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.

P1020686P1020682P1020687P1020691.JPG

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

Advertisements

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.

20171009_170104-COLLAGE

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.

P1060741-COLLAGE

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.

20171012_155448

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.

20171012_161712

Hanging above the sea at Baggy Point

20171012_161750

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.

P1060754.JPG

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!

P1020585.JPG

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.

20171016_154103.jpg

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.

P1020589a

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.

P1020593a
What are these? There are so many of them at Stanage!

 

Summits aren’t that important anyway…

P1020723a

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!

P1060769

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.

P1060766

We had fun in the snow though

Drinking water when walking and camping in Scotland

I am a very thirsty person and never go anywhere without a drink (usually my Nalgene bottle of water). Therefore access to water when outdoors is always something I plan carefully.

There seems to be a lot of difference in opinions and behaviours up here in Scotland regarding drinking water when out in the countryside. My first taste of “wild” water was from Glenrosa Water in Glen Rosa on Arran; Chris and I camped in the glen for two days, it was very hot and we couldn’t take enough water to last the whole trip. I was quite nervous as prior to that I had only ever drank clearly marked drinking/ tap water.

P1010824

Glenrosa Water, Arran

It turned out to be delicious and did me no harm whatsoever. Indeed, drinking stream water in remote locations seems to be common up here, and indeed essential on multi-day trips. Yet, I remain wary: in summer I carry a 2 litre platypus on single day walks and only drink stream water when absolutely necessary. In contrast, Chris never carries more than a litre of water and tops up on many of our days out.

I’ve discussed this with others and come across very differing opinions. The general rules seem to be that if you are well-away from people, high up and the water is clear and fast-flowing, it is fine to drink, and this rule has been effective so far for us.

However, this time last year, we were planning for our TGO Challenge and I was very preoccupied by our water supply. I trawled the internet and the advice I found was very confusing! I found people who stated that when walking in Scotland they carried nothing but a mug as water is plentiful and clean, and others who always avoided drinking water straight from the source and preferred using tablets or a variety of filters.

P1060391

There was lots of water in Knoydart

I looked up the price, weight and ease of use of many suggested options and came up with a plan that worked extremely well for us. We had planned a fairly low-level route from the west coast of Scotland to the east, which meant that we might not have access to clear little mountain streams for much of the time. I also read and heard a few stories of people who had become ill from drinking stream water, so I didn’t fancy relying on it for two weeks.

p1050504

Water in the Cairngorms

On the other hand, we are in Scotland and water generally isn’t in short-supply, so we opted for a small (500ml) and inexpensive filter water-bottle each (Water-to-Go ~£13), to use when on the move, and which we kept topped up whenever we came across a suitable water source. We both also carried a 1l water bottle that we filled up and added a water purification tablet to, before stopping to camp each night. We used this for cooking and drinking in the evening and next morning. If water sources looked scarce, it also allowed us to carry more than our 500ml during the day. We used the more expensive purification tablets (Life Systems Chlorine dioxide tablets ~£10.50) that supposedly remove the taste, which they seemed to do; the only problem was that in cold Scottish spring water, they took many hours (and lots and lots of shaking) to dissolve. We would also recommend keeping them in their little box, not your first aid kit as we did, because the foil got damaged and many of them got ruined when they became exposed.

P1040821

Glencoe water

Spring 2017 was very dry in Scotland and we actually found that many small streams were sluggish and the water was discoloured or contained algae. Although lochs and lochans were still plentiful, it is not recommended to drink unpurified standing water either, so we were very pleased with our strategy: it wasn’t particularly expensive, we didn’t have to carry any extra filter equipment, spend time filtering water in advance, or carry large quantities of water.

Whisky & Mountains

Last week we made the fascinating discovery that the Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery is running free distillery tours until March. We quickly formed a plan to tour the distillery as well as bag a couple of munros over a weekend.

Carn na Caim and A’Buidheanach Bheag were our hills of choice as they were conveniently placed across the road from the distillery: whisky on Saturday and mountains on Sunday, the plan fell into place.

