Monday, 26 July 2021

Heat & Mist in the Torridon Hills

My first camp as the mists cleared on the second morning

Heading for the Torridon hills last week I was looking forward to some sunny weather and hoping it wouldn't be too hot, not something that often concerns me. I was planning on climbing some Corbetts I hadn't been on for many years, hills that lie between the Torridon giants and Loch Maree. Starting up the Mountain Trail from the latter I wondered about the forecast as the summits were all in cloud.

In dull evening light I found a spot to camp wondering what the view was like. I didn't find out the next morning as I woke to find my tent enveloped in thick mist and dripping with dew and condensation. Leaving it to dry I set off for Ruadh-stac Beag, a spur of Beinn Eighe that is most easily climbed apart from the rest of the mountain. Only when I reached the summit after some laborious final steep scree and boulders did the clouds begin to clear, the temperature rise, and the spectacular mountain landscape all around reveal itself.

The eastern summits of Beinn Eighe from Ruadh-stac Beag

The heat built rapidly and by the time I was back down the scree slope I'd drunk all my water and was longing for the first running stream. Many were dry as there had been little rain for several weeks.

A welcome water stop below Ruadh-stac Beag

As the heat increased I sweated my way up Meall a' Ghiubhais. Further west there was still cloud drifting round the hills. That's where I was going next.

Beinn an Eoin & Baosbheinn from Meall a' Ghiubhais

Back at camp late that evening the sky was clear though and the views of Beinn Eighe superb. 

Beinn Eighe

Overnight the mist rolled in and again I woke to a damp tent and no views. The sun broke through more quickly though and the sky was clear by the time I set off back down the Mountain Trail. The air was hot and stuffy, and I was feeling the heat so I took time to sit in the cafe in Kinlochewe with cold drinks for a while before driving along Loch Maree and round to the start of the walk-in to Beinn Eoin and Baosbheinn. My feet were sore and my trail shoes felt too tight so I removed socks and insoles to make more room.

By the time I camped near Loch na h-Oidhche the sun had gone. I was soon asleep. As on previous nights mist drifted in and moisture formed on the tent. The night was a little too hot but nothing like the heat that blasted me as the sun appeared over the shoulder of Beinn an Eion, making the dew on the grasses sparkle. I was quickly outside watching the clouds slowly fading from the hills. 

Loch n h-Oidhche and Liathach

A few midges appeared (most of the trip there were none) and I retreated to the tent for breakfast. It was cooler now, with the doors open. 

View from the tent

Not cool enough for long though and as soon as the midges vanished I was back outside to eat the rest of my muesli in the sunshine and drink plenty of coffee and water before setting off for Baosbheinn. 

Baosbheinn's behind me

The ascent of Baosbheinn, a wonderful and much under-rated hill, was hot and sweaty but I was beside a stream most of the way and so could drink my fill and regularly soak my hat and shoes to keep my head and feet cool. The views from the summit were superb. Westwards the sea was covered with another sea, a mass of white clouds. The Torridon hills shone in the sunshine. The heat had ended my plan of climbing Beinn an Eoin as well and I welcomed the decision as it meant I could spend time on the summit enjoying the wild landscape. It was a marvellous place to relax.

Beinn an Eoin & Beinn Eighe from Baosbheinn

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Munro Reminiscences: On the Cuillin Ridge on my Munros and Tops walk 25 years ago.


On July 24, 1996, I was joined by two rock climber friends, Chris Ainsworth and Paul Riley, for the Cuillin Ridge section of my summer long Munros and Tops walk. Although I had done a little rock climbing many years earlier and had climbed most of the summits at least once before I knew I hadn't the confidence to tackle the Inaccessible Pinnacle or the Basteir Tooth solo.

Chris and Paul arrived with a good forecast for the next day but poor the day after so the plan was an early start and do as much of the ridge as possible before the weather changed. We were off by 6 a.m. Very early for me! The peaks were in cloud as we went up Sgurr nan Gillean, which had been the last Munro of my first round in 1981. 

In clearing weather we continued along the ridge, cutting below the difficult Bidein Druim nan Ramh as there are no Munros there, to the Inaccessible Pinnacle. The views from the summit of this rock tower were sensational, the sky now clear. 

By the time we reached the Bealach Mhic Choinnich clouds were rolling in and rain was starting to fall. It had been a brilliant day but after 16 1/2 hours and 14 summits it was time to go down. This turned out to be a very sensible decision as the storm that blew in was quite ferocious, battering the campsite where we were staying. The next day we went to the Sligachan Hotel for breakfast and stayed there for six hours watching the rain lashing the windows. The rest of the Cuillin would have to wait.

The pictures are from my book about the walk, The Munros and Tops (Mainstream).

