The Highlands

I finally got up to the highlands! Twice in two weekends actually.  It was great to see my Grandparents last weekend, and then, this most recent weekend, I finally got to go hiking in the highlands with the Edinburgh hillwalking club.

I met my grandparents at the train station on Thursday night, the 2nd.  I went back with them to their hotel and then we got dinner after at this really good Mexican place off Prince’s street called Wahaca.  Apparently, it’s a chain but it’s the best Mexican I’ve had since I’ve been over here.  After classes on Friday, I took my grandparents on a walk around the town.  We hiked up parts of Arthur’s seat, and although we didn’t quite get to the top, the views are always stunning.  I also showed them around campus, some of my favorite streets and eventually Calton hill.

Of course, my grandparents continued to keep me well fed all they way along.  We called it a day after dinner and made it an early night because we were leaving for a tour up to Loch Ness early in the morning.

After a rainy early morning bike ride, I met up with my grandparents at their hotel.  I was running a few minutes late and worried I had missed the bus but my Grandpa knows me too well and had told me a time 30 minutes earlier so that I would actually show up on time.  Our tour bus driver was this cheeky Scottish man who really knew how to give a tour.  His voice mixed with the Highlands and the warmth of the bus had a certain lull that made intermittent naps along the way inevitable.  The drive up had some stunning views.  Driving through the highlands up to the Loch was beautiful and only made me more excited for the coming weekend when I would really be able to get out and explore it.  After arriving at Loch Ness we took a small boat tour and although we didn’t quite see Nessie it was still fun to be in the Highlands with my grandparents.

The next morning we went up to the Edinburgh Castle which was a first for me as well.  (Hot tip: wait for your grandparents to come to go to the museums that have entry fees.)  The castle was really cool and I would recommend the audio tour if you have the extra few pounds because it has a ton of really cool information about the castle’s history.  The picture of the stained glass is from the oldest building in Edinburgh, Saint Marget’s Chapel which dates back all the way to the 12th century.

After a few hours at the castle, we split up for a bit and then had one last meal out.  My Grandma got a taste of haggis for the first time, and we even got my Grandpa to take a bite.  It was amazing to get a visit from them and having them visit made me realize how much Edinburgh has become my home in the last few months.

Another week of school went by and I was able to successfully catch up in one of my classes which leaves only the beast of thermodynamics to be vanquished.  With any luck, I’ll be caught up this week and in a good place moving into the final weeks of learning.  I also got some good work done planning out the remainder of my trips which I’m very excited to talk about in the coming weeks.  Me and one of my Iowa State friends, Calum, also had a sweet run/climb up to Arthur’s seat on a day where the wind was so strong that I couldn’t help but howl back at the power of the hill.

The weekend finally came around which meant it was time for another adventure.  Some quick context on the hillwalking community in Scotland.  A Munro is a peak in Scotland over 3000 feet high, and there is a trend called Munro bagging in which walkers attempt to summit as many or all of the Monros.  There are 282.  It’s quite the challenge and my schedule for the weekend involved summiting two, I’ll figure out the other 280 later.

We left Friday afternoon and made it to the Glencoe Youth Hostel in time to get some gear and make some friends. I had signed up for this free training course with a really cool instructor, Nick.  We started off the morning at the base of Buachaille Etive Beag.  At the time it was too misty to see the peaks we would summit but here’s what it looked like after we came back down.wp-1489418007912.jpgAt the bottom, we started with some basic navigation training as well as learning how to properly read the map and calculate how long it would take to reach certain landmarks or forks in the path.  I was with 5 other hikers eager to learn more as well.  The goal was to follow the path up to a saddle in between two of the peaks that we wanted to summit.  Along the way to the top, we continued to learn more skills from Nick and eventually reached the saddle.  We huddled up for a quick lunch, and I mean really huddled.Hilltraining1Now it was time to really head up to a summit.  We had one more major training session, practicing ice axe arrests.  Ice axe arrests are what you are supposed to do if you find yourself sliding down the side of an icy mountainside towards possible death, so I’m glad I got to practice it a bit.  Also, it’s a ton of fun to pretend you’re sliding down a mountain.Hilltraining3

After this practice, we continued up and then across a snowy ridge towards our first peak: Stob Dubh.  We first walked up trough the deep snow to a sub-peak.  Once at the sub-peak, we continued across a ridge which was probably the most dangerous part, although the snow and difficulty are still far from anything to worry about.  We followed along the ridge for a few more minutes and finally, we made it to the summit!

The views were stellar and the sublime was real.  The Highland mists would come and go as quickly as the wind.  Every direction that I turned was an amazing view worthy of a romantic painting.  I had summited a Monroe.  I’m on my way to becoming a proper Scottish hillwalker.  Eventually, it was time to head back down across to the other side of the saddle and up to the second Munro, Stop Coire Raineach.  Descending was fairly easy as the wet snow allowed for a sort of clomping down, taking big steps into the snow so that you sink in and stabilize automatically.  By the time we got back down to the saddle it was really clearing up and so the walk up to the second peak was truly stunning with views of 3 different locks and countless mountains for miles.  Hilltraining6Hilltraining7

It was a wonderful day for hiking and for learning how to do it properly.  The next day was a much more mellow forest walk so it’s not really worth getting into detail about but it was still fun seeing the trees and moss of the highlands up close.  Overall it was a great weekend trip and I’m so happy I finally got to explore the highlands these last couple weeks.

Polaroid for this post is one of my favorites so far.  It’s one of Tyler and Daniel right outside our flat with the flash of the camera in the mirror.  So far I’ve found that polaroid works best with medium lighting in more close up shots.  When I take landscapes I think it’s almost impossible to keep the film from getting overexposed.  Anyways here it is.wp-1489535231417.jpg

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One thought on “The Highlands”

  1. Hey man–Sounds like you’re having a great time in Edinburgh! Great to hear–I spent a lot of time around Arthur’s Seat when I was there, too. In fact, my flatmates and I frequently discussed whether we could capture, roast, and eat one of the swans that frequently blocked the park paths around the Seat. These swans took great delight in menacing pedestrians of all stripes and I thought we’d be doing the Scottish people a great service by removing one. Apparently, however, according to English law all the swans in Scotland belong to the queen, and therefore killing one might technically be treason. Nobody was looking to hang for this, so we had to let it slide and watched the Big Lebowski (again) instead.

    Sounds like you’re getting up to considerably more worthwhile pursuits!

    Liked by 1 person

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