Bruce’s Journey to Compleation

In awe of his achievement (I just go along for the walk and fresh air occasionally), I formulated a list of questions for Bruce and last night got him to humour me and share his journey.

When and how did your Munro journey begin?

August 2009. Clare and I used to do a lot of mountain biking and regularly went to Fort William. On hearing we were going to Fort William on holiday, we were often asked if we were going up Ben Nevis, so on one trip we decided to. We got views, didn’t injure ourselves falling off anything, unlike on the bikes, and enjoyed the experience. (Clare: although not so much the following day when we couldn’t get down the stairs without walking backwards)

Although it took a further 3 years to do the second munro, we decided that climbing munros would be a very good way for us to see Scotland. 

What have been the highlights over the years?

There are too many to mention, but becoming an awful lot more knowledgeable of my home country and making a lot of new friends along the way.

Do you have a favourite Munro?

No, I think the munros very much depend on the conditions that you climb them. Some days are better than others and your favourites tend to be on the days with the best conditions.

However, doing the Aonach Eagach Ridge (this is the U.K. mainland’s narrowest ridge, linking the munros of Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh) was one of my favourite days and a turning point as I realised rather than being scared of scrambling and exposure I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. (Clare: There’s no way you’d get me near the Aonach Eagach; I feel sick looking at these pictures!)

This was to prove invaluable experience when tackling the Black Cuillin on Skye. 

Are there any other highlights? 

Bidean nam Bian in Glencoe on a beautiful May Day holiday when you could see for miles:

Slioch beside Kinlochewe after a night of heavy snow:

Lochnagar on New Year’s Day with the supermoon rising as we walked back along the edge of Loch Muick meaning we didn’t need to use the head torches:

Ben More on Mull where we climbed through the cloud and got a 360 degree cloud inversion:

Geal Charn, beside Loch Laggan, when the American Thunderbirds (US red arrows) flew right over our heads:

Beinn Alligin, my first trip to Torridon, such a spectacular area:

I’ve been really lucky to have so many highlights.

Have there been any low points?

Thankfully not many. There have been a few days where the weather started badly and got worse, with days turning into a wet boggy trudge, but we generally used these days with poor visibility as a test of navigation.

Probably the low point was when I witnessed a companion slipping and falling around 60 feet down cliffs on the Black Cuillin on Skye. I had no idea of the extent of his injuries and spent a highly emotional few hours walking back to my car as our guide waited with him for Mountain Rescue to make a helicopter recovery. Thankfully I discovered later that evening that his injuries, albeit serious, were not life-threatening and he’s since made a full recovery.

What was your longest day in the hills?

Fourteen hours, when I did the Fisherfield round covering 5 munros in one day. We walked out, wild camped, then climbed the 5 munros before having to make 2 river crossings, the first of which I fell into, to make the return to our camp. We waded across the second in the dark, so I was rather wet by the time I got back to my tent.

There have also been two 12 hour days – one covering the Ben Alder 6 with a cycle out and back in high summer (Clare: When it was first suggested that we might consider the 6 munros rather than the planned 4 there were various thoughts in my head, none of them polite! However, it turned into one of the best hill days I’ve experienced):

Another was when I did all 9 of the Fannichs in a day, the most munros I’ve covered in one go. It poured all day and we got no views at all! That day certainly tested map and compass skills.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in taking up hill walking?

  1. Learn the basics – how to use a map and compass.
  2. Spend the most money you can on boots as you could be wearing them for a long day.
  3. Never be afraid to turn back. The hills will always be there another day. 

On that note, have you ever had to turn back on a day out?

Thankfully not too many times but I turned back on Beinn Bhuide during a complete white-out, despite the fact that it was a very long walk in before we even started ascending. We turned back at just over 700 metres, probably less than an hour from the top. I went back a few weeks later and had one of the best winter walks I’ve ever had with blue skies and great visibility which I’d have missed out on had we continued that first day.

What’s been your best purchase – clothing and kit?

On clothing, possibly my Berghaus Light Hike waterproof trousers. They pack down really small and are so light you hardly notice you’re wearing them. They’re a perfect fit for me and despite several holes and a repaired 6 inch split after an ice axe arrest practise went wrong (Clare: duct tape is your friend!), they’re still totally waterproof and going strong. They don’t make them anymore, so when I saw a company on Amazon selling them off last year I had to buy another pair for when my current ones finally get binned. 

