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

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!

Arrochar Weekend: A Tale of Two Parts

Keen to get some more hills in his legs, Bruce had been watching the weather forecast during the week, and off the back of this we booked an impromptu weekend away. Heading off on Saturday, earlier than planned due to big winds putting paid to his golf, we enjoyed a leisurely drive down the road with a lovely coffee stop in Crieff (I’d recommend Cafe Rhubarb if ever you’re passing through). As with all good walking weekends, food features strongly, and we very much enjoyed a couple of evenings in Ben Arthur’s Bothy – the chicken pakora is highly recommended!

Arriving in Arrochar we settled into a lovely B & B (Two Stones) and marvelled at the glorious view of The Cobbler (Ben Arthur) from the window. This is not a hill that either of us have climbed but I’d put money on there having been hoards of walkers up it on Sunday due to the magnificence of the day.

I’m going to record the weekend back to front, as Monday was not my best hill day ever! In line with finally reaching the holidays my body decided it was time to shut down and I succumbed to yet another sore throat. This didn’t impede me on Sunday due to so many other positives, but on Monday I really couldn’t be bothered! The forecast 40 mph winds for Ben Vane with 50 mph gusts did nothing to whet my appetite for walking, and after a lovely breakfast (waffles with bacon and maple syrup) we headed off. In fairness to Bruce, I had been given the option of going home, but the nature of our relationship is that we like to give one another the freedom to pursue what they wish, and as such I felt it would be unfair of me to stop him enjoying the walk. I therefore set off with a caveat in place that I may or may not go all the way up, wind dependent.

Parking up at Inveruglas I failed to see the coffee shop; probably just as well, as had I seen it I may not have gone any further! We set off, Bruce delighted to be out again, me trying to summon up some energy and enthusiasm for what lay ahead. I resolved to enjoy the walk, whatever it ended up being. While Bruce has completed 164 munros, I have ‘only’ (including Sunday) done 110. Running is my first love and while I do very much enjoy getting out in the hills for me it’s about the freedom and the enjoyment of the outdoor environment first and foremost. I tick off my list on Walk Highlands for interest, but have no inclination to complete all the munros at present.

The walk started off well, a good road leading up followed by firm tracks. The only downside was the wind. In contrast to Sunday, full waterproofs were on to keep the chill off, along with hat and gloves. It can at times be the case that the wind blows up the valley and once the ridge is reached it’s not as bad. Sadly I didn’t make it far enough to find out. I bailed when we still had around 400 m of climbing to go as I’d reached the top of the first big climb and just wasn’t feeling the love. Bruce continued solo and got these amazing views.

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Retracing my steps back down to the bridge, I felt bad about leaving him alone, but comforted by the fact that I met a few others heading up the way. I had intended to go back to the car to wait, but the realisation dawned that he was less than a mile to the summit and would get there and back pretty quickly, so I decided just to have a walk up and down whilst waiting (also having a cheeky wee pause to eat a Snickers: mental note for future, on cold days these are in danger of breaking your teeth!)

Before long Bruce came back into view. I was happy to see him return safely, then enjoying the walk back together. Despite not completing the munro I’d still clocked up 8 miles so I was happy.

Sunday, as previously mentioned, was the polar opposite in terms of weather. It was forecast to be the perfect hill day – clear skies, no wind and cloud free munros. We met with Bruce’s friend, Davie, as they’d bailed on an attempt to tackle Beinn Bhuidhe a couple of weeks prior due to the poor, deteriorating conditions. This was the first time I’d had the pleasure of walking with Davie, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. As with the friendly community that is running, it’s rare to meet someone unpleasant in the hills, and with the love of outdoors in common the chat flowed easily throughout the day. My fears of not being able to keep up with them both were unfounded (except maybe on the downhills where Davie showed an ability to descend like a mountain goat!) but he had the good manners to wait for the rest of us (me!) to catch up.

