Wednesday, May 22, 2013

5-22-13 Scotland's Mountains; a comparison with the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond on May 7th with some snow still on the south slope. There was a good deal of snow on the north side which is a bit unusual, but Scotland, like New England, had a cold April and spring was somewhat delayed. I landed in Glasgow early enough on the 7th and early enough in the day to travel north towards Glen Coe and Fort Williams at a leisurely pace. Relearning the knack of driving on the left kept me busy for most of the morning. It's amazing how fast you adapt when a mistake could be deadly. On day one I had moments of panic due mainly to the narrow roads and really fast moving, on-coming traffic. Once I observed an oncoming driver cringe as he feared for the worst when I was slightly over the center line.


The first time I visited Glen Coe was a moody, gray day 50 years ago on holiday hitch hiking through west Scotland while a student in Edinburgh. I turned down a ride just to walk over Rannoch Moor the better to enjoy the scenery that had played a role in Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped when  David Balfour, the hero escapes death by crossing in a storm during the Jacobite uprising in 1689.


That first visit was in mid-October 1962 and, true to form, as I got to the top of Glen Coe great sheets of rain were blowing horizontally up the Glen directly into my face and the mist was churning wildly around me. I was given brief glimpses of Buchaille Etive Mor (in the center of this photo), and Buchaille Etive Beag (in this photo it's behind Buchaille Etive Mor). I was numb with cold when I got to the Glen Coe youth hostel. Some would say it was terrible weather. I, on the other hand, was happy to experience it as I had imagined it would be. The Glen, too, was as I had imagined: bleak, barren and beautiful. On this, my most recent visit, when I finally had the enclosure of a comfortable car to protect me from foul weather, it was as hot, dry, and clear as a summer day in Montana or Wyoming back in the US. It was dazzlingly bright and lovely. In the above photo Glen Etive is on the left, and, in the center, is Stob Dearg, the highest point of the Buchaille Etive Mor ridge.

Buchaille Etive Mor from the west. In the mid-1960s Glen Coe and Ben Nevis became the center of a new wave of Scottish climbers like Hamish McInnes and Dougal Haston who succeeded in raising rock climbing standards and mountaineering to new limits. Buchaille Etive Mor's has numerous Very Severe climbs on its northeast face including one of the longest gully climbs, known as the Chasm, in the UK, all made famous at that time. Dougal's colorful descriptions of Glen Coe in the 1960s take up the introduction and first chapter of his autobiography In High Places.

Buchaille Etive Beag

A track for hikers heading south through Larig Gartain between Buchaille Etive Mor and Buchaille Etive Beag on the right.

Two of the three Sisters of Glen Coe;  Gearr Aonach on the left and Aonach Dubh on the right. The third sister is called Beinn Fhada and is to the left of Gearr Aonach, The famous Hidden Valley, or Coire Gabhall in Gaelic, is reached by the track that runs between them and is located behind Gearr Aonach. Coire Gabhall was used by the McDonalds to hide cattle they rustled. A confusing bit of history is involved in the famous "Massacre of Glen Coe" that occurred on February 12, 1692 when close to 80 McDonalds died either from wounds or from exposure to the weather after being attacked by other clans, most notably the Campbells. The dead included women and children. The massacre was considered a just punishment for the McDonalds' refusal to sign an oath of loyalty to the new king and queen, William and Mary. Failure to recognize the new monarchs was predicted to cause severe reprisals by the British. It's likely that more issues were behind the massacre than loyalty to the crown. Part of my family, my father's side, was from the north of Scotland. My paternal grandmother was from the Isle of Lewis, a weaver, and could only speak Gaelic. On previous trips I'd visited with relatives but they're no longer living. The purpose of this trip was to have a proper vacation, which  I've been putting off for years, and a yearning to visit Scotland again.


Looking up again at the track to Coire Gabhal.  Bidean Nam Biam is in back with the ridge to Stob Coire nan Lochan,  another high summit on the ridge, off to the right and can not be seen. Winter conditions prevailed on the higher summits the entire time I was in Scotland. I'd been looking forward to a traverse of Bidean Nam Biam which is a classic Glen Coe hike. I am planning to make some comparisons of the mountains of Scotland with the White Mountains of New Hampshire with marked similarities in weather, fauna and flora, public access, geology, and contemporary issues dealing with conservations and over sight. Gazing up at Bidean Nam Biam reminds me a bit of looking up at Boott Spur above Tuckerman Ravine on Mt. Washington.

Looking west down Glen Coe towards Loch Leven and the village of Glencoe. Aonach Dubh is on the left. The Aonach Eagach ridge rises on the right, the north wall of the Glen. The northwest face of Aonach Dubh offers challenging rock climbs. What makes Glen Coe unique is the local geology

Looking east toward Rannoch Moor. Glen Coe, like the White Mountains, was subjected to diffferent periods of glaciation. The Beinn Nam Biam is a fine example of both carving by both the large ice sheets as well as small alpine glaciers. Glen Coe, by the way, is owned by the National Trust for Scotland.

