Thursday, 30 May 2013

Day 29 - Rest Day, and Rush!

After the crazy last few days on the hills, I was really looking forward to this rest day. A couple of years ago, I got into Rush in a big way, and they finally came to play Glasgow in the middle of my Munro Round. I sat on it a while, and when I saw Manny Gorman had gone to see AC/DC at the end of of his Corbett Round, I didn't feel so guilty about breaking up a continuous journey! But then the logistics of getting back would all have to be arranged, and it wasn't a cheap gig, either. But when it came to the time, my plans had all been turned around by the crazy May conditions, and I worked it so that I was coming back from Arrochar instead. I'm very glad I went.

The gig was amazing, one of those ones that was worth every penny. It was a full-on experience by the end and an interesting break from climbing mountains every day. It was good to have the rest too, although I felt that one more day's rest might have topped the tank up those extra few percent to 100%. Having had a succession of big mountain days, I finally felt back on form.

But moving on: for now I'll likely fall off the radar for a few days. I'm heading into the wilderness north of Blair Atholl, first over Beinn a' Ghlo today (31st), then around the Ring of Tarf and east to Glen Shee. Although it's not the most remote area by Scottish standards, it is the one that repays staying high and linking up the tops, so I'll be staying in the Tarf Hotel (that's a bothy!) for two nights and a camp by Loch nan Eun for another. I'll be away from the road for four days, and then things will be a little less remote as I do the Angus summits. All going well I'll be in Braemar on the 7th, ready for the Cairngorms. (Hope enough snow melts!)

I should also point out that I'm slipping back into the schedule that is posted on my website: I now plan to keep closely to that, although depending on circumstances I might swap a couple of days. I better go now; I've got stuff to pack and I'll be on my way soon.

Cy'all later.

Day 28 - Arrochar 4

So, 28 days in and I finally finished my first big section of the walk.

I had the company of Andy Brown for the past few days, over the four Tyndrum Munros, then over the two Blackmount Munros on subsequent days. To finish off the first month of my walk, I needed to get the Arrochar Munros done, of which there are four. I'd already had two big days behind me, and the Arrochar Munros aren't a pushover: they're steep, craggy and demand a lot of effort.

The night before the Arrochar's, I'd planned on camping at Tyndrum. My usual tent space at the Dalrigh car park was waterlogged, so I drove in the direction of Loch Lomond in search of a space. Time was ticking, and I needed to get the tent up, a meal down me, and get enough sleep to see me right through the next day.

I tried the Falls of Falloch car park: no luck. And so my next call was Inveruglas itself, where my next days walk would begin. There was no room here for a campsite, either. It was all forests and water down Loch Lomond side, and almost no patches of grass suitable for camping on with a big tent. I was back to sleeping in the car, even though I'd previously promised myself that I wouldn't make that mistake again.

I was sitting on the benches at Inveruglas after 10pm in calm dusk, cooking up an enormous curry and feeling at peace. All was green and grey, the water almost completely still and the silence cutting. A midge bit me in the left knee; first of the season. I only saw one, but it broke my hope I wouldn't see a midge for the first section of the walk (just a silly game I was playing). I slept in the car and it turned out to be pretty good.

The 29th dawned bright. Outside, there was a huge blue sky and a morning sun which turned the trees bright green. Today was the big Arrochar day. An inner focus cut through the outer serenity. My only worry was (as ever) that I was getting run down, but in general I felt quite good. My body felt a bit wasted, and I guzzled back the muesli, fruit, milk and anything else I could find.

At last, I started off for Ben Vorlich. I felt pretty beat, climbing in the heat of the sun with legs that wouldn't go very fast. I was drained. I needed a rest day, and it crossed my mind I might not finish all the Munros today.

But for now I headed upwards into sunny skies, the heat was a bit much. The summit arrived in patient time, but generally I was frustrated at my poor physical form. The answer as ever was to pace myself, keep eating, and eating, and eating...

With the summit (and north top!) claimed, I was heading down the long slopes from Ben Vorlich when a fell runner passed me. I watched him cross the Loch Sloy dam and then he disappeared up the slopes of Ben Vane. Something kicked into action in my head. I thought, "stop being so melodramatic".

Ben Vorlich and Ben Vane are both above 3000 feet, but the gap between them drops to about 1000 feet. Still, I just flew up Ben Vane, over the top, and then across Beinn Ime. It was as if in that moment, the thrusters fired up and I went full steam ahead. I felt so good climbing Ben Vane and knew with some degree of certainty that the Arrochar round would go today. It was like the Orchy 5 all over again: after an initial weariness, the focus cut through and sent me off in the direction of the summits.

I often find, that in between feeling tired in the morning and tired in the evening, is a period where I feel like I'm just moving without effort. I forget I'm going so far and mountains pass beneath my feet hardly noticed. The Arrochar Alps were like this today, and I'm very grateful for that because they otherwise would have been an complete drag.

I also checked out crags en route, since the slopes of Ben Vane and Beinn Ime can be very rough. There is a lot of undeveloped climbing on the north flank of Ben Vane, with some huge boulders littering the landscape. Perhaps something for a return visit.

Beinn Narnain was left for last, and again I made it's summit in good time. I was beginning to feel tired, it would be good to get down. Narnain is a real craggy hill on it's eastern aspects. It's like an entire slope has been cleaved away and filled with enormous boulders. If you fell between some of them, you may go some distance! I found a tiny pine tree sheltering among the rocks, looking thin and scraggly. I should mention that this is at 3000 feet - I'd be hard-pressed to think of a living, growing tree as high up anywhere else in Scotland.

But Arrochar was waiting. Dad was at the bottom and had spent his day filming and doing photography. I descended back to the Arrochar car park, which was tiring and tedious. But it was good to walk in an area so familiar. I started my mountain climbing on these hills six years ago, and I haven't really been back on them since. It's also interesting to see how my attitude to these peaks have changed: once they were huge, wild and rugged peaks. Now they seem somehow diminished, maybe I've since seen wilds greater than this.

I got down to Arrochar just as a rain shower came on. Dad and I headed home after picking the other car up from Inveruglas.

Finally, after 28 days work, I've finished the 73 Munros of Mull and the Southern Highlands. In terms of time, this means I've finished a third of the entire Munro Round. I feel like I've really settled down within the last week. Perhaps it's just the euphoria of completion (of the Southern Highlands) but I've found a tranquility and I don't have the questioning nerves as I did for the first few weeks of the Round.

On 31 May, I'm off to Blair Atholl to start the next section of the walk: very different in character to what I've experienced so far. I hope the contentedness continues! Give it a couple of weeks on the eastern hills and then I'll be heading west toward Lochaber and the big ridges of the west. Finally, I feel like I'm progressing on this journey.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Day 27 - Blackmount 4

Today, Andy and I did the Blackmount.

It was very similar to the Lui 4 the previous day, except we had good weather all day. The Blackmount are a little more committing, so I made sure to keep them for a good day.

We dropped a car off at Inveroran, and headed up to the Glen Coe ski centre. I've been these hills once before, in 2010, and did them across two days. Most people do them like this, in two groups of two, but I wanted to do the full traverse in a day. Having been on them just once, I feel like I've forgotten how it feels to be on top of them. The Blackmount Munros were a fascinating one for me, because although I've ticked them off the Munros list in the past, I've never really felt like I knew them.

Andy and I polished off Mealla' Bhuiridh (#1) in good time, 1h 20m. This hill is known mainly for it's ski centre, and was the subject of an inspiring music and photography collaboration in the past few years. Have a look and a listen:

Andy and I sped over to Creise (#2) and over to Clach Leathad. We were making good time, now we had to get to Stob Ghabhar. I've been to the summit of Stob Ghabhar, but it's a multi-faceted peak: it's got multiple ridges casting off in every direction, encolsing steep and empty glens. Although not especially high by Scottish standards, it is one of the more enigmatic mountains, sprawling and wild, and it would take a lot of exploration to see every aspect of this peak. I don't really feel like I 'know' this one.

There's a lot of small twists and turns on the way to the top, so I was glad that we got clear conditions all the way up. I got my summit panorama on top. Perhaps one day I'll come back and explore it more.

For now, we had one summit left; Stob a' Choire Odhair, a relatively simple peak. We descended down Stob Ghabhar, over the wee Aonach Eagach, and climbed the west ridge of Stob a' Choire Odhair by a steady plod. The summit was in mist.

I mentioned in my Ben Lui blog post that I'd spent the whole day in a comfortable state of calm. I was very glad that this mood persisted today, too. The Blackmount traverse is a meaty day, but I felt calm once more, and importantly, inspired by the place I was in. There hasn't been so much of that going on recently, but I've had a happy few days and I'm so hopeful that it continues.

Tomorrow, I head down to Arrochar to climb the four Munros there. They'll be the end of the Southern Highlands section, a chunk of the walk I'll be glad and sorry to leave in equal measure. I need to move on now, I've been in the one region for so long. But I've also enjoyed darting around isolated peaks, stopping by Tyndrum, Glen Coe and Killin.

