Grumbling Together on the North Ridge Spidean a Choire Leith

Bear Lodge has. a busy schedule of Mountaineering Bear Training this summer so Big Ted sent the human scouts out to explore some new routes for our furry students. He was a bit worried that their climbing skills may be a bit rusty & to be honest, they didn’t look fit enough to walk to the shops, so he asked me to go along and keep an eye on them.

I persuaded them to take a trip to Torridon and as the popular routes can be very busy in summer we thought our students may enjoy an expedition up the north face of Liathach. With its steep sandstone crags and towering pinnacles much of the north face is the domain of experienced mountaineering bears but this is beyond the capabilities of the human scouts. However, the North Ridge of Spidean a’ Choire Leith, which separates Coireag Dubh Mor and Coire na Caime, and leads directly up to the summit is a less demanding and technical ascent which Big Ted said they should be able to manage. The Guide Books classify it as a moderate climb if you stick to the arête or suggest it can be tackled as grade 1/2 scramble by staying to right of the arete on steep grass. I was instructed to keep them on the arête.


We all started out from the main Beinn Eighe carpark at 8am following the Coire Dubh Mhor path between Liathac and Beinn Eighe, my heart beating faster at the sight of these two magnificent mountains, but nobody stopped to take a photo!We crossed the Allt Coire Dubh Mhor and as we came around the eastern end of Liathach we could see our target, the North Ridge, on the skyline.

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Map of the Route
Crossing the the Allt Coire Dubh Mhor
North Ridge of Spidean on the Skyline


The scouts were doing well, but it was a perfect June day for hill walking, warm without being hot and enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay. We continued along the path to the point where it divides to climb up to Coire Mhic Fhearchair to get our bearings, then doubled back for a few metres before recrossing the Allt Coire Dhub, (although there was very little of it), to meet up with a burn flowing down from Coireag Dubh Mor. It was a delightful walk on a faint path by the side of the waterfall, with Marsh Orchids and Violets in flower by my paws and the impressive tiers of rock in the coire ahead. I was getting quite excited!

Following the burn
As this burn was the last water we would come across until we were well down the other side of the mountain we needed to fill our water bottles. I offered to do this as I wanted to make sure we took enough water with us, the scouts often cut it so fine they end up dehydrated.

Filling up the water bottles

The lower section of the ridge was broad, lots of loose stones and boulders to go up, plus some easy scrambling. There was also a horrible steep slimy step of mud and moss. The scouts crawled up this on their paws and knees making strange mewling noises.

Lower slopes of the ridge

I was pleased to reach solid ground before there was any unpleasant slithering and having checked the map we all agreed it was time for lunch.

Good news that scouts can still read the map accurately. 750m altitude at midday, time for lunch.
Nice view along The Strath Lungard to Loch Maree.

Come on Jeremy Jetboyle, strut your stuff, I want my noodles. Supervising the scouts is hungry work.

Meall Dearg &the Northern Pinnacles. I wonder if the scouts would be up to climbing these,🤔
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Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg

Lunch is over, onwards and upwards.
The scouts pointed out that it would be possible to walk around the next tier of rocks and then to avoid many of the difficulties by keeping right. I reminded them that their objective was to climb the arete, and it was time for them to stop faffing and get on with it.

‘Your meant to be climbing the rock not pulling it down!”


After this section of easy scrambling the ridge became steeper and more exposed so we decided to climb with a rope. I was mortified to discover that the scouts had only brought a 20m rope for a 160m climb. That means 10 pitches, it will be dark before we reach the summit! Grrrr!

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Looking up the North Ridge
Checking he’s tied into the rope properly
I love the rock formations!

The rock was very rough and grippy, everyfur was enjoying the climbing and after a few pitches we topped out on steep grass

Topping out.

As they were likely to need the rope again the scouts decided not to untie, but to take in some coils and move together. Big Ted had warned me that the scouts were not good with this technique and I should expect lots of grumbling. He was right! I tried to close my ears to their constant moans about the tension in the rope and speed of movement as we edged along the narrow arête.