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Backpacking Borrowdale feature in Lakeland Walker


For the first time I have a feature in Lakeland Walker magazine. Earlier in the year editor John Manning asked me to write a piece for the Great Lakeland Walks series, which is about personal accounts of walks of discovery, and this has now appeared in the July/August issue. 

In the piece I describe the backpacking trips on the fells round Borrowdale I made with Terry Abraham when we were filming the Backpacking in the Lake District DVD and talk about my discovery of the Lakes and how my first backpacking trips took place there. A few of the illustrations were taken on one of those early trips in the hot summer of 1976. 

A Look At The August Issue Of The Great Outdoors

The August issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In it I have a feature on the gear I used on the walk in the NW Highlands I described in this post plus a review of the Columbia Zero Ice Cirro Cool T-Shirt (two reviews of the latter actually as it also appears in the gear trip report). Away from gear I review Andrew Terrill's marvellous book The Earth Beneath My Feet.

Also in the gear pages Alex Roddie has a detailed look at eight GPS watches. There are three more Alex Roddie pieces in this issue too. He writes about map-reading fundamentals in a piece with Plas y Brenin senior instructor Helen Teasdale, has an interesting comment piece on why social media gives a misleading impression of damage to the countryside, and describes Tryfan via the North Ridge in the first of a new series of detailed mountain route profiles with illustrations by Jeremy Ashcroft.

The main features this issue see James Forrest describe a weekend trip with three friends linking seven highlights of the Lake District, Peter Macfarlane taking a friend wild camping in the Arrochar Alps, Peter Elia on how group adventures have changed his life, and Jessie Leong backpacking through Iceland's most north-westerly peninsula. 

All four main features are beautifully illustrated with excellent photographs and another superb image opens the magazine, the view across Assynt and Coigach from Sgurr an Fhidhleir by Simon Atkinson.

Also in this issue members from a diverse range of walking groups share their experiences, Hanna Lindon looks at why our national parks are failing to protect nature, and Jim Perrin praises High Neb, the high point of Stanage Edge.


Friday, 16 July 2021

Munro Reminiscences: Sunny weather 25 years ago on my Munros & Tops walk - but not 40 years ago on my Ben Lomond to Ben Hope walk

Picture from my book The Munros and Tops

July 16, 1996, was the second day of the longest period of dry weather - five days - I had on my walk over all the Munros and Tops. On that day I walked from Culra Bothy over six summits, including Ben Alder, and camped above Loch Ossian.I wore sandals, shorts and sunhat all day. 

I'd now been out 56 days and had climbed 266 summits. That left 251. I'd passed the half way point the day before on Geal Charn and Diollaird a' Chairn when I'd climbed the Aonach Beag hills on a day trip from Culra Bothy.

In the next four days I climbed the Loch Treig, Grey Corries, Aonachs, Ben Nevis and Mamores summits - 47 in all - in glorious sunshine. Then the weather broke and I cycled to Skye - but that's the next bit of the story.

Fifteen years earlier in 1981 I'd had a tough day over the Monadh Liath Munros walking into a strong cold NW wind that brought heavy showers.This was on a walk from Ben Lomond to Ben Hope over Munros I hadn't climbed before so this was my first time in the Monadh Liath. "Very wild and lonely", I wrote in my journal. 

These walks took place before the 1997 revision of Munro's Tables. There were 517 summits listed in 1996 - it's 508 now. In 1981 there were six Munros in the Monadh Liath - two have since been demoted. 

I wrote about the early part of the Munros and Tops walk here and the start of my Lomond to Hope walk here.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Roe Deer in the rain


The last few days the weather has been, frankly, dismal. Low cloud, drizzle and rain, no wind. The hills are hidden, the woods and meadows damp and dripping. Walks need to be brisk with few stops to look at flowers or wildlife as any pause or slowness brings out midges. Oh for a breeze or a gale to blow them away along with the clouds!

The best place to observe nature has been from inside the house and I've spent probably too much time (I do have books to write) watching birds, squirrels, rabbits, and, today, a roe deer in the garden. This doe has been around a few times today, wandering around grazing in the rain. She's a beautiful animal with a sleek coat the same colour as that of the red squirrels and that combination of delicacy and strength that typifies roe deer with her slim but powerful legs and long neck. 

The photos were all taken from my study window with my old Sony NEX 7 camera and new Sony 70-350mm lens. Given that they're taken through glass that I must admit isn't as clean as it could be I'm quite pleased with the results. Below is a crop from the top picture.

I'm checking the forecasts every day waiting to get back to the hills when I can see something (and take some needed photographs for a book) but until that happens I am enjoying the garden wildlife. Standing looking out of the window doesn't constitute exercise or work though. I really ought to be at the PC or out for a walk!


