Hiking and trekking

Kintail wanderings: 9 Munros around Glen Shiel

Looking back along the Sisters and Brothers ridges above Glen Shiel in Kintail in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. The first summits of the day (A'Ghlas Bheinn and Beinn Fhada) are over on the left horizon. (Click to view larger)

I recently shared a stripped down gear list for occasions where I want to travel light outdoors but still wish to capture professional-quality images. Although the items of equipment I listed in that post are lighter than a full bag of camera gear, they are still too heavy for me to carry on occasions when I’m not working and I’d like to challenge myself a little in the mountains.

My inspiration for challenging days out on the hills comes from the athletes I photograph as well as my friends. I’m definitely not a mountain or a fell runner but I’ve had plenty of photography shoots with professional runners (and follow their adventures online) and the ease and speed at which they travel over rough ground has made me realise that I enjoy moving quicker than walking speed in the mountains (something which I have attempted to do in the past with a full camera backpack but my lower back seeks to constantly remind me).

In 2017, I purchased the lightest-weight camera I own, a Sony RX100 V for personal outdoor adventures where I want to move a bit quicker but still capture decent-quality images, especially when they aren’t the focus of my trip. The images I’m able to capture with the Sony RX100 are on the borderline of what I’d class as being acceptable for professional purposes (I’m happy to use them for editorial submissions and blogs) but the trade off when I’m not working is immeasurable. I can fit the camera into a stretchy front pocket of my backpack and easily fast-walk or jog with it up and down hills without any impairment on my activity, whilst still being able to document my day or take shots I can use later for location scouting purposes.

The type of outing I’d carry along a Sony RX100 on would be a trail run in the Alps, a long-distance mountain bike time trial or an attempt at multiple Munro summits in Scotland, where my objective is to achieve a relatively big thing (for me) in a certain period of time and I don’t wish to be encumbered with a heavy pack.

An example of this was when I was looking for ideas for a challenging day out in Scotland. My focus was on Kintail in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. If I wished to climb a lot of Munros in a day, Kintail’s South Glen Shiel ridge allows for 7 summits to be ticked off in a fairly easy fashion. Opposite them on the north side of the glen, there are 7 Munros that I could do the following day (or perhaps even on the same day).

The record for the most amount of Munros in a single day is 30 by Jim Mann from England who ticked off their summits in 22h 05mins in July 2017. The record for total Munro completions however is Steven Fallon, who’s completed 15 rounds (of 282 hills, sometimes more) over a twenty year period. A qualified mountain guide, Steven is also an accomplished hill runner and his website has a number of running options if you’re looking to join groups of Munros together to make a longer day and set yourself a challenge.

I settled on Steven Fallon’s Kintail Sisters and Brother route, a 39km circular route with c.4000m ascent that includes two nearby Munros and takes in 9 Munro summits. The route starts and ends at the outdoor centre at Morvich and my goal was to complete the round in a certain timescale, using some adjustments I prefer to Naesmith’s formula (which I calculate at 4km/h for every km travelled and 1 hour for every 600m ascent). This isn’t running pace but to achieve it means not stopping so I figured it was a good enough challenge and it would provide me with a day out that would test me but not break my legs (figuratively speaking, not literally). In the end, I didn’t quite manage to complete the route in Naesmith’s timings (it took me 16 hours instead of 15) but I still felt in great shape at the end and it was a memorable day out.

Glen Shiel Sisters and Brothers route (including two additional Munros)

  • Distance: 39km / 24 miles

  • Ascent: 4105m / 13,467ft

  • Time: 16 hours 03 minutes

(Steven’s website records this route as 35km / 22 miles in distance with 3,140m / 10,300ft ascent but my calculations were as above, which I corroborated with a friend).

