Finding alternatives

Sadly this year, I’ve suffered from a few injuries that have considerably limited the activities that I and consequently, we, have been able to do. Last autumn, I developed Achilles tendonitis, which took months to improve enough to go back to vigorous activity. Then early in the summer, as I was trying to regain my lost fitness, I started doing a little trail running, which I was really enjoying, until I sprained my ankle in the woods – the same ankle that had suffered with the tendonitis.

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On our trip to North West Scotland we found we could still immerse ourselves in incredible Scottish scenery without spending lots of long days hiking in the hills

I am aware that neither of these were particularly serious injuries compared to many, but they were enough to have a fairly large impact on our life. As a result, we have had quite a different year to previous years and have had to adapt our adventures accordingly.
I was very upset about spraining my ankle: I had finally been recovering from the tendonitis, I was running again, climbing well and had climbed my first munro in six months when it happened, and so I felt extremely frustrated and angry. I knew that the next six months were not going to be as I had imagined and our summer climbing ambitions were ruined.

Oldshoremore: one of our favourite beaches on our North West Scotland trip. We had the shortest coldest swim ever, amusing some other tourists, and warmed up with hot chocolates and this view!

It made me realise how much these outdoor activities have become a part of my life, a part of our relationship, and how much of an impact it would have, were that to change. I have read about people who can lose their positivity, their sense of purpose and even their sense of self after injury, and that worried me: I hadn’t had to think about that before.

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We found less strenuous walking routes, like this walk to the stunning Sandwood Bay, which was quiet in March. We had soup on the beach and Chris did some bouldering

Fortunately for me though, we adapted, and since I wasn’t completely out of action, we have actually ended up broadening the range of activities we do.
So although we haven’t had such a typically adventurous year as usual, by adjusting our aims and expectations and finding alternatives, we have still been able to enjoy ourselves. At Easter, when we went to the North-West of Scotland, rather than do all the classic mountain walks, we climbed Stac Pollaidh (short but steep!), did a tiny bit of climbing, a tiny bit of icy sea swimming but mostly explored, and drank hot chocolate or beer on stunning, chilly beaches in our down jackets.

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A very chilled trip to Argyll included finding evidence of beaver activity at the Knapdale release site

Our summer climbing holiday to Snowdonia, turned into an afternoon of climbing, a swim in Llyn Idwal and lots of hanging out on Gower beaches, swimming and bodyboarding (which seemed to work wonders on my recovering ankle!).

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When sickness and injury prevent you climbing mountains, why not swim instead?! Like here in Llyn Idwal in Snowdonia

Exercising makes me feel good, so I was worried that my mood would drop when I wasn’t able to do my usual things. However, I had started a little weight training to help my climbing before any of this happened and although it’s not an outdoor activity, it was something that I was able to continue doing throughout, simply by adjusting my routine as necessary, which kept my moral up and has meant that, surprisingly, my climbing hasn’t deteriorated badly as I worried it might.

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We learnt to relax on the beautiful Gower beaches

I also found that cycling was, after the sprain, much easier than walking, so getting around to see friends wasn’t too problematic. Importantly though, the acquisition of two second-hand mountain bikes has provided a whole new dimension to our adventures and a fantastic way to get out into the hills and woods when walking wasn’t an option. This has meant that during the last few months, I’ve still been able to get out into the environment that I love, explore areas we wouldn’t have gone to otherwise, work hard and feel adventurous! We love it and definitely won’t be giving it up anytime soon!

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We discovered that mountain bikes are a fantatstic way to travel in the Cairngorms!

And last weekend, I climbed my first mini mountain, the Pap of Glencoe – much steeper than we imagined – without too much difficulty, so hopefully I’m back to being mountain-worthy again!

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My first night out alone

It was very sunny in Scotland! But I work 9-5 (7.30-6 if you include the commute). The solution was a microadventure: an overnight bivvy, but Chris had been away most of the week, which meant I would have to go by myself!

I’ve never even camped by myself before so that was a pretty scary idea, but also quite exciting.

I decided to go somewhere I was very familiar with, ie. Dumyat, which is our local little hill.

I got home at 6pm, had dinner, packed and left on my bike in the sunshine at 8pm. I left my bike at the foot of the hill and walked up through the woods, which were a beautiful sea of bluebells – I didn’t realise there were so many up here, I mistakenly thought they were an English thing.

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Sitting on a hump above the trees, I watched the sun set behind the mountains in the distance and read my book, enjoying the peace.

