Tuesday, 30 August 2011

What fun!

As David had a Bank Holiday weekend and the children were at school, (well, they were until the senior school didn’t open due to a burst pipe…) we had intended an assault on Bynack Mor. When we eventually set off (late, again) the weather was quite interesting. The forecast had been for buffeting winds, showers and low cloud until the afternoon, but we decided to drive down anyway and adjust our plans accordingly.
I could barely see the top of Meall a Bhuachaille as we passed and Bynack was lost, so after a comfort stop at Aviemore (middle age gets you) we consulted the maps and decided on a lower route from the car park NH 985 074 through the ‘Chalamain Gap’ to join the Lairig Ghru, back north to Rothiemurchus Lodge then hot foot it along the north side of Loch Morlich and back up the road to the car.
So, off we went.
SDC12290Looking south from the footbridge
SDC12291And north
There was a lot of faffing during the first part of this walk and very little of it was done by me, apart from a few photographs! David soon stopped to don his Paramo. The couple ahead of us left the path to look through the gate to the reindeer enclosure, returned to the path and went ahead, faffed, then returned to the gate, an elderly couple behind us faffed with waterproofs, then we both faffed with our waterproof trousers. It could be a long day.
On we went, the elderly couple never caught us up. It’s quite a nice, well looked after path and I daresay with less cloud, there would be some lovely views. I felt the drifting cloud and ever changing views added atmosphere and mood.
SDC12293 Couldn’t see a lot behind us at this point
SDC12292 Looking south along a moody Allt Creag an Leth-choin
We wended our merry little way and soon came across a small group of people crossing from the north of Castle Hill and making their way onto our path. Interesting looking route they had taken, but they didn’t pass us so we didn’t get to know why. They were wearing jeans. It was a very pleasant path.
SDC12295 The Chalamain Gap
Looking at the Gap from a distance, I had commented to David that it was difficult to imagine a path through. How prophetic.
SDC12297Meall a Bhuachaille, from the Gap
SDC12300 Still hoping for the path on the map
SDC12301“I think we find our own way.”
As we got closer it became clear this bit was going to be ‘fun’. As we scrambled our way over the boulders I giggled and called to David, “Two years ago, what would I have done?” “Cried, sworn. Turned back.” Very amusing to think that here I was now, relatively happily picking my way round and over these enormous rocks, almost enjoying myself! I say almost, I did, but as you can occasionally catch a glimpse through the gaps in the rocks to the depths, I found it a little unnerving. But fun!
We were eventually overtaken by two ill-equipped young men (no daysack, waterproofs or map…), but the elderly lady behind us was in difficulty and we think the couple turned back. The two young men disappeared ahead only to return shortly after to take the path up Castle Hill. Maybe a map would have helped?
As we made our way through the Gap, we occasionally thought we heard a dog barking. As we passed the foot of Castle Hill we did again. Never saw a dog, so it was a bit odd.
The path continues on and down, eventually meeting with the Lairig Ghru. David was ahead of me at this point and I was a little concerned when he headed south down the path, but when I spotted the large rocks placed neatly by the burn, I realised his sandwiches must have been calling to him from his pack and he’d spotted the *perfect picnic spot. We lunched.
SDC12310Looking south along the Lairig Ghru
We then headed north. The path was a but rocky and muddy at this point, but then improved. Sadly, we opted to leave it soon after to take another rocky, muddy path to the Lodge, but at least once we reached there, we were on good tracks all the way to the road.
Rocky and wet
SDC12315 Better
There were occasional breaks in the cloud, but I wouldn’t have wanted to head south today. There was a distant, but familiar sound as we made our way north, a rescue helicopter hove into view. It tried to head south at first, but they must have realised they couldn’t as it circled round Carn Odhar and came low past us.
SDC12318 Someone needed help
It circled around  by Castle Hill and up the Ghru a few times, but then we didn’t see it again. We hoped they found who they were looking for safely.
The track from the Lodge is straight forward but I had never seen anything like these before.
SDC12319Brightly coloured, plastic bee hives?
It became a bit of a route march from this point as, as usual, we were up against time and as we’d been a shade tardy, again, we were running late for a couple of evening activities. Not to mention trying  to fit in an evening meal. Oops.
It felt a long way on the road up the hill to the car park, but our concerns for the lost someone were heightened when a car drew up along side us and the driver asked us our names. Actually, he asked us three times, I caught it the first time, but because the man was not asking us what David had expected him to (“Would you like a lift?”) he couldn’t comprehend the question. (Age thing again?) The chap had hoped we were the people the Mountain Rescue were looking for who had been heading up Coire an t-Sneachda. Not something I’d have thought wise in the rotten conditions. We couldn’t help as we hadn’t been that way, but we haven’t heard any news. I hope they were safe and well.
All in all, I loved it. Towards the end was hard, because we had to pick up the pace, but yet again, I found myself doing things I would never have done before, or would have found challenging and perhaps even refused to attempt.
As  to my kit, I wore my new Merrells and my new Paramo. The boots were surprising. Despite the odd wet, muddy patch, my feet remained dry and comfortable, however, they were never fully submerged. I suffered no discomfort or hot spots at all, not even on my funny big toes (funny peculiar, not ha ha). I did notice a slight ache in my arch, which I used to always suffer before I invested in my green Superfeet. I am using these in my Merrells, but maybe I need something more in them. However, the ache didn’t last and my feet were fine when we got home. I think maybe my feet need to get used to the souls of these being thinner than my Brashers. They were lighter too and although my right hip grumbled briefly, it settled again. This could have been down to the weight of the boots, perhaps.
The Paramo was great. The weather didn’t rain persistently or heavily, but enough to get one wet, but I wasn’t. It dried quickly in between damp times. I was comfortable at all times (until the route march) with long and short sleeved merino tops on. I think we will be happy together.
Forgot the statistics (age again?)
Roughly 16.8 km 517 m ascent and approximately 4 kph
* Well, it would have been the perfect picnic spot if there hadn’t been the rubbish left behind and just before we left, we discovered somebody had felt the need for the toilet in rather a large way just in the gap between two rocks, a few feet from the burn. Lovely.
Why? I will never, never understand.
SDC12321 I have taken to taking other people’s rubbish home if I have the means to carry it

Monday, 29 August 2011

A filthy day

Aedan is doing his D of E practice next weekend so we took him out yesterday for a little navigation refresher.

It was a wet, windy and generally miserable day.SDC12289Discussion

I wore my Paramo with a couple of merino layers (I knew there would be a lot of standing around!) and I was warm and dry, but I want to wear it for longer in filthy conditions to be fully confident.

Maybe a day like today…

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Has anyone seen the forecast?

A couple of weeks ago, I booked our annual boat trip with Ian and Sam at Gairloch. David is home for a long weekend due to the English Bank Holiday weekend, so we had decided to take advantage of extra family time together.
During the past week the weather forecast for the the north east of Scotland had been looking a bit grim, but as we were heading over to the north west, it all looked fine. It still looked fine on Friday night when we went to bed, but as we got up on Saturday morning, the forecast had changed and the amber weather warning had been extended. Ah. Sam phoned about ten o’clock and asked if we were on our way and if we could get there any sooner as they would have to cancel the three o’clock sailing but could fit us on the twelve thirty instead. She kindly agreed to delay the sailing to allow us a little extra time to get across and just after one o’clock, we boarded the boat and began our cruise.
It was actually a lovely trip, not too rough and with good light for spotting. As we are later in the year than usual, the nests have all emptied so there wasn’t a huge amount of birdlife, we saw Great Skuas, Shags, Red Throated Divers and a few Comorants. There were three pregnant Grey Seals and a real treat of Common Dolphins! Ian was a star and as we’d made the trip just for his boat trip, he gave us a little extra time to get a good view of the Dolphins.
SG103248 Moody Torridons
(Spot the Slioch, Beinn Dearg and the Horns of Alligin, I think)
SG103239Great Skua
SG103252 Red Throated Diver
SG103257 Grey Seals
SG103267 Trust me, it’s a Common Dolphin fin!
As we’d not had time for a catch up with Sam before boarding, he invited us to their home for tea and cake, which was lovely and Sam baked a fresh cream and raspberry sponge especially. A boat trip and cake, what more could a girl want! We had a lovely time and I look forward to going back next summer (at a more leisurely pace!) and spending more time in one of my favourite places.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Here we go again

