Archive for March 2012

Mynydd Ddu – The Black Mountain in Spring   21 comments

I’d been domestically housebound for a couple of weeks with such exciting things as car cleaning and fitting new roof racks and boxes for our summer trips. This weekend I was not to be denied and it was time for another decent walk. D seems really keen these days and despite being off school with a virus for a couple of days he seemed fit and well so we headed out. The Black Mountain (not to be confused with the Black Mountains) lies to the west of the main Brecon Beacons range. It’s a personal favourite and much quieter than the Brecons, although I’ve not been here since I started blogging so good to share this one for the first time.

Black Mountain, 9.3 miles, 2,700 feet of ascent

The main escarpment is set at a right angle with one edge facing north the other east. Making a circular walk is not easy but I came across this particular route more or less by accident when I was exploring a few years ago and I happen to think it’s a bit of a classic.

We parked up on the narrow high road that leads from Trecastle to Glyntawe. I was a little gutted to find my usual parking spot full of minibuses from a local school (DofE I guessed) so had to drive down the road a mile or so for another spot. A fortuitous happening as this meant that rather than the usual mile or so of bog-trotting to get to the path, I picked it up from the start (why has this never occurred to me before!) with the added bonus that it follows a rather splendid stream, the infant Afon Tawe that hits the sea at Swansea.

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Looking to Fan Brycheiniog

We headed off on a glorious spring day and the first thing that struck me was the pale brown colour of the hills. At this time of year I’d expect dark greens and blacks (perhaps even a little white) but it was more like June than March. Clearly there has been some seriously dry weather in these parts as well and I’m sure the risk of fires will grow again if it continues into summer.

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Waterfalls on the Afon Tawe

The river was enchanting and a perfect spot for a summer family picnic with plenty of spots a few minutes walk from the car and even places to swim. As we started to climb towards the hills the dry ground was a real surprise, this section is normally extremely soggy. D was feeling the frustration of what seems like an endless climb to Llyn y Fan Fawr but I was enjoying every step. As we crested the rise the lake looked magnificent under a clear blue sky and we stopped for a little rest on one of the beaches. It was more reminiscent of some of the wilder parts of Scotland with wild tarns and sandy beaches, a marvellous spot.

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Llyn y Fan Fawr

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D by the lake-shore

We headed on up the steeper climb towards Bwlch Giedd and towards Fan Brycheiniog, the highest point in the range. D seemed a little concerned about the steep climb but introduced him to the notion of a steady plod and that before he knew it we’d be on the summit drinking in the views.

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Deep blue Llyn y Fan Fawr

So it was and whilst the distant views were extremely hazy the nearby vista of peaks and lakes was superb. As always my brain was planning routes and wild camps I’ll probably never get around to but they say planning is half the fun (so just do the math, plan 2 trips and then you don’t need to go out at all).

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D on Fan Brycheiniog summit

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The edge of Fan Brycheiniog

The walk along the edge was simply magnificent with the lake at our feet and warm sunshine, t-shirt and shorts for the first time this year.

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Llyn y Fan Fach and Bannau Sir Gaer

Only downside was a very keen and cool wind that was making our search for a lunch stop a little trying. As regular readers know, I prize a decent long lunch stop on any walk and on a day as good as this it was worth seeking a good one. Rather than a cold hurried stop in the wind and despite both of us feeling hungry we pushed on. I figured that we’d find a spot tucked down on the northern slopes as we turned west heading for Bannau Sir Gaer. No such opportunities arose and we were forced to keep going. As we approached the summit D was feeling weary but I recalled that there are several ledges just west of the summit a few feet below the edge that I figured would do the job. We found a rather precarious perch with just enough room for both of us but out of the wind and a truly stupendous view.

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Lunch on the edge

Vast tracts of mid-Wales spread out before us and the crag-girt lake of Llyn y Fan Fach under our feet. Simply breathtaking. D polished off most of his food and I did what I do best and sat with a fresh brew contemplating life in all its glory. I’ve been very lucky these last 12 months with some truly magical days out so I guess I say this a lot, but life doesn’t get much better than this. The pleasure intensified with D sat beside me enjoying the situation, embracing the same simple pleasures that I’ve come to enjoy over the years. Timeless moments these and one of the pleasures of writing my blog is capturing the moment in words as well as photos and memories, helps to keep them special.

