Saturday, 7 December 2013

Goatfell after the Storm: The Evidence of Things Unseen

Its been quite a week, between the weather, international and personal events it's all felt a bit monumental. I found myself in a pensive mood on Friday morning after a hectic couple of days on the mainland and as I arrived on Arran, decided I needed a some Lucy time to get my feet back on the ground. My favourite mountain fix is a round of Coire Lan, with the summit of Goatfell at its highest point. On this occasion I decided to walk up from Corrie, and return via the Brodick path, taking in the Stacach Ridge on the way. 

Setting out on the Corrie path- Goatfell just visible.

The sky was grey but the peaks were clear of cloud as I set off. The dusting of snow and the early winter colours gave the light a beautiful sepia glow. It wasn't long before I was crunching through snow and ice on the steep track in to Coire Lan.  I could feel the temperature rising as I climbed, and soon the ridges were disappearing in to a soft mist. 

Coire Lan with Goatfell on the skyline.
There was plenty of evidence of wildlife, with marks everywhere in the snow from the previous night's activity.  I found the prints of a mink running up the track for a 100m or so.  This is an invasive species that has had a devastating affect on Arran's ground nesting birds.  It used to be seen often all over the island, but is now a rare sight, pushed in to an ever tighter niche by the apparent increase in otters.  The fresh tracks proof however that this fierce member of the weasel family survives on Arran.

Mink tracks in the snow.

Tracks of a small bird, my instinct says wren, but the book says wren tracks are symmetrical (?)
Field vole tracks, complete with vole holes.

I dawdled for quite a while in Coire Lan, distracted from my walk with so much to look at.  Eventually I found myself on the long pull up on to the bealach between North Goatfell and Mullach Buidhe.  My intention had been to traverse the ridge with a direct route over the top of the tors, as from a distance the rock looked snow free.  However, on close inspection, and after a futile 20 minutes of tip toeing down the slabs off the back of North Goatfell, I decided to retreat and take the lower path.  The rocks were indeed mostly snow free, but a thin veneer of ice made the going very slow,  and really there was too much ice to proceed without crampons, but not enough for crampons to be fun. I stayed bare booted and took the traverse path below the buttresses.  Even here I cut steps in a couple of places, before rejoining the ridge beyond the difficulties.

View in to Glen Sannox from the bealach.
Mullach Buidhe living up to its name of "Yellow Hill" even in the mist and light snow.
Wobbly icicles blowing in an imaginary wind are signs of the storm of the previous day.

By the time I made it to the summit of Goatfell, it was snowing gently and there was absolutely no view whatsoever.  I'm lucky as I've been up there so often I can sense it even without seeing it- but there is a little plaque on the summit pointing out the bits you can't see if the mist is down when you arrive.

Goatfell Summit

Descending the main path back to Brodick, the snow got deeper, and was lying in little drifts on the path where it had blown in the previous day.  I cannot imagine the wind speeds up there yesterday- they measured gusts of over 100mph in Saltcoats just across the water.  The snow up here looked like little round balls of polystyrene called graupel- rimed up snowflakes that fall to earth from turbulent air masses. This stuff forms persistent weak layers of ball-bearing like material that if buried and can cause avalanches.  Thankfully a mega thaw set in today so I imagine it has all gone by now.

Graupel- rimed up snowflakes

WH Murray wrote of the "evidence of things not seen" in the mountains, this gave him faith in a world filled with pain.  For me, the stories that the rocks and the snow tell about the world give me similar comfort, if not evidence of a divine presence, at least a connection to something much bigger than the bewildering lives of human beings.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Southern Highlands- early season Winter walking

It's been a bit quiet on the blog recently, as we've been in that wet and stormy "lull" between Summer and Winter that passes for Autumn on Arran.  This one has been particularly wild and windy.  However, last week Autumn took a little break and winter moved in. Wally and I grabbed the opportunity to head to the mainland for a few days to enjoy some early season snow.  We didn't need to head far, exploring parts of the Southern Highlands that regrettably we've overlooked until now.

Friday: We had a wander over Beinn Vorlich (Lochearnhead) towards Stuc a' Chroin, where we found the scramble on the northeast ridge to be in fine condition, with frozen turf and good snow. The high point of my day was finding weasel tracks in the snow at 900m.

Northeast ridge of Stuc a Chroin
Looking back at Beinn Vorlich from Stuc a' Chroin
Arran is just visible if you look hard to the right of the sun!

Weasel tracks high on Stuc a' Chroin.

