A cracking day on Sgor Gaoith!

Distance: 11 miles

Munros: 1

Who with: JP

 

After an overnight dump of snow, the road from Aviemore to our starting point near Balachroick Youth Hostel was ‘interesting’ shall we say! The combination of JP’s driving style and a rear wheel drive Audi, just added to the fun…

However, after our first adventure before even putting our boots on, we were ready for the day. It was just coming light and the sky had a glorious warm red glow, which nearly took the edge off the cold start to the day, nearly.

So, we set off up the footpath which ran adjacent to the AlltRuadh River, starting gaining height pretty much straight away, with the path cutting through the wooded area, which along with the snowy conditions made the area look even more stunning – a winter wonderland!

After a little over a kilometre, we emerged from the trees, crossed a small ford and headed along a good path underneath Coire na Cloiche. There were multiple types of footprint crossing the path at various points, highlighting the hive of activity from the wildlife community. This good path continued gently, negotiating around Meall Tionail for another couple of kilometres from the first ford, before crossing the second stream, Allt a Chrom-alltain.

It was here we stopped for an early sip of coffee, before the long, relatively steep climb up towards Coire Ruadh. We instantly noticed the snow getting considerably deeperunderfoot, which along with the steep terrain, instantly slowed progress. We continued to slog, as we chatted, with our direction heading to the Col at 1012m, which sits between Can Ban Mor and our destination, Sgor Gaoith.

Literally, as we stepped onto a lesser gradient a hundred yards from the top of the Col, the mist descended….typical we thought! After we had taken a moment to ‘check our map’ (have a minute and catch our breath) which is obviously essential when the mist comes down (cough), we proceeded onwards. Heading North up the ridge, the snow was as you would expect much thicker now and so the going was pretty tough.

It was just over a kilometre to the top, but JP was getting hangry, and so believe it or not, we stopped for our lunch before we got to the summit. It was the best thing we could have done in all honesty, as in that twenty minutes the cloud lifted in glimpses and slowly over the proceeding ten minutes walking had completely vanished. Perfect timing!

Just as we reached the summit, where we spent a good 15 minutes soaking in the breath-taking views. Possibly the best views and conditions that I have had in Scotland, and literally 360 degrees of stunning scenery. We got a few photos, before we began our retreat following the same tracks.

We had only spoken to four people so far on our walk, but in the time that we loitered on the summit, we passed another few people who were enjoying the conditions.

As we continued, we chatted with each passing person, and everyone was friendly and happy to chat, a stark difference to when you meet people in a blizzard! It was an extremely relaxing decent in all honesty, and the skies stayed clear with the views remaining all the way back down into the valley. Unusually we had timed the day perfectly!

We headed back through the wooded area where we had set off from, in what seemed like no time, as time really does fly when you are chatting, albeit I was doing more listening…but that is often the case with JP.

We arrived back at the car, after what had been a most enjoyable walk, and one I would be happy to do again.

 

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A day of two halves on Ben Macdui

Distance: 11 miles

Who with: JP

 

We left the warmth of the cottage in Aviemore at around 645am, and headed out towards the ski centre at Cairn Gorm, where we were parking for the day. The temperature was sitting at around -4 degrees Celsius, when we got in the car, but by the time we had climbed up to the car park it had dropped to -8. We were one of the first cars to park up, and as we were getting our packs sorted, the difference in temperature was noticeable.

There was only one thing for it, get walking to warm up! We headed West on the footpath heading away from the ski/funicular centre, which was starting to get busy with workers. For the first couple of miles or so, the path was a nice warm up, and meandered along the hillside climbing gradually. We soon got the blood pumping and forgot all about the cold. It was starting to come light at this point and the conditions were unusually still for the Cairngorms.

The full moon provided a bright light over the glistening snow, and the peaks above, so we stopped for a minute to take it all in. There wasn’t a sound to be heard – complete silence. A perfect morning for what looked like it was going to be a good day ahead in the hills. The forecast had given a good morning, with fog moving in at around 12noon, until 3pm, but remaining dry all day, albeit with the wind speed increasing throughout the day. 

We continued on the same path, which started to climb a bit more at this point, as we headed up Miadan Creag an Leth-choin. It was fantastic to watch the light breaking over the mountains above, which looked rather dramatic as they towered above us. Across the range, we could see the Ptarmigan restaurant, which is unusually quiet at the moment, sadly. We hadn’t met anyone else at this point, when all of a sudden we could hear the faint voices of a couple of climbers, which were carrying across the landscape below, which just emphasised how still the morning was.

