Archive for May, 2010


This is a wee tribute to Eddy Merckx and his hour record which he set at an altitude of 2300m in mexico city in 1972. Of all the hour records this is considered the most pure, in that he rode a standard tubular steel frame with spoked wheels and standard drop bars. His record has been broken countless times by others including Scotland’s Graham Obree but not on a standard machine. In fact anyone who has tried to break the Merckx record on a standard set-up with no aerodynamic or body positioning tricks has failed. Here’s the wiki for the hour record if you want to figure out what I’m babbling on about. Otherwise just enjoy the pretty colours. SAFE.

A grand day out on the Buachaille

I’ve spent the best part of the last two years living down in the Lake District, so it felt like a return to the motherland as we cruised up the A82 past Loch Lomond and onwards towards Glen Coe. The sun was splitting the skies and the hills through Bridge of Orchy and the Black Mount were looking magnificent, putting on a fine show for a long overdue reunion. As we came round the corner and sighted the Buachaille looming in the distance, I finally told Keith where we were going and what we were going to do.

Keith’s a good friend, an old friend. James and I nearly killed him on a walk up the Cobbler about four years ago (“just two more minutes!”), though he loved it afterwards and talked about it for months. Since then we’ve only ever managed gentle wanders together, normally with a group of his work colleagues who all appear to be scared of mud. Keith is moving to Sydney in a couple of weeks, and I wanted to take him up one of Scotland’s classics, show him what it was really all about. The idea was to give him a day to remember and hopefully not scare the crap out of him along the way, just give him some quality memories of the hills he would normally drive past. I thought that Curved Ridge would fit the bill.

I admit that I’ve also had a wee hankering to try to solo Agag’s Groove since trying to lead it a few years back and having to ab off to help a friend who was hit in the head by a falling rock. I chucked my rock shoes in my bag, telling myself I was just going to go and have a wee look at it – much too early in the season to be trying that sort of thing.

The car park was full to bursting, though we didn’t meet anyone on the walk in until we were directly below curved ridge. Keith has been putting in some serious fitness training in the years since our day out on the cobbler and was cruising on up there with a complete absence of swearing, complaining or whining. We stopped to say hello to a film crew making a movie called “a lonely place to die,” and moved on again quickly as they seemed busy (mostly snoozing).

Keith totally cruised up the initial steep start to the ridge, and any lingering concerns quickly evaporated. I’d brought a rope and enough gear to rig a belay just in case I was asking too much of him, but it was clear that it wasn’t going to be necessary. Far from being terrified he seemed to be loving every minute of it: excited, exhilarated, but moving confidently and I began to wish I’d dragged him up here years ago rather than accepting his excuses. We stopped for lunch on one of the large ledges across from the Rannoch wall and I pointed out some of the classic routes, embellished with tales from past days out. Then I got to Agag’s and damn, it looked perfect. Clear, dry, not a soul on the whole wall. I walked down the ledge to better pick out the route – inspecting it for another day when I’d try the solo.

Then I went down to the large block it starts from to check out the opening moves. I took my rock boots with me, just in case I fancied bouldering the start to see how it felt.

It felt good.

All of a sudden I was sitting on the large ledge at what would normally be the second belay, watching Keith watching me. The third pitch looked kind of steep looking up from the ledge, but looking fown from it the first two pitches also looked pretty steep. I’d heard that there was a bit of a hairy step out into a very exposed situation somewhere up there, and I hoped it was around what appeared to be a slightly overhanging bulge. I certainly didn’t want to have to climb over the bulge anyway. Nothing for it really, just got to suck it up and give it a go. It was faint in the distance, but I swear I could hear “you’re nuts,” being muttered in soft weegie tones somewhere nearby. I topped out the route below Crowberry Tower with a curious lack or relief but considerable satisfaction. It had felt good; controlled and comfortable rather than reckless and terrifying.

I think Keith got something very similar from his day when we topped out on Curved Ridge. He achieved something that he will remember for years to come, had a day that other days will be measured against. As he said himself, he raised the bar. I don’t doubt that the next time he drives past the Buachaille, he’ll feel a little differently about it. It’s a funny thing though, I spent two years thinking about that solo but at the end of the day I think I felt more satisfaction giving Keith his big day out than from my climb. It was, I think, a fitting farewell.

World cup DH / 4x – Fort William 5th -6th June

So the annual world cup pilgrimage to fort william is next weekend. Can’t wait. It’s always an excellent event, well managed on a dramatic, challenging track. The atmosphere is always superb and this year the crowds will be even more up for it with Steve Peat wearing the rainbow stripes of world champion. There’s hundreds of stuff to look at in the pits, cool stuff to buy, loadsa free tatt and the factory bikes riders, mechanics all mingling around.

They seem to have been doing a lot of work to the track after a few criticisms of last years being slightly easier than it had been. They have their work cut out at nevis range keeping the track challenging enough for the worlds best and keeping it safe(ish) for your average DH punter. Seeing the track via the gondola at the 10 under the ben registrations it certainly looked a lot gnarlier than it did, although there were still large parts of the track unfinished.

