Moel Hebog

Not a particularly distinguished mountain – it was a fallback option when the weather looked a bit poor to be doing the Watkin path onto Snowdon. However, it was significant for being the last real hill before I was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. I’ll probably write a bit more about that in a later post, but suffice it to say here that an initial illness saw me very jaundiced and poorly, after recovering from which, the chemotherapy very much limited opportunities to get away and keep fit.

Setting off from Llanrwst, where we were staying with my daughter (whose dog, Moose, was coming with us, as well as Teasel, our own bonkers collie) the cloud got lower as we got higher, and by the time we reached the parking at Bethania, we had definitely decided that Snowdon was looking a bit too grim. So, onwards to Beddgelert, and turn right to park by Meillionen, from where we walked through the campsite and over the narrow gauge tracks of the Welsh Highland Railway into the forest. The most direct way to reach the col north of Moel Lefn has a reputation for being exceedlingly boggy, so we kept to forest tracks and took a longer route past Llyn Llywellyn and up to rejoin the original path just east of the col. There was indeed a couple of hundred metres of climb which was wet underfoot, but at this height, there were enough rocks to avoid the worst of the boot-soaking mire.

The ascent from the col north of Moel Lefn

There’s no (public foot-)path here – it’s all Access Land, but in reality an easily followed trod headed up the steep slopes and despite an apparent barrier of craggy ground, led easily enough to the higher slopes and eventually on to Moel Lefn, at 638m, with a view ahead to Moel yr Ogof.

Easy walking along the ridge towards Moel yr Ogof

Yr Ogof ! That’s a name that immediately pricks a caver’s ears up. But apparently the cave, Ogof Owain Glyndwr, as well as being a bit hard to find, is quite a way below the ridge and not really worth a lot of investment of effort – it’s not long enough to get properly out of sight of daylight and has some mineral features which make it sound not entirely a healthy place to explore – so we didn’t. After passing over the 655m summit, a steep descent led down through a narrow gully, to Bwlch Meillionen, where a boggy area at least has a bridge over the wettest bit.

Crossing the bog drainage channel on Bwlch Meillionen, with Moel Hebog rising beyond

It’s about a 250m climb up Moel Hebog from the pass, and it seemed quite unrelenting until a slight levelling off at the very top, when a stone-built trig point hove into view. The top has a really 360° view, and we spent a while here having lunch (I had got quite breathless on the ascent, so any excuse for a rest was welcome). Teasel didn’t stop being bonkers, running around the plateau top almost the whole time we were there, whilst Moose, like me, fancied a more restful experience of the mountaintop.

Moose thinks Mary is his friend, as she has a bag of snacks…

The descent of the northeast spur towards Beddgelert starts off quite vague but follows the black dotted path on the 1:25000 map, and very definitely not the line marked in green as a public footpath which looks as though it might involve roped climbing. It is, however, easy enough to find the correct way, and the skies had cleared somewhat, giving us fine views across the Colwyn valley towards Snowdon.

Heading downwards for the last stretch back to the car.

The “easy” path is steep and loose in places, and there was a gusty wind which, fortunately below the looser part, nearly lifted me off my holds at one point. Luckily, it made enough noise as it came down the hill to ensure that I was clinging on quite firmly by the time it caught me. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a sharp gust anywhere off a summit ridge before and it came as quite a surprise ! Almost as soon as it arrived, it had gone and the rest of the descent went easily enough as the gradient got flatter and the sun sank towards the horizon, leaving only the higher parts of the Snowdon massif catching the light. The slog back along the level trail to Meillionen seemed to drag a bit, but at least there was barely any uphill !

Teasel contemplates how to get down the next short scrambly bit whilst Snowdon bathes in the last of the sun

After 13½ km and 850m of ascent, I felt teh need for easier eaxercise for the rest of ur stay, so the next three days were taken up with shorter walks, on Abergele beach, ascending Little Orme from Llandrillo-yn-Rhos and exploring Sarn Helen before returning home to Teesdale.

Scratching the surface in Knoydart:- one Munro, one Top and two Corbetts

Knoydart has been on my list for years – isn’t it on everyone’s ? But every time I’ve planned to go there the forecast has been dire and the couple of times I’ve driven towards the area without having heard a forecast, the heavens have opened as soon as I got close.

