The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Sunday 7 July 2024

Kit for Pennine Way Jaunt

I went relatively lightweight for this trip – not too difficult a thing when you’re only out for a day and a half. Here (for my own benefit) are a few thoughts on the kit I took.

Pack –A Gossamer Gear 30-litre backpack turned out to be the perfect size for this outing. It was comfortable enough with the weight too, but I concluded that the convenience of the extra pockets of my Osprey Exos means I’m unlikely to choose to use this one again for a backpacking trip.

Tent – Connie is a Laser Competition bought in 2010, but sufficiently lightly used that she still has plenty of life left in her. She’s also our only one-man tent, so that’s what I took. She was a bit flappy in the wind, but otherwise I had no complaints about her.

Sleeping bag – My PHD Minimus 300 has gone beyond the end of its useful life. It served me well for just about every backpacking trip between 2008 and mid-2014 (including LEJOG, K2CW and EtoW, amounting to 25 weeks between them, plus a whole lot of shorter trips). It was fine for this outing, but certainly wouldn’t keep me warm on a cold night. My blog tells me that I dithered over forking out the £109 this sleeping bag cost me in 2008 as it seemed like a lot of money; the equivalent now costs £700. I think I can safely say that I won't be replacing it!

Insulated vest – I made this very badly in 2016 and it’s still a very functional bit of kit. I could, perhaps, do with some separate arms for cold weather.

Sleeping mat – I’ve been using a Thermarest NeoAir in the short length for some years, which is fine when I’m with Mick as I can pop my feet on his (longer) sleeping mat. The short length was okay with my feet on my backpack, but without a doubt a longer mat would have been more comfortable. The conundrum of weight versus comfort.

Water Filter – Like my sleeping bag, I think my water filter (a Sawyer mini) has been a water filter too long as, even though I back-flushed it before this trip, the flow rate was awful. I bought it in January 2015, so it’s 9 years old, but I don’t feel like it’s had a massive amount of use. Still, at £25, it would probably be a wise investment to get a new one.

Rain Skirt – I came into possession of a ULA Outdoor Gear rain skirt a couple of months ago and although I’ve carried it a few times, this is the first time I’ve worn it.  I was impressed! In the same way that we classify Rita Rainbow as an excellent tent for situations where you don’t really need a tent, I thought this rain skirt was going to be an excellent bit of wet weather gear for when you don’t expect wet weather. I now think it’s far more functional than that. There’s no faffing with standing on one leg to force a foot through over-trousers, and no getting mud inside the legs in the process. Instead I could just reach behind me into a side pocket, pull out the skirt and put it around my waist (it’s sold as a ‘kilt’, so it wraps around and fastens with Velcro not just at the waist but in three places down its length). It proved to be functional (it kept my cropped tights dry) and surprisingly warm. Thanks to its design, it even performed well in the wind (I remember a chap using a rain skirt on the TGO Challenge a few years ago and his description of how, in the wind, it turned into more of a rain bonnet).  I wouldn’t choose it for a long backpack where you might get lots of wet weather combined with cold, where full-leg protection would be preferable, but on this trip, and for many of my day outings, this will be my garment of choice.

75g and it packs up small. Purple glasses case included for scale. 

Battery pack – Continuing the theme of old kit failing... I wasn’t going to take any means to charge with me for such a short trip as I now have a phone with a decent battery. Then, just in case, I decided to take a small auxiliary battery and a couple of charging cables (phone and watch). I duly made sure the battery was fully charged, and over breakfast on Wednesday morning I thought I may as well top my phone up a bit. ‘A bit’ proved to be 1% before the aux battery went from full (four lights), skipped over 3 and 2 lights, and started flashing one light, at which point it stopped charging. Our other battery block is big and heavy, so I may well replace this smaller one. 

