Monday, November 5, 2012

Clachnaben Hike

Getting into shape is so hard, yet falling out seems pretty dang easy. You ever heard that saying ‘life’s not fair”? That totally applies to this concept. After 3 weeks in the states, I was lucky if I could run 3 miles on the flat Florida pavement, and was quite reluctant to go back to the cross-country adventure that is running in Scotland. But I had 10 pounds to lose, so I pushed through that first week and started where I had left off in addition to tracking calories like a boss.

Early in the week, I got an email from our Explorers (AWA hiking) group leader about a 16 km hike up and around Clachnaben, one of Aberdeenshire’s most famous “hills”. This was quite intimidating on 3 levels:

1) When I converted 16 km it came to 10 miles. Well, 9.9, but I think it’s ok to round up in this case and call it an even 10.

2) When I read the Walk Highlands description of the summit it mentioned some light ‘scrambling’ and cautioned to take care with footing as the fall would be considerable. Me and scrambling are historically not the best of friends, and just the thought of a considerable fall is enough to send me into anxiety attack overdrive.  

3) The weather forecast for the Thursday morning hike was for steady, freezing cold, rain. Since the hike was estimated to take 4-5 hours, the last thing I wanted was to be stuck at the top of a mountain, panicked and soaking wet. Needless to say, I was quite reluctant about this hike, to the point where I didn’t even RSVP because I wanted to be able to back out at the last second.

Even as I made the drive to meet the group, I debated turning around and crawling back into bed. But I am so glad I didn’t. For one thing, the day turned out to be stunningly gorgeous with bright sunshine and virtually no wind or clouds. Also, I was in good company as 22 women showed up for the hike.
The first order of business was climbing the sucker. While we made our way to the beginning of the trail, we were halted by the sound of loud and repeated gunfire, which was a bit disconcerting in a country with notoriously strict gun laws. Turns out, we almost walked right through a pheasant hunt.
An onlooker politely suggested we wait until they were done shooting to proceed on our hike, so we sat in the sunshine and watched a very picturesque Scottish hunt, complete with Barbour jackets, Land Rover Defenders, and tons of spaniels (AKA Jonathan’s fantasy life). Having a bird dog myself, it was a real treat to see hunting dogs in action, though I was grateful I’d left her behind because it would have been impossible to keep her from getting involved in the fun. Once the dogs were sent to retrieve the loot, we were waved forward and allowed to take pictures of the hunters and their pups.

Have I mentioned lately that I LOVE SCOTLAND!?!?
After the short pause, it was time to get serious, as the path steeply rose towards the silhouette of Clachnaben looming above us. I tried to keep up with Jillian who keeps a pretty quick pace, but I conveniently stopped ‘to take a picture’ anytime I felt like my lungs would collapse. I always bring my fancy camera to these shindigs because it gives me the perfect excuse to take frequent breathers. 
I was glad I kept up though, because Jillian distracted me from my fear of heights by keeping me chatting, and before I knew it, I was on top of the mountain.
I even scrambled about halfway up the final summit before waiting for the rest of the group at the bottom of the rocks.
Something I love about UK landscapes is that once you climb a hill, the surface flattens out considerably. You will be high above the clouds, yet all around you will be gently rolling hills.

Have I mentioned lately that I LOVE SCOTLAND?
Once at the summit, I was feeling great. I call this ‘hill-climbing amnesia’. The whole way up, I was questioning my sanity on why I would choose this as a hobby, but as soon as I reached the top, I forgot the pain involved and was ready to do it all again.
Just as I was thinking, ‘well ,this wasn’t so bad…’our guide, Lisa, informed us that we had just hiked 5 km, and had 11 to go.  Gulp. And that was before we made a wrong turn and didn’t realize it until we had to backtrack an additional 2 km. Good thing I rounded up earlier, since this trek ended up being 11 miles. Like it or not, I was getting back into shape that day.
Fortunately, the scenery was so spectacular that it propelled me to keep moving forward so that I could see more of it. I guess I am kind of surprised at the brilliant fall colors in Scotland. I always thought of this country as green, green, green. Many of the trees are evergreens, and the grass stays that way throughout the heart of winter. But these reds, oranges and yellows are an incredible surprise.
Just when I think this country couldn’t get any more lovely *Bam* Autumn arrives in Aberdeen. Have I mentioned lately that I LOVE SCOTLAND?!?!

We ended up stopping at a bothy for lunch before rounding out our hike. What’s a bothy? Oh, just a shelter placed in the countryside for hikers to find refuge in case of bad weather.
Have I mentioned lately that I sort of LOVE Scotland?!?

We didn’t require the bothy to shield us from the perfect sunshine, so we just ate our bag lunches outside while gazing at this view:
Have I mentioned lately that I FREAKING LOVE SCOTLAND?

We hightailed the last leg of the hike since many of the women had to be back for school pick-up times, and luckily my feet only started blistering with half a mile left. After we finished, I coasted on my endorphins and took a bubble bath for my aching muscles. It was such a fantastic day with friends, getting some fresh air, stunning photos, and good exercise. 
Speaking of which,  do you know how many calories you burn by hiking for 4 ½ hours with a 5 pound camera strapped to your hip? Enough to eat a whole lotta peanut butter m&ms with zero guilt. And maybe even some rasininettes. And Border’s cookies. Yep, my sweet tooth had free reign over my life for the remainder of the afternoon, and yet I still out exercised my food intake for the day.

And because the day was such a success and the forecast for Saturday was supposed to be just as lovely, Jon and I headed to Skolty hill this weekend so that I could finally say I'd hiked the 3 most famous hills in our little neck of the shires. More on that later this week, but here is a sweet sneak peak:
Have I mentioned lately….


  1. WOW! What an amazing hike to have accomplished. You go girl! Love the sneak peak of Jon and Bailey. Bailey looks like she's on cloud9

  2. Your hiking and your photos are awesome!

  3. So proud that we conquered Clachnaben! I hope to make it out to Scolty Hill soon!!!