Summer has arrived in the Kilpatrick Hills. The flooers are blooming, the wee creatures are crawling, jumping and biting and the neds are setting fire to it all.
In amongst my fun at running around the perimeter deer fence looking for any holes in it, I have been doing my wildlife logging which has meant seeing lots of new bird varieties arrive at the Lang Craigs. No idea what they are, but they are very pretty. Seems that with quickly growing and budding trees, new things arrive to perch on them and eat them. Yay, go nature!
However, accessible and lovely hillsides are also a magnet for stoopids, when the phone went on Saturday tea time I wasn’t expecting to be pulling on my hill gear again and running up the hillside to a fire, which I am indeed blaming on neds.
Pastor Bob who runs Overtoun House had already opened the gates for the fire brigade and the two tenders were there ahead of me. By the time I got to the site of the fire some already burst looking firefighters were beating out the flames. They’d had a good bit of a climb with their heavy gear, and it was bloody warm in the evening sun without the flames.
Losing the young trees would have been a disaster, singeing a visitor wouldn’t have been so handy either but the light breeze had blown the flames around and past a lot of the trees from the initial heavily burned area. It could have been worse. So, the helicopter wasn’t needed, I was glad of this as I was the only Woodland Trust representative on site and I would have had to pay for it.
Once the fire fighters had gone I had the site to myself, the ground hissed and popped, smoke occasionally puffed up energetically and then died away for a lack of any more fuel. Soon it was silent but for the burn running below me at the bend where it scoops out a chunk of the steep opposite bank, exposing the layers of rock and ash from this once volcanic area.
I walked around, the fire was dead, I heard birds again, I saw walkers. How quickly normality resumed. Only 250m of black ground to tell the earlier tale.
This month’s review is live here. This one was a breeze to do (did you see what I did there?), the fabrics were all good, and some of the fits fitted me very well.
Adidas was a dark horse, Arc’teryx were, well, no point in writing a review and then giving the game away I suppose.
I did the photies on the Lang Craigs. I’m sure Walkhighlands readers think the gear shots I do are really just stock press shots rather than ones actually I take, so this month I did it a little differently.
However, as we can see below, I can’t tell if the timer light is flashing in bright sunlight leading to many shots of me staring glaikitly at the camera.
My latest review is up here and is backpacking rucksacks. I suppose given my predisposition for wanting not-heavy and having pockets the winners were never in doubt but the big beasts in there still had their good points.
More than that is the fact that I am now desperate to get out into the hills for the night after finishing the write up. I missed my chances with the recent fantastic weather and it’s pish out there just now.
When nature does straight lines, it does them right.
A flick through these pages shows some of the Highland sunsets I’ve seen in the past few years, but I’m sure the best of all might be the ones seen from this window.
Wherever I go in future years, this window is coming with me.
More of a footnote than a review, I thought do a quick mention of Chimpanzee energy snacks.
I picked some samples up at a trade show earlier in the year and they are now all gone. The company is from the Czech Republic and are just coming into the UK now with new distribution. There’s the usual wide range of energy and protein bars as well as less sugary fuel bars for the weight conscious and bars for kids too.
The good news is that they’re following the current trend to having these kinds of food actually resemble real food by having textures and taste as well as the fuel hidden within. So they’re pleasant to eat, taste good and I’ve had no ill effects to my plumbing. There’s some left field flavourings too, it’s nice to see something different.
You could debate the nutritional and fuel aspect of all of these kinds of food into the night and beyond depending on where you stand on such things.
I just like this kind of thing because it’s handy for a rucksack or a pocket, the good ones are tasty and it keeps hunger away without having to eat big while climbing a hill or putting the miles in down the trail.
I was in the Cairngorms last autumn with the good folks from Rosker, Spring PR and Skookum to try out some new kit. It was fun to put some names to faces and to catch up with some familiar well worn faces that I haven’t seen for a wee while.
It was a great trip, we got perfect weather, had a lot of fun and as Stan Marsh might say, I think we all learned something today.
The bushcraft guides had us eating leaves and bugs scavenged from scenery during the walk in from Glenmore. Some stuff I know, some stuff I hadn’t thought of, some stuff I didn’t want to know because it was still moving and I wasn’t go to eat it with a days food in my rucksack. Still, nice to have possibilities,
The walk into Utzi’s Hut in the Rothiemurchus Forest was very pleasant indeed. So often the forest is an inconvenience to pass on your way to the hills, here I was just enjoying it. The hut is near the edge of the trees to light floods in, but its surroundings lush, plush and a fine pace to spend an afternoon.
