After our trekking and kayak adventures, it was time to leave Puerto Natales and make the five hour bus journey eastwards across the border to El Calafate in Argentina. Whilst there we took the opportunity to visit the Perito Merino Glacier and watch it calving into the Brasso Nord of Lago Argentino- a remarkable sight, but very much a controlled “tourist” experience. For our next outdoor adventures we had to take another three hour journey northeast to El Chalten, the trekking centre for the Fitz Roy Range The first sight of Fitz Roy as you approach across the “esteppa” or semi-desert is unforgettable.
On Day 3 we resolved to walk to Laguna Torre, the viewpoint for the elusive peak of Cerro Torre, which is shrouded in cloud for most of the year. We had seen it at a distance on the day of our arrival. Would we be lucky again?
Buoyed by our success, we booked seats on a minibus to take us north up the valley of the Rio de los Vueltas the next day to Hosteria Pilar. From here we would walk round the base of the Fitz Roy massif and ascend to the mirador at Laguna de los Tres
On our way out we chilled and Mhairi took lots of photographs of wildlife and plants. The next day we'd planned to ascend Loma del Pliegue Tomboda, but the weather seemed wild up high, so we again dawdled and took photos
On our last morning we got up in time for dawn, around 5am and walked up to the first mirador above town for some farewell photos of Fitz Roy
While we were researching the “W” Trek in Torres del Paine, Mhairi came across the website of a company kayakenpatagonia.com/site/ that offered a three day kayak trip from Lago Grey, then down the Rio Grey to Serrano Village, then on down the Rio Serrano to the sea, with a further section in Laguna Serrano where a glacier drops from the mountains into the waters below. We’d originally planned to fit this trip on to the end of our “W” Trek, but the logistics proved too difficult. This meant we went out of the national park to Puerto Natales and returned (albeit by a different route) the next day. All the catering tentage and equipment was provided, so it again made life easy for us.
We spent four nights trekking the “W” Circuit in Torres del Paine Parque Nacional. We had decided not to bring camping gear but to use Rifugios and go full board. This was quite difficult to organise in advance, but was very simple (if expensive) once on the ground. We did the Trek in “reverse” ie east to west and stayed at Rifugio Chileno, Domos Frances, Rifugio Paine Grande and Rifugio Grey. On our last day we returned to Paine Grande and caught the catamaran back to Pudeto and the bus back to Puerto Natales.
One of the reasons there have been no blog posts is that for six weeks in October and November, “ScottishOutdoorStuff” became “SouthAmericanOutdoorStuff”.
We were lucky enough to get an invitation to a family wedding in Buenos Aires (our son-in-law’s sister married an Argentinian) and we took the opportunity to make a six-week visit. We took in the amazing Iguazu Falls, Jesuit missions near San Ignacio, the wetlands at Esteros del Ibera in the north, then flew west to Mendoza where we did some wine tours and visited the Aconcagua viewpoint in the Andes. We were then back soaking u the atmosphere in Buenos Aires for a week before the wedding. All of these were fantastic experiences, but a bit outside the normal territory of the blog.
The second part of our trip was to fly to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, then travel to Puerto Natales in Chile by bus. Here we had two outdoor adventures planned: trekking the “W” Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, then kayaking down the Grey and Serrano Rivers.
I’ll take a separate photo blog for each of these adventures, then yet another for our treks around El Chalten in Glaciares National Park in Argentina
This summer we have sent lot of time with family, and have not been off to the continent on our travels. This is just a little picture blog to show we are both still in the land of the living.
We had some time "croft sitting" for our friends in Torridon. We also managed to have a very sociable time and do some climbing canoeing and hillwalking as well as playing at being crofters.
“So,” said Craig, “when I was in your second year form class I never thought I’d be sharing a tent with you.”
At this point, now I’ve got your attention, I have to point out that there was an intervening period of over thirty years since I had attempted to teach Craig English. By one of life’s strange synchronicities, Craig had turned up at The Peak Climbing Wall in Stirling last year looking to get back into climbing after a long absence imposed by injury. As he works offshore, he was able to join the auld gits (aka veteran athletes) who go along during the day, and soon brought his father along with him. His father had been the climbing partner of the late, legendary Geordie Skelton, who had given me one of my first climbing lessons (Aye, you’re climbing fine, son. Lead on, here’s the rack). Craig had taken to it like a duck returning to water, from leading a V Diff last autumn to pushing E2 this spring.
