Monday, July 28, 2008

The Crianlarich Hills: Ben More (16) and Stob Binnein (18)

Walk date: 21/06/08
My Munro #'s: 160 and 161

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Byn Moar - big hill - 1174m
Stop binyan - hill of the anvil - 1165m

Duration - 11:10 - 16:40
Distance - 12.7 km
Total ascent - 1570m
Weather - Extremely muggy. Very warm indeed but cloud never burned off. Midge heaven!
Team - solo.
Other hikers: many.

An alternative descent gave me some variety:

In possession of a shiny new car and with Sonia committed to work on the Saturday, I just couldn't help driving the near 3 hours to Crianlarich and finally taking in the mighty Ben More and its almost-as-high neighbour Stob Binnein. I had to be quick about it however as we had dinner plans back in Aberdeen, and so this was set up as an enjoyable stomp of a day out.

The worst part of this walk is that there is no car park at the start of the route, which means you have to spend 10 minutes or so walking at the edge of a fast main road. Once this is over, a sign leads to around the yard of Benmore Farm onto a farm track that zig-zags gently up the lower slopes. Don't get used to this as after a gate the track remains flat and heads south while Ben More stands imposingly above. Continue south on the track for a short distance and you start to see several little trails heading on up. I took one of these early on and carried on as I climbed to see the odd sign of someone else having done the same thing. Eventually however I came upon a path more to the north-western flank and this offered slighty faster progress.

This climb up is a serious feat, rising as it does from 160m to the summit at 1174m with little variety in the gradient. Although I was determined to do it as fast as I could I still needed a couple of water breaks and the sweat was dripping off me. Nothing lasts forever though and with persistence, two hours after leaving the car, I found myself enjoying the rounded summit. Unfortunately, despite the summit being cloud-free by about 10m, the rest of the visible world comprised swirling white mist and photo opportunities were few.

After the climb up it was a strange feeling to be descending, but fortunately it wasn't for long as Bealach eadar-dha Bheinn is still very high at 860m. The climb to Stob Binnein, although requiring work, was by comparison to the start of the day, hardly noticeable. Still deep in cloud and with the cairn covered in midges I didn't hang about but returned to the bealach for lunch.

With no views likely on a return up Ben More I decided to check out a path leading off the bealach west toward Benmore Burn as a descent route instead. This thin but good path allowed fast progress but in places was indistinguishable from bog and I wondered how hard it would be to stick to on an ascent; indeed I would recommend accepting the honest slog up Ben More's front instead. However as a descent this path worked fine and it took me down to the farm track again, albeit at its highest point, but I stuck with it to return to the road and enjoyed seeing the 'bridge' that's there on the map, an illustration of how maps cannot always be trusted (see last photo)! With a book time of 6-8 hours, I didn't feel too bad at 4.5, and I still think I could have managed 4 if it wasn't so hot!

I'm sure it looks good when there's no cloud!
On the good path on Ben More into the cloud!

Getting rocky near to the top:

How dare people be up there before me?

I set up this pic from the trig point, t'was a little cloudy!

Briefly, a view to the route on south:

The summit of Stob Binnein at 1165m, still covered in midges!

Some teasing cloud breaks back toward the bealach:

Almost seeing the summit of Ben More from the bealach:

South up Benmore Glen from my descent:

Benmore Glen forest and the farm track:

The bridge at the top of the farm track has seen better days!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Film review: The Inheritance

Last night we went to see an independent Scottish film called The Inheritance which apparently cost the sum total of £5000.  The 60 minutes we viewed were a very good use of such a small amount of money (well, in the film world it is small).  

The film is directed by Charles Henri Belleville and stars Tim Barrow and Fraser Sivewright as brothers David and Fraser who meet up after a 5-year absence following the death of their disappointment of a father and it follows their progress on a road trip in their father's VW camper van from Edinburgh to Skye, which they have to do with a mysterious key in hand in order to collect their inheritance.  Along the way the brothers attempt to reconnect, but can they manage it despite their antagonistic nature of their relationship?

The Inheritance was nominated Best UK Feature at Raindance last October and subsequently won the inaugral Raindance Award at the 2007 British Independent Film Awards, gained two nominations at the 2008 BAFTA Scotland New Talent Awards, and was nominated Best Debut UK Feature at London's East End Film Festival.

There are several reasons for this.  The film works on many levels.  The cinematography is amazing for the budget.  The landscape (Glencoe, Glenshee, Skye), filmed in snowy February, is stunning, and gives amazing light that makes the film look like it has had major tonal work applied, except that it is all natural.  The actors are superb with the rapport being very believable and the events that are portrayed are interesting in both a storytelling way as well as in a metaphorical sense.