Supervising the taking in of coils
Scouts grumbling together along the narrow ridge

Hmmm! That was Stressful, I was very pleased when we were back to proper climbing and this traverse was great fun!

Ah no! There is a bitey insect in my boot!
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Don’t worry I am holding the rope while the scout takes the photo!
The final difficulty. Come on! You can do it!

Whats going on here! The scout has belay all wrong, lucky nofur had a fall! 😱. He looks very sheepish as I admonish him thoroughly, I don’t think he will make that mistake again.

The view across to Beinn Eighe is amazing!
The summit up ahead

The walk to the summit turned out to be treacherous ! Huge blocks of Quartz, which were very unstable! The scouts are squeeking!

and we made! All in one piece and no rockfalls! Hurrah for the Mountaineering Bear and hopeless scouts!

Summit Spidean a’ Choire Leith.

But what goes up, must come down! They said the descent was easy, but we have to walk up another two summits before we can even start to come down!

8:30 pm nearly down

Well I’m all in, and there is still 2.5km along the road to walk beforeI can collapse in my sleeping bag. These human scouts are hard work, it was lucky I was around to keep an eye on them! Still the ridge was fun and I think our students will enjoy it.

Back to The Mountains (Sgurr Nan Conbhairean)

Spring has turned to summer and mountaineering bears were feeling restless. It had been over a hundred days of lockdown, staying a home to help combat the dreaded covid 19 virus. We had been busy in the garden.

Planting a lawn

The climbing gear was checked for wear or damage!

‘This rope is OK!

And some new gadgets tested.

This solo wood burning stove is very efficient

We practiced our mountaineering skills

Definitely getting better at abseiling

and tried our best to keep fit!

‘Phew’

So when the travel restrictions were lifted we were ready to go. The Adventure Wagon was packed with all the necessary kit and kaboodle, and at 6:30 in the morning, bleary eyed bears hit the road, heading for one of our favourite areas, Kintail. By 7:30 we were waving to Nessie as we drove past Lochness

and an hour later four very excited bears were starting out from the shores of Loch Cluanie. The mountains looked very imposing and I was wondering if we were all fit enough to climb that high! Well there was only one way to find out! “Onward and upward Mountaineering Bears”

Four excited Bears ready to climb a mountain.

The hills were colourful with wild flowers. Corbett was beside himself running from flower to flower with excitement. On the lower slopes, the pale cross leaved heath was growing side by side with the deeper bell heather and there was a profusion of Spotted Marsh Orchids.

Corbett admiring the cross leaved heath

Even the cotton grass flowers seemed plump and extra fluffy.

Higher up the small flowers of the starry saxifrage bloomed in the damp shady places ground with patches of wild thyme on rockier ground. Mountain everlasting, thrift and alpine ladies mantle all added to the display.

Corbett with some of his favourite wild flowers

All the way up the mountain we were accompanied by the chit chat song of the wheatear as it flitted from rock to rock! Frogs large and small were jumping out of our way. I saw a large gold and black dragonfly laying eggs in a stream and a vivid green emperor moth caterpillar eating its way through the heather.

Emperor Moth Caterpillar

The track, soon became a path which got fainter as we made our way upwards. It was rough under foot, sometimes muddy and lots of streams to ford. The mountain beckoned us on but no matter how far we walked it never seemed to get any closer.

‘It ought to be closer than that! Surely’

and then came the peat hags. A chance to teach Alligin the art of bog hopping!

Bog Hopping in a peak hag

Oh dear! He’s wobbling! Not sure Alligin has got the hang of of this yet!

Grad a hold of this! We will soon have you out of there!

It’s not a proper mountaineering adventure unless at least one bear ends up with a wet bum! 😂

Gorm Lochan in Coire Lair was a pawfect spot for a rest and an early lunch. Alligin had a wash. Corbett spotted newts and water snails in the crystal clear water while I was just soaking up the atmosphere and Big Ted was soaking his hot paws.

Gorm Lochan Coire Lair.

‘Come on bears, mountains don’t climb themselves! Time to get moving’ Rested and refreshed we scampered up the steep grass to Glas Bealach.

