“Meet somewhere in the middle for a camp”. It was that message that made the difference. So long out, so many other things on my mind, a winter peak in a tent looked a little out of my grasp. Not for lack of knowledge or experience, certainly not desire or equipment, but confidence and fitness were like warning signs bolted to the closed gates that led back to my mild adventuring.
“Meet somewhere in the middle for a camp”. The only possible reply to that was “When?”.
Oh, as soon as that? Better get my shit together then.
Getting my gear sorted was pretty straight forward. I just pulled together old favourites, well worn and years old, there was to be no surprises.
I walked the Lang Craigs with a renewed purpose, pushing the footsteps a little harder, seeing what the knee would say, watching what the lungs would answer back. The minor grumblings could be easily drowned out with some whistling or singing. Both a little breathless.
It wasn’t a big route, but it was the best looking of the half dozen possibles we’d thought of, somewhere I hadn’t been near in maybe 20 years and somewhere Gus hadn’t seen. A secluded loch, a ring of mountains and a track all the way there and beyond. And back again we assumed.
The A82 was an obstacle course of potholes and emergency roadworks. I should probably say that if felt homely and familiar like that, but no. Fix it you bastards.
Hadn’t seen Gus in a long time. In fact, I haven’t seen a lot of people in along time, the faces scattered through these pages are very dear to me and I look forward to squinting into sunlight or spindrift with them once again.
Lunch in Tyndrum, banter, catching up on life and bitching about the state of the the outdoor trade. We might have sat there all afternoon, but the sun was getting lower already.
It really was, without even trying, late when we left.
Getting ready in the carpark was funny, we’d both brought the exact same packs and shell jackets, same colours and everything. It’s a Haglöfs thing I suppose, no avoiding it for either of us.
A mum and daughter team appeared from over the little hill that leads to the trail. Junior was on a little bike, suited up and bright red cheeked from the biting cold, mum walking and carrying the kit. The smiling faces were a joy to see.
Banter ensued as they packed their car for a sprint to the chippy, there was even a discussion on the merits of purple outdoor gear as we all had it on. See, it’s not just me.
More returnees with tales of the tops were greeted before we finally hit the trail. Busy for a Monday.
My big-print map I’d printed off made the route look short and sweet, but the same starting feelings were there that I have on any walk. The wee adjustments to my pack as the straps and waist belt settle into me and my clothing over the first few minutes. Starting cold and warming up, pulling down the chest zip to find that happy medium. My heart and breathing settling back down to tickover after the initial high revs from setting off.
By the time we’d cleared the buildings, the signs and the fences, we were both running smoothly into the dusk. A pale moon sneaked out from behind the cloud and the white skyline glowed faintly ahead, now seeming further away.
The trail weaved forward as the light retreated. The river had taken a fresh swing at the bank and the deer fence now hung over a deep pool, capped with ice, the land with the path on it now deep below it somewhere. We retreated and crossed the fence into the boggy forest plantation and kinda lost the thread a bit. Back over the fence further on in the dark Gus fancied some stepping stones, he would in his nice new and still waterproof boots. My idea of tripping over hummocky grass in the dark was much better. There was a bridge a bit further on anyway. It creaked and swayed above the icy river. Very atmospheric I’m sure.
On the south side of the river was easy going, the ruts of the landrover track were dry or iced hard. We climbed a little and the sound of water rushing over rock had us stopping and peering towards it through the dark. Big rocks and trees in there, that would be a fine camp, but the noise?
The moon was casting our shadows in front of us now, it wasn’t quite full, but plenty bright enough to walk without torches. It was cold, it was clearing above us and the peaked skyline ahead was a ribbon of silver as the loch came into view over the last rise on the track.
It wasn’t too much further before we saw what looked like a good spot, if we could get to it. It wasn’t an island, it might be at times by the look of it, but not right now. It’s been lashed by westerlies all it’s life, but the big boulder at it’s middle has held onto some land and kept this rocky spit from being washed away making for an almost perfect camp spot.
The views, excellent water supply, an easily defensible approach from the land side? Honey, we’re home.
I was fighting with the camera. Gone was the second nature adjustment then a point and click, I was peering at the dial and the screen trying to make sense of it and remember what I wanted. Some of it came back, some of it stayed fuzzy, in my mind and on the virtual film. I didn’t get frustrated at the time and I wasn’t annoyed looking through the shots back at home. It’s just images of us having fun, I didn’t need anything else, maybe that’s balance, freedom? Time will tell, it’s not like this is a once off event.
