Neon Knights

Now that the WHW*Falldoon is all public, and the hilariously worded press release had been sent out, I think it’s dawned on us that we’re really going, and the runners are now feeling the pressure. Us on the bikes though? Lets put it this way, I had a sausage supper and a can of Coke when I was waiting on Craig to finish work before we met Phil at mine to go for a night ride/run. Aye, the bike folk will be fine. Probably?

What a lovely night to be out, clear sky with a few wee clouds occasionally diffusing the moonlight, cool autumn air and the hills to ourselves.
Craig made good time on foot and soon left us behind on the climb. Once on the top, Phil and I found the tracks to be on the moist side and cosequently bike control was on the tenuous side at times. A couple of stops to adjust the lights and we were through the forest and ready to charge down to Overtoun, Milton and hot cuppas.
But as soon as we lifted the bikes over the fence and started down, Phil went straight over the bars as the bike got all upset in a deep rut. He wandered along beside me with the light on the bars looking sideways.
We sorted it all out, straightened ourselves up and headed off again. The trail was slippy, with all the difficulties, steep bits and the same speed as usual. So when my front wheel went into one rut and my back wheel slid into another I knew I was going into the bracken. It was soft in there and as I lay and looked up at the moon I could hear a voice floating through the night time chill “Are you aff?”. First proper stack on the new bike, that feels better now.
We slid and skittered our way down the rest of the way without incident, and also without Craig. We thought he’d maybe streaked ahead as I was fannying around adjusting my light angle, or taking photies (again), so we didn’t pause and flew down the tarmac to the BP garage at Milton where we sipped coffees and wondered where the boy wis.
Ten minutes later, a headtorch bobbed into the forecourt. “I went left at the trail junction”, “We went right”.

Night riding is great, but it takes a wee while to get your eye back in as we found. My lights are superb, an Exposure Maxx D on the bars and a Joystick (original, anodised purple!) on my helmet, it was like daylight in front of me.
Phil drew blood from his leg, I merely tenderised my hip. Craig just needed a Honey Stinger Protein bar. We did push though, and the times were good. But I’ll tell you, I don’t care because it was just great fun.

And, the Montane Lite-Speed got its first outing, it survived bracken intrusion and thwarted a hot coffee spillage admirably. It also has arms long enough on me for biking which the Featherlite doesn’t do so well at. Nice.

Aw man, not more bikes?

Phil and I went for a training ride in the KiIpatricks tonight. I say training, but it’s really just a jolly. We say training just so we actually go rather than procrastinate. It’s midweek joy as well, banter, hills and a lovely evening to ride through to boot. It’s getting cooler up there, aye, and getting dark earlier all the time.

The climbing went well, I had a couple gears left to fall back on if my legs couldn’t take it. In fact I even found myself speeding up on a couple of occasions. Previously unheard of, that kinda stuff. I suppose it’s mostly the new bike, but I do think there’s a bit of me fighting in there as well.
We didn’t really hang about much, it was getting dark and with the downhill run to Overtoun at the end we had to push as we didn’t fancy our chances on that bit of the trail with e+lites strapped to our helmets.
When we got there it was fast and total blast. It’s the banana split after the steak and chips.

We had enough light though, and darkness only really fell when we got down to Milton. The BP garage on the A82 was the first port of call for coffees. The lassie at the till shouted over to her pal at the food counter “That’s a large latte and a large black coffee for the boy with the mud on his face…” .
We had a blether outside with the cuppas. It had been great fun, grins all the way. We’d made good time too, very good in fact. Phil’s racing the Wan Day in the Pentlands at the weekend and he’s looking good for it.
It’s funny, I didn’t expect the WHW thing to take over so much. I’m usually pretty half arsed with my outdoors stuff (no, really), but with six of us going, kit and media shit to deal with as well as the logistics, it’s become #1 by stealth I think, perhaps even by osmosis?
I need to get in a tent to stop me becoming obsessed though. That can happen you know.
Four weeks to go.

Look What We Found!

A couple of days before the last (and thankfully successful) Glen Affric trip, the folks from Look What We Foundgot in touch. They make boil-in-the-bag meals, and none of your crap either, the names say “bring the restaurant to the mountain” to me: Home Reared Beef in Black Velvet Porter with Potatoes; Mushroom Stroganoff with hand-picked Scottish Mushrooms. Hardly roughing with that in your pack it is it?
Several time this summer I’ve been caused problems through lack of water, routes changes, camp sites a compromise rather than ideal, and having boil-in-the-bag food would have helped me out quite a lot. It’s something worth thinking about, it means carrying extra gas probably, but it;’s not enough extra weight to be an arse burster. Another thing is variety, if you’re out a lot you really have to swap brands and types of food so you don’t get fed up looking at the same thing all the time, and tucking into real food has to be nothing but good. Naan bread, oatcakes and the like will add a bit of dryness as usual and your cuppa is made with the water that just heated the bag. Magic.
The test samples arrived the day I came back from the trip and I’ve had to resist the temptation to eat some on a daily basis ever since. If I’d spoken to them a few days earlier I might have changed my plans on the hill with some of their gear as I would have had 500ml more water the next morning. Interesting.
Field test imminent.

The light at the middle of the tunnel

I didn’t get out for a ride tonight, which was annoying as I’ve just fitted new bars and stem to the bike. I also stuck on my hand-built wheels and was depressed to find that the new cheapos that came with the bike might be lighter as the rims are actually top notch. But, the hubs are pish.
Ach, I’ll deal with it later.
Minging weather, dinner, Cat visiting and having little energy left after spending the afternoon having to hotwire some equipment in a flooded plantroom to enable it all to run for two days before I strip it all out has had me fastened to the chair since I came in and still in my working gear too.
I did have lunch with my best pal from primary school though, only the second time we’ve met in over 20 years, and apparently the passage of time, is in some cases kind of irrelevant.
It really was great, and interesting to see how much and indeed how little we change through the years.

