Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Wednesday 3 June - Glen Bee and Hill of Kinpauch (Kinpauch Hill on OS Maps)

A few days earlier we had enjoyed a fine traverse of the hills above Glen Sherup and from our lunch spot on the broad ridge above the Broich Burn, between Frandy and Burnfoot Hill, we could see that Upper Glendevon Reservoir was very low, perhaps even lower than during our last long spell of drought conditions in the summer of 2014. We knew that a closer look could be combined with a walk through Glen Bee to Hill of Kinpauch which we hadn't climbed for a couple of years, so that was our plan for the next day.

There was no rush, so after an hour or so of walking we paused for early morning tea by the unnamed burn that gently tumbles from a secretive little glen into the lower reservoir  There are many such burns not named on the 1:50 map which are on the 1:25 map but this is not one of them, so I must do a bit of research to see if I can solve these minor mysteries. Swallows entertained us, skimming above the bracken and water, gathering up insects. As always in such a setting it was hard to move on, but move we must.

It's all fairly rough going through heather and bracken to the dam, with only the occasional sheep trod to follow so another stop for tea at a favourite spot was welcome. Glen Bee is part of an old packhorse route and now a fairly popular walk from Tillicoultry to Blackford, home of Highland Spring mineral water. Unfortunately to reach Blackford the very busy A9 has to be crossed so beware. The name Glen Bee is possibly from the Gaelic 'Gleann na Bighe', glen of the post or pillar. Presumably a stone or post marked the route at one time. Perhaps submerged by the reservoir now? Anyone know?

Some delightful walking above the reservoir on a grassy path took us into Glen Bee and so to the watershed, where a farm track begins its descent to Blackford by Glen of Kinpauch and the Braes of Ogilvie. For a time this route follows the Glen Burn on its way to meet the Danny Burn which eventually passes west of Blackford village to join Allan Water. In addition to being the home of Highland Spring since 1979, the beautiful malt whisky Tullibardine is made here. Originally a brewery, the conversion to a distillery was begun in 1947. Highland Spring and the Tullibardine both use water drawn from the Danny Burn.

We were neither going to Blackford nor down to the Danny Burn but staying high, so took time to enjoy the views across Strath Allan to the hills beyond. And enjoy them from a distance was all we could do, sadly, since the five miles or so travelling restriction was still in force.

Then onwards we went through the summer heather which completely covered the narrow path that normally contours round our hill. We both enjoy rough walking like this and it didn't take long to reach the northern slopes leading to the blustery summit. Oddly, for a hill so accessible from Blackford, we have never met anyone else here and today was no different.

After the usual photographs we returned by our outward route rather than over the tops, though we initially set off in that direction before deciding to plunge down the heathery slopes for the path back to Glen Bee.  Another fine and satisfying day in the Ochils.

Note: OS Map names the hill 'Kinpauch Hill' but the glen being "Glen of Kinpauch", we prefer Hill of Kinpauch which I'd guess is the correct local name.

The reservoir wasn't as low as in 2014 but would be a few weeks later

Glen Bee

The track drops into Glen of Kinpauch to Blackford

Leaving the cairn before descending the heather slopes on photograph number 5. Alternatively a return can be made via Craigentaggert Hill over tussocky, trackless terrain which is an enjoyable alternative to retracing steps.

Tuesday 4 August - NASA-JPL Index to Mars 2020, Perseverance posts.

Not quite on Mars yet!

Perseverance showing location of plate with names

Index. Will be added to when new posts on Perseverance appear and a link given to this index on each post.

1 I'm off to Mars

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Thursday 30 July - NASA-JPL A perfect launch and Perseverance is on her way to the Red Planet

Note: there are likely to be quite a lot of these sort of posts in the coming months, primarily as a personal record of this important mission. My name being on one of the chips attached to Perseverance adds another dimension of course. I've already signed up to the next part of the mission in 2026 (and Lynne is coming with me!) - The Mars Sample Return Campaign, but more of that much later on. I hope some readers will find something of interest here, but I've not given up on the walking posts!

ULA's Atlas V-541 lifts off at 7.50am  (EDL) on 30 July carrying the Mars Rover 2020, Perseverance  

The whole event was streamed on NASA's YouTube Channel covering the launch and the rover's separation from the upper stage of the Atlas V to begin its six and a half month voyage to Mars. It's the best viewing I've had in years with interviews with the many engineers and scientists involved and presented by Dr Moo Cooper of JPL and Derrol Nail, Space Coast reporter, two of the most enthusiastic presenters you could hope for.

