Tuesday, 30 April 2013

One day to go!

Today is a bit mental, in the best way possible. I'm steaming ahead to get the last university ends tied up, there's loads of stuff everywhere, all over the house. Myself and my dad are driving up tomorrow afternoon to get the evening boat from Oban to Craignure, Mull. I'll climb Ben More on the evening of the 1st, (if the weather's good) or on the morning of the 2nd (the more sensible option?).

I mentioned a film in my first post. I'll be joined on Mull by two really creative guys; Neil Allan and Liam Dickson, who will be coming to Mull to assist in filming my Munro Round. I'll be releasing a film about it later on in the year - watch this space!

To complete the line-up, I got a surprise call from Dougie from the Mountaineering Club, to say him and Craig would be joining me for Mull. Brilliant!

So all is nearly in place, and now I'm super-keen to get the trip underway. The weather may be rough for the first few days, but I'm hoping it will brighten up as the forecasters say it will. Trips like these are so weather-centric and it dictates so much. I'm looking forward to getting to Glen Coe, my first mental checkpoint beyond the beginning. I'll have the convenience of the Clachaig, youth hostels, shops down the road and a couple of easier hill days (hopefully). I can't really see beyond that at the moment. And I also don't feel like I've got one night left at home before leaving for a good long while. In fact I don't really feel much at all except the desire to get going and get settled into a routine.

But for now - get this uni finished.

Friday, 26 April 2013

T-5 Days...

T-5 days... as my dad would have it.

Things have been getting busier and busier. I can just tell they're going to reach a head sooner or later.

I've made great progress this week in everything to do with the Munro Round and I continue to stumble toward the finishing blocks with my university work. I thought I'd take a minute out from that to fill in the gaps.

Last weekend, I went for a long drive all around the Highlands. I'd pre-prepared boxes of non-perishable food and set off with just short of 20 in the back of the car - in the back of an Aygo they take up more room than you think.

On Saturday, I stopped by the Rumblie in Laggan (a nice B+B) and they were happy to take one. In Aviemore, Hazel happily took 4 day's supplies to be delivered later to Glen Shee. I stopped in Boat of Garten for a cup of tea and bacon roll, and Fiona and George took a package which will later see me over the western Cairngorms.

But I had to head to the northwest, out of soft eastern hills with their spacious skies and colour, and to Kinlochewe where towers of sandstone were accompanied by cloud and a bit of drizzle. Typical.

So much happened in the following 24 hours. I talked mountains and life with Gerry in Achnashellach for 45 minutes; stopped for a drink at the Kintail Lodge Hotel, deciding whether to make a booking for July (I did). I drove up to the Cluanie in the moonlight with snow-streaked summits and cloud tearing at the tops. Rain was pelting down at the Cluanie, dark and windswept. They took a package very readily and this helped me a lot, since they're the only building for miles.

That night I slept in the front seat of the car at the Glen Garry viewpoint, and set off to Kinlochhourn in the morning. That's another desolate stretch of road: it starts in pleasant leafy driveways; and ends in steep bends among shocking contortions of rock for the final descent to Loch Hourn.

Stag on the Kinlochhourn road. They're some of the first I've
seen who don't scamper at the sight of humanity.

It was 9am on a Sunday morning. Joe, who stays there, had the cafe open. We talked about rock music and hills over tea I left a parcel with him (which, like Gerry's, was made mouse-proof) and headed south to Fersit, between Spean Bridge and Laggan. I left a parcel with a house there, then went down to Kinlochleven for another cup of tea and some ice climbing. I also gave James three parcels to keep in Fort William. Final packages went to Glen Etive, Bridge of Orchy and then I headed home.

Two days away and I felt like I'd been gone a week. The Highlands are like that.

The Ice Factor, Kinlochleven. Awesome.
Recently, the upcoming walk has felt a little bearing down. It's a challenge I look forward to, but it's always there and I'm keen to get some miles under my feet. I've cut back my walking recently to fund and gather momentum for this upcoming trip, and it means I've forgotten a little what it really feels like to be on a mountain.

Buachaille Etive Mor looking great as ever. In a couple of weeks I'll be up there.

On the way home, I took a quick walk up Meall Mor, a small top on Rannoch Moor. It's a small hill but high enough to feel like your really up there among it all. Rannoch Moor was spread at my feet with my upcoming route wrapping around in every direction. That one small hill was enough to remember how much I love doing this, and that once I'm on my way, the stats, worries and calories should wash away in a daze of fun. As long as that core love for the activity is there I don't see myself having a problem. Just keep fuel in the tank, eat well, sleep well, and don't let the schedule rule the roost.

Just five days to go and it's looking good.

Meall Mor on Rannoch Moor. A great place to refresh the mind.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Counting down the days

So, there's just 11 days to go. Whoa.

First of, my local newspaper wrote a very nice article about my upcoming round. Have a look!

A few days ago, I played my last gig before the walk. Last weekend, my band played an afternoon show to coincide with Marillion's gig. We played a solid 2 and a half hour set, then went to see Marillion in the evening. I was absolutely knackered by the end of it all. But I had the incredible pleasure of playing with one of my huge musical influences, Steve Rothery himself, who joined us on stage for a couple of old school Marillion songs.

Here's one song from that gig:

So I'm now concentrating fully on finishing university and finalising preparations for the Munro Round.