Tomorrow, I'll put in a big effort in on the hard hills of Arrochar, and then all going well, I'll take a rest day on the 30th - just as well, as Rush are playing Glasgow in the evening!

But I must go for now. I've got a tent to set up and meal to prepare - and others would like on this single computer in the Bridge of Orchy hotel! Hopefully I'll be able to report back a success trip tomorrow.

Day 26 - Ben Lui 4

Anyone in Scotland will have noticed waking up to torrential rain on the 25th May. I woke up in a tent outside Tyndrum, at Dalrigh, and it pretty much torrential there, non-stop,all night. There wasn't a whole load of hope of escaping the rain, and my day's plan was four big Munros centred around Ben Lui.

Andy Brown was joining me again, allowing us to tackle these hills with two cars. By walking linearly instead of in a loop, we could cut out a lot of distance. But for now, the rain was battering down and I just couldn't be bothered. The one thing working for us was that it appeared that the cloud would break up around about 5pm. If we wanted to take advantage of dry conditions, a late start would be needed!

Originally, we'd talked about meeting at 8:30am, but when the weather's intention became clear, this was pushed back to 1pm. I got a lie-in, listened to the rain from the dry comfort of a tent, and in the end Andy was running late, which worked out perfect for me.

After a stop by the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum, we got started on the hill somewhere around 3pm. (!) We planned a west-east traverse, with Beinn a' Chleibh first. When you're looking out the car window at rain and mist, Chleibh couldn't seem more depresing.

Things started off shaky to start with: after about 15 hours of endless rain. the River Lochy was dark, deep and wild with running water. There's no bridge at the crossing point: I tried to cross, trousers rolled up and trekking poles at the ready for balance. But I got a couple of steps into the torrent and retreated out of pain. That water was cold!

The only other option? Cross a bridge 1km downstream, which turned into a long road walk with wet feet. All this and we weren't even on the hill yet!

But everything picked up once we got out the glen: the skies cleared while we climbed rough slopes to Beinn a' Chleibh. The mountains were rain-washed and drying in the sun. We went up Beinn a' Chleibh's west ridge and over the summit, then down to Ben Lui.

Finally, conditions had picked up. The air had an amazing clarity. Arrochar and Cowal hills were all in view, eastern peaks still sulked among the dark clouds.

A long plod took us to the summit, but the 350 vertical metres were shorter than I'd remembered. We found another misted summit, but things really were picking up.

Walking in the evening is a totally different vibe to the 9am start. The day is matured and ready to settle down. Normally, there is an urgency in movement, since sticking to the schedule is more important in coming darkness. But on this occasion, Andy and I picked off summit after summit, calm as anything.

I completed these four Munros with hardly an inkling of stress. These hills at the start of the walk would have done me in with stress and tiredness; now I was sailing over them.

Ben Oss (#3) was clear on the summit. I looked down Loch Lomond to Dumbarton Rock, which was tiny and nearly invisible, lost among the giant hills. I've spent a lot of time climbing here; I can't wait to get back to Dumbarton climbing in August.

Sunset exploded over Beinn Dubhchraig, and we picked off the final summit, achieved by a steady plod as was the normal. Hills were cast in intense colour, the sunset painted Southern Highland hills in amber. They were nearly all climbed, at last. We were at Cononish as the sunset colours died, and reached the car at Dalrigh after a mighty push back down the glen.

We drove back to Glen Lochy where we'd left the first car in the morning, and camped right there. Despite the tiredness, I put on a huge curry and turned over to sleep by midnight.

My impression of this day was of two things: of a great day stolen from bad weather, and one where my mood was primarily one of peace. Perhaps I'm beginning to feel the completers euphoria (this time of finishing the Southern Highlands), but I felt little stress or worries. More an appreciation just to be there. I knew with a good degree of certainty these hills would be climbed, so why worry? 4 Munros is a good daily haul, and I had a great time.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Day 25 - Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach

Near the beginning of the walk, you might remember I was staying for several days at the Glencoe Independant Hostel. I was based there while I worked my way around the Glen Coe Munros, but they're big hills and the snow on the high ground was still thick from winter. I knocked off the Aoanch Eagach and Beinn a' Bheithir Munros on my first day in Glen Coe. I headed to Bidean nam Bian on the second day, with the intention of climbing it's two Munros. I'd had no transport other than my feet, so I walked the length of Glen Coe, up into the Lost Valley and was stopped dead in my tracks by bad snow conditions at 3000 feet. I walked the miles back to the hostel with not a single Munro climbed. I felt pretty dejected, and it took a while to work through the disappointment. In the days following this, I cleared up the rest of the Etive and Coe summits, but left a few (including Bidean) for later, when the snow had melted.

I headed off to other areas: Crianlarich, Killin, Glen Lyon, Loch Fyne and Loch Lomond, and piece by piece worked through every other Munro south of Rannoch Moor. In recent days, I reached a point where Bidean could hardly be ignored any longer, and I came back today to get it done.

In the last two days, Dad and I had a magnificent trip to Glen Lyon. I climbed seven Munros in perfect weather. We headed home last night, and today, I took mums car up to Glen Coe so I can work my way back down the A82 and finish the remaining Munros.

I didn't get started on Bidean nam Bian until 3pm today. I had a forest-fight to begin, but it didn't last, thank god. I was out on open slopes soon enough. Skies were thick with cloud, but there were breaks every so often and the cloud base was at least far above the summits.

I started from Glen Etive istead of Glen Coe primarily becuase I wanted absolutely nothing to stop me from getting to the top. I'd seen photos online from others who had climbed Bidean in recent days via. the Lost Valley. There was snow there, and it didn't seem to pose a threat. But I wasn't taking a chance now. Anyway, Glen Etive would be an interesting way to do it, and in retrospect it was so worth climbing Bidean from this side for the strange and refreshing prespective it gave me on a glen that I now unfairly associate with the stress and uncertainty of the walk's early days. Ben Starav stole the show: with Beinn Trilleachan on the opposite side of the glen, it forms the most complete, eloquent U-shaped valley I've ever seen anywhere, and even has a ribbon of loch to fill it's base.

From the steep slopes above the road, the broad open hillsides of Stob Coire Sgreamhach opened out and I headed steadily towards the top. This side is very, very unlike Glen Coe: no narrow ridges or steep coires, just open slopes that are much more in keeping with the rest of the Highlands. On top I shot a panorama, and without much pause, headed off to Bidean nam Bian.

This bit was easy, since there's a well used path between the two hills. Wee spots of rain were the only disappointment in terms of weather. To stand on the summit of Bidean nam Bian was only sweeter as it had held me back previously. I'd seen nobody all afternoon but for distant figures on Stob Coire nan Lochan, and the weather seemed to be closing in.

I headed back over Stob Coire Sgreamhach (missing out the summit) and back down the slopes to Etive. Starav looked a lot darker than it had when I first arrived in the glen. The air down low was humid and still - it would be perfect midge weather if May hadn't been so cold. I was happy to be back at the car four hours after setting off, especially so as I felt physcially great all the way, if a little quick to tire. I left Etive for the last time this trip, and drove down to Bridge of Orchy where I am now.

Tomorrow, I'll be doing the four Munros of Ben Lui with Andy Brown. It's looking like it'll be seriously wet once more, so most likely it will be a heads-down-and-get-on-with-it day. After that, it seems like it'll brighten up again, but I can't complain: recent hill days have given me very good conditions. Although May hasn't been a great month, the last week or so (especially the Glen Lyon days with dad) have more than made up for it.

I have a few big days ahead: the Lui 4, Blackmount 4 and Arrochar 4, each in a day. For now I've just got to keep myself fed and rested as usual. I've still so long until Ben Hope in August, and it's still a little overwhelming (trick: don't think about it), but I'm now on course to have completed a month, on schedule, and that feels really good. Just repeat that twice more! Success is far from certain, but surely it would take a really good reason, or something big, to stop me?

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Day 24 - Carn Mairg 4 and Schiehallion

Another fantastic day. Will have to make this another quick one as I'll have to get to sleep. I've got Bidean nam Bian to look forward to tomorrow!

Dad and I woke up from our Glen Lyon camp to pure blue skies, and the weather held all day. I had the pleasure of doing the Carn Mairg round in the company of Karl, and after a quick trip to Kenmore to get supplies, we set off up Carn Gorm at 9:30am.

Today really defied words - just more enormous blue skies that shrunk every mountain in their presence. The round went very smoothly. Each Munro linked onto the next with just a gradual descent and reascent. There were also many people out on the hill today, one of the only days on my round so far that's had a big social atmosphere. It was also great to meet Stuart and company on Carn Gorm. Stuart's been following my round so far; thanks a lot for the photos!

