Saturday, 17 October 2015

Beinn Mheadhoin and Loch Avon

The first few days of my trip north had been characterised by low cloud and drizzle, the peak of Cairn Gorm lost is a blanket of grey cloud and drizzle. I had passed the time with a good ride through the woods of Rothiemurchus and and run between Loch Ericht and Loch Laggan via the remote Loch Pattack my bike making short work of the landcover tracks now carved deep into the hills. 

Today was different, the forecast wasnfor a high pressure system to settle over the northern Cairngorms giving blue skies and an excellent opportunity for a long walk into one of the more remote Munros Beinn Mheadhoin situated south of Loch Avon in the heart of the Cairngorms.

A winter view of Beinn Mheadhoin (left) and Carn Etchachan (centre) taken from the top of Coire nan Lochan

The hill with its distinctive granite tors is easily visible from the top of the Northern Coire but is well guarded from casual suitors by the deep trough containing Loch Avon which to my knowledge must have a good claim as being the most remote large body of water in the UK.

The air was cold and crisp as I left the ski centre carpark but as the sun continued to rise its rays soon provided a warming glow as a worked my way through the clutter that is Coire Cas in summer as various bits of heavy plant dig and scrape their way about the hill in preparation for the coming ski season. Snow cannons sit forlornly beside a maze of picket fences and lifts incongruous agains the heather.

Looking down the gentle slopes of Coire Raibeirt towards Beinn Mheadhoin its tors clearly visible against the skyline.

Having joined the path up to point 1141 on the shoulder of Cairn Gorm I join a faint path which drops down the gentle slopes of Coire Raibeirt picking up a small stream as it goes. Beinn Mheadhoin dominates the view whilst  Loch Avon remains hidden in a deep trough ahead only becoming visible at the last minute as the path drops very steeply downwards out of the hanging core towards the water. Strenuous efforts have been made to build stairs down for much of the route but they are steep and eventually end up in the stream bed, no doubt a nightmare if verbalised in winter!

Towards the bottom I cross the stream and pick up a rough path which leads after much bolder hopping to the head on Loch Avon, its a wild place steep hills and crags on all side with just the narrow opening to the north west containing the loch itself. The Feith Buidhe cascades down from high on the slopes go Ben Macdui and is crossed on stepping stones where it enters the Loch.

I make a short detour to visit the Shelter Stone one of hundreds of huge boulders that have fallen off the encircling crags and now lies across its neighbours creating a sheltered bivvy cave famous in cairngorm mountaineering history. The shelter is one of many dotted throughout the bolder field no doubt welcome places to rest for those who brave these parts in the depths of winter. 

Loch Avon with the slope of Cairn Gorm behind.

 Loch Etchachan

A path climbs steeply to the col between Carn Etchachan and Beinn Mheadhoin, nestled just beyond it is Loch Etchachan the highest large body of water in the UK at over 900m above sea level it looks a lovely place to camp in good weather surrounded by such awesome scenery. Just before the outflow of the loch I turn up the hillside to the northwest and climb steeply onto the summit plateau of Beinn Mheadhoin. The plateau is flat stony with very little vegetation, testament to the difficult year round conditions plant life faces clinging to the poor soil. 

The expanse is dominated by a series of high granite tors the largest and highest of which proves to be the summit and to me almost justifies inclusion alongside the Inn Pin as a Munro needing some climbing skills (but not ropes), certainly there are a couple of moves which would not be out of place on a v. diff

The three summit tors, the highest point being the central tor.

The view from the top is quite spectacular, for 360 degrees hills stretch out around you, its a place to stop and savour the view before heading for home. I spend about half an hour planing about with my camera taking bracketed exposures to try and compensate for the contract in light conditions, all I need to do know is learn how to combine them in photoshop as as yet the results are not ready. Leaving the summit I retrace my steps, its a tough climb back onto the Cairn Gorm plateau but this and the various building works passes as I depend back towards the car park can detract from a great day in the hills.

The view from just shy of the summit back to Loch Etchachan and Loch Avon, the count back to cairn Gorm is the steep gully about a third of the way in from the left.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Ribblehead in Winter

Yorkshire - World class riding on my doorstep

Hopefully the success of the Grand Depart last year and this weekends Tour de Yorkshire have begun to put this great county on the cycling map. Although I will always love the challenge of the great alpine passes, Yorkshire can still deliver stunning rides, leg destroying climbs, in an incredible landscape.

