Saturday, 29 November 2008

Winter has set in, at least for a while....

The whole of the UK seems gripped by freezing temperatures and Arran is no exception. A fair dump of snow in the hills on Thursday evening meant that we were able to get out and enjoy some winter conditions on Friday. I was able to test my new lightweight walking crampons on Cioch na h Oighe, a grade 1 scramble made more interesting by being plastered with snow and ice. (A birthday present-thanks Wally for my superlight feet!). Unfortunately my camera has gone awol and I am reliant on these pictures taken Wally on his mobile. Apologies for the quality but you get the picture. Winter afficionados will want to know whether the turf was frozen and if there was much ice- it wasn't and the ice was restricted to verglassed slabs. However, last night we had a huge dump of snow down to sea level and sub-freezing temperatures tonight so I would hope that ice will be starting to form in north facing corries here on Arran as elsewhere. It is set to be cold for several more days yet so hopefully will be able to get out and about a bit more next week (and maybe I'll find my camera).

The picture opposite was Lamlash this morning. Since it was taken another 2 inches fell during the day. It is very pretty but the road between here and Brodick was closed for much of the day which caused a few problems.... Sadly meant I didn't get out to play properly although I lobbed a few snowballs for my kitten who seemed a bit confused by all the snow.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Over the hills and far away

Summer is now well and truly over and since my last post Arran has been battered by gales and snow which has plastered the hills for days. Fortunately for me, I have been enjoying a climbing and beach holiday in the warm south (Cornwall) and have avoided most of the bad weather. I returned this week to lead an expedition of students from Glasgow on a three day hike across the Northend from Lochranza to Brodick.

The original plan for this group had been a trip to Knoydart, but the weather and an injury to their course leader meant a last minute itinerary change. My disappointment at not travelling to Scotlands last great wilderness was tempered by joy at being able to enjoy the hills I love the best and share them with a group.

The key to a multi-day backpacking trip is going lightweight. The temptation is to bring too much and 'luxury' items add up to a heavy bag... It is important to eat well, but avoid food that is already hydrated eg. tins and cartons, and go instead for dried meals such as noodles, porridge and rice. Tins are heavy, and add weight and bulk to rubbish that must be carried out again. Nutrition in the hills is all about carbs. A little protein is good for longer trips and fat helps keep you warm at night but I rarely worry about my vitamin intake even on a long trip. A cunning campfood is instant custard, which makes a delicious high calorie desert especially if tipped over a lump of cake on a cold eve, and has barely any cooking time so doesn't use much gas. My naughty luxury item on this trip- a tube of condensed milk. Yummy mixed with hot water and museli or squeezed into tea. This was a tip I picked up from Roger Wild of the MCofS who was my guide on a Conville Course a few years ago and I definately owe him for that one!

If like me, you expect to do quite a few long distance trips over the years, it is worth investing in some quality equipment. A warm down sleeping bag, a lightweight thermarest type mat, a lightweight stove, and a decent lightweight tent. My favourite piece of kit for this trip- my Pocket Rocket, an nifty little stove from MSR that weighs virtually nothing and goes like a train (or a rocket).

The route for the students was a short but ambitious one due to the steep terrain. We started at Lochranza, walking over the Narachan path, to the remote Laggan Cottage on the North East Coast of Arran. The moors above Laggan are home to red deer, kestrels and we were even lucky enough to glimpse a golden eagle wheeling high above the tops (See top picture). From Laggan, we followed the Coastal Way to Sannox, and then found a campsite in Glen Sannox. At sea level, this was a warm night, and we were cosy in our tents until disturbed by rowdy deer at a late hour.

The following morning began with a march up Glen Sannox, and then a hard pull up to Coire Na h-Uaimh. The path is faint and often boggy, and from the coire rim, the mist closed in and made finding the exit path through the steep headwall interesting! From the ridge above, we took a traverse path to the West of Cir Mhor, and then descended below the western slopes of the treacherous A Chir ridge (See image above). Finally, we climbed back up to the ridge, picking our way across the lower slopes of Beinn Tarsuinn to take the huntsmans pass down in to Coire A Bhradain. In bad visibility we grabbed the first flat spot we found and pitched camp under the looming cliffs of the Meadow Face of Beinn Tarsuinn.

The final day dawned and the group were tired and looking forward to going home. We took a cunning route out of Coire A Bhradain and down to Glen Rosa that allowed everyone to practice their micro-navigation skills. By returning to Brodick via the Castle grounds and the Fishermans Walk by the golf course, we were able to save our tired feet from miles of tarmac in the last section.

Thankyou to the students of North Glasgow College for a fantastic trip! If you are interested in the route, you can view it in full on the Ordnance Survey website: