustment to your preferred fit. Finally, it also has adjustable, reinforced velcro cuffs to keep the weather out: these have a tough bit on them for biting if the need arises!

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Comfortable despite the warmth, drizzle and fog whilst climbing munros near, and including Lochnagar, in the summer of 2015. You can see how short the smock is at the front, the two-way venting zips and the size of the front pocket.

Warmth & Waterproofing

My main worries about buying a Paramo jacket were that it would be too hot for me, and that I heard conflicting reports on how waterproof they are. As mentioned earlier, I get very hot when on the move but I have happily worn this jacket in summer and winter. In warm weather I’ve worn it over a short-sleeved base layer and although I have been warm, I’ve also been much more comfortable than in my previous hardshells. In winter conditions, I wear a base layer, wind-proof gilet and soft-shell jacket underneath it: this keeps me plenty warm enough and the jacket also provides great protection from the wind. In the very coldest conditions (or when stopping for lunch), I can throw a synthetic down jacket over the top or underneath.

It has also been bomb-proof in terms of waterproofing; the only time I feel like it may have let in a little water, was on one side of my neck when we were in torrential rain and wind so strong it was knocking me off my feet in Wales. Otherwise, it has kept out lots of Scottish rain and sleet very reliably!

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Struggling to stand upright in North Wales in October 2015; the only time I’ve felt like it might have let in a little water (at the neck on the windward side)

Size

The sizing is quite generous: I wear a size 10/12 and needed the size small smock and there is still plenty of space for extra layers. It is also not the most flattering fit: my Rab jacket looks a  bit sleeker but it really doesn’t matter.

Durability

I was also a little worried about damaging the apparently delicate outer fabric, but it is now nearly two years old and, despite constant use in the Scottish hills, only has one mark that I have noticed on it, which happened when I caught it in the zip of my primaloft jacket; however it is only tiny and superficial, so I’m surprised and pleased with how durable it seems to be.

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Hours of rain and sleet in the Monadhliath hills after waking up to snow on the tent (spring 2016): only my feet got wet though….

Packing convenience

I also thought it might be bulky and heavy, but it folds up smaller than the Rab Vidda jacket as it is softer and doesn’t feel any heavier: I carry it happily in my rucksack whatever the weather.

Downsides

There are only two very small things that I’m not keen on, which are how cold and wet the cuffs get: the very ends seem to only consist of the outer fabric and it can sometimes get very cold on your wrists if they aren’t covered by something. The other is that when it is very windy, the material of the hood flaps a lot and is very noisy.

Conclusion = Great!

Overall, I absolutely love this jacket and I would recommend it for all the activities I use it for.v In it, I feel like I can take on anything Scotland can throw at me! I will also happily wear it all day even when it isn’t raining, which for me is a revelation: rather than hating my waterproof, it is now one my favourite pieces of kit!

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Still in the Monadhliath…still raining….but also still dry and happy!