Something potentially huge for this area, so please try to get to one of the meetings, folks!
From Andrew Baxter on Facebook:
Some really important meetings coming up next week to discuss how local residents can get involved in a bid for the community to own the Rio Tinto estates, so that the land is owned by the people who live here, not by a multinational company with remote shareholders.
The new East Lochaber and Laggan Community Trust has been set up in response to Rio Tinto Aluminium’s announcement that they would review the Lochaber smelter. The Trust is very keen to see the smelter continuing, if at all possible, and sees an opportunity to work with parties that might run the power stations in Kinlochleven and Fort William, and others that could operate the smelter and/or develop other employment options in the area.
The role of the community trust would be to own the estate, stretching from Kinlochleven across to Laggan. The Trust will be community led, appointing unpaid voluntary directors. We need to demonstrate widespread community support, so please come along to one of our meetings to find out more:
Monday 11th July 7 p.m. Inverlochy Village Hall
Tuesday 12th July 7 p.m. The Leven Centre, Kinlochleven
Wednesday 13th July 7 p.m Caol Community Centre
Wednesday 13th July 8 p.m Kilmallie Hall
Thursday 14th July 7 p.m. Spean Bridge Community Hall
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This was a much-anticipated outing, delving into the very heart of some fantastic Munro-free mountain country I’ve barely touched beyond repeated visits to the great Garbh Bheinn. While ‘built’ round the reigning peak of Sgurr Dhomhnuill (one of these classic cones like Sgurr na Ciche and Binnein Beag that just looks great from everywhere), it was also fuelled by ‘greed’ in realising that that whole central group was up for grabs in a hefty day’s round accessed by bike up Glen Scaddle…
So what to say about such a great day out? It’s quite big, with c.22 miles of cycling (15 off-road on rough, but generally solid, track with some stretches of Land Rover tire ruts deep enough to make pedalling awkward) and 12 under foot on rugged hills with big ups and downs. Some of the easier-angled ridges (like the east ridge of Carn na Nathrach and west of Beinn na h-Uamha) seem absolutely endless in ascent whereas others are, well, more fun. You get some cracking distant views of familiar peaks including (on a day when I’d have been running my tenth and probably last Ben Nevis Race had my summer gone to plan) that distinctive east-west aspect of the Ben to remind you that (in its upper part at least) it’s actually quite a narrow mountain. And Sgurr Dhomhnuill would quite simply be the finest peak for miles around but for the presence of nearby Garbh Bheinn. But where was everyone? For the fifth hill day in a row (the last four on Saturdays or Sundays) I saw no-one, despite a total ‘bag’ in that time of ten Corbetts, eight Corbett Tops, four Grahams and three Graham Tops. The key seems to be the absence of the word ‘Munro’, with only the most popular Corbetts and Grahams seeing comparable traffic. Which seems both a pity when there’s such good, rough, remote walking to be had on a round like this, and a blessing when these lovely ridges have remained comparatively uneroded by the passing of feet.
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A year gone by since our 2014 Norway holiday/Norseman recce and Marie, Donnie and I were back for Marie’s actual Norseman, which perhaps not surprisingly turned out to be a tougher gig for everyone than last year’s sightseeing fun trip with no ‘touristy’ days at all (the one obvious chance of last Thursday going begging with everyone basically just too frazzled after a 24-hour journey to head out again) despite much stunning scenery etc. still enjoyed over many hours of driving. So some interesting things noted in passing like Øye stave church, where we coincidentally stopped to change drivers en route from Oslo to Oppheim, and the Lærdalstunnelen (24.51km world’s longest road tunnel), which we drove through not that much later, but really it was all about the triathlon. And here Marie had a tough time (on her birthday!), not placing where she’d hoped/expected (something I can fully emphasise with after my 2014 West Highland Way Race struggle!) but characteristically fighting on to make the ‘black T-shirt’ cut-off, finish up Gaustatoppen and record the still-more-than-respectable time of 13:36:26 for the 1.9km open-water swim (shortened from 3.8km for cold water temperature), monstrously hilly, frequently chilly 180km bike ride and 42.2km run. So, Marie… we’ve waited a year to see you back up Gaustatoppen after the whole shebang, you got there in good shape even if you were struggling to run and we couldn’t be more proud of you if you’d won! :-)
2015 Norseman Results
Something I posted to Facebook a few hours ago that really deserves a more ‘permanent’ place here where anyone can read it. Facebook ‘friends’ can also read some nice responses over there. :-)
A strange tale of work/life balance, life/life balance, running, racing and depression…