We continued up to the top of Miadan Creag an Leth-choin, where we were instantly hit with a blustery wind, which came as a bit of a surprise to us both, given the conditions up until this point. We had obviously been sheltered by the great Cairngorm range, which gives quite the wind block – unsurprisingly. 

We decided to find a bit of shelter and grab a quick coffee, before we continued up the path, which skirted round the edges of Cain Lochan. The views down the valleys were beginning to open up, which always brings a good feeling after a good slog up a hill! We continued climbing, and at around 1180m the snow underfoot began to get deeper, turning the walk into a bit more of a trudge. The wind had picked up quite significantly at this point, and the temperature had continued to drop as we climbed that bit higher.

We had walked past the edges of the two lochans, which sit at around 1126m, both of which unsurprisingly were frozen solid. It was as we passed these tarns that the mist had dropped significantly and was, as forecast, looking to settle on the tops. We had watched down the valley the thick grey clouds rolling North from the direction of Braemar, and over the Lairig Ghru. 

We were stood on the small summit, at around 1180m and made the call that we didn’t see the point of walking another mile or so, going another couple of hundred metres higher into the cloud, providing zero visibility of the vistas around.So, we decided to retreat and save the second Ben for another day – it’s not going anywhere after all, and it gives us the excuse to do this walk again, or even tackle from another route.

We walked back past the small lochans, and decided to find a sheltered spot on the shoulder of the aptly named of Cairn Lochan, where we could enjoy a bit of lunch and hot coffee. As I am writing this, it sounds quite sociable, but it was bloody freezing and fair old wind was hammering some spin-drift into us, so it wasn’t that sheltered!

As we were tucking into our lunches, we saw a silhouette of a solo walker, who turned out to be a mountain leader having a bus-man’s holiday. He had, coincidentally, made the same call as ourselves and decided to drop back down, as he re-affirmed our beliefs that the weather was set in for a few hours.

So, we finished our lunch just before the frost bite set in, and walked over Cairn Lochan, which has a summit standing at 1215m at its tallest point, before dropping back down to the path we had ascended on. We don’t usually like doing this, but the venture over the ridge towards Cairn Gorm stayed at a similar altitude, so the prospect of dropping a couple of hundred metres relatively quickly to escape the conditions seemed quite appealing.

We enjoyed a nice walk back, and as we reached MiadanCreag an Leth-choin, the conditions started to ease significantly, and we walked back into blue sky which was astonishing. Blue sky and very insignificant wind, as once again, the mountains were providing the perfect wind-break for us. We were soon back nattering away and having full-blown conversations, as we could actually hear each other again. Don’t tell JP, but I quite enjoyed a couple of hours of peace mind!

Arriving back at the ski centre, the car park was quite full by this point, with lots of people milling around and enjoying the purpose built facilities – something I have always had mixed views on, but we will save that for another time…

On the drive back to the cottage, JP and I continued our conversation about the weather, and how it is unsurprising that people get into difficulties by under-estimating the conditions on the tops. It really was a day of two halves, or three thirds really weather-wise, and it is hard to believe the conditions on the tops when you are looking up at blue skies with very little wind by the car. It just shows the importance of checking the conditions for the tops, along with the avalanche reports, but also being prepared with the right clothing and equipment.

So, we didn’t reach the top of Ben Macdui, but we had both had a good stretch and enjoyed a day in the mountains, so what was there to complain about?!?

A Braithwaite Base Camp! (Vol. 2)

Distance: 8.5 miles

Wainwright count (round 2): 3

Wainwrights: Lord’s Seat, Barf, Whinlatter Top

Who with: JP, Susie (The Patterdale Terrier)

 

Following on from an enjoyable day on The Coledale Round the day before, and a few evening beverages, we checked out of the Royal Oak pub after breakfast, where we had been staying for the weekend, and made our way up the road. The short drive to Whinlatter Visitors Centre, which is a couple of miles up the pass, only took a couple of minutes – and it was here we parked up. 

We left the car, and followed one of the marked paths through the forest, climbing relatively steeply at first, in the dark wooded area, before reaching the forest track, which we followed for about a mile. It was a dull start to the morning and a thick, low hill fog looked set-in for the day. This was why we chose a walk which kept at the lower levels – and not reaching more that around 550m all day. 

