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.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Winter Broxap Round 24-26 February 2013

A non-stop walk round the 29 Munros of Jon Broxap's 24 hour Munro Record Route, 75 miles, 34,800 feet, 61 hours

A pretty demanding outing completed solo and unsupported apart from dropping one bag of food in Glen Shiel.  I'd decided from the outset that I was going to take my large and heavy SLR and spare lens so it was always going to be a plod round, but the 48 hours became 61 largely due to sleep deprivation.  This notwithstanding, it was a magnificent and memorable journey and just to complete such a mammoth outing in the depths of winter was highly satisfying.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fisherfield Round 8-9 June 2012

A 24 Hour Version of my 2011 Round, 59.8 miles, 25,500 feet, 23 hours 50 mins

Despite having completing my Fisherfield round twice in 31 hours, I really wanted to complete this fine round in 24.  I'd worked out that I was unlikely to complete the full 2011 round in 24 hours, and in any case, there was too many out-and-backs for my liking.  After mulling the possibilities over for a while, I decided upon a logical line that omitted the long detour out to the eastern Fannaichs and also the rather pointless ascent of Meall a Chrasgaidh.  In addition, I replaced the rather tedious valley section from Loch a Bhroin to Fisherfield with a continuation of the ridge line to Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair.  If there was time I could add in the splendid Corbetts of Beinn Dearg Mhor and Bheag.

The cloud that hampered the night section (Photo - Ian Charters)
So its was that I found myself at Dundonell on an overcast but decent enough evening, this time with the welcome road support of Ian and Pauline Charters.  Having brought the attempt forward due to deteriorating weather I set off at 10:17pm. The linking section to Inverlael is one of the delights of the round - a gently rising path that crosses the divide between An Teallach and Beinn Dearg, with stupendous views of An Teallach giving way to a rich tapestry of sea loch, forest and mountain fastnesses.  In the gathering gloom I just about made it to the road without the aid of a torch, skidding down the steep final slope in my ancient trail shoes.  Just after midnight I arrived the first rendezvous at Inverlael, but the only car was not Ian's.  What to do?  I had nothing but a bumbag - no food, no water, no coat and no map.  In the abscence of any other plan, I nibbled on a bar and flashed my torch pathetically, calling out for Ian.  With no response, I walked slowly to the end of the car park.  Relief!  There lay Ian's car and after hammering on the window, out came Ian.  A quick feed and restocking and then onward up the long forestry track toward Beinn Dearg.  As I rose out of the forest a light drizzle fell which turned into a grey blanket of thick mist on the summit ridge, the tinder dry slopes having been replaced by slippy grass and greasy boulders.  I hadn't checked my torch batteries and the light was somewhat feeble in the misty darkness.  Going up was okay, if a little slow, but coming down demanded attention to the feet and the map and compass, making for a frustratingly painstaking descent of Eilidh nan Clach Geala.  The trail shoes were not up the job and I found myself slipping repeatedly despite the slow pace.  I knew that this section would be demanding in the dark and it didn't disappoint.  On the map the slope up to Ceann Garbh looks innocuous enough, but in reality it is a complex juxtaposition of small crags, boulders and tussocky grass. I held a constant line by my compass and slip-slided my way up the slope and then over the boulders to Meall nan Ceapraichean.  It was now 3am, a time when I had anticipated a reasonable light this far North West, but there was little sign of dawn.  In the mirky darkness I bumbled down the boulders to the slightly confusing terrain beneath Beinn Dearg.  I must have missed the stalkers path that should have cut across my path and ended up in an unfamiliar place, having to reset my course until after some while I made the wall that leads up to Beinn Dearg.  The light was still very poor and the rocks slippy, so I rather tentatively picked my way down to the bottom of the slope that leads up to Cona Mheall, but from there on things got better.  Half way down Beinn Dearg, I emerged from the mist to reveal a glorious sunrise over the Fannaichs, glowing pink above a blanket of cloud beneath.