As many of you know, 2015 was to be my last West Highland Way Race (with all the commitment that entails) before getting back to other things like fixing up the boat and doing more climbing. So I wanted to do well with 2014’s PW (personal worst) my main motivation for this final, final go. And my usual, slow-burning training build-up was starting to work with 22 modest running days on the trot through late January and early February before breaking the cycle for a windswept walking traverse of the Maoile Lunndaidh group and continuing more sporadically into March as frequently staying late to work with hitherto over-casual pupils started to mess with my routine and mind. At which point I found myself in the grip of a proper depressive episode (remember that ‘breaking point’ post?) as I saw no way of reconciling my work and play needs to provide the necessary platform for that satisfying final race and became angry knowing that the ‘prior’ claims of work would leave me forever feeling cheated here. But then my new boss told me I must run, to get home prompt one day and get straight out running, and we both agreed that running is the solution, not the problem (for which thank you, Rebecca!). After which I ran 40 from 46 days (proper runs!) through to that walking accident on the path to Carnmore and could have been looking at a respectable performance after all with a ‘big May’ to come. But now it’s all gone without killing off the Munros/Tops completion, I’ve been ambushed by a surprising sense of peace. In simultaneously really wanting and really not wanting to do that race again, it had *still* been getting me down, and it’s only now it’s gone *with work absolved from the blame* that something’s become clear; while running is still the solution (and will be again when the injury’s had some more recovery time), racing is part of the problem. Which is why there’s no going back on that ‘last year of running races’ thing despite the loss of the race that’s probably meant more to me than any other, and why you’ll *never* see me grace the starting line of that race again. It wasn’t just my work/life balance that was wrong but my life/life balance too, and the inexplicable accident that had me reduced to despair the night I did it has now proved to be the most effective depression cure yet!
If you got this far, well done, and thanks! :-)
‘Buffeting’ is a favourite word of the MWIS forecasts, carrying a windy warning with predictable (sometimes almost daily) regularity. But yesterday’s Northwest Highlands forecast didn’t say ‘buffeting’, it said ‘Southerly, marked increase with height to 50 to locally 60mph’ and ‘Walking conditions difficult across higher areas’. But, since it also said ‘Precipitation unlikely until nearly dusk’ and ‘Most summits cloud free’, I thought I’d just take the difficult walking conditions for an otherwise decent-looking day which (taking that 50 to 60mph as a baseline rather than peak figure?) turned out to be one of the windiest I’ve ever been stupid enough to spend on the hills!
While the agenda was quite simple, cycling from Craig in Glen Carron up the Allt a’ Chonais track to do Sgurr Choinnich, Sgurr a’ Chaorachain and Maoile Lunndaidh, its execution was anything but as I spent much of the day struggling to brace myself against flight across scoured, icy tops while trying to take half or quarter steps forwards without being thrown away the moment I lifted one foot. So it was tortuously slow, with crampons worn from Sgurr Choinnich (as advised for the descent down the far side by the solitary pair I met coming the other way) to the Drochaid Mhuilich and absolutely essential for the gnarly descent north-east off Bidean an Eoin Deirg, stubbornly kept on (in expectation of needing them again soon) where they weren’t doing any good up the western spur of Maoile Lunndaidh and finally taken off just before they’d have been useful again on top. And here I seriously considered crawling where Butterfield’s ‘ease of movement on the level summit’ was rendered wholly irrelevant by the most ferociously sustained wind of all, but salvation was soon at hand with increasing shelter on the descent back to Gleann Fhiodhaig and I made Glenuaig Lodge in one piece with my feet still on the ground!
So a wee look into the tiny Glenuaig Shelter (a shed with a single set of bunk beds and a misspelled nameplate) and, mindful of the fading light, I was hoofing it along the track back to my bike… on which, propelled by what shadow of the southerly hoolie had made it to the sheltered glen, I sailed back up the slight incline before the headlong descent to Glen Carron. Where I arrived at 5:40pm with the rain (‘Precipitation unlikely until nearly dusk’) just starting to spit and drove home in a downpour!
Almost no photos from the tops because, quite apart from the wind chill, I couldn’t hold the camera steady even sitting down with my elbows braced on my knees…
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While I’ve always regarded the Tops as part of the Munro game, I’d struggle to say exactly when the deleted summits became a non-negotiable part of my agenda. Pretty sure they were marked on the ‘3000 Plus’ wallchart I had as a student and kept for some years to record what I’d done, but that eventually got outdated through changes to subsequent editions and replaced by my custom digital mapping system. So perhaps it was when I first got the ‘Munros and Tops’ and ‘Corbetts’ spreadsheets from The Database of British and Irish hills, but I could certainly name hills going back a number of years where I was consciously visiting the deleted tops. Which occasionally resulted in the equally conscious decision to leave some outliers for another day (those skipped in 2010 and mopped up on 7 August this year being in that category), but annoyingly also in some easy-to-include but inconvenient-to-leave ones that just, well, got missed (like Ceann Garbh ‘old position’ and Beinn Gharbh in 2008).
