Sea kayaking near Kyle

Last Sea Kayaking Trip of the Season

October saw some pretty windy conditions, just to finish off a rather windy season. However, there was a weather window which we managed to use and the Saturday saw some really nice weather with a lot of seals. We paddled from Kyleakin up the coast to Plockton and then stopped for the night at Duncraig Cove. Before that we made a little visit at the Highland Farm to have a look at some Lamas and rather interesting looking goats.

The railway station at Duncraig offered us some great shelter from the elements while we cooked and had dinner. The following morning we had a very short paddle top Plockton to finish the day.

This blog is dedicated to Martin who suggested to have it updated more often.

Sea Kayaking Eilean Donan

Windy Week Sea Kayaking

This week was pretty windy with a constant South-Westerly wind around Skye. This meant that it was hard work paddling at times and that the areas we could go in 5 days was a bit limited. However, we managed to do quite a lot of good sea kayaking including a visit to Eilean Donan castle. We also encountered some friendly seals where we camped at the second night and saw some Otters too. One was just laving lunch when we spotted it.

sea kayaking seals

Wind, Rain and Seals

Last weekend was the first day of high winds and some force 4 winds in almost 2 months. Starting at Kyleakin we encountered quite a few common seals, who were sheltering from the southerly wind on some small islands near Kyle. We got pushed along a few km paddling north towards Plockton. However, we decided to stop a bit earlier at Port Lunge and then do the tourist thing and go for a coffee in Plockton.

The second day was a lot more enjoyable with less wind and we managed to paddle over to the Strome Islands and then along the coast to Plockton to finish the trip. Even though it was wet and windy, it was a fantastic trip with some wildlife.

Sea kayaking Portree

Raasay Rover

In late June we have done our first Raasay Rover trip of the year. We managed to circumnavigate the Island starting at Portree. On the first day we had to battle 1.5 metre swells coming in from the north. It was pretty hard going to cross from Portree to Raasay but we all made it in time to put up our tents and have a nice BBQ for dinner. The second day was really hard work. Even though we suppose to be sheltered by the island we managed to paddle into the wind pretty much all day. We had to finish a bit earlier and then have an easier paddle in the morning to get back to Portree.

Dolphin sea kayak

Dolphin Mania

Today at a 3 star sea kayaking training we paddled from Rosemarkie to Chanonry Point and then over to Fort George to get away from the easterly winds. On the way we didn’t spot much of wild life apart from a lone common seal having a nosy at us. However, when we got across to Fort George we saw the most amazing display of local Bottlenose Dolphins jumping and fishing I have ever seen. They came over to us several times to have a good look at us and were not bothered about our presence at all. At some stage they got as close as about 2m to the kayaks. This display went on pretty much all day. I have to admit that it was very hard to coach today with all the distraction going on in the background. We even saw Spirtle several times, a dophin that made news because it received severe sunburns last year. It looks like the sunburn has healed very well indeed.

One last note. I wanted to assure readers that we didn’t approach the dolphins and stayed at least 100m away from them. They approached us and were not in the slightest bothered by us. Hence they stayed for the whole 4 hours while we were at Fort Geoge.

Mission Island Peak – Help to Raise Awareness of Autism

This season Unexplored Scotland is proud to support Alex Barrat on his quest to climb a mountain in the Himalayas to raise awareness of autism. Here is his story:

So just how and why would you climb a 20.305ft snow and ice covered peak in the Himalayas?

It was a typical wet and windy Lake District day, when I was sat in my office thinking about how I was going to try and educate people about Autism. Im lucky enough to be the father of two amazing daughters, the youngest of which has high functioning Autism.

For those of you that don’t know Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.  People with the condition can also have difficulties with understanding speech and the rules of social interaction. They can also sometimes struggle to understand and deal with their own emotions.

The National Autistic Society help provide information, support and services for families affected by autism. They campaign tirelessly for a better world for autistic people.

As an Autism parent I’m often presented with a great deal of opportunities to be amazed and often humbled by my daughters determination and unique angle on life.

She faces a constant battle just to get through each day, every time she overcomes one of those challenges, it’s a time for me to be filled with admiration & joy.

