Ben Vorlich

To get the New Year off to a good start, Jen and I decided to revisit some unfinished business in Munro form. Last year we visited Ben Vorlich on Loch Earn in decidedly winter conditions. We made it to 677m through knee deep snow before calling it a day and returning home. Conditions this year were very different following a week or so of relatively warm weather, and with a forecast for blue skies and fairly light winds we decided to have another go.

We didn’t get off to the best start having first overslept and then only travelled 15 minutes from the house when a warning light came on in my car indicating that one of my tyres was flat. We returned home, transferred our rucksacks and cups of tea to Jen’s car and set off again, eventually parking up at Ardvorlich at about 11am.

I’ve not done much exercise of late and it was felt like a hard slog from the start with a continual climb from the parking area.  It’s not far before you start to see the bulk of Ben Vorlich in the distance and although we could see hints of sun to the south, the top was in cloud when we set off. As the mountain is directly to the south, the valley was in shadow for the whole of the walk, something I hadn’t thought about in advance but will definitely consider when planning other winter hikes where the sun is low in the sky.

There’s a little bridge by a waterfall which I remember slipping and sliding over last year and we had a quick stop for a drink of water and a piece of chocolate before continuing on to a large rock which we could shelter behind for a slightly longer break for cheese and oatcakes. Having crossed over the water the wind picked up and we began to feel rather cold.

Duly refuelled we headed off again for the climb on to the Sgiath nam Tarmachan (wings of the ptarmigan)​ ridge, which was the point that we stopped at last year. Everything looked very different this time around without the snow to plough through. With unfit legs it was a hard slog, snow or no snow.  We finally reached the top of the ridge and the main summit was in sight before us. There was a sprinkling of snow flakes on the ground and promises of fantastic light up on the summit.

The path zig zagged up over rocks for the final climb and it looked a little steep and daunting. Still, the trig point was in sight. We began to make our way up and then about halfway there, vertigo struck. We stopped. Made the mistake of looking back. Knees wobbled. Tried to encourage each other on, but instead just infected each other further with the vertigo. After a bit of pondering and sighing we turned around and started to head back down. I ended up scooting along on my bottom for the first 10ft before I got the confidence to regain my feet.

It was quite windy by that stage and we were feeling both cold and demoralised. Having not put my gloves on before clambering over the rocks my hands were freezing cold and hunger was beginning to settle in again as well. We made pretty good time going downhill and found ourselves a little shelter for a break. We didn’t stop for long though as we needed to keep moving to stay warm. Finally we approached the bridge again and just a couple feet before it I caught my foot, tripped and flew forwards before landing with a crash on my hands and knees. A bit of swearing ensued and some restorative leaning on Jen’s shoulder before we continued on again. Fortunately no real injuries thanks to the thick gloves and the three layers of leggings and waterproof pants, although 4 days on, I still can’t kneel down without yelping.

By the time we reached the car it was beginning to get dark and we were glad to get inside and warm up. Armed with our reusable bamboo cups we stopped at a pub and acquired a couple cups of tea to keep us going on the way home, along with the hedgehog shortbread I’d made the day before.

At the time I was inclined to think that I’d be happy never to go back to Ben Vorlich, but I’ve already been researching alternate routes up as it definitely feels like unfinished business now!

Ben Vorlich

Late on New Year’s Eve as Jen and I were pondering the day and year to come, we checked the weather forecast for New Year’s Day and decided to plan ourselves another hike. As I was determined to go to parkrun at 9.30, we knew we’d be a little short of time but we figured that if we found something easy (relatively speaking) and local (ditto) we’d have the chance of a good hike even if we couldn’t make it to the summit. After browsing the WalkHighlands website we decided on Ben Vorlich, a Munro in Perthshire which was just shy of an hour and a half’s drive from home.

New Year’s Day dawned earlier than I would have liked, having tossed and turned until 3am despite our restful evening. To add to the excitement, the drain from the sink had blocked the night before, so before heading up to the park I spent half an hour fiddling with the plumbing in the hope of relieving the blockage, sadly to no avail.

