Beinn Chuirn

Beinn Chuirn is mountain that doesn’t readily spring to mind when thinking of Scottish summits.  After two days of inactivity, in the mountains, due to the weather out thoughts were turning to walking uphill once again.  The forecast was for improving weather as the day progressed but there was significant wind chill and fresh snow particularly in the morning.
So we looked for a mountain with a reasonable walk in and hopefully fairly steep so that we could avoid the worst of the underfoot conditions.  Two days of torrential rain must have produced some challenging conditions in places.
Beinn Chuirn is frequently overlooked by its more majestic neighbours, Ben Lui and Ben Oss.  250 metres lower than Ben Lui and a Corbett as opposed to a Munro it doesn’t have the same appeal.  For us though on a cloudy Thursday in January it seemed perfect.
A reasonable walk in, nearly 3 miles along a gently rising valley track, heading further and further into the heart of some dramatic mountain scenery.
Although a mountain area there is evidence of an industrial past and perhaps an industrial future.  Just after starting up the valley we passed the site of the abandoned village of Newton and the lead mines in the area, which closed in 1865.  Further up the valley, prior to heading up Beinn Chuirn, we could see evidence of the Cononish Gold Mine, with a tunnel being opened in the hillside in the 1990’s.
Once we were past the fences we turned up the slopes of the Corbett, there was virtually no evidence of a path.  This could be because very few walkers head this way and also because in places the lower slopes had remnants of the heavy snow, which had fallen the weekend before.
There is always a discussion about the rights and wrongs of using mapping software on mobile phones as opposed the tried and trusted method of map and compass.  I love the feel of the paper map and actually believe that the Ordnance Survey is one of the reasons we should be proud to be British but I have also embraced technology.  I have downloaded numerous 1:25,000 maps onto my phone but find that I use the ViewRanger App, far more frequently.
There are two advantages of using ViewRanger, the mapping is generally at a high enough resolution, only on a few occasions have I had to switch the OS 1:25,000 map with its detail of walls and small physical features.  Secondly, the Skyline facility enables you to take photographs, with physical features labelled, its quite handy to know that you are facing in the right direction, although I wouldn’t rely on it exclusively for navigation purposes.

ViewRanger
The map and data of todays walk.
Skyline
Using Skyline on the ViewRanger App, it names features, which we can’t even see because of low cloud. Its not an application, which I use that often but it does provide you with some extra information.

As we climbed higher conditions underfoot became more solid, clearly the temperature had dropped below freezing last night, and may still have been below zero.  The lack of wind actually made the day surprisingly warm, but it was still necessary to put on our crampons, a few hundred metres below the summit.
We didn’t hand around too long of the summit, a quick slurp of warm coffee and a Twix between us, whilst standing before we headed back towards the valley and the reasonably long walk back to the car prior to heading towards Tyndrum and coffee and cake at The Real Food Cafe.
It was another enjoyable day in the Scottish mountains and once again we were surprised by the total lack of people encountered whilst out walking.  I know that we are fortunate enough be able to go out in mid week, when it is not unusual for numbers of people in the outdoors to be reduced.  I am certain though, that if we were in the Ogwen or Langdale Valleys then we would not have had the mountain to ourselves.
For those seeking solitude and that feeling of wilderness it isn’t necessary to travel to remote corners of the world, midweek in January about 50 miles from Glasgow is always an option.

Beinn Chuirn
Nicky heading up the valley of the River Cononish. The summit Of Beinn Chuirn is above and to the right of her head. Our route pretty much followed the obvious ridge.
Beinn Chuirn
Nicky heading up the ridge on Beinn Chuirn. Some spectacular scenery behind.
Beinn Chuirn
Higher up conditions changed, there was more snow underfoot and more was falling out the sky.
Beinn Chuirn
A couple of hundred metres below the summit crampons became advisable, the rain of the last two days had clearly helped to freeze the snow higher up. It is always a pleasure fitting crampons to your boots. We don’t get that many opportunities to do so in Jersey!
Beinn Chuirn
The inevitable summit pic.
Beinn Chuirn
Crossing a stream on the descent. In places the whole stream was covered in snow. Clearly a major hazard for the walker who isn’t sure of their location.
Beinn Chuirn
We dropped below the snow and it was just a matter of heading back to the valley track and walking back to the car, 3.5 miles away.

