Keeping Breakfast Down

With Holly at high school now our day starts at normal time, I’m ready for action at the same time as normal people. It also means I can be a skiving bastard much earlier in the day as well.
When I walked into the living room this morning and saw the fog and I knew what I was doing. Engineering kit went in a bag for later, hill gear went on.
I dropped the girl at the train and swung by my folks for a quick breakfast, filled a water bottle and made a dash for the crags.

The mist was thinner at the car park, light was forcing it’s way through in fuzzy spotlight beams around the trees and the pylons. I wanted to run for it but I was caught by the glistening spider webs that seems to be stringing every blade of grass on the hillside together into one shimmering blanket or wonder. And terror I dare say, the spiders at the centre of each web looked hungry. And there was a lot of them. A lot.

It was cool in the mist but got warmer as I climbed and breakfast was making it’s presence know too.
I had no need to hurry, it would be like this til lunchtime, I just wanted to be above the cloud.

I’ve done this countless time and it’s breaks a grin and girly laugh every time. I love it up here anyway, but some days shine a little brighter in my memory and my imagination.
This is happiness.

I went straight to the top and looked out, glorious. The higher tops, the real mountains are all far away but I don’t care, this is home, this is mine, this is pure magic.

I saw the Brocken Spectre follow me up, changing intensity and size with my height and the mist level all the way. It had the fogbow outer edge as well which seemed like it extended in an arc all the way to the Cowal peninsula, it was so distinct I felt I could step out onto it and walk on this ghost bridge high above the Firth of Clyde in the sunshine.

I sat and kept of sitting, I drank my cool Robinson’s lemon. Worry free just for a while, full of joy and wearing a smile under that manky old cap.

I eventually decided to wander the edge of the crags. It’s a lovely trail anyway, but the evolving view sells it even more today.

Ben Lomond was lying on it’s back under the clear blue skies, the trees have lost that angry summer green and the moon slips quietly across the sky, most likely wondering why the hell it’s here in the daytime. It’s used to shiftwork, but this isn’t right surely?

As the sun rose so did the fog, in tufts and waves it poured slowly up the glens and the gullies before finally running out of puff then breathing back in and fading into patches that would sit defiantly until I got back to the truck.

The little white dot on the ridge above is a pickup truck. The quarry track goes round the rim and I watched the big trucks driving round ferrying fresh stone downhill. What would that dashcam footage be like.

I stayed up there for hours. Wandering and watching, just letting time pass.

I came down the long way, checking on the cup marked stones (don’t ask, still not telling) and my gate repair. I was starvin’ too.
Back to my folks again.
“Oh, you want some lunch?”
Er, aye…
“How did you get on a work?”
Fine, just fine.

 

Nightflight

Haven’t been up the crags at night for a while. This was a definite attempt to catch the sun going down and we did okay, it was nice to watch the sunset play out and we sat on the highest bench for about 45 minutes with flasks and snacks until the last flames died into brown and deep blue.

It got cold then too, I had to put gloves on. I had to pull my hood up for a wee while too. I do like this.

We were prepared for the night time trails with headtorches fitted with fresh batteries. However Linda also decided to keep her prescription sunglasses on and by the time we noticed the Overtoun car park was far behind us.
So no glasses it was and this brought with it some arse to ground moments on the descent. But a wee rest on a bench to take in the lights and get distracted for a while and we were on the easy downhill.

Just feels like home.

NewCo Glencoe

There’s something quite wonderful about seeing favourite but familiar places for the first time all over again.

Linda had never been to Glen Coe which is obviously a travesty and something I had to fix as soon as we could get away.
A couple of Saturdays back we had the whole day and even with patchy weather forecast we got up early and hit the road north. Not in the truck though, the recent flat battery incident and the “smell of diesel” means the two of them are not yet friends. They will have to accept each other at some point, I don’t care how many tears there are.

So, with me driving the “hot hatch” erratically and often sideways (power steering is for the weak and I can’t get used to it) it was with some relief we stopped to try TJ’s, the new diner at Tyndrum.
It feels very new, a little uncertain, a little unprepared but the pancakes and bacon with syrup were magic. I hope it has a future, Tynrum is the go-to A82 stopover place these days and more competition in the village is a good thing, the regulars have gotten complacent and expensive.

I stopped at all the tourist spots, the low cloud made it all look dramatic and it was grins all the way. I haven’t been on my own for a wee while and it was good to breath the air, feel the rain on my face and find a parking spot really close to the door of the now rather swanky Glencoe Visitor Centre.
As well as having a very welcome customer hat drying area in the shop the whole place has been transformed since my last visit. The exhibits were interesting and the film was very good although the sound mix is not good, they need to turn the music down when the narrator is talking.