This time we were committed by having booked Kilchoan Estate’s Druim Bothy for three nights, along with the Inverie ferry to get us in and out. It was rainy on the way up to Mallaig, quite dismal while we were having our Friday night meal, and it started to rain heavily as we were on the way back out on Tuesday, but the three days in between were as good as one could reasonably hope for.

Descending from Sgùrr Coire Chòinneachean

It’s a five kilometre, fairly level walk in to Druim Bothy, so just a stroll, even with heavy packs (for the second weekend in a row, I’d taken far more food than I could actually eat). Once established and unpacked, three of us (myself, Mary and Linda) decided to bag a peak, whilst the other three (Chrissy, Ursula and Kath) opted for a valley walk. Starting at 2:30 in the afternoon, we were trying to push the pace a bit to avoid being back late, and perhaps the ascent was a bit too rapid, but we got ourselves up the pathless SE slopes of Sgùrr Coire Chòinneachean and onto the 796m summit in 2¼ hours, well inside our turnround time. Taking things a little more easily, we trooped on down the splendid SW ridge, with Inverie seemingly directly below our feet (700m below and 2km away in the photo above). Like many Corbetts, this was a really fine viewpoint with Skye and the Small Isles ahead of us, Ben Nevis away in the distance to our left, and many more high peaks in almost every direction. We’d slightly misunderstood the Corbetts guide description and thought a deer fence was pushing us too far to the West, so we crossed this and dropped down some rather unpleasantly steep pathless terrain to the Allt Slochd a’Mhogha, but once by the stream, it was a short and easy hack along the bank to the main track, and saved us over a kilometre compared with finding the correct path, so it worked out for the best. From here the just over 3½ km route back to the bothy was the same as our earlier walk in, so was dismissed in a short time, getting us back soon after seven, and before the valley walkers returned from Mam Meadail. Our numbers were made up by the late arrival of Pete who had sea kayaked in to join us.

There is no shortage of Munros in greater Knoydart, but even with a base in the area, most are long walks. Ladhar Bheinn was being kept for an approach by sea, so that the round of Coire Dhorrcail can be done, whilst a group in the east were too far to do from here (and the bridge over the River Carnach was out) so I have a paddle-in plan involving Loch Quoich for those. That left us the two central ones, Meall Bhuidhe and Luinne Bheinn. Whilst one pair set out to do a more leisurely version of our walk of the day before, the “A-team” set off at a cracking pace to bag the pair. Mary and I followed at a more sedate pace, being quite sure we could bag the first, but not convinced we (well, I) wanted to do the longer version.

Looking back towards the bothy from the slopes of Meal Bhuidhe

The ascent was pathless, but not too rough or wet, and soon enough, we were on the 826m outlying western point, by which stage a decent, if at times faint, path had appeared – and we could see the A-team on the final summit ridge about half an hour ahead of us.

Dropping into the Bealach an Torc-choire on the way up Meall Bhuidhe

The 60m loss of height in the bealach was not appreciated by everyone, but the path improved and three hours total saw us on the summit. This, at 946m, is barely higher than the eastern top (942m) which we visited next, and which is craggy enough to look almost as if it was the “real” Munro.

The short ridge between the two tops of Meall Bhuidhe

Beyond the last top, we parted company from the longer route – a distinct path headed northeast towards the Bealach Ile Coire, and the others were long gone along this. A much fainter path could be seen heading southeast towards Sgurr Sgeithe, and we threaded our way down this way until the crag-encumbered slopes to our south became tenable. We avoided all scrambles and odd Haggis traps to reach a traverse back to the Mam Meadail with essentially no height loss, and then headed down the good path, 5 km or so back to the bothy where we arrived first.

Having taken the easier option on the second day, I was definitely up for the big Corbett to our south, Beinn Bhuidhe. Since Linda had found a guidebook description of a shorter route than the full west-east traverse, it turned out that everyone else was up for this walk, too (except Pete who was sea kayaking out today). We took a fairly direct though possibly not optimal route up towards the ridge. Not optimal in that we crossed a deer fence easily at the valley floor, but then had to cross back out in the coire where there wasn’t such an easy way over. There are no paths at all here, and it turned out that this area was so little visited that I was able to claim a geograph (first) point which was an unexpected bonus. As a big mixed group we took our time up Coire Gorm, and eventually reached the ridge via a small snow patch, about half a kilometre west of the main summit, which was then an easy ascent.

