The Twin Peaks of Crianlarich

On Several occasions whilst heading north towards Ben Nevis and Glencoe I have passed the twin peaks of Ben More and Stobinian and decided I must climb them at some stage though It wasn’t until ecently that I put my words into action and set out to finally explore the two Munros. The peaks rise over 1000m above Strath Fillan and Glen Dochart and it was from Benmore Farm in the latter glen not far from Crianlarich that I made my ascent.

Just before the farm (heading towards Crianlarich) there is plenty of roadside parking and a path is signed through the hedge and trees to join a zig zag track leading left up the hillside. After going under the power line and passing through a gate higher up, a faint path leads off up the steep slope to the left. The path fades in and out of existence as it climbs steeply-sloping boggy terrain which is hard going at times but as height is gained the route improves and the ground becomes drier. Besides – the views across the Highlands improve steadily as you get higher and compensate amply for any hardship encountered lower down. The upper section where the ridge becomes rockier and more pronounced is a delight to climb without being difficult. After a false summit and an easy section the cairn and trig point on the summit of Ben More are reached with the view to the marginally lower Stobinian beyond.

start of the ben more path

The viiew from where the path to Ben More leaves the farm track

crianlarich hills from ben more

Looking north westwards into the wild landscape of the Highlands from the upper part of the ridge

just below the summit of ben more

The top of the ridge was fun but not difficult – Loch Iubhair and the view along Glen Dochart towards Killin and Loch Tay

stobinian from ben more

The views became transient as the cloud base was reached on the summit of Ben More at 1174m. Looking across to the second peak – Stobinian which is slightly lower at 1165m

The route between Ben More and Stobinian is easy to follow being on a good path all the way with a couple of short rocky steps down from the summit of the first Munro. The harder one can be avoided. The route involves a descent to 800m and consequently a climb of over 300m to Stobinian. Thankfully I was told about a route that was in neither my guidebooks nor marked on my map that descends from the bealach or col so saving re-climbing Ben More. It is a little wet in places with odd sections of bush whacking as it descends steeply to pick up a path and eventually the track I started out on. To find the start of the path descend by the prominent large boulder on the bealach and go straight down the western side – the path initially follows the burn or stream itself before descending to the left of it into the wild Benmore Glen.

wild glen above glen dochart

The wild country on the eastern side of the ridge from the approach to the summit of Stobinian.

the trossachs from stobinian

The view south from Stobinian over the region known as the Trossachs

view from stobinian

Looking back to Ben More from Stobinian. The weather had improved by this stage. Anyone spot the very subtle photobomb here?

wild highland glen

The wild and remote feeling Benmore Glen which marks the route back to the road


As I write this there is a rather important referendum taking place that will determine the future relationship between the great nation of Scotland and my own country England. Whatever the outcome I hope that it’s the right one for the long term future of the people. I have always believed though that problems – which can include certain very unpopular individuals in London – are best confronted when we stand shoulder to shoulder.

Pete Buckley September 18 2014
Join me on Twitter @YuriMedevAuthor

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A Ride over Rannoch Moor

The isolation here is so great that I could well wonder whether the world I came from still exists outside of it. The eternal unchanging landscape rolls away in every direction oblivious to my presence. Somewhere on the lower slopes of that far off mountain range is a small tent that represents home at the moment and if anything happened to my trusty two wheeled steed that carried me here it would take all day – perhaps longer – to walk there…

Rannoch Moor

One really does get the impression of complete isolation out here

I had left the ski centre at Glencoe Mountain – which is actually closer to Glen Etive than Glencoe – and ridden down to the Kingshouse Hotel along the West Highland Way path. Turning to the East on a track signed Rannoch I had left that well trodden route to ride past the Black Corries Lodge which lies in the middle of Rannoch Moor. The place has a strangely sinister air – the name brought to mind the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks and the eight foot fence and dense screen of trees suggested secrecy afoot though it was probably just a deer fence. Beyond the lodge the track led further into a wilderness of heather moor and bog cotton and the route; though far from flat, climbed no major hills instead climbing in an undulating fashion from Kingshouse at about 240m to numerous high points of around 360m behind the Lodge and close to where I now was.