We took a wander around the waymarked trails which I’d never done in my life. Lovely wee walk and it takes you just high enough and away from the road that you get new views of the hills. Even in the swirling cloud and rain, it was lovely. And no midges. Alright.

It was still really early so we headed north for lunch in Ft Bill. It was pissing down which felt very normal for the familiar grey high street.
Had pizza in the Nevisport cafe for the first time in my life which was rather nice. Got the windae seat and watched the local neds filing through the underpass on their way to McDonalds on the other side of the roundabout with their hoods up and heads down. Ah, feels good to be back.

Old Inverlochy Castle is a much overlooked local place of interest. Sill raining so we had just a quick run around and two of the towers are closed for works which is a shame.
With half the day still to play with I had a think about what else to do. Aonach Mor stuck in cloud, so no Where Eagles Dare reenactment on the gondola, no proper rain gear so no Glen Nevis. We’d drive for a bit and see what popped up.

Ended up at the Eas Chia-aig waterfall at the end of Loch Arkaig. Nice wee drive in the roller skate, as I will now call the hot hatch and as ever, the killer midges were waiting in the car park. In all my travels in this wee country I have never know midges like the ones here. Every trip here I have been grievously assaulted.

It is lovely though. Even if the horrendous desolation through the glen from the hydro scheme still lurks unrepaired just beyond the trees above the falls.
The moss along the Mille Dorcha is as long and hairy as ever but forestry work has burst holes through the old stone wall killing some of the growth and also letting light into the area for the first time in many years. I wonder if this will see the demise of the mighty moss?

From here it was a meander down the road, no hurry and it wasn’t without yet more distractions.

One of which was the Falls of Falloch as we got close to home. The rain really brought out the best in the waterworks.

We don’t get a lot of days to go and out and play, but we do fill them up when we get there.

Pipe Dream

Hmm, did I find an ancestor on our travels this day?

We wanted to get out and up into some cool air but energy levels were a bit low. I’d promised the top of the Sloy pipes long ago, it felt like a good fit for an easy day.

Any slower and we’d have been in reverse. We stopped and had Lunch #1 while Holly fired some photies onto Instagram. A medium to which I too have finally posted a photie. I don’t feel my life has improved for that but it’s early days.

We can’t help ourselves. We spent way too much time trying to make a shot the rear cover of our album. I think it looks like an 80s rap album, Holly says that’s fine because the 80s are cool again? I don’t know, we’ll see what happens.

Talking of that I put the first three Public Enemy albums on my phone. I keep getting caught out when I’m driving around with the playlist set to Songs: random.

I keep expecting them to fence this area off but I suppose it doesn’t see much footfall.

What I would give to get inside those tunnels and maintence doors. A lifetime of going through doors marked Authorised Access Only only makes it worse, I’ve paid my dues, let me in dammit.

It’s a fine second lunch spot at the road end a bit above the pipe buildings. Properly good views. Passed through here a few times on my way up Vorlich, which is great way to go, you will never see another soul.

The road’s a wee bit alpine feeling and folk go “Where the hell is that?” when you show them a photie.

The girl did well as always, legs stretched a wee bit and we did find some cool air.

A wee bit of colour too on the way too, it is Macfarlane country after all.

 

Blue, sweets and no tears

You know all the telly adds asking you to sign up for being bombarded with vouchers? I always saw them as personal detail hovering schemes.
This still may be true, but Linda is fully vouchertronic and we’ve got some rather nice deals in return for our retail souls.

A sail around Lock Katrine on the Sir Walter Scott and afternoon tea in the cafe for two jam jars and  bundle of old newspapers was too good an opportunity to miss and the weather came along for free.

Got there early and had a wander with an ice cream. Saw the new pods they’ve got for camping by the loch and they look really nice, wonder if there’s a voucher for those?
Chatted to a fella staying in the camper van slot. He had his wee dug in hos bike basket. Poor wee bugger was smaller than Klaus.

Watched the boat come in, it was mobbed with pensioners in regulation shades of beige. It gracefully cruised in and swung gently onto the pier, ready for the next sailing. That was us, get a move on misses…

Wasn’t as busy for us although the bow and stern seats were instantly taken up by particularly aggressive and fast moving pensioners who then sat there guarding their spots for the entire sail. I’m not so far from that age now, I wonder what I’ll be like. Not in beige, that’s for sure.

We took a big lazy loop around the loch and it was glorious. A cool breeze on the move while the sun beat down and the banter from the crew came thick and fast over the tannoy. It was funny as hell, they were having as much fun as we were.

