“Sorry no camping here!” – Why our first National Park has failed its people.

On the 26th January 2016, Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park (LL&TNP) released a statement on their website revealing that the proposal to extend anti-wild-camping byelaws in the park had been granted.

As some of my non-outdoorsy friends asked me why I was getting so highly strung about the issue, the only way I could explain it to them was by comparing it to the recent controversy going on at football games. Could you imagine the outrage and the ensuing carnage if the SFA was to ban football fans from attending games because a minority were bringing flares to games and ripping up seats etc? It just wouldn’t happen.

But I wasn’t the only one that was disappointed in this as my facebook news feed started filling up with like-minded people expressing their dismay at the decision. Some were outraged and called it a backward step in Scotland’s outdoor access. Access of which is some of the best in Europe, possibly the world. Together with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 is, in my opinion one of the most liberating pieces of legislation to have ever been written. You would assume our very first National Park would agree. It seems otherwise.


An old picture from before the first byelaws were introduced. Just north of Inversnaid.

To compromise with the ban, LL&TNP committed to a 3 part plan. One part being to continue educating people on respect for the National Park, which sounds great – but as far I’m concerned this should be happening anyway! This is part of the Ranger Service job description for Christ’s sake! Another part is the actual introduction of the byelaws, which will come into play March 2017 – September 2017 and continue during these months every year from then on.

Now, the third is most worrying. Taken from the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park website, it reads:

‘The introduction of 300 low-cost camping places through a combination of new and improved camping facilities and camping permits to allow informal lochshore camping at sustainable levels.’

At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that this is the most positive of the three plans. It seems the Park are actively providing more camping ‘places’, and a whole 300 too! That’s a fair old amount of tents. What a great idea! Wow I feel amazing now…

30… I repeat, 30 of these places are being allocated to Loch Chon, one of the smaller lochs within the National Park which is primarily used for fishing. From here there is no easy access to any of the area’s mountains, it is not well used by walkers, bike campers, kayak or canoe campers and is nowhere near the West Highland Way. It’s probably quite tranquil compared to the shores of Loch Lomond so why the need to introduce the camping places here? If this is the chosen tactic to reduce the problems caused by irresponsible campers, why the hell have they been introduced into an area that is far less used?! If anything these 30 camping places should be allocated in and around well used spots of the Park. Madness.

So that leaves 270 camping places.


What does this even mean? The first time I read it on the LL&TNP website, I instantly thought it was a weird word to use. Why not talk about the number of campsites? Or the number of pitches that could be accommodated in a certain area?

Because these 270 ‘places’ are actually permits. This is why the third of these plans is the most worrying, because by pussy-footing around their words and using ‘dog whistle politics’, a permit system to sleep in a tent has been introduced into our country. The sort of system that spits in the face of the brilliant outdoor access already in place. It is absolutely horrible news. What’s to stop other estates, landowners etc proposing the same measures on their land? Will popular pathways and cycle routes succumb to these terrible byelaws? Will we need to apply for a permit to walk the West Highland Way, The Great Glen Way, The John Muir Way, and any other beautiful long distance walking route in this country? This might sound a little extreme at this moment in time but this decision by LL&TNP and the Scottish Government is the first step to restricting access to our country’s outdoors. This is where it becomes, what Cameron McNeish recently described as ‘a slippery slope’. The first established National Park in Scotland has failed its people. And the Scottish Government has also failed its people. The seed has been planted, let’s hope it doesn’t grow…


Enjoying the shore in 2012.

However it wouldn’t be fair for me to blabber on like this without offering any sort of opinion on what should rather be done. So it’s simple… we have the correct legislation and guidelines in place with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The rights of access detailed in these documents are only allowed if done so RESPONSIBLY. This includes removing all litter when you leave; leaving no trace of your campsite, including any camp fires; and not causing any pollution. If a person or group of people are found to be in breach of these guidelines then they forfeit their right of access. This is where the police come in. The existing involvement of Police Scotland in enforcing these laws and guidelines has already been very successful in recent years. Additional help in this area to let them continue lowering the level of irresponsible use of the countryside is what is required, not the terrible, backward, damn near offensive byelaws which have been introduced this week.


