Only one apple pie

“I’ll come too”, and with that a dash uphill because a patch of blue sky had appeared became a family affair.

The blue patch proved elusive in location and inconsistent in transparency, which is to say it clouded over a wee bit. So no fancy sunset, but it was all still very pretty if a little windy.
Bats, birds, deer, a falcon and a slug rolled up like a doughnut. It was like being on safari.

The primrose were blossoming in force and we took some unusual route choices to avoid doubling back. Steep slippy slopes brought no panic or gripping onto dad’s arm and the joy of watching Holly skip from mossy boulder to mossy boulder on the handful of burn crossings made me swell with pride. She’s got it, she’s got the head and the feet linked up.

Roky Erickson

I knew it was going to rain, it was just a question of when, so I was thinking quick even if I couldn’t actually do quick the justice it deserved.
I jumped over the wall and crossed the field, heading for the giant’s staircase, the broken buttress at the southern end of the Lang Craigs that hides a steep, fun and quick way to get a bit of height.
I was panting a wee bit, I’m out and about a lot just now, but bloody hell it’s a tough road back to fitness.

Grey, a bit misty and pretty windy. No view to speak of, but that just focuses the eyes on the nearby. The nearby looked quite interesting so I thought I’d get my camera out and point it in the interesting direction.
The little rectangle flashed red, dammit I’ll change the battery. The little rectangle flashed red again. Oh, come on idiot. The third battery brought with it no little red triangle, just a message – NO BATTERY POWER REMAINS. Then the lens retracted.

My Sony somethingorother phone’s camera is rubbish in low light, but it went in my chest pocket anyway and I went back to looking around me and stepping in every puddle, mudbath and burn to try and break these new Bridgedale waterproof socks. It’s nice to have a purpose.
The edge of the crags has a very nice symmetry to it from certain points, like big saw teeth. Looking at that kept me from looking at the recently reprieved  Forestry Commission Scotland’s utter mess and destruction of their part of the Kilpatricks. I avoid the ascent from Old Kilpatrick now, it’s even worse there and it’s a total disgrace what they’ve done at the top of the track. I still get angry thinking about it never mind walking or biking through it.

I decided on Doughnot Hill and to keep to a circular route I took to the forest roads. We used to run and ride the singletrack here, now log piles line the wide gravel truck highway. It’s depressing. I know it’s good that the plantations are coming out and “real trees” are going in, but it’s still hideous.

The thick carpet of moss that clung to the soft curves of the previously forgotten and neglected plateau has been torn up and replaced by a thatch of dead, bleached twigs, cast away like empty shell casings from the rapid fire of the machine saw ripping up the trees.

I escaped to the dammed edge of the black Linn Reservoir where a pair of taiga bean geese honked towards me from the gloom and landed on the grassy path running along the dam. They waddled slowly towards the water and sailed off either unworried by my presence or oblivious despite my large bright orangeyness.
It’s an easy curve uphill to the trig pillar on Doughnot. I usually skirt just below the little summit dome while following the deer fence so I hadn’t been here in a wee while and it was, unexpectedly, a little strange coming back. There’s ghosts here.
You won’t see them though, they’re my ghosts.
I was alone as the wind picked up and the rain started to ping off my hood, but I was surrounded too. There were laughs and shouts, banter and mock surprise, a stove being lit and the slap of a chain on an alloy stay, there was even a kiss followed by a smile with a glow as golden as the sunset that followed it.

I sat on a rock and watched the murk flop off the lip of the crags and then close in around me as the ghosts faded into silence and I started on a gluten-free oat and chocolate protein bar. I think it only tasted so nice because everything else was now grey.
I looked back at the trig pillar before I left. I love this spot, I always have. A few rocks, some tufts of grass and a worn concrete block with time spent in the company of friends woven though all of it.

I might be getting to be a sentimental old fool, but I’ll tell you something, despite all my efforts over that day, my feet were dry when I got home. I like these socks.

Loch Lomond Faerie Trail

We parked at Luss, had our lunch on the bench and were wandering up the track towards Beinn Dubh when we noticed lots of kids and parents heading up towards the old quarry. There were booklets in hands, pink wings strapped onto little shoulders and much shouting from the woods. The signs on the trees had the answer “Faerie Trail this way…”. Holly nearly exploded with excitement.

I asked the next family was saw what we were supposed to do, here they said take one of our books, and here’s a pencil too. Thanks you very much we said. Wasn’t til later we found out you have to pay for the book and pencil. In the unlikely event that nice family sees this, properly thank you.