On the equipment side, I bought a basic Garmin GPS (eTrex 10) many years ago as a back-up to using a map and compass. It’s clarified positions and routes we want to travel many times and is worth it’s weight in gold.

What’s in your rucksack that you wouldn’t be without?

Everything! I regularly go through my rucksack to make sure everything is being used. Other than First Aid stuff, if there’s anything I’ve not used in the last 2 or 3 walks it gets taken out.

Do you have any favourite walking websites?

WalkHighlands is a fantastic source of information on all things hill walking: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk

MWIS is my go to for what weather to expect, along with the Met Office that now has forecasts for individual munro tops: https://www.mwis.org.uk https://www.metoffice.gov.uk

SAIS (Scottish Avalanche Information Service) is an essential site to check before going into the hills in winter: https://www.sais.gov.uk

Hill Lists is a fantastic App for tracking which hills you’ve climbed.

I’m sure there are others, but they’re my go-tos. 

What’s next on the agenda?

Next on the agenda is to re-climb some of the munros that I didn’t get any views from, along with revisiting some of my favourites. A few non hill walking friends have expressed a desire to climb a munro so I’ll be making a point of joining them on some of their initial ventures out into the hills.

For anyone reading this who’s inspired to try a munro, what’s a good hill to start with or what should they avoid? 

Know your limits. Consider your experience and fitness levels. Initially go out with someone with experience. Start with something small and easy and work up from there. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a munro as a lot of these are long days. Make sure you enjoy it before committing to a long and strenuous day. 

Finally, which munro are you most looking forward to climbing again?

The next one!

Ballater Weekend featuring Hillgoers Winter Skills Training

Lazy Saturday in Ballater

The ideal Christmas gift, a Winter Skills Day with Hillgoers, led us to Ballater at the weekend. Not being ones for doing nothing, we enjoyed a gentle stroll around the Seven Bridges, my favourite being Polhollick.

Polhollick Suspension Bridge, Ballater

Aside from this the walk was gentle and easy, a fine stroll where we marvelled at nature and the water levels that had been seen in the horrendous flooding of 2015.

The Bothy once again drew us in for coffee and cake, delicious as always, mainly due our feeling that mid-afternoon was not an acceptable time to go to the pub!

Later, having checked into our B & B we did just that; a busy night in the Balmoral Bar in Ballater! A decent meal saw us ready for an early night, looking forward to the skills day ahead.

Hillgoers Winter Skills

Meeting at The Bothy, this time in Braemar rather than Ballater, my fears were confounded when the other four participants in the group (husband included) were all male. Instructor Bill, however, very quickly allayed said concerns without even trying, introducing himself, getting the teas and coffees in, and settling us into a relaxed chat about the day ahead. Key to this was that the focus was on learning and support for one another.

After our initial chat, covering the planning and preparation stages of our walks including need to check the weather and avalanche forecasts for a few days prior, we headed out. Originally planned for Glenshee and postponed due to ridiculously strong winds last weekend – you’d have struggled to be upright, let alone hear anyone – again, the weather forecast was mixed and due to get windier, albeit not on the same scale, so we headed out to Glen Callater instead.

Loch Callater Bothy

The walk out to Loch Callater Bothy takes around an hour. It’s pretty much flat, along a good landrover track, and today had a decent covering of snow. This had fallen overnight and was reportedly better than the slushy conditions encountered by yesterday’s Hillgoers group.

Despite this, the snow made it a wee bit of a slog so it was a relief to come upon the bothy. As we approached, the snow began to fall lightly. This was especially welcome as Braemar was likely encountering rain if the aforementioned forecast was correct.

Into the bothy it was time for a snack, some hot chocolate, and the opportunity for Bill to check that we all knew how to put our crampons on and ensure they fitted our boots properly.

Loch Callater Bothy tucked into the slope

As is often the case, the world proved to be extremely small. Bill, having recognised me from running circles, transpired not to be the only runner. Others in the group also had links to friends through work and running interests, and it was entertaining establishing how we were all connected through mutual friends and interests throughout the course of the day.