Watch – For my birthday last year Mick bought me a fancy GPS watch and was understandably miffed when I promptly sent it back without opening it. Awaiting surgery, I didn't know when next (if ever) I would be able to get back to running distances that would warrant such a watch. I reasoned that if I did get to the point where it would be a worthwhile item for me to have, then the chances were that the spec would have increased or the price decreased. Last month I let him buy it for me again (and yes, the price had gone down quite a bit). I’m still finding my way around everything it can do, but for this outing I set it to ‘Ultra Run’ mode (this wasn’t a run, but there was some functionality in that mode that I wanted to try) and told it to use the second highest power consumption mode. After 12 hours of use in GPS mode, it still had 48% battery remaining. A big step up compared to my old watch. (post blog note: it’s now Sunday evening, 6 days since it was last charged and as well as 2 days recording my every move on the Pennine Way, it has also recorded two 30-ish minute runs, as well as having daily use as a watch. It still has 10% left.)

Shoes – I had a last minute change of plan as to which shoes to wear, switching from my Inov8 (hmmm, no idea what model) to my Mizuno Mujins. Both pairs are on their last legs (bought in 2021 and with over 900km on the Inov8s & 1200km on the Mizunos), and it was perhaps a bit of a risk, as I’ve not worn the Mizunos for ages. The risk paid off – they were superbly comfortable and if they hadn’t vastly changed the design in the four model increments since I bought mine, I would buy another pair right now. The only problem with them is that the cuff seems to act as a scoop, and the tread pattern as a shovel. I was thus constantly kicking grit from the tread of one shoe over the cuff of the other. I would put up with the grittiness for as long as I could before tipping a handful out of each shoe. Really should have taken my mini-gaiters.

A Pennine Way Jaunt

Tuesday 2 July - Edale to Laddow Rocks
Distance and ascent: 31km, 1200m
Weather: Dry with plenty of sunshine.
We had a need to be in Halifax on Wednesday afternoon this week, so I thought I'd grab the opportunity for a logistically-easy (relatively speaking) overnight backpacking trip. Mick would drop me at the train station on his way to an appointment on Tuesday morning, I'd catch the train to Edale, I'd walk to Nikki's Snack Bar (next to where the PW crosses the M62) and Mick would pick me up from there on Wednesday.

A train ticket was bought, then I thought a little further about timings and realised that covering 26km by 1130 on Wednesday (the time by which Mick needed to pick me up on order to reach Halifax in time) might be a bit of an ask. I soon came up with a fall-back plan: if I continued on to The White House then there's an hourly bus direct to Halifax.

Plan sorted, all I had to do was execute it.

The train journeys went smoothly, but I stumbled as I left Edale station and fell into the adjacent building...

Always best to start a walk well fuelled and hydrated.

It was 1115 as I stepped back outside, donned my pack and strode off up the road. I should add that I had gloves on. And a fleece and a windshirt. It's July for goodness sake!

I've been out on the southern most end of the PW (as far north as Pinhaw Beacon) enough times in recent years that I pretty much know the way now, so there was no faffing with navigation as I set out across the fields towards Upper Booth.

Last time I set out from Edale (August 2021), it was quarter past seven in the morning and I only met a handful of people. Turns out it's a whole lot busier as lunchtime approaches and many a greeting was exchanged, although I only had a conversation with a couple who had been sitting near me on the train who I suspected were headed to Kirk Yetholm. They were.

I don't think I would be exaggerating to say that I saw 50 more backpackers as the day went on, with D of E groups making up the majority. There were even more day walkers.

That cake from the cafe? It was huge, so I saved the second half for Kinder Low.

Thanks to the great slab of cake, I decided to postpone lunch until 2pm. The problem was that by then I was on my way from Mill Hill to Snake Road and there is absolutely nowhere to pause along that section when ground conditions are wet, unless you plonk yourself down in the middle of the flags, and there were too many people around for me to take that option.

So, it was ten past three by the time I finally found somewhere to sit that was out of the cold wind (and, happily, during a sunny spell, so it was rather a pleasant little break).

By the time I went over Bleaklow I was out of water, so at Torside Castle I took a minor upstream diversion and set about filtering some peaty water. That did not go well for two reasons: 1) despite having back flushed the filter before leaving home, the flow rate was appalling. I think it may be time for a new filter. 2) I'd taken soft bottles with me, which meant that I didn't have a solid bottle that I could stand on the ground to leave both hands free for the filtering. The combination of a filter that has been a filter too long + only having one had free to squeeze the bottle was not good. Rather than getting my pot or mug out to solve the problem I just sucked water straight from the filter, but even that was hard going.

