Ben Klibreck

Relaxing in Altnacarra B & B after Ben Hope we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening; always a good sign when you’re welcomed with a pot of tea and biscuits! An added bonus was that the neighbouring pub was friendly with good craic from the locals, so it’s just as well we’d booked our dinner at Mandy’s B & B. A hearty meal was enjoyed with fellow residents. This is definitely THE place to stay in Altnacarra!

Fresh after a good night’s sleep and a wholesome breakfast, we headed along the road to Ben Klibreck. The track up was right across from the parking area – always a good start!

The day was good again, skies clear if a little misty in the distance. The wind was blustery again although not quite to the extent of yesterday.

Initially marshy underfoot, it continued in this way as it climbed. This path would be a real plowter should there be a lot of rain! Thankfully it did dry out as we climbed higher, the track initially good, then fading out. We could see where we were headed so no great navigational challenges.

Heading to Ben Kilbreck

We climbed to the cairns on Cnoc Sgriodain admiring the views, then continuing on to a bealach. This didn’t lose too much of the height gained so that was a relief, as was the fact that the peat bogs were pretty much dry and easily crossed. Again, in wet conditions this could present different challenges, none of them pleasant!

We opted to traverse the side of Creag an Lochain rather than going over the top, and a clear path took us along. This again was dry but had the potential to be boggy; I think on a wet day I’d opt for heading up and over.

Traverse back from Ben Kilbreck

Continuing along the hillside, we finally reached the bealach that led up the final steep ascent of Ben Klibreck. This was an easy enough climb despite it’s intimidating size and a couple of hundred metres of ascent to go. The good path zig-zagging up the steep flank, and made for a far easier descent. The summit cairn was easily reached, the trig point in bits, according to Mandy having been struck by lightning a few years ago.

We stopped briefly before heading back the way we’d come, enjoying the scenery on the way back down, despite the views being obscured by my hair constantly blowing over my face, the wind now behind us.

Going back felt far quicker, and the long traverse of the hillside flew past. The only slog was back down the slightly less marked path at the bottom where I was frustrated by the slippery conditions.

Another good hill day, but we concluded that Ben Hope is the winner.

Ben Hope: Type 1 Fun

At the Dundee Mountain Film Festival last year I was introduced to the concept of Type 1 and Type 2 fun by one of the speakers. Type 1 fun is joyous throughout the experience, type 2 fun is tough at the time but fun retrospectively. Today was a perfect hill day: the sun was shining, the skies were clear and most importantly, the views were amazing, hence Type 1 fun all the way!

Setting off after a great night in Alness – we stayed at Tullochard Guest House with great hosts, Ali and David, who well and truly make you feel at home – we headed further north to Altnaharra, and then on to Ben Hope, our target for the day.

Ben Hope signposted from the car park

The route guide suggesting 5 hours walking for 7.5 km, I was concerned that this was going to be a steep, hard slog. In the event, although it was a fairly steep pull, there was a good, rocky path and limited boggy areas. There was some water on the path in places so there’s definitely potential for a mud fest on a wet day!

A stunning waterfall flowed alongside the path after the initial pull up, the path then getting a little muddier as it ascended, unfortunately leading to multiple tracks and increasing erosion.

Waterfall on Ben Hope

The wind began to pick up – the forecast had suggested gusts of up to 50 mph on the top – but the temperature was high, 19.5 celsius at the car park! The wind, although strong, didn’t create any real issues and the warmth of the sun was wonderful! We sheltered behind a large rock for a snack thinking this might be the last respite before the descent.

The path was much clearer by this point and made for easy going. The bouldery path was clear and, despite the wind picking up again, the views were stunning. It was amazing to have such clear skies and beautiful views on a September day. We truly have been blessed with the weather this weekend! We met a few folks on their way back down and exchanged pleasantries as we went. I love hearing stories and chatting on the hills.

