Monday, 22 November 2010

Sharpen up those navigation skills

A couple of weekends ago I took part in the Grampian Mountain Challenge - a 2-day Mountain Marathon / orienteering event on the Invercauld estate. Along with my partner we made some good navigation decisions, quite a few bad ones and a couple of real howlers.

Two thoughts I had at the end of weekend were that by doing the event it had sharpened up our navigation skills and if we were to run it again shortly afterwards we would be so much more on our toes as a result of the experience.

I've done lots of navigation training in the past and tested myself out on the hills hundreds of times. I've also done several mountain marathons, but with navigation you are only as good as your last day out. You have to keep working at it and you can never know enough.

Good navigation is at the heart of mountain safety, so it was good to spend a couple of days at the start of the winter season practicing our map reading skills, but we need to get out again soon to maintain that sharpness. After all, that is one of the key aspects of good navigation - sharpness.

With the onset of winter upon us its also that time of year when the MCofS's winter safety courses are filling up fast and the programme of Winter Safety Lectures is ready to roll. An awareness of the importance of good navigation is a major part of the message we'll be putting across this winter, so why not make a point of attending one of our courses or coming along to one or more of the winter safety lectures.

And now that I've got you thinking about navigation, why not try some competitive navigating by having a go at an orienteering event or a mountain challenge / marathon. Or perhaps just go out into a featureless bit of terrain sometime and set your own challenges. I remember once being set the challenge of finding the dot on an i on a 1:50,000 OS map. Now, there's one you can try next weekend!

Have fun and maybe see you at one of the winter lectures.

Friday, 8 October 2010


I just had one of those Staycation holidays. Two and a half weeks of running to and from the weather in Scotland. At times it seemed like there wasn't a single square mile of Scotland that wasn't covered in cloud and rain. And as for the wind!

At times however, there was superb weather in one corner of the country when everywhere else was being blown to pieces and soaked just for good measure. We had three great days in the Galloway hills including a long day on Merrick and Shalloch on Minnoch. Despite a constant cold wind and some haze we could just pick out the Mountains of Mourne across the Irish Sea so a great reward for studying the weather forecasts and choosing the right direction to travel.

After returning home for the open canoe we headed over to Argyll and spent a superb day exploring the Crinan Canal. It was a joy to see so many people out in boats of all kind, as well as a considerable number walking, running and cycling along the towpaths. The canal is a real gem and a terrific place to go when you have a day away from the mountains. We launched at Crinan, paddled to Ardrishaig, turned round and paddled back again. It's definitely worth a look sometime.

As the weather improved towards the end of our fortnight we made our way up to Glencoe, Fort William, Skye and Kintail. After chasing the one bit of sunshine in the whole country we suddenly had the whole of the west coast to choose from. Spoilt for choice!

Highlights included a great day on Garbh Bheinn on Skye and then a canoe/walk day on Beinn Loinne. Beinn Loinne is the Corbett on the south side of Loch Cluanie. We avoided the long-ish walk or mountain bike ride in by paddling across Loch Cluanie and then made a pretty steep ascent of a spur on the north side. The reward was an absolutely fantastic view from the top. One of those moments that the Scottish mountains are all about. Sheer magic!

Over the course of the holiday we had managed to take in 8 Corbetts, so not a bad tally given the mixed weather we'd had.

Just before the holiday I spent the weekend at the start of September at Glenmore Lodge for the MCofS AGM. As well as running sessions for members and attending the AGM, I also worked with a film maker - Simon Fildes - working on a video to promote MCofS membership. Now that I'm back at work I'm liaising with Simon on the final few tweaks to the video and hopefully within the next week or two the final version should be embedded on the MCofS home page. Have a look at it and encourage others to have a look as well. I hope you think we have done a good job with it. I would certainly welcome your feedback.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Winter on my mind - Even in May

I always like to go for it in May. Longer days, the start of the better weather (er, sometimes) and two holiday weekends. It's usually a good month for getting up a few hills and this year was certainly good for collecting a few new Corbetts. By the end of the month I'd increased my tally by 4.

For the early May bank holiday we took the Sunday evening train from Rannoch Station to Corrour, camped wild to the west of the railway line then went for an early morning walk around the ridges of Leum Uilleim before taking the lunchtime train back to Rannoch.

In the middle of the month we spent a week in Durness for the Cape Wrath Challenge running festival. 5 races in 6 days provides for an energetic week anyway, but I also managed to get out twice in the sea kayak and got up a couple more Corbetts. We had a very pleasurable walk up Glas Bheinn (east of Quinag) in superb clear conditions, then a more hazy trip up Canisp with dark clouds threatening to burst at any moment. Thankfully they didn't.

Finally, on the last day of May, we headed for Glen Muick to enjoy the warm sunshine and climb Conachcraig. Having secured the Corbett we headed over to Lochnagar - our first Munro of the year. For the first time in the month we were sharing our mountain with a few other walkers. Lochnagar wasn't particularly busy, but after the solitude of the Corbetts, we were more conscious than normal of there being other walkers around us. That is in no way a complaint. Far from it. It was great to see so many people out there enjoying such a fantastic day.

Whilst everyone was well protected from the cold wind on the plateau, it was nice to be out in a short sleeve top on the way up and down the mountain. That's one of the things I like about May. The sense of arrival at the start of the summer season.

The contrast of the hills I climbed in May with the ones from two or three months ago in deepest winter could not be more pronounced. We had an amazing winter, but its over now and the summer season is with us. As much as I'm enjoying being out there in short sleeves again, the real winter that we've just come through has left its mark in that I'm still thinking about it even when the sun is warm and striking a high arc in the sky.