And so, this is where there are spoilers, as the end is another strong point of the film being ambiguous and open to interpretation.  Towards the end of the journey the brothers pick up an attractive female hitch-hiker who falls for David and sleeps with him when they stay in a bothy one night.  However, on reaching Skye, she makes a move on Fraser and the next morning their camper van is gone.  Angered, David drags Fraser off on foot to the point where the inheritance is promised, but only to find a deserted graveyard.  Fraser mocks him, explaining that the road trip was their father's attempt to make them connect and that that was their inheritence.  In argument, David then reveals that their father had phoned him two weeks before his death also expressing this desire and telling him something.  The cocky Fraser then becomes the angered one and tries to force the extra information from David, accidentally throttling him in the process.

Part of the Q&A afterwards was taken up exploring the meaning of the ending, with suggestions including that David didn't actually sleep with the girl but knew she was their hidden sister and was angered when Fraser ruined this fresh familial link.  Now, after an evening to sleep on it and with Shane Meadow's Dead Man's Shoes somewhere in my head, here is what I think.  The story should not be delineated in the literal sense as it entirely wraps up only in the metaphorical.  The camper van (from the father) represents the containment of the brotherhood, with the road-trip being the finite time they have to sort it out (as applies to anyone with such a relationship).  The progress that is haltingly made is tested by the external force applied in the shape of the girl (if she even existed).  David has a connection with her, but Fraser supposedly being the more stable and confident brother sees his chance and takes it.  This proves that the brotherly connection is a weakness and not a strength to these two, and consequently the camper van is gone.  When there is nothing in the graveyard and Fraser mocks David, David drops the key (the 'key' to the road-trip and their last chance of a relationship).  From here, the balance shifts from one extreme to the other as Fraser realises David knows something and is angered by it, proving that although now cemented as destructive, their bond is still there, and Fraser sees it through, becoming horrified by what he has done.  In allusions to their upbringing, it is clear that both brothers were severely affected by an impossible-to-please alcoholic father and a quick-to-anger mother, and what played out on their road trip, what was shown to be a bond that was too poisoned to be positive, was in actual fact their true inheritance.

See this film, and continue the debate here!


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Monday, July 14, 2008

Skye; The Cuillins: Sgurr na Banachdich (190)

Walk date: 13/07/08
My Munro #'s: 159

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Skoor na banachteech - possibly smallpox peak - 965m

Duration - 10:00 - 17:00
Distance - 11.3 km
Total ascent - 1216m
Weather - A broken cloud/sunny start to the day with cloud-free tops but the cloud thickened and covered the tops by the time we reached them. Some wind on top. Rain in the afternoon.
Team - with the AMC club; Dennis, Steve W, Jens, Helen, and Alexander and Christine (to start with).
Other hikers: 4.

Not the best scale map for the feel of it, better was my
Harveys 1:12,500 scale, but it's not available in digital:

Much sooner than expected then, I found myself on Skye contemplating a trip up onto the infamous intimidating Cuillin Ridge. The impetus for this was an Aberdeen Mountaineering Club meet at the Glen Brittle Memorial Hut, which sits right under the said ridge of doom. These 'hills' are well known for being a cut above anything else in Scotland, being incredibly sharp and ragged, a result of their formation being as they are the rim of an extinct volcano. One advantage of this is that the ridge exhibits a rock type known as gabbro, which is similar to granite in its volcanic creation but slightly different ingredients mean that it is incredibly 'sticky' even when wet and is a delight to scramble on. This is a good job as there is much to be scrambled on.

Due to the nature of these hills then I was not up for wandering up onto them on my own and 'checking them out' but instead was waiting until perhaps next year and book some time with a guide. However, when the AMC meet came to my attention I thought that it was an ideal chance to get an early taster of this landscape while benefitting from the knowledge of some experienced types. The first benefit of this experience came on the Saturday when we awoke to find cloud on the hills down to 600m. Immediately, all but three hardcore climber members of the hills decided to not even attempt to go to the ridge. I learned that the ridge often forks and turns and this can be very deceptive in the cloud even if you have been there before. With that in mind I happily joined the rest of the meet for a lower level walk taking in Macleod's Tables, two flat-topped hills to the western end of Skye.

Fortunately, Sunday's weather was much improved and we woke to cloud-free tops. By the time breakfast was finished, the odd cloud was skirting the top of Sgurr na Banachdich, which we could see from the breakfast table, but we set off anyway. This Munro is one of the two easiest of the ridge (with Bruach na Frithe being the other), but it is still at least of the level of our recent walk up An Teallach albeit the avoiding-the-ridge version.

