There’s a baker’s dozen of great walks still on offer in the summer programme of the Nevis Hillwalkers. This is my local hillwalking club and although I am unable to go out with them every weekend, whenever I am free I  try and spend a day on the hills with them .

My highlights during the summer programme are:

  • Through route from Glen Nevis over the two Aonach summits and down to the Nevis Ski Centre (not using the gondola!)
  • The Five Sisters of Kintail – one of the classic ridge walks in Scotland.
  • Ben Nevis – no tourist track for us, up the Ledge route and descend via the CMD arete.
  • A full traverse of Buachaille Etive Beag from Glen Etive through to Glencoe.
  • Sgurr nan Gillean, Skye – let’s hope the great weather we are having now stretches all the way through to September.

I know that walking with a group of people is not to everyone’s taste but this club is a bit different. Even when there is a largish group (say 12) of us out on the hills, you can still get a feeling of solitude. If you want to walk slowly or fast you can do, no one is going to make you walk with the herd. Collectively we will all keep an eye out for each other but we all take individual responsibility.

This last weekend whilst out on Gulvain I opted out of joining the rest of the group for the “interesting” steep descent from the summit in to Gleann Fionnlighe and the cleg and midge delights that would greet them there. Instead, wanting to stay high, I walked back in the sunshine along the main ridge. That’s the ethos of the club, the programme is there as a guide but with enough flexibility for us to try different routes if we chose.

If you are visiting the Lochaber area over the summer and fancy walking with some local people take a look at our programme. Visitors can join us on three club walks a year before having to join. You’ll be assured of a warm welcome. .

You can download our programme here. Or find out more about the club here.

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The Mamore Loner

If Binnein Beag was a human it would be one of life’s loners. Stuck their in the corner of the playground with its bigger brother Binnein Mor back turned to ignore him, keeping the smaller Beag at arms distance. Why pay any attention to Beag when you can talk excitedly to all your other interesting mates in the Mamores. It’s easy being a mountain when you are the largest in the class. Even the neighbouring bulk of Sgurr Eilde Mor stands to one side a looming, lurking mountain, one you can’t quite trust like the class bully. One moment full of smiles and pats on the back, your best friend and the next a raging temper and pokes in the eyes as you become his sworn enemy, his latest object of spite.

Having larked around with the more interesting boys in the Mamore playground I had seen Binnein Beag from a distance but never up close. I was intrigued, I wanted to get closer, wanted to begin to know this shy, retiring mountain, what makes it tick. My task was to go and introduce myself to this elusive mountain and try and start a relationship. Binnein Beag was not going to make this an easy task. I had a long walk into remote country to even catch a glimpse let alone get up close, but the walk along a fine, airy, stalkers path high above the lonely Loch Eilde Mor makes for a quick, unseen approach. Tip-toeing around Coire an Lochain I get my first glimpse of Binnein Beag ahead of me, trying to hide itself behind the broad shoulder of Binnein Beag My pace quickens, eagerly pushing forward to get closer. Who said this encounter was going to be easy?

Binnein Beag 001 There before me opens the grassy hollow of Allt Coire a’Bhinnein blocking any quick progress towards my target. It is though a deep, fortified moat full of untold horrors has been thrown before me to thwart my onward journey. Not being disheartened I press on, soon descending via zig-zags to the river below, briskly fording it via stepping stones to the path beyond. All the time my goal remains before me.

Perhaps, I have been noticed by my lone quarry as it attempts to hide its face with a scarf of wispy cloud, although it is only a momentary mask soon dissipating to reveal the summit again. There’s no hiding from me now, firmly in my sights I stride on to the high bealach separating Beag from Mor, finally ready to introduce myself.

Hang on a minute, am I rushing things? No loner will appreciate a hasty, over-confident approach – softly, softly is definitely needed on this occasion. I paused awhile on rocks beside a small lochan, to contemplate, over lunch, the life of a loner. I thought this quiet contemplation would be ruined as I saw a group of fellow walkers paused upon the lower ridge of Binnein Mor, but they were to ascend rather than join me in my quiet space. They obviously recognised that today, like the mountain behind me, I was a loner as well.

Close up my quarry doesn’t make it any easier, the shattered slopes of ankle-breaking blocks scattered carelessly in order to catch out the unwary. I am determined though, such defences will only slow but not deter. I make speedy progress nimbly avoiding the loose scree slopes strategically placed to slow and dissuade. The barriers are breached as I reach the small summit plateau and introduce myself to my conquered prey.

