Thursday, 8 June 2017

Why I don't vote

People are usually aghast when they discover that I don't vote. It doesn't come up in conversation much as people rarely ask directly, but I'm not ashamed so am not hiding it on purpose and do occasionally mention it.

I get three very common responses to my not voting. The main one is 'people died for you right to vote'. Good for them, I respect people who get stuff done and stand up for what they believe in. I do no, however, believe that they would expect me to vote when I do not wish to. I expect they would be much more passionate that I stand up for things that *I* believe in, which I try to do.

I also get people saying it’s my age. While I am young to some (I’m 37), I’m certainly not a fresh faced 18 year old, that was half my life ago. In the main my peers are really quite passionate about politics, so I do not approve of people throwing the age card, when I am really an exception. It is not because I am an idiot either though, with a university Masters degree behind me.

The other common response I get is 'well don't complain about policies then' – I absolutely won’t, as the policies hold the same interest for me as voting, in fact it’s those that don’t interest me, which is why I don’t vote, rather than vice versa. I’ve only ever voted once, when a respected friend told me to and said friend never tells me to do anything, but at the time the BNP was popular in my local area and she was worried by this. Instead of just marking a random party I looked into it properly, doing questionnaires online on who to vote for based on which policies I agreed with. Nearly every question that popped up I answered “this is not important to me”. This should now all become clear below.

I've never been able say very clearly why I don’t vote (even to myself), there is a reason but the reason is due to how I differ from other people, so I've had to figure out how I differ before I can explain why, and that is a mammoth task (as this who know me may agree!!! :-)). I am becoming a little clearer on it though, enough to be able to write this to point people at next time they look at me in shock because of it.

It comes down to two things, 1) subjectivity and 2) insignificance…

1) I have an analytical type personality, people throughout the years have told me I think too much, but I don’t, to me it’s not too much and I don’t even do it consciously, it just happens and it works for me. I have an engineering degree and I’ve always enjoyed puzzles or maths, as it’s interesting to work problems through to a definite answer. Subjective topics are interesting too, but just from a point of curiosity, they don’t have answers, so have no interesting in finding answers, and politics is inherently subjective.

The black and white aspect of mathematics couldn’t be more hidden in matters of opinion – even if a decision was made conclusively, as an outsider we can never fully know the thoughts and discussions that led up to it being made so I would never judge a anything subjective in objective terms as it would be impossible to have all the facts.

In terms of life experience, I’ve tried a lot of things from clubbing to mountaineering, from knitting to motorbike riding, been in a lot of situations, met a lot of people and had a lot of conversations. It is integral to the way I view stuff to always mind that: there are at least two sides to everything (and one is nearly always unknown, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there); there aren’t any rights or wrongs; and one situation, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, is a result of many that went before it which could individually have been ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Likewise any voting decision is not right or wrong, and the results cannot be conclusively predicted and may not go where we expect. Which means to me it just doesn’t matter who is chosen. Say a party has a policy that 49% of people are against, and 51% of people vote them in, the offensive policy could (and quite likely would) prompt the 49% into action and changes could happen anyway. It’s the same principle as ‘any publicity is bad publicity’, and the unknowns like this would have AT LEAST as big an impact as the knowns, as far as I’m concerned. In the same way, if someone starts a war, which is generally a ‘bad’ thing, it’s going to reduce population density which is its own problem, which will be beneficial for humans (as a whole, obviously not those who perished) as well as the planet, so was the decision that bad after all? There is just never a definitive answer.

Further to my lack of an opinion or judgement on subjective matters, I’m also quite happy for decisions to be made for me for the same reasons – people in charge of things like education are (in theory) going to be chosen because they are interested or skilled, which is more than I can say for me, so let them do it, what does my opinion matter when I don’t have all the facts or haven’t seen how hard changes are to effect. People are unlikely to end up in that role just because they want to sabotage it, they’re at least going to try their best, and that’s good enough for me. If it all goes ‘wrong’, so be it, then the outfall gets dealt with instead, I wouldn’t hold it against anyone, as (coming back to this) nothing is ever black and white. Because of all this I have never even paid attention to politics, the news, and current affairs. I don’t mind what happens, because it just does, so I just am simply not interested in the majority of it, and my knowledge as a result declines which further leaves me out of the loop. I know the terms right wing and left wing, but not which political party falls into each. I’m not sure I even know who is in power in my area. What I do know is just because I listen to the radio for music and the news pops up, or from social media, rather than because I’ve sought it out.

There is a slight potential exception to whether I care or not about what the politicians are saying, which is if humanity started to be questioned. Most policies don’t challenge our humanity, just our money and education etc. If they did start to question our humanity, like some of Trumps statements in the US election campaign (albeit still taken semi-seriously by me because I don’t know both sides) I might at least stand up for those beliefs.

I must say I find one of the outstanding traits of humans is selfishness, and the balance of negative and positive swings somewhere around the middle. This *is* human nature and won’t change, let’s call that one a definite objective fact, so there’s no point getting upset about it, it’s better just to carry on my own life and do the best I can.

To me it is really very strange that nearly everyone else is so interested in voting, and how so many are so definite about their answer. I can easily speak to one kind, intelligent friend who supports one party for reasons which are perfectly sensible and valid, and the next kind, intelligent friend I speak to supports another for equally sensible, valid reasons. So it boggles my mind a little who so many people are so interested in voting at all, when this alone is reason enough to not be bothered about it.

I don’t see my lack of ability to judge on subjective matters as a negative trait. I have had friends approach me to tell them a secret about themselves that they have no told others, even if the first friends doesn’t know me so well, as they know I won’t judge them. This is a positive result of the very same trait. I’m happy with this part of me.

So that’s reason #1, but this characteristic is of mine is more of a reason why I wouldn’t reach a voting conclusion, and less about why I don’t vote at all. The other issue concretes why I don’t vote at all.

2) My brain seems to work from a more distant viewpoint. If you look at the lifetime of our planet, of which we are just one species: “Science tells us the earth is over 4.7 billion years old, with all of modern history and human civilization only occurring within the last 5,000 to 10,000 years. Said differently, if all of time were compared to a 12 month calendar, all of mankind’s recorded history would have occurred on the last second, of the last minute, of the last day of that year.” ( Voting in the UK (and even then only for some) has been happening for less than 800 years, which is a tenth of that final second. So I just can’t get excited about it in the grand scheme of the universe. Ants form highly organised colonies, but if we look at them we just see a few insects milling around or walking in a line, we don’t get involved in the finer intricacies because to use they just don’t matter. This is kind of how I see humans – a small blip on the cosmic scale, insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and quite self-important that we think otherwise.

3) Even if I did have an interesting in voting, what little I do see of it by accident doesn’t remotely draw me in. The entire basis of it seems to be of one party trying to outdo another by promising what they thing people want to hear, which isn’t actually what they believe in themselves, which often results in making promises they can’t keep or have no intention of doing so. It’s also down to the person way more than the party, but we are voting for the party. Then once the election is done they all stand up and shout at each other in a big old fashioned hall far removed from our day to day lives. Why on earth would I want to get involved in this?

This is a moot point really due to 1 and 2 existing. I’m just adding it to show that if 1 and 2 didn’t exist, I may vote but I’d probably just go and spoil my ballot.

