By the time I had switched on the camera Holly had started eating her snowman’s nose.
Good girl, that’s the stuff that’ll keep your old dad on his toes.
By the time I had switched on the camera Holly had started eating her snowman’s nose.
Good girl, that’s the stuff that’ll keep your old dad on his toes.
The girls were unpacking from their trip up north, I was up to my knees in bags, clothes and Christmas parcels. I was also in the way.
I peered out through the fog at the frozen village. I packed a few bits and pieces, dressed for the weather and headed off to look for some sunshine.
It wasn’t far away. As I pulled into the Overtoun House car park the edge of the fog swirled around me and after a couple of minutes I was climbing high above it. The cloud hugged the shape of the Clyde, and everything else was gleaming white and bathed in winter light.
It was a glorious wander though deep powder snow. And absolutely bloody freezing.
I made it back to my folks for lunch and the girls arrived just after me. There has since been much snacking, cuppas and listening for Santa. He’s in for a treat this year, flapjack, tea and apple juice in the Peppa Pig bottle, and of course a carrot for Rudolf are all sitting ready.
Holly is having such a great time this Christmas, she’s so excited, and it’s just a joy to watch.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, at this time of year where the highs find new heights and the lows can find new depths, with all my heart and soul, I wish you well.
…where the hell is my purple spotty Buff..it went in the washing so it should be here somewhere…
Riiing Riiing…Riiing Riiing…Riiing Riiing…
“What are you up to?” Came Bobinsons understated tones.
“Packing my rucksack, bugger this, I’m off.”
I nearly didn’t, I nearly just sat down. The morning had gone really well, a days work done by lunch time. I went into the folks for lunch, played with Holly and felt myself slipping down in my chair, a blanket of warm apathy soothing my worries.
But I knew these days of sunshine and snow aren’t going to be here forever and it would worry me if I missed another chance like I hd been doing.
I went home and packed, made a wee flask, and I was out the door and heading North. My plan was vague, I was thinking Beinn an Lochain, a fine Corbett with huge crags to its NW side, I hadn’t seen them under snow for years. I know I passed a snow capped Ben Lomond but I didn’t even look, the metal was loud and all that was in my mind was that blue sky above as I stepped into fresh snow, one foot after the other, no agenda, no strange gear, just me and the hill.
When I saw the Cobbler, I realised it’s been a while since I was up there and I planned to stop at the big carpark and head up, but the carpark was endowed withn a smattering of cars and I just sped by, today was not a day for meeting and greeting, it was just for me and the hill.
I drove up the Rest and be Thankful and marvelled at the ring of white tops all around me, this is the business I thought to myself as Beinn an Lochain drew nearer.
I was passing the familiar laybys on the uphill side of the Rest, and they were all empty. All that’s here is the dull way up the back of the Cobbler and a rather annonymous peak called Beinn Luibhean. It’s no wonder the laybys are empty.
All the regular access points to Beinn an Lochain had cars at them, I was crestfallen. I stopped at Butterbridge and considered my options. The empty laybys I had passed were calling to me, it’s the only peak I’d seen all day that I haven’t climbed. I spun around and booted it back down the road to Beinn Luibhean.
I pulled into the layby with the little quarry set back from the road. The rock had been used to make the embankment for the road, but it’s still a notorious landslip area, and as I headed up the steep hillside over ground that was peeling away like the pages of a book balanced on its spine, I could see that landslips are going to feature for some time to come.
As I passed my first spot of snow I stopped and took a breath. All the Arrochar Alps are steep and rough, and wet. Snowmelt ran everywhere, but the sun was beating down, the winds were light and I was seeing more and more of what was to come as I gained height. Angular crags and dark jagged rocks, sticking up through fresh snow like mini Cadbury Flakes thrown randomly onto a bucket of ice cream.
There were no footprints. I was making the first, breaking through the thin crust and into the virgin snow. I was grinning ear to ear and I climbed the ridge, passing knolls and crags and peering down the very steep hillside to the road below.
I stopped for a drink and gazed around at the oh-so familiar scene, but the shapes were slightly different because I was somewhere new. I reaquainted myself with trips on the hills around me going back years. It feels like home.
The Cobbler looks odd from the back, a big dome with only the hook of the North Peak hinting at its hidden spikiness.
