When I was compiling my list of 30 things to do, part of the emphasis was to do things that were quirky and different. By this I don’t mean doing something that was slightly different, but things that were really out there and unusual because I think everyone needs an adventurous side to them. If anything, the principle was that it would help me to be more creative by experiencing things that I normally don’t experience.
One of those things is Extreme Ironing!
Extreme Ironing – what and why?
Contrary to popular assumptions, the sport didn’t involve doing all your ironing at once, but instead, involves extreme sports enthusiasts ironing up various mountains, under-water or even skydiving. By its very nature, it’s supposed to be an oxymoron: combining two things that normally don’t go together – the thrills of mountain climbing and the mundaness of ironing – to create a shock value. And it is this surprise that most people get when hearing it, which makes it something that sticks in people’s heads (see Chip and Dan Heath’s book on Why Ideas Stick).
I can’t remember when I had first heard about Extreme Ironing. It might have been a few years ago, when a newspaper printed a few photos of the sport; I thought it was something so cool that I wanted to have a go. Hence it made it on the list.
Another thing that made it on the list was to climb a Munro. Having been in Scotland for over 10 years, it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful (and wonderfully close) the Scottish countryside is. I wanted to stop making an excuse and go climb a Munro – which is supposedly something that every Scottish person as done. So, it was a perfect opportunity to attempt both at the same time.
A few weeks ago, after telling Rachel about extreme ironing, I managed to persuade her to come along for the adventure. We penciled in a date in the diary and I promptly forgot all about it until something was mentioned last week.
Now, the last time I used a compass was back in school; so wayfinding wasn’t one of my strong skills. Thus, finding a Munro which had a clear path was a must. We asked two of our experienced climber friends – Mark and Tim – for recommendations; they suggested Carn Liath near Blair Atholl for its accessibility and clear paths. Mark was even kind enough to lend me some gaiters and a compass.
On friday night, Rach and I got together to talk plans. Realising that we were woefully under prepared due to hectic work schedules, we pulled together some route descriptions, a list of items and a rough plan. Rachel, being super efficient as always, sourced the iron and ironing board, plus enough food and drink to serve us for a good while. The plan was to set off at 8am from Rach’s, head to Blair Atholl via Pitlochry where we would pick a map.
After working late in the office, I got to Rach’s at 8.40am, where we had a bacon roll and coffee, before packing our lunches. After getting slightly lost around Perth, we got to Pitlochry around midday to pick up a map and head off to Blair Atholl. Rach managed to get us a pair of Christmas themed sunglasses just to add that extra quirky-ness about the whole adventure.
Starting the Walk
We parked the car near Loch Moriag and got ready. It was 1pm by the time we got started, which was much later than we had intended, but we were hopeful that we could get a good walk in. In hindsight, we should have started much, much earlier. We left the car park and headed up through a gate and onto a cow field towards Carn Liath.
After a bit of a walk, two huts to our left marked the place we were supposed to turn onto the path. We turned and was met by three separate pairs of walkers that were all returning from the walk. One of them joked – “what’s the ironing board for? doing a bit of extreme ironing?” I think he was quite surprised when we replied yes. They all warned about the heavy snow up at the top and that visibility was quite poor. Unphased by this, we thought that we would make a plan of getting up as far as we can go by a certain time, and re-evalutating our options then.
Standing before us and the bottom of the mountain, was a boggy field that had to be navigated. In normal circumstances this was challenging enough but having an ironing board added that extra need for balance. It seemed like getting wet wasn’t so much an option, but a necessity that needed to be managed.
The Muddy and Snowy Walk
Once at the bottom of the mountain, it was a matter of walking up some muddy slopes. The path was quite slippery, partly because it had been raining and partly because it was quite rocky.
After a while in, bits of snow started appearing. Then a bit more. Then it started snowing. We took little breaks all the way up but at some point, we spotted a big bit of snow. Abandoning all time schedules, we decided it would be fun to make snow angels.
We also thought this would be the perfect time to take our extreme ironing photos:
Encountering the Snow Blizzards!
By this point, it was around 2.15pm and we made our way further up the mountain. The slope was getting steeper and steeper, and the occasional snow turned into a thin layer and then into a much thicker layer. The little bit of snow turned into snow blizzard where putting our rucksacks down for 2 mins would result in it covered in snow. It got cold, miserable, steep and really hard work – especially with the ironing board.
A little after 3pm, we stopped for a quick rest, but realised that it was going to get dark soon and we weren’t sure how far we were away from the summit. By this point, our tracks were quickly dissappearing behind us as the snow blew over them as quick as we had made them. We made a decision that it would probably be unsafe to carry on – especially since we weren’t sure how far away from the summit we were. (Being a geek, I dropped a pin on my Google Maps iPhone app – and once home, found that we were about 151ft away.) We drank some hot choocolate (it was a challenge) and took one last set of photos before heading down.
Unsurprisingly, getting back was much quicker than getting up. We slid a few times, but the ironing board escaped without any major injuries. The only hard part was crossing the boggy field again – Rach took her shoes and socks off and looked less than impressed…
We finished back at the Car Park, where we met this very nice German man (Nick?) who completed three Munros that day! He left Glasgow at 5am, then started at 8am. He was on a challenge to finish all the Munros before his 45th birthday and after the 3 today, he only had 87 to go!
A thoroughly enjoyable adventure! Even though we didn’t climb the Munro, we both had a great time and we’re planning to do it properly sometime soon. Now that we know what we’re in for, we’re going to get up earlier, bring walking poles and ditch the ironing board to make sure we get to the summit.
Although we might not be doing any more extreme ironing, Rach did suggest that we could do extreme hoovering or cleaning. We’ll see … 😛