Tuesday, 31 July 2007

A wild Christmas

Thursday 21st December.
Have spent the whole day travelling. The rail companies are running true to form, high prices for tickets prior to Christmas and then having major delays. It was an awfully early start too. Catching the first train out from Kings Cross meant being up at around 0330am to be at the station just before six. Arriving late in Edinburgh meant missing the train i had to catch. However, we where smugly informed that there was another Inverness train, but it meant a mad sprint to catch it, being allowed a whole four minutes to change platforms. Arrived Aviemore over two hours later than intended. Just made the chippie before he closed. A clear, cold, crisp night. With some nifty map reading made my way to the lower end of Gleann Einich. Literally just pulled off the track after some 2hrs of walking in among the trees. Tent up and straight in to the sleeping bag.
Friday
Nothing strenuous today. Was away early this morning having camped a little conspicuously last night. A heavy frost during the night meant a fair bit of ice on the tent this morning. Spent a lot of time quatering back and forward attempting to find somewhere to pitch the tent. Preferably out of site of the main track that runs up through the glen. Deep heather, tussocks and rough ground denied me that choice. Went up as far as loch Einich and finally got the tent up in a more exposed place than I wanted. This was confirmed when the local gamekeeper came up to do some stalking. Chatting to him he was apologetic but insistent. Camping overnight, fine but the powers that be had decreed a no camping policy. He further warned me that one of his bosses would be coming up in the morning and would not tolerate a tent being in the area. Grrhh, I am not a happy bunny. With a weeks food and fuel and full winter kit my aim had been to make a fixed camp somewhere and use it as a base.. Well, if the weather hold in all probability I shall head over Braeriach in the morning. Temperature is below freezing tonight.
Saturday
A hard and difficult day. to be honest things where close on the limit. As I was packing up this morning The keeper came up the track with another guy. Obviously one of the land owners. One of the type that really makes me angry, pompous and so full of himself. He stood there looking down his nose at me as I dropped the tent. Finally He decided to speak, "You'll be moving on then!" More of an order than a question. It meant having to bite my tongue from giving him a rude reply.
At least the day had started fine and clear. Followed the stalkers path that leads up towards Coire Dhondail. Things got interesting as the outline of the path swung around to rise steeply above the corrie. It vanished in a steep bank of hard, frozen snow. All the usual faffing, stop, on with crampons, ice axe in hand and then cut diagonally across. Made the bealach ok and noticed there was a bit of a wind coming in from the north and it was certainly much colder up there. There was a bit of low cloud but nothing too untoward. However, took compass bearings just in case. Braeriach is pretty featureless plateau. My aim was for the top itself, there are some nasty drops off the edges and the way off Braeriach leading towards the Lairig Ghru looked a little tricky. Rather than head straight across I aimed at Einich cairn (1237m). By the time I got that far conditions where going down hill rapidly. Visiblity was low and the wind was rising. Cursing the extra weight I was carrying, I double checked map and compass. Mentally noting a possible escape route. I started moving again. To make things worse it began to snow, what with blowing spindrift and now snow things where not good. Basically I was in whiteout conditions and it was a question of getting out of there a.s.a.p.That was when things went badly wrong. I took a tumble down a snow filled hole between some boulders. The heavy sack slammed me forward. I sat for a moment, winded, took a deep breath and got back on my feet. It was only then I realised I had smashed the compass. The housing had gone completly. it is so easy at moments like that to panic and I was close to it. Possibly I could have got the tent up and sat it out but that would have been a last resort. Conditions on those high plateaus are very much arctic. Taking several deep breaths and making myself think before acting, I dug in my pack for the first aid kit. There was a basic, tiny button compass in it. Rudimentory but it did at least allow me to find which direction I was heading in. Somewhere off to my right,nw, was was a steep ridge, maybe tricky but an easier option. More by luck than judgement I stumbled over a half buried cairn, which I was pretty sure was the spot marked on the map as 1235m. From there I gingerly edged my way left. Keeping the wind to my right I was fairly certain I would miss the cliff that was due north of me. Suddenly I became aware that I was descending. Steep, nasty ground but not a sheer drop. Feeling fairly sure of where I was, I kept egding downward. Gradually the steepness eased. Now I was quite certain of my bearings but it was still tricky. Too far left and there would be a nasty drop into Coire Bogha Cloiche. Crampons now where becoming dangerous, I was in among a massive jumble of boulders and one slip could have meant serious injury. As I stopped to take them off a sudden gap in the cloud allowed me to see below what lay below. Off to my right quite a way down was a flat semi circular area. Now I was fairly certain that I was heading the right way. Below and to my right was the heavily frozen Loch Coire an Lochan. Somehow I had managed to juggle my way around the ridge that lay above the coire headwall. It was now just a matter of picking my way down. What a sense of relief to get out of the thick clag and actually see where I was. Having said that, the coire was as desolate and bleak a place as any barren land. Really grim and foreboding. Steep, ice and snow covered cliffs, ragged clouds swirling and writhing in the wind, driving snow scudding across in thick banks. it took an age to make my way down and across to Beanaidh Bheag. Even then, things where still difficult. Thick snow hid a tangled mass of heather and gullies. It seemed to take forever, stumbling and lurching through hideous terrain. To add to the difficulties, what little daylight had existed was going fast. Finally I hit the track again and got back to where I had camped the previous night. By now it was pitch black and being so tired and drained made pitching the tent and getting sorted out very difficult. Quite an epic of a day. To add to my woes, the stove is playing up, burning yellow, coughing and spluttering. Very frustrating when trying to melt snow for some much need hot food and drink. It is that old adage though, especially when going solo on the hill. If you get into trouble, be prepared to get yourself ouf of it. In hindsight I could probably have sat it out on Braeriach. There is no telling though how bad things would have got up there. Clothing wise I fine. The worst part in some ways is dehydration. I drank little during the course of the day, which is not good.
