Archive for the ‘Western Highlands’ Category

Easter in Ardgour Part 3 – Sgurr a’ Chaorainn & Beinn na h-Uamha   16 comments

Another very cold night but in the morning the skies were more hazy, a thin veneer of cirrus cloud giving the day a less bold and bright feel. It was almost disappointing after the glory of the previous day but we had to tell ourselves that by Scottish standards it was still a cracker. It was dry and the tops were clear and the sun was still out. Time for another day on these fine and rocky mountains

Glen Scaddle

Breakfast

Sgurr a Chaorainn, Beinn na h-Uamha, Gleann Mhic Phail

Gleann Mhic Phail, Sgurr a Chaorainn & Beinn na h-Uamha

After another fine fry-up it was time for the off. Our route for today were the twin summits of Sgurr a’ Chaorainn and Beinn na-h-Uamha, the latter the high point, just, and the Corbett that GM was after.

Beinn na h-Uamha

7.1 Miles, 2,850 feet of ascent

The start was a long trudge up the valley of Gleann Mhic Phail. There was a pretty good stalkers path and we made good time to the first of the rocky gorges that characterise the glen and where the path abruptly stops.

Sgurr a Chaorainn, Beinn na h-Uamha, Gleann Mhic Phail

Gleann Mhic Phail

Another short spell of foot repair and we decided that the left bank was a better option, crossing while we could and avoiding the spots higher up where the slopes directly above the gorge became steep

Gleann Mhic Phail

GM in Gleann Mhic Phail

Gleann Mhic Phail

Ice

Gleann Mhic Phail

Gleann Mhic Phail

It was tough going with peat hags and small side streams to traverse and everything watery (which as we know is everything in the highlands) frozen solid. As the heather changed to grass the going became easier and we traversed upwards to try and reach the west ridge of Sgurr a’ Chaorainn.

Beinn Resipol

Beinn Resipol

We stopped partway up for lunch figuring it would be windy on the ridge. It was a cold rocky spot so I pulled out my trusty sit mat, or I would have done if I hadn’t left it on a rock where we’d sat by the gorge earlier. Being a middle aged forgetful (and clumsy) git can be a real pain sometimes. We pressed on up the steep slopes to the ridge, picking out the scrambling sections at will.

Sgurr a Chaorainn

Rock Athlete

When we hit the ridge we were in the lee of the summit and it was calm. We were surprised to be already at the snowline and very close to the summit so another stop was in order. I checked my messages and received one from James saying he’d found an awesome high level camp site and wouldn’t be joining us in the evening as planned. Having seen his photos it was a good call as he had a tremendous spot. Kind of thing I should be doing really, a bit more than this slack-packing I seem to drift into.

Sgurr a Chaorainn

Sgurr a Chaorainn

The snow slopes were still hard packed and made for more great winter snow walking to the easy summit. As with the day before most was easy angled with no difficulties but it was great just seeking out the little climbs and interesting micro-situations

Sgurr a Chaorainn

Snow Fun

Sgurr a Chaorainn, Glencoe

Glencoe from Sgurr a Chaorainn

Sgurr a Chaorainn

Steep Snow

The views from the top were again sensational. We didn’t linger as were back in the cold wind and we’d already had our stops for lunch. The route onwards was down easy snow slopes and interesting rocky outcrops.

Sgurr a Chaorainn, Beinn na h-Uamha, Gleann Mhic Phail

GM Descending, Sgurr a Chaorainn

Sgurr a Chaorainn, Beinn na h-Uamha, Gleann Mhic Phail

Beinn na h-Uamha from Sgurr a Chaorainn

There were even some moderately steep slopes to attempt some ice braking practice!

Sgurr a Chaorainn

Ice Axe Practice 1

The route to Beinn na h-Uamha was over a mix of steep little rocky outcrops and snow slopes. There was no need for crampons but I stuck them on and sought out what steep slopes I could – great fun and pretty much kept on snow all the way to the summit. Cresting the final rise it was a surprise to find a distinctive little summit outcrop.