Now I’d already had a pretty decent Christmas holidays on the hill with a day in the Cairngorms and the four-day North-West trip, but how about just one more day to go back for Beinn Gharbh to mop up the last outstanding deletion on a hill I’d already climbed? So, with a stunning Saturday forecast, that’s where I went yesterday, and what an effort for such a trivial summit! Except that, trivial as Beinn Gharbh may be on the scale of prominent or intrinsically-significant peaks, getting it done is psychologically probably the moment that my ‘endgame’ 601-top completion becomes truly endgame. A long, long traipse up and down Glen Bruar with the track too icy to cycle far, but you don’t know how much I wanted to colour that wee square!
So what about this bike and the icy track? When I’d done the ‘Ring of Tarf’ four Munros and two Corbetts (fortuitously picking up the deleted Munro Tops on Carn a’ Chalmain and An Sgarsoch but missing Beinn Gharbh) in 2008 with Noel Williams and a friend whose name might have been Dave but was actually Tim, they’d had bikes and I hadn’t. So we’d gone in via Glen Tilt, I’d run what they’d cycled (up to Forest Lodge) and I knew darn well how helpful bikes were for accessing remote hills on good tracks. So had the bike in the van yesterday hoping to find the long track from Calvine over to Glen Bruar and up to Bruar Lodge at least partially rideable, and was fooled into taking it by a pair setting off with bikes, ice axes and the same obvious objective (Beinn Dearg) just as I arrived. But then spied them again ahead walking without bikes where the clear track turned largely icy pretty well at the top of the first big hill (yes, the one you could walk up quicker!), quickly abandoned mine too and just had to buckle down to a frustratingly long plod on foot… my fault when the ride back down would be glorious in the right conditions, but you know how much I wanted to colour that wee square?
Apart from that it was a good day. Chilly, but overall probably the crispest and clearest of a Christmas holiday that’s given me six good hill days and effectively halved the required workload (from twelve days to six) to complete that Munro’s Tables all-time list. :-)
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This blog needs a ‘walking’ category. Can’t remember why I didn’t set one up in the first place (maybe I just thought I didn’t walk much?), but sometimes things get posted as ‘climbing’ or ‘running’ that are really more ‘walking’, so I just made a new category for them and hereby launch it with yesterday’s first ‘boots, axe and crampons’ (the last carried but not used) trip of the winter…
Now Beinn Bhrotain and Monadh Mor are two awkwardly-placed big hills (my final Monadh Ruadh/Cairngorms Munros) I was keen to get before any prolonged winter snows spoiled my chances of cycling in from Linn of Dee, and yesterday’s benevolent weather and SAIS forecasts were pretty well screaming ‘take the chance while you can’. So I was up at 4am and on my way within the hour to be leaving Linn of Dee at first light for a circuit which, being somewhat more ambitious than that described by Cameron McNeish as ‘a major undertaking’ in winter and ‘a long way for the short days of November’, was clearly just the ticket for 23 December ‘daylight’ with a good three hours of driving at either end!
Abandoning the bike at an almost random point on the single track above White Bridge where I was starting to carry it over more icy snow than riding it, I headed up over the former Munro of Carn Cloich-mhuilinn (sadly demoted to Top, although I’d agree it’s a ‘Top’, when Munro himself had been saving it for last) and still showery/cloudy Beinn Bhrotain to start opening up the most fabulously-lit views over Glen Geusachan to Bod an Deamhain and Ben Macdui as I descended to the bealach before Monadh Mor. But the chilly wind bit my fingers so hard as I dug out my camera for the first time that I simply had to replace my gloves, forget the photos, keep moving and hope I’d get the same chance on my way back. But I didn’t, so you’re not going to see them after more misty plodding over Monadh Mor and the deleted Top of Leth-chreag (where I had to cover two cairned and ring-contoured possibilities after neglecting to mark it on the map I took) led to a descent that looked attractive at the time but has to be slower than just repeating Beinn Bhrotain! And here I was glad of my axe (wouldn’t have considered it without!) to hack a few steps down the steepest top part and safeguard my continued descent down the easier-angled but icier continuation below before a long, long, boggy plod back to the bike with three indifferent photos in fading light along the way. And that’s it really… made the bike while I could still see, but needed the bike light for the ride out where I might have got away without had I taken the quicker (?) return option. But no real regrets there when I’d come prepared and the changing perspectives down Glen Geusachan were worth seeing. Of course walking’s so much slower than running or even part-running, but it was definitely a ‘boots’ trip and you’ll rarely see me running far in boots…
There are 18 Munros, 31 Tops and 22 Deletions now coloured in on my Cairngorms map, which is what you get for doing everything! And the new GPS does exactly the job I bought it for. :-)
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It’s not my first GPS device. I’ve got half a dozen now counting this new eTrex, two running watches (Forerunner 305 and 310XT), a nüvi 1390T for driving, a chart plotter on the boat and an old 8-channel GPS 45XL (which was my first), but most were bought for different purposes and only that old 45XL is truly superfluous now.