We followed the path, which was still relatively quiet at this point, as it winded through the forest, which looked very dramatic – with a thick mist hanging over it. It was extremely mild for the time of the year, so we were soon de-layering as we climbed, being sheltered in the wooded area, before reaching the open fell-side, at the foot of Lord’s Seat. 

As we followed the very clear and well-made path, which snaked up the fell-side, the wet mist seemed to be getting thicker as we ascended. It was a relatively short walk to the summit, which stands at 552m, where we met lone walker who was furiously marching on, with his headphones in, whilst singing loudly….it takes all sorts. He looked happy though.

It was from here that we headed East, over wet and boggy ground, which Susie continued to trudge through, whilst getting caked in mud! She was just as happy as the singing-fell walker, so all was good on Lord’s Seat.

The mist remained low, as we continued along the path to the top of Barf fell, which stands at 468m, although upon arrival the views were non-existent and the mist was wet! We made the decision to keep walking on pretty quickly, and we took the path heading south, back in the direction of the woodland.

As we crossed the stepping stones across the small beck, which runs down into Bassenthwaite Lake – the mist hung around the small valley, over the trees with rather dramatic effect. It was like the iconic photos of Whistler in Canada – not Whinlatter. On a clear day, the views from here over towards the lake are quite special, but they were not to be enjoyed today. Another reason to do the walk again, in case I needed one.

We headed back into the forest at this point, where the mist remained to dramatic effect, dispersing as we got ever deeper. We followed the path onwards, and continued to weave through the forest trails, passing families on the GruffaloTrail. 

From here, we headed towards the Western edge of the forest, down the last forest track, where one of the many bike trails crossed, before we reached the gate, where the woodland becomes open fell-side once again. JP and I have done the Whinlatter forest trails a few times on the mountain bikes – the trails are good; and as we saw the bikers cross, it was a reminder that we needed to come back at some point, when time allowed!

After a minute taking in the views across the valley, on the other side of the Whinlatter Pass road, we started the short but steep path, which runs parallel to the fence line, which was a breathless few minutes for us, and possibly one of the only times on the walk that we stopped nattering. As we reached the highest point of the fence line, we headed west towards the top of Whinlatter, on a good path.

The mist was clearing in parts, so we enjoyed the views in the breaks of the cloud, which was helped by the slightly stronger breeze that had arrived. We arrived on the top of Whinlatter, where we found a sheltered spot to enjoy our lunch – the highlight of JP’s walks. After half an hour, we started to make our return trip back to the Visitor’s Centre, where we were parked – obviously, after JP had finished another story!

As we walked back through the forest, you reach the ‘honey pot’ where all the people are gathered, enjoying the park with their children. We arrived back at the car, and didn’t hang around long, so that I could get back to see my little lad – which I was eager to do. 

This walk is quite a nice half day walk, if you are short of time, or the mist is in – like today, and once you get out of the busy visitors centre area, and close to the trails, we didn’t see many folks at all. The end of a good weekend in Braithwaite, with our next little trip being Aviemore in a couple of weeks, something that I am definitely looking forward to.

 

 

A Braithwaite Base Camp! (Vol. 1)

Distance: 9 miles

Wainwright count (round 2): 4

Wainwrights: Crag Hill, Sail, Outerside, Barrow

Who with: JP, Susie (The Patterdale Terrier)

 

It had been almost 12 months since I last ventured out into the fells with JP, what with life getting in the way, so we made the commitment to book a weekend in Braithwaite for early in 2019. We have had about four weekends planned in for 2018, but with one thing or another, it is easy for busy lives to take over, but not this time!

We are heading to Aviemore, for the second consecutive year, later in January for our annual winter mountaineering adventures, so we needed to get some miles in the legs. This couldn’t have been more needed, given the excesses of alcohol and mince pies at Christmas! 

We arrived at the Royal Oak pub, in Braithwaite, early evening on the Friday, after work, and retreated to the bar to ‘discuss our walk’. This took some time, and required a number of ales and a sample of the bar menu, which really did help us prepare for the next day’s wander. 

We set off from the pub, at around 9am, due to breakfast not being available until 8.30am, from which a short walk up the road towards Whinlatter, led us to the start of the path up the valley. The path which runs parallel to Coledale Beck for a couple of miles, then passes the old mine below Force Crag, before crossing the Beck and beginning to climb up towards Coledale Hause. 

