Camp Coffee

I could hear the others rustling in their sleeping bags, zips being pulled, coughs and splutters and sniffs. The sound of the key being turned in human ignition.
I waved to Sandy as his head popped out and I whistled to Elaina as she peered out at the sunrise. It was slightly surreal as I’d stuck the music back on while I was dozing and had Megadeth’s “Peace Sells…” shouting at me while the morning played a silent stadium light show.
I probably could have just lain there until the desire to pee became #1 in the list of priorities instead of #6 where it actually was, but I had to get out and feel those rays as they burst over the South Glen Shiel Ridge.
I pulled on my jumper and down jacket, peeled my legs out of my sleeping bag and tucking the laces inside my boots, stuck my feet inside and lurched out to greet the day.

Now, as is my habit, I cut about for a bit outside without getting properly dressed, the reason being I always get back into my bag for a cuppa and bit of a re-heat before breaking camp. I fail to see why my companions found a man in boxers and a down jacket so amusing. No I wasn’t cold, yes my legs are always that colour. Cheeky buggers.
We milled around soaking it all up as the sun squeezed through and the sky changed shape and colour by the second. The colour and patterns washed over us and to each side. Gairich to the South over Loch Quoich glowed like the last embers of bonfire against a blanket of soft pink haze.

It was funny when everyone’s alarms started going off. We knew what time the sunrise was due and various devices had been primed to make sure we saw it. We’d been standing watching for it for nearly an hour.

There were grins and superlatives, there was disbelief too. It was as if we’d been dropped here from an aircraft, like a really out-of-shape band of mercenaries (60+ Roger Moore, Michael Caine, Robert Shaw, you know the kind of thing), in the middle of the night and had woken up to see the target for the first time, sleeping in a deck chair on the porch. I had difficulty in attaching an expended effort to attaining the result we were experiencing as the climb had been in total darkness and had been rather pleasant too. If nothing else if did tell me that the whole experience means something to me, not just the photogenic bits.

Ages later, when blue became the dominant hue above us, I did indeed retire to my sleeping bag for breakfast, and when I emerged I was fully clothed and laced-up. I had a roasting hot purple titanium mug in my hand too. Of course I did.

We broke camp slowly, it was warm and bright and we were donning hats and sunglasses by 0800.
This is the joy of wild camping at its best, already being there, no traffic, no fussing, no frustration. Time to enjoy the moment and all the little things that glue it together.
A ptarmigan was chuckling away and flitting from rock to rock behind us. It’s such a cheery sound and it’s such a lovely little bird. It had spots of colour across its white overalls, it hasn’t had that outfit on for so long for a while, I’m surprised it hasn’t worn out this year.

We put our cooking stones back in place, scanned the ground for anything amiss or missing and hit the trail again.
It was only a little after 0900, but I haven’t felt it this warm outdoors this year never mind at 800m. We all felt the presence of the heat right away as we moved, but the track is a gem and the views kept opening up as we walked, there was nothing but joy to be found with every step.

The ridge swings and tumbles towards the summit, dips and crags at every turn. We found dry stane dykes here and there (top photie), always a good thing to put your own meagre efforts into perspective.
The ridge defines itself in the final appraoch to the summit in a series buttresses on the north side rising to rounded pinnacles which taper into steep snow slopes to the south.
We thought about which way to go, the snow traverse could be loose and difficult, what about the scramble on the crest?
I decided to go and have a look at the snow and report back.

The snow was soft in places and consolidated in others, I crossed a good bit of it and it was great fun, but the lure of the rock above me was strong.
I climbed up and stowed all my bits and pieces on my pack as we regrouped and then made our way up to the first little crag on the crest.

The first thing you see is the oft-mentioned “via ferrata”, bits of old metal fence posts that are actually handily placed on the first little bit of the scramble. Again though, it kinda puts things into perspective when someone is up here cutting holes in rocks and melting lead to seal in a metal stake to build a fence.

The scrambles are great fun, nothing very difficult, but the airyness to your right side lend them a little bit of drama. But the holds are there, the rock was dry and grippy and we revelled in pure joy of playing on the rocks.

One short section did raise an eyebrow when we looked back, it’s a cleft filled with snow which you can’t really see until you’re across and above it. At the height of winter, that gap would be bridged by snow and would be an accident waiting to happen.

