Backpacking

Weekend Wonders: Isle of Rum

Words and images I've submitted to Adventure Travel magazine for publication in their 'Weekend Wonders' section (a regular 2-page spread where they share some 'cracking UK adventures to help people make the most of those precious two days').

Bill Snee descending from the summit of Askival towards Dibidil Bothy in the Isle of Rum, West Highlands of Scotland

Bill Snee descending from the summit of Askival towards Dibidil Bothy in the Isle of Rum, West Highlands of Scotland

The Isle of Rum is a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). There are no roads on the island and reaching it involves a boat trip, adding to the feeling of an adventure. The jewel of the island (for walkers and climbers anyway) is the Rum Cuillin, which, like their counterpart, the Black Cuillin on the Isle of Skye, offers excellent rock scrambling along narrow ridges to mountain summits jutting above the Sea of the Hebrides, with great views out to the Atlantic Ocean.

The highlights of my visits to Rum have been hillwalking and backpacking trips on Ainshval and Askival, two of Rum's Corbetts. Although only c.2,500ft high, the view from both peaks is spectacular - a 360 degree view taking in Skye, Eigg, Muick, Canna, the Hebrides and much of Scotland's mainland west coast. On one occasion, on a sweltering bank holiday weekend in May, we bivvied on Ainshval's summit during an epic 3-day expedition where we climbed all Rum's hills, soaking in the heat and the views as the sun set as a fiery orange ball on the horizon. On another trip, pouring rain caused us to bail on a traverse of the Cuillin ridge into the Atlantic Corrie, a gigantic, amazing amphitheatre filled with seemingly no less giant stags that stood their ground and defiantly roared at us as we interrupted their rutting season. 

Fortunately, my ratio of good days on the island outweighs the bad days. This includes the day we descended from Askival (pictured), after a brilliant Summer's day's hillwalking, which culminated in an engaging night making new friends at Dibidil bothy on the shoreline. 

Getting there and around 

Caledonian MacBrayne (www.calmac.co.uk) and Arisaig Marine (www.arisaig.co.uk) both offer easiest access to the island, via their ferry service. For venturing thereon in, you'll need to don your walking shoes. If heading anywhere remote, take standard hillwalking gear (e.g. warm clothes, waterproofs and gloves) plus be experienced in the use of a map and a compass.

Places to stay 

The 'capital' of Rum, Kinloch, has an organised campsite plus cabins for hire. The Isle of Rum Community Trust operates a bunkhouse. Wild camping is an option all over the island (as long as you follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code). Alternatively, choose to go basic and stay at one (or both) of the island's two mountain bothies - Dibidil bothy and Guirdil bothy). Read more about your options on the island's great website – www.isleofrum.com.

 
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Weekend Wonders: The majestic Mamores

Words and images I've submitted to Adventure Travel magazine for publication in their 'Weekend Wonders' section (a regular 2-page spread where they share some 'cracking UK adventures to help people make the most of those precious two days').

Alex Haken in the Mamores, descending Na Gruagaichean, a Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland.

Alex Haken in the Mamores, descending Na Gruagaichean, a Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland.

One of the joys I find in backpacking (aside from poring over maps as you plan a trip) is staying up high in the mountains and walking right to the very end of the day, knowing you'll very likely be the only folk left on the hill.

Many times over my hill-walking career I've experienced the solitude of being the 'last man standing' on a mountain. Backpacking has enabled me to camp on a number of high bealachs and summits in superb regions of Scotland such as Glen Torridon, Glen Coe, the Cairngorms and Glen Affric, as well as further afield in the Alps and Patagonia.

One of my favourite backpacking locations is the Mamores in the West Highlands of Scotland. Totalling 10 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft/ 914m high), the Mamores are grouped into 3 sets of hills, all easily tackled by a number of different routes.

The central Mamores are characterised by great ridges, including the narrow arete on An Gearanach and the ominously named Devil's Ridge on Sgurr a'Mhaim. Shown here is us descending off the sweeping ridge of Na Gruagaichean one November, headed for a wild camp on the bealach between An Garbhanach and Stob Coire a'Chairn. We had started our trip the previous day in Glen Nevis, planning to climb only Binnein Beag, Binnean Mor and Sgurr Eilde Mor, but good stable weather meant we were able to continue over Na Gruagaichean and put ourselves into position the next day for an easier round of the more well-known Mamore peaks that make up the Ring of Steall.

How to get there

The Mamores are usually accessed from Glen Nevis, near Fort William, for the western and central Munros, or Kinlochleven for the eastern ones. OS Explorer Map 392 covers all 10 Munros, as does Harveys Superwalker XT25. 

Alternative options

It's possible to climb all 10 Mamore Munros in one day.The very fit can also pair them up with the Lochaber traverse, backpacking what is known as Tranter's Round, a classic 24-hour hill-running challenge that covers all the Mamores, the Grey Corries, Aonach Mor, Aonach Beag, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis. With an overall ascent of 18 Munros and 20,000 foot of climbing, it must rank as one of the best backpacking trips in the UK.

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A backpacking challenge: Following in the footsteps of Tranter

David Hetherington on the summit ridge of Binnein Mor, looking over to Ben Nevis, during a backpack of Tranter's Round, the original long-distance 24-hour fell-running challenge in the West Highlands of Scotland.

David Hetherington on the summit ridge of Binnein Mor, looking over to Ben Nevis, during a backpack of Tranter's Round, the original long-distance 24-hour fell-running challenge in the West Highlands of Scotland.

A progression when you've been going on backpacking trips is to look for opportunities to link together different routes, increasing length and difficulty to set yourself a challenge or to seek new experiences.

Tranter's Round is named after Philip Tranter, who in 1964 devised a 24-hour challenge for fell runners when he connected 18 Munros in the West Highlands of Scotland - the Mamores (10), Grey Corries (4), Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag (2), Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis (2) - in a 40-mile trail running epic that covers 20,600ft of ascent.

For our 2-day attempt at Tranter's Round (roughly 10,000ft of ascent each day), we started in Glen Nevis and ascended Mullach nan Coirean (939m), bivvying on the summit at 2300 hours (I'll accept we cheated slightly). Early the next morning, we continued over the Mamores - Stob Ban (999m), Sgurr a'Mhaim (1099m), Am Bodach (1032m), An Gearanach* (982m), Na Gruagaichean (1055m), Binnein Mor (1130m), Binnein Beag (943m) and Sgurr Eilde Mor (1010m) - before descending 16 hours later to spend the night at Meanach Bothy.

On day 2, we ticked off the Grey Corries - Stob Ban (977m), Stob Choire Claurigh (1177m), Stob Coire an Laoigh (1116m) and Sgurr Choinnich Mor (1094m) - commonly known as the Lochaber Traverse - before a steep, grassy scramble took us up onto a very wintry Aonach Beag (1234m). It was here we decided to cut our trip short. A storm that had been distant for much of the afternoon brought in 50mph winds and freezing rain and, in true Scottish style, what had been a pleasant Summer's day turned distinctly nasty with a great risk of hypothermia. None of us are new to bad weather but with 8 hours in, 2 Munros to do (including Britain's highest mountain) and a sharp scrambly ridge between them, it wasn't hard to make the decision to bail over Aonach Mor (1221m) and make a miserable descent to the roadside through the debris and detritus of the Nevis Range.

Despite our disappointment, it was a great outdoor trip. Tranter's Round is a very worthy backpacking route in Scotland.

Note - The record for Tranter's Round, as at 01 October 2016, is 10hrs 15mins 30secs, set by Fort William GP Finlay Wild. In fell-running terms, the route has been superseded by Ramsay's Round, named after Charlie Ramsay who lengthened the route in 1978 to 56 miles and 28,500ft of ascent over 24 (now 23) Munros. The record today for Ramsay's Round is 16hrs 12mins 32secs by Es Tressider in 2019 (who was supported at one point by previous record holder Jasmin Paris, who’ recorded 16hrs 13mins 53secs). I’m envious and respectful of all. (Source: Scottish Hill Runners)

*I didn't go out to An Gearanach, choosing instead to spend the time in the sunshine drying out my sleeping bag after the previous night's damp bivvy.