What I Did in 2018

img_8824-1Don’t let the title fool you, it’s not 2019! Happy new year to one and all. 2018 is here and it’s a good looking number. Much more attractive than 2017. More curvy? Bigger? More contemporary?

I’ve got a few resolutions. Take on the challenge of a new job (that I start in 7 short days). Spend more time with my wife and family. Lose a bit of weight and get a bit fitter (a daily box of salt and vinegar Pringles has added a few rolls). More outdoor adventures in my boots, on my snowboard and in my tent.

I’ve got one more resolution or plan which is going to be tricky but fits in with my love of the outdoors. This year, I’m going to walk 1000 miles. By New Year’s Eve, I’ll have walked at least 1610km in 365 days. In everyday life as well as in the hills. Easy? Well, I’ve managed a solitary, single kilometre on day one. So I’d better get a move on!

And the post title? Let’s just say I’m an optimist.

Whatever you’re planning this year, good luck and happy adventuring!

Sharing Suilven

Leaving the house at 4.30am, the murky morning mist poked some tiny holes in my enthusiasm and, for a second, made me question the wisdom of driving four and a half hours north. The forecast looked good. Yet the fog became thicker as I passed Pitlochry and even from the roadside near Elphin, Suilven was nowhere to be seen.  A mountain with a distinctive shape, recognisable from all angles, rising from the relative flatness of the Assynt estates all around, it was elusive. Parking up near Glencanisp Lodge, Suilven had decided to show its skirt and the mist was beginning to clear. It was warm as I passed the honesty shop at the lodge and the road turned to track, but progress was still quick and with every turn in the track, the mountain became clearer.

I reached the bothy after an hour and a quarter. Suileag has two rooms, each with a working fireplace and sleeping platforms. My overnight gear dropped and laid out, I was ready to fall into my sleeping bag when I returned that night.

On I went through the treeless Glencanisp forest and after crossing the footbridge over the Abhainn na Clach Airigh, I turned off the track and found myself on the first section of a newly created path leading up towards Loch a’ Choire Dubh. By this stage I could see the full Suilven profile and I have to say I was a bit excited. I’d wanted to climb Suilven for as long as I’d been a walker. A hill walker mind, not a toddler. And here I was. Completely in awe. Why hadn’t I come up before? The final steep scramble to the Bealach Mor was tough. But the rewards were huge as the top of the pass was reached with views south across Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor, Ben More Assynt. And more.

The final push to the top at Caistel Liath was short but glorious. I could see for miles, blue sky and sea surrounding the rough coastline and mountain landscape. A paraglider lugged his 15kg of machine parts just behind me and since he looked shattered from the effort, I headed off towards the other, more pointed end of the ridge. A footstep here, a scramble there. I didn’t make the peak of Meall Meadhonach. I value my various body parts.

One curious point about the day was the wall. A wall that cuts Suilven in half and runs down both sides as far as the terrain will allow. A stunning piece of work. And whether built as a joke between neighbouring estates, or for a labour creation scheme, the splitting in half of the hill adds a sense of symmetry to the view and a neat human-made addition to nature’s Scottish sugarloaf mountain.

Back to the bothy and the company of T and C, a fire in the grate and a bottle of Highland Park. More sharing. Company. Whisky. Heat. Suilven looked glorious in the evening sunshine, the breeze meaning I didn’t need to share the view with the midges. Later at dusk, as the sun went down, the mountain was ablaze, the red a major contrast compared to earlier in the day, the red rainbow a bonus touch.

And click the link below to see more…

https://youtu.be/SsTbmsCA8oE

A Hole Lot of Wonder

Q. What equipment do you need to go caving?

I only ask because if a Trivial Pursuit victory depended on my knowledge of potholing, I would be left floundering with 5/6s of a pie. The very idea of exploring the depths of middle earth excites me but scares the bejesus out of me, probably because I saw The Descent. I’m no caver, not for me the dark, creepy and ever decreasing holes in the ground where my larger frame would be constantly screaming “diet!”. But I do like the idea of natural howffs or shelters, which give you a genuine sense of protection from the wind, rain and snow, cut into or made of rock such as Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Cave near Elgol on Skye.

I recently heard about a cave in Glen Almond near Amulree. Not a deep cave. And no evil creatures apparently. Thieves Cave (Thiefs Cave on OS maps) can be found at the back-wall of Coire Chultrain. There isn’t much information online, but it’s link to reivers and catarans (and no mention of Neil Marshall) made it sound worthy of a expedition.

As it turned out, the cave has mostly collapsed, leaving a pile of particularly large, slabby boulders. It was at least a lovely, snowy walk up from the bridge at Sma Glen, but what really made the trip was that some enterprising soul has placed a geocache on the site. And a well stocked one at that.

I swapped trinkets. However, my new helicopter wasn’t quite big enough to fly me out of the corrie.

Continuing my search for dark places, yesterday I went looking for Cave number two of the week. Balnamoon’s Cave can be found in Glen Mark, near Edzell. The hiding place of a Jacobean laird on the run, I was hoping for better luck this time, something I could clamber inside and get a sense of protection from the wilderness.

After a mornings walking through light snow and then an hours rock hopping around the hillside looking for the tell-tale vertical slit, I was in luck.

Water streaming down the back wall like a fountain, but roomy and with two heather single beds already created by some expert howffers, it inspired some  mixed thoughts along the lines of “Who last slept here?” and “I’d like to give that springy bed a shot”, which I duly did.

But actually, I was well chuffed with my find. More than big enough to hold a crowd, lots of protection from the elements and a feeling of stepping back in time, the cave was just deep enough to be a shelter, but close enough to the sunshine to escape any strange predators that Hollywood might create.

Sitting under one 500 tonne rock was scary. So to ask my initial question again, what equipment to you need to go caving deep under ground? The answer is simple. You don’t need ropes, rucksack or even a helmet. You need balls. Big ones.

The Skye Cuillin

In July 2015 , we went on our second big walk of the year.  It was definitely big, although more of a scramble than a walk.

The Cuillin is the closest we have in Britain to the Alps and it’s a challenge in every way.  To walk in the Cuillin is to walk, scramble, climb, abseil and test your ability to deal with the toughest exposure imaginable.

We spent four days in the Cuillin exploring mountains and corries and it was probably the finest walking/mountain trip I’ve ever been on.  With the considerable assistance of Rich Parker, a mountain guide with Skye Guides, we experienced and achieved so much more than any of us could have imagined.

From Sgurr nan Gillean to the Inaccessible Pinnacle of Sgurr Dearg, we saw so much of what Skye and the Cuillin has to offer.  On the last day we were also first on scene of a fall from the In Pinn which reminded us just how dangerous these mountains can be.

Despite this the trip was truly awe-inspiring.  And this film hopefully gives you some idea just how amazing it was.

Ledi Me Tell You About The Rob Roy Way

The first of this years big hikes in April 2015, we set out to complete a section of the Rob Roy Way from Aberfoyle to Killin over three days.

And since we were feeling fit, on day two we also took on Ben Ledi, which is a Corbett nestling on the edge of Callander.  We’re tough like that.