Saturday 29 December 2007

Winter walk

As I used to do, I have returned to keeping a rough daily log of my walks on the hills. My own personal experiences, thoughts and views.
Wednesday/Thursday 19th/20th December. Have spent the best part of two days travelling by train and bus from London to Ullapool. left London on the 10 30 Aberdeen train. Changed at Edinburgh. Had been hoping to catch a direct service from there to Inverness. No joy, there is a very limited service to the north. Had to go via Stirling, with a 45 minute wait there. Arrived Inverness 1935hrs. This meant an overnight b&b. From Inverness there are only two daily buses to Ullapool. One at 0805am and the next at 1435Pm. The early one would have been too much of a rush to catch. Thus it was a case of the later option. Spent the morning in the local library reading. Nipped in to a local cafe for a cuppa and some food. Bad mistake, the tea was awful and the food worse, bland and tasteless.There have been heavy frosts in the region recently and on the run down the scenery was lovely. Trees frosted white and a landscape that looked as if it had been dusted with icing sugar, glistening in a late afternoon sun. It took my mind off the driver a bit as he continually gnawed at his fingernails, driving one handed along narrow roads. For an encore he blithefully picked his nose. Not for the squeamish! It had been crossing my mind to get off at Braemore Junction. However, I knew it would be almost dark when we got there and it left me with little option but to continue on to Ullapool. Knowing the area I was well aware that trying to wild camp around the junction would have been difficult. This in turn meant another b&b, something I can ill afford.

Friday21st. Took the bus back back up to the junction. If the ferry service across the loch had been running I would have opted for that and then walked up the back way. No way was I going to spend most of the day on a long, main road plod There are two bus services, a Rapsons and a Scottish city link. The Rapson driver, he of yesterday,s run down, was most off hand and surly. Muttering about booked places, ferry passengers etc. It was obvious, he did not want the hassle of having to stop just a few miles up the road. The other driver beckoned me over. " Pay him no mind lady, he's a miserable bugger. I'll get you a seat on my bus." My rucksack was deftly placed on the crew seat behind the driver. My ticket was was handed to me with a wink, "It's ok, I've seen your concession card!" As the bus dropped me off at the junction and roared off in to the distance reality bit. It was suddenly real, I was on my own and heading out for at least a week. There was still a longish plod along the Gairloch road before I turned off for loch a' Bhraoin. it's odd in a way. At one time, anyone walking down a lonely highland road would automatically have been offered a lift. No more, folk just drive by with sightless eyes. People on foot in such places are now considered an oddity. Coming down to the ruined lodge by the loch I was a bit undecided. Ought I have an easy day and camp or should I press on a bit further? It was still early, the few spots that looked ok where in deep shade and with loch frozen the area felt cold and exposed. Decided to push on up the hill a bit and finally stopped around 1400hrs. Not being fit and carrying a heavy sack, it was enough. There has been wonderful scenery all day. Hills standing out in a sharp clarity that comes with such cold. The river has great lumps of ice in it and is hardly flowing. Managed to get a trickle into my water container. However, that is now frozen solid. The ice axe comes in handy to get the tent pegs in a bit! As I write there is a beautiful moonrise just cresting the hill. Have just checked my baby thermometer, it indicates -10 degrees. Wow, is it chilly or what???
camped tonight at GR OS LR map 20 165719, roughly.

Saturday 22nd. A fairly easy day. With the temperature plummeting last night and then slowly rising again by the early morning. With it came a rising wind. Showers of sleet and snow began to rattle the tent as I packed up fairly late. Picked up the path again and slowly headed up the path towards the bealach. Nothing difficult, just a steady, slow pace. Some care was needed, there was much ice on the ground with water running over it. Had sleet, snow and hail showers all day. Wind is picking up and has swung to wnw. Dropped down to Nest of Fannich and have camped by the old stables at LR Map 20, 164678. Once more, temp. is dropping.

Sunday 23rd. Obviously there are a series of weather fronts coming through at the moment. This leads to some very unsettled weather. Once more, things settled down last night after a few more heavy showers of sleet and snow. later it began to freeze and by morning the tent was sheathed in ice. As I prepared for another day the wind began to rise, big boomimg gusts driving down the corries. The tent was coping well, despite half the pegs being barely in the frozen ground. Most where just weighted down with heavy stones. With the hex it is noticeable when it is pitched tightly, the tent drums in the wind. if it is pitched loosly it rattles and flaps. tried to be away a bit earlier but it was still 0930am before I was packed up and moving. Basically it was just a long haul down through Glen Fannich. Awesome scenery. Stark, sombre hills, rock, bleakness. Purple, bruised clouds lowering over the tops. Thick, scudding before a driving wind. Empty, desolate moorland, open, exposed. The wind was driving the water into a frenzy. Rolling waves, whitecaps, waves breaking on the shore. Spray rising high when they hit rock. Was met by a few small dogs when I got down to the lodge but not a human in site. It was afternoon by the time I turned down glen Grudie and I was starting to feel wearied. Enough was enough. There had been a pale, watery sun for part of the afternoon but by 1430pm it was setting fast. After much threshing around, searching for a spot for the tent I have managed snuck the tent in to a nice spot on the edge of the forestry. Here there are some old, gnarled scots pines and as is often then the case, they have areas of fairly dry and relatively flat ground around them. Am just off the main track but out of site and out of mind at gr, map 20 299636.

Monday 24th. Camped in same spot as last night. Heavy rain and stormy winds thashing through the trees during the night. Woke fairly late at around 8am. Time I sort out all my personal bits, which takes around an hour, it would have after 10am before I got under way. For what i have in mind I need to be away somewhat earlier than that. Thus had a rest day and just pottered about. Went through the trees picking dead grass by the armful. it makes a lovely soft mattress and provides insulation as well. Have been sorting out rations and deciding on which direction to take tomorrow. Had the mad idea of experimenting with pemmican from Expedition foods. Over the last couple of days I have been nibbling it on the go. Yes, it does what it is supposed to do, provides nourishment etc. My advice though is leave well alone, unless you want dire emergency cold weather rations???My main concern is gas. I brought along a larger cylinder, one of primus's so called four season ones. They have a funny sense of humour those people. These cylinders work no better than any other. When it is cold they need coaxing. and stoves tend to burn more fuel in low temperatures.

Tuesday 25th Dec. Strange noises in the night, nocturnal creatures going about their business. Owls screech and hoot. Scuffles in the undergrowth. Moonlight illuminating the tent in soft light. A dark shadow falls, momentarily blocking out the moonlight, a deer browsing outside, unaware, unconcerned. By early morning the temperature had once again dipped. It was now averaging -7. despite best efforts it was almost 0930am before i was underway. The water in my water container had turned to ice and slush. The tent had been rimed in ice. A heavy frost had left everything glistening and sparkling in early morning sunlight. Cold, but oh, such a beautiful morning. With gas being a bit low I had amended things a bit. This in turn meant a spot of road walking. Heading down through Lochluichart and straight on to Gorstan. Metrinome walking, switch brain off and go in to automatic mode, one foot in front of the other, tick tock, tick tock. From there around to Little Garve. The old bridge over the river is spectacular in itself. Solid, built of stone with great craftmanship. That alone would warrant a visit. The tumbling falls underneath are just as spectacular. Following the old trail down past Strathgarvie Lodge and alongside Loch Garvie. Finally I swung off the cycle trail and found a flattish spot on a wide ledge at the edge of the trees. Not the best of places to stop, I was very close to the trail. Spent a bit of time gathering dead bracken to make a cosy nest for the night. I am wearied, today had averaged some 12 miles.

Wednesday 26th December. Another long day. Strong winds caused the trees to creak and groan during the night. Sleet and rain lashed the tent. However I was warm and comfy and just snuggled down deep into the sleeping bag. The tent, situated just inside the trees was hardly affected by the nights stormy weather. Looking out at a grey early morning though was a bit daunting. Rain drifted over the lochan opposite and the temptation was to linger. finally I got packed up and moving. Continuing on down the forestry track toward Contin. Personally I am not a lover of forestry walking but there where plenty of wide open spaces and plentiful views. At the edge of Contin I swung off to pick up the track that led past Torahilty farm and round to the dam at loch Achonachie. The wind was wipping straight down the loch and crossing the high, exposed dam was intersting! Followed a much swollen river Conon down and then followed the tiny road that led up past Muirton Mains and through to Fairburn estate. It took some intricate map reading to get through the actual estate where all the main houses where. Apart from the big, main house, an imposing structure in itself. New buildings had been built too. It was really a small village in itself with little bits of track leading off in all directions. Logging operations did not help either. Managed to stay on course, taking a track that led down past and amazing gorge and past the falls of Orrin. Another minor road, another spectactular old stone bridge. The road led over yet another bridge, the Aultgowrie. These old bridges where built by craftsmen who knew their trade. Following the road past Faebait farm, it was next right and immediate left on to another track. here I hit a problem. An old farmer coming down the track in his landie stopped to chat. my first thought was that he was going ask why I was wandering up his track. He was an amiable old guy though, asking where I had come from. When I told him he grinned, "Ah lady, tha's a hardy woman." When I explained where I was aiming for, re a small track branching off the one I was on, he pushed his cap back on his head and frowned. " Iiihh, weel, I ken the track yis means lady, but nobbits ben doon that way for monny a year!" He pointed out roughly where it used to run. Basically its line following an old tumbled down dry stone wall running alongside thick overgrown woodland. he also warned me the wood was dense and most folks avoided it. Well he was right. The first part was not too bad. There was a distinct line that I could make out on the ground. Tricky, but not too difficult. Soon though I ran into trouble the line was swallowed up by thick tangles of undergrowth and gorse bushes.By some scrambling over barbwire topped fences I stuck with it by keeping to the edge of a couple of fields. Then it was back to the jungle. By careful study of map and the lie of the ground I could discern my line of travel. having picked up water from a small trickle I now had an extra three litres of water to add more weight to the sack. Over another tangle of barb wire and old fencing, deep bog under foot and a slope with yet more dense undergrowth. Finally I found a small trail, Which had been used. Probably people had diverted from the original route. This trail led me on to a well defined track. I have actually camped right on the track. it is little used and I am certain I will not be disturbed. I am right on the edge of the forest, again. I have camped at last light at around 1545hrs. At Gr OS map LR 26 508494. it has been a hard day.

