The final part of our Southern Highlands Odyssey/Opus/Trilogy
The previous days downpour continued well into the night. On the valley floor where once were fields, there were now lakes. Not a promising sign. The previous night’s discussions had centered on trip back down memory lane to all the pubs we used to frequent in the last century. Slightly worrying that we are a) that old and b) have been to enough pubs to generate hours of tedious chat. We did however also manage to cover the topic of the next days forecast from MWIS. Now MWIS are prone to sprinkling a dusting of gloom over every forecast, especially the wind. Anyone who reads the forecast regularly has the word “buffeting” imprinted in their psyche. This time the focus was on the phrase “periods of appalling to near-zero visibility”. Not a phrase you really want to hear when planning a day out in the Scottish Highlands.
The morning didn’t bode well. Dark and stormy skies with bursts of torrential rain punctuated breakfast and an excessive period of faffing about. There was some promise between the hate, prompting the usual comments of “its blueing up” from me and EWO to much derision
The plan was for a shortish day on a mountain near the road home. Ben Ledi fitted the bill. As if to put us off we drove through a horrific downpour on the drive over and after a brief respite we were hit with another burst of heavy rain while we suited and booted. When I poked my head out of the car where I’d been sensibly hiding, everyone had buggered off and started the walk. Damn, I was going to have to go walking in the rain
The weather turned a little nicer on the steep path through the trees. It was almost spring-like at times.
Black clouds all around betrayed the optimism and it was only a matter of time. A few early starters passed on the way down. “It’s mental up there!”. Terrific. It started to rain and then snow, huge flakes of wet snow.
Just before the path reaches the ridge we stopped for a bite. Eating lunch in “mental” conditions didn’t seem to be too good an idea. It was a pretty damp and grim pre-lunch, morale was low, We were near the ridge so pressed on into the gloom.
And then our luck changed. As we crested the ridge we hit the full force of the wind but the skies cleared sufficiently for some views of the Southern Highlands and the Trossachs. It was all rather fine and spirits were lifted immensely.
There were still storm clouds all around but the shafts of sunlight were a bonus we hadn’t expected. The wind was wild and snow and spindrift filled the air but I love the challenge of a proper wild winter down in the mountains. Ben Ledi is just a stroll really but load it with snow and blast it with a gale of wind and you have a proper challenge.
As we climbed the ridge we were blasted and pummelled by showers of snow but never in the cloud. It’s actually a fine ridge as well and I for one was loving it. An amazing transformation from the gloom of the soggy, snowy lunch stop.
As we crested the summit all our investments came in and the skies cleared to reveal panoramic views of storm clad mountains with wisps of blue sky all around. We all spent several minutes just aghast that during a spell of truly nasty weather we had arrived on the summit during the best, albeit short spell of weather of the day. We were truly blessed.
As Old Father Sheffield arrived on the summit me and ED grinned at each other and began playing air guitar with our ice axes. Why, you may ask. We were both reminded of a day back in the late 80’s in the Fannichs on a day not unlike this one. Both me and ED were loving the wild conditions but OFS hated it and was one well pi55ed off mountain man when he joined us on the summit. Seeing me and ED grinning wildly and playing air guitar with ice axes did nothing to improve his mood, that climbing hills in blizzards and hail-storms was not fun. He took one look, issued forth a stream of verbal insults and foul-mouthed abuse in our direction. This made us laugh even more (more Schadenfreude), so after another volley he promptly left in huff and went back to the car. Its his way. Today he merely shook his head in disbelief that two middle-aged family men should still find such things funny. He really doesn’t understand why we never grow up and probably never will. It’s a source of constant bemusement to him and ever-increasing satisfaction for us. I don’t ever want to grow up and be serious, sad day when I do
Back to the day in hand. The views were awesome, especially the curving corniced ridge that led north. Many photos were taken and we all shared the pleasure of this moment of good fortune.
It couldn’t last though. Everything started to darken and we all agreed it was time to get hell out of there before things went “mental” again. A brisk wander along the fabulous ridge before a descent down to the marvellously named Stank Glen in a ferocious and icy wind – “mental” indeed. We were even treated to a “period of appalling to near-zero visibility” in a snow-storm. I looked up after a few seconds fiddling with my gaiters and everyone had disappeared into the mist, even though they were only a few yards ahead. The descent back to the cars was uneventful, save for some very deep, wet and tiresome snow – I doubt we’d have made the ridge if we’d come up that way – and a soggy brew on a puddled boulder.
