Archive for April 2016
Easter has always been backpacking time for me the past few years. Me and THO, and more recently TJS, have headed up to Scotland for a full weekend of wild camping fun and games. We’ve had some sensational weather and that had to end sooner or later.
This year for a variety of reasons of work commitments and stupid timings of Easter and School Holidays, Scotland wasn’t really an option. We had therefore hatched a plan to backpack our way through Snowdonia and pick up all the Welsh 3000’s.
After an overnight in the very fine Oakfield House B&B (and an equally fine meal in the Royal Oak Hotel) we were ready.
And then the weather intervened, well eventually. The forecast for Friday was good but for the rest of the weekend was awful, heavy rain and high winds for almost the whole time. It was due to hit overnight so we amended the plan to take full advantage of Friday with a day walk, booked into a cheap Travelodge (very lucky to find a room last minute) for Friday night and would re-assess the weather on Saturday morning.
Friday was indeed a cracker and the round of Tryfan and the Glyders seemed appropriate. THO hadn’t been up here for many years and was keen to rekindle some old memories. It was cold down by Llyn Ogwen but the conditions were clear, sunny with abundant blue skies and cloud hugging the summits ready to clear
The North ridge of Tryfan is one of the classic scrambles in the UK and I’ve climbed it many times. I never tire of its wonderful climb although I do tire of the first thousand feet straight up from the road. Still, the views were magnificent
As soon as we reached the warmth of sun it was time to bask on the rocks
Once up on the ridge the scrambling is great fun without ever being too exposed or difficult with a choice of routes. If you going to build a mountain around which to practice that art of scrambling it would be Tryfan
As you climb higher the ridge gets narrower allowing you to get a real feel of being on a a major rock peak but without any real objective dangers
The early start meant that this very popular peak wasn’t too crowded for a Bank Holiday Friday. We left the leap from Adam to Eve to the younger generation, preferring the quiet solitude and warmth of a sheltered terrace on the south peak. I could have stayed there all day and very nearly did. The clouds billowing over the Glyders ridge gave a very atmospheric feel
In my younger days, the classic North ridge was followed by the even more impressive Bristly Ridge up onto Glyder Fach. What Tryfan had taught me was that my ageing limbs are not quite as agile as they once were and I was feeling stiff and not really up to the job of another thousand feet of scrambling. We settled for the alternative of a wander to Llyn Caseg Fraith, to check it out for wild camping potential.
Its a splendid route and the views across to the rock of Tryfan’s east as it unfolded were very fine
There were indeed some fine spots to camp, albeit a little exposed, as long as you stay away from the shore of the lake which was astoundingly boggy. The view with the triple buttress of Tryfan above the foreground of the lake is a classic, made even better by the frozen snow in the water
We took a very circuitous route to take in a host of small tors and rocky points on the slopes of Glyder Fach. As every lump and bump in the Lake District is now a “Birkett’ we felt there needed to be a Welsh equivalent. After much deliberation we decided on the “Oggies”. We bagged several.
After the obligatory photo pose on the Cantilever and a scramble to the summit of Glyder Fach (much harder than I remember) we headed off around to the highest point on Glyder Fawr
Intermittent cloud and bright sunshine made it very fetching
We took the very sensible decision to go around rather then over/through the Castle of the Winds (an scramble of equal challenge and tedium I seem to recall) and along the edge of the massive cliffs of Glyder Fawr
The view down the classic glacial valley of Nant Ffrancon never fails to impress
After a brief summit snack we opted for the Y Gribin ridge as a way down. Again, I’d forgotten how steep and how loose it was and didn’t really enjoy it all that much. My painful right foot didn’t help much. We should have gone down past the Devils Kitchen and Cwm Ideal, a much better route now they’ve improved the path
Once down by the Llyn Bochlwyd (or Llyn Australia as I prefer to call it) I got my mojo back in the late evening sun. The look of the clouds told us bad weather was coming but we were glad we’d had a top notch day on one of Britain’s finest mountain circuits
And I’m afraid that was it for the weekend. We celebrated a cracking day with a fine curry in Bangor and retired to the luxury of the Travelodge on the A55.
We awoke to the expected rain and stayed in bed as long as our check out time allowed. Over breakfast in the Little Chef next door we checked the forecast which seemed to have got worse. It didn’t seem to be raining too hard so we did consider hanging around to see if it improved. As we put away various versions of greasy fried meat the heavens opened and we watched as the trees bent and the rain bounced alarmingly off the picnic tables outside. Wild camping for 2-3 days in a wind blown deluge didn’t seem very appealing so we called it quits and went home.
