Coigach, Assynt and Sutherland

I got back late yesterday from four days based at Elphin in North-West Scotland with a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors walking and mountaineering team of John, Craig, Gillian, Gillian, Linda, Neil, Olesya and Ruby. It was billed as a winter trip, but there are currently only small amounts of snow in the area mostly on north and east facing aspects above 800m in significant collection features and around coire rims.

Linda and Ruby on the traverse of Stac Pollaidh with Cul Beag behind.

We had generally dry conditions with moderate to strong warm south-east to south-west winds. This meant dry rock away from major seepage lines and we made the most of the distinctly summer conditions.

The climbing team, minus John, at the end of a good day at Reiff. Photo credit: Gillian Millar.

On Thursday a combined group did the classic east to west scramble traverse of Stac Pollaidh to the true west top after driving up from Falkirk. On Friday the mountaineers climbed Lurgainn Edge on Cul Beag including the avoidable Difficult crux at the top, whilst the walkers traversed Cul Beag and Cul Mor covering some rough and remote country and a lot of ascent. On a windy Saturday we headed further north with the mountaineers climbing Dionard Rib on Cranstackie, which gave a very good ascent on excellent rough gneiss, and the walkers visiting Cranstackie and Beinn Spionnaidh (the most northerly Corbett). On Sunday a team had a half day at the Reiff sea cliffs climbing routes on The Pinnacle and Pinnacle Walls area and Craig and Ruby completed an excellent round of Beinn an Eoin. All in all a great trip in good company to an incredibly beautiful area.

Summer Isles Sea Kayaking

The last week Jen and I have been based up at Reiff with Jim and Jules and Ruaraidh from Norwest Sea Kayaking. On the way up Jen and I broke the journey with a stop at Strathpeffer and a quick walk up Cnoc Mor and along the Cat’s Back ridge. This little hill gives great views to the surrounding hills and coast.

Beinn nan Caorach and Ben Mor Coigach

Beinn nan Caorach and Ben Mor Coigach

On the Monday there was a fairly strong wind, which seemed to constantly shift to be in to our faces. However, after setting off from Badenscallie we visited the islands of Meall nan Gabhar, Horse Island, Carn nan Sgeir, Eilean Dubh and Tanera Mor before returning to our starting point.

The kayaks in a bay on Tanera Beg

The kayaks in a bay on Tanera Beg

Tuesday saw us leaving Old Dornie and heading South down the coast before crossing to Tanera Mor and stopping in to have a look at the old herring processing buildings. We then headed north around the island and out via Eilean Fada Beag and Mor before stopping for lunch and a walk up to the high point of Tanera Beg. After lunch we kayaked back up through Caolas a’Mhill Ghaibh and had a chat with the some of the guys on a Bear Grylls survival course before returning to Old Dornie. On Tuesday evening I went for a run up Meall an Fheadain. This small hill, which sits east of the Altandhu to Polbain road, gives stunning views of the area and has a small slabby crag on the west side of the summit, which gave some delightful easy climbing.

The view from a cave on Rubha Coigeach

The view from a cave on Rubha Coigeach

Wednesday was a beautiful sunny day and we used it to kayak around the Rubha Coigeach peninsula from Achnahaird Bay to Reiff. This was an excellent way of seeing the main climbing areas of Reiff and we were lucky enough to get an excellent view of a sea eagle along the coast.

On Thursday we set off from Old Dornie again, but this time visited Isle Ristol, Eilean Mullargach, Glas-leac Mor and Sgeir Dhubh before heading back to a sandy bay on Isle Ristol to try some rolling practice. Pete who’d been staying with us, but not coming out in the kayaks, had made use of the good weather and spent the week walking up Ben Mor Coigach, Sgurr an Fhidleir and Ben nan Caorach; walking around the Rubha Coigeach peninsula; walking up Cul Beag and cycling to Lochinver.

Jules, Jen, Jim and Ruaraidh with Cul Mor, Stac Pollaidh and Cul Beag behind.

