Marhofn 230.13 - May 2011

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Bagging in the crumple zone

Graham Illing

St Kilda all stars trip

Don't blame me for the title; Julie Brown came up with the name as I filled my first trip to St Kilda with eager takers within 24 hours one day in October 2009. The pressure was on! Could we repeat last year's successful trip when we bagged the Barra five? Eight months later, the trip commenced by picking up one of John Barnard's latest gifts, Creag na Criche near Perth. As ever this turned out to be a pleasant diversion.

The action then moved to Harris and on the appointed day we sailed out to St Kilda in the capable hands of Angus Campbell, owner of a seriously impressive boat and car registration plate. Despite some concerns over the wind direction in Village Bay we made good time out to Hirta and found it bathed in sunshine for an excellent walk over Oisebhal and Conachair.

Tove Illing and Angus Campbell's car (photo: Graham Illing)

Tove Illing and Angus Campbell's car (photo: Graham Illing)

Our descent was punctuated by bonxie attack; all very funny whilst they were dive-bombing Tove but less so when they decided to pick on me. Time was still left to look around the derelict cottages and the growing number of restored buildings. The bonus was a 'cruise' around Boreray and the stacs - truly impressive, but will I return? Who knows. The remainder of our time on Harris was spent visiting old friends as Tove pushed up her Marilyn total and gained good sightings of golden eagles and sea eagles, although I suspect Tove's true highlight was finally meeting Donald John MacKay and buying some of his tweed to make a jacket.

Skua attack on Hirta (photo: Graham Illing)

Skua attack on Hirta (photo: Graham Illing)

After an early ferry back to Skye, the team assembled on Broadford pier to meet up with Pete Fowler of Skye Seafari to take us out to Scalpay, my final non-section-25 Marilyn. Armed with written permission to visit the island, we raced across the sea and were soon working our way round the island. Finally on Mullach na Carn, Beryl Castle administered the chant and Graham Stevens gave a rather good speech. Of course, it wasn't my 1551st Marilyn at all, as on my return home I found that although I had climbed three new hills my total had only progressed by one. The trip concluded with a quick ascent of Ben Nevis to give Tove the highest Marilyn to complement last year's lowest Marilyn tick on Muldoanich. We were amazed at the number of people descending the mountain at 8:30am on their way to complete the three peaks.

'And what will you do next?' is the usual question, which was partially answered on our last day of the trip after a night in Moffat. I had been 'got' by John MacKay when he asked if I done all of the Donald Top deletions. This was a great opportunity to revisit the Grey Mare's Tail waterfall and bag Firthybrig Head. Another answer is working on the completion of the Wainwright outlying fells. Yet another good reason for bagging lists and how this gets you to new and interesting hills.

Ultras and other travel

The Christmas and new year period saw us in Guatemala, where the volcanoes of Pacaya and Fuego were massive highlights. Standing a few feet away from a large rapidly-moving lava flow was very impressive. The ground we were walking on was so hot that it melted the end of Tove's walking stick. The trip allowed us to pick up three more Ultras: Volcan de Agua, Volcan Acatenango and Volcan Tajumulco, the latter being Central America's highest point. Apparently Tajumulco used to be a quiet mountain but a new access road and the first snow in living memory meant that the mountain was heaving with local people. They partied all night so we got no sleep. Descending whilst the locals let off fireworks reminded me of when we climbed Fashven during a live firing practice, but that's another story.

Armed with good advice from Beryl Castle, we had an excellent tour of the Galapagos Islands. A key highlight was a visit to Isabela Island with its huge lava flows filling wide valleys and flowing to the sea. The area was barren except for vibrant pockets of life. What spectacular sites there must have been in Britain all those millions of years ago when our volcanoes were going!

Despite the disruption of Eyjafjallajokull to the airline industry, I got lucky and had an excellent week's walking and trekking in southern Iceland, enjoying the Fjallabak landscape views. Highlights included climbing Hekla and Hvannadalshnukur (Iceland's highest peak), the latter being a 2000m and 15-hour climb, in cloud and rain for half the day. All comments about the country being 'fire and ice' and like Scotland on steroids are true. I was amazed as we travelled under Eyjafjallajokull, with the big ash clouds blowing around like a Scottish snow field and the pastures submerged with ash. It must be a living nightmare for the communities there.

For men of a certain age, Kamchatka in Russia takes them back to the schoolboy board game 'Risk'. Tove and I undertook the massive journey out to Petropavlovsk to climb various volcanoes. Getting around involved using an old truck from the Afghan war riddled with bullet holes and crashing through dense forest. Our itinerary had to be reordered as Vladimir Putin was in the state and foreigners weren't allowed anywhere nearby. This proved rather fortunate as Mt Gorely erupted on the date we were due to have climbed it. Not many can say that Vladimir Putin saved their life. Despite the itinerary indicating that we would summit various peaks, this was 'economic with the actuality' and we missed out on two excellent summit views and an Ultra. Nevertheless we gained one Ultra tick by climbing Avachinsky in driving rain, only to be warmed at the summit by the volcanic gases emerging from the summit crater. Mt Tolbachik proved to be an incredible volcano experience. Here the Russians tested their space vehicles and we climbed all manner of ash craters. We walked through a petrified forest where 12 metres of ash had landed from the 1975 eruption. We never saw a bear but did enjoy the poached salmon. The trip ended with us having to leave our guide behind in Moscow as his visa had expired by five hours following a 24-hour delay in the flight to Moscow. In a way it summed up the trip; nice mountains but hellish bureaucracy.

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