Friday, 13 October 2017

The Munros

I recently completed my round of the Munros (mountains in Scotland that are 3000 feet above sea-level), it has taken me 10 years to complete and now I'd like to reminisce on my quest .

Where it all began...

So it all began way back in the summer of 2000, I was on a mini-bus tour travelling around the highlands of Scotland when I got word on the bus that if you were staying a full day in Fort William it was possible to climb Ben Nevis in a day-hike. Now I knew Ben Nevis to be the highest mountain in Britain (I also knew it was a Munro, having learned what a Munro was in my guidebook). Having decided that I'd give it a go, myself and an Australian guy I made friends with on the bus went for it, setting off from Fort William on a fine summer's day, after being out the night before around the pubs in town. We didn't set off until about 11am, and when we started on the path from Glen Nevis I can remember folks passing us making their way down and thinking to myself  what time did these guys set off?? anyway, we pressed on, sweating off the excesses of the previous evening's liquid refreshment. Eventually, we both made it to the summit along with many others, people of all ages and levels of fitness. I actually found the descent tougher than the walk up, but took my time and got back safely. I can pinpoint this as the exact moment that I got into hill-walking, having never previously set foot on a mountain in my life!

on the summit of Ben Nevis, 23 July 2000

at the Fort William backpackers hostel, after climbing Ben Nevis

Isle of Skye, May 2007 - a re-introduction and a lesson learned

Having got into hill-walking from that first time up Ben Nevis in 2000, I didn't return to Scotland for a walking holiday until 2007. In the meanwhile I'd been off hiking and trekking in foreign countries aswell as taking some weekends away in England and Wales. 
I went to the Isle of Arran for a few days at Easter 2007 (no Munros there, but magnificent hills) and got the taste for exploring more hills in Scotland. The beautiful Isle of Skye was the next place I chose to visit, and having waited out a couple of bad weather days at the Sligachan bunkhouse, I set off to climb Sgurr nan Gillean, attempting to reach the summit via the south-east ridge and having got to within a stone's throw of the summit found my way to the top thwarted by steep rocks that would be difficult for me to climb, and more problematic to down-climb, knowing that I'd have to return by the route of ascent, so I turned back, and it occurred to me there and then that if I was to conquer the peaks of the Skye Cuillin I might need some expert help in doing so.

However, un-deterred I had not given up of getting up a summit or two on the mighty Cuillin ridge, and from the Glenbrittle Youth Hostel I went for a walk with a lady named Ursula whom I'd met at the hostel that morning. We set off on the path up to Sgurr na Banachdich and made it up to the summit, it felt so good to be up there on such a nice day and we continued along the ridge, traversing over Sgurr Thormaid and up to Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh (another Munro) then safely negotiating the tricky descent to An Dorus and nipping up to Sgurr Mhadaidh, making that 3 Munro summits for the day. I even indulged in the rare luxury of bathing in a rock pool on the way back down.

looking south on the Cuillin ridge from Sgurr na Banachdich
getting to grips with the Cuillin ridge

So that was my 2nd, 3rd and 4th Munros in the bag, not that I was thinking about bagging Munros at that time - far from it - I was just happy to be out on the hills and happier still to be up on the Cuillin ridge, in fact I hadn't even realized I'd done 3 Munros that day (plus 2 Munro tops), until Ursula pointed it out to me, on the way back down.

Hogmanay and a big hill

At the end of 2007 the way my days off fell I had an extra long weekend for the new year, wanting to go somewhere and do a hill or two, I booked into SYHA Crianlarich (somewhere that was to become quite familiar in the following years). On 30 December I went up Ben More, (big mountain in Scot's Gaelic) slipping about on the icy rocks of the summit ridge. Made it to the top, in mist. Daylight seeps away so early in the north at that time of year. That evening I got chatting with a chap at the hostel, who said he'd got a hill in mind for the following day, when the forecast was for extensive low cloud. The hill in question, he said was one many baggers save for a poor weather day because of the ease of terrain and navigation, so I agreed to join him. The hill was quite a way from Crianlarich, and admittedly not one I would have chosen myself, but George was offering to drive, and off we went, past Killin and down into Glen Lochay for our hill, Meall Ghaordaidh. We made it to the top in mist and drizzle, to my surprise, another group of folks turned up when we were on the top.
Back to the hostel, where I remember taking a snooze in a comfy chair, then going out to the local pub, The Rod and Reel, where it just seemed like any other new year's eve to me. Probably would have been better off staying at the hostel, the party was still in full swing when I retired from the pub.

Cobbling a few hills together

February 2008, and these Scottish hills seem to have a bit of a hold on me. I'd heard about the Arrochar Alps the year before from a bloke who lived in Helensburgh. I booked 2 nights in a b&b in Arrochar, and whilst I was there, I had a superb day out on the hill, climbing The Cobbler (Ben Arthur) and Beinn Narnain (Munro #7, for those of you who are counting)

on The Cobbler, Beinn Narnain in background

summit of The Cobbler, with Ben Lomond in background
After my frolics on The Cobbler and bumbling over Beinn Narnain, my next stop was Glencoe, I'd booked in for the rest of that week at the SYHA Glencoe, a fine establishment within striking distance of a fair few hills and staggering distance of the (inn)famous Clachaig Inn

On my first day there, I made the bold decision the head for the closest big hill, Sgurr nam Fiannaidh. Not a bad choice, but my route of ascent, up the real steep stuff, straight opposite the pub, was horrifically steep, with broken rock and scree making it even more difficult. I made it up to the top (Munro  #8) but then walked the very enjoyable ridge all the way to The Pap of Glencoe, absorbing the fantastic views on this perfect winter's day.