There’s talk of pressing pause on the Empire Strikes Back to make tea. I’m playing dumb and hoping someone else’s nerve/patience goes. I hate making multiple cuppas, it dilutes the art, it’s mass production … or some other nonsense that covers for my laziness. 

So, back to writing KORS Part 2, what can I say about Rab’s use of yellow and purple? This’ll delay me ever more…

Mind your head when leaving seat

It’s good being in the one place for a change, I spend much of my week going from one customer crisis to another, and installations or major maintenance are the only times I get to stay put for any length of time.
It’s also good to have the team together on site, some of us anyway. I often miss the kaleidoscope of banter that weaves through the physical exertion punctuated by mugs of tea that makes up the day when we’re all together. Times change though, folk go and work elewhere or shave their beards off, the contracts and clients change and you have to go with it all.
But, melancholy is for putting in your soup, not for setting the tone of today or tomorrow.

Plans have been made over cuppas and bolt-tightening this weekend, not pie in the sky ones like “let’s trek to the Pole” or “we should go to the Lakes”, but stuff we can tackle easily that’ll be a bit of fun.
I say easily, but no doubt I’ll turn up late and turn it into an unnecessary struggle for all concerned.

Anyway, steam test in a few hours. Now, did we tighten everything

Plan B

Kev was right, go the other way. 

I’m not going to talk about the A82, I don’t want to look back on this in times to come an just read about how close I kept coming to having a stroke behind the wheel. Let’s just say the journey north was harrowing and leave it at that. Harrowing.
I stopped in Ft Bill for a couple of bits and pieces, a mini naan from Morrison’s, and some Nuun from Ellis Brighams. Morrison’s was easy, they even had rucksack-sized yumyums. Entering EB’s after the “boot incident” just isn’t the same. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe it’s a bit like EB was the smart arsed kid in class, who when asked “What’s the capital of Peru?” answered “The Factory Act of 1833”. They’re stuck with that one defining moment of stupidity in my mind.
I was fingering through the racks of stuff and came across those 150 weight Icebreaker t-shirts and it occurred to me that maybe I would be better in one of those than my nice checked shirt. I dunno, a moment of distraction we’ll say. But pulling at the corner of the t-shirt was a big magnetic swing tag which immediately caused me to raise an eyebrow. Still, I took it the the checkout where said tag was removed and I said “Thanks, let’s have a look…” and held it up to the light to see the big hole where the tag had been. “Ach” says I. At which point someone more senior homed in this potential loss of sale.
“That’s fine”
“No, there’s a hole it”
“It’s next to the hem”
Sigh…”Do you have one round the back without a hole in it?”
“No, this one is fine”
“No, there’s a hole in it, why don’t you put the tag through the label?”
“People will cut them off with scissors”
Sigh…”So I have to have a t-shirt with a hole in it because…look, never mind, I’ll take the Nuun thanks”
“You’re not taking the t-shirt?”
“No, there’s a hole it”

An hour later I was in 914 Outdoorin Dornie and was breathing a sign of relief at a wee shop jammed with kit and staffed by smiling folks. They had the 125g Rekri8 gas canister which brought me great joy, and minutes later I was pulling into the thoughtfully provided walkers carpark at the entrance to the Attadaleestate by Loch Carron. It’s beautiful country up here, half mountain infested wilderness, half Balamory. It should be visited by all with extreme haste.

1710hrs when I left the carpark, even for me that’s leaving it late. Especially considering I was supposed to be camping on one of the (if not the) remotest peaks in the UK. In baking sunshine I wandered through the estate on old-time tarmac, there’s gardens to visit and holiday cottages to rent, very pleasant.
My right shoe’s is a little loose, I should tighten it.
It’s pretty much estate track until you reach the slopes of Lurg Mhor, but it’s not the too-familiar bulldozed scars of elsewhere, what we have here is old, wear-hardened tyre-tracks, often with a grassy mohican in the middle. It winds through forest and by lochans, high into the hills and far away. Without the track, covering this distance would be much harder, but there is a trade-off. It’s hard on the feet.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll need to tighten it soon.
There’s a big meander to the left which does take you higher than you were expecting at at nearly 350m, and it’s here you leave Loch Carron behind and first see where you’re going. And it’s really far away.
Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor look very different from this side than they do from the regular point of view on the ascent over Beinn Tharsuinn from Craig to the north. In fact, when does Lurg Mhor actually even get into the photie? It’s always that same shot with the lochan on Tharsuinn and Sheasgaich’s summit. I really wanted to see what was on the other side. Miles of track as it turns out, and as I wandered along I kept imagining what this empty land would be like in winter, scary I think. I never saw a single soul while I was in there and it’s holiday time, I don’t see it being any busier in the first week of February.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll tighten it at the bridge.
Bendronaig Lodge and bothy is remote, it feels more remote than the recently visited Altbeithe, and also more deserted. Apart from some heilan coos which ran away, I’ve never know heilan coos to run away.
The track splits and then I was suddenly in the mountains. The sky became a strip walled by crags and I knew I was finally getting somewhere, but the sun was sinking, I was hungry and a little tired. The heat just sucks the life out of me. I stopped by Loch Calavie and had some munchies, including the now vital chicken Cup-a-Soup. The sun was out of view behind Sàil Riabhach, but the light spilling over the the other hills was golden, I was running out of time and I still had 600-odd meters of ascent.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll tighten it up when I get to the ridge.
The slopes of Lurg Mhor are flooded with flowers. I lost count of the different colours, shapes and sizes as i slowly climbed towards the skyline. I could see the clouds start to catch some colours at their fringes and there was a breeze whipping up. The day was shutting up shop. Curse my lateness, I was going to get the finish line and take an expected left turn to the icecream van like an idiot and miss out on the mighty prize.
I made it onto the rocky plateau with the lochan below Lurg Mhor’s summit to see Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich blocking the sun as it hit the horizon. Now it looks like an eclipse of sorts, at the time I was just shouting “Bastard, bastard, bastard…” and trying to get to the summit cone of Lurg Mhor before I missed out completely.
As is often the case, it’s when the sun goes down that the sky really lights up. I saw the tiniest glimpse of the sun as it sank from view and the clouds just exploded. All the miles in that heat, all the cleg bites that I’m sitting here scratching, all worth it.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, no point in tightening it now, I’ll be camped soon.
The summit of Lurg Mhor is a fine spot with a very fancy cairn. The hills in view are the superstars of Torridon, Skye and Kintail, and there’s the scary steep and deep coire just beyond the cairn. I lingered and enjoyed, it was 2230 and it was bliss.
I would have camped right there, but I needed water and the lochan below was calling to me. It’s a pity, there’s a flat patch of grass 10 feet from the cairn that was perfect. But I needed cuppas in abundance, and dinner. Hopefully before midnight.