Well, the October copy of TGO Magazine plopped onto my doormat this morning. The wrapper was duly ripped off, pages thumbed and the entry form carefully torn out. It has been filled in, (much easier this year!) the cheque signed, popped into a stamped, addressed envelope and posted.
I know there’s no prize for getting the form in quickly, it’s more of a ‘strike while the iron is hot’ thing. After two and a half months of consideration and asking “Do you really want to?” TTS agreed to my application, on the understanding that I can cope with crushing disappointment if I don’t get on.
Speaking of The Challenge, the observant amongst you may have noticed a new button on the right of my blog. I have now made a separate page for this years Challenge, a time consuming copy and paste procedure and uploading each photograph in blogger (I usually write in livewriter, but having read Alan’s comments here felt this was the best option for me). No longer will anyone who might happen along have to read my account back to front!

And another

David found himself on a weeks adventure training at Grantown on Spey this week, so rather than return south with ‘The Boys’ on Friday morning, I drove down to collect him en route to another big hill, this time Carn Dearg, 945m on the edge of the Monadhliath.

The weather was promising at the start of the day, but as we made our way to Newtonmore it became more cloudy. It was still warm however, so I didn’t need to don a jacket until we reached the cairn and it only rained towards the end of the walk. We were a little later setting off than I would have liked, due to my own lack of planning, but we soon found ourselves parked in the same place as we had last year when we tackled the children’s first Munro, A Chailleach.

There were midgies as we faffed by the car, so whilst we were faffing, Smidge was applied. This seemed quite effective, there were still midgies, but not so much nibbling.

Off we set.

This time we left the car park and crossed the bridge over the Allt a Chaorainn, then before the bridge at Glenballoch, we took the path heading north westish, following the Allt Fionndrigh. This  is not a bad path and we made good progress until we stopped for lunch after crossing the river by an unmarked bridge. One of those interesting types.

SDC12251 Looking south east (ish) along Allt Fionndrigh

SDC12253 Looking ahead, the two pimples just off centre are our goal

SDC12255Not keen, but crossing regardless

SDC12256  Lunch spot

There is a large rock, just off centre on the above photograph, where we perched for lunch. We watched an eagle soaring above Creag na h-lolare opposite.

I knew once we set off again that the path would soon disappear, which it did, and we then had to navigate some ‘rough ground’ along Gleann Ballach to the foot of Carn Ban. It involved a bit of bog trotting. Quite a bit, but if we hadn’t had such a prolonged dry spell at the beginning of spring, I think it would have been worse. (Or maybe, having the crossed the bogs that I did in May, it didn’t seem so bad!) We squelched our way along for a while before we started the climb towards Carn Dearg. Somewhere in the middle of this bogginess, I found a lizard. We also started to see quite a few frogs.

SDC12260 Still looking happy at this point

SDC12266 You can see the uphill stripe we were heading for

SDC12268David got well ahead of me, it was the nose wiping faffs what did it

SDC12274Views from the top look promising

SDC12275 The much bogginess we’d crossed

SDC12279 The moody views towards Sherramore and Aberarder Forests

There doesn’t appear to have been a photograph of me taken at the cairn, it was chilly and breezy when we got there, so we only paused briefly for me to don my Paramo and then we were off again, descending the southern side of Carn Dearg in search of a path. As we paused, I was a merlin chasing a small bird. Wow! David missed it.