The final D of E group was passed just before Torside and just beyond the dam I availed myself of the bench to sit and have a chat to Mick.

I had toyed with staying at the campsite at Crowden, but the only benefit I could see was the availability of drinking water, and the cost (besides the money) was the extra distance. Given tomorrow's tall order of time versus distance, I decided to continue on a couple more kilometres.

From my recollection I didn't think it would be too difficult to find a pitch just before Laddow Rocks. What I hadn't accounted for was the growth of bracken since our last visit three months ago. No panic, as there's always somewhere campable to be found (even if the definition of 'campable' gets broader as the day goes on).

A series of faffs then ensued. The first potentially campable spot would have only sufficed if really desperate, but I took the opportunity to refil my filter bottle. At the next stream there was no flat, bracken free land, but I filled my other bottle in preparation for a dry camp, and pinned my hopes on Black Chew Head. In between time I examined the landscape and checked the upcoming contour lines on the map a number of times.

The final climb of the day was slow. I was tired by now having walked 30km with only one ten minute sit down break. As the gradient of the PW levelled out, I left the trail to go slightly further uphill on the path towards Chew Reservoir, and almost immediately I had confidence that I would find a suitable spot up there.

A few hundred metres later I veered off they path and had a decision to make: to pitch hidden in a dip notwithstanding the forecast for heavy rain overnight, or to pitch on high ground, safe from overnight flooding, but visible from the path. I decided the peace of mind of being hidden was of more value to me, so picked the highest of the low ground and as the clock struck seven, Connie Competition was pitched. 

I think it's six years since Connie Competition was last seen out in the wild

A fine rain started to fall as I was faffing with her tension, making me think I'd timed my day well, but it turned out to be a short-lived misting of rain, so even if I'd still been walking it wouldn't have troubled me.

Two cups of tea, a big pot of food and another cup of tea refreshed me and after a disjointed text chat with Mick (I could only get a phone signal by standing on the higher ground 10m from the tent, and it was too cold to stand out there for long in one go) I took myself off to bed.

Wednesday 3rd July - Laddow Rocks to A640
Distance and Ascent: 19.9km, 570m
Weather: Heavy rain overnight, but dry whilst walking save for one prolonged shower. Cold and windy. 

I lay down for 6.5 hours overnight, but the best that can be said is that I dozed sporadically. The main culprits were the Manchester Airport flight path (do they not have a curfew?!), the heavy rain that started at midnight and, to a lesser extent, the gusty wind. Having such a big meal at gone 8pm probably didn't help either.

At 4am the rain eased temporarily and I lay there listening to the nearby babbling stream, until it occurred to me that I hadn't pitched anywhere near a stream and maybe I should take a quick peak outside to see if I was in danger of being washed away. Satisfied that the newly developed stream was a good metre away, I settled back down for another short while, before getting up at 0430. I figured that if I was walking by 0530 then I should make it to the M62 in time.

At 0516 I took a video snippet, really just for the audio of the rain, which was again hammering down. Then a miracle occurred - as I unzipped the tent and stepped outside, it stopped!

It was 0545 by the time I actually set out, soon rejoining, and returning along, the path that had been completely dry less than 12 hours earlier but that now bore a remarkable resemblance to a river. The Laddow Rocks path is flatter, so that was just one big puddle, overhung by sopping vegetation.

Given the amount of rain, I expected the fords (that had caused us to take a diversion in April) to be running deep, but I got across both without getting my feet wetter. Conversely, the sunken flagstones nearer to Black Hill were much deeper in water than they had been on that previous outing (so I went round and got my feet just as wet crossing the bog as I would have if I'd just waded along the flags).