The Fun Begins: Onto the hill

Refreshed, we headed out onto the hill. As we went up, Bill took the lead and did the hard work allowing the rest of us to follow behind, demonstrating energy saving techniques used when volunteering with Braemar Mountain Rescue Team. Second in line then also did some work, treading on the backs of Bill’s footsteps and creating a bit more of a channel, and so on. Being second last (or back of the pack)I enjoyed a stroll up the hill with minimal effort. I did feel somewhat guilty about this, but not guilty enough to move forward, the others seeming quite content and the distance to be covered relatively short.

I did appreciate Bill’s honesty and humour; when stopping for a mini lecture on conditions or technique, he admitted this was more due to the need for a rest after the exertions than urgency to impart information at this particular moment.

Boots as Tools

The first thing we practised was using our boots as tools, winter boots having harder soles with less flexibility making them better for kicking. We practised using the edges of our boots to gain stability while traversing across the hill, developing confidence in our movements. Quick movement downhill was also demonstrated and practised, including a technique for scree. I’m still not convinced I particularly wish to use this, but I may try it one day – I do ‘love’ a scree slope! Perhaps I should practise a bit more on snow first.

During this time the weather began to change, snow falling and, as the afternoon progressed, wind picking up. Having swithered this morning about my thermal leggings I was quite delighted to have put them on, at no point during the day feeling cold, and glad that I’d put up with overheating a little on the walk out.

The Real Fun: Ice Axes

Initially we practised the self belay, the idea being that this becomes instinctive and can effectively prevent a slip turning bad. Although the snow was pretty soft, this was an ‘easy’ technique to get my head around in the grand scheme of the day.

My initial attempts at self belay

The Inner Child

It doesn’t take much for me to find my inner 5 year old, so I was in my glory when it was suggested that we should all have some fun rolling down the hill in order to flatten the snow, creating an icy slide. One roly poly made me realise that my brain doesn’t work in quite the same way as it apparently used to; it was amazing how disoriented I felt, not sure which way was up and struggling to walk in a straight line! I found sliding down on my belly, head first, to be equally (if not more) satisfying!

Slide made, Bill then clearly demonstrated the techniques required to use our ice axes to arrest should we slip when walking. Previously for Bruce and I, these arrests had been taught through falling onto our fronts with legs pointing downhill.

Bruce in the act of arrest

Today was a whole new experience! Not many falls are graceful and easy; we therefore had to learn techniques for falling backwards and forwards, with both involving a headfirst slide.

The supportive environment and the group dynamic allowed us to have a lot of fun with this. Coordination is key – I’m not blessed on this front – but I do have an awareness of teaching physical skills and was quite comfortable practising the movements while upright and waiting my turn, aware that it will take lots of practise before this is in any way ‘unconscious’. Ultimately, the key skill was to master the initial control, getting the axe into position and the pick into the ground, thus allowing momentum to turn the body to the right direction before then stopping properly. It’s amazing how easy it can look when done by some accomplished! That wasn’t me!

I have a feeling I’ll be rolling around on the living room rug a bit over the coming week – here’s hoping I don’t impale my axe on the sofa!

Cutting Steps and Crampons

Lastly, our learning involved how to use our crampons effectively, the hope being that if we master this art we won’t need to do an ice axe arrest for real. Although using the ice axes was great fun in practise, all the other techniques should be the priority for safety on the hills.

I liked Bill’s analogy for using crampons: walk like a puppet, essentially trying to make contact with as much of the ground as possible, using all points on the crampon to increase grip and stability.

We learned to cut steps, using the ice axe as a pendulum, flattening a small step before moving onto it, thus theoretically allowing others to follow up or down in our footsteps. This is a useful technique if the weather conditions have changed the ground cover.

Back to the Bothy

Heading back down to the bothy, we kept the crampons on. Chat was very easy among the group by this point and it was a pleasurable short descent.

Safely ensconced in the bothy once again, it was time for more hot chocolate (still hot, courtesy of the Stanley flask) and another bite to eat. We were joined by a couple of students who had biked out – good effort – and a couple of lads who’d been out walking.

Finally, the walk back to the car. This passed quickly as we blethered, snow turning more slushy as we approached the car park again.