There were a bunch pf activities related to some of the kit that we were using and just some stuff for fun. It was all about food initially so we looked at some stoves and cookwear.
Three mega fancy Primus stoves were demoed. Above is the Kinjia with the Campfire Cookset and awesome wooden utensil set. There’s wood all through these stoves, proper old school feel to that which I like.
The Kinjia runs off a regular canaister that we would carry for a mini stove, so although it looks like it’ll be set up on the tailgate of a Range Rover, it’s as portable as you’ll get for this size of twin burner stove.
The Tupike above is a different design of twin burner. There’s a nice lid with wind flaps to the side and legs to give a bit of height if you’re using it on the ground.
The Onja is a quirky design, it folds out to make it’s own stand, has a chopping board as a lid and has a strap for carrying it. Madness, I loved it.
There’s a bunch of textile extras here, all of which come made from Fjallraven fabrics, which shows a bit of commitment from Primus, they could have gone in cheap with the carrying cases and covers.
These are expensive bits of kit and market for these is car campers and day trippers, I’ll never need anything like this but it’s nice to see this kind of kit done well.
I remember nearly slicing my fingers off on a badly finished edge of a bright blue twin burner I used to take on trips to camp sites up north before I took the tent into the hills with me.
The bushcraft folks demonstrated they ways to do it and then had us lighting fires and cooking with just what we cold find in the forest.
There were mixed results from the teams, but we all had a hot lunch and a hot cuppa. And the forest remained safe at all times.
Nothing beats a fresh made cuppa outdoors.
Then we had some visitors and all the jaded journo’s all tured into a bunch of kids. Well, how often does a reindeer herd come over for lunch?
A fantastic band of big beasties, and one wee cutie there too.
Had a preview of some of the new Fjallraven tents. The Keb Dome is a fine bit of kit, designed in Scandinavian fashion so there is weight to deal with there but strength when pitched and space inside to compensate for the effort carrying it.
Some headed on for a night in the heather, some were too scared of the reindeer. Well, you just never know.
It was when I went to find the Skarn’s the other day and they were still manky from the day before in the wash basket I realised just how much I wear them. Time for a review.
Haglofs put winter pant in the name of the Skarn’s but it’s not as simple as that. I’m doing winter softshell pants for winter 2016/17 on Walkhighlands and there I’m mostly looking at heavy fabric and a lot of features where the Skarns are a lighter trimmer all round.
The fabric is the familiar own-brand Flexable, a non membrane softshell in a stiffer feeling medium to heavy weight. It’s still got good stretch though as well with high wind resistance and good water repellancy. The wind has to get strong and cold to feel it to any degree, it’s a good trade off for better breathability most of the time.
It does breathe well and dry fast, it’s good for overnighters and pleasant enough to drive home in after a day walk without squelching in the car seat all the way doon the road.
It’s tough as well, trees, rocks, cutlery, all have been repelled successfully. Fine after repeated washes too.
There are pockets numbering four. Tow hip which are nice and deep, one thogh which is also a decent size and one at the back which is positioned just low enough actually be useful when you’re wearing a pack. The zip entry to the back pocket has a storm flap and it follows the asymmetric lines on the stitching line which makes it a little easier to use. The pocket bags are a lighter softshell fabric.
However all the zips are a bit sticky when trying to close them if they’ve opened full, a combination of stretchy fabric and the zip choice I think. Could be a pre-production issue so I’m not saying it’s a deal breaker, I am saying try it the shop though.
There’s a wee integral belt too, works fine and doesn’t revolve in it’s tunnel in the wash like so many similar designs seem to. The inner waist has a nice light fleeciness to it.
The fit is “retro”. None of your baggy arsed boot cut fashion designer bollocks that have blighted outdoor trouser the past few years here. No, a slimmer cut with a lower leg that tapers in and doesn’t snag on the scenery and doesn’t attract mud and crap from a radius of ten feet.
The cut really is excellent, just room enough for longjons underneath with good knee articulation for high stepping (like an Indian brave*) and all day comfort.
