We started the week with an ambitious plan of routes, with the aim of bagging as many munro’s as we could whilst meandering our way through the Scottish highlands. We had slight trepidation with the weather set to change for the worst. After a couple of weeks of good weather and the bank holiday on the horizon it was a big ask for a further week of dry weather.
Setting off for the most northerly point on our quest in our trusty Landy towards Glen Shiel and the gateway to the Isle of Skye. Arriving to a glorious evening where we ate at the nearby pub over looking Loch Duich before preparing for the next days long outing.
We woke the next morning to an autumnal feel. Dew glistened on the grass and leaves whilst the colours looked like they were changing to slight hues of reds, oranges and yellows. It was looking to be a perfect day for a walk. Arriving at the start point we noticed a few other walkers covered from head to toe as if it was a freezing day. Getting out of the car we soon realised why they were covered as the Scottish midges were out and descended on us as fresh targets. I was nibbled within the few minutes I left my arms exposed.
To escape the midges we quickly departed the car park and headed the meandering path towards the foot of the first munro. With hardly a breathe of wind we could hardly enjoy the view for a moment before they descended on us again, trying to nibble any exposed skin. The path began to zig zagging its way up onto the ridge line where we were to follow for the day.
Seven munro’s stood before us on the South Glen Shiel ridge. Each hidden by the one before preventing us from seeing our finish point, which we were very thankful of in many ways. The day turned out to be a scorcher as our water began to run low and we certainly heated up. Each summit was a mixture of rounded tops to the odd scramble. Despite this we met a few other walkers including a group on very good form despite not liking the occasional element of exposure.
After a day of relatively good weather the final summit clouded over. With the guide book advising on a more direct route down to the main road we made a bid in this direction and soon picked up the start of a rough path. This however disappeared clearly at a point where people either turned back or everyone took on the ethos of “everyone for themselves”. Making our down steep boggy ground with no signs of it finishing. Until we came across a sheep track that meander alongside a beautiful stream where we could top up on some more water. Not without its challenges as the bottle top fell off and floated down stream before securing it with a walking pole before it descended the next small water fall. The final section finished with a small detour through woodland. Slipping and sliding our way down through the wet under growth before arriving at the road side. We had been joined by a couple from Edinburgh for the final descent who we had a quick celebration with before attempting to hitch hike back to the cars to finish the evening.
The pint of coke in the bar never tasted so good.
7 munro’s down:
- Creag a’ Mhaim,
- Druim Shionnach
- Anoach Air Chrith
- Maol Chinn-dearg
- Sgurr an Doire Leathain
- Sgurr an Lochain
- Creag nan Damh
With trail and ultra running ever growing in the UK it was only a question of time before the sky running series made its way to our shores. Big in the Alps the race formats are normally marathon plus distances in the mountains with the aim of taking in peaks and ridges along the way.
At one extreme you have the Salomon sky run along the Aeonach ridge, a grade 3 scramble to others which are much less technical. This weekend was much less technical in comparison but with 29 miles and 2000m of ascent it wasn’t to be sniffed at. Especially when this height gain to distance ratio puts it in a slightly more aggressive category than UTMB or the Lakeland 100. Admittedly despite that fact being floated about, those races are a much more incredible feat of human determination and endurance.
A short recce the day before took me to the top of the first climb, Solomons Temple near Buxton with great views over the course of the following day. A final bit of race preparation was enjoying an incredible meal at the Samuel Fox inn, potentially a tad much for a pre-race meal but with this being my first outing back into ultra racing for a couple of years my aim was to enjoy the day and start getting back into it.
Wondering amongst the competitors it was great to chat and hear stories of competitions completed and planned for the coming year. From quick dash fell runs to the rather more brutal races such as King Offas Dyke 185 mile race or the 268 mile Spine race in January along the pennine way.
The race commenced and we made our way quickly up to Solomons Temple with short pauses as we were funnelled onto single track. Despite the forecast being of overcast conditions I was glad I had packed some sunglasses for the day with the sun beaming down on us. As we rounded the temple with a bagpiper playing up top we began to spread out as we started our decent already. This was going to set the stage for the day with every ascent marked soon afterwards by a descent and slightly demoralisingly loosing all the height just gained.
The route took a course along ridges, through moorland, bogs and of course up a number of hills.
With a well marked course we could concentrate on the running and getting our feet in the right spot. With plenty of opportunities for twisted ankles amongst the rocky tracks being light on our feet and an emphasis on twinkle toes was the name of the game.
The only slight mistake came when chatting to another competitor about his up coming race in Oman. Taking the wrong turn we led out towards a farm building only to realise we had gone half a mile in the wrong direction. Slightly devastating as was the sight of maybe 20 odd runners who had followed on behind us. Quickly making up the ground we had lost we all made our way back into the course and meandered back down the hill side.
