Petestack Blog

21 May 2017

Betwixt and between

Filed under: Running — admin @ 5:03 pm

Now here’s a tale of clag-enveloped peaks, complex terrain, contact lenses and the absence of reading glasses or lens-on-a-string combining to lead me astray and seek consolation/justification in a statement of the blindingly obvious. Which is quite simply that you’ll go wrong if you can’t see what you need to see (in this case not just the hills but the map and GPS as well)!

So I was looking for something to run on the way back from Oban because I had a contact lens check there yesterday morning, and settled on the interesting-looking round of three Grahams between Barcaldine and Bonawe. But I was surprised to get away from Specsavers still wearing my contacts when I’d expected to be changing into my glasses there, so hit the hills with contacts but no reading glasses or lens-on-a-string (my typically more practical, optician-suggested alternative). Which basically meant that I couldn’t read map or GPS detail at all, even zooming right in on the GPS. Which proved somewhat problematic because the terrain was complex and the weather flattered to deceive by closing right in after an encouraging (if brief) initial view of all my peaks. So all I could do was cross-reference what I could see of the map to what I could see of the GPS, and you’ll note that my track lurches about in an almost ‘drunk’ manner as I struggled to hold the high ground on long, vague ridges with innumerable bumps and knolls to confuse the issue and the clag limiting my views of same to the very ‘local’. That said, everything I did (including that final descent with great dogleg of a finishing flourish and my unknowing failure to visit the true summit of Beinn Mòlurgainn at all) was logical from what I could see at the time, and I left content to have picked up my three Grahams and Graham Top in such miserable conditions. Until I downloaded my track and looked at it, that is…

So what happened on Beinn Mòlurgainn? I’d remembered (from the SMC Grahams & Donalds guide) there were two summits, but assumed from what I could see of both hill and map that point 622 was one of them. So came to what I took to be the summit (in truth the lower top), which the map shows to have c.20m prominence (convincing enough if you can’t see the saddle or true summit beyond), looked like a summit, felt like a summit and (confirmed by revisiting today) came complete with cairn. So of course I then started descending towards Meall Dearg, and you can see how it happened if you remember I could see neither true summit nor detail on the map…

Anyway, to cut to the happy ending, I was back today in my (varifocal) glasses to put things right and ran in via a good deer track through the woods above the River Esragan to do just that. While still not getting quite the superb views promised by the SMC book (could see Starav, Trilleachan and Creach Bheinn but still no Cruachan, for which I’ll need to return yet again sometime), I could see enough (including more local hills, map and GPS!) to both collect my missed summit and confirm my previous day’s mistake as understandable. To which I might just add that this is a great wee group of hills that had virtually escaped my radar before. The clockwise round is pretty runnable over Beinn Bhreac and Màm Hael before becoming less free-flowing from the crossing of Beinn Mòlurgainn to summit of Beinn Mheadhonach, where the fine north-east ridge I ascended yesterday proved to be surprisingly steep, well-defined and sportingly scrambly. But how this cracking little peak got its name puzzles me when I’m struggling to see it as the ‘middle’ of anything!

As for contacts vs. glasses, the jury’s still out but tempted to say both suck when glasses can become virtually useless through rain or steaming up and contacts leave me with potentially insoluble reading problems where the reading glasses or lens-on-a-string don’t provide the whole answer and even varifocal contacts probably wouldn’t work for me…

15 May 2017

Circles on the coffin road

Filed under: Running — admin @ 10:24 pm

While I could tell you I enjoyed the good trail through the flat-floored, almost ‘secret’, hanging valley of Coire an t-Suidhe so much I had to run it three times (once northwards and twice southwards), I’d be lying when the ugly truth behind that third visit to such a delightful place is that I simply made one of the most inexplicably bad navigational mistakes of my life…

Tonight’s run over the historic coffin road/miners’ path from near Strontian to Polloch started well enough bar a much smaller mistake when I missed the turn at Scotstown. But it was coming back that I really surpassed myself, taking a short-lived ‘path’ the wrong way after rejecting the inauspicious-looking alternative I’d descended barely three-quarters of an hour earlier as ‘wrong’, compounding the error by refusing to reverse 100m or so and trying to outflank the forest instead, digging myself an even deeper hole by diving into said forest (fine if you like wading through mud with twigs poking out your eyes!) when the flanking manoeuvre led to a steep burn in a non-existent gap rather than the clear space suggested by the map, and all the time failing to notice I’d become disorientated and was heading completely in the wrong direction! So three thoughts on popping out into the coire… 1. thank goodness I’m out of that forest, 2. this looks familiar and 3. damn, what an eejit!