Beyond where I now stood, the track ran out and a faint boggy path ran on over the grasslands towards Rannoch Station but in the absence of any urgency or a train to catch this was as far as I would come today – somewhere in Perthshire just north of Loch Laidon, which was visible over the moor. The last section to Rannoch would be much slower without a hard surface but I did have something to look forward to – the long haul up to the Black Corries was to be a fast and exhilarating downhill ride in the other direction.

bike track over rannoch

The way home

Crianlarich hills from rannoch

A small lake by the side of the track with views to the Crianlarich Hills to the South

Blackmount and glen etive

Looking to Glen Etive from the path past the Black Corries Lodge

the track at kingshouse

Almost back at Kingshouse and the weather is coming in over the Buachaille Etive Mor

The photos are taken heading back down the trail towards Kingshouse where it rejoins the West Highland Way. My way here led left and back up the hill to the ski centre… straight on would take the traveller to Kinlochleven.

Pete Buckley Aug 2014
Join me on Twitter @YuriMedevAuthor

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Summer at Glencoe Mountain

The Plateau Cafe – despite being closed – served as a kind of advanced base camp today; its walls giving some shelter from the rain bearing westerly winds that swept across the Highlands from the North Atlantic. I had walked up a trail that doubles as one of the downhill mountain bike tracks from the Glencoe Mountain Resort aka Glencoe Ski Centre in somewhat better conditions but I was now debating whether or not to carry on.

The aim had been to climb the Munro called Meall a Bhuiridh – the highpoint of the Blackmount range southeast of Glencoe – before crossing a short high ridge to ascend Creise – a second Munro – and Clach Leathad but the weather was suggesting that the Kingshouse pub would make a better choice. My current indecision resulted in having an early lunch on the lee side of the building and by the time I had finished the weather seemed to have abated a little so I took the decision – as is common in the mountains in dubious conditions – to go up and see.

I was surprised that there was no clear path or indication of the route on a peak with chairlift access to over 2000 feet but the way looked obvious enough. Beyond the base of the nearby ski tow a half collapsed bridge led over the river and a faint path was picked up that climbed a grassy rib ahead. It was an easy way up and most of the crags lay over to the left where a vast gully split the mountain below a mid-way hut visible above – the top of one of the ski tows. Above that cloud cloaked the mountain and hid the route though the map showed the easier ground to be up to the right or west. As I climbed the route became more interesting; heading up the side of a narrow gully above a stream that cascaded down out of the mist. Keeping on the left of the stream was easier and I reached the midway hut sooner than expected.

Here the route of a ski run climbed gradually to the right and crossed onto grassy slopes that made the broad north ridge of Meall a Bhuiridh. This way avoids all crags and the much bigger gully I’d seen earlier – probably best when you can’t see the route ahead too far. Heading onto the western side of the mountain brought me back into the wind again and with the path fading in and out I climbed to the left up the wide undefined ridge. On up through rockier ground and finally more steeply but on a clearer path up a long slope of shale and stones in steadily deteriorating conditions. It was now cold too and visibility was down to ten metres – this incidentally is why there are no photos of the upper of the route – I was not actually in the Kingshouse as some may be thinking.

Out of the storm a sign announced one word “Danger” this was to ensure skiers turned here and did not continue over the edge and plummet out of control into the corrie on the west of the peak.  Then there was a cairn and the path stopped going up. I had climbed my Munro but would be going no further today. The height was 1108m – 3636ft – and the temperature seven degrees C (45F) though it felt much colder in the wind and driving rain. The path I would have taken headed right down a narrow ridge while leftwards just beyond the summit and slightly lower was the top of the ski tows in a stony hollow. I suppose it all looks a bit smoother when it’s covered in snow. Back down it was then in horizontal rain and gale force winds to the Glencoe ski centre where there was at least a semblance that it was still August and not November.

Above Glencoe ski centre

Looking back down the lower part of the trail to Buachaille Etive Mor and the upper part of Glencoe

view of rannoch moor from the blackmount

Looking out across Rannoch Moor while the weather was still clear

glencoe mountain chairlift

The top of the chairlift at Glencoe – the lift operates through the summer for hikers and mountain bikers

way up meall a bhuiridh

The way to the summit lies up the rib between the two obvious rivers. The mid level hut is visible near the top of the picture

The scene of my deliberations was a forlorn looking spot in the rain

The scene of my deliberations was a forlorn looking spot in the rain

On a nice day this would be a pleasant and fairly easy ascent – easier still if you use the chairlift – of 9km (just under six miles return) from the ski centre car park or in my case from my tent. Today it was still 9km but it seemed a lot further. The photos are from the part of the route where I still had a view. As for the ski Centre, the car park is free and there’s a cafe that serves reasonably priced food. They also hire mountain bikes for those brave enough (not me) to tackle the downhill runs!