Time to move on and we continued along the escarpment in the sunshine with both us enjoying the sense of exposure standing on the edge of the cliffs.

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Edge on Bannau Sir Gaer

These corries are some of the most magnificent in the UK in my humble opinion and the spring sunshine was lighting them to great effect. Reaching the end of the long line of crags the path descends gently to the lake with views up to the summits equally as rewarding as the views from them.

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Llyn y Fan Fach and Bannau Sir Gaer

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Bannau Sir Gaer

Every time I walk here I’m always reminded of a sad story from the first time I walked these mountains. As me and Jane walked down towards the lake we were aware of a commotion at the top of the cliffs with a lot of shouting and a man scrambling down. As we watched it became clear that his dog had fallen off the edge and he was desperately trying to reach it. We waited and hoped for the best but it was clear that the poor dog had not survived the fall, a fact made horribly, hauntingly clear as we heard the owners sobs echo across the water as he reached his companion. Every time I’m up here and see people out with their dogs it sets my heart racing with fear and the memory of that afternoon returns. As an ex-dog owner who explored many a mountain with his own four-legged friend its a tragic reminder of what can go wrong.

I chose not to share that with D at the time, so we pressed on past the lake. The afternoon sun was glorious but as we had to be back so Jane could head out for her second performance of the play she’s in we had tp keep moving. On the map it looks like the route back involves a serious distance of rough ground to get back to Llyn y Fan Fawr. There are however a cunning connection of sheep tracks and walkers paths that take you through some lonely and stunning corries and cwms beneath all the edges you walked on in the first half of the day. If you want to follow the route then leave Llyn y Fan Fach by the small man-made water channel flowing in from the east. When you reach the first bridge follow a very faint sheep track that heads up towards the edges. Ignore the higher branch and take the lower path across a natural and very intriguing small moraine-like ridge to reach the open slopes. Above on the right you’ll see a couple of sheep tracks traversing the hillside. Traverse up to either of these and then follow this path all the way back under the edges to Llyn y Fan Fawr

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The wild northern corries

It’s a stunning section of walking taking into the heart of lonely corries under brooding vegetated cliffs. The whole section is a wild camping dream although fresh water would have to be carried in. It’s much further than it looks on the map and D was starting to feel a little weary. I decided the lake shore would be a better place to stop as we’d lost the sun behind the edge. It turned out to be an inspired move as the wind had dropped by the time we reached the shore and we found a lovely beach to relax on. D just collapsed in a heap while I had another brew.

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Llyn y Fan Fawr

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D rests on the beach

I felt a little guilty for stretching the pace a little but after some food he was soon up and about again and enjoying the scene as we had the lake to ourselves. This would be another superb site for a wild camp although you’d need to filter water from the lake as it has no outflow to speak of.

The scene was as good as it gets and I could have lain on the grass and rocks for hours. I enlightened D that this was what wild camping would be about and how wonderful it is to spend an evening in a spot like this, snuggle down in the tent for the night and then watch the sun come up and enjoy breakfast in the same surroundings. Hopefully I can get him out this spring and summer and really introduce him to this next stage of his outdoor training.

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D on the beach at llyn y Fan Fawr

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Dad has a rest too

Time to head back to the car. The walk along the lake-shore was stunning and after a bit of schoolboy navigating by yours truly we got back onto the right path!

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Weary D heads for home

Just before we reached the car there was a man wild camping in a perfect sport by the river as if to emphasise my discussion with D earlier. We chatted for a few minutes about what a great evening it was to be camping out and how jealous I was before we had to head back up the car and home.

D looked shattered but he also had a look that I recognised well. The look of calm satisfaction of a simple but challenging and rewarding day spent amongst the hills in the warm spring sunshine.

Enjoy the slide-show!

