midweek bikepacking adventure

A pal of mine, Neil from Edinburgh and I had a midweek bikepacking adventure in and around the hills above Grantown on Spey,.  Neil and I had agreed on a microadventure as inspired by Alastair Humphreys, ie. travel, explore, eat, sleep, travel and return all within 12 hours so Neil could get a train back to Edinburgh the next day.


This was to be our second trip out together, the first had been a two day 100km, 1500m of ascent trip with myself and another pal, Ian.  We rode from Kingussie to Loch Morlich for the night then after a couple of climbs on trails near Nethybridge before travelling back across to Kingussie.  Neil had never done any bikepacking before and I obviously hadn’t put him off on this trip! Bikepacking – what is it all about? For some it is all about going as far, as fast and light as possible through some of the most remote terrain.  For others it is the chance to combine backpacking and biking hence the name. Nowadays you don’t need to carry your gear in a backpack, instead use dedicated bike luggage which cleverly attaches to the frame, seatpost or handlebars of your bike.  This makes for more comfortable riding and no bouncing panniers or rattling frames. For me the attraction is the journey with the planning, exploration, time out from ‘normal life’, connecting with nature and riding through spectacular scenery.


So after a coffee and a blether at my house Neil and I loaded up our bikes and headed towards Broomhill Station to spot the Strathspey Railway Steam Train.  A careful crossing of the busy A95 then leads to some delightful, but steep singletrack up into the pines before dropping in swooping and whooping turns into Dulnain Bridge.  The first few kilometres on a loaded bike can sometimes be a little edgy, especially after a train journey but Neil rode the trails with panache. The weather had been great here in the Cairngorms National Park for weeks so our tires made a lovely crunchy sound as we rode along the side of the Dulnain River.  We could have stopped and set up here for the night easily, there was fresh running water nearby, plenty of trees to rig up a tarp, views through them to the hills and nearby some interesting farmland. But I wanted our bivvy site to be further up in the hills with a grandstand view of The Cairngorm Mountains, so a little more climbing was in order.  I probably also wanted to ride a bit further on my brand new Brothercycles 29er bike which I had just finished building the night before.


Given that this was after all a microadventure Neil and I had both gone for a seatpost bag and frame bag arrangement, as we did not have a lot of gear to take.    Over the last couple of years I have been using bike luggage from WildcatGear who are now based near Perth, just down the A9. Their kit is strong, durable and well thought out.  With consideration about how much kit you really need and what items can make a difference it is surprising how little gear is needed on a bikepacking trip. Dinner was going to be cooked on the hill.  We had my JavaDrip coffee maker and the plan was to ride into town early in the morning for breakfast. I took enough layers and an insulated jacket to make the evening comfortable in a lightweight sleeping bag with bivvy bag under a tarp.


So we climbed up and away from the roads and trails until we reached that perfect spot I had checked out the week before.  There was a ruined building just off of the path which was shelter from any cool north winds which were forecast and importantly, a small wall which I could rig my tarp to.  Recently I have started using a Trangia stove again, but with one with three interlocking plates that form the base instead of the usual aluminium pot stand arrangement. The burner and these plates take up little more room than a small digital camera and I love the peace and quiet that burners like this cook with.  This meant we were able to enjoy the late evening bird calls and have a blether over a small dram. Fried rice with onions and chorizo tasted brilliant as we sat on the wall watching the the setting sun pick out the ridges and corries of The Cairngorms. For dessert we were treated to some real, fresh honey from my father’s bees on oatcakes – luxury!  Later on we watched some showers and darker clouds appear both down the Strath and behind us to the North! The tarp and shelter of the ruin did the trick and in the morning despite a few showers Neil and I were both dry.


At 0430 in the morning we were treated to a cloud inversion in the glen along with the rising sun slowly picking out The Cairngorms again and warming us up as we enjoyed our coffee and more oatcakes with honey.  The ride into town starts with a fast descent on estate gravel roads that have a couple of steep hills that demand determination and courage to keep the speed up in order to get over the top. You also have to have skill to corner a loaded bike as you blast down into the next corner.  After this excitement there is a rising traverse above Glen Beg with great views across to The Cromdale Hills and Bynack Mor which is never out of sight for long on this trip. As Neil and I approached a field with sheep and their lambs we slowed down and slowly rode past them as the Right of Way passed along the side of their field.  After 0600 now so there were the odd signs of life as folk went about their business of feeding livestock or heading off to work. As we reached the road at Dreggie I led Neil down a couple of steep short cuts that add a lot of interest to an otherwise easy freewheel to the Dava Trail. We’d plenty of time so I suggested a wee detour along this old railway line to the Forres road and the gatehouse of Castle Grant.


