Thursday, 20 June 2013

20th June 2013 - Ben Lawers to finish the 'Big 10'

Low cloud on the walk in

Mark wraps up before the final steep ascent

Graham  looking rather thoughful as that cold wind makes itself felt!

Ben Ghlas (L) & Meall Correnaich (R) from near the summit of Ben Lawers

The guys successfully on the summit of Ben Lawers

Cloud free on our way back down!
Today I met my two clients, Mark and his son-in-law Graham, at 08:30 before we headed down to Loch Tay in order to tick off Ben Lawers. The guys have come up from Dorset to raise money for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Poole Hospital for personal reasons, and are so far looking at donating a whopping £10,000 which is a phenomenal effort. Their target this week was to nail the ten highest peaks in Scotland, starting with Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis, then conquering Aonach Mor, Aonach Beag, Ben MacDui, Cairngorm, Cairn Toul, Braeriach, Sgur an Loachain Uaine and finally, today, Ben Lawers.

After a long drive down, we got to the new visitor car park at about half past 11, and set off under grey skies towards our target. Ben Lawers was my first Munro many years ago, and so it holds a very special place in my heart. I have done it countless times since, and will never tire of it. I also did some Winter ML training here with Climb MTS under Stu Johnston. I have neglected to visit for some time and was surprised to find the visitor centre no longer standing! The lads set a good pace, and we were soon covering ground quite quickly. I guess with the end in sight, and their families awaiting them back in Helensburgh, they wanted to get this final peak over and done with quickly. As neither of them had done any hillwalking prior to this trip, I wondered how they would cope on this fifth day, but they did tremendously well, only stopping on occasion to admire the scenery and listen to me babbling on about plants and history (apologies guys, think of it as a sure fire insomnia-killer!!).

Before we knew it we were heading up the final steep section, with Mark doggedly determined and making good progress up in front until we topped out, relieved and justifiably full of pride and relief at having reached their target! After a spot of lunch and a few photos, we packed up and headed back down again, enjoying the chat and good craic as we went. The hill was quite busy today, and we were fortunate enough to have a fairly cloud free summit, unlike others who went before us.

Back down at the cars we said our farewells before departing. Hopefully the guys raise all the money they hope for - they have certainly earned it, taking the hillwalking charity challenge one step further and making a real full on challenge of it - so well done both Mark and Graham and all the best with everything in the future guys, thanks for your company today!!

Today I was working for Abacus Mountain Guides.

Day off tomorrow and off for a fun filled Stag doo this weekend - can't wait!!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

18th June 2013 - CMD Arete in the mist

John and Angie enjoy a quick break on the initial ascent

Who said anything about summer?? Cold and very misty on the Arete

A rare glimpse of the route ahead through the clouds

John and Angie making light work of the ridge

Angie and John celebrate on the summit of Ben Nevis

On the way back down, away from the madding crowd of the Tourist Track
Today I was working for Abacus Mountain Guides, taking John and Angie along the CMD Arete. John had come up from the Lakes to fulfill a long held dream of summiting the Ben via this tremendous route, and Angie has come all the way from Singapore to visit family in Ireland and take in some of the sights of Scotland - including a tremendous coast to coast bike ride, summiting Ben Nevis and then travelling to Skye for a few days - I hope it doesn't rain!!!

We managed to get up to the upper car park before the harvesting begins, which took away a fair amount of early morning slog, and after a brief kit check and safety chat we were soon on our way along the Allt a' Mhuillin track, warming up our muscles before the onslaught up Carn Mor Dearg began! Both John and Angie were bursting with enthusiasm and super keen to get up on the arete, so we made excellent progress up the slopes, stopping now and again to look at some flowers and plants, and sighting a ptarmigan on the way. Hopefully I was able to answer all of their questions through the day!!

Unfortunately the cloud was not interested in playing ball, and obscured much of the North Face for most of the day, but the little glimpses we did gain were still spectacular, and allowed us to talk about the formation of the landscape and the ongoing changes which are subtly taking place.

Finally we were submersed in cloud, and the wind began to pick up, although not enough to deter us from what we were doing. We got to the top of Carn Mor Dearg in good time, and had a brief break and a wee chat about the arete and the options that we had should either of them get a bit spooked with the wind at any point. Once we were all happy we descended onto the arete itself, and quite literally, the wind died. This meant that we could get right on top of the arete and really challenge ourselves, avoiding the little track on the side and giving John and Angie a real sense of the adventure. They took everything the ridge threw at them in their stride and really seemed to enjoy the challenge, especially when the cloud swooped up and cleared for brief moments, allowing them to take some hasty photos either side.