Following in the Footsteps of Giants – Exploring the Arrochar Alps

The Arrochar Alps is a brilliant name, whoever came up with it knew exactly what they were doing. They were awarding these mountains an accolade – one that meant the respect of walkers and climbers across the country. They were also giving the mountains a reputation that would live on for years after the name was conjured up. I’ve read stories about the guys who first explored this area with the intent on climbing, and I’ve listened to other stories around bothy fires of how the place was, and still is strewn with boulders, caves and other howffs. To be able to visit these places so easily and imagine what it was like for these guys is a near blessing. I often wonder if the hordes of people flocking to go up The Cobbler on a Saturday afternoon are aware that they’re stepping into legendary Scottish climbing territory, and that they’re following in the footsteps of some of the most influential and important climbers of the 20th century.

We left the car park about 9am, and started through the woodland to walk straight up the burn that runs down the front of Cruach nam Miseag towards Loch Long. This is the more direct route up Beinn Narnain and the only way I’ve climbed it. I can imagine it being a bit rubbish after heavy rainfall since most of the first 300 metres of ascent is literally walking up the middle of the burn! We didn’t mind much today though as there was a period of high pressure and the weather had been good the last week or so. With this being the first hill Kayley had been up in a while, we took it easy and stopped now and again to relax and enjoy the views back down to Arrochar and over to Ben Lomond, and then further up the views along Loch Long. The skies were clear making perfect conditions for photos, plus we were in no rush at all and playing everything by ear. Beinn Narnain was the only plan we had set.

Looking over towards the point of Ben Lomond.

Looking over towards the point of Ben Lomond.

As we kept on up the steep front of the mountain, I warned Kayley of the multiple false tops of Beinn Narnain. I talked about the first time I climbed the hill – how I was on my own, and for about 20 minutes I was certain the summit of Cruach nam Miseag, which was just in front of me, was the top of Beinn Narnain when in actual fact Beinn Narnain is behind it and more than 300 metres higher, and about another 45 minutes walking at least! Even with the reminder, I still got asked the question that I’ve asked myself plenty times over the years… ‘Is that the top up there?’.

Kayley leading the way.

Kayley leading the way.

After the steep front of Cruach nam Miseag was behind us, the hill started getting a bit more interesting. The ratio of rock to grass changed in favour of rock and some light scrambling ensued. This is the good bit of Beinn Narnain, the bit that gives the hill its character. Although there’s nothing technically difficult about it, there are plenty options to make it as interesting as you’d like. We stuck to the more direct route and it wasn’t long before we were at the foot of The Spearhead. I stopped Kayley for a breather and gave her an extremely brief history lesson about the rock face infront of us.

The Cobbler from the slopes of Beinn Narnain.

The Cobbler from the slopes of Beinn Narnain.

Minutes before I turned into the Professor of Scottish Climbing History, I had told her that we were literally five minutes from the summit and that had obviously given her a boost of motivation and energy. In that instance she didn’t care that groups of lads from Glasgow used to down tools on a Saturday lunchtime, hitch hike up to Arrochar, walk up to this point for sunset and bivvy in any of the nooks and crannies that are scattered throughout the area, with the sole purpose of climbing this not-so-huge rock face in front of us (and other routes in the area) on the Sunday to then get back home that evening to start work again on Monday morning – a concept that I find outrageously impressive. Not impressive enough to stop Kayley marching up and over the boulders to the right of The Spearhead and on to the summit. The girl was on a mission.

Kayley standing at the top of The Spearhead.

Kayley standing at the top of The Spearhead.

Before we arrived at the trig point, we wandered over to the wee cairn that sits at the top of The Spearhead – the rock face we were standing at the foot of five minutes earlier. The views from here are brilliant with a great line of sight over to Ben Lomond and the Ptarmigan Ridge, round to Loch Long, and then over to The Cobbler, and further over towards Beinn Ime. A couple photos later and we were sitting in the shelter cairn just beside the trig point eating our sandwiches. The wind had started to pick up and it was bloody freezing and the rain was starting to spit, not enough to get us wet but enough to keep us from warming up. So after about 20 minutes we headed off again down the other side of the hill with the decision to walk back along the glen and maybe nip up The Cobbler if our legs were feeling up to it.

