Plan B

Kev was right, go the other way. 

I’m not going to talk about the A82, I don’t want to look back on this in times to come an just read about how close I kept coming to having a stroke behind the wheel. Let’s just say the journey north was harrowing and leave it at that. Harrowing.
I stopped in Ft Bill for a couple of bits and pieces, a mini naan from Morrison’s, and some Nuun from Ellis Brighams. Morrison’s was easy, they even had rucksack-sized yumyums. Entering EB’s after the “boot incident” just isn’t the same. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe it’s a bit like EB was the smart arsed kid in class, who when asked “What’s the capital of Peru?” answered “The Factory Act of 1833”. They’re stuck with that one defining moment of stupidity in my mind.
I was fingering through the racks of stuff and came across those 150 weight Icebreaker t-shirts and it occurred to me that maybe I would be better in one of those than my nice checked shirt. I dunno, a moment of distraction we’ll say. But pulling at the corner of the t-shirt was a big magnetic swing tag which immediately caused me to raise an eyebrow. Still, I took it the the checkout where said tag was removed and I said “Thanks, let’s have a look…” and held it up to the light to see the big hole where the tag had been. “Ach” says I. At which point someone more senior homed in this potential loss of sale.
“That’s fine”
“No, there’s a hole it”
“It’s next to the hem”
Sigh…”Do you have one round the back without a hole in it?”
“No, this one is fine”
“No, there’s a hole in it, why don’t you put the tag through the label?”
“People will cut them off with scissors”
Sigh…”So I have to have a t-shirt with a hole in it because…look, never mind, I’ll take the Nuun thanks”
“You’re not taking the t-shirt?”
“No, there’s a hole it”

An hour later I was in 914 Outdoorin Dornie and was breathing a sign of relief at a wee shop jammed with kit and staffed by smiling folks. They had the 125g Rekri8 gas canister which brought me great joy, and minutes later I was pulling into the thoughtfully provided walkers carpark at the entrance to the Attadaleestate by Loch Carron. It’s beautiful country up here, half mountain infested wilderness, half Balamory. It should be visited by all with extreme haste.

1710hrs when I left the carpark, even for me that’s leaving it late. Especially considering I was supposed to be camping on one of the (if not the) remotest peaks in the UK. In baking sunshine I wandered through the estate on old-time tarmac, there’s gardens to visit and holiday cottages to rent, very pleasant.
My right shoe’s is a little loose, I should tighten it.
It’s pretty much estate track until you reach the slopes of Lurg Mhor, but it’s not the too-familiar bulldozed scars of elsewhere, what we have here is old, wear-hardened tyre-tracks, often with a grassy mohican in the middle. It winds through forest and by lochans, high into the hills and far away. Without the track, covering this distance would be much harder, but there is a trade-off. It’s hard on the feet.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll need to tighten it soon.
There’s a big meander to the left which does take you higher than you were expecting at at nearly 350m, and it’s here you leave Loch Carron behind and first see where you’re going. And it’s really far away.
Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor look very different from this side than they do from the regular point of view on the ascent over Beinn Tharsuinn from Craig to the north. In fact, when does Lurg Mhor actually even get into the photie? It’s always that same shot with the lochan on Tharsuinn and Sheasgaich’s summit. I really wanted to see what was on the other side. Miles of track as it turns out, and as I wandered along I kept imagining what this empty land would be like in winter, scary I think. I never saw a single soul while I was in there and it’s holiday time, I don’t see it being any busier in the first week of February.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll tighten it at the bridge.
Bendronaig Lodge and bothy is remote, it feels more remote than the recently visited Altbeithe, and also more deserted. Apart from some heilan coos which ran away, I’ve never know heilan coos to run away.
The track splits and then I was suddenly in the mountains. The sky became a strip walled by crags and I knew I was finally getting somewhere, but the sun was sinking, I was hungry and a little tired. The heat just sucks the life out of me. I stopped by Loch Calavie and had some munchies, including the now vital chicken Cup-a-Soup. The sun was out of view behind Sàil Riabhach, but the light spilling over the the other hills was golden, I was running out of time and I still had 600-odd meters of ascent.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll tighten it up when I get to the ridge.
The slopes of Lurg Mhor are flooded with flowers. I lost count of the different colours, shapes and sizes as i slowly climbed towards the skyline. I could see the clouds start to catch some colours at their fringes and there was a breeze whipping up. The day was shutting up shop. Curse my lateness, I was going to get the finish line and take an expected left turn to the icecream van like an idiot and miss out on the mighty prize.
I made it onto the rocky plateau with the lochan below Lurg Mhor’s summit to see Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich blocking the sun as it hit the horizon. Now it looks like an eclipse of sorts, at the time I was just shouting “Bastard, bastard, bastard…” and trying to get to the summit cone of Lurg Mhor before I missed out completely.
As is often the case, it’s when the sun goes down that the sky really lights up. I saw the tiniest glimpse of the sun as it sank from view and the clouds just exploded. All the miles in that heat, all the cleg bites that I’m sitting here scratching, all worth it.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, no point in tightening it now, I’ll be camped soon.
The summit of Lurg Mhor is a fine spot with a very fancy cairn. The hills in view are the superstars of Torridon, Skye and Kintail, and there’s the scary steep and deep coire just beyond the cairn. I lingered and enjoyed, it was 2230 and it was bliss.
I would have camped right there, but I needed water and the lochan below was calling to me. It’s a pity, there’s a flat patch of grass 10 feet from the cairn that was perfect. But I needed cuppas in abundance, and dinner. Hopefully before midnight.

