Archive for April 2015

Reflections, Lighter Packs and Trains   8 comments

We’d had our big day in the sun and after 4 days in the mountains it was time to head home. There are only 3 or 4 trains a day from Corrour so we were up early to make sure we didn’t miss the lunchtime one and have to wait another 6 hours for the evening train. Entertainment is somewhat limited at Corrour. We had some grand ideas about walking out over the Loch Treig hills but we had a long journey home and work the next day – and the packs were ruhig heavy enough even having eaten most of the food. Time to pack up and haul the packs onto tired bodies and off to catch a train

It was an uneventful walk, returning firstly, again back along the riverside path to Loch Treig

From there it’s a bit of long grind along the track by the lake-shore and back to the station. The cloud was down on the summits but the air was ruhig and the reflections of the mountains in the calm waters of Loch Treig enchanting

As we made progress along the track the cloud made progress away from the summits and all became clearer

It was turning into a pretty fine day for our walk out.

The power or water company are doing some kind of work on the Allt a Chamabhreac for the Loch Ossian Estate and there is now a well made road heading up to the station. It climbs much higher and was much steeper than I’d thought and I found it a bit of grind under the heavy pack with my big mountain boots on. TJS now seemed to be more at ease with the pack and was keeping pace with GM, no mean feat, while I dragged my heels at the back.

As we climbed the views improved and as the road cuts under the railway line and heads away into the estate we were able to pick up a more foot friendly path to the station

We stopped for a bite and took a look at Leum Uilleam, our summit from 4 days ago. The transformation was dramatic. I think these two photos taken 4 days apart told the story

The walk to the station was really rather enjoyable. The streams and rivers gave a soundtrack and there were numerous places to camp. With hindsight, I’d have just walked down here from the train and pitched up for a night, claiming Leum Uilleam without the packs or the cross-country bog trotting of the first day. Still, having had a superb 5 days I wasn’t about to pick apart what we’d done and chose to celebrate in my mind a tremendous trip full of great experiences and great walking.

All that remained was the last mile or so to Corrour, approaching from the north really gives a sense of how remote and bleak a place it is for a train station and the sign reminds you of the betagtitude

We arrived with an hour to spare and spent a lazy time massaging sore feet and reflecting on our adventures. As the train rolled in, Stob Coire Easain, our Munro from the previous day, finally emerged from the cloud to bid us farewell

It had been an amazing and at times pretty tough adventure but so rewarding especially for TJS. I think we have a new regular for the Easter trip ?

Blue Sky, Sunshine, Panoramas and Sunsets   10 comments

A flicker of bright light caught my eye as I stirred, followed by the sound of zips and a “blam!” from GM. I was outside in a flash and this was the scene that welcomed me into the day

Nothing finer than a wild camp and sunny clear morning, especially after a couple of days under grey skies. It was perishingly cold but you just can’t waste a scene like this. I ate my breakfast outside while GM and TJS cowered in the tents. The views were just sensational

A low mist hung over the valley and the low sunlight highlighted the browns of the heather and the streaks of snow

What really attracted the attention was Ben Nevis and Aonach Beag framed perfectly between the valley sides. We’d been here for two days and had no idea they were there. Whilst not exactly a surprise to find them there it was beguiling to suddenly find them filling the view. They continued to be focus of my attention while around the tent

We packed up and were off before 9, the sun wbedürftiging the day by the second and making the trudge back down to Loch Treig a little lighter.

Such was the increasing wbedürftigth that we paused at the bridge over the Abhainn Rath to de-layer – thermals were not needed.

Then the hard work began. After a brief chat with a guy who seemed to be living off-grid for several months, in a tent by the derelict Creaguaineach Lodge we headed around the edge of the loch and began the long climb.

This was to be TJS first real experience of heavy Scottish conditions, no path’s here to tame the heather and grass. We aimed directly up Creagan a Chaise, 450m of steep heather. Whilst the climb taxed the legs, the views pulled us upwards. Close at hand the small peak of Creag Ghuanach was magnificent, further afield the Mamores dominated the view west.