Karl and I headed around Meall Garbh to Carn Mairg and then to Meall na Aighean. It was here that we parted. I went north to Schiehallion, while Karl headed back down to Glen Lyon. Schiehallion was a bit harder than I expected, but I put the head down and quietly made progress with one eye on the watch: dad and I had arranged to meet a the Schiehallion for 6pm.

Frustrating, clawing heather in Glen More gave way to stone higher up, and I climbed Schiehallion on big blocks of scree. I hadn't been up this hill in a long time, and when I finally got onto the ridge, I'd forgotten what an amazing boulder-hop it was across the mountain spine. In my opinion it's one of the mountains with most personality in the Southern Highlands.

I got to the summit later than hoped, but a high-speed boulder hop took me down the main path, and onto the track to the car park. As had been all day, the sun was out. The evening was beautiful and cooling down at last. Dad met me a few hundred metres and we walked back together, with the Cairngorms snow-covered and shining, an island on their own. All mountains for the coming weeks.

Tomorrow, I head up to Glen Coe to finish the last of my mountains before May is out. Monday looks like it'll be challenging for weather but I'll just try and brave it out and hopefully make all the right logistical choices (it would be frustrating to go into June with any southern hills left unclimbed!).

The last two days have been absolutely excellent, in every way. I'd love to get pics up at the moment, but must. go. to. bed.

Day 23 - Gleann an Diamh pair

The past two days I've been up at Glen Lyon picking off the last hills of the area. Finally, the weather has been incredible - endless blue skies and golden hills. A hot sun and cool air. Not a single midge to be seen. It's been just about as perfect as things get in Scotland.

Blue skies and sun dominate, just as I've always hoped for. The night after feeling sore on Beinn Bhuidhe, I got a great night's sleep: deep and oblivious. It seemed to cure all the wee problems I was having related to a lack of rest. Dad and I headed to Loch an Diamh mid-morning (the days are so long that we didn’t need to move fast), but on the way up the Lawers road, something funny happened.

An overnight storm had blown the pines down onto the road and at the present the road was blocked. We had to get to the far side of this road somehow and I made a quick calculation in my head as to whether it might be better to go around via. Fortingall (the long way).

But there was a guy out, with a chainsaw, cutting the tree trunks into pieces. I got out the car.

“Any idea how long you’ll be?”, I asked.

“Probably about ten minutes or so. I’m not with the Trust or anything, my jeeps on the other side and I need to get to Killin. Wanna give me a hand?”


So totally out the blue, I wound up hauling tree trunks and branches off the road, cut up by a guy who just happened to have a chainsaw on him. It delayed our arrival at Loch an Diamh a bit, but I had a great time. Dad dropped me off and we’d meet back in 6 hours: 1:30pm to 7:30pm.

Everything was just ideal. The hills were just stunning. The minute I’d woken up in the morning, I knew I was onto a winner: no aches or pains, just feeling solid and fresh and ready to climb some more mountains. The legs felt a little leaden on ascent, but I was feeling so much better than I did yesterday. Most surprisingly of all, the snow that fell all of yesterday has just vanished as if it had never existed.

Stuchd an Lochain was the first Munro to go down, a triangular peak with a coire which encloses a beautiful circular lochan. The scene fits into a camera viewfinder perfectly. This was an easy climb, then I headed back to the dam, and up long boggy slopes to Meall Buidhe, #2. In afternoon light, I climbed onto the summit ridge and the hills of Alder, Drumochter, Cairngorms, Etive Coe and Nevis were all on show, not to mention Rannoch Moor a great basin in the middle of it all. Mountains snow covered, lochans glittering. It was a damn good day to be up high.

I met dad back at the dam. He'd been away for several hours filming and now with shadows growing longer we had to find a campsite and set up camp. We had a meal in Fortingall, then found an idyllic spot among trees, by the river. There was still not a midge in sight. All in, a brilliant day: no stress or doubt, I was happy to be high up on the hills.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Day 22 - Beinn Bhuidhe

Today, I climbed one Munro, Beinn Bhuidhe at Loch Fyne. It's good to get the independent summits all cleared up in the Southern Highlands, and I slowly leave myself with a bunch of multi-topped groups now to go.

I've not been quite right the past few days: I seem to be eating well, but that bad sleep at the Meall nan Tarmachan car park must have knocked me. I woke up this morning with slightly delicate joints and an overall feeling of weariness. So although I've have preferred to tag on Beinn's Narnain and Ime today too, that would have trashed me and any gains would have been offset. Definitely under-recovering at the moment.

So I took an easier day and settled for Beinn Bhuidhe. Insanely, snow has arrived back in the Highlands, roads in the north-east have even been closed. It's the end of May! Beinn Bhuidhe seemed to be one of the few peaks that remained relatively untouched, and the weather in this corner of the west was even quite settled. A bike ride makes the first long glen section far easier than it would otherwise be, and I dropped the bike a km or two short of the abandoned house Inverchorachan.

It was a slow morning for me, I knew I really needed to get my stuff back in order. I've felt pretty lethargic for the last couple of days, so I was determined to make this an easy hill, and get down and get rested. All in all, it was a fairly uneventful hill. I'd done it before and knew what to expect. To see the Highland peaks covered in snow this late in the year was a novelty, but otherwise I was forcing myself up, similarly to Meall Ghaordaidh the day before.

I've read other continuous-Round completers who talked about how their first couple weeks were quite turbulent, before they gained their fitness and settled down. I have to admit that I'm not really sure whether I'm settled or not yet. I felt like I had my fitness from day 1, but I'm beginning to wonder if I have a different problem. The writings I've read from many others were typically a generation above me, who although they might not have their fitness as readily as myself, they might tend more towards having the mental side sorted?

This could be a generalisation so sweeping as to be borderline untrue, but I think there's something in it: I find I constantly have to stop myself being impatient. The curse of a young mind? It's something I've been thinking for a while. I think how far I have to go, and I become impatient to make progress. The other half of my brain then kicks in and I have to tell myself "Just put the head down and keep going. It will come in time". "Keep the faith", as Martin Moran put it in his book.

Today was a good day, but when I'm walking up another hill feeling lethargic and uninspired, the mind does start to wander. For the first time ever, I've found myself thinking "glad to get that one done", when I finish a mountain. I've never really felt that way before, and could never understand it when people did feel that way. But now the pressure is on. Here lies the true challenge. Walking the Munros is the easy part, controlling the wandering mind is difficult!

I suspect and hope the answer to all of this internal babble lies on the far side of Blair Atholl. As I've mentioned elsewhere, Blair Atholl is a kind of watershed, kind of like the end of one journey and the start of a next. On this side of that watershed, I'm doing single day's walks from cars, close to home. On the far side, the journey becomes wilder, more continuous, I'll be out with just a rucksack, my tent and food, staying in the tent or in bothies. If I don't settle down by then, then I might never! Reading Hamish Brown's book, he seemed to suggest that his doubt and tension didn't begin to dissipate until after Skye. He mentions on the Saddle day, that he finally felt beyond despair. It took him a few months to get there, I think I'll just have to bide my time and keep plugging on.

Anyway, I should point out that I haven't hit a wall - although I'm keeping a careful eye on my physical condition. I trust myself not to push too many barriers down and push myself over the edge physically. (I've done that enough times to know the warning signs!) But all of this has been crystallizing in my mind for a while, I thought it might be interesting to write it down.

The day ended well today, in sun, biking down the glen back to the car. I even checked out some boulders for climbing (for some time beyond the Round), and it was actually the high point of the day. For 15 minutes, I forgot the tensions of the continuous Round and simply walked around a forest of boulders being inspired by great-looking lines - which is what lies at the heart of all I do on mountains, and on rock. You can take the boy out of Dumbarton...!

Day 21 - Meall nan Tarmachan and Meall Ghaordaidh

This day started out on a wrong foot, but luckily it wasn't such a big day that this was a problem.

Let me explain. I'd climbed Ben Vorlich, Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Chonzie the day before, and only left Comrie after 9pm, stopping in Killin for a drink and some wifi. I then headed onto the Meall nan Tarmachan car park to spend the night. I spent the night sleeping in the car, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake.

For some reason, I just didn't sleep well, despite the fact I've happily snoozed in the front seat before. I kept waking up with pressure points, a sore knee (not good!) and sometimes sitting the wrong way on my legs so they went numb. Oops. I just kept waking up, and never got into deep sleep.

By the time 9am rolled around, I still felt pretty groggy and not in the mood for a hill. Overnight rain had cleared to bright blue skies, but a sharp northerly wind whistled through the car. It was cold outside and the wind blew without respite. I was in no mood to move, and stayed in my sleeping back in the warming sun until I decided I'd really better get going.

I decided I couldn't cook a breakfast in this wind, so drove down toward Loch Tay. Back at the road, I thought what the hell, I always remember getting nice hot filled rolls in Killin. So off I went, and emerged £3.90 down, with three rolls and sausage (with tomato sauce) in hand.

On to Meall nan Tarmachan. The sun was out and I'd had my very filling breakfast, but to be honest I felt quite wasted and kept the pace down. It was a strange day: the weather was beautiful, but the air was cold and the wind was so raw and squally; there seemed to be change in the air. It was unsettling, which wasn't what I needed.

But Meall nan Tarmachan was Munro #50 of the trip, and since the car park is so high up, it wasn't too difficult either. I'd had some concern after waking up with a sore left knee - after ten minutes walking it had been fine but it's one to watch out for. Trekking poles at the ready. At the summit I met a guy who told me it was going to snow later on, and this I could believe. Though with Meall Ghaordaidh to climb later, the news was unsettling.

I got back at the car, and headed into Killin, now on a mission to do Ghaordaidh before any weather closed in. I'd realised dehydration had been another problem, so I bought big cartons of apple and orange juice, and spent the rest of the day drinking up.

Finally, I headed onto Meall Ghaordaidh, a Munro I climbed simply get it out the way rather than feeling inspired by it.

The first time I climbed this one with Mick Coffield. We did it from Tullich Farm in Glen Lochay, and the ascent is just one huge slope with nothing to break up the climb. In addition, we did it on a pitch-black night with stars glowing in a hemisphere above our heads. Today, it was good to see the hill and the views, but it couldn't match what that first visit means to me.

I went up from the Duncroisk side, in Glen Lochay, which is a lot more interesting than the Tullich slope. The weather had turned, but not as severely as I'd expected: huge dark clouds would charge in, carried on high winds, and I'd get soaked in rain and pelted by hail. Five minutes later, the sun would be out in a deep blue sky, and the mini-storms would track off into Perthshire. The hill was a good romp up to the trig point, and I was glad to have my last summit of the day now complete.

Back at the car, I headed back to Killin, and then off west. My next day's target would be Beinn Bhuidhe, by Loch Fyne. But once I got to Arrochar, I parked up and considered my options: I was feeling rough after a disturbed night's sleep, and home was 40 minutes away. It was still early evening. It was a no-brainer, with a bed at home and lots of free food awaiting.

This continuous Round is working out a strange one. My mobility with a car means I can take advantage of home, but it's a bit out of touch with what I'd intended. I expect once I get beyond Blair Atholl, the whole thing will take on the feel of what I'd anticipated when I first set out. There won't be a home 40 minutes down the road, there will be less support, and the mountains will better link together continuously. Hopefully the weather will have picked up, too. For now, I'm enjoying my chosen style, but it will be a relief too, to finally move into wilder territories and a complete change of scenery. Not so long until I've finally completed the Southern Highlands!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Day 20 - Vorlich, Stuc and Chonzie

Yesterday was interesting in that I've rarely felt so effin' fit on mountains. Summer has arrived it seems, but I don't recall there being a spring...

You might remember in the first days of the walk, I abandoned the self-propelled idea. As it turns out, this decision keeps on giving in ways I hadn't expected. After nearly two weeks in the Etive/Coe region, I left six Munros as I felt I was wasting my time there until the snow melted. I went elsewhere - mainly Crianlarich and Lawers - and now my remaining Southern Highland hills are scattered all over the place. I'd need a crazy support network to get me around to finish them all, and the May days are running out, too. If others could drive me, does that mean I can drive myself? As strange an idea as that is, I guess it does.

When I set off for Mull on the 1st May, I honestly didn't expect to be leaving home again three weeks later, this time taking a car as I did yesterday. In one way I feel guilty, there's probably a sense of wanting to live up to the original challenge I set myself. Then I remember the weather I've so far had and tell myself not to be so stupid. It's only practical! I think I've discovered a truth or two about the way I like to tackle mountains, as well: I enjoy the car-to-car trip (stark contrast to some who shun it!). Strangely, multi-day camping trips leave me feeling inflexible and trapped. I'm sure that'll subside in time, when I get further from civilization. Home comforts are too tempting!

Back to yesterday. I didn't get up too early and only started up Vorlich around lunchtime, with wide blue skies and a hot sun pounding down. I was within touching distance of the summit of Ben Vorlich when I checked my watch and noticed I was only gone an hour. I made the summit in 1 hour 15 minutes - probably my quickest 3000 feet ever. Moreover, it was done with a sustainable level of exertion: no burning muscles or breathlessness. It's a source of continual amazement at how the body rises to meet demand.

I took a bit more time over Stuc a' Chroin. From it's summit I stood and enjoyed the sight of the lowlands. I had a strong sense of 'home', an odd contrast to the daunting northern panorama of mountains that lay ahead. Must have been my mood.

After the Vorlich pair were done, I drove round to Comrie to climb Ben Chonzie. After a quick chippy, I headed up Glen Lednock and set off up the hill. Originally, this would have been done on a separate day, but by combining them I'm making up the day lost to snow and storm in Crianlarich a week ago.

A steady plod took me to the top. I was a little tired, but the legs just moved. The moors were golden in the warm light and lambs ran back to their mothers. I've lost count of the amount of lambs I've seen and I don't ever recall seeing so many in the spring. It's one of the pleasures of spending all my time out on the hills: I really get to experience the landscape very deeply, although I also feel this is something felt retrospectively as  much as it is felt at the time.

Ben Chonzie is pure Perthshire moorland, albeit high-altitude by normal standards. As on Vorlich, the visibility was incredible. The Fife Lomonds looked surreal: where there should have been a washed out horizon, there were stark, high-contrast colours, with the deep blue double-prongs cutting into an orange horizon. I was sure I could see the North Sea, too. It was a place of wide open sunny silence, crying birds and dormant mountains.

Back in Comrie, I bought some groceries and the shop closed it's doors behind me (9pm). I headed up to Killin, stopping by the Falls of Dochart Inn to try out their wifi. Eventually, I went to sleep in the Meall nan Tarmachan car park.

The following day: Meall nan Tarmachan and Meall Ghaordaidh.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Day 19 - Rest

Today has been my second day of rest of the trip, and I've enjoyed it. The last week has been a challenge, and it feels good to take a breather before moving onto the next section.

When I was planning last weeks hills, I told myself that even if things didn't go to plan, I would give myself a guaranteed rest day after Ben Lomond. As it happened, everything went well and I got 20 Munros in five days. Today I rewarded myself with a day of doing absolutely nothing while the sun beat down. I wasn't too worried about not being on a hill!

The following days will see me dart around the Southern Highlands, finishing everything I haven't done so far. As you may know, I've been a bit out-of-schedule recently, and my aim is to be back into it when I enter Atholl via. Beinn a' Ghlo.

Here's where I plan to be over the coming days:

May 21 - Ben Chonzie, Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn), Stuc a' Chroin
May 22 - Meall nan Tarmachan, Meall Ghaordaidh
May 23 - Beinn Bhuidhe, (and try Beinn Narnain, Beinn Ime to take pressure of 29th)
May 24 - Stuchd an Lochain, Meall Buidhe
May 25 - Carn Mairg 4 + Schiehallion
May 26 - Bidean nam Bian + Stob Coire Sgreamhach
May 27 - Blackmount 4
May 28 - Ben Lui + 3
May 29 - Ben Vorlich (Loch Lomond) + Ben Vane

That will bring me up to 73 Munros, and the entire Southern Highlands (and a third of my Round) complete!

The heat today has been amazing to laze around in. I've been cramming as much food in as I can, and just trying to relax - it feels very odd to have to do nothing.

Anyway, I better go and prepare gear for tomorrow and get some kip. Another big stint begins...

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Day 18 - Ben Lomond

It's possible that I've never climbed a mountain before and quite literally seen no view, all day.

I was joined up Ben Lomond by my brother Steve, and Liam and Neil, who are helping me make a film about the Round. The weather today was really surreal - mist all the way from the bottom to the top and back down again. We did an up and down of the main path from Rowardennan: quite a simple call compared to recent adventures! After the claustrophobic battles at Orchy, it was so refreshing to climb a mountain and feel unburdened.

Ben Lomond really was just a lot of fun. We shot loads of footage and met some great folks who were up there doing work on the path. We didn't get a single view, all day, and it gave the feeling of having not really climbed a mountain at all: more like we'd walked up a big path to a trig point and back again.

One of the nice things about Ben Lomond are the people you see. I love it as a mountain, but it also doubles as a tourist attraction. It's perhaps not surprising to have heard many accents and languages on the ascent - quite a culture shock, since I'd got used to the immense isolation of so many Munros, even ones that do see traffic from Central Belt Munro-baggers.

Steve on the summit of Ben Lomond. Not a view to be had!

Ben Lomond is spoiled in this way - there's so much attention focused in on that one mountain. I felt detached from the Munro Round: the conditions I was walking under had shifted so markedly from recent days. I was even climbing in trainers and jeans, (refreshing) which just completed the detachment.

But all in all, I had a very fulfilling day in good company.