I hope that helps to explain how the world looks to me. There may be some things that appear as contradictions but that is probably because I haven’t not explained things clearly or not emphasised the important bits well. I tried to explain this all to someone as a precursor to writing it out, but before I'd got very far they got quite irate with me and call me plain selfish for not voting. Externally I laughed it off but actually I thought that was quite rude. If anything it's voting that's inherently selfish because it's judged on your personal standpoint. It's also quite disrespectful to not acknowledge that there is an alternative way of looking at it all which is perfectly valid.

Just as a little exercise, to further show how I view all this, I thought for a little while about what I would do if suddenly someone put me in power. My two main (equally important) policies would be: 1) Do what we can as a nation to prevent harm to the natural world. 2) Encourage a sense of community and pleasantness amongst everyone in our country. EVERYTHING else would take a back seat.

#1 would cover things like limiting human effects on climate change, preserving animal habitats, reducing use of non-biodegradable waste, seeing if we can make a positive effect to the planet rather than everything we do being a case of undoing damage we’ve already done etc.
#2 looks at the essence of what I think is wrong with this country, which is that on the whole people seem to have become quite selfish and disrespectful. If I visit other countries I see a greater sense of national identity (here we just seem to take pride in the pub and football), and a greater respect for the country’s heritage. In my experience in the UK people will barge past you in the supermarket or the street, drive like loons, and generally fit the world around them rather than fit themselves into the world. It’s a consequence of being able to do so much more than we used to (with the world having shrunk as a result of internet interactions) and being in a position of advantage (due to human rights), these are good things but I feel we’ve just taken it too far – I am guilty of this too.  This isn’t to say we should stop people being in a rush or not wanting to be sociable, just looking at encouraging them to be more considerate. So what to do to change this? I would dedicate a half day a week, perhaps Monday mornings, to community projects instead of work, compulsory for employees and employers alike, and everyone would still get paid. Everyone can apply for helpers, whether businesses or individuals, and people could sign up to those schemes, or just take the initiative to find some other way to be helpful. Businesses could take helpers if they don’t want to lose business for a day, the employers would still be contributing as they’d be sharing their skills and training people up, and the temporary labour would gain extra skills. Production would be slower but that would be the same for the whole country and would be offset by the direct skills benefits and the less tangible community benefits – Community-wise people would be getting stuff done around the house, raising money for local causes, setting up schemes for schools. People would be happier as life would be at a slower pace, with more focus on enjoyment and personal development, and the potential would be opened up of utilising the therapeutic benefits of nature, the outdoors, animals, exercise and companionship. Participation is compulsory and of course would have to be monitored, this could involve the homeless so they would learn data processing skills. I would also reassess prisons, anyone that could even potentially benefit from re-education would be put through an education scheme linked in with community Mondays, I’ve always felt that locking people up with only the company of others whose string of decision had also led them the wrong side of cultural acceptance isn’t going to help anyone. I’d also openly destroy all our nuclear weapons, and our military would be a peacekeeping force if used at all.

I just had to have a look at the policies of the main parties to see what their policies actually are: education; tax; the health service; carers; school meals: I would not change any of these at all for at least 2 years.  The theory being that if you put a sense of community, sharing and helpfulness back in place, even those that didn’t believe in those things before will see the advantages, and the issue with education, the health services and money will start to fall into place.

That was quite a long explanation, but there wasn't really anything to leave out. Welcome to my world, please keep an open mind 😊 I respect other people's views and the fact that they do vote, hopefully the same can be offered for the fact that I don't.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Feb/Mar 2013 - Holiday - South East Asia Part 1, Thailand

I'm aware haven't updated this blog lately. I've still been out and about, but although I've started writing reports here and there I haven't felt inspired to finish them. I've just got back from a 3 week holiday to South East Asia though, and that's definitely worth recording. We covered a lot of ground, and took a LOT of photos, so I'll write it up one country at a time. Click on the photos for a larger view.

Part 1 - journey and Thailand.

Our plane awaiting
Saturday 16th February saw Hazel and I departing Heathrow at 10:30am bound for Bangkok via Kuwait. I entertained myself entertaining a cute 3 year old Indian boy sitting next to me who had nothing to do, by digging out some paper and pencils and jointly creating a picture with flying aeroplanes (me), crashing aeroplanes (him) and an assortment of sealife below. Kuwait airport was a mixed experience - we were provided with free food while we waited for our connecting flight, but said flight ended up 1.5 hour delayed with no information at all barring the new gate number given by one staff member, until the plane actually arrived and the cabin crew trooped on.

We landed in Bangkok around noon, and took the skytrain from the airport to the Phaya Thai station in the city proper, first buying a ticket for the wrong line (the express line being more expensive, and with a long wait than the city) as I thought it would be straightforward having done this before. At the other end came our first tuk tuk ride of the trip (I really love tuk tuks, such a great way to travel in a hot, slow-traffic city) took us to Hua Lamphong station to reserve our tickets for the night train to the walled city of Chiang Mai in the North. The 19:35 train we wanted (which supposedly has the best views coming in to Chiang Mai) didn't have any seats next to each other but we managed to get tickets for the 18:10 one.

We then had half a day to kill before the train, but were feeling rather hot and bothered after a day of travelling, so instead of exploring the city and the markets we looked for a guesthouse for a few hours for a shower and a snooze. We'd both been to Bangkok before so figured this was a more productive use of our time. We found a place near the station, just a single bed and the communal sinks were lacking water, but the showers worked and so did the fan. Semi-refreshed, we had a meal at a convenient restaurant, then walked back over the road to the station where the train was waiting.

Sleeper train to Chiang Mai
We made stilted conversation with the Italian lady sharing our section of the train who claimed she had poor English but which was much better than our Italian. A couple of beers and a 'clink' to celebrate that section of our travels was language mutually understood anyway. When dark fell and the beds came down, Hazel and I finished the books we'd been reading on the plane, and swapped. We were asleep by 9:30, I woke frequently but slept very deeply, so every time I woke it felt like I'd had another 10 hours.

We awoke at 6 hoping to relish the mountain scenery much lauded by the travel website, we didn't want to miss any as this train was due to get in an hour earlier than the one we'd originally intended so the remaining views should be valued - as it happened we needn't have worried as it arrive an hour and a half late. The sun hadn't actually risen at 6 but soon there were misty valleys, hanging creepers and sand banks supporting the railway track, not the rocky mountainous land I'd anticipated but enough to absorb.