Approaching the top of Beinn Bhuidhe from the west.

Despite a little more cloud today, the ridge provided splendid views over its entire length – which was a little more up-and-down than some had hoped for, with a very well-built cairn on one rather random point not much higher than the ridge either side.

Looking east to Sgurr na Ciche from a little lochan along the ridge.

From the final point, Meall Bhasiter, steep ground dropped to a little lochan with a choice. Mary took the left whilst the rest of us decided it looked easier to traverse right, avoiding what looked like rather rough ground. Mary won this one, but we were soon all reunited at Mam Meadail, with the same descent to the bothy as yesterday. My legs had definitely taken the hint to get fitter, and made double the pace of the previous day despite a longer walk overall. In fact it got a teensy bit competitive at the end as Mary tried to out-sprint me the last 50m. The others took a somewhat more leisurely approach and arrived in two subgroups up to half an hour behind.

We walked out to Inverie Tuesday morning, and the inevitable rain came in as we were crossing back to Mallaig. Perfect timing for our weather window !


Whilst in Aberdeenshire for a wedding, we’d have been daft not to bring boots. The weather gods looked very kindly on us all weekend, and as we were staying at the very foot of Bennachie, I walked it both on the day of the wedding (early with just the dog) and with Mary and Fern on the day after.

Fern wondering how we got up here so quickly on the first walk

With a wedding deadline to meet (and a shower – always needs a lot of caffeine to face) the first day was short, but done at a cracking pace, just up to Mither Tap and an almost continuous jog back down (Morocco must have done something for my fitness…). On the Sunday, we’d expected a few of the other relatives and friends to be up for a walk, but they all found other things that required their attention, so just the three of us decided to do a longer version, visiting various tops. First, back up to Mither Tap by the same route (and again, at a cracking pace).

Mary contemplates the view from Mither Tap

From here, we dropped steeply down to the west side by a little granite crag, and over some scree until a good path materialised once again. Bennachie is a miniature granite massif like a scaled-down version of the Cairngorms, but with excellent paths across the moor. Since we had sunshine, a slight breeze and shirt-sleeve temperatures, we made rapid progress to the west, soon gaining the final rocks of Oxen Craig, another fine tor.

Oxen Craig is the highest point, at 529m

Dropping southwest of Oxen Craig, the path was clearly a lot less well-trodden and in places had the odd boggy bit (being dryshod on the hill in Scotland in late October was a real novelty). After dropping 80m, its only a 40m or so reascent to Watch Craig, and a rather finer, rockier summit ridge than you’d guess from looking at the map.

Our westernmost summit, Watch Craig

We were still under 5km from the hotel, but had run out of mountain. A short retrace and then a path dropping southeast proved quite a bit rougher, but soon joined a main trail, Gordon Way, which contours around the south of the hills, and appears to be much favoured by mountain bikers. Below was much forestry and perhaps the views were not so fine this side. Gordon Way soon drops away, whilst we climbed partway back up Oxen Craig to join our path of ascent, which we followed for only a short way before turning off to visit another tor, Craigshannoch. This seems less visited, too, but had excellent paths in three directions. We set off heading back towards Mither Tap but soon branched yet again, to contour round and drop back onto Maiden Causeway and the route home.

The path back east from Craigshannoch

All in all a fine couple of part-days of hillwalking away from the temptations of reception lunches, and excellent weather for the time of year – now stalking is over, I’d normally be in Scotland for ski touring !

A return to 4k peaking – Morocco

Having walked up a 3000m peak in 2015 – the first one for twenty years, we decided to go higher for 2016 and do a trek taking in a couple (or three) 4000m peaks in the High Atlas.

