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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.

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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!

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