The Sculpture
We had breakfast in the restaurant carriage (comically named 'bogey'), and failed amusingly to make conversation with the cute French guy on the table next to us. In Chiang Mai we chose a songthaew (shared red-bus, more of a truck where you sit in the back) to take us to the accommodation we'd earmarked in the lonely planet. We completely failed to bargain a good price for the bus, but it's hardly worth trying as everything there is so cheap. Well, except the accommodation we were heading for, the 'Tamarind village' - which was like a luxury spa resort, very beautiful and appealing, and it's a good thing it was fully booked as we didn't notice the price until consulted the book again later on. The place we ended up in, the much more reasonably priced 'The Sculpture', was still rather plush, probably the nicest place we stayed in our trip. It had artwork on all the walls both internal and external, and our twin room with air-con still only cost under £15 a night (most places we stayed were £5-£10).
Turtle at Wat U-Mong
Tunnels at Wat U-Mong
Chedi at Wat U-Mong

Chicken at Wat U-Mong
Once checked in it was time to explore the city, as we'd only be here for one day as a stop on our way to the Bokeo jungle near Huay Xai in Laos - this was our real first destination but there was time for a little sighseeing on the way. After a fruit shake in town we took a tuk tuk to a temple out of town called Wat U-Mong. Here there were brick lined tunnels to explore, supposedly built in the 13th century to stop a clairvoyant monk wandering off into the bush, which were nice and cool on a hot day, especially on the feet since at temples and a lot of restaurants and guesthouses you're asked to take your shoes off. We wandered up to the Chedi (a Buddhist stupa / mound-like structure containing relics), then over to the lake where there was a giant turtle and a series of catfish hanging lazily in the water. We also took lots of photos of chickens, as they were wandering about everywhere looking colourful with adorable little chicks in cheeping tow. We contrasted Wat U-Mong with a couple of temples in town: Wat Chang Taem with its intricate decorated window shutters, the eastern temple of Wat Chedi Luang with its huge buddhas and Wat Phan Tao with its teak roof and offering jars.
 Wat Chang Taem
Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Phan Tao
Riverside restaurant in Chiang Mai
After this we returned to the Sculpture for a snooze, then took a tuk tuk to a lovely riverside restaurant also picked from the lonely planet where we sat on overlooking the Ping river and the lanterns of the lower decking and dock for the dinner boat. We really lucked out with this place - great view, friendly staff, great food where I chose my all-time Thai favourite a Massaman curry, and live music which, although Western based, contained some of my favourites with Simon and Garfunkel classics and a Jason Mraz track.
Boat across the Mekong
In the morning we took a taxi to a very normal looking bus which, over the course of a few hours, transported us to Chiang Khong and the Thailand / Laos land border (actually more of a water border). Here the queue to exit Thailand was short, and after passing we paid a negligable fee for the boat to carry us the short distance over the Mekong into the port border-town of Huay Xai, Laos.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

September 2011 - Walking - Munro review

 (Click the photos to enlarge).

I've just got back from another Munro trip to Scotland, to the east where the forecast was better. On the Saturday we did the six to the east of the Glenshee ski centre, and on the sunday we did the two above the Dalmunzie hotel. The last time I attempted the Glenshee eastern 6 the conditions were incredibly challenging - awkward iced turf and then thigh deep snow, strong winds, driving hail and a white-out on top, so we only managed one hill in I'm-not-sure-how-many hours. On this trip we managed all 6 in 8.5 hours. Sunday went pretty successfully too, although the predicted storm rolled in and we finished a little wet with an even wetter drive home through much standing water.

There isn't much to write about for these hills really, so instead I've decided to do a little review of the 63 Munros I've done so far. My ticking year runs from February to February (except year 1, which started in January) and I need to complete an average of 29 Munros a year to get them done before I'm 40 as planned. I'm well on track now, and I intended this to be my last trip of the year as over winter I plan to stay more local where the hills are less terrifying in winter conditions, which makes this effectively the end of year 2, so it seems an appropriate time to take stock of what I've done in that time. So in some kind of order of favouritism with my over-riding memories of each. I just want to add that the ordering has no bearing on the company, which was excellent at all times:

1 = Southern Cairngorms (Beinn Bhrotain, Monadh Mor, Braeriach, Sgorr an Lochain Uaine, Cairn Toul, The Devil's Point) 48km in 2 days.
This trip comes top because it's just a stunning area to walk in. I hadn't previously warmed to the Cairngorms (fnar...) probably because I associated it with winter trips which I never got my head round. My two climbing visits there were much enjoyable, but this was another level again. Approaching from the South gave it a new, more natural, feel (forested and no ski centre). Both Glen Dee and (inward route) Gleann Laoigh Bheag (outward route) are beautiful river valleys with turquiose waters and plenty of greenery, then the mountains are abrupt and dramatic. Sgorr and Lochain Uaine and the Devil's Point in-particular offer amazing viewpoints with steep drops below where you can sit down and drink in the situation, and the weather was stunning to match, one of only two times I've walked a Munro in shorts (well, trousers with zip off legs before I start sounding irresponsible). Unfortunately, for some reason my photos mostly show mist and snow. I also did my highest wild camp at that point at 880m.

Mini-planet of the Cuillin ridge
2 = Skye Cuillin (Sgurr nan Eag, Sgurr Dubh Mor, Sgurr Alasdair, Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, Sgurr Dearg, Sgurr na Banachdich, Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh, Sgurr a'Mhadaidh).
A big tick, although unfortunately not complete (although it's no hardship to go back!), and one I wanted to do before I forgot how to climb. Every Munro or Munro group has its own feel, but The Cuillin has a really distinctive one. It's not that remote, nor as serious as some reports would have you believe, and from various points you can see down to a town or boats or road, but no matter how close they are you feel a long way away metaphorically. The ridge is obvious, continuous and lilting, and that gives the impression of being a tangible thing, a special world, with the valley below being another world away.

Cloudless Ben Nevis summit
3 = Mamores (Mullach nan Coirean, Stob Ban, Sgurr a'Mhaim, Am Bodach, Stob Coire a'Chairn, An Gearanach, Na Gruaichean, Binnein Mor, Sgurr Eilde Mor, Binnein Beag) 34km in 2 days.
It's possibly telling that the long circuits are my favourites, but the weather has a lot to do with it to, although if the weather had been poor we would have cut down the circuit anyway. This was my most challenging trip in terms of distance, the last stretch along the road was excrutiating (at which point I would have cried if someone had suggested I do another Munro before I had recovered), but it was the most rewarding. The distance was less than the Cairngorms but there was 1.7 times as much ascent (2.5 Ben Nevisses). We were treated with lovely weather and views, just what you want on these hills. Stob Ban is probaby my favourite Munro to look at now, lovely aesthetic rounded white buttresses from the east.

The next three trips are difficult to put in order.

4 = Torridon (Sgorr Ruadh, Beinn Liath Mhor)
'Sea fire'
The most well known hills in Torridon are Liathach, Beinn Alligin and Beinn Eighe, and with due cause, as they dominate the view and rise straight from sea level, looking knife edge, rocky and inpenetrable. These two to the South don't really get a mention and aren't visible from the road, but they're aesthetic too, the former steep and stony and the latter more rounded and craggy, the terrain on both exposed but amenable. Their other appeal is that from them you get amazing views, north to the big trio, west over to Skye and the ocean beyond, and South to a mass of other peaks. I remember standing on the top of Beinn Liath Mhor as the sun was setting, turning round to see every part of the 360 degree view, before reluctantly descending as far as our wild camp, from where we also watched the dawn. The weather when I did these was unbelievable for Scotland, sunshine the whole way and shorts to match. We still managed to head up the wrong hill first, but until you're on the upper levels it isn't too clear which lump is which.

4 = Ben Nevis & Carn Mor Dearg
Tower Ridge has been on my wishlist for ages as it's a 'through route' (i.e. in the course of the route you pass through a fully enclosed hole). When I stopped climbing my list became somewhat abandoned, but I knew I'd probably still do Tower Ridge as I could tick Ben Nevis by that route. I was very keen to link it to the CMD arete, as I'd seen it from the top of Aonach Mor (a Munro I have yet to walk up, rather than ride up!) and loved the aesthetics of its Northern backbone. I didn't realise that the actual CMD arete was the other side of the summit, but it's no fun knowing it all before you go. My memories of this trip, were that the weather was poor with no views but it didn't affect the enjoyment; Tower Ridge was pleasingly non-terrifying; and the summit plateau was wonderfully eerie, with its sudden mass of people passing in every which direction and artefacts such as ruins, memorials, elevated trig points and shelters rising out of the mist.

