Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Friday, 3 April 2020

Friday 3 April - So what's been going on?

Well, nothing as far as hills are concerned what with the lockdown and trying to keep ourselves and others safe. We abandoned the idea of walking in the quiet Ochils which would have involved a three mile drive to the nearest parking spot so have enjoyed daily walks from the house instead, meeting only the odd cyclist or dog walker. Kinross-shire is very rural so options for walking are varied but so far we've stuck to the same circuit, a route past farms and open fields with newly born lambs beginning to find their feet.

 Click to enlarge all photos.

The road to Powmill, reached from the house by a pleasant track with sheep and cattle grazing either side. Views to the Ochils all the way

Social Distancing

It seems a long, long time ago since we were out to Skythorn Hill and before that, a favourite walk through Corb Glen and onto the gentle hills nearby - next three photos.

View from the Cadger's Path (and below)

Green Law
Setting out for Skythorn Hill and other tops

and a day on Wether Hill.

So what else is going on?

Yesterday my usual news update from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) included the latest on the Mars 2020 Rover, now named Perseverance following a US wide student competition when 28000 essays were submitted by students explaining their chosen name for the rover. Eventually this number was reduced to 155 then to nine, the eventual winner being from Virginia.

Perseverance at Kennedy Space Centre. The red arrow at the rear shows the plate which carries 10,932,295 names submitted from around the world. Mine included! It also carries the essays of the 155 finalists in the 'Name the Rover' competition. (Photo courtesy NASA, JPL)

The plate - the laser-etched graphic depicts the Earth and Mars joined by the Sun. (Photo courtesy NASA, JPL)

The three chips with the names stencilled by electron beam can be seen top left on the plate which will be visible to cameras on Perseverance's mast. Launch of the Atlas V carrying Perseverance is scheduled for July this year, landing on Mars at Jezero Crater on 18 February 2021. As I said in a previous post, I have my NASA Boarding Pass so am raring to go! By the time it launches I might be wishing I was on the pad in person rather than in name only.

Also on the space exploration front (well, sort of) I have a second half-built Saturn V model to complete and a new Apollo 11 Lunar Module to build which will compliment the Apollo Command and Service Module completed in February.

Like everyone else, our summer trips to the hills are off and we have only the faintest of hopes that our usual September holiday at Braemar will take place.

Stay safe and keep well.

Please note: because of one idiot spammer I am now moderating all comments.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Tuesday 25 February - Earth: The Pale Blue Dot

On 14 February 1990 Voyager 1, then 4 billion miles from the Sun, looked back for the last time and took a series of photographs of the Sun and six planets from 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane.  NASA has reprocessed the photograph below. Click to enlarge.

Courtesy Voyager Project, NASA and JP-Caltech who hold the copyright
As a backdrop to my 64cm high model Saturn V rocket which I built a couple of years ago, I have another famous photograph: Earthrise, taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders from lunar orbit on 24 December 1968.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Monday 3 February - Easter Downhill, 361m OS map 58

Easter Downhill from Castlehill Reservoir (February 2019). Castle Hill is an alternative name for the hill. 
A warm balmy Spring day wandering among the hills north of Glendevon village eventually landed us on the 361m summit of Easter Downhill.

That was in 1991 and with us was the latest member of the family: Mist, our Border Collie, rescued six months earlier in a poor state from a farm not far from where we stood. Now healthy and strong, two months later she would climb her first Munros with us on a backpacking trip in Knoydart. That left us one Munro to do, Sgurr Dubh Mòr on Skye which involves scrambling, so we were on our own unfortunately.

Though dry, it was far from balmy when we pulled into the small parking area below Lendrick Hill and, with perfect timing, the forecast rain blew in just as we were putting on our waterproofs. Cameras were stuffed into rucksacks, waterproof (?) covers atta, taken off again to get gloves, car keys dropped in the mud. But no matter, it was good to be out in some rough weather and heading for a top again.

A short walk along the road took us to the farm road to Downhill and the open exposed hillside. The wind battered away at us, sleet showers swept in and just as quickly pushed through, my waterproof rucksack cover blew off, was retrieved, re-attached, blew off again so returned to its zipped pouch. We enjoyed it all.

Lendrick Hill from the top of Eater Downhill.

Castlehill Reservoir  and Seamab Hill 

Distant middle - Whitewisp Hill,  and right Innerdownnie Hill

On the summit, we remembered the day back in 1991, took some photos and Lynne briefly reacquainted herself with the remains of the hillfort, but it was no place to hang about so we departed downwards towards a stand of Scots Pines where lunch could be had in relative calm.

