Its taken me a while to write up my Easter trip, so much so that trad climbing season is well underway. Anyway…. here you go.
There’s some routes in Scotland that are epic and have a reputation for endurance, requiring nerves of steel or providing amazing views. The Ring of Steall doesn’t disappoint on any of these.
The Ring of Steall is a classic Scottish route, covering 4 munro summits and narrow rocky aretes, made even more special in full winter conditions. The route is around 10 miles long with over 1800m of ascent, making this a tough walk in any conditions.
We tackled this route over Easter when winter was still dominating the mountain summits in Scotland, but snow and ice can lie on Scottish mountains well into the Spring so make sure you check the conditions before you set out and be suitably prepared.
I’ve driven down the Glencoe valley numerous times and looked up at the jagged line of the Aonach Eagach ridge, impressed with the shape and both desperate and terrified at the prospect of scrambling the ridge. I’ve wanted to tackle the ridge since I first visited North West Scotland aged 18, so when I was recently rained off a trip to scramble the Cullins I decided this was a perfect substitute.
I should caveat that as entertaining as the Aonach Eagach ridge is, if you’ve not yet completed routes such as Sharp Edge or Crib Goch then consider getting some serious grade 1 scrambles under your belt before you have a go at this. Its a serious undertaking, as nowhere along the route can you escape and some of the sections of scrambling are exposed and committing.
I’m never going to pass on an opportunity to head to the hills for an adventure so when I got the chance to gatecrash a Karabiner Mountaineering Club meet to Glen Etive I jumped on it, especially when it involved staying at the Grampian club hut and not camping.
The hut is small and hidden in the woodland by the roadside making it feel very secluded despite being right next to the forest currently being logged. And while there’s no running water, it is a still a great hut in a fabulous location, with everything you might need for a weekend (though by the weekend we were a smelly bunch!)
On Saturday a group of us headed up to the hidden peak of Beinn nan Aighenan. Tucked away behind the Ben Starav range, its a long walk in up the stalkers path to the col to the east of Ben Starav before you can even see the munro summit.
Having decided to slog up in winter boots and then find there was little snow on the summit of Beinn nan Aighenan I was more than grateful for there to be loads of snow still on the summit of Ben Starav and have the last outing for the crampons this winter. The scramble across the arete of Ben Starav was a relief from the endless slogging up to the summit.
From the summit plateau the view down Loch Etive was amazing and we could also see across to the Etive slabs where the rest of the group were climbing.
Annoyingly Monday was my last day out, which was typical as the sun was shining and it was wall to wall blue sky – perfect for a long slog up to a bothy for an overnight adventure. If I had the time that is.
However time wasn’t the only problem, I’d damaged my Achilles on yesterday’s slog up Lochnagar, too much heel kicking in the snow. So I decided a shorter walk was preferable to being rescued by Braemar mountain rescue team, they’re already out searching for a man who has gone missing from a bothy in the valley. I hope they find him.
Despite wincing as I put on my boots I headed up to the Glenshee ski centre to bag three easy munros close to the road. Well I couldn’t waste the day!
Lochnagar is one of those mountains that is popular to all, regular hill walkers keen to bag a Munro, mountaineers keen to climb gullies in the depths of winter, and possibly the Queen given it is a stones throw from Balmoral and Queen Victoria had a cottage at loch Muick nearby.
But even on a sunny day in March Lochnagar is a challenge, looking majestic and easy from the long wide track, easily accessible from a car park (with a visitors centre open even out of season!) it can fool the uninitiated. The mountain is impressive with three peaks – the summit, Cac Carn Beag, is on the far side from the usual route up.
A weekend in the Cairngorms, how could I resist the offer of a couple of nights at the Cairngorm Mountaineering hut at Braemar? Nestled in at the end of the Linn of Dee valley where it is impossible for the outside world to contact you, surrounded by majestic cairngorm mountains and endless miles of tracks and moors – how could I resist?
The weather wasn’t looking great for me to want to trudge for a long walk in to only find I would have to beat a hasty retreat from a summit – I’ve not walked anywhere around the Southern Cairngorms so the choices were limitless. Conversations with other mountaineers indicated that the southern slopes were favourable as the northern were coated in deep soft powder snow making walking a difficult slog.
So An Socach it was. A bit random, chosen by shutting ones eyes and pointing at the map.
So much has happened in the past eight years since I last stood on Sgorr Bahn in Glencoe. Everything it seems has changed.
I last visited here in 2008 using my parents for transport so I could get in some quality mountain days for my log book. It was raining hard, hailing, and being a lot less fit than I am now I bailed at Sgorr Bahn worried I wouldn’t make it to the Munro summit of Sgorr Dhearg on the mountain range of Beinn a Bheithir, before the weather turned truly awful. As it happened it didn’t and as I got back to Ballachulish it brightened and I was left disappointed at not being braver and bolder.
That year marked a watershed for me, as I bought my own home and eventually changed jobs to a new city. Both things ultimately changing me gradually into who I am today. Now I am no longer bothered that my academic career didn’t lead me to a PhD as I’d wanted initially. Now I am lucky enough to have a well paid job working for an organisation that changes people’s lives (even if my own job is a mind numbing array of spreadsheets and contract negotiations). Now I’m a home owner and single. Everything has changed.
This wednesday I set off from Ballachulish to tackle Beinn a Bheithir in winter, making the most of the fabulous weather and appropriate avalanche report to allow me to do Schoolhouse arête.
Last monday I woke to gorgeous sunshine and blue skies which is almost unheard of in Scotland. Having looked at the avalanche report and knowing there was still a lot of unstable windslab around on the northern slopes, I headed to the Mamores to bag a Munro.
There’s a very long walk in along the road up to the now derelict Mamores lodge before reaching the hillside track into the coire. It was certainly squelchy underfoot as I headed up the track, showing just how mild it had become, making it important to choose the right place to head to avoid avalanching the soft snowpack.
I’ve had a couple of winters off from winter mountaineering so I chose an easy munro as my first day in Glencoe – I headed up Buachaille Etive Beag as its close to the road, has an easy to navigate path even in the snow and is jokingly referred to as ‘The People’s Munro’ as its so easy to bag. Frankly on Valentine’s Day in school half term it was bound to be crawling with either couple keen to do something adventurous, or school teachers desperate to get away from it all.
I heard someone say that school teachers constituted 90% of a mountain rescue calls this time last year. Is it because they’re so desperate to get away from a classroom of kids that they forget to pay attention, or just so many of them are flocking to the hills for that reason that the odds were never going to be in their favour?
I don’t know the answer but I met 5 teachers today, so the chances were looking good that it wasn’t going to be me sliding down the windslab.
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.