SE Top of Meall nan Tarmachan
4 = Tarmachan Ridge (Meall nan Tarmachan)
The Tarmachan Ridge only contains one Munro but it's best done in its entirety as the 5 tops all have their own character and distinctive shapes. They were all the more beautiful cloaked in a layer of frost. There was a real camaraderie amongst the various groups of walkers as they passed on the message to avoid a particularly icy descent, although I'm sure they all thought I'd fallen to my death as I let out a might scream when a fat mouse ran out from behind a rock I was stood on, which echoed around all the peaks.

Crazy bridge on the walk in to Culra bothy (Ben Alder group)
7 = Ben Alder group (Geal-Charn, Aonach Beag, Beinn Eibhinn, Carn Dearg, Ben Alder, Beinn Bheoil)
This is a series of nice steep, shapely hills. It was my first big trip, and was quite an undertaking although didn't seem so as everything went to plan. Smooth journey up on a Friday afternoon and a cycle in to Culra bothy, 4 Munros the first day, 2 the next (we could have linked them together in one big day - you actually cover a lot more distance splitting it up - but you learn as you go), then cycle out and drive home early on Monday. I had expected to go on my own but found a partner last minute. The reason this is fairly high up in my list is was the first time that I knew that Munro bagging was for me - on the Sunday morning I awoke with an array of aches and pains and the weather wasn't exactly encouraging, but I didn't have a doubt that I wanted to stick to the plan - something I never experienced with rock climbing. It's a shame the cloud (and rain with it) was down each morning as I think the trip could have been a lot more memorable (and more deserving of this position in the list) with the potential views, but this is Scotland after all! I also encountered my first crazy bridge, there seems to a mental river crossing on each Munro trip.

It's VERY hard to order the next 11. After deciding on an ordering I notice rain features highly in 6 of the bottom 7.
Cloud inversion from Ben Chronzie

8 = Ben Chronzie
This was my first Munro in January 2008, and it was so amenable that despite a reasonable covering of snow we didn't need to don our crampons. It's billed as a boring hill, but it was pretty with ice encrusted fence posts and cairns, and we had crisp, clear views to the Ben Lawers groups and beyond to Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor. Plus we saw many mountain hares on the way back down.

Beautiful sunrise taken with iPhone
8 = Beinn Narnain & Beinn Ime
I did these two in winter and was almost out of my comfort zone. They weren't too hard, but although I have a little winter experience I don't have much winter confidence as I don't enjoy it much for the sake of it (only because it's still Munro bagging) so on the crux of this route I really could have done with a helmet and rope. Still, it worked, and although I had to leave my partner lagging behind I managed to run up and back the second Munro within the available time. More importantly, we saw the most amazing pink sunrise on the walk in.

8 = Carn Mairg group (Carn Gorm, Meall Garbh, Carn Mairg, Meall na Aighean)
This was a nice, complete day, pleasant in its average-ness - the hills neither boring nor awesome, the terrain was varied, and it makes a good circular route. It wasn't overly taxing in terms of distance, but given the available daylight in November we had to get a shift on.

8 = Ben Vorlich
I'm not sure why I have tweaked this above the others. I'm not sure my memories are representative of how I felt at the time! There was a whiteout and a bit of a blizzard, and I completely failed to manage the descent over to Stuc a'Chroin so had to send half our party on ahead as they were moving faster. Nevertheless, looking back I enjoyed it, perhaps because it was new to me (my second Munro) and I felt quite empowered - I didn't meet the challenge but I learnt what the challenge WAS (even if I then decided I preferred to walk in summer). The ridge up Ben Vorlich is quite a striking feature too, especially looking at it on the aproach, covered in snow with people glissading down it.

8 = Dalmunzie (Glas Tulaichean & Carn an Righ)
There is no real reason this one comes next. It's only because it's the one I did yesterday, and the wind blasting we got on the top of Carn an Righ made me feel really alive and I'm still buoyed up by it. And the finishing cake and hot chocolate in the Dalmunzie hotel afterwards was a suitable congratulation after a damp finish.

8 = Glenshee western 3 (The Cairnwell, Carn a'Gheoidh, Carn Aosda)
These is billed as the easiest circuit of three you can do as you start fairly high up and there isn't much ascent after the first summit. The wind had been forecast to be rather intense, but the direction wasn't quite as predicted so were were hit by it on the first hill but avoided it on the second and third. The descent was very rapid, the snow was such that we could run down and we made it to the ski centre in time for a hot chocolate. I did a few Munros in the snow in the winter of 2010/2011, not because I wanted to (I'd previously decided I'd tried winter climbing enough to learn I didn't like it, then ended up donning crampons and an axe more than ever before), but because I'd had a few cancelled trips during the summer and was quite short of my target. I still didn't quite hit it, but more than made up for it this summer.

8 = Loch Monar (Bidein a'Choire Sheasgaich, Lugh Mhor)
The Bridge of Instability
These are by far the most remote hills I've done. We walked for three days - one to a bothy, one over the Munros, and one back to the car - and saw one other party on the hill, two single houses. Ben Alder was a similar outline but Culra bothy was packed to the rafters, we were the only ones at Bearnais, identified with previous explorers via a visitors book reporting a wild moose. The weather was dreadful nearly the whole time, first we were blown over and then we were soaked from all angles, but we were treated to a beautiful double rainbow as a reward. We would have done an extra day over 2 or 3 more Munros, but the warning of lightning and horizontal hail sent us walking sodden homewards, back over the (cable) Bridge of Instability. Changing into jeans felt surreal, as if I'd been away for a lifetime rather than just a weekend. The sun came out just before we got back to the car, and we drove home under clear blue skies. Most odd.

8 = Glenshee eastern 6 (Carn an Tuirc, Carn of Claise, Tom Buidhe, Tolmount, Glas Maol, Creag Leachach)
My first, abortive attempt at these hills was memorable due to the inclemency of the weather (wind, sleet, low cloud - we got it all). The second attempt was successful. Not perfect, as we accidentally took in Tolmount and Tom Buidhe in the wrong order despite having faultless visibility, but it wasn't a drama. The hills themselves aren't very distinctive, but it was a productive day and we could see up to the Cairngorms, and we saw more hares that I've seen on any hill before.

8 = Ben More & Stobb Binnein
Ben More was steep and relentless but I enjoyed that kind of thing, feel like I'm really working.

8 = Rannoch Mor (Beinn a'Chreachain, Beinn Achaladair, Beinn Mhanach)
This was another rather damp day but satisfyingly arduous.

8 = Beinn Dubhchraig
Another winter walk that was cut short, but useful for confidence building. We ascended via the North East shoulder which was mixed terrain and quite hard going. We descended straight down the corrie bowl once we established the avalanche risk was acceptable.

