Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Horses Glen Horseshoe. A Blast Of Winter On Mangerton

I awoke this morning to find that my nose was stuffed up (yet again) and the rain/sleet was thunderous. This head cold is proving to be a bitch of a thing to shake off and as I sniffed and snuffled my way through breakfast I was seriously considering contacting Frank and putting off our rendezvous in Killarney. Now I'm so glad I didn't, it was a lovely day.
In his element

More weather on the way

By The Devils Punchbowl

I set off back on the train again and Frank was his usual punctual self and we set off for Mangerton (after our almost obligatory coffees) to see what we could do. The skies were showing substantial patches of blue and there seemed to be a good chance that we would get some decent views. There was a good dusting of snow down to below six hundred meters and this coupled with the stiff wind and distinctly chilly temperatures promised that we were in for a blast of winter. I wasn't feeling too bad by now and I reckoned that a big helping of fresh air was just what I needed. I put on full waterproofs and gloves and was cozy and snug starting out. We decided to climb Mangerton via the pony track and depending on conditions, do the full round above the Horses Glen all the was around to Stoompa and return across the bog to our car. A worthy outing of about 14 kilometers with about 900 meters of climbing. Nice light bags meant we made good progress and we were soon enjoying expanding views in all directions. Behind, Killarney hugged Lough Leane which in turn swept across to the base of Tomies and the Reeks. To the east Crohane elegantly drew the eye as it rose from the shores of Lough Guitane and other hills stretched into the distance. Eventually we arrived at the lake called the Devils Punchbowl and now the weather really closed in and from here to the summit we were blasted by horizontal snow and spindrift. Thankfully the wind was to our backs and we were spared trying to make progress into the worst of it. The temperature was now -1 Celsius and I guess it felt much much lower when the wind-chill was taken into account. It was delightful to find ourselves in sometimes near whiteout conditions as we went through a dense cloud of spindrift.

The Devils Punchbowl

Towards Stoompa
The cliffs on Mangertons north side

What do you mean stop gurning :o)

Looking back from Stoompa

One of my favorite views
Then as we arrived at the top the skies cleared and we were treated to wonderful views across to Mangerton North and onward to Stoompa. Underfoot the ground had a several centimeters of snow on top of nicely frozen ground  which made for lovely easy progress. The walk along the edge of the impressive cliffs that drop into the Horses Glen is always delightful and today with the wind at our backs and snow after turning the landscape to a winters delight we were in our element. We were constantly pausing to soak in the landscape and we all too soon arrived at the col beneath the turn  towards Stoompa. Here we enjoyed a bite to eat and then once we turned for Stoompa we were once again treated to the full force of the wind and another squall ensured that we kept our eyes lowered so as not to be blinded by needles of snow. Stoopma came and went and we descended quickly towards the easy spur that led to the lake. Here once again we were treated to another exfoliating blast of hailstones but thankfully these too passed and blue skies once again asserted themselves. The long slog across the bog from the lake to the pony track is never fun but eventually we reached good ground again and shortly thereafter the car. We even managed to change in nice dry weather which turned to heavy rain as we drove away. Result. It had been a lovely outing which gave us a great blast of the best that a winters day has to offer. We enjoyed it immensely and we were only too aware that it might be our last chance to savor a snowy outing for some time, but then never know.
Enjoying the day

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Sunday, 16 March 2014

A Couple Of Days On Mount Brandon

Friday March 14th;

The weather forecast looked like it would be playing ball and both Frank and I having the time off work we decided to have a change from our usual haunt of Carrauntoohil and head further west to the beautiful Brandon massif. The plan was for me to head as far as Tralee by train and hook up with Frank and we would set off the thirty or so miles west to the furthermost extremity of the Brandon Peninsula. This is one of my favourite places and is always a joy to visit. Indeed I always say that if I should ever be fortunate enough to be in the position to afford a holiday home it is in this area that I would choose. The day arrived and it was a little disappointing to see the sky was overcast but I was looking forward to the outing nonetheless. I quickly packed the tent and other accoutrements and caught the train and relaxed and enjoyed the journey back. Frank, as usual, was on time and off we set.
Looking down into An Sas (The trap) Signs of erosion ongoing

Worth a look with rockshoes on.