There are no words to describe the spectacular day that we experienced on Beinn Bhuidhe so on this occasion I’m going to let the photos do much of the talking. The panoramic views were truly amazing, with Ben Nevis (I recognised this myself), Mull, and so many other hills (named by Davie who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area, similar to walking with Bruce in the Cairngorms) visible to the naked eye. If every day in the hills was like this I’d defy anyone not to get out there and enjoy it.

The snow added to the experience without impeding our movement. As we reached the ascent towards the ridge we opted to get the crampons on as there was no longer any option but to walk through the snow. Ice axe at the ready, the poles were stashed away on the rucksack and off we went up the broad ridge, afforded yet more amazing views.

The summit reached we stopped for quite some time to admire the spectacular scenery and views all around. Lots of photos were taken, I was thoroughly fascinated by the beautiful snow and ice that had gathered on the cairn, and our hot chocolate tasted better than ever before!

This is why we walk!

Finding Sandy’s Hut: A Surprising Test of Winter Navigation

The hill forecast today was excellent. Following a day of wind and snow, the skies were due to be clear for most of the afternoon with no wind; no better opportunity to get out. Our initial hope had been to head south to the Angus Glens to walk Mayar and Driesh; however, the latest dump of snow gave concerns about how backed up Corrie Fee would be, so instead we opted to head out towards Ballater again.

Various options under consideration we parked up at Glen Muick. Toying with the idea of Conachcraig, a lovely corbett up the Lochnagar path, we finally settled upon heading along Loch Muick with a view to going to Sandy’s Hut before cutting across and going down Corrie Chash or skirting Broad Cairn to head back towards Glas-allt-Shiel.

The purpose of the walk was twofold: making the most of such a cracking and trying out our new winter boots. Following our training day with Braemar MRT we’d become aware of the need to get proper winter boots if planning on using crampons as although the old Meindls can take a crampon, ultimately the soles are too flexible and could lead us into danger.

A trip to Tiso Aberdeen last weekend (and a lengthy boot fitting with Kyle who had the patience of a saint) saw me sporting a rather awesome pair of Salewa Ravens. I’m most delighted with them having walked ten miles today (over 6 hours walking) my feet feel great! They also look pretty cool and I love the colours which is an added bonus!

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Back to the walk … Setting out from Glen Muick it was a little cloudy but soon started to clear as per the forecast. We walked along the south side of the loch following the path until we reached the bridge over the Black Burn. The underfoot conditions weren’t quite as good as we’d hoped for (no need for the crampons as the snow was a little soft) and this made it slow going.

We continued up the zig zags after the bridge and from this point onwards took turns breaking trail. The snow was on average about a foot deep (at times knee deep) so this was pretty tough. On the upside, the skies were clear and the views back down to a Loch Muick and around the White Mounth were stunning! It truly was one of those days where you can’t imagine being anywhere better!

Stunning blue skies stayed with us as we moved across the plateau. However, on stopping for the obligatory Baxter’s tomato soup it started to get a little foggy ahead of us. Conditions very quickly deteriorated after this and it truly did become a test of our winter navigation skills. With everything around us white and with very little variation in the terrain there was nothing by which we could navigate. The OS Locate app proved its worth here and allowed us to take grid references in order to try and find our way to Sandy’s Hut.

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It was during this part of the walk that Bruce took a tumble. A small drop of about 3-4 feet was completely unseen by us both until he stepped off it and went flying! This very much drew our awareness to how easy it would be to step off a cornice in these conditions with no realisation at all!

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Finally reaching the hut we stopped to consider our options. The snow had really slowed us down and we’d only covered 5 miles in 3.5 hours. The decision was therefore to bail and retrace our steps. Logic dictated that going back would be far easier, and the risk of trying to find a snow covered path down the Streak of Lightning (Corrie Chash) outweighed the benefits on this occasion.

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Typically the weather then appeared to clear, the views opening up once again. On looking back though it could be seen that the fog was still clinging to the tops and the decision was the right one.

