Spectating at BHGE 10k

BHGE 10k is one of Aberdeen’s biggest races. As such it attracts lots of people from the local running community and is great fun for spectating! (Other races are available too: I’d recommend the Metro 10k and Dyce Half for starters)

Running a 10k didn’t fit with my marathon training so instead I opted to get my long run in yesterday, a lovely early start at 7 am, enabling me to finish my 20 miler at Aberdeen parkrun. I had the fun challenge of chasing the Tail Walker, and was very happy to meet Bryan and his son part way along the upper prom.

A very early night ensured I was fit and able for another early start. Picking up Alan, we headed down to Satrosphere, cheekily parking there as we intended to return there for coffee post-race. The Sand Dollar then provided a safe haven and breakfast of the BEST poached eggs and toast, while we chatted and spotted running friends both outside and in.

We reached the top of the Beach Boulevard just in time to see the Metro Aberdeen team photo. What a sight to behold – great to see so many of our clubmates out in force, and even better later on to see the ladies take a clean sweep of the top three places with Fiona Brian, Claire Bruce and Ginie Barrand claiming the top spots.

We watched the race get underway with the different waves of runners setting off, then heading back up to the top of the Boulevard to drive those around us mad with our enthusiastic cowbell ringing! Here we saw many familiar faces from both parkrun and Metro, alongside the lonely figure of Robbie Simpson who already had a clear lead.

Wishing to linger to see everyone but aware of the speed of the front runners, we decided to head over Broad Hill to our next vantage point where the ‘hill’ is. It’s not really a hill in the grand scheme of things; however, when you’re running hard it does take an effort and tests the legs as the final stretch is approached. On route we met Bill, a fellow parkrunner and the three of us hot footed it up Broad Hill. Just as well, as Robbie Simpson passed below as we reached the top. What an effort!

The spectators here were then treated to the medley of the cowbells as again we saw lots of familiar faces. What great fun it was! Time flew past as we watched runners of all abilities giving it their best. It was lovely to see so many friends and I was delighted to see my former work colleagues too – you were all great!

Finally we headed back to catch the prize giving and see many clubmates being rewarded across the categories. Huge congratulations to all the prize winners!

Thoroughly enjoyed my morning out. I will run the race again sometime; just not sure when!

Loch Leven Half Marathon: The First ‘18’ Miler of the Training Plan

I can’t quite remember why I signed up for Loch Leven Half Marathon; the only thing that springs to mind is that it was just to give me a race in the build up to my main goal, Fort William Marathon. It’s also a race I’ve only done once, way back in 2008 when I was training for my first marathon.

As it turned out, the Half fell on a weekend where my plan said I should run 18 miles. Those of you who know me will understand that I love a plan and will generally run the miles specified, unless of course I’m injured, so 18 miles it was. If you want to be really pedantic it turned out to be 17.96 miles, but I can live with that! I went a tiny bit over in other runs during the week so it balances out.

Pfitzinger & Douglas Advanced Marathoning

In light of the mileage I decided to make a night of it, staying in Kinross to ensure I would have fresh legs without the stress of a morning drive. While the Travelodge at the Kinross Services was not quite 5 star, it served my purpose well – cheap and quiet with a very comfortable bed, I zonked out early and fitted in 10 hours sleep! Despite this, I was still tempted to stay in bed for a few more hours.

Breakfast in my room was hearty – a porridge pot, banana, and pain au chocolat, washed down by peppermint tea and hot water. I’ve no idea after that why I was worried about having enough energy to make it round 18 miles! That’s probably enough to see several people round.

Setting off later than planned due to my bad time keeping – the more I have the worse I am, and I’d gotten engrossed in my book rather than heading for the shower – I made it to the Community Campus just before 10 am for registration. This turned out to be cutting it fine as the car park was hoaching so I ended up across the road at the medical centre, figuring it was Saturday and they’d be closed. I took advantage of running from here to registration, then having a minor panic as I had no idea where the start was and worried that I’d not find it when the time came if I went running due to my lack of directional sense. As it was, it was well signposted and there was no way you could miss it. I therefore headed along in that direction,  continuing round the town in a straight line from the start before doubling back, rather than turning right or left. I bumped into two Metro Aberdeen clubmates as I ran back along the main street, Helen and Sophie, and enjoyed some chat with them before continuing on. I timed it well for the start, arriving 10 minutes before the gun, which was perfect for joining the portaloo queue and getting to the line for the starter horn.

