Bennachie and it’s neighbours – lazy Sunday afternoon

Deciding to make the most of the comparatively fine afternoon we decided to head for Bennachie. It’s been a long time since we’ve been here, usually favouring munros or the smaller hills out Deeside way. However, a change can be good and this meant we’d get both an afternoon walk and an evening at home.

There are many routes up Bennachie, as is very evident from the multiple signposts now adorning the hillside! We chose to start our walk at the Rowantree Car Park today which gives a relatively gentle pull up the hill.

Approaching Mither Tap (Bennachie) from Rowantree Car Park

It was a great day for it. The rain from this morning had cleared and there was barely a breath of wind. It’s amazing how quickly you find yourself on the summit when doing a smaller hill!

We sat chatting with another couple for a good while before heading off, then making the decision to do the neighbouring summits of Oxen Craig, higher than Bennachie, but less visited. While looking quite far off there’s a very good path (as there is on all these hills) and it’s a very short hop between them.

We then retraced our steps a little to branch off onto Craig Shannoch before heading back down to join the path back to the Rowantree car park.

A fine afternoon out. The only disappointing thing was the amount of discarded litter we encountered. I wonder if people who leave their water bottles and other junk believe that there’s a refuse collection mid-week? We did out bit for the environment though and in true Womble style carried quite a few pieces off the hill.

Recovery Walk: Meall a’ Bhuachaille

Stopping off in Aviemore for a couple of days post-marathon, having done very little yesterday, aside from going to Kincraig to see Hamish, the very cute and playful baby polar bear, I decided to stretch my legs today. (The marathon blog will follow later this week – just waiting for the race pics).

The wind was up and the thought of munros didn’t hold any great appeal. There was also the issue of Bruce having completed the Cairngorms meaning driving back towards Fort William for the two he wanted, and the less than favourable forecast in addition to the prospect of a long day knocked this on the head.

So, Meall a’ Bhuachaille it was, an easy corbett we’ve previously done with good paths and decent views. The first stop after parking up near the Glenmore Visitor Centre was the green loch, Lochan Uaine. This beautiful loch is worthy of a visit in itself – local legend says it’s green as the pixies wash their clothes here. I like that better than the other potential explanations.

Carrying on, we continued along a good track which gently pulled us up to the Ryvoan Bothy. The bothy now has a wood burning stove; I’m sure this would be a welcome sight if spending a night here! We stopped off for a snack and enjoyed the shelter.

It was then onwards and up to the summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille. Having started at a decent height this does not appear particularly daunting and indeed is an easy walk up. The path has been built up well and there are steps on eroded sections, making for good progress. I carried my walking poles in case my legs felt tired but although aware that they’d worked hard (tight calves) the poles stayed on my rucksack for the duration.

The higher we got the windier it got, and on reaching the summit it was blowing quite strongly. Having stopped at the summit cairn / wind shelter for another snack I realised why the folks coming down were wearing jackets and hats! It’s amazing how quickly the wind chills you when you stop at height.

29740E78-C20D-49A9-AF39-6F845DEEE4C8

We headed down the back of the hill after a chat at the summit with a few other walkers, deciding against going over the two other tops as we’d only be buffeted by the wind and aside from adding distance would be unlikely to gain much in views.

Dropping down it was fine to have the wind ease and eventually I was able to remove my hood and see! One of the hazards of hair that Bruce is blissfully unaware of is that it’s dangerous when blown across your face unexpectedly, cutting off all visibility!

Back down to the lower paths in Glenmore, we continued along past the very impressive ant hills. Quite how they get so spectacularly large is beyond me – a real feat of nature! They were massive!

Returning to the Glenmore Visitor Centre we picked up the car and headed up to the Cairngorm Mountain Cafe for a relaxing afternoon. That’s what holidays are for!

What a difference a day makes: Gulvain in the fog and Sgurr Eilde Mor & Binnein Beag in the sun

Fort William Summer Hols, Day 2: Gulvain

Planning an easy day as the forecast wasn’t great, we opted for Gulvain, another bike and hike with a single munro.