We headed for Loch Dubh, en route to which there was a lot of discussion as to the best way. Some bits were steeper than I’d expected, even though I’d acknowledged the closeness of the contours.

We bashed on and found one or two vague paths that took us to the head of the loch, but the hut or bothy marked on my map did not appear. Not in itself a concern, but I’d hoped it would help us locate the path we were looking for. No path materialised. This meant we struggled on for what seemed like an eternity, following the Allt an Lochain Duibh along Gleann Lochain. It was hard going, we occasionally found a vague path that would then peter out and this continued well into Glen Banchor and along the River Calder. It started to rain as we made our way along the river, but I tried to think of it as trying out my Paramo! (I liked that I didn’t feel as hot wearing it as I had on the Challenge in my Dynamo and Quattro, but I accepted at the time, I was over-wrapped!)

Eventually, after I’d started to stumble and fall a couple of times, we got to something like a reasonable track before we found ourselves crossing the bridge at Glenballoch house and heading back towards the car park.

SDC12287 The head of Loch Dubh and the threatening skies

I had enjoyed the first part of our walk and even the climb to the summit. Getting to the head of Loch Dubh was ok, but after stumbling along the rough ground for a while, my patience was wearing thin. However, even I noticed some remarkable advances in my attitude to walking. Just a few years ago, I found going ‘off piste’ quite disturbing. Being an Englishwoman, it felt decidedly wrong to stray from a path and I would be worried we were doing something wrong or unacceptable. Yesterday it didn’t even occur to me, I didn’t feel remotely misplaced or disturbed by it. My approach to fording is vastly improved. I might still prefer to find my own route across rather than following David, which is quite normal for anyone, but I will then cross with much more confidence and with barely a second thought. Much less time wasting!

Roughly 18.6 km 767 m 3 kmph

(About 12 km across rough ground and bog)

(Very roughly, still not good with metric, but I’m trying!)

Friday, 12 August 2011

Full marks

During the Challenge, my Rab gaiters had developed a fault. One of the rivets at the bottom of each gaiter holding the hook on had come out, so the hook was swinging. Strangely, over time, David’s pair had developed a different fault.

Last week I finally got around to packaging them up and returning them to Webtogs from whence they came last November. I received an email to say they had arrived and been forwarded to Rab for investigation. I had assumed that David’s would be repaired and returned and that mine might have to be replaced.

Imagine my delight when I received a package this morning containing two new pairs, ten days after I first posted the original pairs! Excellent service I’d say and this happy customer will be returning to make more purchases sometime in the near future.

Another success has been the purchase of a Gram-Counter Gear Side Guy Kit from Ultralight. Again, a very quick service (I love free P&P, especially living in the north of Scotland, some companies seem to find it an outrageous £20 of difficult to reach!) and I’ve experimented by attaching a Grip Clip to my Kraz and pitched it in the garden to see if it helps with the saggy bottom (the tent, not mine!) Success, a very useful bit of kit and the second one (they come as a pair) is light enough to carry, with a length of guy and the spare peg, if my long side ever decides to get overly flappy in a stiff breeze.



SG103226  After

Of course, still not the best pitching ever, but I was limited by the obstacles…

Happy, happy, happy.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


We’re suppose to be boiling our water in this locality, e-coli has been found. I found out accidently using the BBC red button just before I went to bed last night. About 10.40pm, a little man shoved a warning card through my letter box. “Useful,” I thought, “How many people will rise in the morning, clean their teeth, eat their breakfast, then leave for work and find the warning as they go to the front door?” I at least managed to take a mug of previously boiled water into the bathroom to use to clean my teeth. Shame I forgot about it until I left the bathroom.

Mind you, at least their kettle and mug cupboard won’t be being guarded by an enormous spider…