Category Archives: North west passage

A long day in the Ben Lawers


With a waterproof map case at the ready this time we headed back to where we had started he previous day. It was a bit of a déjà vu. The weather hadn’t really improved but we set our sights on the Ben Lawers and the first summit of Beinn Ghlas opposite the previous day’s attempt. All being well we would continue on peak by peak and see how we got on with the aim of doing a wee circuit.
The first part of the walk took a route through a protected part of the hill. It was amazing to see how diverse the wildlife was there compared to the normal heather covered hills. Would be awesome to see those areas increased!
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Heading on up we were in the shelter from the wind heading up switch backs towards the summit. We soon arrived, feeling good and the weather not being too bad despite being wet, windy and very cloudy we continued on.
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Heading up Ben Lawers was equally quick. With no spectacular views to be distracted by we headed on to An Stuc. The route up was fine then coming over the summit the track leads down a crumbling, rocky and steep path. Fortunately it was in the lee side of the wind, it was certainly an interesting route down and one I would say was much more challenging than some of the ridge scrambles I have done in the past. Making our way down we soon reached the next shoulder to make out way a long.
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Our route then slowly took us back up to the top of Meall Garbh. The temperature had begun to drop and the wind picked up. We huddled just beyond the summit having a munch to eat and a check of the map for our route. Following a fence line almost all the way to the summit of the final rolling mounds of the last Munro of the day. This section of the route was one of the wetter and muddier parts of the day. With our boots sinking into the thick peattie mud. Some areas previous people had dropped leftover planks and fence posts into some of the more boggy areas in an attempt to create a basic bridge across. These made for a fun balancing act mid walk. Marching on up the final ascent we reached the top where we were finally below the cloud level and could admire the route we had take along the ridge line. A quick bite to eat before dashing down the hillside to a small track servicing a number of mini dams along the hillside. It was an interesting network of mini dams spread across the all the main tributaries and redirecting the water back to a few main dammed up areas. It was pretty impressive. Trekking along and soon the heavens opened. After being dry most of the day we were soon walking a long hoods up and very much looking forward to a hearty evening meal.
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We had been using a cicerone guide to the region which suggested taking a beeline traversing around the hillside along a back to the car park. In principle it was a good idea. It was the most direct route. However once we started it proved to be slow going. With a number of small ravines to negotiate along with the sodden ground our boots and clothing were soon clean of any mud. My ankle still recovering from the previous event didn’t appreciate the unevenness of the ground and despite the drop in height we opted to get into the road as soon as possible before regaining the height. In retrospect it might have been quicker heading all the way down to the loch side before heading back along to the turn off.
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Making back to the car we were one of the last out of the car park. It had been a fantastic day. Although we weren’t initially sure about heading round the full ridge it was certainly worthwhile.
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Ben Lawers Route
 Munro’s:
An Stuc
Beinn Ghlas
Ben Lawers
Meall Garbh
Meall Greigh
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Although the week hadn’t gone quite as we had planned we had achieved between us the total of 30 munros in a week as part of a celebration for our 30th this year. Made me really appreciate the effort that it would take to take on something like the bob graham or the Ramsey round.

ARCTIC LIFE


Something that takes up a large part of our day and one which we haven’t really spoken about is what it is like on a day to day basis. Having spent over a couple of months travelling in an Arctic environment we are certainly building on our previous cold weather experience. The main priorities of the day are water, food, warmth and sleep. So pretty basic things. Our days roughly start at 5.30 am. In our bid for freedom, getting out of our sleeping bag resembles something David Attenborough would commentate on. Try and imagine the voice…

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“Here in the Arctic tundra the small and now hairy faced Jamie/Benno wakes for yet another morning in this cold and wintery environment. Making an opening large enough to squeeze their arms and head….”

You get the idea.

