Kingdom of Mongo

I don’t think I can remember such a cavalcade of colour as we’ve enjoyed this past wee while.
Every evening has been a blazing display of felt tip pen tones drawn onto blue gel paper placed onto an overhead projector with a 1000W bulb in it.
It stops me in my tracks, and on some occasions, in mid sentence.
It’s like living in the 1980 Flash Gordon Movie and I absolutely love it.
Freaks my camera out too.

Note to self: Sew that kick patch.

I knew I was going, I just didn’t know when. I had booked in meetings and site visits on Monday and Tuesday and then I looked at the weather. Wednesday morning was looking good. Bugger, that meant an alpine start, miles of driving and less fun that it should be.
Phil knew the score and as he stepped off the return flight from Iceland he was texting to see if I’d been.
“We should go up and camp on Tuesday night”
“That’s a possible, it’ll be later on though…”
We had a plan. Of sorts.

I got back to base late in the afternoon and started packing carefully, everything laid out on the living room floor. It looked like it was going to be properly cold and as much as I was in a hurry, I didn’t want to leave anything behind. I’ve got previous of that to be taken into account.
Phil appeared before I was ready of course, then there was some faffing around as I had to reunite Joycee with her car keys at my folks house, during which Holly said “Daddy, back from the mountains” and started to pull my jumper off. Ach.
Then we were on the road. The A82 in fact.

It was clear and it was cold. We kept watching for clouds, but it was all stars and optimism. We had to drive through Tyndrum, there were no lights on and no dinner there for us. Ft Bill also had the shutters down, Morrisons was shut, McDonalds was shut, I’m not on speaking terms with the chippy and the only other option was the Morrisons garage where we got sammidges, snacks and some gay badinage with the wummin in there who was from Cumbernauld it turns out. The lesson is, that after 2100hrs Scotland is shut on a Tuesday.
Spean Bridge came and went, the Fersit sign was next and then we were driving through wind-blown snow on the road. Fresh and unexpected. It was late, were convinced that there was now a cloud overhead, and other doubts started creeping in about night navigation in cloud, will the car park be locked, it’s after ten and we haven’t had any dinner.

The car park was empty, and a skating rink. After a half-arsed salchow we reversed into a snow bank and parked up. Lights on, cold sammidges and Lucozade for dinner.
A wee van pulled in and the sounds were those of racks being assembled for climbing in the morning. That affected our plans, if they were camping at the cliffs we wouldn’t, not totally an anti-social thing, but courtesy, the environment and flexibility in our route made it a good choice. We found out next day that they’d slept in the van, but it was academic anyway. After walking until 2350 we knew we hand to stop, and we were neither on the ridge or at the lochan.
The trail had been iced, but walkable and the mostly clear sky had seen us walking sans headtorches. Very pleasant indeed, if increasingly cold.
We found a cracking spot a little way above the track, my wee tent needed just a little flattening with the Snowclaw to get a pitch, but Phil needed some digging for his winter fortress. After a small mechanical with a pole that needed some McGuyvering we were set and the stoves were soon on as we wandered our little plot.

A beautiful night it was, and nice to be camped below the tops for a change, it gives you a different persective on your surroundings. I’ve had an odd desire to camp on a beach for a while, so maybe this is good mental half-way point?
We both slipped into sleep quite quickly, it was very late, hot chocolate and high loft down will do you in every time.

Zzzzziiiipp! Mmmffff… crump crump crump. I opened my eyes, bloody hell, it’s light outside.
“Mornin'” I shouts, “What time is it?”
“Five past eight!” Says Phil as he pads about outside.
Ah bugger, all the advantages of our drive up last night had been lost if you look at it from a logistical perspective, but we were firing up stoves in the mountains in the sunshine and snow. That’s a Win.

We just hung out at camp for a couple of hours, taking photies, sipping a hot brew, shooting the breeze and waving to the chain of climbers clanking past on the track below. Any notion of having to do anything else all day was lost. I was quite happy where I was.

A front moved across us from the West, like the sunroof being pulled closed. The light was diffused by high wispy cloud and I took that as an omen. We packed to leave.
We rejoined the trail and headed towards the cliffs or Coire Ardair on hard frozen snow, high ridges all round and in air that grew ever cooler.

The bright blue ice on the cliffs began to shine out from the frozen rock faces. And soon tiny black figures on the blue ice became visible, then their movements, then their shouts.
The cliffs had a dozen folk clinging onto them, some in obviously more precarious positions that others. Coming towards us were a pair who’d called off after one had hurt his ankle. He limped after his mate who was carrying both packs and both sets of gear. That was going to be a long walk out for both of them.

Lochain a’ Choire (below left) was frozen and snow covered. It’s a beautiful spot. We could have camped here, but at what time, 1am, 2am? Another time.

Poles were changed for crampons and ice axes. The snow was very inconsistent though, being variously frozen rock-hard and fall-through-up-to-yer-baws deep. This made the climb to the “window” bealach  slow and tiring, but the scenery made every rest stop a joy. The huge cornice to our left looked so precarious, it was cracked, it was weary and it was right above us. The rocks here were iced on their faces as they turned into the Window, ice-falls draped the overhangs and every scree strewn gully was was filled with a blanket of fresh snow. The wind was picking up and the mood was changing as we climbed in to the wide channel and onto the broad back of the mountain.

It was a sea of snow with a ring of dark blue on the horizon. The sky was the same colour as the ground, and just as blank. Tinted lenses didn’t help, this was distinctly odd indeed.
We were both starving by this point but Creag Meagaidh’s plateau isn’t where you want to be stopping for lunch. As time was getting on, and the light was tiring at the same pace as ourselves, we waved to Mad Megs Cairn and turned down to Puist Coire Ardair for some shelter in which to enjoy our pub lunch (Lasagne and Chili Con Carne).
We dug in the snow a little and I got the stove on, cut some chunks of snow and added them to what little water I had left in the pot. the rising steam was like a lost brother coming home. Dinner was gone in a flash, we really did leave it too long and that makes you all upset. I had been sucking on a frozen protein bar, but I think that had been using so much effort that any benefit was cancelled out.
A climber topped-out near us as we were packing up. We were the only folk on the mountain that day who weren’t climbing. I waved to his grinning mate as he too clambered over the edge following a pink rope, and then I turnd after Phil.
I curled my thumbs into my fingers inside my mitts as they throbbed. It was very cold now, it hadn’t risen above -5ºC since we’ve arrived, but it was now properly cold.

