Petestack Blog

25 July 2014

West of Glen Shee

Filed under: Cycling,Running — admin @ 6:19 pm

Till 10:00pm Wednesday we were going to mop up the Munros and Tops on either side of Glen Shee. But Marie quite likes cycling, I stumbled over a tempting photo of Glen Ey (not unlike my first one here) in the SMC Munros book, and taking the bikes to get the other ‘batch’ of Glen Shee Ms & Ts suddenly seemed like a good idea. So I got straight on the phone (‘need the bikes after all, take my van instead of your car, is that OK?’) and, with ‘bikes’ being exactly what Marie wanted to hear, that’s exactly what we did! And Glen Ey’s a great wee ride… good track, easy going, doesn’t feel conspicuously uphill on the way in but finally shines with flowing delight on a fast return with 180m of height to lose over not quite six miles.

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As for the surrounding hills, well, they’re OK. Easy-going Eastern puddings, not numbered among the country’s greatest peaks but not devoid of attractive features like the sparkling Loch nan Eun, and still blessed by great views of the Cairngorms (continous prospect of the southern skyline with a good three-quarters of the 18 full Munros identifiable from some points), Lochnagar and Beinn a’ Ghlo. And we got our routing spot-on in for once in terms of economy, taking the cue from Butterfield to link Beinn Iutharn Bheag straight to Glas Tulaichean rather than its ‘parent’ peak of Beinn Iutharn Mhor, but ignoring his curious anticlockwise figure-of-eight progression from An Socach to Carn Bhac (later logically attributed to his recommendation to ‘climb An Socach first, bivouac in the soft grass near the ruins of Altanour Lodge and take in the other hills on the following day’) in favour of the steep drop WSW off An Socach for a clockwise round. On which note, having visually estimated this slope at 35–40°, I was later pleased to confirm the steepest part (craggy ground at tops of photos in sequence starting with marie5.jpg) with map and calculator to hand at c.37.6°!

So we did the peaks ringed red on Map 3 rather than those ringed blue, but it’s ultimately six-and-half-a-dozen (or perhaps five-and-half-a-dozen here!) when I need them all and, apart from some continued unease at numbering the desecrated nonentity of The Cairnwell as my sole ‘conquest’ (well, at least I did it on foot!) of that central group, if anything leaves things in a more convenient state for polishing off than the other way round.


While most of the following photos (whether taken by me or Marie) came from my camera, the final shot of me on my bike is one of Marie’s.

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23 July 2014

The Thirty-Nine Steps

Filed under: Climbing,Running,Walking — admin @ 12:34 pm

Totted up my Munros after Monday’s not-exactly-Cluanie Horseshoe and came to 243, which means (discounting the Tops and Deletions I won’t finish without) I have 39 full Ms to go. So what an excuse for a silly blog title, and here (after a Facebook dry run) we go…


Nae ‘Munro-Lite’ here, with this lot (not forgetting associated Tops and Deletions) set to give me everything that’s been in Munro’s Tables! So 39 of 282 Munros to go, or approximately 80 of 600 (?) recorded ‘summits’, with about 20 hill days looking necessary to mop up the remaining main peaks + missed odds and ends (see A–G below).

Listed North to South and not (still evolving) target order:

1–5 Fisherfield Six (five + demoted Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh!)
6–11 Fannichs
12 Slioch (saving for last!)
13 Fionn Bheinn
14–16 Beinn Liath Mhor, Sgorr Ruadh, Maol Chean-Dearg
17–22 Moruisg, Maoile Lunndaidh, Sgurr a’ Chaorachain, Sgurr Choinnich, Lurg Mhor, Bidean a’ Choire Sheasgaich (+ demoted Sgurr nan Ceannaichean!)
23–26 Sgor Gaoith, Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair, Monadh Mor, Beinn Bhrotain
27–37 Glenshee
38–39 Mayar, Driesh

A Ceann Garbh (old position): deleted position of Top I missed because I guessed at (and went to) something else without it marked on my map (have already got Ceann Garbh as marked now)
B Meall Dearg (Northern Pinnacles of Liathach)
C Sgurr a’ Fionn Choire (eastern Top of Bruach na Frithe)
D Beinn Gharbh (deleted Top of ‘Ring of Tarf’ Beinn Dearg missed because I didn’t know I wanted it!)
E Deleted old grid reference for Meall Garbh (Carn Mairg group) + Meall Luaidhe (deleted Top)
F Sron dha-Murchdi (deleted Top of Meall Corranaich… can be picked up same day as E above)
G Beinn an Lochain (long demoted to Corbett)

For anyone who’s not yet sussed out my peak symbols, they’re Triangle = Munro (filled red when done), Circle = Top (red), Square = Deletion (orange) and Star = Corbett (which takes a yellow fill and here means sub-3,000ft ex-Munro). But afraid you’ll never see them all on a map at the scale above (not even clicking through for the ‘full-size’ version, which will just give you a clearer view of the same thing), with the Munros frequently buried under jumbles of Tops and Deletions and no obvious way to arrange a Memory-Map overlay in prioritised layers. (Think exporting as .csv, reordering and reimporting might just work, but never tried it… and it’s just not an issue when zooming in for planning or printing at 1:50,000 etc. to use!)