Pete Buckley Aug 2014 now also on Twitter @YuriMedevAuthor

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A Moment on the Trail to Engelberg

jochpass to engelberg

Looking down from the Jochpass at 2207m to Truebsee and the valley of Engelberg beyond

The early evening air is calm and the weather benign as I rest on the soft turf by the summit of the pass. Across the valley jagged mountains rise through the billowing clouds that seem almost as solid as the grey stone of the peaks themselves while a great distance below them the meadows and forests of the valley form a dappled green carpet. In the blue distance the lowlands of Central Switzerland hide somewhere beyond the end of the mountains while nearer at hand and perhaps a thousand or so feet below me was another small lake set in the hillside like a blue-green jewel. No sounds from below invaded this high world other than the faint wind-like sigh of the chairlift cables whose topmost tower was just below where I sat.

It had been a walk through some idyllic mountain terrain in near perfect conditions along the wide easy trail from the hamlet of Engstlenalp by the shores of the alpine tarn of Engstlensee and up to the Jochpass where I now rested. Ahead the path descended to the left below the steep rocks of the crest and continued at an easier angle down through the alpine meadows to the lake which my map revealed to be named Truebsee. This was my route; I would then hop on the gondola to continue to Engelberg which was still four thousand feet below me so avoiding a walk in the dark. Well I would soon; this was my last day in the high mountains and I felt a strong reluctance to leave…

alpine village of Engstlenalp

The alpine village of Engstlenalp is situated in beautiful surroundings at the end of the road from Meiringen and Innertkirchen

Titlis in the central swiss alps

The trail to Jochpass runs beside the tarn of Engstensee at 1850m. Jochpass is on the left and the peak of Titlis (3238m) up ahead

Truebsee Engelberg

Approaching the idyllic lake of Truebsee which is situated above Engelberg at an altitude of 1754m

Alpine lake above engelberg

If I didn’t want to leave Jochpass then Truebsee was even more of a challenge

engelberg truebsee gondola

Engelberg finally came into view from just beyond Truebsee still a long way below – the gondola was a good idea.

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Mountain Biking in Lancashire – around Winter Hill

With a touch on the brake I avoided the large rock ahead and the deep rut on the left of the track; freewheeling at a pace that seemed a good balance between being exciting and avoiding injury, I followed the part of the trail that looked the easiest. A large sheep moved out of the way ahead with a surprising agility and bounded into the heather – it was important not to hit one of those – and the high moorland landscape slid swiftly past while my eyes focused on the path and anything that might cause me to fall off.

The mountain bike gives much more of a sensation of moving through the landscape than hiking does – I guess the speed’s the difference there though pedalling up the steeper hills can be a damn sight harder walking up them. Rarely too for the Lancashire Moors, the sun was shining today with temperatures of around 24C or mid seventies and the speed of my bike also gave a welcoming breeze that could be absent when walking. I was at long last doing a route that had been rained off a couple of times – a circuit of the modest height known as Winter Hill lasting 20.2km or a bit over 12 miles that turned out to be about 20 miles due to where I chose to start and getting completely lost in the area of Dunscar Golf Club.

Another notable feature of this post is the lack of photos; this was due to a since rectified camera malfunction – no not a high speed encounter with a puddle but the far less interesting case of a memory card needing formatting. Why it should choose this particular moment I have no idea.

Mountain biking winter Hill

The route taken around Winter Hill marked in red. I rode in a clockwise direction from 2km east of Belmont on NCN route 91

Witton Weavers Way MTB trail

My approach route to the Winter Hill circuit. The start point is just off the A675 south of Abbey Village. You don’t have to go this way but it is good!

The route though was well worth doing and not too hard; the hills being mostly steady ascents though one path – the one below Delph Reservoir – was so overgrown that shorts are not recommended (copious nettles). The getting lost incident – well the main one – happened just after this where you leave the road along the nature reserve path. You go through one gate and come to another by a small bridge; keep straight on. I went left over the stream and rode down through the golf course which though a nice enough ride was the wrong way and entailed riding all the way back up the hill again. The next bit of the path cheered me up though.

The climb on the road to the route’s high point of 370m is steady with ever expanding views to the south and when it is reached just below Crooked Edge an even better view to the west opens up so I had lunch here. The mast on Winter Hill up to the right dominates the skyline being just over 1000 feet or 300m tall – as high as the Shard or the Eiffel Tower – and it is from here that the TV pictures are beamed to much of North West England.