Thursday 27th December. yet another storm during the night. High winds and rain. Woke to hear the wind roaring in the trees and rain drumming on the tent. There was plenty of protection where I was pitched though. As expected, the gas ran out this morning. That really had been the clincher. it had been flitting through my mind to continue walking in to Inverness. It would have been easy enough but would have involved mainly road walking. Strolled down to Beauly to catch a local bus instead. Maybe I am growing more cynical in my old age but it really struck me how many cottages I passed all done up and prettyfied. Houses and bungalows too. Manicured Lawns and gardens. Gravel drives and neat wooden fences with metal gates complete with 'private' signs and 'beware of dog'. It is not the dogs that worry me, just the people. The other noticeable factor is the almost obligatory farm impliments. Single furrow, horse drawn ploughs seemed to be a favourite in this part of the world. It looked like the whole county must have been scoured for them. It makes me wonder, do folk really realise what those ploughs meant. The graft, the labour. People excisting on a pittance, poorly clothed often wet and cold? The amount of work involved just to get a team of horses prepared for a days labour. When the day's ploughing was over another couple of hours at least to get the tackle off the horses, get them fed, bedded down etc? Probably not. It was easy to see the actual farm workers houses. Nothing grand, often unkempt,muddy four fours outside the door. In all probability a battered quad bike and often a tractor conveniently parked outside the front door. A kennel full of excited, barking dogs. Maybe the psuedo country folk ought to try a tractor or two on the drive. Or, for one upmanship maybe a combine harvester??? Had to book in for another b&b for tonight. Nipped out for a bite of fish and chips and then came back to sort things out before travelling tomorrow. Ah the sheer bliss of a toilet I can actually sit on. The sensuous pleasures of a hot shower and clean clothes. There is one slight fly in the ointment. Emptying the sack to haul out wet tent and stuff, bits of twiggy bits, grass and leaves where deposited all over the carpet. The room is immaculate, panic! Thus I was busy down on my hands and knees busily picking up all the bits of debri. Even more consternation as the tent dripped all over the place. My towel from the shower swiftly came in to play as I hastily mopped up water and dabbed off the tent. My muddy footwear was swiftly wrapped in a spare tesco bag. Maybe in many peoples eyes this has just been a pleasant amble over the last week. However, being unfit and not having been out for some months I am quietly pleased. my mileage avearages at roughly fifty miles with a couple of long days that covered in the region of about 11 or 12 miles each.

Ok, for folks who are interested such things, gear. As much as I am keen on going light, my lighter rucksacks where not comfortable under the load I was carrying. This was heightened by the fact of recent surgery. So it was I fell back on my old Macpac ascent. Also, I find that being on the hill in winter does require a more rugged sack. The macpac is heavier, surprisingly not much more than, say, for example the OMM mountain mover. It is fairly bombproof and I am comfortable with it. Inside it has a Sea to Summit waterproof liner. Looking at it does make me wonder if the lighter sacks would take the same abuse. it is muddy and grubby, a workhorse of a rucksack.

Tent, Golite Hex. Ok, it possibly means camping low. it is surprising how much weather it can take though if pitched properly. Tent pegs are a mix, mainly easton alloy because of their extra length. Oddly I had a couple of heavier plastic ones and have bent them.
For a ground cloth I am currently using A heavy duty type space blanket, cut down. That is a draw back with the hex. The floor that can be added is heavy and has to be laid out before the hex is put up. No good in bad conditions. It is very roomy for one and easy to pitch. it can be pitched with the trek poles but I prefer it's own pole.

Sleeping mat is a three quarter thermarest three. Oddly, the same weight as the closed foam mats.

Sleeping bag was the Valandre la fayette. A down bag. Made in France, not China. Just under a kilo in weight. It is lined with a very light silk liner. A tad more warmth and keeps the bag cleaner. That is packed in to a exped waterpoof bag. Also, I used a Rab survival zone bag. Once more it provides extra warmth and protection and doubles as a dire emergency bag.

Stove, primus gravity. Taken because it sits low to the ground. A mistake. It appears to burn more gas than my other gas stoves. Mind, it was operating in sub zero temperatures. The gas cylynder was a primus 220g power gas, supposedly 4 season rated. That is questionable. it constantly had to be warmed to coax gas out of it. The only pot I took was a titanium mug. basically because weight was critical. A mistake, a pot would have been better. A plastic spoon suffices for eating impliments.
Food wise. Expedition ready meals, just add hot water to bag. More expensive but convient and fuel saving. Tea bags and powered milk. Cuppa soups. During the day I got by on jerky and water. (Do not ask about the pemmican!) Chocolate was discarded as too heavy except for a couple of kitkats. Took loose drinking chocolate. Too heavy and messy. Stick to sachets.

Black Diamond trek poles. handy on rough ground and icy bits, also when crossing tricky burns in spate.

Black DIAMOND ice axe and Camp xlc 490 crampons. They are very light. If I was doing anything serious I would have taken heavier stuff.. Not needed but it was a case of, better to have and not need rather than to need and not have.?

Clothing. Three sets underwear, one worn. One set kept in reserve for when travelling back. B&b meant it was possible to wash and dry smalls overnight. 2 light thermal vests. One medium weight patagonia thermal top. 3 pair socks, medium. A pair of thermal bottoms are handy in the tent at night, make a handy pair of pjs if it is very cold and can be worn on outer trousers if needed. A PHd down vest, again, handy if nights get very cold, for extra warmth in the sleeping bag.Boots where a pair of Scarp Nitro's. A low boot , heavier than shoes but good for the condtions. A pair of Outdoor design gaiters. I prefer gaiters when it is wet and mucky. Paramo cascada trousers. very good given the weather. Meant to be worn not carried. They are warm, comfortable and dry. Paramo Alta 2 jkt. A good jkt, for winter and cold conditions. too warm for anything else.
As a spare top I carried a Rab vapour rise smock.
A pair of waterproof, fleece lined Marmot gloves and a spair fleece pair. 2 fleece hats and a fleece scarf.
One of my strange quirks is that I have to travel on public transport. I hate travelling in boots. In winter I travel in a pair of light flats. Also, a pair of light trousers. One clean set of clothing, undies and top, is kept for return travel. Ditto a smidgen of make up. it is a bit of added weight but I accept that.
my wash kit/med bits comes to almost lb weight. However, I have no real choice there.
A tiny radio and usually a book are luxuries packed in.
A petzel head torch and an e lite backup.
First aid kit, maps, compass, whisle etc. A small ortleb document pouch does as a map case. Spare pair glasses. knife, again a tad heavier than required but I have carried my old single blade opinel for many years. Spare cord, biodegradable loo paper. The mobile was in the bag but remained there for emergency only. Water bag was a Nalgene 3 ltr folding canteen.That roughly sums up my kit on this trip. Overall weight on average, 38lb.

Tuesday 18 December 2007

the getaway

My flat has been a scene of chaos recently. more so than normal. This time tomorrow I shall be travelling north. My intention is to get away over the Christmas period. No concrete plans, more of a stravaig. To be honest I am a tad daunted. Kit strewn all over my floor was gradually weighed and packed. Yikes, far too much weight, everything out, kit being stripped down, back on the scales, ouch too heavy, can I do without it? Obviously the heaviest item is food. There is enough for ten days, just. Chocolate bars have been weighed, discarded except for a few kitkats. instead I have jerky. Most of the foodstuff is expedition foods. Just add water to bag and leave for five minutes. Cup a soups, tea and drinking chocolate are my fluids. Going this route with food means I can cut down on fuel. As it is I am taking gas because of weight and only one cylinder. Thus I am going to have to be miserly with usage. The rucksack I am using is my old macpac. Slightly heavier but my OMM mountain mover just did not feel comfortable under such a load. Obviously I have a weight penalty, re, I have to carry medical stuff which adds another good pound or so to the weight. After much juggling I have the weight down to 38lb. Yes, I know, still heavy and you may well ask where has the lightweight concept has gone? But there is little chance of resupply over the Christmas period and it is probable I will be out of reach of shops, in fact out of the way of much of civilization. As things stand I cannot safely carry any less. The whys and wherefores of my going are a different matter. My only aiming point so far is Ullapool. It may turn out to be just a few days wild camping or possibly a longer period. my fitness is poor and the first few days are going to be mainly uphill. Ullapool, obviously, is at sea level and any direction I head in (by land)has to mean a steady uphill plod. It will just a case of wait and see and play it be ear.

