I’ve often said to people, hillwalking and mountaineering are like meditation. We are removed physically and mentally from our every day lives. We get so involved in the moment, in the activity and its demands on us, that we very often forget all about our normal worries and anxieties. The more we are challenged by the activity, the less cognitive bandwidth we have for anything else. It’s only when we get back home that we remember about the outstanding bills, the anxiety caused by our work or any number of things that cause our mental fatigue.
Modern day life in our urban, man-made environments, increases mental fatigue, stress and anxiety. Restoration of feelings of calm, relaxation, revitalisation and refreshment can be achieved by spending time in a natural environment. For it to be most effective, a natural environment should have three critical elements; it should give you the sense of being removed from your normal life and surroundings; it should contain visual elements and sensory elements that are fascinating in some way; and it should be expansive – it should have some degree of extension. For me, exploring our beautiful mountains is perfect!
This is what “Attention Restoration Theory” tells us, that the human experience of the natural world markedly assists in maintaining and fostering a strong sense of subjective wellbeing. It's the idea that the natural environment has profound restorative effects on our wellbeing.
It’s really obvious that our mountains are full of astounding visual and sensory elements that are fascinating, beautiful, full of wonder and surprising. Over the last few years I have increased my knowledge of the natural environment massively, especially through projects such as The North Face Survey on Ben Nevis. It’s also clear to me that there is a never-ending supply of new knowledge to gain, new insights to understand and new things to see. This understanding of the very small things in our landscape makes my enjoyment of the vast scale of the landscape even more rewarding.
By exploring the mountains that surround us in Scotland we get to feel the immense scale of the landscape, the power of the weather, and the never-ending nature of wildness, that can give us a proper sense of scale. In a blizzard on a summit with numb fingers and an unrelenting wind, when we have to take a bearing on our compass to walk off safely there is nobody else we can turn to, nobody else we can blame if we get it wrong, and no sympathy in the weather or the landscape. It is a good reminder that each of us is not at the centre of things with the world revolving around us. We need to learn some humility and to take responsibility for ourselves. This is surely the expansive nature of the experience that is required to make its restorative effects most profound.
This is why I am passionate about spending time on our mountains. It maintains our physical health, it restores our mental health and it can have a profound influence on our spiritual well-being. It can counter the self-centred focus that modern day life has on us all. In these days of global climate change, an obesity epidemic, mental ill health and disconnectedness from nature, one solution is simple.
Go for a walk, preferably a long one and immerse yourself in nature!
In good visibility, navigating up and back down Ben Nevis in winter can seem quite straightforward. It is a busy mountain and there is often a well trodden path to the summit, as well as cairns above 1150m about every 50m along the way. When you can see as far as Skye to the west and Cairngorm to the east, it is not surprising that you should be able to find your way easily. Even then, the path above 900m or so is usually covered in snow between December and May and can be nearly impossible to find and follow. If there is no boot trail through the snow, it can be quite confusing, even in good visibility. And the summit is only clear about 20% of the time in winter.
In the cloud, when there is no definition between the snow on the ground and the snow and cloud in the air all around you it is a very serious place, and navigation skills need to be very accurate. The skills you need are to be able to follow a compass bearing accurately, and to measure the distance you walk along the ground by counting your paces. With these skills, you can then follow your progress on the map and plan the next section of walking, as long as you are very used to using maps and identifying features on the ground that are marked on the map. Of course, most features will be covered by the snow, just to make it even harder!
The high summit plateau of Ben Nevis is surrounded on nearly all sides by steep and difficult ground. Many accidents have occurred in descent. Often this part of the day will call for more concentration and judgement than any other time, especially in considering human factors that will influence decision making. Even if you make it to the top, getting down again can be the hardest thing.