All in all, a great day out! I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to join Hillgoers on this excellent day, and sincerely thank Bill for his time and efforts. Here’s hoping if I see him again it’ll be a random bumping into at a race, or in the Bothy at Braemar, rather than on a dark hillside when he’s with the Braemar MRT! Thanks to everyone that joined us today – a pleasure sharing your company. Happy walking!

@Hillgoers Winter Skills Training Group

Sgor Mor: Blowin’ A Hoolie

Taking advantage of a decent forecast we decided to head for the hills. Driving out to Braemar the skies looked clearer than expected. Despite being winter there also appeared to be very little snow on the horizon.

After a quick pitstop in Braemar conditions did change as we drove out to Linn of Dee, the road having a light covering of snow and a few icy puddles, just enough for the driver to rein it in as you’re never quite sure of the skid risk.

Arriving at the car park we were greeted by a very friendly robin! He’d just been in the boot of the car next to us and hopped onto my rucksack, perching there proudly. Sadly we didn’t have a camera to hand to capture this lovely moment. He continued to dot around for some time before realising we didn’t have any food for him, leaving to visit the next arrival in the car park.

Setting off, we headed back along the road towards the bridge before following the track alongside the river for a short distance. It wasn’t long before we branched off, beginning our climb (heather bash) up the hillside. This was easy enough in terms of ascent, but a little bit of a slog for the legs due to the lift required with every footstep.

Reaching the deer fence, we headed for the gate, then traversing the hillside a little to reach the flatter ridge. Again, this took time and was hard work. On reaching the flatter ground the heather bashing lessened, the ground becoming more grassy, the grassy tussocks now providing the challenge as they squished underfoot, sinking a little with each step.

As we went up, the wind picked up, the windchill causing the temperature to drop. Having begun with two pairs of thinner gloves, it wasn’t long before the Tuff Bags went on, warming me up nicely and taking the wind away. My freebie Gore neckwarmer (courtesy of a Gore rep at one of the Tiso open evenings) also came up trumps. Pulled up over my mouth, sunglasses on to protect my eyes, hood up for extra warmth, and what was exposed still felt the cold, a wee flurry of snow adding to the wintry feel.

We sheltered near the top of the first minor peak for a snack stop. It was a different world, just dropping a few feet down and totally losing the wind. Refreshed, we battled on into the wind. It really was tough going! The wind was definitely trying to sweep away my walking poles, at times also knocking me off my stride. Bruce later shared that after the second top he’d wondered about just cutting down. I had very similar thoughts, having decided if we’d had any more height to gain I’d have bailed.

As it was we were close to the summit and after a short time we were there. Again, we dropped out of the wind, sheltering to enjoy our lunch before soaking up the views of the neighbouring munros. These had a little more sign of winter but snow cover is still pretty light for the time of year.

Retracing our steps, wind at our backs, we were blown back down towards the stream where we cut down, initially following the stream and then heading for White Bridge. This provided a more gradual descent although it was a tiny bit boggy due to the flatter terrain. The high point of the descent came in the form of a large herd of deer. Impressive in number, we got close enough to see some large antlers before they took flight.

Reaching the path, there was a really wet section. I only realised this as I sank into it, soaking my waterproofs to just below the knee! A slight detour took us back towards the Chest of Dee, some very fast water pouring down; you’d never guess seeing the River Dee meandering along gently further down the path that this was just upstream.

A good track saw us yomp back along to Linn of Dee, making decent time. It was a relief to have some easy terrain after a fairly taxing day. As always, no day out in Braemar is complete without a trip to The Bothy for coffee, and so things were rounded off perfectly.

Merry Christmas!

What a stunning winter’s day for a Christmas walk! We decided to take full advantage, heading up Lochnagar.

White Christmas

When we were out this way a couple of weeks ago it looked like there was a fair covering of snow; not so much today. The path at car park level was clear, but once ascending through the trees it got a bit icy underfoot. This was a nuisance as we progressed further as it wasn’t clear until stepping on the boulders whether they’d be icy or not. Thankfully none of us came a cropper despite a couple of near misses!

Christmas Tidings

I was amazed by the number of people we met on the hill today. Everyone was in good cheer, exchanging Christmas joy and chat. The memorable exchange of the day was with four gents, one of whom had come from Milan to enjoy Christmas in Scotland with his hill walking friends (met when doing the Coast to Coast). He told us that God was happy for us to be on the hills today, rather than in church, hence the beautiful day.

