Much less well known than the Cuillin Ridge traverse, the Lochaber Traverse involves 31km of ridge walking and easy scrambling, starting at the eastern end of the Grey Corries and culminating on Ben Nevis, taking in seven Munro's along the way. It is far less technical than the Cuillin Ridge, and an excellent route for any hill walker looking for a remote multi-day ridge adventure. And this is exactly what Stewart was looking for during his quick hop over the pond from America. With only eight days in Scotland he was cramming in as much as possible, and opted for a three day traverse to get the full experience of the walk.
With a fairly short first day we decided to wait out the rain on Sunday morning and made a start just before lunch. The ascent to gain the ridge is long and grassy, and by the time we reached the first top of Stob Coire Gaibhre the clouds were beginning to part and we were rewarded with views as far as Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag. Reaching the summit of Stob Choire Claurigh saw us on our first Munro of the traverse, and after Stob a' Choire Leith we descended a short way off the ridge to find our camp for the night.
Waking on Monday morning, we were greeted with a much calmer and clearer day - perfect for getting along the bulk of the traverse, with the goal for our next camp being the bealach between Aonach Beag and Carn Mor Dearg. We regained the ridge and before long were standing on our second Munro, Stob Coire an Laoigh. Continuing along the ridge, the descent from Stob Coire Easain brings the only scrambling of the Grey Corries section of the traverse, and it wasn't long until we were faced with the steep climb onto Sgurr Choinnich Mor.
The full traverse is a serious undertaking, involving over 3000m of ascent over it's 31km route, and after descending from Sgurr Choinnich Beag, Stewart had realised this was perhaps a little more than expected. With a day of climbing also booked into his jam-packed schedule, he decided to save some energy for this and called it a day on the traverse. Luckily we were in the perfect place to descend from the ridge, skirt under Aonach Beag and find a very scenic (and relatively midge free!) campsite at the foot of Steall Falls.
Rain and strong winds shaking the tent on Tuesday morning made us feel very grateful that we weren't still high up on the ridge. After a leisurely breakfast in bed we packed up and made the slightly damp walk out through Steall gorge and Glen Nevis to find a very warm and dry welcome at Glen Nevis Restaurant and Bar. The perfect end to three fantastic days in the hills.
Sometimes you have to go east to find dry rock. With a long list of classic mountain rock climbs to do John and I went to Ballater in the search of a crag with some rock climbing that would be dry after the recent steady drizzle on the west coast. We walked in to Creag an Dubh Loch, a first for both of us, and found exactly what we were after. The crags on the west coast will take weeks to dry out proiperly but it has been much drier on the other side of the Cairngorms, as it often is, and we found the brilliant climbs here to be just about completely dry.
After dropping our bivi gear on the beach of the Dubh Loch we went to climb Cyclops, an eight pitch HVS climb with four stars. Not a bad way to get to know the crag! This climb is on the main slabs of the left hand side of the crag and has slabs, overlaps and cracks with sustained brilliant climbing all the way to the top. John and I swung pitches all the way and found the route well enough. One pitch through an overlap threw me for a moment or two. The way through seemed so ridiculous on first sight, I thought it would be much harder than the description states. However, it goes exactly as described and in a brilliant position.
We topped out in the early evening and wandered back down the gully to our beach bivi for chicken tikka for dinner. We settled down on the beach for a very comfortable night with no midges. It's an idyllic setting, like a beach paradise with huge crags of perfect rock right behind. There is no phone reception and virtually nobody else there at all so it feels pretty out there doing these huge climbs.
One problem is choosing what to climb from the many excellent lines available! For our second day we went for the Dubh Loch Monster. This seemed to take an uncompromisingly straight line up a line of crags from bottom to top of the biggest bit of crag. It "only" gets two stars but it is worth a few more in our opinion. The climbing is amazing, sustained, on excellent rock and it does just go straight up with minor sneaky ways around certain sections. The description of the last pitch did not seem to fit what was in front of us or the diagram so we just carried on straight up and this seemed to work!