I reached the 858m summit of Beinn Luibhean too quickly, the ridge was such a joy, the snow was deep and I was coasting along, music loud, top down, shades on and hair blowing in the wind.
For a daft wee hill it’s a cracking viewpoint, Ben Cruachan, Ben Lui, Mull, Arran, Ailsa Craig all right there in front of me.
The sun was getting low and I resolved to wait for it to set, it would be rude not to after all. There was nobody else around to appreciate the effort it was putting in as it selected it’s colour pallet for the day’s cliffhanger ending.
My mate Craig phoned me, and after I broke the news of where I was, I had the interesting addition of the urban chorus of traffic and the like from his phone as he walked through Glasgow as we talked. An unexpected soundtrack to such an occasion indeed.
It was getting really cold, so I dug myself into the snow, made a wind barrier and got myself comfy in my AMK Bivy2.0 with my pack’s foam pad underneath. I got my cuppa and some grub and I was happy as I watched the shadows creep up the side of Ben Ime. It wouldn’t be long to go.
When the sun went down it lined itself up with Beinn an Lochain and a cloud so it looked a bit like a volcano erupting, I’m sure the sun thought it was funnier than it actually was but still, well done.
I packed up and started to move, my thumbs were numb and there were mince and tatties to be had at home.
The ridge was just as much fun on the way back down, I didn’t retrace my steps and found more dramatic rock, more snow slopes to run or slide down and I realised that I adored this hill. It’s trackless, it’s deserted and it’s wonderful. I’ll be back again. Especially as I found a cave, there’s icicles in it just now, but you’d maybe squeeze two bivy bags in there. and the view out of the entrance? Crivvens!
My meandering scared the pants off of a mountain hare as well, I’m sure it had to go back and get its ears once I was out sight.
The moon rose as the sun disappeared, and it moves bloody fast across the sky as well for an old timer. It gave enough light that when it went completely dark all I needed was a single red LED to descend in confidence.
Soon the cars were becoming intrusive again, their lights and their engines prodded at my bubble of joy, but they couldn’t burst it.
Scattered cloud started moving in and sticking to the summits, but inbetween, the dark sky was full of stars.
I found the quarry and the motor again thanks to the passing cars picking it out with their lights, and once down sat with the last of my flask looking at the sky and the moolight catching the snow on the tops.
And I was apparently unnerving passing motorists, as they braked and were probably wondering exactly what the hell I was doing, always a bonus.
A small day on a small hill, but the happiness was this big. It was just me and the hill.
It feels like winter’s been here forever, but it’s still not been long enough to get all the stuff done that I’d wanted to. I hope the snow’s here for a bit yet.
I am now officially a geek. I have here a new set of digital scales, fresh from rattling about the back of a courier van.
All weights mentioned will now be accurate (except my own…).
I’ll have to learn how to overdub.
I was swinging my poles and feet in a reasonable fashion up the steep start of the track up Ptarmigan ridge, time was getting on, but there was gaps in the cloud and this had seemed like a good idea an hour before.
What if the snow disappeared completely and I didn’t get to climb Ben Lomond in the conditions that reveal it’s cheekier side? I was packed and away in a few minutes.
The first people I passed in their descent were dressed in a fine assortment of 1950’s college student garb, tweed, gabardine, scarves and slicked back fringes. Their mixture of leather shoes that allowed them to skate down the steep wet grass and European accents that were hard to pin down completed the slightly bizarre scene.
They tumbled past me in good spirits and then down onto the road, no doubt the dry cleaners in Drymen will have a queue out the door this morning.
The next two couples I met stopped me and questioned my motives and ability to tell the time. What can I say in these situations? “Yes, I know. I want to see what it’s like descending in darkness, hill fog and snow cover with green and red LED’s”. No, so a simple “Yes, yes, I’m fine”” has to suffice.
It was warm and I was glad to be gaining height and getting into the cool wind.
Here the track is steep and the long unbroken slope down to the treeline above the lochside always gives me pause for thought as I pick along the wet and slippery boulder strewn track.
It was here that I met a family. Maw & Paw, junior and juniorette, and baby being carried in junior’s arms.
I stopped dead.