The route profile looked like the bike out would be easier than yesterday. It probably was, but wearing hill walking trousers rather than padded shorts made me question this as I bumped up and down across the rougher terrain in parts. It also seemed as if there was a fair but of descent which is never ideal in and out and back route. As it transpired, by the time we’d dumped the bikes we’d gone up more than down according to the Garmin.

Starting the walk we had a very short flat section before the ascent began. I was less than thrilled with the 700 metres of ascent before reaching the ridge. The weather wasn’t the best – driech – and as we approached the halfway point in our ascent the fine drizzle turned to a light rain. Further on, realising that we were beginning to get wet, the waterproofs went on. A good call, as aside from brief intervals it was fairly persistent drizzle or rain for much of the walk.

0579F743-EA47-4F66-84EB-4ED8AD73D726

Reaching the ridge I’d hoped to be close to the top. Bruce, having read the route guide, advised that after the trig point we had to continue on to the cairn which was a wee bit away. This took us down, never good, before going up again, and finally we reached the summit cairn. The ridge is supposed to be amazing with beautiful views. Today there were none so we just had to picture in our heads what might be there.

A quick stop, sheltering behind the large cairn, saw us fed and watered once again, and then it was a simple case of retracing our steps back down. Hard on the knees, it felt quicker heading down and the numbers on the Garmin suggested we were dropping at a decent rate.

We were pretty chuffed to see the area where we’d left our bikes come into view and before long we were riding back out to the car. Bruce, realising his saddle had lowered, had now returned to fine biking form and left me standing. Catching up with him just ahead of the main road I found him chatting to a lovely old man and also enjoyed a blether about hills and outdoor adventures to end our day.

Home, showered, it’s now time for FOOD!

Day 3: Sgurr Eilde Mor & Binnein Beag, Mamores

The forecast was great and the day looked good from our window in Fort William so we decided to go for a longer day. My legs, however, were feeling the miles from previous days so I wasn’t quite as keen as Bruce, but was up for doing two munros while he was hoping for four!

Setting off from Kinlochleven, although we went out a different direction, it was reminiscent of the slog up when doing the West Highland Way. Joy! However, the views back down were pretty spectacular. 1F8A9D01-5D96-4810-BC05-8A134F71FF28

We continued to climb and before long Loch Eilde Mor was in sight. The clear skies opened up views all around and it was wonderful being out on such a beautiful day!

The path was clear and meandered around the edge of Sgor Eilde Beag, opening up yet more views as we climbed higher. The targets for the day, Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnean Beag came into view.

Had I known what lay ahead I may or may not have continued the ascent of Sgurr Eilde Mor. It had a clear path for most of the way up, but towards the top the path dwindled to leave a steep scree slope which was hard going! I had a minor panic here, as much to do with how I’d get back down as getting all the way up. Thankfully Bruce had a calm head and offered reassurance! The summit was reached very soon after and sitting relaxing with some lunch I felt very much at home.

All too soon it was time to begin the descent. Bruce offered his words of wisdom: be calm, take it slowly, but be confident. He also suggested putting my winter skills into practise, using the sides of my feet to dig the boots in. These tips worked, alongside his offer of going first to stop me from sliding or coming with me should I take him out on the way down!

Reaching the path by the lochain once again we then continued to our second summit of the day, Binnein Beag. It was quite a trek to get to the foot of it, dropping quite a bit down before reascending. Also quite a thought that I’d have to retrace these steps all the way back. This second munro proved far easier than the first. There was a clear stony path meandering up the hill, interrupted only by some bigger boulders. The route guide described an avoidable scramble. What little scramble there was was short and not airy. I’m beginning to think that perhaps scrambling isn’t my fear on the hills, it’s big airy drops and exposure. I’ll ponder this further on future hills.

Reaching the summit again we had a snack break and I reaffirmed my decision to part ways with Bruce, leaving him to go onwards to Binnein Mor and Na Gruagaichean. We descended by a slightly different route, saying our goodbyes near the foot of the hill. It felt oddly romantic watching Bruce head off solo while I walked in the other direction. I bet this never even entered his head!

I headed back, retracing my steps, and took a couple of shortcuts straight up the grass as I wasn’t convinced I was on the right path and knew where I wanted to be. I could possibly have saved my legs a bit of work as I then realised that I was merely joining the path further along!