You’re on the water for an hour but it’s over too fast. Familiar mountains seen from unfamiliar angles, less trodden hills and woodland line the lochside and I could have stayed on there all day. I mean, they have cuppas and everything.

I hadn’t been on the boat for years, definitely recommended. Height of summer with a full boat though? Might be a different experience.

I think the cafe had been caught out but the midweek busyness, they were mobbed and harassed.
Worth the wait though, we had old school sammidges, pastries and tray bakes on the wee three tiered plate thing that I’m too lazy to google the real name of.
We sat in the sun, ate and grinned.

The longer days and the good weather mean more time to explore and we just couldn’t drive past the forest park above Aberfoyle.
Super quiet in there today, more ice cream and wandering. It was quiet enough to watch a red squirrel fannying around from the hide where usually the screaming weans keep them away.

The light in the trees was gorgeous. Always loved it here.
Although popular and accessible it somehow keeps a little wildness about it.

I say “best day” quite a lot and mean it every time, and this was a best day. I hope to have more best days.

50? Easy.

 

Out of Range

Having just filled in an official survey about my (six years!) of volunteering for the Woodland Trust Scotland at the Lang Craigs the wording of the questions and my own answers had me thinking about what it has all meant to me and all about what me and my small band of fellow rangers do in the Lang Craigs.
Now I say ranger, but the Trust want to call us wardens and I take extreme exception to that for a number of reasons, but Wikipedia can go first:

Exhibit A:
Ranger most often refers to:
Park ranger or forest ranger, a person charged with protecting and preserving protected parklands.

Exhibit B:
A warden is a person who has been entrusted with the oversight of something important to the community, such as a college, church, prison, wild game or firefighting.

As a ranger the folks I meet and chat with (which is everyone, it’s me remember) see us as odd outdoor types who live in the hills somehow, foraging for food etc.
As a warden we’re apparently the folk telling you to get your dog on a lead and trying to knock mountain bikers off their saddles.
This is how people see us, I’ve asked.

So, here’s day in the life of a ranger or two.

The Lang Craigs is a big site, there’s much more to it than the area immediately above Overtoun that’s most frequented and there’s a lot to do. There’s also scope for using the tasks we have for other ends.
When I was grinding through equipment grouptests running the same long cross country deer fence route gave me benchmarks to judge like for like performance, something you just don’t get using different kit in different places.
Today was another example, two youngsters from a local Boy’s Brigade troop needed community volunteering experience and we love extra pairs of hands and eyes.

I’d helped build some bat roosting boxes and the first task of the day was checking some of them for occupancy, something that my buddy and fellow ranger Jo has the proper tickets for and I constantly rib her for, I don’t care, Bat Girl jokes just never get old okay. She even has the tattoos.

There’s no such thing as a single task though, I’d already spotted a path creeping sideways because a wooden post was missing and a gate padlock was sticking. I’d already replaced it a few weeks ago, welding a new one onto a chain and it’s away again. On the list.

The sun and fresh snow made the walking up to the very top of the site pleasant indeed. It was cool, but just right for moving and even having lunch by the gate were here to work with didn’t need an extra layer.
The sun was starting to win anyway, the snow was disappearing as we watched and it was raising water levels everywhere, quite impressively so in the burns and on the ground it made progress boggier.

Ben Lomond was looking grand, folks were having a fine time, I saw facebook that night.
The new metal signs fitted, the gate tested both ways to make sure if swung shut and locked itself we decided to follow the fence down towards Maryland.
I walk the deer fence to check for gaps, damage, animal tunnels but it is easy to tune out and miss stuff, there’s around six miles of it, so extra eyes do help at times.

The fence is vital, the deer that get in could undo our work quickly by killing off the young trees, so preventing that rather than having to get the stalker in is the best option.
The enemies of the fence are the weather, regular decay of the wooden posts and more annoyingly local ne’er-do-wells cutting the wire to let the deer in so they can chase them with lurchers in a contained space.
Nothing is ever simple or straightforward.

We did find some breakages, luckily not too bad so the fence tension and integrity wasn’t compromised and it was the boys that saw it first, those extra eyes.
I was too bust route finding, we were coming up to a water crossing.
I usually carry zip ties and wire for these occasions so I can do some sort of repair, most times you see me up here my rucksack has more tools and spares parts in it than snacks.

Repair and maintain all you want, nature will always win, the tree that has eaten the original fence below will testify to that.

Water is friend and enemy. Every water crossing the fence makes is a gap that deer can get in and the free swinging wooden water gates that fill the gap between fence and burn need watching.
Even small burns have very mobile beds and it’s surprising how big the boulders are that move down hill when the water rises and can jam in the gates holding them open for critters to get through.
I saw two gates today that need some attention but the water was too fast and deep to get in at it. I’m up here on my own most of the time and I know the score, safety first.