Quite the poet

Across the wild bog to An Sas

The day was still a bit overcast but the cloud was up at about 800 metres and occasional bursts of sun were breaking through. The scenery as you get further west just gets better and better and our spirits were high. After the terrible winter we had endured when there was a succession of storms that seemed to be in competition with each other to see which could wreck most havoc it was wonderful to have a real hint of spring in the weather. We decided to drive through the delightful village of Cloghane that nestles in the innermost spot of Brandon Bay and is surrounded some of the finest mountain scenery in Ireland and we parked a few kilometers further on at Teer Bridge. The plan was to head up to the spectacular sunken coum of An Sas and from there make our way up Masatiompan and find somewhere to camp for the night. We quickly readied ourselves and at 14.15 we set off along the lovely country lanes towards Brandon Point. Friendly locals (both human and canine) greeted us and tried not to look too pityingly on these two middle aged men laden down with somewhat overlarge bags. We were immediately loving it. After a few kilometers we left the road and climbed steeply to reach the open mountainside towards point 275 mtrs. Frequent stops to enjoy the view and get used to the heavy(ish) bags were enjoyed but we made steady progress and once we passed the point we were suddenly alone in a wild boggy landscape that led nowhere but to the wild Atlantic.

Going to explore

Happy house
Getting ready for bed

Quite palatial I'd say

Eventually we arrived at the spectacular An Sas. The huge semi circular coum with its precipitous drop of over 300 mtrs to the sea below never fails to impress. It is a great place to linger and just simply enjoy the privilege of being there. On our right there are some lovely cliffs that would give some great sport for rock climbing, perhaps we will have a look another day. As lovely as it was , there was an undoubted chill in the air. A strong breeze swept across the ridge and a bank of cloud was scudding along at our level as well. There now seemed little prospect of seeing a starry sky this night. We set off around the rim and then dropped down the rough boggy ground to the col under Masatiompan. Here a track contours around the hillside and at its end are the remains of an old village/farmstead. One of the buildings looked to have a good roof and we went to explore. We were delighted to see that it was unlocked and inside there was a bench to sit on and a table. A decent dry floor completed the picture and it took us all of a few seconds to decide that as it was now 16.30 and the fog had rolled in from the sea, this would be our home for the night. We wasted no time in getting a brew on the go and a most convivial and pleasant evening and night followed (although frank mightn't concur as he was a wee bit cold).

Saturday March 15th;

We roused ourselves at 06.40 and  enjoyed breakfast. Frank, unusually for him, ate heartily and unfortunately suffered a bit later on (he's a delicate flower). After a leisurely bite to eat we emerged into a bracing breeze but thankfully the fog was gone and despite some cloud covering Masatiompan, to the east and north extensive clearings were to be seen. It promised to be good. The one problem with camping?staying low down is that you have to start climbing pretty much straight away and this morning was no exception. We were now faced with a slog of almost 500 mtrs to the summit and its fair to say that it was a tough start to the day. Frank wasn't feeling great after a big breakfast and suffered a bit on the way up but we still made reasonable progress. It was no hardship to stop and enjoy the view and to the east the Reeks could be seen rising above a base of cloud. Nearby the cloud that was being whipped over the summit of Masatiompan was flowing down to our left until it was met by the wind coming across the other side of the mountain and where this happened the cloud swirled just like a contrail from a jet, lovely. Up into the mist we went and it was with some relief that we reached the broad summit. There was no point in dallying and we set off down to join the ridge that would take us towards Brandon. As we descended we emerged from the cloud and were greeted by a wonderland of mountain panorama. Ahead the ridge rose free of the cloud which now lay a thousand feet below to the west and covered Dingle and the Blasket Islands from view. This cloud stayed in place for the day. To the east the sun bathed the land and sea and the mountains of Benoskee, Caherconree and the giants of the Everagh Peninsula stood proud above layers of cloud. It had been reading just five degrees on the summit of Masatiompan but now the sun carried real warmth and layers of clothing were shed and we enjoyed the easy and stunningly beautiful ridge all the way to the summit of my favourite Irish mountain-Mount Brandon. Here the last couple of patches of snow were to be seen but today had a feel that winter might be past and a promise of balmy days ahead.
An Alpine view first thing