Mellock Hill from our tea break spot. First of the local hills to be threatened by wind farms in early 2002 (I think),  a campaign stopped the development but even more inappropriate locations in the Ochils were chosen instead.
We found a sunny spot with a good view to Mellock Hill and enjoyed a brief halt to enjoy a cup of Lapsang Souchong and a biscuit. Our plan to walk directly back to the farm track was soon abandoned as we sank into the sodden ground. Some may remember that my left Achilles tendon is troubled by wearing boots so I was wearing trail shoes which of course failed to keep my feet dry in such conditions. Lynne's boots performed no better so we ascended some way back up Easter Downhill to escape the worst of the quagmire, dropped to a gate and so to the track.

Heading uphill a bit to escape the bog
The weather was now blustery and invigorating so we decided to continue towards Downhill Farm and have a look at the Castlehill Reservoir dam where we reckoned the overflow would be quite spectacular. The start of the path to the dam is waymarked but obviously not used very much, probably because there is limited parking on the B934 and most people (tourists rather than walkers) use the route near Nether Auchlinsky on the A823.

Approaching Castlehill reservoir with weather closing in again

Plunging to the River Devon to join the River Forth

The photo doesn't capture the overflow's display of power, though a video taken with the iPhone does better.
On our return journey we noticed some rusting farm machinery - cultivators - in a field. They had been manufactured by Nicholson of Newark around 1906-1920, perhaps earlier, and unlike old rusting cars found in similar locations their presence didn't jar.

A route by the pines (not the ones where we had tea) looks like an ideal walk on a summer's evening

A nasty chest infection kept me housebound for a large part of January so it was a great relief to
be on a hill again. I did manage to finish my latest model, the Apollo 11 Command and Service Module so the month was not completely wasted.

Our 1991 route as I remember it, minus the Green Knowes Windfarm

Today's route

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Thursday 29 August, Braemar - gloomy

The photo reflects my mood after Johnson prorogued parliament yesterday, just after our arrival here. Then Ruth Davidson confirmed today that she was resigning as Leader of the Scottish Conservatives. At least Nicola Sturgeon is happy.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Wednesday 7 August - I'm off to Mars in 2020

I launch in July 2020 on an Atlas V-541 rocket from Cape Canaveral Airforce Station and arrive at Jezero Crater, Mars, on 18 February 2021, a journey of 313,586,649 miles. I have my Boarding Pass already.

Atlas V launch (Courtesy Spacenet 101)

Jezero Crater. Courtesy NASA
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California is managed for NASA by the prestigious California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and is the centre for robotic exploration of the solar system. It also manages NASA's Deep Space Network.

Previous JPL missions include Voyagers 1 and 2, Cassini-Huygens, Kepler, Juno and last November, InSight successfully landed on Mars. I watched on NASA TV as Mission Control monitored the "7 minutes of terror" - the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) phase - which worked perfectly. Unfortunately, I missed getting onto the InSight flight.

"What on earth is he talking about", I hear you say.

Well, I subscribe by email to a number of NASA newsletters including JPL's 'Week in Review' and the first item on the 3 August issue concerned the Mars Entry, Descent and Landing Installation 2 (MEDLI2) on the Mars 2020 Aeroshell. The Aeroshell consists of a Thermal Protection System  (heat shield) and a back shell which will protect the Mars 2020 rover as it journeys to Mars and during the entry and descent through the Mars atmosphere at about 12,500 mph, slowing to 2mph in just 6 minutes.

"Flight data will allow the uncertainties in the models [used to predict the performance of an entry vehicle] to be further reduced leading to a more accurate prediction of the loads and performance" (Henry Wright, MEDLI2 project manager).

Currently large margins (100 - 200%) need to be allowed in predictions to ensure safe entry and descent. This data is of course vital for future human missions to Mars.

So what's all this about me going to Mars?

The Microdevices Laboratory at JPL will be using an electron beam to stencil submitted names onto a silicon chip with lines of text smaller than a human hair (75nm). My name is one of them!  The chips will be affixed to the Mars 2020 Rover.

My Boarding Pass, which includes my name of course.Courtesy NASA

JPL - Fuelling the 2020 Rover's power system (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator.) Courtesy NASA JPL

 JPL - The back shell which will protect the Rover during the descent to Jezero Crater. Courtesy NASA JPL
Coutesy NASA, JPL

The Rover's robotic arm will take core samples of the surface and analyse them sending data back to Earth but there's much more to this mission than that. More later perhaps, but in the meantime I'm looking forward to following the preparations for the mission my the long voyage to the surface of Mars. Even if it's just in name.

