Monday, 30 April 2018


Loch Avon and Shelterstone
View from Ben Macdui
Loch Avon, lunch time views
Coire an t-Sneachda
Cairn Toul to Braeriach view
Feithe Buidhe and Shelterstone
Loch Avon
Coire an Lochain
A stunning day with wall to wall sunshine, no wind and crystal clear visibility. Great conditions for some serious winter navigation in the Cairngorms! What a day to be out on the tops. Caroline out on day two of her 'winter' course. It was billed has a day of navigation which turned into a day of just fabulous hillwalking amongst some of the best viewpoints in the Cairngorms. Caroline navigated with ease up onto Ben Macdui and then found the best view point of Cairn Toul-Braeriach, it's not the summit by the way! We enjoyed the fine scenery in peace whilst above us the crowds chatted away with a not so fine view point. Fabulous clarity of air. Ben Nevis seen clear has a bell. We headed over to another beauty spot for lunch, the lip of the loch Avon basin. Once again a peaceful spot with glorious views (no one goes here either).
A brilliant couple of days.
That's it, my winter season is over. Away goes the ironmongery and out cone the summer boots and lighter rucksack. Hot weather next week apparently.
Thanks to all my clients, friends and of course my wife for some memorable winter days this season.
Not that long until November :)

Sunday, 29 April 2018


Carolyn enjoying Point Five
A deserted Coire an t-Sneachda
Sunshine at Fingers
The place to ourselves
Point Five Gully & Goat Track area
Fabulous morning snow
Summer in Glenmore
Time for some summer scrambling
Cairn Gorm with fresh rime ice
Sneachda and plateau
Carolyn is out with me for two days of winter fun. This is her second course with me. Last yer we covered some basic skills and had a good day on the Fiacaill Ridge but this was mostly bare rock. Today we had a brilliant time on Point Five Gully in Coire an t-Seachda. It's a fab wee gully just to the right f the Goat Track area and the snow here last well into June in mos seasons. The coire was deserted this morning. No footprints in the gully, sun shining, no breeze and blue skies. he snow was firm but softening up later on. We headed up to Cairn Gorm after lunch. Still large areas of the plateau have snow, especially out toward Ben Macdui.
This is my final 'official' winter course his season. It's been a terrific winter and plenty of superb days out with lots of fun folk.
Navigation day tomorrow. Looks like it will be sunscreen and shads again in the Alpine conditions.
Winter is still very much in control above 800m on many Highland peaks. Ice axe and crampons definitely need taking out.
My personal record for running a winter course was on 15th May in 2013. Will 2018 bring any more takers? Winter if you want it!

Saturday, 28 April 2018


Coire an Lochain 
Swimming with icebergs
Female ptarmigan
swimming circles
Coire an Lochain free of ice, almost
Spring like and sunny down in the strath
Snow bridges just holding out
Male ptarmigan
Snow still holding out on the Great Slab
Everyone loves icebergs
This week has been a typical spell of April showers mixed in with bright spells of sunshine. Temperatures dropped again from the mini heatwave of last week (which we missed). It was nice to be back home and on the local hills after our Spanish holiday. Today Karen was back in training. She ran from the house up to the Coire Cas carpark where I met her ( you don't think I'm going to run up there do you?). We then continued together up to Coire an Lochain. The ice has now all but gone from the lochan but the coire is still holding a lot of snow and will do into early summer. Despite it being Spring and above freezing, it was still a bit chilly in the water (I took Karen's word for it).
The ptarmigan are a treat this time of year, the male and female plumage very different and easily distinguished. The Cairngorms are now much quieter now winter is almost over. This is the last weekend for skiing. I still have one more winter course before 'my winter' season is over. Out tomorrow for some more axe and crampons and fun in the snow.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018


