Extraordinary evening walks….

This year, the Scottish Hillwalking and Activities Group had a season of summer evening midweek walks  They started in May with the Whangie and Auchineden Hill and I’ve run them fortnightly right through our lovely summer and the last one is a week this Tuesday.  We’ve run evening walks before but I feel this year, they’ve been well received and very well attended.

There’s nothing better after work than to suddenly find yourself on a hillside getting soaked or blown here and there, branches in your face then back to a warm cosy pub for a pint before going home.  This is midweek and you feel like you’re having a secret weekend day in the middle of the week.  It makes the work week bearable.


We’ve gone from the Campsies to the Trossachs to Loch Lomond – all the walks do need to be fairly close to Glasgow so we can get there in time.  We’ve walked in rolling hills, forest tracks, by lochs, bad weather and good, midge infested dampness, tropical rain, thunder and sunshine. Some of these walks I hadn’t done before.  As long as they had a  decent pub close by, I figured I could make it work and we have.  There is a great feeling of camaraderie on these walks – fast walkers, slow walkers and all those in between walk together – the group feeling is great and you could just hug everybody before they leave.  It is a small slice of something special.

There was the time when we did Ben A’an and we went to the Byre Inn afterwards – it was so warm and welcoming and everybody was chatting, our faces all lit up and relaxed,  that we forgot that we still had to drive back to Glasgow.  I was very late getting home that night! The pub is a very important part of the evening walk.  I’ve done walks before where it’s not such a big thing – but this is.  After Cort-ma-law in the Campsies, we were gutted to find that our proposed inn of the evening The Swan Inn was closed – I have since found out that it is permanently closed – a shame as it was a lovely wee pub.

Tomtain in the hills behind Kilsyth was very popular – the weather was stunning and it’s such a nice wee hill, totally missed out by most folk then back to the Boathouse at Auchinstarry afterwards, a classy pub but lovely, so much so that I intend heading back to Kilsyth for our last evening walk this season. I had done this walk the week before and the wind then was so bad at the top, I could hardly stand.  This evening, there was light winds and sunshine and an unusual cairn at the top with a coloured stone for Lucy.  I wonder who Lucy was and why her stone was on the cairn at Tomtain.

Lucy's stone



Steep wee Dumgoyne played host to one of the most remarkable sunsets I’ve seen this year.  We were descending so slowly as every corner we turned, there was a new view and we had to stop and admire it.  The sky was deep red and orange – my camera didn’t pick up these colours though focused on the layers of light and darkness. Everyone couldn’t stop themselves from taking more and more pictures and the sunset got richer and brighter the longer it went on.  We got down to the bottom and stood looking out over the fields to Loch Lomond – cars were stopping just to look at the light. Beautiful!

These hills chosen are not big hills, they are not Munros, they are missed out by baggers and serious climbers and most, but people are missing out on the small beauty and grandeur of these hills, the views, the light, the company.  I don’t feel as though I’ve been neglecting the big hills this year – I am enjoying my time spent in the lowlands, these mountains in miniature.

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Turahalli bouldering

For work, I tend to travel a fair bit during the summer and it seemed like a good idea to try and do a bit of climbing in those places. Surely, a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag should be able to find a place in my backpack. This August, I went to Bangalore and after posting a message “does anybody know anything about bouldering in Bangalore?” in the SHAG group on Facebook, Carlo F. pointed me to Turahalli forest.

Prayer for survival in Bangalore’s traffic…

Bangalore sits on a plateau at an altitude of about 1,000 m keeping the temperature in summer around 30° C. Popping out of the landscape are domes of about 3 billion years old gneiss of which Turahalli is one. Finding information about this place on the web was tough: lots of informal stories but no topos or explanations of how to get there. To complicate things, Bangalore traffic is a nightmare: the so-called motorway is a slalom course with cars, lorries, busses, motorcycles loaded with stacks of people/boxes/chairs, pedestrians, cows, piles of rubbish in random places, while the average distance between cars is about 1.5 inches. Town itself is packed with traffic while everybody beeps their horns continuously and flashes their lights. To top it off, streets and areas have multiple names and even the locals have trouble figuring out addresses. Not really the sort of place where you would want to set out on your own.

A familiar sight in an unfamiliar place: Pashan and Muggy with their crashpads in Turahalli

Luckily, Bangalore has its own group of climbers with a Facebook page Climbing Bangalore India through which I got into contact with a few locals. After a bit of posting, we set up to meet here at 7am for breakfast. Through my hotel, I hired a car with a driver for the day as that seemed to be the only way to get there, as a bus would have taken 2-3 hours. After a lot of searching through nameless streets dodging man-eating potholes, people, cows, and stray dogs, we finally spotted a few guys with crashpads and I knew we had found the right place!