[Edit: 16 August 2015… yes, it’s possible, but the only ‘clean’ method I’ve found is to export the separate categories as .mmo files, delete all overlays, close Memory-Map, reopen, then import the categorised .mmo overlays ‘bottom-up’ so the first imported forms the bottom layer and last imported forms the top.]

Now, I’ve little doubt that I’d have finished my Munros long ago if just targeting the 282 (or the 284 there’d still have been had that been my aim), but there’ll be no caving in when not even Ben Avon’s four Tops, seven Deletions and 20 miles of wandering to its single Munro could break my resolve. So that’s just the kind of thing you have to deal with if you’re me… 18 full Munros in the whole of the Cairngorms, but 18 summits (just two of them Munros) between Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird alone! By no means the only example of ‘straggly Top syndrome’ but easily the most glaring, though the likes of the Carn Eige/Mam Sodhail/Ceathreamhnan massif (eight Ms, eighteen Ts, six Ds), The Saddle (one M, three Ts, four Ds), An Teallach (two Ms, seven Ts, one D), Ben Wyvis (one M, three Ts, three Ds) and the Gorms as a whole (just look at all those circles and squares!) are also pretty good. And there’s precious little on any of those (perhaps just the odd Gormlet?) I didn’t think worthwhile…


So c.20 days left to completely ‘compleat’, and I could be finished this summer but for late July and August already being pretty well assigned to other things. But we’re still getting into ‘endgame’ territory here, and (with the analysis above to spur me on) perhaps it doesn’t have to be so very much longer!

22 July 2014

Not exactly ‘Cluanie’!

Filed under: Cycling,Running — admin @ 9:15 pm

It’s known as the ‘Cluanie Horseshoe’, but what a daft name for a circuit that’s only really a horseshoe when taken from the north, with many miles of road separating the logical starting point up Glen Affric from Cluanie just a short crow’s flight to the south and no remotely tidy way to link its Munros and Tops from its ‘named’ side! So perhaps it might be better termed the ‘Cralaig Horseshoe’ when it’s readily identifiable with A’ Chralaig as its dominant (highest) peak and you’ve also got Coire na Cralaig and Lochan na Cralaig in there? But (call it what you will) post the question on Facebook…

dig out the bike to cycle in by Loch Affric or take the shorter drive to mount a bloody-minded assault from the south?

And you get the answer from Marie Meldrum…

Bike in, with me… TOMORROW!!!

So that’s exactly what we did. Except that tomorrow’s now yesterday and we had to chuck in a bonus Corbett as well (!) to give a day’s total of not quite 12 miles cycling and nearly 21 miles on foot, with c.1,500 and 9,000ft of ascent respectively for the two modes of transport…

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But, since it would take me pretty well the 10 hours 38 minutes that took us (including a good couple of hours for bike stashing/recovery and leisurely food/camera stops) to describe the day in terms that do it justice, I’m just going to leave a selection of photos to speak largely for themselves with a few quick observations to get going. Like…

  • Total midge hell as we unloaded the van in an alternating flurry of semi-preparation and sweary ‘dancing’.
  • That lovely, atmospheric start (once midge-free!) to the traverse with morning mist drifting in and out of our space.
  • Marie’s belatedly-discovered, slow-burning lobster impersonation after declining the sunscreen she didn’t need but insisted I needed now.
  • Multiple ridge-crossing deer with young apparently (initially) oblivious of our presence on the rise up to Drochaid an Tuill Easaich.
  • Those lovely, broad, runnable ridges that don’t feel like the rugged ‘West Coast’ hills we know and love at all (perhaps because they’re not really?).
  • Stunning views from Ben Nevis and the Grey Corries to Torridon and beyond.
  • And Marie’s prolonged encounter with that too-cool-to-run mountain hare pair.