Trig point - Beinn Narnain

Trig point – Beinn Narnain

By this point the wind was picking up more and it was getting really cold with the rain coming and going in brief showers so we were getting a move on coming down the path. It was at this point I started hearing what I thought was a baby crying… which was weird considering I was probably at least 2500ft above sea level and halfway up a mountain. It went away though and I never thought anything of it.

Two minutes later I heard it again though… more crying. This time it was clearer and seemed closer, so I turned around to look from under my hood up the hill. Couldn’t see anything. Weird.

Another two minutes later and I definitely heard it again. It was definitely a baby crying so I stopped and pulled my hood down and looked back up the hill, only to see two people coming down the hill fairly quickly behind us. Within about 30 seconds they had caught up with us and I noticed it was a couple – the woman about 20 paces behind the man, but the man was wearing a rucksack/baby-carrier with a baby in it. A baby?! As the guy walked past he had a huge smile on his face, ‘Sorry to ruin the ambience of the hills guys! Haha!’.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not my place to judge anyone’s parental abilities but I honestly couldn’t believe it, this father had brought his baby, that looked about 3 or 4 months old up a mountain in weather that was forcing adults to layer up and put their hoods up. A baby that would probably feel the cold in its own cot at this time of year, never mind the cold of the fickle Scottish weather. Apparently it was the baby’s second Munro of the year… as if that made it better. As if I should congratulate him on the success of carrying his child up a Munro. The couple marched on ahead of us with their infant bawling and wailing all the way down. Not a very reassuring sight.

By the time we reached the bottom of Beinn Narnain, it was about 14:30 so we agreed to carry on up The Cobbler. It was a steep ascent but made a lot easier by the built path all the way up, the first 100 metres being steps! As we neared the top, we started passing other walkers on their way down – probably about 15 in total, then when we arrived at the summit there were another 6 people, and in the time that we were at the summit, another 7 people arrived. It was only a Monday! I hadn’t been in this area on a weekend but I can imagine I would definitely find it too busy.

Kayley eyeing up 'the needle'.

Kayley eyeing up ‘the needle’.

I had seen plenty photos of the true summit of The Cobbler, the mass of rock that requires some mild but exposed scrambling. When I finally set my own eyes on it though, I’ll admit that it seemed a bit higher and more exposed than I imagined. There was a group of four guys that were taking turns to ‘thread the needle’ and get on to the top of the rock. They had been waiting on another couple doing the same.

A queue to get to the top of a mountain? Where the hell was I? Hellvelyn in the height of the summer holidays? Pfft, I wasn’t digging this.

But we waited anyway, and I spoke to the lads that had just came down from the summit. Once they had climbed up and got their pictures taken, it was my turn to have a look. I got up fairly easily although there was a bit of over stretching involved, and the rock was so polished parts of it had completely changed colour! Anyway I got my picture taken posing with the obligatory man-leg and clambered back down.

The summi of The Cobbler

The summit of The Cobbler

Coming back down with the exposure visible to my left.

Coming back down with the exposure visible to my left.

Just as we were leaving the top, a young lad on a mountain bike and what seemed like his entourage of 3 adults and another youngster were arriving. He was dressed in what looked like a competition outfit with sponsors plastered all over his top and trousers. The young teenager done a few wheelies as the entourage took photos and told him how amazing he was. All a bit weird.

Anyway we headed off down as we were starting to get hungry and cold. By the time we had reached the bottom of the path to then start along the glen back towards Arrochar, I noticed that the sun was dipping low in the sky. It wasn’t even 16:00 yet, the nights were definitely drawing in. We were maybe about half a mile along the path that makes its way in and around the huge boulders and rocks that are scattered through the glen, when I heard the clanking of metal behind us. It was the young lad on his mountain bike with his fan club marching behind him. I got Kayley’s attention and we stepped off the path to let him whizz past, he gave us a thanking nod. Less than a minute later he turned around and started cycling back up towards us, so again we let him past. Maybe two minutes later, I heard the same clanking of his bike so turned around and here he was again speeding down the path showing no signs of slowing down, so again we stopped walking and stepped off the path to let him past. No thank you this time, not even an acknowledgement. This happened again five minutes later. I was getting a bit pissed off at the lad’s lack of consideration for other path users but he was still young, and I could see him speeding on ahead so didn’t give it much more thought until another couple of minutes later I seen him stop and turn around again! As we watched him cycle past us again up towards his entourage, I looked back along the path towards the man (by the sounds of it, he was the lad’s uncle) who was with him. The guy showed no sign of concern that the mountain bike was disturbing us, as well as the other couple walking back to Arrochar about 50 metres in front, and forcing us off the path every time it sped by us. I almost started feeling sorry for the young boy because he was clearly a talented mountain biker, but hadn’t been taught the importance of being a responsible countryside user.

