Thursday, 28 April 2011

On the edge of The Unmentionable Mountains (or alt. David’s Nearly 50th birthday walk)

David was Nearly 50 yesterday, so for a treat, we went out for a walk. We decided to go for Geal-Charn Mor and one or two other lumps nearby. We set off on a beautiful day, clear blue skies with a light breeze, although there were hazy views of the distant peaks. The car was abandoned over the bridge at Lynwilg and we set off up the Burma Road.
SDC11498 Birthday Boy
This route start off steep and kept going, but I put into practice what Mike had taught me and just kept plodding on. It was quite warm to start with, but thankfully as we got higher, there was a pleasant cooling breeze.
SDC11504 Onwards and upwards
On we went and the road soon turned to track, a recently ‘improved’ track even, but I’ll come to that. When the stream on our left converged with another coming down from the lump on the left, we struck out, or rather up, the steep, heathery hill on our right, to eventually reach Carn Dearg Mor. This was quite a rough, uphill hike over tussocky heather, but with wonderful views to take in on the odd occasion I paused for breath and evaluate my route.
SDC11508 A not so rough bit
It was time for a picnic when we got to the top and there was a handy cairn to take shelter behind as I lightened the load in my daysack.
SDC11510 Hazy day
SDC11514 Refuel
Soon, we struck out again over rough ground to drop down slightly, cross a ‘stream’ or two (more of that later too) and make our way back to the Burma Road briefly before striking out on a path to Geal-Charn Mor, the highest point of the day. An easier route at this point as there is a vague path, although quite gritty and rocky in places. At the top, there’s a trig point with a small wall around it which again provided a bit of shelter. The views were stunning, all around the Cairngorm range and The Unmentionable Mountains stretched away into the haze.
SDC11521 Rough track
SDC11522 The Cairngorms
SDC11524The Unmentionables behind
SDC11530Sheltering to root in my daysac
Off we went, cross country again to reach An Scuabach, This bit was quite pleasurable, less heathery tussocks and more short, bouncy heathery and crunchy lichen We saw several hares while we floundered about and on the second half of the walk, lots of red grouse, some flying up from my feet as I barely missed stepping on them. They’re quite well camouflaged!
After a bit of wandering about to find the highest bit at this point, we set off again to find the source of a stream to navigate from to Cairn Creag Ghleannain, but this time the heather was the type that wraps itself around your ankles and hides deep, peaty holes. I didn’t fall over at all, which as anyone who has walked with me will know, is quite an accomplishment!
SDC11531We found snow!
SDC11533More views of the Cairngorms
SDC11535On my way
SDC11540 Take a break!
We soon reached the last high(ish) point of the day and had another snack stop before making our way down the hill. We couldn’t find the path we were supposed to join up with, so just kept going, through the heather, in the right general direction until we stumbled across a rather nice track that took us all the way down the hill. Part way down this track, we saw a raven, playing in the wind as they do, soaring and diving. A while after it disappeared, we were able to identify a pair of golden eagles, soaring above Creag na h-lolaire about a mile and a half away. What an end to the day.
We eventually dropped down to the farm at Ballinluig and onto a good track to take us back to Lynwilg. On the way, we had to pass through a field of sheep, not something that is normally very exciting, but we were lucky enough to happen across a placenta and close by the ewe and it’s minutes old newborn lamb, ahhh!!
We had a fabulous day for David’s Nearly 50th birthday and our last walk together before he ‘moves’ darn sarf. It’s going to be hard, but we’ll have fabulous memories of our walks together and look forward to many more when we can make it into the hills together.
SDC11545Beyond Kingussie
For me, this was another confidence booster. A couple of years ago, I would really have struggled with this walk. The rough ground would have sapped my energy and worn me down and I used to find navigating a route rather than following a path made me anxious and stressed. Now, my fitness has improved (I’m still unfit, but fitter than I was!) and I have more confidence, not only in David’s navigational skills (he’s actually pretty good) and mine (I was practicing taking and following bearings!) but in my ability overall, especially since the assault on the Borders. I’m feeling overall, pretty good!
And no sore legs, oh yes.
11.7 miles, 3,239 ft total ascent, 3,242 ft descent, walking 4 hours and 33 minutes, resting 1 hour 52 minutes and a moving average of 2.3 mph. Not bad.
The bits I said I’d go back to, I’ve never been on the Burma Road before, but it struck me that it looks like a scar on the landscape now that the diggers have been at it, I don’t know if it had any charm before.
SDC11507The long and winding Burma Road
The other point was the dryness. Everywhere was dry. There was the odd patch of sponginess and I did manage to find some soft bog to plunge my foot into, but the streams were poor, just damp greeness where I think streams usually flow freely and the plant life was dry and parched looking. I wonder if anyone on the Challenge crossing the Unmentionable Mountains or any other remote area, hoping for water, might find it tricky, we’ve had such a dry spring and no lying snow for a while.  Something to be mindful of perhaps.