For now I continue to build my second Saturn V model though the Airfix version is not as enjoyable to build as the Revell was.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Sunday 7 July - Meall Corranaich and Meall a' Choire Lèith

I lost the first attempt at this post so here goes again.

Drive over the hill road by Lochan na Làirige in summer, especially at weekends, and you'll find tents, campervans and bus-like motor homes all over the place. As a motorcaravanner myself I understand the attraction of parking up in such beautiful surroundings (I don't do it though) but it makes it well nigh impossible, sometimes, to get parked for a day on the hill.

With my last point in mind we were early today, it being a Sunday, but not quite early enough to be first at the small roadside cutting just beyond the north end of the Lochan. A young couple (who'd camped the night before) were getting boots on and were soon off up the path with a 'see you later, you'll soon catch us up'. Meall nan Tarmachan, done twice in winter from the dam (1977 and 1993), was a fine prospect, its craggy slopes falling to Lochan nan Làirige. I can't remember why we did it from the dam rather than the 'normal' route but both ascents provided proper mountaineering days as only winter conditions can. I wouldn't mind doing it again next winter - if we get a proper one.

The path across the moor is indistinct in places and we caught up with the couple as they searched for it whereas we just took the best line, faint path or not. By contrast, the path up the SW ridge of Meall Corranaich to the summit is excellent though for a moment I contemplated leaving it and going off-road up the west face's grassy slopes. However, the ridge would give good views across to Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers so I decided against leaving it.

The moorland approach to Meall Corranaich

The excellent path on the ridge with Loch Tay below

For once the weather forecasters had got it right and we were met by the predicted cold north wind as we emerged onto the level ground before the summit cairn. It didn't feel like a July day at all.

Beinn Ghlas
Meall a' Choire Lèith, 3km distant and looking more than that today, was easily reached. We made a diversion to the stony top above Coire Gorm (why I don't really know!) before regaining the north ridge and descending to a bealach at 780m. The final ascent from here skirted the edge of the crags of Coire Liath before reaching the flat summit area and the cairn where we were dismayed to find two rotting banana skins. Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. No lovers of hills are you who left these here.

Lynne on Meall a' Choire Lèith

We didn't tarry long at the top and could have descended direct to Coire Gorm to the path above the Allt Gleann Dà Eig (not marked on our map) but instead opted for a return to the bealach from where we could take our outward route back, as we did in 1983, or drop down into Coire Gorm.  Down into the corrie it was but it turned out not to be a particularly good choice. If there was a hidden wet hole in the vicinity I managed to find it, the one just before we joined the path being a particularly fine example. Better to just go back over the hills and get the views to Ben Lawers and the rest.

Looking back to Meall a' Choire Lèith

Looking towards Glen Lyon from the Allt Gleann Dà Eig - which meets the River Lyon near Balmenoch

At the car the sun shone and we finished off the tea. The couple arrived and we talked for a while. The girl was French and doing a PhD at St Andrews - her field work was being done in Glen Lyon but I failed to ask her if she was a geographer, geologist, geophysicist or whatever. We agreed that St. Andrews is a great place to be. Glen Lyon isn't a bad 'lab' either, we thought.

And a final point: Meall Corranaich is, in my view, better approached via Coire Odhar starting from the NTS carpark. If you can find a space.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Monday 1 July - A wander from Kenmore to Remony, Acharn and back.

A late start but there was still plenty of parking space in Kenmore at the entrance to Taymouth Castle or, as a German motorcyclist parked beside us said, 'Taymooth Chateau'!

At Remony we left the south Loch Tay road for the path to Balmacnaughton and gave a wave to a chap relaxing by his summer house where woodcarvings of rabbits adorned the decking. Beyond the stone circle was a stand of beautiful Scots pines, the sound of the wind blowing through them reminding me of the Cairngorms. 'If I close my eyes we could be at.." But I didn't get to finish the sentence. "Derry Lodge", said Lynne. Exactly so. This spot was a haven in what was now fairly bleak country, though I suspect in brighter weather, which seemed to be everywhere but here, it would be pleasant enough. Not often I feel like this about hill country.

Our plan had been to follow the track until it crossed the Acharn Burn and then decide what to do at the small wooden hut, visible from the track. However, neither of us was particularly enjoying the walking so after a bit of indecision we abandoned the route and retraced our steps to find a spot in the sun for tea and biscuits, just beyond the bridge over the Remony Burn.

Descending by the way we'd come would have meant too short a day so back over the bridge we went to take the lovely route to the Acharn Falls and so to the road. Signs proclaim speed limits (40mph mostly, in places 20mph) and the road is 'walker and cycle friendly' but, as usual, only the odd driver pays much attention to it.