Another stunning climb, another dinner on the beach (spaghetti bolognaise this time) and another night out in the wild. Unfortunately we got a bit of thick cloud over us during the night and we woke to a damp start with some more showers on the way. So, John and I went down to Ballater with a couple of fabulous climbs in the bag. In the afternoon, between showers and before the deluge of a thunderstorm later on, we climbed a couple of nice routes at the Pass of Ballater. This is a very handy crag right next to the road with some fun climbs. Well worth a visit. Also well worth a visit is the Ballater Hostel. If you are over that way, make sure you stay at the hostel for great facilities and a very warm welcome.
Eagle Ridge on Lochnagar is a super classic climb that dries well after rain. This is just what we were looking for after a deluge on Wednesday night. We walked in with the summit mist clearing away and found the coire full of the shrieks of nesting Peregrine Falcons (I think). Just as described the rock on Eagle Ridge dried very quickly so only the first pitch was a bit greasy and the rest was pretty much all dry. More brilliant climbing all the way to the top of this 200m classic got us to the summit of Lochnagar where the mist came in again and the rain came on as we got back to the glen. Perfect timing. So, four outstanding days of climbing on mountain crags after a period of pretty wet weather was an excellent result. Unfortunately the tumble off the mountain bike on the last day was not so good! It just goes to show, biking is a lot more hazardous than rock climbing!
We only had one dry day on the Summer Mountain Leader Training Course we delivered last week. Wednesday was dry and bright so we went to the Ballachulish horseshoe to look at how to use a rope to safeguard people in the event of an emergency. There is no planned use of a rope in the Summer ML so it is just for emergency use and with no slings or karabiners. We chose good anchors and set up various ways of looking after people including the mountain leader. We found brilliant botany again including globe flowers in bloom.
Finally we enjoyed a two day expedition with an over night camp. Thursday and Friday were foprecast to be very wet again and with 40mph winds on the tops so we stayed low and camped next to Essan bothy on the south side of Loch Eilt. On the way there we walked over Beinn Coire nan Gall and did lots of navigation, leadership and environmental awareness. These are brilliant hills with virtually no paths and lots of interesting terrain. If you want to get away from everything and immerse yourself in botany and geology this is the place to go.
Last winter was mild and short, and we have had a warm, sunny and wet spring so the flowers are all doing very well right now. They seem to have come out sooner and in greater numbers than in previous years. Perhaps this is the year we should have done the Ben Nevis North Face Survey!
Day two of the Summer Mountain Leader Training Course we are running was all about leadership and the environment. We started yesterday by going through the programme for the six day course and exploring the scope of the award and the kind of work you might end up doing with it. We then did a whole lot of navigation training from basic through to really quite complex. We also looked at the weather and how to read a synoptic chart, and a couple of models of leadership ready for today.
We went up to the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis. we could not cross the Allt a'Mhuilinn easily lower down as it was quite high after rain last night. We looked at assessing and leading groups in all sorts of situations from simple paths to complex and difficult terrain as well as the leadership styles required to do so. We practised safeguarding people on steep sections in a command style and how to manage differences in abilities in the people in the group. We also looked at techniques to build confidence in people to help them down terrain they are not happy with.
Land management and the impact of deer, humans and many other things on the ground were hot subjects. The botany on Ben Nevis is a favourite subject of mine and we were treated to a display of sibaldia and moss campion in flower, dwarf cudweed, speedwell and what I think was wavy meadow grass. This was certainly in the area that we found it last august on the North Face Survey but it has been a while since then and I might have got it wrong. Finding lots of wavy meadow grass, and in two new locations, was a great result of the survey.
We went to the foot of Number Five Gully, up to the top of Moonlight Gully Buttress and across Coire na Ciste to come out underneath Douglas Boulder. Thankfully I know my way around these areas as we were in thick mist just about all day! We only saw one patch of snow in the left hand gultch - I don't think the snow patch counters will have a big job this year.
I go to the wild to be put in my place, to be battered and
embraced by wind, rain and sun;
I go to the wild to be reminded of what matters in this world;
I go to the wild to remember who I am;
I go to the wild to feel;
I go to the wild.
R. Bradley 25th April 2017
Rachel Bradley is a student at West Highland College here in Fort William. She wrote this poem recently, when she finished writing her dissertation as part of her fourth year studies. We liked it so much we asked if we could use it and you'll now see it on the home page of our website. Her dissertation is all about motivation to take part in outdoor activities and it got me thinking more about why I like climbing mountains so much.
