NUFWS is a society that has a long and distant past (or we like to think so!) so in order to show off the exploits of some of our past members we've created NUFWS History. This section highlights those of the past committees who helped run things and reports of past trips. If you can think off any other items deserving of such fame please let us know!
Within NUFWS there are a certain group of people, the so called ‘Peak-Baggers’. ‘What is Peak-Bagging I hear you cry?’ Well, it is basically the climbing (and subsequent ticking off) of lists of hills based on their height.
Several Lists of Hills covering different parts of the country, and complied at different times by different people are available, the list below conveys the most important, and the ones that, as a member of NUFWS, you are most likely to come across, at least meet those working their way through some of them.
The Munros are arguably the most famous of all Mountain lists in Britain. The Munros are Scottish mountains over 3000ft (914.4m). The list contains 283 separate peaks over 3000ft and 227 ‘Tops’. The ‘Tops’ are subsidiary summits of the Munros, which do not satisfy the complex distance or vertical decent criteria. The list was compiled in 1891 by Sir Hugh T. Munro on behalf of the Scottish Mountaineering Club. He was revising his list when he died in 1919. The revisions continued over the years conducted by the Ordnance Survey, most notably in 1977 and 1997, but changes are as recent as 2009, when a certain ‘Sgurr nan Ceannaichean’ was struck from the list.
The Furths are mountains in Great Britain and Ireland which, but for their ill luck in being situated "furth" of Scotland, would be Munros. There are 13 in Ireland, 15 in Wales and 4 in England. The SMC maintains a list of those Munroists who have claimed their summits.
Once again, only found in Scotland, the 221 Corbetts are a list of Scottish Peaks between 2,500ft (762m) and 3000ft (914.4m) with a drop of 100ft-500ft between each summit. They were compiled by John Rookie Corbett in the 1920s; strangely, he was the 4th person to complete the Munros and the first Sassenach (that’s an Englishman for anybody who doesn’t know).
The next list of seemingly inexhaustible tables of mountains is The Grahams. These are (again) Scottish hills between 2,000 and 2,499 feet (609.6 and 761.7 m). They were complied by Alan Dawson and Fiona Graham in 1992. They consist of 224 hills scattered across Scotland.
No one I know ticks Donalds, No one I have met on the hills ticks Donalds.
The 214 Wainwrights were compiled in the 1950s and 1960s by one Alfred Wainwright. The sole inclusion in this list is to have a chapter in one of his seven Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells Books.
These are hills across Great Britain with a relative height of 150m (492ft), there are 1554 of these in the UK and a further 453 in Ireland. No one has completed these because two Marilyns are sea stacks many miles out into the Atlantic. They are maintained and created by Alan Dawson, and named as an ironic turn towards The Munros.
These separate and distinct sets of mountain tables have been compiled over the last hundred years by several individuals. However you see the pursuit of summits so they can be ticked off on an arbitrary list, whether you see it as glorified trainspotting or as a noble endeavour, it is worth taking into account that thousands of people see it as a way to summit peaks across Britain, with an estimation of several thousand ‘doing the Munros’ alone.
Tables of mountains can provide a budding mountaineer with a target to reach, encouraging him, or her, to go out in all weathers and over all terrains, from grassy moor to knife-edge ridge. Every hill is different, every route is different, every day out is worthwhile. Each entry may represent smooth grassy slopes or rough boulder-strewn heather, crags or bogs, sunshine or snow. It is this difference in the entries on lists which is so appealing to me, and many others.
And at the end of the day, you will have more than memories, you will have new dates in your list to remind you where you have been; the icing on the cake. This in itself can be strangely satisfying, providing a sense of achieving something as well as enjoying it. Those who choose to keep records can appreciate and enjoy their walks just as much as anyone else, but their reward is a little greater than for those who are too proud or too principled to bother making a note of which hills they have climbed, and, finally, you get the excitement of colouring in the little triangle on the map, or ticking the corresponding box for the hill you have just climbed. Priceless.
NUFWS President 2011
The far North-West, home to some of the most spectacular mountains in the British Isles was the destination of the last trip of the year and the last before we handed over to the new committee (in essence, not such a problem as many of us were reprising our roles next year). We were staying at Gairloch, situated between the great hills of Torridon to the south and the town of Ullapool to the North, chosen because I knew it was a good campsite, having stayed there before (and because it, predictably, allowed me to enact a greater Munro bashing session). Having been at Stanage Edge in Derbyshire with Pete, Rich and Spink, organisation and logistics had been left to the new treasurer, Caitlin, and so I avoided a disastrous litany of mishaps and problems, however, I had my own problems, notably losing the gear store key and having to break in with a set of 36” bolt cutters.
Finally, we set off, in a 9 seater van and a car for the far North. Only a short stop in Perth for fish and chips and driver stop which ended in a good look at a maggot infested dead deer hindered us. We reached the top of Loch Maree to gaze down upon a glorious sight, the long miles of the loch were basked in golden sunshine, and wisps of cloud lay over the top of the castled layers of Slioch. Glorious. We arrived at Gairloch after nearly 8 hours of travel, set up the tents and by midnight were standing in the evening sun on the beach. The trip’s aimed had been to take in Liathach and An Teallach, the last two of my ‘holy trinity’ of Scottish mainland ridges, on a par with the Aonach Eagach in Glencoe.
Alas, and after the weather on Skye, rather predictably, this did not occur. The next morning dawned overcast and windy, and with a sigh, we decided to tackle Beinn Eighe, second of the great Torridonian trio of Beinn Alligan, Beinn Eighe and Liathach. A beautiful walk round the back of Beinn Eighe, into wild and empty country, with a view to the north over the ‘Great Wilderness’, the last truly empty area of Western Europe and the most remote Munro, A’ Mhaighdean, nearly 21 miles from the nearest road. We hauled ourselves up into the coire to be presented by a view across to the fabled Triple Buttress, a soaring cliff above the loch. The rising wind and scree slopes took their toll; we left Alasdair and Will Secretts at the col whilst the rest of us made a dash for the summit of Ruadh Stac-Mor, a dangerous endeavour for the lighter of the company, even to the point of holding Caitlin and Cats’ rucksacks to hold them down! Bitter and disappointed, we did not make the summit of the second Munro; however I did get a nice long walk back to the bus, as everyone else insisted on stopping for yet another break.
That night, following...um.....certain amounts of liquid (3/4 quarters of a bottle of mead in my case), we descended into a deep, philosophical discussion on the nature of Pokémon.....as you’ve probably guessed, it was drunken lads of a certain age ambling down nostalgia road. Again.
The next day, we set off to do the An Teallach traverse. ‘This isn’t far is it; we’re not going to use much fuel are we?’ I was asked by our fiscal commissar. ‘Nah, less than half an hour’ I replied. An hour later I finally conceded that I had lied profusely about the distances to further my Munro-count, receiving a well placed, not wholly deserved slap on the head from the Treasurer. Anyhow, the cloud cover and rain did not bode well but we set off up the slopes towards the An Teallach ridge. The cold wind greeted us on the main ridge, to the east the pinnacles of Corrag Bhuidhe loomed, wreathed in mist, to the south, the empty miles of the Great Wilderness spread out below us. A spectacular place. For the next few hours we would see nothing but mist and rock. Slogging up the two Munros shepherding the rear elements of our column up the hills was pleasant enough bar the view. The real delight came by hauling onto the summit of Sgurr Fiona, my 160th Munro, even though Pete and I had to resist the temptation to carry on alone along the ridge in the wind and mist. The views presented themselves once again as we descended, bar Rob Parker’s twisted ankle. We followed the course of a wide valley, winding down the moor and bog towards the midge infested road. A great day out none the less.
A bonfire on the beach, followed by the remains of the mead (some will remember the constant lament where did all the mead go?! followed by the predictable answer, you drank it!) and repeated observations that Caitlin’s cardigan was the same colour as a set of my walking socks (mustard yellow if anyone is interested) rounded off a great weekend in the far north; bring on 2013!
So it comes to this. Skye; widely touted as the most epic trip we run. For once the ‘Misty Isle’ did not disappoint. The weather forecast was finally thrown completely in support of us, for weeks (some of us, anyway) had been looking forward to taking the Road to the Isles.
The Isle of Skye, magical yet often shrouded in rain, mist and snow, is home to 12 Munros, linked by 14km of narrow, exposed ridges, the Black Cuillin, a Mecca for scramblers and climbers. Sligachan was our destination, surrounded by the Northern Black Cuillin, and the Red Cuillin, dominated by Glamaig; it is possible one of the most atmospheric places in the Inner Hebrides.
Ideas had been bouncing around for walks for a few weeks, including a plan to take on the Inaccessible Pinnacle, a soaring, vertical blade of rock sticking out from the summit of Sgurr Dearg like a dorsal fin, overtopping the summit by some 8m. Me, Pete, Spink and Rich had planned to ascent the obelisk via the West Ridge (A Diff. Graded rock climb). Unfortunately due to work, Rich pulled out leaving only three of us to tackle the ‘In Pin’.
The 9-seater pulled into Sligachan at about 1 in the morning on Saturday, only to find out that the minibus had decided to take a scenic tour of Perthshire and Angus, even reaching Dundee, before nearly running out of petrol in Fort William. Saturday morning dawned, predictably with rain. A crisis meeting was called, were we to head to Sgurr Dearg or not? As if by magic, the rain began to clear. We took the vans (via a detour to Portree) down Glen Brittle to the beginning of the long slog up to Sgurr Dearg. Short scrambling, long scree slopes and Paddy’s atrocious fitness culminated in a hard, if great walk up. We reached the lower top of Sgurr Dearg to see the Black shape of the Inaccessible Pinnacle rearing over the summit, the snow was now beginning to come down as we shepherded a party of 21 across the exposed scramble to the summit of Sgurr Dearg, where climbers waited to tackle the In Pin.
The intimidating, imposing black pillar look down upon all, the West Ridge route was caked in snow and the rock was cold to the touch. We stood around assessing the route and waiting for the parties’ abseiling down the route to finish. A general consensus amongst the three of us was that we were not climbing with a party of 21 watching, and we sent them down in the capable hands of Ben and James. Nearly an hour passed before our turn could start. Pete led, protection dropping out below him as he fought his way up the ledges on the North Face. Finally, after nervous laughter from Spink and I, he finally placed a cam, after soloing about half the route.
Soon, the rope tightened up, I wanted to second; nerves were upon me from the beginning, to quote the ever comic Robert Spink, who himself was paraphrasing Rich Farran; I was ‘dancing up and down the ledges like I was in Babylon’. This comic moment does not really reveal just how bad this rare nervous attack was; long-winded swearing, having to stop to warm up the hand from moves on the freezing rock, which prompted me to drop the cam, and climbing in big boots took their toll. ‘Short, scrappy and desperate’ sums it up to be honest. However, getting to the top really felt like an achievement, finally, our climbing had taken us somewhere, to the summit of the hardest Munro! Spink had no bother rushing up, bar one slip, and almost as soon as he had joined us, Pete told him to get ready to abseil off! I think for the two of us the abseil was probably the best bit, and went off without a problem, Pete, as always proved his worth as a mountaineer by both leading and rappelling off. My thoughts had circled round an issue ever since the top; with a sigh at what I was about to do, consigning the largest calibre of banter ammunition to the decommissioning yards, I turned and said ‘Spink, I think the Mont Blanc crack might have run its course’, causing him to weep with tears of happiness. A happy analysis went with us all the way down, where we met the others.
'For all the suffering, fear and disappointments with the weather; the best mountain days in the Cuillin have a truly magical quality. The intensity of the experience is such that it operates at many levels; the physical and the psychological, the real and the imagined, the rational and the intuitive, the crafty and the crazy, the timeless and the urgent, the poetic and the muscular. And, again like a great piece of music, what an extraordinary mixture of emotions it involves! What a blend of fear and excitement, what a mixture of beauty and danger, and of meticulous precision and physical freedom!'
After quite a lot of very fine ‘Pinnacle’ ale in the Sligachan Hotel that night, the next day dawned clear and fine. Spink and Pete were off to the Great Stone Chute and Sgurr Alasdair, whilst I had unfinished business. Sgurr Nan Gillean, most famous of the Black Cuillin, and one of the last Munro that my Mum had done that I hadn’t. Once again I was using NUFWS to push my Munro count. The long walk across the moor was stunning, we climbed up to the South East Ridge, where James, Ben and I probed along the ridge, finally escorting group of three to the summit and back, despite Hannah’s attempt to kill Charlotte by dislodging rocks! A stunning day and certainly one of the best I’ve ever had.
The pub that night was, humorous to say the least. Banter flowed as did the drink. In a fit of Munro madness I had conceived a plan to tick off Am Basteir long blade of rock between Bruath na Frithe and Sgurr nan Gillean, Charlotte, Ben Hancock and John Wilkinson; or team ‘Munro on Monday’ had all shown an interest, although some trepidation was encountered when I suggested a walking time of 5a.m! Those on my walk snuck off to bed early.....except me, who remained drinking in the pub with the normal people. Drunk and tired I went to bed.
The alarm bell rung in my ear at 4 the next morning, hungover and very tired after only 3 hours sleep I got up to the sound of John struggling out of the tent next door. ‘Why am I doing this?’ I groaned to Spink, ‘because you’re fat’ came the reply deep from the sleeping bag next to me.
As I stood there, heading for a headache and really not in the mood for talking, I looked around at the beautiful weather and clear mountains. 2 hours later, I stood at the bottom of Coire na’ Bhasteir, the hangover gone, looking up at the mountains around and the great North Face of Am Basteir and the Bhasteir Tooth towering above us. I took us nearly an hour from the Col to the summit, trying to find a route round the polished bad step above the first summit. The summit panorama was stunning, with a full vista of the Cuillin ridge, with a good view of the West Ridge of Gillean. A cracking day out, with an easily manageable and small group.
Certainly one of the best weekends I’ve ever had with NUFWS. Good weather, good company, and all over, 3 new Munros.
The Great Peaks of Ben Macdui and Braeriach reared up above us into cloud and snows, straight ahead, the great cleft of the Lairig Ghru faded off into the clouds. It seemed a far cry from the warmth, squabbling and good natured banter of the Strawberry.