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19 July 2014

Along the Long Mountain

Filed under: Running — admin @ 3:52 pm

Too much local trail running and bashing over familiar hills so far this year for the near-endgame Munro/Top/Deletion quest to bear, but (in)sanity’s now restored with yesterday’s trip to collect the three tops of Beinn Fhada (Attow) and ‘singleton’ A’ Ghlas-bheinn with precious little else left within a couple of hours’ drive. And I had a lovely wee camera to test too, having just got the Panasonic GM1 after considering just the new 12–32mm (24–64mm equivalent) lens for my GF2 (hitherto my ‘climbing/running’ camera with the 14mm prime) before deciding to go the whole hog for the new tiny body as well…

Now, Beinn Fhada (the Long Mountain) didn’t get its name for nothing, but most of that length passes quickly enough on a broad and runnable ridge once you’re past the awkward and equally well-named Sgurr a’ Choire Ghairbh (Peak of the Rough Corrie), with the first mile or so of not-at-all-runnable ridge taking a similar length of time to the three or more that followed. And you’ll see I continued down to Loch a’ Bhealaich rather than backtrack for the (horrible) direct descent from Meall a’ Bhealaich to the Bealach an Sgairne, but might well have found easier going yet down my planned ridge from point 825 (blue dashes) than ‘short cut’ down Coire an t-Siosalaich. But it’s a pleasant run either way past the loch, with only modest re-ascent to the dramatic Bealach an Sgairne, after which A’ Ghlas-bheinn seems to go on a bit for such a comparatively wee hill, subsequently luring me into an uncompromisingly direct (= steep!) descent WSW when either the ‘Irvine Butterfield’ route north (approx. blue dashes) or ‘SMC Munros’ alternative WNW (blue dots) would surely have been nicer as well as probably both quicker.


So what of the new camera? Having checked just about every English-speaking review and video on the web, bought it and now taken it out on the hill for the day, I’ve no regrets whatsoever about going for body as well as lens. It’s seriously tiny for such a large-sensor camera and handles pretty well for something that size, with the few recurring gripes in otherwise generally rave reviews being pretty well non-issues for me. So many folk seem to have struggled with the control dial, but most of those who’re not just incredibly heavy-handed simply appear to be making incorrect assumptions about its operation. Likewise the much-criticised flash sync speed apparently necessitated by the hybrid mechanical/electronic shutter just isn’t an issue for me and my use. So, sure, I’d have liked a viewfinder as well as the screen, but you can’t have everything in such a tiny package (got one on the G2 I rarely take on the hill, but can’t even imagine lumbering this wee thing with the external EVF you might have been able to fit to the hot shoe it doesn’t have either) and the GM1/12–32mm combo’s just so well suited to outdoor, available-light photography on the move! :-)

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4 July 2014

Two big Saturdays

Filed under: Running — admin @ 2:24 pm

Had things turned out differently, this post might have been titled ‘Andy Cole was right’! And perhaps he deserved to be for his typically ‘Andy Cole’ analysis of my 2011 West Highland Way Race report:

Well done again Pete, and a super report. You’re far too young to feel that this race has had its best out of you yet. My prediction is that you’ll think again eventually and we’ll see you back on the start line in around 2014….

But anyone who’s seen the 2014 results will know that my attempt to live up to his long-buried, but quietly haunting, prediction fell somewhat short of the mark with a ‘comeback’ performance that’s left me pondering whether this race had indeed already ‘had its best out of me’.

So it started well enough with a typically steady mid-field run to Balmaha and somewhat swifter progression to Rowardennan as I began to get moving in the manner that’s worked for me on three previous occasions. But then it all just went horribly wrong as I was horribly sick (for the first time in any ultra) not long after Rowardennan and struggled forlornly through to Inversnaid with churning thoughts of withdrawal and knowing that I needed at least a good sit-down break to get sorted. So I sat in the Trossachs Search and Rescue van for some 20 minutes, phoning Eileen and Noel (who turned out to be parked up just across the Loch at Inveruglas) to let them know what was going on, then declining an offer to take me out by boat in favour of proceeding to Beinglas. Where I took a much bigger (40-to-50-minute?) lie-on-the-ground break before dribbling on to Auchtertyre with definite thoughts of packing it in, attracting a mini-lecture/pep talk from Richie Cunningham on the way in about how he’d never regretted anything more than the year he scratched at Auchtertyre, then yet another >= 20-minute break when I’d never sat down once between Milngavie and Fort William in 2011! But you just can’t take a decision of such finality passively and, despite the looming enormity of what still lay between me and a fourth finish from four starts, perhaps the ‘helpfully’ insinuating voices in my head were already at it with ‘it’s only three miles to Tyndrum, then you’re really starting to get somewhere at Bridge of Orchy and you’ll not pull out if you get to Glencoe’…


[Photo by Ian Anderson]

So that was that and, strangely enough, the engine that had hitherto been failing me started to show signs of life. Not driving consistently, but responding quickly to fuel whenever I could get it down. And I was starting to move at last, with inter-checkpoint splits progressively tumbling from a desperate worst of 143rd (Beinglas to Auchertyre) to more respectable 26th (Glencoe to Kinlochleven) before stabilising with a final 32nd through the Lairigmor and finishing time of 22:49:09. Which, despite being my worst by over half an hour, a good two hours slower than my best and more like three over my target, has to be a ‘good’ result in a totally unexpected way.