The Cobbler from the floor of the glen.

The Cobbler from the floor of the glen.

Anyway, me and Kayley kept on walking, talking about what we were going to get for dinner when we got back. It was between a supper from the chip shop in Arrochar or stopping in for a carvery in Dumbarton. As we were talking about this, I turned around to look back up at The Cobbler and instinctively grabbed Kayley off the path. Seconds later the lad on his mountain bike came speeding past us again! The boy hadn’t slowed down or even shouted out ahead to let us know he was there, probably assuming that we could hear him and would jump out his way without asking, again. Galloping behind him was his uncle, I tried to grab his attention to let him know that this wasn’t on but he was too busy giddily running along with the young lad trying to take photos of him like a One Direction fan chasing Harry Styles along the street. After a few choice words of frustration and anger, I decided to just let the whole group pass by us. It wasn’t worth getting annoyed at, we had had a great day on the hill and that was fine. It was just frustrating seeing people who obviously thought of themselves as ‘outdoorsy types’ clearly showing that they were infact the exact opposite. Irresponsible countryside use comes in all forms and this was just as bad as any of them.

But back to the main point – spending the day with my girlfriend enjoying two brilliant hills in a great part of the country that is steeped in Scottish climbing history. What a way to spend a day off, and a sausage supper was the icing on the cake.

A Scotsman, an Englishman and a Cowboy climb the Aonach Eagach – The day Summer arrived in Glencoe

Having neglected the blog for over a year, I thought it fitting to look back on one of the few good days we had this summer. June was the month, Glencoe was the place, Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh were the mountains – the Aonach Eagach ridge.

With the sun still high in the sky, we sat there. Propped up against the cairn, I adjusted my sunglasses and rested my head against the rock. I could see Mull, I could see the Ben. I could see bloody everything. Bidean had never looked so good, the snow hanging on for dear life in the gullies contrasting with the dark green slopes meant that my camera took about 20 photos before my backside got a seat. The ridge was finished but I never wanted to leave, if I had lumped my tent up with me I would’ve pitched it right there beside the cairn. Nah I wasn’t leaving yet, we stayed at the summit for nearly another hour before we set off down. What an absolute belter of a day.

It had been a glorious morning driving up the A82 (and it’s not very often I say that), Loch Lomond had slithers of mist hovering above the surface of the water, Beinn Dorainn looked exactly like it does on my calendar, and the Rannoch Moor lochans looked like polished mirrors brightly reflecting the morning sky and its cotton wool clouds. Of course, none of them compare to being slapped in the face by the Buachaille Etive Mor as you enter Glencoe. I’ll never get tired of that.

Anyway I met Jimbo at the Clachaig and after the usual fannying about and then parking a motor at each end of the ridge, it was after 11 before we started walking up the slopes of Am Bodach. The sun was blazing and nearly at its highest point in the sky by the time we had climbed a few hundred metres. I hadn’t been up a hill in nearly 2 months, and my thighs were letting me know. As we neared the top of Am Bodach, high enough to be a munro itself but too near to Meall Dearg to get itself into the tables, the path began to steepen and get more rocky so we took a wee break.

It wasn’t an official break, infact none of us had mentioned the word ‘break’. One of us had simply slowly came to a halt implying the conversation required more attention and the only way to do so was to stop walking for a minute or five. It was during this break that someone appeared behind us on the path. He recognised Jimbo as Kenny’s brother and we found out that he was in Glencoe for Kenny’s stag do the next night (as we were). Jake was a Londoner, a few years older than us, and a funny bastard. He walked with us all the way to the end of the ridge.