The winter season we've just come through saw a number of fatalities that will show up in the next set of annual figures. Every mountain accident that ends in a fatality is of course very sad, which is why the MCofS is working hard with everyone else involved in mountain safety to provide information and other resources that will lead to a downward trend in the number of fatalities.

Looking around the other walkers on Lochnagar on Monday I wondered how many of them had in some way picked up on the winter safety messages being communicated by the MCofS. The energetic work of Heather Morning (MCofS Mountain Safety Adviser) and Roger Wild (Scottish Student Mountain Safety Officer) is reaching out to hillgoers of all ages and instilling a greater sense of mountain safety awareness. In my view, their work is helping to raise the general level of mountaineering skills and mountain safety knowledge within the people who go to the Scottish hills. It's a fundamental principle of the MCofS's work that we aim to make mountaineers safer by providing educational opportunities rather than attempting to make the mountains safer by providing handrails.

With a view to improving our winter safety initiatives the MCofS officers and directors are working hard to carry the safety message to even more people next winter. Roger's valuable work with student clubs will pick up again later this year and Heather is looking at new venues for the Winter Lecture Series. As an MCofS member you are directly supporting this crucial work and by following our Safety news on the website and in Scottish Mountaineer you are more likely to get involved yourself, and if you get involved you are more likely to be influenced by our safety messages. Why not make a decision now to attend one of our lectures, or perhaps one of our courses during the coming winter season?

The sunshine of late May was perhaps a strange time to be thinking about winter, but for all of us who go to the hills, it is always worth thinking about the winter season and preparing ourselves to be better prepared for the hazards that come with cold weather and short days.

Keep an eye out for news of where next winter's safety lectures will be and click on the "Follow us on YouTube" button from our home page and check out our safety related film clips.

Friday, 30 April 2010

A Cycle Round the Norties

The days are stretching out now and starting to get a bit warmer. Just looking out of the MCofS office window the tree in the yard has burst into leaf this week, so after the amazing winter we've just come through my thoughts are turning to summer trips and I guess you're doing the same.

We went over to Aberfoyle last Saturday with road bikes and cycled a 41 mile route that took us round Loch Katrine and down to Loch Lomond, before heading back to our starting point. A superb route with great views of the mountains in Scotland's first national park. The main reason for planning the route was to see Loch Katrine from the quiet road on its north side.

I've got to know Loch Katrine quite well over the past three years as I've now been on there twice in my sea kayak. Prior to 2007, however, I had never paddled on Loch Katrine. Why's that? Well, access to Loch Katrine was previously denied due to a longstanding byelaw, but thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act that byelaw has now been repealed. For those that have never been there to walk, cycle or paddle it really is a beautiful loch and well worth a visit. From a paddlers perspective the views of the surrounding mountains from out on the water are spectacular and it really is worth picking a good clear day to go there.

There are two parts of that story that would have been very different just ten years ago. As we entered the new Millennium there were no statutory access rights in Scotland and no National Parks. Now, we have the Land Reform Act enshrining our access rights in law and two National Parks, the first one of course being Loch Lomond and The Trossachs. The MCofS worked with a wide range of partners, and engaged with the Scottish Parliament to secure these two significant improvements to the way we take access and look after our most scenic mountain areas.

The MCofS represents the interests of mountaineers and actively works with other bodies to improve the enjoyment of our activities and safeguard the places we visit to practice those activities. By doing that the MCofS helped make some very big changes over the last decade.

With the support of our members, we can do further great work over the next ten years. Whether it is in Access and Conservation, Safety and Training, or Sports Development the MCofS is working tirelessly to ensure the results of our work provide great benefits for you. We are also coming up with new ways to help our members save money with new participants joining our Members' Discount Scheme every week.

So do keep visiting our website to follow the latest news and to check on local events going on in your area.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


I can't begin this blog by asking whether you've seen the recently upgraded MCofS website, because the very fact that you're reading this means you are on the MCofS website and therefore must have seen it.

So, now that you are on the MCofS site and found your way to my blog, what do you think to the changes we've made to the website? If you do want to answer that, I'm happy to receive feedback (+or-) via my e-mail address:

I just want to touch on three parts of the site that you might want to take a look at. Firstly the Members' Discounts pages. MCofS membership is a combination of supporting our good work in areas such as Access & Conservation, Safety & Training, and development of the sport; with opportunities to claim discounts that save you money every single time you flash your membership card. You don't have to try too hard to save more than your membership fee in the course of a year. Take a look at the list of businesses participating in our Discount Scheme, and keep checking back as we are constantly adding to the list.

The Blogs page is also worth a regular visit as well. We're trying to develop this into a place where visitors to the site will come to find out what other walkers, climbers and hillgoers, of all standards, are up to via their blogs. So far we have links to about 70 blogs, but in time we hope to add lots more as we become aware of other relevant bloggers that would be of interest to our visitors. If you have suggestions for other blogs that you think should be on this page, please send me a quick message to

The third area that is worth checking out is the Follow us on YouTube link. We have 5 videos on there at present and these clips, mainly from our Safety DVDs, have achieved over 52,000 visits, with in excess of 100 new visitors every day. In time we hope to post more videos on this page, so do keep looking in there.

Hopefully the new look to the website is playing its bit in creating a buzz around the MCofS. There really is lots happening at the moment and its a great time to be an MCofS member, so if you're not already a member take a look around the site and call in at the Join Us page.

Finally, and away from the website now, I did an interview with Dave Hewitt (editor of The Angry Corrie) a few days ago. Dave is writing for The Caledonian Mercury now and he wrote an article on my juggling of two part-time jobs at the MCofS and Scottish Canoe Association. Here's Dave's article if you want to see what he had to ask and what I had to say.

Until the next time; all the best and enjoy your sport. Mike