My right shoe was a little loose, I should’ve tightened it.
My first blister since the West Highland Way, my own stupid fault. I sat in the bivy shaking my head. Clean socks on and I felt much better, hot food and drink and I was quite happy. There was still birdsong, and the sky glowed to the north as the sun took a shortcut just under the horizon to spring back up in the east in four hours.
I was comfy all night, but I never slept much because of the brightness. In the bivy it was a bit like sleeping inside a space hopper with a desk lamp trained on it. I watched the sky light up sometime after 0400 and within an hour I gave up and had the stove on again. I never saw the sunrise, I was just too tired to get shoes on and run over to the other side of the ridge. It was cold as well, and very windy, but I was snug and happy in my sleeping bag with my proper coffee from a Lyon’s bag.


I was breaking camp around 0600 and was away. It wasn’t a vintage camp spot, but at 2300 and being waterless, my needs outweighed the picturesque and it did give a great starting point for day two.

Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich isn’t too far away. It’s a rocky descent to the bealach and then straight back up, and when you’re onto the summit ridge itself it really is an “Alright!” moment. It’s got a little exposure to the west and absolutely stunning views everywhere. Walking the ridge past the summit (with its amusingly small cairn) you can look down on the regular route. Sod that, huge amounts of ascent, descent, re-ascent and possibly even a little traversing and re-traversing.
The wind was whipping across the top which threatened to tip the camera and tripod over the side, so I ended up sitting by a rock just looking and grinning. I started down about 0715, it was a long trek and I wanted to get some of it out of the way before the sun was too high above me.
I soon passed all the places that I should have camped on Sàil Riabhach’s ridge, this is wonderful ground right here. I could have walked the ridge all day, but the steep descent was soon upon me and I was back on the track too soon. I stopped by a deep pool and had a brunch of sorts, and adjusted my layers. I’d been wearing a powerstretch top since I broke camp, but it was time to be back in my shirt and daft hat. The heat was creeping up and I was back in trek mode, as opposed to mountain mode. But I’m not actually sure there’s a difference as such.

I reached and passed the bridge over Uisge Dubh’s beautiful gorge and started the climb out of the glen. It was now roasting and lack of sleep was beginning to tell on me. I stuck my iPod on and set my legs to automatic. My iPod seems to have had a nervous breakdown. I like “Shuffle Songs” on the move, but it picked Rush’s Hemispheres, 2112 and Cygnus X-1 one after the other, an hour to get through three songs. Then it hit me with Tone Loc straight afterwards, which just felt odd. I could have pressed skip at any time, but I loaded the songs, so I’m not letting the iPod know that I didn’t want to hear it, it’ll undermine my authority over it.
I was happy to be desending again and it’s very different here in amongst the trees and lochans, dragonflies of all colours swooping past, butterflies chasing each other around like confetti in the wind, birds, frogs all were out and not afraid to announce themselves. Wildlife had been a feature of this trip, the stag that had bellowed at my arrival on the slopes of Lurg Mhor had unsettled me a little, but he soon gave up and left the hill to me. The other creatures were then divided into those which delighted and those which saw me as food.

It was 33°C when I hit the estate tarmac. My steps were slow, my blister was sore and I really wanted a cold can of Irn Bru.
I arrived at the motor and opened all the doors, stood back to let if cool and stripped myself of pack, shoes and clothes. Magic.
I reinstalled shorts and t-shirt and headed off to find a fridge and its contents.

Another short sharp adventure, and that seems to be the way of it these days. Truth be told I don’t like being away from the girls too long anyway, Holly really doesn’t like it when I’m gone too long, it upsets her a lot, so a night or two is about my limit now. I don’t give a shit though, it’s taken me 20 years to get around to climbing Lurg Mhor and I didn’t do it in the times of multi-day trips a few years ago, so I reckon I’m making the most of my time now.
As ever I’m a bit vague about what my route was, but this one will be in Trail in a couple of months, Hey, I took notes and everything!
I will say that it’s well worth doing it from this side, I saw no-one, there’s only traces of a path on the hill, and I really felt like I was out there. Marvellous.

Coffee and a Danish please

I’ve been having a rummage and it’s time for a change. After the unrequired pyrotechnics with my Optimus Crux Lite during the week I’m going back to the Markill Peak Ignition. It’s a great wee stove, and the ignition still works so I’ll ditch the firesteel for a while and carry a wee plastic packet of matches just-in-case. Folk are sometimes sniffy about Markill, even though it’s the same stuff as Snow Peak with a different brand stamped on it. I’d looked at some of the current models like the Snow Peak Lite Max , but it’s all just tinkering with materials to get the numbers down, there’s nothing genuinely new or sexy.
While I’m at it I’m going to go back to my MSR Titan Kettle for a bit, well, once I’ve insulated the handles, and see if I notice any difference. At 40g less that my regular Optimus Terra Solo pot I won’t feel any weight difference, but the shape might let me cram more stuff in there, so we’ll see about that.