Apart from that it was a good run and I enjoyed most of it. But good thing I’m strong enough to take what I get myself into!

13 May 2017

Tempting tracks

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:46 pm

Today’s run was not 100% what I had in mind, but close enough…

The original plan was to take the ridge of A’ Chruach the whole way to Rannoch Station and return by the track/path, but I followed this tempting, runnable ATV track off the summit that took me away from the ridge but saved traversing some more peat hags!

At 24.2 miles, it interestingly turned out slightly shorter on the ground than taking the track/path both ways and didn’t take much longer, perhaps because the hill wasn’t really much harder than the ‘telegraph pole’ section of the regular route and I was properly fuelled this time. A’ Chruach is a strange, sprawling mass of a Graham with its highest point Stob na Cruaiche about as un-stob-like a ‘peak’ as you could imagine. Having skipped the eastern extension of its ridge, I did briefly consider just doubling straight back along the Loch Laidon track to Kings House, but dismissed not continuing to Rannoch Station as ‘cheating’ when I’d set out with a certain mileage in mind. Strange how I somehow contrived to have the wind in my face in both directions, and (with the long, dry start to May finally coming to an end) I did also encounter something I believe to be called ‘rain’ on the way back, but I was happy enough with my time of just outside 5 hours when the good track at either end stops for the hill and the ‘path’ in the middle of respective outward and homeward legs. Also happy with c.62 trail/hill miles from four days (well, mostly evenings) actual running since Monday giving me a third day of the week ‘off’ tomorrow. One good thing about fewer, longer runs is getting more breaks, which I can really appreciate (even when tempted to forgo them) knowing what a year of basically running daily three-milers did to me.

8 May 2017

Strontian running

Filed under: Running — admin @ 11:37 pm

Two Mondays a fortnight apart, and two evening runs after a day’s work in Strontian. Hard now to believe the first was snatched from an iffy late April day with periodic snow showers, but tonight (perhaps registering the continuously sunny start to May?) I finally rolled up my sleeves and carried the unworn hat and gloves I could probably also have left off on Saturday!

While the first run was good after the false start (I nearly innocently said ‘dead end’!) of the graveyard in taking me through fine woods in a fine glen up to the old lead mines, the real ‘wow factor’ of the view (when not obscured by sometimes-white precipitation) inevitably came from the proximity of my much admired but only once previously visited peak of Sgurr Dhomhnuill. So of course I went back for it this fine evening, taking more or less the same route but starting from the higher Forestry Commission car park I ran past last time and ascending the alternative path below the mines I meant to come back down before but didn’t after missing its less obvious top end. And that’s about it really… a fabulous run in hot, but clear, conditions with great views from a rugged peak I’ve truly come to love for both its shapely presence in views from everywhere and fitting quality on increasingly closer acquaintance. To which I might just add (almost as an afterthought) that I’m starting to feel pretty fit as well! :-)

7 May 2017

Lairig Quartet

Filed under: Running — admin @ 12:25 pm

Two days (Thursday and Saturday), two runs I’d rate among the finest of their type anywhere, four famous Lairigs (Eilde, Gartain, Ghru, an Laoigh) and three fairly ordinary runners…

With Saturday’s run weighing in at nearly four times the length of Thursday’s, this post could just as easily have been titled ‘Little and Large Lairigs’. But there’s nothing ‘little’ about my favourite Glen Coe ‘Two Lairigs’ run repeated on a bright and breezy Thursday evening as a prelude to Saturday’s meatier Cairngorms circuit apart from its relatively modest length of about 8.5 miles. It’s big on quality and big on scenery, but the Cairngorms Lairig Ghru/Lairig an Laoigh circuit at the thick side of 32 miles through higher hills is just, well, bigger!