Edited: There is also a huge fire raging on the Eskdale Moor around Loch Gorm, above Drumnadrochit, just for information.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

There must be an easier way to cure a bad habit

Since having babies, so over the last fifteen years or so, I have developed a rare skill of being able to snooze in the afternoon. The One o’clock News sends me to sleep everyday and I cat nap for about fifteen, twenty minutes. The midwife had ingrained in me the importance of sleeping when baby did, so I did. Trouble is, I still do. (It’s also been reported that an afternoon nap helps lower blood pressure, which has got to be good.)

Or at least, I did.

It’s eleven days since I last enjoyed a mid-day snooze. Since the Friday I travelled down to the Borders, in fact.

There has got to be a less painful way of breaking such a lovely habit.

I miss my snooze.

A quick gallop, as it turned out

We had a few time constraints yesterday, as ever, because it was Conall’s parents’ evening, so we decided we’d go for a nice stroll rather than an adventure up Geal-Charn Mor. The daypacks duly packed and boots slung into the, er, boot, and we were off to Rothiemurchus for a saunter from Coylumbridge, round Loch an Eilein and Loch Gamhna, stop for an ice cream at the little shop and back via Achnagoichan.

It was a nice day, quite warm and a slight breeze, just a little overcast to start. We made our way down forested tracks towards the Cairngorm Footbridge, just so that we could vary the in and out route a little.

SDC11488 Easy going

We soon took a right turn and set out on more good tracks by heather and scrub with views of a little snow still on the tops of the Cairngorm Mountains.

SDC11489 In that general direction

I was delighted to hear my first cuckoo of the year, I’m sure I’ll be sick of them by the time I reach Montrose in a few weeks time… We soon joined the path around Loch an Eilein and the great hoards of people tittering around in their high heels and armed with handbags. To escape, I like to take in Loch Gamhna as well, because the tourists tend to find this too hard. Off we went into relative peace and, despite having done this walk a couple of times, it occurred to me as I forded a stream that I was not perhaps where I had intended to be. Obviously, me taking the lead and David having the map was not bright, but it was easy to see where I’d missed a right fork. We couldn’t be bothered to turn back, so found a route that would take us in a wide loop to the top of the small loch and back onto the main path. The advantage was not meeting yet more people for a while, the disadvantage was now time. We sped along that track as I was so determined to eat my wrap and have an ice cream at the shop!

The return route gave better views of the mountains in front of us as it is slightly higher.

SDC11495 Creag an Leth Choin (Lurcher’s Crag) I think…

In the end, my aimless stroll with mindless navigation turned into a bit of a training romp of 12 miles, 961 ft total ascent, 4 hours walking and 40 minutes resting. (Roughly. Not all our gadgets agreed on this, I know we were walking at about 3 miles an hour most of the time and did around 12 miles, but something somewhere is not adding up because I also know what time we started and finished. Unless I can’t tell the time…)


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Conclusions and lessons learnt

Oh, there were lots.

With regards to kit. I was mostly happy with it, but have decided on a few changes.

