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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Mums-who-run take part in Highland Fling

Fantastic finish by running mum Debs of the local Garscube Harriers. I knew her from my Herald days and I still occasionally bump into her while out running. Debbie, who is mum of baby Cairn, took part in the Highland Fling, a 53 mile race along the West Highland Way. It's often used as a training run for the West Highland Way race later in the year. Anyway, Debbie came home a brilliant 3rd and helped the Garscube ladies team to a 1st place. Read about her Highland Fling race here

Another mum-who-runs Rachel, aka the Running Potter-turned-firefighter, also took part in the Highland Fling. Read about her race here It sounded painful but rewarding... in the end!

I have a lot of respect for these women. I just can't imagine where they find the time and the energy!

Running on post-bike jelly legs

So I've entered the Peebles Triathlon. I've been swimming once a week with Glasgow Tri Club and finally I'm seeing some improvements. I'm not quite "dolphin" yet but I am less "clothes in a washing machine". Sometimes I even enjoy a length or two when I feel I'm getting the pull of the stroke just right.

And I've also been trying a couple of "brick" sessions. That's going from a bike ride straight to a run. Today I cycled for almost an hour and then ran for 25 minutes. The problem with running straight from the bike is jelly legs. I also had very tight hamstrings.

So to keep my mind from the pain and frustration of running on jelly/tight legs I started thinking about why this session is called a "brick". I wondered if it was because your thighs, hamstrings and calves feel like bricks? Then I tried to work out the words for a B.R.I.C.K. acronym. Bike Run Is Copiously Krap. That was the best I could manage in my weakened state.

It turns out that it was a duathlete Dr Matt Brick that first coined the phrase after becoming an advocator of bike-run and run-bike training sessions.

The advantages of this type of training for both duathlete and triathletes is obvious. If you're going to have to do something in a race to the best of your ability then it is best to train for it. Brick sessions have the benefit of specifically training muscles and, psychologically, it helps to know that at some point your running legs will come back again.

Today I felt tired for almost all the run. But last time I felt tired for all of the run. There are six weeks left until the race so I hope I have left enough time to toughen up my jelly legs. "Bricking it" comes to mind!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Jo's yoga to thank for my super plank

This weekend was the annual Glasgow Tri Club training weekend. As usual we enjoyed two days of excellent coaching across each of the three disciplines and a lot of fun and socialising. Also, as usual, we took part in a hilarious Mini Olympics.

This year events included "how many Rolos can you get in your mouth at once" (fantastic effort from Nick who managed to squeeze in a stunning 32 Rolos!), "high jump over a rope of elastic bands" (top marks went to the bloke in the flowery pants) , "fastest transition", "50m swim" and "the plank".

Again, as usual, the latter event was won by Super Plank Holder Ray who held his super straight position for more than five minutes. (His record is eight minutes, I believe). But in second place came... me! It did come as something of a surprise since the last time I held a plank was some two years ago. Back then I think I squeezed out an agonising two minutes.

While I do keep cardio fit I do not do sit ups, nor indeed do I ever really focus on my core muscles at all. So the only explanation for my four-minute plank on Saturday is Ashtanga Yoga. It seems that thanks to two years of Jo Lockhart's Ashtanga-style Yoga classes (once a week for 90 minutes) I have developed a strong core. In fact I've developed the strongest core I've ever had - and muscles that helped me to beat all but Super Plank Holder Ray. (This is some feat given the number of fit folk in the GTC!).

I guess I knew that Jo's Yoga class was a tough workout but I hadn't realised quite how good it's been for my core strength. My improved muscles also explain why I rarely suffer from back ache anymore, and why I have been much less prone to general injuries from running over the last 18 months.

So perhaps you might now be interested in giving Ashtanga Yoga a go. Jo runs a number of classes in the Bearsden and Strathblane areas, and has recently started a new beginner's class. I'm hoping to make a real challenge on Super Ray at next year's tri club training weekend (I just hope he doesn't read this blog and join Jo's class in the meantime!)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

New safe kids cycling campaign

Here's a simple but hopefully highly effective message to drivers about keeping our kids safe on their bikes on the roads. The new Cycling Scotland campaign spells it out on the tarmac in great big letters. And, no, these pics have not been photoshopped.. they really exist. Great work guys.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Review: Reebok EasyTone trainers

I didn't do any exercise this weekend - but strangely I woke up on Monday morning with tired leg and glute muscles. Now I'm aware that folks who know me will find it hard to believe that I spent a whole weekend relaxing and not bagging a single Munro, cycling or running somewhere. But sometimes FionaOutdoors likes to totally chill out.

