Winter 2019...Here it comes!

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Betwixtmas… that leftovers laden lull between Christmas and Hogmanay when nobody can remember what day of the week it is. Hopefully folk are getting the chance to get out and enjoy the great outdoors and work off some of those mince pies!

We are in full packing mode, shifting our base up to Fort William for three months in the New Year. What this means for our clients is two things:

  • We can offer winter Munro bagging adventures and winter skills days with more reliable conditions than we usually see on Arran. So if you’ve never used ice axe and crampons before, or simply wish to be guided around the Scottish mountains this season by experienced Winter Mountain Leaders, get in touch.

  • We are still available for days out on Arran, either for wildlife watching or (conditions allowing) winter walking, - so please also get in touch to check availability.

More info about winter walking and skills days here:

Fingers crossed for a good winter season with lots of snowy fun for everyone. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the Festive Season and have a happy Hogmanay!

Otter Spraint Microplastics Survey

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Lucy: Today I met with a student from Glasgow University who is collecting otter spraint on Arran as part of his dissertation research, to see whether it contains microplastics. This is a new science, and will help give conservationists a better understanding of how microplastics may be traveling in the food chain around the Firth of Clyde, and the potential impact on otters and their prey. Pablo Garcia is going to be on Arran quite a bit over the winter, gathering samples from locations around the island, and is keen to garner support from locals and wildlife enthusiasts who can help him out by collecting spraint that they find on Arran.

Pablo has been on Arran for a few days now and has visited a number of locations in the South Arran Marine Protected Area. Today he and I travelled North to Lochranza, to walk the coast around the Cock of Arran, a place where previously I have seen lots of otter sign, spraint and of course, otters themselves.

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We were not disappointed. Almost immediately we spied a dog otter fishing off shore just outside the village. We also found numerous spraint locations, well used trails (some made by badgers and red deer as well as otters) and disused otter holts. We were careful not to disturb any sites that looked like they were in current use. Later in the day we were also treated to a fleeting glimpse of a female otter.

If you would like to help Pablo, please get in touch with Pablo on for further information. He will send you a sheet with information about how to collect and record your samples. To keep the spraint fresh, pop it in a ziplock bag. The Community of Arran Seabed Trust are acting as a hub for collection of samples, storing them in their freezer on Pablo’s behalf, so drop them in to the COAST Octopus Centre by the tennis courts in Lamlash.

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International Mountain Leader

Assessor Helen Barnard and my fellow candidates. 

Assessor Helen Barnard and my fellow candidates. 

Lucy: The exciting news here for us in the French Alps is that I have passed my International Mountain Leader Award!  Its been a time consuming and often challenging process, that has taken me just under two years to complete, with two 5 day training courses and two assessments as well as a speed navigation test and months of personal consolidation.  Preparation for my final assessment was one of the ulterior motives in our relocation to France this winter. 

A break in the clouds on Mont Chery. 

A break in the clouds on Mont Chery. 

My last assessment began in Morzine a week ago, and I joined 15 other candidates and four super professional Plas Y Brenin assessors for five days of navigation, digging in the snow, avalanche transceiver searches and nature appreciation. The assessors kept us busy, scrutinised our skills, and gave us plentiful opportunities to demonstrate our knowledge. Thank you PYB instructing staff: Helen Barnard, Mark Tennent, Helen Teasdale and Rob Spencer. 

Whilst much of the IML award involves taking the skills that I've developed as a working mountain leader and applying them in an international setting, I've also learned absolutely loads. Emergency summer rope-work at this level can be more complex, and there is an expectation that IMLs will be slick and safe in dynamic situations. My understanding of the alpine snowpack and avalanche avoidance has increased exponentially (this is a subject where there is always room for more learning), and I've deepened my understanding of the flora and fauna of Europe. The best thing is that I've also had some awesome adventures on the way. The key for me I think was having a supportive community of fellow candidates to train and practice with over the last year or so, and ample preparation time to build up my experience whilst out here in France. Huge thanks to everyone who has joined me on the journey.  

Sub optimal conditions above the Col d'Encrenaz. 

Sub optimal conditions above the Col d'Encrenaz. 

Looking ahead, I'm excited to be going home to Scotland next week and returning to the mountains that I love the most on Arran. Nature is best for me when it's on my own patch, with birds, mammals and plants that feel like old friends.  However, I'm also blessed that this new qualification is going to bring me lots of thrilling work in Europe and the next few months are looking busy. I'm raring to go! 

A White Christmas!

Lucy: We've heard a rumour that has travelled all the way from Scotland to le Bourg d'Oisans... Apprently there has been a White Christmas in some parts of the country... We hope that many of you have been able to get out and enjoy the snow, as we have over here. Today sadly,  it is mild and raining so we are hiding at home.  Above the house they are blasting loose rock to clear a road that was blocked in the last big storm. Tomorrow another epic snowfall is forecast.