20171118_143154

After a civilised start on Saturday, we loaded up Bruce (the camper van) and headed up the A9 to Dalwhinnie. There wasn’t quite as much snow on the hills as we had hoped but it is still early in the season and there was a good dusting of the white stuff, so we were not too disheartened.

Amazingly, we found a perfect spot for Bruce within walking distance of the distillery and there was even time for a cup of tea and a sandwich before our tour. I have always enjoyed the Dalwhinnie whisky, ever since drinking it in a cold and wintry Shenavall Bothy a good few years ago, so I was really looking forward to the tour. Rightly so as well, as the tour was super and the whisky and chocolates at the end were excellent: a huge thank you to the staff at the Dalwhinnie Distillery for a great time.

We headed back to the van for our classic chorizo, vegetable and tomato sauce and tortellini pasta and settled in for the night. It was a cold night which even included a bit of down jacket action in bed!

P1020644

A stunning morning

In the morning we tentatively got out of bed and made our final preparations for the day ahead; this included defrosting the inside of the windscreen as it had frozen during the night. It was only a short drive to the start of our walk at the Balsporran car park about 5km south of Dalwhinnie. We planed to follow a circular route described in an old edition of Cameron Mcneish’s Munro book. His route takes you straight up the west slopes of A’Buidheanach Bheag and down the land rover track that connects to the A9 about 3km north of the Balsporran car park. In the interest of not wanting to walk along a road at the end of the day, we did this route in reverse, which turned out to be a brilliant idea…

P1020659

Summit just up ahead (!).

It was a stunning morning and, although we were walking so close to the A9, it was a pleasant stroll north up to the path that would lead us into the hills. We gained height fast and thought we deserved second breakfast just before reaching the vast plateau of these mountains. At a track junction a path leads north towards the summit of Carn na Caim. This is a very undramatic summit and you only know its the top because of a small cairn, otherwise you would probably miss it if you were not paying  attention. We were paying close attention though, the clouds had been following us since the track junction and by the time we made the summit, we could have just as easily been in a steam room, although a lot colder!

So cold in fact that we needed to keep our primaloft jackets on as we made our way off the summit following our compass bearing. Thankfully by the time we had made it back to the track junction the cloud had lifted and once again revealed the vast open space towards the second munro of the day: A’Buidheanach Bheag.

P1020657

The vast plateau

The walking was simple due to the big track and flattish ground, meaning we quickly covered the 2.5km to the summit. It was on our way to this summit that we saw our first hare zooming across the open hillside, we would see two more by the end of the day.

The A’Buidheanach Bheag summit is even less dramatic, if even possible, than the previous one, but at least it was not in a cloud so we could enjoy the superb views across to Glen Garry and Ben Alder.

P1020653

Views across to Ben Alder

After enjoying the summit and some more flapjack, obviously, it was time to head back to Bruce. That meant descending the west slopes of the mountain, which certainly added interest to the day. The steep, half snow-covered, half wet grass and heather made for a tricky descent, then there was a small river crossing before slogging over the last bit of muddy ground under the huge electricity pylons before returning to the van. During the decent I couldn’t help thinking “I am so glad we didn’t try to walk up that!”

P1020667a

In the end we had a lovely time bimbling across these hills but I would not recommend ascending or descending the West slopes of A’Buidheanach Bheag. Descending them isn’t horrendous but ascending them certainly would be. It may be worth heading back to the track junction and walking NW back down the track to the A9: not as adventurous though.

Details

Time: 6 Hours 15 minutes

Distance: 12.8Km / 8 miles

Munro summits: A’ Bhuidheanach Bheag (936m) & Carn na Caim (941m)

Ascent: 610m

 

 

 

Winter has arrived in Scotland: Meall Ghaordaidh

As winter approaches, what constitutes a “good forecast” has a tendency to change slightly. Take yesterday for example: 30-40mph winds with difficult walking conditions on high ground and severe wind chill might sound unpleasant but there was also 80% chance of cloud free munros and excellent visibility. Actually not so bad for a Scottish winter day (we can always turn around if it’s too bad!).

