Thursday, 16 December 2010

The wild.

A while ago I watched a documentary on TV about a guy called Ed Wardle who went off alone into the Canadian wilderness to survive for three months and film his adventure. It was a compulsive but harrowing story as he almost starved and became emotionally unstable due to the solitude and his deteriorating physical condition.
  I googled Wardle afterwards and while reading background about him also read about a guy called Chris McCandless who had hiked into the Alaskan backcountry in 1992 aiming to survive alone and with very little equipment and few resources. His story was turned into a book by American author Jon Krakauer (one of whose books I'd read previously). McCandless's tale ended in tragedy as he starved to death while living in an old school bus that had been abandoned in the wilderness, his body was discovered by moose hunters two weeks after his death. He has subsequently become something of an iconic if controversial figure (some people believe he was stupid to do what he did without making better preparations). Krakauer's book (Into the Wild) was made into a film in 2007 by Sean Penn and it was shown on Film4 tonight.
   To be honest I'd forgotten about McCandless but when I saw that the film was on it reminded me of his tale and I had to watch it. It was very good and I think I'll have to get my hands on the book to read as well now.
This is a self portrait of Chris McCandless taken outside the bus that his body was discovered in. The picture was on an undeveloped film in his camera.
As an update to this post, I received a copy of "Into the Wild" as a Christmas present and read it over Xmas day and Boxing day. It was an easy and enjoyable read but a little packed out in places with Krakauer's own exploits and comparisons between McCandless and other people who had met a similar fate. I do feel  Krakauer's portrayal of McCandless was very sympathetic and I can understand why some have criticised the book for being too lenient. I can't help feeling that McCandless displayed a degree of arrogance and lack of consideration but he seems to have been very charismatic and made a deep impression on those he met. All in all, I'm glad I read "Into the Wild". 

24 hours on the big loch

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Beinn An Lochain 13 December 2010.

My mate Pat recently treated himself to a new pair of walking boots and he wisely decided to go for a pair that'd take crampons. Pat's fairly new to hillwalking and was keen to have his first bash at walking in winter conditions so we decided to take advantage of the perfect forecast and climb Beinn An Lochain. This is a mountain that is just under 3000 feet but has more character and provides a more airy walk than many better known hills, I've been up it several times but never in winter conditions so was relishing the challenge.
Our objective, lit by the morning sun.
Pat getting ready to leave. It was -5C when we got out the car.
Pat on the first section of the northeast ridge with Loch Restil and the Rest and be Thankful behind.
Me a bit higher up the ridge.
The ridge gets narrower and more airy the higher you get with some nice exposed sections, it's a really great walk.
Pat gets his first taste of ice axe and crampons, looks like he's enjoying it!
Beinn An Lochain's better known neighbours (Ben Ime, Beinn Narnain and The Cobbler).
The final section of ridge. The path winds it's way up through the rocks just to the left of the skyline.
Nearly there!
Me on the summit and.........
Pat on the summit.
Ben Nevis (centre distance) clearly visible around 50 miles to the north.
The view up Glen Kinglas.
All in all a really good day in the hills. There was a lot less snow than I'd expected (even the north facing slopes were stripped) but there was plenty of water ice for Pat to try using crampons and enough snow for me to show him how to do an ice axe arrest and for him to have a few practices. On the way we drove past the head of Loch Long which was frozen right across. It needs to be pretty cold for sea lochs to start freezing!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The hunt for Shewie's trivet.

Just over a week ago while I was on the "Song of the paddle" (canoe) forum I read a post by a guy called Shewie (forum name) from Yorkshire who'd been up to Loch Lomond with some fellow canoeists and bushcrafters. They'd been finishing their trip just as the snows had hit us and Shewie had left his trivet (a metal stand for cooking over an open fire) behind while packing up. He wasn't sure if he'd lost it at the layby at Aldochlay or on Inchconnachan island (where they'd camped). Whilst the trivet wasn't worth much, it was much valued as Shewie'd had it made specially to his own design. I said I'd have a look for it the next time I was going out on the Loch.
  My intention had been to go for a paddle much sooner but with the snow and ice we've had and working a lot the opportunity hadn't presented itself until yesterday. The forecast was for a strong northwesterly wind to moderate as the day went on and milder cloudy conditions to turn to cold clear weather during the night.
 I left Helensburgh just after lunchtime and was on the water ready to go by 2:30pm. Just prior to setting off I had to nip back to the van to get something I'd forgotten and what caught my eye lying in the undergrowth next to the pavement? Shewie's trivet, a little rusty from the salt but otherwise unscathed.
Oh well, that'd save me searching Wallaby Island in the gathering gloom!
The Pal was all loaded up ready to go so once I'd safely deposited the trivet in my van it was off onto the loch. The wind had been moderating as forecast but was still gusting so I headed south to get as much shelter as I could. This worked quite well but there was a surprisingly big swell running down the channel between Inchtavannach and the shore. I'd chosen to wear my drysuit just in case the conditions were challenging but it was actually good fun surfing down the swells!
Ben Lomond was looking quite wintery despite the recent thaw.
Once I was round the southwestern corner of Inchtavannach the water was pan flat.
As usual for my trips it was getting dark more quickly than I'd anticipated so I just headed back to my previous campsite on Inchmoan, it's a stunning spot and would be difficult to better.
I managed to get camp set up  before it was completely dark this time and improvised a tripod support for my light (handy while cooking dinner!)

