Sunday, 28 October 2012

Another great season coming to an end

You know when you were a child, that sense of time slowing to a snail's pace in the weeks and days approaching Christmas? The more excited you became and the closer it got, the further it seemed away?

That's how I seem to always feel during the last few weeks of the autumn, as I excitedly wait for the start of the Scottish winter climbing season. From experience I know just how quickly the hills can transform into the frozen playgrounds which occupy my thoughts, but in the last few days of the autumn it always seems so far away.

Some years I've been guilty of letting this anticipation almost spoil the autumns for me…seeing them as just a period of time to get through to reach the snowy season on the other side. But 2012 has (yet again) been the exception for me.

2012 seems to be the year that just keeps on delivering. After an exceptionally dry spring and summer I thought there was no way the autumn could continue the trend. But although we've had our share of rain and gloom, the sunny days have never been far away and I've enjoyed more days in the autumn sunshine this year than in the last three autumns combined.

Late summer and autumn is the time that I really knuckle down and get as much fitness as possible for the start of the winter climbing season. In 2011 my "winter training" was a wet and windy affair…involving almost daily soakings as I slowly and painfully taught myself to run uphill.

But I've been treated to so many beautiful runs this autumn. Crisp and glowing afternoons running in the Glencoe corries or up high on frosty ridges. Just how many days of sunshine is it possible to have in a year in the Highlands?!

Yesterday the first mixed winter routes were climbed in the Cairngorm's Northern Corries. And although Glencoe's dusting of snow yesterday has now gone, I know that it'll be back very soon and the most exciting time of the year for me is beginning.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Autumn in Torridon

The crispest of light on Liathach 
On a day of unbroken autumn sunshine like yesterday, there can be few places anywhere so totally stunning as the North-West Highlands.

Since 2009 I have waited for a perfect late-October forecast for the North-West to coincide with a 
day off. I've made a point of leaving some mountains for perfect days so they live up to my expectations, and one of those mountains has always been Liathach.

Liathach under a warming autumn sun

Today the weather forecast was finally spot-on for what I wanted. But due to having to work at 5pm I found myself yet again leaving Glencoe at 3am to do a mad-dash to the North-West and back before my evening shift in the Clachaig. Sometimes…it is so worth the effort.

Thick fog from Fort William onwards slowed my journey and thwarted my original plan to run most of the Liathach traverse in order to dash back by 5pm. I arrived too late to be able to get it done and enjoy it.

Am Fasarinen

But not to worry. A vivid and spectacular sunrise to light my dark ascent to Spidean a'Choire Leith, a cloud inversion spreading over a glen to the East, a frost on the ground and the sound of stags roaring….it was definitely a day to stand and stare, not to go as fast as I could.

A vivid sunrise on the approach up Spidean a'Choire Leith

Photos and words don't do it justice, you really have to see Torridon in full autumn splendour to understand the sheer scale of it. Glencoe is the only other part of the Highlands I know with so much beauty in every direction and around every corner.

A cloud inversion to the East

And this year the autumn colours are extremely impressive, far more so than last year and the native woodlands south of Upper Loch Torridon are a real spectacle just now. Even though I have seen many "unbroken-sunshine-days" in the Highlands, I still find myself slightly in disbelief at it all when they happen. From the crystal-clear reflections in the lochs to the vibrant splashes of colour in the forests, there seemed to be small natural masterpieces everywhere I looked today.

Autumn colours near Shieldaig

This will be my last trip to the North-West now before the winter. The start of the winter climbing season is possibly only days away, and for the next few months I will be spending far more time closer to home and concentrating on the frozen and lonely nooks and crannies of Glencoe. But I have developed a deep love of the North-West Highlands recently, and for this winter for the first time I intend to climb here.

Possibly my last photos of warm sunshine for a while. It turns cold on friday.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Only Genuine Jones by Alex Roddie now available on Kindle

The new book by Alex Roddie, founder of this website (and still an occasional contributor) has now been released in Kindle format.

The novel is partly set in Glencoe, and strongly inspired by adventures chronicled in this blog since 2009, so should be essential reading for all fans! It's an adventure story about the mountains first and foremost, but is also a speculative look at how the climbing culture of the late 19th century might have developed under different conditions.

The book is already starting to get rave reviews from advance readers, and award winning writer Susan Fletcher, author of Corrag (also set in Glencoe) and The Silver Dark Sea, has described it as "extraordinarily accomplished storytelling - tense, taut and deeply atmospheric..."