P1020639

Another thing to remember when planning routes at this time of year is the dramatic change in daylight hours; in about six weeks, we’ve gone from nice long days to pitch dark beofore 5pm. It can catch you out!

Sunshine through the spindrift

So Kirstie and I decided to stretch our legs and enjoy a bit of sunshine and possibly some snow (!?) with a wander up Meall Ghaordaidh. It’s not a particularly exciting munro, but the route is fairly short, important as we weren’t starting early and Kirstie is recovering from an arm injury. Situated north-west of Killin, it was also in an area we haven’t explored much.

And it was most definitely worth it: a long steady climb but wonderful views of snow-capped hills and great to be out in some snow for the first time this winter (I think it can officially be called winter now!).

Summit views appreciated very quickly!

On the last stretch to the summit, we were bent into the wind, with heads down to protect our eyes. We remained at the summit for about two whole minutes, which was all we could take with the spindrift being blasted into our faces.

A short way down again and we were out of the wind and able to sit and savour our lunch, sweet tea, the views and the simple fact of bring out on such a fine day.

Details

Distance: 9.5km (5.9miles)

Duration: 4h50m

Munro summit: Meall Ghaordaidh (m)

Ascent: 895m

Rab Xenon X Hoodie (women’s)

Do you have a piece of gear that you always take, wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing?

For me, one of these essential items is my Rab Xenon X Hoodie.

20151011_123908

Having awesome fun on Flying Buttress, a 3* multi-pitch VDiff at Dinas Cromlech in Gwynedd, Snowdonia. My Rab Xenon X hoodie kept me warm through the alternating climbing and belaying.

Since I started climbing I have had a lovely big down jacket but it simply isn’t suited to most British (and especially Scottish) weather, so I never took it out into the hills. Instead my pack would be full of extra fleeces and I would often be very cold.

Having a synthetic insulated jacket changed all that! Now I have something very warm to throw on in any conditions and it made me feel much more confident about going out in winter and poor weather in general.

P1020185

When the weather gets wild, I feel much more confident knowing I have something warm to throw on over everything else

The crucial aspect is that the Primaloft insulation in this jacket retains warmth even when damp, which means that unlike traditional down jackets, I can wear it in the rain. And I do!

It is also very light (approx. 301g) and packs down to a tiny size so there is simply no need to leave it at home. Even in summer, you never know when a chilly wind might pick up, so this jacket is there just in case.

I don’t just keep it for hiking, climbing and camping either. It’s a cold evening for karate? Throw it on over my karate suit. Might get a bit chilly cycling back from my friend’s house this evening? Pop it in my bag. It’s frosty while I’m waiting for my train to work in the morning? Bring it with me. Going to watch the fireworks? Put it on under my down jacket…..haha double down is the best!

P1060496

Maintaining a warm core while enjoying the spring sunshine and airing my feet on our walk across Scotland (TGO Challenge)!

With a slim fit (according to the description) and a hem draw cord, I find my size 12 jacket easily layers under waterproofs but also over the top of everything. Elasticated cuffs keep out draughts and a snug, lycra-bound hood keeps your head warm under a helmet or other hoods.

The outer material is Pertex Quantum, which after over two years of constant use, shows no sign of damage. The 100% nylon rip-stop lining feels silky soft against your skin if you have short sleeves underneath (my lining is also a fun purple colour). Washing it is easy: mine has been through the washing machine many times with NikWax TechWash with no problems at all.

My jacket only has a one-way zip, but the website tells me that the new ones have a 2-way opening front zip, which would be perfect for belaying. It does have a fleecy bit to stop your chin rubbing though.

20170406_153928

It’s warm but also breathable enough to use while climbing or walking

It has two nice roomy hand-warmer pockets and a huge chest pocket that you can pack the jacket into as a stuff sack; when we walked across Scotland, I didn’t take a pillow, I just used my packed-up jacket!

Basically, this is an awesome piece of kit: I absolutely love it and would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting a warm, practical layer for outdoor activities, especially if it rains a lot where you are!

p1050499

In Scotland one sunny, summer day can be followed by a day of hail, wind and fog!