There’s a lot of standing water too, and most of it has frog spawn. A lot looks healthy which is good, the early temperature rise would have messd with the frogs heads and there was lot I saw that was too early.

Saw a newt too, a fast wee bugger, never even got the camera near it. Lot’s of life in the water, always worth sitting quite for a while, see what’s moving.
That goes for the trees as well now I think about it, the bird life we see around them is ever richer and varied. On the way up a kestrel settled close to the path, sitting on a young tree sunning itself seemingly oblivious to us and the red face grinning bloke with the huge telephoto lens pointed right at it from just 20 feet away. It only swooped away when its audience got bigger and boisterous.

It’s a lovey spot here, quiet and the views are magic, the Luss hills just a hop and a skip away. There’s a rough trail to here but no proper path, the gate here must be one of the least used on the site, but it’s still gets checked. Lots to find beyond here, ruins, ancient cairns and cistes, the Kilpatricks are so overlooked and yet you can explore or lose yourself up here as satisfyingly as anywhere further north.

The sun brought out some of the locals. A big meaty bugger was this, I’m sure he’ll turn into something graceful and pretty before he gets eaten.

I was just looking around me now as the team checked on the endless collection of bat boxes in the woodland. Standing around I became aware of the colours and patterns in the water and on the trees. It was all rather striking and I felt like I’d never noticed it before. maybe it was the perfect light to see it, maybe the furry trees brought it out, maybe I just had the time see it properly today.
It just shows you, there’s always something new. Big or small it doesn’t matter, the joy is the same.

I loved the sci-fi roots of the partly keeled over tree. They wondered what the hell I was doing lying on my belly with my head underground.

Nearby the Starfish Bunker made for a fun wee diversion, although the water went over the top of everyone’s boots. Deep in there today.
From front line WW2 defences to crumbling hillside curio, it’s worth a visit.
The flat top made a great snack stop spot as the cloud moved in a little. I could see some slightly tired faces and a long way to go if we stuck to the original plan.

Plan B would be much more fun. And quicker of course.

Never has a tree fallen so serendipitously. I tested it, I threw my pack over so I kinda had too and it was fine, well grounded and jammed in tight.
The spikes made the traverse a little tricky, by no cardigans were snagged and the primroses on the climb back out of the glen calmed everyone back down.

The burn as seen is why the water gate had to be left for another day. Standing in the middle of that pulling at boulders, aye, good luck with that.

A last rest stop by the Scots pines of Black Wood and views to the Arrochar Alps before getting back onto the well trodden tracks to our final tasks of the day, a couple more bat boxes and some dog poop warning signs on the gates.
We can’t catch the dicks that leave their poop bags at their arses or hanging from trees and hit them with a big stick so we’ll threaten them with a fine instead. It’s something I suppose, but you can’t fix stupid so I don’t know if it’ll have any effect.

We were on the hill for six and a half hours, not a bad day out especially for the youngsters and although were doing work and stopping here and there it shows you the scale of the place and the possibilities there are for getting out there and really exploring, even just within the Lang Craigs fence line.

I had a great day. I love this place dearly and I love what I do here, on my own or for the Trust.
I’m not an hardcore eco warrior or a tree hugger, I got into this because I wanted to make sure they weren’t going to ruin my hills but my motivations have definitely evolved over time.
The Woodland Trust seem to be doing the right thing most of the time and because of that the recent purchase of Ben Shieldaig brings me joy.

Volunteering is what you make it. Your motivations for doing it are important, if you get your reasons right it’s rewarding, fun and you get the occasion free lunch. If you’re looking for something more you’re in the wrong place.

Although these sites and their regeneration cost big money, there is no money in having them, no profit in preserving our landscape.  What we do is important, it keeps the Woodland Trust and many more bodies running but more importantly by extension it helps keep the bastards from building wind turbines and digging hydro schemes into our scenery.

So when you see someone threatening the hills and forests with development and think “Someone should do something…” we are doing sonething. Come and help.

Munro #256

Been a lot of talk online and in the regular media about this being the 100th anniversary of Hugh Munro’s death and I’d just like to say: Good lad, thanks for the list that got us all started.
If it would have been today he was doing his list he’d have been a YouTuber and I’d have thought he was a dick, so I’m glad it happened the way it did.

I’d also like to make it official on this auspicious day, Beinn Narnain is my favourite Munro.
It’s a wee rugged hill that in turns over the years has welcomed me and fought me, has brought me joy and tears and has more memories of good times and friends hidden in it’s rocky flanks than any other hill I’ll ever climb.
I love it dearly and I will always return there until I can’t.