There’s clues, there’s a trail, The Loch Lomond Faerie Trail, and it takes you from Luss to the quarry and down along the river back to Luss near the church.
All along there are hidden fairy doors, houses in the trees, signs and boards with clues, stories and rhymes. Just be wary of the troll…
Everyone we saw was enjoying it, everyone was chatting, kids were laughing and playing with new friends and the woods were full of people and voices.

It’s a lot of fun, it’s well put together with lovely work on the installations and the distance is enough to make it a real activity rather than a distraction. The route I know well anyway and the views it brings are fantastic, from the Luss hills through the birch canopy to Ben Lomond looming over the village as you near the end.
We both had a ball.

When I read up on it back at home I saw some varied opinions. One said that the trail had ruined a wild area and lovely walk. I think the quarry we’re all still walking through probably ruined that little corner of wilderness first, time healed that, it would hope it will heal this too one day.
This lovely little corner has been changed though, not just by the faerie world that’s been added to the trees. Fences and muddy trails have replaced the mossy carpet and rocky drops to the river. It’s going to take a lot of maintenance to keep some parts of the trail usuable.
There’s laughing kids though, laughing kids covered in mud and families together having fun in the woods. You can’t knock that.
Me, my extra hope is that it chases away the tree-cutting, log burning, plastic bottle dropping neds that usually congregate there. We’ll see.

Take the kids, even if you think they’re too big for it. Magic fun.

Top tip? Don’t forget #5.

You go first!

No getting away anywhere for me this easter, however the Lang Craigs have seen me what feels like every other day. Probably because it has been every other day.
Been solo, been with friends, been in the rain, went in the surprise snow of last week too and then made it up there last night with Holly under quickly fading clear blue skies.

We had as much fun as always and I got her into my current retro gear thing by strapping an ancient Jack Wolfskin bumbag on her. Turns out she really likes it and I’m not getting it back.

The tracks higher up are currently a mudbath, red sticky mud that clings to you like a strip of 2″ velcro and we both got it bad. But back down, close to the truck a double dare saw us both jump into a burn to try and wash it off.
Turns out my 20 year old boots are way more waterproof that Holly’s new ones. The screams as the ice cold water hit her feet made me laugh so hard I’m starting to crack up again thinking about it 24 hours later.

Screaming and laughing in turns we ran back to the truck and rattled home for tea, toast and dry feet.
Magic.

Inscribe 50 Colouring Pencils Made in Holland

It was an interesting week, work was convoluted and happily constant. I do enjoy the ultimate contrasting experience of being busy and skint.
I’d also been to the hills, had an unexpected breakfast with a pal, ran around, rummaged and pretty much used up all my waking hours doing something or other.
I got home at tea time on Friday and sat in my chair. Nice.

However my chair looks across the Clyde to a row of wee tops and those remaining white streaks were catching a little evening sun. I stood back up,went to the window and looked right to the tail of the bank. It was hazy, was that rain? It was a golden fuzz of some sort anyway. It was mostly clear above though and the sun would be down in about half an hour. That’ll be nice I thought to myself.

Aye. Telly back off, gear packed and out. The best thing about being “back” is that my gear is sitting there ready to go, no hassle, no hunting for stuff, just grab and go. Funny how that arrangement only seems obvious now, note to self etc…

I marched up the track, figuring it might be marginally faster than unlocking the gates and driving up. I was racing the sun the whole time, as I gained height, it slipped a little further into the bands of cloud on the horizon.
On the steep track to the bench on the ridge I slipped into the lead while the sun fumbled a gear change and lost momentum. Yes please.

The place was all mine, mine and the sky’s, time and space to just stop and wait for nothing to happen.
I bimbled the grassy ridge to Round Wood Hill as the colours bled through every hue of orange, red, gold and purple that you could find in the bumper coloured pencil box you got from santa in 1973.
The cool blues and browns eventually took it all away as I reached the top of the track and I headed down with thoughts of dinner while pulling on a beanie and zipping my top up to my chin. The sun is actually warm when you can see it, science is a wonderful thing.

 

The Man In Black

Gateway to adventure? Ha.

The blue sky was no less alluring when viewed through my dirty windscreen as I spun around the bustling metropolis of Dumbarton.
Mother’s car wouldn’t start, Holly was having a home lunch, there was a control engineer on his way to meet me on the other side of Glasgow. It was a nice day for everything to go wrong.
An hour later, it was all fine. Jump leads, truck redirection, phone calls and lunch. It was all resolved too quickly, I now had an afternoon where what I was supposed to have been doing I was now doing the day after.

That blue sky though.

