Friday 29 March 2024

A Look At The May Issue Of The Great Outdoors

The May issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In the gear pages I review four men's big packs (50 litre +) and Fiona Russell reviews four women's ones while John Manning and Lara Dunn review five pairs of three-season hiking boots each. I also review the Eddie Bauer Guide Pro Pants and David Lintern reviews the Montane Solution waterproof jacket. 

In the main features Hanna Lindon considers less popular peaks and routes that punch above their reputation, David Lintern goes backpacking round the remote coast of the Isle of Jura, James Lloyd discusses his rather longer coastal walk - right round Britain, and Sarah Hewitt goes on the Manaslu Circuit Trek in Nepal.

The magazine opens with a lovely photo of Cressbrook Dale in the Peak District at dawn by Emily Huzzard. Creator of the Month is landjustice campaigner and podcaster Nadia Shaikh. Francesca Donovan reviews Alex Roddie's latest book Wanderlust -British and Irish Isles. In the Opinion piece Mary-Ann Ochota says that access to nature is a necessity not a luxury. Jim Perrin looks at Carn Ingli in Pembrokeshire for his Mountain Portrait. Emma Schroeder thinks about the wind on her coastal walk in her Notes from the Edge. In the Skills section Alex Roddie considers how to look after your feet.

Alex Roddie pops up again in the Wild Walks pages with two routes in the Scottish Highlands - Beinn a' Ghlo in the Cairngorms and the trio of Ben Lui, Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhcraig in the Southern Highlands. In the Lake District Vivienne Crow climbs Blencathra and Scales Fell and Norman Hadley goes up Great Gable via Moses' Trod and Scafeel from Wha House Farm. In the Peak District Francesca Donovan wanders over Shining Tor and Windgather Rocks and Ian Battersby takes the Dove Dale and Manifold Trail. There are two walks in Wales - Andrew Galloway climbs Carnedd Llewelyn via Cwm Eigiau in Snowdonia while Ian Battersby visits Waun Rydd in the Brecon Beacons. Finally Fiona Barltrop walks the Cornish coast from Tintagel to Polzeath.

Monday 25 March 2024

Celebrating the Spring Equinox on Sail Mhor

An Teallach from Sail Mhor

After leaving the path work party on An Teallach (see last post) I drove a short way alongside Little Loch Broom then climbed up beside the wonderful Ardessie Falls to the flatter upper glen of the Allt Airdeasaidh where I found a not too boggy spot to camp on the sodden ground.

Ardessie Falls

The chain of waterfalls was spectacular, the river full of the heavy rain of recent days along with the last snowmelt. I wandered over as close to the edge as I dared to look at them many times. For those who like waterfalls I’ve added a selection of photos at the end of the post. I was though shocked by the state of the path, if the confusing morass of muddy trails could be called that. With my new found knowledge I mentally reconstructed it as I went along.

Sgurr Ruadh

An Teallach rises to the east but only the rolling north-western end of the mountain can be seen. It doesn’t look very interesting, the great prow of Sail Mhor rising to the west being far more dramatic. Higher up rocky Sgurr Ruadh, the end of a long spur from the main An Teallach ridge, gave a hint of the glorious rock scenery just out of sight.

Just before the rain

A cool breeze blew down the glen and the sky was overcast. I had just settled into my shelter when a fierce squall rattled against the fabric. The forecast was for the wind to die down and the sky clear and sometime during the night both happened as I woke to warmth and condensation. Overnight the temperature had fallen to just 1°C. I didn’t need to wear a jacket all day though. Appropriate, as it was the spring equinox.

Early morning light

Leaving camp to be collected later I set off up the glen hoping that a ford of the Allt Airdeasaidh, necessary as I wanted to climb Sail Mhor which was on the far side, would be easier higher up than it looked here. It wasn’t. It was knee deep and I had to pick my spot carefully in the fast rushing water. I was glad the day was warm.

Sail Mhor & the Allt Airdeasaidh

From the ford I headed up to Ruigh Mheallain, the 594-metre southernmost top of Sail Mhor. A dip to a col and then it was up the western edge of Sail Mhor where a rough path goes steeply up along the edge of crags to the 767-metre top, marked by a small cairn on the long gentle summit ridge.

Little Loch Broom

The views from the top are extensive and glorious. Out to the west the sea extended to hazy, almost invisible islands. I sat on the summit revelling in the sunshine and the calm. The first day of spring indeed. Pulling myself up before I drifted off to sleep I wandered over to a cairn to the north that gives a better view of Little Loch Broom. This cairn looks to be higher from the summit but when you look back it doesn’t. There can’t be much in it.

