Saturday, October 28, 2006

Rannoch and Glen Lyon: Schiehallion (59)

Walk date: 28/10/06
My Munro #'s: 98

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Shee-haal-yan - Fairy Hill of the Caledonians - 1083m

Duration - 11:30 - 14:00
Distance - 10.5km
Weather - started with rain, but turned warm before cloud at ~800m. Rain in cloud.
Team - solo

I wasn't free-styling, they've moved the path!

Here we go again:

Looking SE along Allt Mor:

Tiny cairn upon one of the many summit rock slabs:

100th Munro commentary:

I kid you not; on the route, the hamlet of Dull*:

With weather forecasts predicting 55mph gusting wind and flooding, I took the light drizzle coming down as a fore-runner of the impending meteorological doom, and fully suited up, including my way-too-small waterproof trousers that make me feel like I'm being cut in half whenever I put them on. As I made my way along the solidly constructed path (a wise measure against erosion on this popular route) and started climbing, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and it became apparent that I was wearing about 50 layers more than I needed. A quick de-robing occurred, but I left the cheese-wire trousers on just in case!

The manufactured path continued until about 800m or so, when the incline starts to flatten out and the second part of the walk starts, namely the wide but heavily rock-strewn summit ridge of Schiehallion. This is quite hard going, especially in the wet, as very careful foot work is required (glasses that I could hardly see through really helped) and the pointy rocks are very slippery when wet (prophets them Aerosmith; I imagine they'd say that it would be even worse with ice).

There's not much else to say as there were zippo views by this time. I trunched on and the little rocks became big slabs, and on one was the cairn. I took the video and turned around. Once off the ridge, I partook in some jogging down the solid main path, and was back for a late lunch in the car after two and a half hours.

As this was my 100th Munro (and probable last of the season what with the clocks going back and the still-tricky toe), I resolved to return to the Moulin Hotel in Pictlochry and have a fine Old Remedial before returning. Mmm.

I will henceforth return to blogging about non-Munro rubbish to see us through the winter; paper in the boots time y'all!

*Could be worse, there's a place just north of Durham called Pity Me...

UPDATE: according to the wise man that is ANR:
The mostinteresting fact about Schiehallion was that it was the site of the first successful experiment to measure the mass of the Earth in 1774. As aside effect it was also the first mountain to be mapped using contour lines. Fascinating...

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Crianlarich Hills: An Caisteal (147) and Beinn a' Chroin (233)

Walk date: 21/10/06
My Munro #'s: 96 and 97

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Aan kaistail - The Castle - 995m
Byn a chroin - Hill of Danger - 940m

Duration - 11:45 - 16:45
Distance - 13.9km
Weather - breaking cloud, warm in sun, rain at end of day
Team - solo

Plotted route in blue, taken route in red:

The mist clearing on Coire Andoran:

Mist remaining in the glen, over to Stob Glas:

Panoramic of the breaking cloud:

Summit of An Caisteal from the south:

Beinn a' Chroin from the slopes of An Caisteal:

All that work for some rocks!

A break in cloud reveals An Casiteal from Beinn a' Chroin:

Start of Alien anyone? Rocks through the mist:

After quite a drive from Aberdeen, which included great views of the monstrous Ben More rising through broken cloud, I parked up besides my targets of the day, but by that time with the cloud fully descended down to 200m!

Once kitted up, I made my way down the farm track and over the River Falloch on a bridge built by the R.A.F! The 'path' leaves the track on the turn before the cottage, and passing through a gate starts following the river upstream. However, this was starting to depart from my plotted route, and with height to gain I'd always rather get at it sooner than later, so I veered off ESE towards the higher flow of Allt Andoran. The terrain here was of long springy grass and often I thought I was seeing paths of previous hikers, but more likely I was seeing grass bent over due to considerable water-flow! It didn't take long to realise that looking for a path was going to be a fruitless venture, and so through the mist I just kept my line to meet the river below the slopes of Coire Andoran.