I got the last space at the side of the road, even this late in the afternoon folk were still up there. On a Monday too. Good effort people.
I got ready nice and fast, more familiar kit, no chances were to be taken. My pack was light, it was comfy, every drawcord was where I’d left it, my bottle was just where my hand went to find it. Oh yes, this is the way to do it.
I stuck my camera and tripod on my front pouch, in recent times this had felt like an inconvenience, not anymore, it was time to play.

The sun was a little lower than I expected, the softer light was draining a little of the blue from above and it felt warm, in tone and in temperature. I sweated up the track on a wide, windless ridge.
I paced myself, I rested and sipped from my old oval Sigg, I examined every footstep for a twinge from a knee which never came. I just took it easy, I stopped worrying, I stopped overthinking and I just looked around me as I climbed, step after step, breath after breath.
Walking is just a simple mechanical motion, so why was I feeling brighter with every step? I could feel my lack of hill fitness with every vertical metre claimed but it didn’t hurt at all.

A paraglider arced above the loch to land in a field at Luss. Silent and slow, over too quick, it must have been beautiful enough to not feel the long climb to the launch.

It got a little colder, a little darker and the air was now moving past me fast enough to be noticed and it was going through my top as well, so I pulled on a windshirt and beanie.
The snow was creeping slowly from white to something else, a wash of pink and gold, a hint of sunset. The frozen grass sparkled in jagged shapes all around me, I think if I’d kicked through it as I walked the air would have been full of chimes as the long iced blades swung against each other.

The summit was cold. The sun was nearly down and the eastern horizon was a strip of pink fading into indigo. Ben Lomond was showing me it’s widest aspect, a block of shining pink reflecting the last of the day back across the loch. A scattering of lenticular clouds formed and hovered, sucking up the last of the light and sending the sun over the ridge to the west.
I was late when I left, but I’d still caught it. The grin was wide, the little voice inside was shouting at me. Yes, yes, I hear you, I know, I know.

I’d descended north to find shelter, hunger had suddenly moved past the view in order or priorities, I need a hot drink. A hot drink, insulation and bigger gloves. The temperature dropped sharply.
My dear old mother had thrown me together some pieces (sammidges, for google translate) as I’d passed through and as the stove came to the boil I tore into my cheese, ham, apple and stawberry jam on bread. The utter joy of it.

My little corner was good, out of the wind with a view north to the Arrochar Alps. There were some northern lights a bit further north the night before and I know there’s a chance this far south but the sky went to black and stayed that way. All this was enough anyway.
I could feel the gap between my 3/4 longjons and my rolled down socks, it was getting really cold. I pulled up my socks. So that’s what lower leg zips are for.
I pulled down my hood to have a proper look around and instantly regretted it, the cold felt like a solid, physical object as it hit my head. I put my hood back up and it stayed there until I took my down jacket off when I was nearly back at the truck.

Another cuppa was made and the ridge was paced in circles to keep the heat in my toes. The wind was strong but not strong enough to push me, it felt calm and quiet, it was peaceful here in the dark.
I packed up and I still lingered. I looked at the dim horizon, a jagged line from west to east, a line I have walked every uneven angle of, every top I could just make out has personal bookmark, a memory, a face or a moment in time long past and it drifted back on faded waves of joy and melancholy as I stood there in the dark.
As my crampons crunched me homewards over the last rounded top before the long descent I found my head fuller than it was when I started.
They say you can go to the mountains to lose yourself, but then they also say you can go to the mountains to find yourself. It’s also been said that “The soul of the gael is on the summit of the mountain“. Maybe it’s a little of each.

My headtorch cut out, the little flash had warned me and I was ready for it but I wasn’t ready for the way the sky picked up the slack. The crescent moon and riot of stars in crystal clear air was stunning. I looked up and spun slowly around until I was dizzy.
So close to home but so far from worry and oh, look at the time, Holly would be coming home from guides. I smiled at that as I picked up the downhill pace. I’d showed her my base layer before I left, she looked at the orange and purple stripes for a while and issued her statement “Hmm. Dad, never wear that in front of me again”.
The ultimate parental superpower, the power of embarrassment. Awesome.

 

Straight Outta Trostland

It looked cold. Cold or raining in the truck is fine when I’m solo, with the two of us and our gear in there and it’s standing room only. Except there’s no room to stand.
We drove into the sun, looking for the snow. We found both, sometimes one at a time, sometimes at the same time. I came late to this winter but it’s lingering just enough for me to feel that I haven’t missed it altogether.