Saturday 15 December 2007

early footsteps

Well, I just had to do it. Ater months off the hill, complications with surgery and slow recovery time. Doubts where starting to creep in, was I still up for it? Was the old enthusiasm still there? Could I still manage? Ignoring a lousy weather forecast I headed mid week for the lakes. As much as I dislike campsites, there are times when prudence prevails. My intention was to head in to Stonethwaite, the campsite allowed winter pitches. However, on arrival, it was closed, the first time I had known it to do that. I was to find out later others had been caught out to.
this was not good, light was fading fast, it was wet and finding somewhere to wild camp was going to be tricky. In the end I managed, with some difficulty and just about in the last gasp of light. Tent up, rain hammering down and wind rising. Not to worry, I was snug in my sleeping bag. Later that night it became obvious all was not well. My theramrest had sprung a leak and left me with little in the way of isulation underneath. Not good. Next morning I headed up Langstrath. Carrying tent and all the other bits had not been my original intention. It had just been my plan to get a few miles in. With the rain still hammering down the scenery was awsome. Foaming torrents hurtling down the hillsides in cascading white ribbons. The river, swollen and in spate with thundering waterfalls roared down the valley. It had been crossing my mind about heading up to Styehead. However, looking at the last pull up on to the ridge and the fact that it would involve a tricky river crossing, I did an about turn and ambled down again. Content really just to amble. heading back through Stonethwaite my main concern was where on earth I was going to pitch for the night. Eventually, somewhere opposite Rosthwaite, half way up a hillside I found a spot that would have to do. My energy levels had run out and just had to stop, also the light was fading. It was flattish and out of the way. the downside was that it was right next to a gully, the tent sat less than a foot from the edge. The rain actually increased during the night and the temperature dropped too. It was quite something lying there listening to boulders being tumbled down the roaring beck. Next moring I was heading out for Keswick.There are some pleasant walks down the valley, however, after ages of paddling through floods and mud I eventually took to the road. A couple gave me a startled look as I amerged the other side of Grange, mud spattered and dishevelled. A few weeks previously some new shoes had caused blisters and now I was having problems with a deep seated sore spot. Things not helped by wearing a heavier pair of boots. My winter boots have had little wear and I thought given the conditions they may be the better option. bad mistake. By the time I reached Keswick I was done, totally knackered to put it bluntly. heading south on the train I tried to doze but the train was too busy. On reaching london I found that I had seized up totally and had to wait until the carriage was almost empty befor moving/shuffling off. it is good to see the old insanity has not been quelled. My next party piece is even more crazy.

Saturday 8 September 2007

signing up

Well, the latest TGO mag. has arrived. With it the entry application form for next May's TGO challenge. After a quick consultation with Darren, my application and entry fee are being submitted. A possible disappointment, Darren is no longer going in disguise. A pity, I had visions of him going as a bearded haggis marching resolutely through the glens!
It is now a case of getting the impending surgery out of the way and regaining some semblence of fitness before the big day. That will prove interesting. Possibly I may have to do B&B and start with day walks. Suggestions welcome.The few ideas I have so far are going to the gym, swimming, and maybe trying out a climbing wall.(Please, no comments about little old ladies going up the wall!)
At present I am somewhat housebound and am already feeling the first stirrings of cabin fever. Time has been spent servicing winter stoves and experimenting with new food for the hill ideas. Thus, stove on the draining board, try not to set fire to the overhead cupboard etc.
Another possible downside of this enforced layoff. My flat is tiny, literally 9ft by 11ft, (I have measured it). Having kit and equipment everywhere is bad enough, maps and books though are now also competing for space. Books are something that I appreciate. Unable to sit and do nothing, I read. In recent months I have bought over a dozen new books, including one for 4p from a shop that I deal with through Amazon.
It would be good to hear any others folks views. That is, if people do drop by here?

Thursday 6 September 2007

more wanderings

April,Thursday, Meanach bothy
Travelled up from London early. Changed at Glasgow and managed to arrive at Corrour station by 15 35. Walked in from there. My original intention had been to push on up the hill a bit further and stop but the drizzle that had been constant on the way in, had changed to sleety rain. Yep, sleet, spring comes late in these areas sometimes. There was still snow on the tops too; and me without my ice axe! Am still suffering deep shock from the assult on my senses, £4 for a cup of tea and a sandwich on the train.
Friday. Bivi'd gr 215688
Am just using an outer part of my hilleberg, thus saving weight. Today has been fantastic, although maybe a little hairy at times. Woke up to clear skies and no wind. Managed to be on the move by 0730am. The rain last night had given way to an early morning frost. Thus it was chilly. Pushed on up the hill and cut across to the bealach between Meall a Buirich and Stob Ban. From there took the ridge up to Stob Ban. Oh my, it was chilly on the top, with a light wind from the north. Snow covered too. Some wonderful views but I was keeping my eye on a bank of cloud in the distance. A slightly awkward drop down to Coire Rath. From there it was a case of straight up the ridge to Stob Coire Claurigh (1177m). Having done the ridge before I decided to miss out on Stob Coire na Ceannain. Mainly because one or two parts of the ridge are a wee bit narrow in places and seeing it totally snow covered, complete with double cornices, it may have proved interesting. As it was, picking my way along the main ridge took some concentation. The snow had managed to form itself into an almost perfect v, giving it a knife edge in some areas. Happily it was still frozen and had formed a good solid crust. Mind, crampons are best for frozen neve. This was where I could have done with at least an ice axe. However, it was a case of making do with the treking poles. Fortunately I still was wearing my heavier winter boots. This allowed me to kick step my way along. Oh my though, this was hard work. it is odd how the mind can play tricks on one. Although I was straddling the ridge in one two places, I was fairly secure. However, out of the corner of my eye I was conscious of the steep drops on either side. Pausing, turning and looking at the steep slopes was actually helpful. As I say odd, psychological really. On the limits possibly but remaining in control of the situation. The views where stunning, a bountious reward for some hard endeavour. Came around to Stob Coire an Laoigh and paused for a break. Sitting in a snow bank having a nibble when something caught my eye. An eagle coming across from the Ben and drifting lazily across the tops. it passed only a few feet from me, awesome. Coming down off Sgurr Choinich Beag was, to say the least, tricky. At first deep snow near the top and very steep. Went in waist deep in one place, floundering around in that stuff and with a pack that was not that light was tiresome. Furhter down it was all steep boulder and scree which meant more floundering around. Once I had made it down to the head of Glen and looking back up the hill there was drunken trail all the way down until the snow ran out. It looked even steeper from the floor of the glen. Am snug tonight and totally shattered. had a few snow flurries on top but nothing serious , in between I enjoyed wondeful views and a spot of sunshine.
Saturday. Bivi,d Gr134709. Have just snuck off the road and managed to hide myself in a clump of tree. Temperature dropped last night to below freezing. Ice on the bivi this morning. Picked my way across and up over Sgurr Eilde Mor. A steep haul up and an intersting descent. The loch at Coire an Lochain was frozen, a solid sheet of ice. Heading up to Sgor Eilde Beag was a tad daunting. A deep, frozen snow bank led some tricky scrambling. Once more it was a case of step kicking my way up; thrusting my poles in to maintain some semblance of balance. I was consuming my nibbles at an alarming rate and was in danger of running out before the day was over. However, Those extra calories where very much needed on the steep uphill sections. From there though it was some excellent ridge walking around to Na Gruagaichean., a stiffish pull up through boulders to the summit. For the first time in the last couple of days actually met a few other people out on the hill. From the summit I was aware of the steep drop down with an awkward saddle to cross. somehow, it seemed worse than when I had previously done it. Lots of semi loose stuff, some ice and snow mixed in. This led to some very awkward manouvering, feet, hands and one point a knee. Most undignified. Grunt, mutter, mutter and a heave up. That was almost the worst point of the day. not the worst though, that was to come. Once I had past that point it led to some fine ridge walking. Made a mistake though, knowing how steep the pull up over Am Bodach was I decided to take the other way around the side. there is never much in the way of a path at the best of times. Now though I faced another snow bank on some fairly steep ground. Picked my way up through the boulders to the foot of the bank. It looked intimidating, very. The trouble was, time was getting on and I really did not want to be heading down in the dark. It was steep enough to have to crab sideways up the face of it. A few kicks with the boot into really hard packed snow, bring the lower foot up, thrust the pole in for support and teeter on the narrow ledge just kicked. Repeat the process again and again, all the way up to the ridge. All the time aware of the steep angle and the boulders below. Not a place to slip. A last; and by now, weary, haul up to Sgorr an Lubhair.. A pause to savour the wonderful panoramic vista. The Ben, mantled in snow to quite low down and for once not looking it's usual sombre self. wave upon wave of hills fading into the distance. Days like this are to be cherished. A reward for the hard work put in.. A long descent down to Achriabhach. Had been considering staying high as I had done previously and nipping up Stob ban in the morning. (The other Stob Ban.) The folk I had met had warned me of rain forecast in the morning, thus headed down. Also, I had to be in Fort William for the 1120am bus. it would have been a push. Wild camping down low in the glen is not easy. Finally managed to creep in to this spinney, right next to the river. Today has been long and hard. The rewards hard won. It has meant over twelve hours on the go. Two excellent days on the hills have left me bone weary and feeling my age. Tonight I am just drinking and drinking, very aware that I am badly dehydated. Finding water on the Mamores is never that easy. It can be found in summer ok, but with everything frozen it is a different story.
Sunday. Well deciding to bivi low was the right move. This morning it is raining steadily and the tops are obscured in cloud. A brew of tea on the last of the gas and then a stroll down the glen to F.W. It will be in to Nevis Sports for breakfast and then long run back.