Looking back at home sweet home

Suffering a bit but still a trooper

Into the sun

Later on towards Benoskee and Caherconree beyond

Easy ground on the ridge

Crabbit and Glicket

Parias Mor and Masatiompan

Fine mountain scenery

We relaxed for a while and decided to descend via the Faha Ridge to our car. We returned to point 891 and dropped steeply to the eighty or ninety metres to the start of the ridge proper. Now interest is maintained all the way until the final pull to the top of Gearhane at 822 mtrs. Some nice rock steps present themselves but you can opt out of most if you choose so the going is never too stressful. Soon all difficulties were past and when we arrived at the top we lay in the warm sun and just relaxed. It was heavenly but all too soon we had to rouse ourselves and set off down. Its something we don't do enough, take the time to just sit and enjoy the quiet of the mountains, but I hope to do it more often in the future. The descent is easy but it is fairly long as the ridge stretches five kilometers in a northeasterly direction all the way to the sea. As we got lower it just got warmer and warmer and by the time we eventually reached the car spring had begun to have a touch of summer about it. I was hot and got my first touch of sunburn of the year and tiredness was definitely a factor but we were delighted. It had been a wonderful experience and with scenery like we had enjoyed I was left wondering why I go abroad at all. I'm sure the next miserable weather day will cure me of my doubts. Thanks Frank and here's to more throughout the coming year.
The Brandon Massif

Summit views

Along the Faha Ridge towards The Reeks

A beautiful mountain
Coimmin ou Chorrain

Towards Brandon Peak

An easy spot to linger

Towards Mullaghanattin

View down from the Faha Ridge

Towards Gearhane

Coimin na gCnamh

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

A Winters Trip To Scotland February 2014

I have waited a few days before writing my account of my latest trip to Scotland. I had planned on a fairly lengthy stay of 11 days but I'm afraid I only lasted a total  of five. In truth I had been in two minds about going in the first place. Kevin wasn't going and the weather forecast was pants and I couldn't generate any great enthusiasm for the journey. The saving grace was that I was to finally meet Craig Coid, the gentleman who found my camera on Ben Nevis several years ago and get to spend a few days with Patrick Price with whom I had had such a great time in Torridon last year. I hummed and hawed and prevaricated and eventually decided to give it a go. Once I had made up my mind I started to feel better about going and by the Friday morning I was looking forward to the off.

Friday  and Saturday Feb 21st & 22nd;

Once again I was taking the long way there and I left home at 11.15 to catch the 11.40 train to Dublin. Then the ferry to Holyhead followed by another train to Crewe where I caught the Caledonian Sleeper at 23.40 which saw me arrive at Crianlarich at 07.40 on Saturday morning. I was pretty tired to say the least and fighting the effects of a head cold and my mood wasn't greatly improved when I emerged into an overcast wet and windy morning. I was booked into the Inverardran House B&B which was nearly a kilometers walk away but there was nothing for it but to set off. Thankfully the rain eased and I didn't get too wet on the way. I was let into the entrance hall by the very pleasant proprietor and I simply dropped my big wheelie bag and set off with my rucksack and headed for a climb of Ben More. So off I set along the road in the direction of Benmore farm about two kilometers along where the route starts. I could see up to about 900mtrs before the mountains became enveloped in the scudding clouds. The snowline was down to about the 600mtr contour and from what I could see, everything above that was liberally covered. It was fairly mild as well and the nasty blustery showers didn't promise to turn to snow any time soon. Upon reaching the farm the way ahead is pretty obvious. There is a wide track that wends its way up the steep hillside which I duly followed until it contours around into Benmore Glen on the right and here I left it and just put the head down and took a direct line upwards. Ben More rises steeply and majestically skywards right from the shores of Loch Lubhair and soars unbroken to an impressive height of 1174mtrs. After all the travelling and despite the weather it felt good to be out and exercising my stiff limbs. The wind, especially in the showers was quite strong and I didn't have any illusions as to how strong it would get as I gained height. At around the 500 mtr mark I reached the first of the snow and it didn't take long to decide that it was best avoided for now as it was sugary and soft and made upward progress quite difficult. Soon enough this was no longer an option but thankfully once I reached the 700 mtr mark I was no longer sinking deep into the snow yet crampons were not yet necessary. I climbed on and by the time I got above the 800 mtr contour the snow started to firm up nicely and I was at the point of deciding that axe and crampons were a good idea. Unfortunately it was also at this point that the terrain becomes more of a defined ridge and the speed of the wind increased substantially. Where up to now I was merely being buffeted about suddenly I was literally being blown sideways. I would take a few steps up and then be whipped four or five to my left, up a few more and so on. This was just about ok here where there was a broad simple slope on my left and the snow was still fairly soft but soon the snow would be hard and the terrain even more defined and I reasoned that then things would be untenable so I turned about and headed down.
Looking back to the start of the route