It was over too soon. We strolled the final pull through the bouldery terrain to a short snow slope which pushed us into a wide, shallow channel running from the summit down the southern ridge. This was nice on its own, but behind it lay the peaks of Knoydart (Ladhar Bheinn below with a wee bit of snow on it), Loch Hourn with Skye and the Atlantic beyond. Carron and Torridon now joined the Cairngorms as we began complete a 360° circle of peaks including the still snow-plastered Ben Nevis, Ben Alder and Creag Meagaidh and the bare rocks of An Sgurr and Rum.
It’s as fine a sight as I’ve seen, Sgurr á Mhoaraich sits in a perfect position, it was definitely waiting at the door for the box-office to open.

A final shimmy on the snow and we were on the top. Sitting on warm rock, surrounded by pure white snow wearing base-layers, the only sound was gently roaring stoves as they melted some of the scenery to make us soup and cuppas. Twice.
We unpacked and moved in for the long term.
Some folk came a went, seeming slightly perturbed at our presence, a couple arrived with their playful dug and they seemed as happy as we were. That’s the way it should be, if you’re annoyed because I’m on “your” summit I’m glad.
Another cheery fella appeared, I took his photie on his camera and he told us he had only “19 to go”. Good lad.
I wasn’t expecting to see so many folk on Sgurr á Mhoaraich, it’s really heartening to see smiling faces making the effort to get to hills a little off the beaten track.

I dare say we could have stayed up there for longer, we still had food and gas, the ginger muffins were all gone which was a blow, but there was some still sweet to go with last nights still uneaten savoury.
But, we looked at descent routes. Straight down the south ridge would take us into the boggy coire and onto the road in about ten minutes, going north meant a steep descent on very rough ground, a scramble up to another top with a ridgewalk, steep descent , uncertain water crossing and a long walk out.

As we descended north from the summit we quickly hit a big concave snowslope which was a lot of fun as the run-out was long with a sticky end waiting for the unfortunate and the snow was very loose. We all took different directions and approaches and got to the crags below in a good state of repair.

It was here that the snow gear got packed away and we also got some new views. The length of Loch Hourn to one side and the wonders of Coire á Chaorainn.
The upper coire is a mass of huge boulders which have broken from the face below the summit of Sgurr á Mhoaraich I looked like it would be a lot of fun to explore too, and that’s a feature of this mountain, it’s got so many options to explore.
To get to the bealach we had to cross some very rough, loose and steep ground, but it was just so much good bloody fun. Hitting the solid surfaces in the bealach was no disappointment though, the rock formations were good to both hand and foot, in fact the rock is so grippy you can walk up some surprisingly steep outcrops and they hang onto your feet. Brilliant.

Some fannying about was inevitable, we were like kids playing on outcrops on the beach. Phil’s little cave looked cool, although when I looked at properly I don’t think I’d sit under it without a couple of acro-jacks and an HSE risk assessment.

A few paces over, and we stood at the bottom of a terraced buttress guarding Am Báthaich. There’s no obvious best-line, so I went left and Phil went right. As we looked down on Elaina and Sandy after the first pull-up it was obvious that the best line was the one you fancied best, so the four of us threaded our way through the outcrops and along the grassy terraces to where it levelled out into a strange little oasis ringed by twisted rocks that looked like giant penny sweeties, flumps, shrimps and more. We all tackled various bits and found ourselves on a little rocky top a little way from the summit.

There was a deep clear pool there where water was filtered and stowed and I stood on a little crag and found myself drifting away with my eyes fixing on features near and far. I could see places I’d been, places I want to go and those unsung in-between bits that I never knew were there.
I’m an emotional auld bugger at the best of times and years back I used to think “Oh, I’ll come back and go there”, whereas these days I’m as likely to think “I’ll never have enough time to make it back here”.
Maybe that’s part of why I make the most of my trips these days, I like the slow pace as it gives me time to look and think. I know at this stage in the game, that my time isn’t infinite. In my 20’s it maybe looked like it was.
Two blokes passed us in a hurry, not looking up, or sideways, they weren’t runners, just walkers on a route. Did that used to be me? I don’t think so, I hope I’m just more these days rather than different.

The rock that had been giving us so much joy over the past day signed itself off before we left it behind for the knee wrenching descent to Glen Quoich.