Munros climbed

  • A'Ghlas Bheinn (918m)

  • Beinn Fhada (1032m)

  • Ciste Dhubh (979m)

  • Aonach Meadhoin (1001m)

  • Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg (1036m)

  • Saileag (956m)

  • Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (1027m)

  • Sgurr na Carnach (1002m)

  • Sgurr Fhuaran (1067m)

Postscript

One of the reasons I wanted to attempt Steven’s Kintail route was because I have an itch to attempt Tranter’s Round and the time I took in Glen Shiel would give me an indication if that was feasible. It’s relatively tight, with an additional 5 miles and 8,000ft I’d need to cover in the remaining 8 hours (which sounds straightforward enough but at my pace, which will no doubt be slowing by then, it only gives me one hour to play with).

Hiking and trekking: Tour Glacier near Chamonix, France

Alex Haken checking out a crevasse on the Tour Glacier near the Albert Premier (1er) refuge in the French Alps

Alex Haken checking out a crevasse on the Tour Glacier near the Albert Premier (1er) refuge in the French Alps

Aiguille du Tour is a 3542m high peak in the European Alps, north of Chamonix, that borders France and Switzerland. It is generally regarded as a simple peak, its normal route graded Facile, or Easy.

A friend and I had chosen Aiguille du Tour as our first attempt at an Alpine summit. We’d asked along another friend, Alex, who was much more competent than us at the time (and still is). When we arrived in Chamonix, the valley residents were experiencing a heatwave and it was a joy to gain height into the cooling air as we took the gondola from Le Tour and followed the trail up to the Albert Premier Refuge at 2706m. This was my first visit to the Chamonix valley and the domed summit of Mont Blanc, which glistened high above the valley, dominated my attention.

The following morning, we left the Albert Premier refuge before sunrise (my first true alpine start) and roped up as we ascended the Tour Glacier. Above our heads we could see the prominent rock table on the Couloir de la Table route. We were headed for Col Superior du Tour, following the first part of the famous Haute Route. At the col, we looked down onto the Trient Glacier in Switzerland. We had seen photos of terrible crevasses on the Trient Glacier but it was early in the season and thankfully the crevasses were full of snow (although breaking through a snow bridge and falling into a hidden crevasse would still be a risk).

I struggled to climb Aiguille du Tour on this occasion, mainly due to illness, and I chose not to continue to the summit. Which disappointed me but we continued with our plan and trekked over the Trient Glacier, with its spectacular views of Aiguilles Dorées, to spend the night at the Trient Hut in Switzerland. In the morning we retraced our steps back to France and took the time to check out the more broken parts of the glacier. In terms of climbing, it was an unsuccessful trip but I’ve learnt not to measure Alpine adventures simply in terms of summits I’ve reached. A lot of the joy I find is in the journey and, especially so, in the moments I can capture.

Winter hiking: Daunted on the Devil's Ridge

Chris Lomas negotiating a short technical step on the Devil's Ridge in the Mamores, West Highlands of Scotland.

Chris Lomas negotiating a short technical step on the Devil's Ridge in the Mamores, West Highlands of Scotland.

In 2012, I met Edinburgh-based photographer Chris Lomas through a friend when we shared a great winter's day out on the popular Scottish Munro, Buachaille Etive Mor.

Earlier this year, I bumped into Chris again and we agreed we should catch up with another day in the hills. Fast forward to April 2016 and, after one false start earlier in the month due to bad weather, we caught up on our respective careers as we drove up the A82 headed to Glen Nevis and a winter round of the Ring of Steall.

The Ring of Steall is the name given to a group of mountains in the Mamores region in the West Highlands of Scotland. The peaks, which include 4 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft/914m high) form a dramatic horseshoe ridge around Coire a'Mhail, a great 'hidden valley' that has its exit barred by the 100m+ high Steall waterfall. The only technical difficulties on the Ring of Steall are a steep-sided, narrow arete at one end of the horseshoe (the 'Devil's Ridge' - pictured above) and a scramble over angled, broken slabs at the other (on the traverse from An Garbhanach to An Gearanach).

