Archive for April 2013

Easter in Ardgour Part 2 – Carn na Nathrach & Sgurr Dhomhnuill   17 comments

We were awake at 7am, a gentle dusting of frost tinkling down from the frozen inner to accompany our initial stirrings. It was perishingly cold but it looked like it might be quite nice outside. I poked my head out to scene of unmatched glory.

Glen Scaddle, Stob Mhic Bheathain

Early morning splendour

I was up and about in minutes, keen to get outside to savour the scene. You just can’t waste a morning like this indoors (or in-nylon). GM was slightly less enthusiastic as it was well below freezing in the tent but he was soon out in the sunshine. I spent a happy 10 minutes just shaking my head in wonder and snapping heaps of photos. The snow-capped mountains under the blue sky looked magnificent

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Beinn na h-Uamha

Sgurr Dhomhnuill & Beinn na h-Uamha

Glen Scaddle, Meall Dearg Choire nan Muc

Sunlight over Glen Scaddle

The frozen streams were starting to crack in the bright sunlight

Glen Scaddle, Gleann an Lochain Duibh

Frozen river Gleann an Lochain Duibh,

I’m not taken to musicals or singing as anyone who has had the misfortune to catch me attempting it when under the influence of alcohol but “Oh what a beautiful morning” came very close to a rendition. Fortunately for GM my need to eat and warm up with a cuppa took preference and the morning was complete with a freshly made bacon butty (made easier with the purchase of a non stick frying pan for my Trangia)

Glen Scaddle, Stob Mhic Bheathain

Breakfast time

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Beinn na h-Uamha

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill and Beinn na h-Uamha

Find me a better place to enjoy a fried breakfast and a brew – just magnificent

Glen Scaddle

A tent of two halves

We were underway just after 8am which is a pretty miraculous achievement for us. Faffing about is now the norm as we all enter middle age so an hour to get up have breakfast and get ready for a walk is pretty impressive. Our route for today was a grand circuit of Gleann na Cloiche Sgoilte, taking in the Corbetts of Sgurr Dhomhnuill and Carn na Nathrac (or Carn Anthrax to give it’s new name!)

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

7.2 miles, 4,450 feet of ascent

Now the sun was up it was relatively warm in the sunshine and pretty much perfect walking conditions. It looked a relatively short walk up to the first summit but once we left the path the going was rough over heather, tussocks and frozen bog with some short steep slopes that made for slow tiring progress. The views however were still sensational.

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Carn na Nathrach

Under way for a big day

Carn na Nathrach

Taking it all in

I wasn’t long before the previous day’s exertions took effect and my feet were in trouble again. As we hit the ridge proper I pulled over to take off my boots for some more running repairs to my feet. Pain was tempered by the amazing views and the birds eye view down the length of Glen Scaddle was particularly fine as was the massed ranks of the western highlands spread before us

Glen Scaddle

Across Glen Scaddle to the Southern Highlands

Ben Nevis, Mamores

Ben Nevis & The Mamores

Progress along the short cropped grass on the ridge was much easier and drew us quickly to the snowline. The snow was firm but the angle was easy so need for any steel-work

Carn na Nathrach

GM on Carn na Nathrach

Ardgour

GM with northern Ardgour behind

Walking along a the crest of a ridge on firm snow under a blue sky is about as good as it gets. Here, in the midst of the wild and rocky mountains of Ardgour it was near perfection.

Carn na Nathrach

GM approaching the summit of Carn na Nathrach

Carn na Nathrach

GM takes a breather

Whilst not exactly narrow, the swoops and curves of the ridge, accentuated by the snow were wonderful. There were enough little short steep sections to keep things interesting and it was almost a disappointment to reach the summit

Carn na Nathrach

Carn na Nathrach summit ridge

Carn na Nathrach

Snow work

The views from the summit were superb and we sat for a late second breakfast on the summit at around 11ish. Some light cloud had drifted in through the morning but it just added to the splendour. All around the peaks were almost too numerous to identify. Our next target, Sgurr Dhomhnuill was dominant in the foreground as were the hills towards Glenfinnan. Gulvain also caught the eye with it’s shapely curves as did Beinn Resipol in the west with the Rum and Skye Cuillin and Ben More on Mull also visible. It’s hard to tear your self away but the fresh breeze and another Corbett had us on our way

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Sgurr Dhomhnuill & Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Ben Nevis, Mamores, Carn na Nathrach

View east from Carn na Nathrach

As we headed east, we were given our first reminder that this was still winter and conditions were still not to be trifled with. There was a short steep pitch off the summit down to the easier grassy slopes, steep enough to warrant facing inwards to kick steps and whip the ice axe out for security (one heavy item needed, one pair to go). The surprising little difficulty added some excitement to what was already turning into a classic Scottish winter day