As planned we rode into town just in time for the Co-op to have opened.  Back in a more urban environment, if Grantown on Spey can ever be called that (!) Neil managed to sweet talk us the first warm and fresh pastries of the day.  We enjoyed them, sitting on a bench at the Square before heading our separate ways at 0730. Neil and I agreed that 28km and 280m of ascent along with the riding, views, weather, good food & company this was a successful microadventure.

blog by Jim Sutherland, nineonesix-guiding

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Hostelling Scotland first ever Torridon Munro’s trip!

The weather was pretty kind for this springs Hostelling Scotland Torridon Munro’s. Ian, Eileen, Claire and Steve joined me on Sunday morning for what looked like being a very beautiful day in the mountains.

Our first objective was Beinn Alligin. This would give the group a chance to experience some scrambling and build on their skill before attempting Liathach the following day.

The views across to Gairloch were stunning as we made our way across the horns and onwards to the summit of our first Munro, Everyone made light work of the scrambling which boded well for tomorrows attempt on Liathach. We stopped briefly on the summit of Sgurr Mor as although it was sunny the air was quite cold. We took in the stunning seaward views out to Skye and back to the Horns where we had just been.

Another hour and we had reached Tom na Gruagaich and soon we were on the path down Coire nan Laogh where we passed a lonely soul with what looked like a very heavy pack, turned out to be a paraglider on his way to jump off the summit!

Day two and we are heading up the east end of Liathach. The path is steep and relentless here but eventually we gained the main ridge. Once again we were blessed with a fine day and even finer views. We stopped for a bite to eat on the summit of Spidean a Choire Leith and looked down to the Am Fasarinen pinnacles, the next challenge of the day. All being experienced scramblers the group had no difficulties traversing the pinnacles and we were soon on our way to Mullach an Rathain, today’s final Munro. The path down is very loose so we were slow for the first couple of hundred metres, however with improving conditions underfoot lower down we speeded up and were back at the roadside in no time at all.

Our last day’s objective was the traverse of Beinn Eighe. Unfortunatly the weather for today was not the best forecasting rainfall and substantial winds at 900m. We headed round into Coire Mhic Fhearchair and found that even at 600m it was quite windy and now raining steadily. The mist was down to about 750m obscuring the stone chute. I did have slight concerns that it may be full of snow but on reaching it we found it to be clear. The wind strengthened substantially as we exited the chute and we were now in thick mist. This was a day for just getting the Munros done, no views to enjoy today.

The wind was steady all day but became increasing strong on the scramble out to Spidean Coire nan Clach making this section feel particularly exposed. By the time we reached the road the tops had cleared with the improving weather, unfortunately the mountain was not prepared to share it views with us today.

Thanks to   Ian, Eileen, Claire and Steve for three great days.

blog by Dunc Maclennan of nineonesix-guiding

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Dublin & Wicklaw Mountain Rescue Team winter rescue training.

My friends Cormac Lynch, Chris England and Ronan Friel from Dublin & Wicklaw MRT had visited Torridon a couple of winters ago to visit and spend some time in the mountains.  We’d all kept in touch over the years so when Cormac asked me to put a Winter Training Weekend I was delighted. Dunc & Richard from Torridon MRT, who also work for me at nineonesix-guiding were also brought in to bring their very current mountain rescue team experience into the mix.


The first day was a bit of a shake down, a refresher in winter skills for some, while others were acquiring these skills for the first time. Just about every aspect of slope in the Northern Cairngorms, that was easily accessible had a considerable avalanche risk. With that in mind, we set off on the Path into Coire an t-Sneachda, practicing some nav and checking the snowpack on the way. We could soon see the massive crown wall of the avalanche which had released the day before in Coire an t-Sneachda. A good reminder of the conditions we were expecting to find.

We made our way to Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda where we found some scoured slopes perfect for cramponing and some ice axe arrest practice. Once everyone felt comfortable with axe and crampons we continued up the ridge until the rock section passing some extremely unstable snow on the way. After a quick bite to eat and some time to enjoy the sunshine and views we headed down into Coire an Lochan moving one at a time on suspect slopes using islands of safety. We decided to stay in the sunshine for some transceiver practice then wandered back to the carpark in what was a cold but beautiful afternoon.     


Day two brought a change in the weather with strong winds and blowing snow making for a ‘gnarly’ day. Once the snow gates had opened at Glenmore, and to get some shelter from the worst of the elements, we walked up into Coire na Ciste where we split into two workshops. One group focussed on bucket seats and buried axe anchors whilst the other group looked at snow bollards, the stomper belay and boot axe belays. The weather worsened as the day wore on so we moved lower down in the afternoon before switching workshops and then had sessions on deadman anchors. Challenging though the conditions were, everyone had a productive day on the hill and got to experience some ‘proper’ Cairngorms winter weather to add to the weekend’s learning.


The plan for the final day was to take the principles, techniques and confidence developed on the first two days and put them into a very realistic mountain rescue context.  The avalanche risk was still Considerable so the choice of venues had to be very carefully considered. We decided to visit Coire na Ciste again but this time on the harder, more scoured slopes that the forecasts indicated.  Dunc & Richard, now joined by Jim briefed the Dublin & Wicklaw MRT group about prevailing conditions, the plan to practice a multi-pitch stretcher lower on intermediate angles slopes and how to go about this safely, as well as considerately for other hill users.  We say considerately as we were going to be working below the West Wall of Cairngorm Mountain Ltd. and to the side of Ciste Gully. On the way in we met on of the piste-basher drivers who explained to us what his job was that morning – we also told him what we hoped to do.  After a group photo with DWMRT beside the piste basher and and a friendly discussion about where exactly to go we continued up to the steeper slopes. Within minutes of arriving on the pisted track up from Ciste Gully everyone had helmets, ice axe and crampons deployed. The scene was then set:  get a stretcher to the base of the slope via three intermediate stances as safely and smoothly as possible. Buried axe, deadman and snow bollard anchors were dug out in the hard snow below the surface. They were then combined to create multi-point anchors one above the other down the line of the lower.  DWMRT do a lot of technical crag lowers/raises and this was obvious as the groups constructed, tested and used their anchors. Petzl iDs were the device of choice, along with a rope bridle arrangement to speed up the changeovers. At least three lowers were completed with each one being discussed, then modified if necessary before repeating the process.  By the time we got to the penultimate lower the three of us were definitely redundant – always a good sign!


Hopefully we will see some of you back again next winter for another successful weekend – from all of us ‘ Thanks!’

blog by Dunc, Richard & Jim from nineonesix-guiding

photos here in nineonesix-guiding gallery


SYHA winter walking skills in Torridon

This week saw the second of the winter skills courses being run for the SYHA this season. There was plenty snow with great conditions, so the course ran from Torridon. Over the three days we covered a huge variety of skills and put them to the test on some of the spectacular Torridon mountains.

Day 1 we headed up Beinn Damh and on the way looked at avalanche avoidance, did some self arresting and introduced the use of crampons and ice axes to reach the summit. The rain started on our descent, but we were rewarded for our efforts with some delicious home made lemon drizzle cake on return to the Hostel – thanks Em!

Day 2 was extremely mild, so the walk in to Coire nan Laogh was a warm one! We zigzagged our way up snow slopes, passing some old avalanche debris, to reach the summit of Tom na Gruagaich. The conditions were icy on the summit plateau, so we stuck our crampons on to make movement a lot easier. It was a complete pea souper all day, which allowed for excellent navigation practice.

Day 3 we decided to go for a bigger day to put into practice all the skills learned and headed up the West ridge of Liathach to the summit of Mullach an Rathain. The snow had had quite a fright due to the mild temperatures and over night rain, but the final push to the summit definitely required the use of crampons and ice axes. The cloud lifted off the summit as we ascended, rewarding us with fabulous views over the surrounding mountains and out to sea.

A wonderful few days spent in the winter Torridon mountains and we pretty much had the place to ourselves, we only saw 5 people the whole time! Thanks to Claire, Debbie, Jocelyn and Jeffrey for their wonderful enthusiasm, humour and company. Haste ye back!


blog by Kirsty Chuchla

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Kevin & Amber sample some not so dusty trails in the Cairngorms…

It was an early start in Grantown for bike collection and a pack-up from Elephant in the Pantry, Kevin and Amber followed me to Nethy Bridge as the grey turned to blueish and we put the bikes together for a day on the classics of Cairngorm.

Kevin and Amber were on a break for a week all the way from Los Angles, California and were looking for a back country bike adventure as part of their trip.  A bit a trail comparison was inevitable, and sure enough they had only seen dry dusty trails for some time, so it was only fair that the Scottish trails were a touch on the damp side just for variety.

