Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stuck In A Hut

The Eckphiler. December 1978
September 2010, I got this on my Facebook wall:

Richard wrote:
"Have you still got that card from when you me and Ian McMullan were trapped in the Giglione hut in winter waiting for the chopper many years ago?  Just had another chopper lift two weeks ago with a bust leg in Switzerland.  In hospital in St Moritz getting fit enough to be repatriated.  Ah well!!!"

Spin back to 19th December 1978, I’m 19. I’m hitching at the southbound exit slip of Forton Services on the M6 near Lancaster. My parents had rather doubtfully left me, and two massive rucksacks, at junction 36 a short time earlier.

A motor cyclist pulled up. It was Paul Cornforth on his way from Ambleside to Preston Tech. “Where are you going with that bloody lot?”.
“Chamonix” I replied. He looked at me and my rucksacks. “Aye well, see you in a couple of weeks”.

The hitching didn’t go particularly well. Other people seemed to get picked up by jolly truck drivers in the first half hour, were given cigarettes and beer and even got to drive the truck! That never happened to me. I spent the next couple of days pleading for lifts, sleeping in drain pipes, finishing up leftovers in the scruffy motor-way services of the day, and generally having an unpleasant time. At last I made it to Chamonix and found somewhere to stay.

Ian and Richard take a break in the Vallee Blanche
I had arranged to meet Richard Toon and Ian McMullan but they weren't due to arrive for a few days so I looked for someone else to climb with in the meantime. It didn’t take long in The Bar Nash (Bar National), to get chatting with Marius Morstad. Today Marius is famous for his bouldering, sport climbing and coaching. Back in the 70s, unbeknown to me, he was a leading Norwegian winter climber. We teamed up to try a new route on the Midi to the right of the Frendo.

At the end of the first day we bivied near the top of a steep ice field. In the morning it was snowing so we turned back. With few belays and deteriorating conditions we opted to reverse solo the 1500 feet of so of 50 degree front pointing. The weather deteriorated over Christmas and I left Marius to join Richard and Ian in their chalet near La Tour.

That would not be the last I would hear of Marius on this trip.

Richard and Ian knew I had an obsession with the Japanese route on the Eckphiler. Why that particular route? It had never been repeated, had a massive serac above most of the route so might be safer in winter and, of utmost importance, it might make us famous.

27th Dec - Day 1 Unfortunately Richard and Ian were daft enough to be compliant with my ill conceived plan. We joined a short queue for the first Midi Telepherique; very few people were heading into the mountains that day on a less than perfect forecast. We didn’t have skis, I don’t think we even had snow shoes and didn't have much idea of how we were going to get back from the summit of Mont Blanc even if we did get that far. On the up side, I had climbed the Bonatti Gobbi on the Eckphiler the previous summer so I knew roughly how to get there and get off.

Ian McMullan. A short section of ice below the Tacul.
After days of bad weather the Vallee Blanche was thigh deep in powder. We bludgeoned our way under the Tacul, past the Grand Capucin and on towards the Frontier Ridge. Our goal for the day was to reach the Giglione Hut. It was getting late as we started up (what I thought was), the steep flank of the ridge leading to the hut.  As I’d been there just five months earlier the onus was on me to climb the Frontier Ridge at the right point; but everything looked so different in winter. After a while we were pitching steep snow and short mixed sections. It got dark and we still weren't there.

Still in denial, we reached  the ridge crest. There was no hut to be found. Richard and Ian took the bad news in good humor and we settled down for a cold bivi.

28th Dec - Day 2 The weather was good and we traversed the Italian side of the ridge until the hut was found. By then it was mid morning and too late to launch out towards the Brenva Face. We would have chance to reorganise and observe the route. Huge powder avalanches roared off Mont Maudit. That was the last time we would see the sun for over a week.

The Brenva Face and Eckphiler (left) from the Giglione. The last time we saw the sun.

29th Dec - Day 3 Mauvais temps. Spindrift blasted through cracks in the door and the hut rocked on its perch as the wind battered the ridge crest. The day passed with no let-up in the weather. Not to worry we had plenty of food.

The Giglione Hut was no palatial Swiss Chalet with pine cladding and a restaurant. Far from it; this was a basic mountain shelter. There were bunks and some blankets but not much else. We felt confident that the weather would clear up tomorrow.

“Actually lads, I’ve a confession to make”

I had left my carrier bag of food in the fridge back in La Tour. 32 years later I can still remember that it contained a pack of smoked sausages. What we would have given for a smoked sausage in few days time.

30th Dec - Day 4 No let-up in the storm. During the summer months the hut offers a basic meal service. There were a few bits of ancient, mouse eaten, stale bread lying about but there’s no way we were going to eat those! Of greater interest was several trays of lager. Calories plus alcohol, what could be better. One slight problem; the whole lot was frozen solid. I had the bright idea of sleeping with half a dozen cans inside my sleeping bag; surely they would be defrosted by morning. After a short time it was obvious that plan wouldn't work. The beer might defrost but I would die of hypothermia and if one of the cans were to prematurely explode it would be curtains even sooner.

Ian McMullan and Richard Toon before it got grim.
31st Dec - Day 5  Still snowing. It was getting difficult to open the hut door. Essential trips outside were turning into a major epic. Before long the hut sauce pan had to be put to use, the contents of which were flicked over the balcony in the direction of Italy. Boredom was becoming an issue. We had covered pretty much every topic under the sun.

1st Jan - Day 6  New Years Day. We celebrated with a third of a Mars Bar each; our last Mars Bar. The food situation was getting critical by now so we started on the stale mouse eaten bread; it tasted fine. Mentally we were in reasonable spirits but lack of food, movement and cold were all starting to have an effect on our physical state. I couldn't get my feet warm. While this wasn’t particularly uncomfortable it meant that I was on a downward spiral. I had pain in my feet for months after.

2nd Jan - Day 7 Miraculously one of us had brought a pack of cards. I don’t remember who. Knock-out whist was the game of choice. Under normal circumstances you would deal the first hand of 7 cards to each player with gradually diminishing hands after that. We started with the maximum hand allowable dividing the pack three ways. We played all day, and day after day. The cards were difficult to handle with gloves but we had plenty of time.

3nd Jan - Day 8 A glimmer of hope. The weather wasn’t too bad. Still cloudy and snowing but it wasn’t as dark. We heard the distant sound of rotor blades and rushed outside. We had planned to bring food for 5 days, less what I had left behind, so we assumed Richard and Ian’s friends back in the chalet would have alerted the rescue by now. The helicopter briefly popped out of the clouds above the Brenva Glacier but then it was gone. We found out later the helicopter was trying to rescue a team of Japanese climbers stranded on the Brenva Face. Unfortunately they didn’t make it.

Myself, in need of a haircut.
4th Jan - Day 9 A miserable day. No sight or sound of the helicopter and it was snowing again. With the physical effort of going outside the previous day and having seen the huge accumulation of snow it wasn’t looking likely that we were going to be able to get back to safety under our own steam. Sighting the helicopter was a phycological watershed for me; I gave up any hope of self rescue and resigned myself to whatever might happen next. I’m not sure how Richard and Ian felt but none of us were rushing to leave!

5th Jan - Day 10 As usual the three of us were lying in a row on the bottom bunk. It was slightly lighter outside and no wind.

The rapid beat of rotor blades overhead took us by surprise. Faster than we could get out of our pits the door burst open. A red flying suit and white helmet dived in. The site of another human even after just 10 days was dazzling. The bright clean outfit contrasted strongly against our grubby brown refuge.

“Vite, vite, VITE!”

We rapidly shoved gear into sacks, pulled on boots and made for the door. The helicopter was perched on the narrow snow crest about fifty metres away, blades whirling and unable to put down properly. As soon as we steeped off the wooden catwalk running alongside the hut our physical deterioration manifested itself. The snow was waist deep and we could barely walk. The short distance to the sliding door at the back of the crimson Alouette seemed like a mile. The noise of the blades was deafening, the updraft was creating lots of spindrift, we were getting shouted at. With help from the co-pilot we were bundled in. A big heap of sacks, boots legs and arms. At least one of us was in tears.