Jules, Jen, Jim and Ruaraidh with Cul Mor, Stac Pollaidh and Cul Beag behind.

Jim and Pete headed off early on Friday and Jen, Ruaraidh and I made for Ardmair. From there we kayaked north and then west along the coast underneath the Postman’s Path before cutting back south to Isle Martin and around its west coast in beautiful sunshine. After a last lunch stop on Isle Martin we paddled back to Ardmair.

An excellent week in a stunning area with good company and some very kind weather.

North-West Sea Stacks Trip

Monday to Wednesday this week I was up in the far North-West of Scotland with a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors Trip climbing and walking trip.

John making the swim at the Old Man of Stoer

John making the swim at the Old Man of Stoer

After driving up on Monday we dropped off the walkers at Inchnadamph to tackle Ben More Assynt and Conival. John, Linda, Gillian, Steven, Tony and I then headed for the Old Man of Stoer.

A view of the top two pitches or so of the Old Man of Stoer

A view of the top two pitches or so of the Old Man of Stoer

We rigged a Tyrolean to the South-East corner of the stack and climbed it via the Original Route missing out the initial traverse pitch. Conditions were perfect with sunshine and a light wind.

Steven and Tony after the Old Man of Stoer

Steven and Tony after the Old Man of Stoer

On Tuesday we dropped Craig and the walkers at the start of the way up Arkle. The forecast wasn’t great, but the climbers decided to head up to have a look at Am Buachaille anyway. It was misty down low all day, but the forecast rain never really appeared in earnest and when we reached the bottom of the sea stack the rock was damp, but looked climbable.

A damp first pitch on Am Buachaille

A damp first pitch on Am Buachaille

Again we climbed it by the Original Route. This gives three pitches of good climbing, but there is loose and friable rock and care is required. Additionally there’s still Fulmar chicks around and one on the first ledge of the first pitch requires care to avoid. It’s late for the chicks to still be on ledges, so I’d guess it’s a second brood or second attempt given the variable summer. Am Buachaille is definitely an adventure with a longish walk in, a fairly serious grassy scramble to get down and up, a swim for everybody and tidal time constraints.

Gillian about to abseil off Am Buachaille with the flash making the mist seem worse than it was

Gillian about to abseil off Am Buachaille with the flash making the mist seem worse than it was.

On Wednesday the walkers headed for Canisp and great views, whilst the climbers had a few hours climbing and coasteering at the Pinnacle area of Reiff in glorious weather. All in all a very successful trip.

North-West Sea Stacks, Cragging and Walking

The last three days I’ve been away with a Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors trip to the North-West of Scotland. After meeting up with the rest of the group in Aviemore on Monday morning we headed up to our base for the trip at the excellent Inchnadamph Hostel. A quick turnaround at the hostel and we dropped the walking group of Craig, Anne, Cath, Isobel, Lorn and Wilson off to do a traverse of Breabag. The climbers then headed to the Point of Stoer and the target for the day of the classic sandstone sea stack of the Old Man of Stoer.

The Old Man of Stoer

The Old Man of Stoer

There were several parties on the stack, so we asked permission to use their Tyrolean to get John across and then set up our own to the Southern side of the stack. Once across Gayle and Iona climbed with John, whilst Graeme and Tam climbed with myself with both teams climbing The Original Route.

Iona and Gayle just below the top of the Old Man of Stoer

Iona and Gayle just below the top of the Old Man of Stoer

On Tuesday we dropped the walkers off to complete an unusual full traverse of Quinag, which several described afterwards as their best day walking in the hills. The climbers headed North and walked in towards the beautiful Sandwood Bay. We cut off before the bay itself and descended steeply to the base of the cliffs near Am Buachaille.

Am Buachaille from near the base of our descent

Am Buachaille from near the base of our descent

After a change it to wet suits, a slippy boulder traverse and a short swim we climbed the second classic sandstone sea stack of the trip, Am Buachaille. We climbed this via The Original Route.

John, Graeme and Tam crossing the channel to Am Buachaille

John, Graeme and Tam crossing the channel to Am Buachaille

The rock is more friable than on The Old Man of Stoer, the climbing is bolder and there’s more loose rock on ledges, so care is definitely required.

John leading the first pitch on Am Buachaille

John leading the first pitch on Am Buachaille

A good look at tide tables and a fairly quick ascent is also needed to avoid a long swim. However, on the day we had plenty of time and the swim with the tides we had was no more than 8m.

Graeme and Tam on the second belay ledge on Am Buachaille

Graeme and Tam on the second belay ledge on Am Buachaille

On Wednesday I got up to drop the walkers off for a traverse of Cul Mor and then the climbers had a more relaxed day at Reiff, where we climbed a range of routes, mostly on bottom ropes, up to E3 5c.

Graeme bottom roping Pop-out at Reiff

Graeme bottom roping Pop-out at Reiff

We had sunshine and dry weather throughout although it was windy and cool on the tops at times.

Old Man of Stoer, Sheigra, Reiff and Assynt, Sutherland and Coigach Hills

I’m just back from an excellent three day trip to North West Scotland with Falkirk Community Trust Outdoors, where we were based in the Inchnadamph Lodge Hostel. There was a climbing team of myself, John, Clare, Gayle, Jim and Linda and a walking team with Craig of Lorne, Mary, Morag, Sarah and Tom.

The Tyrolean to the South-East Arete

The Tyrolean to the South-East Arete

On Monday the walkers headed for a windy ascent of Conival and Ben More Assynt and the climbing team made for the iconic sea stack of the Old Man of Stoer. After carefully descending the cliff, where we used a rope to protect the worst section, John did the swim and we rigged a Tyrolean Traverse to the South-East arete of the stack. Rigging to this corner gives a higher Tyrolean and avoids the initial traverse pitch of the Original Route. As it was high spring tides and there was a significant swell the higher Tyrolean was much appreciated.

The team on the first belay

On the first belay

Despite the intimidating conditions of a fairly stiff wind and one shower the team topped out on the Old Man of Stoer. I’ve previously done this stack with the Tyrolean to the North-East arete and this gives a pretty clean abseil straight back to the Tyrolean. The downside of the higher Tyrolean we used on Monday was that the abseil to your starting point is much less clean and with the wind twisting the ropes we had difficulty pulling them. After some re-ascending to redirect the ropes and eventually with a pull from the top of the cliff we retrieved them, but it did make for a late finish. If abseiling the South-East arete, particularly on a windy day, it’s probably worth doing it in multiple abseils to limit potential problems with pulling the ropes.

Jim near the bottom of the abseil

Jim near the bottom of the abseil

On Tuesday the walking team did the long South to North traverse of Foinaven, which they completed in admirably quick time. There was fairly heavy rain early in the day, so the climbing team opted for some coasteering/sea level traversing either side of the beautiful beach of Sheigra in the morning. This allowed the crags to dry up a little and in the afternoon we climbed a couple of routes, Dimples and Mum’s the Word, on the tidal island of Na Stacain before making a speedy retreat up the damp but excellent Diff chimney/rib of Squeeze to Please.

Gayle and Clare in a boulder passage

Gayle and Clare in a boulder passage

Linda and Clare traversing low above the sea

Linda and Clare traversing low above the sea

On Wednesday Craig and the walkers headed for Sgurr an Fhidhleir and Ben More Coigach, where they got superb views. There were showers again in the morning, but these cleared and the climbers had a few hours at the Pinnacle Area of Reiff. Reiff has a huge number of superb short routes on good rock with stunning views and the team enjoyed the more relaxed nature of the venue after the previous two days. The venue meant John and I could rig/climb lots of routes including Midreiff, Fly by Wire, Westering Home, Pop-out, Puckered Wall, Xyles and Channering Worm.

Clare on Channering Worm

Clare on Channering Worm

We finished the trip with a mass ascent of Moon Jelly to the top of the Pinnacle; an appropiate way to end a very good three days.

The team on the Pinnacle

The team on the Pinnacle

End of a great trip

End of a great trip