Friday 17 August 2007

Bloggers Brecons weekend

The arrangement within the bloggers community was for us to meet up at a certain sheepfold in the Brecons on the Friday night for a wild camp and then move on for a second night of wild camping.
With a bit of spare time on my hands and an increasing need for a break; my intention had been to travel down on the Wednesday. Having done nothing serious on the hill for some time it was therefore decided to put a few miles in.
Much checking of maps, railway stations and train times; finally opting to travel down on Wednesday morning. it appears there where only about two trains that would connect with London trains. Thus a run down to Swansea and then pick up a Shrewsbury train. Some five and half hours travelling.
Arrived at Llangammarch Wells late at almost four and to cap it all, the local shop, where I had been hoping to pick up a few extra bits and something to drink, was closed. A lady in the local book shop kindly filled up my water bottle.
As is normal, starting out with five days gear always takes time to settle down. Having got off the train stiff from travelling and thirsty did not help. Neither did the fact it was all up hill to begin with. Puffing slowly up in shorts and tee shirt, the sun was hot, half way, a stop for a drink and a handful of jelly babies to boost flagging energy levels. Up over Llethr Ddu and on to the Sennybridge artillary ranges. Despite have rung the range officer it was still a little daunting to see the red flags flying. There is a lovely long distance path runs along the edge of the ranges. One slight problem was that it had obviously been used by heavy vehicles and then leveled out again so that it looked like a ploughed strip. it was immeditely aparent that this was going to involve some tricky map reading. All sort of metalled roadways and tracks covered the area. It had been my intention to turn off on a footpath that was marked on the map. There was no chance of that. Thus swung off just beyond Tafarn-y myndd. Nothing to be seen on the ground except a possible bit of ruin and a bunker. A spotter plane that had been flying a grid square buzzed over me, turned a came over again. Came around to a guard post, a big, square brick building. Small arms ammuntion carelessly left discarded around the area. A new road had been bulldozed up through the forestry but I still managed to turn off where intended. However, my next turn off point had been obliterated. In theory I should have been on a footpath. In fact I was on a recently made dirt road that turned into a metalled road It was getting late and I was anxious to stop soon. Checking and rechecking the map I could see that I was on the edge of the range area. Finding somewhere to stop was not too easy. In the end I stopped just beyond a rifle range. Fortunately a clump of bushes hid me from the road. A sign on the fence close by was a tad disquieting,'imapct area, keep out'. The tent pegs where put in very carefully. Amost four hours of walking.
Thursday. A convoy rumbling along the nearby road woke me at five thirty. Not able to doze off again was thus packed up and under way just after eight. Almost imediately the map reading horrors set in. Tracks and paths marked on the map did not correspond to what I was seeing on the ground. My camp site for the night had been close to Gwibedog, a disused quarry. On the map a path was shown as coming through it and leading down to the road. Across from which was bridleway and another path branching off. This was not the case. Concious of the fact I was on military land I trod very carefully. There was a semblance of a path, littered with spent smoke grenades, (smoke orange, smoke white, phosphorous) Much spent ammuntion lying around too. This path ceased in a low, deep valley and a dank, tussocky marsh. The bridleway that was supposed to link up with was not to be seen. Thus much of the morning was spent stopping and starting. Constantly aligning the map to correspond with was actually was on the ground. Another bulldozed forestry track with machinery quarrying stone out of the ground, had me diverting again. Vehicles were busy in several places. Loads of white vans??? and trucks moved in convoy on a nearby metalled track. Passing a stand of trees something caught my eye. The muzzle of a gun pointing directly down the track I was on. A tank, low, squat and blending in nicely sat in the trees. As did a few armoured cars A few objects, like large apple crates layed out a small hill turned out to be targets. painted, helmeted faces peering out with sightless eyes. Clips of ammuntion, loose rounds, many still live, lay scattered everywhere. A shallow trench with a wooden box by its side. Nestling inside like prehistoric eggs, hand grenades. All primed and ready to go. Further around; and in the direction I wanted to head to, was a hive of activity. Trucks, lorries off loading portaloos, more vans. Deciding discretion was the better option. I detoured out on to the b road and came around by Dixies corner. In theory it should have been possible to drop down to pick up a bridleway through the forestry. However, after casting back and forward I ended up on a higher forestry track. All newly made up obviously in preperation for tree felling. By one o'clock it was hot and I was needing to pick up more water. A small stream bubbling down the hill side provided enough for my needs. Found a place to sit by the side of the track and just slumped down for half an hour. Had a few bits packed for a break but was not really interested. Downed a whole litre of water though. Tempting as it was just to lie and soak up the sun, there where still a few miles to cover. Came around by Gam Rhiw and in to some lovely decidous woodland. A track meandered through lush, verdant and boggy bottom land. however, the interlude was far too brief and soon it was back to the hard pounding of the stony, rolled forestry tracks. Coming down to Halfway and a short dash down the busy main road to pick up the path that led up the hill and around above Fergwm. Beautiful scenery, a lovely healthy looking bull grazed contently with his harem barely affording me a glance as I passed. Open vistas for miles. Despite the fact I was, by now, tired and my legs wearied, protesting at more uphill walking. it was still enjoyable. Following the lane leading up to Haford Fawr, buzzards mewed overhead. Just wanting to stop, I camped on the edge of the open moorland by cym y cadno. The water in it was brown and murky but it was all that was available. Just as I eased the sack off aching shoulder there was an almighty roar and I instictively ducked as a hercules aircraft did a low level fly past. He flipped over on one wing as he came around the side of the hill and I held my breath, waiting for the bang. A shepherd on his quad gave a friendly wave as he checked his sheep on the hill opposite. It seems I have a tad of heat exhaustion. Was unable to eat much of my supper and turned in early.
Friday. Picked up from where I had left off yesterday. A stunning sunrise, awsome. Was away by nine. lost the track but headed in the direction I wanted, heading up to the crest of the ridge by Pen y Bylchau. What a horrible site, by the Usk reservoir, below me, where the path should have been, was a large, ugly, scarred landscape. A great swathe of ground being ripped open to lay a new pipeline. Machinery snarled and growled, dumper trucks scuttled back and forward. thus it was I stayed on the ridge; which was more pleasant anyway. Even there blocks of ground have been ploughed for new forestry growth. Again, tracks and paths marked on the maps proved hard to find on the ground. it meant constant checking to pick up the track that would lead around by Fedw Fawr. Some fantasic spots for a future wild camp. Overhead red kites performed a constant arial ballet. Across the road to pick up another track and around by Nant Goch, a sad, deserted ruin. All the while, good views, buzzards, red kites hovering overhead. The soil, a deep, rich red, the valleys dotted with pasture land and hay meadows. native trees in rich deep greens. For a moment the path vanished, cut off by a field of cearal crop. Picked up on the other side. A combe, deep and blissful shade, damp, allowing the rich growth of mosses. A little used, ancient sunken track led between small fields. Pausing to check over a sheep that was obviously in trouble and then moving at a much quicker pace down to Llanddeusant. Over an hour spent before I managed to flag down a local farmer and report the sheep to him. Some of the houses in the village obviously did not belong to local people. Big signs, no trespassing etc, gates with padlocks, places that had had money lavished on them. One with several classy cars in good condition scattered around a court yard. the place has changed since I last came by there. My orinal intention had been to pick up the Brecons way and miss out coming over the tops around by Bannau Sir Gaer. However, trying to sort out the sheep problem meant I was half way up to the track that leads up to the lyn. Paused briefly to have a cuppa. An enterprising shepherds wife was doing farmyard teas. Ok, it was expensive, £3:50 for a well made, large cheese salad roll and a mug of tea. However, I do not grudge them that. If it helps out local folk, fine. Heading up the ridge towards the top, the weather had broken, thick cloud and drizzly rain. A couple heading down looked in a sorry state, he was in trainers, shorts and tee shirt and she was in a brief halter top and shorts. Once on top I aimed off for the sheepfold. here I threw a wobbly, put it down to tiredness, lack of concentration or just sheer daftness. For some obscure reason I was suddenly convinced I was off track in the clag and headed back up the hill to my last known reference point. Stupid because in fact, as I found later, I was bang on target. For some reason I had another sheepfold in mind. Coming around the ridge line to drop off by Llyn y fan fawr. From there I headed down to Glyntawe. Checked out the camp site just in case anyone was there. Checking the map I could see where I should have been. by now though I was done, knackered and bone weary. having noticed a few tents in a field just by a pub on the main road, I asked and promtly got the tent up just in the last of the fading light.
Saturday. A very relaxed and quiet day. just a slow amble up to Lyn y Fan fawr. How long and tedious it had seemed coming down the previous evening. Now though there was plenty of time in hand. indeed, I stopped on the way up for and just enjoyed the scenery and communed with the sheep!?
Was back at the Lyn by shortly after one and finding a comfy spot, settled down and spent some time people watching. Most said hello, on the way past, except on couple. the guy just gave me a dirty look and carried, on she just ignored me. To my amazement a troop of scouts came by. the total anti thesis to backpacking light. these guys where carrying huge cooking pots. I counted at least four. There was also a guitar. One had an axe, sheathed I was glad to notice. Enough tent gear to start a refugee camp and dressed in jeans and heavy clothing. No wonder some looked as if they where on their last legs. Keeping an eye on the far side of the lake I spotted a lone figure seek out a rock and settle down I had a suspicion it may have Darren. A group of people where gathering close to the lake. One broke away and walked across. Looking at him there was something that said 'proper hill walker' Obviously he had dropped his pack with the group but this looked like a guy who knew his way around the hills. Speaking to him I found out he was Mike. A relief for me as I was starting to worry a little. Some familiar faces, some new ones. Everyone is welcoming and friendly. there is a sense of cameradery in that we all have a common interest. Certainly everyone has their own points of view concerning such things as lightweight backpacking, but, at the end of the day; it is that love of being out there on the hill. Freedom to wander, to pitch where we may,away from farmland and the such, obviously. Tents and tarps going up, everyone finding their preferred spot. More folks arriving, stoves being lit, brews being made and then supper. Bob and Rose with new toys, the bush buddy. The evening settling down to cheerful banter and conversation. Unfortunately, after having to do my own medical bits, I felt too tired to move and so opted out a tad. The wind began to rise a bit during the night accompanied by rain. So I was glad I had made sure the hex was well peeged down. At some point the wind swung so that it came from the other direction. By morning we where in thick clag with rain. it did nothing to daunt anyone but some of us opted to head down towards the road. These are really my own personal views and comments. mybe some will have seen things in a different light. Looking at the gear I was carrying weight wise it was not too bad. With four days food and fuel I was carrying an average of around 24lb. The hex is slightly heavier but it is still light and provides loads of space. Also, one of my personal foibles is that I carry a spare set of clothing for travel. It is just me, but I hate travelling looking like I have done four rounds with an angry hedge and lost. So, spare footware, travel skirt and sandals. Also, because I need to spend some time sitting doing nothing, a book is thrown in too. A fair mileage too. On rough average 75+km. Probably nearer to 80.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