I’ve got a huge long titanium spoon that’s become a regular (it’s currently down at Trail HQ getting its photies took) that totally avoids “camp sauce finger” when eating from a bag, so sporks are oot for the timebeing. It’s a bugger that I can’t stow it in amongst my cook kit, but hey, you can’t have it all.

Also after my water bottle contents reaching undrinkably high temperatures recently due to the sun’s extra-super shinyness, I have installed US military coloured (ie sand, are there any wars in temperate regions these days?) neoprene sleeves upon my Camelbak 750ml Better Bottles.
I look foward to drinking merely luke-warm Nuun in the days to come.

Peppa Pig! do do do do…do do do do Peppa Pig!!

“What are you up to?”
“How?”
“I’ve got to take some hours, and I’m thinking of heading out”
“It’s looking nice right enough, I can get away and I need photies of that Big Agnes tent”
“Let’s go”
“Alright!”

We’d planned to camp on Beinn an Dothaidh ages back, but we ended up somewhere else, either another hill or the Real Food cafe, I’m not entirely sure. But, with righting whatever wrongs we may or may not have bestowed upon ourselves on our minds we left mine for Bridge of Orchy sometime after 1500.
Phil was driving, bless ‘im.

It was easy following the increasingly eroded path up to the bealach between Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Dorain. The sandy earth is being washed away down a deepening trench and the piles of Type 1 being shovelled on top of the track don’t seem to be helping. I haven’t seen this area without snow cover for years and I was shocked.
On the higher and harder ground, the trail is rocky with the crags and slabs of Coire an Dothaidh cupping their hands around you with surprising steepness until you pop out over the top edge and pick your peak from left or right.

We wound our way up the track to the left into the concave plateau that’s the summit of Beinn an Dothaidh. It’s a nice trail, and heads off the the central bump of three that’s the highest spot, but we headed onto open hillside to the slightly lower 1000m West Top to see what camping opportunities there were.
As it turned out we were spoiled for choice. There’s a shelf runs along the edge of the plateau with a strip of grass that fights the bare rock hard enough to give plenty of spaces for pitching a tent. But, we were also very distracted by the view West, the thick blocks of cloud and areas of clear sky with light steaming through cast all the hills into dark shadow or glowing fairyland. It was just stunning. With one eye on the view, and one eye on the ground we ended up right at the cairn and pitched the tents.

The views were as fluid as the cloud, peaks appearing and disappearing, patches of light running like torchbeams over the hillsides. Outstanding. We just wandered around with cameras in hand until we really had to eat. The sunset was a peachy-orange strip on the horizon and then it was gone, it was the clouds who were putting on the show. It’s nice when somebody else gets a shot.
We wandered around, and along the top of impressive crags of the Northern coire, but not to the actual summit, even though it was very close. We never did go over to it, even the next day.

It got very cold very quick, from 28°C  when we arrived, to 4°C when I got in the tent. Dinner was crazy late, but we’d carried enough water to be able to have numerous cuppas with gay abandon and it was all rather pleasant. I had no iPod, I had no book, I just went to bed and with only a light breeze and was out like a light.
I said to Phil that I though I’d had some great deep sleep in the night, “I know, I woke up and heard you”.

I woke to grey. A patch of ground outside the tent beaded with dew and beyond that; grey.
I lit the stove and lay back with a”Humph”.
Then as one from both tents “Whoa!”.
The cloud blew away and swirled above us revealing the dappled Highlands of the night before, but with warmer, sharper light streaming from the East wherever it could find a gap.

More wandering with cuppas, more photies, more looking at watches and thinking “We really have to be going soon”. It was a school day after all.

We looked at the map and I said lets just walk in a straight line to the station. So we did.
It started out well as the temperature rose and there was a cool breeze and we traversed the grassy slopes. Then we turned a corner and I found myself on ground so steep that when I looked down at Phil I could see his toes sticking out from under his chin…
My knees were screaming by the time we found the river and met the outgoing track at the edge of Coire an Dothaidh. It was also suddenly very hot, so I found myself in short sleeves and Phil in short legs. We started to walk down the track, them we were hopping on the rocks, and then we were running.
The sight of two men running down the hill first thing in the morning with overnight gear on their backs appeared to slightly rattle the first walker we met. But the warmer it got, the more we slowed, and the second outbound early bird was more chatty, and said that “You young guys” were “Hardy” for being out all night. I fully expect that to be the last time in my life that “Young guy” is used in any context referring to myself.

It was back to the motor and the the road South, where we got stuck behind every truck and bus and caravan and stupid under the sun as they jammed side by side with each other on the road between Tarbet and Inverarnan, grinding traffic to a complete standstill several times.
Still, it didn’t dampen the little flame of joy lit by an evening in the Highlands, and on a school night too.

Looking the other way

Looks like I timed my Kintail trip just right, as a week later LAMM competitors were running around the same tracks that I was trying to look all dramatic and windswept on. Good choice of location, and there would have been some tired legs at the event campsite with the amount of ascent and descent.
That wee wildcamp has kept me well-fed since I got back, there’s been clear skies, golden sunsets and even a full moon, but none of it has pulled me back up the tops (until tomorrow anyway). It’s odd that, we never got close to completing the original mission, but somehow everything about it hit the spot.
Jings, I wish I could bottle whatever magic vapours were in the breeze over that lochan.