The tops came and went, the glens swirled, the blue patches tore past as the sun picked out patches on the slopes like it was a searchlight chasing an escapee who’d made over the wall. The Southern Highlands were showing themselves at their best.

Some red cheeks and muddy gaiters along the way were evidence that the ridges and tops had been attempted, I wonder how many times the winds and spindrift won today.

This man was a winner, with a grin forged from the trail and an accent from far away, he left us with some photies on his phone and words fished up from experience (whether he wanted them or not) on his way north on the West Highland Way. What a perfect time to be doing it, his next two days will be spectacular in these conditions. Bridge or Orchy to Ft Bill. Oh, that sounds nice.

 

Gearing up for a 20 year old challenge

This is going to be a landslide of contradictions. But so am I, so what the hell.

After a year out I’ve been updating myself, seeing what’s new, confirming to folk I’m not dead yet, seeking out any exciting or revolutionary ideas. Even evolutionary ideas would do.
There’s tinkering, there’s cosmetic changes under the guise of performance updates, there’s recycling (of ideas, not fabrics), dull colours in the shops and still there’s an inability of the outdoor world to admit defeat and just put Dr. Martens Air Cushion Soles on all outdoor footwear. Really.
I’ve got some new kit in already, stuff that I do like the look of, but in general I’m not that inspired yet.

The season by season rush has continued, product produced to price points and deadlines instead of innovation and ideas being honed and released when they’re ready.
My first thought when looking at this aspect again was watching David Attenborough talking about the plastic in the oceans while patting a sad looking Polar Bear. It then cuts to him squaring up to Donald Trump and punching him right in the face. Every night this programme is on. Just after I fall asleep.

The plastic worry is real though. I don’t care how many swing tags outdoor kit has on it saying recyclable, ethical, or green, it’s still part of the problem and we all know it. A swing tag should never dull our conscience.
So what do we get in return for killing the planet just a little bit more? With this season’s latest developments are we really more comfortable in the rain at 900m? Is that tent that fits in your pocket giving you the best sleep of your life? Are the adverts talking a lot of shite and we just give away our money too easily?

I’ve used a lot of gear. In the past 11 years pretty much every trip I’ve been on has been with review kit of some kind and I’ve gotten used to that, the unfamiliar is now familiar. The truth is that most current kit is okay, I’ve never had anything genuinely bad. The biggest difference is in how it works for you, your body shape, how hot you get, do your ears stick out, do you need lots of pockets because you’re a faffy bastard.

But I love it. Seeing a sharp mind somewhere has tweaked something in a way I didn’t expect making something better, smoother operating or lighter. There’s a real joy in that. It’s not about the gear, it’s about the person behind it.
The best time I had with this was when I was on the OMM Lead User Group, working on new designs and evolving the existing. Seeing the ideas forming, the little lights going on above folks heads and being put on paper then appearing as samples taught me that gear isn’t just product to sell, good gear is someone making something because they think it’ll work and they want to use it too.
I’ve still got sample stuff that never saw the light of day, good ideas that were never quite finished. How many times does that happen across the many design teams? Newer ideas always come along though. People are good at that.

So, all these contradictions have been swirling about in my head the past couple of weeks, and it got me to thinking. How much have things really changed since I got sucked into the outdoor gear arms race in the 90’s. I was in army surplus before that, maybe a Javlin jacket (see, there was purpose to that old advert) along the way?
I noticed right away what I’d been missing when I wore Gore-Tex for the first time, when I wore Polartec 100 over a Smelly Helly. What I haven’t noticed is the difference from then to now.
How far have we really come? Are current fabrics really that much better than they were? Are we really just a wee bit better and just styled differently?

I want to know.

In recent times I’ve been clearing cupboards and attic boxes and finding all sorts of stuff. It’s partly this that got me thinking about old versus new in amongst so many memories, so much stoor, so much purple lycra.
With this in mind I have set myself a task of sorts, a 20 year old challenge.

One bit at a time I’m going to see if I can put together an entire kit list for an overnighter with gear that’s at least 20 years old, then head out with it.
It’s entirely pointless, but I think it’ll amuse me putting it all together.

I do mean entire kit list, socks and boxers as well as shell jacket and compass. I’ve been mentally ticking stuff off that I know is stored away somewhere and some things I’m not sure about. A tent might be iffy, I sold my Rab Glacier down jacket years ago so I’m hunting for something that I only have a vague memory of. I think it was blue though.
It’s surprising what I still have around, there will be some cleaning and maintenance I dare say, but it’ll put it together. I’ll let it slip a little if I have to though, maybe make the space year 2000 a cut off. We’ll see.

