Full-on in Fisherfield & The Classic Torridon Loop.

Ged, Ricky, Oscar, Dave & Stuart had planned a bit of a mountain biking road trip to Scotland and to help them get the best of the trails in the NW asked me to guide them for a couple of days.  I was joined both days by Charlie from Torridon Activities as part of his preparation for his Level 3 assessment and on Sunday by Ian Sikora who I ride and guide with both in Torridon and across in The Cairngorms.

The forecast for our first day was for strong, or gale force winds, windchill and driving rain or sleet – certainly not the conditions to be attempting to ride anything too high up in the mountains.  Having met the group in the morning to discuss their experience and aspirations it was agreed to drive north to Poolewe where we would ride into the spectacular and remote Fionn Loch.  The above photo shows a break in the weather, this along with some determined riding meant that we got all the way to the Causeway and across to Carnmore Bothy for a late lunch.  This was despite a few visits by the pinch-flat troll who lives near the bottom of the first descent by Martha’s Peak!  For some the return ride across the Causeway had to be timed to avoid the frequent squalls that blasted down the loch.  Riding in a remote environment such as this demands respect.  Charlie & I pointed out that whilst risk cannot be eliminated we can reduce it by taking decisions such as using a bridge with a detour instead of wading a river in spate.  All the way out we were battered and often brought to a halt by the 40mph headwind.  Stuart re-grouped at the top of the final descent to the woods before everyone had a chance to relax at bit and push the pace on the trail as it dropped and weaved down to the gate.  Two hours back from the Bothy to the cars was good going in these conditions.

Sunday’s forecast was for the weather to move from Westerlies to Northwesterly near to midday so I was perfectly happy to go for the Classic Torridon Loop with the group.  After all this is what they’d come here for!  Our warm up ride and climb up through to Coulin was a contrast to the day before with time for looking at the ‘Big Country scenery’, photos and detours to retrieve riding glasses!  Neil Morrison the head keeper at Coulin Estate met us on the climb to the Pass but he did not stay too long as I think the lads were planning to put their bikes in his truck.  Warp speed to the railway station with no cafe, a smooth ride on the re-surfaced Lochcarron road and then it was time…  Time for the climb from Coulags to the Annat descent.  This technical climb can sap tired legs, split inner tubes and break hearts but the new hydro scheme track has certainly taken the sting out of it to the bridge.  But no flats for us so there was time to relax and have some lunch at the bothy just in time for the weather to improve as promised.  The hike-a-bike to the Bealach na Lice was in pretty good nick so it did not take us long to reach the top of the magic carpet that is the Annat Descent.  Keen not to spoil the flow of this famous descent we choose two natural stopping points to allow me to ride ahead and get photos.  The rest was flow, flow, flow and more flow.

It was a pleasure for myself, Charlie & Ian to meet and ride with Ged, Ricky, Oscar, Dave & Stuart.

blog by Jim, nineonesix-guiding

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A walk on the wild side…

Many thanks once again for your excellent company and guidance on Liathach yesterday. A superb day out and memorable for all the right reasons.

Dave McSporran

Cambridge University Mountaineering Club Lochaber meet.

Dave and I met the students on a particularly ‘minging’ day, so it was appropriate to try and stay under the weather and head into the North Face of Ben Nevis to find some firm snow without getting hammered by the weather. We got up to the the bottom of Observatory Gully, got used to moving around on varied underfoot conditions and the wind  stayed manageable for the time we were out.

Day 2 Dave went to Buachaille Etive Beag to introduce some of the students to different aspects of Scottish winter, including building snow shelters. Arlie and John wanted to learn to lead climb in winter, so we went to the sheltered climb Zig Zags on Gearr Aonach in Glen Coe to give some calm conditions to learn in. Good snowy conditions ensured that it felt very different to the summer rock climbing they had plenty of experience in. Things are harder in gloves!

Day 3, We all headed to the gondola at Nevis Range. Arlie, John and I started early with the 0800 climbers gondola so we could go to the classic mountaineering route Golden Oldy. We had to finish early enough so they could catch an evening flight from Glasgow, so the pressure was on! With lots of fresh snow, I was in snow plough mode, breaking trail for us and the following parties. The rewards were great frozen turf, fantastic views and a brilliant climb for all.

Dave headed up Aonach Mor, and made it through the challenging ridge conditions over to summit Aonach Beag, with opportunity to get some imaginative winter skills training on the way… Good job!

SYHA winter skills February 17th, 18th and 19th

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The SYHA Torridon winter skills course was looking very marginal at the start of last week with mild conditions and a rapidly disappearing snow pack, the mountains were more like May than February.

I met a very international group at Cairngorm lodge hostel which consisted of German, British and Portuguese. Everyone was really enthusiastic and eager to get crampons fitted to boots, some people did not have boots, which was a bit alarming but fortunately they were able to rent some the next morning.

Day one.