So I was going to do the Cairngorms circuit anyway but thought some company might be nice, asked if anyone wanted to come, and Donna MacDonald and Keith Mabbott both jumped right in! So I picked up Donna on my way through the Fort yesterday morning, we met Keith at the Rothiemurchus trailhead, and off we went. And you might just get some idea of scale from the very first photo if you can spot Keith and Donna on the trail into the Lairig Ghru with Lurcher’s Crag towering up above…

Now the Lairig Ghru was quite busy and we met numerous parties including a couple of quite big ones traversing the pass from south to north (i.e. coming towards us). Including the one in the sixth photo above, where we found ourselves talking (small world in big scenery?) to the wife of the second Vet 50 in last weekend’s Highland Fling race! But then after the drama of the big, rough Lairig Ghru comes a change that’s as dramatic in its own way as you turn eastwards through (well, initially towards) Glen Luibeg to the softer landscape of Derry Lodge and Glen Derry. And here, in a country of beautiful old Scots pines, flatter ‘floors’, sparkling water courses and good tracks, we started to meet the mountain bikers (sometimes clearly as initial access to a walk higher up) as well as more walkers.

If turning the first ‘corner’ eastwards out of the Lairig Ghru is an important moment in the psychology of the whole route, turning the second northwards at Derry Lodge not so very long afterwards is doubly so when you’re talking approximately half-distance and heading towards your starting point (albeit still many miles distant) for the first time rather than further away. Not that I was ‘counting’ when I was enjoying myself so much and prefer (so long as it remains enjoyable) just to keep living for the moment on a run like this, but I’m sure it was a help to Donna trying to pace herself carefully on the unknown quantity of her first ultra-distance run. And what can you say about Glen Derry except ‘wow!’, when the third photo below in particular just brings home the continued change in character from the first ‘corner’ and emphasises the otherworldliness of this flat-floored glen where you find it. (You can see the pass of the Lairig an Laoigh where we’re heading directly above Keith and Donna to the right of Beinn Mheadhoin and left of the trees.)

Still a long way to go, however, so I broke out the jelly babies to help fuel the team up to the Lairig an Laoigh, where we saw a helicopter apparently on exercise but were otherwise alone (just the three of us) for a few miles till we started meeting folk again on the penultimate major ‘corner’ round Bynack More.

So then you start to feel like you’re getting there as you come round Bynack More and down towards the Ryvoan Pass, but you’ve still a quarter-distance (equating to a whole Glen Coe Lairigs run) to go. But it’s very runnable and, while taking the uphills on the steady side, Donna had Keith and me working hard enough to reel her in downhill whenever we stopped to take photos or whatever!

And you have to finish in style, so Donna wanted a finishing tape and I (poised with camera) just yelled ‘right to the van, Donna!’

Now here (out of the main sequence of my photos) are a few pics I’ve ‘borrowed’ from Keith to prove that I was actually there and not just a solitary apparition at the Fords of Avon! You might wonder at the constant long sleeves, hat and gloves on such a warm day, so I just have to tell you I was thinking sun protection with the sleeves, the hat likewise stayed on mainly to protect the top of my head and I almost always run in gloves even when short-sleeved and hatless because my hands tend to run cold (sometimes debilitatingly so) at any time. So perhaps I look overdressed in the photos, but never felt particularly so…

So (while most of this post has been about the Cairngorms circuit) how do the ‘little’ and ‘large’ Two Lairigs compare? Well, they’re both classics of their kind, which is to say among the very best mid-level, through-hill, trail runs you could imagine. The ‘little’ one (Glen Coe) works for me as a midweek evening run whereas the other (Cairngorms) is a major expedition which even more capable candidates than us might be pushing to complete as a casual evening outing. Much as I love the shorter one, the more ‘epic’ scale of the longer probably ultimately gives it that extra something. The best run of its type and distance on the planet? So many great places I’ve never been but, on a day like we had, quite possibly… on which note I’m certainly deeply satisfied and know Donna’s ‘still buzzing’! :-)

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