Sixt Fer a Cheval, via refuge Vogealle to Samoen : an epic alpine trek

Fancy a truly epic cross country route, ticking every box in your alpine wish list?  Take my word for it and head to the dramatic horseshoe amphitheatre of Sixt Fer a Cheval.  Head northwards on the track, towards source of the river Gifre.

The dramatic rock amphitheatre of Sixt Fer a Cheval

The dramatic rock amphitheatre of Sixt Fer a Cheval

Technically, things get interesting after a mile or so : follow the path signposted up the cliff, towards refuge Vogealle. The first section, climbing up and across a rock face is the most difficult in terms of both route finding and scrambling. Although there are red arrows painted on the rock, we ended up on a couple of dead end ledges before eventually finding our way up and over the slabs. Continue reading

Cadair Idris : waiting for the rain to arrive…

The impact of weather seems to be a constant feature of this blog, whether it’s finding hidden trails which shelter you from storm force winds and rain, or searching for water when you run dry well below the summit on scorching highland climbs. Today was no exception.  I’d been checking the MWIS forecast daily – and it hadn’t been getting any more encouraging.  Heavy and persistent rain arriving mid morning, remaining all day and with a little lightning thrown in for added excitement.

In spite of the dire warnings, Erol, Grant, Richard and I ignored common sense and set off from the Minffordd car park in pretty good conditions.  It was about then that I remembered how the walk starts..  The last time I did this was with my daughter and a few of her teenage friends, and to this day, when we remember the cadair day, they all say “OMG!  The steps!!!”.  And that was pretty much how we felt today.  There is something much more difficult about lifting your legs high over countless steep steps right at the start of a walk, far worse than picking your own route through a rough track.

The payoff comes however, when you reach the perfect corrie lake of Llyn Cau, nestling below the cliffs of Cadair range.


Erol, Grant and Richard at Llyn Cau, below the cliffs of Cadair Idris

Continue reading

Tryfan and the Glyders from Idwal : the ultimate Welsh Workout

The traverse of the Glyders ridge must surely rank as THE best walker’s route in Southern Britain.  Throw in a quick scramble up Tryfan’s South face (and a little more practise on the edge of Bristly ridge) – and you achieve the perfect recipe for a great November day out in the hills.

We started out from Idwal Cottage, taking the track south east, then up and over the lip to Llyn Bochlwyd.  A nice easy start and a perfect place for a quick breather before the fun starts.  The whole day is mapped out for you from the shore of the lake : Tryfan’s conical peak to the West with the great wall of Glyder cliffs straight ahead.

Martin, Greg and Julian take five

Martin, Greg and Julian take five

Continue reading

Aonach Eagach : Don’t. Look. Down.

Sometimes when you’ve been really looking forward to something for many years, finally achieving it can be a bit of a let down.  That’s definitely NOT the case with the Aonach Eagach ridge !

One of the (many) pleasures of staying at the Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe, is an evening stroll along the road to the West to look up at the narrow ridge line that is Aonach Eagach.  For years this has haunted me : half of me desperate to get up there and test son Sam and myself against Scotland’s ultimate scramble – and half of me thinking of the all too real risks entailed.  This year I came up with the solution : call on the services of local mountain guide, Martin McDermott to help keep us on the right track – and more importantly in one piece!  To make the day even better, my nephew Lewis managed to get the day off and travelled over from Edinburgh to join us.

There’s not really much you can say about the route itself.  Basically, you drive along Glen Coe for a bit, then climb up a steep track to reach the ridge line at Am Bodach – then follow the crest of the ridge for about 3 miles.

Aonach Eagach is all about the scrambling.

Looking along from the start of the Aonach Eagach ridge

Looking along from the start of the Aonach Eagach ridge

Continue reading

The Ring of Steall : test your metal

The Ring of Steall offers everything you might order for a big day out in the Scottish Highlands – with that little extra thrown in.  So you get 4 Munros and enough 3,000′ peaks to lose count, easy but airy scrambling, narrow snow-lined ridges even in July, a heart stopping clamber over a rope bridge – and a full day of fantastic views.  The little extra ?  That would be the ever present vista of Ben Nevis just across the glen, teasing you with a clear view of the whole CMD Arete ridgeline.

Start point for our anti-clockwise route was the car park at Achriabhach (NN 145683). Head East along the road for a 100m to pick up a good footpath, slowly climbing the glen beside the Allt Coire a Mhusgain.  Leave this track at NN148676 and head up the shoulder towards the day’s first peak, Sgurr a’Mhaim at 3,400′.  From here the views really open up, with sentinal of Stobb Ban to the West and the whole Ring curving round to the East.


The Ring of Steall : just count those peaks!

The next section provides much of the day’s scrambling excitement, earning it’s title of ‘The Devil’s Ridge’.

Continue reading

Llyn Idwal and up the Devil’s Kitchen to Y Garn : the place to go when storm winds howl!

