Sunday, April 15, 2007

Paul P

Bad news this week: it turns out that my hiking companion Paul P, who was due to accompany me on this May's Glen Shiel hiking expedition, has gone and broken his leg whilst skiing in France. And it's not just any break, it's a full-measure 'bone popping out' triple-break 'classical spiral fracture', complete with an internal metal pin and 40 staples sewing up the surgery opening. Nice one Paul. As this happened only last week, Paul thinks the start of May is a bit tight. I offered to change it to the end of May, but he was being a bit girly and declined (o;

Get well soon Paul and I'll see you on the hills before you know it.

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The Drumochter Hills: Sgairneach Mhór (155) and Beinn Udlamain (119)

Walk date: 14/04/07
My Munro #'s: 104 and 105

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Skaarnyatchvore - big stony hillside - 991m
Byn ootlaman - gloomy mountain - 1011m

Duration - 12:00 - 16:00
Distance - 14.6km
Weather - warm. Blue sky with fragmented cloud but with strong haze developing through day. Light winds becoming cooling on Sgairneach Mhór. Remaining snow in hollows.
Team - solo

A nice route with a change in plan on the return leg:

After another fun drive in fine weather, I parked up in the thin lay-by at the top of the Drumochter pass and assessed the days targets; Sgairneach Mhór with its impressive snow clad cliffs and the hidden mound of Beinn Udlamain. A quick cautious crossing of the railway tracks and a jumping of a fence or two gets you onto a fast wide track leading up the glen. This is followed as far as your judgement calls - my route was to take on Sgairneach Mhór first, and to take on its eastern flank ignoring the unnamed mound at 758m further east - but no obvious path revealed itself, so I left the track where I saw some thin trails leading off from a river crossing. However, these trails soon disappeared, and left me freestyling it up rough heather slopes, dodging newts and frogs jumping out of my way, as shocked to see me as I was to see them! Half of the heather at the lower levels had been burnt away, leaving an intense tar-like smell, which in the afternoon heat made me imagine I was walking through some post-apocalyptic landscape, a tragic survivor to mankind's end! You get the picture, it was bleak.
Sgairneach Mhór (L) and Beinn Udlamain (centre):
Allt Coire Dhomhain, would be very tricky if any higher:
Some of that apocalyptic landscape for you:

Fortunately, my line towards Sgairneach Mhór hit upon an actual path that must have started further up-river, and quick progress was then made onto the summit plain and a path that skirted its dramatic cliff-faced northern edge, complete with unstable snow cladding. A quick lunch at the same shelter-cairn and I returned to the edge (completely hidden at the summit) to take a few dozen more photos!
Snowballs anyone? Snow-cladding on Sgairneach Mhór:
Coire Creagach with an impressive snow-cover stream:
More cladding; where sane people fear to tread:

From there I returned to the route, heading for the low bealach between my tops, and then a good rocky path up the wide back of Beinn Udlamain. A long series of metal fence posts that apparently mark the Perthshire-Inverness-shire boundary take you straight to the impressively big cairn at the summit, complete with three separate shelter-divisions. Here I had a good sit down and food-stop, with my supplies luxuriously laid out around me. Just before I left this peak, two runners came up from the northern side, cheerfully greeting me and not looking all that tired at all, gits! There are the mad, and then there are the mad...
Despite the haze, some fine views to Ben Alder:
Sgairneach Mhór from the summit of Beinn Udlamain:

Heading north made it obvious just how close A' Mharconaich and Geal Charn were, and made me wonder whether I should have done those hills in combination with these two after all for maximum Munro efficiency, but the day I did those was particularly snowy, and the heather slopes of Sgairneach Mhór would have been seriously knackering; no point crying over spilled Munros...
Geal Charn (L) and A' Mharconaich (R):

Having viewed the eastern slopes off Beinn Udlamain earlier on, I had changed my planned descent to this route, but initially I started down the gully of an obvious stream. This turned out to be too uneven so I moved back onto the heather slopes, which worked out great as I found an obvious path that I couldn't help but run down all the way back onto the wide track in the glen. Once down and refreshed, a quick stomp back to the car was all that was required. A good day out.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Drumochter Hills: A' Bhuidheanach Bheag (240) and Carn na Caim (232)

Walk date: 07/04/07
My Munro #'s: 102 and 103

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
A vooanach vek - the little yellow place - 936m
Caarn a kym - cairn of the curve - 941m

Duration - 11:45-15:30
Distance - 15.8km
Weather - warm. Blue sky with fragmented cloud. Light winds at height but pleasant throughout. Some remaining snow in hollows.
Team - solo

An extra point for spotting lovely Dalwhinnie:

Big and broad, today's targets basking in the sun:

The hiker from the black lagoon, avoid at all costs:

With fine weather forecast and the Easter break stretched out, it was time to visit the Drumochter hills again and take in some of the peaks that foul weather denied to Sonia and I when we last visited the area. This time, the poor girl was PhDing it back in The 'Deen, so I did the decent thing and left her to it!
After a great drive over, I proudly started stomping up the obvious and fast quarry path in my selection of recently obtained brand new gear; Sonia-gifted walking trousers, a new rucksack accompanied by a lovely set of water-proof inner bags, and a spiffing Theakston's Old Peculier T-shirt to finish it all off!
Within an hour I was up to height and began the 3km route over to A' Bhuidheanach Bheag. Although the path remained 'obvious', I did briefly lose it as I walked over the top of A' Bhuidheanach! From the return route it is obvious that the wide track goes more around this mound than not up it. However, with hills as flat as this, there is no real correct way so just generally follow your line and you'll soon be there.
Anyways, the top of A' Bhuidheanach Bheag is only slightly above its surrounds, so the trig point sitting neatly in place served as a handy reassurance that I was actually there! After managing to convince the friendly dog of some fellow hikers that a) I wasn't going to give it any food and b) I wasn't going to play fetch at 936m, I set about having some lunch on this peak. As I sat there I looked over ESE to Glas Mheall Mór and got quite paranoid that it was also a munro and having missed it from my book I should take it in just in case.. However, sense prevailed and a quick look once home later proved it was 'merely' a subsidiary top and I'd gladly saved 4km by not checking it out.
The top of A' Bhuidheanach looks similar to the rest of it:
Having had my fill, and with the light winds even on this fine day giving a bit of a chill, it was time to move on. Soon I was warm again and taking in fantastic views from the great mountain regions bordering these hills on all sides, not only hills but Dalwhinnie distillery too; this pair of peaks are not the most picturesque, but they do have a great vantage point!

Great snow and views over to A' Mharconaich & friends:
Hiking in view of Dalwhinnie distillery, bliss!

The approach to Carn na Caim was similar to A' Bhuidheanach Bheag, although with its defunct iron fencing, it also reminded me of Ben Chonzie. In any case, continued striding over easy dry grass soon brought the second hill home and there was little to do but start about my descent.

The approach to Carn na Caim, watch for the drops!

Grand views from the summit:

Although the usual route back would be back along to the quarry path, I opted for my book's suggestion of a steep 'heather run' down the slopes directly west from the peak. This was completely freestyle, and not for those who have concerns for their ankles or knees, but it was damn good fun!! Within half and hour I was back at the car.
Impressive gullies mark the descent route:
Being so near to Dalwhinnie distillery, I had a sneaky thought as I was taking off my boots at 15:45, that there might be a 16:00 tour! I couldn't risk not calling in to at least check, and my curiosity was rewarded as I got booked into the last tour of the day. Unfortunately my visit coincided with Dalwhinnie's annual shut-down period, so there was nothing active to see, but the tour was friendly and informative, but then again at £5 a go it should be!
One sore point however was that in the shop I saw a previously unknown expression of Lagavulin; the Lagavulin 30 year old!! This beats my megamalt Lagavulin 25 both in terms of age and price - the elder being £210 compared to the mere £173 of its younger sib. Thankfully, I am armed to resist it; the 25 is gorgeous and does beat the 16, but not by enough to justify an extra £137 - by the same rationale, I am not upping the expenditure for the expected return in taste. I salute it, but from afar!!!

I should not have seen this, new L30!

My kind of garden decoration:

Dalwhinnie's pagodas standing proud:

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Oh shit...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Camera Obscura

Aah, due to continuing healthy sales of their third long player, Let's Get Out of this Country, this Friday saw me get a second chance this album to see the wonderful Camera Obscura play in Aberdeen, this time graduating from The Tunnels to the above-ground Lemon Tree.

What a pleasant time it was, a fine happy atmosphere from all present as would be expected from the Twee Indie demographic. Support was from 'Scura friend Ned Collette hailing all the way from Melbourne. Brooding, padding, haunting guitar with a fine voice to match. Just imagine, his myspace page lists Robert Wyatt and George Orwell as some of his principle influences... Ned treated us to a short series of his longer songs, as he said 'Aberdeen seemed like a long song kinda place'. I'm not sure what that means, but he's right! A fine live event, but I did wonder how much I would play the record. Maybe a lot, but I wasn't moved to invest in finding out.

After a refreshingly short break, The 'Scura were steeping onto the stage, Carey and Tracy Anne in classy 60's vintage, and it was great to see how relaxed and happy they seemed, quite a change from the bustling and more challenging Tunnels venue. Standing but a metre or two away, the good vibes were infectious as they opened with Come Back Margaret and old super-favourite Suspended from Class from second LP Underachievers Please Try Harder. They were even interactive enough to ask for more light to be thrown onto the crowd, joking that it was nice to see so many people after the previous night in Inverness, playing to one man and his canine!

The set continued with the crowd around getting bouncier, new (or old obscure) song Lemon Juice and Paper Cuts sounding fine and soon moving on to a fantastic Keep It Clean, a mellow Books Written For Girls (at one point changing the line 'You see through this perfect smile' to 'They talk through this perfect song' in reference to the usual bar limpets still chatting away!) and a crowd-pleasing Hey Lloyd. A fine run including If Looks Could Kill, Let's Get Out Of This Country and Teenager lead to the closer, Razzle Dazzle Rose with an amazing crescendo of noise that left the crowd in rapture.

The video to 'Hey Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken':

The video to 'Let's Get Out of this Country':

After a performance as good as that, an encore was guaranteed and the band came back with Eighties Fan, a favourite from their debut, Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, that had consistently been asked for throughout their set. Having met all our expectations, The 'Scura were finally allowed to leave, and did so to prolonged applause and cheering. From the shy band that peered into our consciousness through the days of Peel, Camera Obscura now have the appearance of a band totally at ease with themselves, and this can only mean good things for future releases. Bring them on!

I got a playlist revealing the bands
nicknames for their own songs!

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