Back down the zig zags and across the Black Burn we started to notice the thaw. One saving grace today was that temperatures were good, above freezing, and if anything we were running hot. A bit of a plouter at times, we followed the south side path again back to the sanctuary of the car.

All in all not a bad day on the hills, even if it wasn’t what we’d hoped for. Biggest low of the day? Getting to Ballater to discover the coffee shop closes at 5!!! Next time!

Training with Braemar Mountain Rescue Team

You may recall in the not too distant past having your arm twisted to buy some fudge, relaxing on the couch for a session of Reiki, or maybe just being kind enough to make a donation to the very worthy cause that is Braemar Mountain Rescue in exchange for me running the Illuminator, the 15 mile trail race in Aboyne. The event itself was great, but what was even more exciting was that off the back of our fundraising Bruce and I were both invited to spend the day with the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team.

Trying to coordinate dates initially proved a minor challenge as everyone has such busy lives. However, as good fortune would have it today was the day, the weather was very much in our favour and we had a beautiful calm day, thankfully missing the challenging winds that would have made for bitter conditions yesterday! Thus, an early alarm (5:45 am!) woke me from a rather comfortable slumber and after porridge and a quick run through the shower I was good to go, or at least make lunch. Tomato soup (I’ve shared my love for this previously) and a tuna mayonnaise and egg bap – perfect!

The upside of an early morning was the ease with which we travelled out to Braemar. Arriving just in time for our 8:30 am rendezvous, we met with Nick and Derek, our Mountain Rescue hosts, and fellow fundraiser Callum and his dad, Gordon, Callum being the third person who’d raised over £1000.

Perfect hosts they were too! A team training day had seen the arrival and departure of the rest of the gang, and we were left to enjoy the tasty treats they’d not already scoffed, along with our coffee.

Nick led us through an interesting presentation on the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team and whilst I’d previously read and enjoyed the book, ‘Mostly Happy Returns’, that celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2015, the big screen really highlighted the ongoing dedication of the team, the extremes in which they operate, and the harrowing conditions that they face. The fact that everyone on the team chooses to do this on a voluntary basis is something that we should applaud them for. Albeit the role can be fun and exciting at times, it’s not much fun getting called out of your bed in the wee small hours or being out most of the night and getting only a few hours sleep before starting your ‘normal‘ day. (For clarification, that’s my take on it … both members of the team were clearly passionate about their role and its very much part of their lives however challenging it may be).

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The next part of the day involved a tour of the station itself and a look st the rather impressive equipment and vehicles used by the team. I often have a wee moan about the weight of my rucksack, especially if I’ve not had it on for a while. Never again! I have no idea how these folks find the strength to carry this amount of kit up the hills – no wonder they speak so highly of the helicopters that sometimes assist!

Prior to heading out we had our crampons checked for fit and helmets issued for safety during training. Thereafter, we got a wee jolly in the Landrover. This was rather fun. I’ve often wished for a lift when walking in somewhere, and it was great being driven along the track to Loch Callater. A wee bit snowy in places it was interesting to see how the vehicle to some degree slipped around like any other car, the upside being a much greater clearance level!

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Heading off to practise our winter skills, the main purpose of the day with my newly acquired (Christmas presents), ice axe and crampons, I was very much in the camp of ‘all the gear and nae idea!’ Under the careful guidance of Nick and Derek we had the opportunity to try out a range of techniques from moving along the hillside safely and using the ice axe to create better footholds, to ice axe belay and ice axe arrest.

These techniques were practised without crampons for safety. The reality is that you probably would be wearing crampons if encountering a situation where such a technique was deployed, but safety first in practise means no crampons to lessen the risk of bodily injury and expense of ripped clothing! The arrest technique in particular is one that I need to practise further so it may well be the case that as Bruce heads off up a munro I genuinely am found playing near the car park, sliding head first down the hill.