On one of these little forays I met a friendly chap and his dog, stopping for a blether. He was an Outward Bound man who was assessing a group of young people. After passing the time of day and learning more about his work I continued on my solo venture. The weather truly was stunning! Such a pleasure being out in the sunshine with such stunning views.

Heading back I was pleased to see Loch Eilde Mor and continuing on it didn’t feel too long before I was crossing the main track again and in sight of Loch Leven. I saw a few beautiful dragonflies here and was also delighted to see a stone smiling up at me from the path.

The descent into Kinlochleven was probably harder than the ascent. Steep, gnarly roots in places, my knees took a battering again. I dread to think what state is be in was it not for my walking poles.

Finally reaching the car I was passed by the young man we’d met earlier on Sgurr Eilde Mor. He’d done the same route as Bruce so I reckoned I’d have quite a time to wait as the young one had really been racing on. What a shock I got when not long after settling down at the Tailrace Inn Bruce arrived! Looking somewhat weather worn and very much like a man of the hills I was delighted he’d achieved his target for the day and returned safely. Rest day tomorrow!

Beinn Dearg: You really need a bike!

First hill walking day in a while, and the first day of the marathon taper, we parked at the Old Bridge of Tilt, then heading off on the bikes with the ultimate goal of a walk up Beinn Dearg, my 120th munro.

Route finding was easy – follow the black arrows. It was just unfortunate that the legs weren’t quite so enthusiastic having been some time since we last turned the pedals!

The bike in to Beinn Dearg is just short of 6 miles, saving a long walk in. We biked/pushed, the sun not helping in this, and before too long we’d reached the bothy. It would have been possible to continue beyond this but this is where most route guides advise to park up.

2D668F8B-C6B6-48B5-8B1B-7A34F798A4E1

Heading off on foot, Bruce was happier than I. My legs were now beginning to feel the effects of the last heavy week of running. However, the path was good and we made steady progress. The area is pretty featureless and it would be easy to get lost here in winter or if the fog descended.

1BFA45B3-9905-4528-B1A4-6CA43F9CB98D

Before too long the summit was in sight looking rocky and fairly steep.

4F60CB6E-1CC9-4C29-97E7-C45D39B5EC00

As is often the way it turned out to be very easy when we got close to it. A big wind shelter around the trig point provided a fine place for a snack stop. We didn’t linger too long before heading back and were most impressed by the endurance of three bikers riding almost all the way!

8C32AB66-A3BE-40DD-940B-A5568C447DF5

Retracing our steps, before long we were back at the bothy and the bikes. Another quick stop and then it was the fun blast back to the car. I loved this bit – the best thing about biking is always the descent. Makes me wonder why I’ve left it so long!

Cairn Bannoch and Carn an t-Sagairt Mor: A Blustery Day in the Cairngorms

Enjoying a ‘recovery’ week in my marathon training I eased back a little more than scheduled in order to enjoy some walking this week.

For a change we opted for something closer to home, two munros that Bruce has previously done but that were new for me and our walking companion, Bruce’s friend James. These two seem to favour an early start but I’d stipulated leaving no earlier than 8 am in order that I could enjoy something of a lie in for a change.

Heading for Braemar, we parked just a couple of miles along the road, and walked out towards Loch Callater and the Callater Bothy. Here we met the fine man that maintains the bothy and his lovely big, drooling dog. Enjoyed a blether with them before heading up the path towards Cairn an t-Sagairt Mor.

Starting out, the path that heads upwards just before Loch Callater

The path was very clear and we made decent progress along it. After our recent winter walking experiences it was a pleasure to have on lighter boots and to be able to see clearly what was underfoot! Checking the map, we made the decision to head for Cairn Bannoch, the furthest munro on our journey, returning via Carn an t-Sagairt Mor as it looked like an easy descent and avoided going up the rocky slope.

Heading towards Cairn Bannoch, our first summit of the day

Despite looking like a wee bit of a trek, it was surprisingly close and we popped up to the summit in quick time. I discovered the benefits of a sunhat are two-fold: the primary benefit being self explanatory – shading from the sun; the secondary benefit is that those of us with plentiful hair can see, as the wind blasted mane is kept in check to a greater degree than normal.