Carn na Nathrach

Descending the short steep pitch on Carn na Nathrach

The ridge west was as good as the route up and we were both enjoying the easy high level stroll across the snow

Carn na Nathrach

Looking back to the summit of Carn na Nathrach

Beinn Resipol

Looking west over Beinn Resipol

That joy was soon cut short as we now had a 350m, very steep and grassy descent down to the col. In my youth is used to run down slopes like this. 30 years on my dodgy knees have put a stop to such nonsense and I’m forced into a slow steady pace supported by walking poles. Our route of ascent, the rocky ridge of Sron Doire Nan Cabair, was looking pretty steep and intimidating but was clearly foreshortened. Having to drop down to 350m before re-ascending up to nearly 900m was not my idea of fun but the thought of gaining the summit by a wild, remote and rocky ridge that probably sees very few ascents was ample compensation

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Our ascent route to Sgurr Dhomhnuill the ridge of Sron Doire Nan Cabair

We took lunch in the col to build our spirits for the next climb (and yet more blister repairs for me). It was a wild place full of outsize erratic glacial boulders with deer trotting through at intervals, watching us with careful eyes

Gleann na Cloiche Sgiolte

The head of Gleann na Cloiche Sgiolte

The ridge was superb. The bottom section was slabs of clean dry rock that were just the right angle to walk up.

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Ascending the slabs on Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Perfect rock

As we ascended the ridge became steeper twisting and turning through small rocky outcrops that gave some interesting scrambling and still more sensational views, the view down the broad and perfect U-shape of Glen Scaddle was especially fine.

Glen Scaddle

Glen Scaddle

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

GM poses for effect

About two-thirds of the way up there was a short 5m wall that presented a slightly more tricky challenge. GM picked his way up carefully, I followed and then promptly lost my footing and fell off. Only a couple of feet but I did fall onto a snow slope and slide a few extra feet into the bargain. GM looked a little concerned but it was just a little lost pride and a wet ar5e for me. Memories of Rum from a few Easter’s back!

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Scrambling the mid section

From there we were up to the snow line and the situations, seeking out the patches of snow and turning the rocky sections, were sublime and the summit of the subsidiary peak was in sight. The sun lighting the snow clad northern corrie was majestic. We’d carried the bloody things for miles so we thought it was time to don the crampons, especially if we came to any awkward sections

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Up to the snow line

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Winter conditions

P1170714b

Perfect snow

We walked off the ridge to try and find a snow slope to the summit. This was the highlight of the whole weekend. A broad couloir with perfect crisp snow just the right angle for an easy yet exhilerating climb. The blue sky above turned that deep colour that you only see on crisp clear winter day. It was sensational and we lingered over its delights, taking pictures of each other in various poses

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Awesome snow slope

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Moment of the trip

It was almost alpine in character and the pity was it was over all too soon. For 10 minutes we were both lost in that wonder that comes from winter mountaineering in sunshine. Those 10 minutes will live in my memory for a very long time indeed

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

Alpine

Sron Doire Nan Cabair

This is what it’s all about

We emerged onto the nameless top grinning insanely at the magnificent ascent. Stick that ridge in the Lake District or Snowdonia and it would be a classic. Here in remote Ardgour we had the whole thing to ourselves in perfect conditions. Lucky? To paraphrase Gary Player, the more often I go out into the mountains the luckier I get

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Ben Nevis, Mamores

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Ben Nevis and the Mamores

Up at over 800m the snow cover was more continuous and was pretty much all snow to the base of the final climb to Sgurr Dhomhnuill. It looked pretty steep from below looking all its 888m in height. We’d been following a set of footprints (the only sign of life we saw all day and in fact all weekend).

Rois Bheinn, Rum

Rois Beinn with Rum behind

I decided to follow them up to the top but they seemed to seek out a mix of very steep ice and very deep mush. It was pretty tough going and in one or two places relatively serious, enough to make me glad I brought the crampons and axe

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Steep final climb to Sgurr Dhomhnuill

We were now over 4000 feet of ascent for the day and I was starting to feel it. I made a pretty good hash of the climb with some poor route finding decisions.

