Monthly Archives: October 2015

MTB, paddleboarding and big mountain adventures in Wester Ross 

A very last minute cottage booking and three of us were off to Wester Ross for our September hols. 

On the way up, Tracy and I had a quick spin at Laggan. This was the first time I’ve been when the lower section is open and it’s a great trail centre to get some flow and take in the beautiful scenery.

   

 

Sunday was a bit dreich and went for a wander to the fairy lochs, near Badachro. There is a scattering of aircraft debris at one of the lochans from an aircrash in WW2. All crew and passengers were killed when the plane crashed into the hill returning home from the war. 

 
 
We’d hoped to paddle the length of Loch Maree (20km) and got the perfect day for it on Monday. We started at Tollie Bay to take advantage of the gentle tail wind and as we made our way down to the get in, the mist lifted to reveal a very atmospheric and glassy Loch Maree. About a third of the way along we reached the islands; five large and over 25 smaller ones, many of which have their own lakelets. We weaved our way in between the islands enjoying the contrasting colour of the purple flowering heather, green woodland and rock formations. The midges were fierce so had a floating lunch stop. 

A couple of weeks ago I’d confidently declared I’d never fallen off my board and it would be almost impossible to do so. There was a lot of hilarity when my fin caught a shallow rock and propelled me off the side of the board with my phone stuffed down my bra! Needless to say a bowl of rice came to my phone’s rescue and I have since bought a replacement aquapac cover to fit it. 

There are lovely beaches dotted along the shore of the Loch and you feel dwarfed by the giant Slioch on the north. 

   

   

We then had the most stunning mountain day I’ve ever experienced. I’d been biking in Torridon last year and after hiking Ben Alligan became fixated with Liathach. We set off early, leaving our car just east of Glen Cottage and followed the path up the east bank of Allt an Doire Ghairbh. This was relentless and being completely sheltered from the wind, stopping for a rest equated to a midge attack. 

I remember looking up to see the top of the ridge poking out through the cloud and then realising we are emerging from a cloud inversion. It was incredible. 

  
   

When we got to the beallach, we made the short trip north east to the summit of Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig (915m) to soak it all in. This is a classic viewpoint for taking in Beinn Eighe. I felt like I was in a plane looking down on the cloud cover below. It’s hard to put into words how special this moment was so I’ll just leave it for the photos. 

    
 

We retraced our steps before continuing along the ridge, crossing the two tops of Stob a’ Choire Liath Mhor to the highest of Liathach’s two Munros, Spidean a’ Choire Leith (1055m). From here you have two choices – a few hundred metres of scrambling across the pinnacles of Am Fasarinen or the footpath below which had a couple of bits of fairly decent exposure. While contemplating the route, we got chatting to a pretty experienced mountaineer who offered to guide us across the pinnacles. He’d been up countless times, including in the dark in winter, and knew it like the back of his hand. He shared tales of some of his wilder days on the hill, and turned out to be the guy who logs when you’ve completed the Munros and signs your certificate. 
   
    
   

We enjoyed a sunny break on the top of our last summit, Mullach an Rathain (1023m), with fine views of Loch Torridon before descending the steep scree slope into Toll Ban. Here we came across another mountain legend, Andy Nisbet, who we’d seen getting the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture at the Fort William Mountain Festival a year or two ago. Rather handily he’d parked at the bottom of the descent and gave us a lift back to the car. 

I don’t really walk anywhere these days so my legs took a real pounding. Our rest and recovery day involved some sunbathing and paddleboarding on Mellon Udrigle beach. It was wildlife galore with giant jellyfish, playful seals and a curious sea otter (first ever otter spot!). An amazing backdrop across the bay with the Assynt mountains and An Teallach clearly visible. 

   

    
 
 

And the sunshine continued……

Next up was some biking in Torridon taking in the route which follows Loch Damph before picking up the path which climbs around the south side of Beinn Damh to the beallach with Beinn na h-Eaglaise. A wee bit of hike-a-biking required. 

  
    
 

The descent was fun with some rocky singletrack and slabs before reaching a burn. After crossing slightly upstream, there was a great section through the forest which literally pops you out on the road just west of the Torridon Inn. 
  
   
   

Ben Alligan and Loch Torridon in the background 

I also managed to squeeze in another great ride. This time, parked up at Slattadale on Loch Maree and biked north west along the road for a few km towards Loch Bad. At the end, there’s a path on the right which takes you along some great singletrack to Gairloch. 
   