A fine day beckons over the Fannaichs (Photo - Ian Charters) 

There was no hiccup this time as I reached Ian's car at the roadside, ready for my breakfast, a change of top  and a brief reprieve.  In the cool of the early morning I made steady progress up Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich, just managing to keep out of the clouds which stretched away to the East like an extended wooly blanket.The rocks over Sgurr Mor were still somewhat treacherous, so my pace was somewhat gentle but the morning was fine.  It soon became clear, however, that my legs hadn't recovered from the battering over the past 10 days and my progress remained rather laboured.  On the descent of Sgurr nan Each I inevitably slithered into the bog as a result of my trail shoes being wholly unable to cope with the wet tussocky grass.  I was taking an age and was not enjoying the experience.  I couldn't see much possibility of completing within 24 hours and concluded that if I continued like this I would have to retire at the next support point.  I had simply done too much over the past 10 days, was grossly overtired and no amount of desire would overcome that.  I plodded a little dejectedly up Sgurr Bhreac, but by the summit I had recovered a little poise and as the ground dried and the mists cleared further, the tide began to turn in my favour.  Instead of getting slower and slower, I was actually improving.  By the time I reached Ian at the col before Groban, my spirits had risen considerably and after refuelling and changing into shorts and tee shirt, commenced the grassy roller-coaster to the ridge leading up to Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair.  This is a fine crest replete with pinnacles and views that extend to Torridon, An Teallach and the rest of Fisherfield.  Without stopping I continued down the white rocks from the summit and on to the towers of Beinn Tarsuinn, before slithering down the screes to the pass below A Mhaighdean.  The bog was beautifully dry with cracked peaty hollows and crackling grass, but I had long since run out of water and none was to be found.  On the summit of the Maiden I met my first (and only) people of the day who must have thought I was nuts to run up in shorts and tee shirt and then set off immediately after recording the lap time.  In a rising wind they were huddled in gloves, coats and hats, quote rightly admiring what is one of the best views in Britain - the Western seaboard seen over a myriad of lochans, crags and rough wilderness that makes A Mhaighdean one of the most remote peaks in Britain.
Approaching Shenavall (Photo - Ian Charters)

It is a long way down from the next peak, Ruadh Stac Mor, but I was now becoming increasingly confident that I could make it within 24 hours and I pushed on as best I could in the strong Easterly breeze.  The bog was as dry as I have known it at Larachantivore but its still a bit of a slog over the moor and a thrash across the rivers until you reach the haven of the bothy at Shenavall.  By now, my feet were sore, my shoes were falling apart and my shoulders were aching from carrying a rucksack, but with just one major hill to climb, the end was in sight and after a feed and change of clothing I set off for the monumental climb directly up Sail Mor.  For those not acquainted with this route, it rises 850m in just over a mile of pathless, heather strewn and bouldery mountain wall.  The first time it is very intimidating, but having done it a few times, I knew what was in store and just set about pulling my aching limbs upward.  Not that this makes it physically easier, but the mental battle has been won.  72 minutes later I lurched over the summit in a gale, and somewhat apprehensively skittered down the scree to the col where the wind was rushing up from the corrie wall, threatening to knock me off the mountain.  The mist hung over the towers above rather ominously and my favourite mountain took on a rather more malevolent nature.  I changed my mind more than once before going for the pinnacles and in the event, by timing my jumps between wind gusts and hanging on tightly, managed perfectly easily over the Corrag Buidhe pinnacles and the great leaning tower of Lord Berkeley's Seat.  Today there was no view of the yawning chasm beneath and in any case, I didn't investigate too closely in the gale.  After Sgurr Fiona I just wanted to get back.  The dryness of the ground made for an easy trot down the Glas Alt Mor and with 10 minutes to spare I ran up the familiar red van in to which I was quickly hustled to escape the voracious appetites of the midges.

Ian and Pauline's Photos