The campervanning adventure seemed to put me in a wonderfully relaxed mode and so while I'd planned to do a run or a cycle it never actually happened. Instead I ate lots of food and enjoyed a few drinks with friends and family.

However, I was wearing my new Reebok Easytone trainers, courtesy of the nice people at Greaves Sports in Glasgow. To be honest I wasn't really aware that these trainers, which are meant to tone your legs and bum as you walk, were doing anything much at all to my muscles. But now it seems they must have been because I am definitely aware of "worked" muscles at the back of my thighs, my calves and a little in my butt.

If you've seen the adverts on the telly then you'll know that female bottoms play a big - or hopefully a smaller (?!) - role in encouraging us women to buy a pair of EasyTones.

Here's the theory from the manufacturers. EasyTones have a built-in patented sole technology that aims to emulate walking on sand. Ie, barefoot walking, which is the same as the claims for MBTs, FitFlops, Chung Shis and, er, well walking without shoes on. Barefoot walking on sand is meant to be good for our bodies because it improves posture and forces the muscles in our legs and bums to work harder simply by walking.

In reality the EasyTone soles, with their spongy "pods" on the forefoot and heel, make it feel like you're walking in soft, marshmallowy shoes. And because every step feels rather wobbly your leg and bum muscles are forced to work a little harder to keep going in a straight and stable line. The effect is not over-powering but if you concentrate hard it's definitely there.

Reebok claim that walking in EasyTones produces a 28% improvement in muscle tone in the hamstrings, calves and glutes by up to 28%.

And while I can't say for sure that my legs have had a 28% better workout than simply walking around in normal trainers, I do think there has been some benefit to the "marshmallowy" EasyTones. I walked around the campsite, to the shops, around a supermarket and generally spent two days wearing my Reebok EasyTone "Reinspires". And the following day I could feel I had worked more of my leg muscles than normal. Indeed, after a weekend of doing very little indeed except walking, eating and drinking I feel I've had more than my fair share of toning up!

Another benefit of the EasyTones – priced between £75 and £90 (a flip flop version is £45) – is that they look acceptably normal. While MBTs have become more mainstream in their style, they can still appear a little goofy. And they are not ideal if you were to suddenly need to break into a run, either, as the MBT sole is very inflexible. Instead, the Reebok EasyTones look very similar to ordinary trainers and come in a range of reasonably funky styles and colours. The trainers will also accommodate orthotics.

While I reckon that a toned physique takes time and effort to acquire – through a combination of exercise and good diet – I can't see any reason not to wear the Reebok EasyTones. If you are walking somewhere, then why not pop these on? It's, aherm, as Easy as that!

Greaves Sport in Gordon Street, Glasgow, have a good stock of Reebok EasyTones – and you'll be sure to have specialist advice on fitting and style.

My sea kayak adventure in Scotland

Sea kayaking is a truly amazing adventure and has become one of the fastest growing outdoor activities in Scotland. Find out about my first sea kayak trip with the National Kayak School in Oban as published in The Herald.

Campervanning is definitely the new cool

Little Miss Outdoors and Nephlet Outdoors
on a campervan adventure

It's not only the travel and tourism stats that reveal a new trend for campervanning holidays in Scotland – Little Miss Outdoors also thinks that this type of family break is the height of cool.

According to industry insiders the Staycation has prompted a revival in camping and caravan-type holidays, with campervans being an increasingly popular choice, especially for families. Several campervan hire companies confirm that bookings were up in 2009 and continue to be strong in 2010. Campsite managers have also seen a rise in the numbers of campervans – including VW, Toyota and Mazda – taking pitches on sites across Scotland.

Then this weekend, during a short campervan adventure along the East Lothian coast, Little Miss Outdoors added her voice to the story: "Campervans are just so cool. They are like mini houses on wheels and they can transport you to the best places. I don't want to go home now." I imagine there are a lot of holidaymakers who share her opinion.