However, first up and the spark for it all. the Petzl Zoom.

I’ve had this for more than 25 years. It’s been so many places, shone a light on so many things and I found it caked in crap on the top shelf in the workshop where it’s been for maybe 15 years.
This was the torch to have back in the day. The bezel rotates to change from a wide to a focus beam and the yellow light would dim slowly as the huge and heavy 4.5V battery drained ever faster as you got closer to the car park.
It should still work, I’ll strip it and clean it, get it powered up. The straps are replacements, it was a bright green and sky blue pattern originally but they stretched out and had to go. Maybe these ones which still have a bit of elasticity in them are where the colour obsession started?

I can still get the big batteries or convert it to AA’s, even put an LED in it, but I’ll keep it as original as possible I think. Damn though, it’s just so big.
Anyway, that’s the first thing sorted. I’m sure there’s an old stove in the garage…

Crossing the road

We looked in the fridge and weren’t inspired. “Out for breakfast then?” The A82 was under the loose grip of a grey and shifting sky, thoughts of food and a galavant were more inspiring than the weather.
Luss was pretty quiet, it’s the calm time before easter brings with it the first of the summer-long waves of neds that make the place a no-go area at the weekends.
Breakfast was shared with the ducks, who were very insistent today. What’s on their minds, what are their plans? I’ve been watching them a long time, there’s been an ongoing power struggle between the old drake with the faded beak and scar (really, he looks awesome) and the skinny youngster with the bright feathers. The old timer is holding on but the massed feathered minions seem to be hanging back, watching and waiting before they pick a side.
I think if junior stages a successful coup, the Luss car park will be a very different place indeed.

Now well fed and with pockets full of soor plooms and fudge for ongoing refueling we headed a little further north to Firkin Point. To most this is a bog standard car park and toilet facility, somewhere to use and discard a disposable barbecue, somewhere to walk your dog and leave the bags of shite in the undergrowth for someone else to deal with.
But a few feet away on either side is a walk into the past, my own past as well as the lochside’s. Here runs the old road, the original A82 which clung to the water’s edge like the silver trim on the hem of a deep blue ballgown.
There’s 4km of the road left, and it’s just as I remember it when I used to drive it 30 years ago. I suppose it’s not unlike to the road north of Tarbet, but closer to the water here, you really feel you’re by the loch. I loved it then as spun along in my Escort van, I love it now too, especially on a day like this.

The previous grey of Luss was now finding some energy. The wind was getting up and the loch was getting choppy. The colours were drained from the slopes above us and across the loch, the snow line faded up into the lowering cloud as a cold rain pattered down as we walked.
We reached the north end of the road and turned back, the pattering on our hoods was now heavy rain in our faces. It was funny at first then our cheeks were stinging and our glasses were wet, looking up meant we couldn’t see a thing. We marched past the little beaches we had played on on the way there, looking down so we could keep our glasses clear, by the time we got to Firkin Point we were almost running.
I got the truck heating up as quick as I could and my soaking wet jeans pulled every hair out of my legs as I squirmed around trying to find my bag of industrial wipes somewhere behind the drivers’ seat to help dry us a off a bit.
We were soon sitting quite happily though, warming up, snacking once again and waiting for the windscreen to clear so we could hit the road home. Aye, not a bad wee excursion.

Otter 2: Whiskers of Ice

“Meet somewhere in the middle for a camp”. It was that message that made the difference. So long out, so many other things on my mind, a winter peak in a tent looked a little out of my grasp. Not for lack of knowledge or experience, certainly not desire or equipment, but confidence and fitness were like warning signs bolted to the closed gates that led back to my mild adventuring.

“Meet somewhere in the middle for a camp”. The only possible reply to that was “When?”.

Oh, as soon as that? Better get my shit together then.

Getting my gear sorted was pretty straight forward. I just pulled together old favourites, well worn and years old, there was to be no surprises.
I walked the Lang Craigs with a renewed purpose, pushing the footsteps a little harder, seeing what the knee would say, watching what the lungs would answer back. The minor grumblings could be easily drowned out with some whistling or singing. Both a little breathless.

It wasn’t a big route, but it was the best looking of the half dozen possibles we’d thought of, somewhere I hadn’t been near in maybe 20 years and somewhere Gus hadn’t seen. A secluded loch, a ring of mountains and a track all the way there and beyond. And back again we assumed.

The A82 was an obstacle course of potholes and emergency roadworks. I should probably say that if felt homely and familiar like that, but no. Fix it you bastards.