Conditions on the course were good. It was hot but a slight breeze gave a little cooling effect. I didn’t set out with a race plan, but the intention to run as I felt, my fear being that I’d run out of steam part way round if I pushed too hard. I necked a gel prior to the start – Torq are my current favourites; although they’re sweet they are very palatable, and so far haven’t been regurgitated unlike others I’ve tried!

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The miles passed steadily, I had a bit of chat with a few other runners, and before I knew it we were hitting the first incline of the day. There was nothing overly steep on the course, a few gentle undulations. The more I run the more I feel that this is no bad thing; it breaks the monotony. Another gel was taken at mile 5, just in case my hearty breakfast didn’t quite see me through.

It was only in mile 8 that I felt the effects of the earlier miles, my legs feeling very hard done by as I pushed up the incline. However, they eased as the terrain levelled out and I was able to push on again. From mile 10 it was mostly downhill and this was great! I enjoyed being able to relax and stretch out my legs, passing a few folks along the way. At this point there’s always the thought that it’s only a parkrun, something I have confidence that I can do no bother.

Continuing on, it wasn’t long before the cowbells at the top of the last very short wee slope up to the road were heard, shortly followed by the announcer at the finish. I love this – it’s a great feeling to have your name shouted as you approach the finish line, and alongside the wee groups of friendly spectators and cheery marshals this really did add to the race experience.

I was delighted to see my friend Hilary at the finish line, topping to say a brief hello before running off to beat the shower queues. It was very enjoyable thereafter, out in the sunshine watching others finish their runs. Metro Aberdeen did well – good times and happy runners – and it was lovely to share the race experience over lunch with Tim, Hilary’s husband, who had also run.

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Looking back at my previous run here, I took 10 minutes off my time so that was a boost. Added to that a lovely t-shirt that fits! What more can you ask for?!

Loch Leven Half Marathon

 

Cairn Bannoch and Carn an t-Sagairt Mor: A Blustery Day in the Cairngorms

Enjoying a ‘recovery’ week in my marathon training I eased back a little more than scheduled in order to enjoy some walking this week.

For a change we opted for something closer to home, two munros that Bruce has previously done but that were new for me and our walking companion, Bruce’s friend James. These two seem to favour an early start but I’d stipulated leaving no earlier than 8 am in order that I could enjoy something of a lie in for a change.

Heading for Braemar, we parked just a couple of miles along the road, and walked out towards Loch Callater and the Callater Bothy. Here we met the fine man that maintains the bothy and his lovely big, drooling dog. Enjoyed a blether with them before heading up the path towards Cairn an t-Sagairt Mor.

Starting out, the path that heads upwards just before Loch Callater

The path was very clear and we made decent progress along it. After our recent winter walking experiences it was a pleasure to have on lighter boots and to be able to see clearly what was underfoot! Checking the map, we made the decision to head for Cairn Bannoch, the furthest munro on our journey, returning via Carn an t-Sagairt Mor as it looked like an easy descent and avoided going up the rocky slope.

Heading towards Cairn Bannoch, our first summit of the day

Despite looking like a wee bit of a trek, it was surprisingly close and we popped up to the summit in quick time. I discovered the benefits of a sunhat are two-fold: the primary benefit being self explanatory – shading from the sun; the secondary benefit is that those of us with plentiful hair can see, as the wind blasted mane is kept in check to a greater degree than normal.

Summit Cairn, Cairn Bannoch

Stopping beyond the summit cairn we enjoyed our lunch out of the wind. It was here that walkers and runners converged with a variety of people having come in from a few directions. As always, it was good to engage in some hill chat.

We then retraced our steps and headed back towards Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. These munros are often done as part of a 5 munro day, the White Mounth munros, but having done Broad Cairn and Lochnagar on other occasions and not being a fan of very long days I was happy to miss these out. We were very fortunate, once again, to have clear views all around.

Looking down towards Dubh Loch

It didn’t take long at all before we were on the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, another ‘easy’ munro that has two summit cairns. Bruce advised that due to there being some debate as to which is the true summit we should visit them both. Given that they’re virtually within spitting distance of one another this did not prove too arduous a task.