Here’s some videos me and Spad made at the 2007 World championships to whet your appetite.

10 under the ben – official video

Here’s the official video of the ten under the ben. Superb job as always from Stu Thomson @ mtbcut.

No shots of any of us lot riding but some great shots of us looking like chumps spectating at the end, waiting in vain for Iain Bowies valiant last lap attempt to be a success.

Oh and it’s worth keeping up with mtbcut produce as it’s all high quality. Here’s their channel on mpora.

The Howick Tannery

After 3 weeks in my tent in the Drakensburg mountains it felt adventurous to be heading into civilization.
Ash and I ventured with wide eyed excitement along the dirt roads  towards the small town of Howick.
Our mission; to find the rumoured tannery in the industrial outskirts to purchase some sleeping skins.
(Old faithful the thermarest having given up the ghost with an unidentifiable slow puncture)

This place blew me away.
Stepping through time into a bygone era of thick smells and grime. It reminded me that adventure and exploration can be found in the oddest corners, in this case;  between the animal rescue centre and the taxidermists.

In this tiny tannery skins are processed as they have been since the middle ages, hand sorting, dipping, tumbling, stretching and fluffing. They work mainly with sheep and cow skins, but you can bring in any road kill /dead pets  that take your fancy.

The folk that work there are smudged black and striking, like Dickensian characters, probably with  Victorian pay and working conditions  to match.

Any hoo; I’ve just realised that this is in the Zulu lands, not Scotland or even outdoors. Oops. Promise some mountains
next time ..

Aonach Mor – Nevis Range – Red Downhill

The day after the 10 under the ben, myself, Spad and Ed decided we would take the chance to have a blast on the Red DH route at nevis range. Despite being race fatigued and hung over. The price for one trip on the gondola is a bit steep at £12 but keeping these tracks on the hill plus running all the first aid and the gondola must cost a heap. So you cannae complain to much. The trail is superb, rough technically challenging with loads of drops, rock ladders and boardwalk. The first section out over the exposed hillside starts pretty smoothly with obstacles slowly ramping up in severity until you hit the boardwalk. The boardwalk is great fun, heaps of grip loads of wee drops interspersed with rocky outcrops whooping jumps and bermed corners it provides a real rush. Their is a proper drop off to the right hand side if you get it wrong so it gets the adrenalin pumping. Their is a sharp, short uphill before the boardwalk ends. Taking you over the brow of the hill, it then meanders around a relatively flat area with loads of granite rock obstacles which are marked with red arrows to show the best line. There a are a few more uphill sections here but nothing to spoil the flow. After this the real downhill starts in earnest, it is steep rough and speed is easy to accumulate, although some sections have to be treated with respect especially on a hard tail, as a bad line could result in a very nasty face plant. Once of the steeps and into the woods there is a couple of river crossings, the first of which challenges your momentum. You cross the black DH run then down some fire road for a bit before the last few berms into the car park. Is it worth £12 for one shot? I would say yes! we took our time and savoured it. I would definitely go back and get a day ticket for £28 and happily ride over and over again it would undoubtably improve my downhill technique and confidence. Although I would get some knee, elbow pads to do this as a fall at speed on this track would definitely hurt – a lot. Highly recommended, but remember this is a downhill route so you would need to be able to ride some black level xc routes to manage it all, the red tag does not equate to the skill level needed for a red xc. The addition of the downhill tag makes a big difference.

10 under the Ben

This years Ten under the Ben broke the lucky run of weather the event has enjoyed since it’s inception. We were treated to classic Fort William weather, with a two tone sky. Blue to the South, Grey to the North. Fraser and the No Fuss team do a great job of tweaking and adding to the course every year. As he says himself “the only consistency is inconsistency”. The fantastic new natural wooded sections of course which had been added this year soon turned into a quagmire. Had the weather been as hoped these sections would have been exceptional. As it was they posed a solid challenge in bike handling, line choice and preserving momentum. As always the witches trails sections were brilliant fun, easy to ride despite the rain and full of speed. I found the most challenging part of the course were the long shallow fire road climbs, the rain had turned the usually hard packed surface in to a drag ridden paste which sapped energy and enthusiasm quickly. The new technical, forest, singletrack sections were definitely the highlight for me despite the intensity of the mud, I can’t wait to make it back and ride them in the dry at speed.

We had quite a crew of folk taking part over 20 of us loosely related through mates of mates. The vibe in the pits was great, a big thanks to all who contributed with food, drink, tents, houses and particular kudos must go to Lindsey Barr for orchestrating such fine hospitality at the race and after. The craic flowed and we all helped sort out broken bikes, keeping the kettle boiling and enjoying the fine Fort William weather. The atmosphere at No Fuss races is superb; friendly, comic and easy going. There is of course a competitive element but this plays second fiddle to having a good time and getting the craic with like minded folk. Big up to all those who contributed to such a fine weekend and hopefully we’ll all manage to make it again next year.

