In the meantime thee are some photos here gallery.ochils.com/2016/Foreign-Trips
For the month of July, Argie and his owners was on a European roadtrip. The trip was topped and tailed by family visits to London, and the Channel crossing was made by tunnel in both directions. For a week we shared a campsite in the Ardeche with our friends John and Kate and their seven year old twins, and for a week we stayed at Camping Jack in Val di Mello with fellow members of the Ochils Mountaineering Club. On our tour we visited England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany and Belgium. Over the coming days I'll try to post up pictures of some of our adventures.
In the meantime thee are some photos here gallery.ochils.com/2016/Foreign-Trips
At the beginning of June, Mhairi and I were delighted to accept an invitation from our friends Susan and George to join them for a week on Mull. They were celebrating their tenth anniversary of being married on Calgary beach, and it was also Mhairi’s birthday. We stayed in a big fancy house up the hill in Tobermory, and were joined by Susan’s daughter Meghan and son Robbie with their partners Michael and Emma. And their crazy Collie, Rory. Between eating mountains of seafood and drinking vast amounts of alcohol and jam sessions we managed to get in some outdoor activities in scorching weather: canoeing, climbing and walking. It was great!
Scotland has had two fairly long spells of sunny weather. In the first Mhairi and I visited Jura and Islay. On Jura we climbed the Paps Beinn Shiantaidh and Beinn an Oir; visited Corryvreckan; did a little rock climbing, and sampled the whisky.
On Islay we did some cycling, general sightseeing, bird-watching, and more whisky sampling. Overall it was a great island trip.
Since our return I’ve been fortunate to do a fair bit of rock climbing; on the local crags with climbing partners old and new, at the wall (where I clean top-roped my first “7a”) and a quick trip to Glencoe for Agag’s Groove.
Mhairi and I also found my birthday route from four years ago had made it into print in the new Highland Outcrops South Guidebook.
I had stuffed half a cereal bar into my mouth, and was fumbling with a pocket zip to stow the wrapper when I made the beginner’s error of catching one of my crampons on the other. In an instant I was hurtling down Observatory Gully. One axe, ironically just unclipped from its “leashless” tethers, skittered away behind me. I hung on to the other, and rolled over into the classic ice-axe arrest position.
Unfortunately, John was directly below me. I felt a bump as one of my flailing crampons passed his leg. I ground to an ignominious halt. I was mortified. It’s not often that you get a chance to climb with someone of such vast, high-standard mountaineering experience; it rather blots your copybook to spear his ankles in a careless tyro’s tumble.
Luckily, John was neither damaged nor perturbed. I must have just given the most glancing blow to his boot as I passed. We continued our descent...
I’d been both delighted and surprised when the redoubtable John Allen had e-mailed me with a telephoto picture of The Ben, and suggested a late season outing there. Many Ochils MC members will remember John from his excellent slideshow “Ten Alpine Routes to do Before You Die”. I jumped at the invitation, and dug the ice gear out from the back of the cupboard. John booked two places at the CIC Hut for the Sunday night, which was simple given his membership of the Scottish Mountaineering Club; yet requiring of a certain persistence to contact the elusive Hut Custodian. After a slightly delayed start, we’d headed north on the sun-bleached A82, busy with motorbikes and speed traps. The walk up to the CIC had been a delight on a wonderful spring evening; the mountain looked in fantastic icy condition, and our hut companions for the evening had been both loquacious and entertaining. John and I plotted our itinerary for the morrow, aware that the forecast was suggesting deterioration in the weather. I set the alarm for 6:30.
