Category Archives: NGBs

Highland Hobo #3

Ice, sun and sky - at last!

Ice, sun and sky – at last!

Of what does a memorable mountain day consist? Good weather, great snow conditions, camaraderie?

 

A great day on the hill is the sum of its parts; it gains its integrity through an amalgamation of many small and different aspects that contribute to the whole experience.

 

Here are a few special moments from my last two days on the hill:

 

It was just before dawn on my expedition in the Grey Corries. A crimson colour was seeping across the sky with the rising of the sun.  All was still, soothed by a gentle cloaking of thin mist. I paused on the climb onto the flanks of Stob Choire Claurigh. Glancing over my shoulder, a stag had been silently observing me. More startled than I, it bolted, retreating to a safer distance to watch my progress.

 

One of my highlights during a winter day on the hill is the first snowpatch of the day. These normally linger in small hollows, and little irregularities in the hillside, shielded from the brunt of the milder weather that frequently sweeps past. The first snowpatch is, to me, a significant milestone, although small physically – a microcosm, which represents the spirit of resilience and strength in the face of adversity (winter must necessarily be tenacious in a maritime climate as Scotland). A small reminder each day to walk with a spirit of perseverance.

 

The Grey Corries ridge

The Grey Corries ridge

A trembling roar suddenly roused me from the steady rhythm of my short, regular steps up the slope. Initially I was anxious, the strident bellowing incongruous with the calm and restful atmosphere. However, the realisation quickly dawned that it was the  straining of the Fort William-London intercity express, pulling away from the outpost station of Corrour, several miles distant. No where is too far from wilderness or adventure, even London, and the overnight sleeper train will deposit you within reach of the Grey Corries or Ben Alder should you so wish.

 

Higher on the hillside, the softer tones of heather and grass became gilted with ice, as I passed through the freezing level. The pristine twinkle and sparkle of ice crystals brought memories of Christmas flooding back. The freshness and purity of the scene was uplifting. Later on the lustre and brightness of the rime was dulled by low cloud, the tones becoming monochrome and subdued. After several hours in the freezing clag, I dropped below the cloud level, and the world again came to life. Heather and grass regained their vibrancy, lit up by the sunshine and contrasting with the clear blue of the sky.

 

On top of the ridge a narrow crest of frost hardened snow snaked away for several kilometres. Although I was alone the paw tracks of a mountain hare accompanied me, marking the way forward for a remarkably long distance. The scene was humorous, reminiscent of something from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; I imagined myself following the March Hare, perhaps to a bizarre mid-winter mountaintop tea party with various nursery rhyme characters. Isolation is a fertile setting for the imagination to run riot.

 

So, looking forward. Winter is forecast to return with some bite. I will be in Glasgow for a first aid course for a couple of days, then a longer, five-day expedition to Ben Alder area with Sam. This should set the stage for some great outings in remote hill country.

Beautiful end to the day

Beautiful end to the day

 

 

Simon is the Morocco Director and an instructor with The Mountain People. He is currently preparing for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment, as chronicled by the ‘Highland Hobo’ series.

Categories: Blog, NGBs, Personal, Simon, Winter
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Highland Hobo #2

View of Braeriach from the Chalamain Gap. Image courtesy of Andrew Last. Some rights reserved.

View of Braeriach from the Chalamain Gap. Image courtesy of Andrew Last. Some rights reserved.

I am now fed up with dehydrated and pasta meals, which means, I think, that I am starting to get accustomed to this expeditionary lifestyle. What is more, my feet and ankles no longer protest at their incarceration in plastic boots; the bruises on my shoulders and hips have diminished. In short, I’m feeling pretty fit and have managed some big days out as a result.

 

The turning point was day two. I made good progress from the Hutchinson Memorial Hut to Ben Macdui on what was the only pleasant morning (nevermind day) of the expedition: blood red skies, crisp snow and very still. Two choices lay ahead: descend to the Lairig Ghru and Corrour – a short day; or descend and then climb onto Braeriach and cross the big plateau. Time was with me, and so seemed the weather, so the second option it was. The trouble was that halfway to the plateau strong southwesterly winds arrived as well as low cloud. To retreat would mean failure, to carry on require extra reserves of will-power and energy.

