Saturday, 26 October 2019

Ben to Ben (Macdui to Nevis)

 I had to cut short my last backpacking trip due to my ankle and knee, now they're a bit more healed I went back to finish my route. Last time I'd walked from the bus stop in Aviemore all the way up to Cairngorm summit. I felt it would be more than a little pedantic to repeat this, so this time I caught the bus up to the ski centre and started from there. It seems Cairngorm Mountain, or what ever they're calling themselves this week, have hired a “meet and greet man” all dressed up in green tweeds. Everyone was ignoring him, I felt sorry for him, he must have been desperate for work, but I also just walked on by. The wind was howling and it was drizzling on and off, it was past 15.00 and I wanted to find somewhere to camp. I'd originally thought of the top of Lurcher's Gully, but that would be very exposed in this wind. I wandered into Coire an Lochan and found a spot tucked under the ridge that was both level-ish and flat-ish but most importantly dry.  

 Like most people, I'd imagine, I have my little routines and rituals, places where things go and orders of doing things. Put the tent up, fetch water, pull out stuff you need and put it into the tent. Everything else stays in the rucksack which goes in one vestibule under the fly. In the other one goes the kitchen etc. I pull off my boots and dive in and start to get organized, something is missing? My kindle. I'd even downloaded half a dozen books to read. “Oh Bugger”. I use the phone to message my brother and sister via the inReach, then turn off the inReach. Then I notice I have an internet signal. I surf the net for a bit, a friend is cycling from Roscoff to Constanta on the Black Sea. He's publishing video blogs as he goes so I watch a few. He did ask me if I wanted to go with him, after watching his videos I'm beginning to wish I'd gone.

Wind and rain buffeting the tent all night didn't make for a restful time, sometime early morning I thought I heard voices. Once awake I couldn't get back to sleep so I got up and ready. Up the ridge that makes the western side of the coire, and over a shoulder of Cairn Lochan to Lochan Buidhe. I found a black fleece jacket laying on the ground. I look at it but decide it's too heavy to carry and anyway I don't want another fleece. Further along I meet a man who asks me, in Spanish, if I'd seen his jacket. When I answered, in Spanish, that I had and told him where, he seemed amazed. It just struck me as a very bazaar conversation. There were a few folk around on the summit, a young lad who'd spent the night by Loch Etchachan and three lasses in fell running kit ran up and then ran off again. Last time I'd descended from here by the Sron Riach ridge down to the south, then walked all the way around to the Lairig Ghru. I'd realized that there was another shorter way, via the Tailors Burn (Allt Clach nan Taillear). I'd never walked this path but knew it as an exciting off piste ski run. The path sticks closely to the burn, it's a good if steep way down, I wouldn't like to walk up it mind.

Once in the Lairig Ghru I crossed the Dee by the bridge at Corrour and stopped at the bothy. There's a bloke putting up a tent in front of the bothy and a girl putting one up at the side. There's also two girls dressed in running kit sitting on the door steep one appears to be strapping up the other girls feet. I put down my pack and get out a biscuit and in a nanosecond we're all mobbed by midgies. All five of us dive into the bothy and slam the door shut. Once we'd wafted the midgies away we all settle down to eat. The single girl is French, about twenty with long blonde dreadlocks, nose rings and very tanned. The other two girls are from Banchory and have come to “do” the ridge above, they are going far too slow though. The guy is like me an old grey beard, he's fussing around the French girl trying to impress her, quite funny really. After eating I prepare myself for going out. Head and hands smothered in smidge, wind shirt done up to the neck. Wide brimmed hat and head net on. Outside not a single midge.
I plod up the track into Coire Odhar, first the two girl runners pass me, I hear them talking as they come by their bitching about the French girl. Then the old guy and the French girl, he tells me their going to the Devil's Point (Bod an Deamhain – it actually translates as the Devil's penis but don't tell Queen Victoria). I plod on, they having just light day packs soon leave me behind. Eventually, I get to the col, the Devil's Point being on my left, I look but can't see anyone, I head on to Cairn Toul, to me right. Near the top I meet the old man.
“I just remembered I need to do the Devil's Point” he says.
“Oh, where's the girl?”
“Oh she's gone on, bloody hell, she's fit”.
I did have a chuckle to myself.
“So, she's gone on to Braeriach, and then back to the bothy?” I ask.
As it was already late afternoon and that's a long way I was quite impressed.

After Cairn Toul I dropped down to the start of the Allt clais an t-Sabhail stream and search out a leave, flat and dry spot to pitch up for the night. This is where I'd broken off my walk back in April and now I felt I was really back on track. As the wind had once again picked up I put out all the guys on the tent. I'm glad I did as it went from windy to howling gale very quickly after that. Around midnight the rain came, with the wind and rain hammering away on the tent I didn't get much sleep again. I put off getting up in the hope of an improvement but it never came. Eventually, I packed everything and wriggled into full body armour before crawling out. All I had to do was drop the tent and roll it up before getting going.

First I went uphill again to the main ridge and followed it over Angle's Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine) to Carn na Criche. From here I just followed the slope downhill to the south-west until I could see Loch nan Cnapan sitting in the middle of the Moine Mhor, the huge expanse of peat moor that lays to the west of the main Cairngorm mountains. I pass the Loch and just beyond it crossed a stream, the Allt Sgairnich – this flows away to the south and becomes the River Eidart itself a fantastic walk, but today I'm heading west. On the far bank is a jeep turning circle and a track that goes all the way down to Glen Feshie. I don't like estate roads, they shouldn't be there and their a horrible surface to walk on. But they are the quickest way across boggy moor and today it means I can just pull my hood a bit tighter, switch off my brain and plod on without having to think too much about navigation. The route the track takes down off the Moine Mhor is down a ridge between the Allt Garbhlach which flow out of a very steep sided coire and the Allt Coire Chaoil to the south. It goes straight down the hill and it's uncompromising and brutal, by the time I'd gotten down to the valley my thighs were burning. Over on the other side of the Feshie I could see my route out of the Glen, again another estate road and again just as brutal. With that knowledge and the weather it was an easy decision to stop at the Ruigh Aitechain bothy on the banks of the River Feshie.

There was an old dishevelled looking guy outside the bothy chopping wood as I approached. I asked “How many people were staying at the bothy”?
“You should have been here last night, there mush have at least twenty of um”.
“Yes but how many are here now”?
“DofE group running wild they were”.
“Are they still here”?
“Oh no, they've gone”.
“So, how many are here then”
“Oh, just me and a lass”
The “lass” Jacky, it turns out is also walking from Aviemore to Fort William only she's going via as many bothies as she could, or so it seemed. She was taking eight weeks to do the walk, I had eight days. She was trying to dry off her boots and other kit by a rather small and inadequate log burner. She said she'd tried to wade across the Feshie in her flip-flops but had lost her nerve and turned back. This was worrying news as I also needed to cross the river. Up to a few years ago there was a footbridge nearby but it was washed away in a flood. The Dutch owner of the Feshie Estate had a new one made. This one was made so as to be higher – so it didn't get washed away again, and it was also wider so he could drive over in his Landrover. The Cairngorm National Park didn't like this and refused planning permission, so now it sits useless on the far bank.



The road out of Glen Feshie.

 Next morning Jacky and I set off to find a way over the river. About a kilometer south of the bothy where the river is spread out into several braids we waded across, none of the braids were anymore than knee deep, a bit of an anti-climax. Once across it was just a question of following the steep uphill track. At the top as it levels out onto the plateau we past a Lochan and were surprised to find a lorry trailer and a large digger. I'd seen quite a few other digger dotted around the hills the day before and more were to follow. At the moment land owners don't need planning permission for building hill tracks. Several major conservation groups are lobbying hard to have this changed. It would seem that there is something of a bonanza to get as many hill tracks built before the change in the law comes. At this point the track enters a spruce plantation, it's marked on the map as a footpath but it's now a brand new very wide gravel road. A few hundred meters further in to the wood it came to an abrupt end. They'd been harvesting the trees, the machines had churned up the ground into a hellish quagmire. Tree stumps and piles of brash lay all over the place. Maybe we should have gone back and walked around the wood but nobody likes backtracking. So we fight our way through. Climbing over, under and around. Slipping sliding and falling all over the place. It takes us well over an hour to cover just two kilometers.

Still at least the weather was nice, the rain and wind had stopped in the night sometime and now the clouds were beginning to break up and the sun was beginning to shine. At the far side of the wood we finally find some semblance of calm. Now we have the opposite problem - no track. There was no sign of the footpath marked on the map but as it lead down slope to the burn it wasn't much of a problem. Gradually as we followed the Allt Bhrun a path began to emerge from the bog. We crossed over to the western bank by a weir and picked up an estate road which made the going quicker if less enjoyable. Further downstream still, another stream flows into the Bhrun, the outflow from Loch an t-Seilich and another track follows the stream. This one leads to Gaick Lodge at the far end of the Loch. There's a bothy at the lodge and this is where Jacky is heading. We say our goodbyes and she goes off south while I continue north.

At Bhrun cottage there's a bridge marked as being up stream of the cottage. I didn't find a bridge here only a ford, it wasn't until I walked downstream past the cottage that that I saw the bridge, downstream of it. It wasn't as though my boots were dry anyway. There's one track marked on the map, there are three new ones on the ground. I pick the old one going west. It's now sunny and getting hot, I'm walking along in a T-shirt. As I climb the wind slowly but surely begins to pick up once again. On top of Clach-mheall Beag (558m) I try to put on my windshirt but it's whipping around in the wind so much I have trouble getting it over my head. By the time I get to Clach-mheall Dubh (619m) I can hardly stand. These two hills are really just a shoulder of Meall Chuaich (951m) one of the Drumochter Munro's. On it's north-west side is Loch Cuaich where I'd planned to camp for the night. From the top of Ciach-mheall Dubh I can see a line on the hillside below me, at first I don't twig exactly what it is, it's a fence, a deer fence about eight feet high. I look for a style but there isn't one. I could climb it but doubt it will take my weight. On the other side is a dry foot path, this side is all bog and sphagnum moss. I follow the fence for about three kilometers before I eventually find a gate down by the shore of the Loch. Loch Cuaich is less than one and a half kilometers long it lays south-west to north-east in line with the wind. At the down wind end there are waves lapping on the shore a couple of feet high, there's nowhere to shelter from this wind. Below the Loch is a mini-hydro scheme, by the generator shed is a side stream which looks promising but turns out to be all waterlogged. From there a concrete aqueduct take water down to Dalwhinnie, I follow it but the ground is all boggy and sloping and in sight of the busy A9.

Feeling quite dehydrated I stopped at the petrol station for a large bottle of pop, some sandwiches and cake. I sat outside on some benches and was quickly surrounded by about a dozen ducks. “What to do now?” I asked. “There's no campsite at Dalwhinnie, and it would be pushing it to pitch up in someone's back garden. It was 17.30 already, the next place I suspected I could find anywhere to camp would be around Loch Pattack, if it wasn't too windy there, and that would be a good fifteen kilometers further”. “On the other hand the Dalwhinnie Motal was offering rooms for £35 for the night”. The duck's just looked at me like I was quackers. Motal rooms are not really my style so I shouldered my pack and set off.
Hiding from the wind my camp near Loch Pattick.

Signs all around the train station warn anyone even thinking of parking that the estate is harvesting timber and needs access twenty-four, seven. Not sure that's strictly legal on a public road. Beyond the level-crossing it is definitely private land, here the tarmac ends and gravel takes over. The road runs for miles down the length of Loch Ericht, about a kilometre from the start of the Loch is a fairytale Disney-esque gatehouse complete with towers, spires and battlements. The peasantry are directed around by a side gate. To the left of the track the ground slopes down steeply to the Loch, to the right it rises up steeply and is covered in a dense spruce plantation. Thirty years ago there was government subsidy for planting spruce trees, these trees are now ready for harvesting. This is why there's so much forestry activity in the Highlands at the moment. It's late so all the workers have gone home but their machines are parked up at intervals all the way along the Loch. At a small bay half way down the Loch is another Disney-esque gatehouse . Beyond along the shore are yet more buildings in the same style, a chapel, a third gatehouse and out of sight further along is the main “house”. It's a mock French château complete with giant boathouse and heliport. No accounting for taste is there? 
Ben Alder.

 Some pretty impressive electronic security surround this part of the estate, the main road goes off left still following the shore. The hoi-polloi are again directed around the back. On one side of the track are some lovely old Caledonia Pines but their on a very steep slope. The other side is flatter, here the trees are spruce in regimented tightly packed rows. I tried at half a dozen places to find a suitable camping site but the ground is all chewed up humps and hollows left by the forestry plough. Finally I find somewhere, with a bit of clearing, just big enough to fit in my tent. The only stream nearby is manky so I have to wait twenty minutes longer while it filters. Twenty minutes is a loooong time when you're gagging. Before I've finished cooking it's dark – dark! What's that all about, I haven't seen dark for months. Where's my headtorch? Luckily I had remembered it. Sometime in the night it rained heavily but it stopped around dawn. The wind however hasn't stopped, it still bends and distorts the tent, shaking it violently even though I'm surrounded by trees. A flash of orange catches my eye, a lady mountain biker on the track outside the wood. “She's up early, time to get going”. A good stalkers path follows the Allt á Chaoil-reide, the river that drains the east side of Ben Alder. It take me past the old Culra bothy, five years ago when I was last up this way there was a sign on the door that said that plans were under way to demolish and replace the bothy. Since then it's had a coat of paint, it's still closed due to the presence of asbestos, it hasn't been replaced.

Two short ridges descend from the high plateau that makes the summit of Ben Alder, the short and the long Lethchois ridges. I've done the short ridge, a fairly easy if steep scramble. I had it in mind to do the long ridge this time. The path leaves the river and begins to climb straight up hill by this time I'm getting very aware just how strong the wind is. Suddenly a stronger gust picks me up and drops me face down. I pick myself up and carry on, a few minutes later the same thing happens. I pick myself up again, sit down and have a little think. Maybe going on to the summit today wasn't such a good idea, fortunately I had a plan B. I retraced my steeps back to the stream and crossed it. On the other side another well made stalkers path followed the river up through a small gorge to the Bealach Dubh (the Black Pass). This lays between Ben Alder to the south and Geal-Charn to the north. On the other side a long wide valley lead away to the distant Loch Ossian. The path stays high and contours around the side of Ben Alder – the left side as I was looking. It crosses another Bealach this time between Ben Alder and Ben Cumhainn, it then follows the Alder Burn down to the haunted Ben Alder Cottage on the shore of Loch Ericht. That wasn't where I was heading this time. Unfortunately between the path I was stood on and the one I wanted there was several kilometers of very wet squelchy peat bog.

There was nothing for it except to plod on. I dropped down to the valley floor, crossed yet another river before beginning an endless succession of climbing up one peat hag only to immediately jump down into the next grough and then climbing up again. Trying to determine whether a piece of ground is wet or saturated, firm or a bottomless quagmire by the subtle changes in shades of green or type of plant. A couple of kilometers into this bog a figure appears coming the other way. He informs me that two large groups of DofE students along with their handlers were following on behind him. He also said the YHA on Loch Ossian was open and most likely to have space as he and the other DofE staff had just vacated it. The nearer to the loch I got the better the path became until it morphed into yet another gravel road by a micro hydro scheme just above the loch. The road lead around the big house on the end of the loch, Corrour Lodge. This seems to have a large stone tower like something off the “Fortress Europe” defences. I take the road around the south shore past some old chalets and through a dark plantation. Somewhere off in the woods the sound of sporadic shotguns but I didn't see the shooters. A woman popped out of the hostel as I approach, and “Yes she has spaces for the night”. The old wooden building feels more like a Scandinavian hut than a traditional YHA establishment. It also has hot showers thanks to solar power.

I'm up early to a beautiful day, no wind and the clouds quickly dissolving in the sun. There's no need to rush, as I don't have far to go, but it's far too nice a day to spend it indoors. I pass the turn for Corrour Station, the old station building are gone as has Morgan's old house. In it's place a new building, it was an independent hostel for a while but it's now a pub come restaurant. Apparently it's quite the thing to come up on the train from Fort William for a meal before getting the train back. Who'd have thought a pub in the middle of Rannoch Moor would have worked. I made my way down to Loch Treig, they must have been drawing power as the “tide” is out. By the shuttered Creagquaineach Lodge the gravel road finally runs out and the path returns. The Lairig Leacach path follow a river up stream first through a beautiful mini gorge then across open moors with Rowen trees in berry and Dippers dipping. By mid-day I'm at the bothy, I could have gone on but it's the obvious place to stop and for starting the next leg of my walk. I chat to a passing walker and a couple retrieveing their mountain bike parked behind the bothy. The next time I look out it's poring with rain, “Oh No, will this stop play prematurely”? I got up in the night to starry sky's.


Glen Ossian.

The main Grey Corries ridge, Ben Nevis on the horizon behind Aonach Beag.

I'm up at dawn and quickly away. I follow a stream up behind the bothy up into a coire. On one side the main ridge, on the other sitting out on a limb Stob Ban, a round dome of a peak. At the col between the two I drop my pack and sprint up to it's top. I'm back at my pack in just thirty minutes. At 977m Stob Ban is a Munro but compared to it's neighbours it's a mire pimple on the end of the giant ridge. I pick up my pack and an hour later I'm on top of the first of the Grey Corries peaks Stob Choire Claurigh and looking down into the huge coire on it's north side. The floor of the coire is covered in scree and as the rock is Quartzite it gives the hills around here a grey colour, hence the Grey Corries. Away seven miles to the west Aonach Mor and Beag with the dark brooding bulk of Ben Nevis behind. Between us is the sensuous snaking knife edge ridge. Never once dropping below 900m in all that length. To the north wide open views across the Great Glen to the sea beyond. To the south the vast expanse of Glen Nevis and the Mamores. There's three Munro's and five other summits in all. Although the north side is steep the south is more gentle and the crest is always wide enough to walk along. On Sgurr Choinnich I meet a young chap and him small daughter, she informs me that she's “already done twenty-eight Munro's”. I chat to her dad about the off piste skiing in the area when we notice she's gone running off along the ridge. “Look at her” he says, “Seven years old and already I'm struggling to keep up”. Below Aonach Beag the path runs out strangely there doesn't seem to be a connection but a scree gully takes me up onto the upper slopes. It's 18.00 before I make the top of Aonach Beag and I still need to find a way down. In none of the guidebooks that I'd looked in could I find any reference to any connection between the Aonach's and Ben Nevis, which seemed strange as they're so close. From the col between Mor and Beag I make my way diagonally down and straight away I'm onto steep unstable scree and vertical Sphagnum moss. All of a sudden this was beginning to feel serious. Very slowly I inch my way down, I make it eventually. The only flat ground is at the col between the Aonach's and Carn Mor Dearg. The wind which had been building all afternoon was whistling through the gap with such force there was no way I could pitch the tent. I had to drop down two kilometers to the north before the wind had abated enough to camp.

The silence next morning is strangely reassuring, I rolled out to a white world. The mist clears as I climb, I'm soon back at the col and a short dry stone wall marks the way up. I stash the poles and start scrambling, in what seemed no time at all I'm four hundred metres higher on the summit of Carn Mor Dearg. All that seperates me from the Ben is a kilometer of knife edge ridge the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. If you're used to scrambling it's not hard, you need to use your hands in places but not all the time. The ground below is sloping scree rather than steep crags so the exposure isn't too bad and there is a by-pass path on the south-east side if you need it. But why by-pass all the fun of balancing along the crest of the arete, even with a big pack on I had a ball. As I started the arete there had been another party just finishing. As I finished it yet another party were starting out. As I climb the scree slope up to the summit of Ben Nevis a guide and two punters came down. Up to that point seven people was all I'd seen that day, that was about to change dramatically.




The North face of Ben Nevis with Fort William in the background. 

One minute I was all on my own quietly walking along in the mist the next I was surrounded by literally hundreds of people. Everywhere you looked there were large groups of people all crowding around a flag or banner or T-shire all posing for photo's, whooping and shouting. Everyone was in high sprites and happy, there was an almost carnival atmosphere. The mist was trying to lift but I didn't wait for it, if I was quick I could get the 15.00 bus and get home that night. I started on the trudge down the yellow brick road that is the tourist route on Britain highest peak. Coming up was a seeming endless procession of folk, folk from Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Africa, the middle east and the Orient, Americans and even a few Scots. There were people in running kit, people in suits, girls in miniskirts and heels. Perhaps the most surprising sight was middle aged men – and they were all were men, dressed head to toe in the latest most expensive outdoor kit that money could buy. It was all shiny brand new, still spotless fresh out of the bag. They had the biggest warmest Alpine boots available La Sportiva Nepal's and the like. The best heavy Gore-Tex jackets and salopettes I'm sure one even had a down jacket on under his cag. By this time it was getting hot, most of the walker around them were like me in T-shirts. But not them, they'd spent all that money on the best and they were determined to wear it. There were about seven or eight gentleman so attired and non of them look as if physical fitness and outdoor activities was their thing.

Once Achintee farm had been just that a tumbledown old farm house and a lay-by, now there's a visitor's centre, a pub and a huge car park. Still a larger shandy went down well. I mist the bus by fifteen minutes but still made it home that night.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

New Toy!

Since I got back from my backpacking trip in the Cairngorms I've gotten into cycling. At first as exercise for my knee but now I'm really enjoying it. My old bike is one I'd got cheap when Raleigh closed their factory in Nottingham, I think I paid about £100 for it. It's painted to look like a Team Raleigh Banana Bike, but it's not at all high spec even for the 1980's when I brought it. The other night I went out and buckled the front wheel, several other things have gone on it as well. I've been reading about this Ladies adventures in the Finnish Forest. https://livingthislifeoutloudblog.wordpress.com/  Really inspiring stuff. She uses a bike made in Sheffield by a company called Orbit. I've just got one in "Hot Red" looks good.  






It came yesterday in a big box, I put it together and went for a short ride. It feels very smooth and surprisingly comfortable after my old bone shaker. I still need to adjust a few things, the front brake rubs for a start. 
I've done backpacking and kayak camping as well as just camping for most of my life, so cycle camping is just another angle.  

Sunday, 19 May 2019

A Cairngorm walk.