The walk along the ridge towards Sròn á Ghoire was exposed to the wind and we had our faces covered and hoods up. The views back to the cliffs of Coire Ardair were wonderful though. By now the cliffs were starting to swirl with spindrift and the snow was moving in behind us. Down was the right direction.

The heathery slopes of Sròn á Ghoire were frozen and there was still much snow, and after that we found the track was iced right back to the motor. So we had the happy task of removing boots with crampons still attached and throwing them in the back.
It was dark with snow lightly falling. The glen where we’d camped was in cloud now and we’d got the timing right, just and no more.

The drive home? Ah, now there was an epic. We had intended to stop at the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum but it was closed, and we had been a snails pace as the snow had gotten increasingly heavy and the road had become ever more ill-defined. Had I been alone, maybe there would have been some chancier driving with my new snow tyres, but the presence of a passenger does tend to reel in such tendencies these days.
It was much great relief we pulled into the BP garage a mile from home (my home anyway, and where Phil’s wheels were waiting) and I picked up an Indian Meal For Two for Me.

Just in the nick of time too, I was fading away.

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It’s like visiting a friends house, or your granny. Sure, it might not be exciting this time, it might just be cuppas and some telly, but you know that you’ll be welcome, time will pass at whatever pace it likes and you’ll be immune to any outside influence or interference for the duration.
I watched the mix of snow flurries and sunshine, looked at my watch, filled the kettle to make up a flask. I was heading to Ben Lomond for my first visit of 2010.

The pure white summit ridge swings in and out of view all the way down the road from Drymen, and never seems any closer. It’s a big bloody magnet, and it’s pull on me has never lessened through the years.
I changed into my big thick socks and boots(?!), pulled on a windshirt and headed up the tourist track. It’s been a couple of years since I climbed Lomond this way, and as good as the Ptarmigan ascent is, the views this way are different and I was already enjoying myself as I cleared the woods and stepped into the breeze and cool sunshine.
I met my first descenders of the day, a couple who’d not made the summit, but were just out for the joy of it to see what lay up the track. As with most folk I meet on the hill, they were immediately concerned for my well-being as I was walking in the wrong direction late in the afternoon. I explained myself.

The next meeting was one which will stay with for quite a while. An auld fella was coming towards me, and my first thought was “What the hell is that on his nose?”. It was a bit of tissue to stem the blood.
“Have you taken and tumble?”
“Aye, my crampon came off…”
I surveyed him and my mind raced through the options as I questioned him. He was worried that he’d burst hid cheek, but although his face was swollen, he’d just skinned it. The only blood was from his nose and it looked to be stopping. He was having black eye today as well. He was lucid, sharp in fact, and was moving well.
“Come on, sit down and I’ll get you cleaned up”
“No, no”
“Well, let me walk you down then?”
“No, no.. I’m fine…”
He was edging past me at this point. I let him go. It went against all my instincts, and all my standards as an interventionist, but I watched him walk away.
You know what swung it? I reckon he was well into his 70’s, he had a mix of gear from recent to old-school, I reckon he’d been in the mountains all his life. He’d taken a tumble and he’d picked himself up, sorted himself out and was making his way home. If I’d taken over would it has broken his confidence in his lifetime of experience? I just thought of him staying home next time because of his memory of this “young” fell taking him off the hill.
I felt queasy, it was a very emotional moment.
I watched him descend into the dip where the little bridge is, emerge onto the track at the other side and motor along, as he faded from sight he was almost with the couple I’d met earlier.
I don’t know if I did the right thing, and I don’t know if I’d do the same if I had a second chance.

The next group I met were instructed to watch for the auld boy as they went down. Soothing my conscience or taking precautions? At that moment I wasn’t sure at all.
The next pair were a couple of retired boys, using their free time to good effect with-weekly hill trips. We shot the breeze, talked gear and hills and it lightened my mood.
I went a little farther, but with losing so much time the light was fading and it was time for dinner, and it was time for crampons.

Now it was snow and ice and wind. The moon came out, but it’s bright, clear light was cold and the insulated jacket I’d put on when I stopped had stayed on as the wind fired spindrift into my legs, my mitts stayed on as my finger tips nipped and my face stayed covered as every inhalation ran sharp fingernails over my fillings.
The cloud was patchy and fast moving, the snow was hard and my spikes cut into it very definitely with every step. My headtorch was still in my pocket, the moon cast my shadow long and well defined in front of me as I traversed the wonderful summit ridge.
The trig point was iced and exposed, it was so cold on the summit. A quick refuel and I descended to the little coll to watch the camera constantly get blown over into the snow. But I did get the chance to play about a little.

It’s funny how a long exposure makes the city lights look so bright, it turns Lomond into an urban peak. But standing there, they’re just tiny twinkles to the south and don’t feel intrusive at all.

I took forever to descend. And tired eyes and some patchy clouds brought out my headtorch.
Eventually all the cloud disappeared, the moon rose a little higher and the wind sunk a little lower. it was beautiful.
I pulled up a rock and finished my flask. I had a lot to think about. I often say how easy what I do is, how accessible it all is. But the mix of people I’d met and their varying fortunes had reminded me of how relative it all is. We can all make mistakes, experience isn’t a bulletproof shield, we can all find ourselves out of our depth, and we can all find a little victory from reaching a level that others would scorn at.
So I don’t think there is a right or wrong, or if there is it’s just applicable to you yourself. What’s maybe universal then is the need to have an understanding for the “other”?