I started a feedback essay for the company running the trek, but this diversified into more of a blog write-up. Then, adapting it for the blog, it strangely starting morphing back into feedback. Looks like I’ll be rewriting both from scratch shortly… But meanwhile, this is a placeholder blog entry, to accumulate a set of photos which I can write the blog around. The executive summary is that it was a successful trip, but with reservations. I don’t think I’d do a commercial trekking trip again – I had rather expected more independent walking between meeting points. I’m not really suited to walking in a crocodile like we did at primary school, and I developed a bit of an “escape from the chain gang” mentality which rather clashed with the guide’s expectations… Eventually I omitted the third 4000m peak (Mary and Sarah went up it) as my patience was exhausted.

Andy on top of Jbel Adrar n’Dern, 4001m (photo: Sarah)

Walking French Alps 2015

With the low water levels, I did a bit more walking on the alps trip this year, though the heat did make for rather hazy views. We started off at the top of the Onde Valley, above Vallouise, with a walk up to the Réfuge des Bans. This is past the end of the road, and well beyond any part of the Onde which is paddled, even at grade5+. There are canyons to be run up here, though unfortunately, none which we could see into from our walk, whose main objective was, of course, to justify a cold beer at the Réfuge.

Wild scenery just before climbing steeply up to the hut

The edge of the Ecrins National Park is just at the parking place, so this is a protected area with plenty of wild flowers (probably better earlier in the season this year when there was more snowmelt in the streams) and wildlife.

Lots of butterflies on the alpine flora

The next venture was on a day when I really didn’t want to mess about at the St. Clément slalom site or take part in a mass trip down the Sunshine Run. The Three Lakes Walk last year had made the idea of driving deep into the mountains on steep forest tracks seem rather fun, and I found my way to a considerable height (2380m) above St. Clément, although not without some difficulty, as a couple of the tarmac roads around Réotier were closed for roadworks and the diversion signs weren’t really designed for someone with my destination in mind. Once I’d managed to reach the end of the surfaced road, it all got easier. The road ended at a couple of small buildings very much in the middle of nowhere, so I was surprised to find my phone telling me that there was free WiFi here !

Looking to the Ecrins, and peaks I’d climbed in 1984

The path climbed fairly gently to the west, offering improving views, but nothing very spectacular until a col on the SE ridge of my objective, the Tête de Vautisse. Here a view opened over the Couleau valley, bounded on the far side by some fairly impressive crags. Unfortunately, the route to the peak now involved a descent, as the ridge is not quite continuous. This proved not to be as much of a height loss as the map seemed to indicate and I was soon at the foot of the final ridge. This was steep and somewhat loose, with quite a bit of exposure over the southern side above Le Couleau, so I was quite surprised to find two Mountain Bikers heading downhill towards me from the summit. They did dismount for one or two particularly awkward bits, but mostly hurtled down in apparent control…

I had chosen this peak as the highest in the group of hills west of the Durance valley with almost no higher peaks between it and the main Ecrins Massif to the NW. The only thing distracting me from the very extensive view was a glider (from the airfield at St. Crépin) using the uplift on the south side of my ridge by repeatedly flying past very close to the cliffs. He started out well below me, but after a few passes gained enough height to be well clear of the summits. The summit was soon reached, at 3156m, the first 3000m peak I’d climbed for almost twenty years.

Tête de Vautisse, looking towards the Ecrins

No other path appeared on my map, but it was clear that a way had been reasonably well used off the NE ridge, which split into NNE and ENE ridges a short way down. Although the ENE ridge was bounded by steep rocks, I could see enough to deduce that the path came off that and back down to the valley from which I had ascended, so I varied my route by descending this side. Rather to my surprise, it proved less steep and loose than the main route I’d followed on the way up, though a bit harder to follow. Coming down this way avoided almost all the reascent to reach the col, and I was soon back on the main footpath. The grassy areas had plenty of Marmots to scold me on my way back to the car.

A couple of days later, Mary and I had a shorter walk onto the ridge separating the Guisane from the Clarée, north of Briançon. This time, a surfaced road got us most of the height, leaving only a short way along a rather rough track to our starting point. Since this was, again, at about 2400m, the total climb to the Croix de la Cime, at 2613m, was fairly minimal.