Beinn na h-Uamha

GM on Beinn na h-Uamha summit

More spectacular views were in order on this marvellous peak. As per the previous couple of days and despite the quality of the mountains and cracking weather we hadn’t seen a soul.

Ben Nevis, Mamores, Beinn na h-Uamha

Ben Nevis & Mamores from Beinn na h-Uamha

Beinn na h-Uamha

The final slopes

On the way down I had some more (impromptu) ice axe practice 🙂

Beinn na h-Uamha

Ice Axe Practice 2

The snow slopes on Sgurr Dhomhnuill really caught the eye with their distinctive pattern

Sgurr Dhomhnuill

X Marks the Spot

Beinn na h-Uamha

Thirsty Work

As we headed down the northern cliffs of the mountain came into view. They are hidden from Glen Scaddle and were surprisingly rocky and holding plenty of snow. There were lots of intriguing ascent lines up the snow-filled gullies. Another day

Beinn na h-Uamha

North Cliffs of Beinn na h-Uamha

GM left me to my own pace again to sprint down and get my post walk brew ready

Glen Scaddle

Hopalong…

With the thin cloud still in place we were treated to some cracking light shows from the sun, playing light onto the mountains, river and the tent

Glen Scaddle

Evening Sun

Glen Scaddle

Glow on the Tent

Sgurr a Chaorainn, Beinn na h-Uamha, Gleann Mhic Phail

Sgurr a Chaorainn, Beinn na h-Uamha and Gleann Mhic Phail

As befits two grown men who should know better we messed about chucking stones about and taking childish pictures before a hearty chilli for tea (extra bag of chilli needed next time)

Glen Scaddle

Childs Play

Glen Scaddle

Attention Seekiung

Post-chilli the light was just spectacular as the temperature started to plummet again.

Glen Scaddle

Evening Glow

Time for the real business of the evening. Plenty of dead wood about so we managed to get a decent fire going. Primarily this was to burn the rubbish down to a more manageable size and weight to carry out but such was the fuel supply we got a decent blaze going for a couple of hours

Glen Scaddle

Playing with Fire

Glen Scaddle

Elemental

Sitting around on the banks of the river with a brew watching the setting sun play with the surroundings and tending to the fire was perfection

Glen Scaddle

Fading Light

Sgurr a Chaorainn, Beinn na h-Uamha, Gleann Mhic Phail

Sgurr a Chaorainn, Beinn na h-Uamha and Gleann Mhic Phail

What is it with blokes and fire? Must be some kind of elemental hunter/gatherer/provider thing. Whatever it is, all my mates love messing with fires and out here it gives a real sense of the wilderness. Everything was tinder dry so we were cautious, using the bare stone and gravel of the river bed as a base and putting out the embers with water before we retired. With a proper wood fire we completely incinerated the rubbish, absolutely nothing left but ash which we buried

Glen Scaddle

It’s a bloke thing….

Glen Scaddle

…and just to prove it!

Like the previous couple of nights as darkness fell the frost started to form on the tents and we were forced into tent and bag. The pink sky bid us goodnight as we turned in

Glen Scaddle

Pink Sky

Another stupendous day on these magnificent mountains.

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

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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?

Homeward Bound – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 4   10 comments

It was time to head home after a cracking few days. We had an idea on the previous evening to set off early and climb some hills but we stayed in character and got up late. After packing up we intended to walk back along the track to Kinloch. GM suggested heading back over the Bealach Bairc Mheall but I wasn’t convinced about hauling the pack over the wild ground. However the weather looked to be improving so pretty much on a whim we changed direction and started heading up into Glen Harris towards Atlantic Corrie.

Return to Kinloch via Coire Dubh, 8 miles, 2,000 feet of ascent

It was a master-stroke of an idea. The going while a little squelchy was pretty easy with numerous sheep and deer tracks to follow.