Beinn Each

How often do you hear the phrase “you should have been here last week”? Normally it relates to summer holidays and the beach when the weather isn’t as food as expected. For Nicky and myself it was the phrase in our minds as we drove north from Glasgow Airport this morning.
I have spent the last 7 days looking at fantastic photos posted on twitter and other social media, of people enjoying the snow covered Scottish mountains. At the same time I was studying the weather forecasts in the hope that the cold spell would continue.
Unfortunately the cold spell was breaking down, the winds were increasing and a steady thaw set in as warm air pushed in from the south and west. We still headed north with an optimistic plan to walk up Beinn Each and perhaps head along the ridge to the Munro, Stuc a’Chroin.
The guide book optimistically states ” the described route is very short and would be suitable for an evening walk after a late arrival in the Highlands or a morning walk before a long drive S.” The given time was 1 hour 30 minutes to the summit of this Corbett and 2 hours 30 minutes for the round trip. Now that didn’t seem to challenging.
We kitted up in the small parking area close to Ardchullarie More Lodge and headed up though the woods, where there was still a covering of snow. Reaching the open hill side was relatively straightforward but as we headed up conditions underfoot became slightly more challenging. We saw a deer running across the hillside, coming from Jersey, where there are no large land animals, such a sighting certainly created a degree of excitement. Little did we realise that within a couple of hours we would have seen 100 plus deer moving across the hillside.
As we climbed higher the snow became deeper, we regularly sank up to our waists with progress impeded further due to the increasing wind. We wound our way up the ridge, reaching the 813 metre summit in less than perfect weather with a rather disappointing view.
Feeling the need to get out of the wind we dropped off the ridge just below the summit and wound our way down the snow covered slopes to reach the more sheltered footpath in the valley. As we walked out we were rewarded with superb views of several Red Kites soaring above the edge of the forest.
The predicted 2 hours 30 minutes was in reality nearly 5 hours, conditions underfoot turning what can be a pleasant evening walk into a challenging day on Beinn Each. It was a memorable day out and in common with so many days I have spent in the mountains in Scotland in recent years we didn’t see another person.

Beinn Each
Easy going through the forest on the lower slopes of Beinn Each.
Beinn Each
Nicky starting up the lower slopes, we had to wind our way up the snow covered slopes to reach the ridge above.
Beinn Each
Almost on the ridge, which we followed to the summit.
Beinn Each
Nicky a couple of metres from the summit. Views were virtually non-existant but the wind was certainly making itself felt.
Beinn Each
Heading towards the valley and fortunately some respite from the wind. A memorable day in the hills, though.

Lochearnhead – a couple of Corbett’s

Arriving in the car park at Lochearnhead I was amazed by the amount of activity in the car park. It was actually a 10k swim along the Loch, with what seemed like substantial kayak cover. It was interesting to see Nordkapp’s being unloaded on the shores of a Loch. This was just a distraction, I had arrived to walk a couple of Corbett’s with the prospect of some pretty good weather, something which has been in short supply this week.
Finding my way into Glen Kendrum was a bit convoluted but once I was on the track up the valley the views were great. Following my incident with the bull yesterday I was surprised to find a deer standing in my way this morning, but in contrast to the bull, the deer seemed more scared of me than I was of him and quickly disappeared.
Once in the Glen my pace increased and quite quickly I had arrived at the highest point of the pass, ready to tackle the steeper slopes, which provided a barrier to the summit of Creag Mac Ranaich.  It was here that I had my first encounter with other walkers, of the week.  Quite a surprise, although it was Saturday so could perhaps be expected.