The lower legs have a zipped gusset for less technical monenst and for letting your attach the internal gaiters to your boots. These wee gaiters are great, in a lighter fabric but they’ve stayed in place through snow and bog.
Right there next to the other ankle stuff in the photies there are the kevlar crampon kick patches, which I have not yet kicked. Why? because the Skarn’s have a slim fit at the ankle. Ha. Plus I don’t tend to kick myself in the ankle much anyway.
I do have a pair of winter pants with one shredded ankle, so I’m not saying I’m superior at walking in a straight line or anything. Maybe just getting better as I get older. Maybe just slower now I think about it.
In the harshest of days I can feel cold creeping in when I’ve been exposed or at rest, but the Skarn’s have been excellent for much of the time. The slightly lighter fabric choice has means I haven’t missed having leg vents as I don’t overheat on warmer days. For the same reason I wear them on my ranger rounds of the deer fence in the Kilpatricks where that lower leg is perfect in the mud and open pathless hillside. Also I don’t look like a lost mountaineer because they’re kinda plain and understated looking. And a bit like jeans from a distance.
Good pants. Yes please. Check the zips in the shop.
*Dancing On Your Grave – Motörhead “Another Perfect Day” 1983
Had a long day around the Lang Craigs and surrounding hills. There was a few things to be done and more were discovered along the way. It was chilly, the mist was down and I left my camera behind because I wouldn’t be needing that. Idiot.
In mist and rain you do notice the wee stuff around your feet more so the pellet full of chewed bones and tiny feathers had the three of us (Roy site manager and Jo fellow ranger and wildlife fan) pondering. It was quite big, so what coughed it up? They said buzzard and other sensible things, my imagination says other things. The wee furry guy nearby says nothing except that springs’s on its way.
One of the wilder parts of the site is where the Black Burn has made itself a little waterfall. It’s actually a lovely spot, if it were closer to the road end it would be a popular spot for picnics. Maybe the fact its in a steep sided grassy gorge is as much of an issue.
We were checking the water gate here, unfortunately the site boundary line is right on the edge of the waterfall so the fence ruins the aesthetics and also it means the water gate hangs over a drop. Do deer get in here? They’re bloody brave if they do and deserve a seedling or two. Don’t tell them I said that.
Across the northern end is a favourite place, easy in snow shoes when the conditions are right, a triparama when the grass grabs your ankles after every second step the rest of the year. It’s where ooh views start and this time it’s where the temperature shot up and the cloud cleared. Dammit.
The light was getting lower and it picked out perfectly the prehistoric dyke that runs over the hills and climbs into the crags. One survey puts a Roman road up here too, there’s a lot of unexcavated and uninspected up here. Maybe one day we’ll have some proof and some finds to show? But then again its nice just having stories to tell, possibility can fire the imagination more than fact.
The Arrochar Alps were hazy and still streaked with white, and beyond the powers of my phone to record them. The pines of Black Wood were as wonderful as ever and soon to be free of the rhoddy blight around their feet. It’s a magical place this wood, it feels separate from the rest of the site with an atmosphere all of its own and the rhododendron growth has choked its heart to the extant it’s not worth the grief to try and get through it any more.
The site is still evolving, change can be difficult to watch at times and always it’s either too fast or too slow. Just got to hang on though, it can be worth it, for example the old quarry is looking great now it’s been cleared giving us a new little rocky outcrop viewpoint with new paths slowly growing around it. You should go and see it.
Had a quick run up the hills to try and catch the sunset and catch it I did. The joy of this stuff.
My duties as a Woodland Trust Ranger at the Lang Craigs in the Kilpatricks Hills keep me in the hills in all weathers which is sometime welcome motivation and it’s also handy for testing kit, 6 miles of deer fence through the roughest terrain shows the difference between different designs better than a collection random hillwalks. It’s also a lot of fun, met a bunch of good folks and I get involved in some oddball stuff on the site which I can just roll with as I’ve been married to a artist for 14 years.
Right now we have an event involving some students from Glasgow School of Art featuring lights and sound. The girls did a great job installing it and when I went back at night the effects were just fantastic. My shots give some hints but you can’y see the signal beaming into space, you’ll have to go and hear that, if you can find it.
From Overtoun House take the path that follows the right hand bank of the burn, you’ll cross the burn on the way but don’t stray far from in. Keep your eyes and ears open.