I felt better when I saw that the pilot had ‘Bruno Le Bon’ written on the back of his helmet. He cranked the throttle and launched, nose down, off the ridge in the direction of France. We dropped like a stone at first then raced at low altitude back down the Valle Blanche over the Geant Icefall and the Mer de Glace. The weather window was short and the recusers were risking their own lives to bring us back. In less than 20 minutes we were dumped out onto the heli pad at La Praz and took the little blue van of shame back to the Gendarmerie in Chamonix. Our details were taken and we travelled back to the chalet in La Tour.

Richard and Ian’s friends had spent the last five days worrying as to whether we were dead or alive. They were furious. We had ruined their Christmas break. Not unreasonably, I seemed to be taking most of the blame. To make matters worse, despite the dire circumstances in the hut, I shamefully managed to slip a nice set of plastic compartmentalized camping plates into my rucksack on the way out of the door, for which I received a severe tongue lashing.

Marius and a climber from Manchester* whom, with breath taking arrogance, I had earlier dismissed as ‘nobodies’ had pulled off an early ascent of the Gaberrou Couloir on the Tacul while we were languishing in the hut freezing to death; a fact that was rammed home to me with merciless clarity.

32 year later, still got the cards.
I examined my emaciated body in bath. I’d lost so much weight that I could put both hands around the top of my thigh and make fingers and thumbs meet.

We split the pack of cards three ways as a memento and said our goodbyes.

One of the couples in the chalet were driving back to the Lakes and hoped I might get a lift home with them; not a chance! The next morning I was standing at the entrance to the Mont Blanc Tunnel with my thumb out. Trucks and cars accelerated past, spraying my Levi flares and combat jacket with filthy slush. Who could blame them.


Sadly, Ian McMullan was killed by a rockfall at Harper Hill quarry in August 2002. I had seen Ian occasionally over the years at crags and in pubs and we never missed the chance to reminisce about our time in the hut and to check if each other still had his share of the cards, which we did.

I bumped into Richard by chance just once in the last 32 years, in the Golden Rule, Ambleside.  We’re planning to meet up for a pint in the near future.

* I tried and failed, to find the name of the Manchester climber who repeated the Gaberrou Couloir with Marius. Looked back through old Mountain Magazines and checked the Alpine Club guide. If anyone can help please let me know.

Richrad Toon emailed me with his memories:

I remember the deep powder snow on the way to the hut and that we roped up but felt the edges of a couple of crevasses.  The cold inside the hut was intense - I remember being cold inside my sleeping bag with duvet on - had to take the duvet off to let a little heat leak into my legs!  The tea bags were recycled around three times or so!  And the playing cards were the life saver!!

Certainly once the helicopter arrived, we had to move fast but the drain on our strength then became frighteningly apparent - there was no way we would have got ourselves out of the predicament by then.  The flight out was fast and phenomenal and I remember the very stark contrast between the silence and the remoteness of the hut compared to the normal hustle and bustle of Chamonix.

What a way to spend New Year! 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Inshriach Forest

Nice conditions for xc skiing in the forest today. The snow is a bit thin in places but light and fast. Very cold, minus 9 during the day. Great weather, sunny and no wind but I'm frustrated at the moment with a middle ear virus.

Sunset over Meall Buidhe and Geal Charn from Inshriach

Monday, December 13, 2010

Carn an Tuirc

Looking northwest from the summit of Carn an Tuirc
Put the fat skis on for a 'there and back' trip up Carn an Tuirc from the parking on the A93. It was possible to ski from within 300M or so of the parking. Snow still frozen rock solid.

I've been staying at the Cranfield Guest House in Braemar for the last two day. Very comfortable, good breakfast and top skiing tips from Ali. Well worth checking out if you're looking for accommodation in the area.

A report of a similar tour on from the previous day.

Carn an Tuirc from from the A93

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Socach

A beautiful day but not great conditions for nordic touring. The rapid weekend thaw followed by a return to sub zero temps has frozen the snow pack rock hard. We need some fresh snow and, there's some on the way... yippee!

Carn Gheoidh Summit. Glas Tulaichean behind.

Another skier on the An Socach ridge

Sunset over the ski area from Carn Aosda

View An Socach in a larger map

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Sgor Gaoith Ski Tour

Another amazing day skiing the powder bowls of Sgor Gaoith. I was lucky enough to meet up with Sheila Van Lieshout and Hebe Carus at the parking area and did most of the tour with them.