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Southern Highlands Weekend – Sunshine and Snow on Day 3   21 comments

EWO had been telling us that the weather forecast for the Sunday was great, but as I hope you’re starting to realise, he ALWAYS says that. The law of averages says that sometimes he’ll be right and today was one of those days. There was low cloud but it was clearly thin and out west you could see the clear blue sky. After saying farewell and thanks to our hosts at Suie Lodge we all agreed that Ben Vane down by Loch Lomond was a good choice as a shortish day on the way home for most of us.

Ben Vane, 8.6 miles, 3,100 feet of ascent

By the time we reached the car park at Inveruglas the sun was out, the sky was blue and it was a stunning morning. The views across the Loch to Ben Lomond was classic southern highlands.

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Ben Lomond across Looch Lomond - early morning

We strolled up the access road that leads to Loch Sloy in bright warm sunshine. The only down-side of this area are the strings of power lines and electrical substations that are part of the Loch Sloy HEP scheme. The upside is that Arrochar Alps as these hills are known are dramatic and rocky. I did Ben Vane on the very first of these weekend gatherings and a few of the others but for some reason I haven’t really explored them properly, surprising seeing as they are the most Southerly munros. Ben Vane itself rises dramatically as a rocky sentinel and looks pretty impregnable from this angle. Fortunately there is an excellent path that turns all the crags with only one very short easy scramble near the top.

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Ben Vane - our target for the day

The newly formed “Low-level walking and beer drinking club”, namely TBM and ED had picked another suitable route and they headed off to walk the Three Lochs Way and we guessed find a pub to partake of some beers. You can read his report of the day here

The rest of us started the steep climb towards the top.

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MM and EWO on the lower slopes

As is my style I decided a halfway stop for some lunch and a brew was on the cards and I was joined by EWO and GM. Everyone else decided it was too cold for that and carried on without a break till they got to the top. We were caught in a couple of heavy snow showers on the climb but they were pretty moderate and were adding a very flattering cap of snow to all the surrounding hills.

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GM looking across Loch Arklet to Loch Katrine

As we crested the final rocky knolls the sun came out in full force and the views were quite simply breathtaking. Across Loch Sloy was Ben Vorlich, one of my first munros back in the 80’s. Across to the west was Ben Arthur or The Cobbler, possibly my first Corbett back in the 80’s and a mountain that needs another visit on a better day than when I first climbed it

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Ben Vane - final approach

The low light, scudding cloud and snow were creating some superb vistas and I was in my element. On an isolated and steep mountain like Ben Vane it’s like walking in the sky and it makes you want to shout out loud to exclaim your good fortune that you’re there to enjoy it.

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GM and the view east

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Playing catch up

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EWO and OFS approach the summit

The summit views were equally sensational. Most of us wandered around for ages taking photos, playing name that peak, and generally taking it all in. The views across Loch Lomond to Ben Lomond were particularly magnificent. The dusting of snow had given a wintry feel to the day and as ever I didn’t really want to go down.

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Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond

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Time to leave

It would have been a superb time for a leisurely stop but Ben Vane is an isolated summit and the wind seemed to be blasting it from every direction so a summit stop was out of the question. The rest of the party were stomping about impatiently waiting to head down so we decided to find somewhere lower down, especially as some of the party had been allowed to stop for lunch yet!

The views continued as we headed down and the weather continued to clear.

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Ben Lomond and the lower slopes of Beinn Narnain

The main group disappeared and seemed intent on completing the whole walk without a pause. This is never an option for me and me, EWO, GM and OFS found a little sheltered spot overhanging the edge with excellent views across to the Beinn Ime, The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain. Time for a second lunch and another brew. A trifle cold I have to admit but a sensational spot to enjoy the situation. I’ve said many times if you don’t stop to take it all in, what’s the point.

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Lunch v2.0

Days like this in Scotland in winter are a rare commodity and need to be savoured. We’ve been doing these weekends for 7 years now and we’ve only had a couple of days this good.