Kahtoola Microspikes

When the ‘proper’ ice came it was a pleasure to don the microspikes, finally gaining some confidence and traction. These really are an outstanding piece of kit, perfect for times when there’s not enough for a crampon but boots just aren’t cutting it. They stayed on from hereon in until we came off the snow at the other side.

Winter Sun

The low sun was lovely, warming up the chilly day and making it a truly wonderful day to be out. Onto the proper snow, the slow pull up began. We stopped off overlooking the loch, enjoying some soup and a wee rest.

The Ladder

Up the ladder we went, following the footsteps of many others. As we continued we moved into the mist; sadly it didn’t clear until we’d come off the top.

Christmas Lunch

Reaching the summit we posed for a picture before sheltering from what little breeze there was, joining another three walkers, then being joined by another couple. Throw in a few more scattered around and quite the gathering there was!

Glas Allt

Rather than retracing our steps, we opted for a circular walk, heading down via Glas Allt Falls. As with the route up, it was excellent with the spikes on, not so good when there wasn’t sufficient coverage, again running the risk of slipping on the rock. This slowed me down significantly as the last thing I wanted for Christmas was a fall.

Loch Muick

Completing the descent, we reached the path alongside Loch Muick and made good time, yomping back to the car park. A truly wonderful Christmas walk, we were very much in our happy place!

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Merry Christmas

Hope you’ve all had a wonderful day however you’ve chosen to spend it!

Creag nan Gabhar and Loch Callater

Having bailed earlier than I’d intended on my work’s Christmas ‘do’, I was home and bedded way before pumpkin time, thus waking bright eyed and bushy tailed (or as close to that as I ever get!), and happy enough to hear that golf (his) was off as the course would be on winter greens. Winter greens = no eclectic competition and playing off mats, so I’m reliably informed there’s not much point. Thus the decision was made that I’d accompany him on Plan B, a trip to the hills.

Rucksack packed, breakfast thrown down my throat, showered and out within the hour, I was pretty impressed by myself.

Out the road we went, spotting the hill tops appearing further out towards Ballater, and discussion was had about where to head. We opted for Braemar as the skies were looking clear, a positive contrast to the forecast of foggy tops, and came upon a light dusting of snow on the roadside from around Crathie. Passing the snowgates at Braemar, the road suggested there had been snow this morning. Thankfully we didn’t have to go much further.

Parking up, it took about 10 minutes to get winter ready. Ice axe fastened to the rucksack, winter boots on (and off – too loose – and on again), waterproofs and gaiters on. It was pretty chilly feeling, even with my 4 layers on top and 2 pairs of gloves! Thankfully this feeling didn’t last once I was moving.

Heading along the track towards Loch Callater, we walked for just over a mile before heading up onto the ridge that meanders along and up to Creag nan Gabhar. I became significantly warmer as we headed upwards but in time the wind picked up and the temperature did feel cooler due to the wind chill.

The snow higher up was patchy with tiny drifts on the path, the heather still peeping through in most places, although there were some deeper sections here and there.

We opted to skirt around Creag nan Gabhar, nearly at the top, as the wind was quite strong, the snow blowing across us and the chill biting our faces. We took a wee cross country diversion here, making our own way down towards the main path.

Heading down from Creag nan Gabhar

Ahead, we saw another couple who appeared to be going a very different direction. Talking to them later, they’d avoided a more icy section by taking a detour. Meanwhile, we opted to practise our ice axe arrests, sliding down a steeper, more compacted section on our fronts and using the ice axe to slow down and stop repeatedly. It was rather good fun and definitely a good place to practise, safe in the knowledge that we weren’t going anywhere dangerous. The only unpleasant part was when my jacket rode up – I’m sure I could feel the coldness of the snow through my many layers!

Continuing downwards we finally reached the track and stopped for a bite to eat with the other couple. My soup was very tasty, and having learned from last time I found that shaking the flask before each serving meant I never got to the point of needing to eat it by the handful! There’s nothing like homemade soup for being a meal in itself!