My total is up to 46 Munros now. After 6 days on the trot, I'll be taking another rest day on the 20th - and then it's a 9-day push to complete the Southern Highlands. I feel like I've been tested already, but really this may all be the warm-up. Fortunately, the weather is looking good for the coming days and I'll be spared the drenchings which so charachterised the first days of my walk.

I'll be picking off the isolated summits like Chonzie, Tarmachan and Beinn Bhuidhe, then weaving a course back from Glen Coe down to Glasgow from the A82. There are several big groups there: Blackmount, Lui, Arrochar. I'll have one night back to see Rush live (this amount of coming home is getting embarrassing!) and then I'm away to Blair Atholl where the big stuff really begins.

Day 15, 16 and 17 - Orchy and Mamlorn

So I've been a bit out of range recently, tackling a group of hills in the middle of the Southern Highlands. I'd planned for this group to take three days, and I can say I'm very relieved to have finished them on schedule!

I'd planned ten Munros, beginning on the amazing Beinn Dorain, swinging around the "Wall of Rannoch" (so some call it) to Beinn a' Chreachain, past the head of Loch Lyon to Glen Lochay, and finally over the trio of Munros to Strath Fillan.

16th May

Dad saw me off from Bridge of Orchy on Thursday the 16th. I was feeling pretty knackered and not really feeling it. Conditions were pretty cold at Bridge of Orchy, and reluctantly, I set off up to Beinn Dorain with a heavy rucksack, and three days and ten Munros to go.

Beinn Dorain was climbed without a view, and in deep snow. Back at the bealach, I would have been quite happy for an excuse to quietly crawl back to Bridge of Orchy - I really wasn't feeling it. But I slogged with the rucksack over Beinn an Dothaidh, where I got some good views of Rannoch Moor.

In truth I think the real thing bugging me was the lack of having a place to sleep that night. Several factors came together: a high-Munro day, a lasting tiredness, a heavy rucksack and the prospect of sleeping out in the middle of nowhere. The thing that kept me going was the good forecast: there was no real reason not to go and so I talked myself into continuing when everything else said don't bother. Retrospectively, I'm very, very glad I continued.

Having climbed Beinn an Dothaidh, I dropped the rucksack at the Achaladair-Mhanach bealach and set off up Achaladair. I was still not feeling it: an off-day was amplified by a feeling of commitment, and my mood became dire. By Beinn a' Chreachain I was just pissed off and quite unhappy. Everything was there for the taking: the hills were in condition and the weather was good. But something was missing. I just wasn't getting my usual kick from these hills. I was emotionally drained. I couldn't contemplate doing this day after day.

I headed back to the rucksack, and decided to camp there and then. Beinn Mhanach would have to wait, even if it meant a longer day tomorrow. I had a meal and a big mug of tea, lying still and content for once. I felt fuelled and settled for the first time all day.

Perhaps I could make over that last Munro?

The pressure had gone, but only because I'd felt beat.

I packed up, excited; slightly apprehensive that I might physically not be ready. It was getting late, but I had time. I took a slow plod and it was like lifting a veil on my mood - suddenly the whole world opened up again and I saw it all: the sun sinking in the west, snow-covered spires of the Highlands (many which I'd now climbed). It was almost poetic, and borderline cliche. The panorama opened wide and sunlight danced on the brown slopes of Glen Lyon. I was seeing it all again. And I felt incredible.

Completely at peace, I strolled to the summit, shocked at this turn around in mood. Colours changed and shifted, I was buzzing to it all. The sun sunk to the horizon; I left the summit, and descended to Loch Lyon for a content night, only drifting off in content peace somewhere about 11pm.

I'm honestly not sure just how it all turned around.

Zebra stripes, Beinn a' Chuirn, at sunset

Window through to Lochaber

17th May

The following morning, I awoke above the shores of Loch Lyon to a hot sun beaming through the tent and a vast blue sky. Waters lapped below - I felt like I was on a foreign holiday. Only difference being, I was the only person here, completely alone. Loch Lyon was doubled in length when the dam was built (it used to end at the outflow of Allt Meran), and the glen I was looking down once hosted no loch at all. Now the glen is filled from side to side by water, and it was strange to know that what seems so permanent was once so different.

Campsite, Loch Lyon, in the morning

I'd broke through some mental barrier the day before, so my mood was of bliss and quiet content. After a relaxed breakfast, I strolled to the top of Creag Mhor, the Munro that took such little effort it was almost unbelievable. For a moment, three fighter jets pierced the silence. The sun was out. I was on a roll.

I dropped the bag off for Beinn Heasgarnich, as I had done for every summit so far. It's a big hill, and another I've always had a fondness for. It's strange that although it should be a horrible hill (peat hags and bog everywhere), I love it's embracing arms and seclusion. It is the "peaceful/sheltering hill" in Gaelic and this quite sums up the way I feel about it. At the summit, I made phone calls just to share my electric mood. If the previous day had been a psychological nightmare, today was the release.
From Heasgarnich, looking SW

All of Scotland was in view, from the Southern Uplands to the North West; Fife to Jura. All was crystal clear. Best of all, as I walked down Heasgarnich, I bumped into Pauline, Ron and Mark from WalkHighlands. We had a chat. They offered to buy me dinner in Killin, my eyes must have lit up! So they headed over the top of the hill, while I headed down, and we agreed to meet up at the Glen Lochay car park.

We all headed back to Killin, and got a meal (thanks guys!) from the Falls of Dochart Inn - and the Inn were even kind enough to let me camp behind their car park - very kind people. I'm not much of a pub guy in general, but I have a love for this place. I settled in for the night, and on a high.

18th May

My last day in this region took me over the three I hadn't yet done: Sgiath Chuil, Meall Glas and Beinn Challum.

The weather had changed, and the skies were dark and unsettled. Mum and dad had come up for a day trip, so they took my camping kit in the car, and dropped me off at Kenknock, Glen Lochay.

The light was very weird. Dark clouds and light patches rushed through a troubled sky. I felt like the rain clouds would burst into life at any moment. The summits grew cloud caps and it made me nervous. It also didn't help that I'd planned to meet Kev McKeown on the summit of Beinn Challum (#3) at 5pm. I'd started late and now I didn't have so long to get there.

I put on a pace for the first time in days and flew up Sgiath Chuil. It was hard work but the body kept ticking over and working as it should. I got to the top in 1h 40m and down to the bealach to Meall Glas in bang on 2 hours. 8km in 2 hours, over a Munro - not bad going!

I rushed up Meall Glas and found myself in mist, on slippery grass and snow, which took a little nerve to get by. Dink phoned, I had to ask him to phone back, as the navigation had become quite intense, and demanded attention. A lot of mist and drizzle saw me to the top of Meall Glas.

Always a handy tool!

The drop towards Beinn Challum from here is enormous: down to 350m and back up to over 1000m. I continued west, down long grassy slopes to the river below. It went down a long way, but it strikes me that when you anticipate a huge workload, you simply accept it and work through it. In the past, I've had a nightmare on summits with just 100m height gain, because I'd expected them to be easy. I expected a battle to get to Beinn Challum, so I put my head down and simply plodded on.

Since I'd got over Sgiath Chuil in very good time, I had some time to play with, with the aim of meeting Kev on the summit of Challum at 5pm. I took breaks, shot some film, watched in awe and heavy clouds battered themselves against the mountain slopes. It was an awe-inspiring place. From Glen Lochay, Beinn Challum looks incredible (stark contrast to the Crianlarich side, where it's almost invisible!) and it was humbling to stand and watch the cloud tearing itself across a snow-streaked summit ridge I was about to climb.

Beinn Challum

I reached the top about 5:10pm. The summit cairn was deserted. The wind was strong and directional, so I sat in one side of the cairn almost completely untroubled. Kev arrived five minutes later with his dog Rupert, who'd both had a fight to get to the top. It was a wild afternoon and we spent 10 minute on top taking pics, looking at the map and sharing Kev's flask of soup. Bliss.

But although I loved being in this wild, turbulent place, it was time to get down. We got battered by wind on the summit ridge, and dropped into Coire nan Eacn to get out. I checked some boulders for climbing (which didn't amount to much, as usual) and we headed down Gleann a' Chlachain, back to Strath Fillan. Mum and dad were waiting, having had a good day themselves. Rain fell as we drove off, and it was only later I'd discovered that although I'd got off lightly: the Central Belt had seen torrential rain.

It's been a crazy three days, with many ups and downs - but mostly ups. It became quite clear to me that I would only do a walk of this magnitude over mountains, because they are the only thing I know that inspire me so deeply. I don't know anything else that would allow me to push through those mental barriers. But it's worth finding the strength to push through those barriers of doubt and motivation. The Munros of Orchy and Mamlorn gave me a well-remembered battle. I'm sure there will be many more to come.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Day 14 - Lawers 7

For once, the weather has relented. I scheduled the Lawers 7 with Andy, and it worked out a great success.

