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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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.

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

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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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!).

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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

A solo van adventure and Buchaille Etive Mor

A few weeks ago I decided I should take Bruce (our campervan) for a trip on my own; I haven’t done this before as I’ve only recently started driving it.

The Scottish forecast was best in the west on the Sunday, so I decided to attempt Buchaille Etive Mor. This is the magnificent mountain that dominates the entrance to Glencoe, where it looks virtually impregnable. However, there are two common (non-climbing) routes up: Curved Ridge, which is a wonderful 240m grade 3 scramble, and the walkers route up Coire na Tulaich.

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View from the van door: early morning mist over Loch Tulla

I had been looking for simple munros to try on my own, but I thought that although these munros have the potential to be challenging, I have climbed Stob Dearg twice (once via Curved Ridge and once in a blizzard), and with a good forecast it was likely to be busy so I wouldn’t be on my own up there.

On Saturday afternoon I drove up to the view point situated just before Rannoch Moor, where there are three large car parks. I spent a very pleasant evening reading and writing in the van, wrapped up in my down jacket and watching the sun go down behind the mountains.

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Buchaille Etive Mor in the sunshine

As night fell, it definitely felt autumnal and I had to get all the blankets out for the first time this year. It was a little strange being in there on my own and I had to tell myself a few times that the noises outside were really not likely to be axe-murderers creeping about!

I got up early and drove to the layby at Altnafeadh in Glencoe used by everyone heading up this mountain, but at 7.15am it was already packed! I always love the drive over Rannoch Moor and that morning it was the most beautiful I have ever seen it: mist was caught on the water and the rising sun was shining through it, turning everything pink.

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The route up Coire na Tulaich

I managed to get a spot in the next car park but that was also filling up fast. I had breakfast and set off at 8.30 feeling excited but a little nervous, as despite the sunshine in the valley, the ridge was shrouded in cloud. As I passed the main parking area, I was informed by people with bells that it was the Salomon Glencoe Skyline Race that day!

I headed off past the Lagangarbh hut and up the walkers route onto the ridge. It is a steep and fairly relentless climb up Coire na Tulaich, but a good path has been constructed and there were lots of people to say hello to. As I reached the ridge, the cloud was still clinging on, but through occasional breaks, the stunning views were revealed. The path to the summit of Stob Dearg was helpfully marked with little red flags for the runners. However, near the top I met the pair who had the job of removing them all.

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West to Buchaille Etive Beag (the Wee Buchaille) on the way up

I sat on the summit to have a few sandwiches (cheese and chilli jam), and was soon joined by a magnificent raven, who watched from a nearby rock. It has obviously learnt that walkers are a soft touch, as it soon hopped very close to me to take some sandwich crusts I threw down and, as the summit got busier, it moved from group to group, with it’s finest prize being half a ham sandwich from someone generous!

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North across Glencoe

Happily the cloud did lift a little more, permitting a few glimpses of Rannoch Moor to the east and Loch Leven down the valley to the west. I then returned back to the spot where I had joined the ridge, but rather than descending the same way, as we had done on a previous winter ascent, I continued west before turning south-west towards Stob na Doire. Despite being on my own, I was having a fabulous time!

The descent from Stob na Doire requires a little care as it is very rocky, then there is the final section of proper ascent up to Stob Coire Altruim. From here, it’s a simple walk along the ridge to the second munro, Stob na Broige. This summit was very busy, so I found a comfy seat among the rocks to the west of the cairn, to eat my final sandwiches and admire Loch Etive and Buchaille Etive Beag.

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Loch Leven through the clouds!

A misty drizzle settled on us, so I headed back to the path that descends the north side of the ridge between Stob Coire Altruim and Stob na Doire. It is mainly a steep grassy slope with a gravelly path worn into it, with a few badly eroded and steep sections. About halfway down, I also discovered some steep slabby areas that had to be crossed carefully. One section made me a little nervous looking at it, and had Chris been there, he would have gone first to “spot” me (stand below to catch me if I slip); as it was after a good look, I put my poles away and headed calmly down backwards. A few bum shuffles and careful foot placements were all that was required; I was pleased with myself as I really dislike down-climbing.

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My raven friend

There are stepping stones across the stream at the bottom and I paused for a last snack on the other side. It’s a great valley, surrounded as it is by such steep mountain sides, but the midges soon had me moving again, following the excellent path down the Lairig Gartain and back to the carpark.

I returned home invigorated and full of excitement about my first proper solo mountain trip!

Details

A fabulous ridge walk in a stunning location!

Distance: 13km/8.25 miles

Time: 5.5 hours (Walkhighlands suggests 7-9 hours)

Ascent: 1110m

Munro summits: Stob Dearg (1021m) & Stob na Broige (956m)

Hiking and backpacking food

It has been observed that we mention food a lot in our posts! That’s probably because it’s a very important part of our experience: a tasty treat can be a great reward and in some situations even redeem an otherwise miserable day!

The food we take varies considerably between activities and has evolved over the years. On the first mountain day out I ever went on with Chris, and my first Scottish hill day, we tackled Curved Ridge in Glencoe and took SO MUCH food, including jelly cubes, flapjack and fruity things in tubes: it cost a fortune! In the end we were back down before lunch, had hardly eaten any of it and went for lunch in the Clachaig!

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Everyone enjoying a sandwich in the snow

 

I also used to get very nervous before we went out into the mountains and couldn’t eat any breakfast. I would  sometimes struggle to eat a lot during the day, and this has probably influenced our choices. I would find myself feeling horrible an hour or so after starting but then realised that I felt much better in the afternoon, possibly because I had eaten more by then. Now I often eat a cereal bar soon after setting off or even sometimes as we leave the car! As a result we try to ensure that we take appetising food and snacks, so that there is always something to look forward too.