19 = An Socach
The peak was a little boring, the weather was very damp, and I don't remember much about it at all!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

August 2011 - Walking - Public transport antics and Mamore magic

It's a long write-up (as usual), but it's a report for me as much as anybody so I have a full account of what I've been up to, and it may be of interest to reader that want a little more detail than is usually found online! Click the photos to enlarge, the full set can be found at


I don't recall why I decided it was time to do the Mamores, possibly because it seemed like a suitably arduous achievement to fit into a bank holiday weekend. I do know that I thought my friend Vicky might be a suitable partner as we discovered at Easter that we're pretty equally matched in terms of stamina and speed both up and downhill, and I thought she might not have done the Mamores yet living over in Aberdeen. It turns out she's already done two of them, but didn't mind doing them again and having a go at the whole circuit, as per this link. She also pointed me in the direction of Megabus with the help of which I managed to plot an entire round trip including a bit of beautiful train line, for only £56 (and it is possible to do it cheaper still), compared to £120 or thereabouts by car.

On the morning of Friday 26th August I packed, dealt with the garden and chickens, and drove over to Stoke all to a finely tuned schedule, and still managed to have to run for the train just catching the one later than planned, which I would also have missed if it wasn't running late. Thankfully a swift walk across Manchester with my various bags saw me on time for my Megabus at 12:40. There was a bit of chaos when it came to actually boarding the bus, but I manage to squeeze onto the front bus that was going direct to Glasgow, rather than the one that was stopping on route. The guy taking tickets assured me the coach had all mod cons, and it wasn't until we were about to pull away that the driver informed me the brand new toilet was out of action as someone had managed to lock the handle before closing the door. I was dismayed as I quite needed it after all my dashing about, but the driver was a nice chap and we made a stop at a service station up the motorway so those of us with weak bladders could run in and out. Nice, but not a push over as he (quite righly) chided the passengers who didn't re-board the bus after the alloted 5-10 minutes, which I was pleased about as I only had an hour in Glasgow to make my train connection. The next area of excitement was a 3 hour traffic jam near Carlisle. Thanks to phone calls, maps, iphones, and some banter, we took a couple of detours and after a bit of traffic but nothing like 3 hours of delay we were flying Northwards again. The coach journey felt like something out of a film, I got to know a couple of my fellow passengers and the drivers, and it felt like a little community on there everyone rallying together to get us to Glasgow on time, I'd happily travel to Scotland that way again in future.
Damp start but high spirits

At Glasgow I walked the short distance to Queen Street station and found they hadn't even put up the platform number yet, so I treated myself to Burger King and got chatted to a cyclist who it turned out had the seat opposite me on the train. I had been looking forward to taking this journey, part of the whole point of planning the trip the way I had, as it would give a different perspective of the mountains. It's a shame darkness had fallen by the time we diverted from the road and went across the wilderness of Rannoch Mor (my planning had various holes in it) but for the bits I did see it was nice to share it with someone who also had a passion for the outdoors. I'm keen to re-do that part of the journey another time and extend it to enjoy the Fort William to Mallaig section, which is meant to be one of the most beautiful train journeys you can do in the UK. The long journey becomes a lot less tedious if it becomes part of the adventure. I noticed quite late on that the train went through Roy Bridge, where we were staying for the night, before it got to Fort William, and I managed to get hold of Vicky just in time to divert her to meet me there instead. That saved us about 40 minutes which we made the most of by having a pint in the Stronlossit Inn, before retiring for a not-so-early night.


Ridge from Stob Ban towards Sgorr an Iubhair 
Path to Stob Ban
We managed about 6 1/2 hours sleep before our alarms went off at 6am. We had a quick breakfast and packed and were out of the hut by 7:10, drove round to Glen Nevis, and started walking by 7:45. The day was looking overcast and discouraging and it promptly started raining, but we donned waterproofs and pressed on regardless. I had a couple of minor issues, my right achilles was complaining whenever the ground got steep, and I seemed to have acquired a minor sprain in my right wrist, but I assessed them and decided that neither were critical, and although they didn't improve much over the weekend they didn't get much worse either. We walked up through a felled forest, then up onto the ridge of Mullach nan Coirean. We were getting pretty toasty with all the uphill exertion so stripped off the waterproofs but thankfully it seemed to have stopped raining, we could even see above half of Ben Nevis behind us with a patchwork of small fluffy clouds over it. The longer we walked, the nicer the weather seemed to become. The clouds, where they weren't fluffy, were like a light lace shroud being wafted up and down over the summits, occasionally giving you views and keeping you guessing the rest of the time. There was something odd about the moments of visibility too - they seemed to happen just after we'd looked at the map or directions and worked out which direction we were heading in next, almost as if the weather was rewarding us for our navigation skills, and showing us we were right before we actually started onwards. At one point we felt a bit of warmth and looked up to see a hazy yellow disk burning a hole in the clouds until the sun appeared for real.

Stob Ban (left) from Lochan Coire nam Miseach 
We took a photo at the first summit and continued, on towards the aesthetic hill of Stob Ban. The rock changes noticeably from red granite to pale grey quartzite between these two and the path and ridges become more defined. Near the summit we were passed by two friendly RAF lads doing the Ramsay round who we had a chat with when we all paused at the cairn for a quick bite to eat. They headed on first and we followed a little later, only we hadnít gone very far when I noticed the way ahead was descending to the valley floor. A quick halt and a check of the route description told us weíd missed a turning, so we turned round and walked the other way a little so we could take stock of our bearings. Something about doing that made the entire world flip 180 degrees in my head, and itís quite an odd sensation not being able to marry up a single item between the view and the map. Suddenly the reality dawned on my, just as Vicky pointed out we were facing the way weíd come up, and I righted myself ñ weíd been going the correct way in the first place, just forgot to hook a sharp left down a shapely ridge that in fact Iíd already paused to take a photo of! After a little way we dropped off the ridge and descended gradually to lochan coire nam miseach, then zigzagged up the other side, dumping our bags at the top so we could travel lightly out and back along the spur of the Devil's Ridge. This is billed as both exposed and scrambly - we found it neither, but nevertheless it was lovely, a flat path on a pointed ridge, which crosses over a couple of rocky bits then ascends steeply up the grass flanks of Sgurr a' Mhaim. The views now were becoming more impressive, with the shapely peak of Stob Ban above the green lochan the most dominant.

Munros ahead from the Devil's Ridge. Sgorr an Iubhair (ex Munro on right), Am Bodach (pointy one against sky), Stob Coire a' Chairn (pointy one against black), An Gearanach (left), Na Gruagaichean (black peaks back right) and Binnien Mor (black peak back left)
Vicky against the backdrop of the Devil's Ridge
Back at the bags we had a quick lunch, then summited Sgorr Iubhair which used to be a Munro but got demoted in 1997. The short stretch over to Am Bodach was pretty straighforward. At the top rain threatened again, and a chap that was travelling in the other direction looked a little harried after the ascent he'd just done that we were about to go down, saying it would be even worse in the wet, so we were a little nervous about it. It was actually completely fine, the ground was steep but it wasn't overly loose, foot placements were flat and on an obvious path and there were always things to hold on to. After this little blip in the weather we had the best weather so far, blue skies with puffy clouds passing over the summits, some appearing to emanated straight from the Ben Nevis summit, and elsewhere suns rays picking out various features on the hills' flanks and on the valley floor. I'm not sure that I appreciated them enough as I'd just realised that I'd mis-counted and we'd only done 4 Munros not 5, so I was feeling a bit dejected. Thankfully though it wasn't far to Stob Coire a' Chairn, which was the real number 5 and I perked up a bit.