My sleeping bag has always been good for me, but I’ve never used it when I’ve been so bushed before and I suspect this is why I felt the cold more than usual. I had ways to deal with this, but would probably fair better if I could hit the sack and go to sleep, rather than scrabbling around in the dark for solutions.

So a new bag is on it’s way (how did that happen?) a Marmot Arete down bag from Webtogs. It has more down fill than my current bag and same pack size but is 200g lighter, so I’ll see how that feels when it arrives.

It’s RED!

I got on fine with my Campingaz Twister stove and although that, together with my Snowpeak pots (courtesy of Martin Rye) aren’t too heavy, it is all quite bulky as they don’t stow away together. So, having caught a glimpse of Laura’s Jetboil, I had a quick peek at them online. Eventually, David took control and has ordered a Jetboil Flash in Violet for me. It looks beautiful and has the advantages I was looking for, lightweight and low bulk aswell as a tripod base for stability.

It’s beautiful too, did I mention that?

The only problem I had was the Travel Tap. It’s a great piece of kit for it’s ease of use and convenience.

So long as you’re called Popeye.

This trip, I was distinctly lacking in my consumption of spinach and I had difficulty squeezing the bottle to extract the filtered water. I also felt there was a potential problem with my hands having to be in contact with the bottle containing freezing cold water, as this is exactly the sort of trigger for my Reynaud's that gives me the most concerns and if I’m tired and cold, could be crucial.  Alan found my eventual solution to these problems very amusing as he was the only one with full view of me squeezing the bottle between my knees whilst aiming the water flow into the tin between my feet.

What a sight!

The solution is, so far, a 1ltr Platypus Platy Soft Bottle. So far, because I now have to options. I can either go for the Super Delios filter which Alan demonstrated (several times) and looks like a really useful bit of kit, or drops, which Laura demonstrated (with my help for timing) both of which will utilise the Soft Bottle. I’ll have to make a decision sometime. Soon…

(The Soft Bottle is violet too)

As to the weekend, it was fabulous. Mike planned us a superb route, the views were stunning and the toil to reach them was certainly more than worthwhile. Many thanks for your planning and hard work.

The company was brilliant, we all seemed to have very similar humour and my ribs were certainly sore from all the laughing. At least, I think it was from the laughing and not the heavy breathing uphill… Thanks for all the support, encouragement and ideas, these will be invaluable in a few weeks time (three weeks, two days…).

I had an absolute blast, even the hard bits were worth every minute and I’ve learnt so much, about myself and my expectations and tips for successful routines. I was delighted to find I hadn’t packed anything that didn’t get used, with the exception of those few items you have to routinely take on a trip. So with the few kit adjustments I’m making, I should be able to take another 1lb 8oz off the overall weight, but it’s all going to be far less bulky which will make the most difference.

Onwards and upwards! (A little…)

Moffat to Peebles Day 3

Sunday night had been much better warmth wise, although it had got chilly at one point. I still drifted in and out of sleep, listening to curlew, oyster catchers, tawny owls and lots of sheep and lambs. There was a cockerel in the distance, he started a shade early even if we did need to get up. Laura and I kindly added time pressures at this point, we really needed to be in Peebles to catch the bus back to Edinburgh by 4 pm or we would be in difficulty.
I was up in good time and much more organised. The tents were decidedly wet this morning, but as they were being packed to go home, it didn’t matter too much. Apart from the added weight. We got off to a really good start, leaving camp at around 7.27 am and set off at a good pace, but then there was up for a short while. We headed along a nice, easy track for a while and had a snack stop before heading into the forest where Mike warned us the track might be tricky and so it turned out to be.
SDC11468Snacking and faffing
It was a little elusive and we may have taken a slightly alternative route, but it was certainly tricky, much up and grassy bogginess ensued. When we burst out into the open the bogginess continued, with heathery tussocks getting in on the act now and there was more up and along, before finally, there was down.
SDC11472 All behind us now
SDC11473 The drop off the end of the world before Peebles
Straight down! Over much heatheryness to join a path, “All will become clear!” Mike promised us.
We dropped out of the heather and after mincing along a few sheep tracks, we crossed a ford (I did it, with dry feet!) we met a good track and decided it was time for lunch. We were making good time now and the hard work was behind us. There were good tracks and roads for the last four miles before we happily found Mike’s car waiting for us in the car park and after retrieving a few belongings we’d decided not to carry at the last minute and a comfort stop, we were off to the bus stop.
SDC11474 The sign to the left was wholly appropriate for some
We were early for the planned bus, but as we arrived so did another bus, so we caught it! This meant I could catch an earlier train back to Inverness and quickly made arrangements for the taxi to collect me there, yey!