Around the corner from Glen Coe is Fort Williams at the head of Loch Linnhie and just east of Fort Williams is Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland (Great Britain) at 4,409 feet asl (above sea level). The sea is close to the base of the mountain so 4,409 feet represents its "relief", or, as the British like to say, "it's prominence". Ben Nevis, then, has the same relief as Mt. Washington.

Ben Nevis was another hike I was planning to make but conditions on the upper portion of the trail required crampons and an ice axe which I didn't have. On Tuesday night (3-7-13) I talked to two Polish hikers who'd just returned to the base after a 9.5 hour round trip via the regular path. It had taken them much longer than expected due to the summit conditions which they called "treacherous" due to ice and snow. I've climbed Ben Nevis a number of times and in all kinds of conditions but I've never been on the summit in clear weather.

The north face of Ben Nevis has provided generations of Scottish climbers with a rigorous training platform. The classic accounts of ice climbs in the gullies on the eastern buttress, on the left, are hair raising. It was here that numerous Himalayan-bound teams honed both stamina and craft. The lower summit on the right is Carn Dearg.

A telephoto of the north face with better defined details of Noth East Buttresses which is on the left skyline, Zero Gully which looks like a thin line drawn from near the top of North East Buttress almost vertcially down the face. The deep gully in the center is Glover's Chimney with Observatory Buttress to the right of that. Tower Ridge is just out of view on the right.

The gentler south flank of Ben Nevis, from Glen Nevis, at twilight. The summit is hidden behind the ridge in the upper center. It's reported that 100,000 people hike Ben Nevis every year, most of them from this side via the regular path called the Pony Track. From 1883 until 1902 Ben Nevis hosted a weather observatory similar in purpose to the US Army Signal Corps' and US Weather Bureau's observatory on the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire from 1870 until the early 1900s. There are myriad similarities between Ben Nevis and Mt. Washinngton including the actual rise in elevation, accessibility to large populations, attractiveness to hikers, climbers, skiers, etc., fauna and flora, and links in geologic history dating back to the mountain building (orogenisis) occurring during the late-Silurian and early Devonian periods.

 The road up Glen Nevis curved and dipped like a roller coaster.

Ben Nevis and a total of 4300 acres surrounding the mountain is now part of the John Muir Trust which has several large properties including roughly 30,000 acres on the Isle of Skye located principally in the Cuillins. I was astonished by the large presence of the Trust that includes several offices located in store fronts in cities and towns in Scotland. I visited one in Pitlochry that was a combination library, book store, education and information center. I spoke to Andrew, one of the staff there, and mentioned my astonishment at the way Scotland celebrates Muir in a way that America does not through education, preservation and conservation of wild lands.  Muir was, on several levels, responsible for the preservation of Yosemite Valley and its evolution into a national park. Muir is also credited with the founding the Sierra Club the California based non-profit which has, for more than 100 years, carried on the direct responsibility for educating the public on the vital necessity of preservating and conserving land, water, a huge compendium of living things, and the Earth itself, but Andrew was astonished when I told him that I doubted that one person in 100 in America would have a clue who John Muir was or his importance in preserving the Earth. Andrew said that he, and the staff of the John Muir Trust, believed that Muir was a well known figure and revered by nearly all Americans.

On either side of the road were pastures well populated with sheep, seemingly infinite numbers of lambs gamboling in twos and threes and acting quite full of themselves. Muckle Coos, like kuu, were also plentiful....

....including this elegant black one.
 
Heading west from Glen Coe towards Skye. The weather was uncertain but the moors were stunning. This leg, heading towards Kyle of Lochalsh, included wild Glen Shiel with its deer and goats, and past that a quick glimpse of famous Eilean Donan castle.

Throughout the Highlands there was still much snow on the summits of most peaks above 3,000 feet which was unexpected and a result of a very cold April.

Glacial shapes and tales of ongoing erosion define a lot of the Highland area.

Kyle of Lochalsh with the ancient hotel and ferry slip. Skye is in the background and you can just make out the new Skye Bridge in the middle distance. I was against the building of this bridge when I first heard of it preferring the romance of taking the David MacBrayne ferry that crossed here, but was suitably impressed by the bridge and it doesn't cost anything to cross it and you don't have to wait in line at the ferry slip! The bridge is beautiful; a high curving arc, with an immediate view of the high hills to the west. It must, in economic terms, have a beneficial effect on Skye.

Scotch Broom was just coming into flower. It lit up the moors, in places, with its bright color. There are two varieties; a tall, bush-like version (without thorns) and a short, shrubby version that grows close to the ground and that has very stout thorns that colloquially is called  "gorse".