Clouds over Ben Nevis
Steep but reasonable descent off Am Bodach
Next up was the second spur out to An Gearanach via An Garbhanach. This was also billed as being scrambly, and this time it was. From afar it looked reasonably tricky but as we neared we noticed a path up the side of rocky triangle outlining the initial ascent up. The path then continued along the righthandside of the crest, but we followed the rocks in the purest line straight along the needle edge of the crest, which was reminscent of the Cuillin with its pointed rocks which sloped away to either side. After An Garbhanach the terrain was grassy again, and took us onto our sixth summit of the route, we were really making progress now. The route description said this was an excellent viewpoint so we rested for a minute or two to take in our surroundings, Ben Nevis right in front of us. We returned directly along the path for the sake of speed, starting to become aware of the time, we no longer had seemingly endless daylight to play with.

An Garbhanach (front) and An Gearanach (back)
Scrambling on An Garbhanach
Back at the bags we sat for a little more food and to come up with a plan. The route here contoured round Stob Coire a' Chairn that we'd already done, rose just a little and rejoined the ridge heading to Na Gruagaichean. This section was about 1km so we decided to time it to see what kind of speed we were currently walking at. Then we'd know what we could achieve in the remaining daylight. It took us 35 minutes from 6pm to 6:35, rather slow, but it wasn't exactly representative as first we'd had to find the path, and then I'd stopped to fill my waterbottle up in the stream - it's very unusual for me to run out of water, especially when the amount I was carrying normally lasts me a full weekend, but it had been a hot day. Ideally we'd hoped to manage 8 Munros and camp down by Coire an Lochain but this was now looking a bit ambituous. That aim was more so that we could make the most of the better weather and have less to do in the forecasted rain the next day, rather than because we actually needed to split it up that way to achieve the full set, so it didn't matter if we camped elsewhere. We picked out a couple of other options from the map, all places with the necessary running water for cooking. We eliminated the coire bowl to the north of Na Gruagaichean as it was directly in the wind, and instead decided to bag that summit, head past it to the bealach then drop down to the South to the streams there. And this we did, despite the weather worsening - the wind was picking up and the rain forced us to stop to don waterproofs again. We practically flew over Na Gruagaichean's top and the summit itself. Between the two there was a little unpleasant ground across a little notch - steep and loose - but it was soon over. As we scrambled up the last bit of ascent, zigzagging up boulders on an indistinct path, the light was noticeably fading and I was panicking a little. I was encouraging Vicky to move faster as time was against us and was aghast when at the summit she said she was hungry and wanted to stop to make a sandwich. I plied her full of dried apricots which I had to hand and after the essential photo I shood her off down the crest towards the bealach. The path down looked fine and the rain had lifted again, but our intended camping spot was still hidden behind out of sight and I didn't feel I could relax until I knew the terrain. As we descended there was a beautiful sight to my left. The area was darkening except for a single, wide, bold, orange sunbeam passing from the northern flank of Na Griagaichan in a gradual diagonal down to the ground. It was so long you had to move your head to see the whole thing. There wasn't time to stop and take a photo so I committed it to memory and I think the sight is now permanently ingrained in my head, not something I'll not forget for a while!

Catching breath on An Gearanach, Grey Corries in background
 Munro no.  6 An Gearanach in front of Ben Nevis
We reached the bealach thankfully quickly as the path was good, and there on our right we could see, as hoped, some flat ground with a couple of streams, and also a little lochan. My spirits lifted, then I relaxed almost entirely when we were looking for a nice way to descend and Vicky spotted a zigzag path taking us down. The last of the light seemed to linger and we actually had plenty of time to pitch the tent exactly 12 hours after setting off, and start cooking. The highs and lows continued though, as the rain started for real causing us to huddle with the stove in the not-very-sheltered open porch, and the dinner was disgusting. So disgusting that it turned Vicky's stomach and she was poorly for a few hours. We kind of took it all in our stride though, as you don't really have much choice in that situation. Vicky eventually managed to crawl into bed, and eventually we both managed to fall asleep, although I keep waking with an unexplained pain below my right knee - it seems I'd bumped it earlier in the day and it didn't like lying down. Despite finding a sheltered spot to camp the wind must have turned because occasionally a significant gust shook the tent. It held up surprisingly well though considering how lightweight it is, and we remained in relative comfort.
Sun beam into Kinlochleven
Wild camp


Munro no. 8 Binnein Mor
We had plenty of hours in the tent but it wasn't all relaxing so we didn't make a particularly early start. We started rising at around 7, and didn't start walking until 8:45. My knee was causing me a little trouble but eased off after some ibuprofen. First stop was Binnein Mor's south top, then the rocky path to the main summit. Binnein Mor is the highest Mamore but there isn't actually much height gain to it as you're already pretty high. Still, it seemed to take forever to get to, but thankfully much quicker to return from. As we conginued to Sgurr Eilde Beag, Sgurr Eilde Mor's south west top, we noticed that the mist was lifting and the day proved to be better than we'd expected, although it was cool enough and damp enough that we left our waterproofs on all day.

On the scree up Sgurr Eilde Mor 
Where I got blown over on Sgurr Eilde Mor
The route description we were following said to descend this top direct, down the steep rib to the lochan below, but I had a go at the start of it twice and really didn't like it - it was steep, loose and there wasn't anything to hold on to. Of course Vicky just waltzed down it, but I called her back and we decided to take an easier but longer descent, a sweeping path that also led to the lochan. I felt a bit uncomfortable about having avoided that descent, as I previously believed that I can manage any summer walker's ascent of a Scottish mountain (it's a whole different thing in winter, even an easy slope can stop me in my tracks, even with crampons on), but I consoled myself by reminding myself that this is only one man's suggestion and not an accepted route. Sgurr Eilde Mor proved to be reasonably challenging mountain. We followed a path that zigzagged up from the lochan, taking us first over scree on a reasonable path, then up steepening red dirt and pebbles to a high ridge. It was never certain whether we had enough purchase on the gravel to move up more than we moved down, and I wasn't looking foward to coming back down it afterwards. I was pleased when we reached the rocky path on the final narrow ridge to the summit, but the wind had picked up even more and was gusting across us. I had a real heart in mouth moment when I was blown off the side of the path and fell backwards over the rocks. It was a real out of control moment where I knew I was at the mercy of fate. As I was falling I remember spotting a particular rock that I thought I could grab hold of to stop me falling off the back of the mountain, but thankfully I stopped before needing to grab it. I held on to steady myself before standing up, and flashed Vicky a look of stunned, terrified relief. We carried on carefully up and back down, not stopping at the summit except for the obligatory photo. The descent of the loose ground was actually way better than expected, and easier than the ascent had been. The wind was blowing into our faces and kept us upright, which made us feel a lot more stable. Also I employed a technique I'd learnt on the descent down An Dorus on the Cuillin Ridge, of keeping my back and body upright and straight, and driving my heels into the loose ground on each step. For the first time ever I felt like I'd improved at going down hills, something I've always been slow at, as I experienced the new sensation of placing a second foot while the first was still moving, usually I won't move a foot until the one I've just placed is solid.