Clachaig Gully

Loch Leven from Sgurr nam Fiannaidh
Ben Nevis from Sgurr nam Fiannaidh

Loch Leven on the descent from The Pap of Glencoe

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Tour de Corse

I took my Summer Holidays early this year, and had the intention of travelling to the North of Scotland for two weeks hill-walking. But, it had been such an awful Spring in Britain, so I decided to head for warmer climes and booked flights to Corsica.

The journey began late on the evening of 25 May, with a bus journey to Manchester Airport, then finding a row of seats close to the arrivals in Terminal 1, where I endured a fitful night's rest. My flight departed the next morning, and I slept far better on the 'plane than I did in the airport. Had a window seat and woke to see the mountains of Corsica on the descent to Bastia. The mountains on Cape Corsica looked magnificent and quite close-up. The big mountains of the interior appeared jagged, with plenty of snow on the upper slopes.

From the airport, I struck out along the road towards the main highway, where with my home-made sign (a card-board beer box, with the words PORTO VECCHIO inked by a marker pen), I stood on the slip-road in the hope of getting a ride. The vehicles were zooming by, and I was waiting for almost an hour (right arm getting slightly sunburnt), then a car trundled along the slip-road, stopped, and offered me a lift to Aléria, in I jumped. From Aléria, I got a lift to Ghisonaccia, and from there another one all the way down to Porto Vecchio. Found the campsite, had a wander round the town, then went for a Pizza and had an early night.

The Trek...

Day 1 - Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio to Refuge Paliri (Monday 27 May 2013)

Caught the 8 o'clock bus to Sainte Lucie, found a Spar shop, where I was hoping to find Coleman gas, they had only Camping Gaz. Started walking the road to Conca just after 9:00, thumbing along the way but no cars stopped for me. It took me just over an hour to walk to Conca, the start in earnest of the GR20 for me.

This first stage was a steady ascent up to a pass, with only hazy views down to the coast where I'd come from. Did see some Mouflon on the way. After a series of short descents and asents, I found the Refuge, where I encountered a group of trekkers that were completing the GR20. I also met a nice couple from the Czech Republic, Peter and Michelle. I cooked my evening meal on the gas stove in the refuge (LWWF Chili con Carne with couscous). It was raining by the time I settled into my tent for the night, but I slept quite well.

Day 2, Refuge Paliri to Refuge d'Asinau.

Packed the tent away in the rain, made some breakfast of Nairn's oatcakes with peanut butter and a coffee. Met my new Czech friends, and we set off for the Col de Bavella. Because of the wet conditions, we took the lower route, which involved many ascents and descents, and one tricky river crossing before the final plod up to the Refuge. It was misty and beginning to rain when I arrived, and with there being no suitable places to pitch a tent (just some dirt patches), I stayed the night inside the hut. Met a Canadian guy there who had come to Europe just to do the GR20. The refuge was quite cramped inside, even though it was not full to capacity. Didn't sleep to well that night, what with the wind and rain lashing against the roof just above my head, and someone in the room snoring like a pig.

Day 3, Refuge d'Asinau - Refuge d'Usciolu

Somewhat suprisingly, I awoke to a view of clear blue skies, and a vista of the Aiguilles de Bavella across the valley. So, I set off in good heart for the climb up to Monte Alcudina. But, open reaching the ridge that leads to the summit, I encountered completely different conditions - cold north winds and thick mist. Zero visiblity at the summit, and a cold, windy descent down to the Plateau de Coscione.
Things brightened up somewhat down at the Plateau, and there was good views ahead to the Arête a Monda. It was a stiff climb up to the ridge, and on facing the west side of it, felt the full force of the wind. It was strong enough to blow me off my feet if I was not careful. The path winds along the ridge, continually going from one side to the other. Involving some exposed scrambling on open rock and narrow gullies.
I arrived at the Usciolu just before 6pm. It was getting quite cold already, I had a beer, then put my tent up. Cooked dinner on one of the outdoor gas stoves, eat my food in the warmth of the Refuge, there was a wood-burning fire roaring inside. It was sleeting when I retired to my tent, I was in for a cold night.

Day 4, Refuge d'Usciolu to Cozzano

Woke up at 6:20, so cold that I had to get up and put some clothes on and pack the tent away in the sleet...hands were freezing. Had some breakfast then set off towards the Refuge de Prati, as I was setting off there were people coming back down, saying there was too much snow up there and it was not safe to walk on. I continued to see how bad it was for was slippy in places and difficult to see the waymarks because of the snow and poor visibilty...but at some point on the ascent to the Bocca di Formicula I turned back because the wind was terrible, blowing the freezing sleet and snow into my face. It had even covered my footprints where I'd walked minutes earlier. Returned to the Usciolu, had a warm by the fire, met Peter and Michelle, then we decided on walking down to the valley to Cozzano. It was an un-enjoyable descent on a steep, muddy path. It was really pissing it down when we arrived at the Gîte d'Étape, felt good to have my first hot shower since leaving home. Went to the shop with Michelle and bought some food for dinner. It was even cold in the Gîte, I slept sound though.

Day 5, Cozzano to Guitera-les-Bains to Ajaccio

From Cozzano, we set off with the intention of following the Mare a Mare centre to the coast. However after just one day, that was enough. The walk from Cozzano to Guitera was a boring trudge through  forest and crossing streams, passing by deserted hamlets along the way. We stopped for a drink at the Gîte d'Étape in Guitera, then road walked down to Guitera-les-Bains. A car stopped for us and offered us a ride to Ajaccio, so in we jumped. The driver was a young doctor, who was from Chambéry. We got dropped off in Ajaccio at about 7pm, then traipsed round the city for almost 3 hours before we eventually found a hotel room, at La Fêche. We went out, had some Pizza, then went to the Irish Pub.