The slopes up Coire Andoran and onto the appropriately titled 'Twistin Hill' were no mean feat, and I was getting very hot as I doggedly increased my height as the first faint signs of the sun appeared through the mist above. At around 500m, all around the mist finally burnt off revealing some fantastic views both into the glen below, but also north towards the Bridge of Orchy Hills.

The persistence on the slopes finally paid off and revealed a path along Twistin Hill, which looked as if it progressed all the way down Sron Gharbh, and made me think that that would have been a fine alternative route up compared to the more ad hoc approach I had taken! Anyway, continuing the ascent the path allowed quick progress. A scary looking outcrop of rock ahead is actually quite easy, as an easy path works around it. On the path the summit is soon reached, but the cloud was in again by this time so I cannot report on the views!

Descending to the south along the obvious path, height was quickly lost over quite rocky ground. Hands are needed at a few points, but there is nothing too technical to be concerned about here, unless you're wanting to try it in snow or ice; there were a number of rocks along this route with crampon scratch marks clearly apparent!

The rise to Beinn a' Chroin starts at soon as the bealach is reached. This ascent includes the most tricky parts of the day, as might be expected when the translation is 'Hill of Danger', but again in fine weather it is nothing that a couple of moments of hand work won't sort out. Before too long, the flat top is accessed and a fine path takes you along to the official summit of 942m at the western end (388186). Again, the cloud was in here, so I imagine the views are nice!

I had plotted a return route over Stob Glass, however, the route onto it from the bealach I had plotted didn't seem to exist, and instead would have been some very unconfortable traversing along steep slopes. I instead thought I might access the ridge from the summit of An Caisteal, but then concluded that if I was returning to this hill that I may as well retrace my outward route exactly as at least then I knew what I was getting; the day had already been a bit more technical than I had imagined and was taking longer than expected, I therefore opted for the least possible amount of extra adventure!

A very quick descent of the Coire Andoran was my reward for the earlier work up it, and left me very warm. As a result I took off my coat for the quick stomp back over the grassy slopes to the farm track. Of course this was the cue for the rain to come down, but I refused to stop again and was very soggy once back at the car, ready for a change of top before the prolonged wet drive back.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tarf and Tilt Hills: Beinn a' Chlo (Carn Liath (181), Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain (66) and Carn nan Gabhar (32))

Walk date: 14/10/06
My Munro #'s: 93, 94 and 95

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Byn a glow - Hill of Mist
Kaarn lee-a - Grey Hill - 975m
Bray corrie kroon vaalakan - Upland of the Corrie of Round Blisters - 1070m
Kaarn nan gower - Hills of the Goats - 1121m

Duration - 10:00 - 19:15
Distance - 23.2km
Weather - dry but in cloud all day, some high winds when exposed.
Team - with Sonia

Plotted route in blue, taken route in red:

Let's get started then: Loch Moraig by the car park:

By 700m, all views for the day were effectively gone:

The stunning top of Carn Liath:

The incomparable top of Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain:

But the ultimate, the sheer splendor of Carn nan Gabhar:

A view! SE down toward Allt na Beinne Bige:

Spot the Sonia; S descends Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain:

Heading back & still one to go, Carn Liath through mist:

The mist returning, and Sonia:

A rare sighting of the endangered 'hiker in the mist':

Saturday. This was a long day. We calculated 6-8 hours for the walk, so we had to get up at 06:00 to leave by 07:00 and drive the almost 3 hours to Blair Atholl so we could be walking by 10:00 and, the plan was, be back by 18:00.

Well, we managed the 10:00 start at least. Making our way from the 'car park' (patch of grass at cattle grid) by Loch Moraig off ENE towards some interesting little huts that mark the start of a kilometre of bog at the foot of the slopes of Cairn Liath. Once the bog has been traversed, the path up Carn Liath is one unrelenting slog and there's nothing to do but get on with it. By 700m at the latest we were in thick cloud and this was to remain essentially unchanged for the rest of the day. When the inclined finally eased off the summit soon came, but given the total lack of views we soon left it behind us, taking the gentle wide downward slopes to the north-west and being very thankful for the GPS given visibility below 10m.

