April (69-86)

Monadh Liath: A’Chailleach, Carn Sgulain, Carn Dearg, Geal Charn (83,84,85 & 86) – 28 April 2013

Good visibility. Blowing about 50mph throughout the day. Snow, rain, sleet, hail, locusts, frogs, etc.

5-word Weather: Holy cow, it’s nearly May!!

(11 hours) After a night spent hearing rain and wind lashing against the car it’s beginning to seem more and more that Moira’s suggestion that we’re going to do “Every Munro in Snow” won’t be far off the mark, much to our dismay! We set up the car shuttle with Carrie and Chuck’s help, parking at what happened to be the mid-camp for the Highlander Mountain Marathon the night before (we had warning of this so had decided not to spend the night there ourselves, seeing as a ceilidh was also scheduled).

Despite an 0610 alarm we didn’t actually get walking until 0825, but at least by that point the rain had eased off slightly. The first approach mile was bog city, made no less slippery by the torrential pouring from the night before.
Then the wind picked up and we were facing yet another day of full-on winter conditions, though visibility was still generally quite good (assuming you could look up without feeling that your eyes were being stabbed by sideways stinging rain!).
About ¾ up the first summit Andy was officially miserable and wanted to call it quits, unable to comprehend the voluntary continuation of a possibly-12-hour day in the conditions we were facing. Luckily we were close enough to the first summit that we motivated to reach it, where the protection of a large stone cairn provided welcomed relief from the wind for a self-pity party and snack break. The distance between the first and second summits was marginal (only a few kilometres), so Andy agreed to make it there before re-evaluating again. A few update texts to Carrie to let her know that she didn’t have to arrange to collect us just yet and away we went, back into the wind.

By the time we got to the second summit the wind had died down enough to brighten our spirits and motivate us to carry on, if for no other reason than Andy was keen to not have to return to this area for the challenge this year.

Andy's lasting memory of this area, after claiming he's never ever coming back!

Andy’s lasting memory of this area, after claiming he’s never ever coming back!

Summit number 2

Summit of Carn Sgulain

We felt fortunate to have recently discovered Steven Fallon’s website, which kindly reassured us that between the second and third summits we could safely follow the disused fence posts without fear of them leading us astray – all too often we have been tempted to follow posts like these, especially in poor visibility, but know all too well that we’ll end up lost and confused when they lead us to places we don’t want to be! Following the fence posts meant that we could revert to a heads-down, brains-off mentality to shelter from the wind within our hoods.

Demoted hill - still did it but doesn't count for the Challenge!

Demoted hill – still did it but doesn’t count for the Challenge!

We passed by the cairn of a has-been Munro (demoted off the list) and got to the summit of our 3rd of the day, taking precarious steps to shelter behind the cairn from the wind without punching through a cornice. We topped ourselves up with sandwiches and chocolate just before hearing from Carrie that the headwind was too much for Chuck to bear so they wouldn’t be meeting us for the finish as planned. As disappointing as it was to not have them with us, it was good motivation to head to the fourth, seeing as our car was at the bottom and bailing from the route now would be more hassle than it was worth!

Summit of

Summit of Carn Dearg

Onwards through the snow the wind died, then picked up, then died, then smacked us in the face, repeat. About halfway to Gael Charn Jamie felt something smack her in the back, only to turn around to discover Chuck about a foot behind her . . . he claims he’d been shouting for ages to get our attention – disconcerting to know that someone could be that close to us without our realising it since the sound of the wind overpowered all else. He eventually chose the snowball throw approach! Apparently these two speed demons had decided that they weren’t that far behind us after all, so had pressed on despite the wind to find us (mostly so Carrie could add two more ticks to her Munro list, let’s be honest!). It was great to have their company through the snowy peat bogs, and even more great to have their company when we struggled to find the summit cairn – which was the size of a house – in the whiteout that greeted us.
We were also pleased that they got benefit of the early-morning car shuttle, even if our slower pace did mean that they ended up racing for last orders at dinner in hill clothes. Luckily we’ve established that we’ve all become speedy clothes-changing ninjas so the restaurant loos to them were like a phone booth to Clark Kent and all was well! Unfortunately while they were enjoying a lovely meal we went on a futile search for Andy’s missing ski goggles, but eventually made it home around 0030 for a quick car unpack, showers, and bed for work in the morning – sunburned from Saturday; wind-burned from Sunday; but pleased that we managed the nine as planned for the weekend despite the horrific conditions.