 

The next step was to seek out the wreckage of the plane crash, one of the things that makes this munro unique. Alongside the fence posts on the cairn were bits of metal from the plane and it didn’t take us long to find the wing, casually tossed on the hillside. This has been there since 1956, and a full account of the incident can be viewed here: http://www.aircrashsites-scotland.co.uk/canberra_c-t-sagairt-mor01.htm

Aeroplane debris just off Carn an t-Sagairt Mor

It made me wonder how it must feel in that moment when you realise your plane is headed towards the mountain; probably best not to dwell on that.

It was very blustery here so we didn’t linger; there was also the thought of coffee and cake drawing us back to Braemar, so without further ado we turned towards the summit once again, then taking a route back towards Loch Callater. We quickly picked up a path and again made good time as we descended.

Views back to Loch Callater

The bothy was soon reached and it was then a few quick miles along the landrover track to return to the car park and subsequently to Braemar for the long awaited coffee and cake. A great end to a very enjoyable day!

Homeward bound, path back from Carn an t-Sagairt Mor

Loving the trails again!

For a while after the marathon last July, and over the winter, I felt like I’d lost the love of running. Maybe as I didn’t have a goal? I think I need to have a purpose and something to strive for; although at times I do enjoy running for running’s sake, I’m definitely better when I’m focused.

Today I had to run 16 miles, my longest run in some time. It was scheduled to be a 6 mile warm up followed by 10 miles at marathon pace. I decided to break the rules!

Having run a ‘hard’ 15 miles last week I figured that counts as a marathon paced run. There’s also the challenge of figuring out what marathon pace actually is for Fort William. The undulating, multi-terrain course doesn’t lend itself to the calculators in the same way as a road run. Last year I trained to a notional road pace and did these MP runs on flat pavements figuring I’d get the benefits later in the year. This year I’m open to suggestion on what’s the best approach, today opting more to run by feel.

Setting off before 8 am, the plan being to catch the Metro social Sunday crew for coffee later, I headed from Hazlehead over to Countesswells. It was slightly chilly but the sun was out and I truly loved running today! I ran with a smile on my face, enjoying the freedom, the fresh air, and even the three loops of Kings Hill. I genuinely do believe that more daylight is making me feel much better on the whole.

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It was one of those great days when everything comes together and a true feeling of flow is achieved. Having just tackled the final slope, I was on the way back towards the car park when I stumbled upon the Sunday gang. Timing couldn’t have been better!

A very enjoyable end to the run with lots of chat for the last few miles and even company up and down the reps lane to round off the miles! Perfect 👌

Trac Run Balmoral 15 Mile Trail Race

This year I decided to enter the Balmoral 15 mile race on a whim as it fitted with my marathon plan (which specified a 15 mile long run). It’s always good to run somewhere different and given that I’ve only done this race once before, way back in 2012 when I found it very tough, I decided to give it a bash.

I’d planned a leisurely drive out to allow plenty of time for parking and walking to the start. Given the fine weather that we’ve had I had no doubts about clothing – shorts and vest all the way. Fine in principle, most unlike me though as I usually have various options packed just in case, ultimately opting for shorts and vest after dithering for considerable time, and I did start to question my decision as the temperature started to drop on the way out the road and a few spots of rain began to fall on the windscreen.

It proved to be chillier than expected while waiting for the start and I was therefore delighted to avail myself of the shelter offered by the Fit Like Joggers tent. Thanks David for the hospitality! This lovely group are going from strength to strength – it’s so good to see!

I also bumped into Kirsty, fellow Metro runner, who kindly gave me a spare pair of gloves to keep my hands warm until the start. Very much appreciated!

Trac 15 Mile Trail Race, Run Balmoral

Time passes quickly when chatting, and with a few fellow Metro runners around it didn’t feel long before the call up to the start line. As the toilet queue had taken longer than anticipated, this resulted in a quick dash to dump my bag at the FLJ tent with not much time to think about anything else – no bad thing as I still sometimes find myself on a start line wondering why I’m there.

Trac Balmoral 15 Mile Trail Race
Thanks to McGarva Photography for the photographs: http://www.pbase.com/mcgarva

The route heads straight out on a tarmac road, progressing to fire roads and land rover tracks. My overall aim was to run faster than my previous attempt (2:21) and ideally around 2:15. I’m not one for doing races as training runs – if the Metro vest has a number on it I’m racing! However, I had to be mindful of the fact that last time I ran 15 miles was, I think, in The Illuminator.