 After eating I got a fire going to keep warm as it had dropped below freezing as soon as the sun had gone down.
I went to bed early as I was knackered from being on night shifts for the last two weeks and it had got really cold. My tent was covered in frost by 9:30pm and the lure of a down sleeping bag was too much to resist. I didn't bother setting an alarm figuring that as I'd be in bed before 10pm I wouldn't sleep late. Eleven and a half hours later I woke up to a stunning morning!
It was still pretty cold though and the tent was coated in ice inside (where the condensation from my breath had frozen) and out.
Time to get breakfast on, blueberry and apple porridge was just what I needed to warm me up!
 After breakfast I packed up then went for a walk about on my bit of the island and picked up as much litter as I could carry (mostly empty drinks bottles and tins). I meant to take a black bin bag for this task but forgot so was restricted to filling up my own small rubbish bag, still the wombles would be proud of me!
Once I had a full bag of junk I set off to paddle east past Inchmoan and round Inchcruin. It was absolutely stunning and I seemed to have the loch to myself.
This picture is looking west to the Luss hills with Inchmoan in the foreground.
Looking north through the "Geggles" (the narrow gap between Inchmoan and Inchcruin) with Ben Lomond prominent on the right and Ben Vorlich in the distance.
Once on the northern side of Inchcruin I started to feel peckish again so decided to head for Bucinch where I knew of a nice picnic spot (Bucinch is the wooded island in the middle of the picture).

I found my nice secluded harbour and went ashore to put the kettle on. While I was waiting for it to boil I started to hear singing getting gradually closer (my spot was hidden in the trees so couldn't see the source of the singing). As the mysterious songsmith got closer I could make out that he was singing a loud but not altogether tuneful rendition of the Verve's "The drugs don't work". It turned out to be a mature (I'd guess in his sixties) guy paddling a sea kayak. After a quick chat (during which he told me the loch was frozen solid on the east shore near Balmaha) he went merrily on his way launching into another song I didn't recognise at the top of his voice. It was the kind of beautiful day that might inspire you to sing but I'm not sure that his enthusiastic effort quite did it justice. Top marks for effort though!
After a bite to eat and a cuppa I set out south again, skirting the west side of Inchcruin then headed across to the point where Inchconnachan, Inchtavannach and Inchmoan are at their most close together. By now the sun was getting low in the sky and after stopping briefly to chat to two more sea kayakers I pushed on.
I had this amazing view of Ben Lomond through the narrows of Inchconnachan (right) and Inchtavannach (left). I'm quite proud of this pic, I think it's one of the best I've ever taken. From here it was a short paddle around the southern end of Inchtavannach back to my put in point.
 I paddle a lot on Loch Lomond and to be honest I can't wait to go further afield to explore in my new canoe but with the short winters days and cold weather it's great to have this beautiful spot virtually on my doorstep. I don't think I could ever tire of paddling around the islands though, the scenery constantly changes with the weather and the seasons and this trip was one of my best so far. Thanks to Shewie for providing the excuse!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Snow, snow go away.

Let's get one thing straight, I love the snow. Ever since I was a kid I've been excited at the prospect of snowy weather and the fun activities that a covering of snow allowed.
 Maybe I'm just getting old but the snow that fell here (at sea level) last year and this year has just been annoying, it makes travel difficult, it's bloody freezing all the time and it stops me getting out and doing stuff.
  Worst of all is at work though. Endlessly shovelling snow, trying to clean dirty kennels when the water just freezes on contact with the ground (that's if the hose hasn't frozen in the first place), my dog going lame as the salt on the roads burns her pads, it just becomes a pain in the arse.
  At least we had a great days snowboarding last Thursday but I'd be happy if a thaw set in now. Roll on Spring!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Day one of the 2010/2011 snowboarding season.

Chris (Shuzzy) and I had made a loose arrangement to go to Cairngorm today to have our first days boarding of this season. Last year our first day was on 4th December (2009) which we thought at the time was an early start so to go two days earlier this year would be a bonus.
  The trip depended on Chris getting a day off work and when he called to say he'd wangled a day off in lieu of overtime it was game on.
  We left the 'burgh at 6:25 am and immediately the windscreen washers froze on Shuzzy's truck so visibility wasn't great with all the salt on the roads (eventually we improvised a cycle drink bottle full of screen wash which we had to squirt manually onto the screen out the side windows!) The amount of snow between Stirling and Perth was incredible and boded well for the conditions at Cairngorm but as we headed further north on the A9 the snow quantities started to decrease not increase. Combine this with a lot of low cloud and we started to doubt the forecast for lots of snow and clear skies on the hill.

The A9 north of Stirling.
Lovely snow!!!!!!!

Once we got to Aviemore we were relieved to see more snow again and breaks started to appear in the clouds. The drive up past Glenmore was beautiful.

We had a bite to eat so that we could skip lunch and maximise our time boarding then waited in the surprisingly big queue for lift passes. Once we had tickets we jumped on the funicular railway up to the Ptarmigan (Site of the highest Postbox in the UK!!).

Shuzzy looking forward to getting in some turns

Coire Cas with a frozen Loch Morlich behind.

The view of Coire Cas from the Traverse.

Your mobile phone probably wouldn't work if this guy took a full day off (Shuzz busy troubleshooting on the phone to his work)!

All too soon it was time for the last run of the day (off piste down the East Lady).

The sun sets on a great day. 

Even the car park was picturesque!

What a great day it turned out to be, thanks to Chris for driving in difficult conditions (his 4x4 was a godsend). Let's hope this is the start of another epic season.