Having been absent for well over a year and a half I finished my 30th parkrun on the 4th anniversary of my 1st, in a rather slower time but in good company of friends. Jen arrived a few minutes later, armed with hot tea and we set off to the hills. Within a few minutes of driving the weather deteriorated and heavy rain quickly turned into sleet. Not very promising at all, but we kept hoping that it would improve. An hour later things were still grim and rather than wait until parking the car and getting into our waterproofs in the rain, we decided to make a short stop in Comrie for a cup of coffee and gear up whilst we were there. Jen had the excellent idea of ordering some toast and jam, just what I needed having only eaten some grapefruit and already having run 5K.

When we left Comrie the weather started to dry out a bit, further justifying our decision for a short stop even if it left us with less time until nightfall. At 1pm we parked the car by Loch Earn and set off along the track up to Ben Vorlich. Although the cloud cover was heavy we had some good views of snow covered mountains on the north side of the loch and it looked to be clearing a little. At any rate, it was now dry, which was a huge bonus.

The track took us past some farm cottages and a small wooded area before starting to climb into the hills. There was noticeably more snow on the track than we’d seen on Schiehallion last week, and the stiles proved challenging in their slipperiness.  After crossing a couple of fords the track petered out and we followed a smaller path up to Ben Vorlich who was beginning to show himself through the cloud.

Despite the snow, the path was clear in the snow thanks to the hikers that had preceded us. Although there were a few occasions where footing was difficult, it was a lot easier under foot than the ice we encountered on the path up Schiehallion last week.

The path initially took us along the side of the ridge that leads to Ben Vorlich, but as the first false summit approached it was time to climb up onto the ridge itself. At this point the snow got a lot deeper and we were sinking in up to our knees. We made it up onto the ridge where we met another hiker coming down. As we suspected, we still had quite a way to go until the summit and the going wasn’t easy as the snow was only getting deeper. With sunset approaching fast and the wind blowing snow in our faces we decided that this was as far as we were going to get, and after enjoying the views began the return to the car.

We retreated off the ridge and nestled out of the wind to set up the stove and enjoy the hot chocolate we had prepared.

The sun finally began to clear the clouds giving some beautiful light over the snowy hills behind us.

Having enjoyed our drink it was time to get ourselves back to the car. I, for one, had pretty damp feet and ankles by this time as the snow had crept in under my waterproof breeks and I was looking forward to getting into the car and getting my boots off.

We had one final treat on the way back to the car, watching the super moon rising up from behind a distant ridge and finally breaking free of the clouds. Unfortunately with only a wide angle lens on my camera there was no hope of capturing it in all its glory.

Route: Walk Highlands

Schiehallion’s Redemption

There was just time to get one more hike out of 2017 and as luck would have it, one day of good weather forecast during Jen’s stay with me between Christmas and New Year. Now we just needed to decide where to go, a decision complicated by the recent snow and our lack of both crampons and ice axes and the know how for using them. Fortunately there’d been a bit of a thaw and as we stared at the mountains on the horizon from Kinpurney Hill on Wednesday afternoon it became clear that whilst the Cairngorms were still heavily blanketed in snow, Schiehallion was looking fairly dark in the distance and therefore hopefully more accessible. We decided to go for it, in the knowledge that in the worst case we would just have to turn back if it became impassible.

We’ve actually made a previous visit to Schiehallion back in September, in which we only made it about 2/3rds of the way up, having started mid afternoon on a very dreich day. I have to admit that my heart wasn’t in it that day and every step felt like a huge effort. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to turn around and head back downhill and if I hadn’t been with Jen I doubt I’d have managed to coax myself out of the car at all. I was therefore looking forward to having another shot at Schiehallion, but also feeling quite some trepidation as my previous memories of it were so dire.