The walking was easy enough for a while here, although it annoyingly involved some ascending for Beinn Mhaol, a non-Munro top! Ridiculous!! Tricky navigation again here, but soon we were down at the tight turn by Allt Coire Chruim ascending our second Munro, the ridiculously named Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain or 'upland of the corrie of round blisters', riighht. The top here was reached without much trouble and we sat for ten minutes having a spot of lunch in the shelter of the cairn. However, I knew we were starting to slip on our schedule so I had us moving on pretty quickly, flat for a while E then NE along the broad summit ridge before a sharp and unexpected turn E down steepish slopes towards Bealach an Fhiodha. This turn was so unexpected that we had to confirm the GPS directions by compass, and upon returning Sonia and I built a mini-cairn to help our fellow hikers!

Once down at Bealach an Fhiodha, we finally could start the climb to our final Munro of the day, Carn nan Gabhar, which unfortunately, as time was getting tight, was also the highest of the day. There was at least a path on it, although at times there was more than one, which was rather less helpful and lead to lots of peering closely at the map. Anyway, we generally kept to the ones going more firmly upwards, and this worked out fine, taking us safely to the broad summit ridge. However, we only got to the summit ridge at 14:00, which was our original turn-around time, but being only 1km off the end, we wanted to press on, thinking that we'd be fine not to get down until 18:30, that 18:00 was just being conservative. Unfortunately, this 1km on the top was extremely slow-going, as it was mostly sharp and cumbersome boulder-rock underfoot, which took effort both physically and mentally, meaning that by the time we hit the top it was actually 14:25. This being the case, we turned on our heels and headed straight down along our approach route.

Already getting fatigued, it was on this descent that an old problem of Sonia's in her right foot returned, giving her intense pain as she walked. We could do nothing however, but press on and started climbing back up onto Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain. The only nice point here is that we were nicely nudged along by the occasional unexpected, but very welcomed break in the cloud giving one of them dramatic views we'd read about!!

The tedium of repeating hills we'd already climbed then had to be repeated with the re-visiting of Carn Liath, up its very gradual and long north side. Fortunately, the descent was down the more sudden south end, although this came with the knock-on effect of causing further pain for S. With failing light, we eventually returned to the bog, finding a stable route through it by the wall featured on the map, which in turn took us back to the dream-like stability of the farm track. With the last embers of the day hanging in the sky, we returned to the wonderful refuge of our transportation, to a seat, a heater and lights! A wonderful and satisfying day out, although an extra hour of daylight would have been an absolute delight!

As it was late however, we made tracks to Pictlochry and the Moulin Hotel/Moulin Inn, which has its own brewery! This I had missed out on the previous weekend due to time constraints, and so it was wonderful to spend an hour in their crowded bar, enjoying a fine tasting pint of Moulin Old Remedial and a sublime meal of venison steak in berry sauce (S had the scampi and does not recommend it, although her chips were very nice!). Leaving at 20:45, we got back to the 'Deen at a reasonable 23:00!

Finally, the main reason this walk was so long was that our return path was just along our outward path, which in effect means that this was a five-Munro day (think about it...). There is a quicker route down which involves decending Airgiod Bheinn and then just walking along the farm track around the mountains, but this being deer-stalking season we had phoned the relevant hillphone for information and discovered that this route was off-limits. Incovenient, but better than being shot!

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Spectacles are the new contacts

Spent a wonderful evening out last night.

Sonia was coming over, so I decided to put in my contacts in order to look nice for her, as you do. Anyway, within seconds of putting my right one in, it started stinging intensely. I had a quick go at getting it out again as I thought it might be in the wrong way round, but I couldn't shift it. Nevermind, I thought, I can still see and besides it'll come out later once my eye gets wet. I then set off shopping and picked up Sonia (all in the car).