Ben More is up there somewhere

I was disappointed but not surprised as that was the forecast and I hoped to be able to give it another go in a few days. The twin peaks of Ben More and Stob Binnean had often caught my eye on previous trips to the area. In winter they form a dramatic backdrop as you look south from Tyndrum and I have heard them referred to as the "Castor and Pollux" of Scotland and I have to say it is an understandable analogy. It was a bit frustrating to be so near and to be repelled but if it was too easy I guess there wouldn't be the same satisfaction in climbing them. I wasn't long making my way down and I was back at the B&B at 11.30 and relieved to find that my room was ready and I could get out of my sodden clothes. A fine big spacious room allowed me to spread out my stuff and the hot bath was a glorious luxury. I wasn't too worried about how I would spend the remainder of the day as I quickly snuggled up under the duvet to catch up on some sleep and at four pm I watched the excellent rugby match (except for the result) between England and Ireland. Craig had arranged for a friend and regular climbing partner of his to meet me the following day for a climb. Mark had contacted me and we were all set and looking forward to a day out except the weather forecast was appalling with torrential rain and gusts of wind up to 90 mph expected at 900 meters so we had to were forced to cancel. So with climbing out as an option I decided that I would go for a run instead.

Sunday February 23rd;

Its fair to say that the forecast wasn't wrong. During the night the rain was indeed torrential and the wind was loud in the nearby woods. Lightning was another addition to the mix but thankfully by morning things had eased -a little bit. I enjoyed an excellent and rather large cooked breakfast and retired back to my room to relax. I had formulated a plan to get the bus from the village as far as The Bridge of Orchy and run back along the West Highland Way. This was a total distance of 13 miles and I felt it would make a worthy outing for this bad weather day. The bus was to leave at 11.40 so I had over two and a half to kill. I decided to have a snooze for myself and next thing I knew was I woke to see that I had only 30 minutes left to catch the bus. Up and a quick sorting out of clothes etc and I was off jogging into the village. Thankfully the weather had eased further and there were some breaks in the rain and the wind had eased down a bit. I arrived at the bus stop but there was no listing of for a bus at the time I hoped. I hung around for ten minutes after the allotted arrival time but there was no sign of a bus. Not wanting to hang around indefinitely I had a quick change of plan and decided to run to Tyndrum and back a total of twelve miles. I found the access trail that would take me to the Way and set off.
From Kirkton towards Ben More