Immersion in Nature
The first thing to appreciate is the value of being in touch with nature. I know people whose job it is to re-green city streets so that people get to see things growing in their daily lives. GP's are prescribing daily doses of being in nature by walking through a town park, which is very good for people with depression. Imagine then the positive impact on us when we immerse ourselves completely in nature by climbing mountains. The further away from anything man made the better. Once you know about why the landscape looks the way it does, you'll realise that it is all affected by people. However, if it is growing or natural it is easy to convince yourself that it is wild and natural, and we can be totally surrounded for days at a time.
Modern daily lives are lived at a frenetic pace with continuous stimulation and information for us to digest. It is important to take time out every now and then; breathing space to reset your brain, slow things down and take stock. You can do this in many ways, all of which are a form of meditation. In fact you can simply meditate in your front room. However, when you combine this meditation from physically and mentally separating yourself from your day to day concerns with total immersion in nature, it becomes all the more effective.
Climbing mountains is perfect exercise. It involves a fat burning, lung and heart loving cardio-vascular work out with plenty of bending, stretching and toning. We are designed to be out and about, constantly moving and working. Climbing mountains is the best way to get that level of exercise that you can keep doing well into later life, that is continuously inspiring and that is free! No gym membership fees are required to walk or run or climb up a mountain!
You can get in touch with nature, meditate and do exercise in a park in a city and achieve everything so far. This would be a very good thing for everyone to do. However, mountains also the chance to challenge ourselves, to push us to our limits and to feel what it is like to be committed to our own ability for survival. I don't just mean hanging off cliff faces, although for some this is the level of challenge that is appropriate. For most it is taking on a walk, reaching the top of a Munro, scrambling along a narrow ridge or dealing with all the natural hazards of winter. Think how much more intensely we are connected to nature when we take on this challenge in the mountains. How much more are we separated from our daily lives when our whole world is reduced to a single moment, a single hold on the rock, a single bearing on the compass we have to get right. And think how much more we will drive ourselves to perform when getting back down in one piece is dependent on it.
Rachel's poem expresses all this perfectly, and far better than I can ever hope to do. We don't climb mountains "because they are there". We climb them for very good reasons that are well understood, studied and researched. It's a potent mix of being in touch with wild nature, escape from our daily lives, exercise and challenge that gives us the chance to reset, re-calibrate, and regain a proper sense of perspective on the world.
Northerly winds have brought the temperature down markedly on Ben Nevis. Last night it was freezing on the summit and we saw rime ice growing on the rocks and cairns. This forms when loud is blown onto exposed rocks in sub-freezing conditions, making ice grow into the wind. By the time Alistair and I got there is was starting to melt away but it was certainly still cold on top.
Alistair has walked a good few mountains in Ireland and around the world so we got on absolutely fine on Ben Nevis. The colder conditions were ideal for walking up and as long as you put on some warm clothes when you stopped it was fine then too. Hats and gloves were essential though. We got the usual view from the summit unfortunately but the cloud had risen to 1200m on the way down so we had brilliant views over to Rum and down to Mull. It's been really quite a changeable week of weather so we were lucky to have a pretty good day today.
David first climbed Ben Nevis in 1979 with his father. It was through his father that David got into climbing mountains in the UK and in the Alps. He has carried on walking ever since and today David took his son James up Ben Nevis. To make it even more fun we went the hard way; the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.
We walked up the long slope to Carn Dearg Meadhanach and into the cloud. We saw the North Face cliffs and gullies for a short while on the way up but unfortunately they were quickly hidden behind the cloud. It's a long way up to Carn Mor Dearg, the first of the two Munro's but we got there in very good time ready for the narrow ridge connecting it to Ben Nevis.
The cloud was only slightly damp and the wind dropped away as we went around so it was actually quite pleasant up there. The rock is quite grippy where people have trodden before and we managed to stay right on the crest all the way around. There were only two other people on the ridge but when we got to the summit of Ben Nevis there were, as always, a good few more people. David said that in the 38 years since he was last there one thing has certainly not changed - the view from the top!
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.