Summit of  . . . This is nearly MAY!!!

Summit of Geal Charn . . . This is nearly MAY!!!

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Carn Liath, Stob Poite Coire Ardair, Creag Meagaidh, Beinn a’Chaorainn, Beinn Teallach (78,79,80,81 & 82) – 27 April 2013

Great visibility. Very cold on first few summits. Windy to start but dying down throughout the day.

(8 hours)This weekend started sadly for the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, who had to return from their post-season sunny summer chalets to provide yet another avalanche forecast due to the significant amount of snow that fell over the previous few days. Poor guys! Know that we appreciate your efforts!

We were keen to make sure that this round of five was a success so did our best to go against our nature and rise early, despite not arriving to the car park for a kip until 0130 the night before. Alarm at 0615 and on the move by 0730, incredibly thankful to Carrie and Chuck who were driving up this morning and setting up the car shuttle for us on their arrival. Andy wasn’t feeling super so we were a bit slow getting going, but managed to the first summit in under two hours so not too bad. It was absolutely freezing atop the first, which got us moving swiftly on!

Visibility was good, which was lucky for the plethora of mountain marathon runners we soon had heading our way. Most of them dressed for a summer’s day out in a country other than this one, we paused in sympathy/concern for the folks who may have underestimated the conditions they would be faced with today. More worryingly, we baffled at some of the packs the size of Jamie’s sunglass’ case that theoretically contained all they would need to stay warm and dry through the night at mid-camp. At least we had the car and a bag full of goodies to look forward to!

Jamie tried out her snowshoes today and found great benefit from them, though Andy didn’t miss an opportunity to accuse her of slacking!

Never missing an opportunity for a wonky bag . . .

Never missing an opportunity for a wonky bag . . .

One less cookie earned, apparently! Carrie and Chuck started walking about an hour and a half behind us, but knowing them we knew they’d be gaining on us quickly. What resulted was a feeling that we were rehearsing for an episode of Mantracker, with Andy looking over his shoulder to see if he was soon to be caught! Phone reception was good throughout the day so the two pairs were able to keep up to date with progress reports and at a few points even saw each other over ridges and across valleys since visibility was so good. It almost seems like cheating when you can see this well, though! We were also graced by a pair of golden eagles who didn’t seem to mind our voyeurism as they ducked and dived and brushed wings in reunion.

The descent from number four was fairly significant, but the 5th made a pleasant change for the day to include some rocky outcrops and mixed terrain, rather than snow-covered grass.

The walk out from Beinn Teallach

The walk out from Beinn Teallach

Back at the car there was barely enough time for a change of clothes and hot drink before Carrie and Chuck were hot on our heels and arrived back at the car they had lovingly dropped off for us in the morning. Jamie had a stove-made supernoodle dinner back at the car before the four of us headed to the Glen Hotel for replenishment (Jamie focused on dessert, having already eaten dinner on the cheap . . . priorities!).

A Mere 200 to go at the end of the day!

A Mere 200 to go at the end of the day!

Carnage at the car

Carnage at the car

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Stob Dearg & Stob na Broige (Curved Ridge – Buchaille Etive Mor) (76&77) – 20 April 2013

Overcast with high cloud. Good visibility with cloud free summits. Gusts up to 35 mph later in afternoon.

(7.5 hours) In our attempts to make as many summits more than just a “bagging” experience we’re trying all the time to add a bit of variety to the normal routes. Today’s option was to include some scrambling via Curved Ridge, joined by Darren, who had been keen to give this route a bash.

Jamie was chuffed that she managed to solo the whole thing, relying strongly on blissfully blinkering herself to the serious risks should a slip occur.