My right shoe was a little loose, I should’ve tightened it.
My first blister since the West Highland Way, my own stupid fault. I sat in the bivy shaking my head. Clean socks on and I felt much better, hot food and drink and I was quite happy. There was still birdsong, and the sky glowed to the north as the sun took a shortcut just under the horizon to spring back up in the east in four hours.
I was comfy all night, but I never slept much because of the brightness. In the bivy it was a bit like sleeping inside a space hopper with a desk lamp trained on it. I watched the sky light up sometime after 0400 and within an hour I gave up and had the stove on again. I never saw the sunrise, I was just too tired to get shoes on and run over to the other side of the ridge. It was cold as well, and very windy, but I was snug and happy in my sleeping bag with my proper coffee from a Lyon’s bag.

I was breaking camp around 0600 and was away. It wasn’t a vintage camp spot, but at 2300 and being waterless, my needs outweighed the picturesque and it did give a great starting point for day two.

Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich isn’t too far away. It’s a rocky descent to the bealach and then straight back up, and when you’re onto the summit ridge itself it really is an “Alright!” moment. It’s got a little exposure to the west and absolutely stunning views everywhere. Walking the ridge past the summit (with its amusingly small cairn) you can look down on the regular route. Sod that, huge amounts of ascent, descent, re-ascent and possibly even a little traversing and re-traversing.
The wind was whipping across the top which threatened to tip the camera and tripod over the side, so I ended up sitting by a rock just looking and grinning. I started down about 0715, it was a long trek and I wanted to get some of it out of the way before the sun was too high above me.
I soon passed all the places that I should have camped on Sàil Riabhach’s ridge, this is wonderful ground right here. I could have walked the ridge all day, but the steep descent was soon upon me and I was back on the track too soon. I stopped by a deep pool and had a brunch of sorts, and adjusted my layers. I’d been wearing a powerstretch top since I broke camp, but it was time to be back in my shirt and daft hat. The heat was creeping up and I was back in trek mode, as opposed to mountain mode. But I’m not actually sure there’s a difference as such.

I reached and passed the bridge over Uisge Dubh’s beautiful gorge and started the climb out of the glen. It was now roasting and lack of sleep was beginning to tell on me. I stuck my iPod on and set my legs to automatic. My iPod seems to have had a nervous breakdown. I like “Shuffle Songs” on the move, but it picked Rush’s Hemispheres, 2112 and Cygnus X-1 one after the other, an hour to get through three songs. Then it hit me with Tone Loc straight afterwards, which just felt odd. I could have pressed skip at any time, but I loaded the songs, so I’m not letting the iPod know that I didn’t want to hear it, it’ll undermine my authority over it.
I was happy to be desending again and it’s very different here in amongst the trees and lochans, dragonflies of all colours swooping past, butterflies chasing each other around like confetti in the wind, birds, frogs all were out and not afraid to announce themselves. Wildlife had been a feature of this trip, the stag that had bellowed at my arrival on the slopes of Lurg Mhor had unsettled me a little, but he soon gave up and left the hill to me. The other creatures were then divided into those which delighted and those which saw me as food.

It was 33°C when I hit the estate tarmac. My steps were slow, my blister was sore and I really wanted a cold can of Irn Bru.
I arrived at the motor and opened all the doors, stood back to let if cool and stripped myself of pack, shoes and clothes. Magic.
I reinstalled shorts and t-shirt and headed off to find a fridge and its contents.

Another short sharp adventure, and that seems to be the way of it these days. Truth be told I don’t like being away from the girls too long anyway, Holly really doesn’t like it when I’m gone too long, it upsets her a lot, so a night or two is about my limit now. I don’t give a shit though, it’s taken me 20 years to get around to climbing Lurg Mhor and I didn’t do it in the times of multi-day trips a few years ago, so I reckon I’m making the most of my time now.
As ever I’m a bit vague about what my route was, but this one will be in Trail in a couple of months, Hey, I took notes and everything!
I will say that it’s well worth doing it from this side, I saw no-one, there’s only traces of a path on the hill, and I really felt like I was out there. Marvellous.

Competition Time with Expedition Foods!

What was the dry weight of my current favourite Chicken Tikka 800Kcal main meal?
It was 130g

Thanks for all the entries, and thanks for all of the kind messages attached, bless all of you good peaple out there.
Our winner (picked by Holly with a little coercion, involving witholding Peppa Pig) is Jeremy Taylor who will be sticking a spoon into an orange bag very soon.

Peppa Pig! do do do do…do do do do Peppa Pig!!

“What are you up to?”
“I’ve got to take some hours, and I’m thinking of heading out”
“It’s looking nice right enough, I can get away and I need photies of that Big Agnes tent”
“Let’s go”

We’d planned to camp on Beinn an Dothaidh ages back, but we ended up somewhere else, either another hill or the Real Food cafe, I’m not entirely sure. But, with righting whatever wrongs we may or may not have bestowed upon ourselves on our minds we left mine for Bridge of Orchy sometime after 1500.
Phil was driving, bless ‘im.

