Glen Affric Two-Day Trip

I took advantage of some settled weather last week to grab a two-day camping trip to Glen Affric.  Setting out from Chisholm Bridge, I followed the path up Gleann nam Fiadh for a few kilometres before taking to the long slog up the southern slopes of Toll Creagach.  From the summit, the route was along the ridge almost due West for the next 8+ kilometres, first dropping to the Bealach Toll Easa and climbing to the summit of Tom a’Choinnich.  This photo shows the view back to the first peak from the second:

Toll Creagach from Tom a' ChoinnichThe onward route took me over the two eastern Tops and down to the Garth-bhealach before a steep pull up to Pt. 1131, which is effectively the Eastern end of Carn Eige’s 2.5km long summit ridge.  From here to the summit involves some gentle ups and downs.   At one point, the strata of the Moinian metamorphic rocks have been folded into a vertical orientation, as be clearly seen in this photo, and erosion has led to the formation of some small pinnacles which are easily by-passed:

Vertical Rock Strata on East ridge of Carn Eige

From the summit of Carn Eige, the route was down its NNE ridge, but rather than continuing out to Beinn Fhionnlaidh, I dropped East into Coire nan Lochain to find a suitable camping spot.  On the way down, this ptarmigan was happy to pose for a photo:

Male PtarmiganThe first day had been bright, but fairly cloudy with a chill east wind, but the second day was sunny and much warmer, so it was up and away early to make the most of it.  This photo shows the day’s first target, Beinn Fhionnlaidh from the camp-site:

Beinn Fhionnlaidh from Coire Lochan

While this one shows the view over Coire Lochan with the Mullardoch hills of An Riabhachan and Sgurr na Lapaich beyond:

Coire Lochan with Mullardoch hills beyond

In short time, I was at the summit of Beinn Fhionnlaidh, enjoying the views of Loch Mullardoch:

Loch Mullardoch seen from summit of Beinn FhionnlaidhNorth to An Socach:

View North from summit of Beinn Fhionnlaidh to An Socachand South to Carn Eige and Mam Sodhail:

Carn Eige and Mam Sodhail viewed from Beinn FhionnlaidhReturning to Bealach Beag, I climbed part-way back up the ridge toward Carn Eige before traversing across its western flank to the bealach it shares with Mam Sodhail.  From there it was a short climb to the summit of Mam Sodhail where there is a large structure built by the Ordnance Survey in the 1840’s.  In the photo, my rucksack to the left gives some scale.  Carn Eige is the highest hill North West of the Great Glen – Mam Sodhail is a couple of metres shorter but offers more extensive all-round views and so was selected by the OS as a key triangulation point:

Large structure at summit of Mam Sodhail

I spent ages here enjoying, and photographing, the atmospheric views as some light morning cloud rolled past.  Back across to Carn Eige with Beinn Fhionnlaidh beyond:

View North from summit of Mam Sodhail toward Beinn Fhionnlaidh and Carn EigeAcross upper Gleann nam Fiadh to yesterday’s approach ridge, with the pinnacled section clearly visible:

View North East from summit of Mam Sodhail toward An Leth-chreagAnd South West toward the hills of Kintail:

View South West from summit of Mam SodhailEventually it was time to tear myself away and head off South East along the ridge toward the outlying Top of Sgurr na Lapaich with fine views back toward the main peaks:

Mam Sodhail & Carn Eige as seen from ridge to Sgurr na LapaichFrom Sgurr na Lapaich, a steep descent South East, then East across the moor, takes you to the stalker’s path coming over from Gleann nam Fiadh and leading down into Glen Affric near Affric Lodge, all the while with stunning views over Loch Affric:

View West along Loch AffricFrom Affric Lodge, it was little over 3km back along the track, then minor road, to the start point.