So, this is Skye, sometimes bleak but eternally romantic and beautiful. There are few places in the world, at least that I know, as romantic as the Isle of Skye. The peak in the photo is Sigurr Mhairi (Sigurr = peak) and it's stunning to gaze at with sun light and shadows grazing on its nearly perfect conical form. It's huge. It's across the road from the Sligachan Inn. I was taunted by an inn employee, but not tempted, to take a crack at a round trip "record".  The run down would really be exhilarating. There's roughly 2400 feet of relief so its quite a bit higher, maybe two times higher, say, than the cone of Mt. Washington from Lakes of the Clouds.

And this is nearby Marsco ( 2414') one of the Red Cuillin Hills....

....and a bit to the west, Sgurr nan Gillean (3167') and Bruach na Frithe (3143) in the back, and Am Bhastier (3069') to the right. These are the northern most peaks of the Black Cuillin. There are 20 major peaks between the Red and Black Cullins and all but four of those are higher than 3000 feet. I'll mention this briefly here that mountains in Scotland 3000 feet in elevation, or higher, are designated as "Munros" and there are 283 Munros in Scotland (the total number varies between 283 and 277). Like the 4000 Footers in New England there's an on going challenge for hikers to complete the ascents of all the Munros. A mountain between 2500 and 3000 feet in altitude is called a "Corbett". The term Munro is derived from Sir Hugh Munro a well known climber and map maker who explored, climbed and measured many of the country's Munros back in the late 1800s. Again, in terms of relief, remember that 3167 feet above sea level doesn't seem very high, but the mountains, many of them, are at sea level to begin with, and 3167 feet can be higher than you think; higher than El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.

The Sligachan Inn with its infamous Bar, located at the north end of the Cuillins, has been a gathering place for climbers more than a century.

Skye in the late evening in May. The sun sets but twilight continues until dawn. The photo is of the Cuillins from Portree taken around 9:30 pm.

And the north-most Cuillins again in morning sunlight. These two photos help in explaining the geologic history of the Cuillins. The photo from Portree best shows the volcanic shape of the range. Both Glen Coe and the Cuillins, and the White Mountains in New Hampshire, have the signs of repeated periods of volcanic activity. In Glen Coe and the Red Cuillins (return to the photo of Marscoe above) a remant of both plutonic and volcanic activity in the distant past is an igneous red granite similar to the red granite in eastern New Hampshire. The Red Cuillin peaks have vast aprons of red granite scree slopes which gives them their name.

The Black Cuillins are constructed of a coarse, crystalline gabbro. The Cuillins, in general, are all formed from igneous rock belonging, as one author observed, from the Tertiary "when vast floods of lava poured our of fissures and covered over two-thirds of the island" (Bell, J.H.B, 1987). This takes us back to my article in the blog about South Moat a few years ago, and the evidence of great floods of lava in that region of the White Mountains, and "subsidence cauldrons". Skye's gabbro (it is found in a few islands off the coast of Norway) is unique and it's roughness makes it perfect for climbing. The Cuillins are also intersected by intrusions of trap rock, or basalt, which is also useful for climbers. The highest summit in the Cuillins, Sgurr Alasdair (3257'), is made up of trap rock.

In the photo above the route of my day hike traverses the broad lower slopes and goes around behind Sgurr an Fheadain, the small, odd shaped laccolith (volcanic intrusion) in the sunlight, and to the top of the scree slopes below Bidelin Druirn nan Ramh (2850') the peak right of center.

A group of  American university students studying at St. Andrews University for the past year and about to take final exams.

The river was clearly the main attraction for most of the people I met on the path and the river is astonishing for several reasons. One of them was the number of cataracts like this one along its course and the emerald green pools some of which were quite deep. Its also astonishing to see how deeply into the rock the river has carved out its channel (over tens of thousands of year) that's so deep  across the valley that it's nearly subterranean.

He'd found the water a bit chilly.

Looking up at Sgurr Fheadain, Corie Mhadaidh, and Sgurr Mhadaidh with Bidein Druim nan Ramh hidden behind Sgurr Fheadain .

A British family on holiday.

The weather changed rapidly and with it the light changed so that it became almost flat which caused details in the landscape to become more pronounced including the rock in Sgurr an Fheadain and the high peaks beyond.


Cutting around the north side of Sgurr an Fheadain. Where there had been a definitive path along the river it gave out at this point and it became necessary to pick your own route.


A scamble. Years ago I had climbed a few of the Cuillins including Sgurr nan Gillean. I'd climbed from the other side of the ridge with a couple of other climbers and found the technical climbing challenging but within my range. It had been a lot of fun. With the Cuilllins there are easy routes and difficult routes and you can choose the one that matches your skills at the moment. The Cuillins, like the White Mountains, can get under your skin and you'll forever think fondly of them.