Sunday 8 July 2007

October. Camped O.S Map LR40. GR 814881.
A very long day. Managed a cheap flight from Stanstead at 0640am. That entailed an early start indeed, having to leave my place at 0200am; catch a 0305 bus from Victoria to ensure I arrived in time to check in. Thus was in Glasgow shortly after nine in the morning to catch the ten o clock bus to Fort William. The weather was bad all the way up with torrential rain and flooding. A quick run around FW to pick up fuel and a couple of bits and then away again on the afternoon bus to Mallaig. Had been hoping to have a meal in FW but time was against me. A pity, I was suffering from the lack of food. My aim was to head down towards Lochailort. The bus driver was excellent, he knew precisely the path I wanted and dropped me right on the exact spot. Amazingly the rain had stopped. A quick change of clothes, a much needed bar of chocolate and a drink and away up the rough path by the Allt na Criche. Lovely scenery and even a glimpse of the sun. Tiredness can lead to mistakes. I swung off down the hill above Lochan Lon a'Ghairt too early, having lost the path. This meant a very steep scramble down through tangled woods and moss covered boulders. Made it in the end and picked up the track that led down to Meoble turning off to head up the Allt Slaite Coire. A steady plod up the hill. tiredness was now starting to kick in. A slip that almost landed me in the burn was enough of a warning. A tricky crossing over a much swollen stream and a little bit of casting around found me a lovely little bit of firm ground, high enough to stay above any water from the stream close by. Just sat there for a while in the fast fading light, drinking in the wonderfull scenery. Am shattered though and need my bed.

Friday. Camped GR OS map LR33 GR864912. A Lovely day on the hill. The breeze dropped during the night and I woke up to a clear, still morning with a heavy dew. Daylight was not until 0730am and it was really nice to just sit there with a mug of tea watching the soft early morning light carressing the hill tops. As I set off, sunshine began to illuminate the tops all around. Slaite Coire remained in deep shadow though; giving it a wild and sombre look. Followed a semblance of a path which probably was a deer path up towards the bealach. The bealach itself was a desolate looking place; a large, boggy basin, with deep water filled hollows and channels, big, ancient boulders and strange shaped hillocks. Followed a broad shoulder down close to a fast, foaming burn. Paused to watch a large magnificant stag with a full rack of antlers. Made it down to the head of Gleann Taodhail. there was a path marked on the map. However, I had to get across what was quite a substantial river. There was a beautiful waterfall and below it a place that looked possible. A shuffle across a narrow bit of rock, a tentative stretch out over the water, one foot balanced on a slimy boulder, a lunge, a slither and presto, across with almost dry boots. Picked up the semblance of a path leading down the glen. it was obvious it has been little used for a long time. Such a wonderful glen complete with some natural woodland and so wild and yet so scenic. Loch Morar looked post card pretty in the sunlight. Followed the path around to Oban bothy. Closed for the stalking. However, I had checked beforehand and knew that is was ok to be in the area. Sitting outside the bothy having a nibble I could see across to where I wanted to get to. Getting there was to prove interesting.
Firstly I had to get around the head of the loch which involved another tricky river crossing. From there it was a case of heading up towards Sron a'Choin. A steep scramble up over and through rock and boulders to gain the shoulder. From there it was an easy drop down towards Kinlockmorar. Yet another river, the Abhainn Ceann Loch Morar. Did that one in bare feet, only knee deep in most places, the middle came up to my thighs. The water was fairly slow moving so no problems. Invigorating though and made for cold feet. Kinlockmorar is a group of derelict uildings, although a couple look quite modern. Another of those, small, isolated communities that once populated so much of Scotland. Access here would have been by boat down the loch. Ok in summer, in winter, a very different story. People have obviously found the living easier else where, because these houses have been used untill very recently.
Stopped fairly early in the afternoon. It allows me time time to just chill, and air things out. There is a strong wind picking up from the SE and some thick cloud as well. It being the rutting season the hills are echoing with the bellowing roars of randy stags. Each striving for dominance of the hinds as they come into their once yearly season. it is the only time of the year they mate and so the stags have to be very busy. Poor beasts, they are shadows of their former selves by the end of the season. There was lovely spot to put the tent but it looks like the stags use it for a jousting ground. Put the tent up in a nice little spot protected by some large boulders. A large group of hinds are grazing close by.

Saturday. Camped GR868959. OS mapLR33. Close to Sourlies bothy. A shortish day. was woken by stags roaring close by, some heavy thuds, a massive crack as antlers tangled with antlers. Again early this morning another couple where sparring. My hunch was right, the bit of ground I looked at last night is a favourite spot for the stags to prove there worth. Awesome, sitting there, mug of tea in hand, the grey light of morning just seeping in and just across from me two stags challenging each other. A few bellowing roars, some huffing and puffing, a couple of steps back and then bang, a mighty coming together. Heads down, antlers locked. there was no real contest though. The challenger was a youngster whereas the defender was a massive beast. He stood there, flanks heaving, steam rising off him, giving a mighty triumhant bellow as the young challenger fled.
The wind had been steady during the night and come morning a mass of thick cloud was scudding across the sky. Thus it was I was away early. I wanted to be at least up on to the ridge before the rain started. Angled across and up the hill towards Sgurr Mor. only a small top but it was still a relentless scamble getting there. Some very steep ground and some scrambling made things interesting. As I made the ridge the expected rain began. I was glad that it had not started as I made my way up, it would have been hot work in waterproofs.. despite the rain and some low cloud brushing the tops there was still some fine views. A lovely airy walk following the ridge along towards Sgurr nah Aide. from the ridge it was difficult to find a way down off it. Finally turned down by Bealach nan Daoine. it proved to be a very tricky descent too. Further along the ridge it had been almost sheer; here it was just hidiously steep. At first mainly over wet and greasy rock, lower down, steep, wet bog that clung to the hillside by what means I am unsure. As I descended I almost had a run in with a stag. Picking my way round a spur of rock and trying to ignore the steep drop below I came to face with this beast. One has to be careful at this time of the year, if they think they are being challenged stags will attack humans. This one was only a youngster though and I had the high ground. He tried a half hearted roar, but obviously had not been practising his bellowing, it was more a weezy bleat than anything. he backed off and angled around the other side of the outcrop and up the hill. Finally made my way down and across to Finiskaig for another deep river crossing, knee deep but cold. Said hi! to a Spanish couple staying at Sourlies bothy and found a lovely spot right by the edge of the loch. Oyster catchers and curlews patter around the low tide water line feeding. it is so peaceful here. Just natural noise, birds, mainly, but the primeaval roaring of the stags adds another dimension to things. Some heavy showers drifting across from the SE.