Not the first creature you associated with the hills maybe, but last night we were tiptoeing through them all the way. Awesome wee guys and gals.
Conic Hill is always a safe bet for getting a bit of height before it’s dark and I’ve always got enough kit in the motor for wee jaunts like that.
Balmaha feels more like a tourist spot than ever, it’s getting ever shinier and flashier, but Tom Weir’s there keeping his eye on it. I just hope he doesn’t see the same horrors unfolding as his friend and contemporary Bob Grieve does in the national park board room in Balloch as his portrait gazes down on the madness those folk in there put together.
The whole east side of the loch is seeing changes, Sallochy, Milarrochy and elsewhere have been developed and the hit and at the miss destination of Rowardennan I could see lots of folk eating and drinking through the lounge windows which was rather nice to see.
Not too far away Glen Finglas is now very visitor friendly, the Woodland Trust who I volunteer with at the Lang Craigs has put their corporate stamp there and made it accessible and pleasant.
I’m always going to have an inner battle with any of this stuff. I miss finding all these places I’ve mentioned unkempt and forgotten when I first got my driving license 30 years ago. Its selfish though, people bring money and possibilities for the future with them when places can be visited and enjoyed.
But as age grips me I am see things differently, I’m not going to be bitter and resentful as change chases me up the A82. I’ll just remember a comment from Tom Weir when he felt the changes that my generation brought to the hills when we mobilised in our cars back in the 70’s and 80’s. He said that he used his knowledge of the hills to find them as he used to know them. I’ve realised that I’ve been doing that with route choice and even my time of day. You can put as many tourist information signs up as you like, charge for parking, restrict this or that, but you can still slip past it all and the hills are waiting, same as always.
Some gear doesn’t fit the Walkhighlands schedule which I’ve tightened up as time’s gone on and I still get a lot of one-offs sent through so I’m going to have a look at some of this from time to time, maybe do proper reviews on here if I can be arsed.
A couple of things from Monday are worth a mention, up first are the Trail Blaze Carbon poles from Mountain King. Been using these for a couple of months, they have the same layout as the regular Trail Blaze with four sections, an internal cord securing system and a mesh covered slightly squashy handle with a wrist loop.
I’ve done countless miles with various versions of these poles, the format is ideal for me, giving propulsion and stability, they weigh too little to worry about and they fold away to nothing. The new carbons are stiffer though, still featherweight but they feel more direct, the shaft still flexes but less so than the alloy’s and it makes a difference. More energy going into forward motion that used flexing the pole every time you push off? It’ll be minimal amounts I’d imagine, but I’m liking the feel very much. I’ve been treating the carbons rough, I had a fall where one had a big flex under my full weight with no damage to report and they’ve been scraped over the scenery every time they’ve been out. The glossy finish is getting scraped, but no chunks or gouges yet so it’s looking good so far.
Second is a pack that got buried in the to-do pile and just popped back up last week, the Millet Torong 42 MBS. I didn’t like the look of it at first which is why it slipped my mind, but when I saw it at the weekend and had a second look at the features I knew it was worth a try, plus the fit was instantly right, something you don’t argue with too much.
It says fast hiking on the label, but it feels like a winter sports pack with the clean exterior and fancy ice tool storage loops, which I really like. But the hipbelt is fixed with a big metal swively thing so no one is winter climbing with this I’d imagine. Nice external mesh pocket, sneaky zipped access to one side if you don’t want to open the lid, underneath straps for a tent or mat and two mesh bottle pockets. There’s tensioning straps running through/across these bottle pockets which as a design choice always annoys me but I can get my bottle in and out okay so I’ll withhold judgement here in the meantime.
The lid is the wrong way round , it clips shut at your neck which works great and makes for a very neat and weatherproof seal but the buckles are too small to work with big gloves on and I was shouting at them when I needed to get to my donuts within.
Excellent harness, instantly comfy on my frame and that swively hipbelt thing works fine, it’s subtle though, not overly mobile, feels like a flex rather than a swivel if that makes sense.
I think it’s got the makings of a nice overnighter pack, it feels lighter than the website says it is (I haven’t checked yet) and has a good capacity for light nights out. Kinda glad I took it out on Monday.