We finally came to the narrow 'table top', where the wind began to pick up again, but both of them opted to go for it and did really well on this very exposed little section. From here, it was an easy climb to the finishing cairn - time for a brief rest before we endured the final slog onto the summit plateaux.

I made a point here of marching ahead of the guys in order to keep them moving on this final stretch, as it is so easy to stop too often and lose momentum, and I think they appreciated this given how quickly they reached the top. They had both researched the route thoroughly and were both a bit apprehensive about what they had rear with regards to this climb, so were relieved to find it over and done with in no time at all! And there we were, abruptly, on the summit of Great Britain with some other summiteers; proud in the knowledge that we had taken the hard route up and had over come the fears and doubts in order to succeed. For John this was a great achievement, at 70 years young he is still going strong and hopefully this helps him to realise he can still keep up with the best of them! And for Angie, coming from a country with a high point of about 164 metres, this again is a great accolade - especially after a week of biking across the country! So well done to both of you, I hope your pint (or two) went down smoothly because you both deserved it!

The walk back down, as always, is long and never ending seemingly, but we had a lot of great chat and craic which made it much more enjoyable. We were all glad to reach the car in an excellent time of 9 hours! Looking forward to getting out on the hill again on Thursday, this time down on Ben Lawers by Loch Tay!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

16th June 2013 - A wee jaunt over the Aonach Eagagh

Panorama of Glen Coe from the Aonach Eagagh

Anna, Rachel and Alex on the ascent of Am Bodach

Anna and Rachel on the ridge

Cloud licks the summits of Stob Coire Nan Lochan and Bidean nam Bian

Anna tackles the pinnacles

Looking back along the ridge on our descent
This weekend Anna's sister Rachel and her boyfriend Alex were stopping by on their way up to Torridon, and they were keen to get out on the hill with us. As I was working at Outward Bound on Saturday, we were left with Sunday and the hope of good weather. They have both had their eye on the Aonach Eagagh ridge in Glen Coe for quite some time, and by Saturday the forecast looked quite reasonable (dry and wind-free) and so we made this our objective.

With the luxury of having two cars we left one at either end, saving us a long walk or hitch hike at the end of the day. Starting from the eastern end of the ridge, we plodded up the never ending flank of Am Bodach, and were blessed with some terrific views and photo opportunities on the way up. As we reached the summit, however, it was evident that the cloud was not intending to play ball as it lingered motionless upon the ridge ahead. Undetered, we made our way to the first of the difficulties and stuck on harnesses. As this was both Alex and Rachels first time on such terrain I wasn't taking any chances, and felt much happier knowing that if they got spooked or into difficulty I could make them safe quickly and easily.

Anna led off downclimbing from Am Bodach onto The Chancellor, followed by Alex. I then came down talking Rachel through the motions and giving her a bit of confidence on what is exposed and consequential terrain, especially for those who are not used to it. After this we plodded on, overcoming the tricky sections quite easily, and being treated with views northwards (but not south!!). There are a few tricky steps along the way until you come to the real highlight - the Pinnacles. This short, exposed section is the only part I thought I would maybe need to get the rope out, but once Anna had shown the way, Rachel and I moved along the Pinnacles side by side and she did absolutely fine negotiating them, only having a bit of a wobble when she laid her hand on a very loose peice of rock!! Alex then followed on, and Anna got some terrific shots of us crossing over.

By this time, of course, the cloud cover had changed, now sporting terrific views southwards and blocking all such views northwards, which was a pleasant change for us as we pushed on and completed the final 'hands on' sections of the ridge before the slow plod up to the summit of Stob Coire Leith, and finally Sgorr Nam Fiannaidh, the second of todays Munros. From here we made a bee-line straight down the scree slopes in order to bolster Rachels confidence on such terrain before they head north to tackle some of the Torridon mountains (Liathach being an obvious objective with a particularly knarly scree descent). Again, this little jaunt helped her to overcome her fear of loose rock, but as is always the way, once we had left the scree and were following a fairly pleasant little track she went cart wheeling down the hill and recieved a bash on the nose for her efforts! Luckily she was only a bit shaken (as was Anna who was no doubt aghast at seeing her sister fly past her upside down and back to front - a rather novel way of descending and not one I think she will want to repeat!!)