Still, one fine day is better than none
I like to think I’m a local expert on the Black Mountains. I’ve walked them many times over the past 14 years I’ve lived in their back yard and discovered most of their ridges valleys and paths. Occasionally I find a small section I’ve never walked before and have a hankering to tread on some new ground. So it was on this day in mid-March.
Having left TJF to fend for herself, me and the remaining Funster and Sherpa headed out for the day. Didn’t get off to a great start. TJS who is a teenager and therefore by definition, lazy and vague forgot his boots. He assumed I’d put them in for him despite the fact he’d seen me carry the boot bag out to the car and hadn’t thought to check till we were at the car park. He had to do what turned out to be a very long walk over some rather rough and at times very soggy terrain in his school shoes.
Anyway we headed up swiftly on to Bal Bach and Bal Mawr, the initial stretches of which fitted the “new ground” criteria for the day. It was a splendid day albeit a little hazy
We walked at brisk pace (to gain some distance between us and a large but friendly family group) along the most splendid ridge of Chwarel y Fan. Its one of my favourite walks in the Black Mountains
My idea had been a ambitious round of the whole Grwyne Fawr valley up to Lord Hereford’s Knob (still funny) and back. However it was clearly a very long way and we didn’t want to leave TJF on her own too long into case she slipped into an iPad or Netflix induced coma. I thought we might be able to take a shortcut across the Grwyne Fawr dam and indeed it was so. It involved crossing a seriously soggy stretch of ground to get to it
Well worth it though. A spot by the reservoir was a fine place for lunch. Sheltered and almost warm in spring-like conditions
Across the dam and off-piste across more lakes cunningly disguised as open moorland and mountains and back up to the ridge on the far side
There were still some patches of snow left over and it gave a very fetching contrast to the brown of the bogs/mountains and the blue sky
Indeed the snow patches near the summit of Pen y Gadair Fawr were nearly waist deep. I discovered this to my cost as I plunged in. I was wearing shorts for some stupid reason and it was mighty cold on my bare pasty legs
I’ve always avoided the ridge south from here over Pen Twyn Mawr. There was a huge blanket of dense coniferous forest right up to ridge that I thought would spoil the views and make for a rather boggy uninspiring walk. Now that they have cleared the forest the views are rather fine and there is a pretty good path most of the way
It was a long way though to our route back to the car. A very long way. My ageing knees and sore feet (I have Plantar Fasciitis in my right foot) were in some pain by the time I stumbled back down the path to the car.
Still it was a very grand day out and new views and ridges ticked, always a bonus
After the exertions of the previous two days skiing and in a effort to be more sociable with the rest of the party we opted for a day walk this time. A chance for me to add another missing munro on my quest to take the longest elapsed time to complete the list. Meall Glas was our target plus possibly Sgiath Chuil if we had time (or could be bothered in my case)
It was yet another stunning blue sky day as we started the climb up the track from Auchessan. Ben More, our ski mountain from yesterday looming large
A nice contrast between the brown heathery lower slopes and the snowy summits. Sgiath Chuil in the distance
On such gorgeous day with a large group, the pace is slow and stops are many. Sometimes idly chatting and stopping to admire the majesty of the surroundings is more important
We were soon above the snow line and the going was hard with the snow deep and largely soft. Who cares when the views are this good.
After another lengthy stop for food, brews and dialogue we pressed on towards the summit. There were a couple of pretty steep slopes to ascend requiring crampons and axes to be on standby but nothing too tricky
The final summit slopes suddenly felt tiring after 3 straight days in the mountains. Still, the views and the conditions always spur you on
It was pretty chilly on the top so we pressed on towards the lower top of Beinn Cheathaich with Sgiath Chuil still a target. The walk across the summit was magnificent. The snow cover was complete and the surroundings fabulous. It was these images that gave the blogs posts their title. It was a Winter Wonderland. Mountain walking just does not get better than this
We paused on the summit so everyone could catch up. Again all shaking our heads in wonder at how amazing the weather was and how lucky we’d been this weekend
On the way down towards the Lairig a Churain between Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil I suddenly felt extremely weary. I decided that very long and very steep climb of 1,000 feet back up to Sgiath Chuil was too much and along with TBF and THO decided an easy stroll back from the col was in order. We waved at the others as they set of for the summit and alas didn’t see them again as we left before they got back to the cars
There had been a gathering haze of cirrus cloud through the day (heralding the fact the weather was to break the next day). Whilst not quite as clear blue it added an even greater atmosphere as the sun began to go down. We stopped for another snack in the middle of this vast expanse of bog now completely filled with snow
It was a long walk down from the col with much deep snow and several deep gullies to cross. The low light and shadows were just breathtaking. We watched from time to time to see the progress of the others. The slope that MM had chosen looked especially steep (he confirmed later that it had him concerned from time to time
We were not back at the car till 6pm. We’d been out 8 hours and only climbed one summit and done around 6 miles. That’s what happens when you are forced to stop every few hundred yards, look at the view and share the experience with old friends. I didn’t get home till after 1am but it was worth very tired minute at work the next week. What a truly magnificent weekend. Wonder how long I’ll have to wait for the same combination of circumstances
Another day and another superb clear blue sky morning. Hopes were high that the sun would stay with us all day and deliver a classic. More Ski Mountaineering was on the cards so we ramped things up a notch and decided to tackle Ben More, the highest of the Southern Highlands at over 3,800 feet and a “serious” ski route according the guidebook.