Sohan climbing a tricky route on a slab requiring a balancy mantle

We followed this route into the forest. The hill is covered with smooth pale gneiss boulders that were apparently shaped by ice when India was near the South Pole. My local hosts Sohan, Pashan, and Muggy go to this place several times a week and we started off on a few problems on a slab. It looks easy from below but as you go up you realise it is steep, balancy, and damn high. However, friction is great and there are often some crystals in the rock that give just enough traction to stand on or do a mantle.

Muggy elegantly going through a roof suspended above some boulders

We did a problem in a roof that they had been working on for three weeks. The roof was strategically positioned above a pair of razor sharp boulders on the ground, making falling off—on a crashpad balanced on those boulders—a bit tricky! Encouraged by a trio of spotters, we all managed to send eventually. There were lots of great problems on smooth looking rock with the key often a crimpy hold on a serrated bit of gnarly gneiss that was very sore on your fingers! Finally, we did a few scary highball problems and called it a day.

Since I started climbing in February, I have mostly climbed on plastic in the TCA Glasgow. Initially, it is a bit scary to be confronted with grey rock instead of colourful holds and having to figure it all out yourself. However, that passes soon enough. The only thing that the TCA cannot simulate is the awful pain of crystals trying to punch their way through your skin.

Man, look at that lovely heel hook I’m doing there…!

Anyway, although you are unlikely to go to the same place, I can highly recommend bringing your shoes next time you go on a work trip. Just make sure you are adequately insured. I got the BMC travel insurance for rock climbing, which covers bouldering and indoor climbing as well. Muggy pointed out that “medical insurance is cheap in India, so feel free to break you leg any time you want”. That’s very nice of you Muggy but you still might miss your flight if things go bad.

Next stop: San Francisco in February. Does anybody know anything about bouldering in San Francisco…?

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Mountaineering Council of Scotland – Club Membership.

At our AGM last week it was announced that the Scottish Hillwalkers Meetup group has become an affiliated club with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. This has given us as a club access to some very exciting and useful services for anyone interested in outdoor activities.

How will this affect my membership of SHAG?
(1) It won’t – membership of SHAG will remain free;
(2) What we are offering you is an additional benefit as a member of SHAG, in this case discounted club membership of the MCofS;
(3) If you decide not to take up this offer, you will continue to use our meetup group as normal – signing up and attending meetups for free. Nothing changes.
(4) If you do decide to take up this offer, you will receive additional benefits as a club member of the MCofS.

What do you get as a member of the MCofS?
(1) Access to 25 club huts and bothies run and maintained by other walking/climbing clubs including SMC huts such as the CIC hut on Ben Nevis and the Glen Brittle hut in Skye. The club huts offer basic and budget accommodation, and they are spread across Scotland in some very nice locations. These will be available to either book as an individual or we will organise meet-ups through the year. Further details about use of club huts will be made available in due course;
(2) Civil Liability insurance cover – up to £10m of personal cover against claims in civil law;
(3) Access to subsidised courses on mountain safety, winter skills, navigation and first aid amongst others;
(4) Discounts with some retailers, magazines such as TGO and Climber, free access to BMC travel insurance schemes, access to specialist financial services designed specifically for climbers and walkers including mortgage protection and term insurance;
(5) 4 copies of the magazine – Scottish Mountaineer;
(6) And more!

What does it cost?
(1) A year’s discounted club membership of the MCofS costs £14.50. The usual price for individual membership is £28.55.

How do you join?
(1) In the first instance, email me specifying if you wish to pay electronically or by cheque.
(2) If you wish to pay electronically, I will email you a link to the MCofS web site with our club code. Follow the easy steps on the membership page;
(3) If you wish to pay by cheque, I will email you an application form. Fill in the details, attach your cheque and send it to the MCofS.

In addition to what the MCofS membership brings to the individual, we in turn will be supporting the work of the organisation in Scotland that represents the interests of walkers, climbers and all those who use the hills and countryside for leisure. The MCofS is currently lobbying the UK and Scottish governments on the impact of wind farms on the landscape; and they continue a long-standing obligation to represent users of the outdoors on access issues.

More information on the MCofS can be found at their web site – http://www.mcofs.org.uk/home.asp

If you have any questions, please contact me in the first instance.

