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Your perception of distance can play tricks on you in the mountains. Perhaps, it’s the unique mountain light that causes your brain to go haywire and pretend that the summit in the distance is closer than you think. More likely the boost of exercise related hormones, that are triggered when you lace up your boots and put one foot in front of the other, have clouded your judgment and estimation of your own abilities. We have all been there, leaning against a summit cairn taking in the panorama around us when our eyes alight on another airy ridge and a temptingly gnarly summit just beyond.  In that moment of “topping-out” euphoria your brain’s normally fairly accurate computation of time and distance fail, egged on by your own sense of achievement you find yourself stepping forward to bag that extra peak. After all, you are so close; it would be a shame to miss it out. If the body produced a reality hormone it would be coursing through your veins by now triggering an involuntary but rational movement of arms to map and then focusing of eyes.  This simple physiological move would confirm that the summit is further than first thought and involve a nastily steep ascent following that knee-crunching descent. All to be repeated in the opposite direction.  In combination with the “let’s be rational about this” hormone this would result in an abrupt about turn and murmurs of, “perhaps I will leave it for another day.”

Setting out to bag the lonely peak of Gulvain there was no risk of overestimating my own abilities but I had lost all sense of distance. Striding out along the track beside the Fionn Lighe, the heat of the early morning sun already rising, I knew that it was a long walk in before we would start climbing. Pausing briefly as we crossed the river I gazed in to temptingly cool, inky black pools as the water lazily slid underneath the bridge. Yet still there was no sign of my goal. I quickened my pace beside the forestry plantation desperate to get to higher ground. There I knew I would be out of reach of the slashing, slicing razor-sharp teeth of the clegs that hovered around me, ready to silently ambush any exposed piece of skin. They had plenty to aim for as I had foolishly opted to wear walking shorts for this outing, providing a Heathrow-sized space for these airborne insect terrorists to hijack my blood. A decision that I came to regret the next day as my legs turned to itchy islands of blotchy, red inflammation and swelling.

The mountain getting ever so slightly closer The welcome first glimpse of the twin-peaked Gulvain, the footpath leaving a clear stony scar on its lower slopes, encouraged me onwards. Yet no matter how many steps I took forward the mountain never seemed to get any closer.

Push forward one hundred metres. Stop. Look upwards. The mountain seemed further away than ever.

Focus on the summit whilst walking. Surely, then it will gradually seem closer.

Another kilometre effortlessly glides by and the grassy slopes obstinately stand still.

Temporary distance perception disorder had definitely kicked in. Then all of a sudden it disappears as the steep slope towers above you, shutting out any view of the first summit. The path zigzags relentlessly upwards, the clegs left safely behind. Instead I am joined by bumblebees heavily laden with ruby red pollen and jewel-like dragonflies, emerald green, sapphire blue and jet-black darting to and fro. Their target the carpets of wild thyme and lady’s mantle providing a purple and yellow fringe to the path. These natural delights divert me from the climb and soon I am leaning against the trig point of the minor top. Glancing at the Munro beyond, I wondered if my brain is playing distance tricks again. The summit looks suspiciously close and the drop before any re-ascent only minimal. Not wanting to risk a step too far I check the map. It’s only six hundred metres with a drop of fifty. No delusional distances.

From the summit of Gulvain On fine summer days you linger at the top desperately wanting to make up for all those days where, blasted by wind and rain you barely pause at a summit. I did just that on Gulvain carefully crossing off the other mountains I could identify, noting the enticing ones not yet climbed. I wanted to remain high for as long as possible as I retraced my steps along the ridge. Even more so, when confronted with a squadron of flying insects primed for their next kamikaze mission towards human skin.

Heat, tiredness and mountain air all contributed to severe distance distortion when I reached the track below. Six kilometres seemed like sixty. The landmarks I had mentally noted in the morning, the tumble-down croft, the fire-break in the trees, the small bend in the track were all further apart than before. The car was never just round that corner or over that hump, instead I was always confronted with just dusty track stretching off into the distance. Eventually that track ran out and slumped against my car I realised that time, distance and space often have no real meaning in the mountains

Recommended Links:

Walk Highlands Route Description

“Cairn in the Mist” Blog Route Report

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TGO Challenger Passes Through

How do you tell a TGO Challenger from a normal West Highland Way walker when they enter your Post Office? Simple, he will be wearing a big rucksack. The majority of West Highland Way walkers tend to have smaller day sacks as their kit is ferried from stop-to-stop by a luggage company. There is no such luxury for a challenger.

Also, they will be carrying a four and a half kilo parcel that needs to be posted second class and ask just out of interest how heavy it is. That was the scenario this morning as my first challenger appeared in front of the counter. A brief conversation established that he had been carrying most of the contents of the parcel and that he was heading to Montrose.

