Monday, June 11, 2018

Assynt Traverse, 27-28 May 2018

50 miles, 21,000 feet, 27 hours

The wilds of Assynt hold a special place in many mountain lovers’ hearts and I am one of them.  Boasting only two solitary Munros, the lack of lofty mountains is more than compensated by a complex landscape of rocky knolls, a myriad of lochans, rivers and pools and shapely mountains that rise above, with the Western sea shimmering on those precious days of sun.  So when Tony Wimbush reported his inaugural Assynt Traverse in 2010, a seed was sown, and opportunity, resolve and a weather window finally came together eight years later in May 2018.

Whilst not the longest mountain run, at under 50 miles, the Assynt Traverse packs a punch that belies bare statistics.  For the most part it is trackless and rhythmless – a heady cocktail of sandstone towers, ankle twisting tussocks, angular stones, committing river crossings and heather bashing – but lest this description deter you, it is also a mountain connoisseur’s delight of sharp ridges, geologic history and lonely places.  So after 8 years, I finally headed North to have a go.

Story of My Traverse
Images from The Traverse
Route Details (Gofar web site)

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Strathfarrar Watershed, 27 February - 1 March 2017

A remote and committing round of the complete watershed of Strathfarrar in deep snow - 99 km, 7600m ascent, 50 hours 

The Strathfarrar Watershed

I love maps. My wife, Alison, will tell you that they are a staple of my bedtime reading, a doorway to new adventures that begin in the mind and some of which end in the reality of epic days and nights.  The Strathfarrar Watershed was borne of such bedtime perusing, nurtured over a few years but never realised until time, opportunity and motivation finally came together in February 2017.So it is that I found myself contemplating the first long winter journey for some time on a fair, breezy morning at the lowest reaches of one of Scotland’s longest glens.  I have the unaccustomed pleasure of my friend Tomas to send me on my way, but then I am on my own for the lonely miles to one of the most remote places in Britain, as I trace the watershed of Strathfarrar.   Read more

GPX File
OS Map

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Cuillin Round, 4-5 June 2016

The 'super traverse' of the Cuillin taking in the Red and Black Cuillin, 34 miles, 23,000 feet, 29 hours

The infamous Inn Pinn
Most outdoors people have heard of the Cuillin Ridge, and possibly the Greater Traverse extending this to Blaven and Clach Glas, but a much lesser known round is the "Cuillin Round". There's a reason for this -its much harder!  This is a circuit from Sligachan or Coruisk that takes in the Red Cuillin, Black Cuillin outliers, Sgurr na Stri and Sgurr Hain, as well as little extras on the Main Ridge. As of May 2016, there had only been two completions by bagger extraordinaire, Rob Woodall, and mountain goat, Yiannis Tridimas. The last of these was back in 1999, so after a short trip to Skye in May, the fire was kindled and I thought it was time I had a go.

On Sgurr Sgumain as the sun sets
It is completely different to any other 24 hour round, since it includes considerable sections of hard scrambling and easy climbing and requires an unroped approach to move at the necessary speed. The statistics are modest for a 24 hour round at 34 miles and 23-24,000 feet of ascent, but don't be fooled - the nature of the ground makes this very challenging.   It appealed to me because of the Alpine nature of the route and the high scrambling content. I had decided that I would prefer a more relaxed approach and a bivvy part way along, and in any case would be doing it solo and with very little if any support. I secured a lift to Skye and back courtesy of Guy but would have to be largely independent.

Near the end looking back at the ridge
I ended up completing nearly all of the Main Ridge as a recce on the Thursday during which I had a nasty injury to my leg, slept badly and lay around aching on the Friday, before attempting the round on the Saturday and Sunday. You can read my account below but I can summarise it as being one of my most memorable excursions and one to be treasured in my dotage.  Highlights included the turquoise sea at Coruisk, the ball of red fire setting from Sgurr Alasdair, climbing down the Inn Pinn by torchlight, the jagged silhouette of the ridge in the night, the testing direct descent from Blaven and the fine Knights Peak.  The heat reduced me to a wobbling wreck at times, meaning that I took 29 hours, but the attraction of shortening my time to do it in less than 24 hours is not sufficient to make me want to repeat the exercise in more favourable conditions and with the benefit of hindsight. I'll just treasure the experience.

Account of my Round


Detailed Information on the Round

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Torridon Ridges 11 March 2014

An Alpine day out on Liathach, Ben Alligin, Beinn Dearg and Beinn Eighe, 27 miles, 14,500 feet, 17 hours

After a winter of continuous gales, at last a high pressure window seemed to be merging, so having reserved the time, I drove the long miles to Torridon in anticipation of sun and snow.  I was disappointed to see that much of the heavy snow had disappeared, especially on Southern slopes, but the forecast wasn't wrong.  My planned night of relaxation at Kinlochewe bunkhouse didn't turn out to be quite as restful as I'd hoped, with just me and 4 builders in residence.  The hotel was shut and there's no common room, and not having much in common with 4 burly builders from Glasgow, the evening was not one of gazing into a fire dreaming of the day to come.  The snoring lived up to the potential implied their physique and I was glad to get up at 5:30 am after a very poor night indeed.

Spidean a Coire Leith
The wind was gusting strongly as I left the car at 6:15 am, but a vivid red sky lit up the hillside as I clambered up the path to the Eastern top.  I felt groggy and the rucksack seemed heavy, laden with cameras, kit and food for the day.  The lenticular clouds were testament to the breezy conditions but the snow was hard and I looked to be in for a good bracing day.  I had the Alpine crest of the sandstone fortress to myself and I was in no rush.  I did the out-and-back to the Eastern top, donning crampons for the graceful snowy crest that lay ahead.  I didn't feel like rushing and stopped frequently to savour the privilege of being in such a place, alone and blessed by blue skies.  The crest over Spidean a Coire Leith was a true Alpine crest followed by a relatively snow-less passage over Am Fasarinen, where frustrating mist began to blow in and out, obscuring the view and requiring some patience to capture photos of the claw-like cornices drooping over the depths below.  I got as close as I dared to the crack line, peering out through holes and back at the enticingly beautiful but deadly line of cornices.  The Northern Pinnacles looked particularly alluring with an untrodden mantle of curvaceous snow, but not for me today.  I jogged off to the West, arriving at the Coire Mhic Nobuil car park at 11:25 am.

Cornices leading up to Mullach an Rathain
I ate an early lunch in the shelter of the trees before resuming my journey up Tom na Gruagaich.  By the time I made the summit, the clouds had lifted and I saw the first people of the day.  They turned back at the summit where an icy stretch required spikes, but within 50 metres, they were rendered redundant.  The snow had been stripped on these seaward mountains, leaving just patches on the ridge.  I met a couple of Frenchmen near the gash and from then on saw just one other person - the hills were mine for the day.

Sgurr Mhor came and went and the sun resumed its ascendancy, banishing the clouds for another day.  I kept to the path off the Horns until I'd descended the steeper part, then headed off across the moor to the impending bulk of Beinn Dearg.  Fortified by a slab of Christmas cake, I laboured up the unrelenting slopes.  This is a brute of a hill, with no easy means of ascent.  I was glad of a sandwich behind the summit rocks, before scrambling down the broken ridge.

Liathach from Beinn Dearg
Someone had clearly abseiled the short step having left a loop of cord which I retrieved and pocketed.  With a glorious view of the Northern corries of Liathach, the descent was a joy and in the rich light of later afternoon, even the heathery moor failed to spoil a deep sense of well-being.  The sun beat down as I reached the set-stone path leading to Coire Mhic Fhearchair, drawing out the pink of the sandstone.  I even managed a jog once on the path, but that was soon ended by the steep scree leading up to Morrisons Gully.  I was still a little wary of potential avalanche and collapsing cornice risk, but the Gully seemed not to be overhung by a curtain of death, so I ate my last sandwich, put my crampons on and headed upwards.  Within a few minutes alarming fragments of ice started to whizz by - probably just a few bits off the side walls.  Another 50m up and the ice bullets became a bit more worrying, especially without a helmet, but I didn't fancy retreating all the way down.  I kept to the side and things quietened down which was just as well because the front-pointing was placing great demands on my feet and calves.  On my fellrunning shoes, the crampons just bent upwards as the angle steepened, placing a huge strain on my slipping feet.  There was nothing to ease the growing torture with nowhere to rest and just one axe for security.  I came across a bucket seat that a previous party had cut but that only gave temporary relief.  For the next 300m of vertical ascent I huffed and puffed up the ice, my lightweight axe failing to penetrate without an energetic thrust.  My legs and feet were screaming, I was all in, but I had to keep going.  Nightfall was now impending and the headwall was undeniably gloomy.  Grade I it might be, but 300m of calf and foot burning kicking and hearty thwacking with a featherweight axe was reducing me to a quivering jelly.  At the headwall, I traversed out to the right on ice but to my delight there was no cornice.  The beaming moon greeted me as I gratefully emerged from the confines of the gully.  It was 7pm.