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Ben Arthur/The Cobbler

Suitably refreshed and enchanted we plunged down the steep lower slopes to the pretty valley at the bottom. It would be a great wild camp spot if you could find a dry spot, I warn you it was exceedingly wet down here but it is stunning especially as the sky was now pretty much clear and we were in the full sunshine.

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Ben Lomond

We came across the rest of the party who had now finally decided their conscripts were to be allowed a rest. We all headed down together, past another small piece of HEP engineering that me and GM had some fun scrambling about on and found a rather dead sheep squashed against the outflow. Reminded me of my rather nice lamb shank I had for tea the night before

The walk back down the road to the car could have been a drag but in the clear afternoon sunshine I really enjoyed it. Even found time to ask MM some stupid questions about what would happen if we touched some of the scary looking bits of the sub-station on the way down with fairly obvious answers (he’s an engineer you know). When we got back to the car the views across the loch were as good as in the morning, a fitting finale to a cracker of a day.

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Ben Lomond across Loch Lomond - evening light

We said goodbyes to some of the crew and headed over to Arrochar to collect TBM and ED. They were ensconced in a local ale house enjoying the beers, warm fire and good food. As they rolled out they appeared to both be very “happy” – must have been the stunning views across the loch that was putting them in such a good mood.

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View across Loch Long from Arrochar

More goodbyes and it was time to head back to Berwick for a mighty fine roast dinner and pudding that Jane and her sister had prepared and a very long drive back to Hereford via Stafford. Home by 2am, completely knackered and wiped out for the rest of the week but worth every missing minute of sleep. It’s become another fixture in my yearly calendar of regular get-togethers and I’m already looking forward to the gathering of the clans in 2013. It’s great that everyone really seems to enjoy it and this year we had some new recruits and some old friends we hadn’t seen for a few years. Weekends don’t come much better. Enjoy the slide-show.

Southern Highlands Weekend – Wet ‘n Wild on Day 2   10 comments

After our exertions on day 1 we woke to the welcome sight of hammering rain on the morning of day 2. Time for a VERY leisurely breakfast and some more indecision on where to go. A small splinter group set off for Bheinn Bhuidhe down south (JB is close to completing his second round of munros and this one was missing). The rest of us plumped for the Tarmachan ridge above Loch Tay after a morning swapping music files and generally waiting for the rain to stop. It was a cunning plan as it had stopped by the time we set off.

Tarmachans Ridge, 8.5 miles, 2,900 feet of ascent

We dropped TBM and ED off in Killin for what was to become a familiar tale of low-level ambles between bars and pints. It’s their way. You can read ED’s post of his day here.

The rest of drove to our starting point near what was the nature reserve car park under Ben Lawers, now a building site? Last time I was here was in 1986 in full winter conditions (remember them) but today no snow but at least it had stopped raining and looked reasonably promising for a half reasonable day. It’s a nice walk for a laid back day with an excellent track that goes pretty much to the bottom of the far end of the ridge and then its a short steep climb onto the ridge and walk back along it before a short drop down to the car.

There were some pretty reasonable views across Loch Tay and even some glimpses of sunshine.

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OFS, GM and EWO

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Stormy view over Killin

We figured the ridge would be cold and windy (a correct analysis) so we stopped for lunch just before the final climb to the ridge. I brewed up amongst the usual pish-taking about my stove but frankly I didn’t give a damn (they should use that in a film – sounds good) as I sat with fresh cuppa.

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R poses for photo

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That's EWO and HMB on that summit

The climb up onto the first top was exceedingly steep and grassy but once up the views were pretty impressive.

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GM tries vegetation scrambling, a dying art

The ridge snakes along ahead of you and you realise then that the Tarmachans have 4 tops so there is quite a lot of up and down. It’s a really interesting ridge twisting and turning with lots of interesting spots and some decent views.

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OFS, TCK and the Tarmachans ridge

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Shafts of sunlight

It’s a great route to introduce beginners to winter walking with snow with a couple of narrow rocky sections without ever being too hard.