Ten minutes later we were stomping along the final section of path towards Am Bodach. I already had my straps undone on my pack to get fired into my scran, but even the intense hunger causing havoc in my empty belly took a back seat to the spectacle infront of us – The Chancellor. This rugged and jagged rock jutting out from the ridge is like the Aonach Eagach’s middle finger to Bidean nam Bian saying ‘I don’t care how big you are, you and your three sisters can fuck right off! I’m the best mountain in the glen!’.

I let Jake and Jim walk out to the end of what must be Glencoe’s most exposed natural viewing platform while I took some action shots, and they done the same for me afterwards. We spent at least half an hour here admiring the view and getting a few calories in us before moving on.

Jim and Jake standing on the end of The Chancellor

Jim and Jake standing on the end of The Chancellor

Jake had been on the ridge before and had mentioned that there was some sketchy down-climbing up ahead, he wasn’t wrong. More awkward than difficult, we had to face into the rock and scramble down which was fine, but only because of the great weather. The rock was polished to buggery and I reckon doing the same in the pissing rain would be a different story, Jake said he had to abseil down the last time he was here in winter!

A little bit of hopping and jumping over some rocks with some scrambling (and of course taking plenty photos) and it wasn’t long before we were at the summit of Meall Dearg, the first Munro of the day. The views had really opened up and I was seeing the Mamores like I had never seen them before. It was a similar view from Bidean nam Bian 6 years earlier (to the day) but I felt miles closer on this ridge, I could see everything. The views west were awesome aswell, the ridge stretched out before us towards Glencoe village. Infact stretched is probably the wrong word, that would imply that it was somewhat smooth or at least pulled flattish. The ridge actually closer resembled an accordian with all its jagged points and pinnacles. The Aonach’s reputation certainly hadn’t disappointed.

The summit of Meall Dearg looking west.

The summit of Meall Dearg looking west.

Even though the lettuce had started to go all shitty, my sandwich went down a treat. Washed down with some water and a few sherbet chews I was raring to go again. Jake was up for it and Jimbo was about as giddy as his wee dog Franklin (who was absent due to the stag do the next night) chasing its tail – always at the front desperate to get up and over the next section of the ridge. The Crazy Pinnacles are named, I can only assume, because the first maniac to climb over them must’ve been literally crazy. Although there are alternative routes bypassing most of these notches in the mountain, choosing to go this route definitely gives the ridge the excitement and exposure that forces guidebooks to describe it as the best ridge walk on the mainland. Unless weather makes the decision for you, I would recommend the pinnacles every time, if not for the experience at least do it for the braw photos!

Jim down-climbing with PLENTY exposure to the back of him.

Jim down-climbing with PLENTY exposure to the back of him.

Looking down from one of the pinnacles, showing how narrow the ridge is. (Photo: Jimbo)

Looking down from one of the pinnacles, showing how narrow the ridge is. (Photo: Jimbo)

Once the pinnacles were behind us and we got past the top of Stob Coire Leith, the Aonach Eagach started to take it easy on us. The ridge starts to broaden out a bit and the walker starts to lose the exposure of earlier on. That didn’t mean the walk lost any appeal – the boyish good fun of Meall Dearg and all its scrambling turns into a more relaxed walk where the eyes are drawn to the views in all directions rather than the holds 6 inches infront of you. On this day, the views were literally incredible. The sea and the lochs out to the west grab the attention to the point that if they don’t bring you to a subconscious halt, the mountain will trip you up and belt your face off the rock as a punishment for not watching where you put your feet.

As we arrived at the summit of the second Munro – Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, the three of us were slightly more quiet and subdued than a few hours earlier. For me I know it was because the walk was nearing its end and all that was left was a ruthless descent down a mass of scree that my knees would remind me about for at least the next couple of days. But fuck that for now, I was going to enjoy this last summit. I walked a few yards away from the cairn and faced north for while, lying on the grass with my head resting on my rucksack. I couldn’t hear a thing, complete silence. After a few minutes I rolled over and looked back at the cairn, Jimbo and Jake were doing the exact same thing – Jim facing east and Jake facing west. This is the life.