Jamie climbing - Love the Scrambing!

Jamie climbing – Love the Scrambing!

The climbing was fun on rock that was grippy and remarkably dry, with views for miles – just when Darren was beginning to think that we only go out on days that are objectively miserable! There was a bit of ice and snow remaining near the top, but generally avoidable with creative footwork.

The ridge between the two summits was speedy and easy to follow, without much descent in between (yay!). The boys ditched their bags at the saddle where we would descend for the day, before pressing on to summit number two; while Jamie kept her bag with all the kit that she might need and broke an unbelievable sweat in an attempt to prove that she could keep up with the boys despite a 10kg bag, while the boys seemed intent on proving that she should have ditched her bag to keep up! At least it meant we reached the second summit in good time!

The boys did some bum sliding to speed up the return to the valley before we made our way back to the car in a very well made trail. A short section along the busy A82 for an undesirable finish to an otherwise spectacular day. Back to the Glen Coe ski centre to re-visit the loveliness that is hot cider before din at the Real Food Café in Tyndrum, including a captivating time in front of the window watching the chaffinches, house sparrows, and coal tits gorge themselves on the bird feeders – leading to the fattest female chaffinch the world has ever seen!

A quick unpack at home before an 0400 alarm to visit family down south, demonstrating a rather impressive effort of going from Munro to beer garden in Surrey in about 12 hours!

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Beinn Heasgarnich, Creag Mhor (Glen Lochay) & Ben Challum (73, 74 & 75) – 7 April 2013

Darren, Norah, Carrie, Chuck, Jamie & Andy - enjoying spring weather together!

Darren, Norah, Carrie, Chuck, Jamie & Andy – enjoying spring weather together!

(12 hours)  We were joined today by Norah, Darren, Carrie, and Chuck – our biggest group outing so far in the challenge. Unfortunately conditions had taken a turn for the wintery since previous day in Glen Lyon so it looked like we were practicing false advertising! With Scotland continuing to remind us that changing the clocks doesn’t guarantee springtime weather, we were back to battling zero visibility once we were nearer the summits, with crampons and axes at the ready. Pretty sure this wasn’t what Norah signed up for!

The walk-in up the farm track was easy and downright enjoyable; who knew that 11 hours later we would be cursing that very same track for being so long! We passed a fixer-upper before leaving the track and ascending Beinn Heasgarnich.

After some slow and steady navigation off the first summit and toward the second we took a direct ascent approach, with Chuck blazing a trail as always and the rest of us attempting to cut steps with feet or axes as thoroughly as possible to ensure that our kahtoola’d friends were on as solid ground as possible. This was quite a steep way to access Creag Mhor, given the conditions, but we popped out at the summit safe and sound, along with our frozen noodle hair!

After a bit of de-noodling (this challenge is also highlighting how close Jamie can come in a day to having dreadlocks!) the others bailed back down to the track and cars, while we pressed on to Ben Challum, first climbing a rather high deer fence sans-stile, then stopping for a much needed snack attack.

Negotiating the deer fence, not so gracefully

Negotiating the deer fence, not so gracefully

The wind picked up and we had a section of steep icy climbing that was unpleasantly unexpected, at least reminding us that carrying the crampons was worth it today! With phone reception from the top we let Carrie know that we were safe and sound, though quite windblown, and heading back down to the car. We had originally hoped to do five peaks today but with our inability to get out of bed early coupled with the poor visibility and snowy conditions that slowed us considerably we decided that it would be better to save the last two for another day.

Summit of Ben Challum

Summit of Ben Challum

The walk out felt endless, making us wish we had bikes to speed up the process, but we got there eventually (only after a little pity party sitting by the side of the track consuming chocolate to pep us up!). We were greeted by some hairy coos and their calves (scariest part of the day?!) and got to the car at 2130 for a quick tea/hot chocolate hit (no points for guessing who drank what) and supernoodles. Andy was a bit too keen to get home so accidentally disconnected the stove a bit prematurely, but the explosion that followed at least gave him the adrenaline rush to get him through the drive home, even if it did take some hand-hair with it!

