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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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!).

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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