At first you think the ridge comes to a full stop, but it falls away steeply in hundreds of metres of steep grass. It was slow going at first but a zigzag path appeared which did make it easier, but we estimate four times farther.
I think it got to me because I took my boonie hat off and packed it full of snow to cool me down as we’d left the glorious shade we’d enjoyed higher up the slope. It didn’t cool me down so much as really hurt my head, like an ice-cream headache all through my brain. I kept taking bits of snow out and throwing that the other members of the party to minimise the pain, but it was still all wrong so I put the snow on top of my hat and just let it melt into the fabric.
Then I just ran down the ridge in a straight line, stopped and shouted “Bored”.
I felt much better after a wee sit down and a drink. We’d all got a touch of the sun.

Elaina is no great admirer of descent, surely a sentiment we can all spread on a Jacob’s Cream Cracker, but it was only when we reached flat ground that we finally hit a Blondie Stopper™. Water, wide, fast flowing and deep. Pure Kryptonite.

We surveyed the chasm that was the Allt Coire á Chaorainn. Phil skipped over on the points of rock that were clear of the raging torrent, the rock was as grippy as it had been all day which was welcome. I followed, dumped my pack and jumped back over. Sandy crossed and we decided to re-arranged some stones under the surface as Elaina was already removing socks in anticipation of the inevitable.
Some stones were shifted and some thrown in from the edge, remarkably Sandy seemed to postion himself in line with the spray every time I launched one…
Phil and I, now happy with our submerged causeway, passed the mighty luggage to south bank and then the lugger of said luggage followed, knee-deep in rushing snowmelt. Incident-free, Elaina sat on the bank emptying the water from her boots while Phil stood and grinned back at me “Ha, all the rocks are soaking wet now, you’re going in on your way back”.
Despite his best efforts to engineer that outcome through leering at me from the bank, my feets did not fail me and soon we were all pulling on our packs again for the walk out by the river.
Before I set off I filled my hat with cool water from the river and jammed it on my head. Bliss

The light was low and the waterfall rushed on it’s way in the shadow of our day’s route, the South Glen Shiel Ridge glowed with evening light through the scattering of moss covered trees.
When we reached the estate road it was all over, we took some “all of us together” photies and trundled along the road. My energy was gone and my legs were set no return-to-base.
The loch water-level was very low, showing the scarring which hydro schemes quietly exert upon the landscape. It was almost a glacial scene, the original river course running through black soil with white rocks and rounded outcrops stark in contrast. There was a little group of walls on one usually submerged flat spot, outlining a group of shielings, rooms maybe?

The lowering light added to sense of melancholy, and after a young stag caught our attention and played hide-and-seek for a while we walked to the main road in a quiet mood. The high ridges at either side tapered down with every step we took and when climbed the stile to find the tarmac we were out of the mountains and by the lochside.

One kilometre of road and the motor was found again. We threw our packs down and the banter flowed once again. Smiling faces, sweaty socks, mini Irn Bru’s and a general agreement on the merits of a fine wee trip.

We pulled over to see another stag, a cheeky one at that, and a little farther on at a high point in the road we all got out and said a proper goodbye to the sun.
The trip was ending as it had finished, in a wash of colour with four pals full of expectation in a beat-up old Ford estate.
Now the expectation wasn’t for some mild adventuring, it was of hot food while we sat and relaxed and laughed about our day, the fun scrambling and the hairy descents, the views, how much sunburn Sandy had and would it lead to sunstroke and maybe a flick through the photies too.
We pulled onto the main road and headed south.


Road Closed South of Fort William from 2100hrs tonight.
It was 15 miles to Ft Bill and it was two minutes to nine. We invented new curses as we swung through the Little Chef (closed) car park in Spean bridge and headed east.
This meant at least an extra 100 miles of driving to get home.
We drove into the night, tired and hungry. Maybe Dalwhinnie will be open? No, Pitlochry was a wasteland too, not even a garage was open.
Everything else was in darkness until we reached Perth where we turned in to find the BP shut as well. Back onto the A9 and to the other side of Perth and the services at Broxden. They signs were out.. Ah, but it’s open.
I parked at the pump and rubbed my eyes. I got out and stuck the nozzle in the empty tank. Nothing…
“We’re changing shift, can ye gies five minutes”
I was beyond caring or verbal reprisal. We left for the shop and gathered what we could to eat, I had Frosties and milk, a microwaved roll-on-bacon, a brownie and two actually rather nice latte’s. The team fared similarly. Home’s were phones and texted, disbelief was expressed.
Have a look at the map, from Loch Quoich there was nowhere to get food or fuel until the southern end of Perth.
I got my fuel once the tricky task of getting someone different to stand in front of the till was completed by the crack team of garage operatives and we left.
I turned off at Stirling and headed cross-country to Balloch and then round the corner back to base. I was tired.
We bid each other a fond and fleeting farewell, too tired and too early in the morning for anything else.