The last part is the best bit of the ride and begins with heading down and across below Rivington Pike and ends with a rough track that leads from what I am reliably told is “the pigeon tower” – a tall edifice just to the left of the main track – across wild hillsides to the Belmont road and a fast descent to the village of the same name. From near the top of this road (Hordern Stoops 324m) there’s another mountain bike trail that heads off to the left down to Belmont – I’ll do that next time as it looks better than the road though 40mph on a smooth surface is a joy after four over rocks and ruts!

The ride around Winter Hill can be started from anywhere on the route subject to where you can park. My start point for the circuit was the small (and free) car park 2.1km east of Belmont on the National Cycle Network Route 91 (Lancashire Cycleway) and the route from there starts along the path that runs initially parallel with the road before heading into a very pleasant forest – no hint yet of the nettles below the reservoir! My own start point for the ride though was the somehat larger (but also free) car park shown on the second map and I reached the main route along a 4.7km length of the path known as the Witton Weavers’ Way – an extremely enjoyable and not difficult mountain bike route on a bridleway. I can highly recommend starting here though it does mean riding back at the end of the route. Will post photos next time I do the ride.

Pete Buckley July 2014

 

 

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Views of the Lake District – Hard Knott and the Roman Fort

During a recent visit to the Lake District to climb Scafell Pike with my eldest son Josh; we were fortunate enough to be out on one of those perfect spring days that we’ve seen precious little of lately. The day before we headed off to the Pike we investigated The Roman fort at Hard Knott in the region’s quieter south western corner along with Britain’s most severe road pass and a remote summit that was a first for us both.

Setting out from the Eskdale valley in warm sunshine we followed the road towards Hard Knott Pass, soon leaving it to follow a path on its left that cut off some of the twisting hairpin bends. Every so often a car would descend amid the smell of burning brake pads while our path soon veered off and climbed some boggy ground to the gap in the solid stone wall above that used to be the main gate of Mediobogdum – the Roman Fort of Hard Knott.

Mediobogdum Roman Fort Hardknott

Looking towards the highest mountains in England – from one of the lookout towers – from L to R; Scafell, Scafell Pike, Ill Crag and Esk Pike

Medioboggum Fort

Along the wall to the next lookout tower with Esk Pike and Bowfell beyond

The fort which was built in the second century during the reign of Emperor Hadrian of wall building fame, occupies a commanding position high above Eskdale with fine views down-valley to the Irish Sea and up to the wild and rugged Scafell Range. The last time I was here – also at Easter – a sleet laden wind gusted around the ancient stones and snow topped the mountains in the North but today couldn’t have been different. Still I wonder whether the Roman soldiers patrolling here felt privileged to see this wild and remote corner of the Empire or just saw it as a cold inhospitable place populated by enemies. Probably the latter though it is one of my favorite places in the Lakes. The view up-valley incidentally will not have changed since they used to patrol these walls.

Hard Knott from the fort

Our path lay up the shapely summit ahead

Leaving Mediobogdum by its eastern gateway we followed a wide grassy and occasionally damp path towards the impregnable looking peak of Hard Knott to the East. The path narrowed and passed beneath gaunt crags that rose steeply on our left. Below and to the right was the road crossing Hard Knott Pass which with grades of 30% in places is one of Britain’s severest roads. The summit is marked by a cairn and views of the “back” of the Coniston Fells and the lonely valley of the Upper Duddon.

Up to the left and a faint path led us between rocky knolls and up behind the wall of crags we had walked beneath to the summit ridge of Hard Knott – another of those modest but impressive peaks that are always worth climbing – where we sat for a while in the sun by the cairn on Border End overlooking Eskdale; the only people in sight.

hard knott pass road

The twisting hairpin bends of Hardknott Pass

Eskdale from Hard Knott

Looking west from our lunch spot by the cairn over Eskdale to the Irish Sea

The Roman Fort is at an altitude of just over 800 feet or 250m and is a short but steep uphill walk from the bottom of Hard Knott Pass. There is limited parking where the road passes just below the fort and also at the top of the pass where you van walk down the path we ascended. There are larger areas along the road in the valley and we set off from just after the bridge a kilometre or so east of the Youth Hostel. Please note that the road is narrow and very steep and is totally unsuitable for caravans, trailers or larger motorhomes. The road summit is at about 1290 feet. If you walk up to the summit cairn – worth it for the view – it makes for a round trip of about 4 miles/6km from the bottom of the pass. The cairn is about 500 feet above the road summit. In case anyone wonders how we got on the  next day’s trip to Scafell Pike, it’s on my Lake District walks page.

