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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Steall Falls and our last morning - Day 6 and 7 Invercoe

When we had finished our walk to see the North Face of Ben Nevis we found we still had some daylight to spare to check out 'Steall Falls' which has been on my 'to do' list for a while.

One tip for this walk - avoid busy times, and arrive early/late for parking - there isn't a huge amount and it would be a disappointment after a winding drive to reach it. We had arrived quite late in the day, so managed to get a space without trouble. For details of the walk please take a look at Walk Highlands which has been an excellent source of information for our Scotland trip.

There were signs of doom up all over the place warning of risk of death as the route up to the falls hugs the gorge high above. I was nervous enough about the walk without being reminded of the danger, although it's not an unfounded warning as there's been quite a few accidents there over the years.

The path is a little like the Lost Valley path - it starts off easy enough, but gradually becomes a little more exposed as it climbs. Due to our late start we were passing numerous people on their way back down so had plenty of stops whilst we waited for people to come past.

Once at the top it opens out into a green meadow with Steall Falls beyond looking impressive. You can cross the river to get nearer to them, but this involves a traverse over a wire bridge. We chatted to some other walkers who'd been over it whilst Steve wobbled over it and back. The river was quite fast flowing and deep below, so Emma and I were happy to stay on the shore.

The beautiful sunshine we had earlier turned into a shower so we headed back to the car. It was quite worrying to watching some families just allowing their kids to run down the narrow path - I am all for allowing children to take risks, but at such a young age they probably have little idea of the consequences of a fall down the non protected drop below.

We soon arrived back at our start point, and ended up picking up the two walkers we had met earlier to give them a lift into Fort William - they had been planning to walk the long way into town, but it would have taken them hours. It turned out one of them was from Bristol which seemed like quite a coincidence.

The following morning the day dawned as the mountains were covered in yet another coating of snow. We were sad to be going home on such a nice sunny day, and couldn't resist one last visit to the Loch to reluctantly skim stones and say goodbye. Staying by the Loch at Invercoe with all the surrounding wildlife was pretty special, and we were so lucky to have the sunshine mountain days to go with it. We shall be back......

North Face of Ben Nevis - Day 6 - Invercoe

The weather forecast for our last full day advised on strong winds, so we were confined to not going too high. We were keen to take in some more views of Ben Nevis so decided to do a short walk to the CIC mountain hut which lies at the foot of the North Face.

Thankfully there was space to park in the Forestry Commission Car Park, and even better is was free! It's not a huge parking area so worth arriving early on a weekend or good weather day.

The route up to the North Face begins on way marked forest tracks. It's fairly steep to begin with, which I guess can be seen as a good thing as you get the worst of the climbing out the way in the shade of the trees!

It was incredibly quiet and we were glad we weren't on the tourist trail up Ben Nevis. The path gets a little rockier as you get closer to the hut, and there's a minor river crossing which was a little awkward due to the banked up snow.

We got over the river without hitch and stopped at the hut to chat to some climbers who'd been winter mountaineering the previous day.

It was quite breezy, but bright sunshine so rather than do the out and back route recommended in the Walk Highlands description we decided the cross the river and ascend upwards to reach the 'Half way lake' - Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe where we had a really breezy lunch spot - although this is on the tourist route up there was no-one about, we figured that most would be higher on the mountain at this point.  It's worth noting that ascending to the loch involved a fairly sleep ascent which part was on soft snow. If you didn't have axe/crampons you wouldn't be able to do this route in hard snow or ice. There could also be a risk of avalanche from above if the snow conditions were right.

From the loch we followed the outflow down - Allt Corie An Lochan which was a pretty river with lovely pools which would be good for a dip in warmer conditions. We had thought it would be pathless as nothing was marked on the map, but others had clearly been this way before, so it was an easy (slightly boggy) route down.

Once we reached the fence we crossed it to return to the larger river Allt a'Mhuilinn. We presumed there was no bridge across so removed our boots to cross the bitterly cold snow melt water. Slightly annoyingly there was an actual bridge not far down stream!

As we had rejoined our forest track up we had an easy fast descent unable to stop our legs jogging down the slow.

This is a brilliant walk for taking in the majesty of Ben Nevis - it seems a shame that those ascending via the tourist path don't get to take in the big cliffs and crags of the Northern side. It's worth adding in to your itinerary as a short half day walk if you are staying in the area.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Mullach Nan Coirean - Day 5 Invercoe

This was one of those walks where it was one of Ruth's 'grand ideas'. I am a bit renowned for route planning walks that are a bit too ambitious, or ones which lead over particularly bad terrain..

The idea of the walk was to head up a hill called Mullach Nan Coirean which looks directly over at Ben Nevis - we thought it would be a good viewing point for it, and the surrounding hills. We'd decided to start the walk from the end of a road which stops at Lochan Lunn Da Bhra which is a stunning Loch with stepping stones out onto a small island which we promised Emma we'd visit at the end of the walk. We'd opted for a low Munro as the winds were supposed to pick up during mid afternoon and we didn't want to get caught out.

Our route began along the nice gentle path of the West Highland way luring us into a false sense of security, with views soon opening up to Ben Nevis.

Our plan was to start heading up onto a hill called Glas Chreag as we reached the 2nd patch of woodland. We started to head up sooner that this as we spotted a way onto the hillside, it started off well but gradually deteriorated into pretty horrible ground, having to weave through small shrubs on quite steep ground. It was a relief when we got onto the slopes of our first hill, and even better when we reached the top and stopped for a bite to eat.

My first wildflower of the trip, think this is Purple Mountain Saxifrage 

It was quite breezy on the top, but not bad enough that we needed to go back down, so we continued up the rocky rib onto the Munro itself, Mullach Nan Coirean. It certainly wins prizes for the best views of the week - the pointy tops of the dark Mamores was a view we couldn't take our eyes off.

Zoomed in summit of Ben Nevis

Still a bit paranoid about the potential increase in wind we didn't stop for too long and continued on to a hill top called Meall a' Chaorainn, in my ridiculously drop a phobic ways I took a convoluted route to the top to avoid the tiny amount of exposure sticking to the very top of the route on - Steve stayed high and chuckled at me.

We had various options to descend the hill - all of them steep. Our aim was to pick up the West Highland Way again close to a point marked as 'Lairigmor' on the map. Rather than following the steep stream bed down which had been our initial thought we decided to stick to the higher ground and followed the rocky nose of Sgurr na h Uilinn down - it had quite a bit of scree/loose rock higher up so care had to be taken. It looked like deer had been there before as they'd made a nice little narrow path down. We could spy the ant like shapes of walkers below of the West Highland Way - they must have thought we were crazy on our steep way down!

We were all really pleased when we got to the WHW which we followed back to our start point. After dumping our kit we made our way to the Loch shore, Annoyingly the prediction in wind increase took effect and the Loch started to get quite choppy. Emma was still keen to get onto the island as we had been promising it all day, so off came her boots and mine.. After the heavy rain from the previous week/choppy water the loch was quite deep- Emma stayed on the stones, whilst I was in the water taking her hand. She had a bit of a slip halfway across and ended up slipping in and soaking her trousers, so we abandoned out attempt to get to the island and headed back to the shore to dry off. Luckily we had waterproof trousers so Emma could put those on instead of her wet ones. It was a bit disappointing, but we placated ourselves with the thought of Fish and Chips in Fort William for Tea...

Sadly decent fish and chips couldn't be found so we filled up on stodge in Weatherspoons & headed back to the cottage for yet another amazing sunset & stone skimming on the Loch shore.