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The paths twists amongst the tops

One of our friends from Yorkshire was back on his first visit to Scotland in several years and was revelling in the day even though it was wild and windy. I’ll refer to him as The Cauliflower King (TCK). Why? Well he’s not the most culinarily gifted of people and once while on a trip to Switzerland I asked him to chop up a Cauliflower for a Vegetable curry. He SLICED it! I kid you not. What we had were numerous wafer thin tree-shaped slices of whole cauliflower which turned the meal into a sort of Cauliflower soup. He’s never lived it down.

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EWO nad Creag na Caillich

Anyway we carried on along the ridge, all of us really enjoying the twists and turns and climbs and looking for a second lunch spot. The weather had other ideas though and it started to snow and suddenly we were in a sea of white, not quite a white out but pretty nasty and definitely not a time for a sandwich and a cuppa. We thought it might blow over but it lasted for well over an hour until we were heading back down to the car. Bit of a shame as we didn’t get to enjoy the short narrow scramble in the middle and couldn’t linger on the summit.

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Just before it turned truly nasty

As we plodded down the sun suddenly came out and we had a short spell of sensational views across Loch Tay with cloud brushing the tops of Ben Lawers. Alas my camera got damp and the lens fogged up so none of my photos came out. By the time we reached the car it was raining again and were all pretty tired but it’s a longer and tougher day than it looks but a thoroughly rewarding one. It’s one of the best ridges in the Southern highlands and well worth a trip if you’re up this way

We had another splendid evening in the bar at Suie Lodge including EWO, the worlds tightest miser eating a posh sounding tuna and cream cheese pate (this is a man who lived on millet during a frugal round Europe bike ride). Made us laugh though

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"How much is this costing me?"

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The gangs all here

Another little slide show to enjoy before the final instalment in the Southern Highlands trilogy

Southern Highlands Weekend – Indecision on Day 1   12 comments

One of my very first blog posts last year when I started was a trip report on our annual trip to the Southern Highlands. It’s become a bit of fixture in the calendar for our little posse of ex Manchester University Hiking Club friends and some extra waifs and strays we’ve adopted over the years and last year and this year we’ve managed to get 12 of us together. Everyone really looks forward to it and for a few of us who live down south and have young families it’s one of the few chances we get to visit the Scottish mountains so it’s an eagerly anticipated trip.

I decided to take a day off work and after a night at GM’s place in Berwick (dropping Jane off for a weekend of sloth and laziness with her sister) me, Mad Malcs, GM, and his mate S, who I’ll refer to as The Beer Monster for reasons which will become apparent later, set off for the mountains. It was the first time I’d met TBM although I felt acquainted through his seemingly limitless supply of bad-taste jokes he sends to GM which he sends on to me. After picking him up I was delighted to find he is also a fellow fan of the rude, lewd Australian comedian Kevin “Bloody” Wilson and we chuckled our way to Callender for a fry-up although I’m not sure MM approved.

As seems to be the case these days there was absolutely no snow on the mountains (I remember the 80’s – no jokes please – when you went to Scotland between November and April and there was snow, tons of the stuff, every time, bloody global warming) so I pitched an idea to climb the rather impressive skyline scramble up Sron na Creise in the Blackmount near Glen Etive. Unfortunately this involves fording the river Etive which is a pretty major water hazard. I leapt out the car and surveyed the options and was not entirely surprised to find no-one had leapt out with me. Strangely no-one seemed all that keen to cross the river without a bridge and I missed out a new munro. There then followed a mightily impressive display of indecisiveness as we lurched from one passing place to another, searching for a way to cross the river. We even contemplated a rather dodgy looking wire crossing until common sense got the better of us. We were left with no option and out came the maps to look for an alternative. GM to the rescue. He always has a dreary Corbett tucked up his sleeve that he hasn’t climbed and he’d found us another one, Stob Dubh overlooking Glen Etive. Seriously it looked a decent mountain and as it was pushing 1pm we thought we’d better make a start.