It was easy following the increasingly eroded path up to the bealach between Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Dorain. The sandy earth is being washed away down a deepening trench and the piles of Type 1 being shovelled on top of the track don’t seem to be helping. I haven’t seen this area without snow cover for years and I was shocked.
On the higher and harder ground, the trail is rocky with the crags and slabs of Coire an Dothaidh cupping their hands around you with surprising steepness until you pop out over the top edge and pick your peak from left or right.

We wound our way up the track to the left into the concave plateau that’s the summit of Beinn an Dothaidh. It’s a nice trail, and heads off the the central bump of three that’s the highest spot, but we headed onto open hillside to the slightly lower 1000m West Top to see what camping opportunities there were.
As it turned out we were spoiled for choice. There’s a shelf runs along the edge of the plateau with a strip of grass that fights the bare rock hard enough to give plenty of spaces for pitching a tent. But, we were also very distracted by the view West, the thick blocks of cloud and areas of clear sky with light steaming through cast all the hills into dark shadow or glowing fairyland. It was just stunning. With one eye on the view, and one eye on the ground we ended up right at the cairn and pitched the tents.

The views were as fluid as the cloud, peaks appearing and disappearing, patches of light running like torchbeams over the hillsides. Outstanding. We just wandered around with cameras in hand until we really had to eat. The sunset was a peachy-orange strip on the horizon and then it was gone, it was the clouds who were putting on the show. It’s nice when somebody else gets a shot.
We wandered around, and along the top of impressive crags of the Northern coire, but not to the actual summit, even though it was very close. We never did go over to it, even the next day.

It got very cold very quick, from 28°C  when we arrived, to 4°C when I got in the tent. Dinner was crazy late, but we’d carried enough water to be able to have numerous cuppas with gay abandon and it was all rather pleasant. I had no iPod, I had no book, I just went to bed and with only a light breeze and was out like a light.
I said to Phil that I though I’d had some great deep sleep in the night, “I know, I woke up and heard you”.

I woke to grey. A patch of ground outside the tent beaded with dew and beyond that; grey.
I lit the stove and lay back with a”Humph”.
Then as one from both tents “Whoa!”.
The cloud blew away and swirled above us revealing the dappled Highlands of the night before, but with warmer, sharper light streaming from the East wherever it could find a gap.

More wandering with cuppas, more photies, more looking at watches and thinking “We really have to be going soon”. It was a school day after all.

We looked at the map and I said lets just walk in a straight line to the station. So we did.
It started out well as the temperature rose and there was a cool breeze and we traversed the grassy slopes. Then we turned a corner and I found myself on ground so steep that when I looked down at Phil I could see his toes sticking out from under his chin…
My knees were screaming by the time we found the river and met the outgoing track at the edge of Coire an Dothaidh. It was also suddenly very hot, so I found myself in short sleeves and Phil in short legs. We started to walk down the track, them we were hopping on the rocks, and then we were running.
The sight of two men running down the hill first thing in the morning with overnight gear on their backs appeared to slightly rattle the first walker we met. But the warmer it got, the more we slowed, and the second outbound early bird was more chatty, and said that “You young guys” were “Hardy” for being out all night. I fully expect that to be the last time in my life that “Young guy” is used in any context referring to myself.

It was back to the motor and the the road South, where we got stuck behind every truck and bus and caravan and stupid under the sun as they jammed side by side with each other on the road between Tarbet and Inverarnan, grinding traffic to a complete standstill several times.
Still, it didn’t dampen the little flame of joy lit by an evening in the Highlands, and on a school night too.

Pulling our fat out of the fire

Logistics? That’s just “plan” with a velvet jacket on. But, we had to work to a plan with deadlines, availability and weather standing across the door with their arms folded.
And then of course…it was late by the time I left

The journey up to Kintail was a bloody nightmare. I spent more time on the right hand side of the road than even the farthest travelled commuter on the European mainland. Stupids driving north with the same predictability and sense of direction as a sack of tatties emptied down a stairwell, roadworks on smooth sections of road and none where you’d expect them to be because the surface there means it’s not too dissimilar to driving along a disused railway track.
Still, with white knuckles and clenched teeth I turned right into Morvich and looked at the oh-so familiar sights of the steep slopes and ahead and the pressure began to drop. When I pulled up horrendously late behind the camper van I was looking for at the Countryside Centre and stepped out into the sunshine, one last exclamation of frustration and I was back to normal. Probably a “Hello” would have been better as my first words though.

I was meeting top photographer Tim Glasby who would be shooting our trek, and as it was a bit of a hike North he and his partner were taking the days either side of our trip for a bit of a gad about. His partner is Lucy Creamer, Britain’s top female climber and when we all set off on the trail (also with wonder-dog Kodo) a question a dear friend asked me a while ago came to mind “So, have they found you out yet?”.
I’m a heating engineer in trail shoes indeed.

The walk up Strath Croe and round into Gleann Chòinneachain is on a lovely track through lush grass, bluebells and woodland with the deeply gullied shoulder of A’ Mhuc ahead hinting at more mountainous times ahead.
Once into Gleann Chòinneachain the atmosphere changes, from a wide lush meadow to a narrow and steep sided glen, with a skyline now broken by shattered crags. The first goal is the high pass of Bealach an Sgàirne, and as we walked onwards the wind died, but the sun kept beating down and the temperature rose to the mid 30°C’s and stayed there for the next two days as long as the sun was unobstructed by it’s nemesis, The Cloud Army. Who were very thin on the ground, there could be a convention somewhere, they might be planning new shapes to give meteorologists a chance to think up some wacky new names.