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Steep snow work on Sgurr Dhomhnuill

My frustration at not finding the same nirvana I’d found 30 minutes earlier and my tiredness made me a little grouchy for a few minutes. Once over the worst and arriving of the summit that soon dispelled and after a couple of minutes gazing at the views I was at one with the mountains again

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

GM on Sgurr Dhomhnuill summit with NW Highlands behind

Glen Scaddle, Lochaber

Glen Scaddle and the Lochaber Mountains

As expected of the highest mountain of the trip the views were fabulous. We sat for a snack and whole load more photos (we took hundreds between us that day). I remembered that I’d made a vague plan to possibly meet with James Boulter from Backpackingbongos so I checked my phone. He’d sent me a text saying he was in the next valley/hills to the north, that he was having a superb time (of course) and that he hoped to see me the next evening. I replied with our own happy thoughts and that we’d meet up tomorrow

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Glencoe

Zoom shot from Sgurr Dhomhnuill to Glencoe

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Garbh Bheinn

Garbh Bheinn from Sgurr Dhomhnuill,

Alas we’d reached that point where you need to head down. The snow from the summit led us easily down and some of the little micro-views across shadowed snow slopes were again just inspiring. I was pretty shattered but with the snow on the upper slopes and the easy angled grass slopes lower down the first part of the descent was a pleasure

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Homeward bound

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Reflections on Snow

I settled into my steady plod and GM settled into a much faster plod interspersed with waiting for me. I told him I was happy enough to saunter down on my own and that he should race on down and have a brew ready for me when I got back which to his credit he did. By the time I got back the skies were clearing again and we settled down for another glorious, sunny but cold evening in our private Scottish glen, nourished by the finest backpacking meal that a hiker could wish for, anchovy carbonara 🙂

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Beinn na h-Uamha, Gleann Mhic Phail

Beinn na h-Uamha and Gleann Mhic Phail

Glen Scaddle

Suburbs of our wild camp site

Apologies for a very photo-dominated post but such a day demands reminders of each and every classic moment. I was hard pressed to edit out all the photos so I’ve been indulgent in creating a 9 minute slideshow. I enjoyed every minute of putting it together and every 20 times I’ve watched it through since. What a day!

Easter in Ardgour Part 1 – The Walk In   16 comments

The build up to the Easter weekend wasn’t promising. We were still in the grip of late winter and the weather and forecasts were full of cold biting easterly winds, snow and freezing temperatures. Not exactly prime weather for backpacking to fulfill what has become a regular date in my yearly calendar. I travelled up to Berwick to meet up with GM and arrived in blustery snow. We toyed with idea of some ski-touring in the Cairngorms but the forecast looked better in the west and the thought of cold wintry wild camp was appealing in a masochistic sort of way.

As we drove north to Edinburgh and through the central lowlands the next day it wasn’t looking good. Leaden grey skies and snow flurries were the order of the day but as we approached Callander for breakfast, things were improving. After the usual feed we pressed on and things dramatically improved. Grey sky was replaced by blue and snow-capped mountains filled the windscreen. The ice falls on the cliffs above Glen Ogle were awesome and the drive down Glen Dochart, across Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe were stupendous. Scotland in all it’s winter glory. When we reached the Corran Ferry there was barely a cloud in the sky and excitement reached fever pitch. Well nearly 🙂

Corran Ferry, Meall Dearg Choire nan Muc

Meall Dearg Choire nan Muc from the Corran Ferry terminal

I was like a kid running about the little ferry taking photos and enjoying the views up and down the loch while GM sat quietly in the car, probably rolling his eyes I guess. With the blue water sparkling in the sunlight it was just superb. I couldn’t wait to get going

Beinn a Bheithir, Corran Ferry

Beinn a Bheithir from the Corran Ferry

All the cars and lorries turned left off the ferry to head to Strontian, we were the only car that turned right. We were soon parked up at the gravel track that leads into Glen Scaddle. Ben Nevis was watching over us across the loch as we packed.

Ben Nevis, Glen Scaddle

Ben Nevis from the end of Glen Scaddle

I’m not in any way a lightweight backpacker. I prefer to bear the weight of a half decent meal and plenty of food as I’m permanently hungry when out walking. This trip the sack weight was bolstered by a full weight down sleeping bag and extra thermals and clothing for the cold nights. Despite the fact the hills we were planning to tackle were less than 3,000 feet and the snow line had dramatically risen as we’d gone west, we figured an axe and crampons would be sensible and another few pounds were added. We crammed everything in, hoisted the packs, made the usual middle-aged groans about the weight and set off.

Glen Scaddle

GM ready for the off

The plan was a simple one and fits in with a more slack-packing style of walk. We would walk to the far end of Glen Scaddle, set up camp, do a couple of full days walking and then walk back out again.

