Friday, 14 December 2012

Stob Ban (Mamores) North Ridge and Mullach nan Coirean

Yesterday I grabbed a sneaky day out in the Highlands, hoping to catch the last of the good weather for a while.  As it was, it proved to be a misty day with constant light snow, so I didn't get the promised fine weather, but still managed to have a good day out on Stob ban and Mullach nan Coirean.

 When I parked at  the lower falls carpark in Glen Nevis it was a cold and frosty morning, and the tops were just visible in the pre dawn light.  However, as I climbed the steep grassy slopes that lead up to Stob Ban's North ridge, clouds were already gathering over the summits. Before long it began to snow.

 The north ridge proper looming in to view. 

 My last view of Mullach nan Coirean. 

 The North Ridge of Stob Ban. The snow was good and firm on the ridge, and the difficulties over very quickly.  There was just a short bit of scrambling and before long I was cresting the ridge and heading for the summit.  

 Much more challenging was the poor visibility that descended once on the ridge. The top of Stob Ban...
Looks very much like the top of Mullach nan Coirean to the west.... Mostly the ridge is a fun switchback, but there are one or two broad sections that need to be navigated on a bearing, and keeping an eye on which non -descript top you are on is essential for finding the right way off again.... A fine ridge leads north from the top of Mullach nan Coirean, and towards a path by the deer fence that leads in to the forestry above the road in Glen Nevis. A great route, I'll be back for some views next time.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


Like the rest of Scotland it has been incredibly cold on Arran over the last few days, but unlike the mainland, the snow cover did not survive the weekend's thaw quite so well.  Wally and I headed in to Coire na Caillich today to see what was left.  There is one recorded route in the coire, the stunning line of White Magic (iv) that follows a shallow groove and chimney to the highpoint of the witches step on the East side.  This was almost dry and not going to go today, but we managed to tinker about on some grade 1 ground, with mostly continuous neve from bottom to top.  In fact, we followed a really nice line to the top of the Witches Step, decended to the coire again, and then followed another line, up to the top of the Castles.  Good fun.
The turf is bomber, what remains of the snow is good, and ice is starting to form. We saw lots of possible harder new lines that might have gone under fatter ice or with a bit more snow.  Sadly, more thawing is on the way by the end of the week.
See below for photos from today:

. A pre dawn start in Lamlash Bay. 

Heading up to Coire na Caillich, the profile of the "Sleeping Warrior" clearly visible.

Yours truly, in the first gully of the day.

Lovely light and views of Cir Mhor when we gained the ridge. 

Descending from the bealach between Caisteal Abhail (The Castles) and Ceum na Caillich (The witches Step)
Second snowy line of the day, a little to the right of the first.  (See below for topo). 

By the afternoon the sun was starting to soften the snow on the ridge. 

On descent down the north Ridge of the Castles,  a little look back, at where we had been.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Arran Otter Road Casualty Survey

Its a year since I took this photo of an an injured dog otter who had been knocked down on the road near Blackwaterfoot. He was tucked up in a wheelie bin and on his way to Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Trust.   Sadly, he didn't survive, and my heart was broken in to many little pieces. Despite trying to be hard nosed and unsentimental when it comes to wild animals, I'm just not! I wrote about the incident at the time, and it has stayed with me ever since.

There is very little data or information about the state of Arran's otter population. Anecdotal evidence suggests that their numbers have increased in recent years, and this may be reflected in a rise in road casualties.  There certainly isn't anything to suggest from my own observations that Arran's otters are in trouble or that their numbers are being affected by the death toll on the road.  However, there is a welfare concern when animals are being killed on the roads- especially if orphaned cubs are involved, as is sometimes the case.