A fantastic trip in glorious country with wonderful folks. One that will stay with me.

But, I urge visitors to remember my motto when visiting this pleasant land..
Welcome to Scotland, Ye’ll have had yer tea?

Once again, “Photies by Us”

Camp Freddy

He clung onto the edge of the cable car roof, already bloodied and weakened, he felt his fingers go numb as his chest heaved and his throat burned. The last thing he saw was Richard Burton’s grimacing face above him as his grip finally failed under an onslaught of blows and he was sent tumbling into the abyss.
Well that’s as may be, but there’s a hell of a drop from that cable car to the ground so we thought we’d load up and head north before winter hit the rocks. Winter fought hard to stay up there this year, it seemed only right to soften the landing a little.

It was late when we left, but that was the plan. Phil met me at the base-camp carpark after his day of boating and BBC, where we discussed the relative merits of tiny tents and why I wasn’t taking one.
After a wee while Sandy drove past, and then into, the carpark with Elaina riding shotgun.
After some comparing of notes and gay badinage the gear was slung into the back of the motor and we were away. Quite slowly too with four folk and four sets of kit on-board.

The road was okay, and it was bright and clear and there was a air of frustration mixed with anticipation in the motor. Phil was cursing his luck for being at work all day, Sandy was hung-over but excited to be using his bivy bag, Elaina was glad to be away from the rest of the week and I was hungry.
Aye, we could have been on the hill already, but I felt dead relaxed about this trip and the time just wasn’t bothering  me. I felt optomistic in the extreme.
The banter from the unusual team-handed approach, the easy day I’d had, the almost guaranteed good weather, a familiar home for the night, it all added up.
McDonalds in FT Bill it was, a surprisingly unprotested destination. We sat a while and enjoyed the fine cuisine as the light outside softened slowly. After so many dashes north at odd times of day, it doesn’t feel weird anymore to be heading to the hill as the traffic thickens up in the other direction. Just feels kinda nice, and maybe a little smug at times too?
A dash into Morrisons for some stuff and things and we were away again. All eyes were on the hillsides as we saw the golden band on the upper slopes slide upwards as the sun dipped lower and was gone. It had looked like we might make the start of the route before night.
Not any more.

We pulled into the side at Loch Garry to see Gairich silhouette against a rust coloured sky. A glorious sight that had us all out with our cameras.
That’s something worth mentioning, cameras were swapped about so much over the next two days that I think it’ll be impossible to ever decipher who took what, most of the ones of my are by Phil, but I think it’ll have to be “Photies by Us“.

Our destination wasn’t so far away from that peak in the distance and it acted like a marker as we swung towards it along the twisting road to Kinloch Hourn.
As the colours changed to soft purples we stopped again. The air was colder now. Night-time was tying its boot-laces.

As soon as we crossed the bridge over the neck of Loch Quoich that stretches North towards Alltbeithe we were scanning for parking places and found one round the corner, right at the start of the stalkers track.
We all fell out onto the crinkly old tarmac and immediately felt the cold, so shorts were ditched for hill-gear, packs were straightened out and snacks added to pockets. The night was clear so we set off without the aid of torches. The sun was long gone, but the sky was a patchwork of blues from indigo to ice and stars pushed though with every step. There was enough light for now, as our night-vision kicked in as best it could.

We skipped up the track and the temperature seemed to be rising with us, we all found it on the balmy side and the frequent stops were accompanied by unusual bouts of honesty “Ahm knackered”, rather than “Oh, look at the view”. Well, it was dark.
We met a fella coming down by headtorch who was camping nearby. We chatted for a good while and he seemed less suspicious than most at our “…camping up there somewhere” plan. Friendly old boy, I hope he’s enjoying his holiday.
The chance meeting burst my night-vision though and when we parted I switched to red light as a half-way house. This seemed like a sensible ploy and soon we were all looking a little more Sci-Fi than before.

The track wanders up an easily angled ridge and gets a little more defined at Bac na Canaichean where the terrain strats getting good for camping, but snow was still thin on the ground. We stopped a few times, but my eye was forever upwards as the ghost of the summit was stark against a flood of stars. It look both miles and inches away and I wanted to creep closer.
The grassy ridge was broken by huge areas of stone, at first flat and then increasingly angular with vertical plates and chunks that looked like piles of Holly’s books that had been pulled out of the bath and dried on the radiator.
The rock on these hills was a feature all weekend, and a fine one.