It’s maybe an odd photie choice, it gives nothing away and that’s very fitting. You have to go there, get up close, get off the path and find it for yourself.
That’s what Munro did and that’s why his list shouldn’t be a means to an end, something to tick. It should be a catalyst, an inspiration to explore.

Power Hour

I knew the golden hour was from five til six and also that the likelyhood of the same display as Monday night was remote, but it was calm, clear and bright so we met up at Overtoun about quarter to five and made a run for the skyline anyway.

A bit hazy but the low light was warm although getting ever lower and cooler. We got some height at just the right time after breaking sweat on the climb to Black Wood and back into clear air. Perfect timing.

The sun hit a bank of cloud out to sea and the temperature dropped sharply. But the stove was on and hot cuppas were imminent as we sat in the long grass and listened to birdsong in the scots pines nearby.

One tight stand of pines kept on drawing my eye, I expected an elephant to come charging at me at any second, it looked like a little splat of Africa on the hillside in this warm sunlight.
This is why I don’t get bored, always something new to see. Or imagine.

Although evidence suggests otherwise, it’s still winter so it got dark quick. Dumbarton were playing at home and the stadium sitting under Dumbarton Castle looked just like the big ship from Close Encounters. Haven’t seen that in years, I wonder if it’s aged well. Netflix…

Home by headtorch. Living by the river is brilliant, especially when there’s hills right beside it.

Bonny Banks

Spent the the weekend around Loch Lomond, somewhat by accident. Saturday was minging but when the rain stopped I took a quick run up to Luss then beyond with my pal Cat and got some rather nice looking skies just as it was getting dark. It looked particularly nice at the Esso garage at Dumbarton on the way home.
Timing is everything.

The camera was on my desk the whole time too and I have no idea what my phone was doing, I seem to have found some sort of film grain effect in my pocket which disappeared overnight.
Pity, it was nice, the colours were rich with fresh growth in the woodland. It really does feel like spring.

Holly slept late after a busy day on Saturday and it looked like we were going nowhere, but fueled by tattie scones she was suddenly in better form and we hit the road with granny in the back seat. Not in the truck obviously.
That’s going to be a proper thing for a couple of weeks very shortly. I need to do the fuel pump and while it’s in the shed I’ll tackle some other wee jobs on it. Missing it already, a Vauxhall estate just isn’t going to be the same.

We ended up in Balmaha which was mobbed, and Tom Weir has a new hat on. The sky was clearing, ribbons of cloud streaked across the hillsides and vanished into the ether. By the time we got to Rowardennan  it was glorious but still cool, what a perfect day to be on the hills.

It’s started though – the draw of the lochside on a sunny day. Usually we get to enjoy it until easter, but the masses have arrived early with their disposable barbecues, loud sweary voices, poor narrow road driving technique, litter, vape clouds and unnecessary sportswear.
Still, leaving late through these difficult months will give me the hills when I need them.

We ended up in Killearn for a late lunch, macaroni cheese in a bowl with a singed bacon topping. Be still my beating heart.
A really nice wee galvant with the girls. I love living here.

The Machinist

“You know, I don’t think any of my friends dads sit and sew”.
We’re sitting on the sofa watching IT Crowd on Netflix and Holly’s contemplating me hand sewing the webbing back onto the back of an old battered pouch that I wanted to use for my camera the next day.
I thought this over. I could mention gender stereotyping, older men’s difficulty in accessing skills such as sewing when they were younger for fear of peer persecution, the struggle of men to break free of the bonds of generations of strict adherence to the unspoken code of how to be a man. But then I realised that most of the men I know sew by hand or machine, many of them professionally and creatively.
“The other dads are rubbish then”.
“Yea” said the girl.

The pouch was good to go, I slipped it onto the hipbelt and secured it with a carabiner to a side compression strap. It was just like the old days.
Everything else was laid out and ready to go. Dear god, is this what it is to be organised? Oh, to see how the other people live.

It was late morning and really rather nice when I hit the road. The sky was blue, a pale icy blue and cloudless because the gauze between me and the sun was a high, thin veil, it was never a cloud in its life
As I left the Arrochar roadside winter felt awfy far away. It was bright and it was warm on the move although the air was cool, especially when I got up into the trees. I kept my gloves on though, bare arms and gloves is just fine, I was being careful this time.

The zigzags mask the height gain and the occasional window view through the green onto an increasingly visible Ben Lomond is the only clue that progress is being made.

