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P H O T O © N A E L M T S
LEAP OF FAITH Canyoning has become one of the hottest new additions to the extreme sports camp. Niki Boyle grabs a wetsuit and takes the plunge
I’m standing in a pool of crystal-clear water, enjoying a moment of tranquillity amid the rugged, rocky woodland of Bruar Water. Behind me thunders a 60ft waterfall, down which I’ve just abseiled. My guide, John, gestures to the breathtaking natural beauty around us, a smile plastered over his hairy face. ‘Welcome to my ofi ce.’
Canyoning is a relatively new addition to the world of outdoor adventure, a sort of hybrid activity bringing together elements of gorge walking, rock climbing, wild swimming and the time-honoured tradition of jumping off really high things into really cold water. The trip I’m on today is run by Scottish adventure specialists Nae Limits, although John tells me of an afi liated group called Canyoning Scotland (canyoningscotland.com) who aim to take the activity beyond Nae Limits’ Perthshire, er, limits. As well as the local spots at Bruar, Trinafour and Killiecrankie, John talks excitedly of canyons currently being made accessible in Dollar and further to the west.
All this is covered as we waddle, helmet,
harness and wetsuit-clad, to our starting point: the euphemistically named ‘acclimatisation pool’. This initial baltic dip is a shock to the system, but after a few minutes the wetsuit’s warming
properties kick in and the water temperature, while hardly tropical, ceases to be of much concern. Among the highlights of the next few hours
are smooth, slippery slides down naturally formed l umes; a quick exploration of a sump (an underwater bridge to be ducked under); the aforementioned abseil; and plenty of scrambling around rocks and tree roots to undertake cliff jumps of up to 40ft. ‘Challenge by choice’ is one of John’s mantras – none of the scarier elements are mandatory, so if you’d rather relax in the shallows while other nutters hurl themselves off the high rocks, you’re welcome to do so. (Another repeated phrase is ‘It won’t tickle’ – as in, ‘Make sure you cross your arms before you hit the water – if your hands slap the surface from that height, it won’t tickle.’) By the end of the day, I’m soaked, shivering and suffering from stinging i ngers (he wasn’t kidding about that lack of ticklishness). I’m also exhilarated, feeling more alive than I have in months, with a goofy grin on my face that comes close to rivalling John’s. Not quite, of course – after all, he gets to work in this ofi ce every day.
■ Nae Limits, Ballinluig, near Pitlochry, Perthshire, 0845 017 8177, naelimits.co.uk
ICE, ICE BABY Jay Thundercliffe picks up his axe and channels his inner Jon Snow, as he takes on the Ice Factor’s frozen wall
From the i rst sight of Ben Lomond to the towering, snow-tinged tops cradling Glencoe, my journey from Glasgow to Kinlochleven is a tantalising preface to Ice Factor. Encircled by some of Scotland’s most popular mountains, this former Victorian aluminium smelter houses the world’s largest indoor ice-climbing facility. Inside, past the centre’s dry climbing walls, in what is essentially a giant freezer maintaining -2°C, is the imposing ice wall, where 500 tons of snow and ice cover 1400sq metres, up to a neck-craning 50 feet. Tooled up with helmet, harness, crampons
and ice axes, I’m roped to route setter and highly experienced climber Kevin Shields – extra inspirational in scaling his heights with epilepsy and only one hand (he uses a prosthetic–axe combo on ice). Kev goes through the basics. ‘It’s not like TV, where you see people kicking in as if taking a penalty. That’s the way to tire very quickly’. My mind races – feet shoulder-width apart, balance, legs to push up, don’t over-reach. I pale at ‘face strike’: ‘Don’t have your head level with the axes, and don’t stare at ➜
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