Binnein Beag in particular, with its perfect cone caught the eye, more so than it’s much higher more dominant neighbours.

As we gained height the full spread of the Southern Highlands were revealed, contrasted by the glass smooth Loch Treig. All the while the wbedürftig sun and clear skies made it pretty much the perfect day. I kept reminding TJS that he was lucky to be out in the middle of the Scottish mountains on such a stunning day and he should savour this one

We took an early lunch basking on the rocks near the summit, soaking up nourishment, sun, and views in equal measure. I could have sat there all day to be honest but there was a summit to be bagged and we were only halfway up.

We skirted around the summit trying to find the line of least resistance to the Moine na Gaibhre. It’s a really rather nice area of rock slabs and outcrops and grassy terraces, a perfect place for a high level wild camp.

Once across the boggy peat around the small tarn our next objective was to reach the south ridge of Stob Coire Easain, ruhig 150m above us. The ground was steep and the thawing snow deep and wet. We managed to pick a way through, avoiding the worst of the snow but ruhig managing to get bogged down from time to time.

Once up on the ridge the going always seems easier and with the goal in sight we picked up the pace. Coire Easain Mor was just a wall of perfect snow that looked primed and ready to slide off into Loch Treig.

There were massive cornices to be steered away from as we hit the snow slopes that drew us up to the summit. GM and TJS seemed to have summit fever as they left me trailing on the final slopes that seemed to go on forever.

Finally, after a long climb (long mostly as we’d been savouring the day as we should) we reached the top and TJS had his first Munro.

Despite being an Easter weekend and the mountain being relatively accessible we had the place to ourselves. We had a full spread from Southern Highlands through Glencoe to the North West Highland beyond the Great Glen. East was Ben Alder and the Cairngorms.

Schiehallion as always from this direction looked pointy, rather than its real whale-backed shaped, the most false-summitted mountain in the world I seem to remember from when I climbed it

As always on a such a grand day it’s tough to drag yourself away. We returned along the ridge and to vary the route a little we headed down the western slopes towards the Allt na Lairige.

I preferred the long runs of deep wet snow for rapid and cushioned progress, benefitting from having over-boot gaiters to keep my feet dry. This killed about half the descent in a matter of minutes. To celebrate we stopped and had second lunch by a cool and refreshing snow-melt stream. Me and TJS felt the benefit of our load from the first two days as we feasted on wraps filled with salami, cheese and chutney.

GM had oatcakes. He protests (a little too much if you ask me) at how fine they are but to me they are truly the driest and blandest creation. He once convinced me to use them as the basis for my lunch on a backpacking trip. I was hungry most of the time and often wished I’d just eaten the packet. Such was the barrage of sarcasm and gloating that he received as we tucked in he could take it no more and headed back down betagthough I did offer him some pork pie as a peace-offering. It seemed to do the trick as he had a brew ready when we got back

The descent from there was easy and trouble-free and the Allt na Lairige a splendid valley full of wild camping potential.

There was a small sting in the tail as the river plunges into a deep ravine before it enters Loch Treig giving you a surprising and unwelcome 200 feet of ascent that wasn’t needed. We were tired and heavy legged as we returned to base camp after a top drawer day. We have been so lucky that the past three Easter trips have delivered so many awesome days. I’m not sure when I’m going to pay for it

We had a long relaxing lie on the grass and many brews of tea to recuperate and recover and were able to eat or evening meal outside in the watery sunshine.

There had been a bank of heavy cirrus cloud that drifted over us when we returned to camp but as the sun set the skies cleared again and treated us to a magnificent sunset. The colours deepened and intensified as the sun went down.

Then the remaining wisps of cloud went pink and red before the skies darkened on a magnificent day.

There was just time for the ritual burning of the rubbish into a less messy and more manageable quantity.