I'd been tired since the moment I'd started walking and wasn't perking up, so as I went over Black Hill I was pinning my hopes on the snack wagon at the road crossing. I'd boiled (to save the pain of filtering) half a litre of water last night, and figured that a big mug of tea at the snack wagon would not only perk me up, but would also provide enough fluid for me not to need to worry about refilling again.

Mick phoned me as I started down the other side and confirmed my thought - if I could see the road but couldn't see the snack wagon, then the snack wagon wasn't there. What a blow! Admittedly it was early (just gone 7am) but I was hoping that today it had gone out to serve the commuter traffic.

To add insult to lack-of-water it started to rain just after I passed the layby-without-snack-wagon. At least no rain-gear faffing was needed. For warmth I'd been wearing full waterproofs, including waterproof mitts over fleece gloves (not to mention woolly hat and a buff - come on July, what are you doing?!) since I'd set out. 

Considering the amount of water I'd encountered after the overnight rain, the streams running into the Wessenden Reservoirs were strangely empty. I eventually found a barely flowing, accessible stream and filled a bottle. 

That's some stone staircase! Note the masses of rocks either side. Someone either massively over-ordered or they've taken measures to stop people from bypassing the staircase.

When I'd spoken to Mick earlier I'd told him that, if I had a signal at 9am, I would let him know whether he was to meet me at the M62 or the A640 (3k short of the M62), as in my state of tiredness I couldn't face the longer day to the White House plus a long bus journey. I'd been doing repeated mental calculations and by 0830 had decided it felt like too much of a rush to reach the M62, particularly as I had in mind that it would be nice to stop and brew a cup of tea rather than fighting with the water filter. I found just about enough signal to convey most of that message, and onwards I went, soon stopping to divest myself of my waterproofs and buff, and to switch hat and gloves for more summery options (cap and fingerless gloves). I then proceeded in a state of barely warm enough. 
Swellands Reservoir was completely empty, and a wooden roadway has been constructed on the north side of it, presumably to allow access to whatever plant is required to perform whatever repair/maintenance it has been emptied for. Soon after, I approached the A62 where I encountered a dog walker. Along with the dog walker I'd met by Wessenden Reservoir, they were the only people I saw on this day; what a contrast to yesterday! (Admittedly, leaving Laddow Rocks before 6am probably had quite a bit to do with how quiet it was.)

Empty reservoir

Wooden roadway 

By now I'd realised that I'd miscalculated and, even with my extended faff to change clothes, I would have had plenty of time to reach the M62. What I couldn't do was convey this to Mick. I felt sure he would have his phone available for a hand's-free call, but I didn't want to distract him and have him need to reset his destination whilst driving when there was no good reason not to stick with the plan. I contemplated three options: 1) pitch the tent for an hour; it would give it chance to dry out and give me shelter; 2) continue walking towards the M62, then double back, thus doing the distance even if not reaching the destination; 3) just go to the car park and wait. 
I went for the third option, although it was such a strong and cold wind in the car park that I sat on the flagstone path just below it, put on ALL of my clothing (did I mention that I'm a bit disgruntled with this weather in July?!) and finally used the water I'd picked up all of those miles before by making that cup of tea I'd been hankering after. I was, incidentally, sitting next to two streams, but as I'd taken the trouble to carry that water from Wessenden, I was jolly well going to use it. 
The timing didn't work out too badly in the end, as Mick had set out a few minutes earlier than intended and had a good run of traffic, thus just as I finished my cup of tea I saw Erica-the-campervan trundling up the road and a minute later I was sitting in her lovely and warm interior. About five minutes after, both Mick's and my phone went ping simultaneously. Mick had just received my message saying I was sitting just below the car park; I had received Mick's saying he'd just arrived in the car park.

As for the kit I carried on this trip, I think it deserves a post of its own. 

Thursday 30 May 2024

Mendick Hill, Black Mount and Broomy Law

 Sunday 26 May

After spending a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon in Arbroath, sampling wares such as the Arbroath Smokie Fish Pie from Cel's on the harbour...

...and some expensive and not particularly nice chips from a harbour chippy, heavy rain came in overnight.

Faith was put in the forecast that the rain would abate around noon and not restart in earnest until 4pm, so towards this collection of three hills we headed. 