With the days being so short and with the overwhelming desire to schedule in a visit to the Watermill Bookshop and Cafe in Aberfeldy on our way home we did some careful planning and hoped that our timing wouldn’t be too far off. We arrived at the car park just before 10am, a little later than planned, which is pretty much typical for most of our jaunts! According to the mountain forecast it would be -5C at the summit with a windchill of -15C. Even at the car park it was clear that we were going to need all our layers, not to mention our new winter gloves. Without any consultation we’d each gifted the other a pair for Christmas.

Heading on to the path we could see quite a few walkers ahead of us and Schiehallion’s bulk looming in the distance.

The sun was only just beginning to peek over the neighbouring hills as we set off and the light was fantastic. Already this was shaping up to be a far better day than our previous visit.

It didn’t take long before we were seeing the first signs of snow on the side of the path and once we started to climb we had to be very careful of icy patches along the way. There were a few Bambi like moments with legs skidding in all directions but no falls! This was where it began to feel like a real slog and I was having a hard time ignoring the little voice that was reminding me how miserable my previous visit was. Fortunately the bright skies and the views were sufficient distraction and even if I had to stop frequently to rest my legs I was beginning to remember how much I love being in the mountains.

About a third of the way up the snow was becoming more evident, although the path was nice and clear. Now that we were getting higher the views were really opening out and I had to make plenty of stops for photographs.

The wind was getting stronger and we were really beginning to feel the cold, so when we saw a big rock to huddle behind we decided it was the perfect moment to get the camping stove out and heat up the hot chocolate that we’d brought with us. I dug out the stove, the gas canister, dropped half the matches on the ground, found the cocoa and then stopped in bewilderment. I was missing something, what was it? Oh. The pan. Rats. Fingers getting numb we packed everything back up again and mourned not only the lack of hot cocoa but the fact that we wouldn’t be able to heat up the thai curry we’d brought either. Having forgotten the CF card for my camera, this wasn’t shaping up to be the most organised of hikes!

Finally we reached the end of the main path and the point at which we’d turned around on our previous visit. The rest of the route was across a boulder field, with the challenge of picking our way along increased by the snow.  Although this part of the walk was technically more difficult, the gradient was slightly less and I found it more comfortable. By this point all memories of our previous visit were receding and I was just grateful that we hadn’t slogged on up to the top on that occasion as it was so much more beautiful in the snow.

As with any self-respecting mountain there were a few false summits to tackle but the top was nearly in sight. We were beginning to see people coming back down off the top, all looking rather frozen and windswept.

Finally we were on the last climb, battered by the wind, but the views were incredible. We were treated to some small cloud inversions and the most exciting of spectacles – a Brocken spectre!

A bit of scrambling and were we up on the summit. We didn’t manage to last there too long as it was just too cold.

We made pretty good time heading back down again, I don’t think we’ve ever done a walk where we’ve stopped so little.

The icy patches seemed to have doubled whilst we were on the summit and it was quite a relief to finally make it back on to the lower path where it was both warmer and less skiddy underfoot. We eventually arrived back at the car at 3 o’clock, right on our prediction, which has to be a first! We even had time to take a small detour along the road (with a bonus red squirrel sighting) before heading back towards Aberfeldy and enjoying a very well earned hot chocolate and a piece of cake.

Route: WalkHighlands
Distance: 10.4km
Ascent: 715m
Hills climbed: Schiehallion (Munro)

Ben Lomond

On checking the mountain weather forecast for the weekend, there was a pretty similar pattern across Scotland – gale force winds on Saturday, calm and sunny on Sunday. That made my decision about which day to go hiking pretty straightforward, and given that I had to be in Glasgow on Sunday evening, meant that instead of heading up my closest stomping ground, the Cairngorms, the most logical choice was to head down to Loch Lomond so that I could get the most out of the day.

The clock change worked in my favour and made it easy to get a good start on Sunday and by 9.45am I was at the car park at Rowardennan and grumbling slightly to myself about the number of cars already parked there. After looking at a number of hikes in the area on WalkHighlands I’d decided to climb Ben Lomond, the most southerly of all the Munros, which is renowned for being busy due to its proximity to Glasgow. As I watched a bus disgorge a large number of passengers I worried that my choice meant that I’d be tripping over people all day and wondered if I’d made a mistake in my choice.  The presence of two families parked next to me with a collection of children and dogs, all chattering/barking incessantly made me glad that I’d spent quite some time reading the reviews of the hike on WalkHighlands and that I’d already decided to hike their route in reverse – climbing up by the lesser known Ptarmigan Ridge and returning back via the more populated tourist route. This turned out to be an excellent decision as I exited the car park in the opposite direction to everyone else and very quickly left the clamour behind.