The subject came up at a talk on otters that I presented to the Arran Natural History Society on Thursday evening. It was agreed by the members that it would be useful to find out if there are any particular accident blackspots for Arran's otters, and I agreed to be a point of contact for gathering the data.  So there it is, a survey of otter road casualties.  You heard it here first.  If you find a dead otter on the road on Arran, please report it to me at  I'm keen to know the precise location- a grid reference if possible.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Winter Wonderland

Arran's snow survived the brief thaw at the start of the week, and more arrived high up.  By Wednesday, it was looking like a true winter paradise and a day of settled weather coaxed Wally, Mike and I in to the hills for one of Arran's classic ridge routes. The high level route from Cioch Na h_Oighe to Goatfell in summer is great fun, with some sections of grade 1+ scrambling, mostly avoidable, but not entirely.  In winter it takes on a new level of challenge, that varies with the conditions.  Yesterday we found many of the harder sections banked out and easy, but some of the steepest scrambling felt more tenuous under a thin layer of sugary snow and rime.We had the mountains to ourselves, breaking trail all the way to the summit of Goatfell.

 The route follows a steep path up the eastern flanks of Cioch na h-Oighe from Glen Sannox, via a series of slabs and corners, nicely icy yesterday... Once established on the ridge, its a good scramble until the ridge broadens in to Mullach Buidhe.

 From Mullach Buidhe itself there were wonderful views of many of Arran's fine ridges, undulating away to the west. 

 Easy walking over the top of Mullach Buidhe. 

 Dramatic views of the small, but perfectly formed, Cir Mhor. 

 Resting briefly before the scrambling begins again on Stacach Ridge, to Goatfell. 

 The blocky tors of Stacach can mostly be avoided with a path to the east in Summer, but in winter this regularly gets banked out with very steep and unstable snow.  At times like these it is better to brave the teeth of Stacach.  Steep in places- needs a head for heights and and some winter climbing skills (this is not a walk).

The reward is the view from Goatfell- with great views of Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Wintery Glencoe and the Grey Corries

October and November are wonderful quiet times for me, when I recover from a busy summer, and take a deep breath before the cold thrills of winter. Winter came a bit early this year however and Wally and I managed to grab three magical winters days in the West Highlands before the month of November was out.

 On Saturday, we had an easy day with a plan to keep our legs as fresh as possible for Sun/Mon. We headed up the steep staircase that leads to Stob Coire nan Lochain in Glencoe. The aim was to brush up on our winter skills, and familiarise ourselves with the conditions. The snow proved too soft for practicing ice axe arrest and other exercises so we satisfied ourselves with a jaunt over the top and back down again. 

 Lovely views across the glen to the Aonach Eagach. 

 The gullies and butresses of SNCL itself were plastered with fresh snow, and fluffy little cornices topped the steeper routes.

 Magnificent views west towards Loch Leven and beyond. 

 On Sunday we packed our expedition rucksacks and headed from Corriechoille up in to the Lairig Leacach. The rain quickly turned to snow as we climbed and we took shelter in the bothy for a welcome brew at lunch time.
 After lunch, it was up in to the coire below Stob Ban.  We found a high pitch for our tent just below the bealach, and as the sun was setting, climbed up to Stob Ban.  We didn't get much of a view in the fading light and mist, but the moon beautifully lit our descent to the camp.

 Dawn at camp was a cold place!

 From the bealach, we climbed steeply up on to Stob Coire Claurigh, and from there headed along the Grey Corries Ridge towards Stob Coire an Laoigh.  

 The cloud refused to lift all day, and visibility deteriorated to at times complete whiteout punctuated by looming buttresses and snow covered scree. 

At last, descending towards Coirechoille again, we dipped below the cloud and were treated to stunning views of the of the Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag range.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Triglav is the highest mountain in Slovenia (2864m) and its most magnificent national symbol. The mountain is so bound up with national identity, that the Slovene partisans during WWII wore a hat called the Triglav cap as part of their uniform.  To be considered a true Slovenian, every citizen who is able must climb the mountain at some point in their lives, and they can even stamp their passports on the summit. The mountain takes centre stage on the national flag and regularly features in Slovenian folk tales.

The Partisan Monument, a giant karabiner and piton, in the Vrata valley, under Triglav's great North Wall.

There are a number of routes to the mountain, and most people take two days on the ascent, staying in one of the many comfortable huts close to the summit. From the south, it is a strenuous walk, requiring stamina and a good forecast, but is not particularly technical for most of the ascent, with the only via ferrata being the busy section on the final summit cone.  From the North however, the only way up is to find a route past the steep and forboding North Wall that looms above the deep defile of the Vrata Valley.  All of the routes from this side are serious, although there are several that are well equipped in places with cables and steel pegs. There are also rock climbing routes, that scale the 1200m tall north face, crossing steep, overhanging and often loose terrain, for the most experienced mountaineers. 