Certainly we loved the freedom that our Big Tree Campervan offered during a two-night break. With the can loaded up we were able to drive our "mini home" in any direction that we fancied. We decided to go where the weather looked sunniest! We were also thrilled to discover how little hassle a van is compared to a tent. There was a lovely moment when we turned up at the campsite – the friendly Belhaven Bay Campsite, near Dunbar, East Lothian – picked a pitch, parked up.. then did nothing much but sit for a while, chatting, relaxing and making a cup of tea. If we'd had a tent with us there would have been hours of setting up, potential arguments, anxiety about the weather etc. But with a campervan you just pitch up - and, well, enjoy yourself.

The campervan – a roomy Toyota that sleeps four people – also came with a range of mod-cons including a cooker, sink, running water, fridge, heating, plug sockets, a big double bed and a bed in the roof for two more. We even hired a chemical toilet (to avoid night-time dashes to the campsite toilet block) and a gas barbecue (easy to light and cook over...)

The barbecue also meant we could throw an inpromptu outdoors dinner party when some of the Extended Outdoors family joined us one afternoon. (Nephlet Outdoors then decided he wanted a sleepover in the van, which we were happy to oblige!)

While the van provided the ideal base for cooking, sitting, relaxing and sleeping we also discovered that the campsite offered easy access to some of East Lothian's beautiful beach. On Saturday evening we set off for an atmospheric walk along sand dunes and out on to a great expanse of beach.

Bruvver Outdoors and Little Miss Outdoors
get their feet wet on Belhaven beach

While the weather was reasonably sunny during the day, come the evening it turned chilly. While the kids took over the van getting ready for the sleepover, us adults were determined to enjoy the outside life for a little longer. All it took was a sleeping bag each! Looking good Bruvver Outdoors!

Again, the advantages of a campervan over a tent became even more apparent on the Sunday when we awoke to rain. Instead of having to pack up wet kit to return home we simply stayed "indoors" cooking breakfast on the stove, drinking endless cups of tea and generally taking it easy... before turning on the ignition and driving back to Big Tree Campervan base.

In the end the only way to persuade Little Miss Outdoors to get out of the van was to promise another campervanning adventure this summer. Bit of a no-brainer really given the fun we had this weekend.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Dumgoyne conquered non-stop at last!

So a couple of months ago I blogged about being very proud to have run the notoriously steep Dumgoyne hilll (1400ft, 427m), near Strathblane, with only a five stops to catch my breath and rest my legs. A few weeks later I tried again, this time with the G-Force by my side, and I stopped only three times from bottom to top. He kept me going ... by keeping going himself!

Then today I finally did it. I finally pulled off the feat I'd been aiming for, for years. I managed to run the whole hill without stopping once. It was very hard on my calf muscles and at times I thought my lungs would burst but I kept on jogging upwards. There could easily have been times when I was simply slow jogging on the spot but I was still moving. And I did this with a warm-up run of three miles from Strathblane along the pipe track followed by a rather tired run back the same way after summitting the hill.

I am very pleased with myself! To say the least. (I did this in my trusty Inov-8 off-road runinng shoes.)

But I'm not sure I would ever have pushed myself to achieve this feat. This is a feat I'd long ago decided was almost impossible. Then two things happened. The first time I took the G-Force to Dumgoyne he managed to pull off a jog all the way to the top stopping only a few times to catch his breath. I'd always imagined that walking was a necessary part of this oh-so-steep ascent. And then I got chatting to Super-Fit Dave at Little Miss Outdoors' running club and he questioned why I ever needed to stop for a a rest. "Just keep on jogging, even if you feel like you're going nowhere," was his advice. "You can surely keep on going up Dumgoyne," he added. Like a red rag to a bull... And that was what it took to push me to push myself to get to the top of that tough old ascent without stopping once. As I said, I'm really pleased with myself.

If you've no idea what I'm talking about then why not go and take a look for yourself.

Ali and Sue's Big Bike Ride for charity

Two "we must be crazy" sisters are taking on their biggest cycling challenge yet. Sue and Ali, from Edinburgh, plan to ride 1000 miles from Land's End to John O' Groats (I hope the prevailing winds are with you that fortnight girls) in 14 days to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Ali and Sue's Big Bike Ride sets off on May 23rd, and will see the energetic pair cycling 60 miles a day for a total of 100 hours over the fortnight. I reckon this is a great effort and well worth a little sponsor donation.

And if you fancy joining Sue and Ali for part of the ride then check out their route here. I'm sure they'll welcome the encouragement..

Good luck girls!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Midnight Walk in Glasgow for charity

It'll be pretty. It'll be great for your health. And it'll help raise much needed funds for a very worthwhile charity. The Midnight Walk on Saturday May 15th takes place in Glasgow in aid of The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice.