We stopped on the beach at the head of the loch , finished our tea and watched the boats bobbing about on the choppy water, trying to remember the name of the nearby island. I've brought 'Swallows and Amazons' with me to re-read and the scene put me in just the right mood for it.

Note: The island has several alternative names: Spry Island, Spries Island, Spray Island and Spar Island.

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, 1 July 2019

Sunday 30 June - By way of a record

With terrific thunder and lightning storms in the area yesterday (29th) we weren't about to venture onto a hill, even though that day marked another anniversary - twenty eight years since we completed the Munros. We had a hill earmarked but it will keep until later this week.

There has been a dramatic change in the weather overnight with the temperature today around 14°C some 10°C lower than on our Ben Lawers day. Winds gusting to 42mph this afternoon, and obviously much higher speeds at altitude. A good day to read and plan what to do next and for brief visit to Kenmore.

Photo: Fortingall Yew

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Friday 28 June - A short day out on Meall Buidhe 932m. A 45th Wedding Anniversary Munro

Final broad ridge to Meall Buidhe

Stuchd an Lochain

Meall Buidhe to the north of Loch an Daimh is often climbed along with Stuchd an Lochain but this involves returning to the dam after doing whichever one is done first. We did them separately rather than rush.

It's probably not a hill to do after very wet weather if you plan to go via the peat bog that is Coire nan Miseach, but we had it dry fortunately and I doubt that it was in such a state back in 1983. However, the name of the 878m hill, Meall a' Phuill gives the game away, the rough translation being 'The Round Hill of the Peat Bank/hag'.

Today, it took us only an hour and a half to the top where the wind was unexpectedly quite ferocious and almost blew us off our feet. Luckily it wasn't too cold, but we did need to dig out windproof jackets from the sacks before taking some photographs. The jackets would have been gone forever had we lost hold of them.

The hill is often unfavourably compared to Stuchd an Lochain which is undoubtedly the finer hill, but the walk along the level ridge above Glas Choire to the large summit cairn on Meall Buidhe is over far too soon.

Photos -  ridge to summit
               struggling with camera case in the wind.
               Orchid but not sure of name despite Lynne
               studying our wild flower book

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Thursday 27 June - Beinn Ghlas 1103m and Ben Lawers 1214m

Ben Lawers from Beinn Ghlas
Lochan nan Cat below An Stuc from Ben Lawers
Beinn Ghlas from slopes of Ben Lawers
Ben Lawers Trig

We were at the carpark early given the popularity of these hills and previous parking difficulties, and were well up Beinn Ghlas before we spotted two figures far below. The light breeze was a blessing after the delightful but hot, windless approach through the birch trees beside the Burn of Edramucky. Beinn Ghlas at 1103m is a substantial Munro, its small cairn perched at the edge of its north face which falls steeply into Coire Odhar. Often regarded as a mere point on the way to its more lofty neighbour Ben Lawers and its 4000ft magic contour, Beinn Ghlas is a very fine hill in its own right.

A lengthy break by the cairn to take in the view allowed the two figures to catch up and we enjoyed a pleasant fifteen minutes or so in their company. They were from Crieff, a mere forty minute drive away, and were in training for their planned fourteen day walking trip to the Pyrenees in September.

The Lawers range was very much part of my early hill days, courtesy of the newly formed school climbing and walking club - a winter ascent of Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers around 1966 or '67 which today, sadly, would probably never get off the ground once the 'risk assessment' had been completed. I don't have a date for when Lynne and I climbed them so that suggests 1976 or 1977, since for some reason we only started dating ascents from 1978. Much later on I was persuaded to 'lead' a party from work up Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers which was a real pain in the neck, particularly since all but one of them had never been on a hill. This nascent company walking club didn't develop any further, thankfully.

With a 'see you on the summit' we left our fellow walkers from Crieff and departed down to the bealach. So far my concerns about the crowds likely to be encountered were unfounded and there appeared to be only one or two people at the trig point on Ben Lawers. Indeed by the time we'd made the fairly steep and enjoyable ascent those figures had gone.

We had lunch just below the summit, overlooking beautiful Lochan nan Cat lying below An Stuc's south-east face and enclosed by three Munros.

Back at the bealach we took the path which skirts the north face of Beinn Ghlas and descends to the lovely and very hot Coire Odhar, which at one time was popular with skiers.

The National Trust for Scotland has done an excellent job on this and the main path up these hills. Often constructed paths are badly done and don't sit well in the landscape, but this is not the case here. Even the relocation of the carpark has been done with care, being reasonably well hidden from the summits and from the road. Well done NTS. No-one could grudge the £2 parking fee.

Another memorable day, both of us savouring our return to the fine hills in this area. Life well spent.