By 10pm the sun had gone and I was cold despite my insulated jacket and gloves. As I was nervous, I thought very carefully while choosing where to sleep: I had decided I would prefer to be out in the open rather than in the trees. I eventually picked a spot on the exposed side of the hill, but a slight shelf meant I was protected from some of the wind by a small lip. I had a view of Stirling and the Wallace Monument, which meant that if I woke up disoriented in the dark, I would be able to focus on the lights. I also get freaked out by noises in a very quiet tent, so I knew I’d be comforted by the road sounds, which, although less peaceful, would cover any scary (sheep) noises close by.

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I settled into my bivvy bag, quickly warmed up and watched the lights of Stirling come on. Cloud was creeping over Dumyat behind me. I felt surprisingly relaxed and it only took me a while to fall asleep because I was so curious to look around and kept opening my eyes to watch the landscape change as night fell.

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With my bivvy bag (Alpkit), sleeping mat (Robens), down sleeping bag (Alpkit), silk liner (Rab), fluffy socks and thin jacket (Rab Vapour-rise) I was soon super snuggly and surprisingly didn’t get cold at all during the night.

I did wake up a few times but overall I slept much better than I expected. I woke up and checked for a sunrise at around 5am, but seeing only cloud, fell back to sleep until my alarm woke me at 7!

Opening my eyes to a lovely view meant I couldn’t help but wake up in a good mood. A cup of tea from my flask before getting up made it even better!

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Good morning!

 

What better way to start a working day?! And doing it solo made it extra special: I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is considering it!

Sadly, I’ll now have to wait until the autumn to do it again as I’m definitely not bivvying in midge season!

Rewards

We were trudging through warm, wet cloud, sliding on slushy snow, mud and grass. We were hot, we couldn’t see anything and we were asking ourselves why were we doing this.

I had even climbed this munro before!

But was the cloud brightening? Why did I feel like I wanted to put my sunglasses on when visibility was so low? Could we see blue above us or was it a trick of the light?P1020919-COLLAGE

Yes, that was definitely a glimpse of blue sky…. And of a snowy mountain side….oh, but it vanished back into the cloud again.

Our trudge was definitely more hopeful and expectant now!

Then quite suddenly it happened: we popped out above the cloud into a fantastic world of sunshine, blue sky and sparkling snow and ice.

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The sun was actually warm and there was little wind, so we had to strip down to our t-shirts. And the views……they were incredible…..mountain tops poking out of a fluffy white sea as far as we could see in all directions.

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Often, summiting a munro involves dashing to the top, looking around for half a minute while being blasted by wind, and being blown back down to find some shelter before having a sandwich, with all your layers on. Not on this day though: on this day we spent 40 minutes on the summit, enjoying our lunch and gazing around in wonder – without even having to put gloves on – before descending back to the damp, grey world, everyone else was spending their day in.

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Just occasionally, we experience an extra special reward for our uphill struggles.

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A Ptarmigan: spending all year high up on Scottish mountains, it must be one of Britain’s hardiest birds?!

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Winter wonderland

On Saturday we wanted to go and look at the ice falls on Ben Udlaidh near Bridge of Orchy, but the road was waaaay to snowy; so, after driving into a little snow drift, rather than down the snowy road and then digging ourselves out, we carried on along the A82 to just beyond Achallader. Here we stopped and decided to go and play.

There was a ridiculous amount of powdery snow: we were wading in it, it came over my knees! The red deer that we could see from the car were chest deep in it! Walking was HARD. Why doesn’t anyone in Scotland use snow shoes?!

It was also totally, absurdly beautiful.

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We mostly spent the next few hours, wading a few metres, stopping to gaze in wonder, wading a few more metres, stopping for tea and biscuits and gazing some more.

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The pole disappeared entirely

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We also made out first attempt to build a snow cave: we had an entrance each, joined them up and it was very successful until Chris collapsed it on us. This led to snow wrestling, which I definitely won.

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Our snow cave!

Then we waded back to the car while still stopping to gaze disbelievingly at the spectacular scenery every few minutes.

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We went home via Callander for a pie….however, there was a mini disaster – the pie shop was closed – but we found some chips to have by the river.

We probably walked 2km at most, but what a day!? Scotland, you beauty!

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A whole new world

You don’t have to go far or high to have a wonderful experience.

Ben Venue is popular little local hill in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. November’s snow turned it into a beautiful and spectacular new world. We didn’t even feel the need to get to the summit.

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Don’t overlook your local area! Explore and enjoy it….it will never be the same two days in a row.

An English road-trip

We had a free 10 days in October and plans to explore, walk and climb in the far north-west of Scotland. Then the weather forecast predicted a week of storms and upland gales.

So what should we do? We visited some friends who gave us maps and climbing guide books for much of England and Wales and convinced us to go south.

After dropping in on my family, we drove the van to Devon, where the weather looked friendliest and there was plenty of climbing to entertain us. Our first experience of Dartmoor was a beautiful, calm evening: we managed two good climbs on Hay Tor as the sun was setting and went to bed full of expectation for a few days of excellent climbing.