Glen Kendrum
Looking up Glen Kendrum on the walk in. Creag Mac Ranaich is visible on the right.  The track provided an easy route on both the ascent and the descent.
Creag Mac Ranaich
The steep slopes of Creag Mac Ranaich, from the col are clearly visible. Leaving the path too soon will put you on very steep slopes.  Care is needed on the descent to avoid moving too far to the left into the areas of cliffs

The slopes were pretty steep although there was a line of old fence posts, which gave an indication of the general route.  What made this Corbett particularly special were the superb views in all directions.  Ben Lawers to the north, Ben Lomond to the south, Ben More to the west and Ben Vorlich to the east, with numerous other Munro’s in between.

Ben Vorlich
Looking east with several Munro’s in view, including Ben Vorlich.
Ben Lawers
Looking north across Loch Tay towards the Ben Lawers range.  Killin is at the head of the loch.

A quick break on the summit and an entertaining descent took me back to the pass, ready for the climb up the other side of the valley.
Every now and again there was a slight hint of a path but generally the walking was across rough terrain. The ridge along to the summit of Meall an t-Seallaidh was wide and easy going.  The trig point and small cairn confirmed the accuracy of the earlier navigation, so I celebrated the last summit of the day with lunch.  Unfortunately some midges decided to join me so it wasn’t too long before I was heading down the grassy slopes to rejoin the path in Glen Kendrum and head towards Lochearnhead.
A lovely day on a couple of stunning Corbett’s.

Cam Chreag
Looking east from the summit of Corbett Top Cam Chreag. Ben Vorlich dominates the view
Meall an t-Seallaidh
The view north from the second Corbett of the day, Meall an t-Seallaidh.
Lochearnhead
Almost back to car with extensive views along Loch Earn.

Meall nam Maigheach – a short day

Meall nam Maigheach wasn’t my initial target on what started off as a very wet day.  I decided a longer walk at lower level followed by a reasonably quick ascent of a single Corbett was in order.  Car parked, waterproofs on and a steady pace set on the road up the valley.  Unfortunately in less than half a mile I had retreated, a rather large bull was blocking my way.  I am no expert in bull behaviour but this one didn’t look friendly and there was no alternative route

Large bull
This rather large bull, with its surrounding cows encouraged me to change my proposed route.  Just after I took the photograph he moved into the middle of the road.

Due the bull incident and the weather, a shorter walk was in order. I also considered whether it was worth actually heading out for a walk. Over the years I have probably spent hundreds of days wandering around the mountains of the U.K. in the rain and have to admit it is gradually loosing its appeal. On the other hand Jersey to Killin is quite some distance and I wasn’t sure when I would be passing this way again, so the decision was made, on with the waterproofs and boots.
The one advantage of the hills around the Ben Lawers range is the height at which you start walking. There is a small parking area near the large cairn and the northern end of Lochran na Lairige, I wasn’t the first person to arrive but did manage to squeeze in, taking the last place.
The walk up Meall nan Maigheach was described as a pleasant walk to do on a sunny evening, actually doing it on a rainy Friday afternoon free’s up days with better weather for more suitable challenges.
In common with every other walk that I have done this week I didn’t see another person once I left the road but today’s highlight was the number of grouse that I encountered. Strangely there were plenty on the way up but none on the way down. They were the first grouse that I had seen all week. The path quickly faded and in places the going was rather damp under foot, hardly surprising with the rain that has fallen over the last few days. Amazingly though the cloud lifted above the nearby summits giving tantalizing views of past walks and future possibilities.

Meall nam Maigheach summit
Looking north west from Meall nam Maigheach. Loch an Daimh is visible in the centre.

Lunch was taken on the summit and playing the ViewRanger app quickly gave an idea of what was hidden behind the clouds. Before too much criticism heads my way I know that you can use a paper map but everybody enjoys playing with new toys.
A quick return to the car and a drive to Killin for coffee and cake plus the obligatory visit to the Killin Outdoor Centre and Shop, where I normally find something to purchase.
Actually quite a satisfying day despite the weather and the early encounter with the bull. Just a small mountain, only 3.5 miles walked and 927 feet of ascent but Meall nam Maigheach is somewhere worth saving for a sunny evening or a wet afternoon.

