Thursday, May 26, 2016

Highlands trip day 5: Aonach Eagach

We're both definitely noticing the last few days in our legs, so we spend some time deciding what we're going to do, but we finally arrive at where we started: the Aonach Eagach ridge; it just sounds too good to not do. We start in Glen Coe a bit further east from day 1 and climb the other side (north side) of the valley. It's a real Andrea special: straight up the 800m to the ridge on a really nice path with increasingly excellent views behind us of day 1's hike and, as we climb, views opening of the ridge we followed in day 2's scramble. As we near the top we also start to get tantalizing views of the next ridge to the north... the "you're almost there" game goes on for quite a while. After reaching the top (Am Bodach, 943m) we enjoy the views and then find a good wind sheltered spot for a break.
Enjoying the views
The scrambling ahead is calling and our legs are doing fine after the rest, so we continue onwards along the ridge. From Am Bodach we start with scrambling downwards. This is never a favorite, but the rock is great and there are plenty of places to put our feet, so it isn't bad at all. We run into a big group underway with a rope and a guide queued up at the last steep step, but the guide is friendly enough to point us towards an alternate route to down-scramble that section ("if you're feeling confident" ;-)). We continue on the ridge, past the rest of that group, enjoying the views, to the first real Munro of the day (Meall Dearg, 953m). Past this is a bit more down-scrambling to the next saddle, a scramble up through a great chute, and then a bit more walking/scrambling to get to the first promontory on the scrambling bit of the ridge. We're planning on heading back the same way we came, so we keep an eye on everywhere we scramble up to make sure it's also doable in reverse. Great fun. 

Just below the first promontory we find a great spot for a lunch break, so we settle down, rest our legs, and enjoy the sun and the food. After lunch we continue along the ridge, with more excellent scrambling and some nicely exposed bits until we catch up with the other group again at the last promontory before a long descent to a saddle (before the ascent to the Stob Coire Leith). This is essentially the end of the scrambling and it's getting late, so we opt to turn around at this point. The way back along the ridge is just as enjoyable as the way up was and we are, sooner than one would hope, at the end of the ridge and the top of the path back down to the car.
800m of pretty quick descent later and the hiking portion of the trip is over. We take a short break, then pile into the car and head to Edinburgh.

On the track greg ended up hitting "pause" on the watch on the way up, so there's a piece missing at the beginning.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Highlands trip day 4: Ring of Steall, Mamores

Today's plan is to do the "Ring of Steall", or at least a good part of it. We park at the lot at the Lower Glen Falls and then follow the (nice, following the river) trail up the glen a ways before rejoining the road for the last bit to the Upper Glen Falls lot. From here it's a really nice path through woods and the Nevis Gorge that opens dramatically onto a hanging valley with the dramatic Steall Falls at the end. Wow! The trail takes us across the meadow then off to the right to a river crossing with a great wire bridge. We, of course, both opt for this rather than taking our shoes off. We aren't bold enough to do it together, but alone it is entertaining enough. :-) Once across the river the trail leads us across some boggy ground (bit of forest tramping here to avoid it) before getting to the foot of the shoulder that will lead us up to the first peak of the day, the An Gearanach (982m). Before heading up we take a short break to clear up space on the memory card (oops), have a small snack, and enjoy the views.
The first part of the trail up isn't particularly pleasant: lots of tight switchbacks and quartzite gravel in the trailbed that squeaks unpleasantly when walked on. Still, the views are nice. As we go higher things improve: the switchbacks stretch out and the footing becomes more normal. After crossing under the peak's buttress we come out on another shoulder and into some decent-to-heavy wind. We find a reasonably wind-sheltered spot for another short food break with a view, put on hard shells and gloves, and then continue up the last 150m to the peak. Boy is it windy!
Up top the wind drops off a bit, but we still don't do much of a break aside from the requisite one to appreciate the views. From here we have a great overview of the entire "Ring of Steall" around the Allt Coire a'Mhail valley. Very nice! We continue along the ridge, which narrows down some and has some light scrambling, head over the next peak (An Garbhanach, 975m), down into a saddle on a steep path, up to Stob Coire a'Chairn (981m), down into saddle, up to Am Bodach (1032m), take another food break out of the wind, down into another saddle, then up to Sgùrr an lubhair (1001m). We are amazingly alone up here: we've seen a total of two other people since coming up on to the ridge. What a difference to the day before! On Sgùrr an lubhair we decide that continuing to the last peak of the ring (Sgùrr a'Mhaim) isn't necessary, so we head back down the southerly ridge to a saddle. Turning right takes us down, down, down through the lovely valley Allt Coire a'Mhusgain (very, very reminiscent of Switzerland, though you'd be 1500m higher there) that ends at the Lower Glen Falls parking lot where we are parked.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Highlands trip day 3: Ledge Route to Ben Nevis