The best and quickest descent is by the Mountain Track. Careful use of map, compass, pacing, possibly GPS and the sketch plan of the cliffs given below will help to get you down, but local knowledge is invaluable. When visibility is good, make a close study of the general topography of the mountain; if possible visit the summit plateau with a view to memorising its details and recording important compass/GPS bearings. The ruined observatory, topped by a survival shelter, is an unmistakable landmark on the summit itself, even when the neighbouring triangulation point and numerous cairns are covered by snow.
Follow a grid bearing of 231° (grid) for 150m from the summit shelter. This will avoid the steep drop of Gardyloo Gully close on your right. You should find three cairns close together, as long as they are not buried in snow. Then follow a bearing of 282° (grid) to the 1200m contour and as far down as you need. In 2024 grid north is very close to magnetic north so you can set your compass to these bearings. In future years magnetic north will move and you will need to adjust these grid bearings accordingly. On the second bearing you should reach a short steeper section after 300m and continuously steeper ground after 900m of downhill travel.
A line of well built cairns now marks this route at fifty metre intervals to the top of the zig zags on the Mountain Track, however the cairns can not be used alone in poor visibility without following a compass bearing. Continue on down a steep but easy slope for another 1km on the same bearing until you find the Mountain Track and you can follow this. It crosses the Red Burn at 670m so don't descend below this altitude on this bearing.
Can I just follow the cairns?
The cairns that have been built above 1150m are there to help you. They will let you know that you are going in the right direction, but you will need to use your compass to keep you walking straight in the right direction. You can not rely on being able to walk in a straight line without a compass. It is common to have visibility of about 10m, so you will not be able to see the next cairn 50m away.
The cairns get covered in rime and snow that make them blend in to the snow on the ground, so they can be very hard to see. In winters with a lot of snow, the cairns can become buried. The picture above has 5 cairns, all over 1m tall, all buried in the snow.
How do you follow a compass bearing?
The summit of Ben Nevis in poor visibility is not the place to learn! This is a skill to practice and perfect somewhere with no hazards around you. Go on a course or ask a friend with these skills to help you.
After setting the right bearing (see diagram above) hold your compass in front of you with the Direction of Travel arrow pointing in whichever direction you happen to be facing. Keep holding the compass in front of you and turn around until the north end of the magnetic needle lines up with the north arrow in the compass housing (the north end of the magnetic needle on your compass will probably be coloured red and some compass needles also have "N" on the needle). It is your body that turns - not the compass baseplate. The Direction of Travel arrow now "does what it says on the tin" - tells you which way to go.
While you walk along, you need to hold the compass centrally in front of your body with the baseplate horizontal and positioned so that you can see the alignment of the magnetic needle whilst at the same time looking along the Direction of Travel arrow. Make sure your phone is not close (within 40cm) to your compass, and that there is nothing made of steel near by (such as ice axes or walking poles). These will make your compass needle point in the wrong direction.
How do you measure the distance?
From the summit you need to walk 150m on a bearing of 231° (grid). You can measure this distance by pacing, counting the number of paces you take. Having practiced a lot in a friendly place, I know that I take 60 paces (that is 120 individual steps) to cover 100m along the ground. If the snow is deep and soft I will take a few more paces, and if I am tired or carrying a heavy pack I will take more again. However, for me, 60 paces is a pretty good measurement of 100m. To measure 150m I will walk along following my compass bearing, counting until I get to 60 paces (100m). Then I will start counting again from zero the 30 paces to measure the 50m.
You need to know how many paces you take to cover 100m. It will probably be a different number to mine. You should do this somewhere with no hazards, well in advance of needing to do it for real. Measure the distance with a 50m climbing rope, or on a running track, or find a straight path on a map with distinct and easily recognisable features that are exactly 100m apart and practice there. Best still, do all three of these to get your pacing very accurate, then practice it in the snow wearing your winter boots and carrying your rucksack.
After walking 150m you should see three cairns close together, as long as they are not covered by snow. This is the point that you turn right in descent, change to the second bearing of 282° (grid) and walk off in this direction. These three cairns are positioned to point you in the right direction. The central one is the turning point; the first and central cairns line up with where you have come from; the central one and the third one line up with where you need to go next.