Sgurr a Fionn Choire.  The Appalachian Mountain Club's own Elizabeth Knowlton wrote a wonderful piece for the December 1928 issue of Appalachia titled Climbing in the Coolins of Skye about a trip she made here that summer with technical descriptions of the climbs she completed some of them in pouring rain. She wrote, "A few hours in the Coolins of Skye offer more varieties of rainbow weather and changing mountain moods than the same number of days in Switzerland or our White Mountains." I agree with her summation.  By the way, "Coolins" was an acceptable way to spell Cuillins and to this day arguments continue about the origin of the name Cuillins and which is the correct spelling.

A small ravine, the Coire Creiche, awaited me on the other side of the scree. The walls of the ravine, or coire,  became quite steep as did the scree slope itself. It has to be said that the scree slopes in Scotland can be intimidating. Most are steep and long and a great deal of caution needs to be used. Above the scree on Bidein Druim nan Ramh, the sharp summit in the photo), there was a wee technical pitch on a corner (center of the photo) that some hikers have taken a gamble and been able to work around to complete the climb. I decided to use caution and it had started to rain and retreated. Bidein Druim nan Ramh has several establsihed difficult routes, but by this route its is rated as one of the easier of the Cuillins to climb. The scree is plentiful everywhere and ample evidence of the freeze-thaw mechanics, erosion, and the great age of the Cuillins

A nice shot of the ridge, the trail, the river and the Cuillins, taken on the way back down.
Bonnie Scots out for an afternoon walk exploring the waterfalls and pools in the river.

The clarity of the water in the rivers on Skye is amazing. This is a branch of the River Brittle that descends Glen Brittle, or Gleann Bhreatal in Gaelic, down to the sea at Loch Bhreatal. just a few miles away. There's a saying that there's no land in Skye more than 5 miles from the sea.

Family from Holland, or part of one as other members were a ways behind on the path.

My favorite pool on the river, like a large jacuzzi.

Kacia and Craig, the talented, brilliant, gracious, entertaining proprietors of the wonderfully situated Larchside Bed and Breakfast in Portree in the heart of Skye.  Highly recommended!

The Old Man of Storr is a 197 foot-tall basalt column pointing straight up on the eastern slope of The Storr (2358') a dramatic mountain overlooking the Sound of Raasay and mainland Scotland. This is a popular climb north of Portree. Note the tiny hikers at the top of the gully for an idea of the scale.

From the north and a stop on the road between Portree and Staffin The Storr is cloaked in rain showers. The Old Man is prominent near the center of the photo.

Approaching the area called the Sanctuary on The Storr. The "Storr" in Gaelic means the "bad tooth" or "cliff". You can take your pick. The weather was awful due equally to wind and rain. The peak is massive and offers some great climbing. The surrounding rock is mostly basalt as it is throughout the northern part of the island all the way to the headlands with intruded lava in several areas that cooled and froze in some odd shapes.


An ornithologist and his family. They were on holiday but he was working, he said, happy to point out that he was getting paid to hike! As an ornithologist for the Cairngorm National Park his responsibilities include keeping accurate bird lists for Skye, the Cairngorms, and mainland Scotland, and eventually those lists get combined with other lists for the UK and Europe before finally being added to the World list. He felt the logging was timely but unsightly and was optimistic that reforestation, or replanting, was part of the plan. Fifty years ago, on weekends, I used to work for beer money planting trees next to the lochs with crews from the Royal Highland Forestry Commission. Some of those forest are now slated for harvesting so I've seen it go full cycle.

Other people I talked to on the hike up The Storr were a bit horrified to see the entire forest cut down but also reasoned it was necessary to harvest the trees because they were beginning to die off and losing their value as lumber. One person said they were ready to be harvested but he was surprised that no attempt was made to leave seed trees in place. Because the trees were planted both by hand and by machinery in large blocks and at the same time, the forests were uniform in age and uniform in size, too, so it makes sense they'd all be harvested at the same time. I, too, imagine the Scottish Woodlands overseers will make sure the logged areas around the Storr will be seeded, or replanted, with a new generation of trees.
Looking west towards the summit of The Storr and the Old Man (the large pinnacle near the center of the photo) and the summit pinnacles above the Sanctuary. 

German lads on holiday. They're representative of large groups of motorcyclists, sometimes as many as 12-15 motorcycles in flocks, roaming all over Skye and the mainland and coming here from  the continent of Europe and who were great fun to talk to. Scotland is quickly accessible from northern European cities by ferry services to cities on the UKs north coast like Newcastle and Berwick. April and May are considered the best weather months for sightseeing and and motorcycling considered the "high holidays" in Skye and the rest of Scotland. The 6 days of continuous days of rain twe'd had didn't seem to deter anyone, though, and people I met on the trail up The Storr were cheery in spite of the cold, slanting  rain.

Hikers I met on the trail were from many different countries. This couple is from Marseille, France.

From the UK. They'd just started munching on bisquits when I arrived weilding my camera but they were quite friendly and patient with me.
A proper Englishman with his dog.

The Old Man of Storr was first climbed way back in 1955 by none other than the great Don Whillans and Jim Barber.