Despite the weather being largely awful another great weekend. We laughed and chatted with old friends, we skiied downhill, we skiied the mountains and we got great views from a summit. Some warm winter sunshine would have been good this wasn’t a bad substitute. 3 days in Scotland and 3 days walking is a pretty good result
More snow and more skiing. Well more rain and more skiing to be honest. Courtesy to GM for a good number of the photos, a deserving chance to see me in action again for a change, again I’m the short-ar5e in the green jacket
A grey and dreary day with the promise of deterioration does not make for an enthusiastic breakfast. Still, snow down to relatively low levels is a rarity in Scotland in these globally warmed times so best make the most of things. A bit of ski touring was called for and a combination of a new Munro for Mad Malcs and some route planning by JB picked out Meall Ghaordaidh. The fact that it’s also a new Munro for me of course had no bearing on my decision
Downside is the start in Glen Lochay is low and Meall Ghaordaidh is a pretty big bugger. The snow wasn’t down as far as the road so some spirited walking in the damp drizzle was called for to get to the snow. Problem with ski touring in Scotland is you often have to walk up hill to get to the snow. This has two main disadvantages. Firstly you have to wear ski touring boots, a combination of downhill boots and plastic mountaineering boots, which despite the marketing blurb are deeply uncomfortable to walk in. Secondly as is obvious from the photos and any degree of thought, skis are cumbersome and heavy, making for a heavy pack when combined with winter gear.
Not a an ideal start, heavy pack, sore feet, and drizzle. But here’s the thing. In the right conditions ski touring is a very fine way to gain a summit, especially when the snow is deep, heavy and soggy on a day like this
We stopped to slap on skis after 45 mins slogging up from Drumcroisk but from there progress is so much easier and swifter.
Skis take the uncertainty out of the terrain and you can set into a smooth climbing rhythm. Those heavy skis and uncomfortable boots are suddenly a bonus. It’s still bloody hard work, don’t get me wrong but you get a much better return for your efforts. I’m pretty sure in heavy wet snow there is no way we’d have got to the top. In fact we were up and down in around 5 hours.
There is a certain pleasure even on a miserable day like this in the steady progression skis give you. On foot this would have been a real grind, a grim relentless rigour of exhaustion and wet feet. My recollection of the climb was of hard work laced with good humour and enjoyment.
We had a swift lunch under a boulder, surmising quite correctly that the summit would be unpleasant. A chance to capture the grim cheerfulness and take some very suspicious selfies.
We pressed on to the summit, into the cloud and the weather turned truly nasty. It was amazingly swift how the wet and slushy snow turned to rock hard ice on the summit ridge (a warning for all as to just how swiftly conditions can change)
The summit was blasted by icy winds and spindrift, barely time to pat the cairn, recognise the tick before changing to downhill mode.
And here’s the other very obvious good reason for ski touring. Coming back down is swift and FUN! The icy summit slopes in a white-out proved interesting as did trying to ski in the snow equivalent of porridge.
Laughs and thrills were had by all as we picked a route through the snowfields, arriving at the bottom of the snowline precisely where we’d started. No better way to descend a big Scottish mountain than on skis
By now the snow of high up had turned to rain and as we de-skiied it rained with a real vengeance. I haven’t been that wet returning from a day in the mountains in some years. Actually I tell a lie, I was this wet after last years walk up Ben Venue but you get my drift.
I was soaked, my feet hurt and my shoulders ached. Was it a good day, you bet your ass it was! And Munro 215 to boot. Wins all round especially as we passed the parked cars of the other party still out on the mountains in what was now pretty much torrential rain. Schadenfreude is a wonderful thing :)
Late February/Early March brings with it our now traditional get together of a group of friends from the past 30 years. Before we all gather on the Friday night, me and a select group always head up a day early to make a day of things and providing there is some snow this normally involves a day’s skiing at Glencoe Ski “resort”
The past few years haven’t been terribly successful. We’ve had not enough snow, too much snow, white-out conditions and broken lifts. This year however, all the lifts were running, the snow was good (you could actually ski all the way back to the car park, rare at Glencoe) and the weather whilst not exactly glorious was not too bad.
Any day skiing in Scotland when you’re not in a white-out is considered a good day!
We even had some fleeting glimpses of sunshine, although there were some pretty nasty squalls of snow to make us feel more at home
So a few photos and video of a fun day out.
I’ve managed, through the marvels of SD card readers and cloud storage been able to grab a few photos from GM from this day and others in the weekend so you get the unusual privilege of seeing me in the shots. I’m the short one in the green jacket if you’re interested :)
Back to our fine hosts at Suie Lodge (via a cheeky beer at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel) to meet the gang. The weekend was off to a grand start
It caught me off guard did this day. Forecast was for sunshine and showers but I hadn’t checked the temperatures. As we drove out towards the Black Mountains all was white on the tops. I thought we’d seen the end of the snow but no – there was more.