Overview of the three gpx files I recorded
Mendick Hill (NT 12155 50530; 451m)
Start Point: Minor road opposite monument to N of Dolphinton
Distance and ascent: 7.5km, 270m
Weather: if I got rained on on this one, it wasn't more than a few drops
I did the head of the lollipop clockwise
Most people (or most people who log their hills on approach this hill from West Linton Golf Club. That didn't suit a Bertie-sized vehicle, so I opted to approach from the opposite end of the track that runs past this hill. Poring over the map, I'd contemplated continuing along the track to take the 'usual' route, or to go up the SW spur, but decided to defer that decision until I was on the ground, looking at what lay before me. 

Having decided that the more direct route looked feasible, I would have started ascending before Ingraston, except that field held both sheep and cows, and I wanted to disturb neither. As it went, I did disturb three (one with a spindley-legged new-born) who were on the track, two of whom took fright even though I'd explained to them quite clearly what I was doing and reassured them that they needn't moooove on my account.
Once through the next gate, opposite the farm buildings, the hillside was attacked head on. Eeeeh, that was steep! Things then got easier from a gradient point of view, but was harder than expected underfoot (not the first time I've been caught out by rough terrain in these parts, where I expected grazed fields). Fortunately, the route worked out nicely from a gate point of view - every fence I encountered had one,  even if only one of them was of the opening variety. 
It was somewhere towards the summit, making my way through long, wet grass that I became aware that I wasn't the first person up this hill today. There were definite shoe-shaped imprints in that grass at the right distance apart for someone just a touch taller than me. 
I'd intended going back more or less the way I'd come, but my attention was elsewhere as I left the summit and by the time I realised that I was descending steeply, rather than following the ridge, I didn't feel inclined to reascend. Probably a good call for two reasons: friendlier terrain and I had a stoat/weasel run in front of me as I made my way back along the track. It's ages since I last saw one.

Okay, so in the scheme of Marilyn-bagging terrain, this is reasonably tame, but it felt rough compared to my mental picture of grazed fields
Summit views

Back at Bertie, I shoved a piece of fish pie into my mouth, then it was onwards to...
Black Mount (NT 07995 45965; 516m)
Start Point: Track end to NE of Kirkhouse (no parking here)
Distance and ascent: 4.7km, 250m
Weather: Showers, only one heavy/long enough to get me wet

I had intended to tackle this one from the same start point as Mendick Hill, but in the interests of me fitting in all three hills and making it to Shap by bedtime, I begged a lift to the track end from Mick, even though it meant him doing a bit of back-and-forthing, as there's nowhere to park in the vicinity of my start point. 

Beyond Kirkhouse the track became a lovely grassy one, which took me through a patch of woodland then through a field of sheep, before making me huff and puff to reach a gate from where I would strike off up the hill. The gate proved to be in the 'wrong' fence, and didn't allow me access to where I needed to be, but a bit of limbo dancing (where I'm sure many have limbo danced before) got me to the right side, and upwards I went.

The steepness was made more difficult by the area of landslip that, whilst stable, wasn't an entirely firm surface. It was just before I got back on to solid ground that the rain started.

By the time I got to the top of the steepness, picking up a trodden line for the relatively-level final kilometre to the summit, I was contemplating donning something waterproof. If I had taken the trouble to do that, I wouldn't have been quite as cool when I reached the trig point...

It's seen better days. What did someone attack it with, and why?

Before I tripped over the fence behind me
...and maybe if I hadn't been so cool I wouldn't have tripped over the fence as I stepped over it to investigate whether the ground was higher on the other side. 

Not fancying the steep, loose surface of the landslip on the way down, at an appropriate point I stepped over the fence (more elegantly than at the summit) and cut a corner. That involved wet deep heather, new growth bracken, and lumps and holes hidden by all of that. Fortunately, the fence I needed to cross on the way was also easily step-overable and soon I was trotting back along the track, summoning Mick on my way to come and pick me up from the track end. From there it was another short drive to...