Stob Dubh, 5.1 miles, 3000 feet of ascent

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Stob Dubh and our descent route

We had to walk up the road to get to the bridge over the Etive. The local estate had kindly placed a high barbed wire fence well up and beyond the access point to the bridge and right the way down to, and over the river. Nice of them. We had to hang from the fence over the river to straddle across although MM managed to squeeze through the wires – god knows how. Suitably grumpy and irked I composed myself by admiring the raging torrent I’d have been washed into if I’d lost my grip on the fence. Very impressive.

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Waterfalls on the river Etive

From the river it’s a relentless 2000 foot plus ascent up steep grass onto the broad ridge. TBM was struggling but we convinced him to carry on having done most of the hard work.

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Looking down....

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Looking up

The dark crags to our right were split by a rather dark fault that had a perfectly clean face on one side that really caught the eye. The rest of the face looked greasy and verdant with a constant chatter of stone fall. It helped sustain the interest as we closed to the top of grass slopes that characterise the southern highlands.

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Impressive fault in the cliffs

There is a real sense of mass and scale about this range, perhaps its the sea-level start or just the sheer length of the slopes and depth of perfection of the glacially carved valleys. Sometimes it’s tough to recall that I used to visit Scotland about a dozen times a year, now it s just 2 or 3.  I love my local hills but there is a sense of grandeur, scale and sheer vastness that only Scotland truly provides. I’m in my element on a Scottish mountain like nowehere else and even on a grey day like this it teaches you to make the most of each visit. It’s one hell of trip from Hereford for a weekend but as I sat with a brew and a couple of mates taking in the scene the long hours in the car melted away. This is true relaxation stress de-tox for me.

Once up on the ridge the angle eased but we were skidding in and out of the cloud. It had been a pretty grey day but there were regular hints of blue sky but it never seemed to quite clear. After rolling over a couple of small tops we were a little surprised to see the summit looming large and steep out of the mist.

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The summit looms out of the mist

I don’t know why but we were all expecting a gradual ascent to the top even though we had a map that showed the steep contours. Again we pressed TBM that he had to make the summit after all that hard work.  By the time we hit the top it was after 4pm,  the light was looking gloomy and we had to pick one of several steep and unpleasant options to get back down.

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Triumphant summit trio

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Loch Etive

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Bidean nam Bian

Scottish mountains are no place to be scrambling down in the dark. We picked a deep rocky valley just to the NE and plunged and slid down. It looked horrid from the top but in fact it wasn’t too bad and we made good time. Even what looks like a benign smaller summit can be a danger and this one was no different. It needed treating with respect. Near the bottom I tried to traverse onto easier slopes and got myself caught up on slimy, rocky slopes high above the stream and at one point found myself dangling from a rotten tree branch with my foothold of mud disintegrating rapidly. It was as edgy as I’ve been in the hills for a few years but I managed to squirm my way out and with heart pounding reached the river Etive again. Lack of respect could have cost me dear.

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Buachaille Etive Beag and Mor

I could see the car about a hundred yards off but to reach it via the bridge was an extra mile up-river and back. The Etive didn’t look too deep so I decided to take my boots off and cross it. A few strides in and it was fast flowing and knee deep – oh and pretty much dark. And cold. Luckily I had my walking poles for balance so I was across without much more incident than throbbing feet. GM followed me across while MM and TBM decided that such tomfoolery was beyond them and took the easy option.

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GM crossing the river, deeper and faster than it looks

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Too cold for pants

Back to the car by 6pm in the dark and off to the Suie Lodge, our home for the weekend for beer and vittles. It was there I discovered TBMs true calling as an expert in fine beers and selecting ridiculously strong ales for his unsuspecting companions who’s day’s of serious drinking are long behind them. He looked much happier in the bar than he did on the summit, a man at peace. We looked back on a pretty decent day but wondering if that was as good as it was going to get. The forecast for the next day was dire and not much better for Sunday. As luck would have it we’d invited someone for whom a bad weather forecast is but a myth and right on cue, EWO turned up with tales of an improving Saturday and stonking Sunday. He always says that

The rest of the team arrived and we drank beer, swapped stories and took the pish as only best mates of 20+ years can do. It was good to be back in the highlands.