P1090255

Glen Harris

P1090262

Trollaval

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Barkeval

Normally when hiking with GM all I get to see is him disappearing into the distance while I tag along at the back. Today the roles were reversed and I managed to get a burst of energy from god knows where and set a blistering pace, granola power perhaps. More likely it was the joy of the wild, dark and brooding corrie that lifted me. Atlantic Corrie is quite magnificent with Trollaval rising to the south, Barkeval to the north, summits still shrouded in cloud but with a hint of possibility of clearing to drive me on.

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Atlantic Corrie, Hallival, Askival

GM finally overtook me when I left one of my poles behind and had to go back for it. As we hit the bealach we were greeted with a sunny view across north Rum towards the Isle of Skye.

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Harris Bay

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Skye from the Bealach

We both grinned our satisfaction to the Sky(e) having made it to the Col in less than 2 hours. We now had plenty of time to climb one of summits and went for Barkeval as it would give us a view over Harris Bay if it cleared. We dumped the sacks and headed up. Always amazing the spring in your step you get when dropping a backpack to climb a summit. Almost feels like you could run up and we made short work to the top. We hung around in the mist waiting for it to clear. Just when we’d given up we were treated to a few glimpses of sunny coast and islands before it closed in again.

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GM on Barkeval summit

Satisfied with that we started to head down – we had a ferry to catch. As we descended the summit cleared properly and the views were breathtaking.

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Harris Bay

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Hallival, Askival

Shafts of sunlight lighting up some of dark summits of the ridge, framing the Isle of Muck, and clear sunny views across to Skye, Canna, the mainland and the Outer Hebrides. Again we felt extremely lucky that in such an unsettled spell of weather we’d been treated to such classic coastal views. Rum was laid out beneath us and a mighty fine island it is. The lower northern hills and bays need a visit and the shapely little peak of Fionchra caught the eye. We toyed with the idea of running up Hallival but thought we might be pushing our luck with the time. Instead we settled for a short descent into Coire Dubh for extended lunch stop in the sunshine.

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Skye and Loch Scresort

As we ate we watched the ferry on its first visit of the day before heading off to Canna and back to pick us up. With blue sky and sunshine lighting up the small isles it was just a fantastic way to be ending the trip. Coire Dubh itself is pretty special with an alpine style meadow just below the ridge.

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Coire Dubh

It’s very wet and boggy but if you could find a place to throw a tent up it would be an epic site to spend the night. The walk along the stream and down into the forest back to Kinloch was just a pleasure and despite my soggy feet I enjoyed every step.

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GM on the walk home

As we walked down it became clear that the mountains of Knoydart back on the mainland had a cap of snow which seemed surprising as it didn’t seem especially cold.

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Across to distant Knoydart

In fact as I waited for GM to catch up at Kinloch, I sat on the picnic table by the castle in shirtsleeves and sunhat such was the warmth. Reluctantly we headed off to catch the ferry in bright sunshine and it looked like we would escape from Rum without the need for a helicopter.

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Kinloch Castle

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Loch Scresort

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Waiting for my ship to come in

The ferry journey itself was pretty amazing with some stunning views back to Rum and across to Eigg that was hiding under a massive black cloud and the boat was drenched as it passed though the shower en-route to pick up the day-trippers on the island.

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Askival and Hallival

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Eigg

The views of An Sgurr as we headed on the final leg back to Mallaig were as good as I remembered from the last trip and as we steamed into port the views back to Rum, itself now thunderously dark were just magnificent.

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An Sgurr, Eigg

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Eigg and Rum

After an adventure like this the only fitting finale was fish and chips from the station chippy eaten on the wall of the car park overlooking the small isles we’d just come rom.

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Fish and Chips with a view

I’m not sure if it was the quality of the food, the view, or the fact I’d been living on dried food and pigeon loft scrapings for 3 days, but they were best fish and chips I’ve eaten in many a year. The perfect end to another Easter adventure.

The Unfogettable Fire – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 3   10 comments

A brief little postette. On our final evening we decided to head down to the goat latrine that is the small square path of grass down by the beach and have ourselves a little bonfire.