I used the CAMP XLC Nanotech crampons which have heel clip and probably shouldn’t be used on the old Haglofs Gryms I had them on but, it’s an excellent and secure combo so safety man can sue me. The point shape and layout on the alloy XLC’s does take a little adjustment of approach but last winter a different pair I was using had a point layout that you could slide downhill with like you were wearing skis if you placed your feet the right way so nothing is er, perfect.
The MSR Windboiler is still keeping in my affections, the Petzl Summit Evo ice axe is a joy and my winter secret weapon is a now well worn EDZ All Climate One Piece Base Layer, basically a mountain onesie. The synthetic fabric works well, it keeps me dry although it isn’t the best at keeping odour away but it’s the layering aspect that makes it a winner, you can’t pull the top up and get you a cold back, your bottoms can’t slip down and bunch at the crotch. Under softshell trousers it’s a just a joy.
The two way zip makes peeing straightforward, anything that needs a squat though, you’re getting naked in the mountains so not the best for longer trips.
When I’m away from the hills this is what comes to mind first, a path leading on to “something”. I can think back 20 years and remember seeing myself put one foot in front of another as the sun shines on me or the rain falls on me and I have no idea where the path is.
It must be something about just getting there, the chase is better than the catch? Unlikely, given some of the places I’ve caught over the years. Maybe it’s just the forward movement that us humans embrace as an evolving species, the looking and hoping, secretly desiring but not wanting to demand in fear of somehow jinxing ourselves. Maybe that’s just mountain folk looking for a blue sky?
Hell no that’s all pretentious bollocks, it’s just me looking for an excuse to be glaikit.
Ben Lomond has seen my feet one in front of the other more times than I can remember but I always look forward to repeating the process. It’s a hill that is aging with me, Ptarmigan has a track nearly as ground-in as the tourist path and I can remember when it was just a ribbon of light wear winding up the ridge. Or is that old guy memory tricks? Revisionist memory is probably unavoidable as you grow older but with every breath we take these days being digitised the truth will be hard to hide from in the future.
It was a good way to end a week where I’d got stuff done. Plus Friday is the weekend apparently, I heard someone say it in the queue in the local shop, so it must be true. By the time I’m 60 I’ll remember it as an EU directive. See, memory revisionism.
Mind you, I’m fairly certain stuff I learned in the 70’s is a lot of rubbish, but for the sake of continuity in arguments I stick with it. Another old guy memory trick, things were better in my day regardless of any evidence presented to the contrary.
Not warm, not cool, not clear but not cloudy, bright and breezy too. I think the word would be pleasant. Setting off was a joy.
But here today there were more important things unfolding than I’d had in mind. A poor soul was on the summit and had apparently lost their life the previous day or during the night.
As hill goers tragedy is something we have at the back of our minds or sometimes at our fingertips, but here, so close to help on the busiest of hills and on such a beautiful day, it just didn’t seem possible.
As the sun sank it pulled a blanket of clouds over itself. It was saying good night, a clear message to anyone still out there.
I’ll be back to the Ben sometime soon.
It was such a beautiful day.
I’ve had a lot of luck chasing blue sky over the years, to the point where getting stuck in pishy wet rainy days at the bottom of a slope looking up without any drive to carry on can feel like a personal attack. But it’s never dented my optimism, a look out of the window in the morning still has me changing plans and hitting the road.
The road is often the problem though, especially on short winter days. A couple of weeks back it was perfect, blue above and white underneath and my first thought was Ben Lomond as I hadn’t been up this winter yet.
All the way to Drymen was at 25mph behind a cavalcade of stoopids as the sun seemed to be setting faster than usual and when I misread the first signs by the road as I was finally moving faster I had no idea until I got there that the road was completely shut at Balmaha. My bubble was burst, I could climb Conic Hill, I could maybe make the Luss Hills, but my heart wasn’t in it. Home, tea and biscuits.
I did get to Ben Lomond in the end, last Friday, but that was another unusual day which I’ll come back to.
A couple of days later it was blue skies again, it looked clear up the loch and although time was getting on I wasn’t wasting it again. The road was fine, the Greggs latte only spilled a wee bit on the centre console as we drove and I was in the hills fast. The wispy clouds looked nice, the blue sky sucked me out of my seat, into my boots and I was off.