Glen Scaddle In

6.8 miles

Glen Scaddle was just magnificent. The wind was behind us so it was perfect walking conditions, never too hot or too cold. After a mile or so we rounded a bend and  Sgurr Dhomhnuill appeared framed between the sides of the valley under a clear blue sky

Glen Scaddle, Druim Leathad nam Fias, Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Glen Scaddle, Druim Leathad nam Fias and a distant Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Even though the packs were heavy it’s easy to carry it under conditions like these. We were hoping that weather might be good out west but we had no real expectation it would be this good

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

We pushed through the Glen with a line of trees along the bank of the river all the way. Sometimes we walked on the track, sometimes on the grass by the river-side. All the way the views of the hills we would be climbing just got better and better. There wasn’t a soul around

Ben Nevis, Glen Scaddle

GM does the hard miles

One problem with crampons is that you need a pretty solid pair of boots to attach them to. I’d brought my Salomon winter boots for the job and before I set off I debated walking in trainers and carrying them. The pack was already pretty heavy and full so I figured I’d just wear them. They are great boots on snow and rock but on a dry dusty flat gravel track and with the weight on my back they were purgatory. Before We’d gone 3 miles we stopped and I took the chance for the first in a series of running repairs to protect from blisters (zinc oxide tape – the old sticky variety – over an elastoplast)

Glen Scaddle

The Sherpa massages his blistered feet

Once past the ruined cottage of Creagbheitheachain there is a choice of path. The landrover track goes a couple of hundred metres up the hillside through the plantation before returning to the riverside. There is also a path right along the riverbank and we chose this option on the assumption it might be nicer and I thought it might be easier on my feet.

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Beinn na h-Uamha

Sgurr Dhomhnuill and Beinn na h-Uamha

Glen Scaddle

Trees lining the way

Paths like this are never as easy as they look with lots of little ups and downs and some boggy bits to wend around. One thing is for sure, it was stunning. With the river for company, the regular companionship from the trees along the bank and the ever-expanding views it was a joy. Only in the final mile did the path vanish and the going become tougher but we were soon back on the main track and eating up the miles again. We passed the locked estate bothy at Tighnacomaire where a sign directed you to a shelter further up the valley

Glen Scaddle, Tighnacomaire, Carn na Nathrach

Tighnacomaire Estate Bothy, Carn na Nathrach behind

By now I was feeling pretty weary. It was only a 6 mile flat walk but with the heavy pack it was a tiring effort. The views were still magnificent. GM told me he’d read a trip report that said Glen Scaddle was “the Konkordia of Scotland”. I can’t say it gave me a Himalayan aura but it didn’t need to. It was an absolutely stunning spot, one of the best Scottish glens I’ve walked in.

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Carn na Nathrach

Konkordia!

Just before we reached the shelter I was fit to drop and we spotted a potential site across the river. GM wasn’t happy with it and we pressed on a little further and we came to a superb spot at the point where the Gleann an Lochain Duibh meets the main river.

Glen Scaddle

River Crossing

It was a superb pitch with the stream at our side, a view the length of Glen Scaddle one side and the triple Corbetts of Sgurr Dhomhnuil, Carn na Nathrach and Beinn na h-Uamha the other way

Glen Scaddle, Gleann an Lochain Duibh,

Wild camp site at on the end of Gleann an Lochain Duibh

Glen Scaddle, Meall Dearg Choire nan Muc

Glen Scaddle and Meall Dearg Choire nan Muc

We dutifully set about making the place our home and after a pathetically poor attempt to put up my tent we finally completed the scene. The place even had a small bank that was perfect for sitting on to make brews and cook tea. Perfection

Glen Scaddle

Soaking it in

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Carn na Nathrach

Sunset over Sgurr Dhomhnuill and Carn na Nathrach

The site was just fabulous and fits in the “life doesn’t get better than this” category. Whilst I will always be a bit of peak bagger at heart, the joys of sitting in the (admittedly cold) sunshine with a fresh cuppa surrounded by views like these at a wild camp with a tinkling stream are music to the soul. I don’t know how people who don’t hike and backpack survive without it. De-stress? This is the way to do it

Glen Scaddle, Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Carn na Nathrach

Home from Home

Glen Scaddle, Meall Dearg Choire nan Muc

Evening light

We were enjoying the scene so much we left it a little late to cook. A quite ludicrous amount of stir fry veg and chicken with noodles was on the menu. Lightweight? Absolutely not! Delicious and filling. You bet. Nothing can take a chainsaw to your elation of fabulous setting like opening a food bag and realising its Chop Suey Beanfeast for tea. As I say I prefer to bear the weight of a decent meal

Glen Scaddle

Feast fit for a backpacker

Glen Scaddle

Caught in the act

After a meal spent in the glorious setting we took a stroll up the valley and found a whole host of quality wild camp pitches at the next river junction. The sunset was glorious but heralded a very rapid drop in temperature. There was ice forming on the tent before it was properly dark. We retreated indoors for a pre-sleep brew of tea before turning in. Water left in bowls and pots was already frozen. It was going to be a cold night

Sgurr Dhomhnuill, Carn na Nathrach
Pink Sky
Glen Scaddle

Yes, it was VERY cold

When we took a trip into Glen Kingie a couple of years back the walk in was on a similarly sunny day (albeit much warmer). We went to bed wondering how we would spend the next sunny day and it was raining before we were asleep. What would the weather hold in store for us tomorrow after this fine start?