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Playing with fire

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View south from the beach

We thought about moving the tent down here but as our stuff was dry and we are a couple of lazy gits we decided not to bother. There was already a fire pit with a collection of wood plus a lifetimes supply on the beach so with a judicious input of firelighters and meths we soon had a roaring blaze going.

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"Needs more wood"

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Can you feel the warmth?

Must be encoded in our DNA strands but I’m yet to meet a bloke who doesn’t love playing with fire in one form or another be it a beach fire, a BBQ or in EDs case setting fire to someone’s newspaper while they are still reading it!

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Dying embers

No better way to finish off the day than messing about on the beach picking up driftwood and then sitting in front of the fire while it burns down and watching the stars appear. I was as happy as a pig (or goat more appropriately) in muck and was even able to dry out my socks and boots a bit so they were ready for a fresh supply of water the next day.

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Warm dry feet for the first time in 2 days

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This is real living

Wood doesn’t burn for long so once we’d burnt of what we’d collected and completely incinerated our rubbish we headed back up to the tent for the usual late warming brew to prepare for the walk out the next day.

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Sunset over the mausoleum

Lovely final evening at Harris Bay celebrated with a little video of the event – I’ve edited out my attempt to sing for the sake of everyone who appreciates good music

Posted April 29, 2012 by surfnslide in Backpacking, Scotland, Walking, Western Highlands

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Coastal Plonking – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 2   12 comments

After the excitement of the previous day the weather took pity on us and gave us a grey and dreary day so we could have a lie in. After the usual routine of breakfast (I’m still struggling with the best backpacking breakfast – I hate muesli and now I’ve decided I hate granola as well) and a couple of brews eventually the inevitable calls of nature force you out of the tent.

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Looking west

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I know these as zawns (Cornish)

It wasn’t half bad so we went for a pre-lunch stroll along the coast to the north, taking in the Bullough family Mausoleum. It really is a very odd thing to find in a such a remote site but it’s quite atmospheric in a macabre sort of way.

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Down among the dead men, women and children

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Things you don't expect to find

The cliffs are superb but I was surprised not to see any nesting seabirds. Rum does have a large colony of Manx Shearwaters but they nest up on the slopes of Askival and Hallaval on the main ridge. As we walked the views opened out and we kept climbing enjoying vistas up the coast and back across Harris Bay.

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Looking north

We thought we’d head up to find the little Loch Monica but it proved elusive until we realised we hadn’t climbed anything like as high ad we’d thought. We eventually found it nestling under some nice little crags and took a stroll along their edge before we decided to head down as the rain returned. We had at one time thought we could take a walk over Orval and down over Bloodstone Hill to camp near the bothy at Guirdil but as the weather was so unsettled and we had lovely pitch (with dry stuff in it!) we decided to stay put, but it would be a cracking stroll even if you just walked the coast as the terrain didn’t look too punishing.

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Loch Monica

It proved to be the start of the worst spell of the weather of the weekend as it tipped it down for 4-5 hours so we had lunch and a little afternoon snooze.

Around 5ish the weather changed dramatically and the sun came out while the mountains were still swathed in streaming clouds.

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The weather improves

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Our home from home

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Barkeval

We took in a long stroll in the other direction just enjoying the superb clear views and clambering around on the coastal rocks and multiple small headlands. This is an activity we’ve come to perfect over the years and termed “coastal plonking”. It normally involves scrambling very close to the water’s edge until someone gets wet (or in my case until someone steps on a rock that wasn’t there and falls on his hand resulting in a trip to casualty to have his hand stitched up but that’s another story)

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Looking south

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Ruinsival and the cliffs to the south

The light was just superb and I reeled off huge numbers of photos but it’s hard to catch the mood. In essence we were on a remote Scottish island with the whole bay (in fact what felt like the whole island) to ourselves.

