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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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

 

 

 

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)