I told him I had been following some of the challengers on their blogs. When asked, I listed a few, Alan Sloman’s alcohol assisted journey and the excellent Postcard from Timperley. My customer agreed they were both good blogs. He then asked if I looked at Whitespider. I am afraid I never have and he looked slightly crestfallen at my response. It was only after his departure that I realised he may have been the blogger himself. If that is so, my apologies, I will make sure I have a look at the Whitespider this evening.

Update: I have just looked at the Whitespider blog. My intrepid challenger wasn’t the same guy, but thanks for putting me on to another great blog.

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The Mamore Loner


If Binnein Beag was a human it would be one of life’s loners. Stuck their in the corner of the playground with its bigger brother Binnein Mor back turned to ignore him, keeping the smaller Beag at arms distance. Why pay any attention to Beag when you can talk excitedly to all your other interesting mates in the Mamores. It’s easy being a mountain when you are the largest in the class. Even the neighbouring bulk of Sgurr Eilde Mor stands to one side a looming, lurking mountain, one you can’t quite trust like the class bully. One moment full of smiles and pats on the back, your best friend and the next a raging temper and pokes in the eyes as you become his sworn enemy, his latest object of spite.


Having larked around with the more interesting boys in the Mamore playground I had seen Binnein Beag from a distance but never up close. I was intrigued, I wanted to get closer, wanted to begin to know this shy, retiring mountain, what makes it tick. My task was to go and introduce myself to this elusive mountain and try and start a relationship. Binnein Beag was not going to make this an easy task. I had a long walk into remote country to even catch a glimpse let alone get up close, but the walk along a fine, airy, stalkers path high above the lonely Loch Eilde Mor makes for a quick, unseen approach. Tip-toeing around Coire an Lochain I get my first glimpse of Binnein Beag ahead of me, trying to hide itself behind the broad shoulder of Binnein Beag My pace quickens, eagerly pushing forward to get closer. Who said this encounter was going to be easy?


Binnein Beag 001 There before me opens the grassy hollow of Allt Coire a’Bhinnein blocking any quick progress towards my target. It is though a deep, fortified moat full of untold horrors has been thrown before me to thwart my onward journey. Not being disheartened I press on, soon descending via zig-zags to the river below, briskly fording it via stepping stones to the path beyond. All the time my goal remains before me.


Perhaps, I have been noticed by my lone quarry as it attempts to hide its face with a scarf of wispy cloud, although it is only a momentary mask soon dissipating to reveal the summit again. There’s no hiding from me now, firmly in my sights I stride on to the high bealach separating Beag from Mor, finally ready to introduce myself.


Hang on a minute, am I rushing things? No loner will appreciate a hasty, over-confident approach – softly, softly is definitely needed on this occasion. I paused awhile on rocks beside a small lochan, to contemplate, over lunch, the life of a loner. I thought this quiet contemplation would be ruined as I saw a group of fellow walkers paused upon the lower ridge of Binnein Mor, but they were to ascend rather than join me in my quiet space. They obviously recognised that today, like the mountain behind me, I was a loner as well.


Close up my quarry doesn’t make it any easier, the shattered slopes of ankle-breaking blocks scattered carelessly in order to catch out the unwary. I am determined though, such defences will only slow but not deter. I make speedy progress nimbly avoiding the loose scree slopes strategically placed to slow and dissuade. The barriers are breached as I reach the small summit plateau and introduce myself to my conquered prey.


Binnein Beag 02


And now I realise that there are sometimes benefits to being an outsider. Binnein Beag’s solitude gives an opportunity to appreciate things from a distance. Those other mountains that you take for granted up close take on a different persona from this angle. The mighty bulk of Ben Nevis dominates Glen Nevis stretching back along the Grey Corries. Straight ahead, the other Mamores snake off into the distance. Glancing behind, you look straight in to the dark barren depths of Rannoch Moor. At this point, as you stare transfixed into miles of nothingness, you understand that perhaps loneliness is all relative.

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Do you ever wonder why we set foot on the hills?  I thought this quote sums up the reason.

“The hills are beautiful. They are beautiful in line and form and colour, they are beautiful in purity, in their simplicity and in their freedom; they bring repose, contentment and good health.”

F.S. Smythe, 1930s Everest pioneer

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The hills according to…

One of the features I enjoy reading in Trail Magazine is the "Hills according to…." item where each month they ask a notable hillwalker or mountaineer for their thoughts on time spent in the hills. I have often wondered how I would respond to each of the questions, I am unlikely to be ever considered a notable hillwalker so this my only chance to set down my, "Hills according to…"

What was your earliest mountain experience?

Probably as a child on holiday in Wales, with my parents, looking out at the vast scary bleakness of the Brecon Beacons from the warmth and comfort of our car.

When were you most scared?