But then you’re suddenly there. There is good, there is familiar, there is my happy place, there is snow on it, right up there.
I pretend that I might climb the Cobbler, just to see if I can fool myself, but I’m not that good a liar.
I love the Cobbler, but Beinn Narnain has a pull on me, it always has had. Every visit strengthens that and while I can’t explain it, I can feel it.
The broken, shapeless tumble of crags pull my eyes as well as my feet. The Cobbler is flashy, but it’s kinda solid, what you see is what you get, Narnain has secrets, it has dark corners, it repays time spent and there’s a wee bonus too, you get to look at the flashy neighbour from an excellent angle.

There was a smear of spring in the air, deer in the coire, birds in the air, a caterpillar on a rock and three walkers from China wondering why the hell I was lying on the ground.
They weren’t the first victims of banter this day, I’d accosted several parties already. It being the school holidays and decent weather had brought out several dad and lad parties which was nice to see.
One of these parties also had a dug, a pannier dug at that. It had a jacket with webbing and velcro like a military molle vest, it also had two grab handles for launching the dug over burns and gates. Great bit of kit.

I never got to the Narnain Boulders, I cut right a bit early to gain a little easy height and stop for a drink.
My 25+ years old pack was supremely comfy and stable, but it doesn’t have a bottle pocket. I’d attached my little pouch but not a bottle pocket, partly to see what effect it had on my drinking habits. Sure enough, once I got onto steeper and frozen ground I didn’t drink, too faffy and higher up it was just too cold and windy.
Point proved, although I knew it would go this way. Next day, I went hunting for an old Lowe Alpine insulated bottle holder. 

It was only mid afternoon but the sky thought it was later. The predicted coastal clouds were bubbling onto the high ground here and there, some tops were shrouded while the light was diffused into a warm glow. It was evening a little too early.

Two ravens chased each other around the crags, their croaking the only sound in the lower coire. As I climbed higher rushing water below the rocks and snow went from a whisper to an occasional roar, a thaw was on.
I sat on a rock for a bit to cool down. Not a whisper of wind here.

From somewhere up behind me came the unmistakable chuckle of a ptarmigan with a shuffle of feathers right after. I turned and quickly scanned for it, no sign dammit.
I did start picking out howffs though. So many mini caves or sheltered ledges in this coire for a fine night out. There’s a big one on the right under Cruach nam Miseag with a short scramble to get into it. Hmm I thought to myself, I’d be safe from wolves in that one. Too much Netflix will do that to your mind.

At the coll I stopped and got my crampons on. The snow was consolidated and I was shinning up the regular route which has a few wee steep bits.
I used my axe, I used the spikes on my feet and I was happy, secure and safe.

I was also amazed to see the signs of previous passage, especially in the steep gully by the spearhead crag. Many boot prints but also many long troughs made by fingers scrabbling for purchase. Not so many signs of axes or crampons.

I’m not judging, I have done stuff that makes me wince thinking about it, but it would not have been me today. There have been deaths on this part of the hill.


The little splash of colour on a rock felt like stepping on a twig in the forest when the monster is right there and looking for you, all sudden and startling.
The sky started to join in too. The Cobbler was catching some cloud and the sun was sinking into it. This, this is why I don’t get up early.

I hadn’t seen a soul since I left the path, I was alone up here. Dammit people, you should have waited.

Lui and friends had proper snow cover and the finger of cloud that crept in from the sea gave a splash of drama to the view north.

The snow was crisp and I’d found some proper wind, and it was cold. The temperature dropped so fast, it was drop which had to be expressed by a Whoooaaaaa as I paced the summit quickly.
Onto the spearhead, across to look at Ime, back to the best trig point in the land and a quick decision on descent. There’s maybe five different descent routes I take from here, but only one dropped me out of the wind for a chance at a warm dinner.

North to the ridge then a hard right into the coire down hard frozen, steep virgin snow. My grin was so wide I didn’t need my headtorch yet.

I found a corner under a crag, a grassy ledge with a view into the quickly thickening darkness. Coffee, rolls and a donut. I was warm, hell even my hands were warm after wearing insulated gloves almost all day.

The sliver of moon shone weakly, the jagged edge of Narnain softened and disappeared into the sky above and I sat in a torchlit circle of snow, scared to take my down jacket back off.
I packed everything, put my bottle in the camera pouch and reluctantly took off my duvet and stuffed it into the top of my pack. It wasn’t too bad, the wind was masked by the crag and I was still warm when I set off into the dark.

The topography is a little haphazard in here in the dark, I had several oops, not that way moments. But it was awesome, pole swinging, song singing fun as I tripped over grassy mounds on my zigzagging way to the big track that cuts across the hill horizontally.

Arrochar looked rather sweet from here and if my phone hadn’t been in my pocket I’d never have the evidence of such a thing as I just couldn’t be arsed finding the camera again.