Below are some photos from recent rides.

 Rolling down Kingsdale 

 Dropping in to Dentdale, very steep with inconveniently placed gates!

 The cobbles of Dent

One of the many viaducts on the Settle - Carlisle line

 Pen Y Ghent

 Fleet Moss, the highest road in Yorkshire

 A mountain bike decent towards Ribblehead

Fewston and Swinsty Reservoirs (secret spy base in the background!)

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Stob Ghabhar via the Upper Couloir

Stob Ghabhar and Stob a Choire Odhair are two Munros that form part of the Black Mount west of Rannoach Moor and overlooking Loch Tulla. Climbing Stob Ghabar in winter is made a little bit more interesting two easy couloirs imaginatively (in what must have been a burst of creativity) given the titles "upper" and "lower" with give access to the summit from the north.

The Lower Couloir leaves from just above a small lochain perched high up at the head of the Allt Cchoire Dhearbhadh itself a long slog across the high plateau west of the West Highland Way as it crosses Rannoach Moor.

Looking for some climbing on a dull overcast day we decided to approach from the south parking near Inveroran and walking up the old starkers track that runs up to Corie Toaig and the col between the two Munros. From here its a short traverse round to the lotion and the climbing.

 Overcast skies above Loch Tulla

Corie Toaig

A good track leads most of the way to the col, we cross the snow line at about 500m and are soon enveloped in thick fog which obliterates the horizon and leaves us struggling for reference points as snow and sky blur in to one. The disorientation in these conditions especially on relatively open ground makes route finding difficult and both Dom and I have to work hard to make sure we hit the col at the right point as I display an alarming tendency to let the terrain pull me to far to the east.

From the col there is no sign of the Lochain just a mass of white which we descend into on a baring; pacing out the distance we take great care conscious of the fact that the lochain is probably frozen with a covering of snow - not a good place to blunder out on to!  Finally in the matt light which surrounds us a hint of blue looks to reflect off the snow to our right giving away the position of the water, its barley noticeable in the fog. 

 Where is this couloir?
 Maybe this?

Finding the Lochain was only the start of the difficulties, with viability so poor there is no sign of the couloir or even any real rock bands above us. The 1:25:000 OS map indicates a spur of rock running down to the edge of the water which forms the right hand edge of the funnel of the Lower Couloir, contouring a safe distance from the edge  we traverse round until this band of rock emerges from the mist then turn left and begin to climb steeply. The couloir is wide and its only after a couple of hundred meters that it narrows to the extent we can see both walls giving us the confidence we are on the right track. The terrain is steep of grade 1 but there are a line of foot prints for us to follow making the work easier.

The gully finishes on a steep upper snow field, continuing straight up would eventually lead to the summit but to reach the Upper Couloir we traverse left over steep terrain which were it not for the zero visibility would feel very exposed. The architecture of the mountain is very difficult to pice together in the weather but is clear from this photo on UKC the narrow gully cutting a present shape through the summit buttress.  

The gully itself is excellent, narrow and well packed with good ice, a grade harder than the Lower Couloir with a step of grade II where I wished the rope was not in my rucksack as I climbed it. I captured the short brown trouser moment for posterity below.

The gully finished pretty much on the summit which was being lashed by a bitterly cold wind and not the place to linger without any view to distract the attention. We quickly dropped down the ridgeline to the col grabbed a bite to eat and then traversed on to Stob a Choire Odhair which felt hard on the legs which had already put themselves through a significant amount of accent. On the top I was forced to deploy the emergency Harribo for a sugar filled decent back down to the van.

Stob Ghabhar from Stob a Choire Odhair 

The Black Mount in slightly nicer weather

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Central Gully - Creise and Meall a Bhuiridh

Central Gully, Creise (I)

Having spent the night parked at the Glencoe ski centre whilst the wind whistled about the van we walked towards Sron na Creise following a line of telegraph poles as they marches across the floor of the valley. Fortunately it had been a cold night and what looked to be very boggy ground was well frozen. The skye was a brilliant blue with the mountain tops dancing in and out of patches of low lying cloud.

