Still perfect in the West.
A few years ago I started climbing the Skye Cuillin Munros with Jim. He wanted a little help to reach these particularly rocky and exposed summits but said that he would never do all the Munros because that would mean climbing Inaccessible Pinnacle. So after many days of scrambling and a couple of days of specific training we managed to climb Inaccessible Pinnacle with Jim's daughter Aileen on a beautiful sunny day yesterday.
It was quite a busy day but we did not have to wait long and everyone, including us, got up very smoothly before making the abseil back down to Sgurr Dearg. So this was Jim's last Munro but the work does not stop there - he is already working on the Corbett's! Today we walked up past the Fairy Pools to Sgurr a'Fheadain with it's very impressive gully running its full height called the Waterpipe.
We climbed The Spur to the left of the Waterpipe and found it to be a very fine grade 2 scramble in a brilliant position. The top is a fantastic viewpoint and the ridge connecting it to Bidean Druim nam Raimh is very nice too. Aileen and I went to the top of Bidean before we all went back down past the (very busy) Fairy Pools. Very dry weather is forecast to stay with us for the rest of the week at least - perfect weather for scrambling and rock climbing.
Perfection on the West Coast.
What a week we're having! After an incredible few weeks off on holiday in Mongolia, I arrived back in Fort William to wall to wall sunshine and a few days free to get out to play. On Tuesday Connor, Maddie and I went to hunt out some crags we hadn't visited before at our local spot at Polldubh, but this time made the longer walk in to Upper Polldubh. It takes about an hour to reach Saddle Crag and it's well worth the effort. Being high up there's a good breeze to take away the dreaded midge when they'll be swarming down below, and the rock is clean, unpolished and downright lovely! We climbed 'Gnork' then wandered across to Rounded Crag to climb 'Blue Lace' (amazing route!) and 'Omalegs'. Our very casual start meant we had to call it a day there and go and make a plan for Wednesday.
Again with Connor and Maddie, another day of sun took us down to Buachaille Etive Mor and we were aiming for 'North Face Route' on Central Buttress. What we actually did, however, is anyone's guess! Despite being off route we had six pitches of great climbing before descending Curved Ridge, and another excellent day out.
Yesterday I was working for Atlas Mountaineering and Stephen couldn't have picked a better day for CMD Arete and Ben Nevis. There was plenty of high cloud around in the morning for the climb but this was breaking up nicely as we reached the summit of Carn Dearg Meadhonach, and from Carn Mor Dearg it was clear all the way. The arete is completely clear of snow and with only a gentle breeze we were able to stick to the crest all the way along. A clear top, views out to Skye and a barrell-roll over the summit courtesy of the RAF made for a perfect day on the Ben. Here's hoping the rest of the summer continues like this!
More wild west camping.
With another Mountain Leader course this week I've had the opportunity to explore some more brilliant wild west coast hills. This time it's an assessment course so we had three days and two nights out camping to climb Gaor Bheinn by walking up Druim na Giuthsaich. The first camp site was under the NE Face of Gaor Bheinn in a wild and remote coire where we did some night navigation too.
We did a lap of Gaor Bheinn at the start of day two and were rewarded with extraordinary views from Skye to Ben Nevis. We picked up the camping gear and went down and back up to Druim Glean Laoigh, another brilliant, long ridge line. A second camp in the sunshine (and more night navigation) set us up for walking over Beinn Bhan today and back down to Achnacarry.
Apart from a little light rain on the first evening, we had continuous sunshine and a cool NE wind. The ground is very dry and the walking on these ridges was fantastic. We had expansive views in all directions on the big scale and on the small scale we passed numerous nests with eggs of ground nesting birds and new flowers coming to life.
Wild West Camping.
Every Mountain Leader training course has a wild camping expedition to train camping skills that leave no trace. We went to Lochailort to go up An Stac and Rois Bheinn with a camp under the north side of Rois Bheinn. After a dry first day it started raining as we set up the tents and it rained a lot! Our expedition skills were very well tested.
Over night we spent a few hours doing some night navigation. With the persistent rain it was pretty tough to see the detail on the map and get the details for the compass bearing and distance to pace out. Alex, Stephen, Yuka, Will and Louise all did very well though and we survived the night and a great walk today navigating by contour interpretation. It was a strong group for the training course which reflects the training many of them have already had at West Highland College and the experience they already have in their log books. I look forward to seeing them on an assessment course.
Meanwhile we had two teams on Ben Nevis, our scheduled guided walk and a private guided walk. One team made it and the other turned around at 1150m which is higher than most mountains in the UK. After a very wet start all the guys did very well on Ben Nevis especially since there is still a good bit of snow on the ground on top.
Mountain Leaders need to know how to deal with emergencies so today we went through all the rope work skills that will get a leader and the group out of trouble. It's all done with just a rope and body belays, no slings or karabiners at all. Anchor selection, different ways of belaying and managing the whole process with a group as well as safeguarding the leader with the rope were all practised in several different situations.
After a long dry spell we had the first rain yesterday and last night so the rocks were wet and slippery on Meall Cumhainn. In fact the weather looks quite unsettled for the next few days and the weekend. It's much warmer though and the flowers are starting to come out. We even saw some white Lousewort.
