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.

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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.

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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.

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Elliot on the ridge

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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.

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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.

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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.

Whiteout on Beinn Tulaichean

We hadn’t had a proper day in the hills since Helvellyn in the Lake District at the start of the year, so we were determined to go out last weekend. The weather forecast didn’t look too bad but we couldn’t take the van, meaning that we needed somewhere not too far from Stirling (I get grumpy at horrendously early weekend starts!). We settled on Beinn Tulaichean and Cruach Ardrain near Crianlarich in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. These hills can be climbed either from the north or from the south; we decided on the latter (because that was the first route we saw!).

The route starts at Inverlochlarig, which is at the end of a very windy but pretty road off the A84, past Balquidder, and along the banks of Loch Voil. There is a good car park (free) with a shelter and a bench inside, providing an ideal spot for getting ready when it is pouring with rain – this was not the weather that was forecast!

We set off fully waterproofed, along the road, over a bridge, to a stile on the right, signposted for our hills. This slightly boggy path leads up onto a landrover track that runs up Inverlochlarig Glen. We followed this for less than 1 km then started thinking about heading up the slope on our left. There was no obvious path, it was sleeting and the cloud was pretty low so we couldn’t see far anyway. We left the landrover track just before coming to a gate and picked our way up via the easiest looking route.

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It was a bit murky and warm as we left the landrover track

The sleet soon turned to proper snow with big, fat, soggy flakes and started to settle, despite the ground not being frozen at all and therefore really wet. The visibility also dropped considerably. Our aim for the day quickly shifted from climbing two munros, to seeing how far we got and cooking lunch on Chris’ stove.

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It started snowing properly

Having climbed a fence, we were struggling to find a way up and around a steeper section. The wet snow was just compacting under our boots and sliding down the grass, making walking up very difficult and resulting in me lying on my stomach in the snow a few times. It was also incredibly warm: there was no wind and despite only wearing our base layers and waterproofs, we still had to take our gloves off to try to stay cool. At this point we met a father and daughter who were coming down, having sensibly backed off higher up as they didn’t have crampons and the visibility had gotten really poor. We followed their tracks up until they stopped, at which point it did get steeper, so we got our ice axes out and carried on carefully. We made it to a flat area that we had seen on the map and stopped for first lunch.

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Lunchtime. Total whiteout conditions by this stage.

I gave Chris a MSR windburner stove for his birthday in September but he has only used it a few times, so rather than take sandwiches as we usually do, we had decided to try out two meals that we might want to use whilst on our TGO Challenge. The first was  sun-dried tomato and garlic flavoured couscous with Matheson’s smoked sausage. The water took about 2 mins to boil and was poured onto the couscous and sausage and left for three minutes. The result: deliciousness! Tasty, super fast and definitely one to use again.

We packed up and carried on into the whiteness; up some even steeper ground that was quite fun and onto a narrower ridge. Here the ground was very confusing and not at all what it appeared to be on the map, which made for some challenging navigation for Chris, as by now we couldn’t see further than 10-15m, although it had stopped snowing. Eventually, having almost bypassed it, we climbed up some rocks and onto the summit; we dug around at some lumps of snow and uncovered a cairn so it must have been the summit right?

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Where’s the view? Are you sure this the summit?

Having eaten some chocolate, drunk some hot squash and laughed at the fact we could be absolutely anywhere, we decided that rather than struggle navigating down to the saddle between the two munros and making our way down to the landrover track from there, it would be easier and much quicker to follow our tracks back the way we came.

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Following our tracks back down

Once back at our flat area again, we had a second lunch of smash and smoked sausage, which was also a huge success and the first time I have eaten smash (besides the spoonful I was given to taste a fortnight ago when Chris bought it). So we now have two very fast, light and filling meals that we can use on our trip making this a very successful day!

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The first break in the cloud

The temperature had dropped a bit as we made our way down, but eventually the clouds started to break and we got a few glimpses of the hills around us. Once under the cloud,  where there was less snow, the descent was pretty difficult as it was still extremely slippery and not much fun, but it was nice to get a bit of a look at our surroundings, which turned out to be pretty nice, as we made our way down the last section and back out to the car.

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Inverlochlarig Burn

Details

Distance: ~9km

Ascent: 809m

Duration: 6h

Munro summit: Beinn Tulaichean (946m)

Comments

As we didn’t see anything, we can’t really comment on the views, but from what we could tell at the bottom there wasn’t much of a path, so in poor weather good navigation is necessary.

Always bring the appropriate equipment: despite how mild it was when we set off, we still carried our ice-axes and crampons. Also, always be prepared to adjust your plans: we very quickly chose not to bother with the second summit and decided our aim was not to gain a summit at all but to test our stove meals instead, something we could do at any altitude and in any weather. The pair we met had also changed their plans, backing off because they didn’t have the necessary equipment. The hills will be there another day!

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!

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

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Beautiful conditions

Details

Distance: 10km

Ascent: 760m

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

Summit: Ben Ledi (879m)

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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.

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Happy walkers!

The Great Outdoors Challenge 2017

In May, we will be taking part in the TGO Challenge. This is a non-competitive backpacking event in which 300 participants walk from the west coast of Scotland to the east. It has been running every year since 1980.

Chris and I discovered its existence separately last year: I heard about it via Twitter, and Chris heard about it by meeting a Challenger in the Cairngorms during his Mountain leader assessment. We had been vaguely considering undertaking a long trip, with Chris mentioning the Cape Wrath Trail every so often, and we quickly decided to apply for the TGO Challenge. A really interesting aspect of this challenge is that every group plans their own route, so although 300 people are crossing during the same fortnight, we can all go different ways. It therefore combines a long-distance journey and wilderness, with a sense of camaraderie and companionship.

Having been accepted, we are now deep in our route planning! We’ll keep you updated as our plans progress.

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Our living room is currently carpeted with OS maps. A little furniture rearranging meant that at one point we were able to fit in the whole width of Scotland!

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.

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!

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!