Being a parent changes you in so many ways. In times past a glib or crass remark after passing by would have been the order of the day, not now.
As I’m talking to the folks at normal pace I’m also looking at the scene in “parent mode” (I think this may have been attack mode in my olden days), the little baby was about Holly’s age, they were all dressed in clothes for an indoor shopping centre expedition, not even for a walk in the park. Junior was holding the baby on his shoulder and her wee trouser legs had ridden up and her legs were bare. I felt sick. With all the recent events people are still risking not only their lives, but those without a say in the matter that are depending on them to make the right decisions.
For a second all I saw was Holly in peril and threw my rucksack down, swung my ice axe through the air like Zorro’s blade, picked up the baby and took her to safety.
Parent mode lets you play through such scenarios before you make the right choice on what action you take. They were hesitating, so I moved to the side and ushered them by, pointing at the shower rolling down the loch towards us. I could have gotten into a debate of some sort, but I was sure that keeping them going downhill was more important than an exchange of uncertain length and outcome between us that could keep the baby high on the hill for even a second longer than necessary.
Paw seemed interested in how much further it had been to the top and how long it would take me…I was in so much inner turmoil I’ve no idea what the answer was that I gave. Hopefully something ludicrous and off putting.
I stood and watched them go, Paw took the baby from junior and sorted her legs, they moved quickly away and out of sight into the trees above the road.
I turned and wandered upwards again, my mind was elsewhere, my heart wasn’t in it. Time and distance passed unnoticed until I met a young couple at the top of Ptarmigan. They’d turned back as it was getting late and the going was rough a bit further up, and “What’s the point in this fog?”. I’d wandered into the cloud and barely noticed.
I stood on one of the little tops and ate a porridge bar, put on thicker gloves and had a drink. The clouds lifted.
My mood lightened, I pressed on as the light faded. The snow was deep in places and iced in others, by the time I got to the foot of the SW ridge it was clear that I was going to need crampons and extra layers.
I had a hot cuppa while I sorted my gear out and enjoyed I dealing with an unfamiliar occurance, a hot-spot on my heel. So I could use the Grivel AirTech Lite crampons I’d had to wear boots, not big boots, but the Grivels just wouldn’t fit anything but a pair of Montrail Torre GTX’s. I’d gotten these back in ’07 and quietly ignored them as they were boots, and Montrail had dropped them as Columbia spring-cleaned the range. So, I was breaking them in straight out of the box. A touch of Spenco on the offending areawould prevent the rubbing becoming a blister and I was good to go again.
The Torre’s actually turned out to be okay, I’ll try them again with the AirTechs, at least they’ll fit me now.
The ridge is steep, it’s narrow in places, rocky in others, but all of it still plastered in snow and ice. In rapidly fading light and strengthening winds I made painfully slow progress.
I kept on thinking back and wondering if I should have played that meeting with the family differently and were they alright. The summit came and went and I descended into the fog with seeing the girls and getting a hot dinner the only things on my mind.
As I slipped out of the clouds and onto thinner snow and ice I stopped and took off my crampons, took a photie and as I was packing up I took my ipod out and stuck it on.
I chased my torchbeam down the trail with the sound of Saxon taking me by surprise as Shuffle Songs does it’s wonderful thing.
“Stop! Get out! We are the Strong Arm of the Law!” I don’t know what the wildlife made of my singing, but I could see the lights at Rowerdennan and that meant the motor and home.
I sang louder.
Bobinson got some Red Feather Treks in for test from the US and has already had a shot. Finally I got a chance, strapped a pair on and had a wander about the Kilpatricks.
They’re easy to fit, light and after a few installation steps, walking was quite straightforward. I was mostly on easy angled slopes with soft snow cover of various thickness, and that was no problem at all. Uphill on steep ground was more interesting as I went between using the intergral crampon and walking sideways (all that I know of snowshoeing I’ve learned from watching Charles Bronson in Death Hunt).
Downhill on steep ground is a little hairy until you get a handle on it, but I’ll work at it if the snow keeps up its side of the deal and stays where it is. Going over ground which is a mix of deep snow and prominent grassy clumps was great, I just floated across. In general, progress was very good when I got into a rythym with the poles. Crossing a snow-covered boulder field raised an eyebrow, but my foot is free moving and hinged inside the cage so twisting an ankle would be more difficult that it looks.