Ben Challom from Cononish

Beautiful woodland under Beinn Dubhcraigh

Beinn Chuirn

Looking towards Cononish

Ben Oss

Eis Aine in full flow

Cononish river flood

Straight away I was enjoying it immensely. The well made trail wound its way up, down and around , sometimes through the woods, sometimes across open ground and was always varied and interesting. Soon there were great views down to the very impressive River Fillan which was in full spate and flooding the valley below. I took it easy and wanted to enjoy the experience.  The wind and rain only added to the wild feel of the day. After crossing several burns ( most of which were thankfully bridged) the trail dropped down under the railway and then crossed the road and the river Fillan and then through Kirkton farm. Now the  rough trail way left behind and the way ahead was on good surfaced tarmac and farm roads. From here on through Auchtertyre farm and then back across the road for a damp run along the semi flooded riverside trail before once again entering the woods and finally arriving in Tyndrum. I like Tyndrum and have stayed here several times before. The By The Way Hostel is great and I would have stayed there this time but they were full. Anyway as I had arrived and was still feeling not too bad I opted to extend my outing and run out as far as the gold mine at Cononish. A gentle pull of seventy meters through forestry roads and after a couple of kilometers I arrived at the banks of the River Cononish. Here you are once again in wide open spaces and in fine clear weather the views in towards Ben Lui are stunning. Today it was a wild and windswept place and I still loved it even though I was now into the teeth of the wind. Soon enough I arrived at the farm and turned right and headed uphill to the mine and the real attraction here the beautiful waterfall called Eas Aine. The long steady pull soon passed and I found myself at the base on the thunderous cascade. At the top the falls drop in two vertical steps of about forty meters each before then tumbling through the gully for another seventy or eighty meters. Today I was seeing it at its most spectacular. It was a loud rushing fury that warned me to take care with every step as I climbed towards its base. I am reliably informed that in cold winters it freezes and forms one of the best ice climbs in the area. Now that would be a day out to remember. I lingered here a while and ate an energy bar before I turned and trundled easily back down and out alongside the river to rejoin the Way near Dalrigh. From here I retraced my steps back to the B&B. The weather was now improving and as I ran towards Kirkton farm I was treated to taunting beautiful views  towards Ben More. I was pretty tired by the time I arrived back and felt every mile of the seventeen or so I had done. There was a surprising amount of ascent?descent on the Way and when you throw in Cononish as well i reckoned I had had a total in excess of 700 meters done. Still once again a long hot bath went a long way to easing the aching legs. All in all I was well pleased with the day.

Monday February 24th;

I was really looking forward to today as I was finally going to meet with Craig Coid who four years previously had incredibly found a camera I had lost on the "Mantrap" high on the North East Buttress on Ben Nevis. I had lost it on the 18th of February and he had found it at the base of the Orion Face in the middle of April and incredibly, despite falling about 1000 ft and being exposed to the vagaries of a Scottish winter the camera still worked and by posting pictures from the memory card on West Coast Mountain Guides website we managed to get in contact and he returned it to me. We have been in contact since online and it was going to be nice to actually meet the man behind the Facebook profile. We had arranged to meet at 8am in the village and he was going to head to Glencoe and see what the conditions would allow us to do. The weather was once again a bit pish but thankfully the wind was relatively light so we should at least be able to venture onto the mountains. I walked into the village and he duly arrived at the allotted hour. A warm greeting ensued and I climbed into his cavernous four wheel drive and we were off. He was accompanied by his longtime work colleague, friend and now business partner Bill and straight away there was an easy chat and banter on the go. I was immediately at ease and enjoying myself and lets just say that humour fun and stories galore filled the day. One thing that was clear as evidenced by the number of avalanche slides and remnants we could see on the way was that our options for any technical routes were very limited and the boys used their considerable experience and opted for the Schoolhouse Ridge and Sgorr Dhearg.



Looking down to Ballachulish

A wee bit wintry on top

Do we go that way??