I’m aware that carrying an ice axe home from town requires a bag as it’s classed as a weapon in this context – perhaps one of the team could enlighten me as to whether sliding down the hill in the park practising an arrest while the local kids are sledging later in the week would be considered inappropriate? 🤣

This done, we stopped for the aforementioned lunch before getting the crampons on. This was another learning opportunity, practising using the ice axe to create a platform for standing safely on the slope, with reminders to keep your kit safe at this time. Very useful for someone with little common sense who would undoubtedly otherwise be seeing her rucksack slide out of view!

The lessons continued … walking up, down, and along the hill with crampons, before heading down a steep, albeit short, descent. At this point we were shown how to use the ice axe and crampons to descend safely backwards, then climbing up again (front pointing), to be informed that this would be a Grade 1 climb. Usually someone who would rather take a mile detour than face a scramble if at all possible (much to Bruce’s displeasure) I was somewhat chuffed with myself, although as Bruce said, it’s amazing how much more comfortable you feel knowing you’re out with the MRT!

More play in the snow ensued, now learning how to keep warm and find shelter for bad weather or emergencies. We dug out holes in the snow – not bad for 10 minutes effort – and I learned the importance of keeping your legs lower to ensure you’re not forcing cold blood back towards the heart. Derek’s was the most impressive effort, but he had the advantage of a spade! Perhaps the next purchase might be a rucksack twice very the size of my current daypack!

Finally we meandered back down to the vehicle to pause for photos before heading back to the centre. Another cuppa and some final chat saw the day come to an end.

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I’d like to say a massive thank you to Nick and Derek for giving up their team training today in order to take us out. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did Bruce, and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to talk to you, hearing about your experiences and learning so much in such a short space of time! I will certainly check out the BMC videos you recommended as I’m sure they’ll make so much more sense in light of our training today. Thanks for such a brilliant experience!

Safe travels to you all!

Sgor Mor

Arriving at the Linn of Dee car park it was with a little trepidation that we set off, the car thermometer reading a chilly -5C! Thus, 3 pairs of gloves went on at the outset, prevention being better than cure, and off we went.

A short distance along the track we turned off and headed up through the trees. Looking back (always remember to look back when out in the hills) the sun shone beautifully, a lovely reminder of why we were out today. Continuing on and out of the trees we were then faced with some heather bashing, always a joy! (If you’re not a hill walker you may not detect the sarcasm here).

Coming upon the expected deer fence we headed along to the gate, only to find it frozen shut. Over the gate it was then!

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A further pull up took us onto the plateau that leads to the summit of Sgor Mor. This was stunning as always and today we were treated to blue skies and views of the big mountains around the Cairngorms.

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The trek across the plateau proved frustratingly slow, although on return to the car we realised we’d made decent time so perhaps in this case perception was not quite reality. It did feel like a drag at times – fresh snow having fallen last night provided a very powdery underfoot condition which meant sinking deep as we broke trail. Bruce did most of the work, but I did take a turn on occasion to give his legs a little relief.

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Finally reaching the summit we took in the 360 views:

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The breeze had picked up and the temperature felt like it had dropped quite a bit, so we chose not to linger and instead  found sanctuary just a little way from the cairn to rehydrate with some hot soup. As usual, neither soup nor the accompanying teacake have ever tasted so good!

To return we took a different route, heading cross country to drop down to the path leading  back from White Bridge. Again, the terrain proved frustrating, both of us unexpectedly landing over our knees in snow at points. At this point we looked back but rather than being surprised at how far we’d come, instead, we were disappointed and concerned about how long it had taken to cover such a paltry distance! What was that I said about looking back?!?

Thankfully the boots stayed on, despite having to wriggle out of our indentations in the snow, and it wasn’t long before gaiters were added to keep further snow out. The descent became easier as gravity assisted and we made our way downhill alongside the stream.

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The path was finally reached and good pace was then made back to the car, at which point we agreed that it had been a worthwhile and enjoyable day.

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One final stop led us to The Bothy in Braemar, purveyors of very good coffee and cakes. Then homeward bound it was, thoughts of work and routine starting to creep in. Hopefully not too long until the next escape!