It was great fun, maybe not so handy for general hill use but for a plateau crossing or a long approach they’ll be magic.
Hopefully I’ll be back with more before the winter’s oot.
The following text is from the Trek’s swing tag. It’s done nothing but endear me to them and fuel the grin.
What you hold here in your hand is freedom. Aerospace grade, powder-coated aluminium and TX35 vinyl freedom, compadre. You just take these bad boys out and fire up a mountain. Hike until you’re scared about finding your way back. Do this with reckless abandon and unbridled exuberance if for no other reason than you can.
Wouldn’t get that in the UK would you?
I just couldn’t do it. Bobinson and I stood at the open boot and looked at the other boots in there. The snow line was patchy until maybe 600 or 700 metres and walking up the steep grassy slope to tackle the Dalmally Horseshoe in an anticlockwise direction would bring me nothing but heartache in the Scarpa Mirages. The Keen Growlers it was then. We were kitted and away into the sharp wind quickly, adjusting cuffs and pack straps as we eyed the cloud shrouded tops that circled the coire.
The last time I was here I was skinny, had waist length hair and was at an age beginning with a “2”. It’s no surprise then that I missed the bridge, but a backtrack along the riverbank got us over the tumbling water and onto the SMC Munro’s Guide descent route.
It’s on steep grass, and the ground was increasingly frozen, but we got the height out of the way early and were onto the ridge just under the clouds. The wander along the more level part of the ridge saw us slowly absorbed into the cloud cover, the wind was strong, harshly chilling and the ground was was now coated in hard frozen snow. We stopped and got our crampons on and I swapped my poles for an axe and my stormtrooper gloves.
Anyone who says that getting this kit on and setting off doesn’t make them feel like an 8 year old running around the park pretending to be a spaceman/ train driver/ cowboy is a big fat liar.
We walked further into the lightgreyout and as the ridge narrowed to the top of Sron an Isean there was the strange sensation of exposure without any impression of height. The monotone blanket broken up only by the dark ice encased rocks tumbling away on all sides.
The ridge to the summit from here is the best part of the route and it’s the best way to ascend Stob Daimh, I think SMC must be keeping it to themselves. The ridge is narrow with big drops on either side, the crest a wind sculpted fin of frozen snow. It’s a total joy, but this is where experience comes in, there were no signs of anybody else having passed this way, visibility was piss poor and there were cracks where the weight of the cornice to the north side was pulling at even this well consolidated snow pack.
We worked our way across and around and stopped for a breather at the base of the final slope to the summit. Here, for a few seconds the cloud billowed and cleared and showed us the height of our rest spot. That made me laugh out loud as we gazed down into the coire and got our first impression that we’d actually been climbing up something high, and were actually on the edge of something really rather steep.
As the cloud returned, the still visible became the focus. The iceforms on the rocks looked fraglie, but were hard as steel.
As we pushed upwards, the first of a fair few folk passed us going the other way. Everybody had two points to make with which I always agreed; that the wind would cut you in two and that it was a brilliant day to be out.
We didn’t hang about long on the summit, but we noticed how we were both getting iced up. Crystals were growing onto every seam, every fibre and were creeping along every surface. It got so thick it started to look like fake TV snow had been sprayed on us.
We shot the breeze with some folks and headed off, climbing over Stob Garbh and looking a spot to stop for a brew down the ridge. Bobinson did attack a frozen boulder at one point, I felt that he was expressing the primeval angst of man through the medium of interprative dance. He disagreed.
The bloody sun came out. It was glorious, but the views belonged to the others still on the summit. The warm patches of light caused me to blink which in turn made me realise how tight the skin on my face was.
So excited was I that I lost my footing, fell on my back and started to slide. I swung my axe into the snow with my right hand and jerked to a stop much to Bobinsons amusment. My arse was stinging with the unexpected acceleration on a frozen surface and my self arrest technique was too freeform to described fully in public.
We stopped for a brew and a look into the coire. The group we has passed a little earlier were working their way along the skyline on the narrow part of the ridge. I’ll bet they were having a ball.
The temperature rose as we descended and the harsh world above was replaced by an idyllic country scene lit by warm winter sunshine. We walked out on the track of the railway line that served the mine and our thoughts turned to food. My thoughts often turn to food.