As the pain had been getting worse, I had another go once I got back, but failed even using the aid of eye drops, so I started cooking as time was getting on. Most of the cooking was done just using the one eye, which is generally not a good sign. Just before the meal was cooked, I had another go, but by this time even touching the eye was becoming difficult.

We then sat and ate a nice meal, with myself now hardly able to open either eye. On finishing I had one final push, but just the one attempt left me sat on the edge of the bath, completely unable to open either eye for a good few minutes. It was then that the steady background thought of A&E shifted into the foreground.

The kind Sonia, preparing for an interview the next day, grabbed her notes and drove me to the hospital. I immediately got seen by the admissions nurse and taken into a room within A&E where I sat alone and mostly unable to open either eye for an hour before someone came round. I didn't mind the principle of waiting, but couldn't I have sat with Sonia in the main waiting room, where I could have had my music on, or just chatted? I did take a book along, but obviously that wasn't going to work. Anyway, gripe over. Nurse/Doctor-dude Graham came in and gave me a couple of drops of anaesthetic and asked me to have another go. I could barely touch it again, which he seemed impressed with, and promptly maxed up the anaesthetic. The pain was still quite something however, and I couldn't manage it. He then had a go with a cotton-ended stick as I held my eye open, and got it moving slightly, but that took quite a lot of teeth-gripping. With both eyes tightly clenched shut at this stage and the occasional expletive, he left me for a resting period coming back with a new idea; to use sterile paper as a lever between my eye and the lens and then to sucker it off. To spare you the details, this worked on the third attempt, after the advice of, 'You can scream, shout, swear, call me anything, but you have to keep this eye open', nice.

The upshot was that the lens had probably floated in the solution overnight, and so the eye-side had completely dried out. This meant that when I put it on, it was just like a suction pump to my eye. When it finally came off it took part of my cornea with it; I left the hospital with a classy eye bandage, I can't wear contacts for a week (like I ever want to again), I have to put in antibiotics four times a day for five days, and it feels like a cat with rabies has scratched its scraggy claws across my eyeball.

Still, at least my with my bloodshot, yellowed, antibiotic-oozing eye I looked good for Sonia.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Rannoch and Glen Lyon: Stuchd an Lochain (197) and Meall Buidhe (248)

Walk date: 08/10/06
My Munro #'s: 91 and 92

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Stoochk an lochan - Peak of the Small Loch - 960m,
Myowl boo-ee - Yellow Hill - 932m.

Original plotted route in blue, route taken in red:

E along Glen Lyon from Creag an Fheadain:

Stuchd an Lochain and in its corrie, Lochan nan Cat:

The easy walking to the summit:

The second hill, Meall Buidhe, across the Glen:

On the slopes of Meall Buidhe, Stuchd an Lochain far L:

Meall Buidhe (L) and Meall Garbh (R):

Across Rannoch Moor and Loch Laidon, the opening of Glencoe:

And the tall fella in the middle is Ben Nevis:

Walk 2. Sunday. 10:15 - 15:30. Solo. Weather - dry but with high winds on tops. Finding the walk itself is a little tricky! As you're driving up the glen, take the right turn marked 'Loch Estates', as Lochan Daimh is not sign-posted. Then once on this road, watch out for the cattle gate that you have to open and close as you go on your way.

My book recommended doing these two hills as part of a large circuit rather than as two separate walks, thus taking in the head of Lochan Daimh and, by necessity to get there, the steep descent off Sron a' Choire Chnapanich. The main draw for this alternative according to my book was the 'remarkable' feeling of remoteness offered by the head of the lochan, but considering that I hadn't seen a soul the whole of the previous day, I'd had my fill of remoteness, and what with the prospect of a long drive back to Aberdeen in the evening, I soon changed my mind and opted for the easier plan of 2x1 Munro walks.

