Archive for October, 2010

Ben Narnain / Ime / Arthur

I’ve had my eye on Ben Ime for a while. Having cycled round the sloy route a few times now and looking up at it’s craggy ramparts it’s fixed a spot in my memory.

From Arrochar I headed onto the tourist path up to the Cobbler and turned right almost immediately to head up Ben Narnain. The path is steep taking a direct route up the slope, following the foundations of some old pylons (some relic of the hydro) it’s more or less completely straight and rugged with water running it’s whole length. At about 350m the steepness relents as you meet a traversing path, at this point I looked at the map and decided that the path was not on the same side as the view and set about the crags. A touch reckless at points, the scramble was fun; the view down Loch long was worth the extra effort, with such clear weather I could see as far as Ailsa Craig. Now on the south western side of Ben Narnain the Cobbler came into view and it looked resplendent, like an evil villains lair, it’s shape is iconic and intimidating giving a deceptive sense of scale and severity. Through patches of snow I found my way back to the path and soon came upon ‘The Spearhead’ – a series of boulder fields and steep narrow crags this turned out to be the best walking of the whole trip. From exposed terraced faces to confined gashes, the clamber to the summit is brilliant and one of the coolest places I’ve been in a long time. On the top there was a good deal of snow and I scrabbled out on a few pillars to take in the view. Over the flat top and onto the descent to Ime the wind was biting and it was clear you were exposed to the North. The descent was icy but pretty easy, looking across at Ben Ime I was pretty disappointed it looked squat and ugly compared to my elevated expectations, still a hill is a hill and i’m aware of the infinite perspectives that are at play. The walk up was pretty mundane, wet and un-eventfull although the views at the summit were fantastic, it seemed that you could see most of south western Scotland, an enormous vista that turned the cities and towns into insignificant patches of spotted reflective grey – i imagined that at night their presence would be more intrusive. After a bit of summit identification with some other walkers at the top, I fueled up and set off across the bog for the Cobbler.

Heading up the shawdowy north side, the well crated steps made it light work, before I knew it I was at the north summit. This mountain certainly looks bigger than it feels, the spikes and chasms play with your sense of scale which in no way takes away from the visual impact of this place, it is magical like a scene from the lord of the rings. I leave the summit quickly, it is thronging with course weegies and make off round Arthurs seat. This bit was great, strewn with boulders it is rugged and requires a wee bit of attention in places. With the sun sinking the shadows were tall and deep the clarity of the light was exceptional and this provided the best view of the day down Loch Long. The meander beyond the summit is a bit of a boggy trudge and seemed to take ages, I was in the pain zone now, I still haven’t found a descent technique for getting down without my legs tightening and knotting in to useless haunches. Crossing the river at a wee dam I laboriously stumbled on to and down the main path longing for my bike not only to take away the pain of each step but also because the track looks ideal for a bit of gnarly shredding. Sick to the power of RAD I thought. An aristocratic elderly gentleman stopped to let me past and we had a good chat about the area, he was quite a character and had some good yarns about the hydro years.

I will definetly back here, maybe to walk again – perhaps Ben Vane, up the rocky crags on the east of Ben Ime and back via Ben Narnain and A’ Chroiss – Other than that i have a fix on getting up and down the tourist path on the bike, it looks spot on for it.

Aye

The Nights are fair dra’in’ in.

Dance like a frog

I rather like this picture of Chad hoping about like a frog.  Of course he didn’t mean to be doing that  …it just turned out he looked like that as he was falling off his bike.

