Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A Spare Saturday in Scotland

Thanks to the vagaries of the Caledonian sleeper timetable, I had a spare Saturday in Scotland.
Oops ;o)

My lovely mate picked me up from the station (at twenty to eight in the morning), bought me breakfast, and drove us up to Whitewell. From there we walked via Lochan Deo, the Cairngorm Club footbridge and Piccadilly and up to the Lairig Ghru. A right turn joined the route I had taken in May, heading up Sron na Lairig towards Braeriach. We met the cloud before reaching the first top, and by the summit of Braeriach we could barely see ten yards ahead. Some careful navigating took us the shortest way to the falls of Dee (rather than following the coire edges) and up Carn na Criche, a flat 1,265m top with a helpful cairn.

From there we followed the edge round, and up the Angel's Peak - a new hill for me (if only I could have seen the view...) - and down the other side, before we dumped our bags and scrambled up Cairn Toul in strong wind and driving rain (and fog). Having made a late start (we'd been tempted by tea at a friend's house en route to Whitewell), it was now 7pm, still raining hard and with the wind-chill taking the temperature below freezing, we needed to firm up our plans for getting off the plateau.

The headwind and late hour had us deciding on a descent into Glen Einich, via the Coire Dhondail path. At the end of that path, where it meets the landrover track on the valley floor, we found a smashing patch of grass, pitched the tent, cooked, and zonked straight out. We were up at 5.30 the next morning to walk the 9km back to Whitewell, in time to take part in the Bikeathon. The weather was glorious, and we cursed and praised its fickleness in equal measure.

We made the walk out in two-hours, completing the whole 36km hike (+1,350m ascent) in 22 hours. I am happy to say my seventy-quid Craghopper coat kept me completely dry, despite spending the entire first day in constant rain. We reached the Bikeathon start in time, and completed the 26 mile ride - which felt like the easy bit - in a couple of hours (not including lunch...) A massive thank you to everyone who sponsored me. I raised £600+ for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, and the event as a whole raised over £35,000.

If you'd still like to contribute to my sponsorship fund, you can do so here: justgiving.com/leighforbes

Monday, 6 June 2011

Gruelling Weekend

I'm riding in the Scottish Bikeathon, 26 miles through the Highlands in aid of Leukeamia & Lymphoma Research. I'm doing it with the widow of my friend Piet Ketelaar, in his memory.

I've raised £255 in four days. My target is £1,000 by the day of the ride, June 19th.

If any blogmates out there are prepared to sponsor me, I'd be hugely grateful. You can make a payment online at justgiving.com/leighforbes.

It's not part of the event, but I'm also planning to climb Cairn Toul, the UK's 4th highest mountain, the day before the bikeathon... It's going to be a gruelling (but ace) weekend!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Situation Normal

So the weather turned in the end, but only on the last of seven fantastic days walking. This was just yesterday.

Day one of my final hike had been stunning: my mate, Alastair, and I had beautiful weather as we strolled up Glen Feshie.
It was only as we tramped up the Eidart that the showers began, heralding the foul conditions to come. We made and ditched plans as the weather worsened, finally deciding to set camp before making a packless-dash for Beinn Bhrotain; but as the cloud and rain came down in equal measure, thunder rumbled and the wind howled, we took cover and opted to sit it out until morning.

After a tent-testing night (gusting 83mph on nearby Cairngorm), we woke late to find the visibility had improved... from 10 yards to 20 yards. We gave up on Beinn Bhrotain (I had a train to catch), and turned towards Monadh Mor, heading for home.

The visibility got better as we dropped below cloud level, but we saw no other improvement. After a four-hour horizontal torrent on the Mòine Mhor finally put paid to my week of Scottish sun, we picked our way back down into Glen Feshie, and once again into glorious conditions (aside from the storm-force gale). We delighted in the knowledge that Beinn Bhrotain stayed cloudy all day :o)

The weather was fun in a way - a challenge for nav skills if nothing else. Staying upright was my next ambition, and I mostly made it. Alastair, a local-born scot, cheered me with such observations as, "There's a good chance this mist might soon turn to rain..." He was wearing shorts.

I caught the train, and have suffered the wretchedness of swapping, in the space of twenty-four hours, the slopes of Beinn Bhrotain for the Victoria line at rush hour. Shell-shocked just doesn't touch it.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Luck of the Devil

I am in Scotland.
When I came here last September, the weather was like this

When I came back in March, the weather was like this,

When I got here on Monday, the weather was like this,

and on Tuesday, like this

and Wednesday, like this

I can't believe my luck :o)

I started the week with Braeriach, reaching the summit five hours after getting off the train. The next day I took a leisurely stroll round the tops of Cairngorm's northern corries with a mate. On Wednesday I climbed Beinn Mheadhoin (my no.1 target for 2011). Yesterday, I walked over the Moor of Feshie to Loch an Eilean, but forgot my camera. Gutted.
Today I was going to climb Cairn Toul from Glen Feshie, but it's gusting 60mph with patchy showers and cloud on the tops. Weather situation now normal.
It's time for a day in the coffee shop with my book.

Addendum: by lunchtime, the tops were clear and from my seat in the coffee shop, I was being summoned up Sgòran Shu Mor.
I didn't set off until 3.30pm, but had six fantastic hours on the Glen Feshie ridge.