So what went wrong in the first half? To be honest, I just don’t know. It’s pretty well par for the course to find myself intermittently nauseous and perhaps more consistently struggling to take on the fuel I really need as I get deeper into an ultra, but I’ve never been sick like that before. But I’m not the only one who was sick, and others kept themselves going in far better style for far better times. So perhaps I was more sick than them or perhaps I’m just a big woos and simply didn’t try hard enough when I finished absolutely full of running, but guess the answer to that conundrum is lost with the end of the race! What I do know is that I was tired enough after c.32 hours (?) almost continuously awake to find myself literally asleep on my feet at one point approaching Bridge of Orchy, and (while such sleep deprivation is pretty normal when I’ve always had to work before travelling on the ‘race’ Friday) perhaps that had something to do with it? Whatever, I’ve never had such problems balancing hydration with food and especially the hydration required to enable eating at all when even things I’d normally regard as ‘moist’ just kept sticking to my mouth in a cycle of recurring dryness. But huge thanks to Noel and Eileen for seeing me through it all and getting me there!

And so to my second ‘big Saturday’, with a long-standing promise to see Marie Meldrum over the final run of the Celtman! Extreme Scottish Triathlon if ‘still standing after the West Highland Way’. And, whatever problems I’d had on the race, I was not only undeniably still standing but apparently making my quickest recovery (perhaps not so surprising from my slowest time!) and quite fit enough for a marathon-length trail and mountain ‘recovery’ run the following weekend…

So I was waiting with Donnie (Meldrum) for Marie to finish that monster 202km bike ride (and she’s quite the smiling wee monster on a bike!) at the Achnashellach transition area, where she arrived as first lady with an unknown but hopefully decent lead. But she quickly appeared in some distress on the long incline up to the Coulin Pass, with tight calves, swollen feet and pins and needles in apparently over-tight shoes leading to the somewhat risky decision to remove her socks, after which she ran for nearly six hours without! But it’s such a lovely run through to Glen Torridon once you’re over the top that we were soon making steady 9-minute miles with one largely downhill 7:38 that I thought getting just a little on the fast side for what was yet to come.

Now, thinking I was doing a good job looking after Marie, I was somewhat taken aback to find myself castigated by a zealous marshal (one of the organisers?) at the pre-mountain Torridon checkpoint for not automatically emptying/repacking her rucksack for him (‘poor’, or was it ‘bad’, support running, he said!) while she was intercepted by the TV crew. So we all got a little narked by that, but I’ve double-checked the Race Manual since, can’t see anything specifically delegating her kit check to me and guess we just have to put it down to unfortunate timing when we hadn’t expected her to be doing interviews instead of presenting her bag for inspection!

One steep ascent of Coire an Laoigh later and you’re onto the ridge between Spidean Coire nan Clach and Ruadh-stac Mor, where a couple of chilly showers in an otherwise stunning day saw Marie back in arm warmers and me donning hat and gloves for a while. And, with no chasing girls in sight as we returned (Marie’s hand bleeding from a wee stumble) from the out-and-back to Ruadh-stac Mor, I was truly starting to believe it was her day. But she clearly still needed much convincing, with her manically gabbled and quite palpably untrue ‘I love running’ mantra bringing disbelieving looks and queries from others not as ‘tuned in’ as me! So down the horrid scree gully and through the boulder field to Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair and you start thinking you’re home, but it’s still a helluva long way round the mountain, down to the road and along the road to the finish. Prolonged ‘first lady’ cheering from Zoe Newsam’s all-girl marshal team at the Coire Dubh Mor path junction and Marie’s energised into a big pace increase, but further on she’s seeing ‘girls’ chasing her in every guy (and we’d have to admit a few did get past) catching her up! So I had to bully her mercilessly along the road, by which time I was hurting too with the previous Saturday’s 95 miles starting to take their toll, but we got there still running with Marie (‘I’m not a runner’) having pretty well held onto a massive post-bike lead despite that slightly sticky Coulin Pass by completing the crucial ‘mountain’ part of the run quickest of all the girls to finish 33 minutes ahead of her nearest female competitor.

And that’s that, really. It’s a huge win in a major event for Marie, I’m quite enjoying basking in the reflected glory, hugely touched by some of the things she’s written and said about it all… and we’re talking about next year’s Norseman (with a possible recce to this year’s), for which she’s won a guaranteed place! :-)


[Photo by Donnie Meldrum]

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