The reason that I was slogging up the pass towards Speyside with the NUFWS Websec, Pete Kemp, on another one of our epics was primarily due to the machinations of our respective Munro counts and in the disease formally known as ‘Munro-lust’. Our concocted plan had been to stay at my house in Blairgowrie on Thursday night, walk the 21 miles from the Linn of Dee in Deeside, near Braemar, to Aviemore in Speyside, through the 800m high pass of the Lairig Ghru on Friday, and meet the others on the Aviemore trip that night. Ambitious yet possible. This was very quickly amended to take in The Devil’s Point, Carn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach, thus adding several Munros to the walk as well as 6 more miles. Arriving at the Strawberry on Wednesday, we presented our arguments to the committee, and the general society, who not only seemed to think we were mad, but also seemed to think we might not make it!
The ‘Great Empty Space’ between Deeside and Speyside contains the highest continuous area of upland plateau in the British Isles. These are the Cairngorms or Am Monadh Ruadh to the old folk of Speyside. They contain 5 of the 6 of Britain’s highest mountains, with much of the plateaux exceeding 1200m in high. It was the Western end of this immense entity that we would be looking at, the largest extent of the plateau that sits between the truncated spur of the Devil’s Point and the great rearing mass of Braeriach.
As I sat there, staring at the map spread out on the table, looking at the famous names; Corrour Bothy, Clach nan Taillear, where 3 tailors had perished in a blizzard in the 1800s, The Pools of Dee, The Chalamain Gap and Rothiemurchus Forest, It finally dawned that this was, in Pete’s words, ‘A Bloody Long way’.
Waking up at 6am at home in Blairgowrie was a novel experience, more reminiscence of my school days than anything else, but soon excitement took over. As we drove over the Pass of Glenshee, the Cairngorms, dominated from this angle by the tors of Ben Avon, in all their winter glory, presented themselves. Finally, after encounters with deer we were dropped at the Linn of Dee. We said goodbye to Dad and begin the long walk to Aviemore. By 10:30, we’d eaten up the long miles, past Derry Lodge and the twinkling Alpenglow over Derry Cairngorm, and were sitting, having a break in the warm sun at Corrour bothy. To the North, the Lairig Ghru still looked clear of the elements raging over the Macdui plateau.
We set off West, into the corrie below the Devil’s Point. Looking at the headwall, caked in avalanche-prone slopes, we decided to move up the snow gullies up onto the summit of the Devil’s Point, settling on the longest gully, a Couloir of over 45 degrees, later found to be a Scottish grade I. Crampons and Axes were broken out, and soon we were high up on the hard snow. Topping out on the broken summit ridge exposed a view which almost took my breath away. The Glenshee hills and Lochnagar were basked in sunshine, glinting red off the snow, below us, the River Dee reflected the light as it meandered southwards towards Deeside. The overall feeling was one of absolute solitude and complete relaxation, the only problems was the constant problems with the Yeti Gaiters.
Looking north, the Lairig Ghru was almost closed; cloud was swirling over Macdui and beyond our next objective, billowing clouds covered the summit of Carn Toul. Slogging up the slopes of the intermediately summit Stob Coire-t-Saighdeir, I felt at ease, even with the time slipping away, and the weather closing in. I know Pete felt differently, I had felt his uneasiness as he weathered his first Cairngorm white-out.
The final slopes not only exposed us to the infamous Cairngorm white-out but a call from our erstwhile carer in Newcastle, Rob Spink. This prompted a decision on our course. We had to make a decision whether to continue along the plateau edge, and risk being trapped up there as night fell, or return to Corrour and take the old drover’s route across the Lairig Ghru. The only sensible course of action was to descend, and leave the other Munros to their icy vastness. The surge of annoyance, regret and anger surfaced regularly on the way down as brief periods of sunshine broke the clouds above us, but the importance of that decision cannot be understated, with hindsight, had we go on, we would not have made Rothiemurchus by nightfall and would have been caught out in the high Cairngorms.
Back down at Corrour, after a long break and an investigation of the new toilets, we set off north towards the pass of the Lairig Ghru. By the time we had reached Clach nan Taillear, the snow was falling thick and fast, and we were both worrying that we might not be able to force the pass before nightfall. As we climbed into the clouds swirling around the Pools of Dee, the setting sun gave us our last light from the west, it filtered down the long miles of Glen Dee, and the into the Lairig Ghru, giving everything a strange glint against the darkening sky. Worries mounted as the pass continued to climb, thoughts of navigational miscalculations preyed on my mind. Finally, we topped out, waves of happiness and relief swept over me, even giving Pete a much deserved bear-hug. We would not have spend a night out, and have the embarrassment that NUFWS’s two most experienced winter walk leaders were benighted on a walk of their own design! Below us, in the vast darkness of Speyside, The lights of Aviemore, across the great forest of Rothiemurchus, nearly 10 miles distant.
With the gloom deepening, we broke out the torches and were soon descending into Speyside, the snow continued to fall as we passed the site of the Sinclair Hut, destroyed in the 1990s after several disasters in the area, and slowly descended, trudging through the falling snow, with aching limbs, into Rothiemurchus Forest. The next few hours, cold, dark and tiring, the monotony of forest broken only by the Cairngorm Club’s footbridge, were exceptionally dull, save only for the hope of seeing a Capercaille. Finally, twinkling lights through the trees signalled the end, we had reached Colyumbridge, 2 miles from Aviemore. The slow plod was broken by a kind motorist giving us a lift for the last ¾ of a mile into Aviemore. We fell into a pub and quickly my legs seized up into a semi-mobile state. With detours we had walked over 26 miles, with over 1000m of ascent, through some of the country’s roughest and remotest terrain. 4 hours later, we hobbled out of the bar to meet the others for our lift to the Bunkhouse at Carrbridge.
The Rest of the weekend followed in the traditional vein of Aviemore trips, winter skills were conducted on the lower slopes of Cairngorm, and a group reached the summit of Ben Macdui, in what was touted as the best weather all winter. Unfortunately, due to a leg injury picked up on the ‘silly walk’ (quote – Caitlin Taylor) I was basically unable to walk for the rest of the weekend, not the best situation. In spite of this, Saturday evening was an enjoyable drunken haze punctuated only by the ‘Greggs Moment Incident’. Despite the leg, I had chosen the area for Sunday’s walks based solely upon my Munro-lust, planning on taking in Sgor Goaith, in Glen Feshie, however, neither the group attempting this Munro, nor myself managed to reach the top due to bad weather or bad legs, I made it, maybe 1500m down the track! All in all a good weekend!
As I stood outside the Union building awaiting the arrival of my comrade –in-arms Rob Spink, laden down with gear and all the paraphernalia of a weekend trip, I nervously wondered what I had let myself in for. I had arrived in Newcastle only a few weeks before to begin my university education. Having spent many years in the mountains of my native Scotland, I was already experienced in the hills; however, I was not prepared for the jovial, yet slightly chaotic and unpredictable nature of a NUFWS weekend trip!
We arrived at the Gear store, where we were to catch the bus early. Over the next minutes, people began to trickle in and a buzz of conversation illuminated the place. I was re-introduced to Rich Farran (whom I had met in the pub a few nights before, something neither of us can remember) and Patrick ‘The Riddler’ Fawcett as well as a cast of both greater and lesser characters in the great theatre that is NUFWS. The bus journey created ample opportunity for banter, and the introduction of NUFWS legends, Runrig’s version of the epic song, ‘Loch Lomond’, and the creation, nay the Birth of ‘Big John’. We arrived at Dalkeith, on the outskirts of Edinburgh in good time and proceeded to stuff our gullets with traditional Scottish fare, chips and fried foodstuffs! Soon we were on the road again and moving North-West at some speed.
The black night closed in as we crossed the desolate emptiness of Rannoch Moor, something Rich has never forgotten. As we entered Glencoe, dark shapes loomed above us; these were the peerless peaks of that famous Glen, the sentinel of Buchaille Etive Mor, rearing out of the bleakness of Rannoch Moor, The Great Massif of Bidean nan Bian, the highest peak in Argyll, and the jagged pinnacles of the infamous Aonach Eagach, Gaelic for the Notched Ridge, the hardest ridge outside The Black Cuillin of Skye.
The next day dawned clear and cloudless. (Very much a rarity on the West Coast!). Walks were going out in all directions, from Bidean and Buchaille Etive Beag to the Pap of Glencoe. But my Munro lust took hold, I was desperate to push my Munro count up by one more, I was seconding the walk to claim the peak of Sgor an-t-Ulaidh, a remote and awkward Munro behind Bidean. The glorious sunshine accompanied us throughout the walk, however, on the long, hard push up to the main ridge, with Helen and Philippa ploughing off into the distance; it became more of a hindrance! However, on the summit, we were greeted with superb views across Glencoe, round to the great flat dome of Ben Nevis and the Mamores, even as far as Ardgour and the Isle of Mull.
On our return to the campsite, after we had lost a large part of the group to the delights of swimming in the River Coe, we greeted the other groups, who regaled us with stories of the Lost Valley of Bidean Nan Bian and its remarkable similarities to any part of Mordor and the sweeping ridges of Buchaille Etive Beag. After a quick dinner (in which Rich consumed everyone’s leftovers), and a shower, we were told by Tom Hughes, that ‘the first rule of flannelling, is do not talk about flannelling’. A certain scene comes to mind at this moment, whilst stripping down to the breeches for the shower, Chris Tibbett spotted Rob Spink, directly in the chair in front of me, watching, with a strange glint in his eye, and his hand over his crotch, coining what would become known as the ‘Jamie Dodd Show’. After this strange interlude, we retired, rather mercifully, to the pub.
The Clachaig Inn is one of most famous of the Great Scottish mountaineering pubs, situated at the foot of the Aonach Eagach, it has played host to such greats as George Mallory (of Everest fame), Sir Hugh Munro and many of the early SMC meets. Arriving at the pub we were greeted by the sounds of Pipe and Drum, as live music was playing. Pint after Pint was bought as the songs descended from such greats as ‘Scotland the Brave’ and ‘Loch Lomond’ to the ragged football chant of ‘We had a dream’. Rich was nearly killed as it was pointed out to the room at large by Chris, that he was English, and even to the end of the night, he was scowled at by some members of the audience. After copious amounts of alcohol, and a warning from the barman about the weather the next day, we stumbled back to bed, ready for a final day of walking.
The weather did not heed our pleas for sunshine; we awoke to blanket cloud and drizzling rain, famous Scottish weather. We set out for a long low level walk from Kinlochleven to the Kinghouse, another famous pub. After a wet, yet banter-filled walk we arrived, sodden and steaming, at the Kinghouse, ready for a long trip home. It was an interesting weekend, filled with fun, alcohol, Mountains and many friends.
We all meet at 8am at Central Station and after buying our tickets borded the Arriva Trains service to Carlisle. We got off at Haltwhistle station and walked up the River South Tyne. Then back over the moors. It was so warm we wore shorts. Had iuce creams in Haltwhistle and then took the train back to Newcastle >>> that's all >>>!!!
Report written by Craig Montgomery
The trip had initially being scheduled to be at Glen Nevis, but unfortunately the owners of the Glen Nevis Campsite would not let us stay there as it was still half term week. Their concern was that we would arrive late and disturb other campers. This news put heed to an overnight epic plan that had been devised to traverse the entire length of the Mamores ridge, taking in nine of the ten peaks that form this extensive corrie-bitten wall stretching between Glen Nevis in the north and Loch Leven in the South. I suppose there is always next year. The weather in the week preceding this trip was cold and there had been extensive snowfall over all high ground in Scotland and the north of England, this information was of great interest to us and pleased us no end.
As usual it was a five o’clock meet, down the steps from the Union. The mood in the car park was good and there was great delight about the latest snow reports, stating that cover was down to 500m/1640ft. The run up to Glen Coe was quick with a brief stop at Lockerbie for fish and chips. When we arrived there the night was cold and clear and everyone was rushing to get there tent up to make the last hour of licensing at the pub. It was of great interest to me to go to ‘The Clack’ (The Clachaig Inn), as I had heard a lot about it but I had never been before, instead I used to go to the the King’s House at the northern edge of Glen Etive and the eastern tip of Glen Coe. When I went in it became clear to me why my dad used to insist on not taking my mum and I to ‘The Clack’, I don’t think my mum would have approved of trampy-looking people burning dope on the log fire and openly smoking spliffs while falling over on the way to the toilets (mums ehh?). Even after full day a uni’ and 5 hours on the coach I felt far to clean to be in there and that I should not have washed for the last week.