Ice cold water tumbled far below the track, in places deep enough to plunge but there are burns running down the back of Beinn Fhada too, and the water was welcome both in temperature and taste, fresh mountain water free from any man or sheep made evils. I soaked my cotton cowboy hat at every opportunity, the drips from the brim and the slow evaporation soothed where there would have been only sweat and distress. Every spot of exposed skin had sunblock on it, unusually for me I had a short sleeve t-shirt on, and just as well. I had my new Ruggeds (all-black, alright!) on, and I think the only time the vents were closed was when I put them in the washing machine when I got back.
We stopped for a breather just before the final ascent to the Bealach where the Allt Coire an Sgàirne and Allt a Choire Chaoil join forces and rush past on their way to Loch Duich. Fresh rain from earlier in the week mixed with snow melt, bottles were filled, faces splashed and that was the last water we saw that didn’t need to be boiled until the later the next day.

The entrance to the Bealach sees another change, you’re high up and looking higher to rugged peaks and far down to the river below, it’s like standing at a 20th story, high-rise block window to the Highlands. But, when you turn around there’s no woodchip and magnolia, there’s a dusty track meandering through a boulder strewn pass with crags looming over your head.
It’s a wonderful place, the whole track to here is wonderful. I’ll go back with the girls and walk to the bealach on its own for a picnic, like Glen Nevis or Kinloch Hourn to Barrisdale, it’s proof that mountains aren’t the be-all and end-all.
Reaching the high point of the bealach reveals Loch a Bhealaich  250m below, indigo blue and calling to us all. We stood for a while to enjoy the breeze that flowed gently through this notch in the scenery.
The ascent had taken a lot longer than planned, not because of faffing around, or setting up shots, but because of the heat. The constant 3-bar electric fire held over our heads had been sucking the tank dry.
I felt for Tim as he was carrying his overnight kit as well as his camera kit and looking at my watch, my water bottle and my map I started thinking about Plan B. There was no way we were making Mullach na Dheiragain in daylight, or with enough water for comfort or safety.
As we reached the banks of the loch to make a brew and rest up we changed the route and we’d camp on either Beinn an t-Socaich or Sgurr Gaorsaic. I knew that only one of those had guaranteed water on it and I resigned myself to not getting onto Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan that day, but as we climbed the steep grassy slopes from Gleann Gnìomhaidh I didn’t care on little bit. This was different, rather than being annoyed at not making a goal, I was looking forward to standing on the overlooked Corbett of Sgurr Gaorsaic.

Lucy and Kodo had left us below and had headed onwards to take the track round to Gleann Lichd and back to Morvich, which turned out to be an unexpected five-hour adventure. Kodo has lost her pink rubber ball by this time as well, a pink ball she found by the loch-side. Bloody hell, what were the chances of finding a pink rubber ball on the walk into glen Affric?

It was a horrendous climb up steep grass. We were both so hot, I was really hungry by now, and Tim was suffering, we just wanted to stop.
We crept over the edge of the wide south ridge of Sgurr Gaorsaic at the 800m contour and that was when the mood changed.
We both looked at each other and grinned.
By accident we’d ended up in the ideal spot, a skyline of peaks better defined by our meagre height of 839m, a rocky plateau full of camping possibilites and a lochan full of fresh rainwater ready to be transformed in cuppas and dinner. Packs off, cameras out.
It was beautiful, just beautiful.

The tents went upand the sun went down, and by the time we’d done all that we needed to do it was after 2200. I scooped up some water from the lochan and the stove was on. Tim crashed out in his wee Marmot one-person tent and I was on my own.

As my chicken tikka was rehydrating I folded my stove windshield into a hotplate and as the the horizon burned orange and the temperature eased down, I dipped a lightly toasted naan into my foil bag of tastiness. Sitting there cross legged in my sleeping bag I turned over a lot of things in my mind, the trip was working in ways that I hadn’t expected, as inspiration and motivation, as a showcase for the way I head into the hills, as a reinforcement, even validation? All that will be said at another time and in another place, but what I felt when I sat there was a rightness, the balance between wants and needs, and acceptance of what I’d found, it had all returned to normal.
I lay there after midnight with my iPod on as the tent rattled in the strong winds and I was happy.

I woke a couple of times through the night to see a mist fall and the temperature rise, I was roasted in my PHD Minim 300 and spent the second half on the night unzipped with bare arms crossed above my head.
It never got dark and when I decided it was breakfast time the clouds that had descended were breaking up and the sun was streaking through in increasing strength. Tim had been cutting about taking some shots and we had a brew and a bite before setting up some more stuff, breaking camp and heading west back to the loch. There was no question of carrying on to do the original route, there weren’t enough legs or water bottles between us to get the job done. I didn’t give a shit, I looked up at the summit of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and it looked fine, but I had just been there a few weeks ago and I still had no desire to go straight back up. I don’t feel cheated anymore, I remember scrambling that summit ridge through the cloud, descending with frozen hands and with a few weeks gap, the pointless frustration I’d felt at the time has gone.
We had spent the night on a trackless rocky plateau surrounded by mountains, and I think we got more than we would have had we not had to change the plan. Time will tell.

The breeze had kept us cool, in fact I’d been wearing my down jacket until we set off, but heading down the painfully steep slopes in just a windshirt and t-shirt soon became too much and when we stopped at the lochside for rest (and a chicken Cup-a-Soup for me) it was back to cowboy hat, bare arms and sunblock for the rest of the day.
We retraced our outward journey, but in even hotter temperatures than before so we were in no hurry. The light seemed to be better that the day before, so there was photies agogo and when we reached where the rivers meet, it was packs off and heads under the running water. We lingered a while, but the stillness lets the sun fire its beams straight at you and it soon felt like I was sitting under a grill. It was nice to stop, but nice to be on our way again.
We reached the motors about tea time and immediately drove to the garage up the road for some cold drinks as the bottles of steam in my boot did not represent an opportunity to quench our drouth.
When we got back, Lucy and Kodo arrived from their galavant up to the Falls of Glomach, too late for a cold can of Irn Bru but they’d made the most of the day.

