Sunday, 29 April 2012

29th -30th April 2012 - Days 3 and 4 Gold D of E Expedition

A stunning camp spot, the river looked somewhat different the next morning

Going for a wander with Anna

Ben Lui and Ben Oss look somewhat tamer from this direction
Day 3 saw the group set off a bit later than scheduled again, but the day was very short in distance, so it was important that the team used the time to explore glaciated features on the way, and we had scheduled in some nav training and a Q & A session at the camp. We met up with Dougie again for a brief catch up, before setting off on the teams heels.

We camped at the very end of the track in a rather remote feeling spot by the Allt nan Coarainn. The girls opted to camp at the opposite side of the river, whilst Anna chose for us (now joined by Adam again) to camp on an island in the river (one side was dry, so not really an 'island') but the ground was nice and flat. After an extensive nav class with the team we went back to our camp for dinner, and found a terrific little spot in the sun and out of the wind. It was so warm the three of us lazed around by the river and chatted for a few hours, until suddenly a chill in the air disturbed us. After washing up, Anna and I went for a wander to find a suitable supply of water (away from the camps). We noted a change in the weather, and a distinctive front moving in from the east. We hoped that it would pass overnight as we had become accustomed to the lovely weather, but we hoped in vain. No sooner had we got to bed that night than all hell broke loose and it lashed down all night. The wind really tested the tent out, or so Anna told me as I slept through most of it :)

The next morning the river had risen dramatically and the usual crossings we had been using became untenable. The girls had to travel far upstream to find a suitable crossing, and with a bit of help from us, we managed to get everyone safely over. Needless to say the four girls loved this adventure and made light work of the horrible, now saturated terrain underfoot as we headed towards Succoth Lodge. It seemed to take an age to reach the tree line and a bit of protection from the harsh cold wind, but once there we clocked up the km's quickly, meeting Dougie on the way down. Soon we were back on a feasible forest track (which seemed hugely overgrown and boggy - a remnant of the original forestry plantations perhaps?) and making good time past the lodge and down towards Corryghoil, our finishing point.

The rain had eased off, and overall it was a tremendous expedition and a trully top class performance from the candidates who took on every obstacle and problem with ease, keeping moral high and never having a dull moment. It was great for us supervisors as well, giving some educational input throughout the 4 days and building upon our knowledge base. Hopefully the team got alot out of the weekend, I know that I certainly did and very much look forward to working with Janet, Dougie, Adam and the rest of the Cowal Award Group in the future.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

28th April 2012 - Day 2 Gold D of E Expedition

Loch Sloy Dam and steep difficult terrain

Anna looking over the map

Tussocky Purple Moor Grass - the bane of any hillwalker

Looking north towards Glen Falloch and Crianlarich

Me at our camp spot and Glen Falloch in the background
Day 2 of the expedition began very cold, but once the sun was over the crest of the surrounding hills it was very warm. The group set of some half an hour later than scheduled, and passed over the side of the dam. However, one of the girls had had a very poor night, and did not feel well enough to continue. We arranged to have her accompanied back to Inveraglus to meet Dougie and decide on a course of action. The other four girls continued as planned, with only Anna and I supervising from a distance. This stretch of terrain, trapped on the steep ground between Ben Vorlich and Loch Sloy is tricky to negotiate with a full exped bag on for those with limited experience, and it would be treacherous in wet/windy weather.

It took the team far longer than expected to cover the ground from the beginning to the end of the Loch, and they were soon over 2 hours behind. However, they were still moving, moral was exeptionally high and both myself and Anna were extremely impressed with how they dealt with any obstacles they came across. They moved efficiently after this point, and started to regain time. The rest of the day was spent on rough tussocky terrain, covered in Purple Moor Grass which is horrible under foot.

We camped in a lovely spot by Lairig Arnan with superb views up Glen Falloch. I love this part of the country, it is steeped in history and legend and it doesn't take much to feel very isolated. The girls got themselves set up quickly, and dinner was soon under way. Again they were quite happy taking advice, and we spent a good session discussing geographical features, how they were formed and good examples for each feature.

The weather was again fine only chilly once the sun had sunk, but overnight the tent froze up again. This time I slept in Anna's sleeping bag to give her a shot of a down bag as she would like to purchase something new. Tomorrow is a short day, only 8km on easy tracks so hopefully we will get a shot at teaching some in-depth navigation techniques so that the girls are confident for assessment.

Friday, 27 April 2012

27th April 2012 - Day 1 D of E Gold Expedition

Looking south toward Coire an Lochan

Anna with her new Deuter Pack. Snow very much evident still

Some of the rough terrain covered. Easily navigable but a bit testing for the candidates with full packs on

Taking a break in a lovely spot below Ben Vane

Anna demonstrating expert supervision skills

Inside our new tent. Anna had a cold night!

