Monday, 12 December 2011

The snow & ice are back

Well, winter is here now & like most mountaineers I can't wait for the cold & sunny days to come. The clear air & long-distance views are what I love about winter in the hills. No heat haze to wipe out the distant views, just mountains as far as the eye can see.

Whilst we might be able to see further on a good day in winter, we can't see much at all when the weather clags in, & the length of daylight is significantly shorter during the winter months so the time window to take in the views is squeezed in at both ends. The rewards on a good day are fantastic, but as the MCofS Chief Officer, David Gibson, said in a MCofS news release last week: "
the margin for error is much less than at other times of the year due to the weather, conditions underfoot and limited daylight hours".

The MCofS in the last couple of weeks has announced its Winter Skills & Avalanche Awareness courses as well as the upcoming series of Winter Safety Lectures. Visit our Press Releases page & click on the two most recent entries (2nd & 9th December). I hope that lots of people will sign up for these courses & come along to the lectures. Heather Morning is working hard to get the winter safety message across and her work will hopefully lead to a further reduction in the number of incidents & casualties on the Scottish mountains.

I didn't have time to get out for a proper day on the hill yesterday, but I did go out with Perth Road Runners for their festive run to Loch Ordie above Dunkeld. Long stretches of the Land Rover tracks were covered in ice, so I tried out my new set of Yaktrax Pro ice grips on my running shoes. Wow, to say I was amazed would be a bit of an understatement. I was able to run on the sheet ice as if it were a pavement, & that was on the downhill stretches as well. In fact the sheet ice was easier to run on than the chossy snow in the middle of the track or the variable vegetation at the side of the track. My running on the sheet ice certainly drew the attention of passing walkers who probably thought I was just wearing a pair of running shoes!

Although he's not a runner, I've bought a pair of Yaktrax Pros for my Dad's Christmas present this year. Don't tell him, but I saved a couple of pounds by getting a MCofS discount on them. If you're still looking for presents then don't forget to use your MCofS membership card to claim some tasty discounts. Take a look at the Discounts area of our website before you head to the shops this week.

If you are stuck for a gift for a mountaineer in your life then don't forget the Gift of Membership offer that we have at the MCofS. This is a great way for you to buy a friend or relative a year's membership of the MCofS at a very reasonable price. Check out:

Anyway, I hope you have a great Christmas & New Year, & that you get out to enjoy some time in the hills over the festive season. I also hope you will get along to a Winter Safety Lecture & use your membership card to get some discounts on your Christmas shopping.

All the best for 2012.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Summer into Autumn

That was a great spell of weather we had last week, but talk about having to wait for some decent warm conditions. I must admit to giving up on our Scottish summer & heading off abroad for a week amongst some warm mountains. We had an amazing week in Slovenia & made it to the top of Triglav. Great mountain & some fantastic views. Our base was the village of Ribcev Laz at the eastern end of Lake Bohinj. It's a great area & anyone into their mountains should aim to go there at some point.

Getting back home in mid-September I started to make autumn plans for a few Corbetts, but a break in the weather provided the opportunity to get out midweek & grab a bit of late summer warmth. It's a long story but I ended up cycling the Formartine & Buchan Way from Dyce to Peterhead. Not that well known mountain route, but a great way to spend my birthday when I was in the north east anyway. A lot of good work is going into developing & promoting Scotland's Great Trails so it was good to check one of them out.

Now that we really are heading into autumn it is back to plans for Corbetts & I can feel a trip to Ardgour coming on. Meanwhile at work our thoughts are also turning to autumn & winter. The MCofS's winter safety initiatives are almost ready to go. We're at the Mountain Safety Day in Stirling tomorrow, then our autumn & winter courses are filling up quickly & we'll soon announce the dates & venues for the Winter Lecture Series. Keep an eye on our website & e-newsletters for this information as it becomes available.

On my own Membership Development side of the MCofS's work, today has been an exciting day as we launched a new membership initiative called The Gift of Membership. You can now buy someone special to you a year's membership of the MCofS. Whether it be for Xmas, birthday, anniversary or Valentine's Day, this is a superb gift that provides the recipient with the many benefits of MCofS membership, & you get to choose a free gift for that special person, so there is something tangible for them to get on the day.