Summit Cairn, Cairn Bannoch

Stopping beyond the summit cairn we enjoyed our lunch out of the wind. It was here that walkers and runners converged with a variety of people having come in from a few directions. As always, it was good to engage in some hill chat.

We then retraced our steps and headed back towards Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. These munros are often done as part of a 5 munro day, the White Mounth munros, but having done Broad Cairn and Lochnagar on other occasions and not being a fan of very long days I was happy to miss these out. We were very fortunate, once again, to have clear views all around.

Looking down towards Dubh Loch

It didn’t take long at all before we were on the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, another ‘easy’ munro that has two summit cairns. Bruce advised that due to there being some debate as to which is the true summit we should visit them both. Given that they’re virtually within spitting distance of one another this did not prove too arduous a task.

 

The next step was to seek out the wreckage of the plane crash, one of the things that makes this munro unique. Alongside the fence posts on the cairn were bits of metal from the plane and it didn’t take us long to find the wing, casually tossed on the hillside. This has been there since 1956, and a full account of the incident can be viewed here: http://www.aircrashsites-scotland.co.uk/canberra_c-t-sagairt-mor01.htm

Aeroplane debris just off Carn an t-Sagairt Mor

It made me wonder how it must feel in that moment when you realise your plane is headed towards the mountain; probably best not to dwell on that.

It was very blustery here so we didn’t linger; there was also the thought of coffee and cake drawing us back to Braemar, so without further ado we turned towards the summit once again, then taking a route back towards Loch Callater. We quickly picked up a path and again made good time as we descended.

Views back to Loch Callater

The bothy was soon reached and it was then a few quick miles along the landrover track to return to the car park and subsequently to Braemar for the long awaited coffee and cake. A great end to a very enjoyable day!

Homeward bound, path back from Carn an t-Sagairt Mor

Tyndrum, Days 4-6 (‘Spring’ holiday)

Day 4: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy
Having very much enjoyed the last few days but feeling somewhat tired, I’d resolved last night that today would be a day off. The original plan had been to have breakfast, read my book (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) and go for a run along the West Highland Way. The weather forecast went in my favour though as with high winds and rain to come, Bruce opted to have a ‘rest’ day too so I had company for a walk instead.

Thus, after another excellent breakfast (freshly baked trout for him & porridge, fruit, scones and yogurt for me, no chance of starving when staying with Heather at Tigh-Na-Fraoch, we headed off along the West Highland Way to Bridge of Orchy. This is a fine easy walk, all the more so when the legs are weary, and we made good time.

At Auch we diverted to recce the river crossings for Beinn Mhanach, a potential walk for the coming days. Our concern was that the river may be in spate due to the rise in temperatures, and while it wasn’t excessively high it was quite fast flowing. The decision was made to leave this for a summer day instead.

West Highland Way: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy
WHW Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

Heading back onto the trail, we passed the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and continued up the WHW to get to the viewpoint, stopping for photos before heading back to the bar.

As always along the way, there were some friendly folks to chat to – these three turned out to be in the same boat as us, walking the hills and staying lower because of the weather.

Heading off we went out early to catch the bus. Having successfully hitchhiked from this point previously I suggested that we should try to thumb a lift ahead of the bus to save a few bob! In the ten minutes we had two cars stop – the first, a mountain biker who was willing to rearrange his car (and bike) to fit us in – we declined as with the bus being imminent it seemed rather unfair on him; the second was two ice climbers who’d been on Ben Nevis and were heading back down South. We were delighted, simple pleasures, and enjoyed the chat on the road back to Tyndrum. As we walked back towards our B & B the bus passed. Thankfully their car was long gone!

To complete the circle, I can now add retrospectively that we came home via Bridge of Orchy in order to return the favour, giving a lift along to a lovely young American couple who had decided to knock a few miles off their long day. Balance is restored!

Day 5: Beinn Achaladair & Beinn a’Chreachain
It was one of those perfect hill days according to the weather forecasters (Met Office, I hasten to add, not MWIS) – not too windy, foggy for starting out but due to clear with the prospect of sun. It was therefore a no-brainer for us. We needed to do something scenic and may as well go for a big day out!

Off once agaain the first challenge of the day was to be the river crossing at the Water of Tulla. We walked up and down for a bit trying to find a good crossing place.