After a nice breakfast we get a reasonably early start, grab some food at the supermarket, and then drive to the Glen Nevis visitor center where we park and start walking.
After crossing the river on a nice bouncy suspension bridge (Andrea has extra fun on this), we follow the well-trod path that starts to take us up the tourist route to Ben Nevis. It's a beautiful day, sunny and not too hot, and we make decent time on the ascent. We are far, far from alone. This is the route to take to the peak and lots of people head that way, particularly on fine weathered days in May. After a good bit of climbing we hit a bit of a plateau with a lake (the Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe) and then leave the main path as it starts the first of many zigs on the way to the peak. We head northwards across the windy plateau and then around the corner, now in shade and much cooler, and along the Alt a'Mhuilinn valley until we get to the CIC hut. In total contrast to the normal route, we haven't seen a single person on our trail since leaving the main route. At the CIC hut there are a couple of people around, but it's still super quiet. We have a quick snack and scope out the approach to the Ledge Route, which we will take to the top of Carn Dearg (1221m) and the Ben Nevis summit plateau.
on the tourist route in the sun
there's the Ledge Route somewhere
After our nice snack, we head upwards, towards the cliffs off the Carn Dearg Butress following a bit of a trail that takes us up to the scree slope below the Number Five Gully. Here there's a sizable snow patch, but it's soft enough that there's no problem kicking steps to head across. At the other side we encounter a nicely trod set of steps in the snow that take us up into the gully and to the beginning of the Ledge Route. Now we follow the instructions in the book, first up the wet bit, then along the vegetated scoop, then right up to the gangway, across/up the gangway, and then a bit more scrambling until we get to a bit flatter spot where we stop and have another quick food break while admiring the views of the Ben Nevis N face and a track from someone who has climbed the very steep Number Five Gully. The next bit is mostly walking, perhaps a bit of light scrambling until we reach the summit plateau of Ben Nevis with its fantastic views. There is really something to be said for being on the highest peak around, particularly when that peak is pretty prominent: you can see forever. We walk for a bit and then rejoin the crowds heading for the peak (1344m). At the peak itself we amuse ourselves with the chaos and the views (including a great look back on the Ledge Route) before turning around and starting the long trip back down.
views, snow, cloud
For the trip down we follow the standard tourist route, zigging and zagging with a bunch of other people back down to the valley. Eventually we make it back to our car. After changing shoes and quick rest we pile in and head back to Fort William for a shower and dinner.
on the way down with lots of others...
This was a really nice trip: not nearly as challenging for either route finding or scrambling as the day before, but with a much more remote feeling while we were on that ridge. The contrasts from masses of people, to solitary ridge scramble, and then back to masses of people was fun.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Highlands trip day 2: Curved Ridge, Buachaille Etive Mor

Today we return to the very impressive east face of the Buachaille Etive Mor. We saw this as we were driving towards Glen Coe on the first day and took a couple pictures, today's the day to climb it (well, to scramble up it).
in front of Buachaille Etive Mor while driving in
After parking we head along a service road towards the face of the mountain, past a small house with a parking lot (complete with guy who's camped there overnight) and a van with three guys clearly planning on climbing. Onward we go, across the plain and then slowly starting to climb as we cross in front of the rock face. After going what seems like further than we should have needed to (and checking with the GPS map once, we're bad), we pass in front of the "waterfall slab", move on a bit further, and then follow a track steeply up. This isn't as well traversed as it seems like it ought to be (or we just have problems following it), so it takes us longer to find our way here than it seems like it should. We eventually hit a wall where we'd need to keep scrambling to continue. Since we think we're not quite there, and since a peek at the GPS map shows us pretty far off where the GPX track is, *and* since scrambling back down in case we get it wrong wouldn't be much fun, we decide to head back down a bit and scout around a bit more. Fortunately, shortly after we make this decision we run into the three climbers; one of them is local and he confirms that our original path was correct. They're planning to climb one of the routes next to our scrambling route, so we just follow them up to where our ways should diverge.