Finally, a big CONGRATS to the G-Force who completed his first round of the Munros last weekend. Chased on by Wispa the Wonder Whippet, this was one driven man determined to get his name onto the Munros list. Read all about it on his partner's website.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Borderline Hills

The Munro that has been on a bit of a diet has certainly made the headlines this week and the main talking point has been the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) announcement that it is taking some time out to decide how to react to The Munro Society survey that has measured Beinn a' Chlaidheimh at 44 centimetres short of the magic height. Will it or won't it be demoted to a Corbett? I don't want to add to that debate, but there are a couple of other issues that have sprung to my mind and which I will discuss here.

A number of the interviews this week have concentrated on what difference this will make to Beinn a' Chlaidheimh, as if it were a stand alone Munro for which hill walkers have to walk in for many hours just to reach one Munro. Beinn a' Chlaidheimh is still at the northern end of a ridge system with 4 peaks and still on the classic circuit of the Fisherfield mountains that many walkers tackle from Shenavall bothy. A hill walker going by the name of G-Force makes that point today on the Fiona Outdoors blog. G-Force says: "In any case, it wouldn't save much of a walk skirting round this mountain because you need to walk up on the ridge to reach the peaks of all of the Fisherfields. I'm not disappointed at all." I'm with G-Force on this one; to my mind the Fisherfield 6 will always be the Fisherfield 6, even if it becomes 5 Munros and 1 Corbett. It is still a fantastic mountain journey and we should celebrate living in a country that has such stunning mountains. Whatever their height.

The other point I want to raise was triggered by something Dave Hewitt wrote in the Caledonian Mercury. Dave's argument is that "resurveys generally reduce heights rather than adding to them" and suggests there is a trend in this downward direction. It is understandable for The Munro Society to be looking at the bottom end of the Munro's Tables and top end of the Corbett's Tables, but who is going to investigate the bottom end of the Corbett's Tables and top end of the Graham's Tables, or any other set of tables for that matter? Beinn na H-Uamha is regarded as the lowest Corbett, just scraping in at a marginal 762 metres (2,500 feet). Ben Loyal and Meall an Fhudair are also pretty close to the borderline with their current heights of 764 metres. Is the status of some of these hills in doubt now? I think they are. Dave has quite rightly identified a trend towards resurveys suggesting a lower height, but if a high Graham were to buck that trend then there could be a case for promoting a big Graham into a wee Corbett.

No doubt at some point someone will get round to resurveying some of the borderline hills in the other Tables. In the meantime there is plenty for hill walkers to chat about and no matter what happens, a good hill will always be a good hill. Ben Loyal will always be right up there amongst my favourites (see my last blog posting) even if it were to be relegated into the third tier of Scottish hill tables.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Far North At Its Absolute Best

I was asked recently to imagine that I had an overseas visitor staying with me and I had one day to take that visitor up one Scottish mountain of my choice. Which mountain would it be? It led to an interesting discussion, albeit with no firm conclusion. Possible candidates ranged from Sgurr Alasdair, Liathach, An Teallach, Beinn Eighe, Ben Nevis, Suilven and several others that I can't recall just now.

Roll forward a couple of weeks and we're up in Caithness for a few days. The weather in the far north was better than the rest of Scotland for most of that week and the Tuesday and Wednesday in particular were absolutely stunning. We decided to nip over the border into Sutherland for those two days and visit a hill that has been high on my list for many a year. Ben Loyal.

Wow, did we pick the right day! This was the north of Scotland at its absolute cracking best. Warm, but with no hint of heat haze. North Rona, which is 84 miles away, was visible with the naked eye & binoculars made it even more impressive to look at. We also found an interesting descent route off the west side of the hill just to add a bit more pleasure to an already top quality day.

