Monday 23 February 2009

A few days of not a lot

snow bank, Lairig ghru
heading in to the Lairig Ghru

Snow banks Cairngorms

Heading up toward the Lairig Ghru wild camp Cairngorm

Landslip, Cairngorms
looking up the lairig path cairngorms

Loch an Eilein

looking down at Gleann Enich, Cairngorms

Tuesday 16th Feb. Camped. OS map LR36 GR 883o55
Did the night run up on the coach last night. Normally I at least manage to doze for an hour or so. This time around though I was awake the whole night. Fortunately we made good time and arrived Aviemore just about on time, at 11am; twelve hours of travelling. Leg muscles had almost totally locked up and I was stiff and aching. Wanting a quick bite before setting out I looked at the chippies. Disaster, both where closed; the coffee shops looked busy, predominantly with folks in ski clothing and funny boots. Thus grabbed a few nibbles, a pretty abysmal meat pie and a sandwich for lunch tomorrow and fled. Headed over to Loch an Eilein and then around to pick up the path that heads south by Loch Gamhna. Started looking for a place to camp close to Inshriach bothy; one of the very few bothies in the Cairngorm region. The problem I had was that I wanted to camp out of sight of the main paths. For the best part of an hour I cast about looking for a spot before finally setting up camp out of sight of the bothy but still closer than I wished for. The main difficulty was that a thaw had set in and everything was running with melt water.The recent snow had taken its toll on the trees, especially the pines; many had broken limbs from the sheer weight of heavy snowfall. This evening is very mild, which does not bode well for tomorrow.
Wednesday. Camped as previous evening.
Took the small path that follows the Allt Corrie Fallais up through the forestry and then slanted off toward Creag Follais. The going was tiring with a combination of wet snow and bog. Swinging roughly south east I picked my way over to Clach Choutsaich. The idea had been to follow the ridge line directly up to Sgor Gaoith. Deep wet snow banks that had the consistency of porridge defeated me. It was tedious and hard constantly breaking through rotten snow. My feet where wet and cold from being submersed in deep bog. Finally conceding defeat I abruptly about turned down the ridge and walked over to the Argyle Stone and on to Creag Dhubh. Picking a meandering route to weave around snow patches my way led down to pick up the right hand path that leads back down the Coirre Follais. This path traverses a very steep section of hillside and unfortunately sections of it where snow covered with melt water running in channels beneath. It made for some precarious maneuvering to teeter around or across these banks. It felt rather unhealthy in one or two spots. As I got lower and as soon as I was able to, I crossed the burn to the other bank and scrambled up on to the broad shoulder of the hill and eventually regained the path lower down.
Thursday. camped OS map LR36 GR949059
A very easy day, just a stroll over to where I am now camped. Packed up in a leisurely fashion this morning and retraced my footsteps back along to Loch an Eilein and then picked up the trail that leads around to the Cairngorm club footbridge and then over to the path that climbs above the Allt Druich. A pleasant, steady and easy ascent up the path until finally I came out of the tree line. Once more there where problems finding places to pitch and I came a little higher than intended. Most of the ground is all humps and bumps and areas of dense sphagnum moss. Found a spot just about big enough to squeeze the tent on to; probably more exposed than is advisable for winter. Opposite, where the burn runs down from Lochan Odhar a great section of hillside has very recently slid down the hill in a massive landslip. The scar is is fresh and the corry bottom is littered in a mass of rock. Temperature is down tonight and the wind has swung to north west. Hopefully this is the cold spell forecast early this week.
Friday, camped at same location as previous evening.
A frustrating and disappointing day. A great rumble and crash in the night as the landslip shed yet more debris. Nature rearranging the scenery a bit. Woke this morning to find that the wind had swung back and was now blowing from a southerly direction; that was not previously forecast.. Followed the Lairig Ghru path up with rain and sleet drifting down the glen. Higher up where previous traffic had compressed the snow banks the surface was slick and greasy in places. Turned off to head up on to the the shoulder of the hill that marks the ascent upward toward Braeriach. Spoke to a guy who was coming up behind me and he was non too happy with conditions either. It was a case of plod, plod, plod, slip, slither, kick boots in, lurch and fall forward, mutter, mutter as the snow crust gave way yet again. Stopped and undid the ice axe slipping it down the side of the rucksack for easy access. Mainly as a precaution, there was no real call for it. Visibility was not too bad but with water sluicing over soft snow, I was finding it difficult; in the end I reluctantly wimped out. Turning back I swung around and headed up further up the Lairig. My idea was to try and get in to the Pools of Dee. Soon I was floundering in soft snow drifts. The brooding splendour and grandeur of the high, rocky crags was awesome, especially as they closed in. Avalanche debris made things even more difficult. When I sank in up to my waist for a second time I just got the giggles. There was something so surreal and ridiculous about the whole situation as struggled my way out; mad, totally mad. Yet again I chickened out and turned back when I found myself lurching over buried boulders; leg breaking territory. Steady rain and a rising wind accompanied me back to the tent; by now it had swung back to the west. The problem now was that the tent was facing in to the wind; this meant lighting the stove would be a problem. There was no option but to swing the tent completely around. Just as well that I did, later the wind was gusting strongly but the tent sits more snuggly with its back end to it; also, I can nip out for the loo in more comfort.
