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.


46 thoughts on “A long night”

  1. wonderful photos, great story and the tent was? Are you using a gas stove?
    I am looking forward to an upcoming trip to lower altitudes but similar temperatures which means you have to think (pack) differently. And the long hours in a tent are a challenge but as you say an iPod is a great asset, especially with podcasts to listen to.

  2. Thanks guys, I’ve just sorted the spelling as well. Well, some of it :o)

    The tent is an MSR, and I was using my regular wee Optimus Crux Lite stove with a Brunton remote canister adaptor.
    I’ll do some gear stuff during the week.

  3. Damn, you managed what we didn’t this weekend! :( , but :0) for you.
    The good forecast had us all packed for a high wildcamp in the Lakes, but MoS wasn’t well on Saturday morning so we had to forego it. We’d decided to rig for winter – Exped downmats and I’d gone for the 0-rated PHD Minim 300. And back to the Optimus Nova multifuel flamethrower :) rather than risk the stutterings of a cold gas cannister!

    And today the weather was pish in the Peaks, so the Trail Blaze poles and Rocky Goretex Socks remain untested, but at least the gear shopping for MoS’ winter trews was successful… :))

  4. Aye, I had my Exped Synmat and it was just enough sleeping on snow. I slept in an Alpkit Pipedream 400 as well.
    Quite a mixed bag of stuff actually.
    And it turns out that the Montrail Hardrock mids are not too bad on snow…

    Happy boy right now :o)

    Here, what are MoS’ winter trews?

  5. Hey Martin, sorry I posted over you there.
    Thanks, it was reading about other folks adventures that kept me thinking ahead and planning when I was stuck at home recently.
    We’re are all spreading the joy indeed :o)

  6. That is what it is about – the hill bit. Kit, we buy it to make it warm and comfy on the hill. We take a camera to record the memories of, on the hill. The joy is on the hill. Sharing is the way to show others the joy to be found :) Keep sharing.

  7. MoS’ winter trews… nothing cutting edge really. She was looking to replace some lovely arcteryx softshells that she got as a bargain but has now worn out. The best we could come up with (many shops and 7 or 8 pairs later) were some Lowe Alpine Paradigm pants, the same as I got a couple of years back for winter biking – I wasn’t convinced about softshell but I must admit I wore them for a lot of walking last winter when I wanted a change from Paramo :)

  8. What absolutely superb photos and write up.

    Makes my kickabout in the Pentlands yesterday seem very tame……

  9. Ah, you lucky thing! I’ve just had two fun day-walks in the Brecon Beacons, on snow above 650m, but the clag started at…. 650m, so no lovely photos!

  10. That was fantastic. Pure *ptc – writing and photie-ing at your best.

    We were held at home by a wedding. There’s a fair rash of the damn things coming soon and it seems we’ve not managed to avoid it either.

    We would have done it last year (the immunity to the full blown form generally lasts a fair while – although we’ve only contracted a mild form – plenty of multi-vits and a sensible attitude to money seem to be the best defense) but we delayed as a good friend was traveling. And then we delayed again because he’s not traveling – ever.

    But now we’re stuck behind a whole plague of them…

    Less hill days next year – the calendar tells me that already.

    I’ll have to get my fix around here ;)

  11. Hey folks.

    It’s good to see that we’re getting out, it’s good to that if we’re not getting out we’re certainly thinking about it.
    Your enthusiasm throws a fresh shovelful of coal into my own roaring furnace.

    I’ve said this before, if someone is out there and brings back a photie, or has a story to tell, then that’s a day that wasn’t missed, an opportunity that wasn’t lost. That’s the positive power of the internet, sharing this stuff.


  12. Chuffed that you got out. You’ve had a maddeningly long time between missions. For a fortnightly tripper like myself, this site keeps you going in the downtime!

  13. cheers ptc, ill have alook as im currently looking at a lighter mug …alpkit and the terra nova one are both on my list @ £25 each!

  14. Beautiful photos. Twas a cracking weekend weatherwise – we had a wee family walk up the Cobbler on Saturday and got some great pics. My daughters 5 and getting more into it. You’ll have Holly out on the hills in no time. So a Pipedream 400 with down vest was good in these conditions? A combo I was going to move to myself – I was just about to buy a PD400 when they sold out. :( Don’t suppose anyone’s got a spare one and looking to offload?

  15. Aye Moggy, get the twin wall!

    Del, I was warm once I was in the bag a wee while. My feet were on the limit as I was out in shoes and light socks so they were cool when they went in the bag. They caught up okay though and I was roasting later on.
    The hood on the PD400 is better than my older PD600, there was some down migration which left some empty spots here and there but I don’t think I couild feel it.

    Holly love tents in the garden, so she’ll be out there as soon as my nerves can stand it!

  16. Ahh ptc,love the last photo the best,all good tho’. I do a bit of this photography lark and i can tell you ,you do fine without a ‘proper’ camera.A pic should tell a story ,engage the viewer, make him/her want to be there,yours certainly do,you have a good eye for composition and the moment. If by a proper camera you mean a dslr ,they aren’t very condusive to lightness,tho’ some of the entry level ones are small and relatively light. If i’m out specifically shooting rather than just getting record shots ,my bag and tripod weigh in at a smidge under 11kg :-/ Just walking and the camera and lens is about 1.5kg i think.

  17. Christ, that’s more weight than my winter camping pack!

    You’re right though, point and click is my limit I think. I’ll get a wider lens point and click at some point so I can fit in more mountains :o)

  18. He He,aye it can be a beast if you take it out full. A dslr can open up a new world if you’re prepared to put in the groundwork. Too many people buy them now and expect instant colin prior on full auto,which kinda misses the point of having control over the camera. Word of warning,if you’re tempted,kit acquisition can be as addictive as outdoors gear and bloody expensive too :)

  19. Man, that’s all I need another thing to get properly “into” :o)

    It’s a constant dilemma for me though. I can be a jammy bastard when it comes to catching good days on the hill and I do sometimes wish that I had better ways of catching it.
    But, I don’t want to have to work at it too much as I’m usually thinking about food!

  20. Great prose, and some stunning photies. First snow has just fallen in the Japanese Alps too, and you’ve inspired me to go make the most of the it!

  21. Great stuff as usual, pete. My winter camping kit is way too heavy for a quick dash like that. Must do something about it. Tempted to use one of my summer bag with my day clothes on. You definitely put ideas in folks’ minds…

    A slightly unrelated question: in the post you mention having cold feet initially because of the light footwear. Elsewhere, i.e. on the OM and LTFO forum, you mentioned being happy with the Scarpa Mirage GTX.

    I’m still stuck with a 10-year old pair of Mantas. From what you say the Mirage could be a step in the right direction (!) towards lightening up. My only worry is the Goretex lining. I’ve got a pair of goretex town shoes and I find them rubbish. They’re pretty cold, you sweat a lot in them and I just don’t like the feeling. What’s the lining like on the Mirage? Noticeably colder than leather, does it get sweaty? Sorry to digress slightly off topic, but in a sense it all adds up to a better day on the hills. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be comfortable winter camping if during the day my shoes and socks got wet, which seems to have been the case for you on this trip. But the Mantas are way too heavy. So the Mirage could be a nice compromise. Thanks for any info.

    Oh, btw, you still owe us a review of the Lightwave tent you got a good few weeks ago..

  22. Andy it’s amazing how much heat you can get from keeping some clothes on. It helps if your wearing merino underwear though, a couple of nights sleeping in synthetic and you’re minging :o)

    The Mirages are a good boot, kinda like a winter fabric/suede affair. They’re not as warm as say a LaSportiva Nepal, but they breathe well and even with the thick winter socks I wear (Thorlo lambswool toe things, Climbers is it?) I never got really damp feet. They’ve got a little more flex than the Mantas, but they’re a good match for the C2 rated AirTech crampons that they fit with that GSB binding. They’re not climbing lasted either, so the shape is good for walking, and they are light.
    As soon as conditions are right I’ll take them out and give them a go.

    My feet stayed dry at the weekend, but the thin shoes and socks were constantly caked with snow and it just sucked the heat out. It was fine on the move, but fannying about with that tent and then standing gawping at the view I could feel my toes getting cool. Shoes off and into the bag and all was well soon enough.

    Tents! Tents! Ah! I’ve got a pile of them here to do for the mag including another Lightwave. I’ll get to it I promise :o)

  23. Ta, pete, that’s all very helpful.

    By the way, looking at your pics for the fourth time…, they’re absolutely smashing. One would swear you’re lugging a full-blown DSLR up the hillside…

    So, bag-wise: I have a Minim Ultra for summer use in combo with the PHD Ultra Down Vest (following your advice, as it happens). I also have a Rab Quantum 400 and their Summit 900, which is my (very heavy, very toasty) winter sleeping bag. I usually just wear merinos in there, but from what you say it looks as if I could get away with using the Quantum 400 and just wear the stuff I was wearing during the day, plus a wee down vest or somefin…?
    I fancy one of the Phd Hispar bags, which can be as light as the Quantum 400 but much warmer, but I’m running out of space in the cupboard!