On Saturday morning everyone was up before first light and people other than just me where eager to be off to make the most of the great conditions on offer. The weather forecast was good was good with good sunny patches and occasional snow showers. After paying for the campsite and eventually managing to escape the clutches of campsite owner, who I swear would not shut up, or take a hint and even after I had walked away he came after me still wanting to talk. This guy would even be a match for our very own motor-mouth/gobsh*te (delete as appropriate) Miss McCourt. After a brief breakfast consist of a pasty and an apple our options for the day where laid out for us: Sgorr-na Ciche (Pap of Glen Coe) (742m/2434ft) – This hill lies just to the north of Glen Coe and offer a great vantage point on a clear day, overlooking Loch Leven and the vast Loch Linnhe and the surrounding hills, with the great expanse of the Mamores to the north east and the valley of Glen Coe to the south east. Am Bodach (1032m/3386ft), Stob Choire a’ Chairn (981m/3218ft) and Na Gruagaichean (1056m/3465ft) – A circular walk from Kinlochleven making use of the extensive network of stalker’s paths in the area to access this southern triad of peaks in the Mamores range. I chose the latter option and set off for Kinlochleven in the Coach at about half past eight. The drive along the southern shores of Loch Leven on the B863 was nice giving great views of the snow capped peaks of the Mamores to the northwest. The stalker’s paths to the north of Kinlochmore initially follow the route of the West Highland Way, these are well surface and it is easy to make good pace. The route we followed up to the summit of Am Bodach followed the coire in between the peaks of Stob Coire na h-Eirge, to the east and Sgorr an Fhuarain to the west. The going was good until we started to climb the coire’s northwest heather-clad bank, as we gained height patches of snow started to appear and these gradually became thicker as we climbed. The problem was that we were slipping on the fresh snow on the greasy grass and heather banks, this got better though as we climbed further as the snow became firmer and more consolidated. As we approached the summit of Am Bodach we were greated with great panoramic views of the surrounding area, but the deep snow was tough to trudge through, and we regularly kept changing who was breaking trail. The weather by this stage though had become more unsettled and snow showers could be seen to be approaching from the horizon. The descent from the summit involved a lot of bum sliding, as glissading requires both skill and ice, and sadly we were lacking both. When we reached the bow in the northeast ridge between Am Bodach and Stob Choire a’ Chairn the weather closed in and Fi, who was leading the walk, had to resort to trudging along the ridge following a bearing. As the weather closed in around us the wind picked up and spindrift began to pummel our faces. As the snowfall became heavier the visibility dropped to only about 10m, and it became vital that we remained together and were vigilant of corniches on the edge of the ridge. Progress along the ridge was slow as Kristean had hurt his leg and trudging through the deep snow was starting to take its toll on him. When we arrived at the summit of Stob Choire a’ Chairn the snow was waist deep in patches, but we kept trudging through and started to descend. As we followed the southeast ridge toward Na Gruagaichean it became evident that Kristean was in some discomfort and he, Housechild and Fi, decided follow the path down to Kinlochleven from the bealach (saddle) of the ridge. The weather by this stage had improved and Grinner, Will and I decided to continue along the ridge to Na Gruagaichean. We made very good progress through the snow, regularly changing who was breaking trail. The summit was not very defined and the ridge that we had initially intending to descend from was not obvious, so we decided to retrace our tracks and descend by the stalker’s path that Fi, Housechild and Kristean had followed from the bealach of the ridge. On the descent we enjoyed a bit of horseplay, well lads will be lads. I had decided to run down the slope and dive head first and slide along on my belly, the only problem was stopping as my ice axe was attached to my rucksack, so I thought I would forward roll to get my self onto my feet. The effects of failure would have been painful, but none the less funny; Success though ensued and I was award 9 and ¾ by the NUFWS style judge Grinner, though sadly I think my technique marks would have been lacking. As we entered Coire na ba’ there was more opportunities for some sliding and I could not resist using my survival bag for its true purpose, sledging. As we descended down the Coire the snow became slushier and the wide stalker’s path became evident. We followed this down to Kinlochmore and then across the river to Kinlochleven. As we went to the public toilets across the from the infamous aluminium museum, Grinner managed to whack me in the head with his ice axe, knocking any remaining sense out of me. We then went and found the others who were enjoying a cup of tea at a local tea shop. After drinking up we headed back to the campsite. When we arrive back we encountered a few rather disturbed individuals, in Sam, Nick and Alan, who had an epic story to tell. Apparently after climbing ‘The Pap’ the party had split up and the three of them had chosen to continue southeastward along the ridge toward Sgorr nam Fiann and descend down one of the easier gulleys. Unfortunately they chose to descend down the wrong gulley, which I believe have has a winter grade, making it to say the least shit scary for them. After some impromptued sliding and edging down slowly clutching ice axes they made it managed to make it down slightly battered and bruised. According to Nick and Sam hats must go off to Alan who kept his cool and helped them down. They had decided to celebrate making it down (alive) by deciding to systematically sample the delights of the whole of the beer festival that was on at ‘The Clack’. After tea everyone headed down to the pub for a drink, and had a good chat about the days events, mainly Nick, Sam and Alan’s (near death) gulley experience. Entertainment that night at the pub consisted of three guys playing various domestic appliances/objects, which to say the least was novel, but none the less musically it was completely sh*te The weather that evening was very cold and the wind had become gusty, Grinner had to get out and secure his tent with rocks as he could hear it flapping in the wind. Though in the end it turned out to be uneventful, and no damage occurred.
The clocks changed early on Sunday morning and it had been decided that we would ignore this and continue on summertime, or ‘NUFWS time’ as we deemed it. This would allow us to have an early start and finish. After those who had chosen to had got out of bed, two options were made available. Shopping in Fort William, taking in the large flagship Nevisport and to top it all with an afternoon tea and scone. Bidean nam Bian (1150m/3773ft) and Stob Coire Sgreamhach (1072m/3517ft) – This circular walks from the side of the A82 takes in the two dramatic coires of Coire nan Locahan and Coire Gabhail (The Lost Valley), to the south of Glen Coe, as ascent and descent routes respectively. These corries that are surrounded by the The Three Sisters of Glen Coe allow easy access the great formation of ridges that surround Bidean nam Bian. Only five of us chose to go out onto the hills, myself, Housechild, Will, Grinner and Fi. The rest were more in favour of a leisurely day, and Sam, Nick and Alan were all nursing hangovers and could not face another day on the hills. Bidean nam Bian is the highest hill in the old county of Argyll and it is at the meeting point of four great ridges. It retires rather shyly behind the The Three Sisters of Glen Coe and is not easily visible from the roadside (A82). One of the best vantage of Bidean nan Bian is through our chosen ascent route of Coire nan Lochan. From the layby on the roadside the path follows the paved footpath across the basin floor of the glen and across the River Coe. From here it starts to climb steeply up into the coire, after about half an hour of climbing Housechild decided to turn back, as he was experiencing some pain in his knees. We continue up into the coire and after about an hour of climbing we had reached the head of the coire and we were trudging through knee deep snow. At this point the weather was very closed in and it was snowing heavily, visibility was also very low. From here we headed in a southerly direction climbing up to the crest of the ridge that leads up to the top, Stob Coire nan Lochan (1115m/3654ft). This ridge was very interesting and required great care on a number of occasions as scrambling was required; due to the high winds and wintry conditions it was made even more difficult. When we had reached the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan we followed the ridge along to Bidean nan Bian, by this stage the weather had begun to break and glimpses of far off snow capped peaks were beginning to appear. The snow along the ridge was particularly deep and we were frequently sinking down to our waist. This caused progress to be slowed and quickly became tired when breaking trail. From the summit of Bidean nan Bian the vast expanses of Loch Linnhe and Loch leven were visible to the northwest and to the east we could see the steep slopes of Beinn Fhada (the most eastly of The Three Sisters). From here we followed the southeasterly ridge to Stob Coire Sgreamhach, as before the snow was deep and progress was slowed as a result. After a brief stop for lunch on the bealach of the ridge we made it to the summit, and immediately we retraced we our steps to the cairn at the bealach so we could descend into Glen Coe’s most famous Coire, Coire Gabhail (The Lost Valley). The descent down was to the Coire floor was fun, first we had to bash through a cornice then we climbed down kicking steps and then finally we slid on our bums. As we reached the Coire’s floor we had descended just below the snowline and we could see the Allt Coire Gabhail flowing through the boulder strewn floor of this infamous hanging Coire, that was said to have become the refuge of the MacDonalds after The Massacre of Glen Coe. The descent down in to Glen Coe follows the well marked tourists trail from the Meeting of Three Waters next to the roadside. After had arrived at the roadside we continued to walk in the direction of the campsite until Tom picked us up. After we had packed up our tents, we set off home and we arrived back in Newcastle at about 10 o’clock NUFWS time and 9 o’clock normal time. On the whole it was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend, made even more special by the weather conditions.
Were do we start from the lashing of the gear onto the roofrack to driving off with the keys to the other bus this weekend was a bundle of laughs. As already mentioned this was the first trip this year run with a bus with a roofrack and the actual attachment of the gear to the rack was one long trial, with the guys doing their macho thing and proving that anything you can do I can do better - I can tie knots I am a guider. On arrival at the campsite we were met by the advance party, being our esteemed social secs Ben and Alan. They showed us where to camp and then we crashed out for the night. On Saturday we were presented with an outstanding array of walks ranging from the 50 Munro run to the bimble up the tourist track to the plain ridiculous climbing ones. Nikki and I headed for the Mamores and the ring of steel were we encountered steel bridges - remind me to walk through the river next time, death defying bogs, enormous caterpillars and discovered the real use for walking poles - River crossings obviously. After a sedate stroll back along the road we busied ourselves showering - BLISS - and preparing dinner. An eventful evening in the pub followed and with beer at £2.40 a pint I was glad I had my own. The next morning the crown of the Chunder child had passed to Ben who gets a resounding 10 out of 10 for his spectacular effort in Grahams tent covering Alan's karimat and Graham's shoes. Today I resolved to get it over and done with and tackle the BEN. Having never climbed it I was assured it was an easy route to the top. Who told me that, they lied. Fi bullied me assured me I would do it and short of dragging me to the top did everything possible to make sure I got there. Now most people know that I walk slowly but meeting Steve H, Steve P and Frank on the way down was a demoralising moment but I made it to the top and have the pictures to prove it. However idiot of the weekend award must go to our esteemed president for making Frank turn the bus around and drive back to the campsite as he had the keys for the other bus in his pockets. The most resourceful person of the weekend must have been Kerry, after all how many other people would get their housemate to break into their bedroom just to find someone's mobile number. All in all a good weekend was had by all but the bimblers did complain that the boys leading their walk made no effort to swim in the halfway lochen as was done on previous years.
|Date||President||Vice-President||Secretary||Treasurer||Gear Secretary||Social Secretary||Web Secretary||Communications Secretary||Safety Liason Officer|
|2016-2017||Luke Burton||Charlie Bertinat||Max Spalding-Gardner||Tim Brazel||Josh Knight||Charlotte Bryer & Harry Cornish||Oliver Hartley||n/a||n/a|
|2015-2016||Richard Ashby||David Winter||Emma Broadhouse||Ruth Caulcott-Cooper||Harry Cornish||Max Spalding-Gardner & Adam Stern||Luke Burton||n/a||n/a|
|2014-2015||David Bacon||Raymond Brown||Thomas Wilson||Richard Ashby||David Winter||Ruth Caulcott-Cooper & Jasmine McKinnon||Charlie Bertinat||n/a||n/a|
|2013-2014||Paul Cherry||Geoff Pettitt||Emma Fairley||Sam Burnstone||Charlotte Spencer||Tom Wilmott & David Bacon||Thomas Wilson||n/a||n/a|
|2012-2013||Jamie Dodd||Richard Farran||Emma Fairley||Caitlin Taylor||Robert Spink||Pete Kemp & Catriona Wightman||Ben Partridge||n/a||n/a|
|2011-2012||Jamie Dodd||Richard Farran||Ella Raitlon||Helen Gertig||Robert Spink||Amy Green & Sarah Vojvodic||Pete Kemp||n/a||n/a|
|2010-2011||Sion Pickering||Tom Hughes||Ben Hancock||Chris Tibbitt||Michael Szpera||Abi Lewis & Clare Derbyshire||Harry Stephenson||n/a||n/a|
|2009-2010||Philippa Wardale||Lewis Bell||Mark Holroyd||Amy Richards||Sam Whitehouse||Clair Payne & Ella Railton||Richard Jowsey||n/a||n/a|
|2008-2009||Mark Speake||Dan Biddle||Mark Holroyd||Cat Barker||Philippa Wardale||Hannah Bond & Clair Payne||Chris Tibbitt||n/a||n/a|
|2007-2008||Becky Pannell||Keith Alger||Anthony Wright||Hannah Mellors||Mark Speake||Emma Dye||Craig Waller||n/a||n/a|
|2006-2007||Andy Hurdwell||Phil Wall||Sarah Hazleman||Steph Martindale||Keith Alger||Thijs Hasselaar & Sophie Moore||Rob Leiss||n/a||n/a|
|2005-2006||Chris Hind||Sarah Ashton||Clare Pate||Ben Rowley||Andy Hurdwell||Thijs Hasselaar, Sarah Curson, Victoria Pelham & Anna Prytherch||Phil Wall||n/a||n/a|
|2004-2005||Amy Harkness||Chris Hind||Clare Pate||Graham Lewis||Craig Montgomery||Martin Housechild, Susanna Graham & Sam Aaron||Ben Rowley||n/a||n/a|
|2003-2004||Martin Housechild||Nick Adams||Sam Aaron||Will Powell||Graham Lewis||Clare Pate||Alan Shorter||n/a||n/a|
|2002-2003||Duncan Hassall||Sam Aaron||Edd Parnell||Heather Clapham||Alan Shorter||Nick Adams & James Bryant||Graham Lewis||Pete Robertson||n/a|
|2001-2002||Sam Aaron||Ruth Buck (Resigned)||Ronin Sykes & Fi Houston||Peter Robertson||Tom Harrison||Robin Sykes||Non-committee Post (Graham Lewis)||n/a||n/a|
|2000-2001||Tony Hayllar||Graham Lewis||Robert Smith||Ruth Buck||Bill Johnston||Andrew Crook||Sam Aaron||n/a||n/a|
|1999-2000||Edward Coote||Nikki Thompson||Fi Houston||Ruth Buck||Robert Smith||Graham Lewis, Allan Leith & Ben Smith||Sam Aaron||Sarah White & Sam Aaron||n/a|
|1998-1999||Steven Houghton||Paul Grace||Paul Rowlands||Anita Laidlaw & Jen Marsh||Ian Mickleburgh||Dave Strong||n/a||Tony Hayllar||n/a|
|1997-1998||Robin Langstaff||Sam Neill||Steve Houghton||Mark Mills||Chris Dennison||Tom Ridgway||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|1996-1997||Tom Ridgway||Rich Hoyle||Ruth Harrison||Brenda Gannon||Sam Neill||Oonagh Law||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|1995-1996||Tom Ridgway||Steve Clark||Debbie Lorraine||Matt Harrison & Chris Jones||Rich Hoyle||Rob Holmes||n/a||Rob Cundy||Kate Eldon|
|1994-1995||Alastair Hinton||Dan Winters||Alice de la Hoyde||Steve Clark||Tom Ridgway||Sally Hall||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|1993-1994||Dan Winters||Adam Thomas||Charles Dexter||Chris Hall||Richard Purvis||Flat 10 Bowsden Court||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|1992-1993||John Hardiman||Nick Clark||Phil Amos||Mark Swire||Mike Carmont||Ruth Daynes||n/a||Cathryn Taylor||n/a|
|1991-1992||Robin Henderson||Alex White||Martin McGurk||Simon Shillaker||Andrew Crookshank||Tamsin Cousins||n/a||Frances Kenny||n/a|
|1990-1991||Iain Nixon||Paddy Brow||Jen Beevers||Mark Elvin||Steven Bryce||Anna Milland||n/a||Adrain Molyneux||n/a|
I have always wanted to visit Nepal and this summer I got the chance and flew out to complete the Annapurna circuit with a fellow course mate as part of a group. Nepal is the home to 8 of the 14, 8000m peaks and because of this, it is famous for mountaineering and trekking. It also has a diverse culture with Hindus and Buddhists, as well as a completely different lifestyle to that in the west.
