From breakfast to breakfast

The team had been reduced considerably by the time we walked into the Real Food Cafe as a pair for a mighty breakfast before heading uphill. Real life’s a bugger.
Phil (bobinson) and I took the short drive to Glen Orchy. A glen with a beautiful river of dark depths, tumbling white water, jagged rocks and hidden dangers. The road follows it closely and although its wonders are well known to paddlers and rafters, walkers mostly fly past either end of it on their way to Glen Coe or Ben Cruachan. It’s vital to our mission that it’s visited, and at a leisurely pace.

We were looking for the track that takes you into Coire Daimh and up onto Beinn Udlaidh, the plan was to use the convenient flatness of the summit plateau to pitch our tents with gay abandon. But neither of us could remember where the track started and we ended up at the Meall Garbh end of the hill. Nonplussed we parked up, kitted up and headed onto the chilly and not a little gloomy hillside.
Ten minutes later the two sleek, well equipped outdoorsmen were two fat wheezing old men with a phlegm problem. Leaning on poles looking at the view quickly became the order of the day. It’s steep and the going was soft, picking around the crags and up towards a frozen burn. It was very cold, there was some wind, the sun cast an occasional beam through a porthole in the clouds in the distance, but otherwise it was grey and getting greyer. Hats on, hood up, gloves on, zip up. That’s winter.
After a while we reached the plateau and while Phil had found his legs and was looking at the view to the South already, I was happily crunching up the now level frozen burn in my Icebugs. It’s so satisfying that, walking on ice and not going on your tits.
I drew up level with Phil, but a little further towards the top of Meall Garbh and could see our home for the night. The sun had probably set behind the cloud, the summit of Beinn Udlaidh was close but not a great enough prize to draw us on further uphill. He sauntered up and we threw our packs down onto short brick-red grass covering a large level spot with 360° views of oh-so familiar hills from unfamiliar angles.


It was getting cold fast and was -3°C when we started piching the tents and -5°C when we finished. It was also pitch dark. But from here we cound see Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy, Dalmally and the habitations down the banks of Loch Awe, and even the burger bar parking area on the A82 high above Loch Tulla was easily picked out. The main roads linking all these places were busy, but the only sense to be approached by their presence was sight, the lights of the cars twinkling, the street lights and the houses. It was silent.
We went for a wander around the plateau, well wrapped up and headtorches on. I wore my PHD mitts and rejoiced in my hands being properly warm on top of a winter hill for the first time in my life. I had left my wee Alpkit light on in the tent so we could find it again and we found ourselves standing on the ridge a distance away, torches off, shooting the breeze and watching the slow motion distant life of the lights below us and far away.

Dinner raises it’s head, always. I had enough water left but Phil had to break the ice on the lochan to get his, the snow cover was too sparse to be usable. I took a Rekri8 remote canister stove this time and cooking was easy, even wrapped up as I was with so much down that I should actually been flying South for winter with my relatives. I put on my PHD down booties and sat cross legged with the tent wide open and waited for the water to boil as the temperature sank by a tenth of a degree at a time.

Dinner, cuppa, a small confection and I was happy. Time for a chapter of my book. Still fully clothed apart from the down jacket, I slipped into sleeping bag #1, then that ensemble went into sleeping bag #2. I lay on my front chuckling away at my book growing cosier by the minute.
A pee expedition revealed a pair of frozen Icebugs (they went inside the tent this time) and a few more drops of moisture swirling about in the air. I got back to the tent and before I got into my sleeping bags I had to strip down to my base layers. Head to toe in Chocolate Fish’s Taranaki Merino, Thorlo socks (the lambswool toe ones, I can never remember the name, mountain climbing or polar expedition or something), the down booties and a beanie. I stuck my iPod on at a reasonable volume and lay there quite happy as the songs and minutes ticked away. I found myself drifting away, I was in the mountain equivalent of a duvet-day, cosy, the telly was good and cuppas were within easy reach. It was the camping sweet spot of…aaahhhhh.