Downside was a low start that involved a long trudge up the forestry tracks to reach the snow in Coire Chaorach. The heavy packs (carrying skis) and heavy ski boots on the feet makes for hard work but the views and awesome weather kept us going
When we finally reached the open corrie and the snow we were indeed walking – or rather – skiing in a winter wonderland. Ben More beside us and Stob Binnein ahead
Skis on and it was a sheer delight to slide effortlessly – well not effortlessly but you get the idea – over the perfect snow under a deep blue sky in blazing sunshine
The perfect winter day with many stops to take in the views across the Southern Highlands, Lochaber and the Cairngorms glinting in the distance
We reached the ridge and the views were just immense. Distant mountains and the light making waves on the sculpted frozen snow.
It was full winter conditions, hard packed frozen snow dominating. The NE ridge of Ben More has a couple of steep rocky steps, far too steep for skis so we switched to crampons. You can see one of the steps in the photo below
I found this especially tough. Steep snow in very heavy boots with an awkward and heavy sack and I was left way behind. As I trudged, wearily up the easier slopes you can imagine my “disappointment” as most of the group started off again just as I reached them rather than let me catch my breath. I was bloody furious. Luckily MM, who is a very kindly soul, waited for me to recover (and have a serious rant) and then walked with me to the point where we could put skis back on and I’d calmed down a bit. Once back on skis I realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t a day for temper tantrums and I was soon back in the groove and “at one” with the mountains again
The views were still sensational and the final slopes to this high summit were a delight
As we celebrated the summit with some of our other friends who attained the summit the old fashioned way on foot, it looked like the weather might be selling us down the river again. Clouds gathered and for a while we had some rather moody views
It was short lived though and almost as soon as the cloud appeared it seemed to vanish, We left the summit to a group camping there for the night (must have been a chilly night!) and started our ski route down
It was tricky descent, steep, with a serious drop off to the left and mix of ice and rocky slopes. A couple of the group tried to head straight down and ended up having to remove skis and climb down. Me and JC headed right and found a decent route down (scarring my skis on the bare rocks) and down to the col.
The plan had been to go over Stob Binnein as well but I announced that my climbing for the day was done and I intended to chill in the warm sunny col and top up my tan before what looked like a magnificent cruise down Coire Chaorach. Reports from other walkers seemed to indicate the slope to the summit was hard and icy making a ski ascent very difficult. GM decided to join me a more leisurely way down. In fact the others only managed to ski up a few meters before the rock hard icy slopes forced them to revert to boots and crampons and climb to the top on foot
As an aside, I’ve always referred to GM as, well, GM (Geordie Munro). ED has pointed out that he is neither a Geordie or Scottish and as this is self appointed moniker we felt he needs a new one. ED provided several suggestions but seeing as GM is now growing an appallingly daft looking beard and has a appetite for plain boring oat based biscuits then The Hairy Oatcake seems more appropriate and will remain his identity on the blog until I come up with something funnier or more annoying, or hopefully both
So, after an extended scoff of goodies me and THO headed down. The corrie wasn’t steep but it was completely plastered in snow and was a truly magnificent easy cruise down on perfect untouched snow. The earlier descent almost meant we were in the sun the whole way down.
I reset the exposure on my camera to a more average setting, hence the much brighter shots from hereon. I think I prefer the lower exposure ones from the first part of the day
You even get the added delight of some photos of yours truly looking like the hard mountain enthusiast he is
The skiing brought many shouts of delight as we cruised down without a care. One of the finest hours I’ve ever had in the Scottish mountains. Wonderful skiing, blue skies and bright sunshine
I like this photo for the rather bizarre fork-like shadow that THO seems to have created
One of the fun parts of Ski Mountaineering is picking a route as the snow starts to thin out. We had a great time weaving in and out of snow filled peat hags on ever patchier snow, desperately trying to find the last possible spot to take off the skis. Eventually you end up on slopes more grass than snow with patches only a foot or so wide in places.