Have a look at the image below. The central cairn and the third cairn clearly line up with the cairns on the bearing of 282° (grid) which will lead you across the plateau to the 1200m mark and down onto the zig zags of the Mountain Track. It is nice to know this, and quite obvious when the weather is clear. In poor visibility, this is another little thing to tell you that you are going in the right direction. However, you will still need to use your compass to keep you going in the right direction between the cairns and if you can't see the cairns.
I have been walking and climbing on Ben Nevis and on all the mountains in this area for 28 years, and some of my scariest moments have been while navigating off the summits. When you are walking in a whiteout, you can not see what is in front of you at all. You are in a complete white room with no contrast between the ground and the sky. You can walk off a cornice and be falling before you know that it is there. When the only thing that will stop you walking off the cornice is your skill and practice in following a compass bearing and pacing the distance you are walking, you need to have total faith in your abilities. So, when you get it right, it is a very rewarding experience.
If you would like us to help, you can join one of our guided walks up Ben Nevis this winter and we will show you what you need to know.
Take winter navigation seriously. Most accidents in winter start off with a navigation error, and end in a trip, stumble or fall. Get some training and do lots of practice in a safe environment. Remember that you can turn around before you get into a situation that is beyond your skill set.
Let me tell you a story which, like all good stories, has something that you can learn from.
In November 2019 early snow covered the tops of the mountains. It had been cold and windy for a while so rime was building on the highest crags, delicate feathers of ice like white ferns growing straight out of the rock. Everything above halfway on Ben Nevis was looking white and wintry, and a rare calm, dry and cold day was forecast. But, typically, I had not been sufficiently organised to find a partner to go climbing with.
Instead, I grabbed some gear in a rush feeling the usual desperate urge to make the most of a good day. I wasn't at all ready for winter, my crampons and ice axes were still in the box where they had been dropped at the end of the previous season. So, I thought I would do something very familiar, a route that I know well and that is always a wonderful climb, Tower Ridge.
I have been up and down Tower Ridge many times in summer and winter, but I had never climbed it by myself in winter. The climbing is well within my grade, but the early season conditions did cause me to pause for a moment to consider what it would be like. A thin cover of unconsolidated snow would be of no use at all for the climbing, unlike the solid snow-ice that would be in place for much of the winter and well into the spring. Crampons feel wobbly and insecure when it is like this because crampon points push through to stand directly on the rock, the form of which is hidden from sight under the snow.
So, I was determined to climb carefully and slowly. This would not be an attempt on any kind of speed record and to make sure I went slowly I took my drone to record some of the outstanding situations. This, of course, was quite a distraction at times so I ended up only filming easy bits of the climb!
Strapping on my crampons for the first time that winter was a great feeling, but it also brought a vague memory that I couldn't quite place.
Stepping onto the summit was as wonderful as it ever is. The weak winter sun only just shone through the thin veil of clouds and didn't even have the warmth to melt the delicate rime ice from the rocks. It was a perfect day for hard mixed climbing but I had the whole of the North face to myself, so it seemed.
As I unstrapped my crampons the fleeting memory came back to me. Right at the end of the previous winter I found that I had broken one of the crampons through the main body of the front section. This doesn't happen often and is not something that you can repair. Despite this, I just put my crampons back in the box and forgot about it. Not wanting to take my sharp new crampons out on an early season mixed climb I reached for an old set, forgetting that they were broken.
Thankfully they stayed on my boots for the whole climb (which is more than I can say for a couple of pairs of not-broken crampons I have used!).
So, the something to learn is of course that now is the time to get out all your winter gear and check it before you are in a rush to get out and use it. There is snow forecast for Friday and Saturday morning, the first few winter climbs have been bagged already in the Cairngorms, and a few people have already been caught out without winter gear.
It's time to #ThinkWinter!