JP is still chipping away at his Wainwright tally, which still has around 50 un-conquered fells. The completion of which has formed part of his 2019 New Year’s Resolution! I completed my first round a couple of years ago, but still enjoy any opportunity to venture up into the hills. I found the Wainwright walks a great way to explore Lakeland, and enjoyed the journey; and it is for this same reason that I am using the Munros to explore other parts of Scotland. Geography and a young family however, make the logistics of getting up the Munros slightly more complex than the one hour drive up the motorway towards Cumbria!

As we continued up towards the path to Coledale Hause, which soon passed when we were non-stop chatting and putting the world to rights, we took a few minutes to take in the vista, which had opened up. Straight down the valley, we had views over Braithwaite and the start of Keswick, which is overshadowed by the fells surrounding Skiddaw. It was a dull, but relatively clear day (for the Lake District) with the cloud clinging to the higher tops, but still very mild for this time of year.

We did this very same walk, on the same weekend last year (not that we are creatures of habit, or anything), when the thermometer on my tent at Scotgate campsite, in Briathwaiteread -5 degrees celcius in the morning, and it was even colderagain at the top of Grizedale Pike, with icy winds. Winter has most definitely not arrived in Cumbria in 2019….yet!

Once we had enjoyed the view (caught our breath), we followed the path up towards the cross-roads, and headed East up the climb towards Crag Hill. As we ascended, we headed into the cloud, which was clinging to the top of the fells – and didn’t dissipate throughout the day. We continued over the summit – the highest point of the walk at 839m, where we met a few dozen fellow walkers, heading in all different directions, but we followed the path down over relatively rough terrain towards the col, in between Crag Hill and Sail.

From here we dropped out of the cloud before re-gaining the height we had just lost, on the way up to Sail. It was here we stopped for some lunch, and a flask of coffee, in a sheltered spot behind some rocks. We stayed here for around 20 minutes when the cold started to bite a little, so we carried on over the summit, before taking the leisurely path down to the ‘cross-road’ in the col. 

It was here that we decided to head North West, heading down towards the lower fell of Outerside, which stands at 568m. We dropped around 120m below this on the path, before cutting over some boggy ground and re-climbing our lost height up to the top of the fell, which is a nice little walk – providing some good views over Braithwaite and beyond. 

With Braithwaite in sight, we descended back down to the path, which we left twenty minutes prior, crossed above Stile End and gently climbed up the final fell of the day, which was Barrow. Standing at 455m it is a nice little fell for an evening dog walk, and offers great views down the valley. 

It was here about 10-12 years ago that my wife sat downhalfway down Barrow in protest of tiredness, eating a cheese and onion pasty, as she was tired after walking the full round! She wouldn’t believe me that we were only a 15-minute downhill walk away from a drink and an evening meal at the very pub that JP and I were staying in this weekend!

So, in a similar fashion to all those years ago, we followed the path down, through the village and back to the inn, after a really enjoyable day on the fells. Our first port of call was a swift pint in the bar, before retiring to our room for a shower and a freshen up.

All in all – a cracking day out, which was followed by a few beers and a steak dinner…had worse Saturday’s!

 

An early morning blast up Cairn Gorm…

Distance: 6 miles

Munro Count: 1

Munro: Cairn Gorm

Who with: JP

We arrived at the top car park at Cairn Gorm at around 6.45am, and other than a couple of cars that looked like they had been there all night, it looked like we were the first to arrive.

The forecast the night before was for light winds of 7mph, but there had clearly been a change overnight, with gusts of around 60mph. The air was fresh to say the least, so we didn’t hang around getting our gear together and instead donned our head torches and headed round the back of the funicular, where the path took us up a snowy hill side, Sron an Aonaich.

There had been quite a bit of snow overnight and the last bit was still falling, as we made our way in the dark, up the icy path. It wasn’t long before we needed to put on our crampons, as there was literally no traction under foot. The wind continued to batter us as we pressed on, and there was very little conversation between JP and I, which was unusual. Instead, we both had our heads down, preferring to make progress into the wind.

As the view started to open out, as daylight was beginning to creep in, it was clear that the lifts were unlikely to be operating at their usual time given the conditions. We were making good progress and slowly the conversation started, following us taking a few minutes to admire the views that greeted us. JP, a mechanical engineer, was also admiring the engineering work that had gone into creating such easy access onto the mountain.