Heading out to Beinn Achaladair (in search of a crossing place)

Options were limited, with deeper water in places and a lack of stones within jumping distance; I can run but I’m not blessed with the ability to jump or throw! Bruce eventually bit the bullet and crossed, only dipping one leg in to the knee which with his gaiters on wasn’t too bad. Me, being a bit more cautious and accident prone, walked further upstream, walked some more, and finally had to strip off more of my clothes than I’d like in order to don a spare pair of liner socks and wade across, very grateful that there was nobody else around for all our sakes. It wasn’t as cold as anticipated but seeing the supportive husband capturing the moment on camera tipped me over the edge and provoked an impressive array of colourful language!

Safely across, I dried off and dressed. We proceeded to follow the path around, eventually starting to gain some height. The path went on to climb pretty relentlessly and unfortunately there was no sign of the fog burning off.

Eventually reaching the ridge of Beinn a’Chreachain, still in the fog and with tricky underfoot conditions – lots of snow which was a little slidey in places – we opted for the precautionary measure of both the ice axe and crampons. This should have been spectacular but instead was somewhat scary; the ridge narrowed, the wind got up and it wasn’t clear how far the drop was due to the lack of visibility. Once again I was venturing out with my comfort zone.

Heading up Beinn a'Chreachain

The ridge soon widened and we made it up to the first munro summit of the day. The wind was still strong so we chose not to linger here, instead just pausing for a quick photo before battling on.

Summit of Beinn a'Chreachain

Dropping down was easy enough, the snow assisting with a quick descent before the steep climb to our second summit, Beinn Achaladair began. This was really daunting, appearing just to keep going up into the fog. The fact that the drops were again not visible, combined with a gradient that would challenge me on a fine day, never mind a day like this with snow covering the slopes, again led me to feel a little less than delighted to be here. Ultimately there wasn’t a whole lot of option but to keep going as the prospect of trying to retrace our steps did not appeal either!

Tricky navigation between Beinn a'Chreachain and Beinn Achaladair in snow & fog

Climbing into the cloud we did finally reach a flatter plateau and found the summit. Again, only time for a quick photo stop. Shortly after we paused to put on our waterproof trousers to try and combat the windchill. It really was getting quite bitter and any pause led to slight shivering and feelings of cold seeping in. Top tip for putting your waterproofs on a windy summit: sit on your rucksack; that way nothing’s blowing away, even if there is the danger of squishing any remaining food!

The hard part over, the crampons came off. The snow had softened again which meant that going downhill our feet sunk in well. I felt comforted by this as I figured that worse case scenario I could sit down and stall myself by sinking in should I slip, hopefully not going too far. Thankfully this wasn’t required.

Very snowy descent from Beinn Achaladair

The descent was fairly quick with regular checks of the bearings to ensure we were headed in the right direction. Finally we dropped out of the fog and could see the path ahead which was very refreshing indeed! By this point we only had a few miles left and I was no longer phased by anything! Stream crossing? Wade through it! Snow covering a burn? I’ll take my chances, fall through it and sink in to my knees. What’s the worst that can happen?

Coming off Beinn a'Chreachain

I can’t begin to express how happy I was to see the road appear in the distance and to know that the end was in sight. The day, according to Walk Highlands, should have taken around 7 hours. They’re usually pretty accurate and we finish within their forecasted times, but today was an 8.5 hour day for us.

In all honesty, it’s probably one of the toughest days I’ve done in the hills and again one that pushed me to my limits. Am I glad I did it though? Definitely yes, especially when safely home reflecting on the day with a glass of wine in hand. Amazing how a couple of hours can change perspective on things!

Day 6: Beinn Fhionnlaidh
We headed for Beinn Fhionnlaidh as it was an ‘easy’ munro – relatively short distance and not too long.

A fine easy start, we began by heading along a road towards the estate houses. From here it was quite a steady ascent which felt steep, but this could be due to the miles already in the legs. Mercifully, and for reasons unknown, this was incredibly dry! This was a real treat after all the boggy ground we’ve had.

Progressing upwards, we were slow and steady. It was around 500 m before we started to get cold as it was very windy indeed! The jackets went on here and the hood went up as it’s a struggle to see with hair all over your face! It’s one of the rare times I envy my follically challenged husband!