October is Mountain Leader month for us at Abacus Mountain Guides. We have been training and assessing Mountain Leaders for very many years and it's a real treat to be able to work on these courses. Helping new leaders through their qualifications and setting them off on the right path (please excuse the pun!) is so rewarding for us.
Our courses have developed over the years as well, with the new leadership model from Mountain Training adding great depth and structure to this aspect of the course, and many things that we have found work well for people in the delivery and content of the courses.
The Mountain Leader syllabus includes leadership and decision making, route planning, navigation, meteorology, group management and security on steep ground, emergency rope work, stream crossings, hazards such as rockfall, flash floods and lightning, dealing with incidents and emergencies and improvised self-rescue.
There's also expedition skills including camping, cooking and everything to do with looking after people at a remote wild camp.
We often do some night navigation but that's just to do some poor visibility navigation. On assessment, if it is misty all day we don't need to do any night navigation!
There's a strong input on environmental knowledge on our courses, everything from geology and geomorphology, to botany, land management, history, Gaelic in the landscape and the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of walking in mountains for us all.
To help people prepare for their assessment we have put together a range of resources for candidates to utilise. These are available for everyone and there are resources on navigation, the weather and route planning, as well as blogs that we have written on all sorts of environmental topics and a short video about the rope work.
It's all here - https://www.abacusmountainguides.com/smlresources.html
Just two weeks ago I was in the Cuillin on Skye with summit temperatures of 16 celcius and dehydration was the biggest problem that we faced. This week was not the same for Alastair and Ali! This week there was more chance of getting washed away in a stream than of dehydration, and the conditions were described as disgusting! Lots of rain, very strong winds and summit temperatures just a couple of degrees above freezing made it very challenging indeed.
Despite this, Alastair and Ali manage to visit all nine Munros on the ridge over three days. This a great achievement given the weather. When the rocks are wet it is so hard to move quickly and efficiently over them. There is lots of grippy gabbro but there is also plenty of polish and lots of basalt which is very slippery in the wet. So, a huge well done to Alastair and thanks to Ali for working around some pretty horrific conditions.
The mountains of the Cuillin are composed of solid rock with very little vegetation cover at all. This means that rain runs off very quickly, streams rise incredibly fast and getting into or out from the coires can be impossible. Very careful thought needs to be put in at the planning stage to make sure that you don't end up facing a serious stream crossing. Even the small streams quickly become impassable with water run-off.
The autumn is a bit of a lottery of weather - you never really know what you'll get. So, be prepared for everything from warm sunshine to cold, rainy and windy. Fixed plans are not ideal, instead it's best to be open minded and prepared to think outside the box sometimes. We have had some wonderful adventures in the autumn, made even better by the changing colours in the landscape and the lack of midges!
And we that late autumn means snow and frozen ground - winter is on the way!
Join Protect Our Winters and SEND IT for climate!
The UK government committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, but even according to their own climate change committee we’re not on track, and this affects everyone.
The next elected UK government must make policy commitments that get us back on track to net zero. Policy commitments start with party manifestos, and you have the power to influence those manifestos!
We need the entire UK outdoor community to send a virtual postcard to stand up for the places we love! POW have taken care of the hard part - POW’s postcard outlines the policy commitments needed to get us back on track to net zero. All you need to do is fill in the blank sections.
Send a digital postcard and get the UK back on track to net zero.
Want to send a physical card? Pick one up from select Ellis Brigham shops and we’ll send them for you.
Send a postcard and get the UK back on track to net zero 👇
Mountain Guiding and the Climate Emergency
Members of the British Association of Mountain Guides have the privilege of climbing and skiing in mountains all around the world. With the highest worldwide mountaineering qualification, we enable others to get the most out of these beautiful places.
The increasingly obvious effects of climate breakdown are very apparent to us. We see them first hand in the shorter winters with less reliable snow cover for skiing and ice climbing in the UK and in Europe, and in the shrinking glaciers and very hot conditions now found in the Alps in summer.