    But boy, seeing your pictures, the temptation to just kit out ultralight for winter too is hard to resist. A quick dash to the hills in the afternoon and you get that sort of heaven…

  24. You may not realise mate, but you’ve just saved my life. I’ve been fecked with the flu since sunday with no sign of it abating. Not your common or garden man-flu, mind – no this is the proper, all singing all dancing lie down and accept defeat until it gets fed up with you and saunters off, kind of flu. I’ve just had my latest blackcurrant Lemsip Max , which gives me a small window of relative normality before my heid turns mince once again.
    So being the sad git I am I switched on this contraption and I found this – your latest sortie and what a lifesaver it is, it’s the first grin I’ve had on my face since the weekend. Keep it coming mate, brilliant stuff as always.

    I’ll catch up with the rest later as reading back the above I fear the window may already be closing.

  25. Andy, it is where lighweight comes into its own, the quick dash.
    A light sleeping bag is fine as long you’re backing it up with stuff, the gilet being #1 there, but it takes a wee bit of fine tuning. Last winter I wore down boots which pack down to nothing and are super cozy.
    I was talking to PHD last week and we should be seing some new test sample kit from them which will work with this concept really well. There’s an overbag which teams with tha Minim Ultra I’ve already got and there’s new down mitts an boots as well. That’ll be interesting, but I’m confident in the PHD stuff so it’ll get packed for a trip as soon as its here.

  26. Ooh, so is the overbag the existing Combi Bag or something new using the 900 fill power down? Any idea when this new stuff will be hitting the website, or is it early days… or are you just sworn to secrecy?!

  27. Blimey, you turn your back for a week or so and the flumonia passes and the man returns in better form than before.

    I just wanted to say you’re not at all daft when you say you now feel tuned in again. Due to the recent arrival of baby number two I haven’t been out for a ‘proper’ trip for quite a while (not that I’m complaining mind!) and will struggle with kit choice when I finally get around to that late night race to the hills for an overnighter before the kids get up the next morning.

    Hopefully the imminent arrival of a Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus (with aluminium stays – thanks Grant!) will lead me to even more light weight ways.

    Keep up the good work sir.

  28. Matt, the Combi name sound familiar, that might be it. The other things are not out yet I think, I’ll find out once it’s all here and report back.

    Aye More-On, tha mad dash out and back before you’re missed :o)
    Which reminds me..check the weather for the weekend…

  29. Well, the mitts and booties are out already:


    Not sure if the new ones in the pipeline will depart from those on offer, but they already offer the Down 900 option on the boots.

    Myself, I’ve got a pair of Exped down boots and they’re great.

    The combi idea is great of course. But I suppose adding a bivvy bag could help already (although some folks say it’s a pig for condensation when used inside a tent?)

  30. Ah, the Mera name on the boots rings a bell, they might be the ones? I really should try and remember this stuff.

    I wonder if the bivy bag trick would be better if it was breathable enough, eVent or air permeable Gore Tex?

  31. Let’s try again – I posted this earlier but it seems to have vanished into the e-ther….

    I thought long and hard about the Combi bag to team with my various other PHD offerings, but while it’s versatile ultimately there’s a weight and bulk trade-off for the performance level. I think on balance I’m more inclined to covet my super-dream winter bag from PHD’s DYO service :))
    (if I ever need a bag any warmer than a Minim 400 plus clothes!)

    There’s a school of thought that says a synthetic outer bag makes sense in the combi set-up (e.g see Andy Kirkpatrick’s musings at psychovertical.com – in fact http://www.psychovertical.com/?modularsleepingbag ). PHD offered a synthetic one in the sale back in July – but again I thought about it but resisted!

  32. Ah the PHD sale. I finally gave in this summer and got a Minim 500. It seems very good but I’m yet to use it in the depths of winter (obviously!). As I sleep particularly cold I also wondered about the synthetic Combi. Does anyone know if the Combi will fit over a 500? PHD say it will fit up to a 400 on their website and when I asked about the 500 I didn’t get a reply to my email (it was during sale time so I’m not too peeved).

    I could use my old Survival Aids Buffalo alike fibre pile outer bag, but it weighs nearly 2kg. It is also very unlikley to fit in my shiny new Mariposa Plus which arrived yesterday. I must add that I really cannot say enough good things about Gossamer Gear – they reply the same day to emails, send you prototype items at no extra cost and best of all their rucsacs fit me (unlike OMM and the like), are designed for backpacking, are modular and are only c. 500g. I know it won’t last as long as a dyneema rucsac but at least it will be comfy before I shred it on a rock.

  33. Matt, it’s putting links in comments upsets it now and again. I’ve got it set that you can put three links on without trouble, but it can be a bit quirky!

    The bag thing, I’ll need to wait and see, it’s the “unknown” for me. Good point about the synthetic outer for water resistance, the only thing is pack weight and bulk. The Haglofs LIM sleeping bags are Primaloft and they pack tiny, so all things are possible.

    More-On, when the Combi gets here I’ll get some dimensions on the blog for it.
    True what you say, fit is everything. That Lighwave pack that everyone raves about and casues me actual pain being a good example.

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