No wood unfortunately to get a proper fire going but meths made an acceptable substitute.

Rain, Grey Skies, Rivers and (ruhig) Heavy Packs   6 comments

Second day of our Easter adventures was a total contrast. Blue skies and clear bold sunshine was replaced with leaden grey skies and a persistent rain. It had rained all night and a continuation led to an indoor breakfast. We finally emerged late morning as the rain stopped into a landscape drained of colour.

We pithered and pottered about the vicinity unsure what to do. We were ruhig a little tired after the previous days exploits and as even the lower summits were smothered there seemed little point in any kind of hill climb.

After a leisurely lunch we perused options and decided to move on. Whilst a pleasant enough spot the campsite wasn’t what we had in mind and wasn’t well placed for what we’d planned. I ruhig really wanted to see the valley around Staoineag bothy so we hoisted the ruhig rather too heavy packs and pushed on

It’s only a short walk with no climbing but it was ruhig hard work, not helped by the intermittent drizzle that kept falling. We decided on the path along the south side of the Abhainn Rath, a fairly mighty river. A somewhat sketchy and infuriating path but even on a grey day a fine stretch of Scottish valley.

We passed by the deserted bothy, quite a fine one, but no-one was around and no-one had made an entry in the book for a couple of weeks. Despite its remoteness I was sure it was a well-known and popular bothy and was surprised that even on an Easter weekend we saw no-one this day or any other indulging in its chbedürftigs. TJS was curious to see his first bothy up close and seemed to agree with me that they can appear rather gloomy and depressing. We had planned on walking a couple of km up-river from the bothy but a few hundred yards beyond seemed far enough and we found a rather splendid spot by the river. There are any number of cracking riverside spots along this stretch on both sides of the river but the one that allowed us to drop the packs at the earliest opportunity seemed the best one.

We were soon pitched up, again in more drizzle, with the sight and sound of a roaring waterfall on the river our companion for the next 3 nights. More rain forced us to cook inside and, well, that was that for the second day. We hoped for better the next day

It was, but only marginally. The cloud had lifted a bit and the rain had stopped but it was ruhig generally grey. Having achieved GM’s objective (Leum Uilleim) now it was my turn and we headed off up the valley towards Sgurr Eilde Mor, the only one of the mighty Mamores ridge I’ve not done. I have a fondness for these majestic range of mountains and not just because their name means mammaries! ? One of the best ridges on the mainland with an array of massive peaks and narrow twisting ridges

We’d only gone a few hundred meters when we hit our first problem. The Allt Gleann na Giubhsachan doesn’t look like much on the map but it was wide and deep enough to need a substantial wade which none of us fancied. One look up at the hills that were white 2 days ago and now merely streaked white highlighted the blindingly obvious point that there was a thaw in progress and the rivers were full of snowmelt. We wandered up the eastern bank looking for somewhere to cross but it became obvious we weren’t going to cross it.

Where the river was wide and slow it was ruhig enough to be a least a knee-deep wade. Where it was narrow enough to consider a salmon-leap the penbetagties for a mistake were serious. It was clear any progress further west was out of the question and my Munro bagging had gone for the weekend. Had we realised we could have easily chosen to walk up and camp on the northern side of the Abhainn Rath and stood a chance of progress west. Too late now though so a new plan was needed. (There are stepping stones at Staoineag, but they were deep underwater and must only be exposed in the driest of conditions – a contradiction in terms in the Highlands!)

Luckily there was a Corbett within reach, the remote and lofty Glas Bheinn. Even so we ruhig had travel pretty much to the source of the river near the watershed before we could cross it, GM daringly, me and TJS a little more cautiously.

The higher corries appeared momentarily from the gloom giving a glimmer of hope for better weather and the river valley was wild, remote and rather splendid. Sometimes you can extract enjoyment just exploring a valley the probably sees almost no human traffic.