Finally we were down by the road, relieved to let our legs relax after the steep downhill slog. We had a great day - Rachel and Alex ticked off a long held ambition, we had great views throughout the day, and just enough cloud to make it look very dramatic, it didn't rain and we never once had to even think of getting the rope out - a massive confidence booster for the guys. There was only one thing left to do - head to the Clachaig Inn for a nosh up fit for Kings, washed down with some fine Fraoch Ale! Thanks guys for a great day!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

10th & 11th June 2013 - ICE Project with Stramash

Some arable farm land on Kerrera

Looking northwards towards Oban

Westwards looks rather flat!

From the summit of Carn Breugach (189 metres) - home of the Fuel Crystal!
On Monday and Tuesday I was working for Stramash on their ICE project, which is designed to get students outdoors, learning about the environment and instilling an appreciation for the great outdoors.

On Monday we were working with Primary 4 students on the Island of Kerrera. After getting the ferry over, we made our way through a few farms before heading off road towards the highest point on the Island. The kids were tying this trip in with a project of their own, and this mission to the top of the Misty Mountain was to try and discover the ancient 'Fuel Crystal' which so many had tried and failed to discover!

It was great working with such youngsters, to whom every rock and fence post is an adventure and has a deep hidden secret to tell. They discovered slate rocks with secret messages and morbid clues to the location of the crystal, as well as a few 'headstones' for pirates such as Billy Bones and Long John Silver who had evidently perished on their quest for the crystal! We learned how to make arrows from rushes, and how to move quietly through the heather.

Typically, I had to run on ahead sneakily to place the crystal at the summit cairn, and the skirt round to come up from behind the group without them noticing! We finally reached the summit, and the kids went fervently in search of the crystal, discovering it to their delight with a scrambled message which they finally deciphered as 'AMAZING' which all tied in to their school project and their achievement today.

They all had an absolute blast of a time and it was really refreshing working with such fertile minds again! In the evening I was out in Oban with my friend Chris who is working at Sea Kayak Oban so it was great to catch up on old times!

On Tuesday it was over to Kerrera again this time with some 4th Year students from Oban High School. This time I stood back and let Dougie, one of the Stramash Trainees, take control of the group and lead the day, just inputting some information now and again. We headed south from the ferry, making our way over track and moor to Gylen Castle, which was once a fine 15th century stronghold perched precariously on top of some fascinating rock formations. We explored the coastline, set a few challenges and had a look in a cave which may have been a store house for the castles inhabitants. On our way back to the ferry we had a stone skimming competition and had a look at tree identification. Well done to Dougie who did well steering the days session and kept the kids engaged throughout.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

8th-9th June 2013 - Camping by Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail

Anna by Loch Duich as the sun sets

Our wee BBQ warming up

Anna enjoys a beer by the camp fire. Eileen Donan Castle illuminated in the distance

Our camp spot in the morning
A panorama of Loch Duich with the Five Sisters to the right

Anna heading towards Sgurr nan Spainteach (Peak of the Spaniards)

Anna descending the scambling section

Courtesy of the Gorilla Pod, Anna and I with Loch Duich

Anna contemplating the final sections of the ridge

A superb panorama with Anna just right of centre looking over Loch Duich
After guiding on the CMD yesterday and finishing around 6, I got home and quickly showered and packed some camping gear so that Anna and I could quickly get up to a lovely wee spot Anna had spied to camp on before tackling the famous Five Sisters of Kintail.
Anna bombed us up to Glen Shiel, and even though we arrived quite late, it was still very warm and perfectly light. So we got our BBQ ablaze, and then set up the tent while the coals turned white. I then built us a massive camp fire on the beach, before getting the cooking under way. We had a lovely spread and we were both absolutely stuffed by the end of it!
By this time, night had crept in, and we took a few photos before lighting the camp fire and enjoying a well earned beer, before turning in for the night.
We got up reasonably early and pottered around packing ourselves up, I felt really rough and sluggish and wondered if I would manage the day, but by 10:15am we were on our way up the steep initial slope of around 550 metres. Topping out on this gave us superb views of the surrounding landscape, and the mountains rolled on mile after mile. It was another scorcher, and we really felt the heat as we moved on at a good pace.
The Five Sisters is a group of mountains I have wanted to do for many years, and it was great to finally get there and have a bash at them in fine weather. We moved quite quickly and took a million photos, enjoying good banter. The views were amazing, and the best thing was there were very few other people around - bliss! The route is quite rocky and has one or two scrambly sections, but nothing to worry about if you are confident on such terrain. It narrows in a few sections, but again, not worryingly so. For the most part it is enjoyable walking with a few steep ascents which are well rewarded with incredible views all around. It is about 15km from start to finish so not particularly long, but the heat certainly takes its toll.
We finally reached the last peak, and made our way back down to civilization where we hitched a lift back to the car, before enjoying a well earned meal at the Cluanie Inn. A fantastic weekend full of everything I love, and the very best conditions to tick off a route thats been on the list for so long!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