In Summer, most folk will find the scrambling on the Ring of Steall a breeze but, in Winter, freezing conditions and snow and ice up the ante. Winter mountaineering in Scotland involves a higher level of risk management, no matter how easy the terrain, and this was something we had to consider when, after traversing most of the Devil's Ridge - on fresh, decidedly sketchy snow - we reached a point c.2m below the end of a roof with a what looked like a treacherous cornice on one side and soft, unstable snow at a 40 degree angle on the other. "We'll only make the next mistake once", said Chris. And he was right. So after a discussion about other options, none of which appeared to present less risk, we took a common sense approach and reversed our steps until we could bail out into Coire a'Mhail. After an enjoyable descent to the floor of the corrie, we completed a somewhat unusual route around the inside of the Ring of Steall to An Garbhanach, but one that was no less enjoyable.

Deep snow on Streap: West Highlands of Scotland

David Hetherington ascending snowy slopes en route to the summit ridge of Streap, a Corbett in the West Highlands of Scotland.

David Hetherington ascending snowy slopes en route to the summit ridge of Streap, a Corbett in the West Highlands of Scotland.

It's not often in Scotland you need snowshoes to get around. Our initial plans been to drive alongside Loch Arkaig in the West Highlands of Scotland and walk for a couple of hours into Glen Kingie to stay at Kinbreak bothy. Snowy weather conditions however on the drive from Edinburgh, with the occasional whiteout and stranded cars on the motorway as we travelled through Fife (not one-fifth of the way into our journey) led to what we felt was the sensible decision not to drive down an untreated road and we headed for the nearby Gleann Dubh-Lighe bothy instead.

I'd been to Gleann Dubh-Lighe before, when we climbed Streap in 2016. The walk-in to the bothy is excellent and we took turns breaking trail through fresh, ankle-deep snow. It's not a difficult walk-in though, even with 10kg of coal, and we were soon settled in and and trading conversation in front of a roaring fire. A few hours later, a couple from Fort William arrived, soaked in fresh snow, and, later still, a group of six turned up from Glasgow. (The latter group had also changed their mind about walking in to Kinbreak bothy). All of us commented on the amount of snow that was falling.

In the morning, we had a leisurely start before we headed again to Streap. Our goal was simply to repeat the route we'd done a few years previously and share with a friend how good it was. As it transpired, we got nowhere near the summit. The depth of snow made any walking without snowshoes incredibly difficult and it took us nearly four hours to ascend just 700m from Gleann Dubh-Lighe bothy onto Streap's south-west ridge. Our late start meant we arrived on the ridge mid-afternoon and, with our expectation being the deep and difficult snow conditions would continue (I was often waist-deep in powder and I’m 6’2” tall), we made what we deemed to be the sensible decision to bail on the still faraway summit and come back again another day (possibly for a summit camp in Spring). We were disappointed but our mood soon lifted when we returned to the bothy and the group from Glasgow had very kindly left us a half-full bottle of whisky (their good company and our own whisky being one of the reasons for our late start).

Deep snow made our progress slow going up the hillside.

Deep snow made our progress slow going up the hillside.

Rewarded by our efforts with a view over to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak.

Rewarded by our efforts with a view over to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak.

Weekend Wonders: Backpacking Tranter's Round

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').

David Hetherington on the summit ridge of Binnein Mor in the Mamores with the summit of Ben Nevis in the distance.

David Hetherington on the summit ridge of Binnein Mor in the Mamores with the summit of Ben Nevis in the distance.

A natural progression if you enjoy backpacking trips is to look for opportunities to link different routes together, increasing length and difficulty to set yourself a challenge. One such opportunity is Tranter's Round in the Lochaber region of Scotland.

Tranter's Round is named after Philip Tranter, son of the Scottish author, Nigel Tranter, who in 1964 devised a 24-hour challenge for fell runners when he connected (at the time) 19 Munros in the West Highlands of Scotland (the Mamores, Grey Corries, Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis) in a 36-mile epic that covers 20,600ft of ascent. Tranter's Round is a fell runner's classic (superseded these days in terms of difficulty by a longer Charlie Ramsay Round, and with a demoted Munro) but it's a route that's also tailor made for backpacking.