Hadn’t seen Gus in a long time. In fact, I haven’t seen a lot of people in along time, the faces scattered through these pages are very dear to me and I look forward to squinting into sunlight or spindrift with them once again.
Lunch in Tyndrum, banter, catching up on life and bitching about the state of the the outdoor trade. We might have sat there all afternoon, but the sun was getting lower already.

It really was, without even trying, late when we left.

Getting ready in the carpark was funny, we’d both brought the exact same packs and shell jackets, same colours and everything. It’s a Haglöfs thing I suppose, no avoiding it for either of us.
A mum and daughter team appeared from over the little hill that leads to the trail. Junior was on a little bike, suited up and bright red cheeked from the biting cold, mum walking and carrying the kit. The smiling faces were a joy to see.
Banter ensued as they packed their car for a sprint to the chippy, there was even a discussion on the merits of purple outdoor gear as we all had it on. See, it’s not just me.
More returnees with tales of the tops were greeted before we finally hit the trail. Busy for a Monday.

My big-print map I’d printed off made the route look short and sweet, but the same starting feelings were there that I have on any walk. The wee adjustments to my pack as the straps and waist belt settle into me and my clothing over the first few minutes. Starting cold and warming up, pulling down the chest zip to find that happy medium. My heart and breathing settling back down to tickover after the initial high revs from setting off.
By the time we’d cleared the buildings, the signs and the fences, we were both running smoothly into the dusk. A pale moon sneaked out from behind the cloud and the white skyline glowed faintly ahead, now seeming further away.

The trail weaved forward as the light retreated. The river had taken a fresh swing at the bank and the deer fence now hung over a deep pool, capped with ice, the land with the path on it now deep below it somewhere. We retreated and crossed the fence into the boggy forest plantation and kinda lost the thread a bit. Back over the fence further on in the dark Gus fancied some stepping stones, he would in his nice new and still waterproof boots. My idea of tripping over hummocky grass in the dark was much better. There was a bridge a bit further on anyway. It creaked and swayed above the icy river. Very atmospheric I’m sure.

On the south side of the river was easy going, the ruts of the landrover track were dry or iced hard. We climbed a little and the sound of water rushing over rock had us stopping and peering towards it through the dark. Big rocks and trees in there, that would be a fine camp, but the noise?
The moon was casting our shadows in front of us now, it wasn’t quite full, but plenty bright enough to walk without torches. It was cold, it was clearing above us and the peaked skyline ahead was a ribbon of silver as the loch came into view over the last rise on the track.
It wasn’t too much further before we saw what looked like a good spot, if we could get to it. It wasn’t an island, it might be at times by the look of it, but not right now. It’s been lashed by westerlies all it’s life, but the big boulder at it’s middle has held onto some land and kept this rocky spit from being washed away making for an almost perfect camp spot.
The views, excellent water supply, an easily defensible approach from the land side? Honey, we’re home.

I was fighting with the camera. Gone was the second nature adjustment then a point and click, I was peering at the dial and the screen trying to make sense of it and remember what I wanted. Some of it came back, some of it stayed fuzzy, in my mind and on the virtual film. I didn’t get frustrated at the time and I wasn’t annoyed looking through the shots back at home. It’s just images of us having fun, I didn’t need anything else, maybe that’s balance, freedom? Time will tell, it’s not like this is a once off event.

The headtorches came out for the detail of tent pitching. It wasn’t long before the familiar shapes were up and the sound of silence was roughened at the edges by gas stoves jetting our eagerly awaited dinner ever closer.
It was now completely clear above. The brightest stars twinkled through the moon’s silver wash over the indigo sky and the first of the night’s sprinkle of shooting stars scored a pure white vertical line into the mountains to the north.
It was cold, but I couldn’t feel it. A warm dinner, reindeer chunks in rice, and SuperFreak Californian red. Running around with the camera, breaking the ice to pick up water, filling the pot, running back to refill and having to rebreak the ice, it was all go.

It was also perfect. If I had been apprehensive about whether I’d lost my ability to do this stuff, is wasn’t even a whisper of a memory now.
All I felt was joy and contentment. Actually that swapped over with giddy childlike excitement at times, I think I barely stopped to breathe between sentences at some points. I’m both surprised and grateful Gus didn’t knock me unconscious.

We sat in the dark, both chatty and silent, warm as the ice crept across our gear and the scenery. The moon swung slowly across the sky, throwing different shapes across the scenery. Beinn Suidhe beside us rose impressively and far beyond the mere numbers assigned to it on the map, at various times imaginary ski or ice routes passed through our midnight assessment while the mysterious Coire nam Ban was too white to be natural, was it the start of an inversion, was it a trick of the light?
Neither of us wanted to give this up, going to bed would be an end to it. A few ribbons of cloud scudded across the tops, catching on the moon before dispersing after the effort. I could have drank it all in forever.