Summer Mountain Leader Training
This week I am working on a Summer Mountain Leader Training Course. This is a Mountain Training qualification that covers leading groups in UK and Irish mountains in summer walking. Yesterday we discussed the scope of the award and equipment to carry as a leader before spending most of the day out walking and practising navigation techniques and strategy.
Today's focus was on leadership. We discussed everything from planning and preparing your group in advance of the day, checking gear and assessing abilities at the start of the day, different leadership styles and their use in different situations as well as specific techniques to keep a group together and to keep everyone comfortable and inspired. We were in Glen Coe on the East Face of Aonach Dubh which gave me the opportunity to reach the summit for the first time in twenty years of living here! Another one off the list.
Busy on Ben Nevis.
Ben Nevis was busy today and for good reason. The snow has receded quickly so that most of the walk up from Glen Nevis can be done on the rocks. The sun was shining again and the wind was lighter than previously. It was also not too hot so it made for great conditions to be out and about. We had just one walker in our Guided Group Walk, Delicia, who came over from the US to climb Ben Nevis. She and Connor made it to the top in good time so they went down to the Half Way Lochain and round towards the CIC before coming down by the Allt a'Mhuillin. So Delicia had a brilliant tour of the whole mountain.
Meanwhile Scott, Mark and their team of bikers went up to the CIC Hut as well to ride the excellent Allt a'Mhuillin trail and some of the natural and built single track in Leanachan Forest. They stopped a couple of times to watch the British Downhill Series riders in action and soak up the atmosphere at Nevis Range too. It looks like this period of fantastic weather might break down this week so make sure you get out and enjoy it while it lasts.
Canyoning in the sunshine.
This week had been quite varied in adventures but constant in weather. After an amazing day on my bike in the sunshine on Tuesday I had an easier day on Wednesday with some training at Three Wise Monkeys Climbing and sailing with Lochaber Yacht Club while Lucy took a small group up Ben Nevis. Yesterday I went up Ben Nevis with Victor (our springer spaniel) to climb Ledge Route and ski down Number Four Gully. Meanwhile Scott and Mark have been mountain biking with a big group of very experienced riders on the West Highland Way and Devil's Staircase.
Today I was canyoning with the top team at Active Highs in the Laggan Canyon. These guys have been running this canyon for many years now and they know it backwards. It's a great trip with lots of shoots and slides with some optional jumps. At the bottom there is a big waterfall which needs a wee abseil into a great pool in a big cauldron. There is a bird nesting in the rocks between the two cascades with hungry looking chicks in the nest. What a great week of adventures immersed in nature and unbroken sunshine!
One of the best things about my job as a mountain bike guide and coach is product development. It's very hard to know if a trail on the map is good to ride. Satellite images are very helpful and give more of an idea but there is really only one way to find out and that is to go and ride it. So today, Victor (our springer spaniel) and I went off to check out a trail I have wanted to ride for ages. It was a total winner too!
What I like about mountain biking is riding over the tops of big hills, preferably ridges, on good riding trails. Unfortunately there are not many like this. Most ridges are too rocky or steep for a regular rider like me (I'm not Danny MacAsckill) but this one seemed to have all the ingredients I want. The ride up was 50:50 walking and riding and there was a nice wee descent to a bothy for a quick breather. A big push up then got me to the top at just under 900m and amazing views of Munros all around.
The ride along the ridge with the wind behind me was brilliant with steep gullies down through the crags going past in a blur. The first run down was 500m descent to the bothy on outstanding and very narrow hard pack single track. I went back a different way to the one planned and ended up on a 400m descent over nearly 7km back to the van. 34km in total and 1500m ascent and descent in hot sunshine on bone dry trails. This is why biking in Scotland is world class!
Chasm to Crowberry Traverse
Blustery showers of snow above 800m made it not quite right for rock climbing today so Mike and I went for an exploration of the SE side of Stob Dearg on Buachaille Etive Mor. We climbed the Chasm to Crowberry Tower Traverse which is a brilliant expedition. It had all the hallmarks of a challenging day with wet rock (then dry, then wet, then dry ....) sunshine, snow showers, big boulders rolling under our feet and route choices to be made all the way up. If you ever get a chance, go and look into the depths of The Chasm. It's a brilliant sight. One day I might even get to climb this traditional gully but I'll choose a dry, warm day.
There are still a few patches of old snow around so I was glad of my big boots. As it melts, the trumpet lichen is pushing through with its Devil's Matchsticks. Near the top the old snow was getting quite firm so don't pack away the crampons yet if you are exploring the tops of the hills. We went to the summit and down the path as far as the top of Coire na Tullach. For the first time I then turned left and went down the wild and rugged coire into Glen Etive back to the van. For a very popular and busy hill, this felt like a rarely visited aspect of it and it gave Mike and i a great day out.
Tomorrow, Three Wise Monkeys opens in Fort William. This is the new indoor climbing wall built in the MacIntosh Church close to the High Street. I have been lucky enough to have had a couple of preview visits and I think it looks excellent. The quality of finish and details in the climbing walls is really high, the routes are varied and very good fun and the bouldering wall looks ace (I'm keen to have a go on it for the first time tomorrow). Get along to the grand opening at 1pm if you can and show some support to Oliver, Naomi, Dan and the team!
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.