Then Jake farted. After that I stood up laughing, (farts are always funny are they not?) and started taking some photos as we began the usual process of naming the surrounding hills. Not sure if anyone else does this when they’re up a mountain but it’s become a habit of mine, and it’s not restricted to summits either! I do it when I start a walk, when I’m halfway up a hill, when I’m halfway down a hill, when I’m in the car driving past a hill, when I’m sitting on the couch and a hill I know comes on the TV, etc etc.

Seconds after Jake farted.

Seconds after Jake farted.

After about half an hour, Jake decided to head on down. His knees had been playing up and he apparently didn’t want to hold us young pups back. So he left the summit to get a head start on us. Me and Jim stayed at the top for a while longer. We talked about Kenny’s stag do that still lay ahead of us. We talked about the caves situated in the walls of The Three Sisters across the glen. We talked about the 70 year man we had passed on the ridge earlier and how much of a legend he was for walking the full ridge on his tod. But we mostly talked about the day we’d just had and past trips that might rival it. We were awfy tired and our brains weren’t exactly in high gear but we couldn’t think of many…

Legs of Jelly On The Ring of Steall – 3rd time lucky!

I was basically running down the quartzite scree. With each step I was travelling about 2 metres, a metre long step and then sliding a metre. Every now and again, a rush of small boulders would slide past me, travelling faster than I was. When this happened, I would lose control and only manage to hold myself upright by instinctively tensing up and sliding down with the boulders for about 5 metres. I didn’t even feel like I was concentrating, I was on auto-pilot. There was a faint path that was made up of smaller stones but my legs were ignoring it and just blitzing straight through the zig-zags, almost establishing a new, quicker and less controlled route. Finally reaching the end of the rocky scree, I could see the green start of grass. As I jumped onto it and managed to get control of my momentum again, I turned around and noticed the summit of Sgurr a’Mhaim was now out of view. I lay down and closed my eyes and waited on my mates, it was 17:00 and we still had more than 2 hours of descent ahead of us.

Nearly 10 hours earlier, we were having our ‘start of the walk’ photo taken by a Canadian tourist infront of a sign which read ‘Danger of Death’. We were fresh as daisies and itching to get up our first of four Munros on the Ring of Steall. This was our third attempt at the walk, the previous two had been failures. Infact they weren’t failures, they weren’t even attempts. They were complete non-starters. We had just decided we were too lazy to wake up at the time needed to do the full route in daylight. The big bad reputation of the Ring of Steall had scared some of the group…

Just a quick warning!

Just a quick warning!

So as we made our way along the path which led us through the Nevis Gorge, we joked about whether we were going to make it to the top of the last Munro. The weather was good, there was cloud in the sky but it was higher than the surrounding peaks, the MWIS forecast of a 90% chance of cloud-free summit was beginning to look accurate. The initial path is great to walk on, well maintained and placed at a good height to get a good view down into the gorge. It wound its way along for about 20 minutes, curving slightly round to the left before opening up into an absolutely glorious meadow. My guidebook told me earlier that I would definitley know when I came into the meadow because of the very obvious waterfall directly ahead, it was right! A few photos and a quick walk later, we were at the wire bridge. Luckily for us the river wasn’t even close to being in spate so we could’ve walked past the bridge a little bit and easily skipped over some stones and joined the path again. Where’s the fun in that though?

Arriving in the meadow.

Arriving in the meadow.

The bridge was a bit bigger than I thought it would be and way more wobbly aswell! With a heavy pack in high winds and with a fast flowing river underneath you, I could see why some people might think this was the hardest part of the walk! For us though, it was fairly easy, more awkward than anything else! We made it over and within another 5 minutes we were at the foot of the Steall Falls, I’ve not got a clue how tall the waterfall is but it’s definitely the tallest one I’ve stood in front of. We stopped to take more photos and have some water, and generally fanny about for a bit before we started off again. By the time we had crossed the burn, walked over a boggy patch and joined a substantial path again, we were already an hour into the walk and had probably only gained about 20 metres in height!

Crossing the wire bridge.

Crossing the wire bridge.