Mountains are our passion and our workplace, but it can be difficult to know what action to take to help protect them. So the British Association of Mountain Guides is delighted to announce its partnership with Protect Our Winters.
Protect Our Winters helps passionate outdoor people become effective climate advocates to achieve systemic solutions to climate change, protecting our world today and for future generations.
Through Carbon Literacy Training we will gain a better understanding of the climate crisis. Accredited by the UN-recognised Carbon Literacy Project, these courses are tailored to the outdoors community, making them super relevant to us.
We will influence decision makers by supporting Protect Our Winters campaigns. Campaigns focus on renewable energy, electric transportation, green finance, and a managed decline of fossil fuel extraction.
Protect Our Winters and British Association of Mountain Guides have the passion, information, and resources to make a difference now.
This time last year I was fairly ambivalent about the two National Parks in Scotland and whether they are effective or desirable designations. Now, I am very much in favour of them, and I am fully in support of a new one in Lochaber.
So, what changed?
Simply, I have done some research. My thoughts were based on an idea that they are not very effective at changing land management for restoring nature or boosting biodiversity, and there are negative factors such as increased house prices and tourism.
But first, did you know that there will be at least one new National Park in Scotland in 2026? That's just three years away and areas that wish to be considered need to nominate themselves by the end of February.
The size and scope of any new national park is still to be determined, and several other areas in Scotland will be considered for the designation as well. It is during the process that the size and boundary of any new national park will be decided in conjunction with the communities there. The aims and powers of the new national park will also be finalised in the process.
These things will be done in a year long public consultation after the initial decision is made by MSPs about which area(s) should be considered. It is likely that there will be around 6 or 7 areas that nominate themselves for consideration.
So, what are the benefits of National Park status?
As we all know, at this time of year Lochaber is overwhelmed with visitors. Traffic grinds to a halt on the clogged roads, the glens, lochs, and coastal beaches are crowded with campervans and tents, bins overflow, rubbish is scattered far and wide for locals and seasonal rangers to clear up, and businesses struggle to recruit and maintain staff due to the housing shortage as ever more homes are turned into short-term let properties.
We already have the impacts of a huge number of visitors but we do not have resources and funding to help deliver solutions and infrastructure to manage the impacts of these visitors. Many businesses depend on these visitors, but investment and infrastructure have not adapted to rapid changes in tourism. Visitors are becoming far more mobile in the area and there is a need to fund resources and services to manage increasing visitor numbers.
National Park designation can help us manage for our visitors by coordinating resources, supporting the building of infrastructure such as car parks and toilets, and managing a permanent, well resourced, properly equipped ranger service for the whole area.
There is a housing crisis in Lochaber. We do not have enough houses for sale or for rent, especially affordable housing. So, why would we want another hoop for builders and developers to jump through?
Scotland's existing national parks try to play a progressive and facilitating role in planning decisions, not an added barrier to sustainable development. A National Park in Lochaber could become the local planning authority for the area or it could "call in" only certain planning applications. Either way, we would have a far more local planning authority with clear aims and objectives laid out in the National Park Plan. National Park Authorities bring together all relevant interests to agree and deliver a shared National Park Plan.
National Parks can introduce rules such as requiring more affordable housing to be built and controlling second home ownership. Both of these measures will help with the housing crisis we have currently.
So, that's my initial questions answered, but there are many, many other good reasons to be in support of National Park designation for Lochaber.
Cairngorms National Park employs 124 people and receives £12m every year directly from the Scottish Government. Over the next five years it will invest £50m into the area in nature restoration projects.
Some examples of Heritage Lottery Fund projects planned by Cairngorms National Park include -
The new Scottish agriculture bill will have far reaching effects on national subsidy mechanisms across 70% of the landscape. A National Park could help the agricultural transition of farms and crofts to low carbon nature friendly farming.
Both Scotland’s existing National Parks have actively encouraged further woodland expansion, for example through the Great Trossachs Forest and Cairngorms Connect projects. Cairngorms National Park Authority offers uplift grants for native woodland creation on top of the National Forest Grant Scheme.
