Glencoe is a special place to go scrambling. Somewhere between walking and rock climbing, scrambling takes you over steep rocky ground with simple climbing skills and some rope work but without the stop-start of pitched rock climbing. Glencoe is perfect for it because it has lots and lots and lots of clean rock at a nice angle. Not only this but the rock is very often well covered in positive hand holds and foot holds. Today, Jim, Fiona and I went up Buachaille Etive Mor via Broad Buttress. It's only 2km from the car park to the summit but you climb up 740m and most of this is on the rock!
Jim and Fiona have been enjoying many of Scotland's best mountains such as An Teallach and Suilven. This time they want to explore more adventurous terrain and have a go at Aonach Eagach. Broad Buttress was a great warm up with a chance to get to used to moving along tied on to a rope and to do a little movement coaching. The exposure on Broad Buttress was great today with views down to the glen and right across Rannoch Moor.
From the top of the buttress it is a short walk to the summit of Stob Dearg where we got great views in between the clouds. There were one or two showers and it is feeling a little cooler now we are nearly into September. Some of the Autumn colours are starting to appear already making me think that winter is not far away! However, it would be nice if we have a summery day for Aonach Eagach tomorrow.
This week, Dave Anderson and I have been assessing five candidates to become Summer Mountain Leaders. This five day course requires 60 hours of contact time and each candidate must have at least 40 quality days of mountain walking in their log books. It's an intense week for both candidates and assessors!
Working as a Summer Mountain Leader requires great leadership skills, navigation, camp craft, environmental knowledge and the skills to manage an incident or accident. All of these aspects of the award are covered in the assessment. We started out with the emergencies, rescues and stream crossings on Doire Ban near Lundavra. We went to Glen Coe for the steep ground day which we spent in Number Two Gully on the West Face of Aonach Dubh. This is a steep walk with occasional simple scrambling in a very dramatic place. Careful route choice and group management as well as safeguarding are required to lead people here.
For our three day expedition we went to the Ardverikie hills. The candidates spoke with the stalkers to check we would nopt disturb them at their work before heading to Beinn a'Chlachair on the first day. We found a wonderful camp site at the col to the NE and enjoyed a great show from the sunset and clouds floating in and out of the coire. We enjoyed several hours of night time walking as well, checking out the navigation kills of the candidates in poor visibility.
The second day took us over Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhin, so we reached three munros on the trip. Another brilliant camp site and a walk down and over Meall Cos Charnan on the last day, with the group planning the route, the timings and leading it, got us back to the van. Well done and thank you to all the candidates for all the hard work you put in to this week. It's great to have a new crop of mountain leaders inspiring people in the Scottish hills.
Something like 80% of all the heather in the world is in Scotland. Much of this is in the Cairngorms and today it looked like it was all in flower. The Cairngorms have turned purple! What a wonderful sight it was for Sue and I as we walked up onto the plateau to do some navigation. Bog asphodels have been doing very well this year as well and we saw plenty still in full flower, sharp yellow counterpoints to the purple haze.
Despite the weather forecast for thick cloud on the tops and persistent rain, it was mostly dry this side of the A9 and we had much less cloud than expected. It was cold though with a stiff westerly breeze that brought out the dachstein mitts and wooly hats. We went up through Coire Laogh Mor and round the east side of cairngorm before coming back over the top and back down through Coire Ciste. We did get some cloud and low visibility on the very top as well as some rain which was useful for the navigation we were doing.
So we now have another fine summer mountain leader. Sue passed today by demonstrating good navigation skills all the way round the walk. I know that the Duke of Edinburgh students she often works with will have a great time with her as their mountain leader. For me, this was a wee warm up to another mountain leader assessment we have starting on Monday. It looks like we will get some mixed weather for that too!
Tomas and his father Charlie wanted to climb Old Man of Hoy to raise funds for Climbers Against Cancer. At the age of 12, Tomas is quite young for such a big challenge and the question was asked, who made the youngest ascent? It seems that Tomas not would be the youngest; Ollie Buckle climbed it last year with his father at the age of 10. With a bit more digging into the archives, it transpired that a 7 year old boy climbed it with his father way back in 1968.
One of the 15 million viewers who tuned in to watch the 1967 live spectacle were father and son, Arthur & Roy Clarkson. They planned their ascent for the following year. Seven year old Roy and his father from Lancashire took five hours to get to the top, watched by his mum and brothers and sister. The Orcadian reported that once on top they enjoyed some orange juice and blackcurrants before building a cairn!
However, Tomas climbing the Old Man of Hoy at the age of 12 was a very notable ascent and we planned on climbing all three Patey stacks in the one trip. Old Man of Hoy, Am Buachaille and Old Man of Stoer were all first climbed by Tom Patey and if Tomas could climb all three he would be the youngest person ever to do so.
Charlie, Tomas and I met in Inverness on Saturday along with star mountain guide Donald King who would be climbing with Kelvin. We also met film students Fiann and Charlie who came along to record the climbs on film. It was a wet and blustery drive north to Thurso but sailing past the 300m high cliffs of Hoy and getting our first view of the Old Man were inspiring. It takes a whole day to get to Rackwick Bay from Inverness with 120 miles of driving, a 90 minute ferry ride to Stromness followed by another 30 minute ferry ride to Hoy and a short taxi shuttle to Rackwick Bay. Thankfully, we were greeted by a wonderful bothy in one of the most spectacular bays in Scotland. We sorted gear and settled down for an early start to go climbing the next day.
Sunday turned out to be dry, sunny and not too breezy. It was perfect for climbing the red sandstone of Hoy. There are no restrictions imposed on us by tides since Old Man of Hoy is not tidal. We scrambled over the boulder ridge connecting the stack to the mainland and got on with the climbing. There is just one simple pitch before we were thrown into the crux pitch of the whole trip. As well as being E1,5b climbing there is a descent and a traverse to get into the crux corner system which is overhanging above and undercut below. It's really quite a spectacular place to get used to sea stack climbing! As ever with sandstone, bridging and pushing on the flat and rounded holds is the key, something that is hard to train for on a climbing wall!
After the crux pitch the climbing eases off dramatically. However, there are four more short pitches each with a mix of damp rock, sandy ledges, loose blocks and fulmars vomiting and pooing on you! We got to the top in good time though and enjoyed a few minutes soaking up the unique character of a sea stack. Being surrounded by the ocean is quite a feeling on a rock climb and we even saw a pod of orca swim by the base of the stack! There was such a sense of everything fitting together for the trip. The weather, the team, the challenge; it was all coming together. Getting up is just half the job though and we had three tricky abseils to enjoy to get back down before a second night at the bothy in Rackwick Bay.
Just as it took a day to get to Hoy, it took another whole day of traveling to get back to mainland Scotland and around the north coast to Sheigra. This was another wet day and we were grateful to be driving. Free wild camping in the sunshine at Sheigra with a bit of bouldering set us up for the climb of Am Buachaille. This is certainly the most serious of the three stacks with a long walk in, no phone signal, a swim to the stack and bold climbing on dubious rock. Again, the sun was shining so the swim was very pleasant (once we were used to the cold shock of jumping in!) and we got to the summit in plenty of time.
There is some time pressure on Am Buachaille to get back to the mainland before the tide comes in. There have been a few enforced nights spent on the summit and we did not want to add to this list! Youngest person to spend a night on a sea stack was not a target we wanted to reach! One abseil gets you down though and we even managed a wee tyrolean traverse to get Tomas (and Donald just about) back across the channel in the dry. A relatively short and absolutely spectacular drive got us to Lochinver pie shop for dinner!
In comparison to Hoy and Am Buachaille, The Old Man of Stoer is quite friendly. There was a tyrolean rope in place and the rock is quite solid and non-sandy. In fact the climbing is really good and with no fulmars it turned out to be a really fun day of climbing! We were in the groove, well used to the feel, the atmosphere and the smell of sea stacks and we enjoyed a few minutes of warm sunshine on the summit looking over the ocean to the Outer Hebrides and Canada beyond.
So, the team of Tomas and Charlie, Kelvin, Donald and I climbed all three Patey sea stacks in the sunshine in five days. For Tomas, this is the youngest ascent of all three; for all of us it was one of the best climbing trips we have made in Scotland. The group of people, the weather and the climbing itself all made it a trip to remember forever. Many thanks to Fiann and Charlie for coming with us and filming the whole thing. I'm really looking forward to the footage and the film that will be out in a few months. Scotland really is the best!
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.