Andy picked me up from the Capercaillie in Killin this morning. For a town at the base of a large clutch of Munros, it's quite amazing that Killin has no hostel of any kind for walkers; at least none that the tourist office could point me to. From looking at Trip Advisor, I gather the only one shut down. After the An Caisteal trio, I headed east with dad to Killin and we looked for anyhere to stay. It's all expensive guesthouses and B&B's here. The Capercaillie Bar and Restaurant had rooms available and they were very generous in allowing me to stay with my smelly gear and tight budget!

This morning, Andy and I headed to Lochan na Lairige and parked up for the Lawers 7. I'd done these hills in November 2011, so knew what to expect. The hills arrive in rapid-fire and we took each in turn. The air has been cold, and hail occasionally arrived in big sweeping showers - though generally it was sunny.

What a relief to climb Munro #1, Meall a' Choire Leith, and stand in the sun untroubled by driving rain or worrying if I'm going to get too cold before I get the next summits done. Sure the air was cold and it wasn't quite a time to relax, but the sun was high, the skies were blue, and we could see the huge arc of mountains north of Rannoch Moor, from Ben Nevis in the west, over to Drumochter in the east.

Meall Corranaich followed. We shot cool-looking photos on sculpted ridges of snow, Beinn Ghlas arrived and went, and in the afternoon, we stood on top of Beinn Lawers, the tenth highest mountain in Scotland, and the highest hill I'd so far climbed on my Round.

The next one, An Stuc would be an intersting one. It has a steep north-east face that you have to descend to reach #6, Meall Garbh. In the current conditions, it might be a problem: every hill is covered in patches of thawing snow, wet and unstable. This is fine on modest hills, but on steep terrain it's deadly. Andy hadn't brought an ice axe, which sealed the deal: we'd go down the north ridge and traverse under the face to reach easier ground below.

The plan worked out, but it was time consuming. I think the colder weather and occasional hail storm made the group feel longer than they had when I sped across in 2011. (At least hail bounces off and doesn't wet you. Much better than rain.) But Meall Garbh was reached, and soon after, Meall Greigh.

Seven Munros in the bag, time to go down. We headed down to the Ben Lawers Hotel and came across dad outside filming.

It's been a long day, but it feels superb to have given the Munro tally a big boost. I've heard the Lawers Munros described as dull with regards to views, but I can't think of a much more intersting viewpoint: you pretty much get all of Scotland in view on a clear day; every principle Highland range south of the Great Glen. One of the great things about today was to see every range picked out by enormous quantities of snow - most of which fell just two days ago! It is melting fast, however, and the coming days promise good weather.

Tomorrow, I'm going to head up Beinn Dorain, Dothaidh, Achaladair, Chreachain and Mhanach. My plan is to do a lot of rucksack dropping (done correctly, I don't need to take camping kit to any summit), but still, it will be a big day. I'll be fueling myself up for this well... it could be a tough one!

Another interesting thing to notice, was that on the hill today, I couldn't bear the thought of doing all the Orchy Munros tomorrow. Things were starting to get tedious by hour seven. The minute I got off the hill, I got a seat, some food and drink and chatted to dad about upcoming plans. Within ten minutes I was quite settled again and when I heard the good forecast, the Orchy 5 was suddenly on. I'm really excited about it.

Last of all, my plan is to camp tomorrow night at the head of Loch Lyon, which has no road access and definitely no internet access. I'll then climb Creag Mhor, Beinn Heasgarnich, and descend to the Glen Lochay road end. All going to plan, my next update will be in a couple of days.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Day 13 - An Caisteal trio

I'll probably make this one a quick one, as I'm in Killin and my phones on the verge of running out of juice. (Left the charger with dad)

Today I climbed An Caisteal, Beinn Chabhair and Beinn a' Chroin. I kind of expected to just get another soaking. An Caisteal was covered in snow, drifts knee-high. An intense hail storm came in as I got off the summit, then cleared heading to Chabhair.

The worst form of slobbery snow was on Chabhairs east flank - melting, full of water and me sliding all over the place. Very frustrating, sun balls rolling everywhere in the hot May sun. But I was up in 40 mins from the bealach, down in 20, then over Beinn a' Chroin back to the Glen Falloch car park where dad was parked.

I'm in Killin tonight, staying at the Capercaillie. I've often been in here for a hot roll in the morning before setting off for a Lyon hill, but this is the first time I've stayed. It's a great place to spend the night, right beside the Falls of Dochart. These guys were also kind enough to reduce the cost in benefit of my modest budget, so they've been very kind.

Today has been a beautiful day, at long last. I'm on 28 Munros, a tenth the way in tally. Tomorrow I'll go over the Lawers 7 with Andy. It'll be a big boost to the count! I try not to look at the count too much, but it's good to feel as though I'm gaining some distance from the starting blocks. Mull feels quite long ago, and so much has happened since, but I still have many, many mountains to climb. But as long as the weather remains good, even reasonable, I should be fine to bash out some fairly big days soon. I had a bit of a worry with all the snow that fell yesterday; yet most of it melted it today.

Yesterday's rest day also did me a world of good. I had a fairly fast-paced day today and haven't suffered for it. I'm planning to do another fairly heavy five days, and then I've scheduled another rest. If the weather holds, it should be good.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Day 11 - Crianlarich Four. Day 12 - Rest Day!

So I didn't blog yesterday. I had a good picking of hills and was very tired when I got down last night.

Steve, Jen, Struan, Andy and I stayed at Glencoe ski centre two nights ago where they have those circular micro-cabin/hobbit-houses. It's a great place, complete with cafe and restaurant that I didn't know existed. The entire gable end of the restaurant is a window looking straight onto the Buachaille Etive Mor, last night brooding and black. So cool!

Yesterday morning, I moved south from the Coe/Etive region. I had six Munros left in this area: all around Bidean nam Bian and Blackmount. Both areas were still covered in snow, both will be left until a later date, when the snow melts and conditions improve.

Steve took me to Crianlarich where I hoped to find less wild peaks. I'd found I was actually getting sick of the Etive region! (Too much of a good thing) I set my sights on Ben More, Stob Binnein, Cruach Ardrain and Beinn Tulaichean. I've done this group before on two occasions and had a good idea of what to expect.

So I booked myself into the Crianlarich Youth Hostel and set off along the road. I tried hitching; some tosser stopped and as I approached, sped off to a two-finger salute in his rear-view mirror and no doubt a laugh. The pinnacle of humanity, eh?

But what's an extra 40 minutes along the road to Ben More?

I shot over these first two hills, up Ben More in 1h 40m and across to Stob Binnein in 50m. (You can tell I'm getting comfortable when I start timing myself across hills!) I also listened to music all day and Colossus by the Afro Celt Sound System played on shuffle as I descended Ben More. Listen and imagine: the mood was one of you're doing this, this is happening, this is brilliant.

The weather was pretty dreadful, but Steve had dropped off thermal bottoms and at last I was climbing mountains in the rain and staying warm and dry at the same time. It was all I needed. I felt brilliant. I also came to realise that in the time since I last did these four Munros, I'd grown stronger. In 2008, I was seventeen and staggered over these in fat-burning pain, no pace and no tactics. Now I was absorbing the miles. A good feeling.

Cruach Ardrain involved some tricky navigation through towers of rock, cliffs, clefts, all lurking out of dense mist. Pounding wind and rain belted across the ridge and if I hadn't been over these hills before, I wouldn't have done what I did. A bit of familiarity goes a long way, and I picked up the huge path between Ardrain and Tulaichean. Cruach Ardrain was gained; one of the most testing hills so far, in navigation and nerve.

The skies exploded in colour across to Tulaichean and for the first time I could see colour-washed villages down by Balquhidder - very attractive. But before long, the next batch of rain was arriving from the west and I headed back to Crianlarich in another shower, running low on patience and getting drained in the legs.

Beinn Tulaichean has always been one of my favourite mountains. It lies in relative obscurity out the back of Cruach Ardrain, it's hardly seen from any road, it's one of the first Munros I ever climbed, age 10 - one of the first places I ever responded emotionally to mountains. It's always been a quiet hill in my mind, always gazing out to sun-washed south. I've always thought about it this way. One day I'll camp on it's summit.

However, Crianlarich couldn't arrive fast enough, and I got back to the hostel at 8:05pm, sore and tired with just enough time to cook up pasta, a cup of tea, dry clothes off, and go to bed.


Today, (Day 12, May 13th) has been my first rest day.

I woke up this morning to a colder-than-normal bed, and between snoozing heard fellow dorm-occupants say "snow on hills". The snow really was on the hills: down to 1000-1500 feet, with cloud racing through a turbulent sky with rail, sleet, snow and you-name-it falling down with alarming frequency. Last nights printed-up mountain forecast looked awful; it was all true - apart from the lightning bit (phew).