Saturday. Aviemore bunkhouse.By the this morning a full gale was blowing; later I learned that the ski runs, funicular railway and everything where closed due to weather conditions. The tent shifted and shuddered as gust after gust drove relentlessly in to the tent rear. Fortunately I had weighted the pegs down with heavy rocks. A great roaring rumble, like a goods train on the move as the gale blew unhindered across the high tops; awesome. Dawdled for a while but eventually packing up everything in the tent and then dropping the tent itself at the last minute, rapidly bundling it in to the rucksack. A gentle stroll back the way I had walked in and then detoured back around the far side of Loch an Eilein just to put an extra mile or two in. Everyone and their great granny seemed to be out doing the forestry walk. This meant a few startled looks from folks just out for a gentle stroll; seeing me with a full sack and probably looking scruffy and a tad dishevelled. People walking in spotless clothing; anoraks that would not go amiss strolling down Oxford Street. Couples strolling hand in hand, excited toddlers and young kids. Women in makeup and reeking of perfume. Maybe I ought to apologise to my fellow women, however, such artificial scents, even after just a few days on the hill, really hit me between the eyes. My senses seem to attune to natural smells, sounds and movements and this type of smell is a jolt to my senses. It was amazing too to see people in heavy duty boots, including such four season types as a pair of Scarpa manta's. Four gps systems and a hand held sat.nav. system added to the oddities of the day. With time in hand I found a convenient bench and sat and watched the world go by. Mountain bikers by the dozen, families and dog walkers. As I sat quietly musing a little lad all of six or seven, came stomping up the path with his mum in tow. On seeing me, he paused and turned to his mum. "Mummy, what are those funny things on that lady's bag?" Mum sighed with resignation. "I don't know dear!" Not to be thwarted the little boy made a beeline for me, ignoring his mother's instructions to 'not go bothering the lady' Standing four square in front of me, he posed the question. "Please miss, what are those things for?"trying to put it in to a simple context, I explained about the ice axe and crampons. Looking at me in astonishment, he piped up. "Do you like playing in the snow?" When I confirmed that was the case he gave a great beaming grin. This was something new to him, a grownup who actually went out and played in the snow. Dragged off by his aspirated mum, he was still chattering away. "Wow mummy, a lady who likes playing in the snow and has special toys to play with in the snow too!"
Checked in to the bunk house in Aviemore. In retrospect it was a bad mistake; the small kitchen had to serve as a common room and got vastly overcrowded. Worse still, it was mixed dorms and the final straw was the late night revellers screaming and shouting in the kitchen at well past midnight. To make things even worse,I looked in to the rather up market looking pub next door. The thought had crossed my mind that it would be nice to have a special treat of a cooked meal. The sight of white linen table cloths, candles and silver cutlery was enough to see me getting out of there fast. Nipped up to the local chippy, it was just another factor of things going badly wrong. The fish, when it was eventually found under layers of vulcanised batter, had obviously died of a very old age many years ago; the chips were barely warm and had the consistency of recycled cardboard. The Sunday was spent trying to make a cup of coffee last as long as possible in a coffee shop and then sitting curled up in a bus shelter for several hours with a book. In hindsight I ought to have camped and spent another day on the hill.
All in all, not a bad few days away, just a tad frustrating at times and a mental note made to avoid Aviemore as much as possible in the future. Ok to pass through, not so good to spend any length of time there.
Took a liquid fuel stove mainly because I was hoping for low temperatures; the early weather forecast had been for a return to cold conditions in the latter part of the week. It was unfortunate that the forecast was wrong. The MSR Simmerlite is a smaller version of the whisperlite. It is one of the lightest liquid fuel stoves available. A downside is that it is not multi fuel. Also it is not available in the Uk. Mine was purchased via a retailer from Europe. Liquid fuel has its place in certain conditions, priming and using demands more care and attention though. Gas is a much simpler option and with proper care, can be used in the tent.