Heading up to Beinn Fhionnlaidh, decent paths for a munro

The route continued climbing steadily, we passed a couple of wee lochans, and the ground became stonier. The surprising thing was that there was very little snow. Thus, we’d carried our crampons and ice axes for nothing – this was in itself a pleasant surprise.

Beinn Fhionnlaidh, summit cairn approaching

Continuing to the summit, the views were absolutely stunning! We saw Ben Nevis, Mull, and so many mountains around the Glencoe area. Beautiful! While Bruce captured the views I sat down having been blasted against the trig point by the wind, increasing my sense of vulnerability.

Amazingly enough, as we turned and made our way down the wind completely died. It was quite surreal having been buffeted all the way up. This allowed us to progress at a leisurely pace and stop to enjoy lunch in the sunshine. Beyond this it was a fairly easy walk, quickly descending back towards the estate houses.

Beinn Fhionnlaidh, descent from the plateau

What a way to finish the holidays! A truly spectacular day!

‘Spring’ Holiday: Tyndrum, Days 1 – 3

Day 1: Meall Ghaordaidh

This was chosen as our first munro of the week as it’s short and a simple up down – allegedly.

A clear parking area was located just after a very clear sign showing the access path to the hill. We donned our boots, fixed ice axes on the rucksacks and headed off – that sounds very swift; in actual time we probably faffed around for 5 minutes. We then quickly realised just how warm it had become and more faffing ensued as layers were shed. In contrast to last time we were out, we were comfortably in base layers until well up the hill.

The path was decent, albeit a little wet and boggy, gaiters on though, we were unperturbed. The snow line was high, around 750 m, and we were fortunate in that even at this level it was quite patchy. It was only towards the final pull that we swapped poles for an ice axe just to be safe, and managed to the top with no need for crampons, the snow being pretty soft.

On reaching the dizzy heights of my 111th munro, Bruce asked, “How many munros have you done now?”

This is a standing joke as I’ve usually got no idea and he can tell me as he remembers things. On this occasion though, as I replied correctly, a little voice in my head queried whether you’ve done the munro if you’re not yet back down. Hold this thought!

Heading downwards we retraced our steps (and those of others who had passed through previously), making our way through the snow with relative ease. Off the snow I stopped for a comfort break and Bruce carried on. I couldn’t have been far behind him, but lost sight of him. I blew my whistle and shouted but no response. I lost the boggy path. Meanwhile, he’d gone a little further down and realised he’d lost me, also shouting and getting no response.

Thinking I’d come upon him soon I tried using OS Locate to get an exact pinpoint on the map – it didn’t work. I had a compass showing but no grid reference. On return to the B & B, having reinstalled it, I now realise that you need to give it access to location services on your phone. Oops!

Anyway, with no ability to get a proper reference point I vaguely orientated my map in line with where I’d come from. I then made the mistake of following what I thought was the main burn – it was in fact a small tributary but everything’s bigger just now with the snow melt – and ended up back at the road as planned, but a mile or so up from where I should have been!

Despite the unfortunate turn of events this all turned out okay. A minor feeling of panic as I descended wondering where husband was had been reciprocated as he shouted and retraced his steps to find me. As I saw the car coming into view I hollered and blew my whistle, just in time to catch him about to embark on the next ascent. For once, timed to perfection!

Day 2: Stob Coir’an Albannaich & Meall nan Eun

Having debated last night which walk to do with concerns of streams in spate and marshy ground due to yesterday’s rain we settled for the above munros. As we headed up the boggy path we did briefly question our judgement; the marshy grass was slow going and a steady incline meant that although we were gaining height it was neither quick nor easy.

Initial climb towards Stop Coir'an Albannaich

Continuing up we had to cross a series of small waterfalls and streams. The main issue here was snow – although we could hear the water flowing we were in effect walking over it, hoping that the snow was still firm enough to hold our weight. We wouldn’t have come to any real harm as the water would have been shallow but walking with wet feet’s not particularly pleasurable! Thankfully we reached the bealach dry.