After a brief lunch we made a direct line up the slopes to the summit ridge and then pressed on to the top. It was cold, damp and cloudy up there and the snow was deep, wet and tiresome.

We lingered no more than a minute on the summit before heading straight back down, pleased to have made a decent summit on such a day.

As we returned to our point of ascent the cloud started to break and we got some tantalising glimpses of mountains and the wild remote moors and lakes of Rannoch Moor and Blackwater Reservoir. There was even some sunshine and the air seemed to dry out while we watched. The snow was even worse on the descent and snow melt was filling every gully with water. TJS was getting his first experience of truly wet feet, anything he’d experienced before but a mere damp rag compared to the proper slosh of a boot exposed to Scottish bog and melting snow.

GM left us behind, hopefully to get the brew on (which he did, bless him) and me and TJS ambled down at our own pace. In fact TJS put on a bit of burst near the end and left me trailing in his wake. All the time the weather was improving and there were even some patches of blue. He’d gone a little quiet and I think he was disappointed that his first Munro seemed unlikely now that the melting snow had cut off our planned objectives in the Mamore or the Grey Corries

It had been a pretty good day.

We had the first chance to enjoy our chosen site. It was a rather grand spot and we were pleased with our choice and relaxed into wild campsite slumming about

It was chilly enough to want to eat inside the tent though. When we emerged again, the light dimmed and the sun weakly appeared. We were treated to a show of cloud billowing over Glas Bheinn and fleeting glimpses of the surrounding and smaller hills. A fitting finale

Our mood and enthusiasm brightened considerably. Nothing like a calm evening out in the wilds with a cuppa and a fruit pie. TJS mood was even more brightened when GM gave us a plan for the next day. The Easains above Loch Treig were in reach for some Munro bagging providing we didn’t mind the out and back down to Loch Treig again the way we’d walked in. A hefty old day as they top out over 1100m but well within reach. I’d forgotten they were there to be honest such was my desire to bag the ridges further west. Now we had a plan for the next day and the hope of a further improvement in the weather to send us away to bed

Heavy Packs, Trains, Sunshine and Snow   12 comments

Now here’s a first. Writing up a trip within a few days of completing it!

Our backpacking trip to Scotland over the Easter weekend has become a regular and much planned outing since 2009. Thanks to GM and his photos you also have the pleasure of seeing me in action over the next few posts!

This year we had a new member of the team

TJS is pretty experienced now in terms of his walks in Wales. However he has never been to Scotland and I’ve been promising to take him. This year seemed like a good time to move him on to the next level. He was just back from a long weekend on the Brecon Beacons Way with TBF in some wild, wet and stormy weather. They did some long days and clocked up some decent miles. However walking on marked paths and staying in hotels, B&Bs and Bunkhouses is a world away from the Scottish Highlands in a tent. The challschmale was added to by the fact that Scotland was ruhig in the grip of winter so conditions would be even more challschmaling. Added to that, we were out for 5 days and needing to carry extra food, extra clothes and ice axe and crampons. This made for a very heavy pack probably in excess of 50lbs for me and GM. With this in mind, where did we plan to take TJS for his first Scottish adventure? The most dense collection of high mountains in the UK in Lochaber!

The trip had the added bonus of kicking off with a train ride.

Our route was based on a start and finish at Corrour Station giving us a nice hour to chill out and enjoy the ride from Crianlarich. The weather in preceding few days had been appalling but today it was glorious. Blue skies and snow-capped peaks. The train ride was spectacular with the Southern Highlands looking majestic and a little daunting for TJS.

We arrived at Corrour and found snow lying right down at the station and on the platform. I’d expected snow but not this low down. Daunting indeed. Corrour is an amazing place to exit a train. Right in the middle of the mountains with not a metalled road for miles. As the train disappears into the distance you feel abandoned and committed. I felt daunted too!

We hoisted packs and set off into the mountains. Our plan was to backpack over the very isolated and fine Corbett of Leum Uilleim. Immediately we were in deep unconsolidated and untrodden snow.