The descent I didn't do and Coire an Lochain
Munro no. 10 Binnein Beag
We branched off the path just before the lochan and took a shortcut over to the good path which lead round the flanks of Binnein Mor and over to the little lochan in the col between that and Binnein Beag. This was easy going and was a welcome relief, and I felt like we were on the path home now, even though we still had one Munro left to bag. Binnein Beag is the smallest Munro on the route but you start from quite low so it has the second most ascent on the circuit. We followed a path all the way up though, which made the passage through the boulders trivial. It wasn't the most obvious of paths but I seemed to have a sixth sense in finding it, a subconscious assessment off logical line, lighter rocks with signs of wear, different kind of rocks imported in or moved and levelled ground on scree, all observations made experience in the hills. The descent after summitting was rather exciting though. Straight down the west rib, which looked, and was, just a loose red gully. At one point it steepend more but Vicky led us left down grassy ledges and we reached the plateau to a tiny lochan. From here we tramped the heathery, boggy ground north west for some distance to the Water of Nevis, thanfully not stranding ourselves on any of the small rocky cliffs that were scattered about along the edge of the river. We looked for a crossing point, first going upstream then deciding to follow some trodden ground downsteam a bit. This led us to a shallower section and we waded across. Amazingly I only received a tiny trickly of water down each boot, probably because I was still wearing my waterproof trousers which created a seal, I'd expected to get totally swamped.

Overjoyed to be back at the car
Crossing the Water of Nevis
Following the Water of Nevis the views were quite varied so that kept us entertained but it still seemed to take an age just to reach the Steall bridge. We started to encounter other people so we knew we were nearing civilisation again, but perhaps due to the harder ground my feet were starting to hurt and the going was getting tough. As we walked along the tourist track past the pretty cascades of Glen Nevis that I'd last seen in the snow 5 years ago the achilles of my right leg, blister on my left instep, and squashed heels of both feet were vying for the title of most painful injury. There was then nearly 3km of road which I just knew would go on forever. I stuck my thumb out whenever a car past but nobody seemed inclined to stop so we accepted our fate and trudged along, struggling to speak. As we travelled I reflected that it was only experience that told me I would do another Munro, because at that precise moment it wasn't a concept I could even consider, I was all Munro-ed out. We'd done 10 Munros and 7 Tops over 22 hours with a wild camp, covering 34km with 2.5x Ben Nevisses in ascent (3400m). Desperation made me pick up the pace, and finally the car suddenly appeared closer than I'd expected, and 9:45 after setting off. With deep joy I pulled off my boots, to find, with less joy, the soles of my feet were white, wrinkly and hard - the onset of trenchfoot? Who knows. A baby wipe and some clean socks and they started to feel better already. We drove back to Aberdeen via Aviemore where we stopped off at an Australian restaurant, where Vicky had an American dish and I had a Chinese one. Very Scottish. Then we snatched a few hours kip at Vicky's before she took me to the bus station for 7am. I slept for the first half, pretty soundly considering the transport, then a nice lad from Bangladesh sat next to me and offered me a headphone so I could watch 'Seven Years in Tibet' with him. I gratefully accepted and was in Manchester before I knew it. I didn't have to rush this time, so sat down for a pizza before I boarded my train. The walk back to my car at the other end was uphill and difficult and I was dying for a wee, so I experienced all kinds of relief when I got home, and the chickens seemed to be getting on better too! A memorable trip, for sure.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

July 2011 - Walking/Climbing - Ben Nevis

Skimming stones behind the CC hut
This trip was many things to me. It was the highest Munro, not to mention the highest mountain in the UK (Ben Nevis); it was a route that has been on my wishlist for ages not least because it counts as a through route, i.e. going through a fully enclosed hole (Tower Ridge); it was the neighbouring Munro that I'd wanted to do since I saw its aesthetic profile when I stood on top of Aonach Mor in winter a few years ago (Carn Mor Dearg arete), it was a trip with two friends I no longer see as often as I'd like to, and it was another step closer in achieving my aim of ticking all the Munros before I'm 40. Simon and Claire arrived at mine on the Friday evening, and we enjoyed some of my home-made alcohol beverages and discussed the route. On Saturday morning I attempted to prep us for the long drive with butcher's bacon and home-made tiger bread, then we began the drive up to Fort William. We arrived at a reasonable time, did a bit of shopping, moved up to the hut at Roy Bridge, Si and Claire whipped us up a tasty curry, then we had a wander along the river, and were in bed by 9 without getting too badly devoured by midges.

Things had gone well so far, but that was the easy bit. Sunday morning started early, but inauspiciously. We woke just after 5, and got to the Nevis Range ski centre car park to find I'd left my hiking socks in the hut. Secondly, we had the Climbers' Club key for the forest gate and higher car park, but according to a chap in the hut the foresty commission had changed the locks the previous week without letting the Climbers' Cub know, and on top of that we couldn't even get to the gate to check as we found there was a motorbike world championships being held in the Leanachan forest and their fences in the car park were blocking access to the forest track. Thirdly, while we were considering these problems some night security came over and told us only event VIPs could park in the car park, although as it was so early there were no staff there that knew where we *could* park. Also, despite the weather having been nice all week by all accounts, today the forecast was for showers and low cloud, and sure enough it was pretty overcast with a certain amount of dampness in the air. Nevertheless, none of these things were enough to cause us to change our plans, so we went back to the hut for me to pick up some more socks (I later found the others had rolled under the bed), and parked in the North Face car park instead. We began our walk in at 7 to 7, at first steeply through the forest then a more relaxed ascent up the banks of the Allt a' Mhuilinn to the CIC hut (altitude 680m), which we reached after an hour an a half. It was a little surreal to pass a 'digging in progress' sign along with two wheelbarrows and the digger itself under the cliffs of Ben Nevis 5km from the road, but it seems they are improving the path by the hut. Another half an hour later and we were at the start of the route.

We decided to miss out the Douglas boulder to save time, and went round the back via East Gully instead. I went first, and followed a little path which first went up easy grass and rock, and then steepened up a loose, muddy scree gully. I steadily picked my way up not yet sure of the friction on this terrain, at times having to bridge on holds that weren't quite big enough to inspire confidence in big boots, and holding onto rock that was clearly not well attached. I found it unpleasantly loose and was fervently hoping the rest of the route would not be like this. This gully took us to the Douglas gap, from which an open chimney left up onto the ridge proper. Claire took over here and carefully explored the holds and made progress up to safety. Thankfully the rock here was much more solid, but this meant we had to start from scratch 'finding our feet'. It was pretty steep, and I was glad that Claire could remember the moves she'd just made and pass the knowledge on to me to aid my upwards progress. We didn't get a rope out, but made a mental note not to feel ashamed to request one if we met another such obstable.

North Face of Ben Nevis
The information we had with us said that the next section was easy going, and indeed it was, and we made fairly rapid progress. Claire carried on picking the way upwards, and at some point I took over being in front. The scrambling was luxurious and despite the complete lack of views due to the lowe cloud I was really enjoying the gorilla like movement over the rock now. We kept our eye out for the Little Tower, which one description said was inconspicuous but another had some advice on how to tackle. We reach a little steeping that may have been it, but couldn't work out the advised approach of starting on the left and trending right up an awkward ramp to a corner, so instead took it straight on which was given as an alternative, since this way seemed worn and was marked with crampon scratches. I decided to be brave and stay in the lead, despite my climbing skills have falled into disuse, and although a little harder than the previous section it was never hard or scary and still fun.