Day 6, Bus from Ajaccio to Cargèse, walk to E Case.

Had to be up early for the 7:30 bus, ate some breakfast at the hotel, then made the short walk to the bus station. It was a lovely morning, and a pleasant journey on the scenic coast road, with views of the mountains inland. I bought some supplies at the Spar shop in Cargèse, then set off on the Tra Mare e Monti path. After the poor weather throughout the first week, the heat came as a shock, particularly on the steep climb up from the Bergeries de Santa Lucia to the Crête de Pianu Maggiore. Great views though, down to the spectacular coast. From here it was an easy walk to E Case, I arrived in the mid-afternoon, lazed in the sun for a while, pitched my tent and had a beer. Had a hearty dinner in the Refuge, saw a beautiful sunset before bedtime.

Day 7, E Case to Marignana.

Awoke to a lovely morning, breakfasted on coffee, fresh bread and home-made honey. After a slight descent through woods, the trail ascended steadily to the Bocca d'Acquaviva, with great views along the coast opening up the higher I walked. The view from the pass was a joy to behold, the high mountains on the Island with a covering of snow.
 The descent from the pass was not as steep as I'd expected it to be, I encountered many other walkers coming in the opposite direction. The route onwards traversed a valley with another ascent, to the Culletta a u Prunu. Around this time the skies began to darken over the mountains ahead, and I heard rumbles of thunder in the distance. But the weather stayed fine for me all the way to Marignana, where I camped at the Gîte d'Étape. After pitching my tent and taking a shower, I sat down with my guidebook and devised my onwards trek over a couple of bottles of Columba. I enjoyed the evening meal there, the Soupe Corse was particularly good. After dinner I went outside to take in the views, Marignana is a great place to see the sunset over the Spelunca gorge and the Golfe de Porto.

Day 8, Marignana to Soccia.

From the path junction above Marignana, I set off on the Mare a Mare Nord variant - a route that would take me back up to the high mountains. The path up to the Capu Sant Anghiulu ridge was very rough with over-grown trees and then aherd of cattle getting in the way. It was an easy descent to Renno, and a gentle climb up to Punto di l'Arinella. A mist had formed and I didn't get great views from here, so pressed on to make my lunch stop at Letzia, another deserted mountain hamlet. It was a long walk down through the forest to Gaugno-les-Bains, where I filled up with water from the spring and set off uphill to Soccia. It was now 4pm, and any designs I had on making it all the way to the next Gîte d'Étape at Guagno were beginning to seem fanciful. I was on the approach to Soccia at about 5pm, when it started to rain, and it was coming down heavy by the time I got to the village. As soon as I saw the sign for the Hotel u Paese, my mind was made up, so I booked in for the night, got a nice room with a view over the valley. Had a soak in the bath, washed some clothes. The adjacent restaurant did a good Steak and Chips for dinner, washed down with half a litre of red wine.

Day 9, Soccia to Pastricciola.

After the storms of the previous evening, the weather was much calmer this morning - clear in the valleys with clouds shrouding the summits. The trail out of the village followed the road, then up through dense woods to cross a spur, then descend to the sleepy hamlet of Orto, spread out on the mountainside. From Orto, the path descends steeply to cross the Fiume Grossu river on a severely damaged bridge.On the opposite side of the river, the path rises steadily through chestnut woods to a stream crossing and up to a lane that leads into Guagno. I made my lunch stop here and dried off some wet clothes from yesterday's laundry on a fence next to the church steps. The way onwards from Guagno was not clearly marked, I had to look at the route description in my guidebook and found the cemetery, around the back of which, I found the orange way-marks that lead up to the Bocca Miscigiella passing many of those semi wild pigs along the way. Somewhere along the way, on the way down to Pastricciola, I was following way-marks that lead to a clearing in the forest, but then I couldn't see any more markings or an obvious path, so I followed a bulldozed track that I believed would (eventually) lead to a road. It did, but then I wondered just how far off-course it had taken me. I followed the road up the valley and after about 1km came to the Gîte d'Étape, where I met a French walker named Jean-Claude who had walked there from Vizzavona. He told me that I had to go to the Guardien's house in the village (1km from the Gîte) to arrange a night's stay. I found the Guardien's house (it is right by the path junction for the Bocca). On asking the Guardien, I also found the village shop - an Aladdin's cave type establishment in an elderly gentleman's lock-up, which was very well stocked. Bought some supplies (some of which I drank back at the Gîte) then got showered and ready for the evening meal at Chez Guardien. It was quite a lavish spread, starting with an Apéritif (pastis) then a soup, salad and main course of Brocciu. Afters were some rather pungent local cheeses and some home-made cake. Finishing off with a shot of Grappa. Compliments to the Chef! On returning to the Gîte, I discovered that all of the clothes that I'd washed and put in the tumble-dryer were completely dry. Had a dorm to myself and slept sound.

Day 10, Pastricciola to l'Onda

Had breakfast with Jean-Claude, then set off on the way. It was a good few kilometres of road-walking to Chiusa to find the path that follows the Gruzini river, the path crosses the river several times, by means of stepping stones, then rising steeply through the forest and traversing some eroded slopes and then clamber up to the Bocca d'Oreccia - I'm back on the GR 20! Great views from the Bocca, back down the valley and over to Monte d'Oro. It was only a short walk to l'Onda, where I pitched my tent in the enclosure at the bergeries. Had a nice dinner at the Bergeries - soup, followed by Lasagne au Brocciu, delicious cheese then fruit salad.