The upper stage's Centaur engine initially placed the 2020 rover into a parking orbit around Earth at T+ 0:11:27:9 then, after a 33 minute coast over the Atlantic and crossing South Africa, the Centaur re-ignited its RL-10C-1 engine, shutting down at T + 0:52:50:1. The burn, lasting almost 8 minutes accelerated the Mars 2020 spacecraft to escape velocity.

After reaching 24,785mph, the Centaur upper stage shut down and re-orientated itself into the position for release of the spacecraft. At T+ 0:57:32.8 Perseverance, enclosed in its aeroshell, separated from the Centaur upper stage over Indonesia. Twenty minutes later the first signals from the spacecraft were expected through a NASA tracking station in Canberra, Australia. Navigation data indicated that Perseverance was perfectly on course.

During the post-launch press briefing a couple of issues came to light:

First, the proximity of the space craft to Earth was saturating the ground station receivers of NASA's Deep Space Network which are tuned to receive faint signals from deep space. The receivers were therefore detuned and the antennas pointed slightly off-target from Perseverance thus bringing the signal within acceptable range. Telemetry (detailed data from the spacecraft) was restored. (See Tweet from Perseverance)

Secondly, data indicated that the spacecraft had entered safe mode as it passed over the night side of the Earth, a period known as an eclipse, becoming a bit colder than expected. All but essential systems turned off and safe mode was entered. The spacecraft is designed to put itself in safe mode if onboard computers detect that conditions are not within set parameters. 

NASA later said that the temperature disparity was in the liquid freon coolant loop, which dissipates heat from the centre of the spacecraft through radiators on the module carrying the rover to Mars. Modelling by the team at JPL predicted that this might happen but it was not possible to create the exact environment for pre-launch tests and no flight data from Curiosity Rover, launched in November 2011, was available since its trajectory did not include an eclipse.

Programmers had therefore set tight limits on key spacecraft parameters before launch and the cold conditions probably tripped a preset limit. Better a spacecraft go into safe mode, a stable and acceptable mode even when not required, than fail to do so when critical. It's not a problem and controllers tested then sent commands to bring the spacecraft back to nominal flight operations. 

Now on its interplanetary cruise, with several Trajectory Correction Manoeuvers (TCMs) along the way, the next stop is Jezero Crater. 

There may be many things wrong in the USA at the moment, and they are not alone in that by any means, but NASA's space programme, whether involving human or robotic exploration, is not one of them. 

Thanks to NASA-JPL for a superb broadcast and an inspirational endeavour. Go Perseverance!!

Animation : Centaur engine burn 2 (courtesy and for the Timeline

Module carrying Perseverance separates from Centaur upper stage (courtesy

Courtesy NASA

Perseverance and Ingenuity helicopter being enclosed in the aeroshell which will carry it safely to the Red Planet. (Courtesy NASA-JPL Caltech)

The name plate on board Perseverance - three chips top left

A tweet from Perseverance!

The Control Centre at JPL

Thanks to NASA-JPL's, Mars 2020 Deputy Project Manager, Matt Wallace for providing details of the 'issues' encountered by Perseverance and to Stephen Clark at for the timeline.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Thursday 30 July - NASA-JPL Mars Rover Perseverance is on the launch pad

The Atlas V on Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. The large cone at the top houses Perseverance. (Courtesy NASA)

United Launch Alliance's Atlas V booster carrying NASA-JPL's Mars 2020 Rover, Perseverance, is due to launch from Pad 41at 7.30 am EDL (12.50 pm our time) today. Live broadcast begins 12 noon our time. Although I'm aboard in name only, I'm just (but not quite) as excited as if I were personally about to journey the 313,649,586 miles to Mars.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Monday 27 July - NASA-JPL Mars Perseverance launch date 30 July

The nose cone containing Mars Perseverance rover is manoeuvred onto its Atlas V rocket. Courtesy NASA/JPL - Caltech
The Mars Rover, Perseverance, was attached to the top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster on Tuesday 7 July, along with the aeroshell, cruise stage and descent stage.

