Quite recently (a week or two back?) I suddenly found myself wondering why, in all my many, many trips to the Dam, I’d never taken the obvious through route from Altnafeadh when it’s broad, characterised by gentle gradients and quite clearly the shortest approach from any road. So I decided pretty well there and then to try it out (as part of a loop taking in both Devil’s Staircase and Dam) at the first reasonable opportunity, and took that chance today.
After briefly following a rough path/muddy track due north from Altnafeadh until it became obvious that it would not pass below the wooded area centred on NN 223569, I simply set off cross-country, and continued like that over terrain that was wet (so not quick) but not especially rough all the way to the Dam. After which a somewhat faster run brought me home by the familiar Penstock track, although some degree of dehydration on a warm afternoon (not helped by not drinking when I could have!) stiffened up my legs a little and effectively prevented me from cutting loose on the final descent to the village.
Overall, it’s an excellent circuit and should also be good run clockwise (when you’d benefit from stunning views of both Buachailles to pull you over from the Dam to Altnafeadh, but lose the fantastically exhilarating descent from the top of the Devil’s towards the big Buachaille that’s one of my favourite bits of running anywhere). 15.06 miles measured by GPS in just over 2 hrs 39 mins (so 5.7 mph average), breaking down to 6.05 miles to Altnafeadh at 5.4 mph, 3.06 miles to the Dam at 4.5 mph and 5.95 miles home at 6.9 mph.
As for March as a whole, I ran 22 out of 31 days, but had just 4 days when I didn’t climb or walk either, so not bad considering work and other commitments at a busy time for me, and surely in keeping with my WHW training plan ‘to [simply] keep running, walking or climbing six days a week’. :-)
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I should be running! Or something like that. (Just can’t afford to pass up the chance of a good workout with the big race in June.)
Having tried several potential partners for some ice climbing today and been unable to sort anything out, I’d thought of a wander up to Polldubh Crags if it stayed dry to solo some old favourites, shunt something new or maybe hook up with some other solitary climber for some routes. But it started raining quite heavily at about 9:30am and I thought that was it for the day. Looks like I missed a trick there because most of the afternoon was fine and sunny, but I’d already made the decision and simply had to get in a decent hill run instead. So I thought about some interesting variations to some of my trade routes before deciding on a big loop taking the Ciaran Path (in much more benign conditions than the previous two weekends) to the Blackwater Dam, continuing over Meall na Cruaidhe to Loch Eilde Mor and adding some further length by returning past the Lodge and TV Mast to finish down the West Highland Way.
And that’s it really. The GPS says I did 14.59 miles in just over 2 hrs 45 mins at an average pace of 11:19 per mile (5.3 mph), which isn’t great but isn’t too bad for the terrain and height gain (allegedly well over 3000 ft!) either. It’s about an hour slower than I’d hope to do a similar distance on roads or even something like the LAC Lairig Mor race (which I’ve done in under 1 hr 49), but mostly much rougher, and the paths through the boggy ground north-east of the Dam are (as demonstrated by the ‘wayward’ track I could have predicted from previous experience) tenuous enough to result in some slow going.
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Another wet and windy weekend day that just didn’t say ‘let’s go climbing’, so I had to get out for a decent run, and found it in a route to the Blackwater Dam that I’ve unaccountably never taken before! So I took the start of the Ciaran Path and sustained (but runnable) ascent to the pipeline at Leitir Bo Fionn that I’ve taken many times as an alternative route to Loch Eilde Mor, before following the pipes east instead of north for a change. And what a good run it is, although the Allt Coire na Duibhe was still no joke a mile or so above the ford that stopped me last weekend. Measured by GPS at 11.64 miles round trip, so the longest of the three obvious routes to the Dam, and tough enough returning into a stiff breeze to take nearly as long on the way back as out, but lots of lovely, almost level, running alongside (and occasionally on top of) the pipes and great views of the Dam and Dubh Lochan to make me want to do it again!
Also pleased to report that I’ve run on 14 of the last 18 days, been climbing on Ben Nevis and walking on Aonach Mor two of the others, and haven’t run a ‘road only’ course since 25 February. So I’m starting to knock myself back into some half-decent shape and enjoying the running all the more for that!
Today I was on an an avalanche awareness workshop run by Abacus Mountaineering for the Fort William Mountain Festival. It was wild weather, with vicious winds closing down the Aonach Mor gondola for the day shortly after we took it up in the morning, plenty of stinging precipitation and near white-out conditions most of the time.
Our instructor was Nigel Hooker and we were also fortunate to be able to follow SAIS observer Blair Fyffe for most of the day and watch him at work. While naturally observing and discussing snow conditions as continuously as possible (ie ‘not very’ in the case of discussing!) on such a foul day, we also saw Blair taking measurements from layers in a pit (see http://www.sais.gov.uk/profile_flash.asp?id=1017) and Nigel performing a Rutschblock test.