Apart from the road and the dominating dam, it was a lovely camp spot. Woke up with ice on the tent though...
Day one of a four day qualifying expedition for the Cowal Duke of Edinburgh Award Group. Anna and I were there helping some of the other guys to supervise 5 girls who were hoping to qualify and go on to complete the assessment expedition. I was also there in the capacity as an assessor, giving further training and advice to the other supervisors as well as the candidates in order for them to be as ready as possible for assessment.

The first day began at Butterbridge in the Arrochar Alps, and headed north-west up Glen Kinglas, before skirting Beinn Chorranach and heading south east up Glen Uaine onto untracked terrain. Only one of the girls had completed the previous D of E awards, so four were new entrants, and it was interesting seeing how they coped in wilder terrain. The weather was glorious, and we were joined by Adam, an ML working with the D of E from Dunoon. The craic was great and the scenery superb. We left the girls for the most part uninterrupted until they arrived at the camping spot for night one - Loch Sloy Dam.

They all coped very well with the day, and were open to a bit of further training regarding route choice and navigation which was great. Anna, Adam and I camped a good distance away, almost directly beneath the dam (which gave Anna the fear!). Apart from a few dirt bikers who made the pointless trip up to the dam and back out again (!?) we never saw another soul until the next day. This was also a great opportunity to test out some of the new kit we had purchased over the last few months. I will review the camping equipment at the end of Day 4.

Day 2 would be the girls biggest test, we had to wait and see how they coped...

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

17th April 2012 - Kinlochleven to Fort William Charity Walk

Today I was out with the NC Childcare students from West Highland College supervising their charity event which was raising money for the charity CHAS. We were starting at Kinlochleven in the morning and finishing in Fort William in the afternoon - the final strect of the West Highland Way. The route follows one of the old Military Roads, built between 1749 and 1752 by General Wades lesser known successor, Major William Caulfeild. The route hauls steadily and at times steeply out of Kinlochleven, heading towards the Lairig Mor (Big Pass). Once this 250m haul is complete, the track levels considerably, and undulates gently throughout until it descends back down into Glen Nevis several miles ahead.

I have completed the West Highland Way 5 times in the past, and have always enjoyed this final section. It is not arduous, but has a remote and wild feeling once the Kinlochleven is out of sight. You are, however, regularly reminded that once upon a time our glens were much more populated than they are today. Nestled under the mighty peaks of Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean are the ruins of two settlements - Tigh-na-Sleubhaich to the east and Lairigmore to the west. I remember on my first trek up the WHW, Martin and I arrived at Tigh-na-Sleubhaich totally parched. We sat on its desolate doorstep and drank cartons of orange juice. To us it was heaven, and one of those strange memories you never forget. Once upon a time families dwelt in these buildings, utilising the river water and what ever livestock they owned. I often wonder how they viewed their landscape, how they lived their lives and how they overcame the hardships which they faced living in such a hard land.

Moving on from these ruins, the road veers sharply northwards, and we were soon in amongst what once was dense forestry woodland, but is now sadly replaced with stumps and scars. Along the road we came upon the Inverlochy Cairn, a pile of stones which reputedly marks the spot where the last Macdonald gave up the chase of their rivals, the Campbells, after the latters defeat at Inverlochy in 1645 as part of the War of the Three Kingdoms (of Charles I fame). Although there is a deep and interesting history surrounding this event, I will not go into detail now!

We were met at Blar a' Choarainn by Dave Hill and some of the other students from the college who provided snacks, refreshments and encouragement to the team.

We continued on our way, leaving the military road for some single track on our way to Glen Nevis, passing by the towering Dun Deardil - a vitrified Iron Age fort which holds superb and unparalelled view out across Glen Nevis as well as guarding the Lairig Mor pass. The term 'vitrification', which involves welding stone together using extreme heat, is still little understood, but it is believed to have been a widespread technique for fortifying settlements across western Scotland and Ireland. The lines of the walls can still clearly be seen, and is well worth a visit if you are in the Lochaber area. From here it was a casual walk down into the Glen, famous for being featured in films such as Braveheart and Rob Roy. We made our way to the Braveheart car park, where transport was awaiting us, little after 5 pm, a good 7 hour walk. Everyone in the group did an exceptional job, especially given many of them are not outdoor types or hill walkers. Their spirits were high most of the time, their team work was outstanding and the dedication to their charitable cause was inspirational. They raised almost £2000, a phenomenal amount for such a small group of individuals, so a massive well done to them!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