We decided to access Triglav via the Plemenice Pot (also called the Bamberg Route), on the north side. This line follows a fixed via ferrata up and over a stunning ridge rising towards the summit from the Luknja Pass at the head of the Vrata Valley. Its a challenging route, with a reputation of being one of the hardest waymarked routes in the Julian Alps.  A rope is not necessary due to the security of cables and pegs on the steepest sections, but it might be an idea to carry one for less confident party members.

 As far as the Luknja pass, the route is a walk.  I wasn't wearing my helmet at this point, but I wished I was not long after I took this photo- climbers on the wall above sent a volley of missiles thrumming just over my head.

 Stunning views from the ridge above the pass.  The route takes some steep chimneys and short walls, before arriving on the crest of the ridge, where the exposure continues but the cables run out. 

 Higher again, and the route leads to a labyrinthine landscape of limestone tors and sinkholes. This is true "karst" country; bare, unforgiving and incredibly beautiful. 

 The summit looms above the North Wall.

The scree strewn plateau before the final summit climb-up a well protected via ferrata following the gully into the notch, and then leading over slabs and ledges to the summit.

 On the summit- a busy place!  All of Slovenia is here. You can see the Aljaž Tower behind us, an emergency shelter and triangulation point. 

 From the summit we descended a fine and exposed ridge down to the Kredarica Hut (also called the Triglavski Dom).  The ridge itself was well protected with a luxurious bannister of cables.

The view from our bedroom window at the hut.  

After reaching the summit, we descended to experience some world famous Slovenian hospitality. The hut was cosy, well appointed, and not expensive.  We upgraded to a private room for the 4 of us, which was quite affordable, and a good call as the hut was also stuffed to the gunnels with garrulous schnapps drinking slovenes. Robin got a discount with his BMC card, but we MCofS members were had to pay the full amount. There was a great atmosphere in the bar, and impromtu live music until long after I'd turned in. Water is expensive in the hut, so carry as much as you can on the mountain. Everything else is provided and good value.

The Kredarica Hut.  The equipped route to the hut follows a knife edge ridge, before descending the steep wall behind the hut on the right. 

The following morning we descended back to the Vrata via the Prag route, the easiest waymarked route on the North side. To add a bit of interest to the day, on a recommendation from our Slovenian campsite owner back in Dovje, we continued along the ridge from the hut and over the small summit of Rž towards the
Dom Valentina Staniča. From here we were able to cut back to the Prag route and avoid some of the screes at the top of the route.  The Prag route shouldn't be underestimated, it is steep, with a lot of scree covered ledges above precipitous drops in to the void of the Vrata below. Cables protect the most technical parts, but its a good idea to maintain concentration and careful footwork until you are are safely down to the valley floor.

Looking towards the line of weakness sthat the Prag follows through the North Wall and down to the Vrata.

On a stony promontory between the Prag route, and the harder Tominskova Pot, which joins the Prag at this point.

By early afternoon we were cooling our feet in the icy waters that flow from beneath Triglav's north wall and feeling very pleased with ourselves indeed.  We were definitely assisted by a couple of days of settled conditions, but even so, I found this circuit to be satisfyingly difficult. The exposure on route had been mind boggling, and to do it you need to be comfortable soloing at UK climbing grade moderate, 1000m above the valley floor.  If you'd asked me how I would have felt about that a few days earlier, I'd have said- no way! 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Slovenia: Vršič Verticality

I'm a few days back from two weeks in Slovenia, a rematch, after our first visit in 2010, where we enjoyed wonderful walking, but couldn't get in to the higher areas due to lingering winter snows. This time we went back with reinforcements in the form of friends Toby Davies and Robin Barnden, who we'd enticed with photographs of sun kissed vertical limestone.

The trip didn't start so well-  Wally discovered at the quayside in Newcastle that his passport was out of date.  No matter, Robin and I abandoned him and pressed onwards, via a ferry to Amsterdam and endless hours on the German autobahn, to a rendevous with Toby in Austria 36 hours later. A good nights sleep, and the following morning, the three of us were ready to hit the Julian Alps of Slovenia, just an hour down the road.  