Running through one boggy area I came across a pair of Oakley sunglasses that had clearly dropped off one of the runners in front and were gently perched on some long grass. Picking them up I handed them into a later checkpoint. You never know when you might be in a similar situation. I didn’t have to wait long!
About 10 mins later the course was incredibly beautiful and one I would have certainly wanted to capture more of it wasn’t for the fact I dropped my phone. Fortunately it was picked up by one of the other competitors not far behind me. A quick snap and with it firmly packed away for the remainder of the race after learning my lesson and not fancying a repeat before heading on.
The course meandered on and my pace ebbed and flowed as the terrain and distance took its toll. The three food and drink checkpoints on the route hit the spot every time. With the opportunity to refuel on chunks of banana, succulent orange slices, flapjack, soreen and of course a wide array of other goodies. I try to make these as quick as possible and continue to eat as I walk along out of the checkpoint. Partly this is to not get too comfortable and I would much prefer to finish sooner.
Chatting with some of the fell runners it was great to see them descend in front of me. I still don’t understand how they did it so quickly other than through a bit of experience and raw tenacity to descend quickly! I envisaged face planting a rock face first if I tired the same so clearly an area I can improve on.
The route went past quiet a few climbing and bouldering spots with chalk marks on some and people clambering about in the sunshine on others. Unfortunately it would have to be for another time.
As the day wore on I went over on my ankle. With my run going well this was pretty disappointing but deciding to walk it off for a bit I soon managed to break into a trot again. Some of the rocky ground though became much trickier to negotiate as my ankle seemed to get twisted on even the smallest of stones.
Finally the town of buxton came back into sight. I was delighted despite not being able to increase my pace a huge amount. One guy asked if we were to have a sprint finish. As much as I wanted to my legs and ankles had run out of juice. I was happy to finish the race at a plod.
Within moments of crossing the finish line I was welcome by a flat coke, my trainers coming off and my wife looking at me in a slightly sorry and apparently “grey” looking state.
Despite the ankle it was awesome getting back into the running again having been out of ultra running for a couple of years. I was remembering all the elements i had learnt about through training runs, competitions and chats with numerous runners and trainers. I finished middle of the pack which may not have been my best result ever but it was one I will certainly remember. I would certainly recommend checking out the sky running series with a greta mix of terrain and distances.
After much deliberating over the last few years I finally took the a spur of the moment to get some ski skins after chatting to one of the team at a local ski and mountaineering shop in Perth. For those who haven’t heard of these, it is a material where all the hairs lie in one direction so when stuck to the base of the ski they allow the ski to slide in one direction but hold in the other. Along with a touring binding the whole setup allows your foot to pivot up and down so you can trek up hill.
The first trial trip was just at the end of a beautiful days skiing at glenshee however this coincided with the wind picking up. With the temperature plummeting and the skins flapping around I learnt a lot about the equipment and using it in poor conditions. Some of which I should have checked in the warmth of the house! The short notice of good conditions in the hills meant for a quicker trip and slightly rushed prep as I cut the skins to shape at midnight the evening before heading off.
After the initial delay I was off. Gliding along the snow, over snow drifts, heather, ice and rock. I was rewarded with views from the high point across the valley. You could see the snow line across the valleys and the winding road up to glenshee. The nearby stream gleaming in the sunlight. All topped off by a great ski down. The little bit of effort rewarded with untouched Scottish powder, not quite the depths of the alps or further afield but powder nonetheless. I passed a couple making a similar journey up the hills.
The second outing was much better with perfect weather and the snow was due to be good in bits despite the recent warmer conditions. Being in the hills covered in snow is a beautiful sight as was meeting a few like minded people up there. I stopped to discuss route options and snow conditions with a fellow ski tourer. It also gave me the chance to cool down despite the cool breeze I was vastly over dressed for the constant trekking and “warm” weather. If it had been the arctic I would have definitely been sweating far too much. As it brought back memories of the tougher days we had whilst trying to minimise any sweating to an absolute minimum in order to prevent our clothes from freezing.
Some of the more exposed slopes were quite icey. I don’t mind skiing down ice but skinning up hill in a zig zag fashion makes the turns quite interesting. Still perfecting my technique I slid back occasionally on the turns as I shifted round.
It was slightly gutting every time about the loss in hard won height despite it only being a tiny difference. Once at a decent height it was time to head down hill. Skins off, realising I had forgotten the gauze that makes them easier to pull apart, I packed them away eager to hit some fresh snow. Heading down into some of the bowls the skiing improved and I could carve out some turns down the hill between clumps of heather. Before slowly making my way back to the car.
It was a great experience learning a new skill but there is the greater satisfaction knowing you put in the hard graft to experience and reach the area you wanted to ski in. I learnt about how using normal ski boots although does work is not only much heavier but you don’t have nearly as much flex in the ankle which ended up giving me a couple of blisters.