Coire Na Ciste seemed to be still holding some snow so for the first day I thought this would make a good start. We left the Ciste car park and headed into the coire. The first snow we came across was very promising as the overnight frost and made the conditions bullet hard.

For some of the group this was their first time walking on snow we quickly covered the various techniques for ascending descending and traversing snow slopes on some low angled ground. We then had to move rapidly on to cramponing as we were going to be unable to make further progress up the mountain without their use.

We made our way up the Coire na Ciste and over to Ciste Mhearad to have a look at the quite elaborate snowholes which had been constructed. After a quick bite to eat the team put their navigation skills to the test taking a bearing on Cairngorm summit, the last objective of the day, other than getting back to the hostel!  The view eastwards were obscured by some low cloud but the situation was still spectacular with views to Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda and Lurcher’s Crag. We made our way back to the car park making the most of the remaining snow patches to practice ice axe breaking.

Day two

The warm temperatures had significantly softened the snow pack and I felt pleased that we had the opportunity to do so much crampon work on the previous day. We focused on navigation, beginning in the car park by finding out what everyone’s double pace count was for a hundred meters. Then we broke down the journey to Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda into sections and navigated to the bottom of the ridge. Although the snow pack was wet and soft the steep snowless ground proved more challenging as it was still deeply frozen. For this reason, we put crampons on for the descent from the ridge into Coire an Lochan. Here the group experienced much steeper although more forgiving snow conditions than the previous day which stretched comfort levels for some people. Avalanche assessment was covered but more in theory than practice as the risk was Low with a fully consolidated snow pack. We talked about islands of safety and safe route planning using the previous day’s forecasts and the avalanche report. Some final legs of nav from Lochan saw us safely back to the car park. 

Day three

Having spent two days in the Northern Corries I felt a change was required. I knew that the snow conditions would be very sparse elsewhere but the snow that was left in the Northern Coires was not going to provide the group with much more learning. We decided to do a Sgor Gaoith as a round trip from Geal-Charn descending down Allt a  Chrom-alltain. Again safe route choice was discussed but in theory only due to the lack of snow. The group navigated themselves round the route using the techniques learned during the previous two days and we soon arrived at the dramatic summit with views down to the windswept Loch Einich, impressing some of the group who had summited this peak several times before. Once again, we were able to use the remaining snow patches to ease our way back down the mountain and practice our breaking skills.

A very satisfied group arrived back at the car park. Although the three days had not been typical winter weather we had made the best of the conditions available to us.

Many thanks to Marta, Sergio, Jamie, Jeff and Matthias for your great company and laughs during the three days.

blog by Dunc Maclennan, nineonesix-guiding

more photos here

A winter micro adventure in the Western Highlands

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I’ve had the good fortune to be able to explore the hills around Torridon for the past 15 or so years as my wife’s grandmother, a MacDonald, grew up on a croft just below Beinn Eighe in Kinlochewe. Although now 97 and having not lived there for almost 80 years, she still has a small house there which is used regularly by the extended family throughout the summer.  However, it’s rarely used in winter and over the last couple of years I’d been imaging walking amongst the beautiful snow covered peaks of Slioch and Liathach. I started planning a trip and although more than happy to go alone thought I’d share the idea with a few friends, expecting maybe one or two to show some interest.  I was surprised when seven of the nine on my invitation list promptly booked flights and all of a sudden there was some practicalities to attend to.  In my musing I’d not actually thought too much about about routes that would be safe and accessible for a bunch of novices, so I took out the maps and soon realised that the reality was quite different with very few routes that would not offer some potential dangers in winter.  This was when I turned to Google in search of some local expertise and soon came across Jim and nineonesix-guiding. The simple pricing and great communication from Jim made the whole process straight forward and allowed me to really enjoy the build up to the trip, rather than fretting about it.  Nor had I actually looked in any detail at the winter conditions or the propensity for snow in Wester Ross and this proved quite hard to come by.  As the days and weeks ticked by until our mid-January departure I was a little concerned by the lack of any persevering snow, which I was fortunate to have a live view on thanks to the great web cam at the Torrid Hotel  (http://torridon.wpengine.com/webcam) which looks directly onto the south side of Liathach.  Christmas and New Year passed and I was keeping a close eye on the weather and the webcam and still no snow had settled even at the height of the summits. Then with almost perfect timing, a week or so before departure, a cold and wet front started blowing in from the Arctic.  So, we got on our way and my concerns soon went from no snow to too much snow as we had to cross from the east coast to the west. We picked up our ‘click and collect’ from Tesco and got out winter gear fitted by the helpful crew at TISO before getting going.  As we neared the bucolic Glen Docherty Pass the snow was thick on the road and with no winter tyres the minibus was a little unsteady. Fortunately the snow ploughs and gritters were out in force and the descent into Kinlochewe went without incident.

Early on Saturday Jim showed up, along with our other guide Richard and after a concise briefing – where Jim really listened to what we wanted to get out of the day – we headed out to the ridge of Beinn Eighe which was pointing directly at us just outside the widow.  A stunning, steep sided track with a good covering of beautiful Scots pine eased us into the day before we got to the river crossing which signals the start of the climbing and we soon discovered how much more effort is required when there’s a good covering of snow.  Before long we found ourselves high up on the ridge using our ice axes for security and practicing some essential skills as we made our way up. Then, before long we unpacked the crampons and benefited from the the secure bite of these as we made our way up some steep and tricky  ground.  Up until this point the weather had been kind to us with sun often showering down on the beautiful, clean white hills around us, but things then started to close in and more snow began to fall.  We reached Creag Dubh at the top of the ridge and after a short break we took a different route down on the other side of the ridge; Jim & Richard having carefully assessed the snow conditions. This gave us a great chance to practice more of the skills we’d been learning including ice axe arrests and different methods for understanding the snow pack. On the safer slopes we also managed to enjoy frolicking around in the the kind of snow you just don’t get in southern England.  We eventually made our way off the mountain after the sun had set, already reminiscing about the day we’d just had.

We had set out with the idea of having a great, safe day high up in the mountains, while picking up a few essential skills along the way. That’s exactly what we got, thanks largely to Jim and Richard.

blog by Jamie Saward

more photos here at the nineonesix-guiding gallery

From the NC500 to the Wildcat Trails

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My first official job for Jim and nineonesix-guiding was a trip up to Golspie to do some guiding and coaching on the Wildcat Trails.

In the planning since around last September, Dawn was bringing her son Keane over from Texas to drive the North Coast 500, and wanted to sprinkle a little MTB goodness into the trip.

Planning any trip to Golspie in January always ran the risk of being white-out with snow, but the weather was looking ok right up to the last few hours beforehand.

A cold snap descended on Easter Ross just in time for the big day, so a bit of creative thinking was in order.  Keane comes from a driver instruction background, and was quick to pick up tips and techniques for managing the bike in colder temperatures (not to mention some loaned waterproof socks!).  We headed up the unavoidable climbs of Golspie for the a closer look at the state of trails, and found clear and relatively dry going, so took some alternative lines to reach the top of the red route.

Keane told me he had been looking endlessly at online videos of singletrack trails in Scotland, and after his first run down the red route, said he had never seen anything quite like it.  We quickly got to technique chat, and that led to ‘let’s have another go’.  A few circuits later with a little coaching on corners and the tell-tale grin said it all.

After a break for some hot lunch in Golspie, we headed a little higher towards the beginning of the black climb ‘Lactic Ladder’.  Going well at first, the snow started to settle in and by the time we reached our turning point talk turned to snowboards maybe being more appropriate.

With the trails still being relatively clear, we headed for the final run of the day.  Keane had really got the hang of carrying speed through the turns and features, so had an upgrade to full suspension for the last part of the trip.

A great day in cold conditions – Keane was great company and didn’t seem phased by the wintry weather at all.  Hopefully this trip set him up for the planned snowboarding at Nevis Range for the next couple of days? Good times.

blog by Ian Sikora

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Tenth University of Stirling Mountaineering Club Winter Meet with nineonesix-guiding

unspecifiedUniversity of Stirling Mountaineering Club returned again this year for another couple of fun days with nineonesix-guiding in the Cairngorms. We were lucky to get a few days of snow in the run-up to USMC’s visit, providing various options for the groups.  Once again Nathan White took the helm for nineonesix-guiding, well assisted by Iain Murray & Richard Cockburn.
Knowing that the forecast for the second day was suggesting what’s technically known as a ‘hoolie’, Nathan’s winter mountaineering group opted on Day One to go up by Twin Ribs from Coire an t-Sneachda onto Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda and round to explore Point 5 Gully. Not liking to the condition of the gully, the group completed the circuit of the coire and came down above the ski area. The next day, to escape the wind, Nathan’s group visited the crags at Huntly’s Cave for a great day on the rock looking at various mountaineering techniques.
Iain’s winter skills group wanted a journey on Day One before the gale force winds arrived and a circuit of the Northern Corries fitted the bill perfectly, with some winter skills tuition at several points along the way. Day Two had a focus on winter navigation, heading into the Chalamain Gap before ascending Creag a’ Chalamain and Castle Hill and then escaping back to the car park.
The third group wanted to get stuck into winter skills techniques on the first day so Richard took them into Coire an Lochain to explore a range of skills, practising navigation there and back. The group was keen to get ‘back out there’ on the second day and an ascent of Meall a’ Bhuachaille from the east via some pacing practice in and around Ryvoan kept the worst of the westerly gales at bay with lunch in Ryvoan bothy providing welcome respite from the weather.
Lots of quality discussions in groups back at USMC’s bunkhouse on topics ranging from route planning to avalanches and belaying in winter completed a very full and enjoyable two days. We look forward to seeing USMC again next winter!
blog by Richard Cockburn

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