Saturday. Have moved into Sourlies bothy for tonight.
Although I much prefer the tent it will be handy to have it dry when I head out tomorrow. It has been a leisurely day. Woke to a calm, still morning. The tide was in and the hills where reflected in the mirror like surface of the water.. The Spanish couple came by as I dawdled over breakfast and another two guys where heading through to Glen Dessary.
My intention was to head up the hill behind the bothy. Making my way up Druim a' Ghoirtein. A pleasant broad, twisted shoulder with many small tops, dips and hollows. My aim was for Sgurr na Ciche. (the rocky peak of the breast). It was a top I had seen several times before in my travels around this area but had never got around to doing. Had a tad of dificulty finding a way up. Thick mist swirling around made it difficult to find a route. Finally scrambled up a loose gulley and then through steep grass grass and rock and finally a narrow cleft. Just kept heading upwards untill there was no more up. Touched the small cairn and did not linger. It was damp and cold and visibility was about nil.
Was going to head down in to Coire na Ciche and make my way across to the stalkers path. However, had a good look at it as popped out of the thick mist and decided it meant a long drop down and crossing a lot of wet, boggy ground. Instead just ambled back down. The mists drew back leaving some stunning views and I see across to the Isle of Skye. there was sunshine in that direction. By the time I got back to the bothy it was becoming quite overcast. Am heading out tomorrow via Inverie. My intention is to pick up the afternoon ferry to Mallaig and then the train to FW. Thus having dry gear to pack is handy.
Lit a small fire in the bothy. It is a smoky affair. Possibly the chimney needs a sweep. Being almost out of gas having a fire allowed me to cook supper and have enough for a brew in the morning. There is a smattering of rain this evening and it feels positively chilly.
Sunday. Fort William. Was awake early but was in no real hurry to get going. The weather, although overcast, remained dry. made my way around andacross the tidal flats to Carnach. Some more abandoned buildings. made my way up to the Mam Meadail bealach. There is a good path all the way. The path leads down Gleann Meadail towards Inverie. Further down the glen I was surprised to see what had been an old ruin converted into a rather up market bothy by the local estate. One has to pay to use it and it was securely locked. Unfortunately the track leading up to it has suffered in the process. Really churned up with deep, water filled ruts and glutinous, thick mud. Got in to Inverie fairly early at around 1300hrs. Popped in to the local pub for a bowl of homemade soup and fresh bread. Struck it lucky. Noticed a guy unloading someones baggage off a boat and gave him a hand. In return he gave me a lift back to Mallaig. Getting a lift back by boat meant I made it an hour before the ferry. thus managed to get the train to Fort William. Rang a local private hostel. They promptly came and collected me from the station. the hostel is actually a group of several houses. I have one all to my self. It is clean, tidy, with a well equipped kitchen. A coomon rooom with a wide range of reading aterial, videos etc and everything is so clean and tidy. Am away on the first bus in the moring. a good few days on the hill.

Sunday 24 June 2007

In reply to those against lightweight

Maybe I ought to ask why? Performance and reliability are arguments that I constantly hear bandied about. Well, speaking personally, I go back many years, more than I care to admit. My first tent was cotton, not nylon. It took more care and looking after than any modern day tent; it was heavy, was a brute to dry when wet and the guys needed constant adjustment. Ok, I have known nylon tents that have had their share of problems; read my blog on the round of Blackmount. Clothing until not so long back was certainly functional, often heavy and really offered no better protection on the hill. It was an accepted fact, you got wet. Trousers where often britches, plus two types, with long, woolly stockings and canvas gaiters. Shirts where either wool or cotton. Pullovers added to the layering system. In summer it was cotton t shirts and shorts. For foul weather protection ventile was the norm. My ventile smock was a double thickness; I can recall struggling to get out of it after it had become encased in ice. When frozen, which could be regular on the hill in winter, it was like wearing a suit of armour. Gloves where also wool, mine where dachstiens with an oiled cotton pair of outers. Boots where heavy, lumpy beasts and always took time to break in; blisters and raw skin where an accepted fact of buying new boots. My early stove was an half pint paraffin which could taint everything. it required a priming paste to get it going, mind, it was pretty bombproof. Rucksacks too where duck canvas and added to the pounds when wet. Down sleeping bags where also quite heavy and oh so expensive.
Moving on, the early inroads of nylon where just as scary, I recall cagjacs, heavy weight nylon coats designed for the hillwalker, loads of condensation and heavy. Internal framed packs slowly came on to the market and these where heavyweight nylon. A big improvement on the previuos canvas external framed beasties..
Over the years I have experimented with kit in all its many shapes and forms. As will be seen on my regular blogs, I embraced the early KSB's, that is until the got soaked inside and out. the result being painful feet and the fact that they stunk. the smell never left the boots. The biggest plus these days; and possibly it is a hindrance too, is that we are spoiled for choice. That it is an expensive option is very true. over the years I have passed on various bits of kit to others. Bought on the spur of the moment but not found to be suitable for me. However, many bits of equipment that has been passed or sold to others, often very cheaply, I may add, has proved benefitial to them. Students, unemployed, people just starting out.
Certainly a lot of lightweight equipment is not going to have the longevity of heavier stuff and some certainly does not function as well as it ought. However, the lightweight industries, per se, re often almost cottage industries are, in the main, willing to listen to their customers. it is in their interest to rectify problems and smartish too.
It seems whenever the winds of change blow in the outdoor world there are those who are going to resist it. This has always been the way. Early in the climbing scene working class climbers and walkers where a new thing. They had no money for expensive kit and improvised. Some of those improvisations are still with us; from rucksacks to shorter, lighter ice axes, front pointed crampons, clothing etc.
Personally speaking I have used very light equipment above and beyond that which it was designed for and it has proved to funtion perfectly well. Basically, it is a question of balance and common sense. What I use in the summer months on the hill may well not be suitable for winter in the same areas. It is question the right tools for the job; and without common sense a person is not going to last too long out there anyway. Ok, if a person prefers to wear boots and carry a mass of equipment on the hill, so be it, that is their choice. There really ought to a common acceptance. For me, surgery and age has meant I have no choice but to travel lighter. certainly, although travelling light, I am not ultra light; for example, I add the weight of a book. There are things I must carry that are outside of the hill walking scene. This also requires me to use some form of tentage. However, those that use tarps, good on them. Tarps are something I have used, even in winter; having bivied with a tarp and in snow.
recently I have noticed youngsters doing their D of E's. It makes me shudder to think of the weight of gear they are carrying. To give a few examples, teenagers wearing four season boots. re, scarpa mantas and one girl, plastic boots. Massive rucksacks with three person tents and every other conceivable article stowed in as well. Fine, I realise there are health and safety factors included here. Surely though there must be a way to teach these youngsters how to travel a tad lighter on the hill and at the same time make things a little more enjoyable.
Really though, it is appalling that people should be so voraciously anti all things lightweight. Surely we all have a common interest, the outdoors, be it on the hill, trail walking, country walking, climbing and all the other interests asscociated with the great outdoors. There ought to be common unity, working as one to protect and preserve those places. What does it matter if a person travels light or otherwise? Ok, I know there are safety issues involved. However that boils down to experience, being on the hill in the middle of winter in full winter conditions with ultra light equipment is obviously a no go. One adapts and adjusts accordingly to area, weather conditions and time of year. Inverted snobbery and constant sniping, criticism and anger will no no good for anyone.
Just a thought in passing, are those who shout so loudly against lightweight in any way connected to the big outdoor manufacturers?

Friday 15 June 2007

These will just a few details of a few times on the hill. None in chronical order

Sat. January.2005. camped OS map lr19 grid. 017652. Well roughly. Had travelled up to Inverness on the night sleeper. Picked up a few bits of food in Inverness. Took the train down to Achnasheen. My intention had been to catch the post bus from there down to Kinlochewe. However, the train was running late and the post could not wait. Started walking but managed to hitch a lift.
Walked in and managed to find a spot up the hill out of sight among the trees. My sack feels darned heavy, I am carrying full winter kit and a weeks food and fuel. One problem, the weather is mild.

Sunday. Camped in same spot. Not such a bad day, not being in a hurry meant I was away rather latish this morning. My intention was to head up Slioch. Followed the path around to the bridge over Abhainn an Fhasaigh. An impressive series of waterfalls and deep pools. Everything underfoot was decidedly wet. Made my way up to the bealach between Meall Each and Sgurr Dubh, a distinct path. From there headed into Coire na Sleaghaich. Deep, frowning cliff, imposing walls and with the cloud base down the place reeked of gloom and menace. The wind had picked up a tad accompanied by a thin, cold drizzle. All very atmospheric. The path as such had now vanished only appearing very briefly. Basically from the corrie floor it was a case of bearing left and heading directly up. Oh my, it was steep ground. I could faintly discern a notch in the ridge high above and headed for that. The last section was a hands on scramble. The rock was also very greasy which made things interesting. A small cairn on the ridge indicated I had come the right way. Picked my way over wet, soggy snow with the consistency of glutinous porridge. made the cairn in thick clag and abruptly did an about turn and hurried back the way I had come. I just wanted out of there. It was getting colder and wetter with the wind picking up as well. Coming off the ridge was daunting. As I tried to pick a route down through wet, slippery rocks, at one one point I could look almost straight down between my boots. Edged over to slightly less steep ground. A fall here could have been bad for my health. The Corrie by now was a scene of utter desolation, with low scudding, grey black clouds and thin drizzling rain. Picking my way down down from the bealach and out of the clag, Loch Maree looked quite atmospheric.
Passed very close to a group of hinds grazing, heads raised, ears twitching, inquisitive but otherwise quite unconcerned, I was no threat to them.. Back at the tent by four. Tired and already my boots are soaked. Thankfully I have some inner bootee things thus still have dry feet.