To buy the book, click here ... or to visit the author's website and find out more, click here. Alex can also be found on Twitter @alex_roddie.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Northern Lights and another mountain sunrise

The Northern Lights over Rannoch Moor, 8th Oct 2012

For pretty much my whole life, the thing in the world I have wanted to see the most is the Aurora Borealis. I have always had a near obsession with everything "North", the climate, the landscapes…and the Northern Lights have always seemed to be the ultimate expression of these wild and cold places.

I've been very fortunate to have seen some incredible displays of lighting and atmosphere during my time in Scotland…snow-bows, brocken spectres, cloud inversions, moon halos…but the one thing that has always eluded me are the Northern Lights.

Night time in Coire nan Lochan

Last night I found an automated email from aurora-watch UK telling me there was a moderate change of a display of the Lights over Scotland. So within minutes I was charging down the glen in my car towards Rannoch Moor with my camera. 

I waited for a while. Nothing much happening. But a long, pale, colourless streak could just about be seen making it's way across the sky. It didn't last long….and I had to rush back to finish off the last bit of my shift.

But as soon as I was finished I was back out on Rannoch Moor again, waiting with my camera under a cold and incredibly clear sky. Within a few minutes, I saw it.

A pale band of light spanning the horizon, very unlike the usual colourful photos you see of the Aurora. 

So I waited, for 2 hours I waited….and for 5 short but unforgettable minutes, the green "Merry Dancers" pranced across the northern sky. I stood transfixed, in disbelief that I was finally, finally seeing the thing I've so wanted to see for so many years. 

Dawn over Stob na Broige

At about 2am I made my way back home, getting startled on the way by a massive shooting star which left an orange trail across the sky. I was buzzing. There was no way I was going to sleep after that, and the clear sky promised a beautiful dawn…

Second amazing sunrise in 3 days.

So off up Stob Coire nan Lochan I headed, and was treated to another beautiful and cold sunrise. An amazing few hours which I will remember for a very long time.


Monday, 8 October 2012

Ben Nevis and the Aonach Eagach back-to-back

The mother of all sunrises on Carn Mor Dearg yesterday

I took myself by surprise today…despite having not slept since my busy 11 hour Clachaig shift, I was on the best form I've ever felt as I sped up Carn Mor Dearg for the sunrise.

Things really seem to have come together recently, as a result of regular hill-running and by making a few changes to my running/resting/eating habits. Even though I felt dejected after a 5 week lay-off from running due to a foot injury, a fair bit of hard work has quickly put me in better shape than before and the fittest I've ever been.

Crisp morning light on the Ben

And the real purpose of all this is for days like today. I had that inkling last night that conditions could be suitable for a really great dawn this morning so I headed off in the dark up Carn Mor Dearg. I waited on the cold and frosty ridge for a long time, my hopes for a good sunrise rapidly fading as banks of cloud rolled in over the summits.

Schiehallion at dawn

But then, as is so often the case, a sudden and spectacular change. The clouds shifted and I was treated to the mother of all sunrises….the clouds instantly set on fire by a dawn glow unlike anything I've ever seen before.

But I knew my positioning was wrong and the light was quickly changing. So I ran 100m back down the slope to get a better angle on things, then realising my original position was going to be better so I ran straight back up again. And I got my photos. All the hard work I've put in over the last year has been so I am fit enough so I can make sure I can get exactly the right place at the right time when a once-a-year opportunity like this arrises.

Rime ice on the Carn Mor Dearg Arete

Then a frosty and slippery jog across the CMD Arete to a snowy and surprisingly wintery summit of Ben Nevis. And after a while admiring the firm snow, rime ice and lengthy icicles adorning the summit I ran at full pace back down to my car at Torlundy.

Alpenglow in October? Can't complain.

Back to Glencoe by 11am, and I thought I'd see how real my feeling of being at my fittest really was. So I did the Aonach Eagach as well, running long sections but not too fast considering I'd already climbed Carn Mor Dearg and the Ben immediately before.

The view from the Aonach Eagach to Stob Coire nan Lochan

I felt pretty fresh considering I'd done 8800ft of ascent involving a fair bit of running, after no sleep. Who knows, maybe one day I'll become vaguely okay at the whole hill-running thing. Until then I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, so I can make sure I can get to the right place at the right time again next time the dawn puts on such a rare and stunning display.