The carpark was deserted and pitch black. My feet were glad to be back into trainers, and suddenly the most important thing was hot food. I hadn’t realised it was getting so late.
Is a McDonald’s a guilty pleasure? I was the last customer last night, they’d put the cat out, turned down the duvet and were about to lock the door and turn the lights off when I appeared at the counter. I half expected them to just say “Here, just take the assorted lukewarm foodstuff that’s left with out compliments and give us peace”.  But instead I got a Big Tasty with Bacon and onion rings frshly made and fries still with a bit of crispiness about them. Nice.

Try Pod

I get asked what the wee camera tripod that I use is quite a lot, and being me I can’t remember what the model is. So after a wee query from Flickr I thought I would track the bugger down so I’d know for future reference. It turns out it’s a Velbon VTP-815, packs down very small but weighs about 17kg.

My searching turned up something else which immediately caused an eyebrow to raise and my PayPal password to be remembered. That item is above, somewhat resembling a dried up spider found in the dusty old web across the skylight in the attic. It’s a Tamrac (Yes, I’m already saying tarmac involuntarily) ZipShot.

It compares well for pack-size with the blue Velbon tripod and a Mountain King Trail Blaze trekking pole below. The weight’s in the middle at 314g and it goes from 15″ to 44″. It’s very like the Trail Blaze, being essentially three tent poles with wee rubber feet and a mounting doodah at the top (note to self, edit that bit when the real name of the fitting becomes available).
Setting it up and attaching the camera is really quick and the top swivels about like a mad thing so it’s easy to adjust the angle, even getting the camera right on its side which I couldn’t do before.
The bungees that keep it together when it’s stowed are a neat touch, it works well and the plastic parts are attached to the leg section, so no slippage should occur.
The legs aren’t height adjustable, so I’ll see how that goes on steep ground. Durability is also an unknown, it has the potential to be awfy fragile. I’m hoping my daft wee point and click LX3 won’t stress it too much.

You can get the ZipShot for a little over £40 on ebay, in real shops it seems to be up to twice that which is frankly ludicrous.
Still, I have high hopes, and I’m losing something like two or three hundred grams packing this thing instead of the Velbon IronLegs.

It’s a bit late in the day?

“Hi, how are you doing?” said I,
“It’s a bit late in the day to be setting off?” came the reply.
Luckily I was in a good mood.

I left the carpark in trail shoes with the LaSportiva Trangos bungeed onto my pack to stick them when I was off the first km of tarmac (boots remember, if I push my luck early on my feet well get shredded). I had to get a photie of some kit for a Trail Used&Abused and it had been dark or wet or both all weekend. The Kilpatricks were sticking with that programme, but I had to try and make the best of it, and as I neared the crags the rain stopped just long enough for me too get a handful of photies of a grinning simpleton with a beard. Then the rain came back on and the camera went away again.
I wandered around a bit, it was quite nice, very fresh and I cursed the timing of my visit. I could have been off on a wee adventure, but dinner awaited and I headed back down far too soon and far too clean.
I spotted the Trangos still bungeeed to my pack as I swung it onto the back seat of the motor. I’ll try them outside next week then. They’re very good on carpet, I’ll give them that.


I don’t believe in any of that stuff when it comes down to it. Science and dinosaurs, that’s me.
Blacks cats? I’ll chase them under a ladder no problem.
Maybe it’s just natural that good times and bad times seem like speed bumps on the slightly worn but usuable road of life.
Coincidence is a good one, luck maybe? It’s abstract enough to apply unversally without offending or brainwashing anyone.
I’m telling you though, it still felt like karma.

The Spirit of Radio

These past few years I’ve often wondered about the effect a camera has on my time outdoors. I love looking at my photies when I come home, and I’ll treasure them for the rest of my life, but does the time and effort involved detract from the experience of actually being there?

At the Gary Numan gig I got my answer. There were folk all through the crowd who spend much of the show (in some cases the whole show) with a camera or “device” of some sort held aloft, snapping or filming, adjusting as they went. Now, if you’re looking at an LCD screen you’re not looking at the stage, the lights, the faces of the performers, you’re not catching the nuances of the musicianship, you’re not absorbing the spectrum of emotion coming from both the PA and the audience. You can’t rewind the show because you missed it either, are you compromising the experience just to get some rubbish footage of three quarters of a song on YouTube before anyone else? Yes, I think you are.

I’m in the mountains, I’m ascending, the clouds break and light streams through. I throw off my pack and get the camera and tripod out. I take a shot, I set the timer, run around the front and grin a bit, then I stand and watch for a while to see what the clouds do next, I have a drink, I have a munchie too maybe.
I know that when I’m not alone and I’m doing that stuff I’m slowing someone else’s progress as well, but I can’t remember any toe-tapping or folk sighing and looking at their watches.
Maybe rather than being a pain, stopping to take a photie is stretching that moment when the view is just perfect. Watching more intently, feeling the seconds tick by as the cloud slowly peels from the summit, or the sun slips over the horizon spraying the sky with ever changing colour. I don’t think that I would have half the memories and have caught half the moments that I have if I’d have kept moving. Stopping and fannying about with a camera would appear to be a good thing.

Happy now.

My Inner Sanctum, R-I-P, Uh!

Celtic Frost lyrics as a post title, I’ve waited two years to get some of that stuff in.

The computer is dead. Completely dead, as pronounced by computer doctors in the computer hospital.
I have most stuff backed up on the wee ootside box, so all I’m missing are some annoying inconveniences, some work stuff an’ that. All the photies are safe, as is my iTunes library. I just hope I don’t get audited by the VAT people or something, because I’ve got heehaw left for the last two quarters now.