Saturday: We traversed An Caisteal from the Glen Falloch side. With a day in the legs already we took it easy and omitted the second munro Beinn a Chroin, (normally included in the circuit), and instead descended from the bealach to the south back to the car. An Caisteal has a surprisingly awkward but fun little step just below the summit on the north side.

Scrambling up towards the summit.
Seemingly endless arching ridges away to the southeast.
An Caisteal summit from the bealach.

Sunday: We took it easy and headed to Ardrossan to help out the Arran Mountain Rescue Team with a bit of fundraising.

Monday: It was back to the hills and an early start from Inverlochlarig in Rob Roy's Glen saw us climbing the steep flanks of Beinn Tulaichean.  From there it was on to the lovely summit of Cruach Ardrain.

Beinn Tulaichean rising out of the mist on a frosty morning.
The mist lingered in the valley long after the sun hit the slopes.
Beinn Tulaichean behind, on the way up to Cruach Ardrain
Looking over to Beinn Mor and Stob Binnein

Today there is a thaw in the air and it looks like a return to Autumn for a few more days yet.  Hopefully Winter proper is not long around the corner!  Finally, a big thanks to Wally for taking these great photos.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Taking it easy in La forĂȘt de Fontainebleau

Trip reports from low grade boulderers are not exactly gripping stuff so I'll not bore you to death with the a blow by blow account of my recent climbing trip to the Foret de Fontainebleau.  I don't climb hard;  there are no stunning photos of death defying ascents. However, if you are an average uk trad climber and you've never been to "Font", thinking as any normal person would, that bouldering is too short lived/boring/you are a normal body weight/like to keep your top on:  then think again.  Its unlike bouldering anywhere else I've ever been.  The particular gang of forest wanderers I hang out with tend to do a lot of circuits, following colour coded trails around the forest, ticking off harder problems if distracted, but often simply rolling from boulder to boulder, following the dots, keeping the heart rate up and the muscles moving.  Its very sociable and a big laugh.  I'm not very good at the bouldering bit but the laughing comes naturally. Unless you have a serious croissant addiction its also the cheapest foreign climbing holiday out there. Here are a few photos to whet your appetite.

White circuits like this one at Canche aux Merciers are great for children of all ages, families and novice climbers
Up and over.... Following circuits is like following an adventure trail laid out by ingenious and mischievous pioneers. This is the Yellow at L'Elephant.

Extraordinary forest scenery.  Mer des Sables, Cul de Chien.

This PD+ slab is on a yellow circuit entwined with a harder Blue circuit at Roche aux Sabots, allowing many grades of climbers to climb together.

The local wildlife climbs pretty well too.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Sutherland Road Trip

I've lived in Scotland for 9 years, and although I'm definitely not a native, I certainly don't miss my southern roots all that much.  Its hard to imagine a time when I might choose to base myself south of the border again- nature is extravagant and regal here, the hills are empty and quiet as soon as you leave the beaten track.  I feel as though I could spend my entire life exploring this wild country, and only scratch the surface. However, until last weekend there was something specific that I missed about "down south"... something that felt irreplaceable and lost for ever in the move North....  I have periodically longed for the relaxed combination of sandy coves, rock climbing, surfing and rolling hills that I thought only Pembrokeshire in the West of Wales could provide.

Oldshoremore Bay, Sutherland
I was wrong. I've been to Sutherland before, on a different journey that encompassed the hills and the wide sweeping landscapes for which the "empty lands" are famous.  On this occasion however the hills were swathed in storms and gales, and so we naturally focused our attention on the coasts.  Dodging showers and blustery winds, we found plenty of our own fun, bouldering in secret bays and surfing empty breaks. This was a beach holiday just like my long weekends of ancient past.  Surf, weather and rock, with mugs of hot chocolate and drams of fiery whisky to warm us after getting soaked on the beach. Not exactly like Pembrokeshire, but similar, and better, because between the cloudbursts, the skies might clear, to reveal Sutherland's other side, magestic peaks, marching over the empty flow country, like giant dinosaurs in the desert.

We began our adventure at Brora on the east coast.  Home of Clynelish distillery and a quiet windswept beach behind the links golf course. We braved the north sea surf for the first time and found it warmer than expected. From here we headed to Scourie and a deserted campsite to get a wash and some mod cons.  The following day we watched showers blast along the coast, cheering as they kept on missing us and we explored the empty beaches and headlands beyond Kinlochbervie.  There is unlimited bouldering potential here, at every grade.

