Monday, 20 February 2012


I'd always imagined that Lochnagar was some wild and inaccessible place inhabited by monsters (I was perhaps influenced by a story written by Prince Charles?), and the very name, in my head had a ring of beetling cliffs and woolly monsters. So with a brief sojourn in Braemar on the cards, I jumped at the chance to head up there for a look with my friend David. We appraoched from Glen Muick, where I was astonished to find at the end of a long snowy singletrack road, a large car park, choca block, and a pay and display machine. I had no change, so stuffed a fiver in an envelope and tucked it under windscreen wipers, hoping for the best.

 The approach is on an excellent footpath, no doubt funded by the parking fee, and up to a bealach between Meikle Pap and Cuidhe Crom (The low point on the horizon). 

 From the bealach, the dark cliffs of Lochnagar loom in to view. The summit is the high point on the right set back a little from the coire rim.

 The path skirts around the back of the great rocky mass encircling the coire, avoiding the dangerous rim and associated cornices, before emerging close to the summit. There were great views from the top.  This shot is looking south west towards Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach and the vast plateau of the White Mounth. 

 Looking back in to the Coire from the top of Black Spout. A striking grade 1 climb that was heavily corniced yesterday. 

We descended a good path in the gentle glen of the Glas Allt, which suddenly descends precipitously via the cliffs of Falls of the Glasallt. From here an easy stomp took us via Loch Muick back to the car park, where my envelope contained a pay and display ticket, and some change.

This was a great day out, and felt much easier than the 19km that we covered. Careful navigation on the plateau would be required in bad visibility.  We saw tons of wildlife, including mountain hare, ptarmigan, red grouse, golden eagle and a huge bachelor herd of red deer stags.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Winter Holiday Part 4: Aonach Mor Learning Curve

Its the final installment of the trip and Wally and I were "starting" to feel more than a little tired.  I work in the hills, and am used to getting out there day after day but in winter the physical commitment required hits a whole new level and I'm filled with admiration for the MICs and Guides who keep at it in all sorts of weather and still enthuse and inspire their clients.
To keep it gentle on our tired legs we headed up to Aonach Mor via the Gondola on the 12th.  I've climbed a bit on the wild West Face of the hill, but I've never been all the way round to the East Face and looked at the climbs in Coire an Lochain. Of course, this year I'm laying off the climbing to concentrate on my winter walking, but the centre of the face is split by Easy Gully, a grade 1, and perfect ground for practicing emergency winter ML rope work in a realistic situation.

Traversing under the climbs in Coire an Lochain, Aonach Mor. 

Looking up Easy Gully. The cornice had a decent sized slot just to the left of the buttress.

 Looking down Easy Gully, a dense mist rolled around the coire all day and occasionally spilled on to the plateau. 

On the plateau in the mist.  We lingered for a while and looked at snow belays such as buried axes and stompers. 

 Unfortunately while were were on the plateau, we became aware of a drama unfolding in the coire below as a climber had fallen. A Sea King helicopter was in and out of the area several times, with some impressive flying in the swirling mist. The man was airlifted to hospital. I'm happy to say that although he was seriously injured, we've since learned from the UK Climbing Forums that he will be ok.

A magical brockenspectre forming on the mist.

The follwing day, with legs like lead, but knowing that we had not spent enough time looking at snow anchors we decided to head back to Aonach Mor.  Strong winds were forecast, so  we planned a quick foray in to the Nid area, and then a trip back down on the gondola in time for lunch.

Snow snow snow....

 Wedged in my bucket.

We managed a quite few pitches up the Nid before we got a bit fed up with the snow plodding, untied and walked back to the gondola station. It wasn't long before we'd talked ourselves in to heading home to Arran that afternoon.  All in all a worthwhile little trip. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Winter Holiday Part 3: Anticyclonic Gloom

How can you top a three day hike on and around Braeriach in pristine weather and conditions? The answer is, you can't and even after a wee rest, the "anticyclonic gloom" forecasted so ably by MWIS settled and it was a little bit of a comedown. However, we were on a logbook mission, and the weather wasn't that bad, so we had a couple of munro/navigation days around the Roybridge/Meagaidh area.
On day 1, (10th Feb) we headed up the track to Coire Ardair in misty and mild weather, to climb the Window and come back over the top of Stob Poite Coire Ardair and Carn Liath.

 The lochain in the coire was still frozen, but it was clear that a general thaw was taking place.

 Wet but fairly stable snow persisted on the north side of the window, on the other side, much of it had been stripped already. There was lots of avalanche debris below the crags around the window, where cornices had been tumbling.

 On to the ridge of Stob Poite Coire Ardair. We took advantage of the misty weather to practice our navigation around the tops of the coires and gullies on either side. 

On the second day, similar mild and gloomy weather hung low in the glen.  We headed up Stob a Coire Mheadhoin from Fersit- this time on the west side of Loch Treig. We'd seen this peak in all its glory from Stob Coire Sgriodain the week before (see Part 1). Today it was a different mountain, brown, and boggy, with patches of snow clinging on to coire rims and the steep north ridge.

 The north ridge of Stob a Coire Mheadhoin. Spot the two red deer on the horizon!

 Steep snow on the north ridge. 

 Despite being a ridge, it was another good place to work on the nav skills. 

 There were still some wicked cornices hanging on to the scarp slopes. 

 Looking across to the next munro, Stob Coire Easain. This had originally been part of our plan, but the "anticyclonic gloom" wasn't doing much for our motivation, so we decided to have a bit of fun instead and practice our shelter building. 

