Monday, 23 February 2015

#21 Learn to knit

I'd expected the first thing I would cross off my list of 41 things in my 41st year to be something that took some physical effort. Progress has been made in a few areas- my skiing is getting better and I've fixed a puncture under supervision. I've been riding my bike like mad, training and planning all sorts of adventures , and I really thought I'd have got a nice winter climbing route in by now (perhaps I'm riding my bike too much?).

First faltering stitches

Anyway, it turns out that the first challenge to cross off my list is number 21: "learn to knit".  The island has an unusual community arts project underway called Arran Woollen Woods and yesterday I took myself along to a skills sharing workshop hosted by Arran Eco Savvy. I was pretty nervous, I'm not a creative person, but I like the idea of the woollen woods project and want to contribute.   Anyway, to cut a long story short, it turns out that learning the basics is easy, and also addicitive.  Under the guidance of my patient teacher Nicki, before long I was knitting and purling my way through a ball of wool.... reluctant to stop.  It was only when she offered to let me buy the needles and yarn from Eco Savvy and take it all home that I put the gear down for a break.

Dino has it's first square.
They used to say "the devil makes work for idle hands"... and knitters have long extolled the virtues of their craft. I can only agree. Through the hypnotic motions of the needles and fingers I can feel my mind emptying and restlessness evaporating.  I'm not at the stage where I can talk and knit at the same time but I already know that life is going to be different from now on.  No more boring journeys fiddling with my smartphone.... The dreary wait for overdue teenagers at DofE checkpoints will be fun and long tent-bound nights will never seem empty again. I've already ordered four more wool colours, and although I'm a long way off knitting a red squirrel, I'm going to help "yarn bomb" a life sized wicker dinosaur with coloured squares.

I also tried my hand at needle felting. Despite stabbing myself in the thumb several times I made a fuzzy mushroom- also to add to the woollen woods project.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Beached Bird Survey 2015

After last year's distressing Beached Bird Survey, I was apprehensive about returning to the beach this year to record washed up birds. In 2014, I made my own small contribution to recording a tragedy, a wreck of razorbills and other auks. You can read the shocking results of the RSPB's national survey here.

Catacol Bay
This year, I'm happy to report that I found no dead birds on my 9km stretch of beach. It's not all good news, as there was a lot of washed up plastic, and of course my records are just a tiny part of a big and complicated picture.  However, I'm a happier person than I was this time last year.... not least because I saw plenty of wildlife on the shore, including an otter fishing in Catacol Bay, and fulmars chuntering to each other on wooded cliffs between Lochranza and Pirnmill.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Back up North again...

No sooner had I got home from Ullapool last week, but it seemed I was out the door and heading back up the road to the Far Northwest. This time I was heading up to Torridon to meet up with Jim Sutherland from Nineonesix Guiding, for a spot of shadowing in the winter hills. Spending time with other outdoor professionals is a great way to keep skills current and to learn new ones, especially when they have the wealth of experience and superb mountain venues that Jim and his company have to hand.

Enjoying the view from Beinn Eighe
And so it was that I found myself heading up on to Beinn Eighe on Thursday morning, with Jim and his two lovely clients Gavin and David.  It was pretty clagged in, and mild, but high up in Coire An Laoigh we found enough snow to look at the basics of self belay, arrest and safe movement before heading up on the the ridge for the summit of Spidean Coire nan Clach. On the way down, the mists parted, and we were treated to fabulous views of the Torridon peaks and a golden eagle flypast. We stomped back in to the coire, taking a bit of time to look at bucket seats and some basic ropework on the way. This was a fun day for all and Gavin and David were quick learners, hopefully this is the start of many more winter days in the hill for them.  There is a bit more about this day up on the Nineonesix Blog too.

Gavin and Dave looking comfy

Friday was a rest day for me and my pal Reuben came down that afternoon for a spot of bouldering.  I'm not much of a boulderer, but even I was well impressed by the quality of the rock around Torridon- dry, clean, and solid, with grades of problem to suit everyone.  We went to the Celtic Jumble and enjoyed a few hours clambering about in the cool winter sunlight.

Bouldering at the Celtic Jumble
That evening I headed east, to be in place for some more shadowing with Nineonesix- this time on a winter skills course for the SYHA in the Cairngorms. Directed by Dunc Maclennan, this was a two day intro to the basics of winter walking for a team of five clients.

The great white room on the Cairngorm Plateau
They were keen to do plenty of navigation, so we spent a day working our way up on to the plateau from Coire na Ciste, experiencing the full drama of a Cairngorm whiteout. On the second day, strong winds kept us low down on the mountain, providing us with a great opportunity for some practical skills work in a sheltered gully system in Glen Feshie.

Dunc proves that navigation is fun.

Ice axe braking and sliding practice.
Big thanks to Jim and Dunc from Nineonesix for sharing their skills and time with me as well as letting me loose on their clients.  It was superb experience and great fun. They are based in a fantastic part of the world, and have an encyclopedic knowledge of some of the finest mountains and mountaineering that Scotland has to offer.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Eight Days

Go-go gadget Lucy- I don't seem to have stopped this week.  It kicked off last sunday with a fantastic training exercise with Arran Mountain Rescue Team.  I don't usually blog MRT stuff, but it was a cracking way to get a super week going, so this time it gets a mention.

HMS Gannet buzzing in.
Rescue 177 from HMS Gannet dropped the team in the hills on a beautiful day.  It was an emotional occasion, because depending on what happens with the handover to private helicopter SAR which is being phased in over the next year, this could be our last exercise with her. The partnership between civilian MRT and our military SAR services is a long and mutually supportive one.  Gannet will be missed on Arran.

That night I was propping the eyelids open on a long drive to Ullapool with Wally for a week in the hills with friends.

Hills on the north side of the A835 plastered with snow
Monday I was good for very little so Wally and I took the skis for wander in the hills on the south side of the A835. The touring was good, and I skied my first proper powder. Heaven!

A snow covered Beinn Gobhlach across Loch Broom
On Tuesday I was still feeling a bit useless, so while the rest of the team broke trail part of the way up Gleannn na Sguaib (they didn't get too far), I took the bike for a Jantastic spin, exploring the coast road North of Ullapool. I was treated to rolling hills and stunning views like this one across Loch Broom.

Suilven's western peaks. Where's Wally?
By Wednesday I was getting my mojo back, so I joined the team on a bike/hike mission in to Scotland's most striking mountain- the lovely Suilven.  It was a big day, and the conditions were interesting with plenty of exposure on the snowy ledges along the ridge.

Bone Caves of Inchnadamph
Thursday was thawing badly and we all needed a rest so we sauntered up to the Bone Caves of Inchnadamph for a spot of speleology and botanising, followed up by tea and cake in the cafe above Northwest Outdoors (recommended).

Above the Inversion on Beinn Dearg
On friday things got very good.  We battered our way in the Gleann na Sguaib, following the trail broken by many hapless folk over the week.  None had made it beyond the final lochain, but we soon found that the snow thinned towards the bealach and before long we were stood in the mist contemplating the final snowy cone to the summit of Beinn Dearg. Miraculously, the mists parted as we climbed, and we were soon above an incredible inversion!

Scrambling on Stac Pollaidh
On saturday it was back to the clag, and a soggy scramble along the ridge on Stac Pollaidh.  We baulked at the final technical section to the summit, which looked horrible- something to come back for on a dry day!

Lonely and lost
 Finally there was yesterday.... I should have been resting but I was up early for a bike/slog back up on the the Beinn Dearg ridge to retrieve my lost ice axe. Doh!