To give us a head start on our attempt at backpacking Tranter's Round, we bivvied on a damp summit of Mullach nan Coirean in the Mamores at 2300 hours. Early the next morning, we continued over the Mamores, ticking off the peaks of Stob Ban, Sgurr a'Mhaim and Am Bodach. I didn't go out to An Gearanach, choosing to dry my sleeping bag in the sunshine instead, but Na Gruagaichean soon came next, then Binnein Mor, Binnean Beag and Sgurr Eilde Mor. Sixteen hours after we started out we descended and spent the night at Meanach bothy, having climbed 10 Munros.

Our return leg on day two is commonly called the Lochaber Traverse. First we ticked off the Grey Corries, starting with Stob Ban then Stob Choire Claurigh, Stob Coire nan Laoigh and Sgurr Choinnich Mor. A steep, grassy scramble then took us up onto a very wintry Aonach Beag. It was here that 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 eight hours in, three 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 and descend to the roadside. Despite our disappointment, it was a great outdoor trip. Tranter's Round proved to be a very worthy backpacking route.  

Travelling light

The current fastest known time for Tranter's Round, set on 01 October 2016, is 10h 15m 30s by Fort William-based doctor, Finlay Wild. Although such a fast time will be unachievable (or undesirable) for most, adopting a hill running ethos for backpacking Tranter's Round isn't a bad idea. Travelling with as little gear as possible will be easier on your knees.

Navigation

Harvey Maps publish a map for the Charlie Ramsay Round, which includes the same peaks and is ideal for Tranter's Round. The route is also covered on Ordnance Survey Landranger map 41 (Ben Nevis, including Fort William & Glen Coe). You can choose to go clockwise or anti-clockwise. The latter has the distinction of finishing on Britain's highest mountain.

 
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Weekend Wonders: Lochnagar's mighty cliffs

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 walking along the top of the summit cliffs of Lochnagar, a Munro in the East Highlands of Scotland.

Alex Haken walking along the top of the summit cliffs of Lochnagar, a Munro in the East Highlands of Scotland.

Lochnagar, a 1155m high Munro in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, is a mountain with royal connections. The peak, located nearby Balmoral Castle, is the summer home of the Queen and the Queen's first son, Prince Charles, has been known to climb the hill when the family is in residence.

I had made two attempts to climb Lochnagar before this image was taken. Both times were in the depths of winter and on neither occasion did I meet another soul on the hill, royal or not. On my first attempt, I didn't get past the bealach beneath Meikle Pap, regularly unable to stand on two feet due to strong winds, and on my return I was thwarted at Cac Carn Mor, a giant cairn on the plateau at 1150m, just 5m shy of summit height but 0.5km away of the true summit, Cac Carn Beag. Not because it is slightly confusing (I believe a Mor is 'bigger' than a Beag so you would be forgiven for thinking it would be the summit) but again because of the weather. Great gusts of wind that had built speed over the surrounding rolling hills swept across the plateau and threatened to launch me off the top of Lochnagar's spectacular cliffs. These cliffs, some 200m high in places, hold lots of summer rock climbs and winter ice climbs. I don't believe they are appropriate for base jumping (even with a parachute) so, after a few calls that were too close for comfort, I half walked half crab-crawled my way back to the relative shelter of the approach path and returned with a friend in more amenable weather.

Getting there and around 

Lochnagar is usually climbed as a day trip from the Spittal of Glenmuick. For added spice, head in from the North near Invercauld Bridge on the A93 Ballater to Braemar road and climb the great Stuic Buttress, a grade 1 scramble that takes you out onto the plateau near the summit of Carn ' Choire Bhoideach. From there, it's a simple 2km stroll across the plateau to Lochnagar. Alternatively, to enjoy the peak during an overnight trip, walk along the shores of Loch Muick and camp beneath the great cliffs near the Dubh Loch. You can tick off four Munros as you make your way back across the plateau to Cac Carn Beag and your fifth Munro of the day. 