Tors & rocks on Sail Mhor

From the summit I descended south-east to the more interesting part of the mountain. Soon the plain grassy slopes gave way to stony terrain with little vegetation beyond which lay a series of little sandstone tors. The rocks are fascinating and the tors give a better view of An Teallach and the surrounding hills than the summit.  Further east the sky was cloudier though the summits were clear and just once Sgurr Fiona soared into blueness.

Sgurr Fiona

Descending east from the tors is unwise as the hillside is craggy and very steep. This is the prow seen from the Allt Airdeasaidh. Instead I went south until I was past the crags and could turn east and descend to another knee deep ford of the river opposite my camp. Then it was back down past the waterfalls and home. A grand start to spring!

Pictures of Ardessie Falls 


Friday 22 March 2024

It's Up To Us: Pathwork on An Teallach

Last July I posted about Mountaineering Scotland and the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland's campaign about the need for investment in hill paths called It's Up To Us (see my piece here). Part of the project is to raise funds to repair a badly eroded footpath on An Teallach. A few days ago I visited the path work to see how it was going and to to get a feel for what actually doing the work is like. 

I was there for The Great Outdoors magazine and there'll be a feature about my trip in the June issue. My role was to talk to the work crew - full timers and volunteers - and to experience the work. Photographer James Roddie was there to take photographs - you can see him at work in the picture above - so I only took a few phone snaps, which you can see here.

I was impressed with the skill and dedication of the workers and I learnt a great deal about path building. I also learnt how hard the work is! I'm looking forward to seeing James' photos of me trying to roll a big rock uphill and digging a hole for a rock step!

This is a major and important project worth supporting by anyone concerned about the state of Scotland's hill paths. 

Monday 18 March 2024

Uath Lochans, winter storms, climate crisis

Uath Lochans & the Glen Feshie hills

On recent trips to Glen Feshie I’d been shocked by the storm damage in the lower glen, where great swathes of forest had been flattened by very strong winds earlier this year. I also heard that the area around the lovely Uath Lochans had been affected and the paths there closed whilst windblown trees were cleared. These have recently opened, unlike those at Feshiebridge which are still shut, as are the car parks.

Wanting to see how much damage had been done I recently visited the Uath Lochans and went for a walk in the woods around them. From the car park I made my way up Creag Far-leitire, with its splendid view over the three lochans to the Glen Feshie hills. Snow capped the tops and the forest and water shone in the sunshine. I was pleased to see there was no sign of destruction and the scene was as peaceful and beautiful as ever. However on my way up the crag I’d passed many fallen trees and in many places the path was lined with cut logs. I could see why the paths had been closed.

Uath Lochan & Glen Feshie hills

From Creag Far-leitire I followed paths and tracks, mostly signed as the Badenoch Way, down to Loch Insh, and then back to the lochans via another route, waymarked as the Speyside Way. There were many large areas of fallen trees. Lining these flattened areas were tall, thin, tightly packed pines. Most of this forest is a plantation, pine not spruce so perhaps more natural looking but a plantation none the less. The trees are planted close together in straight lines. With no space to grow outwards they grow upwards, reaching for the light. Even sized and in symmetrical blocks it’s easy to see how one falling can cause a domino effect. And in last winter’s storms many fell.

Storm damage

The climate crisis means storms are predicted to be more frequent and more powerful so more forest destruction is likely. This is especially so in plantations. Nick Kempe wrote an excellent piece that's well-worth reading about this on Parkswatch Scotland in which he argues that climate change makes plantation forestry unsustainable and that windblown areas should be left to regenerate naturally and not replanted. It seems storm damage is less severe in forests with a variety of randomly spaced  trees of different ages and sizes growing where they can expand outwards as well as upwards, a real forest not a plantation in fact.

Whilst slowing and limiting climate change is essential the effects are not going to just stop, whatever we do, so mitigation is also necessary. Allowing natural forests to grow via regeneration is part of this. 

Loch Insh & Geal-charn Mor

Approaching Loch Insh I could see Geal-charn Mor and the Kinrara Estate, the site of Brew Dog’s “Lost Forest”, where extensive planting is taking place. How will that stand up to future storms I wondered.