Sunday.
Stayed put all day, fortunately not bothered by the stalker or his boss. The stove is faulty, I suspect a blockage in the fuel line, possibly a speck of dirt in the fuel. My boots are ging trouble. They are a pair of new scarpa mantas. My old pair where getting past it but having used mantas before I decided on the same again. One problem, they have been re designed and these new ones are playing havoc with my feet. Went for a walk up by the loch, was tempted to head further up but am still drained from yesterday. Tonight the stove has died. Stripped it but no go, am certain something is blocking the fuel line. When I started it the darn thing splutterd and hardly lit and then whoosh, a massive flair up, fortunatley it was far enough from the fly to do no harm but is now dead. This trip is having its problems. In all reallity it will make snese to head out towards a small bothy down in the forest. Temperature is way down tonight.
Monday.
Woke this morning to a frozen tent. My tiny thermometer registering minus ten. Cold and clear down here in the glen this morning but looking dark and broding on the tops. Had to use the ice axe to lever the tent pegs out. The river Einich is semi frozen. Managed to get some water to drink. my stomach was not too happy with such an icy deluge. Follwowing the track back down I yet again bumped in to the stalker. He looked a little surprised to see me. I mentioned briefly that I had a wee problem with the compass up on Braeriach. He raised an eyebrow though when I told me where I had descended. In fact he thought it would have near suicidal to have come down that way in winter conditions and further added that nobody hardly ever went into that corrie. Well, steep and difficult certainly but just about doable. Swung off the track to head up towards the Argyll Stone. really heavy going. Steep ground, deep bushy heather and a lot of soft powder snow. Often it meant wading thigh deep in the stuff. The trouble was I felt knackered and this sort of stuff was fast sapping what little energy I had. Eventually made it around to Creag Dhubh. More swirling mist meant poor visibilty for a change! My aim was for Alt Corrie Callais. I knew there was something of a path further down. But heading into the head of the corrie was difficult. Steep ground and tangled mass of heather, a few stunted trees and that deep snow, oh joy. After a few falls and much stumbling things eased a tad. I was surprised to hear voices. A party of Belgians where heading up. They had found the going really awful. It had taken them a couple of hours from the bothy and they had found it as difficult all the way up. Their intention was to try and make it as far as Loch Einich, camp overnight and head out in the morning. There was a grin on my face as I headed down. They had made a lovely job of breaking trail. Made the bothy at last light. There is only one small problem, no fire. The bothy is really like a large, well built shed. Being in a strict conservation area, as well as being in forest, there are stringent rules concerning fires. Needs must though. Once more I was seriously dehydrated. Taking the bothy shovel I gently dug out a large divit not far from the bothy and dug a shallow pit. Scraping around in the snow I found enough wood to get a small fire going. Proper Ray Mears stuff. Using my knife to shave slivers of resinous pine, a drop of paper and voila, a small fire flickering in the darkness. Melted enough snow for heating up water. Managed a couple of pints, complete with a few pine needles and other things floating around. A hot meal cooked and then promptly doused the fire. Loads of snow shoveled on, a good check to make sure there was nothing left smouldering and then the divet replaced and tamped down. Not something I would encourage anyone to do but it was a time of need. My feet are a mess. Taped them up but they are painful. Not blistered as such but a lot of raw skin across the top of my feet. Temperature is dropping fast tonight. My intention is to head out early in the morning for Aviemore. Some twelve miles and a lot of it on road.
Tuesday.
Was awake early. None too good a night, painful feet, and not drinking enough and a couple of heavy days going make life a wee bit awkward. Temperature was very low, minus 12 outside the bothy. Was out of the bothy and away by seven. At first I needed the headtorch, but slowly that pre dawn greyness crept in. Everything silent and still, as if the world was holding its breath. my footfalls a sacriledge in the early morning silence. Suddenly there was a long drawn out howl, first one and then another, then a swelling chorus reaching a crescendo. I stopped for a moment, stunned as the howling echoed around the hills. Momentarily I thought I had finally lost it and then it slowly came to me. There was a wild life centre close to Aviemore and they had wolves. It was strangely haunting, stimulating in a way. A harmonius ancient paen, a brief reflection of a time now gone from the hills when man did not hold sway. What a glorious early dawn chorus. The early morning light was something else again. Such beauty, the sky gradually becoming brighter, tinged with pink and laced with thin streamers of wispy cloud. Once got down to the road the real plod began. My feet where twins united in pain. A few early cars past me but despite my attempts to thumb a lift I was ignored. How things have changed. Only a few years back someone obviously off the hill would have been readily offeed a lift. That though now seems to have all gone. Finally made Aviemore not long after ten. Having pushed the pace all the way I was now suffering. As I suspected, the station was closed but there where buses running to Edinburgh. It had been my intention to get some food in Aviemore but there was only a posh coffee shop open. Mulling it over I had been in two minds about calling a day or trying to get another stove. My feet though where in a bad way and there was no real option. To my amazement the train Station in Edinburgh was closed. Something to do with extended track maintenance. Thus had to get a bus ticket for the night bus to London. My hope of a shower in the station being scuppered it was a sorry case of baby wipes in a loo to clean up and in to some clean gear. My poor feet, I had to peel off blood soaked socks with loads of skin coming away too. Both feet are badly chaffed and raw. I was to find out later that Scarpa withdrew their new design boots to replace them with yet another slightly different design. I am hobbling badly and have quite some time to kill before the night coach leaves. Not such a good trip away.

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