We said our goodbyes and I headed down the road, once again really hungry (I didn’t make it to the Real Food Cafe, too far. McDonalds in Ft Bill it was, oh dear…), and I reflected on how lucky I’d been.
I’d been hanging out with great folks whose company I’d enjoyed, a night on the hill with a complete stranger is a bit of a gamble, but it was fantastic. It was all banter and at no point did it occur to me that we were there to do a job, and that was a vital discovery.

When I got home and was taking my shoes off in the porch, I could hear Holly through the door “Oh Daaad, Daaaad…”. It was late but she couldn’t sleep, and I walked through the door like a superhero to save the day.

Real Food Cafe, Extended Directors Cut

Regular listeners will know that I have a soft spot for the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum. It’s been a haven, a saviour and a joy many times over.
When we were in today, Sarah (below) and the staff were in full flight getting the new extension ready for its opening tonight. It has leather couches, nice new tables and chairs on a tiled floor and most importantly a big log fire which was fired up in readiness for it’s starring role in the idyllic chip eating atmoshere that was to come.
I think it’s magic, and i wish them well.
There is going to be fights for places on those couches in front of the fire…

Come on, let’s go space truckin’

It was late by the time I left…

How many of my tales have started with that comment, Jeez. Planning is one thing, but unless you send a memo round to the rest of the world there’s always a chance that some unwitting soul will call upon your presence, and then with the liberal application of Sod’s Law be in a position that you would become a heartless bastard if you refused to respond.
I’d hoped for an easy day after the long hours of Thursday, but I was up out of bed not long after 0600 and away on a callout midmorning. And, I hadn’t packed anything for a night in the hills that bobinson and I had pencilled in for what looked like the last good night of the weather window.
I got back after lunch and at 1500 I finished packing, that was easy enough, regular kit and a couple of unobtrusive bits of test kit. Ten minutes later, Bobinson was at the door and we were away. Neither of us had managed lunch, so it was stop #1 at the local M&S Simply Food for now food and later snacks. Stop #2 was the Post Office in Dumbarton to get a parcel away Special Delivery, now we could get to the hills.
But time had raced on, and any plans of heading North meant ascending and pitching in the dark. As we reached the road junction at Tarbet we’d already made up our minds that we were going to the Arrocher Alps and not turning right, but not which Alp we were heading onto. It wasn’t until we were at the “temporary” (if they’re there any longer OS will put them on the next map) traffic lights near the top of The Rest that we decided on Beinn Ime, the highest of the Alps at 1011m. Maybe not the wisest choice given that the sun was already slipping out of view behind lower peaks and it gave us the most ascent, but it’s central and a great viewpoint. Maybe we just fancied our chances at beating the sun, and maybe the thought of standing with a cuppa the next morning surrounded by the other peaks while watching the sunrise over an inversion is enough to make you take a wee gamble.

As the above shot courtesy of bobinsons camera shows, it was bright enough as we started up from Butterbridge. Bright and hot in fact, the two of us were soon dripping sweat from the ends of our noses and my eyes were stinging. In the coire it was like high summer, and there was a lot of stopping to look at the view.
Tiredness must have had a part in it, both of us had had a long week. There were no brave faces, just a mutual appeciation of our unexpected shortcomings.

As we crept higher it cooled and an equilibrium of sorts was reached, on the move was fine as we were labouring, but the sun was weakening and it was getting cold on my hands and stopping for a rest was chilling.
Rather than follow the usual line to the Glas Bhealach, we climbed the wide Western face, taking the mostly grassy line to the left of the summit. It’s very steep and rocky, and much drier underfoot than the usual route, an absolute joy and well worth it to pick a route through seldom visited crags. It did save us some time at the cost of plenty extra effort, but seeing the sun slip over the edge of the day was worth the wheezing I was experiencing while I watched it.

The warm light faded to grey and blue, mist filled the glens and drew a flat line right around the horizon, pierced by the shapes of familiar peaks, Cruachan, Lui, Lomond, and lonely Beinn Buidhe (below in the distance) at the head of Loch Fyne looking a little like a Nessie cartoon, or a very lazy Jaws.
The temperature plummeted and a wind whipped up from nowhere. I layered up when we hit the ridge high up and we made it to the summit as the stars started to pop out one at a time, the brightest showing off their superior wattage on the still luminescent pale blue sky.

We paced the summit, now in darkness, trying to find a pitch where we could communicate from the tent doors, not trip on guy lines, see the sunrise and avoid the wind. Never the easiest when you’re packing a side and an end entry tent combo, but we stuck ourselves just north of the summit cairn on the edge of the crags on quite flat ground. The tents went up straight and easy, all the new pegs and guys were a joy and the battered old ‘Comp felt like new.

We paced the summit, catching what we could as the blackness above and grey below swallowed everything up. In Glen KInglas silent cars made cones of light in the mist as they followed each other along the invisible road. To the South, the orange glow of the streetlights was absorbed by the low mist and went no further, leaving a clear sky now flooded by stars.
The mist rippled around Ben Lomond like a slow wave curling around a lone rock on the beach, and not too far beyong the central belt was actually a million miles away.

The tents looked like an oasis in the cold. With my light hanging inside the ‘comp, its unnatural colour and shape should look out of place, incongruous, maybe even offensive to some. But to me it looks just right sitting there. Aye, I’m a soft modern man with my mild adventuring, and it’s a sign that I’m carrying something of my daily comforts with me, but I’m sure just being there anyway is halfway to something, and that has to be better than going nowhere to nothing.
We caught the path of one satellite as it arced overus, and then another running parallel. The sky has its A82 as well it seems, but the occasional shooting star reminds me that the sky most definitely isn’t ours.