Broomy Law (NT 08547 42876; 426m)
Start Point: track end at NT100444
Distance and Ascent: 4.4km, 170m
Weather: Bit of rain early on, then dry

I'd identified a pull-in just E along the road from the track along which I was going to start my approach to this hill, but what I hadn't been able to see on StreetView was how slopey it was. That wouldn't have been a problem if my plan hadn't been for Mick to cook tea whilst I was out, so that we could eat as soon as I was back, so that we could reach Shap before bedtime. Fortunately, a few yards away from the pull-in, there was a large track entrance and it seemed unlikely anyone would want access to the gateway at that time on a Sunday afternoon, so the plan wasn't scuppered.
The track I took only lasted for a matter of paces, but beyond it there was a trodden line which took me all the way through the moorland (the area to my right had been recently mowed/churned up; no idea why). A gate into field of sheep and a small down and back up, took me to a summit littered with masts. Not the most inspiring location, but I had no intention of loitering. 
My legs protested a small amount at the re-ascent on the way back, but otherwise I jogged my way back down to Bertie, arriving just before my tea was put on the table. 

Saturday 4 May 2024

Creag Meagaidh (1130m) and Beinn Chaorainn (1052m)

Thursday 2 May
Start Point: Creag Meagaidh Nature Reserve car park
End Point: track end by Roughburn
Distance and ascent: 21.8km, 1350m
Weather: Mainly sunny. Warm when in sun and out of wind; cold when out of sun and in wind. Unpleasantly windy atop Beinn Chaorainn.

We needed to vacate Newtonmore Hostel's parking area for a couple of nights and, rather than parking Bertie out on the road, we opted to take him for a minibreak.I knew Creag Meagaidh's car park to be a good place to spend the night, and I had unfinished business with the hill (I aborted a visit to it in mid-May 2018), so this is to where we came.

It seems that most people opt for a circuit (plus out-and-back spur) to include two other Munros to the NE, but they aren't as interesting to me as other hills nearby, as they're not Marilyns. More interesting to me was nearby Beinn Chaorainn, which (it seems) most people combine with Beinn Teallach. The latter is also of interest to me, but I didn't want to overdo it, considering that I also did what I believe to have been the longest bike ride of my life yesterday (off-road, on a commuter Brompton folding bike), although don't be wowed by this effort as I'm not a cyclist and it was only 32km.

As we set out at 0815, there was a bit of cloud hanging over the Munros we weren't doing, but otherwise the sky was clear and there was just a gentle breeze. We were soon down to our shirt sleeves, which lasted until we approached The Window, where a cooler wind hit us.

It was also on that approach that we heard a big crack, following by the sound of boulder tumbling from high above. Fortunately it was behind us, as it was a fair size and having that coming towards us would have been alarming in the extreme (as it went, it stopped before it reached the path).

We parted ways at the summit. Mick to hot-foot it back down to Bertie, so that he could drive 8 miles up the road to pick me up, and me to continue over Beinn Chaorainn.

The descent from Creag Meagaidh was lovely, on springy grass, and the next ascent wasn't bad either. I even located a trodden line part way up.

What wasn't pleasant was the wind atop Beinn Chaorainn. Even with a buff holding my hat onto my head, it was threatening to rip it off, and I was being pelted by ice that I initially thought was hail, except the sky was cloudless. I soon realised it was being blown up off the cornice. After a quick summit selfie I tried to get out of the worst of the wind, but it was still difficult to brace myself whilst I sent a message to Mick to let him know of my progress, knowing that this was likely the last phone signal I would have*. Another battle against the wind, during which I got surprisingly wet from the water flying up from the cornice, took me to the 1049m subsidiary summit.

I then started my descent. In hindsight, I should have just treated this hill as an obscure Marilyn, rather than as a Munro. Because of its classification, I expected there to be a baggers' path, and thus I didn't descend via the line that seemed most sensible to me. Instead I intended to follow the line I had downloaded from Walkhighlands. I made rather a meal of that, first parallelling it for quite some time, then crossing it twice without noticing anything on the ground. I finally got on the right line and found a faint trodden line at a stile over a deer fence (that was fun in the wind!).