Garway Hill   15 comments

A few photos from a local walk a few weeks back

Garway Hill

Jones family on Garway Hill

Garway Hill, Sugar Loaf

Sugar Loaf from Garway Hill

Garway Hill is a fairly prominent little eminence in the south Herefordshire countryside.

Garway

Despite the fact I’ve lived down the road for over 10 years, I’ve never really explored it up until this year. This is mainly due to the fact that there is limited parking near the top and the lower slopes are heavily farmed and the access paths tend to be mostly muddy fields which is not my idea of happy walking.

Garway Hill, Forest of Dean

Forest of Dean from Garway Hill

Garway Hill

Garway Hill

A trip up here just after Xmas revealed a handy small car park just near to the open common land and now its a firm favourite for a short family walk.

Garway Hill

Garway Hill

Garway Hill

Approaching the final summit pitch

The paths are broad, wide and grassy and the views from the summit are excellent. A full 360 degree panorama from the Shropshire Hills to the north, Malverns to the east, Forest of Dean to the south and Black Mountains to the west. There had been a recent fall of snow but there was no trace of it save a rather pathetic and dirty snowman sitting on the Trig Pillar.

Garway Hill

Snowman

Garway Hill

North towards Shropshire

The summit is home to a large herd of semi-wild ponies and some sheep that were grazing in harmony at the far end. The kids enjoyed the stroll and I enjoyed the easy paced strolling as opposed to my more rigorous walks I’m used to.

Garway Hill

Summit

Garway Hill, Black Mountains

Black Mountains from Garway Hill

Garway Hill

Heading for home

Sometimes it’s nice just to take it easy

Posted April 22, 2013 by surfnslide in Local Walks, Walking

Tagged with , , ,

Jolly Boys (and Girls) Outing, March 2013   16 comments

It’s that time of year for the annual boys (and one honorary girl!) outing to Scotland. Our chosen home of The Suie Lodge Hotel (note ED that I got the name of the hotel right!) was booked and we were all due to gather there on the Friday night

As seems to be the case every year that the deep and even snow that had covered Scotland in full winter conditions for most of, well, the winter, had thawed the previous 2 weeks so we thought we were all going to be disappointed not to feel the crunch of snow under foot. Wrong!

I travelled up on Thursday night to meet up with GM for an extra day of fun. The mild weather that had thawed the snow appeared to have gone and it was cold and bleak when we set off early the next morning. After our regular slap up breakfast in Callander we decided some skiing in Glencoe was in order.

Glencoe Ski

Car Park Chair Lift ride at Glencoe

The whole experience can be summed in 3 words, cold, white-out, icy! Strangely there were people heading up the chairlift just as a tourist outing, quite what sort of experience they were hoping for I not sure. I think the following couple of photos sum it up more than words. Safe to say we made the best of a bad day but skiing on sheet ice in total invisibility is not really top drawer entertainment. Better than being at work though

Glencoe Ski

GM enjoys the conditions

Glencoe Ski

Picnic Lunch

We headed off to meet everyone else for the first of a couple of evenings of splendid bonhomie, looked after magnificently by our hosts at Suie Lodge. Wholesome and hearty food and few fine ales mixed well with the usual old stories, mickey-taking and catching up on news. My mate Old Grandfather Sheffield (he’s 50 you know!) is recovering from a heart attack last year that really shocked all of us but he seemed in top form and happy just to be out and about in the mountains (he wasn’t able to push on to summits just yet). We were all well chuffed he was able and keen to join us. Another regular EWO wasn’t able to make it. Originally it was thought he just had a bad case of the old “two-bob bits” but in the end it turns out he had a ruptured appendix and he was hospital having it extracted by the end of the following week. It seems that middle and old age is starting to catch up with all of us. Physically anyway, most of the conversations still betray the fact that mentally we are still pretty childish (much to the constant despair of OFS). Long may that continue I say!

Suie Lodge Hotel

Hard Man at The Suie Lodge Hotel

After the usual debates about where to go, we settled on a walk up the valley of the Ledcharrie Burn.

The Stob

10 miles, 2,600 feet of ascent

We figured that as the weather looked pretty damp and dreary there was little point heading to any of the high tops. There was an interesting looking lochan at the head of the valley and a couple of Corbetts above to tempt us if the weather improved.

