Snowy adventures and a slight mishap 

After a few years obsessing about ski touring I finally bit the bullet and bought myself some bling as a Christmas present to myself. A frustratingly mild December required some patience as my shiny new gear decorated my flat. 

  

Finally the snow arrived and we headed to Glenshee for a snowy adventure. The forecast wasn’t great so we decided to skin up towards Meall Odhar and take it from there. 

  

There was a bit of faff as we got used to things but I was looking forward to finding out how the skis and boots handled on the descent. I was hoping to use the set up for touring and downhill and considering taking to Tignes in February. 

  

First bit of downhill and my back wasn’t happy…..at all. Unfortunately something had set it off but we put the skins on and continued to the top of Meall Odhar. Looking over towards Glas Maol the weather was closing in so we played it safe and skied south off the summit. 

I was struggling and needed to call it a day. Gutted. My back was in spasm and not coping with the skinning or skiing. Unfortunately I still had to get back to the car. Ouch. 

Now heading into week 5 of acute back pain, 2016 has got off to a pretty bad start with another phase of injury and rehab. 

This has been my toughest injury yet both physically and mentally. Of course it’s difficult coping with no sport, pain, not much sleep and having to cancel my ski holiday but I’m going to think about some of the positives. 

  • I’ve managed to catch up with friends who I don’t normally see as I’m usually away at weekends doing something outdoorsy
  • I’ve discovered a new cafe close by which is mostly vegan, gluten free and organic – Moon and Hare, Bruntsfield. You must check it out! 
  • I’m doing my injured MCL some good. I won’t come back from Tignes needing a couple of weeks for my knee to recover, and because I can’t cycle or drive I’m increasingly loading it with walking which is a good thing
  • I’m shopping local as not able to drive. Great wee community fruit and veg shop in Bruntsfield – Dig-In
  • I’ve tried out binge Netflix watching and confirmed it’s not for me. Free one month trial will be cancelled
  • I’ve made heaps of nutritious vegan yumminess from the new Deliciously Ella recipe book. My freezer is full of quick teas for when I’m back in action
  • I’ve definitely got an excuse not to hoover 
  • My flat doesn’t resemble a muddy field from mucky biking gear 

I think I have to accept I’ve got bad genes in terms of injury risk.  My bones have withstood some pretty hard mountain bike crashes but my tendons, ligaments and muscles seem overly susceptible to injury. There might also be a bit of bad luck and ignoring wee niggles but this setback has taught me I need to respect my body like I do the landscape and nature it spends so much time in. 

Advertisements

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.  
   
    
  

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 
  

  
    

   

  
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

Rum Cuillin Ridge

Taking shelter in a cafe in Fort William while rain and hail lashed the windows, lightening illuminated the sky and thunder echoed, we spotted a break in the bleak weather forecast which coincided with the CalMac ferry timetable to Rum. Perfect, we would traverse the Rum Cuillins.

After catching the morning ferry from Mallaig, we were on our way by 12.30pm. Little did we know that 12 hours later we’d be eating our dinner!

We started off following the Allt Slugan a’ Choilich towards Coire Dubh making adjustments to our packs to try and carry the load most efficiently.

P1000775

The route up Hallival was fairly straight forward with some easy scrambling which allowed us to get used to having the weight on our backs. With perfect visibility, we were spoiled with views over to the mainland, Skye, Eigg and beyond

After picking our way down Hallival’s rocky slopes, we started the ascent of Askival towards the menacing Pinnacle. 

  
FullSizeRender (4)
P1000788

We all decided to give the harder right hand side a go but soon in, two decided it wasn’t for them and headed round the left hand side. Julie and I continued with the harder scramble which had one move in particular which was slightly tricky with the heavy packs on. 

We lost a lot of height descending to the Bealach an Oir before re-ascending to Trollabhal. We left our packs on the first top and it was a much quicker and easier scramble up to the second top without the weight. We’d read about the importance of taking the right line off Trollabhal (SSE) to avoid the big slabs/crags but route finding was still difficult, despite perfect visibility.