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Paps of Jura

After the Rum Cuillin earlier in the summer, there was more great weather for what was, for me, another island first – the Paps of Jura.  Starting at the road bridge over the Corran River, the first 2.5 kilometres toward Loch an t-Siob were very boggy, but the ever-improving views of Beinn Shiantaidh and Beinn an Oir were drawing me on:

Approach from East

As soon as I started to climb northwards away from the river, the underfoot conditions improved and I was quickly on Beinn Shiantaidh’s South East ridge, avoiding the quartzite scree as much as possible.  The view back down the Corran River showed the mountains of Arran in the distance:

Corran River

While North-Eastwards, Corra Bheinn was in the foreground with the rest of Jura stretched out beyond:

Corra Bheinn

As I neared the summit ridge, fairly big mounds of scree had to be negotiated:

Beinn Shiantaidh Screes

But I was rewarded with great views across to what would be the second hill of this walk, Beinn an Oir:

Beinn an Oir from E

And, the third hill, Beinn a’ Chaolais:

Beinn a' Chaolais from NE

While the view North down Glen Batrick shows Loch Tarbert, which all but cuts Jura in two, and the mountains of Mull on the horizon:

Glen Batrick

After a hefty descent and re-ascent, Beinn an Oir, the highest of the Paps, was reached.  Running in a virtual straight line from the base of this mountain to the sea is the Sgriob na Caillich.  This is one of the best examples in Scotland of a medial moraine.  A West-flowing glacier has split into two arms, one either side of the mountain, and then rejoined.  Each arm picked up rock debris at its edge and when they merged, this debris persisted in a line down the middle of the glacier and was left behind when the glacier melted.  It is foreshortened in this end-on photo, but is actually more than 3km long:

Sgriob na Caillich

The descent goes down Beinn an Oir’s South ridge:

Beinn an Oir South Ridge

The 360m ascent to Beinn a’ Chaolais was the toughest of the day on steep and, in places, loose scree, but gave a very fine view back to Beinn an Oir:

Beinn an Oir from SW

All that remained now was the return to the bealach below Beinn an Oir to begin the walk out down Gleann an t-Siob and the Corran River to end a fabulous and truly memorable day.


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The Rum Diary

I took my first ever trip over to the Isle of Rum this week to do a traverse of the magnificent Rum Cuillin.  To make it a one-night excursion, I made the outward crossing on the wildlife cruise boat run by Arisaig Marine – which also offers one-way journeys – and the return on the Calmac Small Isles ferry to Mallaig.  This turned out even better than expected because when we spotted a minke whale on the way over, the captain stopped the boat and we spent about 20 minutes observing it.  Definitely would not be part of the Calmac service!

Once on Rum, I had an unhurried walk along the scenic coastal path from Kinloch to camp by the Dibidil River, close to the bothy.  Getting up early the next day would allow me to complete the traverse in good time for the ferry at 4pm.  In the event, I was thankful for the 6am start as it turned out to be a scorching, windless day and it was good to get the initial climbing done while it was still a bit cooler.  The first photo shows the view eastward as I sweated my way up the slopes behind the bothy.

View eastward across Dibidil bay

On reaching Sgurr nan Gillean, the first peak of the day, I got a view of the two main summits of the ridge – Ainshval on the left and Askival on the right – with the Skye Cuillin beyond:

Ainshval and Askival as seen from Sgurr nan Gillean

The first part of the ridge, as far as Ainshval, involves very little up and down as can be seen here:

Southern section of Rum Cuillin ridge - Ainshval on right

As I made my way round this section, there were great views down Glen Dibidil – the bothy is just visible to the right of the mouth of the river – and across to the Isle of Eigg with the mainland in the distance:

Glen Dibidil as seen from the north west

In the other direction lies Glen Harris, on the west coast of the island, and in this photo you can just make out the white lighthouse on the tiny low-lying island of Oigh-sgeir toward the top left and also the hills of South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, at the top right:

Harris on the west coast of Rum seen from Ainshval

After Ainshval, the superb ridge continued to the twin-topped Trollaval:

Trollaval as seen from Ainshval

And on down to the Bealach an Oir.  This photo shows the view back to Ainshval from the east ridge of Trollaval:

Ainshval as seen from the north

Near the bealach, I was able to refill my water bottle from a small burn, then it was up to the highest peak of the ridge, Askival – a 350m ascent and it was getting seriously warm now!  The next photo shows the view back to Trollaval from high on the west ridge of Askival:

Trollaval as seen from high on the slopes of Askival

From the summit, the views across to Eigg were still stunning:

The Isle of Eigg from Askival in the Rum Cuillin

While the last peak of the day, Hallival, had come into view:

Hallival as seen from Askival

On the intervening ridge and around the summit of Hallival, there are areas of vivid green grass pock-marked with burrows.  These are the nests of Manx Shearwaters – around a third of the entire world population of this seabird make their home on the Rum Cuillin in the summer.  Virtually every one of these burrows would have been occupied but, as they only emerge at night, I didn’t see any birds.  However, I did hear a few cries as I passed and I imagined (almost certainly wrongly) that my footsteps were dislodging some soil from the roof of the burrows, causing the occupants to complain.