The route starts off easy enough with a road walk to the Youth Hostel and then a good path up alongside the beautiful Allt a' Choire Ghreadaidh. At the foot of Coire a' Ghreadaidh a path splits off toward Coir' an Eich and An Diallaid and a steep ascent starts. As the path levels off a little there is a choice to take the crest leading to An Diallaid or to rise up through its corrie. We chose the former for the promise of a scree-free path and this worked out well enough although it was steep and rocky enough. The path continues up over rocky ground leading to great views down into the corrie from An Diallaid. However, it was here that our team fragmented as Christine decided that she had seen enough steep rock for the day and Alexander took her down, this time following a line through the corrie, which apparently turned out well enough.

Now down to five, we pressed on onto the now cloud-covered Sgurr na Banachdich itself, working our way up more bare and steep rock, but still nothing that approached being a scramble. This continued onto the ridge which is comfortably wide at this point, although we could see the route north-east toward Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh and that looked like a different story. Within a few short steps we found ourselves at the summit cairn perched above what felt like a huge drop but perhaps fortunately in the cloud we couldn't see it. We then sat and had a late lunch and I felt very happy for both my first visit to the Cuillin ridge and my first Cuillin Munro.

After lunch, with the cloud showing no signs of moving on, we carried on on our planned horse-shoe route by taking in some more of the Cuillin ridge as we made our way SSE toward Bealach Coire na Banachdich. To avoid the pinnacles of the Centre Top and South Top, we dropped to the west of them as the books suggest, however I couldn't help but think that maybe we dropped a little too west after a while as the rocky way on was steeper than I imagined the said 'path' to be and before long we did run out of rocks with the characteristic sign of crampon-marks upon them. No matter as this traverse was still safe enough and I was resolutely glad to be led as at one point earlier on after the Centre Top I'd been convinced that the way forward was to stay on the line we were traveling whereas a turn to the right downwards was actually required, a fact which then became clearly evident as a brief lift in the clouds gave a view to the South Top ahead along the line of the turn. Another example of the confusion possible in the mist was the fact that even the experienced Steve and Dennis were grateful for confirmation of our position by my GPS at one point.

Eventually, we lowered to the bealach although some distance still needed to be covered before it was time to turn downwards into Coire na Banachdich (look for a cairn where a descent to the east is also possible). Unfortunately the cloud was still solid here as otherwise it would have been possible to see the Inaccessible Pinnacle and that would have been a delight but it will just have one saved for another day! The descent route was initially very rocky but was fine enough although the actual direction to take does require some specialist knowledge as otherwise the tempting straight-line down the hills is abruptly halted by some cliffs which cannot be negotiated. Instead, once around the buttress on the south side, bear south and (if you can see them) follow cairns to this left hand side of the corrie where, without too much trouble, a good way down takes you back onto normal-looking paths and the road. A brilliant day out for me and a grand introduction to these serious hills; one that definitely affirmed their nature to me but one that also affirmed my appetite for visiting them, albeit under respectful caution!

The view from the hut, Sgurr nan Gobhar (L), Sgurr na
Banachdich (C) and Window Buttress (R) above
Coire na Banachdich:

A good path up alongside Allt a' Coire Ghreadaidh:

The start of the deviation up Coir' an Eich:

Just starting up An Diallaid (C):

An Diallaid gives great views into Coire a' Ghreadaidh:

But it's a rocky climb up:

Them views down:

Cloud starting to come in onto the ridge above:

Bruach na Frithe (C) just poking over Sgurr Eadar da Choire:

Getting ready for the rise to some Sgurr na Banachdich action:

Steve and Dennis contemplate the route ahead:

An example of why you need to chose the right route up:

Heading into the cloud but the going was still good:

Hitting the ridge proper:

The summit! A Cuillin Munro!

Feeling good, time to rest on the narrow summit crest:

Onwards as the ridge starts to thin:

Getting off the crest to pass Centre Top and
South Top just to the west:

South Top looking good through the mist:

Dennis and Jens traversing through the mist:

Pinnacles aplenty round here:

The route off east from Bealach Coire na Banachdich!

Into Coire na Banachdich, scree and rough rock action!

Braver elements having a good look ahead:

Good progress is made as we descend below the cloud:

Safely down low, smiles all round:

However, the route still offers some surprises!