Mountain Lake
Looking back towards Lochan na Lairige as I climbed away from the road. the water level was surprisingly low.
ViewRanger picture
If you are not certain what is behind the clouds just use the ViewRanger App to find out. Sadly Schiehallion wasn’t visible today.
An Stuc
The cloud lifted allowing views of some of the dramatic summits along the Ben Lawers ridge including An Stuc.

Two classic Scottish Munro’s

The forecast was for rain spreading from the south so we looked for a couple of Munro’s which might just be in the rain shadow of the mountains to the south.  We chose Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a’Chreachrain, two mountains just to the north of the Bridge of Orchy.
I had seen these mountains on numerous occasions when heading A82, whilst en route to or back from a sea kayaking trip on the west coast coast of Scotland.  This would be the first time that I had the opportunity to venture onto their slopes.
Arriving at the start there was an immediate change to the, the car park is no longer close to the farm as mentioned in the guide books or shown on the 1:25,000 O.S. map but just on the right as you leave the main road.  If we had read the excellent walkhighlands website before venturing onto the hills, as opposed to afterwards we would have prevented a couple of surprises!
The way onto the hills is clearly signposted from near the car park and we were soon following the route into Coire Achaladair.  The munro’s to the south and east were gradually becoming obscured but our first summit was remaining cloud free.  Perhaps this rain shadow thing was working.
Immediately to the south was Beinn an Dothaidh, where 18 months ago we had spent one of our best days in the mountains ever.  Today there was no snow, but also no people.  We didn’t see a single person from the time we left to car until we returned nearly 8 hours later.
The ridge to the south summit of Beinn Achaladair provided delightful walking with superb views but as we ascended the main summit slopes the cloud base suddenly dropped, the wind picked up and the rain started.  Fortunately it was on our backs so wasn’t too unpleasant.  The drop down onto Bealach an Aoghlain was entertaining in the rain and the mist but as we reached the col the clouds dispersed, not to re-appear on the summits for the rest of the day.
We carried on along the ridge to the summit of Beinn a’Chreachain. at 1081 metres the 61st highest Munro.  There were expansive views across Rannoch Moor but the wind didn’t encourage us to hand around so we quickly started our descent.  It was reasonably quick and easy going but we made one slight mistake when we crossed a stile, it would have been better to stay on the outside of the fenced area.
We could see the farm track on the other side of the railway line and the river and assumed that we would be soon striding out towards the car.  As we only read the up to date infomation on walkhighlands on our return the lack of a bridge came as a complete surprise.  It was a great opportunity to practice our river crossing technique but it could be a serious obstacle after heavy rain or during the winter months.
A great day out, with a couple of new Munro’s and a few surprises along the way.  We walked 13.7 miles (22 kilometres) and climbed 4352 feet (1326 metres), which was further and higher than mentioned in our guidebooks, not that we are complaining.

Mountains
Looking north along the ridge towards Beinn a’Chreachain. The cloud level was about to drop and the rain start.
Summit
Nicky heading up the summit slopes of Beinn a’Chreachain. The steep descent from Beinn Achaladair is visible behind.
Cairn
Nicky on the summit of Beinn a”Chreachain. The rain had passed but the wind continued.
Mountain view
Looking across Rannoch Moor from close to the summit of Beinn a’Chreachain
Corrie and loch
If you are not certain, just take a photograph with Viewranger, it will give you the name and distance.
Crossing a stream
Nicky crossing the Water of Tulla. The lack of a bridge came as a bit of a surprise.

 

50th Munro – A Scottish Mountain day.