The story continues….

Posted March 12, 2012 by surfnslide in Scotland, Southern Highlands, Walking

Tagged with ,

Review – Jetboil Sol Titanium Stove   8 comments

Well here we go my first gear review post!

Over the last few months I’ve been converted to the idea of a fresh cup of tea while out on a day-walk. It’s always been one the best advantages of backpacking that you can pull over for a brew whenever you want a pep up as it were. For day walks I’d been using a small lightweight primus kettle and mini gas burner but I was looking for something a little more compact and lightweight. I also have my eye on some short one night backpacks when the spring arrives so something I could cook up a simple meal for one in would also be handy.

I’d seen a few mentions of the Jetboil range and had my eye on the Flash range but when I did some searching I managed to find a price for the slightly smaller and much lighter Sol Titanium version for £105.00 from The Outdoor Shop online store so I thought I’d go for it as a little treat. Other than my gas burner I have a Trangia that still sees good service and a much more exciting MSR petrol stove that I love but can’t use in a backpacking tent for obvious reasons so this was something of a luxury purchase but there you go.

So onto the review. I’ll say up front that I think this is a top piece of kit. It comes with the main mug and Flux Ring unit, lid, burner unit with push button ignition, pot stand and base stand for a standard gas canister. Every time I mention the flux ring I’m always drawn to think of the Flux Capacitor from the Back to the Future films. Disappointingly no matter how hard I tried I can’t get the thing to go back in time. “You made a stove…….out of a DeLorean!”

Full componants, all fit into the unit as shown in the next photo

As it’s Titanium its extremely light, the figures from the Jetboil site aren’t very useful as they don’t include some of the bits but I weighed it all together on my kitchen scales and came up with 17oz (I’m old school)

When packed for transport it packs up neatly such that the everything including a 100g gas canister fits neatly inside the mug.

Packed and ready to transport

To assemble you just screw the burner unit into the gas canister, clip on the base stand and then twist the mug unit on to the burner and you’re ready to go.

Ready to use

Now to the most important part. Its full capacity is 0.8l but I normally brew up around 0.5l and it does that in a little over 2 minutes which is pretty damn fast in my book. I can assemble it in about 2 minutes and by the time I’ve dug out the milk, teabags, sugar and my lunch it’s boiled. Putting it back together takes another couple of minutes.

Are there any negatives. Couple of minor points. It has a plastic measuring cup that protects the flux ring that can take a couple of seconds to twist off and if you want to disconnect the burner from the mug to drink you tea (you can just pick up the whole unit) it can take a bit of pressure to unclip it. There is also a small online debate going on that the incompatibility between the two metals used in the flux ring and the mug may cause some degradation in the bond and the stove might fail (or explode). I’ve used mine a few times now and I can see no signs of that and it’s by no means a definitive problem for a product recall. Martin Rye over at Summit and Valley has a blog post up about this and you can read that here if you have any worries but I’m not concerned if that helps. Mind you I think lighting a petrol stove in a backpacking tent is fun so my sense of danger and risk might be different to everyone elses

I took it out on my days out last week in the Southern Highlands. My pals were initially sceptical and took the pish somewhat (they still use flasks the Philistines) but when they saw how neat, light and quick it was they were suitably impressed. There are a range of equally lightweight accessories, pots and pans to expand the Sol beyond a one person brew and quick meal machine. I may take a look at that in future to possible replace my Trangia but it would be a very expensive cooking system if you did. For now I’m happy with what I bought it for.

In Summary

Pros

Lightweight

Compact

Extremely fast and fuel-efficient

Easy to assemble and use

Cons

Cost (although factor against fuel efficiency)

Minor assembly niggles

Possible (unconfirmed) metal fatigue issue

Overall Rating

9.5 out of 10

Gets the surfnslide Best Buy award for stoves 🙂

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In action in the Brecon Beacons

Usual advice to shop around applies here as it’s RRP is up around £140

Posted March 11, 2012 by surfnslide in Gear, Reviews

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Pen y Fan – D’s second proper mountain   12 comments

My eldest is really getting the hiking bug these days but as you’d expect he’s keen to climb the higher and more famous mountains rather than my current quest for the lesser known corners. The weather looked good a couple of weeks ago so I asked if he wanted to come out for the day and he asked if we could climb Pen y Fan, south Wales highest summit. I’ve been promising to take him up for years so I thought it was about time to keep that promise.