Craig was full of enthusiasm for doing as many brilliant mountain routes as possible and had ticked off Bludger’s Revelation on the Buachaille with one of the younger and more talented retirees the previous week. Now it was my turn to partner him (rather older and less talented) and the route was to be South Ridge Direct on Cir Mhor, Arran. After considerable consultation at the wall we’d learned: 1) we’d be really pushed to do it in a day between ferries; 2) the Y Crack pitch was hard, probably 5b, and had been talked about by Craig’s dad since he was a child; 3) taking bikes would speed the process of traveling to the route. We only had a very short window of opportunity: there was only one forecast day of dry weather, Wednesday; and we had to be back on the last ferry on Wednesday night, as we both had early morning appointments for general election duties on Thursday.
So, despite high winds and rain on Tuesday afternoon, we’d set off hoping to catch the 6:00 pm ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick, buoyed up by the forecast of it being dry the following day. We were equipped with bikes, a tent and camping gear, as well as our climbing kit. The ferry was running late (which was just as well as the last one was cancelled) and Arran began to emerge from the cloud which had been hiding it. Soon we were ashore and heading north along Brodick seafront, with Craig expanding on his honeymoon there twenty-one years ago. We’d decided to go to the pub to put in an hour or so rather than be cooped up in a tent in Glen Rosa hiding from the midges. We’d rather enjoyed helping out some of the locals in the pub quiz, overseen by a compere in a gold lame jacket, when we realised it was ten o’clock. Time to go.
My lack of mountain bike skills is well known, but even I found the bike helpful on the good track up into Glen Rosa, despite the wind. We dumped the bikes at the end of the track, and headed onwards on foot for about an hour on the excellent path until a likely flat patch materialised. It was now pitch black, and around midnight. The burns were still roaring in spate, but there was no more rain. The wind, however, was blustering and buffeting, changing direction every so often and catching the tent side-on. As I tried to sleep, I was aware of tent poles bending, and the side of the tent would bellow in and nudge me awake. Our sleep was fitful.
Once it was light, the wind had abated somewhat. Craig, who’d been "a bit cold" in his new £12 Lidl sleeping bag, got up to answer a call of nature, and we decided just to get on all our warm clothing and get up. After the luxury of a cup of real coffee and assorted cereal, we sorted out our climbing gear, left everything else in the tent (after weighting the rear guys with large rocks as security against the wind) and headed off up the glen. Craig was very much in glass half-full mode, but I was rather more pessimistic: it was very cold, it was still blowing a hoolie and we couldn’t even see the bottom of the route below the cloud base. Craig blethered on irrepressibly.
When we arrived at the saddle between Glen Rosa and Glen Sannox, he pointed out the scenic view over the far side, and how he’d been there on honeymoon. There was one of those cartoon-like, penny-dropping moments. “We shouldn’t be here. We’ve gone much too far.” I took out my phone with the Anquet mapping software on it (the one I’d been carrying all the way here) and with some ill-natured remarks traversed the steep rocky hillside, wading through waist-deep heather. As we rounded the corner we could see that the cloud had lifted out of the Fionn Choire and base of the south ridge was visible. We’d lost a bit of time, but we now believed we had a chance of doing the route.
We geared up at a superb bivvy spot by a huge boulder below the lowest tongue of slab. We were still wrapped up in warm gear and waterproofs, and I’d had to squeeze my rock shoes over my socks to avoid getting frozen feet.
“Okay, let’s go.” The first hundred metres or so is described as scrambling, but Craig pitched the first section as walking up the slabs was very problematic in the strong, sideways-gusting wind. I led a second pitch and a heavy, soaking shower came on, but we pressed on. “Over that way!” shouted Craig. I took a belay and Craig led through and entered a narrow slot which looked like it led up to the bottom of the unmistakable S Crack, the first VS pitch on the route. Craig took ages, and was reduced to graceless udging and squirming. When it was my turn to follow I discovered why- the climbing seemed ugly, out of balance and poorly protected. I was even forced to leave one of Craig’s wires jammed apparently inextricably in a crack. If this was “one section of V Diff” it didn’t bode well for the rest of the route.