Our team was called “The crank addicts” which included myself, Spad, Davie G and Bowie. We managed 7th place. Which was pretty good, had I not stopped for a slash and Spads chain not come off we could have got up to 4th. Iain Bowie put in a gallant effort going out for a final lap but missed the cut off by only 2 mins. Next year eh!

Spad’s on the case of getting a video together so check back soon for that.

Bivi-ing High in the Mamores

It was half past 11 at night and not far from the top of a munro that I realised I didn’t have a lighter for the stove.  If only I’d realised two hours before when parting company at the Corrour train station, a place once made famous by the Cult film Trainspotting.  But irrespective it was on and up for me.  At 2am walking up to the top of the Munro felt like walking on another planet.  I put my head down using the summit as a wind break, and woke 5 hours later covered in snow.  By 9am I was on top of the next nearest Munro, but, picking a kak-handed route down, had to dig myself out of a Coire.  At Larig bothy I found a lighter, which helped to produce the worst cup of coffee I’ve ever made – nescafe and powered milk, with no sugar to hide behind.   I might’ve stayed in the Bothy, but a spotlight of sunlight on Stob Bhan showed the way.   Six summits later, after a wind, sun and hail blasted traverse above the Grey Corries, I was faced with Aonachan Mhor, a challenge which I turned down in favour of a party in Fort William.  Maybe the  Mamore to Ben Nevis traverse will go sometime when the weather’s better and there’s someone else to share the craic with…

Away to Culkein Bay

It was around 15 years ago when I was last here in Culkein – it’s barely changed at all. This time I spent the week there with around 40 other friends and we had a mighty fine time. Lots of Kayaking and walking, a bit of climbing and cycling… and plenty of good fun. Assynt has to be one of my favourite places to be.

Inspiring Moments in a Year

I usually have one or two seminal moments in a year – wee experiences that stand out as really exceptional moments.  On this level it’s not usually more than one or two though.  In recent times I’ve found these experiences can quite often be attributed to certain things.  Ice climbing, when your right out there on the edge and going for it, can sometimes give me one, although not this last season, and only two in my life so far.  But both this year and last, two of the most fantastic moments came running across the Stoer peninsula.   I must have some connection with the place, although of course it might not only be me.

As it went I felt pretty vacuous after a day in bed following a party.   Running, I thought,  would clear the mind and get the blood pumping.  Even then I half expected to turn back after 100 yards overcome by lethargy.  But instead with each step the world became more glorious, until I was running with my arms waving manically in the air.  I wasn’t even running fast, but it didn’t matter.

mind blown, legs gone.
run run run across assynt thinking man,
under suilven and out out out
to the point of Stoer
where the old man will tell you how it is.

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About High-8

High-8 is a loose gathering of like minded adventurists who document first person, on the ground experiences with words, photos and film. The hope is to form a rough guide to outdoor adventure sports in Scotland and provide a warts and all, honest representation of what we find. No sport is excluded from mountaineering and mountain biking to gorge walking and kayak all are welcome and encouraged.


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The Code

The Country Code, which most of us learned in school (and we probably haven't read since!), was updated in 2004 when it became the Countryside Code. Here's the updated version:
  • Be safe - plan ahead and follow any signs
  • Leave gates and property as you find them
  • Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home
  • Keep dogs under close control
  • Consider other people
In Scotland, where there is a more general right of access, there also exists the Scottish Outdoor Access Code:
  • Take responsibility for your own actions
  • Respect people’s privacy and peace of mind
  • Help farmers, landowners and others to work safely and effectively
  • Care for the environment
  • Keep your dog under proper control
  • Take extra care if you are organising a group, an event or running a business.
There's obviously a lot to to be learned from these - it's amazing how many people get out to enjoy the countryside but are still happy to leave it in a mess. Even with the recent updates, the Countryside Codes seem slightly outdated when considering the wider issues involved when lots of people get out into the countryside. Some places just can't handle high volumes of people, no matter how they behave and publicity, no matter how interesting or well-done , has the potential to attract lots of people to an area. Blogs including video, pictures or words, form part the the wider media which could easily contribute to tipping the balance, and so we as bloggers have to consider the implications of what we decide to post. Can the place we're writing about take more people, and if not, it might be wiser to leave maps, place names or grid references out of posts. In Scotland, the Mountain Bothies Association has been careful to protect the location of some Bothies due to mis-treatment and, in some cases, even malicious vandalism. That is not to say they would not advocate people using them - in fact, a well used, maintained and loved network of bothies exist, and the MBA as an organisation is there to encourage this. Some bothies are busier than others but generally it is the less remote places which are more susceptible to abuse - something which might be worth considering when deciding whether to post information. It must be said, in most cases it's obvious what should or shouldn't be publisiced, but it's worth taking these considerations to mind.

Please note: The Code is constantly being revised and added to. If you like to add something login in to the discussion on the forum.