I took to the old concrete block path which has deteriorated further since I was last on it. Many of the blocks have broken up, some are sinking and following their line in the dark wasn’t as easy as it used to be. I think if you want to see these relics, do it soon. In the 30 years I’ve been climbing this route it’s changed dramatically.
Still though, some tree pruning is keeping the route viable so you can do a loop without retracing a single step and it’s a fast, fun descent. I didn’t get lost either, last time I did this in the dark I was all tears and snotters in the trees behind someone’s house in Succoth. Local expert?

There was a real joy to this wee trip. I spent a lot of my time on the ascent looking at the textures of the rock, the sky and the snow. It all felt so fresh and new, like a new coat of paint in your favourite room, fresh socks on tired feet, fresh baked apple pie and coffee? That’s not an analogy, that’s for real, the home made apple pie is just cool enough to eat. Back in a minute.

Nice on Narnain

Somebody’s already been here, good for them.
This… Has turned out nice.
Beinn Narnain, one of my most favourite places in the world.
It’s got big gaps in it, so you have to be careful.
Oof.
Now this is the definition of happy times…

Ken III, King of Rannoch

We got up earlyish, well, I did anyway. I put music on loud and threw the bottom half of Holly’s duvet over the top half so she would cook/suffocate while also getting cold feet. I felt certain this would get her on the move. It did eventually.
Send me a message on the contact form (I think there still is one?) if you want parenting advice.

A fine breakfast at granny’s and we were on the road despite the rain. After missing out on anything interesting never mind exciting on Saturday, we were going north anyway.
It was atmospheric, lots of greys, but still magic. Lots of fresh snow on the roads as well as the hills and the two upside down motors confirmed the iffy conditions there had been a few hours earlier.

Cuppas in Tyndrum were a must and the rain smacked off the truck windscreen as we debated what to do next.
Phil texted me, we’d passed on the road as he retreated from the rain, dammit. However, this somehow brought us a wee bit of misplaced or maybe misdirected or misappropriated luck, the snow shone as the sun found it, the clouds parted and blue unfurled above us. What the hell, keep going.

We followed the blue and stopped right under it, in a very familiar spot.

We chased the sun north but the grey crept back under the blue. It was fine though, we parked up to make a snowman, it was perfect snow for it, soft and sticky which was perfect for a snowball fight too. Who won will remain a family secret. Until it can be used as leverage.

It was cold but we were warm from playing and back in the truck we had snacks and juice as the heater worked to dry my jeans out again.
Grins were wide and cheeks were red and the ghost story on the way home was of the Dougal and, well, that’s for another day.
This day though, this was a good one.

Target Acquired

I got there a wee bit later than planned, the sun was already slipping and the road was too icy for the truck so I had to leg it up the hill.
That was a shock to the system.

The light was just gorgeous, the snow was orange and pink and the low sun brought out lines of dark shadow on every surface that had a ripple or a pattern.

There were thick clouds to the west blocking some of the rays which cast a camouflage across the site, patches of bright and dark but all with a little glow as the sun burned into the horizon.

The three lassies on bench were full of laughs and as a dad of one of my own I was pleased to see they were properly wrapped up for the conditions. Hopefully they’ll remember the directions and they’ll find me on here so I can send them the photies.

The site was busy, lots of folk heading down as it got darker. Good to see, I was always a solo twilight wanderer up here, the Lang Craigs really have become a proper local hang out.

The ground was frozen, as I went higher and the temperature went lower I pulled on some spikes and took to the top trail for the best views.
Oh those views, so much winter up that loch, got to get up there.

My hands are cold

It’s a day that sticks in the mind, it was 2001 and we had a perfect day on Ben Cruachan. The snow was deep but consolidated, every bare rock was armoured with ice and the cloud tore around the summit in strips all day but retreated while we stood there and took in a landscape that still lingers in my mind despite so many visits and lost years since.
We came home to the news that the hills were now closed, Foot and Mouth hysteria had descended and we were soon driving through disinfectant tyre baths wherever we went.

The other thing that happened was my hands. I was on the top in my liners and windstopper gloves as usual, and while it was cold it was something I was well used to and didn’t bother putting on other gloves.
My fingers got cold though, very fast, uncomfortably fast and it was sore, something I’d never had before. I pulled out my big insulated gloves and needed help to pull them on, I was fumbling like a wino with a screw top bottle.

The heat returned and there was another new sensation, a burning that would not stop, that escalated until I thought my teeth would break against each other and tears filled my eyes.

The sunrise was just out of sight, but the cloud caught it’s colours and I managed a snap through the window before the school run.
I had a couple of calls to make and they revealed nothing urgent and everything avoidable. Daytime telly was the soundtrack to some packing and there was never any doubt as to where I was going.