We were heading to Scotland to hopefully tick off a few more Munro’s.  A Munro is a mountain in Scotland over 3,000 feet or 914 metres and there are quite alot of them.  As usual when we head to Scotland there seemed to be a degree of uncertainty about the weather in the week ahead, apart from Monday, where there was a high degree of confidence for dreadful conditions.
Plans were changed and aspirations modified but we settled for an early start on Ben Challum (Beinn Challuim) a solitary Munro to the north of the Crianlarich to Tyndrum road.  By 08.40 we had parked the car and were heading up the mountain, in surprisingly dry conditions.  As we knew only too well, this wasn’t going to last.
Although we have always used paper maps and continue to carry a variety of superb maps produced by the Ordnance Survey and Harvey this was the first time that I had used the Viewranger App on my phone in the mountains, I had used it before in coastal environments so was aware of its potential.
The cloud base dropped and the rain increased as we made our way up the ridge, initially to Ben Challum South Top, a Munro top before continuing to the main summit.  Visibility was pretty restricted so we saw absolutely nothing from the top.
The descent was clearly quicker but quite entertaining.  The rocks were very greasy, requiring care but even with the extra stability of our walking poles we both hit the ground on a couple of occasions.  There was so much water running down the hillside that possibly our best preparation would have been a couple of hours on a stand up paddle board, to improve our balance on moving water.
On the mountain we didn’t see another person but amazingly in the couple of hundred metres back to the car with coincided with the West Highland Way we saw 18 other walkers.  We had completed our day but were aware that many of them still had some distance to go in what was becoming heavy and persistent rain.
Looking at the Viewranger app we were able to obtain the following statistics, amongst others:
Length: 7.35 miles
Total Ascent: 3202 feet
Maximum elevation: 3344 feet
It will be interesting to see how these compare to our future walks in the coming months.

Nicky
Nicky starting up the path on the northern side of Ben Challum. Clouds are starting to drop.
Deer Fence
Crossing the deer fence. I can’t remember seeing another sideways stile.
Fence
For quite a lot of the ascent the path follows the line of a fence. Making navigation fairly straightforward.
Mountain top
Me on the south summit of Ben Challum. The rain had really set in.
Ben Challum
Taken with ViewRanger app. The Skyline feature names the geographical features which are within the field of view. Unfortunately it doesn’t take weather conditions into account because we couldn’t see anything.
Stream
Nicky descending from the south summit of Ben Challum. On the way up this had just been a gentle stream The water was rising rapidly.
River
Crossing the bridge across the River Fillan on our return. On the way out shingle banks had been visible but the rising waters had covered them.

Anything but boring – Ben Chonzie

Anything but boring – Ben Chonzie
It is obvious that some mountains are more interesting and/or challenging than others and at times the write up they receive in guide books is less than complementary.  Ben Chonzie is one of the mountains which falls into this category. We decided to ignore the written cautions, believing that any mountain in full winter conditions has to be interesting.
As we drove up the narrow Glen Lednock a red kite flew up in from of us, surely a positive omen.  Other people had clearly had the same idea as the small car park was virtually full.  The initial route followed a well defined track which gradually disappeared under a covering of snow.  The snow was largely unconsolidated as we floundered our way uphill.  The thought of breaking a trail through the snow without the benefit of walking poles didn’t bear thinking about.
Ben Chonzie is the highest point in a large area of moorland and reputed to have a healthy population of mountain hares, although we didn’t see any on our day on the mountain.   Cameron McNeish, in his book on “The Munros”, states that it has “…. a reputation of being one of the dullest Munros in the land”.  It is easy to imagine that in the summer the long walk in along the land rover track wouldn’t be the most interesting way to spend a day in the mountains but on a bright winters day, with the snow down low, then Ben Chonzie (the 250th highest Munro)  is a hill well worth considering.
Beautiful walking conditions.
Cutting a track through the deeper snow, our route had followed the line of the valley , which is discernible behind Nicky.
Heading up the slopes, using previous footsteps was no guarantee that you wouldn’t fall through to your waist.
As we followed the broad ridge towards the summit, snow was blown across the slopes and at times stinging our faces.
On the summit.  It was bitterly cold in the wind so it was a case of a quick sandwich before heading for the shelter of the lower slopes.

