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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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

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.