I became aware of the outer flapping a little, it was breaking through the music. I ignored it until it was joined by the tak tak tak on the fabric of something solid being carried along with the wind.

A quick shufty outside revealed a light snowfall and increasingly gusting winds. We grinned at each other across our lawn, this is why we were here. The wind was coming unexpectedly from the South, so the porch was taking the weather in the face instead of the foot end. What this meant was that snow was being blown inside the porch and I kept getting tiny crystals being blown through the midge netting on the door and landing on my face. The noise increased, so I turned up the iPod and and sunk into my impenetrable shield of down. The tent was also now becoming a little more physical in it’s battle with the wind, I pulled the hood drawcords in tighter and closed my eyes.

3am
The wind from the North tore at the fabric, it’s force pushing the body of the tent down onto me, the sound drowing out every thought, never mind the metal on my iPod. I unzipped the inner door and noticed that the earlier Southerly wind had filled the porch full of snow, my stove, poles and pack were now decorations on a Christmas cake, odd additions to a snow covered Victorian winter village. The pegs holding the porch down were showing more and more bare metal as it danced wildly on the spot, a Riverdancer with Lithium batteries installed. I opened the outer zip a few inches and winced as the rocket propelled snow sprayed my face, blinking through it I opened the door more and looked over to Phil, 20 feet away. My torch beam picked out his face grimacing through a crack in his door as he poked his torch out.
The snow was passing horizontaly, his tent was shaking violently, as was mine, I could see his expression as he picked out it’s twisted shape with his torch through the blizzard. It was 0300, hours ’til daylight, -8°C in the porch. As long as it didn’t get any worse we could ride it out…we pondered the situation and each other through the darkness and the mayhem, we shouted as one…”Er, are you alright?”.

I pulled out as much of my kit from the snow as I could find, shook it off and brought it inside. All that was left was my empty pack, poles and stove. It occured to me that my bare extended arms weren’t complaining at the cold, if I go into the kitchen at home and it’s 19° I’m commenting on it. All relative I suppose.
I lay there with the iPod turned up as loud as I could bare and still the rattling fabric was winning. the whole tent was mobile, as if me and it had been lifted and dropped down one of those rubbish chutes that you see running down the scaffolding on building sites that looke like a big string of ice cream cones. I kept on waiting for us to land in the skip at the bottom, but my skip was 700-odd metres below. A comedy dust-down as I climbed out and walked away seemed unlikely.
As I lay there one thought preoccupied my mind. The tent was trying to tear itself apart, snow was coming up between the inner and outer all around, if I was getting out quick it was in baselayers and down booties. The down booties, that was it. I was too hot, I kicked them off inside the bag and wriggled my toes, I opened the drawcord of the bag up a little and let some cool air in.
Sitting there in a maelstrom of weather and tent horror and I was the comfiest I’ve ever been in a sleeping bag in winter. Is that irony, or sods law or something?

The weather continued, and as strange as it may seem I got used to it and drifted in and out of sleep. It seems that around 0430 the wind died down a little and Phil and I both got and hour and a half or maybe two hours sleep. I looked out and saw a crescent moon through a gap in the clouds, I closed my eyes and the next time I looked the low sun was struggling to be seen through billowing clouds as they rolled smartly by.

Phil and I both emerged simultaneously and ran in opposite directions, unlaced boots, longjohns and jackets. This had been the best opportunity to pee for hours.
Still windy, still below zero, and back inside the only logical course was digging out the stove and getting the water on the boil. I was low on water now, but there was plenty of snow in the porch and hot muesli and coffee hit the spot.
Getting dressed was a pain, getting packed up was worse. I got everything away except the tent and got out outside in my waterproofs and padded gloves to finish the job. We were packed and away in a few minutes.

Hoods up, faces covered, we abandodned the short climb to the actual summit. The cliffs there are amazing, ice encrusted and dramatic, but this morning shrouded in cloud.
Tired eyes squinted and looked downhill. The hillside had changed overnight, the frozen turf of our ascent was a soft mix of fresh snow and thawing ground as the temperature now rose. The icicles were melting.