We started by skinning up Geal Charn, then over Meall Buidhe to the summit of Sgor Gaoith. On the descent we went straight down Coire Ruadh in steep powder. Skins on again to traverse over the shoulder of Meall Buidhe and back to the summit of Geal Charn for another fantastic powder descent down Coire Cloiche, then a long traverse back to main path. Skis on car to car.

View Sgor Gaoith in a larger map

Monday, December 06, 2010

Meall a Bhuachaille

A short but fantastic day skiing the south west flank of Meall a Bhuachaille above Glenmore. Amazing snow conditions and scenery. The tele turns are coming on and still only December 6th!

A report from a fellow skier on Winterhighland

Loch Morlich
Frozen Loch Morlich from Meall a Bhuachaille
ski tracks

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cairnwell to Carn an t-Sagairt Mor

This weeks weather window was on Monday. I had a great day nordic touring from Cairnwell over to Invercauld Bridge.

Sunrise on Ben Avon from he ski area

It would have been nice to continue to Lochnagar but the weather started to come in shortly after mid day and I was feeling pretty tired by then.

I descended from the plateau via The Feindallacher Burn which luckily, was full of wind blown powder. With my limited experience I would say conditions for nordic touring are excellent right now; a firm base with a thin skim of powder and minimal avalanche risk.

Looking back to Glas Maol on the way up Cairn of Claise

On the gear front, I bought a new pair of Fischer 109 Tour (waxing) skis. A huge improvement on the Hagan X Trace which are fine for going in a straight line but very difficult to turn. The 109’s seem like the perfect Scottish compromise for rapid touring on the plateaus with enough side cut and softness to make them usable on steep descents.

Carn Bannoch summit

That’s not say that I now stay upright all the time or ski with any style what-so-ever, but I did manage to get down the White Lady using them today which opens up lots of possibilities for touring routes.

Also experienced waxing for the first time; seemed to work fine, just a bit of common sense about choosing the right wax for the snow temperatures. The skis run much faster than a crown base and don’t make an irritating buzzing noise.

Carn an t-Sagairt Mor from Carn Bannoch

Route: Cairnwell to Carn an t-Sagairt Mor via Glas Maol, Cairn of Claise, Tolmount and Cairn Bannoch. Descent via Feindallacher Burn to Invercauld Bridge

Start Cairnwell: 7.45am. Finish Invercauld Bridge approx 1.30pm

Boring video only of interest to nordic touring enthusiasts:

View Cairnwell to Carn an t-Sagairt Mor in a larger map

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Monadh Mór

Managed to fit a nordic skiing trip into the brief weather window between deep Atlantic depressions this week. I had been up Carn Ban Mór a couple of times last winter with a view to traveling over the plateau to the remote mountain, Monadh Mór but had always been thwarted by weather or snow conditions. On this occasion there was thick mist above 800M but a good forecast gave me the confidence to launch off into the wilderness of Móine Mhór on a compass bearing and not much else.

The mist cleared enough half way across allowing me to identify the saddle behind Tom Dubh and then on to the north ridge of Monadh Mór. The snow had been blasted off the last 500M to the summit necessitating walking. Apart from that the whole route above 700M was very ski-able in generally good snow. Surprisingly good conditions for so early in the season.

Round trip 14miles/22.5KM

Skis: Hagan X Trace
Boots: Garmont Excursion

View Monadh Mór in a larger map

Monday, September 06, 2010

Loch Vaa 18th September 2010

BASOC are hosting one of three orienteering events over the weekend of 18th-19th September.

Aberlour 18/09/2010
Superb mix of woodland, parkland and and urban on a brand new map in an area brand new to orienteering. Starts from 10.30 am to 11.30am Park at Speyside High School

Loch Vaa 18/09/2010
One of the best forests in Scotland. Courses included Brown, Blue, Green, Light Green, Orange and Yellow Starts from 13.30 pm to 15.30pm Follow forest track at the end of Kinchurdy Road, Boat of Garten

Revack 19/09/2010
Coniferous forest near Grantown on Spy with plenty of features and challenging terrain. Starts from 10.30 am to 12.30am. Revack Estate signposted from A95 south of Grantown on Spey

View September 2010 O Races in a larger map

Swimming With Sheep

Had an incident with a sheep on a climbing trip to Mull last week. I was looking at some undeveloped cliffs on the Ross of Mull when I spooked a sheep sufficiently for it to attempt leaping across a deep inlet in the coast.