The day finished with a discussion at the bottom cafe after walking down the mountain bike downhill track (not the ‘walk of shame’ because we knew there was no gondola to miss!). We came up with our own ‘report’ for the day and ‘forecast’ for tomorrow before comparing these to the ones Blair was about to publish, and were happy to note that they were remarkably similar.
All in all, a very good day although the weather did make some things difficult. But Blair and his colleagues are out dealing with this all the time, and that’s how you get such useful reports to help you decide whether or not to forsake the comfort of your nice, warm home for a day on the hill!
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It’s raining cats and dogs today. Can’t say that stopped me trying to run to the Blackwater Dam by the Ciaran Path, but it was ‘upstream’ (think about it!) all the way and I had to turn back at the bad ford at the Allt Coire na Duibhe (NN 226606), which was absolutely raging and a long way beyond justifiable. Think that’s only the second or third time ever I’ve turned there for that reason, but I’d likely be floating down the River Leven right now if I hadn’t!
Finished by a clockwise ‘big lap’ of the village to make up the lost mileage, and found that quite strange because I’ve always run it anticlockwise before. Also pleased to report that today’s my fifth in a row of decent off-road running, so the March masterplan seems to be working so far. :-)
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So I managed to kick myself out of the house for a run this evening (6.3 mile hill/road combo up past Mamore Lodge and the mast and then round the village)…
And what’s special about that? Well, nothing really, but I was tired, it was wet, snowing and cold (= horrible on the hill!), I needed to do it and I did it. Can’t say I’m working from the ideal base for this year’s West Highland Way Race after an unprecedented ‘one-run’ December caused by a nasty, prolonged cough/cold thing with headaches, but March, April and May were my peak mileage months for the 2007 race and there’s still time if I treat this March seriously. Possibly not planning to run quite so much this spring after a couple of injury scares last time (thinking climbing and meaty hillwalking are also good for the job!) but, having run five of the past seven days, spent one of the others climbing on the Ben and dragged myself into the Ice Factor for some plastic rock climbing on one of my ‘running’ evenings, probably just need more of the same with some longer runs in the mix now. Time will tell (can’t tell you this year’s target time because it’s ‘classified’!), but simply trying to keep running, walking or climbing six days a week through the next three months sounds like a plan to me? :-/
Today, with the north face of Ben Nevis starting to look snowy again after the thaws of the past fortnight, I climbed Number Three Gully Buttress (III) with Adam Thomas. There was more new snow than we expected and perhaps not many routes at anything like their best, but that didn’t seem to stop ‘Team Petzl’ (with Ueli Steck among their number?) racing up Coire na Ciste to film some hard stuff. We also met Andy Nelson from Glencoe on the hill.
After I’d spent some time setting up a belay (impeded by constant showers of spindrift from above) at the top of the lower snow bay, Adam led off up the first pitch but, despite being first on the route, we were outflanked by two other teams avoiding the obvious short ‘icefall’ we took direct, and had to wait some considerable time above to get at the subsequent pitches. (So the overtaking might have been slightly cheeky with the second team actually passing us on the traversing second pitch, but the banter was good and we’re not declaring war over a sociable climb!) Spending much of the day getting cold and wet while watching others tackle what we yet had to do did, however, sap my morale enough to be glad that the trickiest part of the subsequent traverse fell to Adam (who despatched it very nicely indeed), although my motivation returned enough to enjoy leading a fine, long last pitch that seems to match the ‘steep icy chimney’ alternative better than the continuing traverse and ‘finish up icy slabs’ (not that we saw much ice anywhere!). We were followed up this final pitch by a fourth pair from the Lakes who’d spent much of the day wandering all over the Ben in search of a route in condition and seemed to be climbing comfortably and quickly in comparison to the teams preceding them.
Overall, we thought it a fine route (as a three-star classic should be) and technically straightforward, but feeling somewhat insecure under soft, new snow with little beyond buried rock hooks solid enough for the picks on the steeper sections. The Red Burn bumslide is suffering, however, with some very big holes that could take the unwary travelling at speed metres into the burn and under the snow with potentially serious consequences!
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Got a text from Matt Watts on Friday afternoon telling me he’d seen my photo in MCofS magazine Scottish Mountaineer, so checked my newly-arrived copy as soon as I got home and, sure enough, there it was… one of the pics Dave MacLeod took of me on Secretaries Superdirect at Polldubh:
Trad climbers operating in the low E-grades or below can sometimes lose hard-earned fitness from winter indoor climbing due to the nature of the easier trad climbs. Peter Duggan getting a good psychological, but not physical, workout on Secretaries Direct (HVS), Glen Nevis.
(NB the grade is right but it is indeed the Superdirect.)
Dave’s article (which I’m so surprised to feature in that I’ll forgive him that rather cute caption!) is also available online at http://www.mcofs.org.uk/assets/getactive/mcofs%20coachwise2%20by%20dmacleod%20(paged).pdf. And, Matt (if you’re reading this), I’ve had one of Dave’s pics up on my Climbing Home Page for some time. :-)
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