Trumpet of Doom (note to self…)

I’m actually going to list (and weigh!) the kit I take for the next trip, prompted entirely by Martin’s organisational skills as seen here.
It’s a good idea to get more organised on occasion, I recently forgot my spork and gave myself some aluminium origami so I could eat my dinner, and I have in the recent past slept on a folded map having forgotten to pack a sleepmat. I do have a core of regular kit that I use as well as test stuff, so it should be easy to do in principle, as long as I don’t get distracted again by the constant reruns of Stargate SG-1 on the telly.
The weather will dictate clothing and footwear to some extent, and it’s 50/50 on the Lasercomp or the BigAgnes Bivy. I’m definitely taking the PHD Minim 300 down bag, a NeoAir sleepmat, the Haglöfs Oz and a purple Buff, but there’s some nice wee bits of newness in there. I’m using some eVent compression sacks for the sleeping bag, and maybe the tent as well, I’ve got some new Banananuun to take, and of course I might take out the Hewee too.
Yes indeed, feeding my inner geek is good.

Unspeakable

Hygiene and various natural functions of the body are a damned nuisance when you’re camping. Like Leopold pictured below, I’ve often resorted to getting myself in part or whole into a burn, but that doesn’t work too well all year round, imagine the headlines “Naked frozen hiker found in heather, proper boots would have prevented death say authorities”.
Camping high means you don’t have the facility for that option anyway, plus I’m always conscious of messing with water so high up the hillside as soap getting in it could end up anywhere from someones’s water bottle to a farmhouse kettle. High camping hygiene usually means a wipe around the face with a damp Buff, I carry a wee packet of wet wipes most of the time as well and I use various antibacterial rubs for my hands to keep cooking and eating as germ free as possible. I got a nice one out of Tiso recently, Asseptgel is the name, the wee bottle spits out just enough with every squeeze, and the contents are purple…
In a general sense I find merino underwear keeps me fresher and less likely to have irritation or issues from lack of proper washing, especially over a few days of wearing your baselayers constantly.

Toilet stuff is the ultimate inconveniece, for a squat-stop, it gets left at lower level or it has to stay in there until I’m back down the next day. The higher up the hill you are, the worse having a crap would be, harder ground to bury it properly, harder to get away from the sources of burns and away from paths as well, in general it’s just pollution of the highest magnitude.
Having a pee is much less a problem of course, but camping high can screw this up as most of the time I don’t have a spare bottle to catch it in if it’s 0400 and blowing a gale outside, as I’m nowhere near water andamy bottle has the makings of my breakfast and cuppas in it. So, it’s getting out of the door in some capacity to get the job done, and in piss-poor (ha ha) conditions it’s no fun at all.
But, I met Sam from Shewee at the Innov_Ex conference and we got talking about this very thing. She has an extension tube affair that adds range to the Shewee, and should be usable by a man who doesn’t want to get out of the tent or pee in a Nalgene bottle. It’s on its way, and I’ll report back on that.

It’s funny how all the online talk is normally about waterproofs or sleeping bags, or why the Lasercomp is better than the Akto, but this personal stuff is really important and can impact heavily on your enjoyment and comfort when you’re out. I know that dealing with this kind of thing is enough to put folk off wild camping, and that shouldn’t be the case.

Emergency exit

Ever since the camping trips of winter, I find myself ad-mining my gear more thoroughly in the tent. I think subconsciously I might be preparing for a quick exit under the guise of being more organised.
I remember vividly struggling find a torch while holding the tent down with my other hand.
That’s one thing about tents with no pockets, your hastily required item is either on the floor or it’s in the porch. Gear lofts and pockets are handy, but never seem to be in the right place, they’re always a stretch to reach. And anyway, I think I would end up stowing the tent with stuff still in the pockets.
A few sleeping bags have little pockets, and an e+lite is just the job for sticking in there.

However, the real cure is the ipod. It’s always in my sleeping bag on the end of a bit of wire and a soon as you touch it it lights up enough to let you see what the hell you’re doing.
I’m now recommending the ipod as vital safety equipment.

Anything that stops you running out of your tent trying to put your shoes on in a state of confusion has to be good.

Kit stuff 2

I went and put the kettle on and forgot to finish what i was saying…

I was wearing a sythetic baselayer top on Friday night. I’ve been wearing synthetics on and off in times recent, but I’ve not worn a synthetic overnight in years. When I was down in the Lakes last week I picked up some kit for Bobinson, Haglöfs’ Kazoo Pants and Azer Zip Top. I got an Azer for myself as well as I got caught up in the shopping frenzy.

I’m always banging on about merino, and with good reason, but things move on and synthetics are always under development to made them less like clingfilm on the skin and less offensive to the olfactory senses of you and your companions.
The Paramo t-shirt that came for test last year worked well, but got shelved for winter, so I’ll come back to that. Recently I’ve worn Helly Hansen Lifa again which just feels horrible on my skin when I’ve been sweating, featherweight Polartec Powerdry feels better to me. I wore a heavyweight Haglöfs Actives 031 occasionally late in winter and it was roasting, but stayed dry. And of course there’s the X-Bionic kit. All fitted and performed well, but still had a whiff about them after use in various degrees.