Binnein Beag 02

And now I realise that there are sometimes benefits to being an outsider. Binnein Beag’s solitude gives an opportunity to appreciate things from a distance. Those other mountains that you take for granted up close take on a different persona from this angle. The mighty bulk of Ben Nevis dominates Glen Nevis stretching back along the Grey Corries. Straight ahead, the other Mamores snake off into the distance. Glancing behind, you look straight in to the dark barren depths of Rannoch Moor. At this point, as you stare transfixed into miles of nothingness, you understand that perhaps loneliness is all relative.

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The Lochailort Pyramids

When asked to name the classic ridge routes in the Scottish mountains most hillwalkers would list Aonach Eagach, CMD arete, Forcan ridge and the Skye Cuillins among them. I suspect few would mention the Lochailort Pyramids hidden away in Moidart. That’s a shame as they offer a delightful day out in the hills, albeit one that does not involve tricky scrambling or nerves of steel to edge along exposed sections. Even better their relative anonymity means that you will have the three Corbett peaks and their interconnecting ridge virtually to yourself. Even on a fine Easter Sunday there were few out on these hills. In comparison, the Aonach Eagach would have been more crowded than the M6.

Open hillside to An Stac

 Starting from the small car park at Inverailort our walking club split in to two groups with the larger group opting to undertake the horseshoe route, whilst my smaller group headed off to tackle An Stac. Comments from walkers that had already climbed An Stac included, “It is relentlessly steep” and “I know if I climb An Stac I won’t want to continue beyond it.”

Yes, the north ridge of An Stac is steep but I have been up steeper. From the col below it does look at though the climb will go on for ever, but on a clear day you are rewarded with views of the azure clear waters of Loch Ailort and the Sound of Arisaig. Beyond An Sgurr on the Isle of Eigg points stubbornly upwards from the low lying island around it. Even further away are the proud peaks of Rum with a halo of cloud encircling them. Concentrate on these visual diversions and you will soon find yourself topping out on the summit, out of breath and ready for lunch. Loch Ailort and the Sound of Arisaig beyond

The real killer of this walk is the steep descent to the col on the south side, a 250m knee crushing descent when faced with an almost vertical climb of 160m up to the Bealach an Fhiona. There we decided we did not have enough energy to climb Rois-Bheinn and descend to the bealach again before tackling the third Corbett of Sgurr na Ba Glaise. Not wanting to descend to the road beyond Rois-Bheinn, instead wishing to prolong the delights of ridge walking on such a fine day, we headed straight up Sgurr na Ba Glaise instead. Fine views deep inland greeted us with the snowy top of Ben Nevis dominating.

Picking our way around the rocky outcrops along the ridge we continued round to the Druim Fiachlach enjoying gazing past its crag deep into the corries below. The small lochan below the Druim’s midpoint was our marker to strike north-west down heather clad slopes towards Inverailort, the white Lochailort Hotel our navigational beacon luring us with the promise of cold beer. How I managed to find the soggy parts of this hillside as I slid on my backside not once but three times I am still not sure. Reaching the valley floor with damp, tender and tired thighs was a relief. 

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Set your alarm for 7pm on Sunday evening, as the new format Countryfile programme on BBC1 features Lochaber.
Apparently it will look at the work of the John Muir Trust in preserving wild areas, as well as discovering how basic survival skills can save lives. Perhaps it should be compulsory viewing for the day trippers going up Ben Nevis.
If you’re not off the hills on time you can always catch it on BBC iPlayer.

The summit plateau. The ruined observatory is ...

Image via Wikipedia

Going bonkers on

the Ben?

Congratulations to the John Muir Trust for blocking crazy plans to airlift an original Model T Ford to the summit of Ben Nevis. I had to look twice at the date of the Lochaber News, who featured the story on its front page this week, just to check it wasn’t an April Fool joke.

Alas the organisers behind the so called stunt are deadly serious in wanting to celebrate the centenary of Henry Alexander driving a Model T to the summit in 1911. They seem incredulous that the trust have refused to give permission for the event and have recruited local Procost Allan Henderson to the cause. He states that, “This stunt is a one-off and would certainly not set a precedent and, other than a brief fly over by a helicopter, would not detract from the wilderness of Ben Nevis.”

That’s right, a helicopter lowering a car on to the summit of a mountain, surrounded by hordes of photographers, TV crews and reporters to record the event, as well as the flocks of poorly prepared day walkers that would make the ascent just to see this happen, will not detract from the wilderness of Ben Nevis.


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Adult American Golden Eagle  Aquila chrysaetos...

Image via Wikipedia

I have been dipping in to the excellent book about Birds of Prey, in the New Naturalists series. Amazingly, due to the magnification ability of a Golden Eagle’s eyes, if it was flying 1500 feet above the summit of Ben Nevis it would be able to see a cat in a garden in Inverlochy!

Just as well Felix domesticus is not on the list of preferred delicacies for a Golden Eagle.

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