Monday, 21 July 2014

Some shit sticks no matter how hard you scrape

I had tried to cycle to Inverness a few years ago, but things didn't work out. I decided to give away that bike for free. We never saw eye to eye afterwards. Anyway, here follows a guide to walking the distance in a reasonable number of days. It's somewhat a guide and somewhat diary entry and I hope it could be interesting from both respects.

Kit list.
I found the follow items to be essential for my walk in June:

Tent - 1 man, less than 2kg, enough room for me and rest of the kit
Sleeping bag - I have a down bag rated to -5degrees
Thermarest - mine is green and looks slightly mouldy, but it works well and doesn't smell.
Cotton sleeping bag liner - essential on warm nights for me as sweat makes my eczema terrible.

Boots - I had a choice between old boots that leaked or new boots which I hadn't worn it. I chose the new ones.
Socks - I wore two pairs: a thin under sock, and an thick hiking sock. In total I had two pairs of under socks and one pair of hiking socks.
Trousers - I had a pair which had zips around the knees so could be converted to shorts.
Underwear - I bought some new pairs. I won't write the number of pairs I had in case my mum reads this.
Merino wool long sleeved top - loved this item and wore it constantly while walking
Waterproof jacket and trousers - vital.
Midge net

Compeed - I went through an entire pack. A mixture of sizes is probable best. I had a pack of large which I had to customise.
Small medical kit - not needed, but I thought up the following quip, "better a load on your back than a load on your mind."
List of distances between towns/checkpoints - I'm quite familiar with the route so didn't take a map - it is well way marked.
£50 + bank card.

Food - buy it on route, but start out with some energy bars and lunch. I started out with far too much.
Waterbottle + dissolving energy tablet things

Day one - Milngavie to Rowardennan

I took the train to Milngavie. At some points along the walk, I wished I had walked there from my flat, but most of the time I was quite happy to have done so. I reasoned I would be 5 miles further back than where I was had I started from my flat, and when every step is precious and valued, to be back 5 miles didn't seem worth it. Anyway, I was at the start of the West Highland Way at about 7.30am. I was able to overtake a party of 3 here has they stopped to take photos. In Milngavie, and the few miles outside it, there were people walking to work, joggers, and mountain bikers. After 5 miles, Carbeth and huts. I could see Craigmore, probably the most pleasant bouldering in Glasgow area (for at least 2 weeks each year). About a month previously, I fell of a problem there and sprained my ankle. It was still sore. I was having to stretch out every mile or so. I had entered the Kilpatrick's hillrace the weekend before and hadn't recovered. I finished a not so respectable 117 out of 120.

From Carbeth to Drymen there are 7 miles. You walk past Dumgoyne, where there is a distillery. I didn't stop there, but I did stop to speak to a couple of Americans who I had overtook. After overtaking them, I needed a pee really bad, but didn't want to stop incase they caught up and I had to speak to them again. This inhibition, I lost, by the end of the day. I have walked up Dumgoyne a few times, most recently with my brother and Sarah. At Croftamie I met a horse and rider. Arriving at Drymen, I stopped myself. I was at the point were the N7 cycle route crosses the West Highland Way and I lingered.

Drymen to Balmaha is where the walk becomes more highland - prior to this the walk is fairly lowland, worked heavily with agriculture, forestry, houses, roads and so on. After Drymen, the land starts to relax and do its own thing. Views open up a little and conic hill soon arrives. I had lunch near the summit - I didn't go right to the top, done it. I was overtaken by some Germans but I saw them heading off South at Balmaha so they don't count. It may sound like I was being quite competitive, probably because I was. I didn't relax out of this overtaking mentality throughout. I swapped stories with folk I passed and didn't let on that I was racing them, but I couldn't help wanting to track down people a head of me.

Balmaha has a good shop and a pub. I'd recommend getting a good meal here. To Rowardennan, I overtook and was overtaken on multiple occasions by a Chinese woman. We arrived at Rowardennan at about the same time and chatted for a bit. I refilled my water at the tap and headed on North, while she checked into a hostel. The national park police were making it clear that they are intent on enforcing the bylaw of "no camping near the road" so I had to keep walking until I was out of the restricted area. The WHW is currently being upgraded here, so I walked past all the construction and camped somewhere past Rowchoish near a burn. I wasn't sure whether drinking water from the loch or the burn was better, and guessed the burn. Google tells me it was a good guess. I found the midges were not a problem at the loch side but were bad in the trees. I soaked my feet in the loch. I found one blister on the inside on my big toe.