It was about 6:15 and I was awake. I was startled when John suddenly sat upright. “If we go up Observatory Gully, we’ll be sheltered from the worst of the wind. We can do Tower Scoop, and if conditions look favourable, continue up Good Friday Climb. I’ve been awake since four, I’ve been thinking about this.” So, that was that then! After breakfast and the inevitable faffing, we set off reasonably sharply for Observatory Gully. As we were donning crampons, harnesses and helmets at the beginning of the snowfield, we bumped into a chap known to John who was in company of a guide. They were on their way to Orion Direct. We wished them luck (a young couple who’d appeared at the hut at midnight had taken thirteen hours on the route) and watched them set off towards the bottom of the face at impressive speed. We plodded upward rather more sedately. Eventually- when my calf muscles were beginning to cry for mercy from a seemingly unending torture of Grade 1 neve- we arrived at the bottom of Tower Scoop.
Three of our six nuts went into the rock belay at the bottom, and I got a decent ice screw in as I led off round into the scoop proper and engaged with the ice. I breenged up like a bull at a gate, and all too soon the pitch was over. I was on another good rock belay, complete with in-situ pegs, cord and two more bombproof nut placements.
Soon John joined me, and invited me to lead on, explaining that the previous time he’d climbed the pitch he’d found the easiest line on the left up a little nose; and that the belay was, unfortunately, only on snow. He wondered aloud about taking some pictures of me on this photogenic section.
I set off up some excellent ice, and again got a good early ice-screw placement. I moved up onto rather steeper ground. There appeared to be a thick solid drool of ice on the right of this little groove, but appearances were deceptive, and it was hollow. With now burning calves I removed the screw and replaced it in what looked like shallower ice in front of me. The placement was good, and I was relieved to be able to get some upward movement to reduce the ache in my calves. I’d now come to an area where the ice seemed aerated and surface chunks were breaking off beneath my axe placements. As the area beneath the nose seemed to be most affected by this cruddy ice, I resolved to head directly up the steeper groove, where hard, clear water ice was in evidence. A few steep pulls had me on a little resting ledge, where yet another good ice-screw placement boosted my confidence for the last few steep feet to the top. I had a little frisson of excitement on the very lip at the top of the difficulties as my “leashless” attachment cord snagged on some ice, preventing me from getting a proper swing of my tools. Some dry-mouthed fumbling and fretting soon had me untangled. All that was left to do was scamper up the snow bank above and set up a snow belay. This seemed a time consuming job with technical axes, and by the time it was sorted the weather had deteriorated. When John climbed the pitch he had to contend with proper Scottish winter conditions: whirling snow and poor visibility. It didn’t seem to faze him, and he despatched the steep top section with some aplomb, and joined me for a well-earned breather at the stance. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and soon he toddled onward for a rope’s length up snow.
I dithered about on the belay, but eventually joined him. The squall had turned nasty and we resolved to quit while we were ahead of the game. Good Friday Climb could wait for another day. He suggested we take coils, and in poor visibility we found our way back into the floor of the huge groove of Observatory Gully. About half way down we stopped at a flat section to rest our calves, drink coffee, put the rope away, and enjoy the fact that the weather had relented, the squall vanishing as quickly as it had come.
A second pair of climbers was now on Tower Scoop: of only six humans in this great amphitheatre, four had chosen the same route! At least the leader would not need to dig a bucket seat and axe belay slots at the top, I mused.
It was shortly after leaving our coffee stop that I tripped over my own big feet, but luckily we completed the rest of our descent to the hut without incident.
All too soon it was time to pack up and head home, and we made our way down the Allt a’ Mhuilinn path, two tired but happy climbers. The wind was icy, and snow showers were tracking up Loch Linnhe, but bright sunshine was still glistening on the ice of the great mountain playground of the North Face. It had been a pleasure and an honour to climb with John. I wondered idly if a team with a combined age of a hundred and forty had climbed Tower Scoop before.
I had an opportunity to have a wee solo overnight camping trip, but for various reasons it had to be somewhere reasonably close to home. Somewhere that I’d always wanted to go to was the Tigh na Cailleach, which I’d first learned about from photographs posted by Streapadair on his website about a decade ago. I think he decided to remove the photos, as he didn’t want the place getting too much publicity; so I am going to follow that decision and not give the exact location in this blog post- though if you’re keen there will probably be enough clues!