Fast forward another hour and we were well on our way to the first summit of the day. We had walked up into a coire and up god knows how many zig zags, before swinging to the right and skirting underneath a cliff face. It was quite a long detour to gain the ridge but obviously the safest route. Before turning left again to start an ascent onto the summit ridge, the path levels out for a while and the route exposes a brilliant view of the day ahead. We could see the full ridge from Am Bodach right the way round, over the Devil’s Ridge to Sgurr a’Mhaim, the last munro of the day.

As we were nearing the summit, the snow patches were beginning to grow and become more regular. With the time of year, we knew there was going to be snow but what I hadn’t thought about was just how eroded and unstable the cornices would be! Some of them were at least three metres deep with massive cracks right along the edge of them, the ridge we were on was probably fairly narrow but with the cornices, looked much wider. We were coping with the snow fine, considering none of us had cramp-ons with us until we came to what can only be described as a wall of ice. Nothing too intimidating or big, it was probably only about a metre taller than myself and actually seemed safe enough to climb. There were plenty holds for us to scramble over, but it wasn’t until we looked more closely we realised we were standing in the middle of a 2 metre wide crack in an otherwise pristine cornice! It must’ve been at least 4 or 5 metres deep in the depth of winter. With that in mind, we decided to find another way past and back tracked about 100 metres.


Barrier of ice. (Bad photo!)

Barrier of ice. (Bad photo!)

After taking a route which brought us out on the opposite side of the snow we were at An Gearanach’s summit cairn within 10 minutes. The panorama view from the top was unbelievable, a perfect view of every summit we had planned for the day. We could also see south over to the Glen Coe mountains and a great view east to the other Mamores.

Panoramic view from the summit of An Gearanach. The other 3 Munros in view with the Glen Coe mountains in the distance.

Panoramic view from the summit of An Gearanach. The other 3 Munros in view with the Glen Coe mountains in the distance.

After taking our standard ‘man-leg’ photos we got a move on since it was starting to get cold. I’d read in a guidebook that the ridge that lay infront of us was apparently worse and more exposed than the Devil’s Ridge on the opposite side of the horseshoe, luckily it wasn’t windy or wet and the cloud was still sitting well above the summits. When we finally reached a point on the ridge where we had no choice but to put our poles away and clamber over, I realised we were at the stage the guidebook was talking about. My mate Hammy chose to go first over the awkward looking, knife edge rock. For not having much hill experience, he was pretty game for scrambling over this part. I told him I’d wait back and try get some ‘action shots’ with my camera. He seemed to be loving it, maybe he likes being on his hands and knees…?


Scrambling over the An Garbhanach arete.

We had a good laugh scrambling over the airy ridge which was actually pretty easy, just a little exposed in places. We joined the path again and descended to a bealach where we stopped for a two minute break and got our poles out again. The climb to the second Munro of the day starts from here and is fairly short. Quite steep in places but you can see the summit cairn from about halfway up the ascent which is a relief, there’s nothing worse than a false summit! We reached the top to see the views from Stob Coire a’Chairn are amazing and I chose to sit facing south while we ate our lunch. The view in front was over to Glen Coe and we could tell how far we’d come from the first Munro since Buachille Etive Mor seemed much bigger than before! We sat here for almost 45 minutes, chilling out and soaking up the views. It was hard to think we were still only about a third of the way through the day.

Looking towards Ben Nevis from the summit of Stob Coire a'Chairn.

Looking towards Ben Nevis from the summit of Stob Coire a’Chairn.

There’s an option to turn east at this point and head out towards Na Gruagaichean, but there was no way we were making the day longer and adding on an extra hill! So we headed on towards the next hill, Am Bodach. From where we were it didn’t look that far away but there definitely seemed to be more of a descent and ascent in front of us. My mates charged on ahead and as usual I was still strapping up my rucksack as they left the cairn. My legs were starting to give me the ‘geez a fuckin break’ feeling. I’ve always been a slow starter and even slower at getting going again after having a break. Sometimes I think I might just be better charging on without resting, but I’m far too lazy to test that theory. I eventually caught up with the other two. As usual, I get carried away when descending on my own and end up going onto auto-pilot and more or less run and jump off the hill. The views east from this side of Stob Coire a’Chairn are great. The coire between this mountain and Am Bodach is impressive and was still holding a lot of snow, even for this time of year! Am Bodach looks intimidating from this side, it looks steep and I could clearly see a massive cornice still overhanging up near the summit. The route was hard to make out from where we were but when we finally started climbing, it led us into the rocky face of the mountain. We had to scramble up parts and squeeze through tight gaps that I expect bigger guys might struggle to fit through. Luckily us lads are young and lean…