Last night, I'd sat and worked out how many peaks I had to do in the Southern Highlands and how long I'd have to do them. I realised that with some tactical advantages (aka car-access!) I could gain a day or two on schedule. So it made sense to take it easy today, bum around Crianlarich drinking tea, hijacking WiFi (kidding) and let the muscles and mind recover. I'm sure that if I went up a hill, I might make one summit and retreat - a waste of energy, since I'd just have to go back again (The Bidean situation). Conditions today were too extreme, I was too tired to fight that hostility.

Then I called mum, who only an hour away, suggested I come home for the evening.... digs sorted, access to a computer, lots of free food! I'm not a continuous-Munro-round-purist as you can tell, so I'm at home for the evening until I'm whisked off tomorrow morning to continue the Southern Highland bagging campaign.

As I said before, my old schedule for the Southern Highlands is in pieces at the moment. Contact me if you're interested in joining me on a hill, and I'll let you know where I am! Ben Lomond will be the same date because I'm already doing this with a couple of people.

I've got the Rush gig coming up on the 30th May, and this is built into my schedule. I want all the Southern Highlands done by this point, ready to move on to new mountain regions. This will be a third of the Round complete and a major section overcome. Many of the Southern Highland hills are topographically very isolated, so I'll try and combine some: perhaps the Loch Earn pair and Chonzie in one day. I'll do The Lawers Range to Schiehallion in two days, and once the isolated ones and Lawers are mopped up, I've got several big groups of four which I'll climb sooner or later.

But for now, I'm going to process some photos of the trip so far, and work out what's coming next.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Day 10 - Meall nan Eun and Stob Coir an Albannaich

Today marks my tenth day on the Round.

Andy Gray and Struan joined me for this one. We'd stayed at Glen Coe and headed into a rain-washed Glen Etive. Another day of rain! It would be fair to say that none or us would have been there except to get me over those hills. Should I get over these hills though, it would be my last time in Glen Etive.

In the morning, mum had phoned: Steve (my brother) and Jennifer (his girlfriend) would be travelling up to join me in the evening. She also suggested I move to the east where there would be less rain (something to think about). It made me realise for the first time that I was getting sick of rain-drenched western mountains.
Andy, Struan and I did the round of Meall nan Eun and Stob Coir an Albannaich from Glen Etive. Rain and mist were the order of the day, again, but the sun actually burst out on descent. Cool air and hot sun are sublime.

All in all the mountains were climbed for the tick, but they had their moments: Stob Coir an Albannaich is a beautiful mountain and today it was.wrapped in mist and snow banks. Meall nan Eun is a simple lump. I was happy to get these done and the Glen Etive hills are now complete.

At the moment, conditions are near freezing on the summits with rain, sleet and winds. I had a traverse of the Blackmount planned, followed by the five Orchy Munros in a day. But in this weather that won't happen and I'll leave these hills for later.

Tomorrow morning I'm off to Crianlarich to do those hills for the next couple days. So it messes up the planned schedule and if you want to meet up any time, best get in touch or check the Facebook.

Anyway, must go as the Glen Coe ski centre cafe (and its WiFi) is about to close!

Day 8 - Bidean ...or not!

I just went to my bed last night instead of blogging, so this is yesterdays events. I've always known Bidean nam Bian was going to be a bit stickier than the rest, being the biggest mountain I'd climb while the May snows are still clinging on.
I set off from the hostel just after 10am, along the road past the Clachaig. When I met the A82, I took the old Glen Coe road which is more fascinating than I'd expected. Ignoring the roar of traffic and litter from the road, there's more there to see than appears from the car. Aonach Dubh's north face revolved so slowly, and I could get a much better look than normal at the cliffs. There are schist erratics in the glen - one place where you really won't find schist. My guess is they may have come from the Moor. I passed old clachans or shielings (one or the other) with great trees growing out of the heads of what are now ruins. They didn't seem to be rowan as I'd have expected, but looked intentionally placed. I wouldn't mind knowing if there's a significance here.
I turned up into the Lost Valley. At the boulders I met four young girls who were sheltering out the rain. Cheers for the chat (and the sandwich). At the head of the coire, snow was still thick in every gully of Bidean. Weather was reasonable, but I already knew the snow would be in a bad way. I seem to be pretty terrified of snow when there's a chance of it falling on me. I don't feel I fully understand it as a medium to know how far I can push it.
But at this point, these were just little thoughts. You've got to go and look, and make a decision on practical observation.
I made it up to the head of the valley and started up the snowfields. I'd seen footprints from afar that might have been psychologically reassuring; they turned out to be raised prints - which means they're old. (Note I just said psychological - I was trying my best to talk myself into going up!)
The snow itself was like slush and my axe was just disappearing into it. The headwall of the coire was banked out. I just got a feeling in my gut that wouldn't go away. I think that feeling comes when I don't fully understand the situation I'm getting myself into, whether there's a valid risk or not. It could have been absolutely okay; I just didn't know. But that's the point: I didn't know so it was a risk too far. If I weren't alone, I might take a chance and reason out, that if I started a wet-snow slide there would be someone to help. I wasn't taking the chance today. I was also bearing a tiredness from yesterday, so stopped to consider my options. After five minutes of standing around watching cloud brush against snow-bound cliffs, I turned around, confident in my decision.
Once off the hill, I walked back down the length of Glen Coe. The walk down the glen became grating, and to be honest I was pretty pissed off when I got to the Clachaig. A cheeseburger sorted that out, and soon I was back to planning and working out how I can make time back rather than feeling sorry for myself. I knew I'd come around some tough moments when I started this walk. I was in one now!
In need of some maintainence, I even went back to the Clachaig a second time, later on, for fish and chips. (My bank account hates me)
All in all I had a good end to my day. I was walking back to the hostel in the twilight of sunset last night once more feeling really damn good, if a little awed by the challenge that lies ahead.
I'm back to where I was yesterday morning: behind schedule by two Munros! One simple problem (a bit of snow) and the wheels rolling back over me. I'll find somewhere in the future to slot Bidean in, but for now I'm moving on. Today is the Buachailles, with Peter and Andy.
A last enormous thanks to the Glencoe Independent Hostel who have put me up for the last few nights. It's been an amazing stay but I'd better move on and get Munros climbed! They've offered an incredible hospitality during my stay and I couldn't have asked for more. If you're in Glen Coe, get here! They're amazing, and have treated me so well. So many, many thanks.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Day 9 - Buachaille Etive Mor + Beag

Today, I climbed the two Buachailles. 4 Munros done, many more miles walked and Yet. Another. Soaking.

When will they stop?!

I worked it out today: out of my 9 days so far, 6 have been absolute drenchings. It's a hell of a rate but likely not unusual. Right now I'm recovering each night with a comfy bed and somewhere to dry out clothes. But it might not always be that way. Perhaps sometime the 'summer' switch will flick on. The Highlands seemed to have a couple months of no rain before I arrived so perhaps that's summer over with!

All in all though, I've had a really good day. I was joined by Peter Dorrington and Andy Brown, both bringing treats and helping me over the hills. It makes such a big difference. Thanks so much for coming up, guys.

The skies were blue and bright in the morning, but the hills looked near and a front was on the way. The three of us set off up the western ridge of the Buachaille. Coire na Tulaich, the normal ascent route, was still snow-choked. So the ridge it was. I didn't want any repeat of yesterday.

Conditions on the top were pretty good. It was a bit cold and there was a little hail. But all in all, it was alright. On the way to Stob na Broige, the weather front hit, and the subsequent hills were climbed in varying states of damp cold. Each summit was reached and the next thought would be "move on". Strangely, despite the weather, I enjoyed myself deeply and every climb felt effortless. I've noticed during the past nine days that the actual walking is the really easy bit. It's just everything else on top that makes the difficulty stack up!

But back to the day. Sadly, Peter decided to bail after Buachaille Etive Mor. His company was amazing, and I'm sure we'll get up a hill again soon. Andy and I headed up to Buachaille Etive Beag. It was the kind of mountain where there was nothing to be gained spiritually. I simply climbed it to stand beside two wind-blasted cairns and tick the corresponding Munros off my list. Again it was fun. But the numbing cold was worming it's way in and by Munro #4, I was well ready to pack up and get out of there. Conditions were only deteriorating. I'm not a warm burner in any case, but I'm currently in the Clachaig (again), hours after finishing and I still have a chill. It's that damp cold...

Tomorrow I'm finishing my Glen Etive Munros with Struan and Andy. The weather looks pretty grim. I'd like to do the Blackmount traverse on Sunday, which would conclude my first big area - Bidean nam Bian excluded. I'm quite happy toughing this weather out while it's bad, but an improvement some day would be nice. I didn't realise I had it in me to stand so much rain, day after day.

I've also discovered my fitness on the rise in the last couple of days. At first I was cautious to tread beyond 5 hour days, but now things are ramping up and I feel I'm coping well.