14th April 2012 - The Grey Corries

Incredible rock patterns seen on Sob Coire a' Chairn

Anna approaching the summit of Sgurr Choinnich Mor

Looking over what is to come

Looking back at Aonoch Mor. Easy Gull and other prominent lines can be easily discerned

Anna with the Grey Corries stretching into the distance

Anna with the Grey Corries, the Aonochs and the Ben in the distance

The weather, although an imrovement on the morning, was still chop and change

About to climb Stob Ban, looking down towards Binnien Mor and Binnien Beag
Today Anna and I had a fairly early start in order to complete the full round of the Grey Corries in winter conditions in daylight. We opted to approach the ridge from Glen Nevis, which some argue is the longer route but also the quieter. The walk in was pleasant, although the weather forecast did not really seem to be living up to expectations, with overcast skies, blustery winds and hidden summits. As the Glen path begins to dwindle to a boggy mess, we started off in the direction of the bealach between Stob Coire Bhealaich and Sgurr Choinnich Beag and after what felt like an eternity of slogging uphill over broken ground we finally reached the bealach, and the snow line. As I was yesterday, I felt very out of sorts, and every step seemed such an effort. Again I was not carrying a full pack (no rope) but even Anna was surprised at how much I was struggling. Having finally made it to the first summit of the day, in deteriorating visibility, we began to wonder if it was worth completing the ridge, which is renowned for its stunning vistas.

However, as we debated, the clouds began to clear, allowing us a view of our objective, which was quite daunting considering how slowly I was moving. With conditions improving, we made a decision and kept going, although the variety of snow conditions underfoot meant that our progress varied. Anna was moving well, making light work of the conditions, and stayed ahead most of the time. This was great for her to be making the route finding decisions and her judgement calls were spot on. Hopefully it has done alot for her confidence and I continue to urge her towards her ML training as she is easily capable of achieving it.

The approach to Stob Coire an Laoigh provided the only section of real scrambling of the day, and it was short but sweet on lovely rock which was stripped of any ice or snow. It is also an optional approach, as there are simple slopes to the north side of this section which provides a more walker friendly route if required.

There were plenty of teams coming in the opposite direction, and soon it seemed like a busier day than we expected. The sun made some strong appearances and we were amazed at how the temperature varied from freezing cold in the passing snow showers, to roasting hot when the wind died down. We got some tremendous views north east over Creag Meagaidh and west to the Aonochs and the Ben, shrouded in cloud as usual! We opted to skip Stob Coire na Ceannain due to time marching on, but did nip up Stob Ban on our way south and off the ridge. The slog down to glen level was as trudging as the way up had been, however I had slowly been improving through the day and was keen to get back for some real food!

It always seems the case that the walk out from any mountain seems long and arduous. In this instance, it was awful. The 'path' was boggy, wet and often performed disappearing acts, leaving us having to pick our own way through the marsh. Our spirits were still high though - its all about the challenge and just being outdoors that is so important and we had certainly had our fill today. The route is interesting but never hard, and never scary but worth every step. We look forward to doing it again in the summer, although this time we are going to try approaching it from the north, and see if it makes any difference.

Friday, 13 April 2012

13th April 2012 - Bienn a' Chaorainn

Look closely and you can see some of the biggest examples of Club Moss I've ever seen...

Some interesting snow architecture, a double cornice

Looking towards Creag Meagaidh

A snow shower just passed

Trying to get a good picture that does justice to the snow formations
So this week we have had a rather dramatic return to winter, and I wanted to get out of the house and into the white stuff. I fancied a stroll rather than a big epic day, and wanted to leave the ropes behind so I opted to head up to the Creag Meagaidh area and explore Beinn a' Chaorainn and its associated peaks.

After a reasonably leisurely start, I had a nice long walk in on easy forest tracks before I had to start the slog up hill. The snow line was reasonably high but there was some flurries drifting in every now and again and I was confident the snow would be substantial higher up! However, getting there was a bit of a surprise, as I felt terrible and sluggish, even though I was carrying far less than usual. However I ploughed on and made the first top in reasonable time, taking plenty of pics as I went. I was rewarded with some superb views and interesting snow architecture in the form of some sunken cornices which were being overlapped by new ones. Unfortunately the pictures I took of this didn't do it any justice :(

I continued along the north ridge to the second summit top, and had a spot of lunch just as the wind decided to start picking up - time to leave! I opted to descend the opposite way that I ascended, down toward Allt a' Chaorainn and back towards the A86. Overall it was a good day, stunning scenery, plenty of snow and, apart from a group of 3 I encountered, I had the hills and glens to myself! Tomorrow Anna and I aim to complete the entire Grey Corries round, heres hoping I am feeling in better form than I was today!