 Mala Mojstrovka, on the west side of the Vršič Pass.  The normal route takes the a steep scree path through the notch on the skyline before turning towards the summit.

Many of the most accessible walking and via ferrata routes in the Julian Alps start and finish in the Vršič Pass. This awesome piece of engineering was built by Russian P.O.Ws under terrible conditions during World War One.  It links the villages of Kranjska Gora and Trenta via 50 improbable hair pin bends.  It also provides easy access to a number of peaks.  We headed up to the  top of the pass to begin our Slovenian adventure with a quick ascent of Mala Mojstrovka via the normal route. Looking up at the steep path from the top of the pass, even this route looked scarily vertical, Slovenia specialises in big walls, long drops and scree.

 Looking back down through the notch that leads to the ridge. 

Once we were on the trail it was more straightforward than it looked and we were soon on the ridge above the pass and heading to the summit.  At 2332m Mala Mojstrovka has stunning views of the Julian range. This walk was a great way to begin our acclimatisation and get our heads around the geography of the area. The easiest descent is via the same route. 

On to the stony ridge of Mala Mojstrovka.

The following day, we returned to the Vršič Pass, to explore the massive bulk of Prisojnik on the east side of the pass. At 2547m this mountain dominates the view on the Kranjska Gora side of the pass. Despite being so vast, it is pierced in two places by massive windows, that look out over the precipitous northern walls, and largest of which is easily accessible from the top of the pass.

 Prisojnik from the Pass- there is an overwhelming sense of bulk when trying to comprehend this mountain! 

 An easy(ish) path leads up to the window on the south side of the ridge. The window can be made out as the dark orifice in the centre of the picture to the right of the lowest point on the skyline.

 The window itself is absolutely cavernous.  Later in the week the boys explored a via ferrata route that took them right through this giant hole in the mountain. 

On the way we stopped to admire clumps of Campanula zoysii, a a local speciality of the harebell family that I respectfully renamed Triglav trumpets.

Above the window, the route became more technical and we donned helmets and harnesses. 

Beyond the window, a steep ramp led up to a narrow ridge. There were sections of cable where we were happy to clip in our via ferrata lanyards above yawning drops. In other places, the drops continued, but the cable ran out.... The ridge rambled on and the cloud lowered, until our view was obscured.  Eventually we stumbled upon the summit, which in the poor visibility felt more British than Alpine. 

The descent also required care- steep scree covered ledges and short sections of cable. 

Our descent path took us down and across a series of scree filled gullies, via small rocky steps and short sections of cable.  We emerged blinking from the cloud in to brilliant white sunlight and dropped out of the final gully on to a beautiful meadow. Here we spied a solitary and huge ibex and I'm sorry,  my photo below doesn't really do him justice...

 Spot the ibex...

That evening Wally finally joined us, and the following day we threw him in at the deep end with an ascent of Mala Mojstrovka, this time not via the easy route.  The Hanzova Pot is very accessible, so Wally at least got a lie in on his first day in Slovenia, but this secured route is fairly steep, taking the north wall of Mala Mojstrovka via a series of ramps and chimneys well adorned with cables and pegs. From the summit, the usual descent is via the route that we climbed on the first day, making a nice circular round trip, all do-able in an afternoon!

 The north side of Mala Mojstrovka.  The route follows a slab and chimney system that splits the wall under the middle peak. Compare this photo with a similar one we took when in the area in 2010.

 Wally relaxing in a cosy chimney with nice chunky cables. 

 The cables were fantastic, where they existed, but they weren't always there when you wanted them.  At times a precipitous scree covered ledge masquerading as a path wound its way across the face.

 Robin enjoying the stupendous views of the peaks above Trenta. 

The following day, the boys took Wally on a wonderful adventure through the Prisojnik window along vertical cables on the north side of the mountain and out on to the sunny meadows of the south.  I rested my legs at camp, with my mind on a bigger target, and spent the day dozing in the sun watching three different kinds of buzzards drifting overhead. By the time the guys had returned, I'd sorted my buzzards from my honey buzzards from my rough legged buzzards.  A day well spent. Next up on the blog: Triglav. Yippee!