The Sierra Nevada from Hoya del Portillo
Just back from a week long trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain. These mountains are the highest peaks on mainland Spain with many summits gaining that magical 3000m contour. Nestled deep down in the south of the country the area enjoys plenty of clear days and warm sunshine, with snow in winter. Perfect! It's been 11 years since my first visit here, time flies by quickly.
Karen and I based ourselves in the southern part of the area, the Alpujarra. Many of the whitewashed villages here are high up on the hillsides at an altitude of over 1000m. We stayed for most of our visit in Capileira.
Capileira in the Poqueira Valley
The highest villages are over 1400m above sea level and make good bases for walking. Even with a good high altitude start point, the highest peaks are still a very long day out. The highest summit in the Sierra Nevada is Mulachen which is the highest peak on mainland Spain, Mount Teide on Tenerife being the highest. It is obviously a big draw for folk who visit the area, including us! So our first day in the hills we thought we'd take advantage of the glorious weather and head up to the top.
Snow down to 2000m on the long approach to Mulachen
Pico del Tajo de los Machos above the Poqueira Valley
Europe's highest motor road was constructed across these mountains and up until relatively recent years you could still drive from south to north across high ground. Quite unbelievable really. Thankfully the Sierra Nevada is now a National Park and this road is closed to vehicles. It will take some time for nature to reclaim this track, until then it makes for easy walking underfoot for a good deal of the easiest ascent route on Mulachen. Thousands of folk walk this southern approach route every summer. We were amazed to see only a half a dozen people all day.
Valeta from Loma del Tanto
Full snow cover above 2500m
The Sierra Nevada has had a good winter with plenty of snowfall. The temperatures were high this week tough, so the snow very soft once mid morning approached. Thankfully the snow had melted in places so it wasn't all hard work. Some terrific views once we got above the tree line. It's then a long, long way to the top. The very easy angled, broad ridge rises eventually to high ground and we savoured the summit views, reaching the 3479m summit at 5pm.
Looking north from the summit of Mulachen
Views to Valeta (second highest peak) from Mulachen
Alpine Acentor accompanying us to the summit
Spring Crocus above 2400m
It was a long 2000m descent back to Capileira, giving us a good 12 hour day! Most folk who head up Mulachen use the National Park regulated minibus service that gets them up to 2700m, only in summer! It's not the way to walk a mountain, surely?
We had a rest the following day (of course).
Next day a more leisurely and shorter walk of just 8 hours round trip of the Poqueira Valley. The Poquira is the main river that flows down to the south of the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. With a very dry climate this river is by no means big! In fact the upper reaches run dry by early summer with very little rain fall in July and August.
The Poqueira Vally with Mulachen rising above
Plenty of butterflies enjoying the warmth of Spring
Afternoon cloud
Female Ibex high above the Poqueira Valley

It makes a nice circuit to walk up the valley floor as far as the snowline, returning via the higher level route back to Capileira. More folk around today. Plenty of wildlife too. We saw cloud by the afternoon, a little relief from the hot sun.

Trail getting busy
Poqueira Valley
Another leisurely day followed before venturing around to the white washed village of Travelez in the morning. This is reputed to be the highest village in the whole of Spain, at 1476m above sea level. We fancied a day walk up to the Seite de Lagunas, one of the finest views on the south side of the Sierra's. Just by luck our friends Richard and Kiersten (who run Spanish Highs) were travelling to Travelez on the same day. I've known Richard and Kiersten since guiding for them on the Patagonian Icecap Expedition in 2016. This morning they were up before dawn to meet up with Nick. They were supporting Nick with coffees, etc for his mamoth challenge. Nick's Sea to Summit Challenge. Nick had set off from the south coast of Spain at 8pm the night before, aiming to walk all the way to the summit of Mulachen. In under 24hrs. Some challenge! Karen and I walked up with him for an hour or so before letting him stride off under his own pace. If you wish to donate here is the link to Nick's Just giving page. Thanks.
Nick striding out into the snow
Mulachen & La Alcazaba from Seite Lugunas

Walkers descending off La Alcazaba
East face of Mulachen, the Luguna is under a few metres of snow!
Another long walk up to the Seite Lagunas. These 7 lakes are nestled below the impressive steep faces of Mulachen and La Alcazaba. La Alcazaba is the third highest peak in the Sierra Nevada and some regard it has the finest peak. To gain the summits of these big 3000m mountains most folk spend a night high up on the mountain. There are two manned refugios in the Sierra Nevada and quite a few more basic shelters if you don't want to camp out. Our trip was a bit of a softie, hotel based holiday. I remember my first trip here in November. No snow that time of year in 2007. I bivvied in a cave below these summits.
It was a 5 hour ascent up to the Lugunas which lie above 2900m. Karen was hoping to get a swim in the biggest one, Laguna Honderas. Not today unfortunately. Several metres of snow was covering this huge, flat, high area. We enjoyed the fine Alpine scene over lunch before heading back.
Swallow Tail Butterfly

An Ocellated Lizard hiding
We had an easy stroll back through the hills and down to Travelez. Nick had reached the summit in a brilliant time and was due back into Trevelez at 6pm. 22 hours after setting off. Well done to him. If you want to support his charity and give to his fundraiser page he will be delighted.

Our final day in the Sierra Nevada was another leisurely one. We headed to Lanjaron to visit Richard and Kiersten and a short hike in the hills above their home town. Our walk began after a 50 minute 4 wheel drive journey in Richard's vehicle. Lanjaron is low down in the valley at 500m. His expert driving skills on dirt tracks whizzed us up to 1700 metres! Along for the ride were their husky dogs, Arko and Rita. Not only do humans love the snow but so do these guys.
A stroll in the snow for the Huskies
Mirror Orchid
Sombre Orchid
One of the many delights of these mountains are it's fauna and flora. Before we reached the valley again there was time for some flower photography. Lots of orchids out, the best time of year for these. Kiersten knowing the exact locations, just a few minute's walk from her home.
A brilliant week in the snow clad Sierra Nevada. If you haven't been, why not?

Mulachen summit