Day Two

From my camp to Inversaid I past the track where my pal Jonathon and I ended up after an attempt to run around Ben Lomond. We had aimed to stick to the 450m contour line but the weather meant we had to abandon it on the back side, turning north to the Cailness burn and back along the WHW to Rowardennan. At Inversaid I was reminded a time when Danny, Simon and I had a day's climbing at crystal crag years ago. Retracing those steps, I passed the boulders were folk walking the WHW had gawped at us doing sit starts. No one was bouldering when I walked by. The north half of loch Lomond is tricky in terms of terrain, and unpleasant in terms of atmosphere. The path is tangled up in boulders and the vegetation is close. I was glad to make it to the campsite at Inverarnan. There is an ok shop here, and I bought some bananas. I had 5 blisters by this point which I had compeeded. For some reason I didn't get any more, although the ones I had caused me pain from here on.

To Tyndrum, the main event was an altercation group of possibly Eastern European walkers I was tracking them down having overtaken them, then been overtaken by them. Up ahead a style, and they had left behind one of their dogs. The yelping dog was small and couldn't make it over. I walked up and was about to help it over when the group's second dog came running back, and was barking too. Confused, then more so, the possible Eastern Europeans appeared from behind a wall saying "don't!" - it turned out they were trying to train the dog to jump over styles. I overtook them promptly. As an aside, I don't think taking a dog is a good idea as you will have to carry a lot of extra kit for it. I saw some with a dog who had equipped the dog with some kind of backpack - fair enough, but it does look stupid.

It rained as I headed to Tyndrum. I met an American family who were chatty, the matriarch in particular. It rained and rained. Eventually I was in the Green Welly Stop for some hot food and a cold beer. A low point was leaving there to make some more progress at about 5.30pm as it was still raining rain. About a year ago I had ran from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy with Richard as he competed in the WHW race. I half remembered there being a river and flat ground at some point so I headed for that and hoped it arrived soon. When it did, the midges were terrible.

Day 3

The rain eased off by morning and I was walking by 8am or so. I arrived at Bridge of Orchy for a chance encounter with a friend from the climbing wall who works taking youth groups up mountains (it turned out). He asked what I was doing there, I told him I had walked, and he told me that I could've got the bus. To my dark delight, on the hill just above Bridge of Orchy, there was a rock with the inscription "J. Bloggs, gone to soon." Over the few days, if I needed cheering up, I'd imaging asking the inscriber where "soon" was. I suspected the answer was that it was near Troon.

The Rannoch moor required a bit of soul searching, my legs and feet ached. I figured the cobbled path might help work different parts of my feet and so ease the pain, but I don't think it did. I stopped and soaked my feet in a burn and got overtaken. That said, it is probably the finest section of the walk. I was in the King's House for mid afternoon and order a haggis panini and a pint. My opinion is that beer is a very good option - full of carbs and easy to get down. I waddled out as my legs had stiffened up, but I was soon below the Buachaille, looking up at many memories of curved ridge, Rannoch wall, Slime wall and Tunnel wall. The Devil's staircase was climbed slowly, and I had a great view North at the top. I forgot to have a look South, and descended steadily to Kinlochleven. It was a Sunday, and all the shops were shut. I sat on the curb briefly then set off up the other side of the glen and made camp high above the town.

Day Four

I was meeting Jonathon in Fort William at lunch time so got up early. I had something resembling a wash in a river. I have always been a bit of a wimp when it comes to cold water. Along the path I past two parties who had made camp further on. One of which consisted of a man singing loudly until he must have heard my footsteps. At this, he stuck his head out his tent and said a sheepish, "mornin'". I didn't see either party for again though, despite my pace being slower now. It was a fantastic morning with a bright sun and cool breeze. I stopped and listened to the birds and meditated, "this is going on all the time; these birds are chirping every morning." Sometimes simple thoughts are sensible.

Part two,

Fort William - Inverness


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A short note about votes

Some people say that they can't be bothered voting because it won't make any difference to the outcome. Of course, I agree that it won't make any difference to the outcome. You might say, a ha, but if everyone thought that then no one would vote. Well, I don't think that is true. Think what follows - people only vote because they think it will make a difference to the outcome. And then, people will only vote for people who are likely to get in, in a way, to prove themselves right. I suggest that the myth that "your vote makes a difference" is therefore propagated by the main political parties in order to maintain the status quo. I say to you that the chance that your individual vote will make a difference is so unlikely that saying such things is ridiculous.

Instead of thinking of voting as a method of defining what the country is, think of it as a  way of defining who you are. If you are old, you probably have defined yourself already. But, if you are young, there is a real opportunity to say something about yourself. I think that is more important than who runs the country anyway.

Monday, 28 April 2014


Some landings at Dumby have been patio-d very nicely by some folks. Areas which have been worked are the landing under Mugsy, and the slope under Slap Happy. Another area is under 2HB, although I don't know why this area was chosen as the landing was not greatly improved and erosion was not as much a problem as in other places (I have no problem with that patio being there, however). Since I've not been too regular recently I don't know when these were put in.