So, I’m working off of Joycee’s old ex-work laptop (It’s Bontempi or Mattel, the label’s worn off…) for the foreseeable future. At first I was horrified, now I quite like it. It’s wee, sociably quiet, in fact the keyboard is nearly silent, the only problem is the slightly odd screen colouring that I can’t quite get right. Photies don’t look right, so editing down to blog size and shape is going to a minefield of potentialy amusing explosions of colour. Ah what the hell.
The laptop had some old photies on it, one below of a high camp above Loch Trieg from years back, and above that’s Skye from Gairich, and it’s so nice to see some of the stuff again. Even me and Joycee as a carefree young couple in the Cairgorms, jeez!

New computer? Aye, soon. Now that I know that it’s not coming back, I don’t feel the pressure that I did at first when there was an unfamiliar gap under the table.
Stuff is good, stuff is handy, but you don’t really need stuff after all.

Monday Morning Blues

I went back to work this morning. Well, I switched my phone on anyway and sat with a cuppa feeling thoroughly fed up thinking about it. I had to spend the day kneeling in front of two old boilers in a boiler house that’s basically outside. It was icy, the snotters are still dripping out of my nose, so I cancelled ’til later in the week. Sorry, health first, customers later.
I sat with a second cuppa and looked out at the fog. When you go to the hills, you know that fog is just a sham, it’s not really “weather” and you can work around it. As the morning wore on I realised there was a wee chance here that might be too good to miss. So I dressed, grabbed the camera and headed out.

That was a good plan. It’s not often you get a cloud inversion and a Brocken Spectre a few hundred metres from your front door on a Monday morning.
If this week ahead gets any better than this I will be very much surprised. It really shouldn’t have opened the gig with its best song.

I have a feeling when I see the photies below on a real computer screen (still on the Bontempi laptop here) they’ll be a psychedelic kaleidoscope of otherworldly colours. Especially that Brocken Spectre one.
Ach, I’ll sort it all later. Maybe.

Monday morning joy. The blue was the sky.

Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan IV Reprise

Pit it apt at at atap it apat tat… the rain was still falling, and with my eyes still shut I was warm and I didn’t want to move. I knew it was brighter, and no screwing up of my eyes could shut it out completely. Putting my head into the sleeping bag just made me want to pass out from lack air or heat stroke. I pulled my arm out and found my watch in the pouch above the door, 0836 it said. I’d had at least six and a half hours of completely undisturbed sleep. Outstanding.
I unzipped the doors and made a face at the world outside because it was rubbish looking. I lit the stove and lay on my front watching the rain gather on the long grass outside and run down the stalks when the drops got to heavy. The wind was from behind, I was sheltered and really quite happy as had a cuppa and some porridge.
I thought about my options as this weather was now the deciding factor. I could descend again and be back in the motor in a couple of hours, carry on and retrace my similarly cloud-covered steps of a couple of months back or find something else that was new and would be fun, maybe descend NW and circle around Sgurr Gaorsaic to find the other end of the Loch?
At 1000 I finally got out of the tent for a pee and a stretch of the legs, feeling under no pressure. I even thought about just sitting there and waiting for something to happen, for the weather to either get better or worse and give me a nudge, I had plenty food to sit it out.
The nudge came, and it was like walking along a darkened corridor, opening a door and stepping into a brightly lit room and finding a table with Irn Bru and doughnuts on it. This would also be accompanied by an audible “Boof!”.
A hole in the cloud appeared, I saw the summit, the ridges and into the coire to the north. I just got the camera set up to get a shot as it filled itself back in. This gave me as much a dilemma as the constant rain, what would happen now, would the cloud lift? 

I packed slowly, constantly watching all around. Once, the sun burned fiercely and briefly through just thin cloud cover, the corries on both side revealed themselves occasionaly, light playing on their boulder strewn slopes as the sun penetrated elsewhere unseen from my high campsite. I was grinning with optimism as I set off towards the summit over the wonderful knobbly ridge in an ever brighter atmosphere, I could see detail, distance and a chance of doing what I came here for.

Standing on the top this time was fantastic. I could see the north top where I’d just camped and I could see the ridge leading to Mullach na Dheiragain. Too far, too late, not enough water. Right now, I was still walking away from the motor, day two even without the Mullach was twice the distance as day one. I did give several second glances that way as I descended eastwards, I thought about contouring over there via a lochan to pick up water, but as patches of blue appeared and distant slopes and peaks became sharp and clear, I decided not to push my improving luck and just set off with the renewed purpose of finishing a route that had been on my mind for months.

It was still a little windy, still cool, so I kept on my waterproof. The air was fresh, the light was clear. The ground felt good under my feet. These are the hills at their best, standing tall, chest out, hands on hips, very much alive, and today, feeling benevolent. Every footfall was a total joy.

The summit clouded over again, just a wee wispy toupee. But the broken cloud added scale, the notion of the mountains touching the sky, of all nature feeling as one, even I felt part of that for once. Not a visitor or a viewer, but a participant as the day unfolded around me without another human in sight. Spend the night up there and you’ll never see the hills the same again, I hope this never wears off.


It was getting warm as I descended towards the youth hostel, I stowed my jacket and filled my bottle at a little waterfall. The path here is clear and well maintained, but still narrow and unobtrusive. A good model for elsewhere.
I met the hostel warden out for a wander and spoke my first words for 24 hours, always interesting as I feel like I’m shouting.
I looked south at hills I’ve climbed and actually saw them, rather than cloud for the first time from these slopes.

I stopped for lunch by the river, well in the river I suppose as I sat on the warm rocks and had soup as the cool dark water flowed and gurgled around me. I sat for a while and soaked it up, mountains all around me, empty land, miles to go and everything I needed right at hand.  Do folk know accessible this stuff is? How easy it is to get into these places, how safe and enjoyable it can be? I wonder how many folk get put off trying by TGO making it look dull and Trail trying to sex it up? As ever the truth is in the middle somewhere.

Not far from Alltbeith you find Camban bothy, and a cracker it is too. Two big rooms with two-level bunks and I found it in a pretty clean condition. No sign of folks having been there and the fireplaces were empty, but in its wonderful position between Beinn Fhada and the north Cluanie hills it must be well frequented.