I’m a bit vague on the detail of the race, but I can recall loving it most of the way. The trails were good, the weather was kind with some sun now and then, and the wind didn’t have any adverse effect. For much of the run I was smiling, both inside and out.

The climb up towards Lochnagar was not the climb I experienced last time: more miles in the legs, consistency of training, and a lot more hill walking have contributed to better leg strength and overall endurance. I have to say, I was very surprised when I rounded a corner to find that I had done most of the ascent.

Strava Profile, Trac 15 Mile Trail Race, Run Balmoral

There was a wee bit of everything on the route: tarmac, fire roads, landrover tracks (stony and grassy), and a wee bit of single track to keep you on your toes.

The descent was fast. Having been disappointed at The Illuminator to lose quite a few places on the descent I’d determined to better my skills, the geek in me leading to YouTube, and viewing had suggested using the arms to balance and allowing gravity to do the work. I put this into practice, and combined with being able to see the trail ahead, better than in the dark, it did improve my descent times. Exchanging pleasantries with another runner I commented that we were now less than a parkrun from the finish.

As promised, there was then the sting in the tail at around 13 miles. I’m sure this wasn’t as hard as it felt, but the ascent here felt tough.

I was breathing hard, which I hadn’t been until this point, and it took all my determination to keep running;on the upside, there wasn’t a stream of people passing me so we must all have felt the same! Finally, a steep descent saw us drop back down to the tarmac road and from there the finish was in sight – a very welcome sight it was too!

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Lovely to receive the vocal Metro support on the approach to the finish – thank you! The announcement of all the runners crossing the line also adds to the special finish. Water, medal and t-shirt collected it was then time to congratulate my fellow runners and head back out to cheer others in.

Run Balmoral, 21st Event

Huge congratulations to everyone that completed the Devil of Deeside – two events on Saturday (5k & 10k) followed by the Duathalon & 15 mile run today (Sunday); you’re all superhuman!

Finally, thanks to everyone that helped to organise or volunteered today; your support and encouragement along the way was most welcome!

Official time: 2:01:35

Pretty delighted with that – thanks to my Dad for highlighting that this is in fact a PB! The rarity of the 15 mile race experience meant I’d not quite registered that! A great day out; hopefully I’ll Run Balmoral again before another six years passes.

Tyndrum, Days 4-6 (‘Spring’ holiday)

Day 4: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy
Having very much enjoyed the last few days but feeling somewhat tired, I’d resolved last night that today would be a day off. The original plan had been to have breakfast, read my book (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) and go for a run along the West Highland Way. The weather forecast went in my favour though as with high winds and rain to come, Bruce opted to have a ‘rest’ day too so I had company for a walk instead.

Thus, after another excellent breakfast (freshly baked trout for him & porridge, fruit, scones and yogurt for me, no chance of starving when staying with Heather at Tigh-Na-Fraoch, we headed off along the West Highland Way to Bridge of Orchy. This is a fine easy walk, all the more so when the legs are weary, and we made good time.

At Auch we diverted to recce the river crossings for Beinn Mhanach, a potential walk for the coming days. Our concern was that the river may be in spate due to the rise in temperatures, and while it wasn’t excessively high it was quite fast flowing. The decision was made to leave this for a summer day instead.

West Highland Way: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy
WHW Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

Heading back onto the trail, we passed the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and continued up the WHW to get to the viewpoint, stopping for photos before heading back to the bar.

As always along the way, there were some friendly folks to chat to – these three turned out to be in the same boat as us, walking the hills and staying lower because of the weather.

Heading off we went out early to catch the bus. Having successfully hitchhiked from this point previously I suggested that we should try to thumb a lift ahead of the bus to save a few bob! In the ten minutes we had two cars stop – the first, a mountain biker who was willing to rearrange his car (and bike) to fit us in – we declined as with the bus being imminent it seemed rather unfair on him; the second was two ice climbers who’d been on Ben Nevis and were heading back down South. We were delighted, simple pleasures, and enjoyed the chat on the road back to Tyndrum. As we walked back towards our B & B the bus passed. Thankfully their car was long gone!

To complete the circle, I can now add retrospectively that we came home via Bridge of Orchy in order to return the favour, giving a lift along to a lovely young American couple who had decided to knock a few miles off their long day. Balance is restored!