Sunday, 4 July 2021

Finally, An Teallach in sunshine

Sgurr Fiona & Corrag Bhuidhe

I first climbed An Teallach forty-two years ago on my first long-distance walk over Scottish Mountains which took me from the Loch Treig hills to the Fannichs over 100 Munros. An Teallach was wreathed in cloud when I set off from Shenavall and stayed that way. Back then only one summit counted as a Munro, Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill. Like the rest of the mountain it was in dense cloud. A cold wind blew and it was raining. In my journal I wrote "very dark and gloomy ... I'd like to see it on a clear day". Now, all these years later, I finally have. There were still clouds, it was just that they were below me. 

Sgurr Creag an Eich

I have been back to An Teallach quite a few times since that first visit in 1979, including on my Munros and Tops walk when I did both Munros, Sgurr Fiona having been added, and all seven subsidary Tops, and every time the mountain has been in the mist and it has rained. I'd seen An Teallach sharp and clear in the sun from distant hills but whenever I approached it the clouds closed in. 

Camp at the head of the Allt Airdeasaidh glen with a view to An Teallach

As I walked up beside the rushing waters of the Allt Airdeasaidh An Teallach opened up before me, a spectacular range of summits. This is a massif rather than a single mountain. I camped on the col at the head of the glen where there was a light breeze I hoped would keep the midges away. The wind died away at dusk. There were no midges anyway and I sat outside watching the clouds turn pink and the blue of the sky darken. It was a beautiful peaceful evening.

 Out to the west an orange line ran above the cloudy horizon. 

When I finally retired to the tent I lay in my sleeping bag looking out at An Teallach. Tomorrow, I thought, I'll be up there in the sunshine. 

A few hours later a loud bark woke me. A deer, I guessed. I peered out and was puzzled. A huge mountain splashed with snow appeared to have arisen nearby. I rubbed my eyes and peered harder, quickly realising it was misty and the huge mountain was a lichen covered boulder not far from the tent. You can see it in the picture above. Hoping the mist would clear by dawn I fell back asleep.

 I woke to find the mist even thicker. Was this to be another day on An Teallach with no views?

As planned I moved camp deep into Coire Mor an Teallaich, right under the two Munros. The mist did not move. The air was still and dry. Again there were no midges. I sat outside my second camp over a long lunch, waiting. Waiting for what? A sign of a clearance, a sign I might have the views I expected. With what passed for darkness at this time of year not falling until near midnight I had plenty of time. And then it came, a movement of the mist, a shifting of clouds, hazy mountains appearing amidst touches of blue sky. 

I was soon heading upwards, energised, excited. The clouds sank below me. The high mountain world was shining and glowing in hot sunshine. I reached the summit of Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill and gazed across the mist filled depths of Toll an Lochain to Sgurr Fiona and the jagged pinnacles of Corrag Bhuidhe, a wonderful, dramatic, thrilling sight (see picture at the top). 

Glas Mheall Liath

All around mountains rose out of the cloud. I watched them and the mist and the goats (see last post) for maybe half an hour, maybe longer, from a perch by the trig point on Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill. Time didn't matter. The sun beat down. It was hot up here. Eventually I set off for Sgurr Fiona. The view south from this peak, looking over the Fisherfield hills to Torridon was splendid. 

The sun was still in the sky when I left the summits and began to make a slow way down into the mist, revelling in what had turned out to be a magnificent day.

Back at camp the mist almost lifted then thickened again and again. The sun appeared and disappeared, hazy through the clouds. It was a magical evening.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Goats on An Teallach

A goat on Sgorr Fiona.

Just back from a superb trip to An Teallach with clear weather and an inversion - the first time I've been on the mountain and seen anything. I'll post a trip report in the next few days - there were two good wild camps as well - but in the meantime here's some pictures of goats. Apart from three people in the distance I saw nobody all day but I did see goats, lots of goats, maybe forty in total.

Goats looking over the mist in Toll an Lochain

Most of the goats were wandering across the slopes browsing occasionally and noting my passing without any sign of alarm. Some appeared to be enjoying the sunshine, lying on exposed rocks and standing on summits. I didn't know An Teallach had so many goats. They look very at home, moving easily over steep terrain I wouldn't venture onto.

Friday, 25 June 2021

In 1981 my Ben Lomond to Ben Hope walk begins


On Ben Lomond, 25th June 1981

On this day forty years ago I set out to walk from Ben Lomond to Ben Hope. Actually the continuous walk was from Ben Vorlich to Ben Hope as Roger Smith, then editor of The Great Outdoors magazine, accompanied me up Ben Lomond and then drove me round to Inveruglas so I could climb Vorlich the same day. 