Monday Camped 041696. A wee bit of a heavy day. Picked up a weather forecast of light drizzle. (Umph!) Packed up and retraced my route of yesterday to just beyond the bridge and then swung up the stalkers path heading in to Gleann Bianasdail. Overnight rain had made things very wet. The hills where running with water. Great plunging, white ribbons, cascading in foaming torrents to the main river, adding yet more volume to its thunderous, roaring tumult. rain began to drive up the glen behind me. I had been constantly looking for anywhere to get the tent up but no joy. Had difficulty in crossing a stream that was in full spate. Picked my way up the hill to a point where it braided in to three. A tricky manoeuvre and I was across the first bit. On the next bit water was sluicing through a narrow gully. Very gingerly I eased out out on to a large boulder, the thunder of water battering my ears. Water plucked at my boots. A lunge, hands grasping heather on the opposite bank, feet scrabbling for purchase, a scramble and I was across. Not something I would want to repeat. The rain was becoming yet more persistent as I continued upwards. Another tricky crossing and the a tedious descent down towards lochan Fadda. A horrible, desolate wet and bleak area. Everything was bog and water, yuch.The stalkers path discernible. However, the stepping stones across the head of the river where at least three feet under a roaring millrace. Absolutely a no go area.I did tentatively place a foot on the first boulder. No way, the force was quite awesome. The wind by now was coming in two directions, up the glen and also sweeping across the lochan. I had to stop, and soon; by now I was feeling damp and getting shivery. For nigh on an hour I quartered back and forth trying desperately trying to find somewhere to put the tent. Finally settled on a less boggy bit(???) Came across the remains of a tent pole, some material, a few bent and mangled tent pegs and amazingly, a leki pole in good condition. Mute testimony that some else had run in to difficulties here, very sobering.
Had an awful tussle getting the tent up. The driving rain was now lashing down, driven almost horizontal by the gusting wind. Used the trekking poles, including the one I had found, plus the ice axe, as anchors for the tent. Rammed in deep to the boggy ground they provided a better anchorage for the tent. The few pegs used where weighted down with large boulders from the waters edge. At least the tent is secure.
Slipped the sleeping bag in the bivi bag, shed the wet outer shell gear and crawled, shivering and damp inside. Hot drinks, soup and a meal where the order of the day. The rain now is drumming hard on the tent. Things are either damp or else wet. Probably I will remain put tomorrow.

Tuesday.Same place as last night. Not a comfortable night, driving rain and strong gusts of wind. Also had some difficulty keeping warm. the cold had seeped in to my bones from yesterday. Weather was not good, thus stayed put for the day. Had a scout around the area. Water levels remain high and fast flowing. tent was in a bit of a muddle, sorted gear out. later in the day it cleared for a while and I managed to air things a wee bit. Boots remain soaking though. Checked out map and planned the escape route for tomorrow. The rain is back with a vengeance but I. do not intend to stay here another day.

Wednesday. A hard day on the hill. More rain during the night. The wind has swung around from NW. to W. Stowed everything and bundled up the soaking tent at the last minute. Intermittent rain and heavy squalls. Picked my up along the shore of Lochan Fada. Rough, rough ground, all bog and water. Deep peat hags.; balance on the edge, a lurch, a slither, land in the bottom with a squelch, slathered in deep brown mud; launch at the other side, a desperate scramble up to land gasping on the tussocks that surround the area. All to be continuously repeated. Gradually I inched higher to areas where the soil had washed away, leaving just bare rocky ribs. Turned up toward Meall Daimh, following a foaming stream. The rain just kept on, sometimes gusting across, hammering off the waterproofs.. Gained the ridges above loch Garbaig. it was hard to constantly focus on the navigation; regularly checking map and compass. Possibly I should have followed the ridge line to eventually pick up the old stalkers path at the far end of the Lochan. It would have meant a lot of up and down walking. Instead, dropped down to Loch Garbaig. Not a good idea. The rain eased slightly; but the thick, dark clouds scudding across promised more to come. A dark, foreboding , grey, water laden mass trailing its skirts across the low tops. I stopped by a burn, sinking down in the soaking heather to have a drink and force some chocolate down my throat. Cloying, sticking in the mouth; however, I needed the energy boost. The fuel tank was empty, my energy levels at zero. Followed deer trails down the length of the loch. It seemed to be endless. Stopped by the fishing hut at the far end of the loch. All securely padlocked. it was so tempting to camp there but it would have meant a longish push to Letterewe tomorrow. At least I had now finally joined the stalkers path. Now it was a case of head down and plod on. A pity really, in good weather the scenery would have been awesome. High frowning crags, deep gorges, thundering cataracts, it would have been lovely. Almost walked in to a stag further down. With the hood up and head pointing to the floor I never saw him until the last minute. He was standing with his back to me, quickly he spun, we where almost with touching distance. He stared at me, nostrils flared, nose twitching; his big brown eyes soulful, we gazed at each other, eyeball to eyeball. He stepped a couple of paces back and then turned and slowly ambled off, white rump flashing. No doubt he was muttering under his breath about crazy humans disturbing his grazing?? Only then did I realise that there was a whole group of stags grazing close by. As I came down lower and out of the clag, loch Maree lay below me, dark and sombre but beautiful. Made my way down towards the Letterewe estate. A group of garrons came thundering towards me. I stood my ground, they where only being inquisitive. Big, shaggy coated beasts, rough coated. they milled around me, probably hoping for some handouts but I had no nibbles for them. Speaking to them softly, I pushed my way through and picked up the path that skirts the north shore and camped here in the last of the light. (GR971699)

Thursday. More rain during the night. This was my last day out and despite the rain, it was quite a pleasant amble. The path follows the north shore of Loch Maree. Old oak trees, rowans, silver birch and lush vegetation. Crumbling ruins and tumbled down dry stone walls offer mute evidence of a once thriving community along these shores. There is an air of sadness, who where these people? Simple folk, a tight knit community, Gaelic their mother tongue. How would they have viewed me wandering through? In all probability I would have been treated with the traditional hospitality the old highland people where renowned for. Made Kinlochewe by mid afternoon. Headed straight for the hotel. As I stepped inside, water dripping off my waterproofs, a voice yelled, "The bunkhouse is next door!" A guy came hurrying from behind the bar with a bunch of keys, ushering me back out of the door. Fortunately the bunkhouse was empty otherwise I would have asked for a room for the night. In this period of transition sharing a bunkhouse could have awkward. Mind, I probably looked a tad scary, dishevelled, smelly and wild eyed. What a luxury a hot shower and a clean change of clothes make. Almost human again. The heating in the bunkhouse was not working but the tent at least had a chance to dry out a bit. A good meal in the evening and an early night.

Friday, still raining. reported the finding of the leki pole and stuff and was informed that someone had vanished in that area three years ago. Left all my details just in case. Went over to the post office, come shop, come cafe to wait for the post bus. was informed that it had broken down and was running late. Although the cafe was officially closed I managed to buy a pot of tea and some scones while I waited. The couple running the place finally decided the post bus was going to be very late, if it got going at all. They had stuff to go down to Achnasheen and gave me a lift down. Now I have an afternoon to spare waiting for the night train in Inverness. Ah well, I know where the gear shops are and the bookshops are.
September. Friday. Lairig Leachach bothy. A long day. travelled up from London last night on the night coach, changing buses at Glasgow. The sky bus dropped me at Spean Bridge. Picked a few bits up at Fort Bill, where the bus stops for a twenty minute break. With a full pack the walk in was quite long. The bothy is tiny and basic, even for a bothy. A small single room with a ladder leading up to a sleeping area. Beautiful scenery, lofty hills, shattered and weathered rock faces.

Saturday. An excellent day on the hill. Was up fairly early and away by eight. I had deliberately brought a small day sack with as well as the bigger one.Thus allowing me to stash the rest of my gear out of the way not far from the bothy.. A couple of guys had stuck head in on the way past. Like me they where heading for the Grey Corries and where eager to get going. Followed the faint path at the back of the bothy. It was a stiffish haul up via the bealach below Stob Ban (Coire Rath) and then directly up to Stob Chorie Claurigh. An airy walk out to Stob Coirie na Ceannain and then back again to follow the long, undulating ridge along the backbone of the Grey Corries. In places narrow but never difficult. The main ridge never drops below 3000ft. Stunning views all around, weather excellent. Times like this are to be savoured, like an excellent meal, they must not be rushed. Dropped off Sgurr Choinnich Beag to head north down a ridge that was to lead me towards a dam marked on the map by the Alt Choimhidh; (Defunct now) A long descent. Managed to find an old trackway that led me back to the land rover track that leads up to the bothy. Have been on the go for nigh on twelve hours and am very tired; bone weary, but wow, what a day.

Sunday. A mixed day, again was away by around eight. Climbed up on to the saddle and then picked my way around and up to a spot directly below Stob Coire Easain. The way up looked steep but doable, thereabouts. One problem was some awful scree that made it all a bit of a scramble. Sheep directly above me did not help. They actually managed to to send some stuff rattling down towards me. I could imagine the headlines, ' hill walker killed by rock throwing sheep!'. Navigation was not bad although I needed to keep an eye on the compass. The cloud base was dropping rapidly. Wisps of cloud at first and then thicker heavier stuff until I was enveloped in thick, damp clag. Very disorientating.. decided not to do the second top but to head back down. Thus with a careful eye on compass swung sw and w to drop down and eventually pick up the path that comes up from Loch Treig. A steady amble back to the bothy, picking up some bog wood on the way for a fire in the evening. Although the weather remained thick on the tops it remained quite pleasant lower down. In fact, quite warm in the afternoon. Sitting outside the bothyi was amazed to see three people heading up the track. What was surprising was the fact that it was a group of three people. two young lasses and a guy. he was dressed in singlet and running shorts and trainers. the two girls where both in halter tops and skimpy shorts. None had anything else with them; no spare clothing, zilch. Obviously I was curious, but then horrified to think this lad was casually thinking of leading the girls up the Easain. A few heated words followed, I obviously had damaged his inflated macho image when I strongly pointed out to them that the top was still covered in thick clag, that where not equipped and that the time factor was against them and that I would eventually have to make my way out to the nearest telephone box to call the rescue team. The temperature is dropping fast tonight.

