Sunday, 25 April 2010

Skye - Day Two

If the weather held up today's plan was to go up to the Inaccessible Pinnacle of Sgurr Dearg but unfortunately Skye decided to show that only it was in charge of the weather and a second good day was not happening. Bad weather was putting anything fancy out of the question, but did not rule out the Cuillin altogether so a party of us headed up with the intention of going up Sgurr Nan Eag.

We left from the Glenbrittle y0uth hostel and made the long walk round to the foot of Coire a Ghrunnda. The rain persisted but we headed up the coire making a zig zag between soaking wet marsh and icy slick volcanic basalt slabs. The going was slow scrambling up through the rocks and waterfalls in the coire and the very low cloud and driving rain was making visibility non existant and navigation was proving tricky.

On reaching the Lochan at the top of the coire we had some lunch and then pushed for an assault on Sgurr Nan Eag and at this point the driving winds in the coire was sand blasting the water from the Lochan into us and it penetrated anywhere and everywhere rendering the term waterproof useless. We pushed on through some tricky navigation up the rocks and when we were nearly at the summit things apeared wrong and it was realised we had actually went up the wrong peak and were actually the summit of Sron na Ciche which appeared in the movie Highlander. Time was pushing late so we accepted the peak and went to the summit.

Looking at the map there was some easier ground back down which would bypass the coire completely so we aimed to get down. With the Cuillin rocks being magnetic compasses tend to misbehave and point in the wrong place so we would walk on a bearing only for the compass to change resuling in us getting lost somewhere on the massive west buttress. Every direction we went we ran into more boilerplate slabs which in dry weather would be no obstacle but at the moment were a death trap. Another hour or so of picking down gullies looking for an obvious decent to the easy ground proved fruitless but eventually we made it down to the grassy slopes below soaking wet and were relieved. Back to the car and then the pub.

The Cuillin in good weather is a dangerous place. Bad weather is just suicidal. We had an epic but our map reading skills and micronavigation pulled us out and we really enjoyed it.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Skye - Day One

This weekend a large group of us descended on Skye all with different plans for the next couple of days, and with this being my first time I was eager to get up into the majestic Cuillin mountain range. After a long drive all the way from Glasgow we arrived at the bunkhouse in Carbost a short drive from the fine peaks.

On friday night still battling a fierce cold which had been plaguing me for a week I made an early retreat to bed in preperation for the early start, and on waking made the preperations to what I would need for the day. The plan had been decided to take in a route round the Coire a' Ghreadaidh starting from the top Sgurr Thuilm to Sgurr a' Mhadaidh and finally to Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh. Only a small group of us would be heading out today while others tackled the Red Hills and some other routes. The party today consisted of Willie, Alice, John, Colin, Craig and Myself.

On reaching the parking spot at the Glen Brittle youth hostel, some snow could still be seen on the top so I decided to take my axe, however I left the crampons behind knowing that any snow would be soft and managable.

Following the line of the Allt a' Choire Ghreadaidh past some nice waterfalls carved out of the valley on its meander down we reached the lower portions of the coire and were being greeted by some very strong gusting winds which came out of nowhere and nearly knocked you on the ground. At this point we made the decision that any strong winds would be very unpleasant on a long and exposed ridge so we would instead make our way way to both peaks from the bealach known as An Dorus (The Door).

The climb to An Dorus was over and up lots of very loose scree and rock which would hurtle down the slopes to anyone or anything below. This coire was just fantastic and surrounded with magnificant butresses and gullys formed out of ancient volcanos and much different to anything which exists on the main land.

An Dorus itself is the bealach, but not like any other bealach but more a small Arete of rock at the top of a gully, with another steeper gully at the other side. The climb up An Dorus was a little tricky due to snow and lots of melt water streaming off the rocks at other side.

At the top of An Dorus the team climbed up the crux which was a bit difficult with wet rock and snow, and the exposed drop to the other side of the gully. At this point I was feeling pretty weak after the ascent and my cold and could not commit myself to the move in the conditions and it was to much hassle to get the rope up to them and set it up so I told them to go on. Willie also graciously bowed out at this point. After a couple of minutes reflection I decided I needed to push on through my pain and find a way up and at this point another party had veered off to their left rather than come up where we were so I downclimbed An Dorus a little and found a ledge which lead up some easier ground to the summit. I dumped my rucksack here to retrieve on the way back down to give me a energy boost and made my way up to meet the rest of the team on the summit of Sgurr a' Mhadaidh.

The views all round are fantastic and although it is a pretty cloudy day the clouds are much higher than us. Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh looms higher behind as a reminder of the next peak of the day.

We made our way back down to An Dorus to take a look at the route up to Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh. It is decided to rope up just now rather than be caught on any difficulties unaware. Willie decides to head back down to the bottom of the coire for lunch.

The climb out of An Dorus is reasonably straight forward with enough hold but could be trickier on the way back down when looking to the exposed views down below rather than upwards.

We followed the ridge which up was a mixture of dry and wet rock with patches of soft snow on precarious slippery downwards facing slabs so taking care up the ridge is a certainty.

This ridge passes the top of a much steeper and ominous gully known as Eag Dubh (Black Cleft) which is full of snow and looks like it would be an interesting winter climb. It then comes to an end at a butress of rock known as The Wart and the ground becomes easier so we take the rope off and leave it here for the way back down.

From the edge of The Wart we climb up a nice snow slope kicking in steps as we go which takes us up onto a final ridge leading to the summit. We have reached our second summit of the day of Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh which gives us even greater views than before over the Cuillin, the mainland and other various Hebridean Islands. This is as good a time as any for a spot of lunch.

We make our way back down the same way but knowing the ground ahead pack the rope away and climb down freely. A couple of tricky moves later and are at the drop down to An Dorus again and as expected looks a little bit more exposed so we use the rope to get down again.

