Bivvying on the Sorapiss Circuit

Parking at Tre Croci just outside of Cortina, we set out with the intention of doing the Sorapiss circuit over two days, completing the three via ferratas en route and bivvying at one of the remote bivouacs half way.  This did however require us to carry all our own water as the last available water source was Rifugio Vandelli 2 hours walk in from the road.

Despite leaving before 9am it was already scorching hot as we walking through the scrub and woodland on the way to the Rifugio. The route (and heat) reminded me of walking on the final few days of the GR20 and there was more than a bit of relief from us all when we arrived at the Rifugio and were able to top up our water bottles for the rest of the hike – being pleasantly surprised to find this was also free.

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Lake Sorapiss is a popular beauty spot with day walkers most of whom have no intention of heading off to attempt the via ferratas.

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But as we headed up the endless scree slope in the midday sun it became clear we were unlikely to make it either. Now, I happen to be good at putting my head down and just getting on with it despite the misery, but I wasn’t confident about a grade 3 Via Ferrata with depleted energy. So with a suggestion of finding somewhere to bivvy for the night below the crags I happily went along with my friends – who frankly are much better climbers than me, so if they didn’t want to continue then I was just going to go along with them.

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While we had a long afternoon of admiring the view – it was certainly worth it to bivvy out in such a beautiful location,  although the sound of rock and ice falling from the glacier above was a bit un-nerving in the middle of the night, as was the full moon passing overhead. And while it wasn’t the comfiest bivvy spot for three people to share, it was worth it for the sunrise.

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Sunshine on the Ben Lawers Round

The sun was shining, the midges were sleeping and the cloud across the Ben Lawers summit was looking like it would lift. What a perfect day for climbing mountains, it was hard to believe I was in Scotland.

Intending to do all of the 5 munros on the Ben Lawers range I knew it was going to be a long walk with a really dull slog back to the car. As I parked up at 9am at the main car park I was surprised by the number of cars already there and also by the information about the Nature Reserve on the large stones. Enough to distract me from my hike. From the car park the route starts sedately through the Nature Reserve.

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The route up Ben Lawers is a steep climb but simple to navigate as the route is entirely on a path. Compared to the previous day’s bog trot this was a fantastic mountain ridge with brilliant views into both Glen Lyon and to Loch Tay. It’s such a good walk I wasn’t the only one on the way up early in the morning. Crossing the first Munro of Beinn Ghlas I headed into the cloud, and the two German men who’d been behind me, finally caught me up.

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At 1214m Ben Lawers is the 10th highest Munro in Scotland and as such it was a surprise to find the two men who had confidently whizzed passed me up the mountain asking me if they were at the summit. Ok, we were in the cloud and you could argue it’s possible to be unsure, though I think the trig point was a bit of a give away. So I asked them how far they were going.

I was beyond surprised to hear they were on their way back down – not just because they were clearly fit enough to do the full round, but because the reason was they didn’t have a map. Seriously, there’s never an excuse to climb a mountain without a map! I resisted the urge to lecture them.

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A third chap bravely wearing shorts and clearly planning to complete the round before lunch and without breaking a sweat, stopped briefly to check his compass and headed off in the right direction to continue the round. I wasn’t going to bother trying to keep up with him.

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I bimbled across the ridge line to An Stuc, the third Munro and quickly worked out why Steve Kew warns in the Cicerone Munro guide ‘not to get stuck on An Stuc’. Commence jelly legs and bum sliding down the rock face as I descended. My down climbing is never graceful nor without swearing.

Annoyingly An Stuc looks like it has a simple way to ascend from the bottom which isn’t clear from the top. Damn.

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From An Stuc the remaining 2 munros Meall Garbh and Meall Greigh are barely noticeable except the miles which are needed to reach them. So it was lovely to break the trudge by meeting a shepherd and his four gorgeous sheep dogs. What a fantastic job, I mean it would be crap to do it in the typical Scottish sideways rain and but on a clear day, I’m jealous.