Somewhere around here there was an easy but tremendously exposed walk horizontally rightwards along the top of a sharp flake, then eventually I was at the base of the S Crack. The climbing was pretty positive, and I admit I had no compunctions about clipping into ancient tat in-situ in the crack at the steepest section. Soon I was belaying on a huge triangular spike at the base of the infamous Y Crack. The fact that very recent abseil tat adorned the spike, and the stem of what appeared to be a new cam was protruding from the rightmost of the two cracks above spoke volumes of some recent would-be ascensionist’s ignominious retreat. I was, I must admit, glad it was Craig’s lead.
But he’s a big strong boy. Without too much fuss he went up, got some gear, clipped the in-situ cam and powered up to get an edge on the top arête with his left hand. Some determined pulling and scrabbling saw him home and dry. I’d like to report that I followed cleanly, more stylishly and recovered the jammed cam. None of these three things happened. I do recall getting my left foot jammed in the crack and being unable to free it, and I remember instructing Craig to pull in no uncertain terms, but the rest is a blur of exhaustion and adrenaline. I floundered beside him like an exhausted kelt dragged from a river by a poacher.
You’d imagine that now we were over the main difficulties, with only one more VS pitch to go, that all would be plain sailing. But after another easy pitch, I realised I was very tired- Big Winter Route tired- and that getting my blood sugar up was a priority. The bag of jelly sweets was nowhere to be found, and the sandwiches I forced into my face were glutinous indigestible mush. To continue the poaching imagery, I was jiggered.
Then the ropes got jammed on the next easy pitch (it had already happened below the S Crack) and Craig had to take an intermediate belay. I led through to the bottom of the Layback Crack taking only the gear I’d retrieved on the pitch, and wished I’d had more as setting up the belay was awkward. I had begun to think through how we could explain not getting back to the mainland tonight, as time was frittering away. We were both sensible enough to realise that hurrying when very tired is a recipe for disaster; and Craig suggested abseiling off. It didn’t appear that we could reach easy ground in a single abseil, and given the possible difficulties, we decided it would probably be both safer, and just as quick, to continue.
Craig led the pitch with some aplomb with a delicate foot traverse leading away from the gear onto a vein leading rightwards across a holdless wall. It was a lovely pitch to follow, but I was very aware of the gusting wind, strong enough to have dislodged a climber without the security of a stout rope coming from his midriff.
Beyond here, according to the guidebook, lay only the Three Tier Chimney, between us and easy ground to the escape terrace. I scrambled round for a look to the left hand line.
I couldn’t get up it.
I descended and scrambled to the right hand line.
I couldn’t get up it.
Sometimes it is good to have a young bold leader. “Craig... “ I inquired, “do you think you could...?”
Craig did some more inelegant but powerful scrabbling on the first section; then had what seemed a very long struggle to get any meaningful gear near the top; but at last he was up. He’d saved our bacon.
I didn’t think there was any realistic prospect of catching the ferry, but I attempted to show willing and ran out another full rope length to the terrace below the upper pinnacle. I was so knackered that we kept the rope on and moved together even for the walk on turf to the summit ridge and the descent path. It was 4.40 pm. The boat sailed at 7:20, last boarding 7:10. It seemed impossible that we could catch it.
But Craig loaded up with both ropes and hared off downhill to strike camp; I followed as quickly as I could. By the time I arrived at the tent the contents were out and the flysheet off. Together we somehow crammed our gear into our rucksacks, with Craig also heading off carrying an Asda bag in one hand like a particularly tired and disheveled late night shopper. Despite his extra load, I again struggled to keep up.
He’d sorted the bikes and panniers by the time I again caught him. “The boat was late yesterday. We might catch it,” he said. We headed down the glen as fast as my limited skills would allow. At one point I had a headfirst somersault off the bike, but at least it was into soft bog. “You can say now you fell off in Arran,” Craig sympathised.