12.4 miles and 2000ft total ascent (ish...)

Moffat to Peebles Day 2

Didn’t feel to good on Sunday morning and got off to a slow start. The others all have their own, good routines for getting away from camp, I was winging it a little and was last ready for the off. I was frustrated with leaden legs, (not sore, just uncooperative) and fretted my way up the hill that started straight from our camp. Mike was a star and told me (what I knew, but was stubbornly ignoring) “Small and slow, you can walk all day that way!” and I did exactly that. I soon settled into a really good pace for me and although I was always bringing up the rear (I know my place, but I could have done without the hole in Mike’s Ron Hills…) and everyone was always waiting somewhere for me, I made my way steadily over lump after lump. There was much upness, with downs and some alongs with the promise of the pub in the distance.

SDC11455 There will be lots of nameless views for a while

SDC11457 SDC11459 SDC11461 SDC11462 The pub is down there!

When we got to the pub (after a downwards traverse of an awkward slope that made my feet sore) and we found a picnic bench to rest our weary limbs on as we consumed beer/orange squash/juice and lemonade and sandwiches. There’s a lovely campsite here, but sadly not for us. After using the facilities and filling water receptacles (bladder just doesn’t fit here) we set off at a rate of knots (flattish land!) along the shores of the loch three miles to the next camp Mike had spied for us.

SDC11464 Perfect spot!

SDC11465 Company, behind a fence

I was more organised now and decided to leave the water in my Platty from the pub for the next day to save morning faff time, so used local water for dinner and a hot drink. I really enjoyed my meal this time and felt so much better than I had the previous night. Still struggled to get to sleep but was not cold this time. We were hoping for an early start.

13.8 miles and 1800 ft total ascent (ish…)


Moffat to Peebles Day 1

So, we set off to Moffat in a couple of cars to meet outside the Rumbling Tums for breakfast. Nerves and travel sickness almost got the better of me, but a bacon butty and cup of tea was duly consumed and we made the first tentative steps towards Peebles.
SDC11451 Lovely ram in Moffat
After making our way out of Moffat, we eventually took the Southern Upland Way and things became fairly steadily and persistently uphill. There was various scenery, fields, woodland and hills in the distance.
SDC11452 Alpaca with solid little  friends
We climbed up along forestry tracks and found a nice lunch spot before heading onto the hills.
SDC11453 Comfy seat, anyone?
We were soon at the spot originally planned as our first camp, but it was too early in the day at around 2pm, so we decided to carry on to the second possible pitch. The landscape was beginning to change now, becoming more lumpy with the odd drop down to tumbling water and glimpses of the views to come.
SDC11454Female Emporer Moth
We found this striking moth before we eventually reached Mike’s proposed camp and then the boys bravely struck out in opposite directions to find the water that should have been there.
Water was found (eventually closer to camp than at first thought…) and we all pitched, boiled, consumed, washed up and snuggled down at tremendous speed. Especially Mike, who provided us with background music of snoring and singing as we worked.
I was very cold and had a slight headache when I got into my sleeping bag. I’d had to force my dinner down because I knew it was a necessity, but didn’t enjoy eating it and I knew I was cold because I was shattered, so I was glad to hit the sack, but I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t get warm. Paracetamol, some crisps and three layers later and I was still cold and shivering, so my emergency bivvy was deployed (just laid over the top of me as it rustled too much!) I didn’t want to show my inexperience and become hypothermic before we’d even really got started. I knew this wasn’t ideal because of the risk of condensation on my sleeping bag, but it worked and I drifted in and out of sleep through the night, listening to rhythmic snoring, visiting sheep snuffling and snipes drumming.
By my rough calculations, 11.3 miles and a total of 3100 ft. (There will be variations!)