Near the top of the summit, we met a couple who had little to no gear with them besides a camera. They said they had come up from Kinlochleven and joined the ridge on the other side of Am Bodach. That was about all we talked about since they were letting us pass through and also because I was breathing out my arse! We reached the summit cairn a few minutes after that and again, Buachaille Etive Mor in Glen Coe looked even bigger! We had another quick rest at the top of the mountain, although it wasn’t long since our last we were all starting to feel the strain. We were standing on top of our third Munro of the day and had only been out for 6 hours. With plenty of ascent in there! As I inhaled a snickers bar, my mates started heading off again. Standard practice now. We descended Am Bodach in a westerly direction, the three of us about 100 yards away from the other and I was already looking forward to the flat ridge that lay ahead. We had reached the most southern point of the walk and as we progressed off Am Bodach we started getting a view of Ben Nevis, the big brute with its tiny looking partner Carn Mor Dearg. We’d always been able to see the Ben but this was the first time of the day it hadn’t been at our backs. It looked huge from where we were and the Carn Mor Dearg arete looked awesome in the clear weather. The flat, level ridge I had been eyeing up for about four hours was over quicker than I expected and before I knew it we were all sitting in a cairn at the summit of Sgurr an Iubhair. This top had been a Munro from 1981 to 1997, who knows what that’s about? The way the Munro tables get updated now and again has always baffled me! But today, it was only classed as a ‘top’. After another chocolate boost, we started off towards the intimidating sounding Devil’s Ridge.

The Devil's Ridge and Sgurr a'Mhaim in the background.

The Devil’s Ridge and Sgurr a’Mhaim in the background.

The Devil’s Ridge has a reputation amongst walkers, especially those who haven’t walked along the ridge. And maybe those who’ve walked the ridge in torrential rain and heavy winds. Or maybe those who have walked it in winter. Or maybe even those who’ve done it blind folded. But in clear, calm weather the Devil’s Ridge has no real difficulties apart from walking it without stopping to get the camera out. The views back over to the other side of the horseshoe and the three Munros we had walked over earlier in the day were outstanding! It seemed ages ago we were sat on top of An Gearanach. The views down into the glen were also brilliant. The only other difficult part of the ridge is probably where the reputation comes from. A small rocky section where long arms and legs are definitely a help. There is an easier bypass route which one of my mates actually took without even realising this was ‘the scary bit’ we had been talking about earlier! When I reached the section I tried to cross over it. There was nothing scary about it after all, the drop either side was only about 2 or 3 metres but the actual jump from one rock to the next was too far for me. I literally couldn’t figure out how to get across without leaping about 2 metres, and that wasn’t gonna happen with a full day pack on. So I relunctantly took the bypass route with only a hint of disappointment…

Looking back along the Devil's Ridge.

Looking back along the Devil’s Ridge with Bidean Nam Bian looking glorious in the background.

On the summit of Sgurr a'Mhaim. Exhausted.

On the summit of Sgurr a’Mhaim. Exhausted.

That out the way, there was about a further 20 minutes on the ridge before we were all sitting round the cairn on top of Sgurr a’Mhaim. The cairn marked the fourth Munro of the day and at eight and a half hours, we’d taken our time that’s for sure. The views were again amazing from the summit. This time the chat was minimal and there was even a few yawns and we still had a good few miles ahead of us before we were back at the car. Half an hour at the top was enough, the temperature was starting to drop and all three of us were getting the urge to get off the mountain. So on jelly legs, we set off. It was 16:45 and after a long descent which included running down scree, excellent views along Glen Nevis and up to the Ben, sliding on grass and falling face first literally inches from a boulder (that gave me a fright!), running out of water and at least a mile of tarmac… we finally reached the car. What a day, but one to remember. I slept well that night.