This view back to Askival from Hallival shows the extensive ‘shearwater greens’ , the rich grasslands created by the fertilising effect of the birds’ droppings:

Askival as seen from summit of Hallival

All that remained now was the descent back to Kinloch to relax, wait for the ferry and reflect on a fabulous day.

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Ben Nevis – the Quiet Way

Yesterday, my Canadian client was looking for a slightly more adventurous ascent of Ben Nevis so, starting from the upper car park in Glen Nevis, we went up via Steall and Coire Giubhsachan.  As usual, this route was very quiet – we saw nobody else until reaching the top.  We were rewarded with some great views from the snowy summit:

View North West from Summit of Ben Nevis

Tower Ridge as seen from summit of Ben Nevis

We made our descent by Coire Eoghainn – the views across to the Mamores distracting us from the hard work required to get down the final steep slopes:

View to mamores from Coire Eoghainn

Steall waterfall and Mamores from Coire Eoghainn


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Bidean nam Bian

A fine autumnal day this week saw us climbing the Bidean nam Bian massif on the south side of Glen Coe.  Starting at Loch Achtriochtan, we climbed Coire nam Beithach to gain the main ridge at Bealach An t-Sron and then headed over Stob Coire nam Beith to the main summit.  Early clear skies had given way to banks of cloud coming in from the West, giving us much more atmospheric views.

To the East, along our ascent ridge with Beinn a’ Bheithir beyond:

View East from summit of Bidean nam Bian

To the North East to the outlying peak of Stob Coire nan Lochan:

Stob Coire nan Lochan from summit of Bidean nam Bian

and to the West, where we were heading next:

View West from summit of Bidean nam Bian

The out-and-back trip to the massif’s second Munro, Stob Coire Sgreamhach, took around 2 hours.  At the point where the path up Coire Gabhail meets the main ridge, we came across this spray-painted graffiti.  I struggle to get my head round what would possess someone to do this, but thankfully it’s sufficiently rare that I’ve never seen anything like it before:

Graffiti at head of Coire Gabhail

From the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach there were great views to the two Buachaiiles (Etive Beag and Etive Mor) and beyond:

Buachaiile Etive Beag and Mor from Stob Coire Sgreamhachand along the 3km crest of Beinn Fhada:

Beinn Fhada from Stob Coire SgreamhachAfter returning to the main summit of Bidean nam Bian, we headed North East to visit Stob Coire nan Lochan, before dropping back into Coire nam Beitheach to return to our start-point.  It was a beautiful late afternoon with fine views throughout the descent:

View of Loch Achtroichtan and Glen Coe from Coire nam Beithach

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Fantastic Conditions in Kintail

Last month a client, Keith Ratcliffe, and I enjoyed two days of spectacular conditions in Kintail.  He is an accomplished photographer who teaches on the subject and he was kind enough to forward me copies of all his shots from the two walks.  The following is just a selection of many fine photos.

Day 1 – Five Sisters

Making use of two cars we did the East to West traverse from the Bealach an Lapain to Ault a’ Chruinn, although after a long, very hot walk we decided to give Sgurr na Moraich a miss.