The beginning

I’d signed up for the Moffat to Peebles Pre-Challenge event, so Thursday night saw some last minute packing and re-packing so that I could catch the Inverness train at 9.07am. We were at the station in plenty of time, just as well as, when I tried to collect my ticket from the machine, I hadn’t got the collection reference number with me, doh! The nice little man in the ticket office was able to retrieve my tickets, so my journey began.

On arrival at Inverness, I trotted off to M & S for lunch provisions and a comfort stop before on to Blacks to find a suitable container for my sunglasses.

The queue for the Edinburgh train was truly ridiculous and by the time we were all aboard (quote marks?) the train was running late.

SDC11445 Leaving sunny Inverness behind

The journey was unremarkable, the elderly couple that shared my table were, different, so I gazed out of my window and was rewarded with views of the Cairngorms.

SDC11448 Passing through Aviemore station

I also saw a roe deer having a paddle in a flooded field near Loch Insh, a large flock of swans nearby, buzzards, a seal and eider ducks. All quite lovely.

I managed to get lost trying to get out of Edinburgh station, I don’t visit very often and there’s a lot of work going on with barriers and strange directions, but eventually I found myself on Princes Street and set off for the bus station. Funnily enough, I got lost again, (I don’t know Edinburgh well) but after asking a nice chap the way, found that I was actually going in the right direction, even though I’d taken a slightly circuitous route. Heaven help me on my own, on a hill, with a map and compass…

Laura’s bus was late, but we were soon climbing aboard the number 62 to Peebles. There was much chatting, comparing the contents of our packs and the prospects of the weekend. On arrival at Peebles, we made a quick visit to the sweetie shop and then went off to find the camp site.

SDC11450It was flatter than it looks

When we had all arrived (Mike, Alan, Laura, Judith and Me) we went off to find a pub (I think the location was already known and earmarked…) had beer, popped next door for pizza/pasta and back to the pub for more beer before going back to the tents to sleep it all off.

From this point onwards, someone else was in control, so things were going to run a lot more smoothly.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Oh my word

What have I done? I should have been weight training, not walking.

Dry weight for travel, the pack is currently 10.479 kg (23lb roughly to me)

So once I’m wearing gaiters, Tilley etc. and using my poles, it brings it down (??!!) to 10.282 kg. (22 lb roughly)

But then, of course, I’ll have water on board instead, so there’ll be little difference.


(Actually, I’ve done the sums from my kit spreadsheet. I live in hope that the spreadsheet is inaccurate…)

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

If you walk with someone with short legs, it slows you down

So I went for a walk with Ciara to make me walk at a pace more like the speed I’ll walk on the Challenge. In theory.

This was yet another variation of the Loch Romach walk through Newtyle Forest, because it is remarkably pleasant and extremely quiet. It was a bit of a damp, grey day for the most part, but it never quite rained enough for me to deploy my waterproof jacket, the Dynamo was quite sufficient.

SDC11431 Romach Reservoir


More uphill?

We perched on the ends of some logs, sticking out from a wood stack for our picnic stop. Naughty I know, but it was a low stack and the ends were sticking out quite a way, I felt safe. We then took an alternative route to the Scurrypool Bridge and onto the Altyre Estate, so that we could check on the osprey.

They’re back!

I was very happy, so happy I took a dreadful photograph…

SDC11436Just trust me, ok?!

And we saw dippers too.

SDC11442  The white dot is a dipper, honest guv

Another pleasant stroll.