I have mixed views about such lifts, in that they are fantastic if you are using them for snow sports, but they do make access onto the mountains too easy, in my opinion. Then the Ptarmigan café came into view, which again is a fantastic feat of engineering, but like Snowdon, for example, I have mixed emotions.

Anyway, we pressed on and following the fence line, we could see the snow ploughs preparing the mountain for its hundreds of visitors that would eventually make their way onto the hill. We reached the Ptarmigan and it was now around 8.15am, and coming daylight. The snow ploughs were still working away on all the ski runs, with one passing us at close quarters, whilst the driver gave the thumbs up. There are worse offices, I’ll tell you!

We were having a leisurely walk and a stretch as you had probably gathered, so we trudged up the final stretch towards the weather station, which sits on the summit of Cairn Gorm. We decided to have some breakfast on the top, albeit being battered by the wind, and spindrift. As we sat there with our mugs of coffee, we had the pleasure of watching the weather dial take its reading. The station was thick with ice, and it is no surprise with such a cold wind-chill of around -21degrees. The day before had recorded winds of 125mph on the top, which is a fair old wind to say the least.

Unsurprisingly, given the temperature, we didn’t hang around long, and instead of walking the horse shoe as planned, we decided (unusually) to go back down the way we came, and spend a few minutes at the Ptarmigan café which would hopefully now be open.

As we descended back down, the lifts were opening, and the area soon became a hive of activity, with skiers and the CairnGorm mountain team buzzing around. It was interesting to watch and see some of the folks who had reached this altitude in a matter of minutes, having walked a few yards from their car.

We decided to grab a brew and people watch for a few minutes, before retreating back down the mountain. A few minutes with so many people was starting to take away from what had been an enjoyable, leisurely walk. JP and I had flowing conversation all the way down, which was back to usual, and were now passed every few seconds by skiers who were enjoying what were now fantastic conditions, which looked as though they would get better by the hour.

The sun lashed the snow, which made for some fantastic views across the range, which made me keep stopping to look behind me. As we dropped back down, the car park came into view and was unsurprisingly full, with only a handful of walkers having passed us on our way down, which surprised me somewhat, on such a fantastic day.

We were back down at the car by 10am, as we had stuff to do that day, but it was a most enjoyable stroll!

A fantastic, but long day up Bynack More…

Date: Saturday 20th January

Distance: 19 miles

Munro Count: 1

Munro: Bynack More (and A’Choinneach (1017m)

Who with: JP

We arrived in Aviemore on Friday afternoon, after a very snowy drive up from Lancashire! A stunning drive, once we had cleared the blizzards around Glasgow, with some stunning views across Perthshire all the way to Aviemore. Conditions were looking very good indeed.

We had an early start to the day, setting off from our cottage in Aviemore at 6.30am, before parking just past Glenmore Lodge, alongside a number of camper vans, who had picked a lovely spot for an evening stop-over. We donned our gear, whilst trying not to wake our neighbours and left the car at around 7.10am, with our head torches on.

On a lovely cold (-5 degrees C) and crisp morning, we made our way on the footpath heading towards Ryvoan, through the lovely woodlands surrounding the Glenmore Lodge training centre, with only the crunch of the snow underfoot for noise. As night was slowly turning to day, we headed through the silhouettes of the surrounding hills, passing the small loch on the right, before following the right-hand fork in the path (the left heading towards Ryvoan Bothy).

The silence was deafening, and we heard a number of deer in the woods, snapping branches as they moved. Our path started to gradually climb, south of Loch a’ Gharb-choire, and the light started to increase, leading to a beautiful vista across the Eastern Fells, a number of miles in the distance. A stunning morning indeed, and with only a light wind at present, it was looking good for the day ahead.

We reached the footbridge, which offers a dry crossing of Strath Nethy, which are two features that will be prominent in this blog post! Upon crossing the footbridge, we made our way up the path in what was soft snow, but relatively good conditions. We were lucky enough to see a Ptarmigan and a few mountain hares on our travels.

As we gained height, the snow started to get a bit crisper, as we ascended the path on the East side of An Lurg, which leads on towards Bynack More. The wind was increasing steadily as we gained height, and the conditions were glorious, as we ascended. We stopped by the distinctive rock, in the shadows of Bynack, to put on our crampons, in preparation for the ascent.