But tiredness would not be denied. It had been a stiffer walk than expected, we had marched a little to make up for the late start. Hot chocolate was made, eyes were filled to the brim before the flysheets were zipped for the night.

A buffeting woke me, the tent moved and so did I. It was light, a grey light. I unzipped and looked, swirling cloud, a cold wind made my eyes water. I abandoned the attempt and buried my face back into my layer of down.
The second attempt went better as far as I unzipped the whole door and sat up. I looked out and grinned, I could live with this.

It didn’t look like it, but it was still frozen. The ice on the loch had broken up out from the shore in the night as the wind whipped up some waves, but the ice was thicker where we could get to it. “Doiiinnnnggg” was my first attempt to get water for breakfast.

The dull porridge was abandoned in favour of oatcakes and cheese with some running around our little peninsula on the side. Trying to set up a pose for a team photies was a giggle laced farce.

There was no escaping the beauty of the place. The dark had given it a mystery, a softeness and distance, but the early morning light brought life and drama in splashes of glorious colour.

I was cold when I got up at first, but was quickly warmed up despite the occasion light flurries of snow. We were either going that night or Thursday, which is tonight as I write this. The night where I walked to my folks house in snow shoes. I think we chose the right day.

Camp was as magnetic as it had been the night before. Excuses were made for more cuppas, wandering around, exploring, just staring at the view. It was just outstanding.

Looking east made us move. The snow was passing left and right, but looking back at Bridge of Orchy it seemed likely it was coming straight for us now.
Packing was easy, the packs a little smaller and lighter and it was a little easier to get moving. I fact, I felt great. I was fresh, I had energy, I was feeling that feeling, the one you get when you do this stuff and it goes just right.

A nearby hut was full DofE graffiti, or should I say more accurately cries for help and vows to never again venture into the outdoors. Poor wee buggers with their 75L packs and joyless tramping.

Different for us, bright skies and easy walking. The shapes of the night made sense now, the waterfall was much smaller than it sounded and although the creaky bridge looked like it’s been chewed lightly by Godzilla before he realised he wasn’t in Tokyo, it’s probably sturdy enough.

The stepping stones were stepped on, Gus followed my every step on them with his phone just in case I made an arse of it and ended up in the river. But no, not this time.
The sky greyed as we closed in on the car park, light flurries swirled around us and even the deer felt something was in the air as they didn’t flinch as we passed them by.
Back in the motors we were soon Tyndrum bound for hot food and warm cheeks in clean t-shirts and dry socks.

Every trip is the sum of it’s parts and this trip has left more parts in my head than I know what to do with. Everything was right, the time, the place and the company I kept.
Thank you Gus, thank you Loch Dochard, thank you me for not finding a lame excuse to duck out of doing it.

Standing at that lochside in the dark looking up, I felt that flutter inside. Days later I still feel it.

I think it might be addictive.

j

Oops.

In a previous life I tested outdoor gear, a subject which I will come back to at some point, an activity which kinda stopped me using my favourite stuff as much as I might have done. So when it came to digging deep in the vault and looking for my comfort blankets, my old red Laser Comp was the thing I wanted most.
My favourite tent of all time, not the model, just that particular tent. A beacon of joy in the dark, a frequent summit home, a reliable companion on many solo wanders, I needed it right now and for some reason when I found it, it was tied in a knot.


Why did I tie it in a knot. I’d obviously dried it after the last trip, it was clean and odour free, so what the hell was I up to. I turned over in my hands, the DIY dyneema guys hanging like tentacles on a skinny unconscious octopus. Perhaps the octopus was drugged. Who know what unsavory characters octopuses attract with their funny eyes and slinky movements.

Anyway.

I held the fly up to the light then tugged at ever cord and every stub of webbing one at a time until the obvious was in my hand. Dammit. An easy repair in my sewing machine, but not tonight. I should have done it at the time. Idiot.
Still, another old favourite was pulled out, the hole in that hadn’t gotten any bigger while it sat there doing nothing, so it’ll be fine. Probably.
Now onto stoves, let’s see… Oh, crap.

Yes, I made it. Holly had awesome stuff in her toybox when she was little.
Ah, if only maintenance was as fun and fannying about with Plasticine.