We make our way down to meet Willie again. A brilliant day in the Cuillin with some snow and everyone is happy. Hopefully tomorrow will be as generous.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Ben Starav

After just done Curved Ridge the day before I was feeling rather worn out but I decided to go back out the next day and make the most of the brilliant weather and join some company out on a walk down Glen Etive and up Ben Starav. As a side note to the photos that due to the flight ban which was happening because of the Icelandic Volcano you will notice the perfect blue skies are not tarnished by Airline vapour trails. This is not an experience which will be seen often in the future.

Having found the only place to park the van in the glen far down from the bridge the walk to the bridge was not appealing to us, and especially to myself who after another poor nights sleep was very tired again.

The water level in the river Etive was reasonably low so we made a communal decision to just ford straight across the river and save us having to double back on ourselves. The usual hilarity of a river crossing was ensured. I did not have any walking poles so the only thing I could use for some balance was my ice axe. It may have been a glorious morning but the water was bitterly freezing due to the snow melt from the hills. I took my boots and socks off and gingerly made my way acrosss using my axe as a walking pole for balance in the current and about half way across I felt as if I was going to loose my boots into the water so I took them and threw them to the other bank. Splash. They landed in the river. I made my way across the rest of the way and fetched them. Had to happen didn't it? I sat for a couple of minutes to let my feet dry and also my socks which were stuffed into the boots when they landed. Nothing to do but shove my socks over the top of my rucksack and put my feet into the boots and not tie the laces and hope the sun will dry them off.

Crossing a tributary of the River Etive the Glen loomed ahead. As we walked across the moorland I was consciously aware of the type of grasses we were walking through and being along with Willie the only ones wearing shorts, and my mind sprung to ticks. We were in the heart of deer country and a notorious black spot for ticks. I fell behind the group as I picked a safer way through the grasses in my shorts and looked at my legs and I was crawling with ticks. The water from my river fording had not completely dried off and the ticks were finding it easy to get on to me, although the water was stopping them from sinking their nasty wee fangs into me. The full way across the grasses I constantly flicked them off and when I caught up with Willie I mentioned to him and he was shocked to see a handfull of them on himself.

We eventually got to Loch Etive and the clear blue skies looking back to the Buachailles are amazing. Can this flight ban last forever? Truly feel the wilderness.

Bidean nam Bian is still holding a full cap of snow and ice at the top. I imagine there will be some happy people summiting today.

The sun shines through a perfect blue sky over the Starav massif.

Looking onward to the south the back of Ben Cruachan comes into view, and what a sight. The north facing flanks expose a very alpine character compared to the less dramatic views from the south at Loch Awe.

We walked all the way to the south of Ben Starav along the Loch side taking in the views and tranquillity. For myself I went off onto the shores to take pictures. After having lunch the time was now about half 1 in the afternoon and we had not even started climbing. We left the van about half 10 in the morning.

At this point the heat was unrelenting stuck in the glen like an oven which is not helped by the reflective properties of the loch. We started ascending up the south ridge of Starav knowing we had a lot of ridge to cover to get back up to the main summit and back down to the van. The climb was very difficult for everyone with the heat and it became a personal battle with every one forcing their way up the hillside a couple of steps at a time. Most of us seem to have used up our water on the long walk to the foot of the ridge.

As we got closer to the main ridge and had a good altitude gain it started to cool down. The views down Loch Etive in the afternoon sun were brilliant.

We gained enough height to find a small snow patch which was fighting a good fight against the oncoming summer. Most of the group crunched some broken snow up into their empty water bottles to replenish them.

The route we are taking takes in a long winding ridge from south to north and takes in a few lesser summits before the main summit. Once on top of the ridge we can see the first target ahead. A lot of ridge to cover still just to get to there so we plod onwards. I have my bottle of snow tucked against my skin to firstly try and melt it and get some water as I am so thirsty and secondly to feel the cooling effect from it. The sky is still so clear and beautiful.

Looking back along the ridge and down to Ben Cruachan and the Dalmally hills.

As we get close to the main summit which is hidden from view there is still a lot of snow patches about. The easiest and most fun way up though so everyone enjoys the alpine snow climb up.

Looking back down the ridge the setting sun is now becoming visible and the shadows are growing longer and we are still not at the actual summit. No one is even attemping to rush. With a day and night like this you need to make it last and enjoy being in the mountains.

At last the main summit of Starav looms up ahead. Sitting like a solitary peak in the clear blue skies you would be excused for thinking you were only a couple of hours away from the concrete jungle of the cities.

Finally we all reach the summit and can chill out with a snack. The views of Glencoe and further north are visible in all their beauty.

After an hour or so at the top it is time to start heading down again. The route down is the regular ridge up and is actually pretty steep and a little tricky to come down with a good covering of snow still.

The ridge downwards eases off and becomes a straight forward plod onwards again. The further down we go the more the sun sets only to make the panorama of the mountains more dramatic. The shadows and light really paint a picture of the scene.

By the time we are nearly back down to the bottom of the Glen the sun has pretty much been obscured by the hills around and Starav has sunk into shadow. By the time we get back to the River Etive it is almost completely dark and head torches need to be put on. Too dark to cross the river again so we walk up to the bridge to cross and then back to the van.

A very long day for a single munro but we got to take in a wonderful walk to the foot of the mountain and a very long and enjoyable ridge accompanied by some of the finest scenary Scotland has to offer with a mixture of Sunshine, snow, and blue skies giving the day a truly alpine quality. To compare with the usual up-and-down of many hills just can not be done. We all headed to the Kingshouse hotel in Glencoe for a well deserved pint and a pack of crisps and then home.