The Buachaille dances in and out of the morning cloud

Rounding the spur of Creag Dhubh Sron na Creise comes into view the choire and a series of gully lines clearly visible. We had wanted to climb the classic Inglis Clarke Ridge but it looked very out of condition as we approached the buttresses staring back at us an unwelcoming black and ice free. The Weep would have been a good fall back option but a) we did not know about it and b) looking back at my photos the fun bits looked buried!

Sron na Creise

Central gully was easy to find and arrow straight up through the cliffs that guarded the mountain. The route was steep for grade I but the neve was good and the climbing easy. By now the cloud had entombed the mountain and by the time we reached the summit ridge a bitter wind was blowing. 

Not easy to get lost

From the top of the route its about a kilometre along a broad ridge to the summit of Criese proper. The decent is tricky in poor weather the mountain drops away precipitously to the left into Mam Coire Easain offering no lines of weakness apart from where it relents ever so slightly to join the narrow ridge to Meall a Bhuiridh that forms the coire headwall. 

Like whales in a stormy sea 

In the clag that surrounded us we counted paces until we arrived where we thought the decent should be, we could see no sign of the ridge through the mist and although the drop to our left had relented slightly it still looked pretty close to vertical. Eventually having spotted a cairn to convince us we were in the right place we cautiously descended, the gradient soon relented and the ridge line emerged out of the mist. 

Having crossed the col we pulled steeply onto our second Munro of the day  Meall a Bhuiridh and as we reached the top the summit rock broke through the cloud to give a fantastic view of the great mountain around us bursting through the broiling cloud like giant whales in a stormy sea. The Glenco ski centre reaches almost to the summit of the hill so we defended by the piste as the cloud slowly cleared to reveal Rannoch Moor in the depths of winters grip.

Dom descending towards the van with Ranch Moor in the distance

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Taxus - Beinn an Dothaidh

February and for once we chose a good week, Dom and had had taken a punt and come up to Scotland for a full week of winter climbing. To be fair Dom as a teacher had not had much say in the mater at all but for once the conditions smiled relatively kindly on us and we got lots done.

The original plan had been a huge circuit of the highlands taking in the classic winter ridges; Torridon  An Teallach, the Fannichs etc., but although plenty of snow and cold temperatures were blanketing the hills so to was a thick layer of cloud for the majority of the week and those route are so special i'm willing to wait for perfect blue winter skies, even if its another 10 years.

Thanks to the generosity of some friends we had managed to borrow a camper van for the week meaning convenience, mobility, and hopefully some jaw dropping views to go to sleep to. We eventually spend most of the week in Glencoe, partly because of the Clachaig and partly because there was so much to do! 

 The sun sets over Loch Tulla after a climbing Taxus on day 1

Taxus (III), Beinn an Dothaidh

A classic 3* route and a compromise, not so easy that Dom gets bored, not so hard that I get scared. Despite sleeping in the car park at the base of the walk in the long drive the day before led us to sleep in meaning we were not first, or even fifth on the route. Rather than wait we headed up a Haar which was supposed to be (III) but was thin and turned out to be the hardest thing we climbed all week even if the difficulties were only a few meters long. 

Dropping down West Gully we found only one team left on Taxus so stood around whilst Dom got cold (thats what happens when you get skinny enough to climb 7b).  The route looked pretty buried with most of the ice steps well covered.


Eventually getting started I led the first pitch which was pretty easy with good neve and well tracked but was soon brought up short by running headlong into the team above who were taking an age to move off the first belay. Finding an alternate stance out right, I brought Dom up and instructed him not under any circumstances to fall on the belay... or even look at it.

Dom asked if we could pass and having received accent from the other team and he climbed on through, up a short ice step of about 3 meters which proved to be the last difficulty of any merit on the route. Then in his words he Ueli Steck'd it past the other team on what was essentially a steep snow gully, I then led the upper pitch out onto the summit.

We then traversed round to Beinn Achaladair and a fantastic sunset before taking rout one back to the van.

The view from the top of Beinn an Dothaidh -Taken in 2009 (at the same time as the banner on the blog main page)

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Crowberry Gully - Ice climbing in Scotland

I've sadly neglected this blog for months now but have finally got round to posting again. February saw a week long trip to Scotland and for once I managed to time it with some great winter conditions; all be it without the blue skies.

Towards the end of the trip I had a day in Glencoe on the fantastic Crowberry Gully and now thanks to the Christmas addition to the camera family of a Go-Pro it was captured in full HD for you to enjoy.

A more detailed write up is to follow....maybe?