There was much sweating and blowing, but soon we were on tarmac, making relatively speedy progress, past the campsite, down the String Road and onto Brodick Main Street.
My heart sank. Although we’d made good progress, the ferry was nowhere to be seen. I slowed down and pedaled disconsolately towards the ferry terminal. Craig was speaking to the man at the kiosk.
Beyond it stood rows of vehicles.
“It’s only quarter to seven! And the ferry’s running late. We’ve about thirty-five minutes to wait!”
And that was really the end of our story: the ferry crossing and long drive home were simply a postscript to our madcap Arran adventure.
The weather for the northwest was forecast to be good- scorching even- for the last week in May, so we took the opportunity to head up to bag some more remote Corbetts. We’d tentatively planned to go in to the area north of Iron Lodge on two previous occasions, but the plans had never reached fruition.
We’d been able to head north on Tuesday evening, so by Wednesday morning we’d arrived safely at the parking at Killilan beyond the head of Loch Long, inland from Dornie. We reminisced about a canoe trip we’d done up the loch a couple of years ago. As a preamble to our longer Corbett-bagging trip, we’d decided to do the short ascent of Sguman Coinntich directly west of Killilan.
The weather was still dreich with low cloud shrouding the hills, so we opted to ignore a traverse of Ben Killilan as suggested in one guidebook, and head up to the Bealach Mhic Bheathain and scramble up onto the northeast ridge of Sguman Coinntich and thus to the top. This proved to be a fairly simple navigational exercise, and we returned by our outward route. Finding the right line on the scramble in the thick mist gave a little excitement. We were soon back at the van, drying out and preparing ourselves for a big bagging trip over the next two days...
We awoke to glorious sunshine. We had a quick breakfast and loaded our bikes for the first stage of our adventure, the cycle up Glen Elchaig and Srath Duilleach to Iron Lodge. The trip in the cool early morning stillness was glorious, with only a couple of encounters with highland cows on the road to cause any concern. The section around Loch na Leitreach was particularly beautiful.
After abandoning the bikes and panniers, we reloaded our rucksacks for stage two of our plan, the walk north up the glen of the Crom-Allt to the col at its head. It's only about three kilometres on an excellent stalkers track, but the forecast heat was now arriving and it was sweaty going with an overnight pack.
We were glad to cross the col, and descend to where another path headed west towards Faochaig, our next target for the day. This was to be part three of our plan. It was relaxing to be walking without a heavy pack, and the stalkers' path threaded a circuitous and interesting route to the top. It was an excellent viewpoint, one of those hills which lie in a place where you realise how the different parts of your mental map of the country interact with one another. Soon, however, we had to return to the col for part four of our plan, the trip north to Maol Bhuidhe bothy.
It was hot now, but it’s only about four kilometres and downhill, so we arrived in pretty good order. The bothy was clean and tidy and in great shape. There were no other occupants, so we spread out our kit and had a brew. We’d been unsure of whether to put part five of our pan into operation today or tomorrow, but as there was plenty of daylight left we decided to go or it- an ascent of Beinn Dronaig.
We made an easy crossing of the burn flowing out of Loch Cruoshie (as water levels were very low, yesterday's clouds and mist not having deposited any heavy rain) and made a somewhat slow and weary grind directly up to the summit ridge, and so to the summit. There was a real sense of achievement at having reached this remote top, despite the hill’s lack of grandeur. Again, it was a wonderful viewpoint, despite the ugly scar of the new road servicing the hydro scheme to the northwest. It was time to head back to the bothy for food and rest.
On the way back we met another stravaiger who was going down the burn fishing for his supper. We exchanged pleasantries, then made our way back to the bothy and set about preparing food. We’d gone to the effort of bringing something fresh and tasty, and, as always, the effort was worth it. We’d been cooking outside and two more bothy-goers turned up while we were finishing off, so Mhairi moved our sleeping bags and mats into the smaller upstairs room to give them more space.