Glasgow's first ever Midnight Walk, sponsored by Slumdog Bar & Kitchen and supported by Glasgow City Council and SECC Glasgow, will see hundreds of fundraisers taking a midnight stroll under a sky of stars. There are two distances, a 5k or 10k, which head along the Clydeside and cross six of Glasgow's famous bridges. Both distances start and finish at the SECC Glasgow and follow a well-lit and safe route.

Going the extra mile for Glasgow's Hospice: Fundraisers will be walking as individuals or alongside friends, family or work colleagues. Everyone will be walking to raise much-needed funds for The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice, a special place that offers care and support to people and families coping with life-threatening illnesses. The sponsorship money that you raise by taking part in the Glasgow Midnight Walk challenge will enable the Hospice to help terminally-ill patients face their own personal challenges and make the most of the time they have remaining.

To enter the event see here

Are you a French speaking walks guide?

Glentrek, a guided walking and holiday company based in the Angus Glens, Scotland, is looking to hire the services of a French speaking walks guide. Glentrek has been in talks with a French walking company that is very keen to explore the possibilities of Glentrek's "Easter Highlands Trek" but they are requesting that the guide speaks French. So if you are a walks guide based in Scotland and you also speak fluent french – and you would like to hire your services to Glentrek or even just discuss your rates then please do get in touch with Janey at Glentrek. You can check out the website or call 01307 469 536/ 07934 443557 or you can tweet at "Glentrek"

Monday, 12 April 2010

Review: Test-walk of Hi-tec trail boots

Eleven-year-old daughters are notoriously difficult to please. Little Miss Outdoors is no different and she knows what she likes, especially when it comes to clothing.

"Funky, black, pink and purple are good," says Little Miss. "Brown, blue and boring are not."

Thank goodness then that outdoor clothing has come such a long way since my childhood when brown, blue and boring were about as funky as it ever got. These days jackets, rucksacks, fleeces - and even socks, gloves, hats and walking boots come in bright colours, pretty patterns, trendy designs and with a great deal of child-appeal.

Over the years I have been known to bribe Little Miss Outdoors into walking a hill by buying her a flowery fleece or a bright pink kagool. There was a beautiful lilac and purple rucksack that did the trick, too.

Then with the Easter hols looming the kind people at Hi-tec decided to pop a nice new pair of girls' walking boots in the post. The Junior Renegrade Trail Walking boots were timed well on two counts: firstly Little Miss had grown out of last year's boots (children do that annoying growing thing a little too often sometimes!) and secondly I was keen to get Little Miss away from the computer and up a hill.

At the same time those nice Hi-tec people also sent me a new pair of leather V-lit Altitude walking boots.

And so one one warm-ish and not too wet afternoon Little Miss and MumOutdoors set off to summit one of our local hills, Conic at Balmaha.

Said Little Miss of the boots: "Yeh, these look kinda cool. Not too boring and the pink is nice, especially on the bottom of the boot (she meant the chunky, grippy sole).

"They don't slip on my heel, either, and they are comfortable and I've tied the laces tight. All those things I know you're going to ask," she added, cheekily.

During the walk itself Little Miss answered my further quizzing: "Yes, they are light enough. No, they don't feel too heavy. Yes, they are gripping the ground. No, I'm not getting wet feet even in the puddles. No, I don't mind if they get muddy because I'm now 11 and not a baby who worries about the pink getting splashed. Yes, they make walking downhill and uphill easy. Yes, I definitely like these. I really do. MUM! Are there any more questions?"

So, I'm thinking, that if the boots are pleasing to an 11-year-old girl who can be short on patience and big on style then they must be pretty good boots, eh?

And mine? Surprisingly I found the leather boots to be really comfy, too. I'd memories of those leather walking boots from my teen years that took months of blisters to turn into something vaguely comfy. The Hi-tec V-lit Altitudes also felt light on my feet and despite having long, thin feet they remained snug for the full hill walk. In particular I thought the padding on the tongue and the inner sole was really generous. The soles were good and grippy. And the leather kept my feet really dry even when I joined Little Miss in a bit of mud wallowing and puddle paddling (well, any excuse really!).

If you want to read all about the technical attributes of these Hi-tec boots - and there are plenty of great details for the very reasonable price tag of £35 for the junior boots and the reasonably reasonable £100 for the women's leather boots – then click on the links above.

