Thursday, 17 September 2015

Tackling Schiehallion

Well I haven't been up to much recently, mainly because I'm saving for... AUSTRALIA...which is happening in December! So instead I thought I'd do a throwback blog post to my walk up Schiehallion with my Dad in February,

This was actually part of my training for my Everest Base Camp trek, and a munro is definitely a good place to do just that. What we didn't really consider however, was that though it may have been a beautiful day, we sort of...forgot...that the weather isn't like that once you hit altitude.

*View from the road, not long before reaching the car park*

We planned to set off good and early...this soon turned in to 10am, meaning we didn't set off on the actual walk until nearer 12pm. It was a stunning day, with clear skies and a crisp, cold breeze - perfect walking conditions many would say. As we set off, we encountered many a rambler (rambler = walker) on their way down, saying the views were incredible at the top and the path was great for walking on.

*Quick selfie before we begin*

Schiehallion is a great Munro to climb, sitting at 1,083 meters. It gives way to incredible panoramic views over fellow munros and the stunning Loch Rannoch. It is a cheeky mountain, however, as it has many ridges that you reach on the way up, giving false hope that one is near the peak...only to realise you have a long, long way yet. We stopped for a quick rest at what we thought was half-way at the time (really it was barely a quarter of the way), for a wee snack, and enjoyed the views.

 *Views of Loch Rannoch and some fellow munros*
*Me, looking knackered already, having a break*
*Dad and I on our far-too-early break*

After this short break, we continued upwards and onwards. The path is very easy to follow with Schiehallion - very clear, and the munro takes a perfect "mountain" shape of a triangle. As the climb became steeper, and we realised that these ridges were forever tricking us into thinking we were near the top, we noticed some of the walkers heading down wearing crampons. Nope, make that almost all of them. We could feel the air cooling, but it was February and the peak lunchtime had passed, so this was normal, particularly when heading upwards! However, we reached a point where all we could see ahead was ice. Icy snow. The snowfall over the peak of the mountain had started to freeze over with the cold winds, giving a slippy, crunchy layer of ice on top of soft snow. What this means is not only is it slippy, but you have no idea how deep the snow is beneath you. The likelihood of breaking an ankle by stepping into deep snow when you thought it was shallow was high, as well as the opposite, where you could fall and hit your head a off a rock you didn't know was there. Obviously we stopped and considered the task that was facing us, weighing up the pros and cons, dangers and what-not. Daddy-like-daughter, the two of us generally decided...."Ach, what the hell", and went forward.

 *Starting to get icy and cold...*
*...very cold.*

In order to tackle the icy areas, we had to kick our boots into the hard snow, creating small footholds - meaning we were walking slower, but it worked. (This technique provided extremely useful in Nepal, when climbing down a narrow, iced-over bank of a fast-slowing river).  The climb gradually got steeper, and a dark grey cloud was creeping in from our right hand side, racing us to the peak. Due the to those darn ridges, unfortunately it got there before us. The wind picked up on our last climb, and I had to swap gloves with my Dad.

[Note: As I mentioned, this was a training weekend for me. It was also a test of my gear. Gloves (Trespass) - FAILED. Boots (La Sportiv) - absolutely PERFECT.]

Eventually, however, we reached the top! Excited and exhausted, we stood at 1,083 meters, and basked in the crisp mountain air. The moment was fantastic, particularly as it was the first mountain I'd ever climbed. The moment did not last long however, as, distracted by our achievement, we were suddenly aware that the sun was rapidly going down and darkness was sweeping in.

The trek down was in some ways easier, but in some ways much harder. Nightfall chased us down, just at our tails. We could not kick our feet into the snow (which had completely iced over now), and instead relied on the walking poles (one each) to balance ourselves. Needless to say we fell on our backsides several times each, and even attempted to purposefully slide on our bums part the way down, as this seemed far safer! My Dad's arthritis was putting pressure on his knees - not easy seeing your very fit Dad struggling either. So I went down slightly ahead of him, both of us having the thought that at least if I got down, I could call Mountain Rescue!

 *Me at the top!*
*Dad at the top!*

*Note that we are in the middle of a cloud in these photos!*

We made it down however, if only just! It was a magnificent accomplishment - and I'm happy it was with my Dad. He's the one that introduced outdoor adventure to me as a child . I recommend everyone takes a walk up a munro at one point or another (though I do recommend Summer - unless life-threatening Winter struggles are your thing, or you have the Winter equipment) - it is a great sense of a achievement and an amazing way to view the Scottish Highlands.

Which Munro should I tackle next? I'm undecided. Let me know your suggestions in the comments - I'd love to hear from you!

[Note: Munro = Scottish mountain]

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