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I met at least 6 other walkers on these final tops who were also only doing part of the round. Perhaps I am too addicted to tick lists to consider not doing the whole route- while these final Munros might not have the adventure of An Stuc or the height of Ben Lawers they do have fantastic views.

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As I descended to the track at Lawers Burn I watched the sheep dogs rounding up the sheep, an amazing sight.

The trudge back to my car was long, dull and the sun came out which made it a real slog. The track runs around the side of the mountain and provides a quick route back, but unfortunately stops about half way, leaving the need to work your way around the hillside trying to contour and not lose too much height but also not twist ankles. I was knackered once back at my car. Having made it to the final Munro 4 and a half hours from setting out, it was soul destroying to have 2 hours 45 minutes back to the car. Ugh.

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Bog trotting – munro bagging

I’m not sure I fit the stereotype of the typical Munro bagging, surely they have old 1980s oversized waterproofs in neon colours, big heavy gaiters over old boots, rucksacks you could fit yourself in and doggy determination to walk for miles and miles.

As I stood ankle-deep in the peat bog between Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil I had to question whether I was, however, crazy. To start with neither of these mountains are significant players in the munro lists (199 and 270 highest out of 283), there is no distinct path across the endless bog between the two and frankly there are nicer munros in the Trossachs – I’d even bagged 2 the day before.

But I was there and even when the sun turned to rain there was no point turning back. I think that statement either marks me as a munro-bagger or just plain mad.

The hike starts out from the A85 in Glen Dochart, parking at Auchessen – a lovely little spot on a surprisingly sunny day.

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As I crossed the river and headed past the cottages I actually thought the walk was going to be a nice uncomplicated affair, a bit off-path, but otherwise not too strenuous and the sun was out. There is even a new track being constructed by the local farmers presumably to provide them with better access to the moors and also making a simpler ascent beyond the houses towards Meall Glas.

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To be honest, the smile on the chap’s face as I passed his JCB digger should have told me everything, and it didn’t take long for me to find myself in a pathless plateau aiming for Meall Glas but wondering if it wasn’t at all easier to give up munro bagging and enjoy dry feet. On the plus side I did see some amazing bog plants as I waded through the peat hags. Ever cloud has a silver lining…. til it rains on you.

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Which of course it then promptly did as I ascended out of the bog and up to Meall Glas summit. So heavy I quickly continued along the fell top. Frankly, after crossing mile after mile of bog I’d like the trig point to be at the top of the right mountain but it sits on neighbouring Beinn Cheathaich. At least it stopped raining. Well, at least long enough for me to sit and eat something.

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Whilst I toyed with the idea of heading straight back to the car to save my feet and my sanity the thought of having to ever cross the peat again to ascend Sgiath Chuil was enough of a motivation. It is after all only about 310m to climb. Oh good the rain is coming my way again.

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At least the descent back down is straight forward and once back down to the main river it’s possible to follow it and eventually a path emerges to follow back down to the track. Even the cows were surprised to see me.

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A wet walk up Ben More and Stob Binnien

Despite the risk of rain I had every intention of getting munros bagged whilst I was camping in Glen Dochart in the Trossachs last week. I had a nice surprise to find my parents had detoured on their travels around Scotland to meet up, but I think Dad was less impressed this meant he would be bagging munros with me.

Ben More is easily accessed from the A85 between Crianlarich and Killin, although this does involve spotting the tiny sign indicating the start of the trail, hidden in the trees.

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The start of the route is following a track uphill as far as a gate, from where you need to cut off and weave your way up the mountainside. It is a grassy ascent for the majority of the way, but with no real path and lovely damp Scottish ground, this makes for a boggy ascent. Dad was even less impressed.

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Its a slow slog to the summit, climbing 874m of the grassy steep slope to the summit at 1174m. As you near the summit a wall appears to the right, marking the edge of the steep drop round the west side, and next to it a path leading to the summit.

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After a quick snack at the summit in the clouds, we continued on to drop down and then ascend Stob Binnein, the second munro of the day.

