Ben Lawers.

29 10 2012

As Hurricane Sandy bears down on New York, New York, we are reminded of powers far greater than we can control. The weather, though superficially influenced by our degenerate behaviour, is one of those greater powers. No amount of raising arms, rain dancing or wishful thinking will change the weather.

A couple of weeks ago, forecast blue skies meant a doorway that I felt was fast closing might just let me through for another peak at the higher ground.

Ben Lawers is a nature reserve. It also, rather counterintuitively, has a car park half way up it. That means it can be busy, particularly as it lies close to larger centres of population than most of the interesting terrain. It is the 9th highest mountain in Scotland but this is tamed by ease of ascent. I was more interested in the path out to An Stuc and the descent off the north side of Beinn Ghlas. It was to be a short day, but I had not counted on a significant snow fall that would curtail my activities. By a strange coincidence, I had forgotten to pack a warm mid-layer. It did make the decision not to push on from Lawers to An Stuc a simple one!

With some ice forming on the wet rock of the descent from the saddle between Beinn Ghlas and Lawers, I could not enjoy the trail as much as hoped, but it was still a great day. Encouragingly, I made the entire loop in under 3 hours. With the proximity to Glasgow, I can be up there and round pretty quickly. But best to avoid the busy times, i’m sure.


10 10 2012

Having missed the first cyclocross race of the season due to a cold, I was determined to spend some time out in the sunshine that we have been enjoying recently. With limited range, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and head to the Ardgarten Loop, but throw in a bit of newness by taking in a section of the Cowal Way. The initial climbs afforded some beautiful views if not the most inspiring trails.

As i descended down to Lochgoilhead, a local had to have a think before letting me pass by and onto the climb that leads to Coilessan Glen.

As i reached the confluence of 2 streams at a waterfall, i reconsidered my route.

Another trail headed steeply up onto the shoulder of Ben Donich. It looked like it might be fun and the map suggested a sweet little drop into Glen Croe, after running alongside the Allt Coire Odhair. This could be an alternative way to close the loop. It started well enough, though the lowering cloud level was a little ominous.

Lets just say it became a little vague.

Then it got even more vague.

Soon enough i decided that i should rejoin the Cowal Way instead. This required a little bushwhacking, then a very steep hump up onto the high moorland. To be fair, it gave great views of Ben Arthur – the famous cobbler – but the going was very boggy under tyre. I was glad to get back to the side of Loch Long and then home.

Today, with the sun still shining i headed out to Mugdock and was rewarded with dry trails! Lets just say it doesn’t take much riding on dry, nadgery, woodsy trails to wipe the memory of boggy trail from my mind.


4 10 2012

I was reminded as I tramped around above Loch Callater of my recent bivi and retreat in the Cairngorm due to weather conditions. Clearly, the more you expose yourself to arduous routes or situations where retreat may be required, the more frequently you are going to be faced with making those decisions. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, you simply have to weigh up the kit you take, the weather and terrain you are likely to meet and be able to act objectively when the time comes.

Andrew Skurka is well known in the world of ‘fast and light’ thru-hiking. A recent entry on his blog, entitled ‘stupid-light‘, makes for a pertinent read. With the explosion in ultra light backpacking and bikepacking gear overnight rides into challenging or relatively unknown terrain is becoming increasingly popular. It takes time to learn where your limits of comfort are. A few days ago I washed the MacPac down sleeping bag liner I used when Biff and myself bikepacked around the Picos in Northern Spain. It is ridiculously thin and insubstantial. At the time, with wool longs (which added versatility for acting as a change of clothing when we stayed in a refugio, or for added on-the-bike insulation) it was enough, but I have reached for my warmer bag every time hence. How light is too light?

I was reminded of my discussion with Shaggy and others about where ultra endurance goes next – giga endurance was our beer fueled, slightly cynical response. We live and learn.