Jason Hoffman

Membership Officer

Email: fazerpup600@googlemail.com

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Fontainebleau, day 2: Diplodocus at Trois Pignons

We decided the night before what our venue would be today. I was particularly looking forward to it, as it was my choice – Diplodocus at trios pignons.  We had a cobbled together breakfast, as the boulangerie was shut due to a public holiday.  After this, a few of us played on the bouldering wall as we waited for Nicolas, who had some business in Paris and was joining us for the day. Once Nicolas arrived, we loaded up the boulder bus and headed for our adventure, singing along to bohemian rhapsody, on the radio, led by the boulder brothers Paul and Mark in the front. It seemed to be 80’s weekend on that channel, and some rather dodgy revelations came to light about someone who used to wear MC Hammer trousers.


Entering the arena

We got to the car park and picked up our mats for the short walk in along the forest path. It was already hot,  but the walk in was pleasant  with lizards scampering  across the path, and  the occasional wood pecker in the trees. It is a popular spot and is the only place I have seen with a symbol for how easy it was to push a pram through it in a guide book.  Eventually, we reached a clearing, with lots boulders sticking out of a sea of sand, framed by more boulders  which were framed by a backdrop of trees. After a brief scout around, we set up base camp near a boulder shaped like Fred Flintstone’s house and got to work on the amazing sandstone blocks in the clearing.


 Mantle style

First up was a nice block that had several routes on it. Everyone in the group had now managed to send their first problems. The nicest route on the boulder was called “rattle snake”, and had a rather stretchy top out onto a famous Font sloper (for me anyway). Others found different ways to top out though. The most interesting ones were Paul doing the worm as he gained the top and Mark doing the “beached whale” as they topped out. Nicolas and Chris had a more refined style.


Doing the worm

We then worked through a number of problems before it got too hot.  We then had some lunch and joined the lizards for a bask on top of Fred’s house.  After the break, it was on to a route called “techno gym”. This was a nice route that crawled underneath a boulder and then pulled over it. Mark claimed it as the first 6a of the week, and I killed my camera falling off it; it was a bit silly putting it in my pocket.  So, most posts after this one will be using other people’s photos, mostly Pascaline’s who took some excellent shots,  some of which I believe will be on sale at TCA soon.  She also became a bit of a slab queen during the week – no mean feat in Font.


Techno gym

After another break, we headed to the central highball area and got well and truly spanked on “Teflon coated slab” It was very polished and liberally doused in the abomination that is pof – resin used by some locals to make the rock sticker. The trouble is that once it is used on a route, you have to use more or the route becomes like glass – a problem we would encounter again at Sabot.  At any other venue, you would be dangled over the crag by your nuts – or hexes, for using pof. Our psychological preparation was not helped though when someone said in French to her partner, as Bo was on the slab, that her friend had broken her ankle on *that* route.  Image

Still, there are plenty of other routes there and it is such an awesome place, we just gave the route a Gallic shrug and found some more fun packed boulders to try and we spent another couple of hours exploring and sending routes . Jo even found the ultimate leg Jam and a tunnel she could crawl through. Very happy with our first full day, we headed back to the boulder bus and a fine meal of pecorino and pine nut spaghetti made by Paul. It almost made up for the singing (and the trousers).Image

The ultimate leg jam Image

“See this, that’s you looking your best” said baby Oliver

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Re-visiting old walks (aka the struggle to complete The Round)

I never set out to complete the round of the Munros when I started walking the hills.

My first hills walked as an adult were the Cobbler and Beinn Donich done over a weekend spent at Ardgarten YH just after I graduated from Uni.  There was a guy in the hostel that I talked to enthusiastically about what an amazing hill the Cobbler was.  He said he wasn’t interested in doing it as it wasn’t a Munro.  I thought “You are an idiot.  I don’t want to be a Munro-bagger if that is what it turns you into”.

Fast forward several years and I’m approaching Munro number 250.  By now I’ve ticked all of Skye, done Beinn More on Mull, walked the Five Sisters, the Brothers, the South Glenshiel Ridge.  Done the Fannaichs and hoovered up all but one of the Cairngorms.  Been stunned by the beauty of Torridon and all of those pinnacles. The Crianlarich, Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum hills were a distant memory.  I’ve done the Ben  in Summer via the CMD and climbed it in winter via the NE Buttress IV/4 route.  Glencoe is long gone – The Buchaille, Bidean three times, the Aonach Eagach (where I met a guy who got me into rock climbing), the Beag, Glen Etive yomps.  I’ve been up Beinn an Dothaidh four times (once walking in Summer, once walking in Winter, and twice via winter climbing routes).

By 2009 I only had 33 to go.  But then I hit problems…

Do you notice the references to climbing?  Something new had got my attention.  I was climbing now, not just walking.  In 2006 I climbed my first mountain multi-pitch route – Agag’s Groove on the Rannoch Wall on Buchaille Etive Mor – on a glorious sunny day.  We came down Curved Ridge parched and starving as we’d left our rucksacks at the bottom of the climb – rookie mistake no.27.  But the climbing bug had got me and the pull of Munro-bagging was starting to fade.

All of those long days; solo walks (cos none of my mates wanted an early start when a hangover was a preferable option); those infrequent days when spectacular views more than made up for the frequent days with no views; the increasingly long drives to ever remoter hills.

Or now an alternative of easy drives to local crags and a new kind of ticking – filling up a UKClimbing logbook.

So the Munro bagging slackended off.  My peak year (ha) was 2002 when I did 49 Munros!      Since then the numbers per year have dwindled.  Joining SHAG has seen me tick off a few more and I am getting closer to being a Completionist.  But the end is still a long way away.

But do you know what, the past three months has seen something strange happen.  I’ve started walking again, and I’m not even really ticking new Munros.  I’ve started to revisit old ground and I’m enjoying it!  I always enjoyed the effort required in walking up hills.  I liked the feeling of putting on boots and stepping away from the car and heading up.  I lost the motivation to drive the long distance to tick those elusive Munros, and thought I had lost the joy of walking.  I figured that they went hand in hand.

I was wrong.

This past couple of months I’ve taken my kids up Geal Charn and Beinn Udlamain at Drummochter; and Carn Aosda, the Cairnwell and Carn a Gheoidh in Glenshee- all hills I’ve not been up in almost 20 years.  I first walked the Five Sisters in Kintail in 1995, and I repeated it last weekend.  It was brilliant.  Yesterday I walked up to Coire Ardair on Creag Meagaidh in foul weather with Jacqueline and a friend visiting from China.  I haven’t been there for years either.  It was lovely despite the rain and wind. I’ve even managed to get to Knoydart this year – claimed two more ticks in horrible weather and chose to climb a Corbett in sunshine and forego another (very remote) Munro in equally horrible clag.  I have to go back with all of the logistical problems that causes, and I felt good with the decision.

I still love climbing, and I’ve managed to continue adding to my UKC logbook, including this year doing two long mountain routes I’ve wanted to do for years.  I am still planning on completing the Munros.  I’ll get there one day.

But what is best is that I’ve re-discovered my love of walking without the restrictions of a list to bound me.  I hope that the guy I met in Ardgarten has completed his round.  I also hope he has seen past the Munro list and gone and done the other amazing hills that surround them.  We live in an outstanding country with a range and choice of wild lands that is both accessible and inaccessible.  We can walk three Munros one day in 4 1/2 hours or choose to lose ourselves in wild land for days on end and not see another person.  It’s all there – we just need to see the possibilities.

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Taking to the hills

With most of my efforts focussed on climbing over the last two years, I realised it had been a while since I had managed to get up the hills, and it had been even longer since I had gone out alone.  So, with the husband working night shifts over the weekend I decided to peruse my munro book, pack my rucksack and head for the hills.

I had fancied the Ben Cruachan ridge for a while but had never got round to it for one reason or another, so, with a glorious sunny day ahead of me I set off.  I arrived at the Cruachan power station at about 10.30am and headed up to the reservoir.  There were a couple ahead of me who powered on up and I realised one of the joys of walking on your own is enjoying your own pace, I didn’t feel under pressure to keep up with anyone, could take as many rests as I liked but equally if I wanted to walk a bit faster, I could.  When I reached the reservoir I saw the couple in the distance heading left for the Ben Cruachan summit.  I decided to head right and walk the ridge east to west, taking in the summit of Stob Diamh first.


Ben Cruachan from the reservoir

As I headed round the reservoir and up the grassy slopes of Stob Diamh, I was in a complete world of my own, thoroughly enjoying myself and realising how much I loved getting out in the hills.  I crossed a stream and nearlly walked right into a fellow walker, I was in such a daze I thought I had the hill to myself and did not expect to see anyone – the walker looked equally surprised to come across someone!