The Tigh na Cailleach is thought to be the oldest pagan shrine in existence where ancient Celtic, or perhaps even pre-Celtic, ritual is observed. The Cailleach was the goddess of winter, who would scour the land looking for any signs of growth and destroy them. She may be the original figure of the white-haired old hag, later transmogrified into the witch with her broomstick, although some descriptions have her with skin the blue pallor of death, and a single eye in the middle of her forehead. The ritual associated with the Cailleach involves taking stone representations of herself, her Old Man (Am Bodach) and her children out from the little house in which they overwinter in order for them to catch the summer sun, then returning the figures to the house before the arrival of the winter snows.
By my reckoning the site is about ten miles from the tarmac road, so I set off about three in the afternoon, hoping to arrive in time to set up camp in the vicinity, and perhaps use the fishing rod strapped to the side of my rucksack. I followed a well-made Landrover track under the West Highland railway line and followed Auch Glen up to the watershed between that glen and the uppermost reaches of Glen Lyon. I was a little surprised to discover that there are good Landrover tracks on both north and south banks of Loch Lyon.
As I entered the glen where the Tigh na Cailleach is situated, I made the beginner's error of trying to cut a corner cross-country rather than wait to intersect a stalkers' path marked on the map. That this path was a good dry track when I eventually gained it after floundering in bogs and tussocks and making a tricky river crossing added insult to injury.
Then in the low evening sun, I saw the little house. Dry-stone, flat-turfed roof, inconspicuous. I’d heard that a team of drystone wallers had done some running repairs in recent years, but the edifice seemed an integral natural part of the landscape. I was a little disappointed to discover that the stone figures were not yet out for the summer.
It was time to set up camp before the temperature dropped as it would on such a clear cloudless night. A dry flat site by the river looked ideal, although there seemed to be a layer of stones just below the grassy sward. Without any major mishaps I was soon fed, watered and in bed. I watched a few clouds drift across the full moon for a while, but as the temperature was plummeting I soon closed up the tent and made myself comfortable
In the morning it was bright out, the snow on the high tops reflecting brilliant sunshine, but the flysheet was crisp with frost. I made a quick brew then hunkered back down- it would be time to get up when the sunlight entered the glen.
An hour later it was becoming less chilly, so I got myself up, fed, packed and organised. I’d decided not to return the way I had come the night before, but perhaps to take in the Munro, Beinn Mhanach. As I reached the watershed beneath that hill, I decided that I did not really fancy doing it. It seemed to be backtracking a long way. Another idea I’d had was taking a route though a pass over to Gorton Bothy, but that option was also now behind me. I decided to turn uphill and have a look at Coire na Clach of Beinn Achaladair, as the name intrigued me. I arrived there eventually and sat down for a brew and second breakfast. The north facing slopes above the coire were snow covered, with even a substantial surviving cornice at one point. But there was a reasonably easy line leading diagonally to the summit ridge...
Ten minutes later I was kicking steps in sugary spring snow as I climbed upward towards the ridge. It’s funny: you know it’s safe, but you still feel a little afraid beetling upwards over open snow slopes in bendy boots carrying an overnight rucksack. At least I had my walking poles for security.
As I reached the ridge I was surprised to see another walker. He had passed along the ridge, as I was snow-plodding up, heading north. For my part, I turned south, drinking in the vistas over Rannoch Moor, The Blackmount and Loch Tulla. I was sorely tempted to head on over Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Dorain, but decided it was best to pick a way back down to Auch Glen, as I didn’t fancy walking or hitching back to my car from Achallader or Bridge of Orchy.
Once I‘d regained the track, I walked for a few kilometres and stopped for third breakfast and a brew by the river. It was probably only about an hour and a half back to the car, but I was feeling a bit tired after the steep descent. I lingered for a while, reapplied sun cream and watched the mating antics of the birds whirling and chasing above the water.