Once safely parked, I headed for the more difficult Munro first, taking a path marked with a cairn as it leaves the grit-track along the lochside. This path is all that is needed for the peak, but it keeps at a short height for a stretch until the boat house is passed. There was no need to fear the lack of climbing however, as the path then makes a tight turn upwards onto Creag Fheadain, from where the route ahead to Stuchd an Lochain is clear. Easy walking then lead to the summit, with fine views all around and into the steep corrie. A trotting pace back along the path saw me back by the car within an hour after 1:45 up!

The second Munro has a much more subtle path leading from the grit-track, and a keen eye is needed to see its faint start. Once on it however, the going is straightforward and well marked, with just a short stretch of bogland to slow you down. There are various small paths all around, but they all do seem to be going in the same general direction. Once the first cairn of the broad summit ridge is seen, then its all plain sailing with enjoyable walking on top. With a good day for views like this one, the opening of Glencoe can be seen across Rannoch Moor as well as Ben Nevis itself, standing proud over its neighbours. the summit is soon taken in and an about-face brings forth another rapid descent.

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Rannoch and Glen Lyon: Carn Gorm (103), Meall Garbh (186), Carn Mairg (91) and Meall nan Aighean (Creag Mhor) (169)

Walk date: 07/10/06
My Munro #'s: 87, 88, 89 and 90

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Kaarn Gor-om - Blue Hill - 1029m,
Myowl Gaarv - Rough Hill - 968m,
Kaarn Mairg - Hill of Sorrow or Boundary Hill - 1041m,
Myowl Yan Yaan - Hill of the Hind - 981m.

The route:

Not a Munro, but still pretty; An Sgorr:

Hill 1; the rounded top of Carn Gorm:

Hills 3 and 4; Cairn Mairg (L) and Meall nan Aighean (R):

Hill 2. Interesting cairn on top of Meall Garbh:

An example of the gentle breeze:

The weather was truly in on Meall nan Aighean:

And only getting worse; the moody and wet descent:

Despite the toe still giving me problems, I was determined to get some more Munros under my belt before the clocks change and winter truly comes in. With a long weekend for me this weekend and the confidence boost from Ingleborough, now was the time to act! The plan was to drive from the 'Deen on Saturday direct to a walk and then back on Sunday after another, with an overnight stay at Pictlochary on the Saturday night.

Walk 1. Saturday. 11:30-17:30. Solo. Weather - windy and wet. This first day then was a circuit of four. Parking in Invervar after some interesting driving along twisty and narrow country roads, I followed the river upstream until I hit the forest path and then out onto the slopes along Invervar Burn. A made-up river crossing took me onto my western heading and Meall Ghlas, from which the exposed top of Carn Gorm is soon reached. It was here that I had first taste of the bad weather of the day, as high buffeting winds welcomed me to the summit bringing with them some sharp, but light rain. Not hanging about, I dropped some height quickly and had a long-overdue spot of lunch on the sheltered northern side as I slapped on some layers.

After what seemed like a long approach to Carn Gorm, Meall Garbh with its metal-clad cairn was soon reached, and it gave way to some nice walking over grassy rounded crests towards Cairn Mairg. When I say nice however, I just mean underfoot as the weather had changed for good, with the wind only increasing and bringing with it some stinging cloud water; if this had been ridge-walking then it would have caused some serious headaches. Fortunately, even the rocky top of Cairn Mairg was relatively safe.

Following Cairn Mairg, a quite steep but safe descent gave way to an easy climb onto Meall nan Arghean, the last peak of the day. As I dropped back below the cloud I was looking forward to better weather, but instead it just seemed to keep getting wetter. The descent back to the forest was quite lengthy and the uneven ground was giving my right knee quite some trouble, so it was with some relief that I finally arrived back in Invervar and could start the drive to Pictlochary with the car's heater whacked up to max!

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Birthday Fun

The full birthday spread:

Sonia's excellent cake in its full flamey greatness:

F-B: 25, 16, 12 and 5yr old Lagavulin:

Tasting the 25!