We settled on a great spot at the foot of  Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach, some flat ground, huge snow-banks for water and hopefully something to look at in the morning.
The last half hour had seen fingers of black spread from the north and block out the stars as it grew. From walking a carpet of twinkling pinpoints where we saw shooting stars and tracked satellites we were now in a sea of utter darkness. Cloud cover now hid every detail and there was no impression of height or distance. I think, had I been solo that could have been a little unnerving.

Camp was set up quite fast despite the team’s unfamiliarity with a lot of the kit. The next step was the sound of stoves lighting one after the other. A symphony of pure delight.
No one was very hungry after our dinner pitstop in Ft Bill, so it was snacks and cuppas, and I supposse it now being 0100hrs might have been a factor in my not really wanting spaghetti bolognese.

Phil slipped away first and by 0130 we were all in our sleeping bags. I was happy and comfy, I felt like I’d come home. I had space to move, stretch and breath, I was wrapped in warm down, I couldn’t even feel that sharp rock I’d pitched on and tried to blunt with a pile of stuffsacks…
I put on some music and drifted off without a thought left in my head.

I stirred sometime after 0500 and it was bright. The thin tent fabric was diffusing the soft light and it’s warmth matched my own as I shifted onto my back and wiggled my toes. I unzipped the inner door and had a peek under the flysheet.
The cloud cover had broken and morning was coming, a firey horizon was climbing up a pale blue sky towards us.
I tied open the outer door and snuggled into my sleeping bag as cold air brushed my face. Morning grew as the minutes ticked by and I lay and watched it.


I looked at the file and it was huge, like a mixing bowl full to the top of Weetabix with the gaps filled with yogurt. Or maybe carrot sticks. My bare feet were getting a little cold, although my tea was nice and hot. I ventured that such a situation could lead to a debilitating ague, but there was little in the way of medical (to heat the feet) or bakery (to cool the tea) assistance forthcoming to render an equilibrium.
I closed the file and sat back. Not tonight.

Out of Excuses

Petesy, it’s the phone for you.. “Uh… ?”
“Church heating… pump… broken… noises… cold… funeral tomorrow… Aaahhh!… Aaahhh!… Help”
I croaked back something about my own plans and timescale and likelyhood and all the while I was trying to reverse out of it, I knew I was going to try and fix it. I wouldn’t see anyone stuck. I threw on my working gear as I down a cuppa on the hoof and I was out on the road. In the opposite direction to the mountains.

Sometimes experience is the best tool you can ever own. A gate valve is just that, the wheel you turn to open and close it lifts and lowers a gate inside the valve body. One of the valves on the church system turned out have either a stripped or damaged spindle and the gate was lying inside, blocking the flow of water and keeping the heating off. Impossible to spot without an X-Ray or an auld heid. Levers and a hammer got the gate jammed onto the spindle and retracted without having to drain the system, heating on, alright!
I looked at my watch, day ruined.

I headed to my folks to see Holly and have my lunch. The sun was bright, the air and sky were clear and cool. “I thought you were going to the mountains?” Said Maw, “Aye, that was the plan”.
“Daddy, mountains?” Chipped in Holly hopefully.
“I suppose, I could just go somewhere nearer…”
Hey, if you can’t get away, you can just play at home. I headed home, grabbed my gear and fired up the road to Arrochar and my favourite hill, Beinn Narnain. Unclimbed by me in 2009? That’s just not right.

It’s just up the road, but it was late, the sun was low. I thought about parking and where to do it. The houses, maybe next to the garage? It took the gamble and abandoned the motor in the carpark. The payment machine was broke and I was running out of daylight. I’d worry about it in the morning.
The quickest way up is the new track, and the shortcuts on it are fairly consolidating themselves. Some are waterways (well, ice floes right now) and some at just light paths, so it’s not the disaster it could have been. Which is good because I took the shortcuts this time. 

It was warm in the sunlight, I was wearing baselayer and shades as I joined the track to the Narnain boulders. I strode along and passed a couple of stoney faced folk in full alpine mode, the hills must have made them sad today.
The coire is showing increasing signs of developing a track, this route misses out the “wow” moment where you first see the summit rocks from Cruach nam Miseag, but it’s a wonderful, rough trek through steep, rocky, wild scenery. It’s alsa a great place to dodge rocks that detach themselves kamikaze style from the huge crags, so no camping please folks.