Once back on my way, I was startled by a noise behind me. It was a young guy on a touring bike. He told me he’d set off the day before from Callander and camped the night in Glen Lyon. He too had had a chilly night. He was heading for Glen Orchy and thus to Inveraray; eventually to Rothesay then back across to Gourock and home to East Kilbride for the Friday night shift in a hotel. I wished him luck and he soon disappeared down the glen.
So another hour’s hot walk saw me back to the car. I thought to myself: “You can’t beat a night out in good weather in springtime!”
It had rained all the way from home, over two hours behind us. It had rained on dreary Patna, on post-industrial apocalyptic Waterside, on the sign for Dark Skies Galloway Forest Park. It was still raining, and the sky wasn’t so much dark as pitch black. The van had bumped and rolled up the narrow country road past a country pursuit centre, an international “Natural Energy” headquarters and a glass-sided Green House. At long last we were homing in on the car park marked on the map at the end of the public road.
A bridge with a signpost appeared in the headlights: “Cars only- Weight limit 3 tons. All other traffic use alternative route”. I slammed on the anchors. I was unsure of Argie’s gross weight, but he is definitely not a car. I reversed blindly in the blackness, getting Mhairi to lean out the passenger window looking for clues as to where we were. We got turned and safely crossed the alternative bridge, pulled into the car park and parked in front of a notice:” NO OVERNIGHT PARKING. Occupants of vehicles remaining in this car park after 8pm will be reported to the police as missing.” The pedant in me was fretting over whether a car’s occupant could be missing; while the cynic was wondering to what extent the sign was bluff. Mhairi’s reaction was more decisive. “We can’t say here,” she sobbed with trembling lip. So we left.
About half an hour or so later, we were a few miles further south bumping up an even narrower and rougher lane, looking again for a parking area marked on the map. Eventually we arrived. It was on a bit of a slope, but at this time of night it would do. We prepared to settle in. Then the silver 4 x 4 pickup with the searchlight on its roof pulled up next to us. The driver made great show of not making eye contact with us while the dazzling beam swept over the surrounding slopes. Then he drove off, gunning the engine. A couple of hundred yards down the glen the beams again swept the hillsides. “We can’t stay here. What if this goes on all night?”
Half an hour later, and a few miles north we were turning off the main road and rolling down one last lane, over a narrow concrete bridge and parking in our last alternative marked on the map. No signs. No grim-faced gamekeepers. Just darkness, silent except for the hiss of rain. We tumbled into bed unfed, stressed and exhausted...
When we awoke the rain had stopped and sunshine was streaming through the skylight. We ate a hearty breakfast and headed back to our first parking spot from the night before. We were soon on foot heading towards the Corbett, Corserine, on the skyline beyond the extensive area of felled forest. As we approached the summit ridge there was a crack and a rumble of stonefall as a small avalanche released on the coire headwall. The ascent was otherwise without incident, and on the way back down Mhairi rather coyly suggested we walk up Cairnsmore of Carsphairn in the afternoon. To her surprise, I agreed.
The afternoon ascent of Cairnsmore was hindered only by my slight lack of long day hill fitness and ankle deep "coos shernaighs" on the way in. The summit sported a portable wind-speed vane and solar panel. We were unsure of their purpose. Soon we were heading back to the van, ready to move to a parking spot on the Queen's Mile in daylight...
Our objective for next day was The Merrick. This hill has a special significance for Mhairi as her mother and father met on the summit, when her mother apparently hit her father with a snowball. As there was snow on the summit when we made our ascent, a re-enactment of family history took place, photographed by a fellow walker. Mhairi also phoned her folks to explain where we were. The descent from the hill towards Loch Enoch and a return to our starting point at Loch Trool along the Rig of Lochenoch and Buchan Hill was a charming walk. We resolved to stay a further night and complete our Galloway Corbetts by parking up at the foot of the walk to the oddly-named Shalloch on Minnoch, and make an early start so we could return home in time for an engagement Mhairi had on Monday evening.