Working on a "shovel up" a wee snow shelter built around our rucksacks that were shoved in a survival bag.  The snow was piled on top, and the sacks eventually removed leaving a little howf big enough for a person (just!). 

Who says you can't have fun on a wet mizzly day in the hills?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Winter Holiday Part 2: Braeriach, Cairn Toul and Sgor Gaoith

Part 2 is what it is all about for me- this mountain climbing thing- one of those trips where you know there is nowhere else on Earth you would rather be than where you are right now. Fine weather, great conditions and stunning mountains coincided in a shining three day expedition on and around the Braeriach Plateau.

Day 1 gave very little hint of the stellar days to come. We set off from Loch an Eilein in drizzle, sheltering amongst the trees of the Rothiemurchus estate, until we emerged at the entrance to Glen Einich where a gloomy mist hung low over the peaks. We stopped for a bite and watched a small flock of crested tits feeding in the fringes of the forest. Further up the glen, we dumped our packs at a suitable camp spot, and continued upstream to Loch Einich, a moody lake flanked on all sides by looming cliffs. The rain turned to sleet and then briefly to snow. 

Even in gloomy weather Glen Einich is a dramatic place to be.

Sgor Gaoith and the craggy Cailleach tower over the loch at the head of the glen.

We returned to our bags as dusk drew in to pitch our tent by the burn that flows from the coires on the north side of Braeriach.

Day 2 dawned as misty as the previous day, but the sun began to break through the clouds as we set off. We followed the burn up stream until we could easily gain the ridge of Sron na Lairige

 Once we had gained the shoulder, there were impressive views of Ben Macdui and south into the Lairig Ghru. 

 Braeriach itself is a huge lump that rises up on the west side of the Lairig Ghru. In good visibility it was possible to follow the dramatic rim of the plateau.  In bad vis, hidden gullies and cornices would present serious hazards here. 

 Beyond the summit a vast plateau seems to go on forever. We followed the rim around and over Sgor an Lochain Uaine (The Angel's Peak)

 Eventually as the shadows lengthened we reached the summit of Cairn Toul, guarding the southwestern flank of the Lairig Ghru. 

 We retraced our steps back to Angel's Peak, and descended towards the plateau as the moon rose and the sun set. 

Catching the last rays of sun before dropping down to our camp above the Allt Luineag.

Our second night was a cold one, we camped at over 900m with clear skies.  To keep our water from freezing we heated it up and then used our water bottles as hot-water-bottles in our sleeping bags.  I put my boots in my bivy bag to stop them from freezing too, but the one on the outside still froze solid in the night.  It was quite eerie listening in our tent to what was probably only a gentle breeze whistling over the tops in the silence of the plateau. The moon was almost full and the plateau shimmered in the darkness even in the tent it was quite bright.

Dawn on the plateau. Probably the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

 Day 2 and we continued to descend in to the maze of rivers and lochains around the Allt Luineag. Unsure of how solid the snow cover would be, we navigated as best we could around the hidden hazards and boggy traps beneath our feet. We had great views back in to Glen Einich.

Climbing up on to Sgor Gaoith,  we watched as an inversion crept slowly over the plateau to our south. It sped up as it crossed the Allt Luineag and spilled in to Glen Einich.  We sped up too!

Beginning our descent from the ridge, looking back towards Sgoran Dubh Mor and Sgoran Dubh Beag. 

We dropped down to Coire Follais, where a path is marked on the 1:25K maps. Its not a great option, as the path is barely visible in places and in others badly eroded above a ravine. The woodland at the bottom was wonderful though! From there it was an easy stomp back to Loch an Eilein and the van.

Winter Holiday Part 1: The Yin and the Yang

Winter conditions followers will find this update too tardy to be of use, but I've just got back from a ten day break walking on the mainland so I'm going to post what I've been up to in nice tasty chunks.  This is from the first couple of days of our trip, and we saw the best and the worst of Scottish winter weather squeezed in to just 36 hours. I have to remind myself that we need the grim days so we can appreciate the blue sky ones!

Friday 3rd of Feb was a cracker, and I've seen photos all over the mountain blogs of blue skies and crisp snowy vistas from this day. We were in Glen Spean, and headed up two Munros to the south of the Glen, above the hamlet of Fersit. The first, Stob Coire Sgriodain, rises up steeply from the bog and overlooks Loch Treig. Its brother, the rounded hump of Chno Dearg, is less spectacular, but easy to take in as part of a pleasant round trip.

Just a little bit of cloud clinging to the crest of Stob Coire Sgriodain, which soon burned off. 

We found a continuous line of good neve in a groove to the left of the crest.  Steep but straightforward and over all too soon. 

Approaching the summit. 

Dazzling views of Loch Treig and the mountains to the west (Stob a Coire Mheadhoin and Stob Coire Easain)

Wally on the summit of Stob Coire Sgriodain.

The rounded hump of Meall Garbh that lies to the south of the two munros turned out to have a steep side with a curly cornice.

Wally on the summit of Chno Dearg which means "red nut" in Gaelic. 

On the second day, with tired legs from the day before and an unfavourable forecast, we decided to head in to the Northern Corries for some skills practice. In Coire an t-Sneachda we found gale force winds and vicious spindrift.  

 Even in full body armour basic tasks were difficult, and visibility was minimal. We stopped at the first deep patch of snow we came to, a pillow of easy angled windslab, and dug a pit to look at the quickly accumulating layers of snow. Then we had a tinker with some snow anchors. A couple of buckets and a snow bollard or two later we'd had enough and packed up. In the hour or so we were burrowing, about 15cm of snow had built up on and around our kit. Scary rates of deposition!