The Azer was annonymous in use, as any baselayer should be. Soft, comfortable, easy to roll up sleeves, nice long neck zip. It was when I stopped to take photies or have a drink and turned round to set off again that the biggest difference between synthetic and merino became apparent, my back was icy cold and closing the gap between my back and the pack was a definite “Urk” plus shuddering  moment. But after a couple of seconds comfort was restored. It’s more noticable when you’re not layered up, you’re just in a baselayer.
It’s always been that way, as long as I can remember. Moving to merino, well, you just kinda forget.

I slept in the Azer no problem, I was perfectly comfortable and dry. Back at base though, Joycee did indeed sense something, a presence she had not felt since…* Since a few years back anyway, next day synthetic bouquet, although much diminished in its ferocity.
So recent experience suggests that sythetic has got a lot better, anti bacterial treatments, silver fibres and the rest are working, but nature’s got a head start and is sitting at the trig point already, grinning away.
I’ll wear sythetic for day trips and the like quite happily now, but merino is still king for days, and for days and nights.

Also, I slept in the PHD Combi on it’s own for the first time. It still lofts like a bastard, it’s still warm, but it’s now wider inside, more like regular bags from other folk in fact.
Is it an option for folk who fancy a lightweight PHD bag without the slim fit?

*Shame on you if you don’t get that movie reference.

Come on, let’s go space truckin’

It was late by the time I left…

How many of my tales have started with that comment, Jeez. Planning is one thing, but unless you send a memo round to the rest of the world there’s always a chance that some unwitting soul will call upon your presence, and then with the liberal application of Sod’s Law be in a position that you would become a heartless bastard if you refused to respond.
I’d hoped for an easy day after the long hours of Thursday, but I was up out of bed not long after 0600 and away on a callout midmorning. And, I hadn’t packed anything for a night in the hills that bobinson and I had pencilled in for what looked like the last good night of the weather window.
I got back after lunch and at 1500 I finished packing, that was easy enough, regular kit and a couple of unobtrusive bits of test kit. Ten minutes later, Bobinson was at the door and we were away. Neither of us had managed lunch, so it was stop #1 at the local M&S Simply Food for now food and later snacks. Stop #2 was the Post Office in Dumbarton to get a parcel away Special Delivery, now we could get to the hills.
But time had raced on, and any plans of heading North meant ascending and pitching in the dark. As we reached the road junction at Tarbet we’d already made up our minds that we were going to the Arrocher Alps and not turning right, but not which Alp we were heading onto. It wasn’t until we were at the “temporary” (if they’re there any longer OS will put them on the next map) traffic lights near the top of The Rest that we decided on Beinn Ime, the highest of the Alps at 1011m. Maybe not the wisest choice given that the sun was already slipping out of view behind lower peaks and it gave us the most ascent, but it’s central and a great viewpoint. Maybe we just fancied our chances at beating the sun, and maybe the thought of standing with a cuppa the next morning surrounded by the other peaks while watching the sunrise over an inversion is enough to make you take a wee gamble.

As the above shot courtesy of bobinsons camera shows, it was bright enough as we started up from Butterbridge. Bright and hot in fact, the two of us were soon dripping sweat from the ends of our noses and my eyes were stinging. In the coire it was like high summer, and there was a lot of stopping to look at the view.
Tiredness must have had a part in it, both of us had had a long week. There were no brave faces, just a mutual appeciation of our unexpected shortcomings.

As we crept higher it cooled and an equilibrium of sorts was reached, on the move was fine as we were labouring, but the sun was weakening and it was getting cold on my hands and stopping for a rest was chilling.
Rather than follow the usual line to the Glas Bhealach, we climbed the wide Western face, taking the mostly grassy line to the left of the summit. It’s very steep and rocky, and much drier underfoot than the usual route, an absolute joy and well worth it to pick a route through seldom visited crags. It did save us some time at the cost of plenty extra effort, but seeing the sun slip over the edge of the day was worth the wheezing I was experiencing while I watched it.

The warm light faded to grey and blue, mist filled the glens and drew a flat line right around the horizon, pierced by the shapes of familiar peaks, Cruachan, Lui, Lomond, and lonely Beinn Buidhe (below in the distance) at the head of Loch Fyne looking a little like a Nessie cartoon, or a very lazy Jaws.
The temperature plummeted and a wind whipped up from nowhere. I layered up when we hit the ridge high up and we made it to the summit as the stars started to pop out one at a time, the brightest showing off their superior wattage on the still luminescent pale blue sky.

We paced the summit, now in darkness, trying to find a pitch where we could communicate from the tent doors, not trip on guy lines, see the sunrise and avoid the wind. Never the easiest when you’re packing a side and an end entry tent combo, but we stuck ourselves just north of the summit cairn on the edge of the crags on quite flat ground. The tents went up straight and easy, all the new pegs and guys were a joy and the battered old ‘Comp felt like new.

We paced the summit, catching what we could as the blackness above and grey below swallowed everything up. In Glen KInglas silent cars made cones of light in the mist as they followed each other along the invisible road. To the South, the orange glow of the streetlights was absorbed by the low mist and went no further, leaving a clear sky now flooded by stars.
The mist rippled around Ben Lomond like a slow wave curling around a lone rock on the beach, and not too far beyong the central belt was actually a million miles away.