I've been absolutely blessed with a fantastic welcome and a great new snowshoing companion. Kirsten and I made the most of the interim good weather over the weekend in the run up to Christmas. On Saturday I was a guest of the Grenoble-Oisans sector of the Club Alpin Français on one of their regular saturday meets.  This active club enjoy a lot of Snowshoeing and Kirsten is a regular particpant. On this occasion we met on the outkirts of Grenoble and headed in convoy up to Engins, in the Vercors Massif, for a snow shoe hike up to the plateau above Sornin.

As we set off the mist hung thick in the valley and it was a dark and depressive atmosphere in the forest.  It's quite a pull up to Sornin but once above the hamlet the mist began to disperse above us, and it wasn't long before we popped out of a cloud inversion in to brilliant blue skies. We paused at a chalet to "casse le croute" and also for some transceiver/probe/shovel practice, with the wise Francis patiently coaching us all on our technique. After lunch we continued in a circuit through the woodland on the plateau before eventually descending in to the mist once more. For me, this was an excellent experience- once more I was made to feel very welcome, and I enjoyed practicing my dodgy french on the group. It was also very interesting to see "how the locals do it", and I am grateful to Francis for sharing his knowledge and experience.


The following day Kirsten and I were a little tired! However, we managed to muster up some energy and Kirsten skillfully drove us up the steep snowy road to Villard Reymond from where we could easily access the small but steep little summit of Le Pregentil, that looms above the valley where we live. It was late afternoon, the sun was beaming at us from across the mountains, and we lingered for a long time on the summit taking it all in.

Yesterday of course was the big day, and we decided to spend the daylight hours outside, knowing that it would be the last good day for a while. Wally and Lee joined us for an ascent of La Quarlie, a 2322m summit above the village of Besse with incredible views of Le Meije. The sun beamed down on us and at times it was so hot we felt we were snowshoeing in the Caribbean not the Alps in December. The Quarlie itself is a big rounded lump, dare I say it a slog, nevertheless dwarfed by everything else around it. Again, we lingered on the summit, and the sun was setting as we raced back down to Besse so as not to miss our Christmas Dinner.

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The coming week looks a bit mixed for us out here, with bands of rain and snow coming through and topping up the mountains with their winter garb. We hope that all our friends and clients have had an enjoyable Christmas, with lots of time to spend with family, including some time outside having fun. In the closing days of 2017 we are reflecting on a busy year for us, and to looking ahead to perhaps our busiest yet to come. We would like to thank our customers for choosing to book their outdoor adventures with us and to wish them all the very best in this festive season.

Winter News and 2018 Bookings

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The first snow is dusting the summit of Goatfell, and on the mainland, the hills are starting to look genuinely wintery. With the change of season, it is time to update our clients and friends with our winter availability and accordingly,  announce some big news about our own plans.

In short, we will be spending much of the season in the French Alps!  This is obviously very exciting from a personal perspective, but will have a knock on effect for clients for which we are very sorry. We won't be available for bookings from the 10th December until early March.  Wally is expecting to be staying out in France until the end of April but Lucy will be back to grab some proper Scottish winter fun from the beginning of March. She already has bookings for winter mountain work on the mainland and is taking bookings for mainland winter munros throughout March. However,  if you are keen for Arran wildlife watching or an Arran mountain day in March it is still worth getting in touch to check availability.

Looking ahead to Summer 2018 (May onwards), we will start taking bookings for these dates in the New Year.  We realise that this may be a little frustrating for those of you who wish to get in early with bookings and appreciate that we book up fast, but this is due to the large amount of schools/contract work that we do.  This can block up weeks at a time, and is an important part of our work which we enjoy very much.  Sadly we don't yet have these dates firmed up, and would absolutely hate to take your booking and then cancel you further down the line. We hope you understand that your bookings are just as important to us and would be delighted to hear from you in the mean time to chat about options and ideas for your day out on Arran.

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Finally, we hope you are looking forward to winter as much as we are.  It's a brilliant time for watching wildlife and getting out in to the hills.  Don't forget your head torch as the nights are drawing in, and pop a few extra layers in the bag!

Lucy and Wally.

Heavy Whalley: A life in Mountaineering and Mountain Rescue

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Heavy Whalley, A life in Mountaineering and Mountain Rescue

Wednesday 9th August, Corrie Village Hall at 7.30pm.

Hosted by the Arran Mountain festival. This promises to be an exciting evening.  Heavey is an experienced local mountaineer, who has dedicated his life to the mountains and mountain rescue. He has many adventures to tell both on Arran, and further afield.

If that isn't enough, Kirstie and I will be talking about our Arran 700s challenge, and Arran MRT will be flipping their legendary burgers...

Adults £10, u16 £7. Tickets from Arran Active.  BYOB!

Arran 700s

Somewhere in the clag on the Western Hills.

Somewhere in the clag on the Western Hills.

Lucy: What a day, what an amazing, sore, exhausting and ultimately uplifting day.  We were truly blessed with the weather, and with generous helpers who all played their part in getting us through our Arran 700s trek.