It was here we had a bite to eat, and met three ill-equiped (in my opinion) walkers, who had spent the night in Ryvoan Bothy, and were planning to ascend ahead of us. They had no winter gear on, and they lacked crampons and ice axes, which I would have said were a MUST in the conditions. They were not for heeding our advice though, so they pressed on.

We made our way up the steep, final section of Bynack More (1090m), before summiting, where the conditions were starting to worsen, as the winds were increasing and the clouds starting to move in. This brought visibility right down to only a few metres at times.

Conditions were far too windy to hang around, and we still had a good bit of the walk to go, so we crossed the plateau towards A’Choinneach (1017m), after passing the Barns of Bynack. It was here where the snow was sitting at quite a depth and progress started to significantly slow, in what were now white-out conditions. After a very slow slog up our next summit, the wind was gusting at over 60mph (I estimate), and the light was beginning to go, with us having about 2 hours daylight left.

We had our head torches though and are confident with a map and compass, so we were not worried, instead making a call to my wife to inform her that it would be a late finish! We followed the path on the map that dropped down off A’Choinneach (1017m), to the Saddle, at the top of Strath Nethy (I said this would be a prominent feature in the blog post!), above the loch.

We soon realised that the going was to be very slow, in what was very deep snow, in the valley. Even with our best efforts of picking our route, the snow conditions were hard going, and we still had about 7.5km to get back to the footbridge! This was somewhat de-moralising, and we pain-stakingly followed the River down to the footbridge over boggy, snowy and wet conditions.

We FINALLY, albeit extremely tired, made it back to the path by the footbridge and retraced our path, along the 4-5km path back to the car, under a fantastic night sky – full of stars, and constellations. We saw numerous shooting stars, which would have been enjoyed much more, if it hadn’t been such a long day!

We arrived back at the car at midnight, so a VERY long day, considering we set off at 7.10am! It was now -6 degrees C, and our neighbours in the camper vans were back in bed. I put the car on to warm up and de-ice the windscreen which was frozen solid. I had taken off my crampons a while back, after reaching the footbridge, but JP kept his on, and they were now frozen solid. He ended up taking his boots off with his crampons still attached until they defrosted. All good fun!

JP and I, both consider ourselves to be experienced in the mountains, and have a good deal of experience in winter, but as we ‘slogged’ our way through the valley, we discussed how others may have panicked or been tempted to call Mountain Rescue, knowing that darkness was approaching. It raised the question of the chaps we met earlier who did not have the correct winter equipment with them, instead having small rucksacks, which couldn’t possibly have had everything they needed for a ‘just in case’ situation. Would they have been ok? Could they have navigated in the dark, or with literally no visibility in white out? The easy thing to do is panic, or to call Mountain Rescue, but for us, it just raised the question of being prepared (both equipment and skills wise) before venturing into the mountains, not just in winter, but anytime, although winter makes the hazards and consequences far more real.

We knew that we had the skills, and it was just a case of getting our heads down and trudging on, but even for us, who were experienced, well equipped and with the right skills, it was a very tough day. For others it may have not been such a positive ending, and even during the week we spent up in the Cairngorms, there were three major Mountain Rescue call outs, with at least one fatality. Even reading these stories, people still take unnecessary chances in winter, and venture onto the fells ill-equipped. Accidents happen to the most competent, but some situations are very much avoidable.

A week in the Cairngorms…

To say that I am excited for my week in Aviemore, which begins on Friday, is an understatement to say the least!

For the last few years, JP and I have been to Glencoe, and in more recent trips my dad has come along too, not so much for the winter walking, but for a free week in a cottage, in a lovely corner of Scotland! Anyway, this year’s trip is a slightly different dynamic again…

My wife and I welcomed our son, George, into the world on 7 February 2017, and he is nearing one year old now (not sure where 11 months has gone!), and as a result of this my wife has been on maternity leave, and remains so until early February. So, I asked my wife if they would like to join us on a trip up North for the week. She said yes!!

My wife will happily enjoy a walk, but is a reluctant fell walker and Glencoe in winter offers little to those who do not enjoy the winter fells. We decided upon Aviemore, as there is a bit more going on for them, whilst JP and I were walking. There were obviously compromises to be made to have my wife and son with me for the week, but these were worth it for me. Following some hard fought ‘negotiations’, we have decided that 3 days winter walking for JP and I, along with 3 days of ‘other’ activities as a group was a fair compromise. This balance will give us some time to venture around the area and visit some of the lovely places in the Cairngorm region, whilst also letting us explore some of the lowland valleys, which I would not normally take them time to discover – instead heading up, up, up into the mountains! So, I am looking forward to this slightly different balance in all honesty. I have also packed the sledge, and we would like to take George up Cairn Gorm on the funicular and have a play in the snow, which he will love (as will I)!