Last of all, I had an a stunning quote from Dave Macleod swimming around my head all day, and I'd like to share it. It provided some comfort and direction in the midst of challenge, and for me, it gets right to the core of what I'm doing. I hope he doesn't mind me sharing.

"Having completed this route, if I had to give up climbing tomorrow due to some disaster, I’d be satisfied with my effort. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt that. Climbing it has confirmed in my mind something I felt for the first time after climbing Rhapsody; We can really do anything, and I mean anything we want. Circumstances are indeed barriers, but never impenetrable ones. We are limited only by knowing exactly what we want and having the pure motivation to find it. I always heard this idea from ‘motivational types’ in the past. As a sceptic I’ve spent over ten years trying to refute it by repeatedly trying seemingly impossible projects. Every time the result is the same – Tasks you are not truly motivated for may always remain beyond your reach, tasks you are deeply motivated for take you on a long and convoluted route around the barriers that circumstances create. Sometimes, in the thick of the maze of circumstances, you realise your motivation is not deep enough and its best to try something else. But when the motivation remains through deep frustration, the results are always… always… just around the corner.

How cool is that."


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Day 7 - Aonach Eagach and Beinn a' Bheithir

Today has been a brilliant day. I can't say the weather has been perfect, but it was one of those days I've been waiting for, linking summits, feeling fast and efficient. The hills felt hard at the time, but the afterglow feels amazing. Feet are gently throbbing, I feel gently tired and I can honestly say that one week into the Round, I feel brilliant.

I was up at 5:30am and away by 6 - straight out of the hostel and onto the slopes of the Aonach Eagach. This ridge is known for being the narrowest on mainland Britain and I wanted it in good weather.

I'd arranged to meet my Uncle Steve at the top Glen Coe car park at 10:30, which meant a west-east traverse of the ridge. The morning was raw; not especially cold, but mountains were gaunt shapes in morning haze. Absolutely lifeless. Looking south from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, snow covered peaks dominated. The scene was more like February than May. The Aonach Eagach had given me a little stress recently, as I'd wanted to tackle it in good weather. Good weather has been in short supply so it was a massive relief to get a break in the weather that coincided with me being on the ridge.

The first time I did this ridge, in 2010, I was terrified. The second time, last year, I found it much easier. And today I was glad to get it in good visibility and not think once about the exposure. How times change. A much greater base of rock climbing experience must surely contribute to that. Asides occasional gusts of wind, the Aonach Eagach gave me good conditions and the crossing was thrilling and very positive. I got start to end in just over four hours, and sat in morning sun looking up at the Three Sisters, listening to the Glen Coe piper, and contemplating another hillwalk. Uncle Steve picked me up and we headed to Beinn a' Bheithir.

Good conditions saw us through Gleann a' Chaolais, but the weather was turning. By the time we were on the summit ridge, blasts of wind were sending me to my knees. Suddenly things had become wild and it was very hard to push through. How could I do the summits in this?

It was an anxious time, because I desperately didn't want to come back. A head-down-and-plod-on attitude won out, (a good way to control a racing mind) and I stood on both Munros under bleak, shifting skies. The winds were wild, but thankfully it hadn't rained much.

It feels good to be on schedule. I've been a bit behind since Starav, and to claw my summits back is a small victory. This whole game really is a bit of a battle; although I anticipated that. It's also all about pacing, and I'm pleased to have done a hill-day that even a week ago would have done me in.

It's about patience, too: taking my chances when they arrive, knowing when to pull back the throttle for the greater good, even when it seems more desirable to push on. I have to be content with tiny increases in Munro count. That's 15 Munros today. But in truth I find it best not to even think about the count. It's almost overwhelming. For now the game plan is to focus one day at a time, and perhaps in a couple of weeks I can begin to get gratification from taking chunks out of the schedule.

Most of all, if I can keep producing days like today, I'll be quite happy.

I'm again staying the night at the Glen Coe Independent Hostel. Tomorrow I'll climb Bidean nam Bian and I'm hoping for an easy-ish day. At least the weather seems it'll be alright (yes!). After that, I'm on a southward journey towards Ben Lomond and I'm looking forward to it all.

Anyway, must go - I've been on the go all day and more mountain awaits tomorrow!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Day 5 - Beinn Sgulaird

Summits with views so far: 0/9
Summits with rain/snow: 9/9
Hmm, there's something wrong there! It sounds like tomorrow will rectify that a little, though, as news comes through of an unexpectedly good forecast. Tomorrow will take me over Beinn Fhionnlaidh and Sgor na h-Ulaidh in the company of Lucas, who has kindly offered to join me. The company will be good after 4 days on my own.
(Also I'd quickly like to apologise for the lack of pics this far but the weathers just been too bad to get the phone out! I've barely taken any shots on my SLR and my GoPro's been used on the tops because it's the only bombproof camera.)

Beinn Sgulaird was climbed today fast and trouble-free, and although it rained, it was of the gentle variety. I got down just minorly soaked! Having mum up for a day gave access to a car and allowed some convenience, so Sgulaird was an up-and-down from Elleric, to the west.

I'm camping in Tyndrum tonight in position for Lucas to pick me up in the morning.

I can't wait to get back to Glen Coe and begin working on those peaks. I gotta say the freedom from self-propelled opens up options everywhere, and cuts out more stress than I expected. I might go over the Aonach Eagach (or as auto-correct prefers to call it, Monarch Earache) tomorrow to take advantage of my 1-day weather window. That is sure to make an exhausting day. I'll play it by ear, and if I don't get it, there are other ways to do it once the storms return.
Otherwise I seem to be happy, healthy and eating well (and trying to get enough - it's my biggest fear). My only potential problem is that my rain-saturated shorts from Beinn Starav have created chaffing/rashes on my thighs which I'm keeping a close eye on. Ew. (But they were nearly gone today on Sgulaird. Phew.)
Anyway, have had a big meal from the ever-wonderful Real Food Cafe and ready to turn in for a hopefully sunny day tomorrow.
At last! (I hope)

Day 6 - Beinn Fhionnlaidh and Sgor na h-Ulaidh

(EDIT: I just realised that my Beinn Sgulaird blog from yesterday didn't appear. It is the first blog I've done through my phone, which must have something to do with it. It might still be saved as a draft. Will try and retrieve that post and see if I can get it up.)

At long bloody last.

Today, the sun came out.

And I don't think I've ever been so glad to see it. Inversely, by the end of today's walk, I was roasted and looking for shade. (In truth I should appreciate every ray of sun I can lay my hands on.)

Last night mum dropped me in Tyndrum on her way home. This morning, Lucas from Walk Highlands came to pick me up. We headed up to do Fhionnlaidh and Ulaidh hills from Glen Etive. I'd done them before from this side, about this time last year, so knew the terrain well. Lucas's pal Andy also came along for the walk. Thanks guys - it was really nice to walk with people again instead of on my own inside of a cloud!

Mist pulled back throughout the morning, and a haze persisted on the walk up Beinn Fhionnlaidh. The sun split the sky and the Cruachan Range rose like fangs, snow covered and enormous through the haze. (That is an almost identical description of that range, to one Hamish Brown gave in Hamish's Mountain Walk.) These mountains are so magnificent and I wish I'd climbed them with more feeling a few days previously. Well - the weather decides that to a large extent and endless rain isn't very inspiring.

It was amazing to stand on Fhionnlaidh, look around untroubled by weather and see the sea, all the mountains of Glen Coe and Etive. I'm starting to look back to ranges and think "I climbed them". But the majority of the panorama had yet to be climbed, which is sobering.

Andy and I sped up Sgor na h-Ulaidh and another amazing summit awaited. Glen Coe looks fantastic in this weather. Ben Nevis was still very much snowbound. I could even see the hills of Affric, just distant snow-splatters through the haze - hills which I won't climb for more than two months. Crazy crazy crazy.

The descent was like an Alpine scene: the sun was blazing down onto green pines, with Loch Etive sinking out of sight and the summit crown of Ben Starav high and snow-covered, punctuating the haze. Feet were painful on descent. When I get over Bidean and the Blackmount, I think I'll change into trainers. The boots just tear my feet to pieces and I'll be glad to use something more comfortable - and less waterlogged - for the summits.

Tonight, I'm staying at the Glen Coe Independent Youth Hostel. Already one of my favourite hostels in the Highlands, owners Keith and Davina Melton have been more helpful and accommodating than I could ever have asked or expected. Many, many thanks both.

Tomorrow, it looks like the weather will return to the typical rain. My plan is to do the Aonach Eagach in the morning while it's still sunny, followed by the Ballachulish pair in the afternoon (when it gets wet). This will put me back on track and free up time. I've been concerned about how I'll finish all the Glen Coe + Etive peaks in the conditions that are to come. But I think if I can combine the Aonach Eagach and the "Vair Pair" tomorrow, things will be very much on track.

Very happy, but feeling the pressure of the challenge to come. A good way to be. Better get an early night in preparation for tomorrow.