We do not stop for an official lunch break, but usually have multiple snack and lunch breaks and something to see us through to the end. This allows us a breather, a chance to enjoy the views and top up on energy, and we find it works much better, than one or long pauses.

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Regular breaks allow you to appreciate where you are!

Hill days

For single day trips we take some form of sandwiches: the absolute favourites are bacon sandwiches! Cheese and chilli jam sandwiches probably come second: the chilli is great when it’s cold. We store them in plastic boxes to avoid single use bags, cling film or foil. For snacks, Chris loves granola bars, I like flapjack squares. Hobnobs or oatie biscuits are almost always with us and are great for sharing.

Bananas get squished, apples usually end up staying in the bag. The jelly never got eaten so we don’t take it anymore. Last year we bought a good flask so we can have hot chocolate or hot squash on winter days, which is a nice treat when drinking your water gives you brain freeze and it boosts our moods. Kitkats have made a recent appearance and will stay on the list. Chocolate raisins are a treat saved for the final tired kilometres on really big days.

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It’s especially important to stop for food in bad conditions; our shelter (the red cafe) allows us to take the time to this

This sounds pretty unhealthy, but hiking with large rucksacks uses an incredible amount of energy, so we aren’t too worried, especially as our usual daily diet is fairly healthy. If anyone has any delicious healthier options they would like to suggest though, we would love to hear them!

We have also found that with experience and improved hill fitness, we now take less and don’t need expensive food, and no longer always need an shopping trip before heading out for a hill day. We don’t have official emergency rations either, but I don’t think we’ve ever eaten everything we take.

Multi-day backpacking

Keeping the cost down was something we also thought about when planning what we would eat on our TGO Challenge. In May 2017, we walked across Scotland, carrying all our equipment and wild camping most of the way. This was to take a fortnight, which was much longer than any previous trip; food organisation therefore represented a very important of our preparation! It was also quite a social event and we were complimented a few times on our food (and the quantity we ate!).

Many people used food resupply parcels and there was a lot of talk about, and offers for, specialist dehydrated backpacking meals. Our route took us through small towns approximately every four days, so we decided to buy what we needed at each place. We just sent one parcel to a town where we weren’t sure we’d have time to buy food before catching a ferry. Specialist camping and hiking food is expensive! Having seen this post about food for long distance hiking, we decided we didn’t need it.

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Food for four days of backpacking and wild camping: almost all of it can be found in any small shop

We had a single MSR Windburner stove that is excellent for boiling water quickly but not great at cooking anything else, so our options were quite limited. For breakfast, we decided on granola with powdered milk: the oats keep you full, there’s lots of sugary energy and it wouldn’t need cooking if the weather was bad or we needed an early start. We mixed it up occasionally with bacon rolls when available and some instant porridge.

For lunch, sandwiches weren’t practical, so we started with oat cakes and hummus. When we were tired of these, we tried garlic naan bread and a cup of soup or crackers with squeezy cheese. Best of all was cold pizza, cooked on the few nights we spent in a hostel (it’s awesome, do it!).

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Cold pizza in plastic boxes: a classic in Glen Affric on the 1st day of our TGO Challenge

We practised our dinners before we left, testing out a few options, which I would highly recommend, even if just to gauge the quantities required. All testing was successful and all we needed was boiling water and a plastic lunch box each. Sachets of flavoured couscous (like this) were brilliant: there are different flavours so you don’t get too bored. We chopped smoked sausage or chorizo into the couscous in our boxes and simply poured on hot water, stirred and left it for 5 minutes. When we were tired of couscous, we did the same with fine noodles and chorizo but added a small tub of stir-in sauce, or had smash and smoked sausage. These were all surprisingly delicious, required very little fuel and were extremely light and easy to prepare. We always looked forward to them and they were easily digestible, which is important when doing strenuous exercise; we were given a dehydrated meal on one night but it didn’t re-hydrate well and Chris didn’t feel right after it all the next day….we were very happy with our corner shop options.

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A plastic pot is very useful for allowing hot meals to sit and for keeping your lunch in, thus avoiding creating too much rubbish

Chris often had a cup of soup for a starter which is good for taking in extra water. Pudding usually comprised instant custard (occasionally semolina, when Chris picked it up by accident, which turned out to be also OK) and/or hot chocolate (and possibly hobnobs!).

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Testing out meals on the MSR Windburner in chilly conditions

Snacks included all the regulars, as well as home-made trail mix (raisins, nuts, seeds, chocolate buttons/raisins, etc), which started well but by the end, I just picked the best bits outs and was left with a bag of stale raisins and lots of sunflower seeds that are still in the kitchen cupboard (and will probably stay there for a year or two).

Whenever we were passing through towns or staying in hostels, we made sure to eat plenty of fruit and veg!

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A perfect evening meal on our TGO Challenge

Getting through the tough bits

We had also been given a pile of protein bars and Chris won a box of Cliff bars before we left; we had enough for one each everyday of the Challenge and they actually became a key item, perfect for getting me through the three o’clock slump!

I have also found that Dextro Energy Orange tablets are brilliant when I feel done-in. I have never had more than two a day but on scrambling days when I can’t eat due to nerves or to get me down that last bit of thigh-trembling descent when I’m exhausted and struggling, one of these can be a big help.

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Bacon sandwich with a view!

What do you eat on your adventures?

Eating well is definitely part of the fun!