The tents looked like an oasis in the cold. With my light hanging inside the ‘comp, its unnatural colour and shape should look out of place, incongruous, maybe even offensive to some. But to me it looks just right sitting there. Aye, I’m a soft modern man with my mild adventuring, and it’s a sign that I’m carrying something of my daily comforts with me, but I’m sure just being there anyway is halfway to something, and that has to be better than going nowhere to nothing.
We caught the path of one satellite as it arced overus, and then another running parallel. The sky has its A82 as well it seems, but the occasional shooting star reminds me that the sky most definitely isn’t ours.

A hot dinner of chicken tikka, a Farley’s Rusk and a cappuccino while I lay in my bag felt like the end of the day, and indeed a calm fell upon us and we both slipped away into worlds of thoughts, ipods, occasional biscuits and hopes of a warm sunrise after a good nights sleep.
But.
The wind was unexpected and unwelcome in its velocity and persistence, the tent rattled away with fresh enthusiasm due to its newly found confidence after its revamp, while I lay and listened to Tom Baker reading an old Doctor Who novel. It had seemed like a good idea, Tom Baker’s wonderful voice should have been like a pint of 1970’s cough mixture; I should have been sleeping in minutes. But the producer had apparently told him “Yes, put funny voices on for the different characters, that’ll be great”. No, no it’s not, it’s really annoying.
I’m sure that kept me awake, although I did nod off several times and wonder where the hell the plot was when I came back before I switched to metal and found myself much more relaxed.

It was cold as well, very cold. I nipped out for a pee as it got lighter and the grass was coated in ice, the damp patches in the grass had frozen over and the sky was filling with streaks of mist and layers of fine cloud. Ben Lomond now had a fluffy blanket over it, but the blanket was following its contours, giving it appearance of a mountain pie freshly dusted with thick flour.

Bobinson stirred and popped his head out. He’d had a cold night in his summer sleeping bag and the worsening weather wasn’t the thrilling start to the day that we were expecting. The sun was a distant pink dot that rose from the layer of mist, winked at the world briefly and disappeared upwards into the thickening cloud. This half hearted appearance was a sign, and the gap between the mist and clouds finally closed.
A meager breakfast, a five minute involuntary snooze from me and we were packing. Plans for further exploration were canned and the tourist route down was selected as the prefered target.

The ground had taken on a lethally slippy coating in the night, it was like another hill altogether we’d found ourselves on. There were slips, arse plants and many colourful exclamations as we made our way through the crags. As we lost height, quite rapidly as is normal for any Arrochar Alp, we found a wee cave which of course was explored and noted for future emergency bivying.
Stray from the tracks or the recommended Munro’s guide route and it’s amazing what you can find.

It started spitting, a light cold rain, the little bright gaps having left for parts unknown. It could have been a little sombre, but the hillside was bursting with colour, fresh greens and warm browns and we were stepping purposefully down to the truck.
As we reached the road we could see a broken line of folk leaving the carpark and heading upwards. Looking back up at where we’d been I don’t know if I’d have had the resolve to do that, it seemed like a day for observing rather than participating. But fortune favours the brave, or maybe the optomistic too.
As we sat in Arrochar eating hot rolls and enjoying fresh cuppas the sky did start cracking up and blue was seen, a patch of sunlight drifted over the flank of Beinn Narnain. Maybe folks did find that view up there that can make the day worthwhile.

As we enjoyed the tasy fried fare, my phone rang. It was Joycee “Where are you?”
“We’re back down, at the roll shop next to the garage in Arrochar”
“Ooh, me and the girl are in the Cobbler carpark, we went out for a galavant, we’ll come round”
So the girls came to say hello and have a cuppa and a muffin. Unexpected, unplanned, unlikely, that seemed to fit in with the general theme.

But, there was a price, too many hours of activity and concentration without enough sleep to keep the steam at a usable pressure.
The fire went out and I went down. Worth it, as ever.

A long night

I’d been planning to go to the Glen Feshie hills all week. Snow, different views, a bimble around Aviemore. This lingering cough lowered my sights daily as it robbed me of sleep, and I was getting to the point where my crosshairs were lined up between my big toes. The non appearance of my aluminium Kahtoolas from their wee trip down to Peterborough appeared to seal my fate and I prepared to sit on the couch and tell lies about what I did later should anyone ask.
But a look the weather, and the continuing Tracklogs ponderation galvanised me into some sort of action. It’s not about height, it’s not about distance, it’s about getting out and maintaining that grin. Carpe Diem (once again). Praise be to Jimmy that I did get off my arse.

I have a love/hate relationship with the A82. It’s takes me where I want to go, I’ve got pace-notes tattooed into brain for the top half of Loch Lomond but it’s still the biggest obstacle to any venture up the West coast with random gawping stupids flailing their vehicles around rather slowly all the way up it. Build a bastard tunnel from Balloch to Crianlarich, that’s what I say.
Once on the wide road like the ones you get in towns that folk can drive on, the pace was better and I arrived at the Kingshouse carpark in good time and in bouyant mood. I slung the Villain out of the passenger seat and onto the the tarmac and slipped on a pair thoroughly inappropriate shoes for the conditions. Camo cap on, microfleece zipped right up to wave a finger of disapproval at the cool air and I was off up the boggy trail into Coire Bhalach.
It’s pleasant going as you follow the Allt a Bhalaich, dancing and hopping over the worst of the bog. The water finds itself flowing over wide slabs of pink granite and hiding in a little gorge, making the most of it’s short run to the River Etive. On the top of Meall Bhalach to my right I could hear stags bellowing. I thought they might be replying to my coughing, but something tells me that a young stag appoaching the chief badass of the herd making those kinds of sounds would have to turn round and retreat in embarassment at the general mirth from all assembled group, or possibly get a kick in the balls and told to come back next year when he’s grown up.
The sound continued on and off until I got back to the motor. They’ve got energy those boys.