This is another of my favourite routes, one I’ve done many times before, the most recent here. However TJS has never done this route and he was up for it. For a cold wintery day it’s ideal, high enough to get up into the snow, short enough that it’s not too far if you get a soaking.
Which is exactly what happened to my DSLR camera when it fell out of the boot of the car into a puddle when I opened it. Luckily it was in it’s case so it’s just fine although the case still has the mud marks
Narrow-ish ridges are a rarity in South Wales. Y Grib is one to be treasured. We were soon on it’s crest and heading up into the snow. It was a bitingly cold day but with that clarity of air that comes with a showery winter day.
Everything looked white up high. There was only a couple of inches of snow but it covered everything.
The cloud came down and swamped us while we were on the summit but no matter. The edges are much better viewpoints in the Black Mountains than the summits.
It was too cold linger so we rushed on heading down and looking for somewhere for lunch. We found one at the col before Mynydd Llysiau although it was a little bleak and draughty especially for TJS as I’d forgotten his hot chocolate. He took it well, probably better than I would have done had the roles been reversed
By the time we set off my fingers were numb, took me a good half hour to get the feeling back. Sometimes my quest for a brew on a winters walk should really be curtailed
The weather was really indecisive, flirting between blue skies and deep black clouds and heavy snow showers.
The walk finishes with a climb up Castell Dinas – a brutually steep one at that but a very fine viewpoint to finish off a day in the Black and White Mountains
A very fine walk this one, good to see it under some snow this time
Sometimes a day starts with a little promise other than another day spent festering in front of a variety of screens. At least those screens have vibrant colours which is more than can be said for this weekend in mid-February when grey was very much the colour. By Sunday afternoon, enough was enough so I dragged TJS from his pit and told him we were going out. It was already after lunch so a short route was required.
Hay Bluff has the distinct advantage in this regard, being relatively small in stature but with a road over a 1000 feet up it. The snow of the previous week was largely long gone although there was the faintest glimmer of brightness to encourage us from the car.
I quite like the direct climb up to the top from the car park on the northern side in a masochistic way. It’s brutally, unremittingly steep so there is challenge and enjoyment in getting to the top as briskly as possible without a pause. At my level that involves matching the unremitting steepness with my own unremitting steady pace. TJS struggles with this concept and whilst he’s leaner and generally fitter than me (he carries less fat than me for a start!) I always beat him up on these steep slopes. Tortoise always beats the hare.
After a brief pause we headed off towards the Gospel Pass and suddenly where there was once grey there was now some blue.
Turning in to quite a nice afternoon and reward for the decision to head out. Not exactly springlike but a warm feeling of smugness at least.
We pressed on and included the eponymous Lord Hereford’s Knob in our day. By the time we reached the top the grey was back again so we didn’t push our luck any further.
A brisk walk back to the car, avoiding the long road back from the Gospel Pass by stringing together a series of sheep tracks rather than tarmac
A day that promised nothing delivered something
The first signs of spring are in the air but it’s still winter on the blog
Back in February we reached a pivotal moment in the family. As you know TJS is very much the mountain man like his Mom and Dad. TJF is however less keen. On this weekend we had a breakthrough. Not the one I’d hoped for but better than nothing. Rather than trailing along behind us on a family walk all day, TJF insisted she could be left alone for the day so the rest of us could go for a proper walk. Far from being a sacrifice she was more than happy to be given her independence and spend the day playing on her iPad and heading into town with one of her friends to spend my – sorry – her money. The chances of her joining us on days out in future seem slim but as long she’s happy that’s the main thing
The forecast for the weekend was bland. Grey and overcast with a chance of sunshine. Saturday was accurate so we plumped for Sunday and the morning looked promising so we headed for the Brecons to find some winter snow to walk on. As we reached the mountains the clouds evaporated and we were treated to a spectacularly good day. The forecast often sells you short with promises of sunshine that never materialises so today was pay-back
We parked up on the northern side of the range with a plan to climb Cribyn and Pen y Fan. It’s a longish traverse to get to the base of Cribyn but the almost warm sun made it real pleasure. The views across to the Black Mountains were particularly fine.
We could see the main summits capped by snow making a fine contrast with the spring-green fields.
After the long climb up the road we emerged into warm sunshine under a deep blue sky with snow-capped mountains behind. Days just don’t get better than this especially when it comes as a surprising contrast to what was expected.