A hot dinner of chicken tikka, a Farley’s Rusk and a cappuccino while I lay in my bag felt like the end of the day, and indeed a calm fell upon us and we both slipped away into worlds of thoughts, ipods, occasional biscuits and hopes of a warm sunrise after a good nights sleep.
The wind was unexpected and unwelcome in its velocity and persistence, the tent rattled away with fresh enthusiasm due to its newly found confidence after its revamp, while I lay and listened to Tom Baker reading an old Doctor Who novel. It had seemed like a good idea, Tom Baker’s wonderful voice should have been like a pint of 1970’s cough mixture; I should have been sleeping in minutes. But the producer had apparently told him “Yes, put funny voices on for the different characters, that’ll be great”. No, no it’s not, it’s really annoying.
I’m sure that kept me awake, although I did nod off several times and wonder where the hell the plot was when I came back before I switched to metal and found myself much more relaxed.

It was cold as well, very cold. I nipped out for a pee as it got lighter and the grass was coated in ice, the damp patches in the grass had frozen over and the sky was filling with streaks of mist and layers of fine cloud. Ben Lomond now had a fluffy blanket over it, but the blanket was following its contours, giving it appearance of a mountain pie freshly dusted with thick flour.

Bobinson stirred and popped his head out. He’d had a cold night in his summer sleeping bag and the worsening weather wasn’t the thrilling start to the day that we were expecting. The sun was a distant pink dot that rose from the layer of mist, winked at the world briefly and disappeared upwards into the thickening cloud. This half hearted appearance was a sign, and the gap between the mist and clouds finally closed.
A meager breakfast, a five minute involuntary snooze from me and we were packing. Plans for further exploration were canned and the tourist route down was selected as the prefered target.

The ground had taken on a lethally slippy coating in the night, it was like another hill altogether we’d found ourselves on. There were slips, arse plants and many colourful exclamations as we made our way through the crags. As we lost height, quite rapidly as is normal for any Arrochar Alp, we found a wee cave which of course was explored and noted for future emergency bivying.
Stray from the tracks or the recommended Munro’s guide route and it’s amazing what you can find.

It started spitting, a light cold rain, the little bright gaps having left for parts unknown. It could have been a little sombre, but the hillside was bursting with colour, fresh greens and warm browns and we were stepping purposefully down to the truck.
As we reached the road we could see a broken line of folk leaving the carpark and heading upwards. Looking back up at where we’d been I don’t know if I’d have had the resolve to do that, it seemed like a day for observing rather than participating. But fortune favours the brave, or maybe the optomistic too.
As we sat in Arrochar eating hot rolls and enjoying fresh cuppas the sky did start cracking up and blue was seen, a patch of sunlight drifted over the flank of Beinn Narnain. Maybe folks did find that view up there that can make the day worthwhile.

As we enjoyed the tasy fried fare, my phone rang. It was Joycee “Where are you?”
“We’re back down, at the roll shop next to the garage in Arrochar”
“Ooh, me and the girl are in the Cobbler carpark, we went out for a galavant, we’ll come round”
So the girls came to say hello and have a cuppa and a muffin. Unexpected, unplanned, unlikely, that seemed to fit in with the general theme.

But, there was a price, too many hours of activity and concentration without enough sleep to keep the steam at a usable pressure.
The fire went out and I went down. Worth it, as ever.

Hardly worth getting back up

I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Three nights without two consecutive hours of sleep to rub together kicked my legs out from under me.
I opened out the tents in the garage, unpacked my sleeping bag and had a cuppa. I went into the bedroom with the intention of getting my lounge about while not expecting visitors gear, but as I walked round the bed I went involuntarily sideways, and I swear to you I was out cold before I hit the duvet.
Some hours and a shower later, I’ve downloaded my photies, I’m having another cuppa and I’m going to bed.

Friday 13th

It’s as well I think it’s unlucky to be superstitious.

More of a ying/yang day, I was looking at the ancient heating system in a well preserved Alexander Greek Thomson building, and then the road leading to the next job had been dug up for the M74 extension.
I was in the unusual situation of looking at the building across the railway tracks with a closed bridge between us and contemplating a slightly inconvenient and annoying detour to actually get there.
I did a 180° and went back into town, had a look in the North Face shop (if I’d had a poly bag full of someone elses cash in my hand, I would still have left with it unopened) while waiting for Craig to meet me for a cuppa.
After the cuppas I called it a score draw and pulled the shutters down and went home.

Maybe the significant date doesn’t mean extra disaster in our world already ravaged by misfortune and suffering, maybe Mr Nasty’s resources are just stretched too thin these days and all he can muster for most of us on his special day is reduced acheivement or mild inconveniece.



I was full of energy when I arrived back last night, and the first news I got was that I was an uncle again. I really have to read up on what uncles are for before the wee yins all grow up, from experience it’s supplying opportunities for mischief. I’ll look forward to that.
So, I sat up late with cuppas, downloaded my photies and wrote some words.

This morning I can barely see the other side of the Clyde for drizzle. It’s like the batteries ran out, or someone’s changed the channel while I was in the kitchen.

Carpe diem. I’ll need to write that on the back of my hand, just in case I slip again.

Phone in (sic)

…where the hell is my purple spotty went in the washing so it should be here somewhere…
Riiing Riiing…Riiing Riiing…Riiing Riiing…
Yes? Yes?
“What are you up to?” Came Bobinsons understated tones.
“Packing my rucksack, bugger this, I’m off.”