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Down by the waters edge

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Harris Bay, Canna in the distance

Amazing how life’s little problems just melt away when you find yourself at one with the hills and you get a real perspective. I’ve been pretty busy at work the last couple of months and I often find it hard to leave it behind and unwind at home. Here it suddenly occurred to me I hadn’t thought about work since I landed in Glasgow. This is proper relaxation. One of my work colleagues is also a keen walker and he mentioned that he often “communes with the mountains” when he needs to think. I think we can all empathise with that view

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Barkeval and the Abhainn Rangail

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GM does the chores

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Moody mountains

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Ruinsival from the tent door

Time for tea (chilli and rice if you’re interested) before we decided we needed to light a fire on the beach which I’d been looking forward to all weekend. That’s for another post to come so for now here’s a little video slide show of the day’s coastal wanderings.

Unfinished Business – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 1   19 comments

So why “Unfinished Business”? Before I dive into the post let me tell you a little story from a previous visit to this island.

Back in 2008 me and GM took an impromptu trip to Scotland one October. After messing about on Bidean in Glencoe for a day and stroll to Peanmenach bothy on the coast of Moidart, we decided on a few days in Rum to capture the main ridge. We had a great walk around the coast to Dibidil bothy (a storming spot) and set out for the ridge the next day. A few hundred feet short of the summit of Askival on it’s scrambly south ridge, GM decided a hand-jam was in order. A sizeable chunk of Askival came loose and sliced open his hand in an expansive manner and re-arranged several of the bones. The rock bounced down, missing my head by a foot or so and GM and fell on me, nearly taking us both off. With calm understatement GM told me he thought he’d bust his hand. Remarkably we managed to get back down to the bothy with relative ease, pack up, walk most of the way back to Kinloch before getting a handy lift from a brand new Coastguard helicopter. So ended, abruptly our first visit to Rum with none of the peaks of the main ridge climbed. So Rum was classified as unfinished business. Now it was time to go back….

(My original photoset on Flickr is here)

We were originally planning to go Jura with several of the boys, but all of them apart from me and GM cried off with some poor excuses. We decided to keep Jura ready for next year and return to Rum. I decided to fly up from Bristol (not much more expensive than driving) with GM picking me up at Glasgow and taking us up to Suie Lodge for a brief overnight stop. The weather the next day was cold, wet and windy and we almost bailed out but thought we may as well go for it. Almost all the heavy snow that fell couple of days previously had gone, killing the debate about whether we should have taken axe and crampons. We reached Mallaig in the rain (made packing at the car a nightmare), bought the tickets and waited for the ferry.

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Small Isles Ferry

The rain stopped and things looked a little less grim, although the cloud was still down to a few hundred feet above sea level. Surprisingly there was a dogfish swimming quite nonchalantly about in the harbour which was quite something.

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Dogfish in Mallaig Harbour

There were several people waiting for the ferry although most had enough stuff to set up a small settlement so we assumed they were hostel bound

The ferry journey even on a day as grey as this was still enjoyable and I passed the time looking for dolphins without success. The views across to Eigg were still great although Rum was barely visible under a heavy blanket of cloud.

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Eigg

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Loch Scresort and Kinloch

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Jumping ship

Walk in, 7.7 miles, 1,200 feet of ascent

On reaching Loch Scresort we left the hostellers behind and started the long walk in to Harris on the far side of the island, chosen for its ideal start point for a circuit of the main ridge.

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Struggling with the weight of flapjacks

Despite the dreary low cloud the walk was still enjoyable with a sense of adventure in heading off to a remote corner of an equally remote island. It’s easy-going along a wide 4WD track and we made good time. As we passed a few highland cattle and deer Harris came into view and it became clear this was a special spot. The cloud lifted to an encouraging degree and we could see the full sweep of bay from the mausoleum to the cliffs and the large raised beach clearly visible.