Ben Lomond was the 220th Munro of my first round. The aim of this walk was to finish all the mainland Munros I hadn't yet climbed, which just happened to include Ben Lomond and Ben Hope. That made for a somewhat meandering route that included the other Arrochar Alps, the other Ben Vorlich, Ben Chonzie, Buachaille Etive Mor, Aonach Eagach, Meall Chuaich, the Moine Mhor Munros, the Monadh Liath Munros, Fionn Bheinn, Ben Wyvis, and Seanna Bhraigh. In total I climbed 55 Munros, leaving just the Skye Munros, which I did that summer.

This was the fourth of four long walks, starting in 1979, on which I did most of the Munros. Having been inspired by Hamish Brown's wonderful book Hamish's Mountain Walk I always thought of climbing the Munros as part of backpacking trips rather than day walks. There are still many I've only ever done on multi-day trips.

On this day twenty-five years later I was on my walk over all the Munros and Tops and climbed all the Glen Shee to Glen Clova hills.

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

A Look At The July Issue Of The Great Outdoors

The July issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In it I review the Merrell Moab Speed trail shoes, the Fjallraven Abisko Lite Trekking Jacket, and Rollasnax Wild Trail Mix. David Lintern and Lucy Wallace review five multi-day packs each and Lucy also reviews three warm-weather hats. 

Backpacking trips are the theme of the main features in this issue. Ursula Martin describes how the pandemic has affected her 5000 mile walk across Europe which she began in 2018 (and finished since this article was written). David Lintern explores the hills of Flowerdale in the NW Highlands, a feature illustrated, as usual, by his wonderful photos. Down in the Lake District Ronald Turnbull celebrates his 100th summit bivvy and looks back at his favourites. Also travelling light, though with a tarp, is James Forrest as he walks the West Highland Way in three days. And eight participants in this year's TGO Challenge - taking place as I write this - describe their route plans. I hope it's working out well for them all. 

Also in this issue Hanna Lindon investigates what's happening with ViewRanger and Outdoor Active and there's a Q&A with ViewRanger CEO Craig Wareham. Phoebe Smith says we need to talk about class and the outdoors. Jim Perrin looks at Lugnaquilla in the Wicklow Mountains. And as summer begins Helen Barnard, chief instructor at Plas y Brenon, shares tips on coping with hazards of hot weather.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Thoughts After Six Years As A Trustee Of The John Muir Trust


At the John Muir Trust AGM last weekend I ended my six year stint as a Trustee (two three-year terms are the maximum at any one time) and I've been thinking back over this time. 

Being a Trustee involves half a dozen or more meetings to attend each year and many, many papers and emails to read and respond to. The Board of Trustees is the governing body of the Trust and has many responsibilities. It's not the details of the meetings or the paperwork that I remember though, it's the dedication and hard work of the Trustees and the staff. As a member for many years I was a firm believer in the aims of the Trust but I have to admit that until I became a Trustee I had no idea of how much work it did or how many people were committed to seeing those aims become reality. 

Whilst much Trustee work is in indoor meetings and sitting at a computer once a year Trustees do visit one of the Trust's propeties each year along with members of staff to see the work of the Trust on the ground. I have great memories of visits to Skye, Quinag, Ben Nevis, and, especially, Helvellyn. I say especially as the decision to take over the management of the Glenridding Estate, which includes the whole eastern side of Helvellyn, was, I think the major one made while I was a Trustee. It was the Trust's first venture into land south of Scotland and thus very significant. I was very much in favour and I'm glad to see that it is working out well - mainly due to the excellent staff the Trust has there. The visit there was to let Trustees see the place for themselves before we took the decision to take it over.

I end my time as a Trustee very impressed with everyone involved in its running and their commitment. I hope I have contributed a little. I am very aware that many have contributed far more. This leaves me hopeful about the future of wild land. I think the Trust is a very important organisation and one I would encourage everyone who loves wild land to join. It's very much needed.

You can see join and support the John Muir Trust here.

The photos show Trustee and staff on visits to Skye, Quinag, Helvellyn and Ben Nevis.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Gear I've Reviewed For TGO Online This Year


Jeans on test!


In March last year my online gear column for TGO magazine was suspended due to the pandemic. This year it's returned, though it's not called a column anymore. Here are links to the gear I've reviewed so far. 


Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody











Inov-8 Roclite Pro G 400 Gore-Tex Boots








 Jetboil Stash Stove System











 Land Rover Explore R Outdoor Phone













The North Face Summit Series L3 50/50 Hooded Down Jacket











 Osprey Talon Pro












 BAM 73 Zero Denim & DU/ER Performance Denim Jeans












 Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket












Millican The Smith Roll Pack 25L












Klattermusen Brimer 24L Pack














 Black Diamond Highline Stretch Shell










 Merrell Moab Speed Trail Shoes














 Rollasnax Wild Trail Mix







 Fjallraven Abisko Lite Trekking Jacket












 Columbia Zero Ice Cirro-Cool T-Shirt