Whilst the walking in the Brecons is top-notch the summit of Pen y Fan can be a little busy, almost crowded on a good day so I tend to find alternative quieter routes. However that’s not to detract from the approach walks which are largely excellent. The easiest way to the top is from the Storey Arms on the A470 but it’s a grinding bore of a route on badly eroded paths with way too many people. We chose to approach from the north starting at the Cwm Gwdi car park.

7 Miles, 2,200 feet of ascent

The temperature was saying 11 degrees C when we set off and it was warm clear and sunny as we headed into the broad open valley under Allt Ddu.

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D in Cwm Gwdi

I’ve been waiting for several years for the point at which D starts to climb hills faster than me and this seemed to be that day! He had to wait for me a few times to catch up but it was great to see him really enjoying himself and excited about climbing another “proper” well-known mountain.

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Young waits for old

We reached the ridge of Cefn Cwn Llwch with a sharp reminder that even though the air was warm it was still winter, as a cold wind forced the warmer layers on. The views were superb however with the long north facing escarpment picked out cleanly in the bright sunlight and Cribyn looking particularly special.

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D with Cribyn behind

The long walk along the ridge was excellent.

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D on Cefn Cwn Llwch

As we approached the final climb we decided that it would be too cold and windy on the summit to stop for lunch so we headed off to the east to get out of the wind, have some lunch and for me to have brew with my new stove.

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Lunch and a brew

I think D got a little cold and frustrated waiting for his lazy dad to finish his cuppa and he was pacing around waiting for me to finish. I need some more work to persuade him of the delights of a long stop over lunch especially in a spot as good as this one. His little legs were bursting to get to the top so we pressed on up the final steep slopes to the top. There were thin clouds skimming the summit when we got there but it was surprisingly quiet for Pen y Fan. I’ve been up here in summer when there were 100+ people on the summit but today it was just a handful. After the obligatory summit photo we headed east towards Cribyn

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D bags another summit

The cloud lifted again and the views were simply stunning.

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Cribyn

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D and the Nuadd Reservoirs

I gave D the choice of another summit by ascending Cribyn or taking the rather exciting path that traverses the north face. He chose the latter although with it being such a sunny day I’d have probably gone over the summit. Still I never tire of the traverse path and D loved the sense of adventure of this route.

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D on the Cribyn traverse path

It was a lot nicer than the last time I walked it in November and as I said then it looks a lot harder than it is in reality. Despite the fact that it’s a fairly obvious and well-known route I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone else on it and this was true today. I suppose it’s the natural tendency to stick to ridges and summits but I can stress enough that if you’re down this way you should really give this path a try. If you are traversing the summits you can still climb Cribyn at the end.

I did make a half-hearted attempt to persuade D we could climb to the top but he took one look at the VERY steep climb and said a firm NO. We started to head down the easy angled sunny ridge of Bryn Teg where the views across towards the eastern tops and Fan y Big (that truly is a great name for a mountain) were great.

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Fan y Big

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Cribyn and Pen y Fan

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D looks out towards the Black Mountains

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Spring colours

At the bottom the there is a bit of road stretch before picking up a few paths to traverse across the fields and lower slopes to return to the car. It was turning into quite a long walk but despite that and the fact that we’d only really stopped once D was in fine form and didn’t seem to be struggling at all.

We’d completed the whole walk in just over 4 hours which is pretty impressive for a 12-year-old and I’m now really confident that he can handle pretty much any reasonable day walk that I can do. He’s now officially a mountain-man like his dad.

Enjoy the show if you like a little music with your pictures

Posted March 10, 2012 by surfnslide in Brecon Beacons, Wales, Walking

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