Many well-defined paths and prayer flags on the cross suggest this is a much more visited summit

We continued southwards along the ridge, taking in a couple of smaller peaks, before retracing our steps and then dropping off the western side above St. Chaffrey. This led to a well-defined path traversing below the ridge, but still offering fine views into the Ecrins, where the weather looked a little more threatening.

Cloud boiling over the higher peaks of the Ecrins

There was but a short reascent to the car (still the only one which had made it up to this particular parking spot, though we’d met plenty of people on the ridge).

Pennine Atmospherics

We’ve been doing a few local walks lately, but this one was a little further afield as we decided to revisit High Cup Nick. It was a cold sharp and sunny day at home, but almost as soon as we started heading west, there were rolling banks of fog, though we could see the blue sky just above us whilst we were east of the Pennine watershed, so thought it would burn off soon enough. West of Stainmore, however, we descended below what was now a layer of overcast and we started to have our doubts.

Heading NE out of Dufton, we got some way up the hill before entering the cloud layer. We were following the bridleway that (eventually) leads to Garrigill at the top of the South Tyne with the intention of dropping into High Cup from the moor above which would be a more dramatic way of seeing it than coming on it gradually from below. A couple of steep zigzags very much reminded me of the Sani Pass and I was fondly imagining emerging from the top of the cloud to find the highest Pub in Africa… The track soon got quite snowy, then the sky started to look blue and I found I had a shadow – this was looking good. A zephyr took the mist away and the sun burned down fiercely for a short while.

By the time, Mary, Chrissie, Tully and Fern arrived, however, a more prolonged bit of breeze had drawn the clouds back and we turned south onto the trackless moor in very poor visibility, though the top of the cloud was obviously not far above. Looming through the mist, we saw a big cairn, and from there we could briefly make out the trig point a little further south. Again the sun penetrated the fog, and had we been above a drop to our north, we would have seen brockenspectres. As the ground was level, we just got the top half of the halo, but this was quite impressive and distinct.

From the trig point, which was on the edge of the plateau, just above a drop-off, we picked up a better, though at times indistinct, path, with less snow, so made rapid progress south. As we approached the drop-off into High Cup, the path turned more eastwards and we knew we wanted to drop down to meet the Pennine Way. But every time the cloud thinned a little and gave us a view we seemed to be looking down steep snow slopes into impenetrable depths, so we continued to follow the path along the top of the edge. Eventually the fog lifted briefly again and we could see that the way down was straightforward, if rather boggy. The GPS said we were quite a way east of where we’d hoped to cut down, so we wasted no time, dropping back into the cloud, now with a cold breeze in our faces. A quick snack and an additional layer added, we headed along the path which materialised and soon grew more distinct. But no views. As a scenic excursion to one of the Pennine’s more dramatic bits of scenery, the trip was a bit of a flop. But the dogs enjoyed it…

A return to Munro bagging ?

When I had the misfortune to live in Cambridge, it seemed no trouble at all to drive 500 miles north two or three weekends a month during the Scottish “season” (October 21st to about the end of May), but when I moved two hundred miles nearer, the need for escape sort of withered a bit. Maybe marriage and kids had something to do with it… but it seems I’ve only ticked four Munros in the last nineteen years. I was up to 186 out of the 277 in the tables that were current when I started, but the dastardly Scots have messed things about a bit since then, with the total going up to 284, and some of the ones I’d bagged being demoted to mere “tops”. Mind you, some of the tops have been elevated to Munro status, too, but I was never obsessive about recording which tops I’d visited…

September 2014 however (yes, I know, it’s not in the season) has seen the start of a resumption of effort. Since both Mary and I had managed to succumb to minor injuries sufficient to deter us from paddling the Moriston on Wet West, but already being committed as part of the grand transport plan to get Michael back from Fort Bill on the Sunday, we decided we’d better give the dog some exercise and hence found ourselves booking beds in Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness (Fort William and environs seemed to be “full”). This gave us relatively easy access to a couple of outstanding targets in the north.

Ben Wyvis from the easy path up

Ben Wyvis was one I’d tended to ignore, saving it as an easy ski peak, but rarely driving this far north when conditions would have been good enough. So we kicked off with this on Friday, finding the car park moderately busy (we reckoned it would be best to avoid the weekend for this relatively popular peak). The day was a little warm from the start, but got a lot hotter as we found ourselves above a thermal inversion with clearing skies above. The south facing slope soon warmed up, and anabatic wind was drawing the cloud up from below, at one stage faster than we were gaining height ourselves. But the sun and a minimal breeze were enough to burn off the top of the cloud, and we stayed in the sunshine . The cloud had burned off completely before our descent. The walk was 14.7 km with 900m of ascent, but five hours (almost all on good paths) was not terribly quick – we must be out of practice !

Little Wyvis (a Corbett) above the valley cloud from the way up

Seeing as how it was very dry, it also seemed a good time to tick off the last of the Fannaichs – Fionn Bheinn, which has something of a reputation for being boggy. This, too, had been on my list of peaks to save for a ski ascent in the depths of winter, but being so nearby, it seemed churlish not to finish a section of the tables with this last hill in the group. Guidebook descriptions manage to make it sound difficult to find the route out of Achnasheen, but clearly, enough people have been lost and wandered through private gardens that the place is now vastly over-provided with signposts to the “official” route up the hill. It was indeed a trifle squishy underfoot at times, but not bad by Scottish standards. I can imagine, however, that a full drysuit might be advisable in wetter weather, and full snow cover (and skis) would perhaps be the best approach.

It looked a long way along the ridge, but that’s just the poor visibility –
it was under half a mile and we were at the top in no time!

The weather looked much hazier, and it soon proved to be less valley fog and more thin hill fog. The splendid views to be expected from such an isolated summit did not really materialise – a pity as we were really quite close to a lot of rather fine and remote peaks I’d climbed previously (Fisherfield forest is a few klicks to the west). From the summit itself, we could not even see the huge Loch Fannaich which lies just below the peak to the north, and a cool breeze meant we did not linger at the top, seeking shelter lower down for our lunch. Though the sun came out and the sky cleared, this was not until after we had descended via the east ridge and an excellent stalkers’ path back to the road. At 12.25 km and 800m of ascent, four and threequarter hours again looks a bit slow, but this time it was almost all pathless so we didn’t feel so bad.

On our return, I decided that a bit of tick-list restructuring was needed and a review of past ascents to ascertain as much as possible about which tops I had taken in (in case more were elevated as Munros). This proved easier than expected, especially with the wealth of data now available on the net. I had always decided that I ought to climb any hill which was a requirement for completion in former days, as well as whatever was in the current tables, so this was an opportunity to establish a definitive list. I was a little perturbed to find that there are 321 summits that are now or have formerly been Munros, and that I had only climbed 201 of these, leaving me 120 to do, instead of the 89 indicated by my 1984 tables. I was at least gratified to find that only one of the now-elevated tops I’d omitted to climb previously would require me to reascend any of the duller hills I’ve endured, but there are indeed a few hills to revisit, most of them rather good ones. I’ll put my list on the website when I have it in a more comprehensible format. Right now it is littered with redundant data that was used for transmogrifying my own ascent log to use the numbering system from the new list…

Piz Daint 2968m

Today’s sports programme was really about driving the Stelvio, which at 2757m I think is the highest of the alpine passes I had not previously driven, and conveniently nearby. So I headed off up the Inntal and hacked left over Reschenpass and into Italy. The Stelvio proved a fun drive (if a little busier than one would like) but the weather turned pretty foul, with sleet at the top.

The east side of the Stelvio Pass, a fun drive despite the rain and traffic. Looks mean for those cyclists…

I dropped over onto the easier western side, then took the first right, dropping into Switzerland, then heading up valley towards the Pass dal Fuorn, a mere 2149m, which would take me back to the Inn Valley. The weather quickly brightened up on this side of the crest, and by the time I arrived at the pass, looked like a nice day for a walk. Unfortunately, the only accessible 3000m peak was back at the border in the clag, and Piz Daint was the obvious choice if I wanted the sunshine. The distance was not that great at 4 km, but it is well over 800m of ascent to its 2968m summit.

Minor path heading left and up onto the rockier ground of Piz Daint

Starting fairly gently on a good path, a shoulder is crossed and a bit of downhill ensues before a lesser path heads off left and soon reaches rockier terrain. A long section of zigzags was eased by the sight of a couple ahead on whom I was gaining ground – these ascents always go faster with a bit of competitive spirit.

On the shoulder before the steep – the orange section is like badly run-out scree and a little unpleasant

The route reached a bit of a col where a path continued down the other side, but my way was left, on up the ridge, and this soon reached a levelling where the view ahead showed me exactly what I had in store to reach the top. Unfortunately, another group who I was hoping to overtake on this stretch decided to stop for a break, giving me no competitive incentive on the final steep ascent. This proved to be quite exposed, with very steep sides and loose stones underfoot. Not really that hard going up, and I was soon at the top, just outside two hours, but well under the time signposted at the start of the walk.

Looking south over the shoulder of Piz Dora (2951m) to Piz Murtaröl, 3180m

The summit view was really very extensive, with no higher peaks in the foreground, so although the quality of the walking was nothing to write home about, and it’s always annoying to be so close to the 3k mark without hitting it, this was rather reminiscent of climbing a Corbett back home – never as high as a Munro, but almost always a better viewpoint. The view can only distract for so long, however, and soon I started the descent, which, as expected, proved a lot more delicate than the way up, with the exposure very much more apparent looking ahead and down.

The steep and rather loose path down from Piz Daint – the steepest (orange stained in view above) bit is over the immediate horizon middle-left

All went well, and from the shoulder, progress became very quick indeed, getting back to the car in under an hour and a half. The drive down into Inntal showed a river, the Spöl, that was not in the guidebook, but looked paddleable but a little inaccessible at the bottom of a steep V-shaped valley. Looking at the map, however, it seems that a dam steals the water and directs it to the S-Chanf hydro, so maybe it never gets enough water to run. Once back at Zernez in the Inn valley, the route was familiar from having paddled various sections of the river and didn’t take long back to the campsite at Prutz.

The Three Lakes Walk

Sarah and I drove up what proved to be a very entertaining single-track road from the back of Roche de Rame, unsurfaced from soon after leaving the village. There seemed to be a highish population of kids and dogs at the bottom end of the Plan de la Loubiere where we planned to start the walk, so drove a bit further to find a parking spot out of the way, then headed back to cross the bridge and onto a forestry track. This was pleasant enough, though steep, and mostly shaded by the trees. As we gained height, the track curved round and started to traverse into a valley. Suddenly, and rather unexpectedly (I hadn’t studied the map quite closely enough) it dropped rather steeply into the next valley to cross the stream. Hmm, that’s quite a bit of extra reascent, then…

We now plodded steadily up valley across a south-facing slope, still mostly shaded, but quite steep. This eventually broke out into pasture and rock scenery opposite a nice waterfall, traversed round past a rock face and up some more into a wider valley where the ascent was a bit more gentle, but we were in the sun. Grassy pasture with lots of flowers alternated with patches of bare limestone and the path wasn’t always distinct. Thus we missed the way to the largest of the lakes (which was hidden by the slope above us) and headed round more easterly towards the two smaller lakes. With no path now visible at all, it was very pretty, and we headed towards the outlet valley from the smallest lake, aiming to avoid too much up and down.

Sarah walking through flowery pasture below the three lakes cirque

We were now finding that the walk was proving a bit longer than we’d hoped and, seeing the steep ascent yet to come, curved round right, missing out the lakes and heading over more stretches of bare rock towards the col. Although this last bit was a little loose and rocky in places, it proved less strenuous than perhaps we had feared and we were soon rewarded by the view from the col.

The south side of the col was a little steeper with a lot less vegetation, and bits were loose enough to require a bit of care, but soon we were down onto a more gentle area (with Marmots) in a bowl draining into the valley where we had parked. However, the stream dropped into a deep V-shaped gully with much loose stuff and clearly wasn’t the way down. The path was very vague around the top of this, but once we’d skirted west, it became quite well-defined again and took us right back to our upward track where we turned sharp left and headed down. By now, the lowering skies had given rise to rumbles of thunder. Crossing the bridge, we upped the pace a little along the now-level track, and reached the car just as the first quite big spots of rain started to fall. Excellent timing ! The walk proved to be about 13.5km with 800m of ascent. We drove down fairly carefully, as the track was a little slick in one or two places over polished stones.