The Annapurna Circuit is regarded as one of, if not the best trekking trip in the world. It’s a circular route that takes the trekker around the Annapurna massive, including a large variety of terrain and a high point of 5416m at the Thorong La pass.
I got my first view of the mountains of Nepal as we were flying in towards Kathmandu. A mass of snow capped peaks protruded above the clouds in the distance. I hoped this wouldn’t be the only view of the mountains we would be getting as we were travelling at the end of the rainy season so there was a chance the peaks would be covered in clouds for the whole trip.
After arriving in Kathmandu and having an afternoon of walking around the Thamel district (home to all the cheap outdoor clothing stores) we went back to the hotel to meet the rest of our group and leader. Our group was made up of people with a range of ages and backgrounds; from me, a 20 year old student to a 40 year old accountant with Danish doctors, a New York banker and a Canadian Lawyer in-between.
The next morning marked day 1 of the trip and it involved waking up very early (which ended up being a theme for the whole trip) in order to drive to the start of the walk. Most of the trip was on the main east west highway but this didn’t mean the road was any good. After a 6 hour drive and a stop for lunch we stopped at a place called Ngadi which was a long way off where we were meant to start but because of a landslide the bus couldn’t continue. We then walked to Bahunanda where we stayed the night next to a river in our first teahouse.
The next day we had to walk to Jaget which was where we were meant to stay the first night. We were already one day behind. This walk took us through beautiful paddy fields with cloud topped mountains all around. We had a heavey shower of rain but due to the high humidity and temperature it was a welcome relief. That evening we experienced some local singing and dancing by our porters which ended up in us all getting up and trying to dance.
We then had long day spent walking to Bagarchhap past giant waterfalls and over precarious suspension bridges providing some good photos and a chance to get very wet. The next couple of days were very similar walking to Chame and Lower Pisang but the scenery started changing as we were rising in height from paddy fields to coniferous forests. In the afternoon, due to arriving early in Lower Pisang, we took a small walk to Upper Pisang to see a Buddhist temple where the local Lama was conducting a service and we were invited to watch and take part. This day also happened to be my 21st birthday so after dinner I was given a cake and a traditional Nepali hat before some more singing and dancing.
The next day took us to Manag, where we stayed for two nights to help acclimatise as we were now at a height of over 3500m. The weather was starting to improve but we still hadn’t seen any large peaks. On our acclimatisation day we walked up the side of the valley to see the Ganggapurna glacier which is part of the Annapurna range but the clouds still obscured our views.
The following morning I woke up before sunrise and checked out of my bedroom window to see clear skies and views of the mountains so I woke Chris who I was sharing a room with and we went outside. Looking up towards the other side of the valley we could see, Annapurna IV and III as well as Ganggapurna in perfect weather. The sun began to rise casting an orange glow to the snowy peaks. This make the trip worthwhile for me as I’d seen some of the highest mountains in the world in perfect weather and got to appreciate just how big they were. We were at 3500m and the peaks were towering 1000’s of meters above us. We then looked down the valley to see Manaslu which is the world’s 8th highest mountain. The weather stayed clear all morning as we walked to Yak Kharka and on the way we had amazing views of the Chulu range.
The next day we walked to Thorung Phedi which was the highest point we would sleep at (4450m) and here the landscape was barren with very little vegetation. In the afternoon we took a small acclimatisation walk as the following day we would be going over the high pass.
The next morning was an early start (walking by 4am) as it was going to be a long day. On a way up to the pass we heard huge avalanches from neighbouring mountains. We then reached the highest point of our trek to be greeted by a huge pile of prayer flags and low cloud obscuring all the views, but this didn’t get in the way of the achievement of us all reaching the top safely. The rest of the day was then spent walking downhill in the cloud and rain to Muktinath where we had a nice long hot shower.
The following morning provided good weather again with views towards Tibet and of Dhaulagiri (the worlds 7th highest mountain). This day was spent driving through Tibetan style dessert towards Ghasa and the next day we walked past the world’s deepest gorge (didn’t look very big but measured from the two peaks either side it is) to Tatopani where there was a nice hot spring to relax in as we were getting to the end of the trip.
Another two days walking to Gohorepani and Birethanti through jungle type forest brought us to the end of the walking part of our trek. On the final couple of days we were presented with views of Annapurna I (the 10th highest mountain in the world) and Machapuchare or the fish tail mountain which is a sacred mountain and it is not allowed to be climbed. The nest day we drove to Pokhara, the second biggest city in Nepal for an afternoon of relaxing and shopping at the lakeside city. Then after a long drive back to Kathmandu we all boarded our flights back home.
As I sat, exhausted and drained, at the goutier hut, I suddenly felt a great empathy with those on death row. A furious storm was raging in my mind - do we descend and chance a grim death at the hands of the couloirs or do we wait and risk being trapped by the impending storm?
2 weeks earlier, we sat on the budget flight to Geneva looking at the Mont Blanc Massif bathed in alpen glow. An old woman turned to me and said we would never reach the highest point in Europe without a guide. We were here to prove her and many other people wrong.
Any doubts about fitness were soon banished with the first day consisting of a gruelling 800m climb with 25kg packs; a climb which Pete Kemp described as ‘a half hour job’. However, without a shadow of a doubt, the campsite we reached was the most beautiful campsite we had ever visited. This is where we received our first views of the monster we had come to tackle, ‘the Blanc’.
After a couple of days acclimatizing and practising crevasse rescue, we decided to tackle the Blancs little sister, Mt Buet.
When we reached the refuge at the base of Buet, thoughts of a concentration camp sprang to mind. However these proved to be short lived and it turned out to be a very comfortable place to stay.
Bring Bring..... As the alarm sounded at 3am for our Buet summit attempt, the classic saying ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ was more relevant than ever. As we moved through the rocky approaching slopes in the darkness, one thing became clear, we were not alone.
Suddenly, Pete stopped dead, he had seen something in the distance. At first I was not alarmed. However, as I spotted the creature and realised it was of considerable size I snapped at Dodd to get the ice axe from my rucksack.
As the 3 of us are still alive today it is safe to say the creature was no beast of the wilderness, although, the feeling of knowing we were not alone was a terrible one indeed.
We continued to slowly make our way into the darkness, the altitude beginning to take its toll. We reached a col at 2500m, the storm clouds were gathering and a summit attempt looked unlikely, but we all secretly knew that if we didn’t reach the summit that morning all hopes of a successful attempt on Mt Blanc would be destroyed.
A beautiful vista opened up before us as we reached the 3100 top of Mt Buet and it suddenly made the hard work of slogging up the scree slopes worth it. Now we knew we had done all we could to prepare for the Blanc. We reached the campsite at Chedde that afternoon after 18km of relentless blister inducing downhill’s. As we took our boots off we discovered that Jamie Dodds feet would have been more at home on the plains of mordor.
The phrase ‘excited school kids’ doesn’t quite cover our feelings at reaching Chamonix; the playground of our heroes such as Chris Bonnington and Joe Simpson. The prospect of real food was one that we could not contain. However, while eating our well deserved strawberry-Esq. burger we were rudely interrupted by the biggest most horrible Rah to have ever graced the face of the Alps. As he sat down next to us, being 3 scholars of Newcastle Uni, the sight of this filled us with a hatred that almost pushed us to commit the most heinous of crimes!
It was decided that we should make a visit to the Chamonix guides before we made any decisions, which turned out to be ‘a good call’! Just prior to this Pete set eyes on his true love, who came to be known as ‘the girl from the tourist information office’ As we coined this phrase we all remembered weekends in Wales with our sorely missed friend Rob Spink(ter).
However, enough bullshit, basically the guides told us that we had a 2 day weather window for the Blanc, a conversation I was not allowed in on due to the fact I was wearing flip flops. We decided to go for it, a decision that instantly made us feel strangely separate from the tourists around us.
We spent the night carefully organising gear and ropes for the next morning and walked around the campsite roped up to make sure everything was perfect, much to the dismay of Pete and the miserable bastard campsite owner. Each one of us would be lying if we said we weren’t nervous, and a little scared.
If you have ever seen the film Cool Runnings, you will know how we felt when we arrived at Les Houches cable car station the following morning, a group of burly Scandinavian men (and women) greeted us. We were daunted by their expensive flashy gear.
As we made our way up to the Tete Rousse hut we realised we were not infact out of our depth and we were perfectly in control. The weather was perfect.
As a fellow NUFWS member you will know that walking is a great way to take one’s mind off things. I think this was the case on the way up to the Tete Rousse base camp when our minds settled and we began to hear screams from the infamous grand couloirs above which culminated in seeing some guys escape barely alive after a rock the size of a mini came crashing down in front of them. We began to ask ourselves some serious questions.
I knew I would get no sleep that night. After the ‘last supper’ which consisted of 1500 calories worth of fuel for the next day, we went to bed. As I sat in the tent hundreds of thoughts raced through my mind. This was the first time I had been on a mountain and questioned whether it was all really worth it.
I decided to put some music on, a trick that usually sends me straight to sleep, however, as the familiar sounds of Blink 182 filled my ears, my thoughts turned to dearly loved ones at home and of how much I had to lose. This was a very sobering moment indeed. These were thoughts I had reckoned with for a long time and I do believe that that night in the tent Mt Blanc nearly had me beaten before we had even started.
We were already awake when the alarm sounded. The sound of incessant running around from fellow climbers filled the air. We each prepared our fear silently aware that the next few hours would be some of the most dangerous of our lives.
As we started up the couloir, we met out first crevasse; I hoped this was not a sign of things to come. There is one particularly dangerous section of the Grand Couloir , where for about 30m you are directly in the path of deadly rock fall. As we approached ‘the bowling alley’ one of the climbers in front of us slipped and nearly fell 1000ft to a grim end. I was very anxious.
We decided the best policy was to scuttle across the gap as quickly as possible; a policy that worked. However, the real test would be on an as yet unplanned afternoon crossing.
We made our way up the rest of the near vertical, West Face of Aiguille du Gouter, the lights of Chamonix twinkling far below us. Initial nerves gave way to some sublime scrambling. However, we had to hurry. This proved difficult. We then knew that the summit would not come easily.
We were relieved to reach the goutier hut after 3 hours at 3:45am. The Couloir had let us pass, this time.
At this point all fear and nerves were gone and excitement and complete concentration had taken its place. High altitude mountaineering has a way of cutting all the riff raff and bullshit from everyday life and leaves your mind clear with only the things that matter to you most. I believe it is this that draws me back to ever higher summits.
The view as we reached the Auguille de Goutier ridge was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most beautiful view I have ever seen. To see the gravity defying razor sharp peaks of the Auguille Verte and Grandes Duras bathed in pre dawn alpen glow is a view I am certain I will never forget.
However, along with the awe inspiring views came the dramatic exposure. One slip on this ridge from either of us could have spelt disaster.
We could see the slow stream of head torch lights above us heading towards the Dome de Goutier. There was a long way to go. Progress was steady; we were still on track to reach the summit before our unchangeable 10am turnaround time. Altitude sickness first reared its ugly head near the summit of the Dome de Goutier. As I was second on the rope I could see Dodd was feeling it up ahead. He had slowed and his shoulders had begun to sway. However, I was not worried and was still confident we would reach the summit.
The roof of Europe was finally in sight, but the knife edge ridge of the bosses had still to be conquered. The Bosses is not a place for the faint hearted. It is a foot wide, ridiculously exposed, wind battered ridge that has claimed many an experienced mountaineer.
The situation was not helped by many people coming down while we were going up. Passing places on the bosses are scarce. Dodds condition had deteriorated. I had resorted to shouting at him constantly, with words to the effect of; ‘get off this fucking ridge!!’
One image that will stay burned in my mind forever is one of Dodd swaying, precariously on surely the most exposed part of the whole route, where one gust of wind could have resulted in the deaths of us and several other climbers. It was then that I realised that getting to the summit was going to be anything other than plain sailing. Acute mountain sickness can strike anyone, and I do not blame Dodd in any way for his ‘incident’.
After several bars of milkas delicious Diam chocolate and a considerable amount of water we were ready to rock n roll to the summit, 200m above us. This would have been easy walking apart from the ridiculous drops either side of us and the extremely thin path.
I would like to be all romantic and say I felt all emotional at the summit and land of hope and glory was playing as my mental soundtrack. This would be a complete lie. The truth is the summit of Mont Blanc is not a wise place to linger. It is very exposed and extreme concentration is still required. After photos had been taken, our overriding thoughts were, let’s get down off this bloody mountain!
As we reached the Bosses again, a guy, who can only be described as a complete retard, barged past us and nearly forced Pete into the arrest position with a vast drop below us.The descent was a mixture of howling winds and 110% concentration. I am glad to say we made it to the Goutier Hut, at the top of the Grand Couloir, in good time; exhausted but relatively safe.
It had been our plan to stay at the Goutier Hut that night, firstly to let our minds and body’s rest, and secondly to allow for an early morning descent of the Couloir, therefore minimising the effects of rockfall. This was an idea I was particularly keen on; hearing rocks crashing down around you isn’t one that fills you with confidence.
When Pete went for an omelette (that cost 12 Euros!) he casually asked about the weather forecast; the outcome of which left us with a tough choice; descend in the afternoon heat and take our chances with the increased rockfall or wait at the Goutier Hut and risk being trapped by the impending storm and descend the frozen couloir days later in icy, slippery conditions.
Really, we only ever had one choice. We had to descend. I can honestly say that those few moments up there at the Goutier Hut were the most scared I have ever been in my entire life. For some reason it felt like a death sentence. Thoughts turned to loved ones at home. I would have given alot to be at the valley floor.
Hours earlier, me and Dodd recalled saying ‘We are going to be shitting our pants coming down here’. However, once we got moving down the near vertical face, worry soon turned to pure concentration once again, until we stopped at the rock buttress that signalled the start of the perilous 30m stretch that was plagued by constant rockfall.
To our good fortune, there happened to be a guide there, constantly watching for rockfall and signalling people across. As he beckoned Dodd across, a crash was heard above him and the guide screamed at him in French to retreat. As he did, a rock that would have surely shattered his legs to pieces, rifled past the exact place he would have been standing.
Surprisingly, I was not scared. I was too pumped with adrenaline for that. As the guide signalled me to go I moved at a pace Usain Bolt would have been proud of. As I got to the other side, I felt that the battle was done. But we hadn’t escaped the Blanc, yet. We came to the decision that if NUFWS were to have a god, that guide would be him.
The Tete Rousse Hut nearly ran out of cans of coke when we got there; we downed about 3 each. However as we knew there was an unmanned shelter, 700 meters below us, we thought we would have a free night there instead. Personally I was glad to leave the hut; them places are full of people with all the gear and no idea, such as them Scandinavians we had met earlier. They turned out to be a bunch of Jessie’s that had hired a guide to mother them to the summit. We didn’t feel so Jamaican bobsleigh team anymore.
As the wind threatened to blow us off the ridge that lead to the hut, we each had an ominous feeling that the Blanc wanted to hurt us. I thought I was going to sleep like a baby that night. I was mistaken; thoughts of what might have been plagued me well into the night. With only the howling wind and rain for company, it was a long night.
As we descended into the stormy weather the next morning, we all had the feeling that the mountain was chasing us. As we sat in the cable car station, surrounded by people we had seen at various parts of the route, I felt a strange, unspoken camaraderie with them. I don’t think I was the only one.
Feelings of immense relief were expected at the valley floor; however these were replaced with those of fatigue and exhaustion.
As we sat in the pizzeria stinking like wet dogs, we chuckled at what we had accomplished. However, even now I don’t think it has sunk in, and I am left with the question, is going up high really worth the risk?If you had asked me a year ago, the answer would have been yes. However, now I am not so sure. But I do know one thing, for some unknown, mysterious reason, I am intrinsically drawn to these high places.
The rest of the holiday consisted of alot of Jamie Dodds smeg, Brie cheese, 4 luxurious nights in a hostel and watching the climbing world cup. On the 4th day after the blanc we moved camp to a remote campsite in the hills above the alpine town of Sallanches, it is there that we discovered homemade, French apple juice, that can one be described as, the stuff dreams are made of.
Sitting in Geneva airport writing this I don’t think the reality of what the 3 of us have achieved has sunk in. I hope that one day it does.
The intermittent spluttering of the Primus Stove was repeatedly drowned out by the deafening crescendo of rockfall and the occasional scream from above us. One by one our eyes gazed up in awe at the 700m of near vertical rock that made of the menacing face of the notorious Grand Couloir. Through the long hours of the night, our fitful sleep was interrupted by the ominous sounds of falling rocks, some as large as cars, tumbling to the edge of our perilously exposed campsite.
The ascent of Western Europe’s highest mountain, and arguably one of the Seven Summits, Mont Blanc, a 4,800m peak straddling the French-Italian border, had long a been on the agenda of a number of NUFWS members. The Mountain had foiled previous attempts and our attraction to this superb peak was almost certainly prompted by repeated failure. The plan, created by Pete Kemp, and agreed by myself and Rich Farran was to head out to Geneva and backpack over the remote ground north of the Mont Blanc Massif, dropping in to Chamonix, the historic home of Alpinism before making a determined ascent on ‘The Blanc’.
The Great Adventure began as each one of us, struggling under massive packs and decked out with all our winter gear, arrived at Manchester Airport. Somehow, we smuggled aboard our ice axes and crampons (things regarded as ‘offensive weapons’ by Easyjet) and we set off on the flight to Switzerland. As the excitement mounted, a white dome, bathed in the glory of the evening Alpenglow was spotted. Towering above its surroundings, this was undoubtedly the summit of Mont Blanc. The evening heat of Geneva was almost unbearable (especially for someone whose summer mainly consists of heavy rain and roaring gales). We ‘slept’ in the Swiss Rail Station, where, somewhat bizarrely, we could be found at 3 in the morning, practicing rope work.
The new day dawned as we headed, weighted down by our massive sacks, to the French Rail station. After some deliberation, it was decided that we couldn’t carry these sacks across 3000m peaks. The new plan was to head halfway up the valley and walk to a campsite perfectly placed for ascents of the Tete du Colloney and our 3000m acclimatisation peak, Mont Buet.
The punishing climb from the valley floor, in unbearable heat, with 20kg bags was rewarding as superb views across to Mont Blanc presented themselves. With the tents pitched, we settled down and the next day, once again in very hot conditions, attempted the 2800m Tete du Colloney. The steep terrain, higher altitudes and high temperatures took their toll (on me anyway) and with deteriorating weather, we called a halt at about 2500m and beat the retreat down into the valley.
The next day we began our walk in to Mont Buet. This large peak, the highest outside the Mont Blanc group is situated far beyond any roads and required a two day expedition to claim the peak. The traverse across the plateaux to the halfway point provided us with good views of the Chamonix Augilles, East of Mont Blanc. We then dropped down into a valley below Mont Buet, where would spend a night at a beautifully situated refuge, alone in the hills.
After (in my case), a fitful night’s sleep, the ringing of an alarm bell, at 3:00 in the morning woke us, and brought memories to me of another Alpine ascent. The words ‘whose idea was this?’ were on the tip of my tongue as I watched Pete eat what can only be described as regurgitated vomit. We set off, alone, into the darkness of the Alpine night. Tramping higher up the slope, Pete, at the front, illuminated two glowing eyes away across the slope. The radiating fear overpowered our common sense, Rich bellowed at me to get his ice axe out, and we stood steady against our unspoken fear. The moving eyes came towards us, and after some thought, we realised that they were small, and most probably belonged to a wildcat. Leaving the eyes behind, we climbed higher, racing the gathering stormclouds. A brief interlude was provided by practicing ice axe arrests on a patch of snow below the summit dome, much to the amusement of a bemused group of inquisitive Ibex, however, our relentless march could not be stopped and soon we reached the summit ridge, after ascending what Rich described as a ‘massive Skiddaw’ (for those of you that have done Skiddaw, then you’ll know just how much of an insult this is). Whilst sitting glumly in the mist on top, silently thinking that I could have stayed at home and got this weather, the cloud cleared, revealing exceptional views across to Mont Blanc, and far into Switzerland. These views stayed with us as we slogged it down 18km of gruelling hillside, slowly grating my heels into the consistency of parmesan cheese. The next day we packed the tents, and much to Pete’s disgust, declined to the walk to Chamonix, taking bus and train instead.
Chamonix, the spiritual home of Mountaineering greeted us not as an old friend, but as a tourist hotspot. The comforts of proper food were too much to bear and we punished our stomachs, wolfing down burgers and chips at a street cafe, whilst watching the tourists go by. Our next port of call was the ‘Office de Haute Montagne’, where, an executive decision was made not to allow Rich, along with his flip flops, into the building. Our chat with the guides opened up a daunting prospect, the next two days would see a weather window on the mountain, and they deemed our experience capable for the mountain. The race was on, and a glance at Pete told me that this was it, we were going.
We set off to find a campsite for the night, that evening, roped up and walking around the campsite (much to the amusement of the other campers), our harnesses jangling comfortably, it finally sank in. We were going to attempt Europe’s Highest Mountain, breaking my altitude record by nearly 1000m. The nervous excitement was felt by all as we bedded down.
Our route was to be by the standard ‘Gouter’ Route, first climbed in 1786. It involved a cable car and tram up to 2000m, and then a hard slog up to the Tete Rousse Hut at 3100m, where we would camp for the next morning’s climb. From there the route weaves across the Grand Couloir to the Gouter Hut at 3800m. Upwards of this, long snowslopes take you onto the Dome Du Gouter, the subsidiary peak of Mont Blanc, and where the summit comes into view. From here, we would pass the Vallot refuge and head up the exposed Bosses Ridge onto the summit dome.
The Slog up through the shattered moraines to the Tete Rousse took its toll on me. As the ‘Last supper’ boiled over the stove, I seemed remarkable calm and unperturbed. The nervousness and apprehension did not seem to rub off on me. If anything I felt a sense of resignation. This may have helped me sleep six solid hours to the others’ one!
The wakeup call (or kick of the tent) came at 12:30am. I stumbled out of the warmth of the tent and into the frigid darkness; the lights of Chamonix and Les Houches glistened below us, and far in the distance, Geneva. Grunts (and the flapping of tent canvas) sounded across the tent field as our fellow mountaineers geared up around us. A hurried breakfast saw us kitted out, ready to face the Grand Couloir. A Scandinavian team, who we had met on the Cable car the day before broke trail up the Couloir, blazing past the infamous stretch of gully without even a glance up. The near vertical face became steeper and steeper until, at about 3:30am we reached the safety of the Gouter Hut.
Roping up became an ordeal as cold fingers failed repeatedly to untangle the rope. Finally we set off up the snow slopes. As I was at the front; I was greeted first by one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. Spread below us was the majority of the Massif, with the first glow of sun lighting up their flanks. The increasing altitude affected me, so by the time we reached the Dome, I was breathless and my leg muscles were burning but we were rewarded by our first view of ‘The Blanc’ itself.
The Bosses Ridge snaked up from the Vallot hut and onto the summit. It was packed, over 100 people on it at one point. As the snowslopes fell away, the exposure began to grow dramatically, but with this came exceptional views across the Western Alps.
And now for the embarrassing bit. My hazy memory of it does not do it justice but light headedness and a roaring headache, combined to create a very dangerous situation, that of me stumbling along the Upper Bosses ridge. Finally, just before the last pull onto the top, I was forced to take chocolate and water, feeling better and after a few minutes of debate, we decided to carry on over the 200m to the summit. This was an incident of altitude sickness, and something which can strike anyone at any time, I make no excuses but the high mountains are fickle mistresses.
The last few metres on the summit ridge were agonising, placing one foot in front of another was difficult until finally we stepped on to level ridge that comprised the top. The summit was marked by a knot of people, congratulations bounded back and forth across the wind lashed ridge. We were well above the cloud, and could see the full extent of the French and Swiss Alps, in my imagination; I could see the other Seven Summits, beckoning us towards them. This captivating image lasted only a few minutes before the deteriorating weather made it clear to us that we needed to leave now.
The long decent was fraught, especially on the exposed ridge, where people were pushing past on their way to the summit. Relative safety was not gained until we were below the Dome. It was here that exhaustion set in, we wearily ascended the ridge line to the Gouter Hut, with shoulders slumped and ice axes dragging along the snow. The Hut was a sight for sore eyes and as soon as we settled down, sleep took a hold on us.
The news filtered slowly through the climbers and mountaineers at the Hut, a snowstorm was on its way and if we did not leave now, we’d be trapped up there for several days and would have to descend in icy conditions. Decent meant crossing the Grand Couloir. The snow had thawed on the face, loosening rocks and sending them cascading down the face. It was this death-trap we now had to endure. Fears mounted as memories came back to us of car-sized rocks hurtling down the previous day mere metres from descending groups. Standing at the top of the Couloir waiting to descend, predictably waiting for Pete to finish in the toilets I was extremely scared, but nothing I was feeling was on a par with Rich, who was physically shaking in fear, and am quite certain, had soiled himself.
Once we began to go down, the fear subsided; concentration was the name of the game. We were lucky in a relatively uneventful descent, but for the crash of rockfall to our right. The end seemed in sight, but first we had to cross the chokepoint. This is the most dangerous part of the face, where falling rocks from above are channelled into a 30m, which the path happens to cross. The alarming frequency of the rockfall down this gully was horrifying. Luckily for us, another mountaineering, now a ‘Hero of NUFWS’ was on hand to guide people across the gap. He beckoned me across, about halfway across he threw up his hands and frantically ordered me back. Seconds later a large rock thundered down on my previous position. This man saved me from grievous harm and even possibly saved my life. I dashed across at his order, the other two got across without mishap and we headed across the glacier to the Hut. A hundred metres more brought us stumbling to our campsite and the Tete Rousse, like conquering heroes we got into the hut and quickly ordered celebratory drinks. The full epic nature of the expedition had not yet sunk in (and at time of writing, in Geneva Airport, still has not).
That evening we retreated further down the mountain to an unmanned refuge where we hid from the wrath of the mountain. The lashing rain and gales greeted us the next morning and accompanied us down to the Tram station, where we huddled with other mountaineers waiting to rejoin civilisation.
A short tramride and cablecar journey later we walked, stinking and barely human through the streets of Les Houches. The unfortunate victims of this stench were the customers and owner of a small pizzeria on the main street, which had to bear with our filthy presence for several hours. A search for a hostel that night saw us bunked at the top of the hill in Chamonix. One glorious shower later, and we were ready to find dinner, which turned out to be another pizza, and the excitement of the climbing world cup.
The amazing spectacle of climbers hauling themselves us massive overhangs was shadowed by a now burning question - we had done ‘The Blanc’, our objective for the holiday. What were we going to do now? One days rest and we were ready to go again, this time a relatively easy stroll across the Le Brevant, which gave us superb views across the massif. The next day, we were spurred on towards the Aravis Range, across the valley from the Tete du Colloney.
We then relocated to Cordon, above Sallanches, on the lower slopes of the Aravis. The slog up to the campsite, albeit through lovely country was marred by heat and heavy packs. For Pete, this walk had a even greater peril. The appearance of a small dog caused panic in our steel hearted hero. The dog set up barking at him, having passed the two of us by without a peep. The moment was far funnier than it should have been.
Reaching Cordon that night, knackered and sweaty, we were treated to the glorious sight of a full litre of homemade apple juice for only 2 Euros, and it was some of the best juice I have ever drunk. The last few days passed in a haze of apple juice, pouring rain (we sat in the campsite owner’s garage and then the pub all day!) and one attempt on Croise Buelleze, abandoned due to blizzards, only to reappear from the fog when we down the mountain.
The adventure was almost over; we quickly dropped back down to Sallanches and caught the train to Geneva the next day, where we got away without paying for a ticket and bedded down in a lost and forgotten corner of Geneva Airport. Finally, the next day, after hours of strolling around the airport we boarded our flight and set off back to Manchester. As we rose above the clouds, we were greeted by the vision of both Mont Blanc and the Dome Du Gouter, towering above the cloud line, bidding us farewell. I knew at that moment we had finally escaped the wrath of the mountain.
However, the story was not over for me yet. I still had to catch a late flight up to Edinburgh. Only when I stepped off the tarmac at Edinburgh Airport and fell asleep in the car was it all over. Chamonix, we will be back!
The pristine silence of the Alpine night was broken by the ringing of an alarm bell. As I hauled my body out of bed, the thought occurred to me that 3:45 in the morning was far too early to be awake. I stumbled downstairs, half-asleep and barely dressed to find the others of our party in the same state. The reason that we were up at such at ridiculous time was to attempt the ascent of the highest mountain in the Austrian Tyrol, the Wildspitz.
For many years, the Dodd family had packed up the car every summer, taken the ferry across to Zeebrugge or Rotterdam and driven down through the Low Countries and Germany, to the Austrian Alps for 2 weeks walking. This time honoured ritual ended in 2004 and we partook in long series of Scottish holidays, most of them on the West Coast, consisting mainly of pouring rain, driving winds and fighting off midges. When in 2010 the decision was made to fly to Munich and meet up with friends in the Alps once again. I was ecstatic, finally a chance to do some big mountains! The target of this holiday was the ascent of the Wildspitz, at 3778m, the highest mountain in the Tyrol, and the second highest in Austria. The Wildspitz towers over the Oeztal valley, its twin summits visible for many miles and has long proved an attraction for mountaineers.
We arrived in Munich, all kitted out and carrying enough gear to sink a ship. Having got on the plane in the drizzle and grey skies of Edinburgh, it was a shock to the system to stumble down the steps into baking heat and broad sunshine in Munich. Our first destination was not however, the Oeztal, but the neighbouring Stubai valley, where we were to stay in the picturesque village of Neustift-am-Stubai after nearly a decade’s break from the place. After a week’s worth of climbing the highest peaks in the valley, including the airy Hohe Bergstall and the Elfspitz (looking like a larger, brooding version of Stac Pollaidh), we were ready to drive the 3 hours to Solden, and the Oeztal.
On arrival, we meet up with our friends, and planned the next day’s walk, the Soldenkogel, a 3100m monster towering above the village of Solden. The heat, and the higher altitude took their toll, on reaching the giant cross on the summit, I fell upon it, choked down a litre of juice and began stuffing my face with pate sandwiches, to the widespread disgust of everyone else on top, especially as pate was raining down upon their heads. Looking around, the views were truly amazing, the pyramid of the Similaun, where ‘Ozti the Iceman’ was found in 1991, blocked the view to the south, The Nederkogel and Ramolkogel, both above 3200m loomed in the South-West, their black slopes streaked menacingly with glaciers. Due West, beyond the dome of the Gaislachkogel sat the twin summits of the Wildespitz, towering above all else, her lower slopes wreathed in cloud, her giant cross even visible from this distance.
The return walk down to the alm (that’s a low mountain hut, often a farm) went uneventfully, and ended with a beer and a plate of chips, something that should be introduced in the Highlands, huts halfway up would really do the trick in good weather, or even as a place to hide from rain, midges and other such terrors of walking in Britain. On returning to Solden, we popped into to see the Oeztal Guides, who agreed, with the fine weather, to meet us at the Breslauer Hut, and make an assault on the Wildspitz the next day. Needless to say, I was far too excited.
The ascent was a two day setup, first, we would walk up to the Breslauer Hut at 2800m, above the village of Vent, where we would meet Rainer, our guide and stay the night, and then, with an early start, head up the glacier onto the summit peaks and back down to the hut.The walk up to the Breslauer was nice enough, a slog in places, especially in breeches not designed for the oppressive heat but, when on arrival I was greeted with a cold beer, it seemed to be worth it. The view was spectacular, even from such a low height, in the far distance the Dolomites shimmered in the haze, and the mountains along the Italian border looked incredible, with the sunlight glinting off their summits. As the sun descended and the traditional Germanic meal of potatoes and meat were served, excitement began to set in. The Hut was full of people aiming for the Wildspitz the next morning, making the most of the short weather window. About 7 o’clock our guide arrived, Rainer. He had been on the Piz Berninia (4200m) that morning and driven all the way to Austria to join us. So with excited hearts we went to bed, setting our alarms for 3:45 the next morning.
Once I had eaten the breakfast provided by the Hut, I pulled on my boots, just as Rainer walked in, fully kitted out and looking pristine, contrasting sharply with the bedraggled party around him. So at 4:30, we set off towards the glacier, as the glorious alpenglow set in around us. As we gained height, the views became increasingly dramatic, we could see far into Italy, beyond the Dolomites, above us stood the Mittlekarjoch and the Wildspitz, still with the alpenglow lighting its flanks. Suddenly, the gentle gradient of the glacier turned sharply upwards. This was where the real mountaineering began. We roped up at the foot of this gully and began ascending towards the left hand side, where the fixed ropes to take us onto the icecap had been placed. Slowly but surely more gear began to be used, first crampons, and then ice axes. Finally, about quarter to seven, we reached the foot of the fixed ropes, where a queue was already building. The roped section was a Very Difficult grade climb, but once at the top, we were greeted by an incredible view, stretching from Bavaria to Italy and Switzerland with the clouds far below us. Once again, we roped up and all the gear was brought out, fully kitted put, we began to trundle across the glacier towards the dome of the peak. Suddenly, about halfway up the glacier, I turned round, to look at the view, but was instead greeted by the apparition of Terry, ice axe dug hard into the snowpack, struggling up to his waist in a crevasse! With Terry rescued from the icy clutches of the glacier, the journey to the foot of the mountain continued without further mishap. Finally, only a 200m climb up a corniced ridge separated us from the peak; with its huge cross (most Austrian mountains have religious crosses on their summits). As we moved up the ridge, lead by Rainer, the air began to thin and movement became even more effort. At 9:30am we reached the summit. Even with the closing weather, the view was spectacular, from the twinkling towers of the Dolomites in the far south, past the Ortler, once the highest mountain in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to the Piz Berninia and the Bernese Alps, even as far the distant summit dome of the highest point in Western Europe, and arguably one of the Seven Summits, Mont Blanc. With all the excitement, we had forgotten that we still had to ascend the South Summit, reached by a heavily corniced knife-edged ridge. Rainer, looking out onto the ridge stated ‘now is the time to be careful’ as we began crossing the ridge, and just as he began prodding the cornices with his ice axe and carefully treading on them, I began to think that, with the weather coming in, this may not be a good idea. The thoughts running through my head involved me plummeting several thousand metres down to the valley floor through a hole in the cornice, not a nice scenario. After what seemed like an age, we reached the South Summit in thick mist. Rainer looked particularly grim as he prodded yet more cornices and announced that we were going back the same way, because the glacier was unstable on the other side. After a walk down a steepening ridge, Rainer placed in a belay system and an ice screw as we lowered ourselves back down the other side of the summit pyramid and back onto the approach route. The walk back over the glacier passed quickly and we were back at the fixed ropes by 11am, where we descended into the thick cloud back welling up over the ridge. The pouring rain followed us all the way back to the hut, where we met the members of the party who had not come up and had a large lunch. The walk back down to Vent was even worse; the rain worked its way through my waterproof trousers soaking my breeches. I was not best impressed.
As a final refrain, myself and Dad dashed off from the cable car at Obergurgl, leaving everyone else to walk to the Hohe Mutt and marvel at the marmots (like giant rats), to climb our last three thousanders of the holiday, Hangerer, a beautifully shaped pyramid, sitting smugly above the Hohe Mutt by about 2000m. ‘The Great Adventure’ was over, and with it, my first foray into mountaineering above 3500m. If you are ever given the chance to go to the Alps and walk or climb, I would advise you to jump at it, it is one of the most beautiful places I have seen, with friendly people (well, maybe not in France) and good food (who can resist a plate filled with meat?).
Soon it was time to get back the UK, as ever, the bright sunshine in Munich seemed to mock our return, and contrast with the same drizzle that we left in Edinburgh.
The next week I did Buchaille Etive Mhor, in high winds, and pouring rain. Ah......the joys of the Highlands.
Wales is the home of the Welsh, Sheep, and along with Scotland, the joint home of bad weather. Snowdonia, Wales’ largest mountainous area, contains the highest mountains outwith Scotland.
Snowdonia is a stronghold of the Welsh culture and language, and makes you feel, quite rightly that you are in foreign country. The Welsh language can quite often be heard in pubs, towns and villages in the region, and all the road signs, much like the West Coast of Scotland are in two languages.
The Hills themselves stretch across a compact area, conveniently divided into three distinct massifs. Snowdon (or Yr Wddfa), with its impressive and exposed ridge, Crib Goch is the highest mountain in Wales at 1067m. Unfortunately, the summit has been scarred with a train station and restaurant, which disgorge thousands of tourists per year, much to the disgust of Fellwalkers everywhere. No less than seven routes venture up Snowdon, but, for the real mountain connoisseur, there can only be one, Crib Goch, an exposed knife edge ridge, studded with pinnacles and the hardest outside Scotland.
The second of the Welsh massifs is The Glyders (or Glyderau). This range, with its many unpronounceable names is one of the finest in Wales. Tryfan, with its superb shape and the famous rocks of ‘Adam and Eve’ on its summit is one of the great mountains of Britain. The rest of the Glyders from a continuous ridge opposite Snowdon, Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr have numerous strange shapes on top, from the Cantilever to the Castle of the Winds, as well as the pinnacles of the Bristly Ridge. Y Garn and the others are rounder and friendlier.
Last, but not least, sits the Carneddau. These hills, the highest outwith Snowdon, form a large continuous plateau north of the Glyders, and contain the most remote mountains in England and Wales. Less dramatic than the others, these hills are none the less spectacular mountains, from which superb views of the sea and the Welsh mountains present themselves.
These hills are often seen as a ‘halfway stage’ in height and remoteness between the Lakes and Scotland, they are rocky and more on the scale of the Scottish Highlands than the Lake District, though less remote. In all, 15 peaks top the magic figure of 3000' - these are the Welsh "Furth Munros". The less energetic may choose delightful woodland and valley walks, for example in the forests around Betws-Y-Coed.
We often camp at Capel Curig when staying in Snowdonia. The campsite is located about half a mile from the village, which has an excellent pub. It is an atmospheric old coaching inn and does meals and a fine selection of ales.
The Alps are Europes largest mountain range, stretching from France to Slovenia. The most famous top is Mont Blanc, the continents highest peak, which counts as one of the seven summits (the highest mountain on each of the seven continents) and lies on the border of France and Italy. The Matterhorn and The Eiger are also very famous mountains and attract hundreds, if not thousands of brave (and slightly crazy) climbers every year. The French Alps are the most accessable parts of the Alps to reach from the United Kingdom.
The Himalayas is the Earth's largest mountain range and is home to it's highest peaks, the eight-thousanders (mountains over 8000 meters!!!), inclusing Everest and K2. This group of mountains are so high that they penetrate deep into the death zone. This includes all areas that exceed 26'000 feet. Here the oxygen levels in the atmosphere is a third of that at sea level, which makes breathing and moving extremely difficult. The human body cannot sustain life above this height and therefore begins to deteriate. One place you should definatley think twice about visiting on a trip to the Himalayas!! However, don't let that put you off. This range of mountains doesn't disappoint in it's stupendous beauty and wide range of cultures which can be saftley absorbed from lower altitudes and the valley bottom. It stretches across 18 countries in Asia and separates the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. It's huge!!! so you better get going and see it all to try and fit it all in!!! oh and keep you eye out for the abominable snowman!!!! :D
As well as constituting the largest country within the UK, England has some spectacular mountain areas, often with great pubs and the added benefit that everyone speaks English!
Our trips mainly take place in the world famous fells of the lakes, which boast England's tallest peak, Scafell Pike, and a host of other great mountains, to the bleak Yorkshire Moors, home of the ‘Three Peaks’ or the Pennines.
The Northern Dales, Wensleydale and Swaledale, are rougher than the southern areas. The countryside has more in common with the dales over the border in County Durham. The landscape is that of rolling heather moorland, with snaking drystone walls and remote farmhouses.
The major peaks in this area include Great Shunner Fell and the beautifully named Lovely Seat. The Web Co-ordinator is unable to confirm wether the latter summit is indeed a "lovely seat", but he suspects so! Dodd Fell nearby has a Roman road on its summit.
In addition to walks on the fells, there will be oppourtunities to venture along the valley floors of the dales.
Hawes is the main town hereabouts, but we might go to any of a number of villages along Wensleydale and Swaledale. A pub and teashop are very likely, as is the chance to eat Wensleydale cheese in its natural surroundings! Swaledale also has a cheese, it is much less famous, but no less tasty...
The "Three Peaks" of Yorkshire - Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent - surround Ribblesdale. They are all over 2200' in height, and it is a standard challenge walk to climb all three in one day.The total mileage for such a journey is around 28 miles. NUFWS members normally content themselves with just the one!
Other landmarks in this area include the monumental Settle to Carlisle railway that passes straight through the Dales scenery. This is England highest "proper" railway. The viaduct at Ribblehead (passed by walkers on the Three Peaks Challenge) is without doubt one of the greatest testaments of Victorian achievement. The line was the last great engineering project in this country to be built entirely by hand, and many navvies died on the bleak moors.