 

The gauntlet had been thrown down.

 

Mind games required the greatest resolve to overcome – can I trust my navigation and map skills; is there enough daylight left; have I got it in me to make it across; and, whatever you do, keep away from the cornices. After a leg or two of point to point navigation, I settled down and the peaks and bealachs (low points between peaks) came and went. Whilst engrossed in following bearings and keeping check of the distance I was covering, I glanced sideways and to my surprise noticed two other walkers on the plateau. I briefly wondered why they were there and then continued – the thought was probably reciprocated.

 

One concession I had to make en route was Cairn Toul, also known as Carn an t-Sabhail, ‘the hill of the barn’. After already having made a lot of height gain, this was beyond me physically, and the desire to climb a barn or a barn door after tackling the Lairig Ghru straight on had inevitably waned. So, it was then a case of making my way down to the Corrour hut, past the ominous and looming Devil’s Point, which went without incident.

 

After six days out now, my only desire is that the weather and conditions return to a more acceptable state of winter. Although you have to take every day as it comes, most will admit that they would take the blue sky days and leave the murky, wet ones. Forecasts are now suggesting  a return of certain amounts of colder airflows, which will fit nicely with a quick foray into the Grey Corries before a first aid course in Glasgow.

 

 

Simon is the Morocco Director and an instructor with The Mountain People. He is currently preparing for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment, as chronicled by the ‘Highland Hobo’ series.

Categories: Blog, NGBs, Personal, Simon, Winter
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Highland Hobo #1

The cliffs of Lochnagar. Photo courtesy of Nick Bramhall. Some rights reserved.

The cliffs of Lochnagar. Photo courtesy of Nick Bramhall. Some rights reserved.

Rather than sticking to a typically prosaic and bland title, for example, ‘WML Update’, I feel that ‘Highland Hobo’ better befits my current lifestyle and state of mind.

 

I write from the quaint, sleepy town of Ballater, having spent the last three days in the Lochnagar area. Southern Cairngorms. The conditions were rather lacking in the winter department, apart from New Year’s Day, which was was cold and viciously windy. Thereafter, the onset of a rather prolonged thaw brought rain and mild weather, depleting the snowpack and rendering most areas a soggy mess.

 

Nevertheless, I managed three big days, traversing Lochnagar south to north on day one; the plateau east to west on day two; and finally returning from Loch Callater to Loch Muick (pronounced ‘Mick’) yesterday. On all days I took in high Munros and the opportunity to practise WML (Winter Mountain Leader) skills.

 

The main challenge I found was the mental one – all elements, whether decision-making, risk assessment or potential for failure were reduced to a factor of one. There is no one to talk to, no one with whom to share thoughts or plans, no one to ease one’s anxieties and no one with whom to laugh. Solo winter hillwalking or mountaineering requires a great degree of self reliance and determination – something that is key in the UK outdoor ethic – all the more so when undertaking a multi-day expedition.

 

Still, the chance to savour the unique Highland scenery, beautiful light and wild weather was wonderful. I especially enjoyed the freedom in abandoning the continual temptation to check the weather and avalanche forecasts, consulting them once at the beginning with a three day outlook in mind, and then making my progress and choices based on current hill conditions. The snowpack was no doubt benign, but the three-day hill journey seemed to contain a greater degree of consistency and integrity as a result of focussing more on directly underfoot and overhead conditions than those gained electronically.

 

I am glad for a rest day and the chance to wash and shave (a sell-out hobo, clearly!), but keen to get out again tomorrow for the next instalment in the Northern Cairngorms. You can’t keep a hobo down…

 

 

Simon is the Morocco Director and an instructor with The Mountain People. He is currently preparing for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment, as chronicled by the ‘Highland Hobo’ series.

Categories: Blog, NGBs, Personal, Simon, Winter
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments