This is why we climb Scottish hills…..

If you needed reminding how beautiful Scotland is, a day like last Sunday would do it!

For us it started at 7am in the van above Loch Tulla, where we had tinned spaghetti and sausages for breakfast, with the sun shining on a frosty landscape, below a perfectly blue sky.

img_20190331_074706-1

Our breakfast view out of the van door: Loch Tulla and Beinn an Dothaidh 

We set off to climb Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a Chreachain at about 9am from the car park just off the A82. It was -3 degrees and we were wearing all of our layers! Having walked for 20 minutes and just passed Achallader farm, we realised neither of us had a compass, so Chris had a nice early jog back to the van while I sat and watched the lapwings in the sun, which was just starting to warm up.

img_20190331_094253

Morning sunshine feels good

The path continues through fields along the base of the glen until it crosses an old bridge just below a ruined farmhouse. Land rover tracks then take you above the Water of Tulla on the north side opposite a lovely remnant of old Caledonian forest.

img_20190331_103938

Chris checking out the collapsed bridge

A tiny cairn and a faint path mark the spot to leave the track and descend to the river. The bridge has been washed away so the river is not passable in spate. The water wasn’t high on Sunday, but it also wasn’t really warm enough for me to be very happy about taking my boots and socks off to wade across the river – the cold left me breathless and unable to speak for a minute or two when I reached the other side!

img_20190331_104339

The Water of Tulla and Beinn Achaladair

 

20190331_105027

Cold, cold, COLD!

The faint path continues up through the woods on the other side, gradually fading as you reach fenced areas. After a bit of meandering we found the tiny underpass (even I had to bend down!) under the railway and started to climb more steeply between the Allt Coire an Lochain and a deer fence. Behind the fence, the forest is regenerating well, demonstrating the impact high numbers of deer and sheep have on this landscape.

img_20190331_112615

To the right (west) Beinn Achaladair looked very impressive above the lovely old Scots pines, with snow still shining in the gullies. To our left the Allt Coire an Lochain bounced, sparkling down layers of flat rock steps. We picked one of these steps that was warm and dry for our first sandwich stop (cheese and chilli jam) before crossing to the other side.

 

 

20190331_114442

Allt Coire an Lochain

The climb up the grassy slopes on the left (east) of Coire an Lochain to the bealach is relentless, but was redeemed by the magnificent view across Rannoch Moor that was gradually revealed with each pause and, higher up, looking down on Lochain a’ Chreachain, which, still in the shade, retained it’s layer of ice.

img_20190331_130038

Lochain a’ Chreachain

Upon reaching the bealach we had the wonderful realisation that we were surrounded in every direction by mountains as far as we could see! It was fantastic and something that I have never experienced in England or Wales.

img_20190331_151546

The other side

It took about three hours to reach this point but once on the ridge, despite a few snow patches still clinging on, we sped up considerably.

The visibility was utterly amazing: beyond the empty expanse of Rannoch Moor, the bulk of Ben Nevis stood massively above the Mamores, but in front of yet more rows of distant snowcapped mountains.

img_20190331_123113

The emptiness that is Rannoch Moor. You can also make out the Buchaille and Ben Nevis (would’ve been clearer if my camera hadn’t had an empty battery and I hadn’t had to take all these on my phone…)

The summit of Beinn a Chreachain was easily visible and we paused to enjoy the views of endless mountains and the remoteness: we could see one house and no roads at all!

We dropped steeply off the summit and made our way across the slopes towards Meall Buidhe, where we could see north across the empty expanse of moor once again.

img_20190331_151629

Now you can definitely see the Ben 🙂

The climb up to Beinn Achaladair is steep and more rocky, but once at the top, we could have stayed there for hours admiring the landscape.

Then began the descent via the ridge south to the bealach above Coire Daingean.

We filled our bottles in the tumbling Allt Coire Achaladair (totally delicious water!), before navigating the long, boggy path back to the carpark.

img_20190331_162904

Getting a drink from Allt Coire Achaladair

We are so lucky that all this is only an hour and a half from home.

We could not have asked for a better day: it was simply beautiful and just reinforced how much we love exploring Scotland.

Munros: Beinn a Chreachain (1081m) and Beinn Achaladair (1038m)

Distance: 21.5km / 13.5 miles

Duration: 8 hours

Comments: Do it on a clear day!

 

Advertisements

Goggles: a late but fabulous discovery

Before I started walking in Scotland I didn’t understand the point of gaiters, now I rarely go out without them.

I think the same thing has just happened with goggles: after our day on Ben Ledi yesterday I don’t know why I have walked in winter without wearing them!

Heading up Ben Ledi

I have always carried a pair in my bag for emergencies, but until last year they were an extremely old battered pair, which, on the one occasion I had to use them, steamed up so badly I literally had my nose on the snow slope trying to see the steps kicked ahead of me. Panic led me to give up and endure the pain of wind-blown snow being driven into my eyes.

Lots of snow

Last year I decided to buy a new pair of basic ski goggles, and have carried the new ones with me on winter days since. Two weeks ago in the Cairngorms, I finally got them out but too late (by the time we stopped at the summit the conditions had eased) and they sat in my pocket rather than my bag. But yesterday, I actually put them on and what a revelation! I could see! Pain free! I had so much more confidence! I felt invincible!

Heading into the cloud once again

Why haven’t I used them before?? It feels like it might be a complete game-changer on winter days for me! I no longer need to get upset and panicky in driving snow!

Happy and comfortable in our goggles!

Perhaps I am the the only person to take so long to realise the difference this little piece of kit makes, but I wanted to share just in case I’m not 😊

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.

P1030069

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.

P1030130

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.

P1030337

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!).

P1030377

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.

P1030478

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!

P1060882a

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!

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.

P1020924.JPG

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.

P1020928

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.

P1020937P1020940a

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

P1020967

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

P1020968

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.

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.