‘Feeling Nostalgic’ – A look back at our biggest Mission, Project 944
It was the start of 2019, and as ever, Chris and I were looking for a challenge that would get our minds thinking and so therefore we needed to map out something on our travels for this year that would be both challenging and rewarding.
Over the past few years, we had tackled much of the glorious Lake district, visited Snowdonia in all its glory several times, and the Peak district, I think, was glad to see the back of us for a change!
As it was my 60th year on the planet, I was keen to do something very memorable and so was Chris, so in a moment’s creative genius, we determined that we would go ‘BIG’, and tackle the 9 highest mountains in the UK, which all just happen to be located North of the Border in ‘Bonny Scotland’.
Now not only did we decide these were our ‘Mountains of choice’, but we also decided that given we still had some fitness capabilities that we could do something to support some worthy causes, therefore we decided we would aim to raise £4,000, that being at least £1,000 for each of our four ,yet to be chosen, charities.
Which charities to chose though? Given that there are so many worthy causes and we had elected to only pick four.
For those of you that don’t know me well, I spent some time in the Military and given that our launch date was the 75th anniversary of the D Day landings, our first selection was made. Help for Heroes.
I’ve also done some voluntary work in the past for an organisation called ‘Stockport Christian Counselling’, (it does what it says on the tin) in fact I was Chairman there for a period of four years during which time I was introduced to a company called ‘The Message Trust’ a Christian fellowship that does many wonderful works for the disadvantaged in society. Charity two now sorted! (Amen to that).
Charities three and four were actually ‘no-brainers’, both Chris and I have both had experiences of people close to us who we have lost to cancer, so Marie Curie was our third selection, and given that we are both strong believers in the wellbeing benefits of the great outdoors, and that we also believed that we could make a small contribution to challenge the stigma of ‘Mental Health’, Mind was the final piece of the Jigsaw.
Making the decision was the easy part, the next part was the ‘how’, and what did we need to consider before we set off on our epic quest.
We had our purpose, and we also had a sort of story about what our intentions were, so it was time now to get busy with the network marketing and more importantly, get the fitness sorted before we get anywhere near those Huge Mountains and all of the associated challenges that they would bring.
Chris sorted his fitness challenge by bashing out literally hundreds of KMs across the fields and dykes in the Netherlands, there are not many hills there, so he determined that if he got his fitness really sorted the hill work would take care of itself.
I went a bit more leisurely with my approach, being situated close to the Kinder Scout plateau (which is pretty similar to the layout of the Cairngorms, apart from the scale that is) I would be bashing out the hill work in rain, sleet and snow so that I could keep up with ‘Chris the racing snake’.
We worked hard on this and spoke to just about anyone we knew, we also developed a small initiative to get some companies that I knew well in the UK, to sponsor a mountain, and in return we would maximise our marketing efforts for them through social media.
Time for a namecheck here, the following companies were very generous with their support of our initiative and gave funds and support to enable us to arrive at our financial target.
The UKs 9 highest mountains
Our trip meant that we would ascend them all by spending 2 days in the Cairngorms (1-night wild camping) with our route being Cairn Gorm, Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine (angels peak) and finally Braeriach.
Day 3 we would tackle Aonach Morr and Aonach Beag, and the final day we would tackle the awe inspiring Carn Mor Dearg, traverse the arete, and then finish on ‘Big Ben’
Scotland’s 9 Highest mountains
1. Ben Nevis 1,345 metres (4,413 ft)
2. Ben Macdui 1,309 metres (4,295 ft)
3. Braeriach 1,296 metres (4,252 ft)
4. Cairn Toul 1,291 metres (4,236 ft)
5. Sgor na Lochain Uaine 1,258 metres (4,127 ft)
6. Cairn Gorm 1,244 metres (4,081 ft)
7. Aonach Beag 1,234 metres (4,049 ft)
8. Aonach Mòr 1,221 metres (4,006 ft)
9. Càrn Mòr Dearg 1,220 metres (4,003 ft)
Day one – the Heavy one!
Day 1 – as we got out of the car at the Aviemore Ski Centre and saddled up, ready for the start, we pushed the button on the camera and the first dedicated mini video was sorted for Help for Heroes.
I always maintain that the hardest part in most of these adventures is successfully navigating your way out of the car park, today was no different. Furthermore, the weight of the rucksacks with all of our overnight belongings felt like we had been more than a little over zealous in packing what we thought we may need, however we were here and it was time to go.