We were in the Real Food Cafe in a flash. Ten minutes later the place was heaving and we sat smug at the table with fine tasty fare, burning faces and stingy eyes. Sarah brought over a huge bowl of crumble and custard and the day was done.
I’ve been born again. I’m enjoying revisiting long forgotten peaks, and I’m enjoying day walks again. Climbing Stob Daimh was great fun, it felt fresh and new and it’s a great route on a lovely hill.
I’ve got a world of possibilty opened up close to home.
Bobinson was tracking me with his camera as if he was expecting some sort of mishap. Well, we were both wearing the deadly dangerous Kahtoolas…
Heavy snow with flakes the size of scones had me standing at the window grinning, but it was Joycee who said let’s go.
The weather might have really bad at 900m, but at 300m it was fine, refreshing even. We watched the pulses of sleet crossing Cowal and Renfrewshire then sweep up the hillside towards us, chasing the patches of blue sky in all directions except overhead. But, warm and dry, hoods up, we were impervious to its attempts to spoil our fun.
Always nice to get snow on your boots.
No tents, just a winter day pack. Crivvens.
Tooled up with dangerous items like Kahtoolas, bendy footwear and aluminium ice axes we set off for the Lawers range above Loch Tay. I haven’t been there for a few years, it always catches a lot of snow, so it looked like a good place for a bimble under completely clear, blue skies.
The wee road up to the Lawers vistor centre was iced solid, so we left the motor at the edge of the forest. Time was getting on ( it really seems that alpines starts are very much in the past…) and as we’d be coming down in the dark, we though better of the “fun” of driving down the open hillside track. It was a good call, because of where we stopped we struck out over open hillside towards the rarely trodden SE ridge of Beinn Ghlas.
Deep soft snow and rough uneven ground made sure we went at a snails pace and we were soon stopping to strip down to baselayers.
I love that. A base layer as an outer layer in winter feels like you’re waiting to be caught, you broke mums favourite vase and she’s going to find out. So enjoy the freedom while it lasts.
The wind picked up after we gained some height and layers were donned again, cuppas and a sit down also seemed like a good idea. The biting wind and exposed ridge meant that Bobinson’s Snowclaw and everybody’s ice axes were digging down into the snow. Cosy.
When we left our snow-loungers, the lowering sun was casting a warming glow as the temperature dropped. We were now well wrappped up as any exposed skin was getting uncomfortably chilled. High whispy clouds started to appear. The snow was changing to a much hard variety. Craig stuck on his aluminium Kahtoola crampons, Helen was kicking in with her proper boots, me and Bobinson found that slicing eding style kicks work for bendy footwear. No problems to report.
We reached the summit ( me last, my fuel tank had marmalade or something in it today) as the sun touched the peaks of the horizon. The sky broke into song. The West was rocK, fire and insistent colour, urgent to make its mark before the sun withdrew its influence for another day. The East was cool purple and blue, mellow jazz with it’s feet up on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
We lingered on the summit as the wind had dropped. It’s so beautiful, so precious to stand there at these moments. There was no one else still high on the mountain, all day we had seen distant figures, skiers, snowboarders and walkers. But all had descended.
The wind slammed into us, with a fierce cold carried in its pockets. We made haste, running at times trying to lose height, spindrift whipping around us like it had just been woken up after dinner and missed its favourite programme on the telly. My fingers became searingly painful in my powerstretch gloves, I’ve never known them to chill so fast. I made fists inside my gloves and carried my poles under my arm as I hopped and slid down the ridge.
Lower down, out of the wind I sneaked my warming fingers back into my gloves and regained some composure. We tightened up out of our broken line and bimbled down together. The ascent conditions still applied and the going was slow, except for the smooth snow slopes where the four of us careered down on our arses with varying degrees of success and grace.
We reached the motor in darkness, warm and with thoughts turning to hot food. What a cracking day.
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 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?”.
The Glen Lyon Horseshoe is probably better known for the arsehole landowner at its foot than its peaks. But it’s a lovely place, the walking is good and it catches and holds snow. Driving over the pass by the Ben Lawers visitor centre can be a gamble in winter as the descent into Glen Lyon is hairy when the road is iced, but it feels wild and remote in Glen Lyon in hard winter conditions, so it’s worth the gritted teeth and beads of sweat on your brow.