Our final Corbett in Galloway was tackled from the Bell Memorial car park near the start of the road to Shalloch of Minnoch farm, and the eponymously named hill. We got an early start, and walked along the road to the deserted farm, then made the problematic river crossing before bushwacking our way through the forestry onto the open slopes of the hill.
A long slow grind soon found us on the cold blowy summit. Our obsessive Corettitis had proved successful. Soon we would be heading home... and Mhairi would be colouring in her Munro and Corbett map...
Mhairi and I decided to get away in Argie for the end of March. We headed first to Cairngorm car park by way of the back road from the A9 to Trinafour, then over General Wade's military road to Dalnacardoch. We were tired from various family trips and exertions, so Mhairi just wanted to coorie doon with a book. I took the opportunity to seek out Lochan na Beinne, which I'd never visited before.
In the afternoon I nipped up the ridge toward Lurcher's Crag to get photographic evidence of the snow cover on the plateau for friends who'd hoped to ski tour. It was a long walk to the snowline.
Next morning Mhairi was still in lethargic mode,so we had a short drive down the hill to Loch Morlich for a change of scenery. While Mhairi engrossed herself in a TV series on her computer, I got the bike off the rack and had a short but pleasant circuit of the loch. After lunch I then took the bike up the track to Ryvoan Bothy.
We decided it might be best to have a night on a campsite to dispose of waste and charge up the batteries, as we intended to meet up with fellow Ochils MC members who'd be on a meet at Aultguish, and we'd have a minimum of three nights off grid.
After a night at Rothiemurchus campsite, we went for a spin on the bikes out to Loch an Eillein, and back via the Whitewell track.
Our plan was now to head to Inverness for supplies then make our way north to Ardgay to do the Corbett, Carn Chuinneag, the following day. We made one more diversion from the A9 at Tomatin to explore the headwaters of the Findhorn at Cognafearn, then go over the high hill road to Farr. It was an interesting diversion, but meant it was quite late and very dark by the time we were driving up Strathcarron to park at the car park at the entrance to Glens Alladale and Calvie.
We were up early next morning for the charming cycle up Glen Calvie to the lodge, where we left the bikes and made our way up excellent stalkers' paths to the summit of Carn Chuinneag. The cloud swept in obscuring the second peak of the twin summits, and Mhairi teased me over my complete misjudgement of the distance involved. "Ach it's only a hundred meters away" became a catchprase for the week. Our descent involved crossing a substantial snowpatch on the northern slope of the hill, but it was soft and sugary and presented us with no problems. Soon we were back on our bikes freewheeling joyfully downhill. Soon too we were heading south, then west to join our friends at the Aultguish Inn.
A few too many beers and a grand blether followed: one of the guys was celebrating his birthday.
Tomorrow's trip was to be to Beinn a' Chaisteil nearby- Mhairi's final Corbett north of the Ullapool road.
The trip was uneventful (if, in my case, a little hungover) and the weather was kind as we dodged almost all of the snow showers on the trip up Strath Vaich on the bikes, and the pull up onto the plateau leading to the summit.
We made arrangements to meet a friend of ours in Ullapool the following evening and planned to again do a bike and hike trip to Creag Rainich by Loch a' Bhraoin the following day. We parked up in what must be the layby with possibly the most iconic view in the Northwest Highlands.
Next day found us heading down towards Loch a' Bhraoin, but the soft sand and gravel on the track by the lochside saw us abandon the bikes sooner than we'd thought we might. Second breakfast at Lochivroan Bothy fortified us for the grind up to the summit of Creag Rainich, enlivened near the top by some underfoot snow, and enormous falling snowflakes reminiscent of the inside of those glass snowstorm ornaments of yesteryear. We made our way back northward before dropping down to the bikes, then off to Ullapool campsite and a meeting with our friend for drinks and a catch up.