A local lad.

From China!

The volcanics make it a very dramatic landscape, particularly in the mist.


Looking straight up at the Old Man.
Some more American students. This group was doing their year abroad at Glasgow University.

The light in Skye was always changing and astonishing. Often on Skye and Scotland, as already noted, weather changes rapidly from clear to cloudy, from warm to chilly. Showers occur even when it is relatively clear. I was wearing my lime green Patagonia hiking shorts, which were getting me a lot of questions of whether I was cold, or not, or crazy. As you can see from the way these folks are dressed it was cold.
 
The lunar-like landscape on the north slope of The Storr just below the Old Man shows a relict surface of what the area looked like for thousands of years, since the lava that once overflowed the island, eroded down. The boulders strewn across the pitch are very old and evidence of freeze-thaw cycles over thousands of years.

If you look carefully at the people in the bottom of the photo you can get an idea of the scale of this lava formation.  Just above this formation are the front cliffs of The Storr rise another 500 feet which are overhanging in some places and not climbed often due to the technical difficulties they present. The Storr is a mecca for tourists because it's "other-worldly" and probably every photo calender of Scotland has a photo of The Storr from some angle.

This is another lava formation called the Quiraing located a few miles northwest of The Storr in a painting at the Scottish National Museum in Edinburgh by Walter Hugh Paton back in the 19th Century. The Storr is in the background on the right in the painting. A quote from a 19th century review of the painting stated, "An Apocalyptic Panorama of the Northern Skye Hill."

On the road north looking northeast towards the North Minch and the northern part of Scotland.

The Ellishadder Cafe in Staffin near the northernmost tip of Skye represents a movement in Skye to find innovative ways to create jobs and revenue from tourism. The owner, Maggie Quigley, has been working hard to improve business by growing her own fresh vegetables and fruits to supplement foods from commercial providers. She also sells art pieces she has made and other local artists including beautifully woven wool scarves. There's a small gallery adjacent to the Cafe. The three most prominent changes I noticed in Skye from my first visit there in 1962 was the extent to which central heating has become the norm in island homes, the rise in number of automobiles, and the connection to the larger world. Those have impacted even the most secluded corners of the island with ideas like Maggie's cafe. The scones were excellent.

Maggie Quigley, center, with her two assistants in the cafe kitchen. We talked in some depth about growing vegetables in northern Scotland and the trials and tribulations she is encountering. She finds that wind is the most difficult limiting factor to resolve. In the photo above the wicker screening is one attempt she has made to reduce the damage, mainly dehydration, on her lettuces and other fragile plants by the omnipresent wind. She has also planted an orchard of fruit trees that, in time, will offer a substantial wind break. The Cafe offers a great model for local business start-ups that have low environmental impact. Her two assistants work part time and live locally. One commutes from the Isle of Lewis by ferry everyday from Uig to Stornoway. What a great commute!

The village of Staffin on the eastern shore near the northern tip of Skye. It looks pretty much the way you would expect it to.

The headlands near Staffin. Table Island is to the right and the open ocean is through the channel. It's open, that is, as far as the Outer Hebrides. The Isles of Lewis and Harris are only a few miles across the channel. The rock in the cliffs is a basalt. Further west a mile or so the headlands are comprised of very high cliffs with one formation called The Kilt which offers challenging climbs.

Looking east across the Sound of Raasay to the Isle of Raasay and the Scottish mainland. I felt some sadness leaving Skye. It really requires more than a week's time if serious hiking and/or climbing is part of the plan, particularly regarding the Cuillins. In the very last days the weather had settled into a somewhat predictable schedule. It was clear in the first hours of the morning and clouded over in early afternoon with showers with partial clearing in the early evening in time for rainbows to form. It was not the best climbing weather but far from the worst.

This is Portree Harbor. Fifty years ago I arrived at the dock here coming from Lochalsh on the Ben Nevis, a steamer operated by the David MacBrayne company, on Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, 1962, and on all the braes surrounding the harbor were great bonfires burning in the twilight celebrating the famous foiled Gunpowder Plot which was an attempt to blow up the British parliment. It was a wonderful introduction to Skye.
 
Shopkeeper, Portree

As I leave Skye I should mention the Cuillin Traverse which is similar to the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains and is an old tradition and part of that rich history of these mountains dating back to the early 1900s. The Scottish Mountaineering Club's guidebook for Skye and the Cuillins describes a traverse completed on June 10, 1911, in 12 h: 20 m from Glen Brittle to Sligachan over all the main Cuillin summits. Over the years the traverse has been altered by various parties, lengthened mostly, so now there's a separate traverse called the Greater Cuillin Traverse that includes all summits even those off the main ridge. The Greater Traverse has an elevation rise of 13,000 feet compared to 10,000 feet for the traditional traverse. A winter traverse was completed over two days, January 31st and February 1st, in 1965 by mountaineering legends Tom Patey, Hamish McInnes, Brian Robertson and David Crabbe. The traverse in all its forms continues to be a classic mountaineering feat and record times get lower and lower. If you're interested there's a lot of information about both of the Cuillin traverses on the web.

The Cuillins, like the White Mountains, have a rich history interlaced with age-old traditions. They're stunningly beautiful and like the White Mountains they've attracted followers who return time and time again, one generation to the next. I've found that within that mutual attraction is a profound reverence, a deep sense of connection with place. When John Muir first set eyes on the Sierra Mountains in California he was looking up at them from the West and he wrote that from the vast plain where he stood, "rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light, but wholly composed of it."  (The Yosemite, Doubleday, NY. 1962). One might say that of Skye and The Cuillins.

Part II: Mountains of Northwest Scotland and The Cairngorms

Giant Scotch Pines reminiscent of the White Pines of my youth on the east branch of the Saco River. There are ancient forests in Scotland, some very, very old, like those near Aviemore. Between Plockton and Inverewe the forest of these incredible Scotch Pines took my breath away.

There were groves of old, sacred beech trees along the wild rivers in the bottoms of some of the glens and the combination of aged trees and the great solitude cast spells.

A beech forest near Shieldag.

Scotch pine overarching Loch Shieldag.

On leaving Skye and after crossing to the mainland the road pointed north to Shieldag a small town clutching to the shore of Loch Shieldag, a bay off of Loch Torridon, just north of the beautiful forest of Glen Shieldag. The town is everything you see in the photo and not much more. It was Saturday so there was local music in the pub and local oysters and shrimp on the menu.

Sunset over Loch Shieldag. Loch Torridon and the open sea are through the channel at the center. The sun set but the twilight remained until the sun came up again 4-5 hours later.

A good hill to climb before breakfast. It was a bit like climbing Mt. Monroe (not munro) near Lakes of the Clouds on Mt. Washington, NH, except it was really wet underfoot, spongy you might say, so  it was best to scramble up the rocks to avoid being soaked.


Part way up the view east of the small bay where there's a large fish farming operation under way that produces salmon, and the shrimp previously mentioned. There are a lot of these enterprises in Scotland now and becoming more successful each year;

From the top the view to the northeast was of upper Loch Torridon and the mountains to the left which include the massifs of Liathach and Beinn Eighe, two high, elegant ridges each containing  rugged Munros.

From the road north of Shieldag looking to the left at Ben Alligin, 3232', dissolved in the clouds and where it is snowing on the summit. Ben Alligin has a magnificent knife edge off of which there are numerous challenging buttresses. The ridge is split in the middle by a deep cleft, the Eag Dubh which adds some variety to the ascent. Ben Alligin's Gaelic name means Mountain of Beauty.

From the road, also, is this first glimpse of Liathach (The Grey One), possibly my favorite ridge in Scotland. Its main summit is Spidean a' Choire Leith. 3458' where it is also snowing at the moment. The ridge is five miles long and for a mile is very narrow. It is also huge with two munros that also includes Mullach an Rathain, 3356'. The Scottish Mountaineering Club quide suggests a round-trip time of 9 hours.

Turning the corner near the small town of Torridon you come face to face with Liathach which, from this side, looks formidable.

There were car parks along the narrow Glen Torridon road at trail heads. AT this one two hikers were descending towards the road who had gone out to hike a circuit behind the Liathach Ridge but they turned back due to the rain, snow and wind. It was pointless to think about hiking.

A few miles northward up Glen Torridon and there is this first climpse of the Beinn Eighe massif. It is infamously huge with seven peaks above 3000 feet with the highest being Ruadh-stac Mor, 3314'.

A view of the the northwest face of A' Creag Dhubh from Kinlochewe. The best approach is from the south and east off the Torridon Glen road the car park in the photo above where the large information sign is.
Douglas Gibson runs the visitor centre at the base of Beinn Eighe and there were few people about allowing for a long conversation about our mutual perspectives regarding recreation, conservation and preservation where all of these concepts intersect, like a Venn diagram. The the more important one of money and how quickly it seems to disappear in these times. Conservation and Preservation costs billions of dollars/ pounds that are getting more and more difficult to obtain in the non-profit, NGO spheres. Some money is available from federal governments but it often works out that it doesn't cover the costs. Fund raising is the usual strategy used by NGOS to fill the gap. Fund raising means promoting the product, the thing being preserved, and that process can be sefl-defeating.  If, for instance, you're fund raising scheme promotes the beauty of the area you are trying to preserve then your promotional speil is also urging people to come and experience the beauty which increases cost dramatically in the form of services, upkeep, management, etc. Douglas does a lot of the organizing and writing for the National Trust for Scotland's educational and promotional literature so he knows the frustration well. Neither of us had the answer.

Slioch, 3215', or The Spear in Gaelic, from the southeast. It doesn't look particularly outstanding in this light (it had just started to rain) but it's a stunning mountain. I actually fell in love with Slioch. The photo is of the "front", the fortress-like southern face (Slioch is actually described in a guide book as "violently steep on three sides) across Loch Maree and one has to hike around to the north side to appreciate the beauty and ruggedness of this mountain and climb it. If I had another two weeks I would spend each day camping near Loch Maree and explore Slioch and the monros on Beinn Eighe. In my opinion it's the loveliest, most challenging mountain area in Scotland. (Okay. I might spend a week here and another week in the Cuillins. It's so hard to make up one's mind!) Douglas reported that about 30,000 people visit this area every year and a lot of them come to climb Slioch.

Rain continued and it was hard to see anything. Every once in a while there were little glimpses over the shoulder of mountains missed the day before like this one which is the summit ridge of An Teallach which has two munros: Sgurr Fiona, 3474', and Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill, 3484 '. The entire area from Loch Maree, between Slioch and An Teallach is referred to often as a "wilderness" and An Teallach, itself, as the finest mountain in Scotland. This view in the photo is from high on the brae overlooking  Loch Broom a few miles east of Ullapool.

From the same vantage point looking down Loch Broom to, on the left Beinn Dearg, 3556', and  Cona' Mheall, 3215', and on the right Sgurr Morr, 3644'.

Heading north from Ullapool on a cold, windy morning on the road to Achiltiebuie, a wee town on the west coast near the famous Summer Isles, the road passes several interesting mountains all of which are under 3,000 feet and in the category of "Corbets" meaning they're between 2,500 feet and 3000 feet in altitude. This one, with its dusting of morning snow, is Ben Mor Coigach.

This is Cul Beag.

This is Stac Pollaidh.

The intersection and turn for Lochinver and Achiltibuie with Ben Mor Coigach in the background.

Looking at Stac Poillaidh, Ben Mor Coigach and Cul Beag that's also back near the head of the Loch.

Stac Poilaidh, right, and Slioch behind (see below)

 (Entered 9-9-13. I've been advised that this is Slioch and not Cul Mor which accounts for the confusion I was having from my earlier description. Slioch is not 2680 feet high. It's actually 3215 feet high, or 980 meters. It's a gorgeous mountain.)

Cul Mor is a formidable looking mountain but only about 2680' high. As I walked across the moor to get a closer photo I was impressed by the topography. It looked like it would be a great climb. As I walked, for just a few seconds, sunlight brushed the saddle where the dusting of snow is on top of the ridge and gave the mountain a considerably different appearance. I could get no information about trails for Cul Mor but imagine it is in the same ranking with Slioch as a popular climb.

Bracken winter killed.

Scotland has more than 100 native lichens, far more than New Hampshire and the White Mountains.

The further north the more wind and rain. The forecast was for a major storm with a lot of rain.


The headlands near Cape Wrath on the northwest corner of Scotland getting pounded by the storm.

Church of Scotland, Durness.

Near Tongue, with Ben Loyal on left and Ben More on the right. This is clearing the morning after.

Beautiful light and colors.

  Abandoned cottage near Tongue.
University students in a Geology class in the Cairngorms near Aviemore. I heard the instructor say "younger dryas" and had this flashback to my own freshman geology experience. Basically the instructor was giving the students a snapshot and telling them that the last ice sheet melted back between 12, 000 and 14,000 years ago and that the Younger Dryas, a period of cold weather that lasted about 1300 years in Northern Europe came on the heels of the glacier. On Skye the general feeling is that humans were living and working on the Island roughly 6,000 years ago, after the Younger Dryas.
 
 
 This is a chunk of the Red Granite that makes up a lot of the Cairngorms. Its similar to the red granite in Conway, and the Franconia Region of New Hampshire. The Red Hills of Skye are named for it, or a similar red granite, which is a plutonic rock; one that cooled below the earth's surface. Skye was treated to a major period of volcanic eruptions where the super hot lava was pushed up onto the earth surface in a thick mass, thousands of feet thick, and where it cooled. That was on the order of 60-70 million years ago so what is there now has been worn down over millenia. The Cairngorm evolved without the volcanics. 

Looking across the wide, alluvial valley that was originally shaped by glaciers.
 
A ford still packed with snow.

Trail work similar to some of the trails in the White Mountains made by J. Raynor Edmands.

Secondary ridge heading up towards the summit. This is Cairn Gorm Mountain, which is 4,085' asl and home of a major ski resort which includes a funicular railway-ski lift. But its also the jumping off place to hikes in the Cairngorms generally. These, generally, are very similar to the White Mountains in topography, shape (post glacial), and structure (topography).