I prefer to talk about outdoor kit in terms of comfort and practicalities (and, of course, looks). Both these boots scored well if you're looking for comfortable, no-need-to-wear-in footwear that will handle spring and summer walking on good-to-better trails (puddles and mud included). For stockist check out the website

Sun and fab views on three Glenfinnan Munros

The G-Force had been "saving" the Munros at Glenfinnan for a spring or summer's day. He wanted to be able to savour the gorgeous surrounding scenery in nicer weather. As luck would have it he chose this weekend – and sure enough we were able to feast our eyes on some of Scotland's finest views over two days of remarkable sunny and warm weather.

On Saturday we headed from Glenfinnan village, in sight of the railway viaduct made famous recently thanks to the filming of the second and third Harry Potter movies, to summit Sgurr Thuilm (963m) and Sgurr nan Coireachan (956m). To reduce the length of the day of walking we decided to mountain bike the first few miles along a track to the base of the first Munro. This was a smart move, especially when it came to the end of the long and challenging walk.

Pretty much from the outset, the views were every bit as entrancing as we'd hoped for. (In fact from the moment we left Glasgow in the morning and headed via Glencoe to Fort William and then Glenfinnan the sun cast a magical light on Scotland's scenery.) And while the walk took in a challenging amount of ascent and descent with numerous "non-Munro" summits to negotiate along a long ridge before ticking off Thuilm and Coireachan, the landscape that spread for many miles in all directions was wonderfully distracting. The fact that the whole scene basked in warm sunshine and beneath a deep blue sky only added to the stunning sense of "Scotland surreal".

Summit of Thuilm

The G-Force on the summit of Coireachan

This weekend, too, we met more people than we have during all our months of winter hiking. It was fantastic to find that the sun had warmed many more people towards the idea of a decent hike and so we met several groups of people and a fair few solo walkers. It seemed that spring had raised everyone's spirits and during passing conversations we found that every walker was as thrilled as us to be walking through such amazing countryside in such equally amazing weather.

Even the long, hard descent from the final Munro did little to dampen out spirits. I admit, though, that the terrain and taken a toll on my leg muscles and feet so it was with undisguised glee that I jumped back on the bike to whizz the final few miles back to the car. Sorry to any walkers who we passed at speed. I can only imagine how tough it was to walk those final few miles on a road perfectly fit for a car – and then to see two cyclists delightedly riding past.

Due to a lack of organisation (yes, Mr G-Force, you know who was to blame!) at 6pm we still did not have any overnight accommodation. Thanks to the wonders of the iPhone and Google, however, we quickly located a spare room in a B&B a half hour's drive away. When booking this way you can not be sure of the quality of accommodation but there was little choice – and luck was clearly on our side because the B&B turned out to be good. In fact, if you want a room and breakfast for £30 per person then I'd thoroughly recommend Coire Glas.

Amazingly, Sunday turned out to be even warmer and sunnier. Wearing less clothes and even more sun lotion we headed off again on mountain bikes from Glenfinnan to reach the base of a beast of a steep climb to the summit of Gulivan or Gaol Bheinn (9787m). Cameron McNeish describes the ascent as "relentless" and I wouldn't disagree. Thankfully, though, the views were again spellbinding. Because of jaded legs I needed to make frequent rest stops but at every stop I found myself in utter awe of the landscape. Lucky, lucky us!

The G-Force atop Gulivan. And, no, this is not
some fancy camera magic but a
clearly knackered gadget. Time for a new one..

The "relentless" up also included a false "south" summit, some frustrating descent and then further ascent. But the opportunity to bask in sunshine at the summit while eating lunch made the hard work more than worthwhile. "You could never ever tire of such amazing views," commented the G-Force. So true.

And then came the "relentless" descent. After two long days of walking my legs and feet were aching and so the descent felt every bit as tough as the ascent. Again it was a huge bonus to be able to hop on to our bikes to cycle the final four miles back to the car. And, again, I can only imagine how hard it was for walkers to see us whizzing by as they tramped back along the trail to the car park. Really, the bikes were a stroke of genius for both of these Munro bagging expeditions.

It comes as no surprise to find that this beautiful area, and including the historic viaduct, has been the location of several films and is also known as Monarch of the Glen country. No doubt the TV and movie producers were as transfixed as any walker.

Let's hope the weather is as good as we set off for a family campervanning adventure in a Big Tree Campervan this weekend...