End of a good day
Despite skiing in Scotland being a bit of an experience compared to the likes of the alps. It often involves some rock, streams and heather avoidance. Its close, you can get some incredible conditions particularly if your willing to put some effort in and I will certainly be doing it again! Skiing and ski touring in particular in Scotland is certainly on the increase with the snow lasting well past spring if your willing to go away from the ski areas. As well as allowing you to visit areas with potentially more snow and certainly a lot less skied on gives that adventure and exploration experience.
If you have some ski or other touring experiences why not share the story or the pictures here or on Instagram #Mytour
2015 can only be summed up as a year of some serious highs and lows. It began with an incredible expedition which at points had some interesting ups and downs. Despite that Jamie and myself had learnt a great deal, saw some amazing sites and experienced the Arctic in all its harsh beauty. Although it wasn’t a trip that broke records and I’m not sure if we were or weren’t the first people to ski up the east coast of Baffin Island the experience humbled us. It showed what was important in an expedition; seeing new places, meeting new people from different cultures and pushing our comfort zones. We were helped by a huge number of people back in the UK and all across Canada and particularly on Baffin Island
On getting back to the UK I felt raring to go. I had a game plan of what I wanted to do for the remainder of the year. First up and even I would admit a rather bizarre one which was a desire to make croissants from scratch. This came about part the way through the trip in a rather random train of thinking during a ski session and it had stuck.
There was then a huge curve ball. One that has continued to make me think deeply about family, friends and loved ones. My dad was diagnosed with a stage four brain tumour. It was one of those things that you don’t see coming, there had been no signs just one day after work a call from my mum. It has changed my perspective on, well everything.
It almost felt surreal waking in the tent that morning. It was our last night on the ice in our tent or at least we hoped so as we were only 10km from Pond Inlet. Going about our morning activities as we had for the previous 70 days in a now almost ritualistic and exacting manner. The only difference was there was no hurry. We lay in our sleeping bags drinking tea, despite the fact we had run out of earl grey and were now onto chai. Putting off the inevitable for once not because it was cold but more the fact that by the end of the day that would be it. This was quite a weird and in many ways a scary though as we had been consumed by this adventure from the early stages of congregating round maps in pubs and kitchen tables to where we were on the ice.
Finally escaping from the warm cosy environment of our down sleeping bags we began packing up. We had hoped to wake to blue skies to take us in the final few km’s but as we exited from our tent we were greeted to a grey dull sky. This was not going to help capture those last few photos and footage that we had planned. The tent went away for the last time it had kept us sheltered for the duration of the trip. Despite the fact that each night was only temporary it had become our home, everything had its place and even with the freezing temperatures it had a safe and almost homely feel about it once inside. There was even enough for a final snow angel before setting off for the day!
Trudging our way back onto the ice we could already make out the buildings of Pond Inlet with the low cloud behind them. We stopped occasionally to get a few photos yet as the hours ticked by and our supplies of flapjack and chocolate eaten, the community never seemed to get that much closer. There was a thick covering of snow on the ice which had been dumped by the numerous weather systems that had come over the surrounding mountains releasing their soft fluffy load over the area.
It still amazed us in this environment how the size and scale of everything around us twisted our perspective making covering ground always seem to be a slow process until you were almost on top of what you were aiming for. It was almost a surprise when we finally could make out cars, lorries and a few dogs on the outskirts of Pond. The buildings were perched on the shore line looking out over to Bylot Island. It must be beautiful in the summer without all the ice as a whole variety of wildlife come through the area including whales and narwhals.
We were making our way towards the RCMP building who had kindly been holding some of our gear for the return journey to the UK when we were met by a couple of skidoos. It was the same guys who had met us at our last supply depot on our way from Clyde River to Pond Inlet almost 3 weeks previously. To our delight we had arrived just before the dog sled race, which was due to start that evening. Out on the ice we could already make out a crowd gathering of dogs, people, cars and skidoos all congregating for the start of it. This included our friends Jake and Shari who we soon found out had been drawn to start last out of the 12 or so competitors.
The entries had come from far and wide across the territory ranging from Clyde River to Arctic Bay for this annual event. For some of the teams this year just getting to the start line had been a challenge with rough ice and poor weather coinciding together. You wouldn’t have guessed it as the sun was coming out and the temperature felt positively warm. The dogs would be struggling in the heat as they pulled some heavy loads despite it still being -20C. Most importantly it’s a time when family members can reunite, keep the old methods of travel alive and also the chance to win a cash prize.