The track from Camban to Gleann Lichd is wonderful, and the very reason I wanted to do this route. There’s a gap in there that I’d never walked, only seen from the summits and walking through there on its lovely, twisting track surrounded by high tops, I found myself also surrounded by memories of trips and friends now long distant, of a younger man exploring the highlands for the first time, and also an older man who’s found that his love and simple joy of placing one foot in front of the other in this beautiful country has never faded.
The mists of time and the misty eyes of a sentimental auld eejit? Maybe, maybe. But my heart swelled just to be there, and to be there on a such a day as this where nature never rested, never stopped trying new ways to set itself in a new light, and with every attempt found something just a little more special.

I’d never seen the waterfall. The path contours round the deep gorge, and I kept looking around to say to someone “Isn’t this just stunning?”. But this was a very solitary trip, I think it had to be. Unfinished business, not with the mountains, but with myself. The mountains don’t care, they just are. You can’t expect or demand, but what you come away with is all the better for it.

The walk out behind the Five Sisters of KIntail is long and on a landrover track. The further you get the more the land changes its character from wilderness to countryside.
I stuck my iPod on, and the first track that shuffle mode found was Slayer’s Jesus Saves. I laughed out loud at the surprise of its genius choice and immediately started playing air-guitar on my trekking poles. It was on good form and fed me one cracker after another and I slipped out of the glen in into the motor on the crest of a metal wave, beaming from ear to ear.

I stopped in Ft Bill, and a MacDonald’s never tasted so good. And an ice cream with a flake in it was never so appreciated.
The sun sank behind the Ardnamurchan hills and bathed the Glen Coe hills in a pink light, the traffic was light late on a Monday night and I sped through the velvet landscape, eager to get home and see the girls.
My one stop was to get the camera out near Loch Ba. A wonderful spot which never fails to surprise me with how many moods and colours it can find.

This was a trip that I will hold dear in my memory. The hills, the trail, the weather, my head, it was all right.


The sound of cheap tyres desperately trying to stop on gravel gave way to total silence as I walked down the roadside with my camera to snap Black Mount living up to its name against a glorious night sky. I was tired, it had been a long trek over the past couple of days, but how could I drive past this? This kinda thing is why I’m miles from home and not in the pub or sitting scratching my arse in front of the telly after all.
Whaaaammmm!!! A Tornado jet fired past me heading north. Missed it, too slow. But, they hunt in pairs and I waited for the next one. Still, being ready and getting a good photie are two different things.
Whaaaammmm!!! These bastards are fast. I bet they had the kettle on and their feet up while I was still stuck behind that bloody mini-van with the droopy suspension on its left side that I caught up on Loch Lomond-side.

Plan B

Kev was right, go the other way. 

I’m not going to talk about the A82, I don’t want to look back on this in times to come an just read about how close I kept coming to having a stroke behind the wheel. Let’s just say the journey north was harrowing and leave it at that. Harrowing.
I stopped in Ft Bill for a couple of bits and pieces, a mini naan from Morrison’s, and some Nuun from Ellis Brighams. Morrison’s was easy, they even had rucksack-sized yumyums. Entering EB’s after the “boot incident” just isn’t the same. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe it’s a bit like EB was the smart arsed kid in class, who when asked “What’s the capital of Peru?” answered “The Factory Act of 1833”. They’re stuck with that one defining moment of stupidity in my mind.
I was fingering through the racks of stuff and came across those 150 weight Icebreaker t-shirts and it occurred to me that maybe I would be better in one of those than my nice checked shirt. I dunno, a moment of distraction we’ll say. But pulling at the corner of the t-shirt was a big magnetic swing tag which immediately caused me to raise an eyebrow. Still, I took it the the checkout where said tag was removed and I said “Thanks, let’s have a look…” and held it up to the light to see the big hole where the tag had been. “Ach” says I. At which point someone more senior homed in this potential loss of sale.
“That’s fine”
“No, there’s a hole it”
“It’s next to the hem”
Sigh…”Do you have one round the back without a hole in it?”
“No, this one is fine”
“No, there’s a hole in it, why don’t you put the tag through the label?”
“People will cut them off with scissors”
Sigh…”So I have to have a t-shirt with a hole in it because…look, never mind, I’ll take the Nuun thanks”
“You’re not taking the t-shirt?”
“No, there’s a hole it”

An hour later I was in 914 Outdoorin Dornie and was breathing a sign of relief at a wee shop jammed with kit and staffed by smiling folks. They had the 125g Rekri8 gas canister which brought me great joy, and minutes later I was pulling into the thoughtfully provided walkers carpark at the entrance to the Attadaleestate by Loch Carron. It’s beautiful country up here, half mountain infested wilderness, half Balamory. It should be visited by all with extreme haste.