Window buttress up close, not recommended:

And finally, Glen Brittle bay appears like an old friend:

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ullapool round-up

And so another year's hiking week has come and gone.  It was great this year to have Paul P back and together we visited some wonderful hills.  I especially enjoyed Ruadh Stac Mor and A' Mhaighdean for their remoteness and the challenge of that day, Slioch for the grand views and An Teallach just to have experienced such a well known hill, and it was even better that Sonia made it for that one too.  For a final comment for now, check out this video compilation above. Talk soon, George.

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The Dundonnell and Fisherfield Hills: An Teallach (Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill (72) and Sgurr Fiona (73))

Walk date: 21/06/08
My Munro #'s: 157 and 158

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
An tyalach - the forge
Beetyan a ghas-hool - peak of the greenish-grey hollow - 1062m
Skoor fee-ana - peak of wine - 1060m

Duration - 10:45 - 17:00
Distance - 14.8 km
Total ascent - 1300m
Weather - Sunny through broken cloud. Some light wind on top but a very pleasant day.
Team - with Paul and Sónia.
Other hikers: many on top.

It is possible to avoid the ridge if you're not up for huge drops:

Paul P and George Ullapool Hills 2008 - Day 8 (Sat)

I had been looking forward to this day with a certain nervous excitement for a fair while now as An Teallach is widely regarded as one of the classic hills of Scotland, because, as with other classics, this generally means they have a big slice of trouble associated with them. Mainly with An Teallach this is because of the south eastern ridge which we had been eyeing up all week and which consists of an amazing series of sharp pinnacles that from ground height seem completely impossible. Given my Aonach Eagach experience I wasn't up for that and the same went for Paul along with Sonia who was joining us for the weekend.

Thus, I came up with a plan to go linear from Dundonnell House into Glas Tholl, to visit the two Munros and go out the same way and this worked as well as it could on this monster of a hill. Due to starting east of the river instead of west we soon had a crossing to do but it surely would have been a bad thing to have Sonia miss out on that aspect of the week!

The walking was straightforward into Glas Tholl and it was only at the end that matters changed. The path continued well, but the inclined increased significantly. The only moment that required consideration came with the last few metres to the col as the path changed to a scrambly loose stone slope but it was over soon enough.

Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill is fairly steep from here on but the path is easy and it just requires the effort being applied before the summit and the amazing views that come with it are reached together. This is actually the better peak for views of the ridge as we later found that Sgurr Fiona offers head-on views which hide a little the true nature of this razor-sharp series of pinnacles.

The path continues on to this second peak and it can be done without any technical ability although it does require a head for heights as the drop-offs are still quite severe. In time however even this sharper peak is reached and as we perched ourselves on the limited flat space available it felt magnificent especially given the absolutely perfect weather we were being blessed with. We sat there for as long as we could watching people make their seemingly impossible progress along the ridge, wonderful stuff.

As time was moving on we pressed forward, taking an easier route west toward Sgurr Creag an Eich and then traversing along to the col again below Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill. From there on it was the same route back with the scree slope at the top of Glas Tholl only slowing us down slightly leading to a triumphant and easy stroll back down to the car and the end of a fantastic week of walking.

An Teallach making its first appearance of the day:

The route starts alongside a fine tumble of a river:

Wild goats on the slopes toward Glas Tholl:

Heading into the fine corrie of Glas Tholl:

The northern side of Glas Mheall Liath overhead:

And the route onward sharply upward to the col just north
of Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill:

Glas Tholl corrie in motion:

The steep route out:

Ending even steeper but safely enough:

First views of the ridge up at height:

And deep views down to Loch Toll an Lochain:

Grand views all round:

Getting ready for the last steps onto Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill:

Trig point on the narrow-enough top of Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill:

The less-than-convincing route to Glas Mheall Liath:

The gang together, nice place for a sit-down on
Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill:

Target 2, the sharper peak of Sgurr Fiona:

Interesting rock action at the foot of Sgurr Fiona:

Here it comes:

Do we really want to do this? Go team!!

Looking back to Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill as we rise:

A grateful S onia makes it to the top of Sgurr Fiona:

The full view from the sharp peak of Sgurr Fiona:

The ridge head-on. Fancy it?

A long way down to Loch Toll an Lochain:

And good views west to Loch na Sealga:

Oh, as well as south to our old friend Gleann na Muice:

The coast looking good:

Sgurr Creag an Eich from Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill:

Sgurr Fiona (L) and Sgurr Creag an Eich (R):

Back down, leaving Glas Tholl:

Dundonnell in the evening sun making the return all the better:

And finally some panorama action:

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