Out of Nethy, up and over to Ryvoan for the first stop of the day, the bothy was in fine order, with a resident whittler producing some finely crafted sticks!  Had to convince our guests this doesn’t happen every time! Enjoyed the descent with a quick photo stop at Loch Uaine, then onto Glenmore Lodge and a closer look at cornering and anticipation skills on the berms there.

Weather began to get away from us at Loch Morlich, with a pack up under the trees (nice quiche!) then onto Badaguish for some singletrack fun,  over Sluggans and begin to close the loop to Loch Garten and back to the start.

It was a big day in the end, lots of pedalling, some good fun on the descents and definitely some new MTB experiences to take back to California. Nice to pedal with you both.

blog by Ian Sikora, thanks again to Nicola at Elephants in the Pantry, Grantown on Spey for the lovely cake & quiche and Lindsay at BaseCampBikes, Grantown on Spey for sorting Kevin & Amber with some great bikes!

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SYHA Torridon Munros August 2017

SYHA Munros course 28/08/17

Day 1

Iain, Alison and Mickey.

With the threat of wet and wild weather for days two and three, we decided to attempt the traverse of Liathach with the feeling that if it was a long day, we wouldn’t be working too hard tomorrow given the forecast. The legs got a good workout and as time was ticking along, we took the bypass path on the South side of the Pinnacles to keep things moving.. What a great path, precipitous but easy on the legs!

There was a bit of digging deep into the reserves as we reached Mullach an Rathain at the West end, and after a lengthy descent we got back for a well deserved tea.

Day 2

With Rain bouncing of the Youth hostel and gale force winds at the summits we went for a low level walk round the back of Beinn Eighe to hopefully get some views. Around lunchtime the rain stopped, we got our views and by the time we got back to the car we were dry. It turned out pretty nice in the glen, and we walked round to the Torridon Inn for a lovely meal later on.

Day 3

Windy and dry forecast, and tired legs, we headed up to bag Tom na Gruagaich, one of the Munros on Beinn Alligin (the jewel mountain of Torridon). It was pretty windy near the summit, which caused some worry, but we got there and enjoyed some stunning Torridon views and then got ourselves back down the coire to shelter for lunch. The sun was out with a good stiff breeze so no midgies.. awesome!

Iain Murray

Spidean a’ Choire Leith
Liathach ridge
great path
more mist
Mullach an Rathain
local wildlife
The final steps onto Tom na Gruagaich
Amazing views!
Happy Mickey!
Windy summit
More local wildlife
More beauty!

Beinn Alligin & Liathach

I met Harry, David, Richard and Vahan at Torridon in the lashing rain last Saturday morning, wondering how much fun we were really going to have today!
Beinn Alligin was our target and by the time we drove up to the Carpark, the rain had eased a bit and the forecast was for things to gradually improve as the day went on. We practiced a bit of basic navigation on the path that led up towards the foot of the Horns of Alligin. Everyone made short work of the first section of scrambling before reaching the horns proper and I could see that we would have no problems, even with the awkward descent of the first Horn. The weather wasn’t the best but sometimes its better like that. We scrambled along in mist, then windows of stunning scenery would open up then close again without warning.
After the Horns we had a stiff pull up onto the summit of Sgurr Mor, the first Munro. From here it was mainly walking with a few steps of scrambling before reaching the summit of Tom na Gruagaich the second Munro of Alligin. We had some good views from the summit but the mist soon closed in again and followed us down the mountain, perfect timing!

For Sundays adventure we were going to up the ante a bit and see how everyone would cope with the Am Fasarinen pinnacles on the dramatic ridge of Liathach. The weather forecast for the day was much better than the day before but standing on the summit of Spidean Choire Leith, the first Munro on the east west traverse, in the mist and lashing rain. I think everyone could have come up with somewhere they would rather be. Luckily by the time we had reached the start of the Pinnacles the weather had improved slightly, no views but the rain had eased. We slowly made our way along the crest using the rope for the more exposed sections with the visibility constantly improving to give us some views down into the glen. Then, just as we finished the last part of the scrambling the mist cleared and we were in sunshine with blue skies above while the remaining section of the ridge stood out draped in mist on the North side and bathed in sun on the south side. We had amazing views from Mullach an Rathain at end of the ridge and could finally relax knowing that it was all downhill from here on.
Thanks to Harry, David, Richard and Vahan for their good company on two great days.

blog by Dunc Maclennan, nineonesix-guiding

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