Thursday, 6 January 2011

Snowy Running, Munro-ing and Skis

Happy new year to all!

The Christmas and New Year holidays have been great – it’s always nice to have two weeks where you have the time to relax, spend quality time with family and friends and do lots of fun activities – all fuelled by mince pies and mulled wine!

With all the snow in the build up to Xmas, I was able to get out on lots of snowy runs. Highlights were the Springvalley Harriers Xmas run, where a good group of us went running in the Hermitage and over Braid Hill with Santa hats and head torches, followed by many cakes back at Springvalley. A perfect way to kick off Xmas! Then on Xmas Eve, myself, Neil, Dean, Gillian, Susan and Keith headed off for a morning run over the same route followed by a hearty breakfast in the pub. Over the Xmas holidays down in Wolverhampton I was able to get some good runs in to keep me ticking over aswell as a lovely 7 mile walk with my Dad on the 27th. There was still a lot of snow on the ground and I was amazed at how rural and beautiful the area was behind my grandparents house.

After a great Xmas with my family I headed back up North to meet Neil in Dunblane at his parents’ house, and from there we continued up to Inverness to stay with Neil’s sister Eilidh in Inverness for Hogmanay. The plan was to do a bit of hill walking and some skiing over this time, and we had a great time! We drove up on the 30th, and stopped to do a Munro off the road from Dalwhinnie - Geal Charn (926m). We’d been expecting lots of snow given the amount that had fallen in December, but there had obviously been a big thaw so it was more wet than snow. This was a fairly short walk in terms of elevation, only being at 926m and starting just over 300m from the car, so an ideal hill to do on the way to Inverness. We got all geared up – ice axe and crampons at the ready and headed off up the path. However, we were chatting away and then realised we were going up the wrong way – fortunately we hadn’t gone too far at this point, we’d just added an extra mile round loop to the walk. We soon got back on track and climbed gradually up the hill. Some good views till nearer the top when the cloud came in. We reached the summit at 2pm – Munro number 53 for me. Neil still needs to count how many he’s on, but somewhere in the 80s we think. With the short days at the moment, it was pretty dark by the time we got back to the car, but we got some great glimpses of views on the way down when the clouds cleared for a moment. The final Munro of 2010 was done.

On New Year’s Eve, myself, Neil and Eilidh headed to Aviemore for a ski lesson. We had to be at the ski school at 8:30am so it was an early start. We got kitted up and drove up to the ski car park. Turns out New Year’s Eve is a busy time for ski lessons, so we had a fairly big group, and the queues were big to get up Cain Gorm on the funicular. By the time we got going it was gone 11am. We did some basic skills before breaking for lunch. We were glad to have brought our own picnic given the amount of people in the Ptarmigan restaurant – though those chips did smell nice!! After lunch we were back on the slopes for the afternoon session, we got into snow ploughs and we all started getting the hang of it. I really felt my XC skiing from earlier on in the year was helping me with my balance, it felt much easier with the bigger, sturdier downhill skis. Learning to use the ski lift was good fun, and once we mastered that we just went up and down trying to perfect our downhill skills in the last half hour. It was pretty icy and the visibility was poor, but as the instructor said “If you learn to ski in Scotland, you can ski anywhere!” Unfortunately, we had to stop around 3:45 just as we were getting into it, and we caught the last funicular of 2010 back down to the car park. A great day and I can’t wait to get back on some skis very soon!

After a day of rest and recuperation on January 1st (aka film watching marathon) we headed back to the mountains. We decided to do a couple of Munros on the road to Kintail. This was a bigger climb than the previous Munro, with a lot of the height gain covered early on. We managed to find a slightly more forgiving climb further round the mountain which was fine. We enjoyed the amazing views of the South Glen Shiel Ridge as we climbed higher and higher. At around 750m we felt a drop in the temperature and there were bigger patches of ice and snow. We had ice axes with us, but given the conditions the previous time, we didn’t have our crampons. Big mistake and lesson learnt - always carry crampons in the winter!! On reaching the plateau we had a quick stop to put on some extra layers. At this point two other hill walkers popped out from the other side of the hill. They caught us up just at the final push to the summit. As I glanced over to say hello, I realised one of the guys was “Mountain Goat” aka Martin Hulme from CAAC!! We’d seen nobody else all day and then here was Martin on a hill in the middle of Scotland, miles from Edinburgh!! Small world. Our meeting was nicely timed to have lunch together at the top of A’Chralaig (1120m). Martin and his hiking buddy had the big crampons so they were back down the mountain very quickly, as opposed to mine and Neil’s more steady descent. We decided to miss the second Munro given the ice and the time of day. A real shame, but a good excuse to go back another day. We took the steeper route down and could see the Claunie Inn in the distance looking very inviting. We got back to the car just before dark and headed to the pub for a well deserved coffee to warm us up. Turns out the Claunie Inn do a very nice latte! A great start to the Munro-ing year!

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