The headtorches came out for the detail of tent pitching. It wasn’t long before the familiar shapes were up and the sound of silence was roughened at the edges by gas stoves jetting our eagerly awaited dinner ever closer.
It was now completely clear above. The brightest stars twinkled through the moon’s silver wash over the indigo sky and the first of the night’s sprinkle of shooting stars scored a pure white vertical line into the mountains to the north.
It was cold, but I couldn’t feel it. A warm dinner, reindeer chunks in rice, and SuperFreak Californian red. Running around with the camera, breaking the ice to pick up water, filling the pot, running back to refill and having to rebreak the ice, it was all go.
It was also perfect. If I had been apprehensive about whether I’d lost my ability to do this stuff, is wasn’t even a whisper of a memory now.
All I felt was joy and contentment. Actually that swapped over with giddy childlike excitement at times, I think I barely stopped to breathe between sentences at some points. I’m both surprised and grateful Gus didn’t knock me unconscious.
We sat in the dark, both chatty and silent, warm as the ice crept across our gear and the scenery. The moon swung slowly across the sky, throwing different shapes across the scenery. Beinn Suidhe beside us rose impressively and far beyond the mere numbers assigned to it on the map, at various times imaginary ski or ice routes passed through our midnight assessment while the mysterious Coire nam Ban was too white to be natural, was it the start of an inversion, was it a trick of the light?
Neither of us wanted to give this up, going to bed would be an end to it. A few ribbons of cloud scudded across the tops, catching on the moon before dispersing after the effort. I could have drank it all in forever.
But tiredness would not be denied. It had been a stiffer walk than expected, we had marched a little to make up for the late start. Hot chocolate was made, eyes were filled to the brim before the flysheets were zipped for the night.
A buffeting woke me, the tent moved and so did I. It was light, a grey light. I unzipped and looked, swirling cloud, a cold wind made my eyes water. I abandoned the attempt and buried my face back into my layer of down.
The second attempt went better as far as I unzipped the whole door and sat up. I looked out and grinned, I could live with this.
It didn’t look like it, but it was still frozen. The ice on the loch had broken up out from the shore in the night as the wind whipped up some waves, but the ice was thicker where we could get to it. “Doiiinnnnggg” was my first attempt to get water for breakfast.
The dull porridge was abandoned in favour of oatcakes and cheese with some running around our little peninsula on the side. Trying to set up a pose for a team photies was a giggle laced farce.
There was no escaping the beauty of the place. The dark had given it a mystery, a softeness and distance, but the early morning light brought life and drama in splashes of glorious colour.
I was cold when I got up at first, but was quickly warmed up despite the occasion light flurries of snow. We were either going that night or Thursday, which is tonight as I write this. The night where I walked to my folks house in snow shoes. I think we chose the right day.
Camp was as magnetic as it had been the night before. Excuses were made for more cuppas, wandering around, exploring, just staring at the view. It was just outstanding.
Looking east made us move. The snow was passing left and right, but looking back at Bridge of Orchy it seemed likely it was coming straight for us now.
Packing was easy, the packs a little smaller and lighter and it was a little easier to get moving. I fact, I felt great. I was fresh, I had energy, I was feeling that feeling, the one you get when you do this stuff and it goes just right.
A nearby hut was full DofE graffiti, or should I say more accurately cries for help and vows to never again venture into the outdoors. Poor wee buggers with their 75L packs and joyless tramping.
Different for us, bright skies and easy walking. The shapes of the night made sense now, the waterfall was much smaller than it sounded and although the creaky bridge looked like it’s been chewed lightly by Godzilla before he realised he wasn’t in Tokyo, it’s probably sturdy enough.
The stepping stones were stepped on, Gus followed my every step on them with his phone just in case I made an arse of it and ended up in the river. But no, not this time.
The sky greyed as we closed in on the car park, light flurries swirled around us and even the deer felt something was in the air as they didn’t flinch as we passed them by.
Back in the motors we were soon Tyndrum bound for hot food and warm cheeks in clean t-shirts and dry socks.
Every trip is the sum of it’s parts and this trip has left more parts in my head than I know what to do with. Everything was right, the time, the place and the company I kept.
Thank you Gus, thank you Loch Dochard, thank you me for not finding a lame excuse to duck out of doing it.
Standing at that lochside in the dark looking up, I felt that flutter inside. Days later I still feel it.
I think it might be addictive.