Day 11, Thursday 6 June.

From l'Onda, I re-traced my footsteps to Bocca d'Oreccia and then ascended to the Capu a Meta. I felt good, but the descent from there was a bit tricky - down a steep snow slope, I down-climbed some of it. Then, on rejoining the ridge it was easy scrambling up to the Punta di Pinzi Corbini and a most enjoyable ridge walk along the Serra Bianca. After the Punta Murace, there was some exposed scrambling over rocks and ledges to negotiate to reach Petra Piana. It was very wet around the refuge, due to the snowmelt from the mountainside above. It cost 'only' 5 euros for a beer, and the nice lady gave me some free crisps. I cooked a Norfolk Chicken Tikka 'look what we found' meal and enjoyed that aswell as the great views from the terrace of the refuge, especially of the route I'd walked that day and beyond to Monte d'Oro.

Day 12, Friday 7 June.

From the refuge, the trail crossed the névés to a spur with great views of Monte d'Oro. Rounding the spur and going into the shade, I needed to put my microspikes on for the ascent to Bocca Muzzella, had a short break there, enjoying the views, then it was an easy traverse to the Bocca Rinosa - fine views from there down to the lakes. Continued over snow and boulders to Bocca a Soglia, then along the ridge to the Brêche de Capitellu, where I made my lunch stop. There was a dizzying view down to the frozen Lac de Capitellu, but my route skirted around a rock pinnacle and climbed up a steep gully aided by a fixed chain, a little further on there was a very exposed névé crossing - I put my spikes back on for this. Then it was a straight forward plod on the snow up to Bocca a e Porte - the highest point on the GR 20. From the pass, it was a slippery descent on soft snow (the snow-line went down quite a long way) to a boulder field. I stopped to take off my boots and wring out my soaking wet socks! It was a tiring walk to reach the Refuge Manganu, where a beer went down very well indeed. It is a nice refuge with plenty of camping spots, the refuge looks new or refurbished.

Day 13, Saturday 8 June.

I got up early and was on my way for 7:45, it was an easy walk across the Plateau di Campotile to the Bergeries de Vaccaghia, where I bought some cheese and left my pack and set off on my side-trip to the Lac de Nino armed with nothing more than some biscuits, water bottle and 1 trekking pole. Met 2 Polish guys on the way up and some Army lads stationed in Cyprus doing a bit of the GR20 at the lake. I pressed on a bit further above the lake to the Bocca â Rete for better views. from the Bocca,  I bombed up the Capu a u Tozzu in 15 minutes. At 2007 metres above sea level, and quite a commanding position, the views were magnificent - best I had of the whole trek. To the north were the high mountains of the Cinto massif, to the north-west I could see the coast and Calvi, and there were splendid views over the Lac de Nino. I returned the same way to the Bergeries and retrieved my pack and stopped for lunch. Then I set off along the trail alongside the Tavignano towards Refuge a Sega, (where I'd stayed a night on my previous trip to Corsica in 2006) had to ford a stream (requiring me to remove boots and cross the deep water - up to my knees - in sandals) and follow the faint yellow markings to the refuge. I fired a few beers down, had my last cold shower of the trip and did the last of my cooking. Few more beers and that was me for the night.

Day 14, Sunday 9 June.

Packed the tent away as it was just starting to rain, then started my last day's walk down to Corte. It was a waterproofs on and off kind of day, on my way down I met Justine - a girl who had stayed at the Refuge the night before, we walked together all the way to Corte, then went for a drink in a Café in town. I camped at the Camping U Sognu, not far from the town centre and on the way towards the train station. Went for a take-away Pizza and had a few beers, sat by the tent surrounded by the resident cats.

Day 15, Monday 10 June.

I was up at 6 am and it just started to rain, heavily. I hurriedly packed the tent away and walked to the train station. bought a coffee and some pastries for breakfast and bought a ticket for the train to Bastia. I managed to get the tent dry by hanging it out to dry on the train. Arrived in Bastia and had time to buy some bottles of  Corsican beer to take home, then I took the bus to the airport for my flights home.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

GR 54 - Tour de l'Oisans

My summer holiday for 2012, was in the Écrins region of the French Alps. Starting and finishing in Bourg d'Oisans, it has a reputation of being the toughest trek in The Alps. With a distance of 176 kilometres and no less than 12,800 metres of ascent and descent, it certainly lives up to that billing.

My journey began with a flight to Geneva, where an overnight stay was necessary, then continuing by train and buses to Bourg d'Oisans via Grenoble. It was in Grenoble where I had arranged a rendez-vous with my trekking companion, Andrew - from the Czech Republic.

On our arrival in Bourg, we went for a pre-trek beer at a bar that was showing the final stage of the Tour de France on TV. But we soon had to tear ourselves away from the bar and be on our way for the first stage of our tour. On leaving the road out of Bourg the route soon becomes steep and it is required to scramble up some rock ledges with the aid of fixed chains. After gaining a bit of height the views opened up a bit, and after passing by some small alpine hamlets we had to descend into the Gorge de Sarenne and follow the track up to Combe Haute, which was where we had planned to pitch our tents for the night. We found a nice spot, just down from the restaurant building, by the stream with some picnic tables. Cooked some food, had a swig of pear brandy that Andrew had brought from home (nothing un-expected there) what did suprise me was that he smoked a pipe!! (the guy is 24 years old!)