Friday 15 March 2024

Photography Post: DXO Pure Raw 4 produces an amazing transformation of a ridiculously noisy image

Original on the left, processed in PureRaw 4 on the right

Last July I posted about the amazing power of DxO PhotoLab editing software and the noise removal abilities of Deep Prime XD. I've been using DxO PhotoLab for raw file processing ever since. 

The Deep Prime denoising software has always been available separately under the name PureRaw as a plug-in for Lightroom and other processing software and DxO has just brought out the fourth version of this and it's more complex and powerful than ever before. I've been trying a preview version of DxO PureRaw 4 for the last few weeks and while I still have much to learn I'm impressed enough already to have bought it. 

To give it a thorough test I searched my images for a ridiculously noisy image and came up with this one of noctilucent clouds taken at night at ISO 16,000 with a Sony NEX 7 camera and Sony E 16-50mm lens at 1/60 second and f4. The resulting image is painfully noisy, as the crop below shows, as ISO 16,000 is way beyond what this camera and lens can handle.

I ran this through PureRaw 4's Deep Prime XD2 denoising technology and the difference is astonishing. There is now virtually no noise.

I also processed the image in DxO PhotoLabs 7 which has the previous denoising technology, Deep Prime XD, and the result is also impressive, though there is a little noise (probably not visible here). Either Deep Prime version is vastly superior to the original.

I haven't done any other processing to the images. This shows what DxO Deep Prime XD and XD2 can do on their own.

The image in DxO PhotoLab 7. Original top, processed below

I'll be using PureRaw 4 on more noisy images (I have plenty!) to learn more about its capabilites. 

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Last week's camp in Glen Feshie - video clip


A very short little video! I did remember to make one though. I'll try and remember more often.

Saturday 9 March 2024

Mullach Clach a' Bhlair the long way

Across the Moine Mhor to cloud-capped Sgor Gaoith

Looking at maps is always a pleasure. I can do this for hours. There is so much to see, so many ideas for walks generated, so many places to explore. Even in familiar areas I can find spots or routes that I’ve never visited before.  

Thinking of an overnight trip a week ago I browsed my Cairngorm maps and noticed a track running up the spur between Coire Bhlair and Coire Eindart from Glen Feshie to reach the vast Moine Mhor plateau a kilometre or so east of Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair. On current OS maps this is shown as a track, on Harvey maps as an intermittent path. Nothing is shown on my well-used 2004 OS Explorer map so perhaps a track has been bulldozed since then and perhaps that’s why I’d never noticed it before. I decided to go and have a look.

The cloud-capped crags of Coire Garbhlach

My trip started with the always enjoyable walk down Glen Feshie, which gave me a chance to look at the landslip I’d come across in the upper glen last October, hoping it would now be easier to cross. It was, as I described in my last post.

The day was cloudy with occasional light rain showers. High above I could see snow on the tops and above them fast moving clouds. The wind was meant to drop during the night and not pick up again until the next afternoon. After a run of very windy days I hoped this would be so.

Passing through the dramatic, crag-lined narrowing of the glen between Creag na Gaibhre and Creag na Caillich I came out into more open terrain as the glen turns east and the forest thins and fades away.

A splendid camp

I camped by the Allt Coire Bhlair just above its confluence with the River Feshie. This is a spectacular spot with both streams running through deep gorges and crashing down in waterfalls, though these are hard to see due to the trees.

Waterfall on the Allt Coire Bhlair

The wind dropped to a light breeze overnight, stars appeared, and the temperature dropped, with a low of - 3.3°C. The clouds were still rushing overhead but there were bursts of sunshine and patches of blue sky.

A welcome sight on a frosty morning

Just across the Allt Coire Bhlair an old path left the track in the glen and angled up the slope above, soon joining a vehicle track that continued all the way to the Moine Mhor. The OS maps were correct. It wasn’t a bulldozed track though but one that looked created simply by repeated use, though not regularly. In places there were sections of a path cutting corners on the track. I wondered if there had been an old path up here. Back home I checked my Cairngorms and Munros books. There was no mention of this route at all. The track isn’t as ugly or prominent as some but it would still be good if it was allowed to fade back into the landscape.

The River Feshie running towards a cloudy Carn an Fhidleir

This is an empty and spacious part of the Cairngorms. Boggy moorland stretches out in every direction, with great sweeping views south over the Feshie to the remote Munros of An Sgarsoch and  Carn an Fhidleir.