Inevitably, the sheep missed the opposite side of the gap and bounced back into the inlet with a sickening crunch. I couldn’t easily climb down but could lean over just enough to see the sheep stuck tight up against one of the side walls. It panicked when it saw me looking over the edge and started to struggle. Not really knowing what to do I decided to leave it for a bit in the hope that it might free itself.

We did a few routes on a nearby crag and worried about how the sheep might be fairing. I really didn’t want to get involved in dragging it out of the inlet but I’d never have been able to forgive myself if I’d just left it there to drown in the next high tide.

We returned after a couple of hours and tentatively peered over the edge. I couldn’t see the sheep at first and thought it had escaped but my heart dropped as I spotted it wedge in a horrible diagonal slot below the undercut wall of the inlet.

I climbed down to see what could be done. The sheep was wedge so securely it looked unlikely that I would be able to free it. After a lot of pulling I eventually managed to free its front end. The back end was difficult to free without twisting its spine and causing further injury but, like freeing a bit of climbing gear that had got stuck in a crack, I eventually worked out a sequence to free both ends at once.

The sheep was totally knackered and could hardly stand on its own. It had some abrasion injuries but nothing obviously broken. The problem now was how we were going to get it out of the inlet.

With Cynthia standing at the top of the inlet we discussed the options; dragging the sheep up the side wall on a rope or swimming out around the cliff base until the angled eased enough to get the sheep up onto dry land. I wasn’t overly keen about the swimming option, thinking about what potentially might go wrong being alone in the sea attached to a sheep! Cynthia didn’t help by questioning whether sheep could swim or not; something I hadn’t even considered but the thought of being dragged under by a non swimming sheep terrified me.

We tried the rope option. For this to work the sheep was going to have to make some attempt at scrambling up the steep wall with me pushing from behind. It quickly became clear that the sheep could hardly stand up never mind make an attempt at rock climbing. It would have to be the swimming route or nothing.

I coaxed the sheep towards the water. It was clearly not keen on launching off into deep water and we both stood there for a bit considering the lapping waves and swaying sea weed beds. I’d like to think that the sheep and I reached some kind of an understanding at this point, a kind of bonding in a common aim to escape the cliff ;-) The sheep took a few steps forward and seemed to accept its fate. We launched into the deep as one.

Yes, sheep can swim! (pretty bloody obvious really). The sheep spied an easy angled ramp leading out of the sea and we headed for that. It staggered and looked like it might fall back in but once on level ground it struggled across the boulders of the foreshore and eventually to the idyllic grassy meadows where it was munching contentedly until I came along.

Sheep don’t have much of a life, but I guess a steel bolt in the forehead is preferable to drowning while stuck in a rock cleft.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Eilean a Ghearrain

Here is a PDF topo for a small granite island off The Ross of Mull, Scotland. The routes are mainly short but the rock is excellent and the setting, astounding. There is a good campsite nearby and a pub just up the road. Well wroth a visit if you’re looking for somewhere different to climb.

Click Here to Download (3.1MB)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cycling the Spey

I linked up some minor roads and sections of the Speyside Way from Inshriach to Spey Bay on the Moray coast.

I could have used more off road routes, particularly in the first few miles, but the sections I did use made sense in terms of following a direct and logical line down the river valley.

Start 9.50am from Inshriach
Aberlour 12.50pm
Arrive Fochabers Co-op 2pm
Left Fochabers Co-op 2.08pm
Arrive Spey Bay 2.32pm

Total Time: 3hrs 42mins Distance on bike computer 62 miles (Wind assisted)

Pit stops:

There is an excellent deli in Aberlour called The Spey Larder which sells pies, sandwiches and lots of other great grub. Not open Sundays.

The Co-op in Fochabers is open 7 days a week.

View Cycling the Spey in a larger map

Monday, June 28, 2010

Spey to Coast

I left home at 4.13 am. It would have been 4 am but my rushed preparations the previous evening meant that I had mechanical problems in the first 100M. The temptation to throw the bike in the hedge and crawl back into bed was overwhelming. I settled for cycling the first 25 miles or so on the back roads through in Insh and Kinguisse in a black mood.