Kirstie's partner Mark was up all night on a lifeboat shout, but still managed to drive us to Pirnmill for our dawn start. Kirstie's wee search dog Caileag joined us and we headed for the Western Hills, still swathed in clag from the previous day's weather. The first few summits came thick and fast, ticking off the Beinn Bharrain ridge, serenaded by Golden Plover.  These "peeper squeakers" as we called them accompanied us all the way around the top of Glen Iorsa and up on the the Leac an Tobair of Caisteal Abhail. The mist cleared and it was super exciting to get our first glimpse of the eastern part of the island.

Getting up on to Caisteal Abhail was a monster, and was the point at which I began to doubt myself, but Kirstie kept the banter going and after some food we both felt better.  Cir Mhor was a doddle and we were given an extra bounce by four gentlemen who kindly emptied their wallets in support of the cause.  Things got mentally tougher as we traversed under A'chir, for an out and back to Beinn Nuis via Beinn Tarsuin (so good we climbed it twice). It was a bit grim to pass A'Chir twice and not climb it.  Even wee Caileag started to lose her enthusiasm and it began to rain.

A'Chir Summit

A'Chir Summit

Morale was saved by dropping in to Glen Rosa to meet Mark and Wally. The rain stopped and Caileag had the chance for a nap with Mark while Wally made himself in to a human boulder problem, physically getting us on to the summit block of A'chir. This was the bit that had been daunting both of us thoughout our preparation and with that over, it was as if a weight was lifted from our shoulders.  The four of us and Caileag skipped under Cir Mhor and up to the Saddle to meet Arran MRT Team Leader Alan McNichol, waiting with a huge flask of tea, biscuits, Jelly babies etc. We cooked a bit of scran, and were ready for the last three not insignificant summits. Caileag, bless her, was done in and returned down the Glen with Mark and Alan.

Up, up, up, with help from Wally...

Up, up, up, with help from Wally...

I'd always known that the climb out of the saddle would be hard, but Wally stayed with us and helped to pace us up the ridge. It was great to have his company as we ticked off North Goatfell and Mullach Buidhe (the second summit of this name of the day).  Finally, before we knew it, we were on Goatfell. Absolutely punch drunk but over the moon.

So its a huge thanks to everyone involved, especially our Arran MRT colleagues who were out on a shout late on Saturday night but didn't call us, thereby not jeopardising our attempt.  Of couse we'd have turned out if asked, and postponed the challenge, but they saved us from this fate as well as successfully finding a missing person on a dark, damp night in a remote part of the island.  This is what MRTs do, made up of volunteers who unquestioningly put themselves forward to help those in need. I've met some of the finest people on the planet through MR and if you ever need them, they will do their best to help you. 

We enjoyed the challenge despite the hard graft,  and the biggest thrill is seeing the amount of money we have raised so far for our own Arran and Mulanje MRT in Malawi, a team with very few resources, who not only save lives in the mountains but support vulnerable people in their community,  a place with little or no safety net. 

We both love being part of an MR team, the teamwork and camararderie are a big part of the reason why we do it,  as well as wanting to help those in need in the hills that we love. MR work is expensive, and rightly free in the UK at the point of access. MR teams depend on public donations to do their work.  Thank you for your support (and to Kirstie and Wally for these great pics)! Please keep the cash rolling in.

Hill Mission

Image credit: Kirstie Smith

Image credit: Kirstie Smith

Lucy writes: My friend Kirstie and I are raising money for Arran and Mulanje Mountain Rescue Teams. Mulanje is the highest mountain in Malawi, and the team there do amazing work with very little equipment or training. To encourage people to support the cause, we've set ourselves a crazy challenge, to climb all the 700m peaks on Arran in a day. At over 35km and 3,000m of ascent its going to be a toughy!

Today the training began in earnest.  We set off with Wally to help for a dry run of A'Chir, which will be the crux of our challenge. From the moment we roped up, we wrestled with an arctic wind, and even though I was wearing all my layers, I had the coldest hands I've had so far this winter. We bailed, and Wally in the most gentlemanly way, offered to carry the climbing gear off the hill for us while Kirstie and I pushed on with a traverse of Cir Mhor, Goatfell and North Goatfell.  Off we set, and although the wind never let up, at least were were moving fast and keeping warm.  With only 18km done today and 1400m of ascent, we realise that we have got a very big challenge on our hands! You can donate to our fundraiser here:

IML Winter Training

Snowpack analysis

Lucy writes: I'm just back from a magical week in the French Alps on an International Mountain Leader award winter training course based in Le Grand Bornand with Plas Y Brenin. During the week we encountered varied snow conditions, from hard old snow to epic amounts of fresh that fell towards the end of the week. We covered all aspects of safe travel, including avalanche and snowpack awareness, terrain, weather and route choice. There was lots of learning anf fun adventures on Snowshoes around our base at Le Grand Bornand. After the course finished I spent a couple of days with some of the others from the course exploring on snowshoes and putting our new skills in to practice.