Day 5: Beinn Achaladair & Beinn a’Chreachain
It was one of those perfect hill days according to the weather forecasters (Met Office, I hasten to add, not MWIS) – not too windy, foggy for starting out but due to clear with the prospect of sun. It was therefore a no-brainer for us. We needed to do something scenic and may as well go for a big day out!

Off once agaain the first challenge of the day was to be the river crossing at the Water of Tulla. We walked up and down for a bit trying to find a good crossing place.

Heading out to Beinn Achaladair (in search of a crossing place)

Options were limited, with deeper water in places and a lack of stones within jumping distance; I can run but I’m not blessed with the ability to jump or throw! Bruce eventually bit the bullet and crossed, only dipping one leg in to the knee which with his gaiters on wasn’t too bad. Me, being a bit more cautious and accident prone, walked further upstream, walked some more, and finally had to strip off more of my clothes than I’d like in order to don a spare pair of liner socks and wade across, very grateful that there was nobody else around for all our sakes. It wasn’t as cold as anticipated but seeing the supportive husband capturing the moment on camera tipped me over the edge and provoked an impressive array of colourful language!

Safely across, I dried off and dressed. We proceeded to follow the path around, eventually starting to gain some height. The path went on to climb pretty relentlessly and unfortunately there was no sign of the fog burning off.

Eventually reaching the ridge of Beinn a’Chreachain, still in the fog and with tricky underfoot conditions – lots of snow which was a little slidey in places – we opted for the precautionary measure of both the ice axe and crampons. This should have been spectacular but instead was somewhat scary; the ridge narrowed, the wind got up and it wasn’t clear how far the drop was due to the lack of visibility. Once again I was venturing out with my comfort zone.

Heading up Beinn a'Chreachain

The ridge soon widened and we made it up to the first munro summit of the day. The wind was still strong so we chose not to linger here, instead just pausing for a quick photo before battling on.

Summit of Beinn a'Chreachain

Dropping down was easy enough, the snow assisting with a quick descent before the steep climb to our second summit, Beinn Achaladair began. This was really daunting, appearing just to keep going up into the fog. The fact that the drops were again not visible, combined with a gradient that would challenge me on a fine day, never mind a day like this with snow covering the slopes, again led me to feel a little less than delighted to be here. Ultimately there wasn’t a whole lot of option but to keep going as the prospect of trying to retrace our steps did not appeal either!

Tricky navigation between Beinn a'Chreachain and Beinn Achaladair in snow & fog

Climbing into the cloud we did finally reach a flatter plateau and found the summit. Again, only time for a quick photo stop. Shortly after we paused to put on our waterproof trousers to try and combat the windchill. It really was getting quite bitter and any pause led to slight shivering and feelings of cold seeping in. Top tip for putting your waterproofs on a windy summit: sit on your rucksack; that way nothing’s blowing away, even if there is the danger of squishing any remaining food!

The hard part over, the crampons came off. The snow had softened again which meant that going downhill our feet sunk in well. I felt comforted by this as I figured that worse case scenario I could sit down and stall myself by sinking in should I slip, hopefully not going too far. Thankfully this wasn’t required.

Very snowy descent from Beinn Achaladair

The descent was fairly quick with regular checks of the bearings to ensure we were headed in the right direction. Finally we dropped out of the fog and could see the path ahead which was very refreshing indeed! By this point we only had a few miles left and I was no longer phased by anything! Stream crossing? Wade through it! Snow covering a burn? I’ll take my chances, fall through it and sink in to my knees. What’s the worst that can happen?

Coming off Beinn a'Chreachain

I can’t begin to express how happy I was to see the road appear in the distance and to know that the end was in sight. The day, according to Walk Highlands, should have taken around 7 hours. They’re usually pretty accurate and we finish within their forecasted times, but today was an 8.5 hour day for us.

In all honesty, it’s probably one of the toughest days I’ve done in the hills and again one that pushed me to my limits. Am I glad I did it though? Definitely yes, especially when safely home reflecting on the day with a glass of wine in hand. Amazing how a couple of hours can change perspective on things!

Day 6: Beinn Fhionnlaidh
We headed for Beinn Fhionnlaidh as it was an ‘easy’ munro – relatively short distance and not too long.