So why another GPS for the hill when map and compass works? And map and compass backed up by GPS grid refs (which I can get from the Forerunner 310XT) also works? Because map and compass backed up by mapping GPS or mapping GPS backed up by map and compass are quite simply slicker options. Until just under four years ago, I navigated the hills almost exclusively by map and (when necessary) compass. Then, after moving from a non-OS-grid-enabled GPS watch (Forerunner 305) to one that could give an OS grid ref (Forerunner 310XT), I added that to my armoury. But the 310XT’s still not primarily a navigating device, I like to keep moving in the hills (especially when dressed/equipped for running rather than walking/climbing) and find that stopping to transfer grid refs to map tends to interrupt my flow when doing so. So, just as I’ve moved from 1. just compasses, Breton plotters and paper charts for coastal navigation through 2. transferring lat and long from simple GPS to paper chart to 3. GPS chart plotter, I’ve found myself wanting a mapping GPS for the hill. And this new eTrex is light, compact, map-capable and relatively inexpensive with excellent battery life to boot. Not, retrospectively, the very ‘best’ deal on offer when I’ve since seen the likes of the GPSMAP 62s with complete GB Discoverer 1:50K (almost map + free GPS!) for what I paid for eTrex 20 and downloadable 1:50K Scotland, but then I didn’t want a GPSMAP 62s anyway (bigger, heavier) even if it might be ‘better’ in some ways!
So how does it perform? Judging from one local test run today, absolutely fine. It sits comfortably in the hand with accessible, glove-operable controls and the transreflective screen, while possibly brighter in summer conditions, is still adequately readable in December ‘daylight’. It can also be squeezed into the lower front pockets of my UD Fastpack 20 (which just wouldn’t take a beefier model), though I’m not sure they’d be my first choice storage when I’ve been using one for my keys and the other for my thumb compass so far. And I managed to fit a lanyard of decent weight (trainer shoelace) to the built-in lanyard eye though it took some considerable fiddling to get it through. My only real gripe concerns my downloadable map from Garmin at £119.99, which turns out to be tied to the device when a pre-programmed Micro SD at the same £119.99 wouldn’t be. But what’s done is done, and it’s probably a largely academic distinction when you’d lose your non-tied card anyway if you lost the device and I’ve no plans to purchase any more compatible devices in the near future…
Lurg Mhor is miles from anywhere… except Lurg Mhor! Frequently quoted as one of the very remotest Munros, I’d had it and its neighbour Bidein a’ Choire Sheasgaich on the radar all summer, but what better time to hit such remote peaks as the limited daylight of St Andrew’s Day? So it was up at 4:00am for a 5:00am start, arriving at Attadale on Loch Carron (nearest road access) in time for a wee snooze before it got light enough to start cycling without mounting lights at about 7:50am. And you’ve got ten miles of track just to get to the base of these hills, though it’s questionable whether it’s worth cycling beyond Bendronaig Lodge and Bothy at about eight miles… an extension I’d think slower in and quicker out by bike than walking/running, not to mention apparently discouraged by the car park sign I never read in the morning semi-dark:
Mountain bikes are welcome, however we ask that they be left at Beinn Dronaig Bothy when visitors are climbing the hills beyond.
So what can I say about these highly-prized peaks? Lurg Mhor was fantastic, with a more serious feel (greasy, chossy/mossy, care-demanding rock) to the narrow connecting ridge from Meall Mor than you might expect from its nominal Grade 1, but memorable also for the fog bow (at least that’s what I think it was) and one of the most stunning inversions I’ve ever seen (check the ‘inversion’ photo with Bidein a’ Choire Sheasgaich to the left and more distant Coulin Forest and Torridon peaks stretching out right). But then things clouded over completely, I started to get quite cold and wet for a while (one dogleg on the descent to the bealach where I lost the path and tried just following the ‘ridge’ before checking my position properly) and put the camera away on Sheasgaich. Which maybe disappointed slightly on this occasion for such an eagerly-anticipated peak simply because I hardly saw it (well, not at all after Lurg Mhor!), and is now most definitely filed under ‘revisit’. After which things started to brighten up again but not clear completely, and I was back at the bike for a late lunch and quick ride out, rolling down about half the track with the brakes on to hit the road by 3:15pm for a total time of 7 hours 22 minutes including a good hour of stops. And, while I’d seen absolutely nobody on the Fannichs the previous Sunday, I met half a dozen folk on these most interestingly remote hills.
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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.
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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