Pete Buckley April 2014

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Hiking From Grindelwald to Zermatt – A Long Walk in the Alps Revisited

During the summer of 2007 I hiked through the Swiss Alps from Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland to Zermatt in the Valais and wrote A Long Walk in the Alps about my experiences along the way. The story’s been out as a paperback for ages but I just got around to dragging it into the 21st century and publishing it as an e-book so there was a good excuse to look at all the old photos from the trip and share a few of them on here.

Grindelwald and the Eiger

The start point was the village of Grindelwald beneath the peaks of the Fiescherhorner 4049m and the Eiger 3970m to the top right

Schilthorn from the Eiger Trail

Looking across the depths of the Lauterbrunnen valley from the top of the Eiger Trail above Eigergletscher. The Schilthorn is just right of center above the village of Murren with the pass of the Sefeinenfurka to its left which the route crosses

Jungfrau from Wengen

The view from my balcony in Wengen. Evening alpenglow lights the 4153m Jungfrau peak while shadows overtake the Lauterbrunnen valley down to the right.

Bernese Oberland peaks

Looking back from the top of the 2612m Sefeinenfurka Pass to the Wetterhorn, Eiger Monch and Jungfrau as the route leaves the spectacular Jungfrau Region and descends to the Kiental

Bernese Oberland valley

After the heights of the Sefeinenfurka the route descends to the peaceful green pastures of the Kiental

In the Kandertal

Tranquil lake right behind my hotel at Kandersteg

Gemmipass

The wild high country of the Gemmi Pass where I crossed the Bernese Oberland from the Kandertal to the Rhone Valley. This pass at 2314m is on the continental divide between northern and southern Europe

Turtmanntal

The village of Gruben in the beautiful and unspoilt valley of the Turtmanntal. This valley is the closest one gets to a wilderness area in the alps and is the start point for the Augstbordpass

augstbordpass summit

At 2894m the Augstbordpass was the highest point of my route from Grindelwald to Zermatt. From here the route descends to St Niklaus in the Mattertal.

Jungen in the Valais

The alpine village of Jungen on its grassy shelf high above the Mattertal.

Randa

Garden at Randa in the Mattertal. The pace of life in this Valaisian village is well represented by the sleeping goat

Europaweg to Zermatt

The spectacular path known as the Europaweg which contours high above the Mattertal heading to Zermatt at its head. The view here is looking back along the trail towards the Dom which at 4545m is one of the highest peaks of the Alps

The Matterhorn in cloud

The famous peak of the Matterhorn 4478m scrapes the clouds as the Europaweg trail begins its descent to Zermatt

Schwarzsee and Maria Zum Schnee

The tiny chapel of Maria zum Schnee – Maria of the Snows – nestles at 2583m beside the atmospheric Schwarzsee at the foot of the Matterhorn’s final pyramid. This is the top end of the Matterhorn Trail and the end of my route.

Matterhorn north face

Walking down the Matterhorn Trail from Schwarzsee to Zmutt and finally to Zermatt. Here at just above the midway point are spectacular views of the Matterhorn’s north face

Looking back it’s easy to forget the hardship of carrying my pack up the Sefeinenfurka in the blazing sun of a mini heatwave only days after shivering in the snow atop the Schilthorn but on balance I’d do the route again tomorrow – well not tomorrow as it’s still winter but sometime soon.

The rest of the photos are on my alpine trails blog along with a page per day route description while the full story is now available on e-book (with free preview of course) from Amazon (kindle) in the UK and US or from Smashwords if you need another format. In the meantime instead of wandering the hills for days on end I have been helping to look after the kids whilst working on the Yuri Medev stories; the first of which, The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk is now available with a free preview on this blog as well as at the US and UK Kindle stores.

As for more trips like this… well it’s harder to organize with the kids the ages they are but I’ve had the maps out again and the Pyrenees are looking a possibility… then again I haven’t been to Austria yet. For the immediate future though it’s me in front of the TV for the next two weeks as it’s that Winter Olympics time again – Enjoy SOCHI 2014 and I’m very jealous of anyone who’s going!

Pete Buckley February 2014

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