The views were just spectacular and the snow gave Cribyn and Pen y Fan an altogether more dramatic feel.
We lunched in the sunshine just below the steep climb up Cribyn. I managed to knock over my stove while brewing up forcing me to melt snow to get another. Bear Grylls – nowhere! :)
Cribyn looked majestic, standing much taller than its modest height with its winter gear on.
The climb up the north ridge is brutally steep, but today, interesting hard packed snow on the path. On days like this the sun and sky simply pull you up and the summit seems only a couple of steps away.
We exchanged smiles of good fortune and pressed on – it’s a long descent and an even longer climb back up Pen y Fan
The gullies and ridges on Pen y Fan’s crumbling north face are little visited in normal conditions but in winter they are climbers delight. There were several people snow/ice climbing. I was fondly reminiscing of my younger days when I used to climb these sorts of things. Sadly I think those days are behind me as I don’t possess either the fitness or sound knees for such madness. These days I’m content to watch and admire and take an altogether more sedate approach to my outdoor enjoyment
As always on a sunny day Pen y Fan was crowded but when the weather and views are this good the crowds just seem to fade and you don’t see them. You just see your own companions and their pleasure with a grand day. Needless to say the views were sensational.
A few minutes of care was needed on the descent of the summit rocks, hard compacted snow making for some interesting movements. We passed several people still on the way up looking very unhappy and uncomfortable. They may look and feel easy under normal conditions but underestimate these mountains in winter at your peril.
The walk down the long north ridge of Pen y Fan was simply wonderful. Blue sky, crisp air, warm sunshine and the crunch of snow underfoot is a pretty damn fine feeling.
One of those days when you just want to stay high and for the views to last forever. We wandered, stopped, paused and eked out as much time as we could before we reluctantly dropped out of the sun, into the cold shadows and back to the car.
The best day of the winter bar none. If only TJF could learn to enjoy it as the rest of us do. I live in hope
My annual ski trip to France and back to the same place as last year in Mottaret. I think we’ve found our spiritual home for our ski trips.
Some new pals this year. TBF who started skiing before I did came along for the ride. Equal measure of enjoying some time away from the day-to-day grind of mum and housewife and a love of the mountains in winter. Like me she loves the cold clear air of the high alps and the felling of warmth from a mountainous blue skies. Not entirely sure that she completely shares my passion for unsafe velocities on snow but there is hope
Also joining us was The Yorkshire Gardener. Like TBF she started skiing many years ago after spending some time in Colorado. She hasn’t been for many years but seeing as, like me, she’s approaching the half century milestone, decided to treat herself. Spending a week cooped up with me and Uncle Fester is debatable as a treat but it takes all sorts
As always we had a fabulous time. We were a little worried a few weeks before the trip. The Alps up to then had one of the worst snow seasons on record with several resorts suffering badly from a lack of snow. Even in the week before we went the slopes looked bare and rocky. Before and while we there though the weather delivered what for a skier is a perfect mix of regular snowfall intermixed with blue sky. By then end of the week there was metres of the stuff. Luckily we’d seen it coming and moved the car underground. Would have taken us a couple of hours to dig it out had we left it outdoors.
Having some new members of trip was rather nice. It was especially nice seeing TYG enjoying her first skiing for 20 odd years, it really was a special treat for her, although I’m hopeful that she’ll be able to join us on a more regular basis – she gets the croissants in the morning for a start! :)
TBF was less enthusiastic as she needed some lessons.
We hired a guide/instructor for a couple of days, the skilled and friendly Rab Macnab.
We split each day into a half day for TBF to try to get her up to Intermediate level and a half a day for me and UF. TBF found the learning a little frustrating but by the last day all the tips were starting to click and things were progressing nicely. Now that both our kids are older, again, I’m hoping she can join us on a more regular basis. Whilst she sometimes got a little down on herself, she improved markedly from the start of the week and I think she enjoyed the week – at least I hope she did
Me a UF had a day on-piste with Rab to help us improve our own technique. UF has had a few lessons over the years but I’ve had just one half day, having been pretty much self-taught. Rab was very generous in his praise after watching us ski but you could see the “but” coming in his assessment from a mile away. Let’s just say I still have a long way to go. Our second half day was off piste and Rab took us to some new little known corners and into one terrifyingly steep drop that we both bottled out of. It was a cracking afternoon though. Rab comes highly recommended and I think it’s a given that we’ll be seeking him out again next year
The rest of the week was a mix of blue sky and heavy snow but we got out every day for a full day which is the main thing.
A trip to remember for all the usual reasons but also this time for the different vibe we got from having some new people with us to share the fun. If only I go skiing every week :)