The path up Beinn a Chrùlaiste from the burn is intermittent and indeed I only found it occasionaly and by accident. Its East ridge is wide and much rougher than the Langranger map makes it look. There’s outcrops, and obstacles a-plenty, so walking in a straight line is just not happening. Wandering in and out of the rocks and finding a line through the wee outcrops on wet grassy steps made the ascent a total joy. Looking around I could see for miles, the horizon being formed from peaks so familiar that the names come easy, as do memories of ascents, some going back so far to what seems like another life.
The sky was grey, a thick grey that looked as if it were cast in a mold, not painted on. I felt a little down hearted, although the cloud was high and the tops were clear, a glimpse of the setting sun is worth its weight in gold, the clear patch of sky that closes down like a shutter as the sun pulls the cloud over the horizon with it is worth every uphill step and every item of manky laundry to deal with when I get home.

Buachaille Etive Mor looks at its most pointy from the ridge, maybe from around 650m, there’s no view of it quite like it. It stood black and white against the grey. Bugger. I had a drink of Nuun and chewed on a Honey Stinger bar contemplating my position. My legs were out of sorts, too much couch.

The view to the north takes in the Grey Corries, and wel,l everything from Ben Alder to Ben Nevis eventually. But it was the Great Corries and the Easins that cought my eye, they bathed in pink light. This was the only light I could see, but it had to be coming from somewhere. I was above the snowline now and started pressing on, if there was something to see I was damned sure I wasn’t going to miss it. My footfalls squeaked into the snow irregularly, I fear my pressing was more of a prodding.
The sun burst throught the cloud behind Stob Dearg, throwing the Buachaille into stark contrast. Alright! Camera oot.

The summit wasn’t too far away, but my dreadful fitness, soft snow and my rotating head which was trying to capture all the scenery as it changed around me made the final 100m an epic journey of sideways steps and many utterances of “Crivvens!”.

My pack down went down on the windbreak around the fine cylindrical trig point and all my insulation went on. It was a little windy here and bloody freezing too. But the sky was making up for its previous hesitation and put of a fine understated display of pastel colours, swirling shapes and grin inspiring wonder.

As I started unpacking the tent, a couple appeared from the West side and came to say hello, they were equally as happy as me to have caught the sun going down. I was also happy to see them while I wrestled with an unfamiliar tent, they tendered welcome assistance as I tried to find some ground soft enough to take a peg. Frozen turf and rock feel very simiar through snow, so it was a process of elimination. However a happy home for the night was found halfway betwen the trig point and cairn. Many photies were taken, and I hope they manage to find me so I can send them some.
As they left for warmer times and places a new visitor arrived, a Kiwi with a camera to catch the sunset. We shot the breeze for a bit and he headed downhill, hoping to beat the darkness back to the Kingshouse. This hill is popular it seems. It’s a Corbett at 857m, and it’s also a stunningly good viewpoint for the more photogenic hills. I wonder how many folk are up there to point a camera, and how many are ticking a list?

I was there to sleep, and as darkness fell and the temperature dropped I slipped into my sleeping bag and got the business of dinner underway. Melting snow is an incredibly innefficient way of making hot water, but seeing the big wedge of white slip down and disappear into your pot to the sound and soft blue light of your stove is worth the gas just for the pure fun of it. It’s easier if you’ve got some water in there as well, snow on it’s own just flashes into steam and you get nowhere fast.
I had dinner, Chicken and Noodle Hotpot and a Farley’s Rusk, and then a cuppa and some confectionary. It was pitch dark outside and it was about twelve hours to dawn. Jings.
This is what iPods are for, and books. I was a buried inside my sleeping bag as the air was so cold in the tent. At 2334hrs and I nipped outside for a pee. It had gotten much warmer and the reason was cloud cover. I got back in and zipped the tent for the night and had the strange situation of ice on the tent floor and me stripping off above as I was too warm. The joys of a good sleep mat.
Winds were light and after I finished the chapter of my book and drank the last of my hot chocolate it was lights-out time. I was undisturbed until 0650hrs when the increased brightness popped my eyes open and sent one hand looking for the camera.

On the Eastern horizon a band of clear orange sky was pushing the clouds up and clearing the way for the sun which duly arrived in its own good time. I made breakfast and wandered around the summit in the clear morning air with my cuppa in my hand. It wasn’t as cold as last night, but I was still well wrapped up. I spend an hour, maybe more, just watching. Taking the occasional photie, soaking it all in, revelling in the simple and utter joy of just being there to see it.