It is our fourth wedding anniversary when we are away, so I definitely need to take her out for a meal to say thanks for putting up with me in general, but also thanks for letting me enjoy a few days in the Scottish mountains. : )

Whilst trawling Twitter and seeing the copious amounts of photos of the adventures of the folks that I follow, there were plenty photos of their Cairngorm adventures to wet my appetite. With its white winter coat well and truly on, and the forecast for snow, snow, snow, it looks like for once my timing will be just right! However I am nervous about trusting weather forecasts, especially not for the best part of a week into the future!

The BBC Weather app is suggesting lows of -6 degrees Celsius in the night, which should make for some good snow conditions, although, can also present other significant risks. There have been avalanche warnings and so it is always important to check the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, www.sais.gov.uk/ before heading into the hills. I also like to use a few different weather forecasts, and look at the local mountain forecasts, in addition to standard weather forecasts, but it is personal preference. There is no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing/equipment, so it is always worth ensuring that you have the right gear, it is in working order, and you know how to use it. It is safe to say though that the snow is coming down HARD!

Just as an aside, and whilst we are on the topic of safety in some guise, JP and I, did a fantastic Winter Skills Course, in Glencoe, a few years ago, which I would highly recommend for any relative newbies to the winter fells. You can find out more about the course on an earlier blog post that I did. I considered (and still do consider) myself to be a competent and experienced mountain goer, but having done a bit of winter walking prior to the course, I learned a lot in that week, and still use and continue to hone much of what I learned, during every winter trip out (navigation tips, subtle techniques of using ice axes and crampons, and safety on the winter fells (interpreting forecasts etc.). I’m not sure who said it, but ‘Education is the gift that keeps on giving’, and that is certainly true in this case!

JP and I, have not fully discussed the three walks that we will be doing, and so this will no doubt be a topic of conversation on the drive up, whilst sifting through the maps! One thing that is for certain is that we will be heading up to the Munros above Aviemore, probably setting off from the car park at the Ski Centre no doubt. I will obviously be doing blog posts, as usual, for each of our walks and so watch this space…

Most of our walking (both winter and in other seasons) tends to be in the Lake District, as you will have seen from my previous blogs, which is due to the fact that it is only an hour’s drive from where we live (lucky us!). It is also very handy that my dad has a static caravan, near Ambleside, which offers the perfect base from which to enjoy the Lakeland fells. But….Scotland is that bit different. It is wilder, more rugged, exposed and you really can find your own piece of wilderness there. It does however come with slightly increased risk due to this remoteness in my opinion, as you can quite often not see anyone on the winter fells, due to sparsely populated areas of Scotland. That is not to say that you cannot also do the same thing in the Lake District, but due to the more compact nature of the Lakeland fells, and the increased accessibility of the area to large cities, you tend to find that as a rule, you are more likely to see others on your Lake District adventures than those in Scotland. Both locations however, require respect for the environment and the changeable weather that you can find yourself in, so it is important to be prepared ahead of any trip, as you can easily get into difficulty in wither setting.

The best thing of all about Scotland, is that there is so much to explore, and in the same way that I completed the Wainwrights the first time (now on my second round) to explore all the corners of the Lake District, I am already doing the same thing with the Munros to explore Scotland. I was brought up visiting all over Scotland in our little ‘tourer’ caravan, which we used for dozens of family holidays north of the border – exploring all areas of the Highlands. My dad enjoyed fishing, and so we used to wander up finding hill lochs, in what felt like the back end of beyond when you are a young lad. These trips gave me the love for those wild places, and wet my appetite to explore them further, and so the Munros are helping me do just that and I can’t wait! I am looking forward to discovering them again with my own family now, and creating our own little adventures that George will look back on fondly, as I now do.

So, with another couple of days left at work, it just leaves the job of packing, which I still haven’t started. It is usually just my own ‘outdoors’ gear to sort, but this time this part is likely to be the easy bit, with George’s gear being the real challenge! The lad doesn’t travel light, and no doubt there will be a truck full, which will no doubt include the kitchen sink!!!