An interesting gift from Leach, just add water:

A few scenes from an excellent birthday yesterday. Sonia came over with an excellent cake, somewhat unstable but tasting fabulous (the cake was nice too). We cooked and drank some Theakston's Old Peculier, watched some Green Wing (gift from Sonia), listened to the 'John and Sheila' 'Pig's Big 78's' compilation (gift from Sonia) and had the Lagavulin tasting session as shown. Predictably, the 25 is gorgeousness itself manifested into liquid form and racked up to 57.2% ABV. Nice. I have to say that the 16 still comes very close to it, but the 25 does have the edge. Both of them are just such powerful flavours, and each whisky was sampled without and then with water to get all the flavours. Add to that some Lanark Blue cheese we had on the side and no one else would have wanted to come near us anyway! Cheers all.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Today I am 30!

It's ok though, as "The 30's are the new 20's".
- Me

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Local Hero and Pennan

Pennan looking good in the midday sun:

The view west:

The daytrippers:

The Kinnaird Head Castle lighthouse, looking down:

In an amazing coincidence to JJ's post on film lines here, Sonia, myself, Paula and Teemu had a day trip to Pennan on Saturday, which is heavily used as a set in the film Local Hero. Local Hero is a Scottish production back from 1983, and sees a big business acquisitions delegate 'Mac' from 'Knox Oil', Houston, travel to Scotland to try and buy an entire coastal village paving the way for a new oil refinery. All the locals are totally up for it, as they will all become overnight millionaires. All, that is, except one eccentric old man whose family has owned the adjacent bay for some 400 years. Add to this Mac's assistant Oldsen falling for a marine biologist who thinks they are there to approve her plan for a marine lab, a totally unbalanced big boss 'Happer' played by Burt Lancaster and his equally unbalanced therapist (seen at one point climbing the outside of the skyscraper sticking an offensive message to the windows as part of his new provocative methodology), and you have a quiet, but charming and endearing film much in the style of another Scottish production Soft Top, Hard Shoulder.

Anyway, Pennan is used a lot in the film, including a red phone box there, which is the only communication back to the states (interestingly, in the film this is a prop and the villages have since installed one as there were so many tourists coming to find it!). Rather than clinging to the slopes like Robin Hood's Bay, Pennan is all on the flat next to the sea, it's just that 'the flat' is only about 10 metres in width, and the cliffs that enclose it are towards the sheer end of the spectrum. The hotel is the only retail there (no shop like in the film), but the food is lovely (beer, however is more average). We had a great walk up to the top of the eastern cliff and enjoyed the wonderful views that included many secluded bays further along the coast. As the weather was warm, we were tempted to swim, but kept to plan A, which was to move onward to...

The Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh. Although we got there at the end of the day, the kind receptionist arranged for us to join on to the end of the last tour of the day. The tour is of the now defunct Kinnaird Head Castle lighthouse there and it is an impressive building. At the top, we were told that the light structure (not the largest in the world by 2mm!) weighs some four and a half tons and turns on a series of rollers, although in other structures liquid mercury was used and hailed as a great advancement until the health consequences became fully realised! Shifts in the light room were for four hours, and if the operator was discovered with a radio or reading instead of just watching and checking, then they were instantly dismissed! Likewise if they ever left the lighthouse to help at the sites of shipwrecks. The turning is by machine, but we were told that at one isolated lighthouse the light was manually turned for 18 days whilst a spare part was shipped out. This is more impressive when you realise that the exact correct speed had to be maintained as the consequent series of flashes is the method by which ships identify which lighthouse they are in the vicinity of! Nowadays, all the lighthouses are controlled by computer by the Northern Lighthouse Board in Edinburgh.

Finally, in the second world war, most lighthouses were turned off as part of the black-out, but the navy insisted that Fraserburgh lighthouse stayed on for the important navigation through to Russia, and as a result 2/3 of Fraserburgh was bombed away by the end of the conflict, and they still liked it!