Friday, 9 April 2010

Loving the fitness buzz at Arthur's Seat

With half an hour to spare after an Edinburgh meeting and before sunset I headed to Arthur's Seat for a quick jog. I have run up and around Arthur's Seat a few times over the years but never on an evening. So I was amazed to see how many people come to the iconic hill for their post-work keep-fit session.

There were walkers, runners, cyclists and a group of BMF style addicts. I saw all ages, all fitness levels and a pretty even split of men and women. While I normally enjoy running away from the madding crowds last night I loved the up-beat atmosphere of being out with lots of folk doing the same kind of thing. Then again, perhaps my brain had been cooked by the unusually warm and bright evening, or maybe I was just a little dizzy after a day of mad driving and lots of business chat?!

I'd recommend Arthur's Seat for a nice countrified-but-still-in-the-city run/cycle, for the wonderful views and for the fun of being out and about keeping fit with lots of other likeminded folks.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Most of the seasons in one day on Drumochter Munros

The day started with pouring rain, then headed through snow, low cloud and mist - before finally turning into a gorgeous, sunny afternoon. It was warm, then cold, then freezing, then cooler and then really quite hot. The three of us – the G-Force, Top Sandwich Man and I – first donned heavy duty waterproofs, then peeled off layers, then added on fleeces, then took off our layers before enjoying a good couple of hours of only light baselayers and sunshine.

When you walk in Scotland's great outdoors, and especially at this time of year, you become familiar with days that can often feature several seasons in the space of just a few hours.

Our hike on Sunday began at a car park on the Drumochter Pass (that fearfully long road of ascent that I once had the misfortune to cycle one hot day a few years ago. It's 13 miles of neverending climbing, if you want to picture it.) Since the G-Force had previously summitted one of four Munros in the area (being forced to return to his car due to poor visibility that day) we had a grand plan to complete the other three in one go.

The outset, following a reasonably easy-going trail, did not seem that promising, however, as we tramped through the rain. It wasn't cold though so we kept on with the ascent, cheerfully chatting and trying to keep our eyes focused on the fast disappearing summit of A'Mharconaich (975m). Around half way up the clouds enveloped us and we spent the rest of the climb navigating by compass and wondering if we'd ever arrive at the top. Then, all of a sudden the cairn was in front of us. Stopping for a while to eat our first snack, the G-Force and I looked on in envy as Top Sandwich Man (TSM) unwrapped amazing-looking home-made seeded rolls stuffed full of salad, crumbly cheese and baby tomatoes. We'd managed only a few hastily prepared buttered pancakes. Hmm.

Top Sandwich Man, the G-Force and FionaOutdoors
in the clouds on A'Mharconaich

Just as suddenly as the cloud had arrived, so it disappeared as we made our descent of A'Mharconaich and then another gentle ascent to the summit of Munro number two, Beinn Udlamain (1011m). (More tasty sandwiches for TSM, and a chocolate bar for me.) Having expected to spend the whole day in rain and cloud and with only a compass to guide us, the change in the weather really lifted our spirits. Now we began to take in the wonderful views of the surrounding mountains in the stunning part of Scotland. There is something so special about a landscape covered in snow yet lit by bright sunshine.

Heading onwards towards Munro number three, Sqairneach Mhor (991m) the sun really came out to play, while the wind dropped, and we found ourselves walking in wonderful spring-like weather. We couldn't believe our luck having started the day in such dreary conditions. It was so warm that I was able to shed my gloves, which, for anyone who knows me, is quite unbelievable. Even on summer days I quite often wear a thin pair of gloves because of very poor circulation in my hands, while on a winter's day I'll have a base glove layer plus a pair of thick and/or heated gloves on top! Sometimes even that is not enough to stop my fingers going numb.

FionaOutdoors on Sgairneach Mhor

As you can see from the photos there was still a fair amount of snow around although it wasn't too deep. (You can also spot TSM tucking into yet another delicious sarnie!) In fact, instead of hampering our day's hike, the snow actually offered a fast and effective way to descend the last Munro. Ensuring that we were on "safe" snow – and not about to walk on an avalanche-prone snow field – we were able to utilise the slushy snow to bound/slide down the slope at considerable speed. With the snow covering a lot of bumpy terrain we avoided a lot of tiring up-and-down walking over rocks and heather. On some steeper sections we could sit down on our waterproof trousers and whizz downhill as if on a huge slide. This was a big bonus after six hours of walking.