I nearly didn’t, I nearly just sat down. The morning had gone really well, a days work done by lunch time. I went into the folks for lunch, played with Holly and felt myself slipping down in my chair, a blanket of warm apathy soothing my worries.
But I knew these days of sunshine and snow aren’t going to be here forever and it would worry me if I missed another chance like I hd been doing.
I went home and packed, made a wee flask, and I was out the door and heading North.  My plan was vague, I was thinking Beinn an Lochain, a fine Corbett with huge crags to its NW side, I hadn’t seen them under snow for years. I know I passed a snow capped Ben Lomond but I didn’t even look, the metal was loud and all that was in my mind was that blue sky above as I stepped into fresh snow, one foot after the other, no agenda, no strange gear, just me and the hill.
When I saw the Cobbler, I realised it’s been a while since I was up there and I planned to stop at the big carpark and head up, but the carpark was endowed withn a smattering of cars and I just sped by, today was not a day for meeting and greeting, it was just for me and the hill.
I drove up the Rest and be Thankful and marvelled at the ring of white tops all around me, this is the business I thought to myself as Beinn an Lochain drew nearer.
I was passing the familiar laybys on the uphill side of the Rest, and they were all empty. All that’s here is the dull way up the back of the Cobbler and a rather annonymous peak called Beinn Luibhean. It’s no wonder the laybys are empty.
All the regular access points to Beinn an Lochain had cars at them, I was crestfallen. I stopped at Butterbridge and considered my options. The empty laybys I had passed were calling to me, it’s the only peak I’d seen all day that I haven’t climbed. I spun around and booted it back down the road to Beinn Luibhean.

I pulled into the layby with the little quarry set back from the road. The rock had been used to make the embankment for the road, but it’s still a notorious landslip area, and as I headed up the steep hillside over ground that was peeling away like the pages of a book balanced on its spine, I could see that landslips are going to feature for some time to come.

As I passed my first spot of snow I stopped and took a breath. All the Arrochar Alps are steep and rough, and wet. Snowmelt ran everywhere, but the sun was beating down, the winds were light and I was seeing more and more of what was to come as I gained height. Angular crags and dark jagged rocks, sticking up through fresh snow like mini Cadbury Flakes thrown randomly onto a bucket of ice cream.

There were no footprints. I was making the first, breaking through the thin crust and into the virgin snow. I was grinning ear to ear and I climbed the ridge, passing knolls and crags and peering down the very steep hillside to the road below.
I stopped for a drink and gazed around at the oh-so familiar scene, but the shapes were slightly different because I was somewhere new. I reaquainted myself with trips on the hills around me going back years. It feels like home.
The Cobbler looks odd from the back, a big dome with only the hook of the North Peak hinting at its hidden spikiness.

I reached the 858m summit of Beinn Luibhean too quickly, the ridge was such a joy, the snow was deep and I was coasting along, music loud, top down, shades on and hair blowing in the wind.
For a daft wee hill it’s a cracking viewpoint, Ben Cruachan, Ben Lui, Mull, Arran, Ailsa Craig all right there in front of me.
The sun was getting low and I resolved to wait for it to set, it would be rude not to after all. There was nobody else around to appreciate the effort it was putting in as it selected it’s colour pallet for the day’s cliffhanger ending.

My mate Craig phoned me, and after I broke the news of where I was, I had the interesting addition of the urban chorus of traffic and the like from his phone as he walked through Glasgow as we talked. An unexpected soundtrack to such an occasion indeed.
It was getting really cold, so I dug myself into the snow, made a wind barrier and got myself comfy in my AMK Bivy2.0 with my pack’s foam pad underneath. I got my cuppa and some grub and I was happy as I watched the shadows creep up the side of Ben Ime. It wouldn’t be long to go.

When the sun went down it lined itself up with Beinn an Lochain and a cloud so it looked a bit like a volcano erupting, I’m sure the sun thought it was funnier than it actually was but still, well done.
I packed up and started to move, my thumbs were numb and there were mince and tatties to be had at home.
The ridge was just as much fun on the way back down, I didn’t retrace my steps and found more dramatic rock, more snow slopes to run or slide down and I realised that I adored this hill. It’s trackless, it’s deserted and it’s wonderful. I’ll be back again. Especially as I found a cave, there’s icicles in it just now, but you’d maybe squeeze two bivy bags in there. and the view out of the entrance? Crivvens!
My meandering scared the pants off of a mountain hare as well, I’m sure it had to go back and get its ears once I was out sight.

The moon rose as the sun disappeared, and it moves bloody fast across the sky as well for an old timer. It gave enough light that when it went completely dark all I needed was a single red LED to descend in confidence.
Soon the cars were becoming intrusive again, their lights and their engines prodded at my bubble of joy, but they couldn’t burst it.

Scattered cloud started moving in and sticking to the summits, but inbetween, the dark sky was full of stars.
I found the quarry and the motor again thanks to the passing cars picking it out with their lights, and once down sat with the last of my flask looking at the sky and the moolight catching the snow on the tops. 
And I was apparently unnerving passing motorists, as they braked and were probably wondering exactly what the hell I was doing, always a bonus.
A small day on a small hill, but the happiness was this big. It was just me and the hill.

The next big thing

Had lunch with Bobinson, and when a wave of coincidence washed up the stairs, over the table and went away out to sea again, it left a surprised Bigbananafeet sitting at there as well. See, that’s Tiso’s cafe for you.
Anyway, there was cuppas, tasty food and cake scattered around the edges of the two newly purchased OS Explorer Maps that we were examining in detail.
Peaks had their approaches and escapes sketched out, calenders were scanned and options assessed. When it’s two or three days away you have to plan a wee bit I suppose.
I’m quite excited about it all, some of the hills are flat chocolate Revels (or “Counters” if you’re over 30). They’re the best ones and I like saving them ’til last. Well, at least ’til the end of the movie.

That had been on my mind

Circumstances can change so fast these days. The girls and I ended up in the Real Food Cafe for lunch today. Chicken, chips and curry sauce all round, and Holly had a go at the tomato soup and crusty bread, but was definitely more interested in our plates. A joy as always.
But, and it’s incredible considering how often I’m in there, this was the first time I’d bumped into Sarah the owner since I was on the WHW last year. Even now I get misty eyed when I think of my visit as I headed South, they fed and watered me in joyful abundance, let me use the computer to update everyone and were quite happy as I hung around recharging, drying out and making the place look untidy. It was vital to my moral that stop, and to my feet. I wouldn’t have got as far that second day without them.
So, I finally got to say a proper thank you.