One of the last things I have to do is deliver a whole batch of food parcels all across the Highlands. I've made these boxes up full of non-perishable food, each made to sustain me for a certain section of the walk. I'll be away tomorrow morning for the weekend to deliver them to all sorts of corners of the Highlands; first up to Aviemore and then through Inverness to Kinlochewe. From there I'll head south toward Fort William leaving behind six parcels in the north-west. With a couple diversions, I'll head down the A82 and home. It's exciting, but it's also a task I'll be quite happy to have finished and got out the way.

Lots of food - packed up and ready to go.

One of the most noticeable things right now, is I'm beginning to get that sense of every day things I'm going to miss. But I'll be going to an alternative existence I've spent 6 years (and more) building; that of the Highland mountains. It's just as good, so I can't complain!

One of the fun aspects of the forthcoming trip is the many you're-crazy looks I get from people when they hear what I plan to get up to with my holidays. It's good fun, but it made me think: I suppose if climbing mountains doesn't do it for you, then it's going to be a mental idea. I've always thought there was something to be gained from climbing mountains, even before I've started actually climbing them. This trip, I hope, will be an overload on all that is good about them. They seem to offer so much that is inspiring, and I feel that every time I head out for a weekend. There's no doubt there will be challenges, but nothing risked is nothing gained, as the cliche goes. I'm sure part of the pleasure will be in breaking down those unknowns.

I've had the idea in the back of my mind for nearly two years and very soon it's going to become a reality. In eleven days time, I'll be on my way, and that's a good thought.

At the moment, life is a little surreal. I'm getting that refreshing, almost-but-not-quite butterflies-in-stomach feeling, when you arrive at the cusp of a change. Last weekend I played a pretty immense gig and one of my musical inspirations joined us on stage. Next week I'll finish university. I'll then go on a rather long walk, and come back three months later with some great experiences to remember.

For now, I've just got university work to do, a couple last items to buy, maps to prepare, gear for Skye to get together. Then I'm ready to go!

Countdown: 1 week, 4 days to Mull.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

First post!


And welcome to my blog. This is my first shot at the blog thing; until now I've always kept my writings and goings-on at my personal website, www.kevinwoods.co.uk. I set this blog up specifically to keep people up-to-date while I go off and do a big walk this summer.

I decided nearly two years ago (yikes!) that I wanted to go and do a continuous Munro round. For anyone scratching their heads as to what exactly that is, the Munro's are a list of mountains in Scotland over 3000 feet. There are 282 of them, and a continuous round means climbing every single one in a non-stop trip. There's also a secondary 'rule' (it's not really a rule) whereby you can do it as a self-propelled trip; walking between every summit and cycling between every mountain group. It's an aesthetic way to do it because by the end of the trip I'll have a big wiggly line roughly the size and kind of the shape of Scotland that represents the journey - not as crazy an idea as it sounds once you see that every mountain range neatly and conveniently links into the next. Though I may have to take that back once I'm slogging down the A9 on a bike in the pissing rain.

The walk will take about 100 days, starting 1st May on Mull, and finishing at the start of August near the Scotish north coast on Ben Hope.

I'll be camping most of the time, linking up the Tops in huge through-routes which span the width and breath of the Highlands. There really are very few areas the route leaves untouched. My last calculation brought the distance total somewhere in the region of 2500km, something I prefer to break down into chunks than look at as a whole: cycling accounts for a solid fraction of that mileage. The length of my daily walk averages out at around the 20km mark; something that should be nice and sustainable while offering more than a little dose of challenge at the same time.

While I've set the blog up for family and friends, I'm aware that some reading it might not know me at all. I started climbing mountains seriously at the age of 15 and have set myself up on a constant dose of mountains in the intervening six years. I've had some solid learning experiences in winter and binged on mountains in the summers (none moreso than last - and I'm still catching up on my website). As I'm based in Glasgow, Scotland, access to the hills is good and every year gets better than the last.

Next week I'll play my last gig before the walk (www.stillmarillion.com). In a few weeks I'll finish university for good and then there'll be little else to do except go up to Mull and start the trip on the island's only Munro, Ben More. Four months from now, I should be standing on Ben Hope on the north coast of Scotland, all going well. (again, yikes!)

The last great task to work out is to make food drops and for this I've spent quite a few days (and more) buying food, buying boxes, writing lists, working out calories, carbs, proteins, and other things with funny sounding names, to finally pack boxes organised in groups of days, ready for delivery to strategic locations across the Highlands. Another thing to be done before I go.

PG Tips make the world go round

Food isn't my strong point (anyone that knows me will testify to this!!), and making sure that I'll be consuming what I need has been just as interesting and daunting a challenge as actually walking the route should be. I'm not sure whether that's the wrong way around or not?!

As part of the walk, I'm hoping to raise £5000 (and more!) for Diabetes UK. My brother Steve was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes ten years ago, and Diabetes UK was the hands-down choice when deciding who I'd like to raise money for. So take a look. I've set up a JustGiving for the occasion: http://www.justgiving.com/KevinsMunroRound2013

From the walk, I'll be blogging as much as I can. Last month, I left my trusty Nokia 3310-clone behind after 5 years and bought a smartphone - which reassuringly got a cracked screen the first week I had it. Nevertheless, I'll have access to emails, Facebook, etc and the only limiting factor will be getting a good enough signal on the hills and conserving the phone's power. For this I've got a solar-powered charger.

Once I'm done, I might also have enough footage to make a wee film. More on that later.

As well as all of that, there is an open invitation for anyone to come and join me for bits. Although I can't do round trips from the car most of the time, it's always nice to go with folk instead of being on my lonesome for three months.

So anyway check back, thanks for having a look and I hope you enjoy the blog.

Countdown to the start: 3 weeks and 3 days.