 

Guiding Light

Still a ranger at the Lang Craigs and you’ll find me there often. Well maybe, I’m rarely on the paths, so look for a garishly coloured shape on the skyline somewhere.
The trees are growing, the landscape is morphing ever so slightly, ever so slowly. Lower down there’s natural play and accessible paths, higher up the slopes park benches now wait for the more intrepid visitor in slacks and sensible shoes.

It can still be wild if you know it like I do though. So when I do guided walks on the site, that’s what folks get to see.

I can call one or two of this group in the photies friends having known them for years, but most didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t give them time to wonder either as the “informative banter” started immediately. I had another group with some French folk in it, amazingly they tuned in to every word, maybe there’s something in the Auld Alliance right enough.

It was cool not cold, not too bright but not too dull and good grief we got an unexpected eyeful. The Craigs never get routine for me, but now and then they splash an extra wide grin on my face that wasn’t feeling likely when I got out of bed that morning.

There was happy chatter over lunch above the clouds from a group largely looking at retirement as a fond memory. They could move with a purpose though on so many replacement knees, even when I took them on the scenic, somewhat scrambly descent.
Sharing this place with good folks like this lot really is a joy.

Get your group booked in.

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

We’re too close to the hills to not take a run into them at the slightest excuse. It was pissing down and everything out there was sodden, but that just gave the snowballs a bit of bite when they hit the back of your neck.
Hot chocolate steaming up our glasses, wet gear misting up the truck windscreen, laughter louder than the CDs we fight over to see who chooses next one as we rolled home for dry socks and mindless prime time telly.
Been just the two of us for a year now, it’s just as well we get on so well.

Best Day Ever

As I have failed to find an amusing Alpaca related title I’m with Holly’s assessment of the event: “Best Day Ever”.

She’s like me, forever finding new things to add to the list of topics to enthuse about, research and explore. Llamas and alpacas has been #1 for a while so some sort of trek was always going to happen, when birthday time came around it was the obvious choice.
There are quite a few folk doing this now, but Bobcat Alpacas in the Pentlands south of Edinburgh was accessible, they looked friendly and it was easy to get home from if it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

Holly shrieked and whooped in a key Michael Jackson couldn’t have reached when she found out and getting out of school a little early to get there didn’t hurt my official dad rating either.
It was however a freezing cold, damp, windy, miserable day and all I could hear in my head as the truck rumbled east on the M8 was “Dad I want to go home” when the furriness of the alpaca became less attractive than staving off hypothermia as we wandered through the hills. However, the warm welcome we got when we arrived and also dressing for the weather (it turns out we have a good bit of warm outdoor clothing around the place) meant that the furriness was enough to keep the smiles on for the rest of the day.

It was always in the back of my mind that I might be participating in an exercise in exploitation, dragging animals around against their will as a leisure activity. The worries were quickly gone when I found that the alpacas were just like you seen on the telly; friendly, quirky, inquisitive, cuddly and very hungry. It turns out these walks are doing as much good for the alpacas as it does for the walkers (walkees?).
They just loved being out, seeking out snacks in the scenery, having a wee scratch on a jaggy bush and pretty much doing what they liked, luckily mostly in the general direction that we were supposed to be going in.

We both led, followed and accompanied our own alpaca, I had Milo and Holly had Amadeus, they both had distinct personalities. Amadeus was mostly calm unless he saw something very tasty and dragged Holly off here feet to get to it while Milo was a little mental and through himself into the undergrowth unexpectedly a couple of times. That works for me.
One of the others sang the whole time, one wanted to run, one was just little and stayed by the owner Bob, a hell of nice fella who’d retired from the civil service and started Bobcat with his lump sum. He’s got the right manner for this, loves the animals and happily fields stupid questions from the likes of us. How many times a week does he hear “Is this not a llama then?”

It was maybe like the kids let off the bus on a school trip, there was a plan for when they got there and everyone got back on the bus safe and on time, but the chaos and hilarity inbetween is what made the trip special.

We had a fine wee trek on the edge of the Pentlands. The alpacas were great company, the rumours about the calming effect are true, the exude peace and contentment through their miraculously thick and plush furriness. Whatever is going on in their heads is pure genius and gold plated. I reckon they’re waiting for humanity to wipe itself out and they’ll replace us at the top of the food chain with a different message to give to the other species “Okay, a fresh start. We’re just going to chill okay? Yeah man, just like that”.

Back at the farm we visited the rest of the flock/herd/pack and did some feeding just as it got dark and the sleet started to bite. We got a ball of Milo’s wool and I had to prise Holly off of Amadeus and drag her back to the truck to thaw out. It was over far too soon and we will go back. It was indeed the best day ever.