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No trig point here to mark the summit, but there is a cairn and as the clouds parted we had a fab view of the rest of the ridge.

 

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As we turned around to descend back down to the col it started to rain, making the descent west off the hill, down to the track at Benmore Burn a wet and soggy trudge. I probably added to the misery by cutting off the path and heading directly for the end of the track, but it did mean we saw this happy frog.

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Where the Fife Coastal Path meets the sea

I have to be honest, when my friend suggested walking part of the Fife Coastal Path last weekend my initial reaction wasn’t joy. If I’m going to go walking in Scotland surely it has to include mountains?

Pursuaded by the promise of an amazing chocolate cafe in neighbouring Pittenweem (which is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area), we headed to the coast at Elie.

Beaches are beautiful in Scotland and the Fife coast is idyllic. Having parked up at Elie near the golf course we headed west along the rocky beach towards the cliffs. I’d been warned in advance that the walk would include scrambling and chains, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The chain walk along Elie’s rocky coast is a short via ferrata and while not technically part of the Fife coastal path, for its 0.5km length it is certainly worth the detour from the main route on the cliff tops, which provides a good route back to Elie. A nice short walk before chocolate cake.

Not realising how close we would be to the sea it didn’t cross my mind that checking tide times would be required; we were lucky to have avoided high tide.

The chain walk isn’t difficult and can reasonably be done by anyone who has the nerve to cope with the  heights. Both the descents and ascents have clear places for feet and the chain is big enough to get a really good grip. All you really need is fearlessness as some of the chains are quite vertical and others very close to the water. It did remind me of hiking in Corsica last year.

Once at the other end of the chains, the walk back on the Fife coastal path along the cliff tops is a nice route back to Elie.

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Sunburn and summits 

Welsh sunburn, now there’s a rare phenomenon but on Saturday’s hike we all finished the day sporting a varying degree of sunburnt necks and arms; looking more like Brits in Benidorm than hikers in Wales.

I’d picked Moel Hebog, the hill of the hawk, as our mountain for the day purely based on the delight of ice cream at Bedgellert at the end. There needed to be an incentive for my friends who were newbies to climbing mountains.

Moel Hebog turned out to be a good choice as the cloud around the summit cleared quickly while Snowdon remained shroud in cloud till lunch.

It was also guaranteed to be crowd free unlike Snowdon.  

We headed up the track and then headed right to walk up the summit ridge.

 

It was a bit of a slog up, but great as we were already off the path exploring, having fun on the rocks, route finding and checking out the plants, including finding sundews, one of the UK’s native carnivorous plants.

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After a long lunch at the summit we headed south off the top and then picked our way down through the rocks and grass. It was a steep descent and being off the path resulted in convincing friends that it was ok to head down, first down the grass and scree and then following the Afon Goch river.

 

Once down to the forest line we contoured around to walk through the woodland and cross the Welsh Highland railway, just at the right time to meet the train.   

The trouble with peak bagging…. part 2

The real trouble with peak bagging it that its addictive. Having a burning need to finish lists and explore places I’ve never been before peak bagging provides me with the solution in a simple to organise method – look at the map identify unclimbed peaks and go.

So having had a great morning cycling around Lake Vyrnwy I still couldn’t cope with the idea of being so close to summits that need bagging. Clearly there’s a certain amount of madness in the need to be on the top of a relatively insignificant summit but nevertheless, its on a list and is technically a mountain so I had to go.

Heading from the Lake up the tiny mountain pass heading north to Bala I parked at the top of the pass and headed quickly up to Foel y Geifr trig point. When I say quick it took an hour there and back to bag the three peaks on this ridge – hardly a quality mountain day. That said, the view was amazing.

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Turning around though I could see the madness in the peak bagging idea. Across the other side of the pass are 5 ‘summits’ which could clearly be bagged in an off road vehicle as a stone track runs across the fell top. Even I’m not that mad!