The original launch date of 20 July was delayed after a line of oxygen sensors that monitors the levels of liquid oxygen propellant in the vehicle, gave back off-nominal data. The problem has been fixed and the launch window extends now to 15 August. Fingers crossed for 30 July.

I have now had my Boarding Pass stamped as I join 10.9 million people, whose names have been stencilled onto three chips on Perseverance, on a journey to Mars landing at Jezero Crater on February 18 2021.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Saturday 18 July - Moronic behaviour at Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve

We often visit this small Reserve when on holiday in Braemar and were appalled when we read Catriona's recent post. Here's the link

I'm sure you will be as appalled as we were, but perhaps not any more surprised.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Monday 22 June - Nell

Last March two ultra runners, along with Border Collie Nell, were reported overdue in the Fisherfield Forest and Dundonnell MRT were called out together with members of Torridon MRT.

The missing party were all found near Loch an Nid, the runners suffering from mild hypothermia, and were flown out by the coastguard helicopter. However Nell ran off frightened by the helicopter so the following morning two members of Dundonnell MRT, Alison Smith and Rachel Drummond, accompanied by their SARDA dogs, went back to the scene of the rescue to look for Nell, taking with them a disposable barbecue and sausages.

Soon they were cooking up the sausages, Nell appeared on the rocky hillside and was lured closer by the smell of the food. She was eventually secured and all walked the five miles back to the road.

Unharmed by her adventure Nell was re-united with her owner, the daughter of one of the rescued runners.

Heart-warming. And well done Alison and Rachel.

Sorry, I don't know who to credit with the photos. 

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Sunday 21 June - SARDA

What a wonderful photograph of Jib, member of Aberdeen Mountain Rescue Team. Wearing goggles allows Jib to take part in helicopter rescue missions by protecting her eyes from flying debris.

Photo copyright Jamie Greig.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Sunday 14 June - NASA-JPL My trip to Mars draws near - launch now scheduled for 17 July

Engineers at NASA's JPL have been busy getting the Mars Rover, Perseverance, ready for the start of  its journey to Mars landing at Jezero Crater on 18 February 2021. The crater is some 45km in diameter and Perseverance will land on the flat floor of the crater just east of the ancient river delta.

The rover's mission is to look for signs of past life, collect rock and soil samples, and cache them for possible return to Earth at a later date in a joint venture with the European Space Agency (ESA).

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took this photo of Mars in July 2018 near its closest approach to Earth since 2003 - 36.9 million miles.The two Moons of Mars are Phobos (right) and Deimos (left).
Jezero crater lies within the small circle near the centre of the photograph. Crater not visible. Photo Mars Orbiter Mission 2014

Perseverance landing ellipse in Jezero crater

The name plate attached to Perseverance's robotic arm
The laser-etched titanium plate weighs 104g and measures 43cm long by 8.26cm wide and was cut using a water-jet. The surface was coated with black thermal paint before a computer-guided laser generated the name 'Perseverance' by ablating the surface.

The name plate acts as a rock and debris shield to protect the cables which carry power and data to the computer in the body of the rover to the actuators in the arm. Power is also carried to the instruments and drill in the turret. (Photo and details courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance gets its flight wheels which are 52.5cm in diameter. The wheels are re-engineered versions of Curiosity's and have twice as many treads, slightly curved instead of chevron

The protective antistatic foil will be removed before launch. The spokes are titanium.

Perseverance during mass properties measurements

Precision mass properties measurements are crucial to to a safe landing on Mars, ensuring the spacecraft travels accurately throughout its journey and has a successful entry, descent and landing.

On a rover turnover fixture the Perseverance’s centre of gravity is determined relative to its x-axis (tail to front) before moving Perseverance to a spin table the surface of which sits on a spherical air bearing that levitates on a thin layer of nitrogen gas. The centre of gravity of is then determined relative to Perseverance's z-axis (top to bottom) and the y-axis (left to right). The engineers then rotate the rover slowly back and forth calculating the imbalance in its mass distribution.

After analysis of the data, 6.27kg were added to the rover's centre of gravity which brought it within 0.025mm of the spot mission designers had intended. (Source NASA JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance's mast mounted camera system can zoom, focus and take 3D images and video at high speed to allow detailed examination of distant objects

Descent stage
Mars Helicopter - Ingenuity can be seen fixed to the yellow/cream structure (red arrow)
Weighing 1.8kg, Ingenuity will test powered flight on Mars and is powerful enough to lift off on Mars where the atmosphere is less than 1% the density on Earth's. It will take off, fly for up to 90 seconds for a distance of 300m and land with commands from Earth sent in advance. It will fly up to 5 metres above the surface.

