Vanguard Mountaineering in Scotland

Vanguard Mountaineering in Scotland

For weeks we were planning a big trip. A trip not around photography but aimed at mountaineering, climbing and enjoying the outdoors. With talks of going abroad or staying closer to home in the UK. As with most, the usual problem was running out of time and working full time jobs.

Before we knew it we only had two weeks before we planned to go away so to make it easier and cheaper we changed from going abroad to remaining local with a week-long trip to Scotland, exploring the area of Glen Coe with hope to spend most of the week mountaineering and scrambling. It might sound odd, but photography was going to come second on this trip. It was about stepping away from the camera and social media and enjoying ourselves for a change.

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One issue was the weather being very changeable across the whole week and any reports we were getting for the days ahead were useless. You could look at the reports for a few hours’ time and it would be changing all the time. We were sat in a micro climate and any plans became less scheduled to simply acting on them, there and then when the weather would be best.

After driving for ten hours we arrived in Glencoe village. Welcomed in by the rain which wasn’t filling us with hope to say the least. Determined not to be put off by the weather we pitched up at a local campsite, put our heads down for a few hours and then get some breakfast before heading back out in to the mountains.

Come 10am that morning the weather cleared up and the sun made an appearance. This was going to be a common theme with the weather that week. On wet days, spending time on lower levels exploring the coastal lochs and local treats of castles and walks with the warmer, somewhat drier days spent above 1000m on the mountain summits.

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Vanguard Veo 2 Go

The first day was a relaxed pace, driving around Glen Etive and exploring the typical road side shots of the area, Etive Mor waterfall, Glen Etive, Skyfall, Three Sisters and Castle Stalker to name some of the locations visited. Despite pitching up earlier in the day to try and get some shut eye after the long drive, none of us really got any sleep. All excited for the week ahead up a mountain, by 21:30pm we had been awake for some 36 hours. We were struggling and even with the stunning backdrop behind Castle Stalker with the golden sunset we were all longing for bed.

If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.

This was the common theme for Sunday morning, our first mountain day. Wet and miserable that morning, followed by blistering clear skies that afternoon before more rain that evening. The dreams of wild camping on the Scottish Highlands with the stars above us were distant thought now but this spurred us on to get up high and make the most of the opportunities whilst we could. The first scramble of the week was spent going up Clachaig gully which was an epic three hour scramble up to the beginning of a ridge we planned to climb later in the week, Aonach Eagach ridge.

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As we arrived on the summit of Sgorr Nam Fiannaidh to view the mighty ridge and valley below the weather came in. We witnessed rain, snow, sleet, wind and sunshine in a 10-minute window. It was alien but left us cold, wet and keen to get back down before nightfall drew in. The following morning, we did a little more research on our route up the Clachaig gully to find it’s a no go and should be avoided in wet weather and for the experienced only with recent deaths of only a few months. We weren’t in our comfort zone of Wales any longer. The Scottish mountains put fear in to us and rightly so!

This was just a small taste of what was to come on the Aonach Eagach ridge which further research led us to abandoning the scramble due to safety and avoiding being killed, the thought of scrambling on what is described as ice rink when wet above a 300m sheer drop only emphasised the scale of what we were doing and how dangerous these mountains are.

Our next day would be spent driving between villages and castles sheltering from the rain. It was long until we abandoned the torrent of rain and returned to the pub for the fire place and haggis.

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The next mountain day would be a full day climb, climbing up through the Lost Valley between the Three Sisters, summiting Bidean Nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach before climbing back down the opposite side to find the car once more. This was a solid 10-hour day and took us climbing over 1300m over the day. Being lightweight and simplest set up was key to not flank and get weary.

20L rucksack, Vanguard Veo 2 Go 204CB tripod, Olympus EM-5 mkII with M. 12-40mm & 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lenses, Kase Filters magnetic circular filters, stove, water filter, spare clothes, waterproofs and plenty of insect repellent. All this made up to a tiny 6kg rucksack which was plenty heavy for the climbing we had in store. With plenty of water sources all the way up the summit, carrying water wasn’t needed which drastically reduced pack weights.

As we made it to the summit of Bidean Nam Bian you really got to witness the true extent of the area. The massif, surrounding mountains and ridges were alive with clouds rolling over the summits, beams of light and patches of rain.

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Vanguard Veo 2 Go
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It was breath-taking to say the least and we could spend hours up here watching as the weather fronts passed by.

What a way to end the week, no rain that day and a solid mountain day spent scrambling, hiking and enjoying the spectacular landscape around us. For sure we had all caught the bug and were already thinking up future plans to return. These mountains scared us, but it wasn’t enough to put us off clearly.

With a four-hour decent ahead of us and our final meal in what was our ‘local’ now. Each of us took the moment to reflect what the trip, outdoors and photography meant to us. It concluded we are walkers first. Photography second and this was evident from the kit used the past week. Minimalist and simple photographic set up for documentary purposes and all the hiking gear we could physically pack.

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