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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.

Return to the scene of the crime

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.

 

Walkhighlands Review

This odd winter has kinda messed with my review schedule on Walkhighlands, so I’m now looking at testing the stuff for next winter just now as forward samples are becoming available, never will I have been so organised. Aye, we’ll see.
So, I pulled in the kids gear review which has been on the go for many months. Holly and my buddy David’s youngster Jake have been abusing the gear since early last year and as I’ve found over the years doing kids kit, it’s pretty damn good.

I was just in the Kilpatricks doing visitor surveys with fellow ranger Jo in the wind and rain when a dad and two boys came down from the crags towards us and were happy to stop and answer our damned fool questions.
Dad had his hill kit on and the boys were also head to toe in the right gear, waterproof trousers, jackets, rucksacks, hats and gloves. They’d walked over the hills from Clydebank and knowing the route these youngsters who are about Holly’s age 8 or 9 had done exceptionally well both with the distance and the weather. They were warm, still enthusiastic after a lot of miles and told me that their plans were to start the Munro’s this year. They even had their whistles on the pack chest straps and proudly told me what they were for and how to use them.

I did the survey, so I know this a family who doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around but they still had it so right. The kit and the smiling faces told the story. I was just so pleased to see it and so happy for them to be doing it. It really was a wee emotional moment for me, the dad and the mountain man in me shared the joy equally.
Best of luck to them.

Night Light

The best snow for me this winter so far wasn’t on a big hill, it was in the Kilpatricks. As a Woodland Trust Lang Craigs ranger it’s not all about walking the deer fence, there’s the wacky and fun stuff too and the Torchlit event was probably the best do we’ve had on the site.


Cancelled a couple of months ago because of high winds, the fresh snow and travel problems didn’t stop it from going ahead this time and it was magical. Children and grown ups were wide eyed together as they walked the snowy paths to find a minstrel in the trees who led them through a candle lit forest to find two pixies swinging from a tree. These two brave wee souls took them all further uphill to the fire wielder in the meadow who led the kids a merry dance around the sculpture.
Holly was wearing her wolf hat and was named “Wolfchild” by the swinging pixies, this of course went down very well. There was a frozen harpist in a tent, hot chocolate for all and it was very well attended despite the falling snow and temperature drop.

Never seen the like. Pure magic.

Tom

Tom, one half of our degu team died yesterday. He lived a happy six months after losing and eye and having a lot of scarring to recover from received during what turns out to be common degu feature: hormone fueled battles with cage mates.
I never wanted pets but these wee guys won me over instantly and they both have, had, their own characters. I look forward to the wee squeaks when I come home and despite myself I like having them around.
Holly was distraught as expected, Tom was everyone’s favourite and we had a proper farewell in the pouring rain just like we were in a movie. Quite right too.
Jerry’s on his own now, he’s family so here he stays, we’ll just see what to do next, he’s lonely now. We’re a little at a loss today.
Bloody hell, who’d have thought.

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Control

Just finishing up my next review for Walkhighlands which is, should I say what it is? It’s good anyway, something a bit old school. As much as the brands and technology want to keep moving us forward onto the next thing, some basic stuff just works. I think it works better with a hood too.
The next few months is what’s making me think, the seasonal range changes can make a review only a few months old out of date which is kind of annoying, gear really shouldn’t date so fast.
But I still don’t want to repeat any of last years review subjects so I’m trying to get to winter 2016 without a single retread of something. I’ll be cutting it close at times, lightweight waterproofs where I did winter weight last time around, backpacking and larger capacity rucksacks where I’ve just recently done day sacks. Hey, if it all gets too much I’ll do socks. Oh, socks, the difference between a good day and a bad day? Goes to look at 2016 socks…

While I think about that, here’s me in the recording studio thinking about why I’m trying the 17th take on a guitar solo I’ve been playing live and in rehearsal for a year.

Phones

Passing

The world this weekend is too big for me to talk about, but while all is turmoil on whatever channel you turn to, there’s always something to lift you.
I spotted a light slowly heading upriver through the storm. It was silent at first then the throb of diesel engines could be heard, maybe felt just a little too. The lights picked out shimmering cones of light as the rain blasted through the beams and the drops splashed then ran down the hull plates giving them a glittery sheen. The windows all had a warm glow and as they slipped past in the deep darkness they seemed like a little island of calm and coziness. No one could be seen on deck struggling with equipment or the wind, it all looked calm and under control as the two tugs and the ship in their care moved as one past us and on towards the bridge.

Cold warning comes, for me.

When the day long darkness lifted its weight a few times I was delighted to see the hills splashed with some white, even down to 100m or so.
Snow brings a mix of joy and terror, It’s been interesting seeing the different reactions from my mountain buddies and my musician friends. I like this extra perspective, I also like being the most weather ready guitarist out there.

Here’s a smile inducing memory from earlier in the year. I could barely stand up. Awesome.

Wilde in the country

It’s been foggy of late, and we all know fog is only skin deep. I’ve been in the Kilpatricks at night most of the time which I enjoy but when I can’t see a thing out the window and time is short, there really is only one thing to do.

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15 minutes and I’m in a different world. The Kilpatricks are seeing a lot of change, ravaged by forestry commission’s vandalism with machinery on one side and on my side where the Woodland Trust are we have a mix of new wild growth and a softening  of the edges with new access paths.
There’s more people up here which is as it should be, but I can still find peace so it’s still a place I go by choice as well as to look at the deer fence.

 

 

Window’s Vista ’15

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One thing that used to regularly punctuate all the other shite I put on here was the view from the living room window. It’s WSW so catches the sunset from autumn to spring and it’s as glorious as an summit sunset.
I’ve missed catching so many, but last week the camera was where I could find it quick. The colours are as real as Panasonic will let them be, nature knows her stuff.

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The Two T’s

My recharged love of making music continues with two main focuses. One is the reunion of the original Trinity lineup from the early 90’s. We’re all of a certain age, all dads and after a near death via whisky night out, we’re the friends we used to be once again which is the best thing about it all.
We have plans, we’ll see how that pans out early next year, writing and rehearsing will continue for the time being. Band Facebook page has photies and sounds.
Which one am I below?

TWee

Twometresdeep is still there, injuries and the difficulties of getting the five of us in the same place at the same time has made for gig cancellations and lack of playing time, but we have a bunch of new songs of which I am very proud and the following recording of which I am very pleased. The cleanest guitar part I ever played in my life.

We recorded this in Red Eye in Clydebank under the expert engineering eye of George. No click tracks, it’s almost one-take with the band playing live. I’m pretty chuffed with that.
Laura stuck a wee video together for it.

Walkhighlands

I’ve still been in the hills, still been using gear and my reviews are up once a month right here. The next few months are looking good too, I’ve tried not to repeat any of the review subjects from the last year. See how long I can keep that up.
There’s a stack of stuff has fallen the rough the gaps and I’ll be catching up with that on here with a bunch of reviews over the next wee while.

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Is it time?

I’ve had a few little flutters, I’ve had to catch my breath and let it out slowly so I didn’t blurt out the wrong words, but today the flow of thoughts and emotions finally ran through all their little gullies and into a river flowing the same way.
My last spark of inspiration came from the original source, voices and images from nearly 25 years ago and I was suddenly both then and now. It’s a rare thing to catch once again the feelings of your first step and I think I’ve been very lucky, I think I got away with it.
Better do some house keeping.

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