As we lost height, hoods came down, conversation became easier as we stopped talking through fleece and there were many skating and indeed bumsliding moments on the unreasonably slippy slopes.

The road was slushy, above us a few patches of blue cut through the quilt of grey. It coud have been a bit downbeat but the mood was light, we were admined and down the road in the Real Food Cafe again enjoying meaty delights in what seemed like moments.

We went to test, and that we did indeed, on many levels.

61 thoughts on “From breakfast to breakfast”

  1. The camera was all upset, they’re no’ that good.
    We shold have brought back a box of weather to share out, that would have been better.

  2. Sounds excellent! :))
    I knew the PHD stuff would perform… the combi bag gets the thumbs up then?
    Now what is that tent on the left? And something Hillebergy on the right?

  3. PHD was the calming hand upon my furrowed brow on Saturday night.
    Tents seen above are a Hilleberg Soulo and a Lightwave t0 Ultra XT.
    I shall enthusiastically debate the relative merits in a few weeks…there is much to discuss :o)

  4. Your comment about temperature being relative is exactly what I’d said to the guys in the car on the way to work this morning, following my weekend jaunt up Glen Feshie.

    Sounds like conditions were similar, expect I shat out and camped at the copse beneath Sròn Dìreachean:

    http://pininthemap.com/pp9d4545b72e087602a

    Without a book, it was a long night.

    Great write up PTC*

  5. Nice spot you had there Vorlich. I really need to get up East soon.
    When it’s dark for more than half the day, you really do need something like a book or music for solo camping!

  6. great report!

    interesting you should mention down booties, i was thinkin of gettin some for our lass as an xmas suprise…..which ones did u use ?

    i was looking at the mera down boots for £50 or some rab ones!

  7. I think I find your reports so interesting because they’re so otherworldly to me. I mean the closest I get to a hill is walking up Buchanan St on the way to work of a morning! Yet your writing is so accessible and ultimately an enjoyable and inspiring read that I look forward to your posts greatly.
    I’d be interested to know how you got into it all… did someone inspire you? Did you just fancy some exercise?
    It’s something I would liek to try but as an unfit non-driver it’s highly unlikely and will make-do with experiencing such things through PTC world.

  8. Fantastic stuff *PTC! :)

    Dying to get up to some snow. To my amazement we awoke to some on Sunday morning at a friend’s place in SE London. I’m reasonably sure I’ve never seen any snow there before January in my life unless you count the last white xmas in 1970 – when I was six months old!

    Shame the camera gave you bother – what were you carrying?

    I know I’ve had the Canon EOS 400D down to -10 C overnight and it’s wandered about the Caingorm Plateau for extended periods in at least that without futzzing-out when carefully aimed at a ptarmigan.

    I once read a Canadian guy saying he’d used his EOS in -20 C and below on many occasions and it had been fine.

    It’ll most likely be the battery I assume. Though some of the displays get temporarily very unhappy below freezing.

    The battery in the EOS is a real chunker though. I’ve resorted to keeping batteries from smaller cameras in my mouth before now. It works – but it’s not exactly convenient!

  9. Can anyone recommend a balaclava? My hat/buff combo slips down a lot, when you have ears like mine, you need better protection…

    I want something stretchy enough to pop my head through the eye port and use it as a neck gaiter when conditions improve.

  10. Moggy
    The boots were the PHD Mera’s. I’ll do a review of the PHD test kit this week.
    But, highly recommended for sure.