It wasn't a fun trodden line. The ground was waterlogged, and despite taking care, I slipped a few times. Taking my own line would definitely have been preferable at this point!

By and by, I reached a forest track, which to my surprise: a) was old and unmaintained; and b) went uphill.

It did finally descend to the road, and there patiently waiting for me were Mick and Bertie. Not that much patience had been required, as my outing wasn't much further than Mick's out-and-back, and he'd only been there for 15 minutes.

Incredibly, given the weather, I only saw one other person on this outing. He was on his final approach to the summit of Beinn Chaorainn just as I was leaving it. We didn't exchange more than a few words; I think we were both more interested in getting out of the wind than chatting!

A shame not to have enjoyed the Beinn Chaorainn ridge in more favourable conditions, but except for the wind and the descent, it was a rather pleasing outing.

Some snow, but easily avoided - or just walked across where a slip wouldn't have been disasterous

Lots of cloud over the hills over there

A good illustration of the hazards of a cornice

Summit selfie (Creag Meagaidh)

Trying to plaster a smile on my face and also stay upright (Beinn Chaorainn)
Just for comparison purposes, this snap shows (albeit from a distance) the snow state in The Window on 18 May 2018 (it's the notch left of centre...the one full of snow)

(*Our mobile phones use the 3 network. There is no 3 signal in the car park, nor much of one even up high. Mick also had our other phone, which is on the Vodafone network, but he wouldn't switch it on until he got back to Bertie, so there was an element of jeopardy to this pick-up arrangement.)

Friday 3 May 2024

Creag Each (NN652263, 673m)

Saturday 20 April
Start Point: layby at Woodhouse
Distance and ascent: 7km, 600m
Weather: Sunny intervals and positively balmy compared to yesterday.

The top of the lollipop was taken clockwise (with a small detour to the cairn on the small prominence to the E of the summit)

Looking at the map this morning, the most obvious contenders for my attention were the two Corbetts up Glen Kendrum (one or the other, not both), but after the last couple of days, and given my current level of fitness, I thought that a shorter outing would be more appropriate*. The problem is that I've already picked off the easier options that lie on our route north. Over breakfast I spotted that Creag Each fitted the bill and being just 5 miles away, it was within the realms of a reasonable detour.

There are two laybys right by the start of the track up Glen Tarken, and we chose the empty one not on the lochside. There I left Mick, who did a small mischief to his back yesterday, as I strode off in the direction of my hill.

Immediately after the third gate on that track (including the one right by the road in that count), I paused and contemplated whether to continue along the track to the burn that carved its way down from near the summit, or to just head up from where I stood. I opted for the latter, which involved a gateless fence crossing and a small amount of ground steep enough to make me think I hadn't chosen the best line. The going was, however, mainly firm and free of heather and dead bracken, and all of the little crags were easily get-aroundable. In complete contrast to yesterday, I soon shed my gloves, and at one point had to roll my sleeves up too, although I wasn't so rash as to take my windshirt off - the breeze on top was cool enough to need it, but nothing like the arctic blast from yesterday. 

A small gathering of deer on the top as I ascended

Summit view

Summit view marred by an obstruction in front of the lens

Having stood on the summit for a short while admiring my surroundings, I opted for a slightly different way down, going via a cairn on a nearby prominence (of which I failed to take a photo), then finding myself descending steeply down a boulder field. That wasn't fun and utmost care was taken. 

Not the best choice of descent route.

Considering the wetness of the year so far, and that so much of this outing was off-piste, it was surprising that I managed to get the whole way up and 7/8th of the way back down to the track without getting my feet wet. Even when I did, it was only one careless step on each foot that filled my shoes with water. 

Mick had the kettle on for me when I got back to Bertie after a remarkably pleasing outing. Dare I say, that I enjoy relatively easy pathless hills like this one, especially when they don't involve forest but do involve fantastic views, more than the more popular ones with paths eroded into them?  