I headed out along the shore of Loch Lomond, soon passing a memorial which I stopped to photograph, particularly enjoying the reflection of the trees on the sculpture.

The weather was showing every sign of living up to the forecast’s promise, and although it was cold enough that I started out with my fleece and hat, I was soon overheating and packing them back into my bag.

Reaching the Rowardennen Lodge Youth Hostel, I was a little unclear where the path went and felt a bit embarrassed wandering around looking for it whilst people were sat outside chatting. Fortunately this must happen often as I soon found a sign pointing me back towards the car park where I found another sign, complete with a very relaxed robin on top, which let me get close enough to get a few photos with my wide angle lens.

Following the sign I quickly found myself on a track heading into the woods. I knew that there should be one more turn off, which I found just after passing by a little stand selling bottles of water. The sign blended into the trees, so you had to be on the lookout for it.

Now that I was officially on the Ptarmigan ridge route it was very quickly time to leave the woods and start climbing. There was a clear path through the grass and bracken which took me past what looks like the ruins of an old dwelling.

As I climbed I stopped numerous times to photograph the view behind me down to Loch Lomond, breaking one of the cardinal rules of photography that you should never take a photograph into the light. Tough luck, that’s generally where the views were! With each little bit higher the perspective changed and yet another photo was warranted.

As I climbed higher, Loch Lomond receded further into the distance and the view ahead began to open up to the mountains on west side of the loch, including good views of The Cobbler, which is particularly distinctive. Another hill yet to be climbed!

Earlier I had a spotted a group of four along with a dog slowly catching up to me each time I stopped for a photograph. As we approached the climb up to the ridge I stopped to let them pass, worrying that I find it stressful having them on my heels when we got to the toughest part of the hike. One of my biggest uncertainties when setting out on the hike was how I was going to cope with the actual ridge, not having anything like a good head for heights. As it happens the ridge was still a little further ahead than I originally realised, but the worrying was beginning to niggle at me. The path started zig-zagging in earnest now and the loch looked ever more remote as I turned around for yet another photograph.

Finally, the view of what was to come opened out in front of me. I stopped and gulped a little when I realised that where I needed to be was a summit over to the right of me, and yet at the moment I was still climbing the summit in front of me. Clearly what lay between was the ridge, but I didn’t yet have a good view of what it was going to involve so I did my best to just focus on the climb ahead and worrying about the ridge when I got a bit further.

The views to the mountains to the north west were really opening up now.

By this point I was beginning to meet quite a few people coming down from Ptarmigan, including a few kids. I did think to myself ‘well, if they can do it, surely I can’, but then logic never does have much place when it comes to phobias! Having been sheltered most of the way up, it was now getting quite windy and with a temperature near freezing at the top, time to get the woollies out again.

I could now get a view of the ridge but couldn’t see where the path was. I was getting quite nervous at this point, but kept plodding upwards and reassuring myself that I could handle whatever it had to throw at me.

A little lochan provided a bit more photographic distraction along the way as I turned my back to Loch Lomond and headed inexorably towards the ridge.

Over the first wee summit and the ridge opened up to me finally. Hmm, well it’s not too bad, I thought. Not so much of a ridge with steep drops to either side as something rather steep to get myself up. ‘I can do this’, muttering to myself reassuringly.

One last photograph behind me and it was time to put my camera away so that I had free hands for the scramble and nothing flapping around to get in my way. It was beginning to look like a long way down.