A roundabout way up Beinn Bhàn

Since we’d come to Scotland for paddling in what turned out to be a drought, one group had set off to recce the River Meig, with its compensation-flow dam-release. They wanted to keep the party small and competant, with a view to taking others along later in the week. A second group were trying to paddle the Arkaig, or, if it really was too dry, just paddling on the loch. A third party went over to Aviemore for a day skiing. I took a day out for some walking, with the main aim of getting some personal points on geograph, and taking in a summit, but I hadn’t decided which one – it was going to depend how well things went. Unfortunately, one big block of potential goals was eliminated at a stroke when I found that the Loch Arkaig road was closed owing to major roadworks. I thus started from the same point as the Arkaig paddling group, and headed off round the foot of the Loch, and towards Glen Mallie.

There’s a very good track up Glen Mallie, though not quite where the OS map shows it, as it has been re-routed to avoid an area subject to flooding, and crosses by a new bridge. From beyond this, views improved of potential objectives, although, by now, I’d already decided that I’d got too late a start to head right the way up to Gulvain – a munro which formed a distant snowy backdrop to my view. By the time I’d got near where the track degenerated into a footpath, at a ruined building called simply Glenmallie on the map, it was clear that Beinn Bhàn should be the walk’s summit – a Corbett normally approached by a 3km walk from the south side. My 17 km route would therefore be unconventional, to say the least and I was hoping (correctly, as it turned out) that I would find some unphotographed squares for geograph. Glenmallie itself has changed a little since previous geograph pics were taken, with a new roof-shelter at the eastern end, under which were three rather faded pink plastic chairs with a good view back down the valley. This turned out to be a very convenient place to pause for lunch, as a brief shower passed.

My way now lay across the river (an easy crossing in the low water conditions which had me walking instead of paddling today) and up open slopes to the south. It was obvious that these would normally be a horrendous bog-flog but in the dry conditions, were merely springy underfoot and mostly very pleasant to climb. The decaying remnants of Caledonian Pine forest dotted the slopes, making for some fun photography, which led me into a slightly suboptimal location for the last bit of ascent onto Am Màm.

From here I juggled a desire to avoid losing height and having to reascend with an objective to cross at least the corners of every possible grid square, with some success as I probably only lost about ten metres of height in crossing the col to the slopes of the west ridge. As the view opened out to the south and Ben Nevis, I also got my first phone signal and was able to intimate that perhaps I would be a little later back than originally intended.

Here it did get rather steep and occasionally wet underfoot and, higher up, there was deep snow in some of the peat hags. The final ascent to the summit plateau was over hard ground with most of the snow avoidable up to the 771m west top. Easy walking then led east, with a fine view down into a big snowy corrie I’d glimpsed from the walk-in up Glen Mallie. There looks to be potential for a fine steep ski descent here, with the cornice avoidable at either side.

There were also by now fine views across to the Ben Nevis range, though this never quite came free of cloud. The last bit of climbing to the 796m summit was easy enough, and the cairn and trig point very obvious.

The best route down was less clear, and I was possibly a little nearer the north side of the spur than ideal. At one point I had to angle down across a steeper snow slope than I liked. Steep enough to slip on, but not too steep – I came to a stop immediately on sitting down. Further down, the terrain was much more confusing than you might guess from the map, and I had as my reference point the forest boundary and the buildings of Achnacarry I could see below. I might have been better quite a way south, but a steep slope gave me a choice of left or right to outflank it, and right seemed to involve retreating further from my destination, so I headed left as I could see a clear route that way.

The lack of any path, and eventually the proximity of the forest-edge deer-fence, confined me to a narrow corridor apparently much-used by deer, and definitely rather rough underfoot, so it was quite a strenuous descent. I worried that the narrowing of the stream towards which I was headed might mean I had to climb up by an obvious deer-track to the left, but on reaching this point, a path traversing above the stream became apparent, and no reascent was needed, for which I was quite grateful ! A bit more hacking led through a couple of gates and onto the road, with something like 28km behind me as I reached the car. The walk had netted me four geograph (first) points, my first since a similar day-off walk on last year’s Easter paddling trip.