Tour de Ben Nevis

After many preparation rides, clambering up hills and trying to bang out 50+km loops here and there the build up to the ‘Tour’ had been enjoyable. Many bits of previously un-discovered mountain trail had been scoured and revelled in now the big event was here and so I set scrabbling about to get my shit together and on to the start line. With the kids in tow I headed up to meet my parents and sister (as it was my Mums birthday) in a holiday cottage on the south side of loch linnhe. Now parenting two young children and getting ready for an endurance race do not make for a very stress free existence but i digress. Needless to say I arrived at the start line faffing wildly with waterproofs, tools and food, meeting Spad, Robin and Simon in the start crowd helped calm me a little and then; we were off! The peleton sped down the dual carriageway to the west end round-a-bout and then the race started in earnest as we swung off up to Blarmachfoldach. The pace was high and Spad quickly climbed away from me. I was starting to feel a little over dressed as the heat built up under the waterproofs and I tried to eek out a decent rhythm and get up the hills without to much fluster. It’s a long ride in, the road is steep and undulating and it quickly sorts the wheat from the chaff as the field was rapidly strung out.
The race is set out in a series of special stages  – much like a rally – so each part of the course is divided up and you record your time for each stage by sticking your dibber (a wee electronic stick you wear around your wrist) in the start and finish terminals. At the end of the first section I considered getting rid of the waterproofs and although I was baking I knew I had 60 odd kms to go and the weather was still very Lochaber. I forged ahead not wanting to lose any more time. We joined the west highland way and the typically rough west highland terrain set in. The place was swimming in water and the streams that ran between the loose rocks proved to yield the most traction, I started making up a few positions on this section as I got into my stride, this part of the route was great fun, with loose boulders the size of fists rolling around beneath the rubber made for an engaging ride; along with burn crossing after burn crossing there was no doubt that you were heading in to the wild. As we neared Kinlochleven the weather showed no sign of abating as we headed into the first real descent of the route.
Stopping to dib I crammed some food in and descended in to the mist. This descent is wild, amazingly technical with huge square water bars and a loose, coarse surface of boulders and shale. It was seat of the pants stuff, with folk splaying off and ejecting all over the place. It injected a sense of absolute chaos that gave me a real boost. Hitting the bottom in a tirade of spitting gravel and clouds of midges I dibbed, said hi to Katherine (who took most of the photos) and then set about another very steep climb up to Mamore lodge. I felt better on this climb, despite the gradient and made it to the food station quicker than I had expected. Munching down a banana I spent to long talking to one of the out-riders about the virtues of d-slr’s and their durability in such howfing conditions.

Up to the lodge and onto the path which marks the entrance to the ‘Wilderness’ It went downhill for a while which led me into a false sense of security as it soon kicked up again. With a deflated sense of purpose I struggled up the loose surface, wishing I still had a granny ring I succumbed, dismounted and pushed for the remainder of the ascent. The positions slipped away and swathed in grey drooch my motivation wained. Once on level ground following the bank of Loch Eilde Mor my mind wandered as I ploughed out an incessant rhythm of river crossing after river crossing. As if from nowhere the sun suddenly broke through, which totally lifted me from my dwam, a nice bit of prattle with some of the competitors helped even more. I knew I was well down by now and that there was little chance of a decent result and I concluded that I should try and enjoy the ride, it was at this point that my fluster lifted.
The river crossing at Luibeilt came into view and the expanse of this area made itself clear. With all the rain that had been on the go for weeks had turned  the river into a deep black lumbering giant. We had been instructed  at the briefing that there would be rope to guide us over but it was long gone. I’ve made some dodgy river crossings before and this was up-there. The water was not particularly fast but it was deep (especially for someone of my height) I waded through in a methodical manner making sure my foot was planted before taking the next step. The water came up to my waist and it goes without saying that there was a sharp intake of breath as the chill hit the meat and potatoes. On the other bank I sat and ate copiously between helping folk out and enjoying the comedy of the scene with everybody else. Full of pasta and haribo I struck out along the boggy bank of the river to hike over the lairig.
Despite a good deal of training for the hike-a-bike I once again felt myself slipping as I laboured up the trail bike on back. I stopped half way up to take in the view, digging out the point and shoot out of the bag I pressed the power button. A nasty crunching noise emanated from the supposedly weatherproof camera and it was clear that the Lochaber dreich had claimed another victim. I wolfed down an energy gel and lumbered on. By the time I reached the top I was completely on my own and didn’t see another soul until I reached the watering station above Spean.
On the return leg now, which was mainly downhill in typical Scottish style the wind picked up and arranged itself squarely on my face. I tried in vain to keep my speed up for the descent, battling against the wind and dragging surface. My bmx style sprints came into play here, giving a wee dig here and there. My left middle finger was giving me no end of jipp, rattling around and making it difficult to use the brakes and at some stages just hold on. It is a great descent with lots going on , the singletrack is great and could be pretty flowing without the headwind and drier ground. The fireroad descent is also good with slabs of bed rock a loose surface and plenty sweeping corners, think two parallel lengths of rocky singletrack.
Once at the food station I gathered myself, I was in pain, demoralised and well back on where I thought I should be, not stopping for long i carried on into Leanachan forest and the endless sprawl of fire roads, Occasionaly I got a fix on two competitors in the distance and they provided my motivation. My whole existence seemed to become a matter of catching these people and riding on, I eventually caught up to them after what seemed an age – just before the quarry, exchanged hollow stares and a few mumbled pleasantries and rode on. Now everything seemed to hinge on keeping this pair behind me. My arrival clearly gave them something to aim at to and for the first time in the whole event I actually felt like I was racing. With some more bmx styled bursts I managed to leave them behind through the quarry. On the home straight now I actually felt pretty good, maybe it was the injection of some competition and the fact I had made up some places but I finally managed to find some speed in the familiar trails round Aonach Mor. On the road down to the last section of trail my phone rang, I stopped to answer incase it was the grandparents, I dug it out, it had stopped ringing a while ago and now I had no signal. The two guys I had spent so long trying to beat roared by. I hastily stuck the phone in my pocket and gave chase. Once I had caught up to them I was feeling spent, the fluster had returned and I just wanted to finish. Happily i loitered in their slipstream as they dragged me along the cycle path back to Lochy Bridge and the finish.
Back at the leisure centre I got my time sheet and position – 87th out of 144. I felt dejected but happy to have completed the route. I had long wanted to go into that area, out by Luibeilt the landscape is miraculous and vast and I’m definitely going to venture back there under more leisurely circumstances in the future. Spad brought me a coffee, I asked what position he came and humbly he replied; 18th. I nearly choked on my coffee. What a result and full kudos to the man. Top ten next year Spad?