From Gairloch it’s back on the A832 towards Poolewe. Not long after Loch Tollaidh there is a path marked on the right to Slattadale. I thought this was the start of the downhill section but there was still a fair bit of climbing before starting the super techy descent to Loch Maree. This section definitely got the adrenaline flowing! 

This was a good varied route but be prepared for a full on descent! 
  

We’d have been really spoiled if the weather had been perfect all week and our last day provided the alternative side of Scotland with fierce wind, rain and low cloud. We thought we’d give Beinn Dearg a bash and on the walk in passed a few folk who’d given up and were calling it a day. We managed up Beinn Dearg (1081m) but it was hard to stay upright and required full on nav so didn’t feel too wimpy leaving the other tops for another day. Always good to get a reminder of how much we need to respect the outdoor environment and make sure we’re safe/comfortable in all conditions. 

  
   
 
    

 
  

If this week couldn’t get any better by day, it also couldn’t get any better by night. We had 4 nights of aurora in a row, visible with the naked eye from the back of the cottage. Those lights were dancing and so was I. 

Thank you Wester Ross for spoiling us beyond belief.  
   
    
  

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Redbull Foxhunt with Rachel Atherton 

I’d managed to get one of the sought after tickets for the Foxhunt – a mass downhill start of 150 women riding down the Pentlands being chased by the World Cup Downhill champ, Rachel Atherton. 
When I rocked up into the car park on Saturday morning, I suddenly felt a bit out of my league; surrounded by some serious bike bling and MTB girls who race. 

I’ve just started doing events this year and had a blast at the Selkirk Mountain Marathon and 10 Under The Ben but this seemed a different level! 

After brekkie, the practise uplifts started and 150 of us were transported in pretty nifty jeeps up the hill before doing a spot of hike a biking to the top of the course. 

I then showed my race naivety by charging down the first practise run, not realising the last feature was a jump with a flat landing and having a spectacular high speed crash. Thankfully I wasn’t part of the group who broke their collar bone.

Lesson 1: scoping out the tricky bits and working out your line is what the practise runs are all about – make the most of it 

We squeezed in another practise run before lunch and then it was time for the ‘seeded’ run where we set off in number order at 30 sec intervals to determine your place on the 150 women grid for the main event. I was surprisingly nervous as my start grew closer. I was fine once I got going but quickly realised my race fitness needs to improve. The intensity of a flat out 5 minute ride is something I’ve not experienced. 

Lesson 2: need to sort out nerves, guess they will get better as I do more races 

Lesson 3: need to work on fitness for this kind of thing. 5 hours out in the mountains is very different to short sharp bursts 

The atmosphere around the village was great – loads of cool folk chatting away and excited about race day. Rachel had been around on the practise runs and kept stopping to give girls tips and encouragement. 

I had to dash off to a party but those who stayed had a yoga session, got some dinner and drinks and watched a MTB film. All very cool. 

A friend texted the seeding results – I hoped to be in the top 50% and came in 29th which a massive surprise and meant starting in row 3. I was super chuffed. Three of us who’d been chumming about all ended up in the same row which was cool. 

Lesson 4: don’t be scared by full face helmets and seriously expensive bikes 

Race day arrived and the sun was shining for us. There was a bit of tactic discussion as the uplift started in reverse seeding order. I wasn’t sure how aggressive and ‘elbows out’ people would be and I certainly didn’t want to knock any of my new chums off their bikes. I did know however that I have a real competitive side, which revealed itself at Selkirk and 10UTB! 

When we got to the top of Caerketton Hill the nerves kicked in big style and it took a wee while for us to get organised into our grid positions. My wheels were almost touching the wheels of the rider in front so there could be some serious carnage. I reckoned the first row would be off like a bullet and I would only really have to worry about the second row and any speedy girls coming through from behind.

The horn went and 150 people funnelled down over the heather to a short steep climb. Thankfully I managed to get a bit of space and got up the climb ok. When I hit the traverse, one of the girls got taken out by another rider just in front of me so needed some quick reaction skills to avoid the crash. The rest was over in a flash and I hadn’t been caught by Rachel! I was super pumped at the finish and there was a lot high fives and whooping going on. What an atmosphere! I finished 23rd which was way above expectations. 

I loved this event and really hope it’s on again next year. I’ve certainly got a few technical skills to work on such as jumps and keeping my knees out a bit. I’m maybe a bit old to launch my racing career but why not?! 

Throughout the weekend we were treated to delicious food from the Loving Food Truck such as Greek yoghurt, stewed apples and flapjack for brekkie, tomato and courgette soup with oat scone and chilli served with flatbread. Definitely my kind of event! 

You can watch Rachel’s headcam as she chases the pack here