P1000798P1000802

Ainshval was fairly straightforward. We started going up the right hand grassy side of the ridge line before skirting over to the left. A short steep hike up through the rocks popped us out almost the summit.  

 

We continued on to our last summit, Sgurr nan Gillean, conscious that time was pressing on and my stomach was definitely over energy bars and crying out for some proper food. It would have been nice to camp out but we were out of water. 

The sun dropped setting behind the Outer Hebrides as we picked our way down the north side of Leac a’ Chaisteil, just before Ruinsival, in the dark. 

P1000806P1000815P1000812P1000821

It was a bit of a trudge to Harris where we set up camp, had a very late dinner at 12.30am and woke to an amazing still and sunny morning. 

P1000827P1000829

We were pretty weary so had a bit of a sunbathe where I managed to pick up 10 ticks before heading back along the land rover track through the middle of the island to the Rum Bunkhouse (what a facility!) 

P1000848P1000853
Rum 2

This was a great trip but despite the amazing weather, route finding was still a little tricky trying to find the easiest way to descend off the tops so take care when visibility isn’t so good! 

There’s still some exploring to do on Rum so hopefully I’ll be back soon. 

Cycle touring Budapest to Krakow along the Amber Trail

You can see a video of our trip here https://vimeo.com/134128853

This summer has been a bit of a windy wash out and we decided to trade the usual trip ‘up north’ for some sunshine and warmth. On a bit of a whim we booked flights to Budapest and home from Krakow, cycle touring in between. Planning is not our forte and while you can kind of get away with it on home territory this trip required a lesson in bike mechanics, route planning and cardboard box sourcing. Oh and a nice shiny new bike for me as a special treat on the cycle to work scheme.

  
Having never flown with bikes before we did some research into A to B trips and the best option appeared to be a clear plastic bag. This was a bit hard to get our heads around but it seems the baggage handlers treat your bike nice and carefully if they can tell it’s a bike. Only problem was Wizz Air only accept cardboard boxes or nylon bags and I couldn’t get anyone to confirm if plastic would be accepted. Playing it safe we opted for cardboard boxes. We spent about 3 hours dismantling our trusty steeds so they would fit in cardboards boxes picked up from the LBS.

Relief when our bikes arrived in Budapest unscathed. We stayed at the Corvin Point Hostel which was perfect for building our bikes in the shaded courtyard. Three Scots arriving to 38 degrees was a shock to the system.

We had the next day to do some sightseeing and Budapest had one of it’s hottest days on record at 42 degrees so it was a pretty sweaty affair. It was pointed out that we were obviously not locals; the trainers and dress combo gave it away apparently. 

  
Cycling

Day 1: Budapest to Esztergom (79km)

Navigating through a city on the ‘wrong’ side of the road was going to be tricky but thankfully we’d got our bearings the day before and got on the cycle path that traces the Danube pretty quickly. We swung by the disappointing Margaret Island and then followed the cycle path until the sign sent us left to Sestendre. Big mistake! A lot of weaving through residential streets and a convoluted route before we spotted a family to follow. Think we should have ignored the sign and kept going along path. We ended up on a section of EuroVelo Route 6 which goes from the Atlantic to the Black Sea.

The ride into the picturesque Sestendre was lovely and Cafe Dorothea came up trumps with refreshing ginger lemonade.

IMG_2273

The next section to Esztergom was easy going with big stretches of cycle path. As we approached the town, the spectacular domed Basilica (Hungary’s largest church) towered above us.

IMG_2278

We camped at Gran Camping which was well set up and popular with cycle tourers.

IMG_2288

IMG_2646

  The route we should have taken 

Day 2 Esztergom to Vipnek (64km)

We crossed over the Maria Valeria Bridge into Slovakia and took the quieter road that runs north between the 76 and 564. We spent a beautiful day weaving round endless fields of sunflowers interrupted only by sleepy villages. Not much in the way of shops so make sure you have food supplies with you.  

    
 
We arrived at the campsite near Vapnik (Margita-Ilona) to our first experience of Slovakian holiday makers. With no coastline, water parks are very popular. The place was packed with a mix of young families, groups of party goers and those taking life at a slightly slower pace. We headed to the restaurant a few minutes up the road and I had my first in a long list of culinary delights – ravioli stuffed with cottage cheese. Sounded promising on the menu only for it to come topped with chocolate sauce and squirty cream

  

   

   

Day 3: Vapnik to Pocuvadianske Jazero (43km) 

Started the day off picking fresh plums from trees on the campsite and checking out the route while Tracy fixed a puncture 

  
This was our first big hill day with a climb that was pretty much on for 40km. We were aiming for the campsite just south of Banska Stiavnika and decided to take the busier road north from Bátovce as it looked like might have ended up with a section of no road otherwise. There wasn’t much traffic as the road twisted up the hillside, passing through dense forest.

  

We took the turning for the campsite which lay almost on the shore of Počúvadlianske Jazero (lake). This is the largest of the tajchs, artificial lakes built in the 18th century as a source of water power for pumping water from the mines and treating ore. The campsite seemed like a bargain at €2 but like most things you get what you pay for and we got a portaloo. We did get a spectacular display from fire flies though. 

  
  
   

  
Day 4: rest day…..hills around Banska Stiavnika (57km)

After the joy of our €2 camp we booked ourselves into a hotel in Stiavnika Banska, dumped our gear and headed out to explore the area on our bikes. 

  
As a veggie I was struggling for proper food and was super excited to find avocado, mango and beetroot juice in the supermarket. 

  
We did a circular route which started heading east of Banska Stiavnica before turning south into a clockwise loop. It was an absolute scorcher with lots of butterflies tracing our route and little opportunity for shade.

   
 
We ended up back at the lake we’d been at the previous night and had a dip to cool down. The place was a hub for recreation with SUPs, canoes and some odd looking pedalo type things. Julie tried to impress the locals with her chain grease leg and my cottage cheese.  

  
Banská Štiavnica is a UNESCO world heritage site and when we got back, we went to check out the Calvary of Banská Štiavnica perched on the top of what was once a volcano. A cluster of chapels and churches line the path up to the top. It was built in the 18th century using individual donations and money collected by local residents. It featured in the watch list of 100 most endangered sites in the world in 2007 and is currently being restored thanks to voluntary initiatives. It really is an enchanting place and the view from the top  is quite incredible. 

   
    
   
So much for a rest day! 

  
  
Day 5: Banská Štiavnica to Banská Bystrica (Tajov) (62km)

Banská Štiavnica really started to spoil me when I found a breakfast drink with chia seeds on a menu. We did a bit of sightseeing round the medieval town taking in the Old Castle and Námedtie Svätej Trojice (holy trinity square). The Holy Trinity Column has slipped 4.5m down the slope over the years but they seems to have sorted things out now.

   
    
    

After a steep climb out of town we had 20km of sweet downhill to take a breather. We stopped at Hronsek to have a look at the wooden church, another UNESCO site. It has a distinct Scandinavian architectural style and as a Protestant church within a Catholic country, had to be built within strict criteria such as the entrance could not be directly from the street. We couldn’t go inside the church but it was a nice lunch spot. 

  
We’d marked a campsite at Tajov which was a few kilometres west of Banská Bystrica but Julie’s map showed one near the sports ground which was pretty central. Turns out is doesn’t exist so we headed to Tajov. The campsite was nice and peaceful with no water park in site! 

  
  

 

Day 6: Tajov to Liptovsky Trnovec (86km) 
This was going to be our biggest hill day with two pretty big climbs. Out came the Chemical Brothers to get me up the first one which was fairly brutal. Although part of it was dual carriage way and there were a few trucks around, the road was pretty good and there was often enough space to ride on the verge. Thankfully it was overcast this day or would definitely have had heat stroke. I managed to get into a rhythm and keep plodding along until reaching the ski resort of Donovaly. This was a great spot for lunch but without doing any research into Slovakia, I had no idea we’d be pedalling through ski resorts. It had an alpine feel to it.