    Caishnah
    You’re very kind. I enjoy sharing all this stuff as much as I enjoy reading other folks adventures. Plus when my memory goes in future years it’ll be very handy…
    The important thing is that everything I do really is accessible to everybody. All this going out to play on the mountains I write about is within reach of anybody who reads it. If I could inspire or encourage one person to wait for the sunset rather than rush home, or make a cuppa on the summit and sit and watch the weather, then I’m a happy man.
    The weather on Saturday night makes it a little different, Phil and I have enough experience to cope with the conditions and having to deal with a tent failure or a retreat. But you earn that over time. Every trip you learn more, but I never get bored and I never get complacent.
    I’ll write up my motivation for the outdoors at some point, it’s a tale of two halfs with a long haired teenager more interesetd in guitars and girls than hills in the middle :o)

    RedYeti
    It was the battery right enough. And condensation. I kept reviving it and misting it up at the same time. I’m kicking myself I didn’t do a video at 3am.

    Vorlich
    Montrail used to do similar, and I think BigAgnes might still do synthetic boots. Much better for a quick excursion outside.
    I was using some new Haglofs kit at the weekend, all lightweight accessories. I had a wool/synthetic beanie and a Powerstretch neck gaiter on which was fantatstic. I’ve normally got a Buff over my face in winter, but this was much cosier.
    Maybe one of these? http://www.haglofs.se/prd/visaprod.asp?ID=1398&nid=780&lang=en&CatNr=310&CatNr2=&xCatNr=&NP=&Q=2&HMtrl=&Str=&show=&ak=&nid2=834

  11. Cheers :o)

    I’ve had a dozen new themes on test and they all screw up the format. I’m afraid it’s broken eyesight for us all until I can get it sorted!

  12. I know a couple of folk that wear Masques and swear by them. There is the Hannibal Lecter/Ninja/Mad Max baddie angle to enjoy as well :o)

  13. ..Outdoor Research do a Balaclava that pulls up and down to do a hat and neck gaiter affair. I think it’s in Windstopper though?!

  14. Nooo! I love this theme! :(

    Besides white on black is often recommended as being easier on the eyes (less glare).

    Anyway – condensation – nightmare. That’s always a pain in the arse in a tent.

    And can be far more than a pain when you come inside with cold kit and you get it on the inside of the camera.

    The advise is always leaving your camera sealed in a water-proof bag for a couple of hours once indoors to let it warm but I’ve known it take twice that before it didn’t turn into a sort of “Ice Cold In Alice” moment. Which is pretty nerve-wracking with the cost of the camera and lens…

  15. …hmmm, maybe another reason to stick with point-and-click?

    Great film that, I’ve been looking at two John Mills boxsets getting steadily cheaper on Amazon. Ah, don’t get me started on old movies!

  16. I’m gutted I didnt make this, glad you two had what reads like a cracking experience. I reckon my dehli belly is on the way out now so I should manage out this weekend hopefully.

    That write up brought back memories of my trip last march down in the moffat hill when I was convinced both me and the Laser comp were gonna take off.

    Fantastic mate!!

  17. Whilst I was lying on the couch feeling sorry for myself and dozing over the weekend I missed the courier man, there’s only one thing I’m expecting and its a little bundle of warmth from PHD! I should be able to pick it up tomorrow after work Yipee!

  18. “And see bobinsons write up (with better photies than mine) here… ”

    Should at least be better than that last one ;o)

  19. Caishnah
    Dont let little things get in the way !
    Culture & Sport Glasgow have a great walking programme that goes out at the weekend with qualified leaders and transport is provided in the way of a mini bus !
    Get out there and enjoy

  20. Thanks for the suggestions all, PTC*, I might have guessed you’d suggest Haglofs, you’re obsessed man. I’m quite taken with the Marmot Super Hero, but it’s a bit heavier.

    The Masque looks OK, but I want to be hermetically sealed :-D

  21. Phew what a write-up! Quality. Sounds like you had fun ;-) Loove the look on your face in that photie! Kinda reminds me why I bought an Akto!

    I *hate* flapping tents, one night on Mull in the big ‘family’ tent was so bad I ended up sleeping in the car. Brain says it’s not nearly windy enough to be dangerous but emotion says ‘get the hell out of here’. Me thinks I would have been running back down to the car in my nightdress… not that I sleep in a nightdress, but you get the drift!