Highland coos greeting us near the car

Highland coos greeting us near the car

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Stuchd an Lochain & Meall Buidhe [Glen Lyon North] (71 &72) – 6 April 2013

(2.25 hours and 3.5 hours) After our car journey this morning took longer than expected due to the Lawers road being closed (necessitating us to drive an extra half hour to get to our starting point) we got a later start than planned (a bit of a pattern for two people who struggle to get up in the morning at the best of times!). We took only the bare essentials up each hill, knowing that we were dropping back down to the car in between to re-supply with drinks, snacks, or more layers if needed.


On approaching the second summit we saw a group of four practicing ice axe braking as they slid down the hill – or so we thought. On getting closer we realised that they were just throwing themselves down, either headfirst or on their bums, just to have some fun. On our way down Andy did the same with a bit of a slide; fun, but this may have been when our map decided to abandon us!

It was a fun and easy run down the snow slopes to Loch Daimh, but that was followed by a much longer walk along the rocky shore than Jamie expected. Hoping to see the dam around every corner, we eventually got back to the car and headed into Killin to see if we could get a replacement map to finish our evening as planned. No joy 😦

This was an earlier finish than we’ve become accustomed to, but only because we accidentally lost the map during one of the bum slides earlier in the day so had to give a miss to the 3rd planned summit for the day. As good as the visibility was and as straightforward as we expected our last one to be, it would be pretty bad form if we got caught out! Something else to add onto the list of things still to do!

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Beinn a’ Bhuird (North Peak) & Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuide (Ben Avon) (69 & 70) – 1 April 2013

Very cold. No wind. Clear skies.

(12 hours) This would have been a good opportunity to use bikes for access, but seeing as we only had one bike between us it was a walk-in in trainers instead. We were able to see Beinn a’ Bhuird in the distance throughout our walk on the Landrover track; a constant reminder that this had the potential to be a very long day!

Once we got to the point that we were punching through the snow as we left the track it was skis on to make the steady skin uphill. About 45-minutes into this Jamie figured out that by taking the inner boots out of her ski boots and padding them with various pieces of spare clothing she could actually journey pain-free, which was a vast improvement on continuing to try to deal with smooshed toes that still had the feel of sledgehammer victims following our big ski tour a few days earlier.

Doing the boot swap!

Doing the boot swap!

Unfortunately attempting to ski downhill without inner boots proved to be a broken ankle waiting to happen so it was back and forth throughout the day, swapping boots around and hoping desperately that the temperature didn’t drop further, necessitating Jamie to wear on her face anything that had been padding her smelly feet!

The pristine snow made for a lovely ascent of the North Peak, with views back to the distance we had covered.

The link between these two summits could be done quickly on Nordic gear, with the exception of one shorter, steeper descent and an immediate steep ascent to follow. For the most part, though, we were skinning or pushing across either flat or gently angled slopes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe summit of Ben Avon is an impressive tor that was completely covered in snow – looking at the summit pictures taken by others in the past you would never know it was the same place! There was some debate about which rock/snow scramble led to the highest official point but after taking pictures atop both of them we carried on our merry way.

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The top layer of snow cover resembled crystal cornflakes, sparkling in the sunshine and seeming light under our skis. Not good for snowball fights but stunning to ski across!

Summit of North Peak

Summit of North Peak

After pushing our way across a few kilometres we traversed across a hillside and Andy picked a descent line that minimised avalanche risk, eventually bringing us back down to the stream and track, where it was trainers back on again. Yay!! The downside of having a much heavier pack while carrying skis and ski boots was far outweighed by the upshot of putting on shoes that didn’t make Jamie want to curl up in a ball and quit.

Summit of Ben Avon

Summit of Ben Avon

Treated ourselves to a take away at the Highlander in Braemar, which we ate with delight in the car before driving home for work the next day. Tasty end to an awesome weekend!

Andy enjoying his fish and chips!

Andy enjoying his fish and chips!

Jamie enjoying her curry!

Jamie enjoying her curry!

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