It was a fairy tale scene, no, an advent calendar on the way to Drymen. Hard frozen landscape, wisps of mist and blue skies. Stunning, a perfect winter’s day.
I’d used up a lot of daylight so I didn’t stop. I think I might regret that, it was so perfect.
Ach, but then again maybe some things are better as an engram to mull over and decrypt later.

I thought it might be a one off, I was tired or run down, I’d had the wrong breakfast, I’d stood around the summit for too long, I was just getting old?
But no, I noticed a change from then on. Ice axes and meraklon liners was a combo gone forever, poles and powerstretch gloves would only last me so far into the snowline before I’d have to put something warmer on.
Camp was easier to manage, I’d have gloves and mitts everywhere and if I slipped up, I was never far away from layers of down.
And of course, the wait for the burn.

I could see Ptarmigan Ridge but the summit was in a ball of cloud with more cloud loitering to the west. I wasn’t fussed, there was snow all over one of my most favourite places.
The road was just as exciting because it was untreated after Balmaha, I’m getting more used to the truck on this kind of surface this winter and I had a wee bit of fun with it.
Wheeeeeee went the wheels, Aaaaaghhhhh went the music.

Rowardennan was surprisingly busy and there was still blue sky above as I walked past the youth hostel. On the climb up, the bloke doing some path repairs was lying snoozing in the sun and it really was warm enough for that.
It felt like spring, one of those rare days where the sun shines down on you while your crampon spikes dig in as you ascend in shades and a base layer with the sleeves rolled up.

I pushed on, eager to be a part of that mental picture, but somehow I flicked past that page and found myself in cloud. It washed in from over the loch, a bank of blandness to smother my hope and dreams and… Oh wait, I’m through the top of it. Aw, that’s nice.

I had to watch all the time, not just in the hills. At work, or even just heading into town I’d carry gloves on cool days never mind cold days and I’d find myself making excuses for fumbling or asking a colleague to “wait a minute” while my hands heated up while they looked at me like I was an idiot.

It’s really only when you show someone the effects they realise you’re not full of shit. Showing them a white thumb and forefinger on a cherry red hand, and saying “Feel it…”.
“Oh…” They say.
“Aye, I’m going to sit in the truck and have an episode while they heat up, back in 5…”.

The cloud came and went and the sun struggled to maintain a presence. But I was happy enough.
The snow showers were pleasant, heavy but with small flakes and very little wind. It was a silent, almost dreamy ascent.

I stopped at the top of Ptamigan where the sun made it’s last attempt at glamour before giving it up for the day. Pink oozed through the mist and I stood with a hot cuppa and smiled at it all.

I could see familiar crags and a hint of the ridge swinging around the last pull up to the summit. It would dark before I got to the top and that along with the long descent on Sron Aonach just didn’t fit tonight, had to get back for the girl.
This was enough, inside and outside I was happy.

Except I’d got too excited, on the phone, taking photies, pouring cuppas, fannying about, all with one glove on. My right hand went and it went big.
My own stupid fault.

I packed up and started down, hands balled into fists inside my mitts, idiot, idiot, idiot was the mantra.

I had a loose crampon strap, of course it couldn’t have happened on the way up, it had to be now when my mitts were full of pork link sausages instead of fingers.
I fudged it enough to go on but the bending and swearing had upped the blood flow enough that I could feel the circulation coming back. I braced for impact.

I stood in the dark, bent over with my mitted hands crushed between my thighs and calling Ffffuuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkkkkkk into the night as the tears blinded me.
I carried on once the red lights went out and it really was a pleasant descent. My hands nipped and throbbed, but I can tune that part out now. The ache lasts of course, well into the next day this time and my fingers were dark purpley red well into the early hours.

I remember a while back the nurse stretching out my hands and hmm-ing sympathetically “I get this too, it’s terrible isn’t it? It’s called Reynaud’s”.

I suppose in the grand scale of life it’s a minor ailment, but it causes me grief on an almost daily basis at the moment, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually said the words on here which is a bit strange.

I suffer from Reynaud’s syndrome, unusual in men but likely passed down on my mothers side of the family and it’s total pain in the arse.

Road and be Truncated

There was confusion, not our fault, but it did delay our departure.

Our trip to the snow was meant to be a hop, skip and jump.

It was freezing, the layers were many and the gloves were the wrong ones. Not the girls’, she was sorted, I got it wrong, I had raspberry ripple push-ups sticking out of my sleeves within 30 seconds of leaving the truck.

Red cheeks and pink skies.

It was good to just breathe that air.

And the snacks, once my fingers were mobile again, there was snacks.