(*Small aside: last week I dragged my bike out of the back of the shed, where it has resided since 2019. I got it back into working order, then put in in Bertie's boot. We then decided it was taking up too much room, considering everything else we needed to fit in for this trip, so it got taken back out and the Brompton was put in instead. If I'd had a mountain bike to hand today, I probably would have cycled in to do one of those two hills.)

Sgiath a’Chaise and Beinn Earn (NN583169, 644m & NN601158, 813m)

Friday 19 April
Start Point: Community car park in Strathyre
End Point: Layby by Ardchullarie More
Distance and Ascent: 11.9km, 1000m
Weather: Some sun, some rain, some hail, some snow. Mega windchill higher up.

My route. There was no need to go such a long way around to reach the forest track (see Mick’s route below).

Mick’s route – same outward route as me, but taking a longer route from summit to upper forest road, then shorter way from lower forest road to car park.

I gave Mick the choice as to whether he wanted to do the Corbett or the Marilyn with me this morning and to my surprise he opted for the latter. Happily, he didn’t show any interest in doing both, which is what allowed me to do the linear route.

Other than taking a slightly longer route than necessary at the beginning, our progress to the upper forest road was uneventful. I had read reports as to the best way to get from the upper forest road to the summit, but on our way to the track junction at NN573179, we came across this new track at NN 57357 16812:

An engineered track, although a rough, low-quality one.

We couldn’t see how far it extended, but decided it was worth a punt that it would take us either to the top of the forest, or near enough as to make any subsequent bashing worthwhile compared with the much longer route I’d intended to take when we set out (the route Mick took on the way back – see map snippets above).

There’s more than one new track up here…

…complete with new bridges

It was steep in places, but steep on a track is relatively painless (versus, say, through knee-high tussocks), and our decision to go that way was borne out as we got higher, crested a rise, and could see that the track did indeed continue.

It came to an end at NN 57967 16922, just before we got out of the forest, but there was only one slightly dodgy manoeuvre required on our chosen line up the edge of the unharvested area, then up between two crags. The downside of this route was that it didn’t conveniently land us at a gate in the deer fence.

Summit selfie

Mick came with me a short distance beyond the summit, so that he could see where I was going next, then once I’d rummaged around in my bag for my waterproof (for warmth, although a shower was seen approaching; it turned out to be hail/snow), Mick turned back and I continued on.

The descent was steep but doable, and at the bottom I had a choice: to continue down the glen for 750m to pick up the baggers’ path to the Corbett of Beinn Each, or to just attack the hillside ahead of me. I could see what looked like a good line ahead, so opted not to do the longer distance. Looking at the map again now, had I been making that decision based on the map alone (e.g. in poorer visibility, without being able to see what lay ahead) I wouldn’t have gone that way, as I have a general rule that if there are only two intermediate contour lines shown between the 50m contours for more than 100m, then it’s too steep. As it went, the terrain was firm, cropped grass so whilst steep, the going was easy. I intercepted the baggers’ path at an altitude of around 570m.

By 700m I couldn’t help but notice not just the strength of the wind, but also the chill that it bore. Pausing to send Mick a message once my phone signal returned, I estimated the windchill to be around -10. I later looked up the MWIS forecast, and that’s exactly what it predicted. Whilst it was only my hands that got cold (or never warmed up; they were cold when we set out), even with the steep ascents, the first time I felt truly warm on this outing was when I descended back below the 300m contour (I had on a long-sleeved baselayer, a windshirt and my waterproof, plus a buff and buffalo mitts).

Another summit selfie

There was clearly another Marilyn over there (Munro too, as it turned out when I looked at the map later), but I wasn’t in a position to nip over to it today.

As I left the summit I messaged* Mick with an ETA of 1255 at the layby where he was meeting me. I arrived at 1256, which wasn’t bad, I thought, considering I’d taken a small accidental detour in the final kilometre (missed a turn) and then encountered a few blow-downs across the path.

An excellent morning out and encouraging that I felt good the whole time. 

(*I discovered yesterday that my phone has lost the ability to make phone calls. It occurred to me today that could be a problem should I find myself in a pickle. It’s still letting me text and WhatsApp.)