8th June 2013 - CMD Arete for Yorkhill Childrens Hospital

Andy, Judi, Kirsteen and Brian with Ben Nevis in the background - stunning weather!

The North Face from high on Carn Mor Dearg

The team negotiating tricky ground on the Arete proper

The team chose this harder route to raise money for Yorkhill Kids Hospital in Glasgow

The cairn at the end of the arete. One last climb

Andy, Judi, Kirsteen and Brian successfully on the summit - well done guys!!

A photo within a photo! So much less snow up here now!

So today I was working for Seren Ventures, guiding a group of 4 along the CMD arete in some of the best weather we have had in recent months. Brian, Kirsteen, Andy & Judi were raising money for Yorkhill Childrens Hospital in Glasgow, where I have spent a bit of time myself, so it was for a very worthy cause. It was doubly special as they chose the hard way of getting to the top, avoiding the crowds and facing up to a few personal fears along the way.

We started from the upper North Face Car Park, and after a quick kit check were soon making good time along the Allt a' Mhuillin track, before taking to the rougher track leading up towards Carn Mor Dearg. I think its fair to say we were all feeling the heat - within minutes the sweat was dripping off all of us. This, in my opinion, is the worst part of the day. The slog seems endless and muscles haven't yet warmed up, but we plugged on regardless, soaking in the superb scenery and enjoying some good honest banter!

We finally reached the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, and after a spot of lunch we descended towards the fun part of the day: the Arete. The team moved really well on the rock, and we stuck to the crest for most of the way, only skirting around one or two short sections. We stopped to have an interesting chat about some of the history the area has witnessed and this gave us the chance to really soak in the grandeur, the timeless rock pillars and screes, the roaring burns and the lingering snows - physical testament to how easily glaciers could reform on the north face given the right conditions.

Finally we reached the end of the arete, and began the thigh bursting ascent to the top of the UK, reaching it in good time and making the most of the superb views all around. The guys had a bit of an explore before getting onto the summit cairn for a photo shoot, after which we made our way with the droves back down the tourist track to the Half-way Lochan, where we departed Sauchiehall Street and headed for quieter ground over the moor and, finally, back to the car.

Well done to the team who worked exceptionally hard through out the day, and faced up to the challenge bravely.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

1st June 2013 - Up the Ben for a 40th Birthday!

Today I was working for Seren Ventures, guiding Catriona and Margaret up the Tourist path on the Ben to celebrate Catrionas' 40th Birthday (next week she insists!!).

The path was not as busy as previous weekends, but still busy enough! The weather was fine until about corner 6 on the zig zags, where we entered the cloud and felt that tangible drop in temperature. However, it was once we reached the snow line at 1200m that the wind really started to make its presence felt. Not hard, but very cold. After reaching the summit (well done guys!!) we waited in line for a photo opportunity, and then took a few photos for other people before having some lunch. At this point, Margaret appeared with some balloons and a birthday cake and candles! After a rather cold rendition of happy birthday (amid some strange looks from passers by) we couldn't get the lighter to work for the candles!!! However, we attached the balloons to Catrionas bag, and began to prepare to set off when it started to snow quite heavily!

We made a quick descent in the snow which soaked through us, but as soon as we dropped beneath that cloud it warmed up and we started to dry off. There was good craic and banter all day, the girls never grumbled once and we set a good steady pace, only stopping to catch up with a few fellow guides and MRT members. Overall a great day and a great time of 7 hours - with enough energy for the girls to go smash the town up tonight!! Good effort!

At the Half Way Lochan

At the summit! Well done!

Happy birthday Catriona!

Dropping out of the cloud