The first photo is taken on the ascent from Glen Shiel, looking East up the glen:

Early Mist in Glen Shiel

The next is the view onward from the first peak of the day – Sgurr nan Spainteach – with the three Munros arrayed left to right – Sgurr na Ciste Duibh, Sgurr na Carnach and Sgurr Fhuaran:

Looking ahead to ridge from Sgurr nan Spainteach

Looking East down Coire Domhain from Sgurr na Carnach gives a backdrop of the peaks on the North side of Glen Shiel from Saileag on the right to snow-capped Mullach Fraoch-choire on the left:

Looking toward the East Kintail peaks from Sgurr na CarnachLooking down the East ridge of Sgurr Fhuaran:

Looking down East ridge of Sgurr FhuaranThe huge slabs on the East face of Sgurr nan Saighead:

Spectacular slabs on East face of Sgurr nan SaigheadLooking back to Sgurr nan Saighead and Sgurr Fhuaran from Beinn Bhuidhe:

Sgurr nan Saighead and Sgurr Fhuaran from Beinn BhuidheThe view North West from Beinn Bhuidhe along the length of Loch Duich:

Loch Duich from Beinn BhuidheAnd a very attractive pool in the Allt a’ Chruinn as we descended:

An inviting pool in the Allt a' Chruinn burn

Day 2 – The Saddle

The second day turned out even better.  After about an hour climbing through mist, we broke through to blue skies at around 450m and were treated to the most fantastic conditions for the ascent of the Forcan Ridge.

Biod an Fhithich emerges from the sea of low mist:

Biod an Fhithich emerges from sea of mistLooking back from the base of the Forcan Ridge to Glen Shiel with the Five Sisters beyond:

Glen Shiel Full of Mist with Five Sisters beyondThere was a party of 8 or 9 ahead of us on the lower part of the Forcan Ridge:

Party on lower section of Forcan RidgeAnd after we had overtaken them, they provided a nice sense of scale for Keith’s shot of the upper section:

Party ascend upper section of the Forcan RidgeOnce Sgurr na Forcan is reached, the summit of The Saddle comes into view:

Summit of The Saddle viewed from Sgurr na Forcan

And from the summit, the reverse view was even more impressive as Glen Shiel remained full of mist:

Sgurr na Forcan as seen from the summit of The Saddle

Of course, in these conditions, all the views from the summit are breathtaking:

Panorama of view north from summit of The Saddle

Snow patch near the summit of The Saddle

Two truly memorable days captured so brilliantly in these photos – thanks again, Keith!

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Unseasonally warm on CMD and Ben Nevis

This week’s phenomenal weather saw us doing a traverse of Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis from upper Glen Nevis.  We were reminded that it is still only March as we scraped some ice off the car windscreen in Fort William, but the morning chill made the early climbing very pleasant.  As we passed through the Nevis Gorge into the Steall meadows we were treated to the spectacle of a golden eagle being harried by a pair of ravens.

Reaching the ruin at Steall, we branched off up Coire Giubhsachan and then climbed up the East ridge to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg.  The layer of haze was not so impenetrable to the South and we could see as far as Ben More and Stob Binnein – this photo shows the Mamore range beyond the CMD arete:

CMD Arete with Mamores beyondTo the North, the haze was much murkier and limited views to just a few miles, as seen in this photo down the glen of the Allt a’ Mhuilinn:

View across Coire Leis from Carn Mor DeargWe continued across the arete – all snow has gone from the ridge line:

Carn Mor Dearg and CMD AreteOn the final 200m pull up the boulder field, there were some small patches of soft snow to be crossed or circumvented.  On the summit itself the snow is probably still 2m deep, covering most of the observatory ruins, with sizeable cornices above the North Face:

Two climbers reach Ben Nevis summit plateauVery pleasant conditions for hanging around to enjoy the views and take a few more snaps:

View along cliffs of North Face from summit of Ben NevisView across the Ben Nevis summit plateau to Carn DeargThen it was off down the Mountain Track for a short distance before dropping South-West then East into Coire Eoghainn and the steep 400m descent back to the car park.

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This Ebony Bird Beguiling

We were out on Beinn Chabhair and An Caisteal, above Glen Falloch, earlier in the week.  It was certainly good to have a day of light winds after so many gales in the past few weeks.  The weekend snowfall had done little to replenish the cover lost in the recent very mild conditions, as seen in the views North West to Beinn Laoigh:

View North West towards Beinn Laoigh from Beinn Chabhairand South to Ben Lomond:

View South towards Ben Lomond from Beinn ChabhairWe had seen a pair of ravens wheeling above us on the climb to Beinn Chabhair.  At the summit, they appeared again and landed just a few yards away – watching and, it seemed, waiting (“perched, and sat, and nothing more”).