The wee cairn marking the path down to the bridge was either missed or missing – not sure which. Again, we moved cross country with the notion of where we wanted to go from previous experience. Skies were clear so we didn’t bother taking a bearing knowing we’d happen upon the bridge soon. This bridge isn’t visible from the path and on previous occasions we have wondered if we’ve missed it, suddenly stumbling upon it.

Safely across, we wandered a little further before reaching Loch Callater, not yet frozen for the winter. Another stop was had outside the Bothy, another snack. This Bothy is really well maintained and very comfortable with composting toilets on site. Well worth a visit.

Back along the track, it’s about 3 miles to the car park. This was easy walking with just the odd patch of ice today, most of it covered by a thin dusting of snow. Last stop of the day, The Bothy in Braemar for a well deserved coffee and cake.

An Socach: Roaming Free

It feels like a long time since we’ve been in the hills and December has been a long month so far. Despite my best intentions to be active, the dark nights and life in general have conspired against me; a general feeling of malaise and a lack of motivation to get out at all. Thankfully, with the holidays now upon us I had a newfound desire to get out and was delighted to be met with a good forecast for the weekend.

After a little deliberation thanks to Bruce’s planning with various options of offer, but primarily due to the car parking area being full, we made the decision to park a few hundred metres further along and head up An Socach. I had a desire to get up high, and Loch Callater just didn’t hold the same appeal today. We were also in agreement that it’s a better option when the loch is frozen and it’s not cold enough for that as yet.

It did amuse me somewhat that Bruce made mention of the extra walk (all 300 metres of it, making a 600 metre addition in total). I sometimes think similar thoughts when parking in order to go for a run or walk; bizarre given the total distance you’d cover without thinking about it in order to achieve the planned route itself. Anyway, along the road we set, and within a very short time were on the correct route, a good track that leads to the path for ascending the munro.

The first obstacle in our path was a small stream crossing. This shouldn’t have presented any difficulty with a few small rocks and boulders paving the way, but on my crossing I managed to slip on one of the stones, thankfully only dipping my toes in and not getting wet feet, but still enough to make me wary of the others. This later led to us thinking perhaps we could head around and ascend via another route that we could see opposite us.

Heading up to An Socach

Continuing up, I was in a thoughtful mood and my mind wandered to a running friend who has recently passed away. He and I had talked hills on a few occasions and it seemed fitting to say a quiet goodbye as we reached the windshelter cairn on An Socach.

Windshelter cairn on An Socach

The wind on this broad plateau had picked up and it was beginning to get chilly. However, the sun came out and provided warmth as we moved off. We had decided not to go to the second windshelter (the true summit cairn) as we’ve done this munro previously, instead deciding to roam free and head off in another direction rather than retracing our steps. Heading down we followed a large snow patch and it was fun going over this. I have to admit that I did generally follow in Bruce’s footsteps making the going easier for myself. I decided that this was Type 1 fun. This was a topic of discussion at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival, and this is genuine fun where you’re enjoying the here and now. This changed to Type 2 fun, the type of thing that isn’t particularly fun at the time, being challenging or tough and involving mind over matter, when we realised that we were in fact heading into Glen Ey, not where we wanted to be at all!

On a positive note, this forced us into testing our navigational skills. With the help of the map, compass and OS Locate to give us very accurate grid references, we realised that we had to head back up towards Sgurr Mor in order to pick up the path back towards our track again. This proved to be quite a slog and involved both boggy ground and heather bashing. On the upside, we saw a herd of deer on the hillside and several mountain hares who made bounding up the hill look very effortless indeed!

Navigational skills being tested

Repeated checks of the map proved that we were on the right line, and reaching the flatter path on the approach to Sgurr Mor we could see where we were aiming for.

Strava elevation profile

Finally we made it onto the path down the opposite side of the stream and had views back to An Socach again looking clear in the late afternoon sun. It was a relief to be able to view the track on which we’d return to the car. Despite never being lost and always feeling confident in our navigational ability, there had been a moment where I’d wondered if we’d be needing our head torches for the return leg. As it transpired, we made good time and got back with daylight remaining.

Back on the correct path, descending from An Socach

All that was left to do was head to The Bothy in Braemar for coffee and cake. Today’s offering of Lemon Drizzle Cake was outstanding and really put the shine back into the day.

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!