There were patches of ice all over the summit with dry grippy rocks sticking through, if felt like real winter, not an “early dusting of snow”. I kept wishing for it to stay, to consolidate, to be like the old days. We shall see what the coming months bring.
The sun and the clouds played games with each other, the distant peaks of the Lawers group cutting into the suns rays making long dark shadows 20, 30 miles long? The light played on the lochans below like a mirror ball, too bright for me to look at for too long, I just had to hope the camera wouldn’t blink as the shutter opened.

Packing up was quick and easy. It seems I ate a lot stuff in the night, so there was much less going back in my pack which is always nice. The snow was trickier on descent, I think it was softer with the higher temperature so there was a couple of skating moments, but no arse to ground coincidence, oh no.
I think it took me an hour to get back to the motor, and there was no melancholy when I got there. It had been great wee trip and I was happy to be going home to see the girls.
I feel tuned in again, I know what the ground’s like. That might sound daft, but too long away from camping on the hills and if becomes a guessing game for gear, route choice and even safety. Regular trips feed information back and make the next trip easier. Easier=less faff and more fun.

Loch Ba was like a mirror on the way back. I couldn’t resist snapping the snappers. I do need a proper camera don’t I?
Last stop before home was the Real Food Cafe where I had the Breakfast Roll. Not as lame as it sounds, I swear it’s 9″ across and had sausges, eggs, bacon, tattie scone, mushrooms and black puddin’ on it. I cannot express the emotion that holding that roll in my hand brought to me.

 

Mont Bell Ultralight SuperStretch DownHugger #4

Your tent has to be a wee home from home. Fannying about, struggling with adjustments and not being relaxed means that the whole point of being there is being lost in a fog of shite gear.

The ruffled blue affair you see above is a Mont Bell Ultralight Superstretch DownHugger #4. This hits the markers for simplicity and function very well, and I’ve been using it in a variety of conditions over the past few months.
It’s comfy, the stretch seams are soft and you don’t feel constricted by them, the warmth is good as the fit is close at all times. The plain hood has a drawcord that I initially thought was a bit haphazard, but actually it’s low friction cord/cordlock interface means when you need to get an arm out it slackens easily under pressure and you just tighten it up again rather than fishing for the cord lock to slacken it. The lack of a shoulder baffle meaning it’s good policy to always keep the hood cinched a bit, although the stretch means that there less gusts of hot air pushed out when you move in your sleep.

I’ve got it wet a couple of times but the water hasn’t penetrated the fabric, and it compresses easily and lofts well evey use. The sign of a good quality down fill.

Which all takes me to a thought I had. There must be an optimum stretch point where the down dispersal is just right for best insulative qualities. Wee folk wouldn’t be so hard done by, but big, or indeed fat folk may have to try before they buy.

There’s so little features there’s very little actually talk about, all I can say is it works very well. I haven’t been cold in it, and it’s exceptionally well made.

Weather

The house across the road has a pure white, thickly frosted roof. My first thought is “Hey, good loft insulation”, my second thought is that with the council’s hastily fairylightened tree looming large between us it does actually look a bit like a wee Christmas card scene. And is accordingly quite nice. Holly is of course unmoved by this, concentrating instead on the secret conversations she has with Mr Panda. I’m being increasingly overlooked in favour of a stuffed toy. Them’s the breaks.

The warm sunlit ascents and cool clear nights of the trips earlier in the year seem a distant memory. It’ll be cold fingers making the cuppa and frozen breath caught in a headtorch beam obscuring the view from now on. Pitching in the dark and frozen footwear in the morning.

Seasons, what an invention. Keeps you on your toes, sorts the wheat from the chaff.

Point and Click

I’m forever switching off the business and disappearing midweek if the weather is looking good for a high camp. This was one of those, last year, June-ish I think? I climbed Sron a Choire Ghairbh and Meall Na Teanga late in the day and camped on Meall Na Teanga, west of the summit on the ridge. I’d had my dinner and was sitting in the tent looking in the opposite direction to this sunset and nearly missed it.

I ended up sitting on a rock with the camera watching it change shape and colour until it was dark. I was bloody freezin’. Lovely misty morning next day too.

Ah yes, the point. I really should get a grown ups camera instead of a point and click to make the most of these moments. Still, they make me smile.

 

Photie.

So I don’t make the screen all wonky every time I put a photie on here I am trying a smaller one using my Flickr photo er, area, is that it?

Aye, so if it works out I’ll be able to post some readable adventures.

For any listeners out there, the photie is at dawn last Easter from the summit of Carn Dearg looking West to Ben Nevis. A finer camp spot I have rarely known.

Night Night

I’ll be getting round to writing up some adventures soon. Here’s a photie from easter this year. It’s the summit cairn of Carn Dearg on the fringes of Rannoch. The peaks you can see are (l-r) the Mamores, Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor.

A beautiful night, bloody cold as well. My Titan kettle froze onto the rock I was cooking on in the tent porch. This after getting a nice bit of sun round my winter-pale features on the way up.

Spending a night on the top is increasingly becoming the only way you’ll get me on a new Munro. I’m getting to hate the drive there, the bagging of the summit and the drive home. Plus anything new for me is miles away on roads filled with idiots intent on ruining the (apparently more fragile than I’d hoped) zen like calm with which I attempt to begin my every journey.

 Spending the night on the hill is where it’s at, dusk and dawn are the best times to be there.