As 2011 draws to a close and the weather is wild and windy outside, I thought it a good opportunity to browse back through the reports and photos from my trips out in the Scottish hills over the past twelve months and put together a quick summary. A mild and wet December is now fizzling out and looking back it is hard to believe how warm and sunny the early spring was.
After a great 2011 which featured some very enjoyable trips I’m already looking forward to 2012 with plans to extend my trips into multi-day routes, and with hopes and dreams of getting into Knoydart, to Fisherfield and returning to the Far North (a post I still have to finish).
I blog mainly for my own sake but am always incredibly pleased and humbled when people take the time to leave a comment or retweet a photo on Twitter, so thank you to everyone who has taken a look at my posts and photos this year, and especially to those who have left a comment.
2011 was a little disappointing in terms of new Munros climbed, although my focus has turned more to wild camping and exploring the hills. Nevertheless, my aim at the start of the year had been to get to the half way point of my round (142) - as it stands I have only made it to 115.
I climbed 15 new Munros in 2011 but also did a good number of repeats, revisiting some favourite peaks, and finished the year with a total of 29 Munros climbed. Of the new Munros my favourites were the Five Sisters above Kintail and the Lawers range in Perthshire which I headed to on two separate occasions.
In addition I really enjoyed finally getting to the top of Carn an Righ, a fabulously remote mountain in the Grampians, south of Braemar.
Probably the biggest disappointment was yet again climbing to the top of Braeriach in mist and rain. Perhaps in 2012 I can finally get a view from this one!
Of the other hill categories I did quite a few Grahams this year, and added a batch of new Corbetts. Of these Ben Cleuch in the Ochils was the high point of a fantastic winter’s walk near Stirling, whilst the round of the two Strathconon Corbetts was a real challenge with high winds, rain and snow - not bad for the end of May.
A memorable moment early on in the year was standing on top of Carn na Drochaide above Loch Callater in a whiteout that cleared to give an amazing winter evening, the sun blushing the snow and the views north to the Cairngorms being superb. Although the weather was less amenable, the Hogmany Hoolie up the Coyles of Muick certainly blew out a few cobwebs with great views to Lochnagar and Glen Muick.
Of the days that didn’t feature hills, my girlfriend and I had a really good day doing a round of Loch Kinord and a stretch of the Deeside Way. It was a beautiful summery day and worked out really well as a relaxed wander. We also finally got our outdoor barbeque sorted for my birthday, enjoying the delights of Loch Lee on another blustery but sunny day.
After my single successful wild camp in 2010 I wanted to try and get out camping every month between April and October in 2011, a total aim of seven wild camps. I made it just over halfway towards this target, taking the tent out in April (twice), June and October. Each of these trips was memorable for different reasons and are summarised briefly below in both words and pictures.
The trip to Carn an Righ was a great route walked under magical conditions with a great campsite besides a bubbling river below the very remote Munro that had brought me to this quiet corner of the Grampians. I really enjoyed the great path alongside the infant river Tilt as well as the grand views of the snow-rimmed Cairngorms. The next morning under unblemished blue skies I headed up Carn an Righ and then enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed bimble back to the car via Carn Iutharn Mor and Glen Ey. I had a good chat with some visitors from America and came across my first ever Scottish adder. Though the full moon had washed out the stars those few minutes spent in the cold, cold early morning air were some of the best moments of 2011.
The second trip in April took me along the entire North Clunie/Shiel ridge including a camp near the summit of the first of the Five Sisters of Kintail. Whilst the weather was hot and sunny the wind played much more of a factor this time and in fact that night was quite restless with the tent (a Scarp 1 obtained from Martin Rye) taking quite a battering. I do have great memories of eating my dinner looking out to Skye and Knoydart as the sun sank into a ruddy haze. Although the plan had been to continue on for another night and day and return via the South Shiel ridge the restless night had left me exhausted and the rivers were very dry causing me to bail out at Shiel Bridge. Nevertheless it was a glorious ridge-walk in some of the best Scottish landscape.
By June, heat waves and wildfires had melted away under rain and dark skies. Eventually a decent weekend presented itself (albeit the good weather was forecast for Sunday morning) so I trekked around to Cairn Gorm and walked in across the plateau to Shelter Stone crag. I pitched the tent with views looking over Loch Avon as the rain turned swiftly to snow. The next morning dawned with clear blue skies and I was able to wander over and bag Beinn Mheadhoin before returning to the car via Ben MacDui as the clouds once again gathered.
After a lacklustre September I was determined to get out in October, no matter the weather. I wasn't sure I had done quite the right thing after spending forty-five minutes sitting in the car at Whitewell as rain thrummed off the car's windshield. Eventually it abated and I walked up to Loch Einich were a spent a calm night in the tent. The next day the cloud was low so I returned to the car via Braeriach, the Lairig Ghru and a damp and dripping Rothiemurchas forest.