I did however drive down into Bala and back over the fell top on the B4391, parking just below the road summit to head up the track to reach Foel Cwm Sian Llwyd trig point. By now it was late in the afternoon but the sun was baking and I was heading up the fell, knee deep in heather. So I am mad after all. The view was worth it though!

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The trouble with peak bagging…. part 1

Peak bagging is great. It gets me to places I wouldn’t ordinarily visit – sometimes away from the crowds of the popular mountains. That’s not to say I only climb mountains once – but peak bagging is a great way to quickly think of somewhere to go when I have the urge to be somewhere new.

However, peak bagging has frequently found me in vast expanses of moorland staring at a plateau trying to identify the summit. Or wandering through peat bogs with wet feet and wondering why I’m there and not at the seaside. Or on a proper mountain.

Having ‘bagged’ the Berwyns the day before, that left me with the plan to get the range of summits between there and the Arans. But I woke to cloud and a lack of motivation to head over miles of moors for the sake of it. So plan B.

Having never visited Lake Vyrnwy and spotting a visitors centre on the map it seemed like a good excuse to not bog trot.

Lake Vyrnwy and the surrounding landscape is a Special Conservation Area, part managed by the RSPB and is therefore a good place for bird watching – I’d certainly seen Red Kites around the Berywns. You can also hire a bike, which is exactly what I did.

Created in 1880 the Lake is actually a reservoir built to take water to Liverpool. It only takes an hour or so to cycle around the Lake but is a great way to see the area, and the roads are very quiet with traffic.

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How to find a quiet bank holiday – The Berwyns

Sometimes charging up a pointy mountain of rock and scaring myself silly is all I want to do. Other times I need peace and quiet and chance to recharge – this bank holiday was the latter. Knowing Snowdonia was going to be busy and having an urge to visit somewhere I’d never been, I headed to the Berwyn Mountains in mid-Wales.

More like rolling hills of peat bogs and open grass land the Berwyns at 832m remind me of Skiddaw or the Howgill Fells. Open, vast and crucially – quiet. I saw three people all day. Bliss.

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As you can imagine I was grateful it had been dry or this much peat would have been a boggy walk! I took the direct route straight up the front of Cadair Berwyn, which involved a diversion to get to the top of Moel Sych before heading for the trig point of Berwyn.

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The route from Berwyn to Cadair Bronwen is clearly boggy at times as much of it has been boarded. I usually hate to see man’s mark on a landscape, but at times it is a gift. I’ve spent enough time bog trotting to know that boards can be a godsend in wet conditions. This part of the route is also a permissive path across a SSSI so if nothing else the boards are protecting the rare habitats in this area from erosion.

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From Cadair Bronwen I headed across to Tomle to head across the fell tops and back to my car. Just before Tomle top at the fence line there is a very impressive boundary stone between Powys and Gwynedd.

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The moors across the tops here are less well trodden despite them still counting as summits in their own rights – and reaching the end at Mynydd Tarw, a mere 681m high there is an impressively large cairn (considering few people clearly walk across this top).

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Great and Green Gale

Yes that typo is intentional- it was certainly a gale Saturday when we decided to head up Great Gable from Honister and we battled the wind across the fell tops.

The best bit about going away for the weekend with Mountain Rescue friends is the fact that many of them are climbers. Usually this means I get a chance to improve my frankly terrible techniques. The bonus this weekend was the lack of urgency to get out of bed and leave the bunkhouse as it had rained and snowed overnight, ruining any plans of climbing.

Thankfully by the time we’d got up the rain has stopped so we headed down the Borrowdale valley to the Honister Slate Quarry for a quick ascent onto the fells. Considering I was in the Lakes last weekend when the dregs of winter snow had almost vanished, it was a surprise to find a fresh dusting to play in.

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After a spot of lunch below Windy Gap we headed on the north west side of Great Gable to ascend out of the wind, which as we got on to the summit it became clear the return walk over Green Gable was going to be tricky to stay upright.

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Just before sitting on the summit for a quick nibble of sugary sweets, the wind literally blew me off my feet and onto my backside then my camera died due to the cold batteries. Time to head back.