1710hrs when I left the carpark, even for me that’s leaving it late. Especially considering I was supposed to be camping on one of the (if not the) remotest peaks in the UK. In baking sunshine I wandered through the estate on old-time tarmac, there’s gardens to visit and holiday cottages to rent, very pleasant.
My right shoe’s is a little loose, I should tighten it.
It’s pretty much estate track until you reach the slopes of Lurg Mhor, but it’s not the too-familiar bulldozed scars of elsewhere, what we have here is old, wear-hardened tyre-tracks, often with a grassy mohican in the middle. It winds through forest and by lochans, high into the hills and far away. Without the track, covering this distance would be much harder, but there is a trade-off. It’s hard on the feet.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll need to tighten it soon.
There’s a big meander to the left which does take you higher than you were expecting at at nearly 350m, and it’s here you leave Loch Carron behind and first see where you’re going. And it’s really far away.
Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor look very different from this side than they do from the regular point of view on the ascent over Beinn Tharsuinn from Craig to the north. In fact, when does Lurg Mhor actually even get into the photie? It’s always that same shot with the lochan on Tharsuinn and Sheasgaich’s summit. I really wanted to see what was on the other side. Miles of track as it turns out, and as I wandered along I kept imagining what this empty land would be like in winter, scary I think. I never saw a single soul while I was in there and it’s holiday time, I don’t see it being any busier in the first week of February.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll tighten it at the bridge.
Bendronaig Lodge and bothy is remote, it feels more remote than the recently visited Altbeithe, and also more deserted. Apart from some heilan coos which ran away, I’ve never know heilan coos to run away.
The track splits and then I was suddenly in the mountains. The sky became a strip walled by crags and I knew I was finally getting somewhere, but the sun was sinking, I was hungry and a little tired. The heat just sucks the life out of me. I stopped by Loch Calavie and had some munchies, including the now vital chicken Cup-a-Soup. The sun was out of view behind Sàil Riabhach, but the light spilling over the the other hills was golden, I was running out of time and I still had 600-odd meters of ascent.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll tighten it up when I get to the ridge.
The slopes of Lurg Mhor are flooded with flowers. I lost count of the different colours, shapes and sizes as i slowly climbed towards the skyline. I could see the clouds start to catch some colours at their fringes and there was a breeze whipping up. The day was shutting up shop. Curse my lateness, I was going to get the finish line and take an expected left turn to the icecream van like an idiot and miss out on the mighty prize.
I made it onto the rocky plateau with the lochan below Lurg Mhor’s summit to see Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich blocking the sun as it hit the horizon. Now it looks like an eclipse of sorts, at the time I was just shouting “Bastard, bastard, bastard…” and trying to get to the summit cone of Lurg Mhor before I missed out completely.
As is often the case, it’s when the sun goes down that the sky really lights up. I saw the tiniest glimpse of the sun as it sank from view and the clouds just exploded. All the miles in that heat, all the cleg bites that I’m sitting here scratching, all worth it.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, no point in tightening it now, I’ll be camped soon.
The summit of Lurg Mhor is a fine spot with a very fancy cairn. The hills in view are the superstars of Torridon, Skye and Kintail, and there’s the scary steep and deep coire just beyond the cairn. I lingered and enjoyed, it was 2230 and it was bliss.
I would have camped right there, but I needed water and the lochan below was calling to me. It’s a pity, there’s a flat patch of grass 10 feet from the cairn that was perfect. But I needed cuppas in abundance, and dinner. Hopefully before midnight.

My right shoe was a little loose, I should’ve tightened it.
My first blister since the West Highland Way, my own stupid fault. I sat in the bivy shaking my head. Clean socks on and I felt much better, hot food and drink and I was quite happy. There was still birdsong, and the sky glowed to the north as the sun took a shortcut just under the horizon to spring back up in the east in four hours.
I was comfy all night, but I never slept much because of the brightness. In the bivy it was a bit like sleeping inside a space hopper with a desk lamp trained on it. I watched the sky light up sometime after 0400 and within an hour I gave up and had the stove on again. I never saw the sunrise, I was just too tired to get shoes on and run over to the other side of the ridge. It was cold as well, and very windy, but I was snug and happy in my sleeping bag with my proper coffee from a Lyon’s bag.

I was breaking camp around 0600 and was away. It wasn’t a vintage camp spot, but at 2300 and being waterless, my needs outweighed the picturesque and it did give a great starting point for day two.

Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich isn’t too far away. It’s a rocky descent to the bealach and then straight back up, and when you’re onto the summit ridge itself it really is an “Alright!” moment. It’s got a little exposure to the west and absolutely stunning views everywhere. Walking the ridge past the summit (with its amusingly small cairn) you can look down on the regular route. Sod that, huge amounts of ascent, descent, re-ascent and possibly even a little traversing and re-traversing.
The wind was whipping across the top which threatened to tip the camera and tripod over the side, so I ended up sitting by a rock just looking and grinning. I started down about 0715, it was a long trek and I wanted to get some of it out of the way before the sun was too high above me.
I soon passed all the places that I should have camped on Sàil Riabhach’s ridge, this is wonderful ground right here. I could have walked the ridge all day, but the steep descent was soon upon me and I was back on the track too soon. I stopped by a deep pool and had a brunch of sorts, and adjusted my layers. I’d been wearing a powerstretch top since I broke camp, but it was time to be back in my shirt and daft hat. The heat was creeping up and I was back in trek mode, as opposed to mountain mode. But I’m not actually sure there’s a difference as such.

I reached and passed the bridge over Uisge Dubh’s beautiful gorge and started the climb out of the glen. It was now roasting and lack of sleep was beginning to tell on me. I stuck my iPod on and set my legs to automatic. My iPod seems to have had a nervous breakdown. I like “Shuffle Songs” on the move, but it picked Rush’s Hemispheres, 2112 and Cygnus X-1 one after the other, an hour to get through three songs. Then it hit me with Tone Loc straight afterwards, which just felt odd. I could have pressed skip at any time, but I loaded the songs, so I’m not letting the iPod know that I didn’t want to hear it, it’ll undermine my authority over it.
I was happy to be desending again and it’s very different here in amongst the trees and lochans, dragonflies of all colours swooping past, butterflies chasing each other around like confetti in the wind, birds, frogs all were out and not afraid to announce themselves. Wildlife had been a feature of this trip, the stag that had bellowed at my arrival on the slopes of Lurg Mhor had unsettled me a little, but he soon gave up and left the hill to me. The other creatures were then divided into those which delighted and those which saw me as food.

It was 33°C when I hit the estate tarmac. My steps were slow, my blister was sore and I really wanted a cold can of Irn Bru.
I arrived at the motor and opened all the doors, stood back to let if cool and stripped myself of pack, shoes and clothes. Magic.
I reinstalled shorts and t-shirt and headed off to find a fridge and its contents.

