Tights, snow and fruitcake

It's sunday evening,  Rob calls:
'What you doing this weekend?'.
'Shit, think fast' i say to myself, a proposition of sorts is imminent...
I'm kinda busy-ish'.
Wrong answer. I knew it, i had given in already - commited myself.
'Will you take Falk's place on the Highlander? He's too busy - your the only one around to do it Peter. It's all paid.'
 Damn it - i know i'm in already.
'I'l think about it Rob, talk to you tommorow.'
Fast forward to friday afternoon, i'm piling through my  lab work in order to make the train at 5.20. We'll go down in the morning at 5.45. I'm anxious as hell and drift into that lucid  state only usually achieved sitting upright on public transport. I have convinced myself it's a funny dream.

'Your youth and my experience - we'll be tanking it round eh? On the other hand, our lack of training, my injury and your inexperience - we'll be wiped from the floor'. We're laughing about it.

The forecast looks rubbish - gusts of 50mph, snow, sleet. The freezing level sais the snows melting. Everythings going to be saturated. Sounds miserable.  Skimpy lightweight sleeping bag, 1g stove (does it actually work, Rob?) I envisage a weekend of self inflicted misery. Self inflicted being the important phrase. Damn.

Saturday morning, dibbers dibbed, maps thrust into hands -carefully checking through the grid references and we're off. Running already? I'm knackered  within the hour, and we havent reached the col. Ive dropped the map, Rob! Shit. What am i doing? Wow, thats some view! Stunning day! Atop the Megaidh massif already! We neck the gels and drop 400m  in 10minutes. The snow is brilliant -  perfect, sun kissed and pretty dry. I tell Rob i'm enjoying myself. He tells me I should take some of his kit.. ha!

4 hours on. We're belting it down the ridge toward the mid camp with 32km in the bag. Rob says he can't see straight. I think he's probably over exaggerating  He's not. Theirs a guy taking photos - better look sprightly. We almost deck out in the bog, maintaining  the composure of electrified ragdolls. What a day!

The overnight camp is better than i expected - dry and warm - i'm glad i took my belay jacket. Turns out we're sitting 4mins,behind first place in our class. 'Shit' Rob sais, 'I don't want to have to try tommorow'. 'Hell for leather, or your not trying hard enough' I repeat what he told me on the phone - as if I knew what I was talking about.  I know he will anyway, but were in for an intense second day none the less. 
Rob's back is in a bad way and he hasn't been able to run much this winter. He does however maintain the endurance of an albatross. I've never run as far in a week as I had that day, but I'm psyched now and remain optimisitic that a season of winter climbing has put a little muscle on my legs. This is my first mountain marathon, so a finish is the only neccesity for me.

Sunday is rough - the first 2 hours are pretty miserable. We keep tripping up and falling in drifts. There are giant pools of meltwater everywhere, and we run straight through them - feet numb and psyche indeterminably low.  A long stretch of plateau. Chickenheads among peat hags. Rob falls through a deep drift into a stream. It dries off higher up, but the hail comes on in showers and it's a bit cold. Berry caffeine gels down. Straight up the hill.

Second to last checkpoint and it's all downhill from there. We belt it down, joined by our close competitors as the chasing start closes the gap.

Elated, we cross the line. It feels immense.

Pasta, a cup of tea and a  new pair of walking poles. 2nd in the B class and only 8 minutes behind first place. We've both battered ourselves and are delighted to have finished.  

My mum  think's i'm partaking in something of  of a Greek Gauntlet at the moment. A 14 shot dirty pint the previous week, a last minute mountain marathon the next. Seemingly the worst is yet to come -  a conservation management plan to write this week and exams starting the next! Good job i've knackered my legs I suppose!


The 12th week in a row to climb in the north west Highlands. Once again, feathered wisps of cloud  scatter above the green stands and the sky is ablaze. A subtle and unobtrusive cold persists. Scotland has had an alpine spring, of sorts. This time last year Rory and I were climbing topless on Sgurr an Fhidleir. This year it's  an icefall in Glen Carron. Having had a brilliant run of ice and mixed adventures in remote, often deserted hills, we decide to spend most of the trip sampling the roadside delights of Gairloch, Applecross and Torridon. The hills are still brown and matte white but the days are long and we've climbed until 8.30 in the evening. There are  miniature glaciers among the Fisherfield Forest, flitting birds overhead, pink sandstone and no midges. This has been a brilliant winter. I am truly immersed in Scottish climbing.  

The best single pitch of climbing I've done yet. Buena Vista - Loch Tollaidh. Photo by Rory Brown

Mid week, I met up with Rob in Glen Carron and we headed up to Sgurr na Feartaig to have a look at some frozen waterfalls. A few hours later we trotted down a grassy ridge, topless, with the sun on our backs. We topped the day off with a dip in the river.

Photo by Rory Brown

Photo by Rob B

Me getting stuck into my snickers. Photo by Rob B
Rob, and the Coulin hills beyond.

The van at Gruinard Bay - Gairloch. Italian for dinner, a cup of Guinness and a cheese buttie -  can't complain.  
Sinclair climbing on another stunning  roadside crag.

I left Rory and Sinclair in Inverness and a few days later, met Callum, Andrew, Malin and Liam. We drove over the Bealach na Ba, camped on the Applecross beach and drove around the coast toward Torridon. This is the view after emerging with a cup of tea.

Callum leading at Ardheaslaig - Applecross. (Click on the pictures to reveal facial expressions..) 50metres from the road and some first lead climbs done. I soloed 450m of lovely slabby gneiss that morning.

 Seanna Mheallain, once again in the sunshine and offering stacks of utterly brilliant climbing. I lead my first E3's, including the cool arete to the left of this corner.

Me below the full on crux of Mechanical Sheep. Ace route!

My pal Robby, who visited my tent for cheese in the mornings.

Me on 'a touch too much' - Seanna Mheallain. 40 metres of brilliant sandstone with an abb station at the top!

 On our last morning, Liam, Andrew and I went for a morning's traverse of Beinn Alligin
'Try your best to look cool, guys'