Daywalks are normally based in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Horton is used to receiving walkers, and has two pubs. The Pen-Y-Ghent teashop is particularly worthy of mention here.
The Southern Dales such as Airedale are famed for their honey coloured limestone scenery, and the many waterfalls, rivers and valleys. Walks in the area tend to be less strenuous than those in (say) the Lake District, due to the lower hills. The countrside is rolling rather than craggy. Springy green turf broken up by limestone "pavements" and drystone walls are the order of the day.
Malham Cove, seen in the photo above is a typical example of the limestone scenery of this area. The Cove was once a great waterfall, though the water now flows underground. The top of the cove is limestone pavement. This is a bare area of rock, with deep cracks caused by erosion. These fissures provide shelter for many rare and unique plants.
Without doubt, the classic walk in this area is a circular route, taking in the narrow gorge (and waterfall) of Goredale Scar, the lake at Malham Tarn and the Cove itself. This route also takes in a "dry valley" - another unique feature of the limestone landscape. A dry valley is caused when a rivers drops through the rock, and flows underground. Above ground the route of the river bed remains visible, but there is no water flowing.
Malham is a true "honeypot" for tourists, and is always busy with walkers (and kids on GCSE Geography field trips). There are two pubs, both selling a range of fine ales. There is also a teashop.
The North Yorkshire Moors lie to the east of Yorkshire. They are a wide expanse of heather, broken up by narrow winding roads and isolated country villages. This is big skies country, with a real sense of space. The contrast between the moors themselves, and the fertile landscape surrounding them is starkly illustrated when one walks along the escarpments that mark the edge of the moors.
The contrast is greatest in the Hills above Osmotherly. The Moors rise up seemingly vertically from the flat plane of the Vale of Mowbray. To one side is heather, to the other a fertile agricultural scene. Osmotherly itself is famed for being the starting point for the Lyke Wake Walk. This is a 42 mile epic that crosses all the high points of the moors on a west-east crossing of the region. The walk is a challeng hike, and must be completed in 24 hours in order to gain the title "Dirger".
Daywalks noramlly start from Osmotherly. The village is well used to receiving walkers, and has two pubs, a tea-shop and a chippy. The village is also home to the best public toilets in Britain! Honestly, they've won the award for the past 5 years running!
Eskdale lies to the east of the North Yorkshire Moors. The valley is the main feature that cuts through this area of Yorkshire. The moors themselves are a wide expanse of heather, broken up by narrow winding roads. Isolated country villages such as Goathland (better known as Aidensfield in YTV’s Heartbeat) and Grosmont, home to the NYM steam railway, lie in the dale. This is "big skies country", with a real sense of space.
The moors abut the coast, and clifftop walks are a possibilty. The combination of moor, sea and cliff makes the Cleveland coast an impressive destination. The name Cleveland is old Norse, and means the Land of Cliffs. Landmarks such as Whitby Abbey, or the many stone crosses on the moors add interest to any hike. Whitby is the point where the Esk enters the sea.
The walking here is usually more sedate than in area such as the Lake District, as there are no major hills. However, steep sections and rough terrain may still be encountered.
Daywalks are normally based in villages or towns such as Goathland. All are used to receiving walkers, and as such, a wide range of pubs and tea-shops is guaranteed to slake the thirsts of returning hikers! The pub in Goathland is of course the "Aidensfield Arms". Whitby, at the mouth of the Esk, is a popular destination for holiday-makers, and has many facilities. It is also the place where, according to Bram Stoker, Count Dracula first entered Britain!
The Pennines, know as the back bone of England strectch from the Derbyshire Peaks in the south to the Cheviots in the north. If you want you can walk the Pennines Way from Matlock in Derbyshire and Kirk Yetholm in Scotland.
The society is usually seen in the more northen areas of the Pennines around Cross Fell and The Howgills.
The Howgill Fells lie to the west of the Northern pennines, and form the watershead link between the Pennines and the Lake District. They lie at the head of the Eden Valley. As such, their rounded grassy nature will be familar to all those who have travelled over Shap Summit, whether by rail on the West Coast Main Line, or via the M6 motorway.
The highest point of the Howgill Fells is known as The Calf (2218'), and lies at the very centre of the range. The other hills are linked to this central hub via rounded sloping ridges. The general nature of the hills is that of an undulating high plateau. One feature that is worthy of note is the waterfall of Cautley Spout, which lies to the east of the central fell area.
Daywalks are normally based in the town of Sedbergh, which has a full range of facilities (pubs and tea-shops).
The Lake District is the largest of England’s upland areas, containing the highest hills and best scenery, from deep valleys to high craggy tops.
The Northern Lakes district consists of the hills clustered to the North of the town of Keswick. They include the high but uninteresting Skiddaw, one of England’s four 3000ft peaks and the incredible Blencathra, with the famous Sharp Edge on its northern eastern corrie as well as a host of lesser hills.
These fells form a long ridge running from Keswick to Ambleside, also known as ‘The Helvellyn Range. These hills include the 3000ft Helvellyn, girthed by Striding Edge and Swirl Edge, the Dodd range and the famous Fairfield Horseshoe, one of the great Lakeland walks. The walk from Clough Head to Ambleside is one of the greatest in England.
The long flat ridge east of Ullswater culminates in the dome of High Street. Once a Roman Road, this ridge runs from Arthur’s Pike, at the far extreme of the Lakes, to Kentmere, south of Windermere. The traverse of this ridge is one of the longest in the Lakes. These are the quieter hills of the lakes, not trodden upon as much as the rest, and as a result, one can experience a peace found nowhere else in the Lakes.
The Highest part of Lakeland stretches from Wasdale to Windemere, around Langdale, Eskdale and Coniston. Scafell and Scafell Pike, the highest hills in England lie here, along with great peaks such as Bowfell, the Langdale Pikes and Great Gable. It is this amphitheatre of mountains, below the great crags of Great End, facing the slopes of Great Gable that Esk Hause, the most remote place in England sits.
Far from the Main roads, the Western Fells are accessed via Wasdale, Ennerdale and Buttermere. These hills conceal the remotest Youth Hostel in England, that of Black Sails, far up Ennerdale, and Haystacks, Wainwright’s favourite hill. The Pillar-Steeple-Haycock Ridge is one of the finest in the region, and the view from Wasdale Head to Great Gable, regarded by many as the finest in England, is spectacular.
The High ground west of Keswick culminates in the great peak of Grasmoor. Surrounded by subsidiary ridges and peaks, including the Grisedale round and the Newlands round, it hides itself well from the road. These hills are not as frequented by walkers are the Southern Lakes, but none the less are interesting enough.
The Central fells are the lowest part of Lakeland, and stretch from Bleaberry Fell above Keswick to the Langdale Pikes. These hills, though small in stature are breathtaking. The view of Helm Crag from Grasmere exposes the rock formation known as ‘The Lion and the Lamb’. The slog up to Stickle Tarn from the New Dungeon Ghyll is rewarded by the incredible view across to the vast face of Pavey Ark, with Jack’s Rake prominent. Ullscarf, the great round lump is boggy and uninteresting but for the views of greater summits.
Northumberland is our local patch, our own turf! Northumberland is "England's border county" and once formed the heartland of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. Northumberland is the large and mainly rural county in the far North-East of England. About a quarter of the county is covered by the Northumberland National Park, easily one of the quietest parts of the country.
It offers a great range of walking from the isolated and abandoned farms of Tynedale, the rugged cliffs and sloping beaches of the coast; the grassy slopes of the Cheviots or the ancient, winding lengths of Hadrian’s Wall. These trips are usually day walk affairs, often making use of the train from central station ensuring plenty of time for a pint in the numerous pubs afterwards!
The Largest Roman monument in the World, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and far more impressive than the scanty remains of the Antonine Wall to the North, Hadrian’s Wall sits right in our back garden (forgive me if this is too boring, I am a Classicist). It was constructed in 122AD by the Emperor Hadrian to demark the Northern border of the Province of Britannia. Despite popular belief it was not designed to keep the Scots out (because, let’s face it, we are lovely bunch of drunken hooligans), but to regulate trade, and show the native tribes who was in charge. Its tumultuous history includes several abandonments as Emperors pushed northwards into Scotland, until in 211AD, the border settled here once again. When the Legions left the Britain in 410AD to shore up the crumbling Roman Empire, the wall was left abandoned (but for a number of Forts occupied by Brythonic warlords and Anglo-Saxon invaders, but I digress), stripped for its stone and left to erode in the wind and rain until modern times.
The wall stretches from the Wallsend, in Newcastle to Bowness-on-Solway, a distance of some 83 miles, but with coastal extensions, as far as Ravenglass in West, and South Shields in the East.
The best preserved sections lie in the central area, which is also the most impressive section. The wall snakes along an uneven ridge of volcanic rock known as the Whin Sill, its remains studded with forts and towers, the great course of the Vallum (rearward embankment) behind, and the forward defence works northwards. The surrounding countryside is bleak and featureless, with rough moorland and many loughs (small lakes).
The only sound is the call of the curlew, swooping over the moors, and it is easy to imagine that a posting to such a desolate spot would seem like the ends of the earth to a Roman legionary, dressed in tunic and sandals, whose home might be as far away as Italy, Syria or Greece. He could at least console himself that he was not in Scotland!
Day walks often start from the National Trust Visitor Centre at the ruins of Housesteads Fort. Walks along the wall may well head for the small village of Greenhead, which has a pub and teashop. Linear walks may also use the Tyne Valley railway line, starting in the morning from Central Station and travelling to Bardon Mill and walking to Haltwhistle for a train ride back and a pint!
Tynedale is (guess what) dominated by the Tyne Valley. The Tyne is created by the merger of the North and South Tyne near Hexham. The South Tyne starts on the moors of Cross Fell, the North Tyne at Kielder dam. The valleys and surrounding area provide a wealth of opportunity for the fellwalkers. Walks can start with a train ride from Central Station to Haltwhistle or Bardon Mill. Kielder, Europe’s largest manmade lake provides the chance to explore the forest or another option to trek towards the Scottish border which is only a few miles away.
In the past few years we've only run a handful of trips to Kielder however, we do usually run a trip along Hadrian’s Wall, which (at least in its central section) lies totally within the Tynedale area.
Northumberland's coastline is a rugged landscape of cliffs, castles, islands and beaches. The main area in question lies to the south of Berwick upon Tweed. Here is the heartland of the Early Medieval Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, once one of the most influential nations of early Christian Europe. The seat of the Kings of Northumbria was at the atmospheric Bamburgh Castle, sitting high on a cliff above the sea, overlooking the surrounding coast and country for miles. However, it is for its religious prowess that Northumbria is most famed. The monastery on Holy Island, cut off from the mainland at high tide, is where the monks of St. Cuthbert produced the renowned Lindisfarne Gospels, copies of the New Testament, on a par with the Irish illuminated manuscripts of the 7th Century, and the wonders of Dark Age Europe. Members of their order also spent time as hermits on the nearby Farne Island, accompanied only by the numerous nesting sea birds and the occasional seal. Walks in this landscape cannot fail to produce reminders of this golden age.
Bamburgh offers the walker a wide choice of eating and drinking establishments. Holy Island is famed for Lindisfarne mead (a drink made of honey), whilst crab sandwiches are a local speciality.
The Holy island trip is by far the easiest trip we run due to the total lack of hills and mountains.
The rounded grassy ridges of the Cheviot Hills mark the border between England and Scotland. Many of the peaks along the main watershed are in both countries, though the highest point of the range lies solely in England. This hill, somewhat confusingly known as The Cheviot, is 2674ft and may be climbed from Wooler, a delightful Northumbrian town that is often the destination of NUFWS day trips to this area, possibly due to the proliferation of pubs. Walks in the Cheviots may also start from the Scottish side.
In all, the Cheviots offer big skies and a real feeling of space. There are many waterfalls and burns, and wide areas of open moorland. The area has long been under populated - a legacy of the time of the ‘Border Reivers’. These bands of warring families took advantage of the fact that the Borders area was not in reality governed by either England or Scotland. They would terrorise this lawless region, stealing property and rustling sheep. Only after the Union of Crowns in 1603 did the great border families of the Grahams and the Armstrong begin to mend their ways and settle down.
Despite the apparent desolation, if you look more closely, there is evidence of long established settlement in this desolate area. Iron Age Hill Forts, the great Anglo-Saxon royal centre of Yeavering, built using stone pilfered from Hadrian’s Wall and remains of the ‘Peel towers’ built in the 1400 and 1500s as defence against the Reivers are all to be seen amongst the rolling hills.
The only inhabitants of these once mighty structures tend to be sheep, or possibly the curlew, the bird that has become a symbol of the area.
Scotland is the greatest, most spectacular and highest portion of upland in the United Kingdom, encompassing knife-edge ridges, desolate plateau and everything in between. The origin of, amongst other things, Whisky, Shortbread, Tartan, and alcoholism, NUFWS really can associate with the place. Ranging from the rolling hills of the Southern Uplands to the vast peaks of the Highlands, there is bound to be a location that suits all walkers of all abilities. It is a land of Munro and Corbett, and even Donalds.
North of the market town of Moffat lie the Dumfriesshire Hills. They form a compact group of steep-sided, rounded grassy hills, centred around the summit of Hart Fell - a 2651ft high Corbett. The range also contains most of the Donalds.
However there is much more to these hills than mere hill-bagging. Walks in this area are almost certain to vist one of the two major landmarks in the area - the Devil's Beef Tub and the Grey Mare's Tail. The latter is an impressive waterfall that plunges over the edge of a so-called hanging valley. It is one of the highest waterfalls in the country.
The wonderfully-named Devil's Beef Tub is a deep hollow. Once called simply the Annadale Corrie (it being a corrie in Annadale), the more poetic name came about as it was used by gangs of border Reivers to hide the cattle they had rustled from the forces of law and order.
On the Solway Firth sits the Criffel massif as well as the Rhins of Kells. These are low, big massifs overlooking the Northern Lakes.
The Eastern Borders provides less distinctive territory of rolling hills, from the Pentlands and the Lammermuirs one gets good views over Edinburgh, even as far as the proper hills of Glen Shee.