Note: there are signs in many Dartmoor car parks stating that byelaws inhibit overnight parking in the National Park.

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Climbing at Hay Tor on Dartmoor

We woke up in a big wet cloud. We couldn’t see Hay Tor, so we drove on to Hound Tor, which turned out to be equally wet. We had a leisurely breakfast confident the fog would lift. Instead, a brisk wind blew the drizzle sideways. Eventually, we decided to go for a soggy climb, but even granite is a lot more difficult when wet. After two climbs, I had had enough and we returned to the shelter of the van for hot chocolate and to make a new plan.

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When you can’t climb, go for a damp windy walk with beer?!

We gave up on Tors and headed for Dewerstone, which looked to have some great low-grade multi-pitch climbs and was lower down so we hoped it might be more sheltered and below the cloud. No luck, it was still drizzling. The woods, however are gorgeous so we went for a walk, a look at the crag and had a beer on the moor at the top (we were on holiday after all).

More rethinking…..these were the two “good” days, the next day was to be the rainy day. We decided to temporarily give up on climbing and went for a walk on the moor to a pub. We walked back into torrential rain all the way.

We spent a very pleasant evening with some of Chris’ family, before leaving Dartmoor and heading for Croyde on the north Devon coast.

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An incredible abseil at Baggy Point

We haven’t got a good track record for sea-cliff climbing but we wanted to give it another try. I find it very intimidating but at Baggy Point, it is at least possible to identify the climbing locations from a distance. I teetered unhappily to the belay point, unconvinced about abseiling into the unknown above the waves. However, the sun came out and when I realised we could actually see down the long, gently sloping route, I cheered up. It was a fabulous 40+m abseil into a sun trap, below towering cliffs, with the sea lapping at the rocks below us. We had great fun, it was a brilliant route. We would’ve liked to do the next climb along, but the tide didn’t seem to have gone out far enough for us to reach it, the sun had gone in and it was already late in the day. We decided to quit while we were ahead and go and make dinner.

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Hanging above the sea at Baggy Point

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A wonderful sunny climb!

I was also keen to try out my new wetsuit, so rather than rush and move on the next morning, we decided to stay an extra night. As this is such a busy area, we parked the van in a campsite for the first time ever and went to the arcades after dinner! In the morning, Chris hired a wetsuit and bodyboard and I brought my old childhood bodyboard out of retirement. It was a huge success: we spent a brilliant few hours in the sea and had the unusual experience of trying a sport that I had done before but Chris hadn’t. Even in October, there were lots of lifeguards on the beach, and flags marking designated surfing and swimming areas. In the afternoon, we wandered up into Croyde and sustained ourselves with more pub chips, beer and cider.

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We loved bodyboarding at Croyde Bay

The following morning we drove back up to spend the day with my family. We then had the choice of moving on to Wales (north or south), the Peak District, Yorkshire or the Lake District. Our choice was driven by the fact that the Peak District was the only place that didn’t have severe warnings for wind!

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Heading out for a windy climb at Stanage North

We arrived late and the following morning were making bacon sandwiches for breakfast when disaster struck…..we ran out of gas! Fortunately the bacon was cooked but Chris’ egg was not. Finding new gas meant we were late starting to climb; we got in a few good routes but by late afternoon the wind had really picked up. Despite the short length of most routes at Stanage North, we couldn’t hear each other and I felt like the gusts were trying to pull me off the crag. By the time we decided that we had better stop, everything we put down was blowing away, including shoes, helmets and pieces of gear: I lost a sock on the last route.

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The wind trying to steal Chris’ rope

We thought our previous night’s parking spot, right on top of the moor, was going to be far too exposed with the storm passing through so we drove a little further on to try to get a bit lower. It was definitely the windiest night we have spent in the van and not the most restful with the violent rocking! We decided that the next day was going to be too windy to climb so we headed home to Scotland.

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The last of the sun at the top of the crag as it got too windy and cold to continue climbing

This was our longest van trip yet and it was great to have the opportunity to explore some new areas of England.

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What are these? There are so many of them at Stanage!

 

Summits aren’t that important anyway…

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A friendly mountain hare just getting its winter coat

Last weekend we walked  for four hours up through deep snow, from Achlean in Glen Feshie, into a big white cloud, decided being in a whiteout on the Cairngorm plateau wasn’t where we wanted to be, and walked back down again!

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Visibility wasn’t great!

On the way up, the sun breaking through the clouds on distant mountains was beautiful , there were lots of interesting animal tracks in the snow and we found a mountain hare that ran towards us rather than away. It was a lovely winter walk, but we’ll have to go back to bag our munros, Mullach Clach a’Bhlair and Sgor Goiath.

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We had fun in the snow though