The scrambling up Curved Ridge is just excellent. The rock is really good, holds are abundant, it's generally not too technical, the views are breathtaking (greg really tries not to look down too much, but it's hard not to!), and route finding is pretty easy. It's a complete joy to do. It's a pretty long scramble, but it does still eventually (and unfortunately!) end at the top of the Crowberry Tower. After enjoying the views a bit more, we scout briefly around to see if we can avoid the unpleasant looking climb down to the narrow saddle between Crowberry Tower and Stob Dearg, the main peak. We can't, so down we go (it's not as bad as it looks) to the saddle. From there it's a short easy scramble/hike to the top of Stob Dearg (1022m). We enjoy being up top, soak in the views, talk a bit to one of the other two groups there, eat something, and then head on wards along the ridge.
scrambling up Curved Ridge
from the top of Stob Dearg looking across the plain of Rannoch Moor
The rest is now the usual "you have to go down in order to go up" ridge walking with excellent views to the next peak (Stob na Doire, 1011m). We briefly appreciate the views and head down to the next saddle along the ridge. Here we could continue a bit and bag another Munro, but we avoid that craziness and decide to head back to the car. From the saddle a really nice path leads us down, down, down to the valley floor of the Lairig Gartain and a path that leads us across the high moor and back to the car.
along the ridge after Stob na Doire

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Highlands trip day 1: Bidean nam Bian

We start from a parking lot in Glen Coe that already has a view of most of the long ascent we'll be making along the Coire nan Lochan and up to the Stob Coire nan Lochan. The weather isn't perfect, but the clouds are structured and there are some patches of sun, so we're hopeful that we'll have a good day. We clearly won't be lonely: there are already plenty of cars in this lot and the next one and we can see people on their way up through the steep valley between Gearr Aonach and Aonach Dubh. The trail across the valley floor takes us to the beginning of the ascent, which is extremely no-nonsense: plenty of climbing, not much switching back. Up up we go on the nice trail past a group of climbers who have diverted off across the stream to our right and who are looking for the way up to the beginning of their route. After a steep bit left of a waterfall we emerge on a broad plain surrounded by two ridges leading up to the Ston Coire nan Lochan, which still towers above us. The couloirs to the top are all full of snow, but otherwise things look good. We say hi to a group of guys taking a rest, then head off towards the left ridge. This takes us nicely up, with great views, the last couple hundred meters; there's a bit of scrambling, but not too much. At some point rain threatens a bit, but this ends up not being real (just a few sprinkles). Up top (1115m, our first Scottish peak! our first Munro!) we take a short food break, enjoy the views, and scope out the rest of our hike. We have a good view of the saddle that our planned route leads down from and see that it's full of snow. Since it's also quite steep and we don't have the ice-axes with us we're going to need to figure out a plan B.
before the first peak (Ston Coire nan Lochan, to the right), looking ahead to the second one (Bidean nam Bian, to the left)
After the break we continue on along the ridge towards Bidean nam Bian. The path is again quite good and after descending to the saddle between the peaks (you have to go down in order to go up), it's just 150 meters of climbing until we're up top (1150m). Again a short rest (after the first couple minutes we actually have the peak to ourselves) and more enjoying of the views and then we head back down the way we came to the saddle. The slope leading up to this had looked like a good candidate for getting down into the Lost Valley (Coire Gabhail) and this is reinforced when we see a group coming up that way. We cross them at the saddle and start our descent. This is a steep, but easy descent of a grass slope. There's some route finding to make sure we get over all the steps , but soon enough we're at the trail at the bottom of the valley. After a bit on the main trail we divert onto a smaller trail that runs closer to the gorge (with a drop *and* waterfalls, there's no way Andrea is going to stay away!). We follow this very nice (and empty) little path the rest of the way to the foot of the gorge.
waterfalls running into the gorge in Coire Gabhail
At the end of the valley the people density starts going up. We follow the path down, down until get close to the river again. There's a nice diversion  to a cool spot by the river for pictures, then down again to a river crossing. This doesn't seem doable with dry feet (and certainly everyone here has taken off their shoes to do it), so we return to the cool photo spot and cross there. There's a bit of a scramble on the other side, but a great path above it (we're certainly not the first to have taken that route) that leads us long the lip of the valley before heading steeply down at the end. Once on the broad valley floor of Glen Coe, where the road runs, we turn off to the left and back to our car.
looking back from the road towards the three sisters and the Stob Coire nan Lochan

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Scottish Highlands & Edinburgh

fly from Basel to Edinburgh, pick up rental car, drive on the wrong side of the rode to Glen Coe, stay at Glen Coe Inn

Sunday to Thursday: Hike and Scramble in the Highlands
We stayed a couple of nights in Glen Coe, after that in B&B's in Fort William
Hiking Day 1: Bidean nam Bian
Hiking Day 2: Curved Ridge, Buachaille Etive Mor
Hiking Day 3: Ledge Route to Ben Nevis
Hiking Day 4: Ring of Steall, Mamores
Hiking Day 5: Aonach Eagach, drive back to Edinburgh, find Cairn Hotel, have Italian for dinner

Friday: Edinburgh
leisurely morning, walk around Edinburgh in fog and drizzle, dinner at Pera (tiny but great Turkish place)
Edinburgh Castle
flight back to Basel

Sunday, May 08, 2016

A Jura hike: Laufen to Neumühle

It's still too snowy/uncertain in the Alps and Voralpen, so we take advantage of the good weather with another nice day hike in the Jura.

through woods...

...and meadows...
We sometimes forget how great it is to just walk through the lovely green Jura. This was a good reminder. Very nice hiking ending at Neumühle, directly on the border to France. Here the usual post-hike refreshments turned into some eating too: the Neumühleplättli that went by just looked too good, so we had to order our own. We weren't disappointed. :-)

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Climbing and hiking above Biel

We spent Thursday through Saturday of the long weekend doing some climbing and hiking in the Jura. Andrea found a good location above La Heutte, the weather was good, we had a nice place to stay (the Metairie Werdtberg, which provided both good food and great views), it was a good weekend.

Day 1: After arriving at La Heutte by train we walk up to the climbing area Bonnes Fontaines. It's not super early, but there's still just one other couple where we are. Nice! We do:
  • Les Enfoires
  • Les Daltons
  • Lucky Luke
  • Yop (in the SAC book, but not Plaisir Jura)
Andrea also practice setting protection on her second time up Les Daltons. Greg got frustrated with that quickly and just climbed.
We then moved up to Innocent Love and Peaceful (also in the SAC book), but those were being camped at by a group who didn't seem to understand that it was ok to share a stand. Rather than argue, we set off and did the long, multipitch Arete ouest. This wasn't necessarily in our plan for the day, but we wanted to do some more climbing and had plenty of time, so off we went. The route is classic Jura mulit-pitch: a combination of bolts and trees for protection, trees for stands, etc. The hardest pitch was 4c, so we did the route in our approach shoes. There were a couple of bits where the route-finding wasn't completely obvious and where it was nice to have a tree available to wrap a sling around, and Greg managed to drop his ATC off the mountain (yay!), but it's a lot of fun. At the top of the route we follow trail markers for a bit and then just follow the ridge (and some faint traces of path) up to p1160, where we pick up the road that takes us to the hotel for the night. After post-exertion beverages enjoying the panoramic view of the Alps we shower, have a nice meal, and enjoy the rest of a quiet evening.

Day 2: Despite the earliest start we can get (it's tough when breakfast doesn't start until 8!), there are already a number of groups at the climbing area Le Paradis when we arrive. We make the wrong choice and start with the first pitch of Free Gras. By the time we realize that this is way too easy, the route we should have started on (Metatarses) is occupied. We try to make do by both climbing up to the top of Free Gras and climbing from there, but by the time Andrea has completed the first pitch of Ca Pique Greg things are crowded and Greg is pretty pissed off with the noise (particularly the barking dog). We bail and head around the corner, where the routes are shorter, but things are at least a bit quieter. We do a number of short, but varied, routes that aren't in our book and play around for a while. In the late afternoon we decide that we have enough time to do the multi-pitch Arete du Faucon. This certainty evaporates (for Greg) after we encounter the first group in front of us - after the first extended pitch - and can already see at least one group in front of them. We opt to head back down (requiring a bit of improvisation since Greg lost his ATC on day 1). All in all not an optimal day of climbing, we're both not completely thrilled as we head back to the hotel.
Day 3: The forecast is still quite good, at least until the afternoon, and we don't really want to risk another frustrating day of crowded climbing, so we decide to hike. A long hike with the heavy packs is going to be training, and the views are pretty damn good. The route isn't complicated: just follow the ridge. We very much enjoy the hiking, have a great meal at Untergrenchenberg, then head down to Grenchen where we get the train back go Basel.