 
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Weekend Wonders: Bothying bliss

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').

Looking up to the summit of the Munro, Devil’s Point, from Corrour bothy in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Looking up to the summit of the Munro, Devil’s Point, from Corrour bothy in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Bothies are unlocked shelters dotted about the UK, many of them managed on limited funds by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA). Often remote, bothies vary in quality and, if you're like me, your feelings towards them can change depending on how tired you are or how bad the weather is outside. (Even a really basic bothy can be a delight when the weather is foul).

Corrour bothy, located in the Cairngorms National Park, is one of the more popular Scottish bothies. It’s not far from my home and I’ve made multiple trips there over the years. 

The range of feelings I’ve experienced at Corrour bothy includes; 

  • Enlightenment - through long, varied conversations with like-minded souls I otherwise wouldn’t have met

  • Happiness - to live in a country where I can freely wander up hills and through glens and stay out overnight

  • Annoyance - to find lots of garbage left behind by previous parties (there's no rubbish collection service in mountain bothies)

  • Satisfaction - as I sat outside with a dram on a beautiful Summer's evening after a trek over the Lairig Ghru

  • Relief - to reach the shelter of the bothy in the midst of a full Winter storm

Overall, my main feeling towards mountain bothies is one of contentment. From knowing that bothies exist and I can stop for a break from the outdoors if I want to, as on this day one Autumn when I walked door to door from the National Trust base camp at Mar Lodge over Devil's Point, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeraich, four of the great Munros in Cairngorms National Park, during a fantastic hike that took me over 16 hours. 

How to get to Corrour bothy

The Mountain Bothy Association publishes details of bothies on their website (www.mountainbothies.org.uk). You'll find Corrour bothy at GR NN981958 on OS Landranger map 36. It can be accessed from the south-east from Braemar via Glen Lui or from Aviemore in the north via the Lairig Gru. 

Other bothies to visit

Less well known bothies worth a visit include Glencoul and Glendhu bothy near Kylesku, the Schoolhouse bothy near the Munro Seana Braigh and the fantastically-positioned Lookout bothy on the northern tip of the Isle of Skye, at Rubha Huinish. 

If you do visit bothies, be aware of the bothy code; 

  • Respect the bothy

  • Respect the surroundings

  • Respect the agreement with the estate

  • Respect the restriction on numbers

 
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Weekend Wonders: The cool Cuillin

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').

Scrambling over Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh on a traverse of Sgurr a’Mhadaidh to Sgurr na Banachdaich in the Black Cuillin on the Isle of Skye in the West Highlands of Scotland

Scrambling over Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh on a traverse of Sgurr a’Mhadaidh to Sgurr na Banachdaich in the Black Cuillin on the Isle of Skye in the West Highlands of Scotland

The extremely rocky Black Cuillin on Scotland’s Isle of Skye is a group of mountains (including 12 Munros) that offers some of the best scrambling and climbing opportunities in the United Kingdom.

The peaks are often described as Britain’s answer to the European Alps and there’s certainly nowhere else in the UK of such a serious mountaineering nature, with sustained difficulties on many peaks needing to be overcome before you can reach the summits.

I’ve a chequered history of success on the Cuillin ridge. It’s not due to effort – I’ve climbed Sgurr nan Eag twice, Bruache na Frithe three times and Bla Bheinn fi ve times (the north-west ridge on Bruache na Frithe, a grade two scramble, and the amazing Clach Glas-Bla Bheinn traverse, a Moderate rock climb, being the highlights). These though are the easier Munros, with minimal exposure (the latter rock climbing route excepted). When it has came to the test, I’ve bailed just feet from the top on Sgurr na Gillean’s ‘tourist route’ due to the exposure and balked at the descent of the 3m high ‘bad step’ on the only route feasible for non-climbers up Am Basteir.