It seemed to me that If she could face those daily challenges then I should face a challenge as well. I wanted to support the charity that was close to my heart and at the same time achieve something truly unique to help educate people about Autism.

I felt I needed to shout my message of Autism acceptance from the top of the world or at least as close to the top as I could get. It was then that I hit upon the idea. I would go to Nepal and climb in the Himalayas on behalf of my two daughters and The National Autistic Society.

I’m already very comfortable in the outdoors, I grew up in the lake district one of the most beautiful national parks anywhere in the world. Over the years I’ve been a hill walker, scrambler, caver and over the last ten years a scuba diver. A sport which I hope will hold me in good stead for the mountaineering challenge to come.

Scuba Diving and Mountaineering share fundamental similarities, they are both dependent on logical and pre planned thinking to achieve a goal. If you don’t make the right decision calmly and efficiently, there will often be no second chance and you can very quickly find yourself in a very serious life threatening situation. Both sports are dependent on the individuals reaction to atmospheric pressure, just at two opposite ends of the scale.

It seemed to me that the attributes required for succeeding in both sports were well balanced.

In both sports you need to be precise & level headed should the situation suddenly deteriorate.

  • They both involve managing environmental risk through trained use of skills, and equipment.
  • They are both fundamentally easy activities, but they require lot’s of training to avoid killing oneself.
  • They both have an exploratory element. Scuba diving and mountaineering are all about accessing terrain that most people will never see or experience.

I have always wanted to climb and now presented with this perfect opportunity, It seemed like as good a time as any to start.

The first thing I decided to do was make contact with my friend Shankar in Kathmandu, he runs his own trekking agency and I knew he would be more than up for an adventure.

I explained my idea and after much discussion it was he who suggested we climb Imja Tse.

Imja Tse is better known as Island Peak, it’s a 20,305ft snow covered mountain in Sagarmatha National Park of the Himalayas in eastern Nepal. The peak was first named Island Peak in 1951 by Eric Shipton‘s party since it appears as a towering island in a sea of ice.

Imja Tse was first summited in 1953 as part of a training exercise by the 9th British Everest attempt, an expedition that would later go on to conquer Mount Everest.

That famous expedition included Charles Evans, Alf Gregory, Edmund Hillary, Charles Wylie and Tenzing Norgay, accompanied by seven Sherpas.

 

Charles Whylie on the first ascent of Island Peak – Image Courtesy of Alfred Gregory Archive

It was Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary that would later go on that year to make the first successful summit attempt of Mount Everest. While Mount Everest is a mere six miles away to the north, our view from the summit would be blocked by the massive wall of Lhotse, ranked 4th highest in the world. Lhotse will tower an additional 2,300 m (7,500 ft) above our summit.

Shankar explained to me this wasn’t for the faint hearted, it was going to be a technical climb and it was most likely going to hurt. Apart from scrambling I don’t have much mountaineering experience.

I knew to achieve a successful summit this was going to be harder than anything else I had ever done before, but ultimately one of the greatest achievements of my life. We would after all, be following in the footsteps of legends.So after many emails and much deliberation It was finally agreed, we would climb Island Peak, the 1953 training peak for the first successful Mount Everest summit.

I started to research our summit route. Island Peak, is listed as an alpine pd+ grade climb.

We would need to climb in the alpine style, setting of from base or high camp with a backpack, summiting with a set of fixed ropes and back to camp all in one day.

I was beginning to have the realisation this is not an adventure you can do without the correct support. Shankar told me he had two friends who were also climbing island peak at the beginning of April and suggested we should join forces.

We needed to become a well prepared & organised team, at the bare minimum we needed one porter for every two climbers and one climbing sherpa to every two people climbing. Suddenly two had become eight and we had a mammoth task ahead of us.

I spent the next few weeks going over countless maps and youtube videos of the route and what obstacles lay in our path. It was going to take two weeks of trekking and acclimatisation just to get to the Imja glacier. We would need to pass Everest base camp and venture further into the east of the region.

Once we arrive at Island Peak, we have the option of starting the summit attempt from base camp at (16,690ft) and starting the climb between 2 and 3am. Our other option is to ascend to High Camp at around (18,400ft) to reduce the amount of effort and time needed for summit day.