Stage 2, Combe Haute to Besse-en-Oisans.
After a fitful night's sleep (takes me a few nights to adjust to sleeping in a tent) the morning was bright and clear. We had a little way to go to reach the Col de Sarenne, where we got our first view of La Meije. From the Col, the path descended to Clavans-le-Haut and then to Clavans-le-Bas, where we stopped for lunch on a bench in the shade from the blazing sun. Our route continued down to the Torrent le Ferrand, and then rising steeply up to Besse-en-Oisans, where we were able to but supplies from the small village shop, have a beer at the bar and but fresh bread from the excellent bakery on the road heading out of the village towards the campsite. I liked the campsite there, cheap, functional and conveniently located.

Stage 3, Besse-en-Oisans to La Grave.
This was an enjoyable day's walking, plodding up to Col Nazié and Col Bichet there were good views into the valleys below and across to La Meije and Le Râteau. We then followed the alternative path to Lac Noir and Lac Lerié, Lac Noir in paricular was a lovely spot, an ideal lunch stop. Rejoined the main path that descended to Le Chazalet (it was baking hot in the afternoon sun by this time), then on to La Grave. The campsite there had a fussy warden and a dramatic view, at the foot of La Meije.

Stage 4, La Grave to Monêtier les Bains.
This was a long stage, one of those days where progress seemed slow (and in my case, it was). To begin with it was easy enough, the path followed the course of the river (la Romanche) to Villar d'Arêne (a delightful village, with a very nice food shop). The path climbs steeply after passing Le Pied du Col, and even after gaining a significant amount of height, it is still some way to go to reach the Refuge de l'Alpe de Villar de Arêne, further still to the Col d'Arsine.
From the Col, the trail descends to pass the Lac de la Douche, below the Cirque d'Arsine. This was the toughest day of the trek, so far. We didn't reach Monêtier until 6pm, and having passed the campsite on the way I was reluctant to walk back there, so I enquired at the Gîte, Le Florou, and luckily, they put me up for the night and I enjoyed a cold beer, hot shower and nice meal. Met 2 girls from the Netherlands, who were also doing the GR 54, the first other than ourselves we'd encountered on the way.

Stage 5, Monêtier les Bains to Vallouise.
After a comfortable night's sleep at the Gîte, I met Andrew and we set off for the Col de l'Eychouda. At about half-way to the Col, I had a nagging thought in my mind that I'd forgotten my mobile phone...looked in the pocket of my backpack - it wasn't there. Damn! Maybe I'd put it inside the pack? It turned out, I hadn't. It was left in the Gîte where I'd put it on charge. No phone for the rest of the trek.
Pressing on, the way up to the Col passes the ski station and lifts and pistes and is undoubtedly the ugliest section of the trek.
 It is much nicer on the other side of the Col, though. The views looking back are particularly good. Stopped for a lunch break at the Buvette in Chambran (beware of the Chickens!!) There was a good view of Mont pelvoux on the descent to Vallouise. Vallouise represents the last chance to buy supplies for the days ahead, with a well stocked supermarket. The campsite was very nice (and very expensive - 20 Euro a night for 1 tent). I took dinner at the Gîte d'Etape - 16.50 Euro for a 4 course meal.

Stage 6, Vallouise to Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette.
 This is the longest and toughest stage of the trek, 22km in distance with a height gain of over 1600 metres and loss of over 1000 metres. Accordingly, an early start was required, and we were on our way at 7:45. The first 2 hours was spent mostly walking on the road to the National Park entrance at Entre-les-Aygues (I later discovered that there is a bus that leaves Vallouise at 7am). It was an enjoyable walk up to the Cabane Pasorale du Jas Lacroix, gaining height but not being too steep. We had our lunch in the welcome shade provided by the Cabane, then set off for the long walk up to Col de l'aup Martin, passing some magnificent scenery along the way. The final approach to the Col required care to be taken on the loose shale. From the Col, you can see across to the contorted strata of the Pointes des Rougnoux, and in the near distance the Pas de Cavale, which is only about 15 minutes from l'aup Martin.
I'd heard rumbles of thunder and seen the sky darken, and it started to rain. But it didn't last very long, and brightened up again as I descended. I arrived at the Refuge at 5:30 pm, met Andrew there. He told me that if I wanted to camp I had to pitch my tent in the field, up from the hut, and pointed to his tent. Too far from the refuge for me, I thought, so I stayed the night indoors...glad I did too, there was a massive thunderstorm in the early hours and again at 7am.
Met some more GR 54 walkers that evening at dinner, Robin and Mary, from England. Also re-aquianted with the Dutch girls, whom I'd met two days ago, Annalise and Anke.

Stage 7, Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette to Refuge de Vallonpierre.
After a none too promising start, with some rain, it didn't turn out to be that bad a day after all. It was hard going up to the Col de la Valette, but once that was crossed it was just a matter of keeping concentration on the eroded ground of loose shale. After crossing 2 more Cols, the Gouiran and Vallonpierre, I arrived at the Refuge de Vallonpierre. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon, but I felt that I'd done enough and called it a day. It gave me time to do some washing, air my tent out, and drink some tea!
The skies cleared late in the evening, and I got a view of Le Sirac.

 Stage 8, Refuge de Vallonpierre to Refuge des Souffles.
Every now and then, if you're really lucky, you awake to the kind of morning when you feel glad to be staying high up, in the mountains. This was one of those mornings, clear blue skies, perfect views of the mountains, and to top it off, you look down to the valley and see a sea of mist. I'm not one to gloat (much!), but GET IN!

After much marvelling at the phenomenal views, I descended my way into the valley, briefly through the mists, which were soon burned off in the morning sunshine. Met Andrew in La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar, also another familiar face (from the Chaumette, 2 nights before) Martin, the cheerful Catholic Priest from Bonn, Germany. I found the village shop to be open (I had wondered, it being a Sunday) and had a nice lunch, even though the waiter got my beer order wrong (was to be something of a recurring theme on this trek).