This is Loch Einich from the summit of Sgor Gaoith, 2,000' above (in a force 7 gale):

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Tiny Causes of Enormous Problems

Two years ago, while hiking in my favourite Scottish glen – one of the clagging-heather variety - a couple of other walkers approached. They looked like they knew what they were doing – big packs, determined expressions, etc. – except that the woman wore three-quater-length trousers. They said hello, and I said, "I hope you don't mind me mentioning, but there's Lyme disease in this glen." The man immediately started waving his arms around, declaring that he'd never heard such a thing, and they were going over to another glen anyway. The woman looked blank. "Two of my friends caught it," I added, "and I know of others." He then put his hands on his hips telling me not to be ridiculous, and it didn't matter anyway. His manner took on an arrogant, abusive tone. I was torn between wishing I'd kept my mouth shut, and an inability to let this fellow hiker jeopardise her health. Her companion obviously knew about the risks, but clearly wanted me to shut up. Why? God knows - how not to protect your mate from a life-changing illness. The woman continued looking blank, so I encouraged her to think about covering her legs, and left.

I didn't bother them with details of the tick bite I'd had earlier that year, the debilitating exhaustion I'd suffered, the heart irregularities, and all the other discomforts. Not to mention the awful side effects of the antibiotics I had to take. I was lucky (I had an interested doctor). Caught within the first month, Lyme disease is curable. After that, controlling the symptoms is the best you can hope for.

If you spend any time at all in the UK countryside, I encourage you to familiarise yourself with Lyme disease. There is a mine of information on the net, and Google is your friend - a better one than the chappy above. Coincidentally (I've been planning this post for months :o), it's tick-bite prevention week, so you could look at their site too.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Two Days in Scotland (and two days on the M6)

First trip of 2011! And a bonus to the year's schedule too.
My friend, Kath, and I decided, as you do when not quite in touch with reality, to take a four-day midweek break to Scotland. The journey is 600 miles (each way), meaning two days in the car for only two days hiking. A small matter. We set off, drove ten hours from Sussex to Strath Spey, and fell upon plates of chilli and large quantities of beer like the motorway-maddened travellers we were.

Having so little time, we had resolved to walk whatever the weather, and the following morning's steady snow-fall was no deterrent. With not a snowshoe, crampon, or axe between us, we headed up Ryvoan pass amply aided by our YakTrax (they're fab - review to follow). Our route deteriorated from a pisted track to ski lines, to ever-deepening footprints left by others. After lunch at the bothy we headed up the side of Meall a' Bhuachaille, the snow still falling silently.

A few had gone before us, but their tracks soon petered out, and we cut up the side of the hill through deep drifts. It was fun, but hard going, and as we reached cloud level - about half way up - we knew we just didn't have time (or energy) to reach the top. That's when the fun started. With snow up to our waists in places, the most effective way down was to bumslide or, where it was not steep enough for that, to roll. We laughed all the way back to the bothy.

The next day the sun shone in a deep-blue sky, and we just had to get up a mountain somehow. Being short of time and unadventurous, we chose Cairngorm (I know, I know), along with hundreds of skiers. We fought a way up Windy Ridge, again in deep snow, dodging the off-piste boarders. The going got better higher up, but the wind became a burden, and the final push for the top was a slog. It took us over four hours for a climb that can usually be done in 90-min, max.

But the views. Ah, the views. We could see the entire Highlands. We could clearly make out Morven (77 miles) and Ben More Assynt (83 miles). It was the best visibility I've ever seen in the Cairngorms.

Sgurr Mor (1,100m) and the Fannaichs, 64 miles

The next day we drove home, having covered over 1,300 miles; but the trip was worth every one. I'll be back up in May and, with the hope of less snow and longer days, I've more great walks planned!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

2010 Walks

I don't get much time in the hills, but I made the most of only eight days last year. I took a great two-day trip along the Lairig an Laoigh in May, overnighting at the Fords of Avon. I had taken my new tent, but as I looked at the empty refuge, then at the blizzard-swept patch of grass beside it, I remembered it was -6°C. The refuge won. I carried on the next day as far as the saddle between the Lairig an Laoigh and Glen Derry - opposite Coire Etchachan - before turning back. Twenty-six hours without seeing another soul. Heaven!

I didn't get my long-promised day in August, and so had to wait until September for another foray into the hills, but I made up for it with a weekend circuit of the Lairig Ghru, Cairn a' Mhaim, Ben Macdui and Fiacaill a' Choire Cas. I very rarely head out in company, but walked that weekend with my friend Nick.We started at the Sugar Bowl carpark, and headed through the Chalamain Gap and up the Lairig Ghru to Corrour. We'd started late owing to the weather and had to make do with the last two places on the bothy floor, by the fireplace. After a noisy night with Snorey Bloke from Birmingham (plus four others), the mice, the wind banging the door, the soot falling down the chimney, and the dog, we headed up Cairn a' Mhaim fortified by a bacon and egg breakfast. The weather was perfect - the best I've ever had in the Cairngorms, and the views from the top of Ben Macdui reached to Ben Nevis :o)

Other walks in 2010 included whiteout on Sgor Goaith, blizzards on the Monadh Mor, nearly getting cragfast in Coire an t-Sneachda and thigh-high heather above Glen Feshie (yeugh).

This year I am determined to reach Beinn Mheadhoin*, Derry Cairngorm, Beinn Bhrotian* and Coire Mharconaich - all from the northern side. I'm thinking I might need a new sleeping mat ;o)

I've got a bit lazy about updating the walking gallery, and have been posting my photos to facebook.

* I climbed Beinn Mheadhoin on May 4th. On the 9th I camped on the slopes of Beinn Bhrotain , but had to pass on the final climb due to appalling weather. See the post above Situation Normal. Next attempt in June October!