Last year was a fantastic year for us in terms of getting away for family adventures; from our first winter wild camp to 9 days campervanning around the Outer Hebrides and finding snow in sunny Spain in June. But in terms of getting out to the hills, I don’t think we ever thought it would’ve been as big as it has been for us. We love getting outdoors anyway, whether it’s valley walks, canoeing or heading to the local park but one of the things that really drove us to go big last year was our sons desire to walk up Ben Macdui to see if we could see the legendary Grey Man. We never did manage to see it. It’s probably just as well. I remember our son waking me up in the middle of the night a few years ago, when we were wild camping next to Corrour Old Lodge, in really thick fog saying he saw spooky feet under the side of the tent! It was a few days later reading about the lodge that we found out it used to be an old sanitarium and supposedly haunted…. gulp!
Adventures as a family can be great. We clocked up a fair amount of distance last year and have some good, bad, funny, tough stories to tell.
Here is a quick roundup of the hills we climbed together during 2016.
Carn Bhac: Our first family mountain of the year was not our first large outing, as we had already been on a three day walk and wildcamp on a still somewhat snowy Southern Cairngorms trip. We chose Carn Bhac as it was a quiet mountain with a relatively straightforward loop to be had, spending an overnight at the top of Glen Ey. We were lucky with the excellent dry conditions under foot as there was quite a bit of peat bog to cross and it was where our son found his first deer antler!
Cairn an Turic & Cairn of Claise: So with our son’s goal of walking up Ben Macdui we knew we would need to be confident he could deal with the distance and amount of uphill involved. We chose Cairn and Turic and Cairn of Claise as a great pair of hills to push ourselves on a bit. We had a fantastic walk, seeing loads of frogs and boulder hopping to reach the top of the first one. Our son shared his jelly beans with a couple we had met as one of them was diabetic and had forgotten their spare sugar, but as usual, we took way more than enough.
Cairnwell mum and son day: Stacey and our son decided to make the most of the days before school started and picked to do a quick trip up Cairnwell in a morning when a small window of good weather was forecast just before a storm was due to come in. It started raining just a short time before they got back and they really enjoyed the hot chocolate at the Glenshee ski center café as a treat.
Cul Mor: We were up in the north west of Scotland and decided to walk Cul Mor. This mountain has a very steep ascent over large boulders from the north, which Stacey had turned back on previously a few years ago. She was very happy to be the first to make the summit ridge this time (it’s the only one she has beaten us to but I think she was after firmer, stable ground!) and our son made quick progress up and over the boulders with me keeping a close eye on him. The views from the top are fantastic, looking all around at the weird and wonderful Assynt area. We could have spent hours watching that view.
Cairn Gorm & Ben Macdui: This one was the big one for us for the year. We had been building to this all year and saw the opportunity with a good forecast over a few days in July. We planned a route to include loads of interest, over three days walking Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui, stopping off at Loch Etchachen and Loch Avon to see the shelter stone and to visit the snow tunnels. We had thought about including Derry Cairngorm into the loop, but decided against it given the distances we covered. Our son did brilliantly, walking the whole way and dealing with tough terrain with ease. I got to explore the snow tunnels high on Feith Buidhe and will be taking Stacey and our son there next year for sure. Our son followed a family of young ptarmigan, almost stepped on a young mountain hare and we saw reindeer. This was an amazing adventure, but with careful planning so achievable!
Glen Lyon horseshoe – Our son started school in August and we were worried that he would be so tired come the weekends that doing mountains would be off the cards for a while. We got a last minute good weekend forecast but decided to go for it, walking this round of 4 over two days. We were really treated to the most amazing high camp on the summit of one of them. We got such fantastic views all around with Schiehallion on one side and the Ben Lawers range on the other. The following day we woke up to thick fog, but it cleared just as we summited the last hill. This round is well known for access issues, and we encountered this when the main path was closed for logging, but the alternative hydro track was locked at the deer fence on the way down. We didn’t really appreciate having to get ourselves and our son over a 10 foot high deer fence.
Meall Chuaich boys day – A beautiful day in autumn lent itself to a boys day bike and hike, where we used my e-bike to zoom along the long access route to this hill. We were left with a lovely walk up in brilliant sunshine and the summit to ourselves, at least for a while. Once we came back down we stopped to play by a lake before blasting back at full speed.
Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas – The half term was a mixed bag, with tiredness from school paying a part in what felt like ever-changing plans. Later in the week though, we decided to climb these two hills. We drove through thick fog all the way, but burst out above it just before the carpark it was a lovely walk and a great day. Me and Stacey were excited on this walk, as we were fairly confident, given how Stacey was feeling, that we were soon to be a family of four. A week later, a positive test and subsequent miscarriage, this walk will always be one of those with thoughts in the back of our minds of what might have been.
Glas Moal – Beginning to see the signs of winter we headed up Glas Moal on a fairly cold and damp day. This walk really challenged our son as it was the first time he has been out in cloud, driven snow and strong biting wind all at the same time near the summit. We were reassuring and calm, confident that he was safe and well equipped, but left it at the one hill that day, happy to have reached the summit and rounding off a fantastic year of hills for us.
Overall 2016 was an amazing year in terms of hills for us. Our son has been able to walk long distances and has had the enthusiasm to do it by himself and wants to do more. He reached his 17th munro before his 5th birthday which he and we are so proud of. It is great to see how well he is doing, knowing that less than two years ago he broke his femur and we were worried that it might have a longer term effect that it appears to have. He has never let it hold him back though and has made a full recovery and (most days) is raring to go!!
Combining hillwalking with wildcamping has really allowed us to go further and do more exciting things with our son, things that we would never have been able to contemplate if we had limited ourselves to daytrips! Who knows how many hills we’ll do this year as a family, preferring to do it when we really want to, rather than force ourselves out. Having said that we are keen to carry on getting out as much as we can and hope 2017 might match or beat 2016. We have already wild camped in the snow and climbed a munro together and it’s still only January…