However, adequate water supply and concerns about sleeping at a higher altitude may dictate starting from base camp. Base camp to high camp is basically a long hike but just above high camp their is some rocky steps which require moderate scrambling through a broad open gully.

At the top of the couloir we must traverse the stunning Imja glacier. There are a number of substantial crevasses along the glacier which will need to be crossed by fixed ladders.

These are a genuine cause for concern and have sometimes caused previous teams to turn back.

We must then proceed across the top of the glacier to the headwall, a 60 degree ice and snow covered slope. From here fixed ropes will be set for the strenuous ascent of 100 metres (330 ft) to the beginning of the summit ridge line.The climb from the ridge line to the summit is difficult due to the steep gradient and 250m traverse along a 1m wide ridge line to the summit peak which has a 6ft x 4ft summit  area.

I was under no doubt to achieve the summit and raise awareness I was going to need help.

I needed corporate sponsorship for equipment and I needed some serious winter skills training in order to safely complete the challenge I had set myself.

I contacted many of the leading industry organisations asking for sponsorship support with this project, most didn’t reply and those that did gave me a whole plethora of reasons why they didn’t feel it was suitable for their business. After probably my 50th rejection email I decided to try a different approach.

I wrote a letter to the worlds greatest living explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and explained to him my expedition idea. I took a chance and asked him if he would be patron of my expedition and he graciously agreed.  Re-energised by this amazing development I set about designing a new and detailed expedition proposal to send out to the equipment manufactures.

I decided I wanted this expedition to benefit the people of Nepal as well as support Autism awareness.  From the research I had done on our route to Island peak, I knew we would be passing Pengbouche primary school which had been set up by Edmund Hillary during the 1953  Everest expedition. Shankar had told me that schools in the mountain areas desperately needed pencils. I knew we could help, so I approached Derwent a local lake district manufacturer with a separate proposal asking them to donate pencils to the expedition. I’m pleased to say they agreed to support the school and have kindly donated hundreds of high quality pencils.

I then approached a number of UK businesses asking if they could donate the much needed winter skills course. Most did not reply and some of those that did were a little unhelpful.

One reply even said, “This event will not attract any attention” and that I would get more exposure getting an autistic person to climb the mountain.

The person replying clearly had no previous experience of autism. People with autism often live in the moment, they can sometimes be impulsive and often have no sense of danger, although not impossible, it would take more people and more resources than I had available to insure an autistic climbers safety. I’m more than used to people judging and being ill informed about the disorder.

It just makes me even more inspired to change peoples opinions about autism.

Felling disheartened, but not defeated I decided to try one last time. After a long search I came across the website of “Unexplored Scotland”  I very much liked what I saw, so I sent in my proposal.

They immediately wrote back to me and said they would be delighted to help support such a worthy cause with a donation of winter skills training.

A few days later I received the fantastic news that Vango, Goal Zero and Lifesystems had also kindly offered their support to the expedition.

I had been humbled yet again, these business and kind individuals had just restored my faith in humanity, and I began thinking for the first time we just might be able to pull this off.

So now I train everyday, walking my dogs in the hills and taking photos along the way. All the time looking forward to my winter skills training in the Cairngorms and ultimately my big adventure in the Himalayas.

Winter Mountaineering Scotland

Winter, just around the corner!

As Autumn in Scotland is in full swing Winter is not far now. It’s only a month or so when you traditionally start getting the first snow in the Scottish hills. We have therefore introduced another great season with 2 day Winter Skills Courses, 5 day Winter Mountaineering Courses and a winter camping on the summit of Ben Nevis.

ben nevis winterLast year we have introduced the summit camping on Ben Nevis and have had 2 excellent trips with very different conditions. This year we have 4 of those trips planned but would be happy to extend it. All the camping equipment is included in the price. We are still the only ones offering this kind of service.

As usual we also run the 2 day course every weekend from early January to early April. This will give everyone a chance to join a course and again I don’t think there is anyone out there offering a course every weekend.

The 5 course format has been running since 2011 and is a course with 3 days winter skills and 2 day expedition in the mountains with spending a night in a self-built snowhole. A great adventure to finish off a course.