From the bealach there were mountains in every direction, as far as the eye could see. We had reached 950m altitude and it would be an easy walk to Sgurr nan Conbhairean summit. But where is the adventure in that! We are Mountaineering Bears and like to do things the mountaineering way! So rather than go up, we went down!

Down into the Glen between Sgurr Nan Conbhairean and Creag a Chaorainn

and down and down and down into the Glen, so that we could climb back up the mountain by its rocky North East Ridge.

Which one is the middle buttress?

We had instructions to follow but they didn’t make much sense so we followed our noses! ‘Take care bears, this rock smells a bit rotten and loose’

‘I don’t think this grass will hold me, I wish I had eaten less cake during lockdown’

Corbett decided to climb the grass, but that smelt scarier, it was steep, muddy and slippery with nothing to hang on to but loose tufts. I am sure I heard him whimpering.

‘Now where have all those juggy holds gone!’
Look Alligin that is Glen Affric to the north
Oh my bear! Take it steady Big Ted!
Whats round this corner?

It is the final slope to the top!

Sgurr Nan Conbhairean Summit

Way hey! We made it! Time for heroic summit poses! Mountaineering bears, are back where they belong.

Ben Nevis

It felt like a long walk down but the grassy ridge was gentle on our sore paws and we could see Ben Nevis in the distance! So back we trudged through the mud, and the wild flowers, thinking noble thoughts about egg and chips for supper!

I wonder where we will go next!
The route

History and Magic on the First Day of Winter

Lost Valley View Point

It is the first day of winter and here we are in Glen Coe, four mountaineering bears and a mountaineering lamb are ready for adventure. Behind us nestling, between the peaks and ridges is a whole world of hidden valleys and we are on our way to explore one of these, Coire nan Lochan. It is not the most famous valley in Glen Coe, that is Coire Ghabail, but it is perhaps wilder and more spectacular with the dramatic cliffs of Stob Coire Nan Lochan towering above it.

Coire Nan Lochan

Although it is officially the first day of winter there is not much snow today, but plenty of ice glittering in the morning sun and making the path very slippery!

Whoops! Bear Down!

At one point the path disappears and we had to scramble down icy rock! I was worried how Alligin would manage as it was his first try at scrambling, and you would not want to slip here, with icy water below. He took to it like a mountaineering bear to rock! 👍 Don’t tell him but I think he will make a champion Mountaineering Bear!

High up in the valley Big Ted was explaining how the landscape was shaped first by volcanoes pushing up the molten rock and then the roof of Magma collapsing to form a huge crater or cauldron.Glen Coe was the first place in the world where cauldron subsidence was recognised in ancient volcanic rock. The melting ice from the ice age further sculpted the landscape ice, breaking up the crags, shattering the rock and scooping out the valleys. He did go into more detail but I was distracted by a stone in my boot! I don’t think Alligin and Sheltie were listening either as they were absorbed in reading the map, but Corbett might have learnt something.

We are hoping to come back and climb these rock faces when the rock or the snow is in better condition. Mountaineering Bears have been climbing in this Coire for over 120 years. Great Grandfather Ted, founder of the Scottish Mountaineering Bears, was one of the first bears to climb these cliffs in summer and in winter. In those days there were no roads leading into Glen Coe and the mountaineering bears arrived by horse and cart along a rough track, or even by boat along the Caledonian canal.

Big Ted Pointing Out The Climbs on Stob Coire Nan Lochan

The magnificent valley is full of atmosphere, I can sense the presence of prehistoric beasts and bygone mountaineering bears that may have wandered here!

The further we ventured into the coire, the more wild and magical it became. Corbett swears he met a unicorn.

And I think we may have woken this dragon. Time to make a quick retreat.

It was a wonderful view point, I couldn’t resist a pose with the Anoach Eagach Ridge behind me.

All too soon it was time to head down, a bottom shuffle was the quickest method of descent on the icy grass.

We had been hoping to climb the frozen waterfall but it was melting and would not support the weight of the bigger bears.

But wee Alligin is so small and light he was able to have a go.

A magical start to winter. But, please! now can we have some snow!