New Wild Camping Gear
After my trip in April I took up a great opportunity to purchase a TarpTent Scarp 1. Whilst this tent is a bit heavier than the Terra Nova Laser Competition I was using, it offsets this by being much roomier, particular lengthways which is important when you are 6”5’. It is a brilliant design, stable in high winds, able to deal with snow and rain, and one that maximises internal space to give you a decent level of liveability. I sold on my Laser Comp to Alex Atkinson who has had some brilliant trips with it down in the Lake District.
I finally retired a four year old, very battered pair of North Face trail shoes and replaced them with a pair of inov-8 Terroc 315 shoes. I’ve used these for most of my hillwalking this year and they have been great. They are lightweight, quick to dry and super comfortable even over significant mileage and ascent. Teamed with Sealskinz for colder conditions they have been used since the snow disappeared in April and will probably only be left at home once I’m back in my Scarpa Mantas for winter hiking.
I added to my list of options an alcohol stove setup (as well as backing the second batch of Backcountry Boilers, which I am still waiting on) going with the lightweight Caldera Cone. I took this on my Loch Einich trip and really enjoyed the simplicity, efficiency and ease of use. I’ll be continuing to use both alcohol and gas next year.
I also started using Fuizion Freeze Dried Foods which were a revelation. They prove that dehydrated food doesn’t have to be horrible, tasteless and textureless. They’ve also just announced free UK mainland postage which addresses the main gripe that people had with them.
Just to make a change from all the tramping around in the Scottish rain I took a bike ride through the Spokane River valley in Eastern Washington State whilst on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, and finally wrote up a trip along the Rakiura Track down at the very south of the New Zealand archipelago which I tramped back in August 2007.
I think the most remarkable thing about 2011 was the awfulness of the weather. After a prolonged and really quite hot early spring, culminating in wild fires that swept through Torridon and Kintail at the end of April, from May there was a rapid descent into wet, windy and wild weather. It caught TGO Challenge people out on the infamous May 23rd storm and this trend returned later in the year with both October, November and December being very wild indeed. With milder autumn temperatures I was hoping to extend my wild camping into November but unfortunately almost constant forecasts of gale force winds in the mountains put me off taking the tent and I ended up just doing daywalks in November. December had its ups and downs with snow around the middle of the month but milder temperatures returning for the festive period.
Other People’s Trips
People continued to report some fantastic trips on their own blogs this year providing inspiration and jealousy in equal measures. Of those with a Scottish flavour a favourite was James Boulter's trip to the far north, hopping from bothy to bothy and exploring wild glens and moors, which made for a superb three part read. Martin Rye did a great trip from Aviemore to Blair Athol and Fraser McAlister had some wild weather in the Cairngorms. The TGO Challengers met with some pretty tough May weather and I’ve updated my blog on the subject to cover reports and blogs from those who participated. Petesy pulled his usual stunning trips out of the bag including this one to Fisherfield which has definitely whetted my appetite for a trip there next year. Ness seems to do fantastic backpacking trips on a regular basis and her wander through the Grampians is still being written up. Colin Ibbotson managed a fantastic packrafting trip around Loch Mullardoch despite the changeable November weather whilst Steven Horner enjoyed a stunning cloud inversion as part of a big walk through the Cairngorms. Ben wrote a fantastic, catch-all post on the joys of camping with lots of great photos whilst David H showed how to do pack rafting in style with this trip around Torridon.
Outside the UK there were some incredible trips including this one around Greenland, whilst David Lintern’s crossing of the Pyrenees and Maz’s trip around the Classic Haute Route in the Alps are well worth setting aside rainy afternoons to read and enjoy.
Besides the wild camping gear highlighted above I didn’t buy a great deal of normal gear this year, choosing instead to get some more experience with my existing stuff. What I did buy was a success, particularly the Rab Vapour-Rise Jacket. Purchased at the end of February I wore this non-stop for both hillwalks and commuting. It is a fantastically versatile jacket, comfy, warm and able to fend off most that the weather can hurl at you (besides driving rain). The only criticism is that it is looking a little worn around the shoulder and waist strap areas which is disappointing for 10 months use.
As mentioned in the introduction I have a few ambitious plans for next year, including turning my overnighters into multi-day treks taking in some of the more remote areas of the country, as well as a desire to visit some of the more dramatic parts of the North West Highlands and the Far North. I'll be continuing to write this blog and enjoying reading about other people's adventures. There seems to have been a tipping point somewhere in the last few months and it feels that blogs and digital media are now more useful and relevant than traditional magazines etc. In fact I haven't bought a single magazine this year though I continue to enjoy reading books about the outdoors and particularly the mountains.
Thank you for reading and have a very Happy New Year!