We’ve all been there…  You’ve planned this trip for weeks, reviewed the route many times to get the perfect blend of challenging scrambling and great views, you’ve discussed it on Facebook with your mates and everyone is set…  Except : you’ve been checking the Mountain Weather Information Service – and it’s looking really ominous!

For most of us who don’t live close to the mountains, we have to plan trips well in advance.  There’s seldom a chance to change dates at short notice – but unfortunately you also have to be realistic and safe, especially in Winter.  Heading off for that airy ridge scramble when the forecast includes storms and 80 mph gusts (as happened to us just after Christmas), puts you just the wrong side of sensible.  So is their a solution which protects that precious day in the hills, but ensures we get home in one piece ?

Well, if you’re heading for Snowdonia there is a perfect route – and it’s quite possible that that storm will create the ideal conditions for an epic day out and put that smile on your (rather wet) face.  The trick is to use the geography to your advantage – and the cliffs surrounding idyllic Llyn Idwal create that perfect wind break, as well as providing a great scrambling route up towards the summit of Y Garn.  The wind may be howling – but it’s passing harmlessly 100’s of feet over our heads.

Heading up the Devils Kitchen rock face

Heading up the Devils Kitchen rock face

Continue reading

Beinn Eighe : the greatest wild swimming in the World ?

Each of Torridon’s three great ridge walks provide a unique mountain experience.  On a sunny day, Beinn Eighe sparkles with alpine brightness, topped completely in quartzite icing.  The hidden gem though nestles on the far side of the range, with the turquoise waters of Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair lapping gently against the magnificent cliffs of the Triple Buttress.

Best to park at the small parking area near the bridge (OS ref NR 958568).  Walk East up the road for about a mile and the follow the clear path that leads up towards Coire an Laoigh.  The grassy start soon steepens as it approaches the quartzite ‘wall’.  Continue reading

Sgurr Alasdair : Scree heaven!

Fancy a gourmet meal of scrambling delights ?  Sgurr Alasdair delivers the perfect tasting menu, making it one of the best day’s scrambling in the Highlands!  For starters there is a beautiful loch nestled within a classic corrie, the main course is a scree slope to die for and pudding comes in the form of fantastic views covering the entire Cuillin ridge to the North – with an awesome vista of Scottish Islands to the South.

Start point is the small campsite at the end of the road at Glenbrittle.  The route follows a reasonable track heading directly towards an obvious corrie (Coire Lagan).  After a while you can leave the main path and climb up the huge, smooth rock slabs towards the corrie lip, all the time the amphitheatre of foreboding cliffs drawing in around you.

Continue reading

Bruach na Frithe : The dark heart of the Black Cuillin

The Cuillins are all about Drama.  The landscape is schizophrenic : smooth red lumps on one side, spiky black rocks with attitude on the other.  Bruach na Frithe is definitely in the latter camp : one accesible peak in a gang of malevolant pinnacles.  This is a classic day out in the Black Cuillin, with views that fix themselves for ever into your memory !

To make life a little easier, you start and end this walk at the iconic Sligachan Inn, just the place for a pre-walk fry-up and a post-walk pint of ‘Red Cuillin’.  Walk in along the Alt Dearg Mor burn, following this for a few miles.  Leave the main track at Coire na Circe and head quite steeply up the path towards the obvious corrie between Sgurr a’ Bhasteir and Bruache na Frithe.  From the Corrie basin, head straight up the rocky rim towards the lowest point of the ridge (Bealach nan Lice).

Here the vista changes suddenly, with the view dominated by the fearsome pinnacles of Am Basteir (the Tooth) and Sgurr nan Gillean (pictured left).  For best effect, take a short detour left to climb Sgurr a Bhasteir, the spur taking you out at right angles to the main ridge.  Turning around you get an awesome view of the Black Cuillin at it’s best.

Whilst the Bhasteir Tooth is reserved for experienced climbers, there are ways up Sgurr nan Gillean for expert scramblers.  This involves a traverse of the south face, overcoming the obligatoy ‘bad step’ on the ascent.

Continue reading

Ben Nevis by the Carn Mor Dearg Arete

Sam and I climbed Ben Nevis a few years ago via the Pony track – and ever since then we’ve wanted to do it by the ‘other’ route – the CMD Arete!  This is a challenging day out and not for the faint hearted – but you wouldn’t be reading this unless you were made of sterner stuff!  Ben Nevis is not the objective here, even though that’s where you end up.  This route is all about the journey – and what a journey it is.

Sam and I started at the car park at Torlundy, walking up through the woods and along the Allt a Muillinn burn.  A mile or so along the burn, you begin to see why Ben Nevis is not the pussycat it’s sometimes made out to be.  First the buttreses of Carn Dearg come into view, quickly followed by the sheer precipices of the North Face as you approach the CIC climbers hut.  Take some time to drink in the views (the banner picture for Highland Scrambler was taken from here too).  Tried to spot a scrambling ascent route of the North Face …  Maybe next time …

Continue reading