It was hard going as it was steep from the roadside, damn that heavy milky coffee (a convenient scapegoat). The weather also hadn’t seen that lassie with the dark hair and glasses on the Reporting Scotland forecast who’d said it would be clear until late on when a front would slowly move in. Maybe this was the prefront, the forefront? Whatever, it was misting up. And snowing, now it was snowing. I climbed on but now the wind was coating me on one side with crust of white so I stopped to pull on my shell.
It was lovely though. The cloud was just prowling the tops and rolling through the glens and I know that it was clear above. I was just not high enough here to see it.
It was dark at the top, cold and windy too. I was surrounded by indistinct shapes, above, below and to every side. I didn’t feel overly welcomed. something I’m not used to, I like to dig in, get the stove on and take in the atmosphere but for now I was just thinking about descent. Nothing fancy either, a straight line out of the cloud and back to the motor.
I made an arse of that of course and in the pitch black I found the road a good k and a half from where I’d planned to. I finally got the stove on in the layby and it was okay even if there were no stars above, I still had the gurgle and slapping of the loch next to me.
I had a camera full of photies too, and now that I see them, I should remember the less than perfect days.
It was all fine, I’d climbed out of the shadows and the broken sunlight had just enough heat in it to keep the chill off but not enough to make me sweat. Well, sweat hard anyway. The light was already golden in the later afternoon, it was gearing up for sunset although it was still a couple hours away. I wasn’t complaining, the colours were rich and dark with the snow stark against it and the sky was too blue for this late in the day.
The spring in my step gave me enough energy to fanny around with the camera and timer. I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing that, but today it didn’t feel like an effort to run back and forwards, in fact there was a real joy in it. I was grinning at every trip and slip that saw me fall on my arse while trying to look windswept and interesting.
It was all fine.
But with my eye off the ball and on the scenery I was suddenly on a long steep slope where my next footswing bounced off the snow rather than go into it.
“Oh” I said.
It was steep enough to look down between my legs and see the rocks waving back at me from the bottom of the slope.
“Bugger” I said.
Poles and good intentions were all I had so I sawed away at the solid snow with the side of my boots, sometimes stiff boots are indeed okay, until both feet were more secure and I could swing my rucksack off and get to my ice axe. The forgotten art of step cutting was paid some hasty and sloppy tribute until I got to broken patch of ground where I could get my crampons on and be a bit more suave in my approach to the rest of the slope.
I should know better, and I do know better which is why I wasn’t stuck. But it was a wee reminder of how easy it is to go from happy stroll to be being out of your depth.
My spikes bit deep and securely and the ground was now more broken and less steep anyway, the last part of the ascent was a joy. Patches of sunlight drifted across the hills and the clouds were now growing a fringe of colour as the sun slipped through their layers far out to sea.
I like coming here, it’s an unpopular hill which suits me fine. I also take a route that I’ve never seen another soul on and every step I took was in virgin snow until I was 20 feet from the summit. The summit is rocky and broken, it fits perfectly with it’s neighbours and the views are both awesome and odd, with familiar faces smiling at you from another angle.
It was getting dark and it was cold but I couldn’t feel it. I was skipping around as the light changed from blue to flashes of pink on the snow slopes around me. I laughed out loud. More than once.
The sun lit a gentle fire on the horizon. It burned slowly, catching the edges of the ribbons of cloud and then the flame passed lazily along this wispy chain until it reached the ridgeline to my west where it took hold and found fuel to burn brighter. I pulled on my down jacket and took it all in. If I’d been needing a reminder, I’d found it.
The descent was on more untrodden snow on an unloved ridge, not unloved by me, even though it’s a ridge which has turned me back before. Tonight its craggy tumble and steep snow made me welcome, even if it made me think hard and question my route choice a couple of times.
Two ravens circled and croaked, the only hello I had all day.
Further down a bowl ringed by large boulders cut the wind dead so I set up the stove and let darkness find it’s proper depth. I could see headlights on the road but they were silent, I was still in the hills for a little while yet.
My fingers were finally thawing after I took too long to put on my big gloves and my hot cuppa steamed my glasses as I watched the stars peep through one at a time.
Crampons and axes stowed, I set off on rubber soles and torchlight into the black.
I think I’d been a little lost. But to know where you should be, maybe you have to get a little lost sometimes. It’s good to be home.