It was a pleasant walk out of La Chapelle, down the valley to Villar-Loubière. That was were the hard work started, in the blazing hot afternoon sun, up a steep path with precious little shade, all the way to the Refuge des Souffles. A welcoming place, with a notable selection of bottled and canned beers.

Stage 9, Pic Turbat - side trip.
 When planning this trek, I'd identified the Pic Turbat as a walk-able peak, well within striking distance of the GR 54, and the Refuge des Souffles is a convenient place to gain access to the mountain.
Setting off at 8am, we had the benefit of walking in the shade up to the Col des Clochettes, and before too long we were standing on the shore of Lac Lautier. The path to Pic Turbat starts in earnest from Col des Colombes, just above the lake. The way-marks are faint and not easily spotted. It's not difficult going though, it does get quite steep on the final approach to the summit, and it is necessary to use your hands on the rock (straight-forward, easy scrambling).
It was well worth the effort, and the views from the top were superb. We stayed up there for half an hour or so, gazing at the scenery. I lost sight of the markings on the descent and had to traverse across some rough ground to get back on track, but made it down safely enough. The Lac Lautier was a nice spot for lunch, Andrew went for a swim (I did not). Re-traced our steps to the Refuge, for a celebratory beer.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Skye - The Cuillin, May 2012

Ever since I last visited Skye, 5 years ago, and getting a brief taste of the Cuillins, I have had hopes of going back there and climbing all of the Munros (and other hills) some time ago I decided that this would be the year to do it.

Now for me, the Cuillin of Skye is not something I'd fancy taking on all by myself, so to do it properly I knew I needed to hire the services of a guide. I looked at various courses available online and chose to go with George Yeomans (link) it turned out to be a good call. George was superb, he knows the Cuillins inside out, is very patient and calm, safety conscious and an all-round nice bloke.

The course was due to start on Sunday 13 May, so I needed to be on Skye on Saturday. I even managed to get a hill in on the way there - Glamaig from Loch Ainort. It was not a bad walk, though un-relentingly steep from soon after the start until I came to the first top - An Coileach. From  there it was an easy walk along the ridge to the summit - Sgurr Mhairi, got some views though not extensive. I knew it would be a good move to get a hill in on the day having seen the forecast for the Sunday!

Sound of Raasay

Raasay from An Coileach (Glamaig east summit)
An Coileach from Sgurr Mhairi (Glamaig)

As mentioned above, Sunday was a washout. I did attempt to do a coastal walk, drove down to Talisker, got up onto the cliffs, but it was impossible to walk with the rain lashing into my face. So I made a hasty retreat to the car and headed to Portree, where I did get to see the conclusion of the Premier League title. 

Monday 14 May 
Met up with George at Glenbrittle youth hostel, there was just one more person on the course, David from Dunfermline. George decided that for our first day we would do the 3 Munros that are up the path into Coire a' Ghreadhaidh (Sgurr a' Mhadhaidh, Sgurr a' Ghreadhaidh and Sgurr na Banachdich), I had actually done these before, when I was here 5 years ago, but was happy to do them again. We went to Mhadhaidh first (some easy scrambling required to reach the summit), then via An Dorus (where it was a bit tricky on the wet rock, so we used the safety of a rope to climb the rock step). It was quite straight-forward to get to the summit of Ghreadhaidh, but from there George took us down from the ridge on a path that avoided the south top and then back to the ridge where we had to go over the top of Sgurr Thormaid on the way to Sgurr na Banachdich. Not a great day, weather-wise - there was fleeting glimpses of visibility up on the ridge, but also some snow showers, though it did brighten up a bit of the descent to Glenbrittle.

 Cuillin ridge from Sgurr na Ghreadhaidh
Glenbrittle bay on descent from Sgurr na Banachdich

 Sgurr Dearg and In. Pinn. on descent from Sgurr na Banachdich

 Sgurr nan Gobhar

Tuesday 15 May
Met with Geoge at the hostel and we drove down to Glenbrittle campsite then set off along the path towards Coire a' Ghrunnda, it was a long walk in, but there were fine views out to the Islands of Rhum and Soay.

 Loch Brittle



 We took a break before heading up the path to the Coire which was quite rough but we soon gained height and before too long we arrived at the Loch.

 Loch Coir a' Ghrunnda, Sgurr Alasdair

 From there we went up to Sgurr nan Eag, the southern-most of the Skye Munros, and with it's coastal prominence, great views out to sea.

 Cuillin sound pano from Sgurr nan Eag

 Gars Bheinn from Sgurr nan Eag

 Sgurr Alasdair, Sgurr Thearlaich, Sgurr an Da Dubh Bheinn, Sgurr Dubh Mor from Sgurr nan Eag

 Loch Coir' a' Ghrunnda, Sgurr Alasdair

 From Eag, we skirted around Caisteal an Garbh-choire and dropped the packs just below Sgurr Dubh An da Bheinn, for the out-and-back trip to Sgurr Dubh. This involved some scrambling and it seemed (to me) complicated route-finding (one good reason to be with a guide).

Sgurr nan Eag, Gars Bheinn
 looking north from near Sgurr an da Dubh Bheinn
 Summit attained there was some tricky downclimbs back along the way we'd came, picked up the packs and headed for a path along the top of the screes above Coire a' Ghrunnda, and then climbed up a basalt chimney and scrambled up to the summit of Sgurr Alasdair.
 Sgurr nan Eag, Loch Coir' a' Ghrunnda
 Sgurr an Da Dubh Bheinn, Gars Bheinn, Sgurr nan Eag, Loch Coir' a' Ghrunnda from ascent of Sgurr Alasdair
 The views from the summit were astounding, it was 5pm and the visibility was excellent, all of the tops were cloud-free and the sunlight and shade on the mountains made the views so spectacular. I could have spent an hour up there, just gazing at the views, but there was enough time to take some photos and admire the views.