My plan was to cycle out to the west coast via the Corrieyairack Pass, Kinloch Hourn, Arnisdale, the Kylerhea Ferry and back across the Skye Bridge to Kyle, all in time to get the 5.15 pm train back to Aviemore.

I had forgotten how rough the Corrieyairack was compared to the fast sandy tracks in the east but I made it to Fort Augustus at 9.05 am (56 miles), more or less on schedule. From here the route follows the Great Glen Way down the Caledonian Canal for a few miles to Invergarry.

The upper part of Gleana Lichd

A 14K section of miserable forest roads links Invergarry with Torr na Carraidh followed by a long 24K run down the tarmac to Kinloch Hourn where I thought I was still making reasonable time; 1 pm and (80 miles).

The climb out of Kinloch Hourn was a lot steeper than I was expecting but once the initial ascent is out of way there is an excellent section of single track and rough double track passing through fantastic nordic style scenery. The descent down into Glen Arnisdale was steep and rough.

View Spey to Coast in a larger map

Conscious that I had burnt a lot of time on the last section and might be pushing my 5.15 pm deadline at Kyle I stopped looking at the computer and tried to concentrate on cycling the next road section to Glenelg quickly. Luckily I didn’t look at the map too closely or I would have noticed the big hill climb on the coast road.

The full Scottish breakfast I’d wolfed down in Fort Augutus had done its job for the last 45 miles but I finally keeled over somewhere around Upper Sandaig. Two cheese butties and a snickers had the effect of pouring petrol into and empty fuel tank; instantaneous. I finally reached the ferry at 16.30 pm (104 miles), too late to make the train but worse than that, the bloody thing wasn’t running!

The remote Alltbeithe Youth Hostel

After a couple of phone calls the new plan was to cycle over to Sheil Bridge, try and find somewhere to stay then cycle through Glen Affric to Cannich the following day where Pat would meet me in the car. The immediate problem was the 340M climb over Bealach Ratagan to get to Glen Sheil.

Most B&Bs had no vacancies signs up but I found Fisherbeck Bed and Breakfast on the way to the Youth Hostel at Ratagan; friendly, very reasonable and good food.

The next morning I left Ratagan at 8.30 am and cycled up Gleana Lichd, through the steep and narrow passage to Fionngleann, reaching the Alltbeithe Youth Hostel at 11 am. A good track followed by the Glen Affric road got me to Cannich at 13.10 pm with a total distance of 153 miles from Speyside.

Section Details

Aviemore to Melgarve - Minor roads, tarmac.

Melgarve to Fort Augustus - Corrieyairack Pass, rough and stoney. Not much ridable on the way up but reasonablely fast on the descent.

Fort Augustus to Invergarry - A good cycle way by the side of the canal followed by a 3 mile road section. There is an alternative forest trail which would avoid the road but it was closed at the time of writing.

Invergarry to Torr na Carraidh - Stoney forest road with a substantial climb; hard work and uninspiring scenery make this the low point of the journey.

Torr na Carraidh to Kinloch Hourn - Minor road, tarmac.

Kinloch Hourn to Corran - A very steep rough climb out of Kinloch Hourn followed by technical single track with some carrying. Definitely the most interesting section of the journey.

Corran to the Kylerhea Ferry - Minor road, tarmac but with an energy sapping 200M climb in the middle.

Kylerhea Ferry to Sheil Bridge - Minor road, tarmac but with an even bigger 340M climb more reminiscent of an alpine pass than Scotland.

Morvich to Glenlicht House - Loose and stoney vehicle track.

Glenlicht House to Alltbeithe Youth Hostel - Great scenery but steep at first. About an hour and half of pushing/carrying until the track starts to level out on the other side of the watershed. Mostly ridable for the last 4KM to Alltbeithe.

Alltbeithe Youth Hostel to Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin - A good track which improves after Athnamulloch.

Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin to Cannich - Minor road, tarmac, down hill and fast.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mountain Bike Tour of the Cairngorms

The Falls of Tarf at the head of Glen Tilt. 70 miles down, 53 to go.