We begin our day trying to avoid a freezing cold shower as the moisture in our breath freezes to the edge of our sleeping bag. As you open it down sprinkles tiny little ice crystals onto your sleepy face, any method of avoiding this is a bonus. Then comes the start of our daily tasks melting snow, boiling water, cooking up food (pouring hot water into our food to rehydrate it) and in typical British fashion a cup of tea to start the day. All of this is done whilst in our sleeping bags. The pans have to be constantly topped up with more snow, even a full pan of snow melts down next to nothing. Whilst this is going on we get ready as much as we can without leaving the warm cosy oasis of our beloved sleeping bag. They haven’t got names yet but they are defiantly our happiest places and out attachment to them makes a duvet morning on a Sunday look like child’s play. A morning isn’t complete without using our pee bottles; where despite lying down, it is possible to have a conversation in your sleeping bag without over filling or spilling a drop. If you are feeling clumsy the whole process is slightly easier kneeling. The important bit, particularly if it’s still quite dark, is keeping the now filled bottle away from the drinking bottle as they are exactly shape the same except in colour and in the past it has been known for people to have almost made the mistake of taking a gulp before the smell hits their nostrils and they realise their error. Best not to risk it in the first place. Then there are the socks and tent booties to get on. Trying to get the down booties on is hard enough for myself. Jamie opts to test out his sleeping bag yoga to get his socks on. It seems an impossible task but with a few groans, some weird facial expressions and some impressive moves, success! One sock done, one to go.

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Wriggling down into our bags we finally make enough space to eat our muesli, or porridge if we are lucky. The short straw is something called hot cereal start. It resembles a warm brown sloppy mix with unknown ingredients bar a few raisins thrown in for good measure. It isn’t our favourite but apparently it goes down well with others.

Despite being in the Arctic and surrounded by ice and snow the area is virtually a desert with very low amounts of precipitation throughout the year. The snow tends to get blown off everything and instead collects in snow drifts generally around the rough ice and is where we tend to collect it. This is a bit of an issue as it means every time we get close to camping we have to think is there enough snow to melt and just as important; is it far enough from the sea ice to not have become salty? It is really not a great start to the evening when you have collected enough snow, started melting it only to find that your hot chocolate at the end of the day is salty and you have trundle back out for more snow. Doing this twice in a row is just gutting.

Following a hearty breakfast we pack up and hit the trail. In sunny conditions this is fine. However in windy ones we have to plan out each step to make sure nothing blows away mainly so we don’t get too cold before starting the day. This is particularly the case when going to the toilet. The hole is dug, the paper is ready and you’re thinking about how quickly you can get your trousers down, business done and them back up again before your bum feels like it’s been left in the freezer for too long. No one wants frostbite down there of all places!

Once we start skiing things settle into a natural rhythm. Ski for an hour. Have a break for a snack and a drink. This makes up part of our daily 4,500 to 5,000 calorie diet. It ranges from flapjack, cakes (our favourite being the Eccles cake), nuts, chocolate, biltong and Maximuscle protein bars. This pattern continues until about 5 to 6pm when we stop.

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We spend the entire day constantly thinking how do my toes, fingers, face and general body feel. They can’t be too hot or too cold. Too hot and the sweat freezes when you stop. Too cold and you’re at risk of getting a cold injury. We have a selection of gloves we can change between which is pretty straight forward to do. Less simple is the task of removing our thermal top if we get too warm. Having to strip down to bare skin and then get your jacket back on is nippy to say the least. Despite being hot and sweaty at -30C your nipples can cut glass within seconds of taking your top off. It’s not a particularly pleasant experience although we do tend to do this only when it is sunny and little or no wind.

Finally when it comes to the end of the day the process is repeated in reverse. Tent up, snow melting, hot chocolate followed by a meal and a cake. It doesn’t get much better than having a warm drink tucked up in our sleeping bags. Lights out is normally around 9pm depending on when we finish. Although, with daylight gaining about an hour every 4 days it will be less of a lights out and more of a pulling our hats down over our eyes. With the increased daylight we are hoping the tent temperature doesn’t drop to the -40s we had at the start where we would diving into the bags with almost as many clothes on as during the day despite the huge amounts of insulation on the bags.

We have also upgraded our sleeping arrangement. Caribou hide. Jamie manage to locate one first in Clyde river. Despite looking really quite dishevelled it had made a big difference. I on the other hand manage to find a very plump and hairy one. The downside is it is malting. Everywhere. Fortunately it is now in a bag that keeps most of the hairs in but within an hour of testing it out hairs were turning up in our mugs, water bottles, clothes, food and just about everywhere else you can think of. Even after being sealed up we are still finding them several days later. Then repeat from start to finish.

Summing up the day to day Arctic life ignoring all the beautiful scenery, obvious good company and conversations musing over the meaning of life. Cold and monotonous probably cover it very well. Having the chance to visit local communities, meet hunters, look after a couple of dogs and of course each other make it a far more interesting trip.