 Sgurr Dubh Mor, Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn, Gars Bheinn, Sgurr nan Eag from Sgurr Alasdair

 looking north from Sgurr Alasdair

 on Sgurr Alasdair summit

 on Sgurr Alasdair summit

 pano north from Sgurr Alasdair

 northern Black Cuillins and Red Cuillins from Sgurr Alasdair

 On the descent from Alasdair we had the joys of the Great Stone Chute down into Coire Lagan, where we followed the path down to the campsite.
 looking down the Great Stone Chute

 looking down into Coire Lagan

 An Stac screes

 Rhum, on descent from Coire Lagan

 southern Cuillins from Glenbrittle campsite

 Alpenglow on the Cuillins from Glenbrittle (15 May 2012)

Wednesday 16 May
Met with George at the hostel and we drove the short distance to the Memorial hut, and set off on the path up to Coire Lagan, passing an impressive waterfall along the way. The views out to sea were fine, and the clouds were beginning to lift from the tops.

Loch Brittle


 We stopped for a break at Coire Lagan, and could see all of the tops. I thought another fine day was in prospect (according to the MWIS, it was supposed to be a nice day). However, it didn't quite turn out that way. Anyway, from the Coire, we made our way up the edge of the An Stac screes and then stashed the packs at a point just down from the ridge.

head-wall of Coire Lagan

 Sgurr Alasdair and The Great Stone Chute

 On reaching the ridge the tops were still in sight, but I sensed that the clouds were drawing in, so I took a few photos before heading up to our first Munro of the day, Sgurr Mhic Choinnich.

 on the Cuillin ridge looking towards Sgurr Mhic Choinnich and Sgurr Alasdair

 It started to snow and with the rock being wet we used the rope for protection (it was quite exposed on the ledges). Got to the top and it was zero visibilty, didn't hang around there for too long and on the descent to the ridge it seemed as though it was brightening up a touch - could see the In. Pinn. (and also hear the commotion caused by the folks that were up there).

 climbing down from Sgurr Mhic Choinnich

 Sgurr Dearg and the Inaccessible Pinnacle

We retrieved the packs then made our way up the scree and slabs (which was horrible) to the base of the Pinn. By this time, it was snowing again and George assessed the situation and said he was willing to take us up if we were happy...David and me looked at each other and said "let's do it", so George roped us up then soloed the 1st pitch. David went up first, with me at the back of the rope. It was easy climbing to begin with, then got more difficult when I had to cross over the rock and do a "big pull" up where I couldn't get any foot-holds. Could take a little rest at the "half-way house" whilst George climbed to the top and fixed the rope for us. The second pitch is easier climbing, but it is much narrower and more exposed (I was glad that I couldn't see a big drop below, just mist), but I safely made it to the top.

on top of the In Pinn

  And could relax a bit while George set up the rope for us to be lowered off. Being lowered off was an experience in itself, took some getting used to - leaning back with my heels on the rock and gently shuffling down until I'd reached the base of the Pinn, un-clipped from the rope, walked up to the top of Sgurr Dearg and watched George abseil down.

 me and The Pinn

 We had a late lunch, then walked down the Sron Dearg path to Glenbrittle. George dropped me off at the hostel and I downed a couple of beers to celebrate the climb and my 100th Munro!

Thursday 17 May
We had done them all down the Glen, so we'd arranged to meet up at Sligachan at 8:30, the weather was foul (it had not stopped precipitating since we'd done the Pinn. the day before). When George arrived he said "Guys, it's Blaven, or nothing!", I said it take that, so we set off on the drive down to the Cuillin out-lier. Rain from the start, until we got halfway up then it turned to snow, which was settling on the ground. We stopped briefly here for a drink and something to eat. As we got higher, the snow got deeper, and beginning to freeze, and close to the top, George was having to chip it off the rock in places where we needed to scramble up. At the summit, George took a photograph of me, then we made our way back down. There was no way I could have done this one on my own in these conditions (another good reason to have the services of a guide), but at least i got something out of a bad weather day, and being on Skye you can expect a bad weather day (or two, or three...) Anyway, we made it up and back down safely in around 4 and a half hours, had a sandwich in the car then drove back.

me, on my summer holidays. summit of Blaven, 17 May 2012

 Friday 18 May
Met up at the Slig. again, George said it would be only possible to do Bruach na Frithe, so off we went - following the path up to Coire Basteir. Snow had settled on the ground from the Coire upwards, and it looked very icy on the rock as we passed below the Basteir tooth. 

Pinnacle ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean
 looking down into Coire a' Basteir
Red Cuillins, Am Basteir from Bealach nan Lice

Sgurr a' Basteir
 Indeed, the snow had a firmer feel to it from the Bealach nan Lice up to Bruach na Frithe. We got some decent views of the snowy Cuillins, then made our way down via Fionn Choire
 Bruach na Frithe
looking down into Fionn Choire
 Blaven from Bealach nan Lice

 Cuillins from below Bruach na Frithe

 Bruach na Frithe

 Am Basteir and the Basteir tooth

looking down into Fionn Choire

Fionn Choire
 further down there was nice views of the mountains by the Allt Dearg Mor. After getting down off the hill, David, George and me went for a drink at the Sligachan pub. 