Here’s an mtb cut video of the event…

Glen Finglas

It was a grim morning, grey and yesterdays rain was persisting. None the less myself, Spad, Misha and Chad made the effort, squeezed into the skinners and head out to meet in Aberfoyle. We milled around the high street trying to find some purpose as we watched swathes of roadies set about a mountain time-trial up the dukes pass. Bacon rolls and coffee provided the boost that got us to Brig 0’turk we parked, saddled up and hauled ourselves up the first tarmac climb.
Rising quickly you soon reach the reservoir and the tarmac turns to gravelly shale. The route undulates along the side of the manmade loch passing over lots of burns, which were swollen with the rain; running loud and white – Apparently Finglass means white water in the gaidhlig – Soon the reservoir reverts to it’s pre manmade state as you join the Finglass water and get an idea of what this glen used to look like before one end was plugged.
The pass up and around Moine nan Each soon comes into view, cut like a gash in the hillside it looks like it goes on and on, which it does. Steep but with plenty traction I was reduced to walking more than once. Mishas chain imploded under the strain he was exerting on it and we stopped just short of the 600m top to eat mentos and kit-kat whilst he set about the rivets. At the top it would have been nice to look into the next glen and down to Strathyre but as it was the view consisted of a mass of white cloud.
The descent was good fun, two tracks of loose and rocky fire road with a slippery mossy centre provided plenty of slides and wavers, interspersed with water crossings, many of which were much deeper than they appeared it put a smile on everyones face. Finally the sun came up as we meandered our way across the western foot of Ben Vane. Again the track undulates never going one vertical direction for long.
Once back on the tarmac we turned left and shot of on a wee singletrack walking trail which skirts round above Brig o’turk, it was a tough climb on smooth, fine gravel. The view from the top was great and the descent had us sliding around corners foot out back wheel locked but apart from that it was smooth and pretty un-eventfull.
All in all this is a nice route in a stunning area, physically challenging it is by no means a technical, radical, gnarfest. The track at it’s roughest is still erring on the side of smooth but it provides plenty speed and heaps of fun, the climbs are pretty intense and the loop is certainly one for those who like to pedal.

Here’s the route.

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.