Raven on Beinn Chabhair summitRaven on Beinn Chabhair summitClearly they were well used to people snacking there – as soon as we left they moved straight in to find any scraps we might have dropped.

Conditions stayed very pleasant as we made our way over An Caisteal , so that we could savour the fine views  of neighbouring Beinn a’ Chroin:

View to Beinn a' Chroin from An Caistealand across Coire Earb to Cruach Ardrain, with Ben More and Stob Binnein beyond:

View to Cruach Ardrain from An Caisteal

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Above the clouds again on Beinn a’ Ghlo

Monday on Beinn a’ Ghlo was reminiscent of the last visit in January 2011.  While there was much less snow on the ground, the cold calm conditions had once again given rise to a cloud inversion and this time there were views off all three summits.

Setting off in a chilly -7 degrees, I climbed into cloud at about 700m on Carn Liath and only broke through into clearer air a short distance from the summit, giving me views westward:

Summit cairn and trig point of Carn LiathAcross to what would be the day’s second peak – Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain:

Braigh Choire Chruinn-bhalgain from Carn LiathAnd to the Airgiod Bheinn/Carn nan Gabhar ridge, still more than two hours away for me:

View of Airgiod Bheinn above the cloud from Carn LiathHeading off from the summit, I was joined by a Brocken Spectre.  This has been a common experience for me in the past few months, but always when I am alone, leading to the suggestion at home that I have discovered a specific setting on our new camera that generates them:

Brocken Spectre and Glory on Carn LiathI sank into the murk again and enjoyed very little in the way of views until reaching the summit of Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain, where brief breaks in the cloud were giving me views North to the Cairngorms:

View North over clouds to Cairngorms The onward leg across to Carn nan Gabhar was again mainly in cloud, but once on the summit ridge I enjoyed the best views of the day.

Airgiod Bheinn from the slopes of Carn nan Gabhar:

View of Airgiod Bheinn from Carn nan GabharSouth across an almost unbroken sea of cloud blanketing the Scottish Lowlands:

View South East over sea of cloud from summit of Carn nan GabharNorth toward the Cairngorms:

View North from summit of Carn nan GabharAnd South West from the summit past the trig point, with Airgiod Bheinn and Carn Liath visible beyond.  I’m pretty sure the peak just poking through on the horizon on the right of the photo is Ben Lawers:

View South West from summit of Carn nan GabharAll that remained now was the steep descent down the South West ridge of Airgiod Bheinn and the long walk out  round the base of Carn Liath to end a memorable day.

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Wenceslas No More?

After the last two hard winters, my friend Davie splashed out on a pair of snowshoes.  Yesterday we were out on the hills to the east of Glenshee with fairly extensive snow cover:

View toward Cairngorms from Carn an TuircView South East from Carn an TuircThis gave him the first opportunity of this winter to put them through their paces:

Snowshoeing in the MounthThere was quite a lot of soft snow and significant areas where this had developed a frozen crust that supported your weight for a moment before giving way.  On this surface, progress (without snowshoes) becomes slow, tiring and frustrating, so normally in a group of two or more, each will take a turn breaking steps in the King Wenceslas role while the others get the easier ride enjoyed by the Page.  However, by design, someone wearing snowshoes makes little impression on the snow surface:

Snowshoe prints on soft snowAnd the following non-snowshoe-wearer gets no benefit, sinking in just as much as if they were leading:

Normal footprints superimposed on snowshoe printsIn these circumstances, festering resentment on the part of the non-snowshoe-wearer is inevitable as they struggle along in their companion’s wake:

Snowshoeing in the Mounth - SilhouetteAnd I must admit to a little uncharitable glee when Davie tripped over his new toys:

Fallen snowshoer

So, would I invest in snowshoes?  On the up side, with the right conditions like yesterday’s, they provide a clear benefit, allowing the wearer to move faster and with less effort.  On the down side, they are both bulky and heavy,  adding significantly to your rucksack weight when not being worn.   Some more snowy winters like the last two may change my mind, but for the moment I’m going to stick with the age-old Wenceslas method.  And Davie may find himself on more solo expeditions!

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