Emerging from the coire onto the coll brought me back into the disappearing light. I’d made it just in time, I was happy enough.
The snow all around was pink, the rock glowed orange, the sun was a weak pinhole of amber light sinking away far to the south. I started on the final climb as the Cobbler’s peaks grew sharper and darker to my left.

The snow cover was becoming more constant, and it was getting rock-hard as well. Before tackling the scrambly bit ahead I stopped. I layered up with microfleece, gloves and Buff, and for the first time this winter I strapped on crampons and set off with an ice axe in my hand.
I was grinning from ear to ear as my spikes dug into the hardpack with every footfall, the temperature dropped and the light from the moon grew stronger that the dying rays of the sun.

I didn’t want to camp in the “usual place”, just below the summit plateau, and a couple of places just below the Spearhead crag stuck out as possibles as I crunched over the lip into the snow-filled hollow. It’s a dramatic and atmospheric spot, but it looks like the rocks don’t fall from the crags and bounce quite as far as the best flat pitch. The pack was off and the down jacket was on. I flattened the area a little more with my Snowclaw and pulled out the tent, which went up very easy considering this was the first time I’d pitched it.

I admined my gear, which included donning my down pants, and got to the important bit: getting the stove on. I had hot Mountain House Lasagne, coffee and a donut. A meal of kings that is.
I slipped into my sleeping bag(s), warm, fed, and I drifted away in total silence, with moonlight lazily drifting though the flysheet, I was in a little cocoon.

I woke up a couple of hours later to find that the world was a very different place.
The inside of the tent was covered in ice, all my kit was white and all my water was frozen. I gingerly stuck a hand outside to find my watch, and just before the display went blank I saw -15°C. I have no idea if it was reading right or not, but the temperature killed my watch and it was really cold.
My breath wasn’t steaming in clouds, it snaked away from me like ribbons of flame, twisting and twirling onto the flysheet, very odd. I stuck on the stove and melted myself a hot chocolate. The steam condensed at the apex of the tent and froze there, I had icicles falling on me until I packed up to go home.
I was now awake, roasting hot inside all those layers of down and it was definitely time for a pee and wander about outside.
I stepped out into a wonderland.

The moon was full and bright, the sky was dark and clear, stars twinkling down at me as the moonbeams caught the snow and twinkled right back at them.
The summit crags loomed dark and still, to the south the lights of the Central Belt twinkled benignly around the lonely peak of Ben Lomond, to the north, the darkness was only punctuated by dimly glowing snow-capped peaks. I threw my hands out and laughed to myself, this is what it’s all about.

I skipped around, bursting with, I dunno, emotion? Enthusiasm?, Pure joy? I was all alone here, and it just wasn’t right, I had to share the moment. I got on the phone to Joycee just to let her hear my footsteps crunching in the snow. I was like a wee boy out to play, but I was a cowboy wi’ nae indians, a jap wi’ nae commandos, I was hiding but there was no one seeking.

I climbed into the crags, they seemed smaller in the dark, the ascent felt easier. This so-familiar ground had taken on a completely new life and I was exploring it for the first time.
I love the hills, I never tire of them and they bring me great joy, but something about tonight felt new, something I thought I’d never feel as much as this in the hills again. Was that a wee lump in my throat, or was that Buff a little bit too tight?
This was simply wonderful.

My watch came to life again in the warmth of my pocket, and it said that I’d been wandering around for two hours. I was cozy in my down gear, wrist to ankle, and I must have been having fun. It was getting late though, and it was time for a final cuppa and bed. A shooting star to the south west was nature’s parting shot. Bless you.
I filled my bottles with snow and melted it down with what water I had left, that was me ready for breakfast.
I stripped to my baselayers, stuck my iPod on and pulled the sleeping bag drawcords in around my head. The cold air and moonlight faded away and fell into a light sleep with dreams of bizarre behaviour to a soundtrack of my favourite music. Restful no, intriguing yes.

I woke at 0200 and had to pee again. There was no argument about it. The bottles were frozen, the Photon is too small for physical contortions, so it was down jacket on and ootside.
Good plan, it was all change again. A high thin layer of cloud had formed and the moon had become a glowing ball submerged in a pool of rainbow colours. The light was weaker and the atmosphere had changed, less friendly, more unpredictable feeling. There was a low wave of cloud climbing up the side of the Cobbler and towards me. It was slow, but steady. It would be here soon.
Behind me, the tent flapped a little as breeze whipped up from nowhere. I’d seen the forecast, I knew what was coming, you just always hope it might be a little later arriving than they say.