Wednesday 11 February 2009


Looking at the latest copy of TGO I noticed that a small publishing company were seeking submissions of literary non fiction. In particular they required work relating to the relationship between people and the wild places of Britain. Looked at the article, considered it, placed it to one side and thought some more about it. In all honesty I thought it was a bit pretentious, me, being an author? However, it kept niggling away in the back of my mind and so finally I began work. My spell check and I exchanged many cross words, it does not recognise Gaelic, or at least anglicised, Gaelic, place names. It took some coaxing for it to include such words as bothy and lochan in to its dictionary. Maps flew in all directions as I cherry picked pieces from my blogs and from notes. Correct spelling of place names is essential, thus much time cross checking on various maps. After a few days of typing and polishing up my work, the required manuscript of just over seven thousand words was submitted last night. An e mail this morning has confirmed the work has been received. Now I have to wait until April before I receive any further news.
My other dilemma is my attempts at getting away for another trip. Currently snow conditions in Scotland are excellent.However, my first choice was a bit of a logistical nightmare. My second choice became a no go after that wonderful Scottish source of information aka Duncan, informed the way out of Aberdeen toward Braemar was almost impassible. The third choice was Aviemore; not my favourite area, however it was easier for access. My main problem after that was the thought of the twelve hour coach journey each way. I baulked at the idea of it. The journey itself is bad enough, on a more personal level, being cramped in next a total stranger is an ordeal for me.Tentatively I looked at the night sleeper. Feasible and with the added bonus of arriving in Aviemore not long after 7 am. The cost was scary at £124, it would blow my budget to smithereens. Despite that it looked the better option. That was until I studied the journey information a tad closer. All they where offering was a reclining seat, not even a bunk for the night. In desperation I am now going to check out flights. This poses new problems, in the form of stoves. Airlines have strict policies over them. All this makes me one desperate bunny, all that lovely weather out there and I am confined in london.

Monday 2 February 2009

Lots of Snow.

It snowed most of last night here in London and is still snowing now. Fantasmagorical. The one problem is that I am stuck here in London. Currently public transport is at a standstill. Few roads gritted, no pavements gritted, at least in my area. This despite the fact that the met office have been warning of heavy snow conditions since last week. Have been ill, (again) and am itching just to get out and stretch my legs. The doctor is arranging for me to see an ologist of some sort. Hopefully, if public transport is running? I may be able to nip down to the New Forest for at least an overnight stay. For just one night I shall take the minimum and bivi. Hopefully the snow may linger for a few days yet? John, please keep me posted.