The Isle of Arran lies squeezed between the Mull of Kintyre and the coast of Ayrshire, a beautiful island of moor and hill, it is the largest outside the Hebrides. Accessible only by ferry from the town of Adrossan in Ayrshire, the main town, Brodick, boast a spectacular little brewery and a castle. The Hills of Arran are wild and rugged, and boast 4 Corbetts, the highest, Goatfell is 870m and proves a lovely walk for fellwalkers who don’t want to explore the ridges further north on the Island. The top, from which Ireland can be seen on a clear day, boasts an exceptional sea view, unrivalled in Southern Scotland, watch out for the famous inscription by a crew member of HMS Vixen, who scrawled his ship’s name in the rock in 1936. Further north, the rounds of Glen Rosa and Glen Sannox have become classics and boast scrambles to rival anywhere in Mainland Scotland.
The 70-odd islands of the Inner Hebrides clustering along the west coast of Scotland provide some the most beautiful scenery in the UK. In Fellwalking terms, these islands are dominated by Skye, once the seat of the Lordship of the Isles, and it’s world-renowned Cuillin Ridge, but other islands, such as Mull, which features the only Island Munro outside Skye, the superb Ben More, provide good walking.
The Black Cuillin of Skye, the name conjures up either terror, or jittery excitement in fellwalkers. The 14km razor sharp, exposed, Main Ridge boasts 11 Munros including the most notorious of them all, The Inaccessible Pinnacle, a vertical blade of rock towering above the summit of Sgurr Dearg. The ‘In Pin’ is widely regarded as the bane of all non-rock climbing Munroists. There are however, enough chinks in the armour of the Cuillin Ridge to allow access to us, but it is not the place for a ‘hands in pockets’ ramble!
There is more to Skye than just the Black Cuillin, the Red Cuillin, just across the Glen from the Black Cuillin provides walking of a more gentle nature. The Highest, Glamaig features a race every year inspired by the story of a Ghurkha who ran from the Sligachan Hotel to the summit in 34 minutes and back in 11. North of Portree lies the most bizarre of aspects of volcanism in Britain, The Trotternish Ridge runs from Uig to Portree, and displays the famous stack of the Old Man of Storr, the rock formations of McCloud’s Tables and the Quiraing.
On a non-mountain related note, should you join one of the NUFWS trips to Skye, you will be sure to hear the native language of Western Scotland, Gaelic spoken, and Skye is one of the last holdouts of the language outwith the Outer Hebrides.
The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, are not the greatest area for Fellwalking, however there are a few gems scattered along the great archipelago. The highest point Clisham (799m), sits on the Isle of Harris, and is definitely worth the effort of climbing it, for what is regarded as the best sea view in the British Isles.
Assynt is the large area between Ullapool and the North Coast of Scotland. It was, and remains, a Mecca for geologists, with its strange and weird formations, from the shattered peaks of Stac Pollaidh to the great, majestic shape of Suliven. The area is studded with Corbetts and lower hills, Ben Mor Coigach, Quinag and Canisp all feature in the desolate terrain.
The town of Ullapool, the gateway to the Western Isles, lies at the head of Loch Broom, plentiful walks abound in good weather, with an excellent chip shop and pub for the (regular) bouts of pouring rain. The town itself consists of nothing but a Tesco, a pub, some houses and a ferry terminal. In terms of Mountains, the region boasts the Ben Dearg group, which includes Seana Bhraigh, one of the remoter of the Munros, as well as Ben Wyvis, a great, grey monster of a hill, regarded, without exception, as the dullest of all Munros.
Caithness is flat, with only a few hills punctuating the ‘flow country’. It is not particularly interesting, and the NUFWS (to be best of my scant knowledge) have never been.
‘The Rough Bounds of Knoydart’ rival the Great Wilderness in terms of remoteness, no roads penetrate the peninsular, access is only on foot, or by boat, to the hamlet of Inverie, where Britain’s remotest pub, ‘The Old Forge’ is located. The Hills in this area are dominated by the great dome of Ladhar Bheinn, one of the finest hills on the West Coast. Inland from Knoydart, demarking its boundaries, sit the Glen Quoich Hills and those around the head of Loch Nevis (no relation to the Ben I’m afraid).
This area has the greatest concentration of Munros in Scotland, 23 at the last revision of the tables. Famous for bad weather and midges, the hills themselves are glorious, from the Five Sisters of Kintail on the North Side of the Glen to the awe-inspiring South Clunie Ridge, a 7 Munro epic across a sometimes airy ridge. Next to the ridge sits The Saddle, with its famous Forcan Ridge.
Between Glen Cannich and Glen Affric lie a remote series of Glens, accessed by Inverness. These hills are underrated and under visited (except by the ever present Munro bagger). The Glen Carron Group, which boasts another very remote Munro, Lurg Mhor, sit around Loch Monar and recently had one of their number demoted, Sgurr nan Ceannaichean. Beyond these hills are the ‘Strathfarrar Six’ and the Loch Mullardoch group.
The Glen Affric Hills are rightly regarded as the finest in the area, even if just for the views across Kintail. The Affric massif stretches over 25km across the north of the Glen, with 8 Munros dotted along it. The remotest, 13km from any road, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan (also known as unpronounceable) sits right above Alltbethie, the remotest youth hostel in Britain.
Glen Torridon snakes from the sea upwards to Loch Maree past the three gigantic Mountains on the north side of the Glen. These hills rise in castellated tiers and battlements of Torridonian sandstone crowned with white quartzite. Beinn Alligin and Beinn Eighe provide good walking over huge long ridges but the region’s crowning glory is Liathach. The central, highest and most spectacular of the Torridon hills, Liathach is 7km of pinnacles, razor sharp ridges and crags. South of Torridon, very much in the shadow of the three giants to the north lies the Coulag hills. This remote area contains three Munros, on a smaller scale than Torridon, but built of the same stuff.
‘The Great Wilderness’, as this area is known, is the last truly remote place of Western Europe. It lies between Loch Maree and Loch Broom and contains the 6 most remote Munros, the ‘Big Six’, the highest prized for any Munro bagger. The greatest of these, arguably the remotest Munro, is A’ Mhaighdean, situated 21km from the road, ‘far from any human habitation, without a road or even a track approaching it, situated in the very midst of that wild district of moor, mountain, and loch’ according to Sir Hugh Munro. A great view of the area can be seen from the top of Slioch, a hill famed on postcards across the country.
To the North of the Fisherfield forest lies the great brooding mass of An Teallach, a menacing mass of pinnacles and ridges, radiating out from the central ridge. An Teallach is regarded as one of Scotland’s finest mountains, and the fact that there is a brewery at the bottom makes it even better.
The 9 Munros of the Fannichs lie between Garve and Ullapool, the continuous ridge provides the easy walking between the first 7 Munros, with two western outliers and one to the south, between Torridon and Loch Fannich. The area provides long walks and, unfortunately for these hills is overshadowed by the great, menacing mass of An Teallach to the west.
‘The Arrochar Alps’ cluster around the village of Arrochar, at the head of Loch Long, 4 Munros and numerous Corbetts of a very rugged nature are settled here. The finest of the group is The Cobbler, a brilliant little peak with an exposed scramble across its summit ridge, which puts to shame the other hills in the area. Ben Lomond, the most southerly Munro, with its position right on the southern cusp of the highlands, makes it a conspicuous feature from many viewpoints. The rugged terrain of these hills extends northwards towards Crianlarich.
The Crianlarich Hills are dominated by Ben More and Stob Binnein, two shapely mountains higher than the rest. All the hills in this area are slows, dominated by pathless slopes and steep rocky crags. Their summit ridges are craggy and undulating with numerous false summits and outcrops. The Only exception to this rule is the breathtaking Ben Lui, a peak with two summits away off towards Tyndrum.
Glen Lyon, once the seat of Clan Campbell, is now a quiet glen, but for the droves of Munro baggers. It is here that the best known and most oft seen of Scottish Mountains resides, Schiehallion. Clustered south, beyond the Cairn Mairg Group lies the Ben Lawers Massif. The Ben Lawers Group consists of 7 Munros, linked by high cols and wide ridges; along with the delightful ridge of Meall nan Tarmachan, the range dominates the north banks of Loch Tay.
The Great Wall of Rannoch is the name for the hills which slope down steeply onto the broad expenses of Rannoch Moor. It was historically the division between Pictish Alba and Scottish Dalriata. These hills form a continuous chain from Bridge of Orchy to Loch Tulla and provide some excellent walking along broad ridges with views across most of the West and Southern Highlands.
The Drumochter Hills sit along one of the Great Dividing lines of the highlands. Looking west from the summit of Beinn Udlamain, past the deep trench of Loch Ericht, Ben Alder, the Eastern outlier of Lochaber looms, beyond that, the peaks of Nevis and the great hills of the west can be seen. Turning eastwards, the undulating plateau of the Mounth is visible, dissected by many deep Glens, and in the far distance, the summits of the Cairngorms and Lochnagar.
The West Mounth runs from Drumochter, to the A93 from Blairgowrie (just dropping home territory in there) to Braemar, it contains some fine mountains, such as Beinn a’ Ghlo, a giant three Munro ridge with views over the southern Cairngorms and as far away as Ben Nevis. The Tilt Hills have no distinctive features excepting the already mentioned Beinn a’ Ghlo. The Glen Shee hills are even worse (I have personal grudges with these hills, especially, when so close to home, they took me so long to do). Beinn Iutharn Mhor and Carn an Righ lie at the centre of a boggy trackless waste with path or track, only accessibly for the strange establishment at the Spittal of Glenshee. The Cairnwell and Carn Aosda are scarred by the Glenshee Ski Centre (That’s right you can ‘ski’ in Scotland, if you can call being blown downhill over ice, heather and rock skiing), personally, I forgive them, the Hills weren’t that good anyway and the quality of the pie and chips more than makes up for it.
Lochnagar, wholly within the Royal Estate of Balmoral dominates the hills east of Glen Shee. A giant round can be undertaken, bagging 5 Munros in one very long day. The Lochnagar Cliffs are famous for climbing and ice climbing. The other hills in the area, Dreish and Mayar, are dull hills above pretty glens, only Glas Maol and Creag Leacach can match Lochnagar. The plateau stretches off to Mount Keen, the most easterly Munro.
The Great Massif of the Cairngorms lies between the Mounth and the Aberdeenshire Coast, and forms the most sustained piece of high plateaux in Britain. Roughly divided into three parts by the great valleys of the Lairig Ghru, The Lairig an Laoigh and Glen Feshie, it contains 8 out of 10 of Britain’s highest peaks, including number 2, Ben Macdui and number 3, Braeriach. Cairngorm itself, accessed from Speyside has been strewn with a ski centre and railway; however the plateau to the south is untouched and arctic-like in both flora and fauna. Ben Macdui forms a great dome, from which Nevis is visible on a clear day. On the Western side of the Lairig Ghru lies the Braeriach Massif. Stretching from Corrour bothy and the Devil’s Point, over Cairn Toul to Braeriach, these hills provide some of the finest high-level walking in Scotland. To the East of the main massif, the great trench of Loch Avon blocks the walker from the great moors of Beinn a’ Bhuird and Ben Avon.
The High moorland North-west of the Cairngorms is known as the Monadh Liath. This area has 4 Munros but little interest in any other way, but to the cross country skier. Further South West, towards the Nevis hills, the great massif of Creag Meagaidh, with the famous ‘Window’ broods over the North side of Loch Laggan, guarding the Eastern approaches to Fort William.
Ben Alder is one of the group remote mountains of Scotland, a great plateau, surrounded by corries and situated midway between Lochaber and the Cairngorms, it is the eastern outlier of the Bedenoch Hills, which culminate 30 miles away, at Ben Nevis. Surrounded by 12 Munros, and accessible only by a 14km walk from Dalwhinne, or a long walk from the remote station at Corrour Halt on the West Highland Railway. The Bothy at Culra, one of the Classic overnight stays in the Highlands provides accommodation all year round.
Ben Nevis, at 1344m is the highest mountain in the British Isles. Its summit, capped with the ruined observatory, has become a magnet for tourists, however the tourist track, bloated and overcrowded as it is, is only part of the story. Its Northern corries hold innumerable climbs, gullies and ridges; however, the magnificent crowning glory of this king of peaks is the Arête which joins it to Carn Mor Dearg. It is from this side that Nevis takes on a whole new vision, that of cliff and majesty, not of tourist and track.
To the East of the Nevis Massif sits the Aonach range, site of one of Scotland’s ski centres. With Aonach Mor, tamed by the ski tows, the wild Aonach Beag is greater mountain. Even further east, the pointed peaks of the Grey Corries form a long range of 3 Munros, distant from the road with the Easains providing a last thrust of the landscape of the Nevis range before dropping down to Loch Treig.
Between Loch Leven and Glen Nevis there stretches 15km of the one of the finest mountain ranges in Scotland, The Mamores. Ten Munros are linked by narrow ridges, their flanks scalloped by many corries. It is here that the symmetrical ridge of An Gearanach, the narrow and curving Devil’s Ridge and the infamous round of the ‘Ring of Steall’ are situated.
Perhaps the most famous Glen in Scotland, the stop off point for innumerable coach parties from the south, Glen Coe is a microcosm for the Scottish mountains. The most photographed point in Scotland, Buchaille Etive Mhor stands vigil over the desolation of Rannoch Moor and guards the entrance to the Glen, the massif of Bidean nam Bian, with the famous site of the Three Sisters sits brooding over the south side of the Glen, whilst the steep flanks of the Aonach Eagach, Gaelic for The Notched Ridge, the most difficult ridge on Mainland Britain, which sweeps down to The Pap of Glencoe, block the view to the North. The West side of the Glen brings you out to the coast, and the gateway to the Northwest Highlands.
The Glen Etive Hills, along with Ben Cruachan to the South and the Black Mount to the East mark the end of the broad, flat and boggy expanses of Rannoch Moor. The Black Mount holds snow well into the spring and therefore has been graced with another of Scotland’s ski centres. The region is dominated by the huge lump of Ben Starav.