Will local people be guaranteed representation on the National Park Authority? Yes. At least 20% of the National Park Board’s members are directly elected local people. Of the remainder, half is selected by local authorities within the area (usually our elected councillors) and the other half is selected by Scottish Ministers.
There is some more information here - https://nationalparkforlochaber.blogspot.com/
As well as on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100095478254204
It would be good for us all to think about this. It might prove to be a solution to many problems without too many drawbacks.
When you walk up a mountain like Ben Nevis, have you ever thought about who maintains the path that you walk on? In fact, who built it in the first place? How much does it cost and where does the money come from?
Ben Nevis receives around 150,000 ascents every year so a very big and well built path is essential. Nevis Landscape Partnership and John Muir Trust spent around £1million in the last few years on the mountain path and the ongoing maintenance costs run into tens of thousands of pounds every year. We can't just rely on the landowners to build and maintain trails, after all they can't earn anything back directly to cover the cost. It's not in the remit of the local authority (The Highland Council) and we can't, and don't want to, charge every walker on the path.
The burden of building and maintaining mountain trails often comes down to charities, and it's the Nevis Landscape Partnership that coordinates work to maintain the trails in the Nevis area with huge support from the landowners - Jahama Highland Estates, John Muir Trust, Glen Nevis Estate and Forest and Land Scotland.
At Abacus Mountain Guides, there's no doubt that we go up Ben Nevis a lot! Mike has been on Ben Nevis well over 1000 times and we really enjoy guiding hundreds of people up and around Ben Nevis every year. Our business is based around Ben Nevis as well as our leisure time. All of these boots on the ground and cars in the parking places have an impact on the landscape and on the people that live in the communities here.
So, we want to give something back to the area that we love and rely on so much.
We do this in several ways. Mike is a director of Nevis Landscape Partnership, feely giving his time to the running of the organisation. We are members of Nevis Landscape Partnership, Friends of Nevis and John Muir Trust, supporting these organisations that do such good work on the ground. We also pick up litter, plant trees and help on volunteer days. But what they really need is funding.
So, we run an annual event called Nevis at Night.
Nevis at Night is an experience of Glen Nevis and Ben Nevis for everyone, and a charity event like no other. Reach for the stars and immerse yourself in the multi-sensory experience during Light up Ben Nevis - our night ascent of the UK's tallest mountain. And it's all in support of The Nevis Fund to carry out essential environmental work in the Nevis area.
You can climb Ben Nevis. And you can climb it at night. But this is your opportunity to help light up the entire mountain with a team of like-minded people, while also raising money to protect the very area that we love, as well as a charity of your choice.
We head off in the late afternoon on 23rd September 2023 with the aim of reaching the summit shortly after dark. Being on the summit in full darkness is quite an experience which adds another dimension to to the challenge.
As well as professional guiding and support, complementary snacks and reflectors, all participants will be able to download a free GPS tracker app which will allow you to check in with your friends as you go. Following the event you can celebrate your achievement with your fellow walkers with a delicious midnight feast back at the event base.
Anyone who is capable of walking up Ben Nevis can take part. Individuals, families, groups of friends or colleagues at work, everyone is welcome.
For Light Up Ben Nevis you have a fundraising target of £250. The cost of participation and in the event is £50 and the other £200 will go to The Nevis Fund to help with essential maintenance and conservation work in the area. If you raise any more than £250 you can choose whether the extra goes to The Nevis Fund or to a charity of your choice.
You will have plenty of time to reach your fundraising target as we will ask you to reach certain goals throughout the year:
Register - £25
Balance of participation cost - £25 - due by 26th August 2023.
Second fundraising target on the 4th November 2023 (six weeks after the event) - £200 + any extra raised that you would like to donate to The Nevis Fund.