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Wonderful views on the way down

The bridge is thata way

Schoolhouse Ridge

After eventually finding somewhere that could accommodate Craigs HUGE vehicle ( sorry Craig, well you did say I was small and oh let just say, frequently brought up my penchant for losing cameras :o) ) we set off on our route. reasonable weather and great company ensured that the steep climb up towards the ridge passed easily. At first the ridge is broad but higher up it narrows and has a few steep and exposed steps. These are easily climbed and soon the subsidiary top of Sgorr Bhan 947 mtrs is reached. Here the surface is wind scoured and at times a bit icy but the short descent and steady pull up to Sgorr Dhearg 1022 mtrs is easily done without crampons. Here we overtook a quartet of climbers who were fully suited and booted with ropes, crampons and GoPro camera. We lingered very briefly and retraced our steps back to more sheltered ground above Coire Riabach where we had a well earned lunch. Here as we dropped just below the cloud cover we were treated to lovely views down to Ballachulish and Glencoe. Craigs encyclopedic knowledge of these mountains came once again to the fore as he pointed out where the iconic bridge in Ballachulish North should be as we came under the mist. The rest of the the route flew by and before long we were back at the car and changing into warm dry clothes. A nice coffee and pastry in the excellent cafe in Glencoe and we were on our way back through the incomparable Pass of Glencoe again. We stopped briefly to look into Coire nan Lochan and much evidence was to be seen of many avalanches. It was a good call by Craig and Bill to avoid the area entirely.
The irrepressible Craig Coid 

We drove back to Crianlarich where we enjoyed a nice meal in the well appointed Crianlarich Hotel. Conversation flowed and I learned some more about the two gentlemen. After both having lengthy and successful careers in the Glasgow police force they decided upon retirement to establish an outdoor recreation and adventure company with particular emphasis on working with the youth in the greater Glasgow area. Judging by the apparent full diaries they both had, the company "Simply Epic Adventures" was already a great success. It was a pleasure to meet Bill who had a warmth about him as great as his stature and Craig was a delight whose wit and conversation ensured that I look forward to meeting him more often in the future. So we said our goodbyes and I retired to my room for the evening. I checked the weather forecast for the next four or five days and unfortunately there was no reprieve on the horizon.

Tuesday February 25th;

I awoke to another poor weather day. A strong wind and heavy rain swept across the landscape and my hope of giving Ben More another go were once again dashed. I had absolutely no phone coverage in the area and my only communication with people was via Facebook or email. I was to meet Patrick on Wednesday evening but I wasn't sure where or what time and the emails I had sent hadn't yet received a reply. I also had to leave my B&B this morning and with the weather so poor I was at a loss what to do for the day. I had planned heading to Fort William that evening and perhaps climbing Ben Nevis Wednesday morning but I suppose it may have been the uncertainty or the weather or the fact that I just felt weary but I decided to cut my losses and return home that day. I was booked on the sleeper train out of Inverness on Sunday evening but rather than spend another couple of days tooling about and with such a poor  forecast the very real likelihood of not getting any climbing done in Torridon either, I took the train as far as Oban where I could change my booking and booked myself onto the sleeper train that left that evening from Fort William. I managed to get a text away to Patrick and another email and I returned on the next service to Crianlarich where I got the next service to Fort William. I had a few hours to kill here and as I walked along a rainy highstreet in this dreary place I was relieved that I would soon be leaving it. It was such a relief to finally board the train and I rocked and rolled through the night before alighting in Crewe at 05.30 Wednesday morning. Another train to Holyhead and a three hour ferry trip saw me finally board a train in Dublin at 13.00 and arrive home at 15.30. I had been on trains for a total of 17 hours out of the previous thirty plus a few on a ferry so it was no surprised that I was wrecked. I had also picked up a sinus infection and also, throughout the following 24 hours I felt like I was still on the ferry as I had a slight dose of motion sickness. It was great to relax and now as I write this almost a week later I realise it had taken me a full five days to get back to my usual self. I do have one major regret though and that is that I feel I left Patrick down. After suggesting that we meet in the first place and he being kind enough to agree and be prepared to take a few days out of his busy schedule to climb with me I felt a deep guilt at leaving before we met. I hope he will forgive me and see fit to join me for other adventures in the future. My biggest fear though was that I had lost my love for travel and the mountains. I had been so reticent beforehand and this time I found the journey tiring rather than exciting. Usually I'm also not too bothered by the weather. I will regather my energy and spirits and give myself a few weeks before I think about heading somewhere again. It had been wonderful to meet Craig and our day out was the highlight of the trip. Anyway all is back to normal and I will wait and see what the future brings.