We were now in to full Corbett-bagging mode, so headed for Ardessie to climb Sail Mhor. The falls are very impressive, and the river presents a challenge to cross further up. Despite mixed weather we had fantastic views from our walk taking in the high ground of the ridge that forms the horseshoe above the hills eastern coire. It is a magnificent viewpoint.
We parked up for the night at Gruinard Bay. I'd had hopes of perhaps doing some relaxed climbing next day, but it dawned wet. Moreover, we were both a bit weary, and decided to give ourselves a rest day before one final hillwalk before heading home for Thursday night. We decided to do Sgurr Dubh in Glen Torridon, from which we'd retreated a few years ago. We headed down to park up at the carpark near the Ling Hut where the path starts for Coire Mhic Nobhuill.
We were greeted next day by an amazing dawn.
Again we used the bikes to take us quickly to Coulin Lodge, then a stalkers' path to ease our way up to the high col between Sgurr Dubh and Sgorr nan Lochan Uaine. The last section of the walk was very rough, over slippery quartzite blocks of varying sizes, but the views were superb.
Soon we were descending to the glen girt with Scots Pines, picking up our bikes, and preparing to head homeward. It had been a lovely little springtime jaunt north.
I’ve been doing a fair bit of climbing over the last week: Thursday a short session bolt-clipping at Bennybeg; Friday indoors at The Peak; Sunday at TCA Glasgow, Monday indoor ice-climbing at Braehead;then Tuesday indoors at The Peak.
I’d made tentative arrangements to go winter climbing with Malcolm Smith (who’s also retired) some time in the next few days if it got colder. I was surprised to get a text from Adrian on Monday evening saying he was taking Wednesday off work to go climbing. Various organisational messages saw us all heading northward from my house at 5:30 on Wednesday morning. Given the high temperature forecast we’d decided to go high to get the best conditions, and that the Northern Corries of Cairngorm would give us easiest access.
The drive north was mostly beneath a blanket of cloud, but at Drumochter we were aware that sunshine was not far above the cloud layer. On the ski road up to Cairngorm we burst out above the cloud into classic temperature inversion weather.
It was a beautiful morning, but as we arrived in Coire an-t-Sneachda we saw that conditions, although highly photogenic, were rather unsuitable for winter climbing. The Mess of Pottage and Fiacaill Buttress were as good as bare, and only the easier gullies on Aladdin’s and Fluted Buttresses were complete. We set off first for Broken Gully, but found it to be more non-existent than broken. We traversed across below Spiral Gully and set up a belay. I got the honour of leading off the first pitch. The snow was in decent condition and some ice remained. Soon I was bringing the others up, simul-climbing on the Reverso.
Ade took the next pitch up a narrow and just continuous groove of ice. Malcolm and I soon followed. On the changeover a sling somehow got dropped. Malcolm soon dispatched the third pitch to below the route’s dogleg corner. I climbed up to have a look at the grade III direct finish. It looked complete, but water was running out from beneath the ice, and above, the snow on the coire rim was glinting in the baking sun. Little ice showers tinkled down regularly. I decided that the chicken option of the original finish would do for today.
As I headed up the original route on increasingly slushy snow, I stopped to place a good rock runner on the right wall of the gully. As I returned the krab of nuts to a harness loop I somehow managed to dislodge a nut which disappeared down the gully. It was Malcolm’s, and I thought he’d consider me an incompetent ass for my butterfingered fumble. I climbed on, but didn’t quite reach the top, so belayed within a few metres of the plateau.
The others lead through on their half-ropes, and soon we were sitting in the sun, eating sandwiches and drinking from our flasks watched by snow bunting. It was an idyllic Alpine scene.
We descended the Goat Track (rather tentatively on my part in my new crampons) to contour round and look for the dropped gear. Malcolm climbed a short way up and recovered a sling.
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