No photos, therefore, of the actual scramble. Some of it was fairly decent, albeit steeply zig-zagging path. My heart was beating pretty fast by this point, a combination of fear and exertion. When I saw people coming down towards me I waited to let them get out of the way. I was terrified of finding myself in a position I was uncomfortable with and having to wait for them to pass. Then, I could see the top, one last scramble and I should be there.

No, a false summit. I had to stop a little and let my breathing settle before tackling what I really hoped was the final climb. Some of the gaps between the rocks were quite large and hard to manage with my short, wobbly legs and I had to fight back the panic, when I couldn’t quite figure out where the path was leading, but I carried on. One thing was for certain, going back wasn’t an option!

One last haul and I found myself on the summit, trig point in front of me, and a surprising number of people hauled out eating their lunch. I’d done it, and I was pretty pleased with myself for facing up to my fear.

I didn’t hang around for long, just enough to take a few photos and eat my lunch. The busload of people I’d seen in the car park turned out to be fundraising for Alzheimer’s Scotland and were filling the summit. I wanted to start heading down before I got stuck in the crowds, and the gorgeous views weren’t enough to compensate for the large number of people.

The path down leads worrying towards another ridge and I did think to myself ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’. Fortunately it wasn’t too intimidating and we quickly left the ridge to start dropping back down to the loch.


Although there were quite a few photo stops on my downhill journey the views weren’t as good as on the way up and I’d certainly recommend taking the Ptarmigan route rather than using the tourist path both ways. The late afternoon light, though, was fantastic.


The way back down was rockier than the Ptarmigan route and I didn’t find it very comfortable for my knees or my right ankle, which has been misbehaving the last few weeks. Not only was there a fairly constant stream of people coming past me downhill, but also a fair number of people still heading uphill and a few cows on the path for added entertainment. It certainly wasn’t as peaceful as my morning had been.


I returned to the car park almost exactly 6 hours after setting off – a bit longer than the WalkHighlands suggested time of 4.5-5.5 hours, which was not surprising given all the photos stops and my slower pace coming back down again.

Throwing my gingerbread biscuits on to the front seat, it was time to head into Glasgow to finish the day off by singing choral evensong. A perfect way to spend a Sunday and something I hope to do more often.

Route: WalkHighlands (in reverse)
Distance: 12.2km
Ascent: 953m
Hills climbed: Ben Lomond (Munro)

Loch Brandy

Sometimes things just align up perfectly. In this case, getting home from the hospital at lunchtime, the sun shining and Jen visiting. We both had the same idea – to get up into the hills. Loch Brandy, at Glen Clova, is a perfect destination for a short afternoon walk being just an hour’s drive from Dundee. Jen and I had visited here before almost exactly two years ago, so it was certainly about time we paid it a return visit.

By the time we reached Glen Glova the clouds were coming in and our destination wasn’t looking quite as sunny as we’d hoped. Never mind, at least it was drier and less windy than on our previous visit. The initial climb is a bit of a steep slog, but photographing the atmospheric clouds over the neighbouring hills gave us plenty of excuses to stop for breathers.

Eventually the path levels off and things get a bit easier.

Just a little way further and a few steps to climb and the loch is in sight, every bit as attractive as I remember (although the best way to see it is surely from the air, which is how I first found out about it).

Within minutes, we were surrounded by mist and could only see a few metres ahead of us. Not a problem, though, the path is very clear so there was no danger of losing our way on the walk down!

Route: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/angus/loch-brandy.shtml
Distance: 5.5km
Ascent: 410m

Flying again!

It’s almost exactly a year (a year and a week, to be precise) since I last posted anything here, and that too was about a flying experience. In one of life’s little coincidences, my Dad happens to know someone who lives in this part of the world and is also a flying instructor. We’ve been trying to fix up an opportunity to go out for a flight for a couple of months now and finally, after a few days of relentless drizzle, the skies cleared last night to give us the perfect day for it.

 

This is a very rough approximation of the route we took (I should have used the running app on my phone to record the actual route as I did the last time) – heading towards Longforgan and then North up towards the Grampians before heading to the coast and back to Dundee. We flew through a number of the glens, and I had the opportunity to take the controls on a couple of occasions. Unlike driving where the road holds you up, it takes some practice to keep a plane level, especially when the air currents intervene!