With so many fundraising events taking place on Ben Nevis every year it can be tough to know where your money will be put to best use. This is why we think you should choose to fund raise with Nevis at Night:
We run the event as a not-for-profit, so you know that all the money you pay to take part goes into running the event.
You can sign up now - www.nevisatnight.com/
Well that was a top weekend! The Women's Winter Festival with our fab partners Girls on Hills was a real treat. We were blessed with stunning weather on day one and more challenging weather with lots of learning potential on day two! The aims were empowering, encouraging and enthusing women to explore the mountains in winter, and we certainly achieved this!
After a winter that has been a bit more miss than hit when it comes to snow and ice cover, we were very lucky to get a return to proper wintry conditions. So much so that, unfortunately, it was a bit tricky to get to Fort William with cancelled trains and tough driving conditions. Nearly everyone made it though and we all enjoyed great days out in the mountains, superb and inspiring talks from our guests and lots of fun and laughter sharing the experience.
We kicked off with talks from Keri Wallace, trail running guide and Co-Founder of Girls on Hills, who talked about her recent record-breaking Winter Tranter's Round. And Anna Wells, climber, instructor and Founder of Rocks and Trails, who spoke about a few important lessons she's learned from years of walking, scrambling, climbing and even flying in the mountains!
It was a packed audience in The Highland Bookshop and the stories from Anna and Keri were so inspiring. There are so many women doing amazing things while also juggling family life and careers, and it was brilliant to hear from two women who have found ways to excel at what they do in so many ways.
Saturday started sunny and frosty, perfect for getting out on the hills and learning new skills. Running in the crisp, dry air was a delight, and the ground conditions were perfect for the runners to try out micro-spikes and poles during their route that took them over Meall an t-Suidhe, around to the CIC Hut under the North face of Ben Nevis. The run was concluded with some well earned cake at the Highland Soap Company!
Winter Walking Skills groups headed to Nevis Range to make use of the uplift to get to the snow more easily. There was plenty of old hard snow to get the crampons into, and to learn how to move around efficiently and securely with an ice axe. The groups learnt about different snow types, kicking steps, ice axe arrests and various ways to use crampons, by which point it was time to get up high and catch the views stretching from the Cairngorms to the Paps of Jura.
The climbing teams went to Glencoe where all sorts of snow and ice anchors were practised, along with climbing some brilliant cascade ice. After a very cold week, there was ice in many of the stream lines, some of which make excellent climbs. This low level ice was ideal for focusing on learning skills with minimal walk in required. After eight pitched of beautiful cascade ice the climbers had certainly made the most of the day!
After a long day in the hills, the Ben Nevis Inn served us up a wonderful and very well earned meal. We had lots of people staying at the inn in their new bunk room accommodation which worked out very well. It's a great base for adventures being just outside of Fort William at the foot of Glen Nevis, and right at the start of the path going up Ben Nevis.
After dinner talks were from Mountaineering Scotland Safety Advisor Kirsty Pallas and Lou Beetlestone, one of our instructor team for the weekend. Lou stepped up at the very last minute when Marianne Heading, winner of the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra, found herself snowed in and unable to travel to Fort William! Lou is a full-time outdoor instructor, with a passion for mountain running, climbing and alpine mountaineering. In 2019, Lou was part of the first all-female team planning to climb all the Alpine 4000m peaks, in one summer season and she told us all about her experiences on this project.
Where day one was crisp and dry, day two was soggy and slushy! We had two very contrasting days, emphasising the changeable conditions we have to deal with in Scotland in winter. It's always useful to learn how to stay warm and dry, even in the wet weather. The poor visibility was ideal for practicing some navigation skills, the climbers found some good snow to learn how secure their snow-anchors are and the climbing on Dorsal Arete was fun even in the rain!
Smiles and good company keep you warm even when the weather is wet. The Scottish Highlands in winter can be wild and intimidating, but they can also be awe-inspiring and beautiful. With the right skills and knowledge, you can make these mountains your playground throughout the winter months. This was certainly a weekend of building confidence and having fun, and we will be back next year for more!
Huge thanks to Hannah Shaw www.Hannah-Shaw.com for taking brilliant images of the weekend and to the Ben Nevis Inn and Highland Bookshop for looking after us all.
While we have been enjoying great ice climbing in Norway and high on Ben Nevis, the sunny, spring-like weather this week has got us thinking about plans for the summer. We are super excited to be able to announce our collaboration with Morag and Steve who run Provident Sailing. Their boat is a 1924 Brixham Trawler, part of the national historic fleet and one of the most treasured vessels operating in UK waters today.
Our aim is to share the experience of being on this amazing boat and enjoy some wild, remote hillwalking. To infuse our guests with our love of sailing and to show you some amazing and beautiful places.
At 70 ft on deck, 90 ft overall and weighing in at nearly 90 tons Provident provides a tremendously safe and stable platform. These boats were developed and sailed before the advent of paper charts. Today we have the latest electronic navigation on board but the gaff rig would be completely familiar to a 19th century sailor.
On the 3rd July 2023, Provident will be sailing from Mallaig on a hillwalking adventure amongst the remote peninsulas and islands of the west coast of Scotland. We will guide the team of up to eight people up the hills by day and sail into the evening making sure we get the most out of the land and the sea.
Whatever the weather we can promise you a great adventure!
We know there is enjoyment in walking for a day with a sleeping bag and food on your back, to spend the night cramped in a flapping tent, always in a rush to beat the midges, before you even start to climb your hill.
But on this trip you can sail into remote west coast lochs through magnificent mountains and wild landscape, sleep in luxury cabins with central heating and enjoy the superb cooking of Morag on board Provident, anchored a safe distance away from the shore and the midges! The tender will deliver us to the shore at the foot of the climb up to some of our remotest and most rugged Munros and hills.
Heading north and west of Fort William, the tiny roads at last run out; beyond is the famously rugged wilderness region of Knoydart. Even further away and across the sea are the wonderful islands of Rum and Skye with some of the most spectacular lochs and mountains in the UK.
This is an ideal trip if you..
The weather, winds and tides will dictate exactly what we do and where we go, as well as where you would like to go. But possible mountains include..
Meall Buidhe is an incredibly rough and rocky mountain, one of the three magnificent Munros on the Knoydart peninsula. Whichever route is chosen, the ascent requires considerable effort.
Regarded by many hillwalkers as amongst the finest mountains in Scotland, Ladhar Bheinn enjoys a superb position surrounded by the sea on three sides. It has dramatic ridges, huge crags falling into Coire Dhorrcail and amazing sea and mountain views from the summit.
Beinn Sgritheall gives a steep and punishing ascent; the effort is well worthwhile however as this is one of the finest viewpoints in the Highlands, with a fantastic outlook over dramatic Loch Hourn to Knoydart and the Cuillin of Skye.
Rum is magnificently wild and rugged, dominated by the towering mountains of the Rum Cuillin - a miniature version of the Cuillin of Skye. The ridge traverse of the Rum Cuillin is one of the classic Scottish hill days, with plenty of scrambling though the peaks are less technical than the Cuillin of Skye.
Diminutive Sgùrr Na Strì on Skye may only reach 494 metres in height, but it's proof that - when it comes to mountains - size doesn't matter. Many walkers reckon that the view from the summit - over Loch Coruisk, the Cuillin and the sea - is the finest in all Britain.
Approach the mountains from the sea, return to the comfort of Provident. We’d love to have you aboard!
Price £1310 (sharing a twin cabin) includes six nights on board full board plus guiding on the mountains with Sally, our chief mountain leader, highly experienced and qualified International Mountain Leader.
Please get in touch with Provident Sailing and book directly through them. They will take care of the booking process and make sure you are ready for your trip, and we will see you on board!
3rd to 9th July 2023
6 nights, Mallaig to Mallaig
£1,310 per person (based on two people sharing)
Confirm your place with a £327.50 deposit
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.