The worse area of erosion is under Slap happy. This is due to a combination of the popularity of the problems, and their lines being difficult to cover with one pad. Since the area is rather dank, regeneration of turf is not likely without stopping of climbing on those problems. Instead it would be perhaps best to protect the turf that is there by fully patio-ing the whole area (up to the turf), built up from the tree to the sucker boulder. This amounts to a lot of work.

I visited some boulders in Boulder, Co, last year, and saw that they could do with some patio-ing. However, the local I was with told me that was unethical, and it should be left "natural", despite years of erosion had now exposed large, pointy boulders. I got the impression he agreed with me, but the local consensus was against maintenance.

At Dumbarton, I suspect no one would be against patio-ing the landings to protect further erosion. But what about else where in Scotland? I've patio-d landings in remote-ish places, where erosion is not a problem, but just to make the things safer. I've done this by rearranging the nearby stones to fill in holes or trundled large boulders. I think this was reasonable as my attempts tried to make things look natural, with (hopefully) no large areas of exposed earth.

Removal of plants and trees is a step further. At Dumbarton, there was a large tree growing out from under the Eagle boulder which has been "pruned" (read: chainsawed) on a few occasions, and a small tree below 2HB has been removed. Anything goes at Dumbarton. Elsewhere though, removal of trees has happened and, although I've not done it personally, I've enjoyed climbs which have been opened up. I'm not too sure what the legality of pruning wild plants and trees is - I think picking wild flowers is against the law, so I imaging cutting down trees is probably frowned upon. If there is a law, it's 99% irrelevant as no one is policing the remote anarchy of scottish bouldering. It comes down to a judgement of the person involved - is the route worth the tree? To calculate this, I propose the following formula:

Worth of route = Number of stars + number of people likely to try to climb it per year
Worth of tree = Floor[(Estimated age of tree^2)/10] + 1 (if native) + 1 (if visually appealing) - inf (if rhododendron)

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


I gave up Climbing for a PhD. This was probably not a mistake because I don't remember most of the past four years on account of not writing important things down, and hence, no time seems to have past. The clock paused for four years, and, with this, is unpaused. Rewind is not an option, alas! Nothing is as motivating as a list, so here's one I've working on in the back of my mind for a few years. It's a set of 5 problems - one from each boulder. Assuming all the holds are still there.

Dumby 7B+ Challenge - climb them all in a day/lifetime/whatever.

1) Consolidated. Long like a route, low like a sit start.

2) BNI direct. including direct top out.

3) The Shield. Without "wee undercut".

4) Mugsy traverse. Only a 7B because...

5) Silverback. ... is 7C

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Font 1

For a range of pitiful reasons (laziness), I'd never been to Fontainbleau. So when my office buddy/climbing friend Arran asked if I wanted to go with him John and another Inverness Mike, I needed a bit of persuading. Particularly with a danger of having to share a double bed with Arran, I eventually agreed.

People say, "Font is the best". As I really like other places, I didn't want these to suddenly seem crap compared to Font. Better to stay at home? It took me a while (years), but I realise that whatever Font is is irrelevant, what matters is one's relationship with place. With this in mind, I could fearlessly travel to Le Bleau knowing my cherished memories of Duntelchaig were safe. Also there are no good photos of Font as cameras can't capture the light and dark at all well compared to the eye.

The team:

I was the youngest, with 3 of our year of births following the 11 times table 66, 77, 88. John having fantastic knowledge of the forest which saved so much faff and probably doubled the amount of climbing we did. Mike had an excellent vocabulary which turned bumps in to crenulations and others things which I've sadly forgotten. Arran brought an SLR so I'll ask him for some pics which are better than mine above. I brought "business" jokes; here's examples:

-I'm in business
-Oh really, what business you in?
-The magic business
-Nice, hows it going?

-I'm in business
-Oh really, what business you in?
-The see saw business
-Nice, hows it going?
-has it's ups and downs

-I'm in business
-Oh really, what business you in?
-We sell sea shells by the sea shore
-Nice, hows it going?
-Hard to say

The highlight had to be finding a board game in the gite, Peak Experience, tag line: "you don't need to be an expert climber to play Peak Experience!". Sure, you could in principle play; answer multiple choice questions to make it to the summit of K2. I arrived at base camp a good while behind the others (slowed by my sampling too much of the local food and trying to burn animal dung) only for bad weather to push me back 2 places. Mike battled for a number of turns to get off the summit, at one point forced down climbing the top pitch of his chosen route. John eventually glissaded down the descent to victory. The next night we got a 5l barrel of wine.

Real climbing wise, I adopted the adage, "a 7a a day keeps the doctor away". It worked; none of us needed medical attention. Most of the time was spent amongst the mushrooms, lost in the woods, cleaning sand off from everywhere. I got scared on some highballs, learnt a bit more about slabs, the difference between dry and clean shoes and how not to mantel. Sabbot, Elephant/Cuvier, Apermont - just three days climbing; my appetite whetted for Font 2.