In conversation it turned out that the two were involved in walking The Cape Wrath Trail, which runs 230 miles from Fort William to Cape Wrath. One guy had been out for six days, his companion for three. They gave us a look at a guidebook to the trail, which we knew very little about. capewrathtrailguide.org They both seemed very tired and footsore, but determined. The other chap returned with enough little trout to fry up for his evening meal. I noticed he fried them some chunks of chorizo. We’ll need to try that (if I ever actually catch any). I discovered we shared a liking for the website parkswatchscotland.co.uk/ He was going to stay another night at the bothy and fish some of the lochs despite the forecast heatwave. The midges came out as the sun went down, so we bunked down fairly quickly in the upstairs sleeping area.
There are skylight windows in Maol Bhuidhe bothy, and the morning light awoke us early. We decided to pack up our gear and head off before the burning heat of the day set in. We breakfasted and set off for our final Corbett of our trip, Aonach Buidhe. The boggy ground in the northern corrie was almost dry and we were soon up onto the eastern bounding ridge and heading along Aonach Cas to An Creachal Beag and thus to the summit of Aonach Buidhe. It’s a really great undulating ridgewalk with extensive views.
We’d noted a track running down to the col we’d crossed on our trip northward to Maol Bhuidhe, and we were able to find this and make a speedy descent to the glen. In no time at all we were back at our bikes near Iron Lodge.
It was scorchingly hot now, but the cycle out was an easy downhill almost all of the way. We arrived back at the van hot and sweaty but satisfied with our trip. Our plan had worked perfectly. It was time to head for the chilled drinks section of the Co-op at Kyle!
We were a little weary next morning after our exertions in Fisherfield, but the forecast- particularly for light easterly winds- suggested that we bestir ourselves for the next stage of our adventures. And so it was that after our domestic duties were complete, we made the short drive from the Gairloch campsite to the Slattadale car park on the shore of Loch Maree.
We had long planned to explore the islands in our inflatable kayak, so despite our tiredness we began to get ready with a sense of anticipation: inflating the boat, assembling paddles and so on. We were only part-way through our preparations when a convoy of vehicles roared into the carpark in a cloud of dust, the tail-ender towing a trailer. The sound of “I was born under a wand’ring star” blared from a car window, and this seemed strangely appropriate for this western filmic entrance. The cars disgorged their passengers; five middle-aged guys with Geordie accents, who proceeded to produce an inflatable kayak each and a mountain of camping gear. This was no lightweight expedition: each had a large frame tent, complete with folding chair and camp-bed, plus a bewildering and heavyweight array of accessories. They bustled busily and noisily around the car park. We admired each other’s boats and compared plans. Our boat was the trusty Sea Eagle Fast Track; theirs were three Pak a Yaks, a Sevylor, and, interestingly, an American import AlpackaRaft on its maiden voyage. Their plan was to establish camp at a suitable spot on an island; ours simply to have an afternoon’s exploring.
And so we all set off, the Geordie Armada ahead, going straight towards the main mass of islands. We nipped into the wind-shadow of the westernmost island, Eilean Ruaridh Mor, then through the channel between it and Garbh Eilean to thread through a mass of inlets and skerries on the northern side of Eilean Subhainn. It was a beautiful paddle.
Our final objective was Isle Maree, fabled in lore. We eventually reached there, circumnavigated it then returned to the southernmost point where we had first started. We went ashore. It's a strange, magical, rather eerie place
It was time to get back to the van. We were tired. As is so often is the case when canoeing, the wind played an unforecasted trick on us. First came a flat calm, then a stiff breeze directly out of the west, giving us a headwind to fight our way back against. To our surprise we saw the Geordies also battling back against the wind- they'd been unable to find a camping site large enough for their outsize tents. A mutiny had occurred and they were returning to camp on the lochside parking area!
We all slept well that night.
The next day we were again late getting on the move, partly due to laziness and party due to counselling our new canoeing friends about possible destinations for their next paddle. They had resolved to drive all the way down to Loch Voil in the Trossachs to camp there and break the journey back to Newcastle. We let them have a look at our maps, and told them about the new anti-camping bye laws in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. I made the suggestion of a trip across Rannoch Moor by way of Loch Laidon as an alternative. Our plan for the day was to visit our friends Ade and Jo on their recently acquired croft at Inveralligin, and perhaps go climbing.