  
We missed the turning at Liptovská Osada which would had taken us over the second mountain pass and only realised when it was too late to turn back. I was a bit disappointed after getting myself psyched up but it was probably for the best as we had a fairly flat route to our campsite at Liptovsky Trnovec on the shore of Liptovská Mara. The campsite was well set up and in a beautiful setting, nestled amongst the mountains. 

  

 

 
Day 7: Liptovsky Trnovec to Oravice (42km) 

We had a wee bit of flat passing by poppies before a big windy climb. Couple of roadies passed on their light carbon bikes while I was chugging away on my loaded up steel frame.

   
  
 It started to rain just as I got over the pass and had to dig out my waterproof on the fast descent. Stopped for a snack at another alpine style restaurant and while the others  tucked into some tasty looking bean soup I had to opt for the veggie option of garlic soup. Another culinary highlight on the trip 
   
 

We had a wee climb to get to Oravice and after getting the tents pitched headed straight to the thermal pools for some relaxation and muscle treatment. The place was packed and at €5 reckon that was the tourist rate. A really picturesque spot amongst the mountains. 

This was the veggie options in the only restaurant in town, thankfully they rustled up scrambled eggs and retro crinkly chips 

      

 
Day 8: Oravice to Zakopane (51km) 

Is was a weird feeling setting off on our last day riding. My cycle legs had kicked in and I just wanted to keep going.  

We had a lovely stretch along the side of a river (first cycle path in a while) as we set off for the Polish border. 

 
The countryside was really nice – rolling farmland with the Tatra mountains as the backdrop. 

 
As we approached Zakopane, the road was lined with Alpine chalets geared up for the ski season. 

I’d heard from a Polish colleague that Zakopane was very touristy and while it was, it was also full of people returning from a day hiking or cycling in the mountains. 

We rolled into the campsite 8 miles short of 300 miles for the trip so me being me, ditched the gear and set off for a wee loop to make it to the 300 mile. 

After trying to find a route from Zakopane to Kraków we settled on the train to avoid any disasters on a busy dual carriageway with trucks. 

    

Kraków 

First job for Kraków was picking up cardboard boxes for the flight home. Luckily a chum had been here a few days before and sorted out with a bike shop so it saved a day of trekking round in the heat 

 
We had a day taking in some of the sites and soaking up the sun before heading back to Scotland 

   

  

  

  

  

  

This was an amazing trip. The freedom that comes with cycle touring and the time to take everything in makes it such a special way to travel. We really went into this trip blind and everything was a nice surprise. 

I definitely have the bug and would love to undertake a bigger trip. Do I just dream about these things or take the jump? 

Following the purple carpet up Ben Chonzie 

The girls had just headed off from our annual uni get together and to make the most of the weekend, and the fact we’d been staying in Crieff, I decided to go for a spin up Ben Chonzie. I’d walked up from the Glen Turret side before and after a spot of research this morning, it seemed heading up the west side from Glen Lednock was a better bet on the bike. 

I left my car in Comrie and set off up the road towards Invergeldie. I’d been in two minds whether to be lazy and just start from the car park but given it was actually sunny, way better to be on the bike. 

  
From the car park, the land rover track skirts round the side of a couple of houses before heading north and then swings round to approach the plateau from the west. 

  
The LRT was rideable to the top and split the purple carpet in two; I love the colour of the heather at this time of year 

   
   
Despite riding solo, it was a pretty sociable climb with lots of walkers about who were up for a chat. 

When you reach the top of the LRT there is a small cairn marking the boggy path which heads northish round the east side of Meall na Seide. Before you know it, you can see the fence which you just follow to the summit. A wee bit of hikeabiking but not bad for a munro. 

It was a bit breezy at the top but the shelter was at the perfect angle for a wind free sun trap with views over Glen Turret. Lots of people around for a chat so didn’t mind being on my own. 

  
I came down the other side of Meall na Seide which had some steep fun bits before joining the LRT further down. 

There’s mixed opinions about this mountain for biking but the sun was shining and it was a great day out.