I'd started planning this trip a while ago, then things happened. The firm I've been working for, for the last eight or nine years, went bust. I wasn't employed directly by them, I worked for an agency, so theoretically the agency should have moved me to another firm. Only they didn't have any other clients. All of a sudden I was getting the odd shift here and there, maybe one a week maybe none. Then I had a fall skiing at Cairngorm mountain, I broke a bone in my ankle and my knee partially dislocated before popping back in, as it did this the ligaments holding my knee cap in place were sprained and twisted. It hurt like hell but A&E said there wasn't much they could do, a plaster cast wouldn't help as the brake was inside the joint. They said it should heal in four to six weeks on it's own. As I wasn't getting any work there wasn't much need to take time off, so I sat around trying to rest my leg getting more and more bored. After three weeks I started doing some short walks around the local area. Then some longer walks to nearby villages and finally I went up Ben Lawers with a rucksack packed for a weekend out. The leg seemed OK. I rang the agency and told them I was going away for a week. I went online and booked two bus journeys one to Aviemore and one back from Fort William, both on my bus pass so they cost me nothing. I packed nine days food and my kit, then went out for a walk. I hadn't gone far when the phone rang, it was John Marshall's a firm I'd done a little work for in the past and had sent a CV to purely on spec. “We're looking for drivers can you come in and see us.” Yes of course I could. I went in next day and they offered me a job. I said I had to work a weeks notice just so I could still get my walk in.    
 I got the 08.10 bus into Stirling where I had to wait half an hour for the City-link to Perth, here I waited another twenty minutes for the bus to Inverness which stopped at Aviemore. At 13.15 I arrived outside the train station in Aviemore. My route took me along the “Old logger's way” to Glenmore village. On the journey up it had been showery and very overcast but as I walked along the sun came out and it got quite warm. I popped into the Red Squirrel Cafe for a last pot of tea and a cake before wandering into the forest above the village. It took me a while to find the right track, and the faint footpath I wanted. Then a while longer to find somewhere to camp. I eventually settled on a stand of old Caledonian Pines, still a plantation but at least the right type of tree. I'd taken some different types of dried food along so I could check them out, I pulled out a “Firepot” Dall and Rice with Spinach. Sounded good but turned out to be rice and wood chips in a water curry sauce. The three bits of green tissue paper one inch by a quarter inch were apparently the spinach. I didn't eat much of it. I turned in listening to bird song. I woke to the sound of bird song and a woodpecker drilling. 
After a very cold night I was slow getting going and didn't leave till after eight. The path which followed the Allt na Ciste was overgrown and obviously little used these days, clearly most people just drive up to the ski centre car park. It was steep as well, climbing a thousand meters in under six kilometers. I broke out of the trees just below the old Coire na Ciste car park, the chairlift bottom station now covered in graffiti abandoned and forlorn. As I climbed higher it started to rain and the clagg descended, I plod on seeing little. Odd landmarks come and go keeping me on track. Coire Laogh Mor to me left, a nice off piste ski run when there's some snow, Coire na Ciste to my right. I crest the ridge by Cnap Coire na Spreidhe and the top of Ciste Mhearad another off piste run that will take you down to Loch Avon. Then the top of a ski tow looms out of the mist, the plateau poma, I find the start of the rather over-engineered path just beyond it that takes me to the summit of Cairngorm. It's 13.00 already, I stop for a biscuit by the summit cairn. There's another walker there, he's moaning about the weather, how far he's walked, the roughness of the ground and half a dozen other things. I smile but thing to myself. “Well you're a cheerful fellow, aren't you”. I set the compass due west and set off down the steep scree slope. Oow the ankle doesn't like that, not one bit. I limp on down as best I could. Then I come to a big snow patch and kick steeps down it but it turns hard so I get onto the side and continue on down. Then I realize the aspect has subtly changed and I've gone down too far, I climb back and soon find the giant cairn that marks the top of the Fiacaill ridge. 
Now I'm on a Cairned Path and can relax a little. I meet a woman and a child then a dog, on it's own, it runs off. Further along I meet a couple who ask if the dog was mine. I tell them, no. I climb up to the summit of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and down the other side. At the col at the head of Coire Domhirn just before the path starts to climb up to Cairn Lochan, and a couple of kilometres from where I'd last seen the dog. I find the owners, “Oh don't worry about her” they say “she's always running off”. The path up Cairn Lochan would take me further around the rim of the “Northern Coirres” another path heads off south to the Lochan Buidhe, I take this. It soon disappears under a snow patch and I can't see the other side in the mist. I take a compass bearing and plod on. Then I meet two girls, Irish, mid-teens. Their wearing what to anyone who grew up in the sixties are school plimsolls, only these are coloured, leggings and none waterproof coats which are soaked. They both looked frozen. “Er, excuse me, is this the path back to the car park?” they ask. I groaned inwardly, what should I do now? I think I should see them off the mountain safely. But that would seriously screw up my plans, I was later enough as it was. I gave them directions back to the cairned path. “Are you sure you'll be OK” I asked feeling guilty. “Oh yes” they say. 
At the Lochan Buidhe I pick up the main path to Ben Macdui, more of a motorway than a path. There 's hundreds of oversized cairns marking the way, even in this mist I can always see several at any one time. The wind had been getting stronger all day and was now enough to make standing still difficult, it was also getting really cold. I had my thin fleece gloves and beany hat on but was beginning to wish I'd brought my mitts and warm hat with me. There was not much I could do about it except push on. Eventually the slope flattened out and stone shelters began to appear, then finally the summit trig point. It was 16.00 how had it got so late? Why was I going so slow? No time to ponder these questions, I needed to get on. I tried to take a compass bearing but my hands were too cold, I couldn't grip the bezel. So, I'm on top of a mountain in a howling gale shaking my hands, flapping my arms and dancing a little gig just to warm up my hands enough to work my compass. Oh great, good job there's no one around to see. 
Eventually after much faffing about I get a bearing set for Sron Riach a couple of kilometers away and head off. First I drop down then cross a boulder field before climbing a bit, then I approach the top of a huge Craig off to my left, all going according to the script. To my right the ground slopes away less steeply and my way becomes a narrow ridge as expected. I drop down a bit more to a col and then a window in the clouds opens up before me. Then I have a major “Where the hell am I!!” moment. I can see two huge steep sided mountains their sides all glacier polished slabs, water pouring off in torrents. It looked like the Gates of Mordor, certainly nowhere I recognized. I sat on the ground mortified, I kept staring at the map but I was baffled. Eventually, I got out my phone, switched it on, turned Viewranger on only for it to confirm I was where I should be, on Sron Riach. But what was I looking at? Where were the gates of Mordor? Then it clicked, they were much further away than I thought, way off over the other side of the Lairig Ghru. They were The Devils Point and Beinn Bhrotain over ten kilometers away. 
 After I'd picked myself up, I headed off down the long ridge of Sron Riach in the direction of the Luibeg Burn. By now the ankle was really complaining and the knee wasn't much better. I had a memory of camping at the foot of this ridge with an old girlfriend about twenty years ago. How the memory plays tricks on you. The whole area is now overgrown with waist high Heather, I could see nowhere to put a tent and even if I could have the ground was far too boggy. I pushed on, I looked at several places all to no avail. I was half way between Luibeg Bridge and Derry Lodge where the Burn takes a bend before I found somewhere for the night. Where there were a couple of blown down trees by the side of the burn there was a small patch of short flat grass. By the time I had the tent up and fetched water it was 20.00, I decided to stick with the tried and tested Bewell meal this time. 
It was a very very cold night, I wished I brought my warmer sleeping bag and more clothes. The ankle and knee hurting all night didn't help. I felt very groggy next morning and was even slower to get going than the day before, something unheard of for me. As I retraced my steeps back to the Luibeg bridge I was past my a young couple on mountain bikes, then they'd stop for a rest and I'd pass them. This happened a few times, when I reached the bridge they were just behind me. I thought they'd soon catch me up but they didn't catch me till I was almost at Corrour. So much for mountain bikes being quicker. After the bridge as I approached the start of the Lairig Ghru I could for the first time look directly into Glen Geusachan which lies between Beinn Bhrotain and the Devils Point. My plan was to cross the River Dee here and explore this Glen as I'd not been into it before. But, I could now see that it contained some very rough terrain and there wasn't any hint of a path. Time for a rethink. 

The plan had been to camp near Loch nan Stuirteag which is behind (west of) The Devils Point but I could also get there by going the other way around the mountain. If I went up the Lairig Ghru to Corrour I could use the bridge so avoiding the river crossing and there's a path up that side. So that's what I did. Glen Geusachan will just have to wait. I poked my head around the door at Corrour but unusually there was no one there. By now the wind had died and the sun put in a brief appearance so I sat outside and enjoyed my biscuit. I even went so far as to take off my windproof top, it didn't stay off long. The climb up into Coire Odher is steep, 600m in one kilometer. It starts steep, levels out for a while as you enter the coire then the headwall is very steep. Right at the top was a patch of snow not very wide but enough to spice things up a bit. Eventually, breathless and tired, I arrived at the ridge above with The Devil's Point on one side and Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir and Cairn Toul on the other. Now I should have gone over Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir, which is really just a shoulder of Cairn Toul, but I was lazy and decided to contour around instead, big mistake. It would have been far easier to have gone over as contouring was far further and the going was rough on a constant side slope. Once I could see the loch I could see that all the ground around it was waterlogged and not good for camping. Fortunately, I knew of a place nearby. Draining the south west side of Cairn Toul is a stream, the Allt clais an t-Sabhail along it's length are a few nice places for a tent or two.


At around 1000m it was a cold spot, I quickly rapped up in all my spare cloths and retreated into the tent. So, what to do next? I just wasn't romping along at my normal pace, I'd only covered half the distance I'd planned and the pain from my ankle was really spoiling the fun. It wasn't that I wasn't enjoying being there, just that the pain was getting tiring. The next section getting to Drumochter was going to be tough, with lots of untracked heather moor to cover. At my present pace it was becoming clear that I wouldn't get to Fort William in seven days. If I carried on I could get stuck between bus routes with no easy way of getting home. On the other hand if I went over Braeriach and down into the Lairig Ghru. I could be back in Aviemore by tomorrow evening but that would cut my holiday very short. I wasn't that ready to throw in the towel just yet. I played around with various options in my head, going this way and that but all routes had snags. The stream I was camped beside, and Loch nan Stuireag, both drained down Glen Geusachan and into the Dee. But, just one kilometer west of the Loch another stream drains away to the south west down a short gorge. As it emerges from the gorge it turns south and becomes the River Eidart. This really is a beautiful glen and something of a hidden gem. I could follow the Eidart to it's confluence with the Feshie and then follow that to Achlean farm. Trouble was, how to avoid the long road walk from there to Feshiebridge and the forest tracks to Aviemore. 


Frost on the inside of the tent didn't encourage an early start but, once up, the morning sunshine soon dried the tent. It was turning out to be a beautiful warm and sunny day and it seemed a pity to be heading home. I took a roundabout route sticking to old moraines and rocky ground to stay dry. Just before Tom Dubh I had to cross a section of peat bogs to get to the start of the gorge. A sharp alarm call and movement in the grass caught my attention. A pair of small waders were defiantly defending their nest site. I backed off, changed to my telephoto lens and took a few shots of the birds before finding another way around them. I didn't know what they were but later found out they were Dunlin. The scramble down into and along the gorge wasn't kind on the ankle but it's such a dramatic place I really didn't mind the pain. After the gorge I sat in the sun and enjoyed a prolonged lunch stop to recover. The river with it's numerous falls and pools should be ideal territory for Northern Dippers but so far I hadn't seen any. I kept to the riverside looking for them until after only about three kilometers I came to wide grassy area and just thought to myself. “I'm stopping here, it's just so nice”. It was only mid-afternoon but I wasn't bothered. I found a nice rock to sit on and put the tent up right beside it. I sat on my rock drinking tea, reading and chillin for a few hours until a cool wind drove me into the tent. I continued reading “High and Low-how I hiked away from depression.” by Keith Foskett. Not the lightest of reads. At one point I had to go out of the tent to pee. I looked around and right above me was a Golden Eagle riding the thermals. Too high to photograph unfortunately. 
The down side of camping on the west side of a deep valley is you loose the sun early. The upside is you get the sun early next morning. It had been yet another very cold night so the warmth of the early morning sun was especially welcome. I was breakfasted and pack by seven. I stuck to the river still looking for Dippers. I'd gone about a couple of kilometers when I finally saw what I'd been looking for. A brief blur of movement, a splash, and it was gone. I spent nearly an hour trying to get a photo, but no luck. I'd just put away the telephoto when the Golden Eagle returned flying right overhead at about fifty feet. “C'est la vie.” 



