Last weekend I headed North to document Sean Green of Grizzly Munro Diaries on one of his Munro bagging weekends.
Scotland has 282 mountains over 3000ft and although they're not the highest of hills compared to other ranges throughout the world. they are wild and inhospitable at any time of year. Sean has challenged himself to complete all the Munros and if that wasn't hard enough, he's doing it on, or I should say, with a mountain bike.
Some of the trails he's encountered so far are far from rideable, some of which are far from walkable, as I was soon to find out.
With a bit of planning, we decided on tackling the Mamore range above Glen Coe. On the map it looked perfect, with defined trails up and down the summits, amazing 360 views and some promising descents. We arranged to meet at the Grey Mare's Tail car park and with having glorious sunshine in the UK for a good few weeks now, I was expecting the raging waterfall to be a little tamer from my previous visit there.
As my bike has been nicked, Sean had arranged for me a bike for the weekend with his sponsor, Deviate Cycles. Ben & Chris at Deviate have created the ultimate trail weapon, with a pinion gearbox instead of the usual rear derailleur, minimising maintenance and breakages, it seems to be the perfect bike for Sean's challenge.
I picked it up from Comrie Croft, a great bike shop, cafe and trail network just West of Perth and as soon as I got my hands on it, I knew it was something special. Just from the short ride from the shop back to the van, it felt as rooted as an old oak tree, I knew it would handle any descent my skills could throw at it.
An hour and a half later I was parked up and by the time I'd changed and given the bike a once-over, Black Betty came round the corner. Sean's truck is hard to miss, a bit like the man himself and his bike, the big black beast rolled into the car park, sporting its signature smile reminiscent of a P51 Mustang.
A quick handshake, change of clothes and we were mounted and off.
The climb up to Loch Elide Mor starts off steep and gets steeper, soon the bikes were on our backs, a theme that was to become a regular occurrence over the weekend. Popping out above the treeline, the views opened up over Loch Leven.
We left the Loch behind and carried on carrying in the heat, past the Lochan and on to the shoulder of Binnein Mor, where I left the bike and carried on foot to try and keep up with Sean's pace in the dying light.
Without the bike on my back, it freed me up for some pictures, before I left Sean to summit his 67th Munro and headed back to collect the bike.
Riding was possible for most of the ride back down, with a few rocky sections and one big drop to negotiate on the descent.
The light was fading fast, so once back at Loch Elide Mor, I decided to take the Mamore Lodge service road down, hitting the West Highland Way to Loch Leven, Sean wasn't far behind making it just in time for last orders at the Bothy Bar in the MacDonald Hotel.
Over a pint, we studied the maps and decided an attack of the Mamores was better from Glen Nevis. Sean climbed into his roof tent and I into the back of my van for the night.
Next morning we headed to Fort William, stocking up on supplies and breakfast pastries, before heading up to the head of Glen Nevis. The car park for the Steall Falls was pretty full, but we managed to squeeze the two vehicles in, packed up for a long day and headed up the trail. It wasn't long before we exited the trees and the impressive falls came in to view. Sean spotted a perfect slab for a little photo opportunity.
Once past the falls, the climbing began and sheltered from the breeze, the heat hit us in the corrie. The bikes never left our backs as we trudged on up, hitting the arête where we had to balance the bikes precariously on our packs, to free up hands for the short scrambles.
Once we hit the first Munro, An Gearanach, the carrying didn't stop, even though we were heading downhill now, it was just too steep and rocky to even attempt to ride. We got some weird looks carrying up the ridge to the second Munro, with people stopping to ask us, 'How?' 'Are you mad?' and 'What the f*ck for?' I left Sean to answer, after all it's his mad challenge, I'm just the mad photographer that agreed to try and take some pictures.
Dropping down from Stob Coire a'Chairn, we managed to get in bits of riding in the shadows of Ben Nevis.
The climbing up to Sgurr an Iubhair, the highest point on our, errrm ride, was steady compared to the first two. Once on the summit, we whipped out the camera and made the most of the evening light.
Finally we were riding, the trail was rocky, fast and fun and lead us all the way down to the Bealach in between Stob Ban. WIth the fading light, we made the decision to leave that Munro for another day and headed back down to Glen Nevis.
Having previously read about a there and back ride up Stob Ban, I was really excited for the descent. MBR even have it listed in their top Scottish routes and on the map it looks promising. How wrong we were.
The intermittent riding, is few and far between. Knee deep ruts made it impossible to ride for most of the singletrack. We hit the road around 11pm and made the short pedal back to the Steall car park.
You can follow Sean on Instagram @grizzly_munro_diaries and Facebook @grizzlymunrodiaries
And me (Andy Cole) on Instagram @alcphotosleeds
and Facebook @alcphotosleeds
on my website: www.alcphotography.co.uk/