As I slowly tramped up to the summit, I began to see the mountain peaks on the other side of the ridge slowly come into view and I felt excited about reaching the top and the views to come.  I wasn’t disappointed – as I reached the summit cairn, I could see for miles, with Ben Nevis in the distance, over to the islands off the west coast as well as the ridge stretching towards Ben Cruachan a mile and half or so long.


Looking towards Ben Nevis from the summit of Stob Diamh


The ridge leading from Stob Diamh to Ben Cruachan

I spent a bit of time at the summit rehydrating before heading off along the ridge. It was a lovely walk with the option of some easy scrambling towards the end.  I was pleased I had decided to walk from east to west and also started a little later in the day, as the further along the ridge I got the less people I saw, and by the time I reached the summit of Ben Cruachan I was able to enjoy the views with not a soul around.  It was such a spectacular day I didn’t want to head down!


Views across Loch Etive from the summit of Ben Cruachan

 Eventually I tore myself away from the summit and headed back to the car.  I drove home very satisfied after a most enjoyable day, and reminded myself to get out in the hills more often.  I also had the added bonus of ticking off another two munros – yes, I am a (now not so) secret munro bagger!

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Fontainebleau, day 1

After six months of eager anticipation, and wondering just how well my knee which was operated on 5 months earlier would hold up, we met in the greasy “restaurant” at Glasgow airport and stuffed our faces on stereotypical Scottish “health food”. All that was missing was the deep fried mars bar and defibrillator. We particularly wanted to make sure Paul was well fed as one of us would have to release him from his cage. He was particularly enthusiastic about this trip and had to sedate him for his own safety, otherwise he would be climbing anything that stood still long enough. He was told at a lesson by Gaz Parry at TCA that he would be running around like a headless chicken as there would be so much to do there (well, he actually said something about a dog and some guys called Richard, but this is a family show 🙂 ).


Anyway, we finally got on the plane and Easyjet had pre-allocated seats. You always hope in situations like that that you are not placed next to some one who wants to show you his book of pressed newts and tell you about the history and etymology of the word “custard”. I was sitting in front of Paul and I kept turning round to talk to him, guidebook in hand and talking about boulders and what we were going to do to them. The passenger next to Paul must have though “oh no, why do I always get the nutters?” and promptly offered to change seats. They must have taken in more by osmosis than they ever want to know about rocks though.Image

 Aye, that’ll be right

We touched down and picked up our transport for the week. Once loaded, we headed to our accommodation, picking up some supplies en route from a Carrefour This was the biggest shop I have ever seen. The cheese session alone was bigger than most other shops. After checking in, unpacking and getting some food, we decided to hit the ground running, and headed for Buthiers Piscine, which was only 2km from our gite.


We pulled up by a gate, put on our head torches (it was about 9:30) picked up the mats and started off up the forest path. It was a pleasantly warm and clear night. Suddenly there was the shout of “BOULDERRRRS! “ and Chris was at the top of something in his shoes before we could unleash Paul. We later worked out what he had climbed, and it was actually a new personal best for him; perhaps there is something to be said for grades forming mental barriers. I went for a wander to take the place in. There was a peaceful moon lit landscape with strange shapes made by boulders, trees, open sandy areas and shadows. Eventually, I found a small cave. I like caves, but this was a smelly jobbie filled cave. There were quite a few of them, so I looked around and eventually found a clean bottomed stepped overhang that looked as if it had a good line on it. I started, climbed up, put my hand in a pocked and adjusted my feet. I felt something move over my hand, looked up and there were literally thousands of angry ants crawling over me. Luckily they didn’t bite or shoot acid out their bums at me, but I decided to leave them in peace and go back round the corner to see what was going on. Jo had found a highball called Les trous de gruyere. It actually has at least one rotten looking peg in it, so folk clearly used to rope up on it. She scaled it in style, but getting down was going to be tricky. We did wonder if we would be better off calling the fire brigade and getting a hose. However, Jo jumped the cleft between the two boulders (seen in the picture). It was suggested she try to bridge the gap and down climb. We later found out that yes, that route was fairly easy, but it also had a death ball label. Anyway, Jo made it down safely, by another route, with me climbing part of the way up the gap and Paul bracing me and Chris, Mark and Pascaline on the other side spotting for her there. She didn’t need any of us though and got down fairly easily in the end.


Highball Jo

We then continued playing about on some slabs for a bit and decided to head back, totally psyched with what little we had already sampled. It was time for bed, but we would have no trouble getting up early in the morning to sample the delights of “Diplodocus”, and as it would turn out, the bakery.



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