How many middle aged blokes does it take to navigate along a railway line

There is a disused old railway line behind the house which gave easy access to the start of planned walk. There are a couple of missing bridges that involved some scrambling over fences and streams but better than walking down the main road or using the cars. We were treated to the bizarre sound of the stream echoing off the underside of one of the bridge arches. You could hear the stream above your head and all around you in one spot and then nothing at all a foot to the left or right. It was really quite weird

Ledcharrie Burn

Valley of the Ledcharrie Burn

From there the valley was broad and open with views to the snow patches higher up. Despite the grey and dank conditions we were all enjoying the walk and just being out in the Scottish hills and talking the usual nonsense. There were some nice small waterfalls in the Ledcharrie Burn to hold the attention and the path was well-marked and a very easy stroll.

Ledcharrie Burn, Glen Dochart

Ledcharrie Burn and Glen Dochart

Ledcharrie Burn

Ledcharrie Burn

Just before the tarn of Lochan an Eireannaich we hit the snow line and stopped for lunch (no. 1).

Ledcharrie Burn

Approaching the snow line

After we moved on it was clear that what snow there was, was rock hard even at this low altitude

Ledcharrie Burn

Into the White

As we reached the lochan we hit winter. It was completely frozen over and there was ferocious wind howling through the gap from the east (the start of the cold winter conditions that held firm throughout March).

Lochan an Eireannaich

Lochan an Eireannaich

Lochan an Eireannaich

The gangs all here

It was probably a fabulous spot with what I assumed was a huge landslide that had created a cliff known locally as the Irishman’s Leap and a huge boulder called Rob Roy’s Putting Stone.

Rob Roy's Putting Stone

GM and Rob Roy’s Putting Stone

Climbing the Corbetts of Meall an t-Seallaidh and Creag Mac Ranaich would involve walking into the teeth of the wind. Instead we walked with the wind behind us across the broad col towards the peak of The Stob or Meall na Frean.

Lochan an Eireannaich

Precarious

Lochan an Eireannaich

That way….

It was a fascinating and complex collection of small knolls and heathery slopes with extensive patches of icy snow. The weather was slowly improving, still overcast but you could start to see the tops

The Stob, Meall na Frean

The route to The Stob

We stopped for lunch (no. 2) and decided to tackle the summit of The Stob

The Stob, Meall na Frean

Lunch No 2

As we climbed the snow became more extensive and as before was rock hard. The slopes were easy angled but hard going tip-toeing across with no feet metalwork.

The Stob, Meall na Frean

Walking on Snow

The Stob, Meall na Frean

Conditions become slick

I started off on my micro-spikes and gave them their first real test and on these slopes and they are absolutely the business. Alas ED was the only member of the party with no spikes or crampons so I lent him mine and went for crampons instead. The climb to the summit was brilliant. It’s rare to encounter proper hard snow these days so seeking out the little steepenings was a delight

The Stob, Meall na Frean

Time for metalwork

The Stob,

Final climb to the summit

The summit was totally wind-blasted and you could barely stand up. The cloud had lifted from the tops so even though it was cloudy we had views. I felt as much euphoria on this summit as many others I’ve been on in clear skies. I think everyone else was also thoroughly enjoying the day which always adds to the enjoyment. There was a real sense of laughter and fun as we all bounced around the summit snapping photos and messing about.

The Stob, Meall na Frean

Learning to Fly

The Stob, Meall na Frean

Across the wild moorland

The rime on the fence-posts was also pretty impressive

The Stob, Meall na Frean

Growth

It was time to head down. One look at the map showed it was along way down the valley of the Coire nam Meann and the Luib Burn. With crampons/spikes we sought out the snow slopes and romped down. Walking downhill in these conditions is a pleasure not a pain.

Luib Burn, Coire nam Meann

Coire nam Meann

The Stob, Meall na Frean

Looking back to the summit of The Stob

The river valley was splendid although by this stage we were all feeling the effects of a long day and it was a tiring stretch. We had a happy 20 minutes playing dam building in the stream while we waited for some to catch up. From there it was a long plod down the valley and back to the hotel along the railway line. What started as a damp and grey trudge turned into a really fine day in the mountains. We were back only just before dark. To celebrate we partied long and hard until nearly 11pm before turning in for well-deserved sleep. You can read ED’s post of the days fun here

Luib Burn, Coire nam Meann

Old Father Sheffield

Luib Burn

GM relaxing after Dam building

The next morning dawned with clear blue skies and the promise of a much better day. Another round of much longer arguments about where to go ended when GM, Corbett-bagger extraordinaire, convinced us to go for Beinn an Lochain above the Rest and be Thankful via the NE ridge. It suited me as I haven’t done much in that area, and it was a high start and short day to precede a very long drive home.

Beinn an Lochain

2 miles, 1,800 feet of ascent

As we parked up the views were just stunning. Snow-capped peaks under a blue sky.