I’ve been wanting to try this mountain biking link up for a couple of years. The route circumnavigates the Cairngorm Massive, connecting the principal glens and villages. I had done some of the individual sections in previous years but wondered if I could connect all the sections into one big day with the same start and finish point.

My Route
  • You could start at any point. I started from near Loch an Eilein south of Aviemore
  • Through Rothiemurchus Forest to Glenmore
  • Over Ryvoan Pass and The Braes of Nethy to Dorback Lodge
  • Through to Tomintoul via Glen Brown
  • Glen Avon, Loch Builg, Invercauld Bridge to Braemar
  • Linn of Dee, White Bridge, Glen Tilt to Blair Atholl
  • Gaick Pass to Tromie Bridge
  • Road back to starting point via Insh and Feshie Bridge
  • Total distance from bike computer 123 miles

    View Tour Of The Cairngorms in a larger map


I relied on filling up at cafe stops for food, only carrying sports drink and a couple of sandwiches which I never actually got round to eating.

There are cafes in Tomintoul, Braemar and Blair Atholl:

Tomintoul - The Old Fire Station Cafe officially opens at 9am but appears to serve from 8.30 am if you just walk in.

Braemar - There is a chippy and two cafes in the village. Turn down the Linn of Dee road and the cafes are on the right.

Blair Atholl - A good cafe that turns into a chippy after 5pm. Opposite the entrance to the caravan park and next to the Atholl Country Life Musem

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Climbing on Barra

I had a week climbing new routes on the island of Barra with Cynthia Gridley, Colin Moody and Pete Whillance.

And... if you were particularly taken bay the accordion playing in that video (as I was), here is the full 8 and half minutes:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kincraig Orienteering

Badenoch and Strathspey Orienteering Club held an event at Kincraig. The mixture of technical oak woodland and urban sprint seemed to go down well with competitors.


The Long Course

Callum Scott at Control No.1

Donald Grassie at the Butterfly Hub No. 32

Crag foot at No. 11

Callum Scott at No. 13. Loch Insh and The Feshie Hills behind

Back into the village, the penultimate control No. 23

Ali Robertson, Kate Robertson and Ewan McCarthy discuss route choice at the finish

Friday, April 02, 2010

Lurchers Gully

Skinned up to the summit of Cairngorm from the Ciste car park then over Cairn Lochain and down Lurchers Gully to the Punch Bowl car park. Manged a few teles in heavy snow conditions.

A beautiful spring day. The ski area looked horribly busy. There were massive queues for most of the tows.

Coire an Lochain looked really dangerous with a big crack at the top of the slab. Thankfully no one was climbing there today.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ben Macdui

Skied from Cairngorm car park over to Lurchers Gully and along to Ben Macdui. Back via the plateau and Cairngorm summit. Weather on the change.

Carn Toul and Braeriach from Ben Macdui

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mullach Clach a Bhlair

A disapointing day. Despite a sunny forecast the cloud barely lifted above the tops making skiing difficult in flat light and navigation uncertain.

I had planned to ski a big loop around Moine Mhor but bailed at Mullach Clach a Bhlair. I didn't fancy launching off into the snowy wilderness in the prevailing conditions. The descent down into Glen Feshie was quite nice once I had negotiated the snow flutings.

View Mullach Clach a Bhlair in a larger map

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sgorans Traverse

Traversed the Glen Feshie Sgoran Ridge starting at Achlean and finishing at Loch an Eilein.
Snow and skiing conditions are good on the plateau but varied on the ridges. Some areas are scoured to hard pack while areas of compacted flutings make travel difficult in places. There are dangerous slab avalanche conditions on many west facing slopes.

Looking down the Loch Einich from the summit of Sgor Gaoith

View Sgorans Traverse in a larger map

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sandy Allan

Bumped into Sandy Allan at the top of Aonach Mor. He was climbing I was skiing. It was one of those encounters where you come across someone whom you’ve never actual met before, but feels like you've known them for years.

We chewed the fat in the Nevis Range Café and reminisced about times gone by and the characters of the climbing world back in the 70s and 80s.

The weather was amazing again. No wind and full on sun.

Sandy Allan's Blog

Sandy Allan on Aonach Mor. Schiehallion is the pointy peak on the horizon.

Looking towards Roy Bridge

Looking west down Loch Eil