I woke at 0615 as the flysheet flapped manically over my head. the proper winds had arrived.
The tent was rock-solid though, so I found my iPod at the bottom of the sleeping bag and stuck it on the drown out the intrusion.
I also discovered that the end of my nose was completely numb. I’d been sleeping inside the bag to block out the light, but I must have been roasted in my sleep and stuck my face back out to get some air. A frostbitten nose in the Arrochar Alps? I’d never have lived it down.
It was getting lighter as well, so I gave in and decided to get the stove on and have a look outside. I showered my head with ice from the flysheet as I opened the door to the frozen murk that lay outside. Ach, cuppa.
I stood the stove up, arranged the windshield and looked for the pot.. Where’s the pot? There’s the lid… Ah!
After I’d melted the snow the night before, I’d stuck the pot in a little hollow in the porch, and it must have still been warm enough to melt itself six inches down into the snow. I had to dig it out with my ice axe. That was a first.

The crags were dark grey shapes lost in fog. All the bare rock from last night was encrusted with ice, the tent looked like stonewashed green denim.
The cold wind whipped the tent, the gear and any bare skin. It was time to go.

Packing was easy, and it was quick. The biggest worry when setting off is always swapping the down jacket for a shell for on-th-move protection without heat-induced unconsciousness, but I got away with it with no chills or unnecessary faffing.
My crampons were back on, and with ice axe in hand (initilally for pulling the frozen-in tent pegs out), it was time to see if my motor was still sitting unmolested in the same spot.

The snow was even harder now, the dirt and turf were frozen rock-hard too. I clambered through the jumble of rocks, relearning how to use my winter feet and finding them to be servicable with maybe just a wipe down with an oily rag at the service station before the next trip. If feels good to out in winter again.

I met a few folk on my way down, most cheery with time to chat as the weather started to clear, some a little bemused and also a couple of po-faced bastards whose bubble had obviously been burst by the gaily attired cheery sort saying hello to them while heading in a downhill direction at a very unusual time of day when real mountaineers such as themselves were taking on a very serious ascent. 

Dressing up to go out and play? Hell yeah.

Lookin’ up instead a’ doon

There were a few hours spare, and a mission to be done. So Phil and I raced up the road for a wee step into the (relatively) unknown.
Guidebooks should be just that, a guide, not gospel. They’re a source of inspiration, a finger pointing to possibilities, confidence given to the reader in words and pictures. They get folk out there and they’re also responsible for the knee-deep trenches on many popular hills by concentrating feet on one line of ascent.
Trail’s given me a chance to show a handful of routes that will take folk unusual ways, or just to less frequented hills. I realise that there’s a minute possibility of increasing traffic to these lesser trodden tracks and pathless hillsides, but if that takes even a couple of folk off of the usual track and into the realms of just using a map and compass for reference, I don’t give a shit.

We were on familiar ground and despite the heat and complaining dormant ascent equipment (legs) we made good time. Below the summit ridge is where we went left and everyone else went right. What a good idea it was too.
I’d never been right here before, so familiar, yet completely new. Even the views to a familiar horizon had difference because of the new point of view. We scanned the map, took references and look up at the summit. It’s way more impressive from down here.
Skirting the north ridge we entered the coire and broke into grins followed by exclamations and plans to come back with tents. It’s so close to home, but it’s a wild spot.
We scanned the NNE ridge on the far side of the coire for a decent access point and contoured onto the ridge where we stopped plenty to “look at the view” as it’s so bloody steep and dotted with spots of easy scrambling. In short, it’s a total joy.

As we neared the top, we could see people, and plenty of them. We contoured the rim of the coire for as long as we could but, we were on the tourist track soon enough which is a hop, skip and jump from the summit. The busy summit. Lots of folk were out, enjoying the beautiful day, climbing their first Munro, visiting from overseas, tired, happy, thirsty and smiling, and seeing them reminds me that anyone who resents other people of the hill is just a miserable bastard and should be ashamed.

We chatted to folk and had some munchies before heading down, but the clock was very much reading the wrong set of numbers. We walked and skipped down the ridge, then skipped and jogged before we silently slipped into a full run. Arms out, legs over obsacles run, it was brilliant.
I just couldn’t keep it up, stopping after a while and proclaiming “I’m 40!” as if it were a secret weapon, while reaching for my bottle of Nuun. We jogged the rest of the way. 40 minutes from the summit to the motor, I’ve climbed this hill many times, and that was the fastest I’ve come down it.
Job done it was back to work.