This easy section of the ridge seemed to go on forwever, but after eventually we reached an area where the crampon scratches ran out, and there were several options, none of which seeming that likely. The left hand flank seemed most amenable so I tried a couple of grooves but although each led up a little, the slab above them looked like it would repel further progress. Claire retreated a metre or two and found a stepped groove that I'd missed, so we went up that. Then came an akward bit on a par with the earlier chimney, and decided that this was probably the Little Tower, as a ramp led righwards. Claire teetered across it, and gave us some feedback, before pulling stylishly over a steep block onto easier ground again. I approached the ramp in a different way, staying lower so that I was more in balance and not pushed backwards by my rucksack. That bit was okay, but I didn't like the feel of the move over the block so remembered my previous mental note about gear, and got Claire to pass me down a couple of slings that I attached to myself for safety for that one move, which I then made much more happily. I'm well aware that slings don't have any 'give' and if you fall on them you can generate a lot of force, both on your body and on the sling and rock, but in this situation the speed advantage overweighed all that, all that was needed was a little backup.

We carried on on more easier ground, until we reach the unmistakeable Great Tower, a vertical wall which could have been climbed but was of a quite different level of difficulty to the route so far. We had been expecting to summit the Great Tower direct since the route description had said to climb to its 'very ramparts', but reading further we realised that we were already at the ramparts, and it was here that the Eastern Traverse led off to the left to avoid this difficulty. Claire spotted the traverse and it was reassuringly wide, albeit in a fantastic position on the edge of the cliff and I'm sure it would be vertigo-inducing for many. At about this point some eerie whoops and cheers reached us through the mist, other people on the mountain somewhere, and we whooped back. The Eastern Traverse led us straight to the tunnel, which was my 'through route' section, and I dived eagerly ahead to thrutch myself up the inside of the fallen block and out of the hole at the top. It wasn't greasy as one description had warned, just fabulous. With the other two still engaged in this bit, I explored the next section which was described as steep with good holds. Steep it was, climbing the broken left wall of the Great Tower with triangular blocks jutting out so your body was always pushed outwards even if your hands and feet were in the niches above and below. It was reasonably okay though, no need for a rope although I did thread a sling through a hole and attach it to myself while I figured out the steepest move, and then all three of us were at the cairn on the tower.

We knew we were nearing the summit now, but still had to face the infamous Tower Gap, and were feeling a little jittery at the prospect. We first paused off the back of the Great Tower for a replenishing snack, then it was Simon's turn to be the intrepid explorer at the front so we sent him off across the next obstacle - between the Great Tower and Tower Gap the ridge narrows into a metre wide gendarme with vertical sides dropping into gullies that lead down to the coire floors. This bit in itself is particularly memorable, carefully sliding on your bum over the gendarme which a kind of rock gangway, the exposure from the sheer drops each side causing you to shrink down onto the rock and pray for high friction to hold you there. Simon investigated Tower Gap at the end of the ledge while Claire and I waited on it, enjoying the situation at the same time as trying not to think about it too much. There was already a rope in situ so Si clipped in to it, but there was a bit of a delay before he actually descended. From my vantage point I coudn't see what was going on, I just knew I was getting a little chilly and also a little damp as it had started to drizzle, but when I arrived I saw that someone had tied a knot in the rope to bring the two strands together. This knot was half way down the gap, so the rope wasn't actually much use as an abseil rope until you'd actually managed to lower yourself down to the bottom of the gap. Simon threw himself valiantly down it, and climbed skillfully up the other side, using the ab rope as protection although the higher he got the more horizontal it became - thankfully the difficulty eased with the height. Claire followed, then me, and I accepted the rope Si threw over to me, so I had direct assistance from above. Then we stowed the gear for the final section.

The refuge at the summit
The ramp leading away from Tower Gap was much easier than it looked from below although Claire wasn't keen on one of the moves - we were all a bit wobbly after the pause and confusion of Tower Gap and the odd rope work. Even after climbing up the other side I was worrying about the bit in the description noted as a 'final steepening' with no mention as to whether it was hard or easy. As it turned out it was barely noticeable, and suddenly we found ourselves standing on the summit plateau, an unexpected situation after being so absorbed by the route for so long. The mist still brought visibility down to around a hundred metres, but we could hear all manner of noises up ahead. Captivated, I gingerly stalked onwards while the other two sorted something out behind me, until the view cleared a little and I could see ghostly figures passing in either direction in front of me - we had reached the tourist path leading up from the right to the summit on the left, and there was a steady flow of people ascending by that route. In no time at all we'd joined the masses and covered the last couple of hundred metres across the plateau to the summit, and were standing there amist the sodden walkers and climbers, the ruins of the observatory, a war memorial, a trig point, a wooden roofed steel-box refuge, and a number of cairns, each artefact appearing out of the mist as the other faded in to it.

It was the first time up here for all three of us and we sat and had some food and drink. We'd made good time, 2 hours for the walk in and 5 hours on the route, and it was now 2pm, meaning we had time to descend by the CMD arete as planned.

We set off on a bearing, but then I made a brief error and led us over to the wrong shoulder, forgetting there were two. I soon realised my mistake and we backtracked 100 yards or so and found the path down the correct shoulder. We zig zagged down steeply for a good way, and had our moment of vindication when we found a levelling along with the the pole marking the escape route down Coire Leis, showing we were in the right place. There was also a feature that looked like a large rock chalice, which turned out to be a series of abseil posts, marking another descent option. Our route carried on ahead, with the flanks steepening again into the CMD arete. We followed the path along the back of it instead of scrambling along the crest, for speed's sake and because we'd already put in a good deal of toil on the way up so didn't need the extra difficulty at this point. There were still no views, and the rain that had started at Tower Gap had not stopped, so we were plodding along in waterproofs. It was a little disheartening having to walk with poor weather and no visual rewards, but at least it had held off while we were climbing. I personally was still enjoying the terrain, and imagining what a stunning situation it must be on a good day. The ridge curved round to the North and it didn't seem too long until we were only 1km from the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, and then 200m. Then a short hop along to the subsiduary top, then all that was left was the epically long path that descended mercilessly slowly to the Allt a' Mhuilinn.

We'd expected to descend fairly steeply back down to the valley floor, but the path we picked up seemed to be heading in pretty much the correct direction albeit staying high, so we followed it deciding it would be quicker than going off track. At points we thought it would never descend nor converge with the Allt a' Mhuillin path, but eventually we saw over a rib and were reassured that it would. As we came down out of the clouds we started to get a couple of views. Unfortunately by this point Tower Ridge was out of sight, but we saw the western part of the North Face, and round to Lochan Meall an t'Suidhe and beyond to Loch Linnhe. The rain stopped too, meaning we could take off our waterproofs, which was good as it was getting steadily warmer the lower we got. There was also a brilliant moment where I observed that we hadn't seen much wildlife except for the odd little brown bird, and added that I nearly always see Ptarmigan on Scottish hills… then as if by magic, just as we passed a bump on the path we stumbled over the largest flock of them I've ever seen, and they ran around for a bit before flying away, flashing white under their camouflaged grey backs. We saw some deer in the distance too, the other essential tick.

When we finally reached the Allt a' Mhuillin we wished we were still up on the flanks as it was pretty midgy, but thankfully that didn't last too long as it started drizzling again which kept them away - we weren't complaining this time. The path back along the river then through the forest began to drag, our feet were aching and our knees were sore. We didn't quite make it within 12 hours, but we reached the car at 7 past 7 having left at 7 to 7, and 12:15 isn't bad at all for such a long day out: 14km and 1480m total ascent with a fair amount of scrambling. The question is whether to go back and do it again on a fairer day, there are so many other Munros still to do but I think it would be worth it!