Beinn an Lochain

Beinn an Lochain

Binnein an Fhidhleir

Binnein an Fhidhleir

The summit looked, well, tricky with plenty of rock interspersed with what we knew to be iron-hard snow. I was hoping that the snow patches could be by-passed, if not conditions would be serious. It’s not a narrow ridge but it is steep

Binnein an Fhidhleir

Underway

Binnein an Fhidhleir

GM and the Hardman

We set of off up the NE ridge and it was just a magnificent day although out east there seemed to be plenty of snow-storms that would surely catch us at some point

Beinn Chorranach, Beinn Ime

Beinn Chorranach and Beinn Ime

Beinn Chorranach

ED, Beinn Chorranach behind

We stopped for a very early lunch figuring that stops might be hard to come by higher up. It was cold but the situation high on a rocky ridge was superb. This may only be a Corbett but it packs a real rocky punch and was about to hit me with a body-blow as I was soon to find out

Beinn an Lochain

Another long lunch stop

Glen Kinglas

West over Glen Kinglas

Beinn an Lochain

Watching you watching me

As we pressed on most of the group took one look at the rock tower in the photo below and called it a day. Me, GM and OFS pressed on. The path traverses diagonally upwards beneath the rocks from left to right and was covered in hard snow that needed crampons for security. Just before it hit the skyline on the right it traversed a gully full of hard-packed icy snow with a very short steep climb to exit.

Beinn an Lochain

Beinn an Lochain steep section

I took one look and realised that although technically easy a fall would have been fatal. No way you could dig in an axe to arrest a fall. I’ve done much harder and much more exposed both in the UK and the Alps but for reasons I can’t define I felt unsure and uneasy. Possibly because I’m simply out of practice, possibly I have more to lose or I’m more cautious as I have a family. Whatever the reason I decided against it. Even GM, a very experienced mountaineer and climber seemed to be treating this short section with respect so I guess it was the right thing to do although admittedly I’ve been castigating myself ever since for bottling what was a pretty easy stretch. Still the mountain will always be there.

GM carried on to the summit and traversed the ridge (which included a very steep ascent up the steep snow just to the left of the summit in the photo). I agreed to pick him up at the other end when I’d collected the car.

Beinn an Lochain

Beinn an Lochain

He is actually waving from the summit in this photo!

Beinn an Lochain

Between the snow showers

Me and OFS ambled down through a brief snowstorm and caught up the others having a leisurely 2nd lunch which we joined in – be rude not to.

Beinn an Lochain

Close up of the summit tower

The views of the mountains with the low light through the clouds was breathtaking and took away some of the disappointment of not reaching the summit

Beinn Chorranach, Beinn Ime

Beinn Chorranach and Beinn Ime

Beinn Luibhean

Beinn Luibhean

We trundled back to the car, another heavy snow shower briefly turning everything white before saying fond farewells and heading for our various homes down south. I drove to the other end of the pass, snapped a few photos under more blue sky, collected GM and reluctantly headed home. You can read ED’s version of the day here

Rest and be Thankful, Loch Restil

Rest and be Thankful and Loch Restil

Another fine weekend with the old gang. A real highlight in the year and regular fixture in the calendar that we all look forward too. The weather had not looked promising in the lead up but it turned into a classic. Long may the annual tradition continue.

A revisit to the Wild Side, Drygarn Fawr from the Elan Valley   10 comments

Oh dear, still playing catch up with the blog. Been busy with a couple of weekends away in Scotland so things have been neglected. Time to correct that

Waaaay back in late February we had a spell of pleasant weather just before the recent cold snap took hold. I’ve been introducing TJS to some of the easier mountain walks in the Brecons and Black Mountains so I thought it was time to up the ante and introduce him to wilder, more remote and taxing terrain. I’ve fell in love last year with the Cwmdeuddwr Hills  south of the Elan Valley and they fitted the bill for this trip. This time I’d approach them from the north from the end of the Caban Coch Reservoir by way of contrast

Drygarn Fawr

Despite a promising forecast it was gloomy when I got up but showing signs of brightness as we set off. By the time we reached the Elan Valley the clouds has dispersed and were treated to a glorious blue sky day. It felt almost spring-like as we set off

Waun Lydan, caban coch reservoir

Waun Lydan from the start of the walk

The first part of the route is along a wide track that leads to Rhiwnant Valley. The scenery was just magnificent under the blue skies and the Rhiwnant looked superb as it opened up to the west. We’d be heading down that way later and I was already looking forward to exploring it’s hidden corners.