 

Looking down the runway as we take off

 

Loch Brandy (Glen Clova)

Lunan Bay – Angus Coast (with Montrose in the top left)

 

 

River Tay – Fife Coast on the left and Dundee on the right. The closer bridge is the Tay Road Bridge and the one further away is the Tay Rail Bridge.

Broughty Castle, Broughty Ferry

Fife and the Tay Bridges

Dundee and Balgay Hill

Coming in to land at Dundee Airport

Piper Warrier

Flying

One of the highlights of my trips to Canada in the past was when my uncle would take me flying. Those days are gone, but I’m lucky enough to have a friend who took me up for an evening tour of the greater Vancouver area.

Pre-flight checks

Boundary Bay

Departing Boundary Bay – after a touch and go

Alex Fraser Bridge

The new Port Mann Bridge – this was under construction on my last visit

Coming in at Langley

GPS log of our route – unfortunately it took a while to lock on.

Beagle Channel

As promised, the winds picked up again yesterday evening and we spent the night slithering up and down our beds as the ship swung from side to side. Awaking from a not particularly restful sleep, we found our view unchanged, ocean to every side.

As we slowly inched forwards towards the southernmost tip of Argentina, the amount of birds flying alongside the ship increased, and as we were finally given leave to go back out on deck, with great caution as the seas were still rough, all the photographers took the opportunity to grab some fresh air, and aim our cameras at the passing petrels and albatross. None of us lasted outside long, the winds were fierce and our hands suffered. After a number of attempts we were driven back inside by a hailstorm.

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Finally, 48 hours or so after leaving Charlotte Bay, just as we were sitting down to lunch, we spotted land in the distance. By this point, plans had changed again, and instead of taking a detour to Cape Horn as planned, the weather had caused the captain to alter course, and take a direct route into Ushuaia.

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The final stretch up through the Beagle Channel was a slow one, allowing us to enjoy the scenery. We had our final session in the Discovery Lounge, to toast the Captain and his crew, and as we settled down to dinner, with a prime seat at the bow, we watched the ship dock in Ushuaia. We’re don’t disembark until tomorrow morning, so it’s a strange night on board, in a stationary ship. Well, it’ll be nice to sleep in a calm bed!

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Drake Passage

We’re about halfway back across the Drake Passage, after a rather rough night in which my cabin-mate and I were awoken by a sheath of papers flying off the bedside table. Things are a little calmer now, although we’re due to hit more storms later this evening. The dining room is notably emptier than it has been! I had a lovely hot shower after our last zodiac cruise yesterday, but now that we’ve entered rough waters, niceties like showering have a tendency to go out the window. Trying to shower when the ship’s lurching from side to side, with the water sloshing back and forth across the bathroom is too much hassle.

Keeping yourself occupied on at sea days is always a challenge. On the way south, there’s the advantage of anticipation, but on the return leg things feel somewhat flat. The expedition staff do a good job of providing distraction in the form of lectures, and this morning we heard about the process of setting up the Penguin Experience in San Diego, and what was involved in creating a penguin breeding program, as well as a factual presentation about the Antarctic Treaty. I find the lectures provide a good opportunity to get some knitting done, and in the gaps between I try and work on processing my photos, with mixed success. Funnily enough my OU study has not received the attention it deserves.

We’ll be taking a small detour on the way back to Ushuaia, to see Cape Horn, which should be interesting, although I’m not sure how much there really is to see. Hopefully we’ll sail through the Beagle Channel during daylight hours so that we can enjoy the last of the scenery, and perhaps spot a Magellanic penguin or two.

Charlotte Bay

Alas, the weather is not in our favour, and we’ve had to start heading back northwards a day earlier than planned. We moved overnight to Charlotte’s Bay, where we went out on our last zodiac cruise, taking in the reflections of the mountains and a group of crabeater seals hauled out on the ice. Unfortunately the fog is closing in on us again, so our final views of the snow and ice are vanishing into the mist.

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