A fine easy start, we began by heading along a road towards the estate houses. From here it was quite a steady ascent which felt steep, but this could be due to the miles already in the legs. Mercifully, and for reasons unknown, this was incredibly dry! This was a real treat after all the boggy ground we’ve had.

Progressing upwards, we were slow and steady. It was around 500 m before we started to get cold as it was very windy indeed! The jackets went on here and the hood went up as it’s a struggle to see with hair all over your face! It’s one of the rare times I envy my follically challenged husband!

Heading up to Beinn Fhionnlaidh, decent paths for a munro

The route continued climbing steadily, we passed a couple of wee lochans, and the ground became stonier. The surprising thing was that there was very little snow. Thus, we’d carried our crampons and ice axes for nothing – this was in itself a pleasant surprise.

Beinn Fhionnlaidh, summit cairn approaching

Continuing to the summit, the views were absolutely stunning! We saw Ben Nevis, Mull, and so many mountains around the Glencoe area. Beautiful! While Bruce captured the views I sat down having been blasted against the trig point by the wind, increasing my sense of vulnerability.

Amazingly enough, as we turned and made our way down the wind completely died. It was quite surreal having been buffeted all the way up. This allowed us to progress at a leisurely pace and stop to enjoy lunch in the sunshine. Beyond this it was a fairly easy walk, quickly descending back towards the estate houses.

Beinn Fhionnlaidh, descent from the plateau

What a way to finish the holidays! A truly spectacular day!

‘Spring’ Holiday: Tyndrum, Days 1 – 3

Day 1: Meall Ghaordaidh

This was chosen as our first munro of the week as it’s short and a simple up down – allegedly.

A clear parking area was located just after a very clear sign showing the access path to the hill. We donned our boots, fixed ice axes on the rucksacks and headed off – that sounds very swift; in actual time we probably faffed around for 5 minutes. We then quickly realised just how warm it had become and more faffing ensued as layers were shed. In contrast to last time we were out, we were comfortably in base layers until well up the hill.

The path was decent, albeit a little wet and boggy, gaiters on though, we were unperturbed. The snow line was high, around 750 m, and we were fortunate in that even at this level it was quite patchy. It was only towards the final pull that we swapped poles for an ice axe just to be safe, and managed to the top with no need for crampons, the snow being pretty soft.

On reaching the dizzy heights of my 111th munro, Bruce asked, “How many munros have you done now?”

This is a standing joke as I’ve usually got no idea and he can tell me as he remembers things. On this occasion though, as I replied correctly, a little voice in my head queried whether you’ve done the munro if you’re not yet back down. Hold this thought!

Heading downwards we retraced our steps (and those of others who had passed through previously), making our way through the snow with relative ease. Off the snow I stopped for a comfort break and Bruce carried on. I couldn’t have been far behind him, but lost sight of him. I blew my whistle and shouted but no response. I lost the boggy path. Meanwhile, he’d gone a little further down and realised he’d lost me, also shouting and getting no response.

Thinking I’d come upon him soon I tried using OS Locate to get an exact pinpoint on the map – it didn’t work. I had a compass showing but no grid reference. On return to the B & B, having reinstalled it, I now realise that you need to give it access to location services on your phone. Oops!

Anyway, with no ability to get a proper reference point I vaguely orientated my map in line with where I’d come from. I then made the mistake of following what I thought was the main burn – it was in fact a small tributary but everything’s bigger just now with the snow melt – and ended up back at the road as planned, but a mile or so up from where I should have been!

Despite the unfortunate turn of events this all turned out okay. A minor feeling of panic as I descended wondering where husband was had been reciprocated as he shouted and retraced his steps to find me. As I saw the car coming into view I hollered and blew my whistle, just in time to catch him about to embark on the next ascent. For once, timed to perfection!

Day 2: Stob Coir’an Albannaich & Meall nan Eun

Having debated last night which walk to do with concerns of streams in spate and marshy ground due to yesterday’s rain we settled for the above munros. As we headed up the boggy path we did briefly question our judgement; the marshy grass was slow going and a steady incline meant that although we were gaining height it was neither quick nor easy.

Initial climb towards Stop Coir'an Albannaich

Continuing up we had to cross a series of small waterfalls and streams. The main issue here was snow – although we could hear the water flowing we were in effect walking over it, hoping that the snow was still firm enough to hold our weight. We wouldn’t have come to any real harm as the water would have been shallow but walking with wet feet’s not particularly pleasurable! Thankfully we reached the bealach dry.