Another short sharp adventure, and that seems to be the way of it these days. Truth be told I don’t like being away from the girls too long anyway, Holly really doesn’t like it when I’m gone too long, it upsets her a lot, so a night or two is about my limit now. I don’t give a shit though, it’s taken me 20 years to get around to climbing Lurg Mhor and I didn’t do it in the times of multi-day trips a few years ago, so I reckon I’m making the most of my time now.
As ever I’m a bit vague about what my route was, but this one will be in Trail in a couple of months, Hey, I took notes and everything!
I will say that it’s well worth doing it from this side, I saw no-one, there’s only traces of a path on the hill, and I really felt like I was out there. Marvellous.

Nice wee things

When I started having to swap numbers with folk from outdoor places instead of just engineering ones I got some cards made up at Moo so I wasn’t having to constantly apologise and lie about having “run out”.
It was dead easy, it’s all done through your Flickr photies, it only takes a few minutes to do the text and whatnot, you can pay by PayPal and it’s a great product.
I’ve just had another batch in with different photies on them and it’s just like having my own personal Top Trumps, I’ve seen me sitting in the motor at lunch time, flicking though them saying “That was more fun, but this one was in winter…oh wait, this one had the best clouds…”.
I use the most “eco-friendly” version, so they say, and although a business card is supposed to be just a functional item, a tool, I like the fact that they raise a smile in eveyone who takes one.
Nice wee things.

Stick a fork in me, I’m done. Part 2

The tent was dripping with condensation, none of it had penetrated the inner to any great extent, but brushing the walls started to get most stuff in there a little damp, and I was thankful for the clever fabrics protecting all the down kit from my carelessness.
It was bright, properly bright, and as I stuck my head out I could see a patch of blue sky above me. The wind was whipping the clouds by at a fair rate, but this was the stuff I was after. I could see the top of Stob Coire na Cloiche, the first rise on the ridge, and down into the glen to the North where a bright patch of sunlight ground its way through the murk along the flanks of Mullach na Dheiragain.
I pulled on my down jacket, lit the stove and looked at the map. Harvey’s know their stuff, you can tell people made this map, and people who love the hills at that. I had 2½km or so of ridge to the summit, and it looked fantastic, narrow, rocky and high. As Munro #22 Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan doesn’t have too many loftier, or indeed remote, places to stand on these islands.

I had breakfast and a cuppa and then a wander around the coll, taking in the welcome change in atmosphere and enjoying some views for the first time. What a place to wake up, in the heart of the mountains, well away from any road with a pair clucking Ptarmigan in the rocks behind me letting me know that I wasn’t alone, and yes it was their hangout and I’d best be on my way.
I broke camp, packed and hit the trail. Just as the cloud descended again like a tidal wave of grey, misery-flavoured marshmallow.

I crawled up the ridge, taking as much time as could, absorbing the detail and features, hoping for a break so I could get the camera out. It’s wonderful terrain, rocky, increasingly narrow and even this late in the year it had unavoidable snow slopes.
It was freezin’ in the wind, it may well be Spring, but as ice formed on the damp grass and rocks I could see that nature isn’t overly fussed by what we say, prefering to do what the hell it likes, and very convincingly too.

Moving so slowly I was bound to get a bit cold, my fingers were numbed and stiff as I was getting close to the summit. I stopped to mess around with my layers when the cloud slipped off of the summit ridge in front of me in a burst of blue and white. Then I was jogging uphill, still putting my pack back on when I reached the top, but the moment had gone and that was the last time I saw for more than 20 metres until I fell out of the cloud into the glen.

I passed the summit and carried on to the West Top. Truly a spectacular stretch of ridge, very narrow and twisty, precipitous with some cracking short scrambling sections before you reach the little domed top, only 8m lower than the summit proper.
I looked around, the haze was at times eye wateringly bright as the light diffused through the vapour, the clear air was so close above, but it might as well have been miles away.
I was now cold, hungry and descending.

The ridge South down to Beinn an t-Socach starts narrow and widens all the way down, it’s boulder strewn, sometimes in bands, and it eventually opens out into a wide grassy skirt of surprising steepness.
I sat among some of the highest boulders, surprisingly still at 980m after what seemed like a lot of descent and had some lunch. I had my down jacket, hat and gloves on, and the chicken Cup-a-Soup I had was the best thing I’d ever tasted in my life. Honest. And the added benefit of the thermally inneficient single-wall titanium mug is that you can warm your hands on it.
It was very exposed to the wind all the way down to about 600m and I was glad to be getting lower down, dropping out of the cloud I could see the Allt Gleann Gniomhaidh flowing right below me and realised I’d strayed a little from my intended path and found the steepest slopes instead of the easiest ones.
It’s the steepness that you can’t see down, as it only unfolds as you walk towards it, there’s only the first few feet and then the bottom. Knee wrenching and nerve pinching all the way to the deer fence.
I found a crawl gate and slipped under the fence into the enclosure where they’re trying to re-grow some native woodland. When Holly’s my age this place will look wonderful.
I picked up the path back to Alltbeithe and made good time back along the pleasant track. The shot below is looking back towards Fionngleann with the end of Beinn Fhada’s East ridge to the right of centre. The cloud was breaking up all around, but Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan resolutely wore its grey shroud, its height and bulk defying any attempt by the cloud to get away and about its other business.

I strode South in increasing brightness, the cloud breaking and dispersing from all but the highest tops. I looked back over my shoulder constantly, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan never cleared, Even as I crossed over the high point of the pass it was still a monolith of solid grey.

I stopped and had a cuppa and a snack below the rocky ridge of a’Chralaig. I was surrounded by wonderful mountains, the sun was beating down and I was only a handful of miles from the motor.
This is how it should be, relaxed, just taking it for what it is. I looked at the pointed top of Ciste Dubh and had no desire to be up there, it was enough to see it from my rock as I sipped a Cadbury’s Hot Chocolate. The clouds that remained were pure white, soft and benign, only a glance North revealed a shade of grey. I pondered that as I walked downhill to the road.
I’ve (re)learned a valuable lesson here, you can’t force, or expect the joy of the mountains. It’s always there if you accept it on its own terms, deadlines and schedules mean nothing.
The wee bugger below was making the best of the sunshine, it’s hair a fine mix of gingery brown with some flecks of white, always a good colour scheme…

Hitting the tarmac again is always a melancholy time, but today it was only good. I could see down the length of the South Glen Shiel Ridge, hot food not out of a foil bag would soon be mine and I did feel that I’d been on an adventure of sorts.
The ruined bridge on the old road caught my eye just before the last turn around to the Cluanie Inn, it looks like the burn just runs through it, but it drops alarmingly as a waterfall on the other side. A lovely wee spot and well worth a shufty if you’re passing.