The true ascent then started with the top of Stob Coir’an Albannaich in sight. We followed the curve of the slope up and around, and I was grateful to Bruce for taking the lead for much of this. It’s far easier following in someone else’s footsteps rather than having to break trail yourself. The snow was fairly soft and for the most part the walking was fairly easy. The thing that played on my mind was the steep descent to come between the tops, as per the Walk Highlands route guide.

Stob Coir'an Albannaich

Reaching the summit cairn we stopped to admire the views which were stunning. The cornices along the top of the ridge were very apparent and I really did start to worry about what lay ahead! Having checked the map and route guide the line of descent became clear and it was somewhat steeper than I’d have liked.

Initially we dropped down to a bealach. This proved manageable once started despite looking (to me) quite horrific in the beginning. The next step was to find the rake that lead down to the next bealach: it was steep but the softer snow allowed our feet to sink in. Alongside the comfort of the ice axe it quickly saw me reach the floor of the bealach, although if I’m honest I did have a feeling of panic at the start of the descent from the cairn. The upside of heading for a bealach is knowing that you will stop if you slide. This was the fear higher up – how far down would you go, and what might you hit, before stopping!

The walk to the second munro, Meall nan Eun was easy. We ascended a peak between, Beinn Tarsuinn, which was a pleasant walk with gentle incline compared with what we’d done previously, followed by another short descent and the final push up to the munro. It proved stunning as the views around were breathtakingly clear.

During the ascent we’d had a brief spell of gentle rain. This may have added to the chill as prior to this we’d been warm; however it happened, we chose not to linger too long as the cold was noticeably for the first time.

Heading back across the plateau we had another descent to tackle. This was an experience indeed! Essentially we had to drop down the steep crags (snow covered) and lose height quickly. Bruce led the way and I followed in his footsteps again. However, at one particularly steep section he suggested I’d be better going a marginally different route as it may prove easier. I found myself frozen to the spot, terrified, as I became very aware that the soft snow may well give way beneath my feet resulting in a slide downwards! Bruce was somewhat surprised by my polite request for help, and calmly coached me to use my ice axe to hold the position, dig my feet in and go sideways. Having succeeded with this I was then able to get moving more comfortably again, all the while being given gentle encouragement from below – my hero!! (He later told me that he could tell I was scared so figured not to crack jokes or take the mickey!)

Steep descent from Meall nan Eun

Back on the grass, although we still had a good height to descend it felt easier. The ground was much better than the route up with a decent path; despite the boggy wet conditions in places we made good progress. A few small waterfall and stream crossings eventually took us back to a land rover track and after this it was only a short walk back to the car.

Off the hills - a totally different day to the summits!
Walking back out from Stob Coir’an Albannaich and Meall nan Eun

A truly joyful day in the hills again: felt like I was pushing my limits at times but looking back I’d do it again.

Day 3: Ben Challum

Opting for a shorter day, we decided to try Ben Challum. Despite being short this hill was a hard slog, climbing steadily after crossing the railway line across boggy ground. The snow, as we progressed, took care of the bogs and again we were able to walk across covered streams and areas that would otherwise have been unpleasant.

Cloudy Ben Challum

The views further up are said to be quite spectacular but sadly we didn’t get to appreciate them. The cloud was low and it became very foggy as we approached the top. The snow line was higher than it has been (around 900 m) and again the snow was slightly wet allowing the feet to sink in making progress easier, particularly on the descents. A familiar story, ice axes provided security for self belaying, but crampons were just extra weight in the rucksack, along with the Microspikes, spare gloves, down jacket, base layer, hat and 2 buffs!

Summit of Ben Challum
Distinct lack of visibility

As the snow got deeper I had a fleeting moment of thinking maybe this is as far as I go. However, Bruce assured me that we were within a few hundred metres of the summit. Problem was that you couldn’t see the summit, and with the route guide describing a cleft on the ridge I was worried we’d fall down it! It transpired the cleft wasn’t too big, we didn’t fall down it and we did get to the top safely. On this occasion the return leg was far easier, retracing our steps back down.

Ben Challum in fog

As we descended the sun attempted to break through and the route opened up to show views back down. It’s amazing how much less steep and scary something is when you can actually see it!

Coming out of the cloud on the descent from Ben Challum

Another one done, and I feel done!