I’ve not been completely unsuccessful on exposed peaks on Skye though. Recently, I followed a Cuillin route that is described in J Wilson Parker’s Scrambles in Skye guidebook as ‘one of the most enjoyable (or horrifying) scrambles in Britain.’  The traverse of Sgurr a’Mhadaidh to Sgurr na Banachdaich, over Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh and Sgurr  Thormaid, is a grade three (out of three) scramble. It follows a series of steeply-angled, knife-edge ridges that can delight (or perhaps terrify) you with great drops beneath your feet. During the traverse, we had great views of the Cuillin mountain range, especially over to Sgurr Alasdair, the highest mountain in Skye, and to Sgurr Dearg, where we could see people climbing on the Inaccessible Pinnacle.  The views down to Loch Coruisk (pictured here) were also equally impressive.

Despite the daunting description in the guidebook (which I’ll admit I didn’t read until afterwards), I didn’t find the exposure that bad. I’d highly recommend it.

 
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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.

Isle of Skye: Black Cuillin Ridge traverse

Looking south from the summit of Bruach na Frithe, a Munro in the Black Cuillin range, towards Bidein Druim nan Ramh on the Isle of Skye in the North-West Highlands of Scotland.

Looking south from the summit of Bruach na Frithe, a Munro in the Black Cuillin range, towards Bidein Druim nan Ramh on the Isle of Skye in the North-West Highlands of Scotland.

I visited the Cuillin mountain range on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, taking advantage of a trip with friends to scout out potential locations for a mountain running shoot later in the year. 

The extremely rocky Black Cuillin is often described as Britain's answer to the European Alps. There's certainly nowhere else in the UK of such a serious mountaineering nature, with sustained difficulties on many peaks needing overcome before you can reach the summits.

The Black Cuillin hills and surrounding area are the remains of a large volcano in Scotland. The igneous and gabbro-covered mountains were first explored in the 1800s (Sgurr nan Gillean was first climbed in 1836) but the big challenge for mountaineers today is a full Cuillin ridge traverse, scrambling and climbing over the 11 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft high) and their many tops, navigating c.7 miles of complex, narrow ridges with precipitous drops where a slip would often be fatal. 

Most mountaineers attempting to traverse the Skye ridge aim to complete it in 2 days, after multiple recce trips, but fit, competent alpinists confident of the route have been capable of achieving it within one day. The record for the Cuillin ridge traverse is held by Finlay Wild, a Scottish GP and fell / mountain runner with excellent climbing and mountaineering skills. Over a period of 5 months in 2013, Finlay first reduced the Skye ridge record to 3 hours, 14 minutes and 58 seconds (beating the previous record holder Es Tressider's time of 3 hours, 17 minutes and 28 seconds) before he ran the ridge, from the summit of Gars-Bheinn to the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean, including 4 climbing pitches up to VDiff grade, in an astounding 2 hours, 59 minutes and 22 seconds. 

Finlay also [held] the winter Cuillin Ridge traverse record. Along with Tim Gomersall, he completed an icy Skye ridge traverse in March 2016 in 6 hours, 14 minutes, 7 seconds. (Update - Uisdean Hawthorn traversed the Black Cuillin ridge on 26th February 2018 in just 4 hours 57 minutes to claim the current winter record).

Bibliography

Hire a guide for the Cuillin Ridge Traverse

Paul Tattersall (Go Further Scotland) is excellent company. Paul has guided the Skye ridge many times and holds the distinction of completing a double Cuillin Ridge traverse in the same day. You can see Paul in action in Nadir Khan's film, 'The Black Cuillin'.

The Great Outdoors: Walking in Snowdonia (Front cover)

An image I shot on a trip to Snowdonia National Park was chosen by The Great Outdoors (TGO) magazine as their cover image.

The picture captures a friend of mine, David Hetherington, as he looks across to the summit of Tryfan during a descent of the Y Gribin ridge. It was taken near the end of hot summer's day which we had spent scrambling and walking over the popular peaks of Tryfan, Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr. 

TGO-Snowdonia-Y-Gribin-Tryfan.jpg