Ben Hope ascent

Continuing onwards, it wasn’t long before we saw the trig point, heralding our arrival at the summit.

Ben Hope trig point

Immediately behind it there was a large windshelter cairn and this provided the perfect spot for another break. We were joined by a couple of ladies and their kids, a cosy gathering. I love chatting with children, they’re always a breath of fresh air!

Retracing our steps to descend, I’m not sure if the wind had picked up or if it was just that we were heading into it, but it certainly felt stronger. The descent was quicker though with lots of people to chat to and, of course, continued stunning views.

Ben Hope descent

A truly fantastic hill day! A long way to travel, but well worth it! Most definitely a hill I’d do again! Who’s up for it?

Am Faochagach: Stunning views, boggy paths!

Reported to be boggy, we were prepared with gaiters and our festival wellies for the river crossing. Thinking it’s been relatively dry and with no rain on the horizon we diverted to Am Faochagach on our way to the northerly munros.

We were both a little stunned when we crossed the road to find the bog started immediately across the stile. If this is what it’s like in dryish conditions I dread to think how deep you’d sink in the wet!

Through the initial bog poles came in handy, testing the ground before making the leap of faith across to the next grassy bit. The faint path continued in this vein, marshy and unpleasant. It made for hard going.

Continuing on we reached the river crossing at Abhainn a’Ghrabainn. This is what we bought the Feetz festival wellies for! They’ve been carried on a few outings and not yet been on, but today they were just the ticket. The rocks were far enough apart and the crossing wide enough to be intimidating. The water was also flowing pretty quickly although it was fairly low. Bruce opted for rock hopping – until the ‘plop’ signifying that he’d slipped, thankfully only getting wet up to his knee. I got partway across before retracing my steps and heading further upstream. Walking poles were pulled in the current but gave me a chance to stable myself as I gauged the next foot placement. I was highly delighted to reach the other side dry, albeit with slightly shaky legs.

Onwards the path continued to be boggy and hard going, drying out and becoming better higher up. We finally reached the ridge and the ground levelled out giving blessed relief.

Plateau of Am Faochagach

From here it wasn’t too much further to the summit and the final pull up was gentle. There were two cairns, very close together, and amazing views all around. With such beautiful, clear skies, the slog up was most definitely worth it. Views to the Fannichs, An Teallach, Beinn Dearg, Seana Bhraigh, Suilven and even the top of Stac Pollaidh. Had it been a driech, cloudy day it would have been downright miserable!

Heading back the way we’d come we retraced our steps, experiencing the joy all over again. I ‘enjoyed’ a slip on the mud, landing on my bum, and made it across the river by crossing at the cairns.

Abhainn a'Ghrabainn crossing on the way back from Am  Faochagach

The finale was one leg going down a water filled hole in the bog, causing me to fall over and get one foot completely soaked through. Just as well we were virtually back at the car.

A quick trip down to the river at the parking area saw the boots and gaiters washed off, ready to face another day.

Frustrating times: a niggling injury

Over the last few months I’ve developed a niggling injury: my heel hurts and has a ‘knot’ under the fleshy pad. In honesty, I probably first noticed it when I started tapering for the marathon back at the end of April. I hadn’t felt it previously despite regular running. It was nothing major so I ignored it and hoped it would go away.

Fast forward a couple of months and the bony bit on my big toe frequently began to join the party post running, although the heel remained no more than a tiny niggle in the mornings. A trip to physio and podiatry suggested it could be to do with alignment, so a silicone toe separator was fashioned and did seem to sort that out. The heel pain however continued to rumble on quietly in the background. Not enough to be bothersome as it eased on walking around in the morning, just there on occasion.

Sadly over the last month or two it’s gotten worse. I’ve had to cut back my mileage significantly and I’ve binned some racing plans due to my ever decreasing fitness. Extremely frustrating!