Monday. An easy enough day; leaving the bothy early, followed the ridge up to Stob Ban and back. Superb views, Deeply riven rocks, deep gullies, long, distance views. A bank of low cloud was heading rapidly in. It seems I had timed it right. A quick check of the compass and and the straight back to the bothy to pick up the rest of my gear and then the walkout to Spean Bridge. Of course the weather became clearer further down. In fact I dallied by the river for a while just enjoying the peace and tranquility. Was actually in S.B. by not long after two PM. The bus was not due through until twenty past five. Bought an ice cream and soft drink, found something to read and ambled of to find a nice sunny spot to waste a bit of time. Was back at the bus stop in plenty of time but no bus. This was worrying. had a quick word with the bus driver coming up from Fort William he assured me the Skye bus had not gone through but was obviously running late. he eventually turned up at five forty five. To cap it all the bus got a puncture at the head of Glen Coe. Right on a bend. To every ones amazement the bus driver calmly got out, flagged a car down and vanished. No explanation, nothing. It seems he had muttered something to someone about heading back to Fort W. for another bus. We where all left sitting. Someone had to actually switch on the lights as it grew dark. A few people actually managed to hitch lifts. the rest of just sat and waited until the driver got back with another bus. just as well I had a bit of gas left. A few other walkers and climbers also got stoves out and we had a brew up, passing around tea in all manner of containers. Just made the night bus with no time to spare. Normally I pick up some fish and chips in Glasgow. This time it meant travelling on an empty stomach. Otherwise a good, long weekend .

August. Friday. Scotland. OS Map LR50. Camped GR 142418. Quite a busy day and pretty hard too. Did my usual stint on the night coach from the smoke. These night buses can be pretty awful at times. Sitting next to someone who snacks continually on crisps, fidgets and then snores for the rest of the journey makes for a stressed out me. I hate the cramped confines of sitting next to a stranger, it makes me so uncomfortable. At best I manage a half awake doze. Thus, time I had changed buses at Glasgow and got off the bus at Kingshouse. I was feeling rather jaded, stiff and none too ready for a longish road walk. The Glen Etive road offers a wonderful vista of scenery, high, brooding crags, a lovely winding river, corries and glens. Nobody was willing to offer a lift. It was some 11 miles down the Glen. What with carrying food and fuel for four days, plus tent etc; not such easy going. Stopped at Coiletir for a break. The weather was holding up pretty well, pretty cool with a few showers but not that bad. Dug a squashed pasty out of the sack; a much needed snack though. Sat there for a while, the temptation was to have a snooze but I had my eye on Ben Starav. A long haul from sea level thereabouts to 1078 mtres. The N.E ridge is not bad though although thick clouds where drifting across the top. A plod through a boulder field a bit of a narrow ridge . Onwards from Starav to Stob Coire Dheir and then a descent to the bealach. Glorious scenery glimpsed through the swirling clouds,. Corrie na Caime falling steeply down behind me. Steep, frowning crags all around. Loch Dochard can be seen away in the distance. It was almost 7pm when I stopped. Am camping high. Now that I have gained height I have no intention of losing it. Had just got the tent up when I heard a loud buzzing. I had inadvertently trapped a bumble bee under the tent. Rescued her ok, she was most indignant but otherwise fine, she sat for a moment in the palm of my hand and then took of down the hill.
Saturday. Camped GR 163438. A lazy day, rain during the night and woke to low cloud and myriads of midges. Nipped up Beinn nan Aighenan. Back down and packed up despite rain; I was determined to get out of that midge ridden spot. Continued along the ridge line up to Glas Bheinn Mhor. thick cloud, swirling, parting, closing again and then opening once more. It offered glimpse of corries far below, other tops appearing and then vanishing. This is wonderful, rugged scenery, grey, weather worn crags, deep riven corries, worn by ancient glaciers and the action of water. The streams and rivers now winding there way through thread like, tiny in comparison to the mighty ice rivers that once flowed and shaped the landscape. Much of the rock is granite with all manner of lovely pink hues but coarse on the boots and skin. rain had been intermittent all day and coming down the steep prow of Beinn Mhor, it was an easy decision to stop on the bealach. Found a nice flat spot for the tent and got it up in a hurry. I was actually starting to feel quite chilled and a tad shivery. a good, stiff breeze is keeping the ravishing hoards of midges at bay.
Sunday. Camped GR 222475 on the Aonach Mor ridge. A good day out. it rained again during the night but when I woke this morning it was crystal clear with no sign of rain. Thus was up by six thirty. It was chilly and and so it proved an incentive to get moving and was away by around seven thirty. Tent was soaking and was just rolled up and stowed loose under the lid of the sack. Had actually managed to pick up Radio Scotland last night and the forecast was for dry early with rain and lowering cloud later.Saw a stag silloetted on the horizon, magnificiant. Went straight up from the bealach, steep at first but gradually eased to just a steady uphill pull to Stob Coir an Albannaich. Stunning, panoramic all round views. Wild, untamed country, rock, lochan, frowning crags and far horizons. A drop down the east flank and then swung off down a gulley to cross a soggy bealach and then back up to Meall Tarsuinn and then another up hill plod to Meall nan Eun. Left the sack half way down because I would be returning back down the same way. Gosh, such a strange feeling, heading up the hill without the weight of a sack. Wow, bliss. The way across to Meall Odhar looked tricky. It meant a steep drop to the bealach and an even steeper ascent on the other side. It proved to be the case too. Basically I dropped straight down,; having to pick my way through steep, slippery rocks and loose boulders. Across the bealach and an undignified scramble up. There was no easy line and I took a diagonal course through very steep, grassy slopes. It invloved much use of hands, clinging to tufts of grass. Wet grass on such steep areas is much worse than rock. Was mighty relieved to get on to the actual ridge where there was some indication of a path. from there it was a lovely, undulating walk along a high, grassy plateau. Along the way I took in Bhruaich Leith and then up to Stob Ghabhar. This was a much more frequented area than I had been in previousl. The first time I had bumped in to other people since starting out. There is a road not that far away and that does allow easier access for folk. Nipped across to the top of Aonach Eagach, (the other one.) From there it was an amble to where I am now camped. Fortunately the forecast rain did not happen, only some thick clouds scudding across with a a few bursts of sunshine. It at least I have a chance to air things out a tad. When I bought them I thought my KSB's where wonderful; light, comfy and able to cope with harsh terrain. However, the are hopeless in wet conditions. Once wet they refuse to dry out. As a result, my feet are suffering. There is another interesting descent below me with what looks like a tricky ascent. Ah well, that is for tomorrow. Have seen buzzards, ptarmigan and loads of deer over the last few days.
Monday. heading out. this tent, ( the phoenix) can be prone to condisation. This was the case this morning. I deliberately wanted to be on the move early and packing away a soaking tent is a nuisance. The moring was dry and quite clear but some thick cloud was starting to gather. Some wispy thin stuff was drifting through the glens below, swirling like plumes of smoke over the lip of the corries and creeping tenuously up the sides of the hills. Packed tent up last, wiping it with my baby towel to rremove the last of the moisture. A movement caught my eye. On the ridge opposite a magnificant stag was picking his way along the ridge line with several hinds in attendance. He had a full set of antlers and was obviously a mature beast. The rut has only begun and as yet there is little roaring as yet. Turned down off the ridge to the bealach below me. The imposing hillside opposite relented. Steep, invloving a scamble up through grass, rock and scree but not that bad. The ridge was rock strewn which involoved me picking my way up through a boulder field to the summit Clach Leathad. The top was cloud covered, the whole area devoid of vegitation, a featureless, high, stony desert. a check of the compass and map. it would have been too easy to have made a mistake and gone wandering off in the wrong direction. there where some steep drops around. A bit further on and the cloud lifted enough for me to confirm my position. a A pleasant walk to an unamed top marked as just 1100m. from there a deliberate backtrack to a steep spine of rock that fell awaysharply but provided a way down and across. An amazing beautiful geological feature. Aspine, bow shaped, leading down off the cliffs above, a deep cirque on either side and then another rocky crescent leading upwards again to another high summit, Meall a'Buirdidh. What a lofty eyrie, to the east the flat, daunting bogland of Rannoch. Beams of light glistening on its many lochs and lochans. To the north serried ranks of high hills rolling in to the far distance. Directly below, thin ribbons, the river Etive and the river Coupall and their many feeder streams. A time to pause, to sit quietly, to just drink in the wonderful vistas. All too soon it was time to move. It was akin to sacrilidge to allow time to intrude. With a bit of a push there was a chance that I could make the earlier, 15 25 hrs bus that stops at Kingshouse road end. the next one was at 19 45hrs. being the back holiday, traffic would probably mean delays. Further down the crest and the harsh realities of commercialism; the ski tows and all the accompanying detritus. Yes, it does provide employment etc but it is still an ugly intrusion; a blighted scar on the landscape. Followed a rough path that went down by the tows. The bottom section was working, ferrying tourists up the hill. it seems i was an object of fascination and ribald comments floated across the hillside. Made the White Corries car park. Quite chuffed really. A round of the high tops from Starav had feasible on the map. Certainly there had been a few tricky bits and it had been strenuous too in places. Good though. just as well I caught the earlier bus. traffic is bad and the bus was late. Still managed my fish and chips in Glasgow. Extra coachs are being laid on, boarding has started early, now the long run back.