View to Meall Chuaich

Gradually the open moor becomes a more defined spur as the track climbs. I reached the first snow patches and then almost complete cover. In places the snow was light and unconsolidated, filling the spaces between clumps of vegetation and hollows in the track. Although the snow wasn’t deep this didn’t make for easy walking as I kept breaking through and lurching from side to side. In other places the snow had drifted. Here it was deep and I was plunging in, sometimes to my knees. The ascent isn’t steep though and the sense of wild space was tremendous.

Reaching the snow

A long line of paw prints showed that a fox, or maybe two, had been following the track too. High up there were mountain hare tracks too. I saw neither creature, just red grouse lower down and ravens circling the tops. There were no boot prints and I saw no-one until near the summit of Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair.

The wind was becoming wild too and my dark glasses, donned against the glare of sunshine off the snow, were kept on when the sky clouded over to protect my eyes from the increasing blasts of spindrift.

The summit

Reaching the Moine Mhor the track joined another, bulldozed one, and I followed this to just below Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair and then made a last short arduous ascent in soft snow to the summit. Here the ground was scoured of snow and icy. The wind was increasing in strength and there’s no shelter, just a tiny cairn, so I didn’t linger.

Across the Moine Mhor to Braeriach, Sgor and Lochain Uaine, & Cairn Toul

The views across the snowy Moint Mhor were tremendous. Summits came and went in the streaming clouds. This is a vast landscape.

Sgor Gaoith

Given the wind, the spindrift, and the difficult walking I abandoned my plan of crossing the Moine Mhor to the path down from Carn Ban Mor and instead descended the track down Choire Chaoil, as I had done with Tony Hobbs in late January when coming from the opposite direction (see this post). There was far more snow now than there had been then. 

The effects of sun and wind

Lower down, though, some areas had been stripped of it by the sun and the wind on south and west facing slopes. This was particularly noticeable on Meall nan Sleac, which rises just above the path.

As close to a cornice as I dared go

Clouds of spindrift were blowing down the corrie in great waves. Most passed me by but one enveloped me and for a few seconds I could see nothing but whirling whiteness. Cornices were building on the edge of Coire Garbhlach.

Cornices building above Coire Garbhlach

Down in the glen I wandered through the pines back to the car satisfied with my excursion. I doubt many people take this long way to Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair but it is worthwhile. I plan on returning in the summer to see what it’s like then.

Thursday 7 March 2024

Glen Feshie landslips & stream crossings update

Tony Hobbs crossing the Allt Garbhlach at the site of the washed out path in January this year

The streams running down the steep slopes of Glen Feshie are prone to flashfloods and landslips. This is a mobile landscape that changes frequently. Whilst this makes for a dramatic and interesting enevironment over the years it has caused difficulties in places for walkers. 

Last October I came across a new landslip deep into the glen which looked so difficult and risky to cross that I turned back (story here). A few days ago I returned there and was pleased to see that it's now easily crossed with care. It looks as though further landslips and erosion has altered the deep ravine considerably and that someone has done some work to make it safer. The landslip is at GR NN 85050 91330.

Looking SE across the landslip, October 2023

Looking SE across the landslip, March 2024

Looking NW up the landslip, October 2023

Looking NW up the landslip, March 2024

A much bigger flashflood nearly a decade ago took out the path across the Allt Garbhlach just above its confluence with the River Feshie, leaving a steep descent down loose slopes on one side and a climb up a similar slope on the other. A few steep and somewhat precarious ways up and down soon developed as this is a popular route. 

Then the estate put up a sign on the approach to the Allt Garbhlach saying the original path was closed and to use a narrow side path leading to a ford higher up. Both paths are marked on current OS maps. Last August I took this path, which goes through dense heather and small regenerating pines, to a log bridge over the river. Not as dramtic as the original crossing but much easier and safer.

Log bridge over the Allt Garbhlach, August 2023

On my recent trip I saw the sign had gone. I took the path anyway and found that the bridge was still there but had moved and now looked precarious. As I said, this is a mobile landscape.

The log bridge over the Allt Garbhlach, March 2024

Others obviously felt the same as there was no path leading to the bridge but instead one further upstream, not far from where the bridge used to be. This has been used so much that it's become a muddy morass on one side.

Path by the Allt Garbhlach ford, March 2024

Whilst this crossing is easier than the original one I think the latter is far preferable as the situation really is spectacular. When the Allt Garbhlach is in spate neither ford would be easy and maybe not even possible safely.

The original crossing point just above the confluence of the Allt Garbhlach with the River Feshie