As we progressed uphill on the first challenge my immediate thoughts were “Will this first hill ever end”?
We trudged our way up the small path adjacent to the Funicular railway until we got to the Ptarmigan station, where we were both pleased to shed the load for a minute to grab a drink and a small snack. By now though, the weather had turned shitty on us (as Peter Kay would say it was that fine rain that gets you wet!)
Motivated by the fact that we could now actually see Cairn Gorm our first summit, we took off and got slightly giddy as the first peak was ‘knocked over’, only another 8 to go!
Right, this is where I make my honest disclosure here, whilst we had planned for the route and the respective objectives along the way, we had not ‘counted in’ the incremental summits that were going to get in the way of our journey. ‘Stob Coire an t-Sneachda’ was to be the first such little extra on the way, thank goodness we had put in the effort with our respective training!
4 KMs later we had made it to Ben Macdui our official second objective, en route we had encountered rain, snow, and plenty of wind at this point, but our spirits were high. All I had to do now was get us down the col’ between Ben Macdui and Sron Riach to the river Dee, which we would follow to the footbridge and cross it to head towards the Corrour bothy.
We located the bothy, which was partially occupied and a little bit dark to say the least, so we elected not to bother and pressed on to a grassy area just near to the fords at ‘Allt a Choire Odhair’, which was to be our wild camp for tonight in the shadows of ‘The Devils Point.’
Camp made, food sorted and a cheeky little wee nip of some of Scotland’s finest Malt, and we were both ready to crash out.
Day two – the incremental Mountains one!
The sun rose early in the Cairngorms, in fact we were up just after 4:30 am, and it was glorious!
Breakfast was taken at a quite leisurely pace, and then we broke camp. We went ‘head on’ into a bit of a climb that would put us on the plateau that would take us to objective three, Cairn Toul, however number two of those pesky Mountains ‘that get in the way’ needed to be sorted, ‘Stob Coire an t -Saighdeir’ was tackled with some gusto, and we were on our way to ‘Cairn Toul’.
Both ‘Cairn Toul’ and ‘Sgor an Lochain Uaine’ (Angels Peak) went by in a flash, we were on fire and knocking these Mountains off for fun!
We had a bit of a hike ahead now towards objective number 5, but of course, you’ve guessed it, another pesky extra summit stood in the way. ‘Carn Na Criche’ sorted we pressed on to ‘Braeriach’ but decided to stop at the ‘Falls of Dee’ to both pick up the views and refuel!
The Falls had plenty of snow around and we gingerly crossed to the over side without incident.’Braeriach’ we’re coming for you!
So, the 5 summits for this leg of the adventure were well and truly sorted, and we were both feeling slightly elated to be heading off this leg. Just the small matter of ‘Sron na Lairige ‘ to get over, and we would drop down the spur and into the ‘Lairig Ghru’ aiming for the ‘Chalamain Gap’.
It’s at this point I would highlight the fact that Chris, whilst being an absolute monster at getting up hills, is less confident going down them, and he’s particularly uncomfortable when we get into ‘rock hopping’ across boulder fields, welcome to the ‘Chalamain Gap Chris’!
The gap was a proverbial ‘pain in the arse’ and slowed us down considerably. Poor Chris probably spent more time on his backside than he did upright and of course it took its toll!
Eventually we exited the footpath from the Gap and made our way along the minor road to the car park at the Ski Centre, the second half of the day had been draining, and we now needed to get over to Fort William for the night!
Day three – the short one!
After a decent evening meal with an accompanying pint or two, and a solid eight hours sleep we we’re ready to go again. This day was going to be an absolute breeze compared to the last two and the ‘Joys of Chalamain’, so with our rucksacks packed sufficiently for our day, we headed out.
Parking at the Ski centre we took the gondola to the Adventure activity centre to commence our next leg. We initially wandered over to the beauty spot at ‘Meall Beag’ and enjoyed the breath-taking views up the valley between ‘Carn Mor Dearg’ and ‘Anoch Mor’.
Its there that the fun stopped! If I were to describe our route up, I would have to describe it as ‘relentless’! Elephant grass tufts everywhere, and it was damp too, meaning every step taken was more than a bit squelchy!
Anyway, enough of my moaning we pressed on, with Chris up front as usual and me hanging on in his wake, we eventually hit the top and from there it was all plain sailing.