 
Approaching a glacial cirque similar in size to Tuckerman Ravine. The list of indigenous species of fauna and flora is nearly identical to the list of the most common fauna and flora of the White Mountains. The top of the list for mammals is the otter followed by the red squirrel, pine marten, and wildcat. So, with the exception of the otters, the list is similar, if not identical to the White Mountains. The list is similar for amphibians and reptiles, as well, but the bird list is quite different with a predominance in the Cairngorms of northern European species including the capercallie, slavonian grebe, red throated diver, goldeneye, and gray wagtail as a few. The osprey, several woodpeckers, and herons would be more familiar in the White Mountains.

The summer trail to the summit gains this ridge a bit to the right of the photo but the slope looked unsafe and would be more so without proper equipment.

A fresh fracture line from an avalanche that came down earlier in the morning. I found out after this hike that the Mountain Shop in Aviemore would have let me borrow some crampons and an ice axe if I'd had the presence of mind to ask. Scotland has excellent, well stocked mountain equipment shops in the climbing and skiing centers.

Evidence of periglacial activity.

The rock "netting" here was not as symetrical as it is on Monticello Lawn on Mt. Jefferson or on Bigelow Lawn on Mt. Washington but these rock formations, at least,  are similar.

Look familiar? The Reindeer Lichen and Haircap Moss are common on the Presidential Range  of New Hampshire.

Part III: A quick trip to Edinburgh:

Chris and Anne Bartle, owners of Glacier Books in Pitlochry Scotland. I've been buying mountain books from Chris and Anne for 10 years, or so, and have found them to be a pleasure to work with. They're professional and love their work. They've found numerous signed editions for me of classics like Annapurna, The Savage Mountain, and Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage in excellent conditions and at reasonable prices. I'm adding this info not so much as an advertisement as to help those of you who are collectors. You can reach them at: chris@glacierbooks.com. Email them for a catalog.

Students departing a city bus in Edinburgh.

St. Andrews Cathedral annual book fair. It goes on for 6 days! There are easily 10 thousand books

The Royal Mile filled with tourists. The first day in Edinburgh was a treat; summery, and everyone was in high spirits.

I'm brought you to Edinburgh mainly to climb Arthur's Seat, one of my favorite places in Scotland. It will be the last mountain of this trip. Its a volcanic plug that sticks up 822 feet and towers over the city. Robert Lewis Stevenson referred to it as "a hill in magnitude and a mountain by bold design". It's a wonderful part of Edinburgh and I've fond memories of climbing it often when I was here 50 years ago. If you look you can see tiny people on top giving you an idea of scale. When you're on top people below look like ants.

This gives you a good idea of the scale of Arthur's Seat as well as the broad lawns surrounding it. When I climbed here during my first visits on warm fall afternoons I'd occasionally talk to an older man, a retired merchant marine, or sailor, who routinely brought his beautiful Irish setter and he would exercise the dog by throwing a ball the size and weight of a lacrosse ball over the edge and it bounced in high, long arcs down the steep side of Arthur's Seat with the excited setter bounding after it, down the steep grass gradually catching up with the ball and, then, in one great leap the setter would catch the ball and race back up to his owner to have it thrown again and again.

Lines and lines of people were heading up all afternoon.

It reminded me of a clear Saturday afternoon on the summit of Mt. Monadnock, in Jaffrey, NH.

 Edinburgh from the summit and a magnificent afternoon. You can see Edinburgh Castle in the upper center of the photo.

Grenadier Guards from the Queen's Regiment at Holyrood. On the way to Arthur's Seat I passed Holyrood Palace where there was a changing of the guard underway. There was a small crowd of tourist taking photos but I decided to get positioned outside the gate hoping the Black Watch regiment and the Guards might come that way, towards a nearby car park, which they did. I followed and when they broke rank I got to talk to several of them and take these photos. The Regiment was recently shattered by the loss of several of their troops in Afghanistan.

I found out the Grenadiers are co-ed which was terrific! The young woman said she loves her uniform (and who wouldn't?) and likes the life of a Grenadier Guard.

One of the regimental pipers. The medals are for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I took three photos of this trio and in each photo one, and only one, had his eyes shut! The hill in the back ground is Salisbury Crag, part of the large park around the base of Arthur's Seat.

In her Majesty's Service.

Highland lassies.

Street band playing traditional Scottish fiddle tunes near St. Giles Cathedral.

St. Giles

A young couple in the gardens below the Castle.


A lovely, neighborhood garden in the rain.

This is Alexander McCall Smith's neighborhood off Morningside Road. If you're a fan (The #1 Ladies Detective Agency and 44 Scotland Street series, etc) this area of Edinburgh is filled with landmarks mentioned in his books....

......including some of the charity shops and picture galleries......

and the Number 23 Bus frequented by Irene and Bertie in the 44 Scotland Street series.

A fitting farewell to Edinburgh and Scotland. This snowboarder had just gotten off the #23 bus after a day, the last day of the ski season, at the Cairngorm Ski area. He said he was the last one down on the final run of the season.

Berg Heil.

1 comment:

Davej728 said...

Wow, Alex, just wow.