Boogie board at Brora
Wally catches a wave
Scourie sunset

Bouldering on the beach at Oldshoremore

Taking in the view after an evening bouldering at Droman Pier. 
We found a secluded spot for the van that evening, cracked open the Clynelish, and sat on the slipway at the water's edge swaddled in primaloft while a salty gale blew in. The van was battered all night by the wind but we slept soundly in our whisky haze.  The following morning the weather was barely better.  We set off for the famous Sandwood bay, and were blown across 7km of moorland on the approach, the bouldering mat acting as a sail. The beach is worth the walk.  If you are lucky enough to visit, don't be one of the sad-sacks who slogs over the hill, takes a few pictures and leaves.  The true nature of the place takes a while to sink in.  We spent a few hours there running among the dunes and crags, splashing in the sea and leaping in to the sand. We nearly lost the bouldering mat, which cartwheeled across the beach before the wind.   Next time we will bring a rope as the climbing looks fabulous.  The rock is a strange glassy gneiss that is absolutely bomproof and gorgeous to the touch.  It looks permanently wet- making it harder to spot the places where it genuinely does seep...

The long walk in to Sandwood Bay
Perfect sandy landings at Sandwood.
Sandwood Bay
Strathy Bay surf
On our final day, we returned to the waves, this time on the north coast, surfing in the rain at Strathy. Autumn has many gifts but most people don't include the weather, unless they like water!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Beinn Nuis Lockheed C-60A Lodestar 42-56014 Crash Site

There are a number of air crash sites from WWII on Arran, including three on Beinn Nuis.  Two of these are fairly accessible, but the third, a Lockheed  C-60A Lodestar flying from Prestwick to Stornoway in 1943, is located high in a remote gully and not easy to reach.
I was contacted by a family member of one of the victims who hoped to visit the site.  Luckily he is fellow mountain fan, and so we enjoyed an adventurous day exploring the slopes and gullies between the Nuis Face and the Flat Iron Tower.  Although the visibility was virtually nil, it wasn't long before we found the site.  Being there with someone who has a direct connection to the site brought home  in a very poignant way, the loss and sacrifice that so many young airman and their families suffered during WWII.

The plane came down almost 70 years ago on the 30th Sept 1943. Seven people were on board and all were lost. There is more information about this and other air crash sites on Arran available online here.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Stacach and Goatfell, Showers and Sunshine

Today there was a chill in the air as the wind swung to the east and brisk blustery showers rolled in from the sea. I was working today on Goatfell and North Goatfell, with a lovely high traverse of Stacach Ridge, the rocky curtain that hangs between the two peaks. Its a great scramble, due to the damp weather, we avoided the trickiest sections with a wander along a traverse path that cuts under the buttresses on the east side.  Finally we topped out on Goatfell to fantastic panoramic views. 

Mist billowing over the rim of Mullach Buidhe

Stacach from North Goatfell.

Cir Mhor, posing nicely in the Autumn light.

Looking back towards North Goatfell from the summit of Goatfell.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Beinn Nuis, Beinn Tarsuinn and Beinn a Chliabhain

The Three Beinns of Beinn Nuis, Tarsuinn and Chliabhain form one of the best ridge walks on Arran and one I'm always happy to be working on.  Yesterday Anne and had a great day doing this classic horseshoe. 

Highland cattle enjoying the lush grass in Glen Rosa

We took a leisurely start and enjoyed the sunshine in Glen Rosa. However, it wasn't long before we were climbing up out of the glen alongside the rocky gorge of the Garbh Allt.  Higher up we crossed the river, before beginning the steep climb up the southern ridge of Beinn Nuis.

Views down the ridge towards Brodick and Lamlash Bays

Looking across to Beinn Tarsuinn from Beinn Nuis summit.

From Beinn Nuis, we took a high level stroll amongst magnificent rock architecture to the summit of Beinn Tarsuinn, guarded by the stern face of the Old Man of Tarsuinn, who keeps a look out from close to the summit.

The Old Man of Tarsuinn

From Beinn Tarsuinn, a steep descent and a high pass led us to the final summit of the Three Beinns, the diminutive peak of Beinn a Chliabhain.  This mountain is dwarfed by its neighbours, but the fine crest offers great views of the entire Goatfell range.

The meadow face of Beinn Tarsuinn from Beinn a Chliabhain

A' Chir, Caisteal Abhail and Cir Mhor from Beinn a Chlibhain.