Summits 6 and 7 were now in the bag, we allowed ourselves the privilege of watching the numerous people summitting ‘The Ben’ on the other side of the valley, it was almost as if a coach party had pulled up as they were swarming all over it like tiny ants!
We temporarily ‘toyed’ with the idea to drop off the ‘Aonachs’ down the col’ at ’Seang Aonach Mor’, given that the weather was good, you could see for miles, and it would have given us an incremental day to go out to play somewhere else. Sense prevailed fortunately, and instead we opted for an early finish and to head off into Fort William for a Maccy D’s!
Day Four – The wet one!
We had decided that we would both like to wander along ‘Glen Nevis’ to witness the marvel that is ‘Steal Falls’, although as we travelled along the route it was ‘wetter than an otters’ pocket’ and it took an element of the fun away, but only for a short spell.
Today was the big one, so we needed to stay focused if we were to complete our last day and close out on ‘Big Ben’.
We had switched from our usual map of choice, the OS Explorer 1:25.000 to Harveys as this highlighted a neat little track alongside the stream ‘Allt Coire Ghiuthsachan’, which was most helpful.
The pace was slow and damp, and slow and even more damp, and made the going slower than we had anticipated. That said, we encountered a large red deer on the way up which was both beautiful and majestic in equal measure, Glad we came this way!
We eventually arrived at the hole in the wall on the East side of ’Carn Mor Dearg’ and chose to stop here for our lunch prior to commencing the final push!
Throughout our journey we had thoroughly enjoyed the freeze dried food , kindly provided by ‘Summit to Eat’ , it’s fair to say every meal had been both tasty and filling, so today I was particularly looking forward to something warm, as the drizzle along the valley had cooled me down somewhat.
Food warning: whatever you do, please don’t ever buy the ‘scrambled egg with cheese’, from Summit to Eat, it’s disgusting!!!
I had to make do with snack bars and warm coffee, along with as many jelly babies as I could stuff into myself as I was starving! That’s a major learning point right there, make sure you know what the food your taking is like before you set off!
Improvised lunch done, we steadily tackled the route upwards until we arrived at the summit. Eight summits done, but for me, what we were just about to encounter was the absolute highlight of the whole trip, the awe inspiring ‘Carn Mor Dearg Arete’.
We stood on the summit for several minutes waiting for the fog and mist to clear.
Wow, once the wind took hold and moved the fog along, the view was spectacular! Time to get after it, afterall, you can’t beat a brilliant ridge walk.
The ridge walk was fabulous, and Chris did a sterling job capturing me in my element wandering along it, but that was now sorted and the final push onto the summit of ‘the Ben’ was all that separated us from our Project achievement.
I legged it ahead like a keen puppy, but unfortunately for Chris we were back into a boulder field that I often describe as being like ‘moon rock’. Rock hopping when your tired can be a little challenging!
It felt like the longest two hundred metres climb we had ever taken on, but soon we hit the top.
The day prior, the views on the top had been spectacular, today however was to be the opposite, we were in the ‘clag’ and could see only for a limited distance. However, we were here for a purpose, we touched the Trig Point, objective nine done!
We took several photos and made a small video to thank all of our sponsors for the brilliant support they had offered us which enabled us to achieve our goals, and had one last look around at the summit.
I completely lost it at this point, completly overwhelmed with emotion so much so I could not hold back the tears of joy of the accomplishment that we had just achieved. Chris felt the same, and after a big ‘blokey hug’ some composure was regained, and we prepared ourselves for the route off the Mountain.
For those of you that know navigational expressions, we were definatly getting ‘Flirty at thirty’ and on occasions we were difinately being ‘naughty at forty’ with our route off, but the challenge was done and we had the prospect of 9 hours in the car to face!
Goodbye ‘Ben Nevis’, we were sorry that we had not enjoyed the awesome views that you would offer up on another day, but we had conquered you…we’ll be back!
After much careful planning and brilliant execution, we achieved all the goals we set out with Project 944 walk.
We climbed the 9 highest Scottish (UK) peaks in 4 days (plus 4 more for good measure!)
* We walked over 60kms in doing so.
* We ascended over 5,076 metres.
* We raised over £4,651 for our four chosen charities.
We both loved Scotland and its rugged beauty, we’ll be back again soon!
Martin & Chris