During a trip to Ben More on the Isle of Mull, this was my first walk in real Scottish winter conditions. I had been out on mountains in crampons and with an ice- axe before but the weather had always been pretty benign. On this trip we had to tackle gale force winds, at times zero-visibility and intense cold. Even the old-timers in the group agreed that it had been an epic trip. I was only scared because it was the first time, I would happily repeat the day again because of the sense of achievement when we got back to the youth hostel.

When was getting lost your fault?

I never seem to get really lost, just slightly off track! It is normally a result of me being pig-headed and not following what the map and compass are telling me.

Tell us about your most treasured bit of kit.

It has to be the humble map. I can spend hours looking at and reading a map, learning new things about an area, trying to visualise the landscape and dreaming of adventures yet to come.

How do mountains feature in your life?

They surround me. The village I live in is surrounded by mountains, on one side the Mamores and the other Garbh Bheinn and the Glen Coe mountains. In the distance we can see the hills of Ardgour and Morvern. I am always looking up thinking I wish I could be up their now or wondering what it is like up on the tops. It saddens me that may residents have never stepped foot on them or take the beauty around them for granted.

Are you fit enough?

No. Although my strength and stamina, in particular, improves with every day spent in the hills.

What’s in your lunch box?

Cheese and ham wholemeal rolls and Tunnocks Caramel Wafer bars. Oh, and cherry tomatoes, completely pointless I know but I love their taste.

Who would you like to climb a mountain with?

My father. Being one of three sons it was always difficult to spend time alone with him. It would be great to talk with him away from other distractions. However, I would never convince him to go up a hill with me.

Which is your dream mountain?

It has to be the Cuillins in Skye, I like the look of razor edge ridges and canine like summits.

Your biggest challenge so far?

Resisting the temptation to stop ill-prepared strollers who think that it is fine to go up a mountain in jeans and trainers with no other equipment. So far I haven’t given anyone a piece of my mind. My wife would be extremely embarrassed if I did.

What’s your most expensive piece of kit?

A North Face tent used only once, so far.

Where would you most like to be now?

In the Dolomites. I love Italy and would like to do some real walking there as well as trying out the Via Ferrata.

What’s the worst thing about walking?

Deciding where to walk. There are so many hills and routes in the United Kingdom, let alone overseas, that I am desperate to explore.

What does the first post-walk beer taste like?

Never as good as the second.

What does a wild camp smell like?

The great outdoors.

What scares you?

The afternoon strollers who head out into the hills in jeans and trainers with no rucksack and no other equipment. They then expect mountain rescue to bail them out of trouble when the going gets tough.

What does getting to the top feel like?

A mixture of wonder and achievement.

The most important lesson you’ve learnt?

Trust the map and compass.

What’s the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done?

I can’t tell you that. I can tell you we were both young!

Going up or coming down?

Definitely going up. My knees complain a lot on the way down and I am always concerned they will eventually declare UDI from my body and go and crawl under the nearest rock.

GPyeS or no?

I have a GPS used mainly for tracking my walks for later reference. The only time I use it for navigation is to get a grid reference if I am not sure of my exact location. Otherwise I rely on the map and compass.

I set out with the aim of writing not only about munro bagging but also about Kinlochleven and the surrounding Lochaber area on this blog. Since its creation I have failed to mention the latter in any detail, instead concentrating on recent munro walking.

To address the balance a bit I thought I would highlight some of the walking opportunities around the village by posting a local walking leaflet. This was produced by the village trust some time ago following the closure of the local Aluminium Smelter. I am the new Chairman of the community trust and one of our priorities is to review and regenerate the path network in and around the village. That is a mammoth task that will involve working with other landowners as well as applying for outside grants. We are determined to make a difference and attract more walkers to this great area.

An early task will be to update information about walks in the area and expand this to include some higher level walking guides as well. I am sure I will post more information on this project as it develops. In the meantime take a look at the leaflet, it is primarily aimed at casual walkers looking for undemanding lower level walks but it does give a flavour of what is on offer.

I set out with the aim of writing not only about munro bagging but also about Kinlochleven and the surrounding Lochaber area on this blog. Since its creation I have failed to mention the latter in any detail, instead concentrating on recent munro walking.

To address the balance a bit I thought I would highlight some of the walking opportunities around the village by posting a local walking leaflet. This was produced by the village trust some time ago following the closure of the local Aluminium Smelter. I am the new Chairman of the community trust and one of our priorities is to review and regenerate the path network in and around the village. That is a mammoth task that will involve working with other landowners as well as applying for outside grants. We are determined to make a difference and attract more walkers to this great area.

An early task will be to update information about walks in the area and expand this to include some higher level walking guides as well. I am sure I will post more information on this project as it develops. In the meantime take a look at the leaflet, it is primarily aimed at casual walkers looking for undemanding lower level walks but it does give a flavour of what is on offer.

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