Memorable Mountain Day – Bridge of Orchy

Memorable Mountain Day – Bridge of Orchy
The last few weeks have seen some superb conditions in the Scottish mountains and we were fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of some of them.  There are two mountains, which dominate the A82 above the Bridge of Orchy and are a familiar sight to those people who drive along this trunk road.  Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh were selected as our target for the day.
The forecast was perfect for a day in the mountains so it was a matter of packing the rucksacks and heading up.  Conditions couldn’t have been much better.
What followed was probably the best day I have ever spent in the mountains in the UK, at least I can’t remember any which were better. I suppose any day when you wear crampons for six hours has to be a good day.  At the end of the day it seemed as if we were the last people off the hills, making full use of available daylight, before heading off for our celebratory pint.
 Leaving the Bridge of Orchy.  Our route took us right from the col initially before dropping back down and heading up to the left.
 On the ridge towards the summit of Beinn Dorain.  Views of distant summits were starting to appear.
 Looking along the summit ridge of Beinn an Dothaidh.  At this point the wind had dropped completely.
 Nicky approaching one of the summits along the ridge.
 We left the summit just after 3.00, we were the only people remaining up apart from one other person heading down the snow slope.  He is the black dot just below the ridge.  Apart from him we had the mountain to ourselves.
 Nicky on the descent.
A summit photo taken by somebody who isn’t used to using an iPhone, judging by their finger in the bottom right hand corner.

Mousa Broch

Mousa Broch is probably the finest example of broch surviving today and is just over 13 metres high.  Built about 2,000 years ago it provided shelter and protection in troubled times.  It is probably in such good condition because situated as it is on a small island it was more difficult to remove the stones for more modern buildings.  The tower is formed from two concentric stone walls, which were made from local stone.  A narrow spiral staircase rises between the walls giving access to the top of the Broch, from where there are stunning views.

We visited the island one late evening in July, paddling out from Sandwick to ensure that we arrived at the Broch as darkness fell.  We explored the insides then sat and waited.  Gradually the whole area became alive to the sound of soft churrings as the Storm Petrels, which call the inside of the stone walls and the hollows under the surrounding boulders home, returned to their nests.  It was truly one of the most amazing experiences I have ever encountered.  The birds fluttered literally inches in front of our faces.

As we paddled back to Sandwick the short Shetland night gave way to a new dawn but it had been a memorable visit to a superb historic site.

Spar Cave – Skye

I can’t quite believe that after 15 years of visiting Skye to go sea kayaking and paddling in this specific area on numerous occasions, it wasn’t until May this year that I actually stopped off at Spar Cave and managed to explore its inner recesses.  It was a fascinating place to visiting and well worth the effort.
It was one of the paddles at this years very successful Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium and it was whilst crossing over to Boreraig for lunch that I think I finally decided to help run another Symposium in Jersey in 2014.
Actually finding the inlet wasn’t straight forward and a gentle swell meant that landing was more entertaining than some of us had hoped for.
Looking towards the Cave.  Apparently when Sir Walter Scott visited the cave in 1814 he had to climb over the wall, which is just visible at the top of the green slope.  On the right hand side can be seen the gap, which it is now possible to walk through.  This supposedly, appeared as a result of a passing boat firing a cannon.
There are two cave entrances, it is the left hand one which is the one that is of interest.
Initially the floor of the cave is very muddy but this turns into a steep slope covered in calcium carbonate, which is quite spectacular and has surprisingly good friction, for climbing up.  Many of the spectacular rock formations, both stalagmites and stalactites, where taken by Victorian trophy hunters.
Some of the smaller rock formations have managed to survive intact.
After the excitement of Spar Cave we crossed to the north shore of Loch Eishort to have lunch at Boreraig.  Allowing plenty of time to explore the ruins and to find the ammonites.
  Unfortunately one of the group also decided to dislocate their finger, which resulted in rather more excitement than we had planned for at the end of the day, but that’s another story.