I am thoroughly looking forward to Perseverance's journey to the Red Planet and will provide updates nearer the launch and throughout its voyage as well as more details of the mission and the rover's scientific instruments More information can be found here

All images courtesy NASA JPL - Caltech

Monday, 8 June 2020

Sunday 31 May - A fine circuit

I was a bit concerned to read that two walkers were charged by police after being rescued a week ago from Beinn a' Chroin, a Munro near Crianlarich. Apparently they were not equipped for the ascent, got in to difficulties and the Killin Mountain Rescue Team were called out. The pair were subsequently charged in connection with 'culpable and recklesss conduct' having placed the officers and MRT members at risk from coronavirus.

I don't condone their actions in breaking the 'stay local' guidelines (they'd driven 60 miles) but reporting the walkers to the procurator fiscal was not a proportionate response in my view, and I do wonder if the fiscal will think it worth spending public money to proceed. Mountaineering Scotland pointed out that charging the pair had caused "concern in the outdoor community". It certainly made me feel uneasy. What next?

Thankfully, Mountain Rescue Scotland* has said: "Mountain rescue teams are here to help. If people get into difficulties in the hills they should be clear that mountain rescue assistance is provided without cost and without judgement".

"We want to encourage everyone who is able to access the hills to make sure they stay safe and are well prepared before they go".

Fine, but calling out rescue teams should be a last resort. As an example of self-reliance read Sir Hugh's account here of self extraction from a hill with a broken arm.

* My note: Cairngorm, Lochaber, Glencoe and Tayside MRTs are not members of Scottish Mountain Rescue.

We were unaware of these goings-on as we dropped down to cross the Frandy Burn to the gate which fortunately was open, either by accident or design, so our disposable gloves were unnecessary.

The Frandy Burn
As we joined the grassy path for the climb to Mailer's Knowe a couple on the track by River Devon stopped to check their GPS which suggested to us that they might not be local. They followed us for a couple of kilometres or so before they branched off for Tarmangie Hill leaving us alone with the skylarks and cuckoos for the rest of the day.

It was hot so I changed in to shorts at the top of Scad Hill before we strolled over Cairn Morris, crossed the stile without using our hands and arrived at Skythorn's small cairn. What a day to be on a hill.

Scad Hill.

This was the third day of lockdown easing and a Sunday so we reckoned Tarmangie Hill would have more than its fair share of visitors and Andrew Gannel Hill likewise. Sure enough figures appeared at the latter's summit as we spoke, no doubt on routes from Dollar and the 'Hillfits (Hillfoots) villages, walks which we've often done ourselves. We didn't want to join them so followed the long, broad ridge above the Brioch Burn towards Backhills.

Horror. The south and south east slopes of Frandy Hill were being prepared for conifer plantations, a growing threat to the lovely open hillsides of the Ochils. Then we noticed that the northern side of Middle Hill was likewise being prepared. Our hearts sank. Will the Ochils ever be left in peace?

By contrast the extensive bog cotton swaying in the light breeze lifted our spirits and we often stopped to gently handle it or brush our hands against the heads as we walked.

Just one of the areas of bog cotton
A long stop for lunch was now in order and we lazed in the sun pondering just when or if we'll ever be able to return to the Highlands without the constant worry of Covid 19. We've more or less reconciled ourselves to staying home this year perhaps driving further afield on day trips when that's eventually allowed. But will things really be much different next year in the absence of a vaccine, treatment or both? And how effective might a vaccine be for the likes of us, not old, but not young either! We just have to enjoy the present, and right now that wasn't altogether difficult to do.  Not difficult at all.

Frandy Moss is a familiar spot to us and we know our way through the bog in the wettest of conditions, but today there was no need to pick our way so we wandered at will before the easy ascent to the cairnless top of our last hill of the day. Spacious and open with the usual wonderful views to the north.

Another halt to finish our tea, a descent through old pastures to the track by the burn, a walk through the small shady wood and a return to the car along the Water Board road, stepping aside occasionally to make way for anglers driving home after fishing on the reservoir.

That last paragraph barely captures our feeling of contentment.