The true ascent then started with the top of Stob Coir’an Albannaich in sight. We followed the curve of the slope up and around, and I was grateful to Bruce for taking the lead for much of this. It’s far easier following in someone else’s footsteps rather than having to break trail yourself. The snow was fairly soft and for the most part the walking was fairly easy. The thing that played on my mind was the steep descent to come between the tops, as per the Walk Highlands route guide.

Stob Coir'an Albannaich

Reaching the summit cairn we stopped to admire the views which were stunning. The cornices along the top of the ridge were very apparent and I really did start to worry about what lay ahead! Having checked the map and route guide the line of descent became clear and it was somewhat steeper than I’d have liked.

Initially we dropped down to a bealach. This proved manageable once started despite looking (to me) quite horrific in the beginning. The next step was to find the rake that lead down to the next bealach: it was steep but the softer snow allowed our feet to sink in. Alongside the comfort of the ice axe it quickly saw me reach the floor of the bealach, although if I’m honest I did have a feeling of panic at the start of the descent from the cairn. The upside of heading for a bealach is knowing that you will stop if you slide. This was the fear higher up – how far down would you go, and what might you hit, before stopping!

The walk to the second munro, Meall nan Eun was easy. We ascended a peak between, Beinn Tarsuinn, which was a pleasant walk with gentle incline compared with what we’d done previously, followed by another short descent and the final push up to the munro. It proved stunning as the views around were breathtakingly clear.

During the ascent we’d had a brief spell of gentle rain. This may have added to the chill as prior to this we’d been warm; however it happened, we chose not to linger too long as the cold was noticeably for the first time.

Heading back across the plateau we had another descent to tackle. This was an experience indeed! Essentially we had to drop down the steep crags (snow covered) and lose height quickly. Bruce led the way and I followed in his footsteps again. However, at one particularly steep section he suggested I’d be better going a marginally different route as it may prove easier. I found myself frozen to the spot, terrified, as I became very aware that the soft snow may well give way beneath my feet resulting in a slide downwards! Bruce was somewhat surprised by my polite request for help, and calmly coached me to use my ice axe to hold the position, dig my feet in and go sideways. Having succeeded with this I was then able to get moving more comfortably again, all the while being given gentle encouragement from below – my hero!! (He later told me that he could tell I was scared so figured not to crack jokes or take the mickey!)

Steep descent from Meall nan Eun

Back on the grass, although we still had a good height to descend it felt easier. The ground was much better than the route up with a decent path; despite the boggy wet conditions in places we made good progress. A few small waterfall and stream crossings eventually took us back to a land rover track and after this it was only a short walk back to the car.

Off the hills - a totally different day to the summits!
Walking back out from Stob Coir’an Albannaich and Meall nan Eun

A truly joyful day in the hills again: felt like I was pushing my limits at times but looking back I’d do it again.

Day 3: Ben Challum

Opting for a shorter day, we decided to try Ben Challum. Despite being short this hill was a hard slog, climbing steadily after crossing the railway line across boggy ground. The snow, as we progressed, took care of the bogs and again we were able to walk across covered streams and areas that would otherwise have been unpleasant.

Cloudy Ben Challum

The views further up are said to be quite spectacular but sadly we didn’t get to appreciate them. The cloud was low and it became very foggy as we approached the top. The snow line was higher than it has been (around 900 m) and again the snow was slightly wet allowing the feet to sink in making progress easier, particularly on the descents. A familiar story, ice axes provided security for self belaying, but crampons were just extra weight in the rucksack, along with the Microspikes, spare gloves, down jacket, base layer, hat and 2 buffs!

Summit of Ben Challum
Distinct lack of visibility

As the snow got deeper I had a fleeting moment of thinking maybe this is as far as I go. However, Bruce assured me that we were within a few hundred metres of the summit. Problem was that you couldn’t see the summit, and with the route guide describing a cleft on the ridge I was worried we’d fall down it! It transpired the cleft wasn’t too big, we didn’t fall down it and we did get to the top safely. On this occasion the return leg was far easier, retracing our steps back down.

Ben Challum in fog

As we descended the sun attempted to break through and the route opened up to show views back down. It’s amazing how much less steep and scary something is when you can actually see it!

Coming out of the cloud on the descent from Ben Challum

Another one done, and I feel done!