8.44 miles

803 ft ascent

2 hours 40 minutes moving

45 minutes resting

3 mph average roughly

Funny thing though, didn’t really slow me down, Ciara must be a little taller or a little fitter!

Monday, 11 April 2011

300 lemmings heading eastwards

Final Details arrived in the post this morning.

So, there are 64 of us lemmings leaving from Shiel Bridge, 88 of us finishing at St Cyrus, (45 of us on the 26th) and 11 of us leaving Shiel Bridge and finishing in St Cyrus on the same days.

I don’t know why I felt the need to highlight all that information in my copy of the details.

I’m wondering why there are only 21 solo lady lemmings, there must be something someone hasn’t told me.

I’m putting the sudden overwhelming feeling of nausea whilst reading the details down to excitement, not panic.

I am very excited.

I am.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Another fine day

Today was a good day to meet up with Laura and take a catch up stroll along part of the Speyside Way from Cromdale. We both arrived early and after a mini-faff (me), we set off on ‘my’ route.
SDC11416Posing as we left the car park (Laura has an equally posed one of me…)
The route was initially along a quiet, slightly uphill, road which gave very pleasant views of the Hills of Cromdale and the ridge we both fancy doing another time.
After a while (chatting), we realised we’d missed my intended turn at Easter Rynaballoch to contour Tom an Uird before rejoining the Speyside Way to return towards Cromdale. We rerouted to take a path from Balnallan, as neither of us like to retrace steps. This was a wriggly little path that also turned out to be a wet, boggy path. My route planning is living up to my damp reputation! There were a couple of handy bridges, but we only needed to cross one of them.
SDC11417 With style
The track was difficult and boggy, we eventually took a leap of faith and crossed it to carry on through the trees, but having embarked on a ‘shortcut’, we were having a little difficulty finding the path again to then meet the Speyside Way. Eventually we found a fence, worked out where we were and decided to risk the wrath of the (shirtless) farmer working at the bottom of the hill by climbing said fence and sneaking around the corner. So glad we did, there was the path, yey!
This section of the SW was a vast improvement on the spur we tackled last November by Tomnavoulin, it was actually really pleasant and the views would have been great, if it hadn’t been for the trees.
SDC11419 Lunch stop on a handy rock
SDC11418 Nice view, no idea which direction
SDC11420 Onwards
There was nature too. We saw
SDC11421 Peacock butterfly
SDC11424and Larch blossom
SDC11422  More pretty views, south east-ish. Maybe
We were eventually followed for a short way by a couple of walkers, but we think they must have been eaten by the killer sheep, because they never reappeared around the corner.
We never caught up with the one legged walker
This part of the SW is obviously along a disused railway and we soon came to the old station at Cromdale. It’s rather pretty, they should have a tea room.
SDC11427Rather pretty
We were, at this point, roughly back at the beginning of the walk, but as we’d only covered about 8 miles and still had some oomph, we extended the walk across the bridge (I nearly got run over) and into the Anagach Wood near Grantown on Spey. This is a really pretty wood, reminiscent of Rothiemurchus or Abernethy Forest, with good paths underfoot and beautiful trees. Sadly, it’s just like any other forestry, the paths on the ground do not match the map the in the hand, but by the miracle of science (Laura’s magical GPS!) we still managed to find the (a…) path to Craigroy. Neither of us fancied our chances of passing through this odd looking place in one piece, they had killer sheep, so we took the faint path that led around the perimeter and eventually ‘dropped’ very elegantly onto a nice track along the bank of the Spey.
SDC11428 Careful does it!
SDC11429 This way would take us to Grantown on Spey
SDC11430 So we went this way!
The Spey looked very high and fast.
The track took us easily back to the bridge and our return to Cromdale was straightforward.
13 miles roughly
957 ft ascent
Not sure of timings, again, my GPS gives up in the trees so I would have to guess, but it was roughly 6.5 hours including rests and faffs and a comfort stop.
I had a wonderful day, strolling through beautiful countryside with easy chatter. Bliss!
Five weeks today, by the way.