We helped out for a bit, including when a dog managed to escape from its owner only to cause havoc with the other teams about it as each pack in turn tried to chase after it. Feeling the pull of the 10 dogs as we stood on their lines holding them back from joining in the chaos was seriously impressive. I thought at one stage it might take me off my feet. Fortunately the dog decided to hide under a sled before, with a bit of team work, one local inuit moved the sled whilst the other pounced on the husky as soon as it was out in the open. The atmosphere was incredible with hundreds of dogs barking with growing excitement for the race to start. It felt like the whole town was out in force with massive 4×4’s lining up on the ice as well as all the spectators young and old.
First to take off on the skidoo’s was an army of support team members carrying extra supplies, food and gear. Although each rider is self-sufficient in case of emergency or for some of the more secluded parts of the race, the skidoo teams set up camp for the dog sled teams each night. As the skidoos headed off into the distance the dogs pulled harder on the lines thinking that they were off next. One team managed to pull so hard it took their driver along the ground with them until others managed to help stop them all.
We weren’t able to see the start of the race as it was getting late and we needed to head back to our sleds and on towards the RCMP station. It was perched on the coast line with the Canadian flag flying high and proud in this glorious weather that had come out for the start of the race.
We had come to the end of our ski expedition and it was bizarre thinking that tomorrow there would be no skiing, although its not quite so strange as reaching the summit of a mountain where you still have to climb back down, you have in your head a big crescendo the reality is its just like any other day.
There is no big finish line, crowds of people to great us or anything like that. Just an imaginary point on the land. Standing outside the RCMP station we gave each other a hug and a congratulations before wondering up the steps.
We were greeted by the RCMP officers Paul, Jason and Andrew who were incredibly kind and looked after us throughout our stay in Pond Inlet.
Our next challenge…. returning to civilisation, starting with a warm shower and a comfy bed!
About 12 days ago we reached our first depot.
It has been a bit of a shock to the system being back on the trail after everything that has happened, however Jamie and I have been trudging away the miles. We have constantly been looking for that flat and smooth ice where we just effortlessly and gracefully fly over the surface. Sadly we haven’t found it, by any stretch of the imagination, and we now have first hand knowledge of what rough ice looks like. Our standards of what we can expect have almost certainly adjusted.
We had been advised the area we were heading through had very rough ice, the locals keep saying its the worst it has been in years and they have been skirting around it. This process is much quicker on a skidoo and for us the maths made the tougher route the unfortunate winner.
We made it to a large bay that we needed to cross but it was difficult to envisage the vastness of it due to the thick fog that hugged the surface of the ice and the setting sun. Waking the next morning we were met by beautiful blue skies, vast inlets, glorious mountains and ahead of us a rolling sea of broken ice. It was disheartening as our pace slowed to a crawl. It was like being in a constant scrummage with an opponent that lasted for the entire day plus part of the next. For every step won forward you could feel the energy being sapped out of you. Even at -30C we could feel ourselves breaking a sweat, something which we try our hardest to avoid as it clogs our clothes with ice. Being the slightly hotter team member, this comes from bitter experience as I squeezed myself into a ice crunching jacket the following morning.
Despite the tough ice we have been touched by glorious weather. Excluding one day where ourselves and our tent were rattled by the 30mph+ winds. We awoke far earlier in the morning than the usual 5 am. Although we stayed wrapped in our sleeping bags for as long as possible we soon had to depart this safety blanket and meet the day head on. The snow swirled round our feet all day. It was impossible to spot a reasonable path through it all. Despite the balmy temperatures in the mid -20’s the wind made the temperature plummet and every millimetre of skin needed to be covered. Despite our best efforts we would walk along constantly adjusting as the wind managed to squeeze its icy fingers into any gap. It also made the experience of going to the bathroom regardless of what it was, a very chilling and quick but necessary experience. There is only so long you can wait and unfortunately the weather doesn’t seem to correlate with toilet stops.
After all of that we finally made our way to our next stash of food and fuel! We are now sitting here appreciating some warmth from some left over fuel in a good friend Jaipotties hut. We are enjoying munching through some planned treats plus some of the surplus goodies that we have.
The next part of our journey sees us heading over the final stretch of Home Bay and then towards Clyde River. It’s still a fairly good chunk at around 200 km. Possibly more importantly it marks, to Qikiqtarjuaqs relief, the transition from being closer from one to the other. Chris and Halie can finally relax knowing that we aren’t going to spring up and crash in the police station. Thanks again for the awesome hospitality. We are forever grateful.
So now just to push further north.
In doggy news Colin and Tala are getting on incredibly well. Colin whines and pines after Tala when she goes about her wanderings each day. It does give us a slight headache but provides bears with a disincentive to approach. A win overall we have concluded. It might also explain why Talas trundling goes off into the distance until she appears to be a little speck before bounding back…particularly when she senses we are stopping for food. Her nuzzling Colin though suggests she does quite like him after all though.