A much sought after Corbett visited on one of the best days of the year. Possibly the best day of the year. And when that hypothetical overseas visitor comes to stay I might just take him/her up to Ben Loyal to show them the delights of a perfectly formed and beautiful Scottish mountain.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Cape Wrath Challenge

I have written a guest blog about my week at the Cape Wrath Challenge running week for Fiona Russell's "Fiona Outdoors" website. To have a read, go along to:

Monday, 21 March 2011

First Tick of the Year - March 20th

So much for the theory that says the hard winter will have hit Scotland's tick population. I found my first tick of the year on my right leg last night. I suspect I picked it up yesterday afternoon in my own garden, probably within 15 metres of the house, although it could have been on Saturday when I ran the Newtonmore 10 mile road race (in shorts) or when we went up Meall na h-Aisre in the afternoon (in gaiters). Most likely the garden I would say, in which case I picked up my first tick of 2011 on March 20th. My first tick of 2010 was on April 29th, so quite worrying that they're out so early this year compared to last.

Yesterday was mild though. Despite the breeze making it feel a bit cooler, our weather station recorded a high of 12.9C yesterday afternoon. That warm temperature was no doubt responsible for bringing the tick that attached itself to my leg out of the undergrowth.

I mention this in my blog, because ticks are probably not registering on most people's radars at this early stage in the year. Having previously suffered from Lyme Disease myself (2006) I'm keen to do my bit to communicate the message about taking precautions to avoid picking up ticks on your body and thereby reducing your chances of developing Lyme Disease.

To find out more about ticks & Lyme Disease I would recommend visiting the MCofS YouTube site to watch our 7 minute video on the subject.

Monday, 7 March 2011

It's March - Turn the lights on please

I can't believe the way in which our debate on daylight saving (putting the clocks backwards & forwards) is portrayed as being so black & white. From listening to the radio & reading the papers this last couple of weeks you could be fooled into thinking we have a straight choice between the status quo, permanent British Summertime & joining the European time zone. OK, that's three options, black, white or grey then. However, there are other options, or colours in the spectrum.

First of all though, there is the simple reality of having the same amount of light on a given day, whichever system we use. All the articles I have heard or read seem to miss out on that simple fact of physics. So, here is my my thinking on this one. December & January are in mid-winter & the days are very short. No system is going to give us more light to play with, but we can make it safer to get to & from school & work. Given the amount of light we have to work with in deepest winter I would say we are currently right to be on Greenwich Mean Time during this period of very short daylight hours.

However, we are now in March & there is lots of light around. It's just that a lot of it is around before we leave home on a morning & it would be good to have some of that light on an evening. From a hillgoers point of view we could have longer evenings in March to enjoy our walk off the hill. Or even just to potter around the garden or go for an evening run.

So, here's my contribution to this debate. Have the combination of British Summer Time & Greenwich Meantime that we currently have, but alter the dates when we fall back & spring forward. I would turn the clocks back a bit later than we do now, say around the first Saturday in November. Then at the other end of the winter, turn them forward a lot earlier than we do now, say around the third Saturday in February.

Of all the months in the year when the current system doesn't work well it has to be March. Surely we could tweak the current system so we get to use the light available to us in this month when winter starts to give way to spring.

If you agree with my views, or if you have views of your own, then do let your MP & MSPs know. Its important that this issue isn't allowed to drop off the agenda.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to anyone tuning in and reading this. I hope you had a good festive period, found some outdoor gear in your stockings and managed to get outside for some fresh air.

I had an interesting weekend just after new year. On Saturday we needed to wear crampons just to walk out of our driveway, then on Sunday we climbed the Glen Falloch Corbett Meall an Fhudair and our ice axes and crampons stayed in our packs for the whole day. It was surprising how little snow and ice there was in that part of the Western Highlands.

Nevertheless, we were pleased we carried that winter gear with us. Better to have it and not need it than to leave it at home and wish you had it with you when conditions turn out tougher than you expected. I'm sure the MCofS Winter Lectures will be full of useful tips like that.

I hope to be at one, if not both of the Perth talks, so if you're around I may see you there. Don't forget, our Winter Safety Lectures this season are in Glencoe, Aviemore, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Inverness. Check out for full details of the Winter Lecture Series.