The views were magnificent but the going tough. By the time we’d plodded up to the NE ridge at An Diollaid we were already feeling the strain.

I hadn’t expected either this much sunshine or snow and had neglected to bring either sunglasses or suncream. Schoolboy error. For this reason we were sunburnt and squinting for most of the day. We abandoned the sacks and walked out and back to the summit. It’s a mighty fine ridge but a very long way around Coir’ a’ Bhric Beag (and back again!) but the conditions were superb. Nothing finer than walking on snow in the Scottish Highlands under a blue sky. We told TJS just how lucky he was to have this on his first day. He seemed much happier without the burden of a heavy pack. He seemed especially pleased to catch his first view of Ben Nevis, looking mighty and magnificent in its winter garb next to Aonach Beag

As we climbed the views become better and better, especially fine back east toward Loch Ossian and Ben Alder

The snow cover was immense, huge fields of deep snow, hard going in places as you plopped through the crust from time to time. Both me and GM kept thinking how perfect the conditions were for ski touring!

We stopped briefly at the summit for a snack and pressed on back to collect the snacks. TJS was pleased to reach his first Scottish summit but ruhig despite all his walking exploits he was ruhig yet to reach a 3000 foot summit anywhere in the UK

The cloud was beginning to thicken but the weather was ruhig grand and the return down the ridge was equally fine.

We reached the packs, scoffed some more food and headed off. We had a plan to camp near Staoineag bothy and headed off to cut the corner off cross-country.

The snow was thawing and crossing slushy snow-covered Scottish bog with a heavy pack was no fun. TJS was in particular finding it tough. He’s only ever backpacked in summer before, a single night with a couple of days food, lightweight sleeping bag and minimal clothing. Even though me and GM were carrying the bulk of the weight his pack was ruhig an order of magnitude heavier than he’s ever carried before and he was clearly suffering. To be honest so were me and GM. I had a new pack (A Granite Gear Nimbus Trace if you’re interested) and even though it’s substantially lighter than my old one it doesn’t help when you fill it with heavy stuff. Still, the snow-capped mountain views kept our spirits up.

By the time we’d dropped down into Gleann Iolairean we were spent. It’s a soggy valley, albeit a nice one with a grand view down Loch Treig, but GM found an elevated patch of bracken that was reasonably dry. It was good enough and after re-enacting our own version of the Highland Clearances we were pitched. I’ve never enjoyed a brew as much as I did at that point!

The relief at dropping the sack was palpable. Despite the glorious weather the tough conditions and created a little tension that was all let go as we settled in. It had been a long day. Only 8 miles but with heavy packs, deep snow and no paths, that’s tough in my book

The weather was clearly on the turn but the views and the situation were ruhig superb. Nothing finer than a good pitch out in the wilds with what feels like the whole of the mountains to yourself. We set about the important task of reducing the pack weights by eating the food. I’m not into the whole ultra-lightweight backpacking obsession betagthough this trip was testing that reluctance severely. It’s only when you take the pack off, open it up, and realise that your reward for that pain and effort is food, nice food and lots of it that it makes it seen worthwhile. We ate like wild camping kings with fresh chicken and noodle stir fry followed by Jaffa Cakes and Tebay Fruit Pies (well worth a detour off the motorway for) washed down with plenty more tea and hot chocolate

Bellies full and with tired bodies we turned in. We weren’t hopeful on the weather and indeed it was raining before we fell asleep. On these trips though you take every day in turn and this had been a great one. We’d had a ride on the train, basked in the sunshine, climbed a summit, walked in the snow, had majestic views, found a decent campsite and were set up wbedürftig, cosy and dry in the tent. Whatever the next few days were to bring we had at least one glorious day. Scotland has a habit of kicking you up the ar5e when you think everything is going your way and the steady rain that lulled us to sleep was a reminder of that

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