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Harris

We set about finding a decent campsite for the weekend. Pete over at Writesofway had told me of spot by the beach with a fire-pit and plenty of wood to burn but we noticed another couple had pitched up just across the river so we thought it a little impolite to intrude on their privacy. We eventually decided on one of the smaller enclosures up near the raised beach which didn’t have the beach fire potential but did have better views. It was a pretty cracking spot, with the sea in front and the mountains behind and a real sense of wilderness. I loved it, nothing is better than getting your tent set up in a wild location and then just soak up the atmosphere with brew.

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Our pitch amongst the stones

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GM, raised beach and Ruinsival

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Looking south along the coast

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GM enjoys a brew

We spent the rest of the evening pottering on the beach and collecting water and various bits of driftwood to sit on and provide improvised laminate flooring in the tent porch. We dined on stir-fry and noodles and watched as the skies cleared, the stars came out and the main ridge slowly revealed itself. It was magical, if a little chilly and the late evening light was truly magnificent.

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Yours truly admiring the sunset

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Sunset

Life seems pretty simple at such times as you settle down to simple pleasures, a hot brew, a homemade flapjack and a view not many people get to see. We kept our fingers crossed the weather forecast for the next day might be wrong.

Main Ridge, 7.4 miles, 3,250 feet of ascent

It wasn’t. The next morning we woke to dull leaden skies and despite the sense that it was only going to get worse we decided to give the ridge a try.

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Enjoy the view while you can

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Calm before the storm

It started drizzling within an hour and the climb up to Ruinsival was a little unrewarding. Once on the top my mood improved as we crossed the strangely eroded gabbro rocks on the summit, almost like a gabbro pavement.

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Ruinsival summit

We were in the cloud but it wasn’t too cold and things could be worse so we pressed on, exploring the cliff edges of Leac a Chasteil as we went.

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Standing on the edge

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Don't do it

Only as we hit the nameless summit at 759m did the weather suddenly turn wetter, windier and colder. Onwards to Ainshval you get a first taste of the real flavour as the ridge suddenly narrows and changes to basalt which was astonishingly slippery and pretty un-nerving. We managed to get down an onto Ainshval without any incident.

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Ainshval, cold wet and windy

Then the fun really started. We tried to follow the ridge down towards Trollaval but lost the route. We ended up on some of the scariest terrain I’ve been on for many a year, a series of small ledges of slippery basalt that just seemed willing us to a nasty fall. We slithered and picked our way slowly down, GM calmly, me in an increasingly agitated state. As we descended we were acutely aware of the risk of not being able to continue down or return the way we had come. You often read in guide-books “no place be in bad weather and poor visibility” and treat it glibly. However Rum has mountains that are not to be trifled with and all the way down I kept thinking “not again”.

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Forced smile

As we neared what we hoped was the bottom of the worst I slipped and nearly came off a very short down-climb, I’d have done myself a nasty if I had fallen. Fortunately my bone-head saved me from slipping as I jammed it into the rock as a makeshift point of contact and after recovering what was left of my composure and checking to see if I needed a change of underwear we seemed clear of the difficulties and the col was in sight below us.

I’d had enough. I was wet, cold and my nerves were shredded so I wanted to head down. GM decided to plough on alone. I didn’t say it at the time but I really didn’t want him to carry on. He’s an extremely experienced mountaineer and climber so the ridge was well within his compass but the previous hour and the last visit to Rum was messing with my head. He headed off to Trollaval and I started the long and lonely trudge back to camp in the drizzle. I stopped at Loch Fiachanis and there were some wafts of blue sky which cheered me up a bit. Short-lived though and the rain was soon back. I was relieved to get back to the tent, get changed and warm up with several brews. GM showed up a couple of hours later and I was mightily pleased he’d managed to do the main summits (and mightily relieved he’d done it without incident). The rain was pretty much set in for the day so after a well-earned meal of anchovy carbonara we settled in for a wet and windy night. Second attempt at the main ridge, second epic, albeit with a happier outcome. As I said, Rum is not to be trifled with.

Enjoy the slideshow, a little longer than normal but I thought the music seemed to fit. Sorry for the lack of photos of the ridge. Not really a day for the camera in more ways than one. More Rum adventures to follow

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