When we reached their place a couple of their friends, Claire and Lynn, were working on the strip of land that runs up the hillside behind their house. Unfortunately, while digging a ditch one of the girls had punctured a water pipe and a miniature geyser was spouting into the air. We affected the best repairs we could and dug like demons to clear a ditch to drain the excess water away. Jo and Adrian contacted both their neighbours and Scottish Water to try to resolve the problem.
After lunch, Jo opted to stay home to meet the Water Board repair people, while Adrian, Mhairi and I headed five minutes uphill in the car to the Beginners’ Slabs on the road to Diabaig.
Although the climbing is easy, protection is tricky to arrange, so these gave Mhairi excellent practice in getting back into leading mode.
The next day we spent as crofters: moving heavy fence strainer posts up the croft, moving stones, feeding hens and collecting eggs, deadheading bracken and some of the myriad tasks of the smallholder. We’d also discovered that our friend Nigel was up in the area with work colleagues, climbing Liathach, so we’d arranged to meet at the campsite at Sheildaig and have a meal together at the Sheildaig Inn. We'd considered a paddle round Sheildaig Island, but we were tired and lazy and the weather was less than perfect, so we just chilled out for an hour or two! Ade and Jo had decided to join us for the evening, so we all had a very enjoyable meal together washed down with several ales.
We’d decided that our plan for the Sunday, our last day in the northwest, would be to climb Fuar Tholl, which would be the fifth Corbett of the week.
So that’s what we did; and here are some pictures. It’s a brilliant hill.
And that was really about it for our magical May week in the North-West. It didn't seem like a sensible idea to drive all the way home as we were both tired from the cumulative effects of backpacking, climbing, paddling and crofting, so we broke the journey by parking for the night at Grudie near Lochluichart. It had been a brilliant and memorable trip.
Our wonderful week in the North-West started with a Sunday afternoon’s climbing at the Loch Tollaidh crags near Gairloch, where we enjoyed the excellent Assault Slab. I think this route is a contender for the best single pitch V Diff in the country. We parked up in Poolewe ready for our forthcoming Fisherfield foray.
Tuesday dawned grey and overcast, but we managed to get tent down and packed dry for the next leg of our trip. We continued south on the excellent stalkers’ path to the high point where the path goes east to Ruadh Stac Mhor and A’ Mhaighean; were we again unburdened ourselves of camping gear and food and headed west to seek out the summit of Beinn a’ Chasgeinn Mor.
Wednesday morning’s weather was quite grey and threatened rain, but again we were lucky enough to get the tent packed up dry and take the short walk over the causeway and round to the path leading over the bealach between Beinn Lair and Meall Meinnidh. Here we again stashed the camping gear, and headed up towards Beinn Lair. It was getting a bit cool and there was sufficient rain in the air to make donning waterproof trousers desirable.
We got back just in time to get beers from the shop before it closed at 6:00 pm. We’d decided to have a night in the van on the campsite, but Poolewe was full, so we had to drive round to Gairloch. I blame the North West 500 marketing department!
This entry is really just a place marker in case anyone thinks we’ve hibernated for winter or simply dropped dead! There are several reasons the blog hasn’t been kept up to date.
Like many people we’ve been frustrated by bad conditions on the hill, and like so many others, had our share of seasonal lurgy. Ian has been frustrated in his winter climbing ambitions by a recurrence of a shoulder injury sustained at the excellent new Perth College Climbing Wall.
However, towards the end of February we did manage a little Corbett bagging expedition in the van to the eastern Cairngorms. On the first night we parked at Tomnaverie Stone circle near Tarland,www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/tarland/tomnaveriecircle/ and next morning nipped up Morvern before the weather deteriorated.We then headed to the parking at Keiloch on Invercauld Estate in preparation for a trip up Culardoch and Carn Liath the following day. We did this in an anti-clockwise direction , and were lucky to benefit from excellent weather and fine views of the eastern Cairngorms and Lochnagar.
Our final parking spot was at Corgarff Castle, from where we proposed climbing Brown Cow Hill and Carn Ealasaid. Once we’d done the first of these hills, however, we took the decadent option of heading for home as we were feeling a bit tired after our exertions of the previous day.
Ian and Mhairi's Outdoor Blog
Two outdoor enthusiasts and their adventures in Scotland and beyond.
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