I think that I was so relieved to escape from the gully that I continued to amble slowly along in the moonlight, legs still floppy sticks of jelly.  I was also dehydrated having consumed little more than 750ml of liquid all day, but I was now enjoying the day again, scrambling up the snow covered rocks to Coinneach Mor.  I didn't see the point of heading over to Ruadh Stac Mor.  It's a dull trog in the dark and  there was little merit in an unnecessary out-and-back.  I therefore set course for the long ridge toward Kinlochewe.  The snow had by now mostly refrozen, even on the crest and a three quarter moon negated the need for a torch.  There is little finer than a snowy crest under moonlight and with no schedule to meet I just went at a (slow) pace that my tormented legs could deal with.

The Black Carls the next morning
The pinnacles of the Black Carls were magnificent.  The sharp drop off the first pinnacle looked intimidating in the dark, but despite being more testing than anything on Liathach, was straightforward.  In the moonlight it was truly Alpine and an exhilarating finale to the traverse.  At 11:15pm I arrived back at the bunkhouse to be greeted by a cacophony of snoring builders.  Back to the real world!

More Images

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Lake District Top to Bottom 4 May 2013

A straight line route on Easting 270 from Caldbeck Common to Gawthorpe, 40 miles, 14,000 feet, 14 hours 50 minutes

Since completing the crossing of the Lake District National Park from East to West on a straight line, I'd contemplated a North-South trip.  This line is almost the same distance but much less challenging as it goes with the grain of the land rather than against it and the terrain is more accomodating.  Nevertheless, it's still quite tough with the same logistical challenges.

The Lakeland Cross
I set off at 5am having got up at 3am, leaving the forlorn looking car beside the lonely road that crosses Caldbeck Common.  I walked across the tussocks to the park boundary and followed the compass in the dim light of pre-dawn.  I almost immediately went wrong and had to backtrack, before following the compass South, South, South.  this sounds simple but in practice its not.  Sticking to the bearing just lands you in bog, tussocks, knee deep heather and worse, so I sought out what looked like the most amenable line within 200m either side of Easting 270.  The rule is simple - keep as close to the line as possible, but make exception when crossing privately owned land where footpaths should be followed.  I also declined to cross and re-cross the full-looking river in Langstrath when an extra 100m detour allowed me to use the bridge.

At 6:30 am it rained - hard - and I wondered why on earth I had yanked myself out of bed at 3am to slant across dreary slopes at this hour of the day.  The 'waterproof' map got soggy, I got soggy and it was all rather dispiriting.  Fortunately the rain stopped, the mist lifted temporarily, and with it my spirits.  I found a decent line across the lonely fells at the back of Skiddaw and arrived in Keswick for a breakfast of bar and juice on a park bench beside the river.  Four miles of pleasant roadside path led to the Watendlath valley, and I followed the permissive path straight to the cafe instead of sticking to my line as I was STARVING.  Visions of a fried egg sandwich had me salivating, but instead chains around the doors indicating that the cafe was well and truly shut.  Further investigation revealed that they were just gearing up for the day and on enquiry I got a welcome cheese and tomato sandwich.  It filled a hole, but not what I had been dreaming of and hardly worth the detour.  From there I managed to find tracks all the way to Langstrath where the real test began.  A traverse up past Blea Rock took me to Martcrag Moor where my route took an improbable line across scree and grass to the valley floor.  One of the delights of a straight line is that it takes you to corners new.  This day it was a low level crossing of The Band, an energy sapping frontal assault on Pike O Blisco and a marginally less muscle busting ascent of Great Carrs.  I enjoyed the exploratory feel of the dripping black crags below Blisco and the unfamiliarity of the terrain that is alas, all too rare nowadays for me.

The day was now fine with clear views all around, but a strong wind touched gale force on the tops.  I sheltered from this under Great Carrs and had a late lunch.  From there to Goats Water I was repelled by a strong headwind, so was glad to drop off the tops, down to the hordes on the Walna Scar track.  these were soon left for the peace of the Blawith fells, a wonderful peaceful sanctuary.  With the bracken well down, the terrain proved surprisingly amenable and I really enjoyed the serenity of this Lake District outlier.  The final gentle hills were an easy end to the day.  Or rather to the end of the route, because I still had to get home.  the only bus left from Havethwaite at 9 and 10.30pm and I soon discovered that I'd forgotten the map to find my way there.  That meant having to take the main road back - a busy A road in failing light.  I tiried hitching to no avail so reconciled myself to the 7.5 mile slow jog to Havethwaite.  The Barrow road was most unpleasant if not dangerous with no footway for much of it and the light was really fading, but I had no choice.  Agonisingly I saw the first bus go past but I knew it wouldn't stop.  By way of compensation the pint and a half at the pub went down very nicely.  I finally made it back to Kendal at 11.10 where I fortified myself with a bag of chips for the 5 mile walk back home.  At 12.40 am I was home and in bed for 1am - a long but satisfying day.