That photie was taken with Gromit impaled on a Sigg bottle and it was bloody freezing. My hair (I had hair, it was styled and everything) and my eyelashes froze in a bitter wind and I only got half way around the horseshoe before I came back down with visions of hot cuppas luring me off my planned route. I remember a flock of deer barely aknowledging me, unfazed as I passed through them lower down as a soft heavy snow fall started and the wind died.
That was at least ten years ago and sorting through some photies, the one above popped to the surface and the memories above came flooding back.
It’s like me finding a Radio Times from 1974 and reading the news that Tom Baker, the new Doctor Who, will be facing his old enemies the Daleks in a six part story called The Genesis of the Daleks. I’m right there.
Memories, truly the most precious of possesions.
0300hrs I finished packing. This leads to inevitable mistakes, five main meals and one breakfast instead of an even spread of each being the most apparent once I was under way. So, little sleep was had and we left late as well. My folks ran me up to FT Bill as they were going to have a gad about Lochaber, but we caught every concievable obstacle on the way, the winner of the biggest and slowest prize being the car ferry under police escort moving North as best as they could from laybay to layby to let the queues clear.
So we got there in time for lunch at the Highland Centre next to the
start finish post. A cuppa, a piece, a photie, a SPOT ping and I was on my way.
The first bit is rubbish along tarmac, but the inceasingly fine views down Glen Nevis with a snow capped Stob Ban did give me something to look at. I felt fresh at this point, the sun was shining, my pack was light and comfy.
You get up and away from Glen Nevis pretty quickly although Ben Nevis keeps it’s head above the scenery for a good while. The track through the forest is a transition of sorts, in that you do get a sense of heading somewhere other than back to the car. I stopped to blether to a couple of guys in the trees who were on the home run. They’d given up carrying their kit as they were getting worn out and were being now being portered by Transit van having bought daysacks in Tyndrum. They assumed I was doing the same with my half full pack and that there was the first of a long series of explainations of what I was doing and why. A Lemon and Lime Nuun Hydration tab in each of their bladders set them right again. There’s so many wee things like that that folk don’t know about, there should be more made of the benefits of nutrition and hydration in the mainstream sources like the magazines. I think it’s always a minor topic because it’s percieved as dull. A new jacket or sexy looking boots always catch the eye more that a sachet of fruity smelling crystals which can actually have a much bigger effect on your enjoyment of the outdoors.
Once I was out onto the clear-felled slopes behind Mullach nan Coirean I met Jon from upstate New York. My opening line was “That’s a big ‘kin pack!”, to which he agreed.
Jon was walking the Way, then heading out to see friends in Inverness and finally to the Outer Hebrides. The poor boy was burst, but having a fine time. We talked stoves, sleeping bags, mountains and weather.
I met so many folk over the days, usually in waves as they left the same hostels and campsites at similar times. There’s a cameraderie develops it seems between the folks walking at the same pace, a support group of sorts. As I spent so much of the trip in isolation so that’s something that’s a bit beyond me. I liked being on my own, but at the same there was times when I missed my pals.
I love the walk to Kinlochleven. The Mamores looming to your left, the track heading on seemingly without end. The miles pass easily, but the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and the sleet started. Time for a pitstop at Tigh na Sleubhaich under Stob Ban, a SPOT ping and a liberal application of waterproofs. And a cuppa of course.
It was a bit miserable from here as it was cold and dreich, but chatting to Donald from Adventure Trading (the SPOT folk) helped the miles pass. I hadn’t sent a signal for ages and it looked like I’d either lost it, it was broken, or I was dead. Whatever it could all have ben tits up, but no I’d just forgotten. Over the days Donald was very much Sgt Al Powell to my John McLane, bless him for staying the course.
Looking over to the water pipes above Kinlochleven and the descent and reascent to reach the top of them is a little upsetting. So I stopped for water and a sit down in Kinlochleven and headed up the track towards the Devils Staircase after sending a SPOT ping. I did remember better from then on.