  22. On down warmth for footsies – I use Sea to Summit down-filled sleeping socks – only for inside tent or sleeping bag use, they’re not booties. But they are pretty cheap and lovely and warm :-)
    I wanna go wildcamping in the snow!!

  23. Brilliant write-up as ever, pete.

    Just one thing is bugging me. On bobinson blog, there’s a picture of you and it looks as if you’re carrying the Villain, not the MM?

    Now, either you’re Mary Poppins or you know something I don’t. How on earth could you fit all your stuff in there? Combi bag plus Minimus (?), plus Lightwave, plus the humungous down jacket. Not sure what mat you were using.

    And the pack looks trim and neat as if you had just a lunchbox in there.

    I struggle to fit a Rab Quantum 400, a Hilleberg Unna and a Downmat 7 plus the usual bits and bobs.

    What’s your secret mate? Dehydrated down?

  24. Crossed comments there Andy. Aye it’s a Villain right enough, and the sleepmat was the large packing Exped Synmat7.
    It’s a case of using every corner of the pack wisely, no air gaps in there at all!

  25. I feel cold just looking, but jealous just the same – bobinson’s photo of you at the frozen waterfall is a cracker

  26. Great trip and write up. It’s not only me that try’s to ignore the scary flapping of tent fabric with music! I thought I was soft…

  27. Das only my nose was cold at any time as I leaned out to see if the tent was still there.

    Shed Dweller, it’s a tougher camper who ignores the flapping fabric and enjops the tunes, that’s real nonchalence that is :o)

  28. Back to cameras and condensation… Well the advise is to keep any electrical kit in a sealed, waterproof bag until it warms through enough to prevent the warmer, more moisture laden air “indoors” from seeping through the cracks and condensing on the delicate bits.

    It’s just that perhaps with an SLR you might have more to lose! ;)

    There was a good article in the BMC magazine, a year or more back, from a professional photographer who did a lot of polar work. He would get in to his tent and wait for hours for all the gear (including a ruggedised laptop) to come up to temperature, before he could check out his pics.

  29. I kept my iPod and phone in that Aquapac thing they sent me. It’s turned out to be very handy that, it’s been on every trip since I got it.

    You know all these tales of faffery push the possibility of me ever getting a better camera further into the distance :o)

  30. Oh yes – the faffery with an SLR is undoubtedly greater than with a compact.

    In fact, in a sense, that’s what you’re after! The ability to faff with it to get images you couldn’t get without it.

    But from what I’ve seen, the images that the high-end compacts can produce (in terms of how they deal with light and also camera shake – partly removing the need for a tripod) mean that the gap is smaller than it ever was between compact and SLR.

    The Canon G9 that a mate of mine carries astonishes me with what it can produce. It’s chunky, but still a compact.

    If I had to buy a new camera today – I would have to think carefully (though would probably still end up with an SLR!).

  31. I looked at the G9 and the G10 and liked them, and I liked the look of the Panasonic LX3. I tried a couple of Ricohs and the images were super noisy in low light.

    I have bursts of interest in getting a new camera, but the enormity of the decision and wideness choice knocks me back every time. The feeling is welling up again right now. It’s got to be a high end compact though.

  32. I’ve looked at those Olympus (for LB’s xmas pressie) – one of us had one in Iceland this summer but I’ve not been able to see the pics yet to judge.

    But although I loved the old film based version the quality of the digitals appears to have varied like the weather between models.

    I have a digital mju that’s been great. A friend has a later model that’s very unreliable. And according to reviews I’ve read the image quality between models varies enormously from excellent to pretty poor.

    The image quality on the ruggedised ones you mentioned bobinson is considered okayish but rather compromised by having to squash the whole zoom setup vertically into the body (too hard to ruggedise it if the lens popped out at the front).

    But the thing that killed them as a choice for me is that they have no image stabilisation.

    Optical image stabilisation is a “must have” to me now. The difference it makes is amazing.

    And from what I’ve seen so far, Canon seem to have that utterly nailed.

    Shame – I really, really like the idea of a waterproof camera…

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