I’m trying to see positives where I can. I’m working on strength training more, something that’s gone by the wayside during more intense training periods, I’m going to Pilates regularly as I have for many years, and I’m running easy miles when I can.

Being on my feet for much of the day at work doesn’t help. I’m trying to do plenty of stretching, icing, spiky balling, and all of the other things recommended by the most recent physio visit. Pain relief doesn’t seem to help. Not sure that the sorbathane heel pads are doing much good either. The first steps in the morning are the worst, struggling to weight bear until I’ve been up a wee while. Running doesn’t make it worse which is good, but it does seem to niggle more post run.

I think I’m in this for the long term. Fingers crossed I’ll come out the other side in time for marathon training to start again at the turn of the year. Until then it’s continue stretching, rolling, icing and healing.

On positives, one thing that does keep my spirits up is the Sunday social run around the local trails. As long as I can keep doing this I know all is not lost. A steady 10 miles in the bank again today. Thanks to my Sunday chums for the company and chat.

What are your top tips for staying positive during ‘off’ periods?
Any tips on maintaining fitness if unable to run as much?

The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine: A Small Summit and Jelly Legs

Final day of the holiday, I woke to the best alarm yet – music on my phone and Bruce saying, ‘have an extra half hour.’ The forecast had changed and the day looked set to improve so the morning rush was eased.

Heading out, we opted for a two munro circuit encompassing The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine. The Saddle is renowned for the Forcan Ridge, a spectacularly exposed and airy ridge. Those of you who have read my previous blogs will know there was no way I was going near this if I could avoid it! I’d declared this last night but had also said I’d happily meet Bruce on the summit should he wish to do it. It was quite windy so he decided to stay with me, along with another chap we met who felt the wind would be a hindrance and the ridge could wait for another day.

In hindsight I was glad that Bruce did stick with me. Had he not I most likely wouldn’t have made it past the trig point! More on that later …

Starting off, we parked up in a layby and crossed the road to access the path for The Saddle. From the outset we were climbing, albeit the winding back and forth eased the going somewhat. It felt like we should have ascended further than we had though when Bruce requested the first height check.

Continuing on and up, we finally levelled out a little, heading across the col to the rocky steps that the route guide described as ‘decision time’. Right for the Forcan Ridge, left to follow the remains of a drystone dyke to reach the Bealach Coire Mhalagain.

We went left. The dyke led us gradually up and it was a relief to know that my ascent of The Saddle would be ‘easy’. Reaching a boulder field we headed up, a path higher up the slope clearly visible. Lower down the path wasn’t quite so clear but we knew the direction we wanted to go. It became steeper and more compacted near the top, winding back and forth until we reached the trig point. Unfortunately the trig point wasn’t quite the summit.

The summit cairn was slightly higher up – only about 10 metres – but along a ridge. I was less than happy at the prospect of making my way there and had it not been for the company of Bruce and another walker maybe wouldn’t have bothered. I don’t need to tick the box after all!

Heading up to the summit of The Saddle

There was a path. It was a little narrow in places – very narrow in my opinion, and quite exposed; remembering everything is subjective and perception is reality. I had to lean into the rock to put a single foot on the rocky ledge at the worst bits. Then we reached the cairn. It was honestly the smallest summit I’ve ever been on! My legs were a little like jelly and I sat down and refused to move, other than to go back down.

Summit cairn on The Saddle - remarkably small summit; I was not moving from my seat!

Heading down, Bruce pointed out that on the ‘Clare Rating Scale for Exposure’ it probably wasn’t that bad. Certainly you wouldn’t die if you fell! I pointed out that I may not die outright but I’d quite probably break both my legs and that wouldn’t be very pleasant. Anyway, I didn’t fall and live to see another day, two good legs intact!

Heading down from the summit of The Saddle

On the ridge of Sgurr na Sgine, The Saddle behind

Glad to be off the most challenging section the next part seemed so much easier, descending back down the steep path again to the Bealach. We could see a path higher up Sgurr na Sgine and headed across towards it.

Further up we saw the walker we’d been with on the last summit having a rest so made the pull up the bouldery slope towards him, traces of path here and there. The wind was picking up at this point and I was glad I’d put on my jacket and gloves on The Saddle.

Wind aside, the slope was steep but not too arduous; we’d only dropped to around 700 metres and had to summit at 946 metres, the lower of the two munros. Reaching the northwest top we followed a wide, easy, rocky ridge to the main summit. This had a lovely cairn with a great windshelter that we plonked ourselves in to enjoy lunch and soak up the beautiful views. The summit of The Saddle had been slightly in cloud whereas this was stunningly clear.

South Glenshiel Ridge from Sgurr na Sgine

Rested and fed, we made the decision to retrace our steps back to the Bealach, thankfully this time finding a good path all the way down. So much easier than the ascent where the path was not apparent! We ignored the route guide as it suggested descending via a steep, grassy slope with another ascent prior to this, figuring we’d get more shelter, better path, and less pressure on the knees and quads following the route up to go back down.

On the ridge of Sgurr na Sgine, The Saddle behind

It was weird how the path along the dyke seemed far more bouldery than it had done on the way out. Bruce reckoned it was because we’d blethered all the way up. I reckon it’s because I was so relieved going up that we’d found the alternative path and I wasn’t going across the Forcan Ridge!

Anyway, it was a long way down but we made decent progress and finally we reached the road. The car had been tantalisingly in sight for quite some time prior to this.

Glen Shiel

Glad I did these munros, the day ended wonderfully with a stop off at The Kintail Lodge Hotel for the best meal we’ve had this week.

Reality resumes on Monday.

Bla Bheinn: an introduction to the Skye munros

I’ve always maintained that I’m not ‘bagging’ munros, one of the reasons being that some are just too scary looking. I’m not a fan of big exposure and I know what I like (and more importantly what’s just pushing the comfort zone too far). Meanwhile, Bruce very much enjoys a bit of ‘air’ on the hills, hence him heading out alone (or with people other than me) at times.

Being near Skye, I was assured that Bla Bheinn was doable for me, being the one Skye munro that’s known for walking rather than climbing. It’s not part of the main Cuillin ridge, but on a good day affords spectacular views of the Black Cuillin, and would give me some idea of what Bruce had experienced during his Skye trips this year and last. Finally, Bla Bheinn would also allow Bruce to complete the Skye munros, this being the only one he hadn’t yet done.

Arriving on Skye, it wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse of a mountain. This striking, if a little intimidating, sight transpired to be Bla Bheinn!

The day was as close to perfect as it gets – very little wind and clear, blue skies. Work is currently being done to improve the car park; despite this we were able to park easily. The midges were out but seemed pretty relaxed; they must have had a hearty breakfast as they were not in any great hurry to eat us!

The walk began just a few metres above sea level and very gently climbed through the moor. An impressive gorge dropped off on our left, silver birches growing on the steep slopes and protecting us from what was quite possibly the most hazardous drop of the day.

Continuing on we crossed a couple of small streams with ease, boulder hopping across, before climbing up Coire Uaigneich. This path is good and well maintained by The John Muir Trust. We were gaining height but still had a long way up to go. A wee shower of rain passed over. Waterproofs contemplated, we decided on jackets only as it was warm enough for the trousers to dry out.

Reaching the choire, we turned and began ascending the less distinctive path, following the zig zags through scree as we climbed higher. I can’t quite recall at what point we had a tricky scree section as we appeared to miss it on the way down, but I do recall questioning my will to continue as it felt really tough and my legs went a little jelly-like.

Higher still, there were paths going in many different directions and it was tricky choosing the right line. We ascended a scree chute before scrambling up some rocks, while others nearby chose an alternative (and easier) looking route.

Ascent of Bla Bheinn

The actual scramble, described in the route guide, was indeed easy. We saw people ahead appearing to be struggling to ascend a rocky area so opted to veer left on the advice of another party, and this did indeed prove a simpler scramble up the rocks. By this point we’d done virtually all of the ascent and it was only a short distance to the summit.

Before the final ascent of Bla Bheinn with Marsco peeping through

The summit was surprisingly busy, with a family of four, and the six others we’d played tig and tag with on route up. The views over to the Black Cuillin were spectacular and it was great to see the mountains that Bruce had previously enthused about. Part of the ridge was engulfed in cloud and as it blew over other parts cleared.

Time passed, the cloud grew thicker and darker, and it became very apparent that a heavy rain shower was heading our way. Consideration was given to waiting it out on the summit but we decided instead to head off and possibly shelter further down. The last thing we wanted was to be midway through the scree when it got heavy. As it transpired, although the rain came it was very fleeting and appeared to have moved along the top, largely missing us.

The descent proved far easier than the ascent. Tricky sections were negotiated by having more points of contact – in other words, using my bum! Heading down as part of a larger group may also have helped, easy chat flowing among us all, distracting from the task in hand.

Good path further down on Bla Bheinn

We managed to avoid the scree section that scared me previously – no idea why we couldn’t do that on the way up – and before long we were back on the good lower path, then enjoying the fine walk back, which is when I realised how steep the drop into the gorge was! Stunning views along the return leg.

Overall, a great day out for my 150th munro, and a delight to share in Bruce’s completion of the Skye munros. Chapeau!

Seana Bhraigh: A Long Day

Leaving Ullapool we opted to head for Seana Bhraigh, the munro we could have added on yesterday but didn’t due to the inclement weather. Having now done it I’m still undecided if I would have enjoyed it yesterday. It was quite a lengthy walk, although didn’t look that much of a leap from Eididh nan Clach Geala.

Starting out at the same car park we followed the good fire road for a time before branching off. While the track remained good, it did climb quite steeply to begin with, and I was glad of Bruce’s company on reaching the deer fence as I couldn’t get the gate open. I really wouldn’t have wanted to climb over it!

Continuing to climb, coming out of the trees the views opened up and with beautiful clear skies they truly were stunning. As the path flattened it also became a little boggier, although even crossing the peat hags we were fortunate in not getting too clarted in muck, and conditions underfoot were better than we’d expected.

Further on, crossing the Allt Gleann a’Mhadaidh was easy with stones to hop across. Even I wasn’t phased by it! As we progressed we could see yesterday’s hill and the views in all directions were stunning. An Teallach looked particularly impressive and we could see Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor Suilven and Canisp.

Passing the lochans we headed towards the gully. This took us quite steeply down the side of a stream, the path ahead for Seana Bhraigh tantalisingly visible, but frustratingly far with regard to distance still to cover. This area was quite marshy and had the potential to be boggy and a directional challenge if not walking on such a fine day. Debating the best route, we found our middle ground and were soon on the final ascent.

This proved to be the most challenging part of the day. The ground was very wet and boggy and we had to diagonally traverse the hillside in order to gain the summit. There are two cairns, the first being the lowest, so we skirted around this and headed for the main summit. The final pull was blessedly short and we managed to reach the top ahead of the rain that we could see moving in towards us, drinking in the lovely views before donning the waterproofs for the descent.

At this point, Bruce suggested this may be the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. However, although we did have the jackets on and off a few times, we did also get a couple of brief, but heavy showers and a short spell of more persistent rain before the skies cleared again. An Teallach provided our weather forecast – when it was in cloud or with rain visible we knew it wouldn’t be long before it reached us.

Gate of Ca’-derg

The return route was simple, retracing our steps for the most part. It was a long walk back (as it was a long walk out) but we made decent time overall, finally reaching the car just after 8 hours from leaving, 17.5 miles in our legs! Mission accomplished. How glad was I to get to sit in the car!