I met a boy at the carpark who’d been running around the Cluanie hills for the last couple of days, ten Munros in two days, all of them in cloud apparently. He seemed happy enough though.
I got changed and started South. Music and shades on, the miles disappeared, but it was late and I didn’t fancy my chances of making the Real Food Cafe at a reasonable hour, so I pulled into Ft Bill’s McDonald’s for a brown paper bag (oh the irony…) full of tasty horror which I enjoyed far too much as I texted and phoned all interested parties in the carpark.
I pulled over and took a photie of a wisp of cloud over Loch Linnhe. Darkness chased me down the road and by Rannoch it was black, and it seems like I was home ten minutes later.

I screwed this one up, I missed the moment by being a dick and having an “agenda”.
Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan is the prize that the guide books say it is, and I feel like I’ve just touched its handle at the start of the race and never got to embrace it. I’ll go back and enjoy it, and I’ll walk the ridge to Mullach na Dheiragain this time. There is much joy in there waiting to be claimed.

I did a bit of searching and found out that the aircraft on the hillside was a Vickers Wellington, Mk.1C T2707 bomber, coded as JM-Z of 20 Operational Training Unit flying from Lossiemouth. It crashed on February 13th 1942 on a final training flight prior to leaving for the Middle East. They lost an engine, and knew that they were coming down as the single remaining engine couldn’t keep them above the hills, the crew and instructor bailed out and they all survived.
The engine below shows where the cylinders were torn from their mountings. It’s a sombre reminder of its time indeed.

It’s that time of year again. Kilpatricks on wheels.

I don’t ride the Kilpatricks in winter as a rule, not because it’s wet or cold, but because it destroys the trails. It’s wet, muddy and wonderful, but selfish riders have abused it and the erosion has gotten so bad that when the path network was getting signposted, the foresty and the council probably had no choice but to do something, and of course it was always going to lack any kind of subtlety. So where we had dirt singletrack weaving through trees we now have big wide tracks with proper drainage. And the scars on the trees and ground to match.
It’s horrendous, but it was probably inevitable. A few years will see if soften and there’s still plenty of wild open hillside. Access is a wonderful thing, and these works have improved that, but at what cost to the experience of being there?

The ascent from Old KIlpatrick is a bitch. Never once have I made it all the way to the level section at the quarry withouit getting off the bike and pushing. By the time I parked the bike against the fence and gazed down the Clyde at the hazy Cowal peninsula, sweat was dripping from the end of my nose and I was getting quite emotional. It was bloody warm, I haven’t seen this much blue sky and unfiltered sunshine in ages.

The quarry is long closed, being used to supply rock for the road and dam at Loch Humphrey. It’s faded to a natural ambience, so I’m sure the new trails will follow on. I can’t wait the fifty years it took the quarry though.
There’s little sign of the excavator that used to sit here, abandoned and rusting. It was taken  away piece by piece, although back in the 70’s it was intact and we used to play in it. Highly dangerous with its long jib held by weatherbeaten and corroded cables. All that’s left are a few plates here and there and a section on the cab roof lying in a gully.
Looks like good place for a spot of bouldering, but I didn’t have the shoes. Or the grip.

Honk Hooonk Hnk Hoooonnnnk! I could hear them, but I couldnt see them until I’d ridden to the highest point on the trail; a flock of geese. They were strutting about and pecking quite happily, maybe 20 or so of them. I saw lambs earlier as well, fresh out of the oven. Lovely wee things.

I stopped at the Loch Humphrey overflow for a drink and a photie, and coincidence leapt out of my rucksack and smacked my helmet down over my eyes. By the time I had straightened myself back up I’d ran into Candice and Jordan who are here from Florida for a bit and have been exploring more of the Kilpatricks in the last few months than most locals do in a lifetime.
Being as I am, I switched to banter and interesting fact mode and prceeded to melt their heids with useless information for the next few hours.
I’d have kicked me on the shin and ran away.

We ended up on Duncolm (I left the bike just er, a little short of the summit…), the highest point of the Kilpatricks and a great spot for a view. Above is Ben Lomond, Loch Lomond with some of the Arrochar Alps and Luss hills. Those bubbling clouds were just so far away.
But turn North towards the Campsies and pulses of rain were cavorting around themselves, dying out every time they tried to reach further afield. The rain never reached us, a flash of a rainbow nearby was as threatening as it got. Someone in the Blane Valley must have said something really nasty about the weather elves to merit getting stuck with that weather all day.

Back down to Loch Humphrey and the sun was getting lower. I was by turns riding and walking, enjoying the good bits of trail and not wanting to constantly annoy my surprise companions. My feet were wringing, but there were no tears and snotters, good socks and quick draining bike shoes (they’ve got a big hole in the bottom where the cleats attach) kept me happy. Soon enough we were in the newly built trails.
I’ll speak of that again, I might even take a photie or two. But it still hurts too much right now.

We parted company as the sun sank lower so I could tackle the run down to Overtoun House at speed. As it turned out, it felt unfamiliar. Subtle changes to the trail since the last time broke up my flow and it was a bit stop-start, but I’ll know better the next time and hopefully I’ll nail it from top to bottom.
As I sit here, my legs are toast. I am in no way bike-fit. But the joy at riding some of the trail is such an incentive to get my shit together I’ll stick at it.

Great day/ hills/ company. Hell, there was even a Cadbury’s Buttons easter egg afterwards.