Rhiwnant Valley

Trees in the lower Rhiwnant Valley

Rhiwnant Valley

TJS on the approach path

Rhiwnant Valley

Rhiwnant Valley

Our upward route took us up the very broad valley of the Nant Paradwys. I’d warned TJS of the rather wet and soggy underfoot conditions we’d be likely to experience and I’d put my heavier leather boots on to cope. The wide track soon turned into a sketchy path but it was pretty much dry all the way onto the plateau that held our summits for the day. The scenery up here is not dramatic but it is beautiful in an austere way and as I say I love it up here. There is an immense sense of openness and space that’s hard to find outside the wild moors of Scotland. I’ve not walked anywhere quite like it south of the Border and I hope TJS was enjoying it too

Nant Paradwys

TJS in the Nant Paradwys valley

carnau

TJS on Carnau summit

We stopped for a brief snack on the summit of Carnau and soaked up the atmosphere. It was beautifully still and peaceful with barely a breath of wind and not a soul in sight. Time to head across the vast emptiness that lies between Carnau and Drygarn Fawr. Navigation here in mist would be a real challenge and the last time I was up here it was a squelchy plod through the water filled grassy hollows. I’d warned TJS about this but to my surprise it was frozen and turned into a very easy and rather splendid romp across the parched grass all the way to the summit in less than an hour.

drygarn fawr, carnau

TJS on the wild land between Carnau and Drygarn Fawr

drygarn fawr

Drygarn Fawr from the east top

There was a cool breeze blowing on the top, a reminder that winter was still very much with us. Tucked away behind the huge summit beehive thingy on the eastern summit it was sheltered and warm and made for a perfect lengthy lunch stop. The views were just splendid and I was as happy as a pig in whatever with my cuppa and sandwiches. TJS is still a bit of an itchy feet hiker and hasn’t quite grasped the lazing around on a walk concept that I’ve been perfecting.

drygarn fawr

Father and Son

drygarn fawr

TJS on Drygarn Fawr summit ridge

Compelled to move we took a wander to the higher west summit top “bag the summit” as it were. We chatted briefly to a very nice couple and their dog on the summit, the only people we saw all day

Drygarn Fawr

TJS on Drygarn Fawr Summit

After lingering on the top until we were cold we pressed on, it was quite a long walk after all. After reading Mr Backpackingbongos account of a little backpack up here I was keen to check out the summit of Carreg Yr Ast where he’d spent the night. Sound choice, it was a superb spot perched over the Rhiwnant Valley and I made a promise to come back for an overnight in the spring or summer. We headed down, reluctantly as always on such a fine day to the valley below. A treat was in store with first a succession of tumbling waterfalls falling into the upper Rhiwnant Valley

P1170069

Waterfalls on the Nant Yr Ast

From there the Rhiwnant Valley is just a delight. A narrow grassy valley with a tinkling stream at it’s heart. A narrow grassy path follows it down and under the electric blue sky it was a joy. I’m a sucker for these wild valleys and their waterfalls and the promise I’d seen from earlier was more than fulfilled. I could have sat on a boulder or a grassy strip for hours and just absorbed it all. Trouble is TJS feet were still itchy

Rhiwnant Valley

Upper Rhiwnant Valley

Rhiwnant Valley

Upper Rhiwnant Valley

Rhiwnant Valley

Upper Rhiwnant Valley

As we approached the lower part of the valley we’d seen earlier in the day the low angle of the sun meant we were in the shade. Where the Nant y Carw joins is the most beautiful pool backed by a waterfall and narrow gorge. On summers day this would be an idyllic spot for a picnic with a spot of swimming and river play. I’ll be back here if summer ever makes an appearance. The photograph below really doesn’t do it justice

Nant y Carw

Waterfalls on Nant y Carw

Onwards and downwards into the broader lower valley, past the old mine workings with an ever deepening blue sky overhead.

Rhiwnant Valley

Lower Rhiwnant Valley

Just before the path rejoins the track we’d started on earlier in the day there was a patch of what looked like Scots Pine on the opposite bank. Yet another truly marvellous spot to loiter to add to the many we’d seem throughout the day

Rhiwnant Valley

TJS rests in the spring sunshine

Rhiwnant Valley

Sun on the water

It was one of those days that even with tired legs and feet it was a real disappointment to reach the car and end the walk. One of those days when you just want to keep on walking. We both felt that winter was over and this was the first walk of the spring – wrong!

Gurnos, Pen Garn Ddu

Gurnos & Pen Garn Ddu

As a side note in stupidity I use a tool called Endomondo to create GPS tracks of my walks. When I got home it turns out that walk was a little longer than I thought. 58 miles over 9 hours with an average speed of 9mph and a top speed of 84 mph. Not bad for an ageing hiker and his young son in a day. Obviously helps if you remember to turn the tracking off BEFORE you get into the car and drive home. 🙂

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