Red to Black Cuillins pano
Allt Dearg Mor waterfalls and Sgurr nan Gillean
 Marsco, Clach Glas and Blaven
 Sgurr nan Gillean, Sgurr a' Basteir, Bruach na Frithe

Glamaig, Beinn Dearg Mor, Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach
 north Cuillins pano


 Sgurr na Gillean and Am Basteir from Allt Dearg Mor waterfalls

 Marsco, with Garbh-Bheinn behind to the left

 I got some good views of the mountains on my drive back to Glenbrittle, and some very nice views of the mountains after sunset.

Cuillins from the road to Glenbrittle

Hairy Coo and the Cuiilins

Alpenglow on Cuillins from Glenbrittle

Alpenglow on Cuillins from Glenbrittle

Alpenglow on Sgurr Dearg

Saturday 19 May
Had quite a late night, drinking in the lounge with some of the guys in the hostel. Said my goodbyes in the morning then I left the hostel after a happy week's stay. There was some great views of the mountains on the road to Sligachan.

Black Cuillins from road to Sligachan

 Black Cuillins from road to Sligachan

 Red Cuillins from road to Sligachan

Cuillins pano on road to Sligachan

  Black Cuillins

Black Cuillins reflection
Parked my car in the lay-by at the head of Loch Ainort, and set off for Garbh-bheinn, it was a nice day, quite warm in the sun, so I took my time with this one. Most of the snow had gone, there was only patches of it, high up near the top. Needed to carefully pick my way through the rocks up to the top, which was a very airy summit, but tremendous views across to Blaven and over to the Black Cuillins and Red Cuillins (Garbh-bheinn is actually a Black Cuillin out-lier, and you cross from the Red to Black on the way up). I spent almost an hour on the top, then came back down the same way.

Garbh-Bheinn an Allt Coire nam Bruadar

Cuillins from ascent of Garbh-Bheinn


 Cuillins in profile from ascent of Garbh-bheinn

Clach Glas and Blaven

 Black Cuillins from Garbh-bheinn

Red Cuillins from Garbh-bheinn

 Belig, Glas Bheinn Mor, Loch Ainort from Garbh-bheinn

 Loch Slapin from Garbh-bheinn

on summit of Garbh-bheinn


Sgurr nan Gillean

 Cuillins from Garbh-bheinn


 Red Cuillins on descent from Garbh-bheinn


After my week on Skye, I spent a few days on Knoydart, then came back to Skye with the intention of joining up with George and his group and doing the two Munros that we couldn't do the week before, because of the snow. I came over on the Wednesday afternoon ferry from Mallaig to Armadale, then camped at the Sligachan campsite, it was ceratinly the weather for camping.

 enjoying the "Red Cuillin", 23 May 2012

my tent, Sligachan campsite

Sligachan campsite pano

 alpenglow on Black Cuillin

alpenglow on Red Cuillin

Cuillin pano

 alpenglow on Red Cuillins by the river

 Marsco from the river

 alpenglow Cuillin pano from the river

Thursday 24 May
Starting from the Sligachan campsite, I followed the path into Glen Sligachan then up to Mam a' Phobuill and the steep slopes of Marsco.

Black Cuillin

 Garbh-bheinn and Blaven

 Got good views over to Garbh-bheinn from the east top, then it was an easy walk to the summit, from where there was a superb Cuillin panorama. Descended by the north ridge, which became uncomfortably steep until I reached the Coire. Then it was a long walk back to the Sligachan where a cold pint of San Miguel was in order.

 on Marsco summit

 Cuillin pano from Marsco

 Red Cuillins from Marsco

 Black Cuillins

 Marsco and the Black Cuillins

Sensational views of the mountains, after sunset.

 Red Cuillins alpenglow reflection

 Black Cuillins alpenglow reflection

Friday 25 May
Left the campsite and met up with george and his group to do the 2 Munros we'd not been able to do the week before, because of the snow. We took the path up into Coire Basteir, but this time we headed up to Bealach a' Basteir, dropped the packs and climbed Sgurr nan Gillean by the west ridge. We got roped up for a moderate rock climb, but after that it was just straight-forward scrambling up to the summit, which was quite airy, and from which none of the connecting ridges are visible. We roped up for the descent, and were lowered down on a section adjacent to where we'd climbed up earlier. It was hot again, and I was beginning to suffer in the heat. Felt a bit better after a sit down in the shade and getting some grun inside me. So with some enthusiasm I was ready to tackle my only remaining un-conquered Munro on Skye, Am Basteir. It didn't turned out be as difficult as I'd expected (or as it appeared from Gillean), some scrambling on exposed ledges, but it's a different ball game when the rock is dry (as opposed to what it was like when we did Mhic Choinnich, the week before). We descended to below the Bealach a' Basteir, where the group continued up to Bruach na Frithe, I sat that one out and had a rest in the shade. When the group returned, we descended the way we'd came up, but lower down the path, some of us (myself included) decided to cool off in the stream. It felt lovely, and it's not all that often you get chance to bathe in fresh water after a hard day on the hills in Scotland. Strolled down to the Slig. said goodbye to George, then went for a post-walk drink with the group.

Allt Dearg Beag and Black Cuiilin

west ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean

  Am Basteir, Sgurr a' Fionn Choire

ascending the west ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean

  on Sgurr nan Gillean west ridge (Am Basteir in background)

scrambling up the west ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean

 on Sgurr nan Gillean summit

 Am Basteir from Sgurr nan Gillean

 Blaven from Sgurr nan Gillean

 Knight's Peak

 Am Basteir from Sgurr nan Gillean west ridge

 Am Basteir

 Bruach na frithe from Am Basteir

Sgurr nan Gillean and The Pinnacles

 cooling off after a hot day on the hills.