Someone from the estate had been up Glen Feshie as far as Eidart Bridge in an ATV recently, the tracks had churned up the ground and left quite a mess. This didn't make for easy walking and it wasn't until I hit the gravel road that things improved. By this time I was having to stop and rest my ankle ever half hour or so. I stopped at Ruigh Aiteachain Bothy just for a nosy around as it's been done up recently. It's now really posh, far too posh for walker. I'd not seen anyone for a couple of day by this time but two minutes after I'd entered the bothy I hear voices outside. A couple had just walked in from Achlean to spend the afternoon painting. They tell me about the bothy and it's association with Sir Edwin Landseer and his painting “The Monarch of the Glen.” Not far from the bothy is a chimney standing on it's own with no building attached to it anymore. This is all that remains of Sir Edwin's private bothy which was a wooden building. He stayed at his bothy when he painted the Monarch. As it was only mid-afternoon I pushed on to Achlean and started the long slog down the road. I'd sort of decided that I'd walk as far as Balachroick. The old bunkhouse is only let out to group bookings these days but I knew just beyond it there are places to camp in the wood. I'd just reached the bunkhouse when a car pulled up beside me. It was the couple from the bothy, they gave me a lift to Aviemore. I stayed at the SYHA that night and got the bus home the next day. 

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Not posted for ages, not had much to say, not been doing much since August; how has so much time gone by?
 New Year, I stayed at Mar Lodge it was very cold but not much snow. It was also very windy so we stayed low but enjoyed some nice long walks. 

 In January I went to the Cairngorms with the ski club, there was still not much snow. We did manage to find something but a lot of skis were damaged that day.  

 In February, I went on another ski club meet at the Raeburn Hut near Dalwhinnie. What snow there had been had gone. We went for a walk in the rain, I didn't take any photo's that weekend. I have been out trying to improve my wildlife photography. Here's some birds.  



Last week I went back to Cairngorm as there had been quite a good snow fall. Unfortunately, I managed to ski off a 4ft drop. I've broken a bone in my ankle and torn my ACL. This could put me out of action for a couple of months. Just before that the firm I was working for went bust. So now I'm looking for work with a limp. I'm not sure what to do now, I may look into early retirement. Everything seems very unsure at the moment with the country tearing itself apart and no one having any idea of what going to happen.   

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Braeriach with the Atompack Prospector Pack.

My new pack finally arrived from Atompacks, it's really nice but ten weeks is a long time to wait. Once it came it seem a shame not to try it out, so on Friday evening I drove up to Aviemore in the pouring rain. Luckily, it stopped before I got there. I parked at Whitewell and headed up Glen Einich, I walked for an hour or so until I came to the edge of the Rothiemurchus forest. Here I camped in what was the worst midgie site I've used for ages. I resorted to a Tiger coil which never fails to clear them out of the tent. It rain all night but had stopped by the time I got up in the morning. 
 The midgie site.
 The new Atompack Prospector. with water one side and tent the other. The tent could have gone inside but it was wet. 
 Glen Einich.
 Loch Einich.
 There's a good path from Glen Einich up into Coire Dhondail and up on to the plateau. A short walk up hill took me to the edge of the massive An Garbh Choire. It has been speculated that the last glacier in Britain was in this coire. I'm not so sure, some of the science this claim is based on is decidedly dodgy. It's mainly radio-carbon dating of the lichens on the scree in the coire floor. Still it is a spectacular place. 
 Carn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine (Angel Peak) from near the Falls of Dee. 
 My campsite near the Falls of Dee.

Back in the Rothiemurchus forest. 

I camped by where the Falls of Dee start, I've used this site before and really like it. I thought "I'll just have a brew and then I'll go up to the summit of Braeriach and take some photo's. By the time I'd finished my tea the mist had descended and I couldn't see more than a few feet. 
By morning it was no better and it was raining hard. I had to use my compass to find the way down. I dropped down into the Lairig Ghru and follow the path back into the Rothiemurchus forest and back to the car. 
The rucksack was very comfortable and dry inside, has some nice pockets and should be a good size for shorter trips up to about four or five day I think.