We had a blast, running around the hill like a couple of weans, pointing and laughing inbetween the pauses for breath. Nice to have Phil sharing the photie duties, I think the timer was used once.
Whatever you local haunt is, I’ll bet there’s another way. I’ve climbed Ben Lomond more times that I can count and I’ve found something new, but it’s also shown me some other possibilities too, so there’ll be some more newness for next time.


I was full of energy when I arrived back last night, and the first news I got was that I was an uncle again. I really have to read up on what uncles are for before the wee yins all grow up, from experience it’s supplying opportunities for mischief. I’ll look forward to that.
So, I sat up late with cuppas, downloaded my photies and wrote some words.

This morning I can barely see the other side of the Clyde for drizzle. It’s like the batteries ran out, or someone’s changed the channel while I was in the kitchen.

Carpe diem. I’ll need to write that on the back of my hand, just in case I slip again.

Day Tripper

No tents, just a winter day pack. Crivvens.
Tooled up with dangerous items like Kahtoolas, bendy footwear and aluminium ice axes we set off for the Lawers range above Loch Tay.  I haven’t been there for a few years, it always catches a lot of snow, so it looked like a good place for a bimble under completely clear, blue skies.

The wee road up to the Lawers vistor centre was iced solid, so we left the motor at the edge of the forest. Time was getting on ( it really seems that alpines starts are very much in the past…) and as we’d be coming down in the dark, we though better of the “fun” of driving down the open hillside track. It was a good call, because of where we stopped we struck out over open hillside towards the rarely trodden SE ridge of Beinn Ghlas.
Deep soft snow and rough uneven ground made sure we went at a snails pace and we were soon stopping to strip down to baselayers.

I love that. A base layer as an outer layer in winter feels like you’re waiting to be caught, you broke mums favourite vase and she’s going to find out. So enjoy the freedom while it lasts.
The wind picked up after we gained some height and layers were donned again, cuppas and a sit down also seemed like a good idea. The biting wind and exposed ridge meant that Bobinson’s Snowclaw and everybody’s ice axes were digging down into the snow. Cosy.

When we left our snow-loungers, the lowering sun was casting a warming glow as the temperature dropped. We were now well wrappped up as any exposed skin was getting uncomfortably chilled. High whispy clouds started to appear. The snow was changing to a much hard variety. Craig stuck on his aluminium Kahtoola crampons, Helen was kicking in with her proper boots, me and Bobinson found that slicing eding style kicks work for bendy footwear. No problems to report.
We reached the summit ( me last, my fuel tank had marmalade or something in it today) as the sun touched the peaks of the horizon. The sky broke into song. The West was rocK, fire and insistent colour, urgent to make its mark before the sun withdrew its influence for another day. The East was cool purple and blue, mellow jazz with it’s feet up on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

We lingered on the summit as the wind had dropped. It’s so beautiful, so precious to stand there at these moments. There was no one else still high on the mountain, all day we had seen distant figures, skiers, snowboarders and walkers. But all had descended.

The wind slammed into us, with a fierce cold carried in its pockets. We made haste, running at times trying to lose height, spindrift whipping around us like it had just been woken up after dinner and missed its favourite programme on the telly. My fingers became searingly painful in my powerstretch gloves, I’ve never known them to chill so fast. I made fists inside my gloves and carried my poles under my arm as I hopped and slid down the ridge.

Lower down, out of the wind I sneaked my warming fingers back into my gloves and regained some composure. We tightened up out of our broken line and bimbled down together. The ascent conditions still applied and the going was slow, except for the smooth snow slopes where the four of us careered down on our arses with varying degrees of success and grace.

We reached the motor in darkness, warm and with thoughts turning to hot food. What a cracking day.


It was foggy this morning, and very frosty. I knew I could get above it and into the sunshine in next to no time. But that wee jaunt would have been two hours long at least with all the supplementary doings at either end, clothes changing and cuppas and such. I would also have been very late for fitting pipes 30 miles away.
Maybe if I hadn’t have been out at the weekend I’d have thrown caution and responsibility to the wind (again) and just went for it. 
Ach, probably not though, this current customer is very deserving of consideration and respect. Excuses just wouldn’t be right.
As long as the thought of dropping tools and heading for the hills still comes to mind I’ll be happy. I’ll start worrying when it doesn’t.