The only thing that would have improved my Munro bagging day out with the G-Force and TSM would have been - a batch of those tasty TSM sandwiches. Next time I'm going to pay him to make mine!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Adventure on the island of Jersey

Yes, yes, Scotland will always be my number one country for adventure. But sometimes it's good to head off overseas to discover what other places have to offer. While I would never have imagined Jersey scoring highly on outdoors pursuits and adventure I now know I was very wrong. Read my recent travel article in The Herald to find out more

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Stunning ski touring in the Cairngorms

The G-Force and FionaOutdoors on their first ski touring adventure

I had never tried ski touring before. I'd imagined it to be a duller version of downhill skiing, and certainly nowhere near as thrilling as snowboarding. But after Friday's outing in the Cairngorms I am hooked.

Indeed, according to various people in the know - including the very friendly and accommodating chaps at Mountain Spirit in Aviemore who hire the skis – ski touring has seen unprecedented growth this year in Scotland. Of course, this new trend will have a lot to do with the amazing snow conditions (the best in decades, say many). But it could also be due to the fact that on touring skis you need only your own energy and direction to head off into the mountains. There is no requirement for lifts, funicular trains or even groomed pistes.

What you do need as a novice, however, is an experienced ski touring leader. Heading off into the winter mountains can be extremely dangerous (as I recently found out while Munro walking). Which is how the G-Force and I found ourselves following in the ski tracks of friend and fab skier Super Stu MacBroom (and his girlfriend) on Good Friday.

Having spent many days this winter trudging through knee-deep snow to bag a few more Munros, it felt utterly enlightening to be gliding over the top of the snow. But there was a weirdness to this activity that took a while to embrace. Thanks to the "skins" that are attached to the bottom of the skis it's possible to glide uphill. A certain amount of technique and rhythm is required to fully master a smooth progression up different angles but in only a short time both the G-Force and I were happily skiing, well, uphill. I had never imagined it would be quite so simple but there we were heading out of the lower car park at the Cairngorm Mountain Centre and upwards towards the first summit, Cairn Gorm (at 4084ft the sixth highest peak in the UK).

This is not to say that ski touring is easy. It does require a good level of fitness and it certainly gives the muscles in your legs, bum and hips a huge workout. Because you also use poles to help with the propelling motion I found that my arms and shoulders were given a good pummelling, too. But on skis we did manage to cover a lot of miles in just one day.

By lunchtime we'd reached the summit of Cairn Gorm and then a couple of hours later we skied up to the top of neighbouring mountain Ben MacDui, the second highest peak in the UK.

Thanks to gorgeous clear blue skies the views of the surrounding mountains, including many over 4000ft, were out of this world. In fact, it is hard to imagine views more stunning than the snowy landscape that lay for many, many miles before us.

I was also fascinated by the way that the wind had created a snowy landscape that looked akin to sand dunes made of caster sugar. As Super Stu reminded me (he knows masses!) this is know as Sastrugi. For much of the adventure I felt as though we were skiing across a fabulously large "iced cake". How very fairy tale!

A picture of Sastrugi

And then it was time to head downhill. While we had removed our skins a few times during the day to descend short sections of the Cairngorm plateau, it wasn't until the final hour that we could truly appreciate the amazing opportunity to ski off-piste in such wonderful wild surroundings. The only problem was that as a snowboarder my skiing experience is limited and so the downhill became something of a challenge. Skiing downhill over a landscape of windswept "icing" is a lot trickier than I ever imagined.

While I watched in envy as experienced skiers Super Stu and Super Jen carved beautiful tracks over the snow, the G-Force and I were forced to plod a less than pretty and only just effective route back to the bottom of the mountain. We were so much slower and so much less relaxed than the Super Skiing Couple! By half way I found my thighs were screaming with exhaustion, by three quarters of the way down I thought all the muscles in my body would explode and during the final few hundred metres I thought I'd never ever reach the car park again. But eventually I did – and then I suddenly felt a huge burst of exhilaration at what I'd achieved. (I think, too, that my skiing had suddenly improved immeasurably thanks to the many challenges of off-piste snow!)

During my first ski tour adventure we'd summitted two of Britain's highest mountains, enjoyed a day of great chat, seen Scotland's landscape at its best and had a physical workout to beat almost anything else I've done. You can understand why I'm now hooked!