All the while the views and the situation were unrivalled in recent memory
When at last we decided skiing on boggy grass would be rather foolish we reluctantly took off the skis, fixed them to the pack and set off for the long trudge back to the car. Despite the weight and the distance to go we were all beaming smiles and feeling pretty damn good. Could we finish the day off to make it even more perfect? Hell yes:
- We managed to hitch a lift all the way down the forestry track with one of the guys working on the Hydro Scheme in the valley.
- We were back early, decided on a cheeky beer before we went back to the room to change and ended up staying a couple of hours (and several beers later) chatting with a group of very friendly locals in the bar
- When everyone else was back we enjoyed a fine evening of great food, more beers and tales old and new with friends and friendships going back 30 years
That was a great day!
Our winter trip to the Southern Highlands has been a fixture now for 10 years. In that time we’ve had a few days of sunshine and a couple of days of proper winter conditions. We’ve never had both together and the weather has always been mixed although the weather has never been a complete washout.
This year, our 11th, the forecast looked promising with high pressure and cold weather following a snowy spell giving much hope for a great conditions. Drawing back the curtains on the Friday morning gave substance to that hope.
Lots of deep fresh snow equals a chance for some ski touring. I abandoned TBF to the tender mercies of the Sheffield Boys while we headed to Lochan na Larige for a high start. We had park below the reservoir as the road was blocked by snow and ice.
Spoilt for choice with the mountains plastered in snow above 500m, and after much debate we settled on Meall Nan Tarmachan.
The weather and views were just breathtaking. How often is it you’re glad you remembered sunglasses on a day out in Scotland. We ploughed our trail up towards the ridge that carries the baggers path to the summit
Alas the Scottish weather nipped at our heels as a bank of grey cloud drifted in and started to cloak the higher summits. We were even treated to the almost unheard of sight of MM struggling with tiredness (he had just flown back from a business trip to Brazil!)
By the time we reached the summit it had reached us as well so it was the briefest of stops, tinged with a little disappointment that the fine start to the day had petered out.
Luckily skiing downhill is great fun even in the cloud. This descent enlivened by my attempt to ski an extremely steep gully badly broken by deep footprints and with boots not adjusted properly. Ratio between ski and fall about 20:80! 🙂
We skied down to the track and then back up to the ridge for another descent back to the car. The fickle Scottish weather turned again and the sun came out
Not sure what I did with the camera settings but they came out rather dark and broody looking but still capture the essence of what was a cracking ski descent
The snow was a little heavy but fluffy enough for some wonderful easy turns as we picked a superb route through the crags and gullies
I seem to have lost the ability to keep a camera aligned to the horizon as I’ve got older. However this particular shot seems to be best yet. Pretty sure Loch Tay would empty rather quickly at that sort of angle. 🙂
The patches of blue and the sunlight on the mountains, backed by dark clouds was just magnificent
This shot of GM in action is my favourite from the day
The descent went on all the way down to the dam and the massive water pipe that pops out from the base
For most of us climbing under the pipe was the only time we took skis off all day. MM made a very brave effort at trying to limbo underneath without taking them off. A then made it look easy!
Blue skies, a ski munro, two cracking descents, and ski to/from the car on excellent snow with great company. Does a day get better than this? Watch this blog to find out.
The Sugar Loaf is a splendid local hill which I’ve climbed and blogged about many times. It’s ideal for a walk when time is short. In this case it was half term and TJF was in an acting workshop and we had a few hours to spare between wintry showers.
A bitingly cold wind and dark clouds made for a real wintry feel with a cap of fresh snow above 500m
We took a slightly longer route around the back of the mountain to extend the walk before pushing up to the snow-line
Patches of snow, caught in the grass and heather, very quickly gave way to full cover
The summit was extremely busy (we’d had trouble parking for the first time). I assume there were people heading out to go sledging but there wasn’t anything like enough snow
More than enough for some impressive views and the nice feeling of fresh snow underfoot for the climb to the summit and the final last rocky part of the ridge
It was startlingly cold on the top and not really a day to be hanging around. We again took a more circuitous route down to enjoy the conditions. We’d been very lucky that our 3 hour walk coincided with an spell of abundant sunshine and no showers
The northern slopes were sheltered and there had been a decent accumulation of snow. Gave this diminutive mountain a very Scottish feel for a few hundred feet
Despite the chill the snow was melting, visibly quickly. As we traversed back across towards the car most of the snow we’d seen in the morning had already gone. The sledgers looked very disappointed
A fine way to blow away the cobwebs on a cold February day