The climb up is a bastard. It really is, the track is rough, twisting and endless. There’s views and interest all the way, the hills, the pipes, but it’s a grind. Here and Conic Hill are the two bits that are the downsides of going North to South. By the time I got to the top of the pipes the light was fading, the wind was up, the sleet was getting more solid and I knew my schedule was oot the windae. And, the sign is now burst.
I went as well as I could, but I was fading a bit. I was hungry, but there was no good shelter for cooking and eating so I pressed on. Even rounding a corner to see a snow capped Buachaille didn’t fill me with the usual bubble of joy. By the time I was at the top of the Devils Staircase it was properly dark. The rain was heavy, there was a mist coming down, the wind was up, I was tired, I could see failure written all over the path ahead to the bridge of disgrace, with the only way home being a Post Bus straight to Hell.
Head down, hood up, I made my way down to the A82 and along towards the KingsHouse. I was now walking in water. I had brought my Big Agnes bivvy bag, hot food was looking difficult tonight. Ba Bridge as a camp site was out, the miles were few, but the weather was horrendous. I have an internal swingometer that goes to fun to the right, and suffering to the left. I can take a good swing to the left but it can’t stay there all the time, that would be pish. I’ll camp behing the hotel and nip in for something hot I thought.
The badly pitched tents, badly parked cars, gormless giggling and whispering was crowned by toilet habits to be condemned over the bridge from the KingsHouse. I walked straight by the camping area and into the hotel to be greeted by a cheery bunch in the lounge, “You look tired, come and join the girls. Do you want a glass of wine?”.
I was on the cusp of failure. Again. I had so much riding on this, the SPOT test, I’d been shooting my mouth of as usual, all excited about the trip, the test kit.
I’d done a paltry 23 miles. I was tired, cold and hungry.
It was not looking good
This has been a long time coming. All the years of driving through the glen or looking at it from the peaks on either side and saying “I really have to go there…”. It’s one of those hill days that deserves the weather and the right conditions, and the right place in your head. Rushing it would be rubbish, it needs time, attention, savouring, and an overnight on the ridge. I think this week I kinda got all of those.
The forces of darkness had aligned themselves with the A82. 17 sets of roadworks, mostly with lights, but one had my old favourite “The Convoy System”. Hooray. But the best obstacle was between Ardlui and Tarbet. A “Wide Load” boat on a trailer, jammed nose to nose with a lorry which was towing another lorry. They couldn’t pass, reverse, help themselves or each other. The Northbound cars manged to squeeze past carefully, but nobody wider or Southbound was going anywhere. I wonder how the situation resolved itself? When I got to Fort William I immediately headed to the Nevis Bakery for an award winning pie and an above average cuppa. Refueled. I also bought a big cookie with Smarties on it and put it in my rucksack for later.
The drive to the Cluanie Inn is a joy. Scotland is great, it really is. I know the treeless, hydro scheme scarred landscape is of our own making, but damn it’s beautiful. I parked opposite the Inn, saddled up and set off up the Old Tomdoun Road.
The old road is a fine if long approach, rough broken tarmac and stone bridges, ever changing views. I’d like to follow it to it’s end, although the swim across Loch Loyne where the raised water level has submerged the road would not be my favourite. I cut off onto a stalkers path and that was me onto the ridge. The sun was already very low (curse you demons of the A82). I got to Creag a’ Mhàim in time to watch the sun set. The ridge from here is a mix of scrambling, bimbling, rock-hard snow, and moonlit views. By the time I got to the unfortunately small summit of Aonach air Chrith it was time to stop, it was black, cold and I was hungry. The next bit of the ridge has exposed wee bits of scrambling and it looked like I was going to be traversing the flanks of a zebra, vertical stripes of black rock and white snow. I had to pitch the bivvy.
I was a little unnerved by this I’ll admit. At 1010m it’s the highest point on the ridge, it’s not flat and there’s big drops all around. So needless to say all the guy points on the bivvy were used and the pegs hammered in with a big rock. Once I was in my sleeping bag and dinner was made, it was okay. I could only see upwards to a crescent moon wheeling through a indigo sky busy with stars. I lay there munching on my Smarties cookie, Orange Goblin on the ipod, warm and comfy, the cracked cornice five feet away didn’t even enter my mind.
I had a good night, winds were light and although the air was chilled I left the zips on the bivvy open and just kept my bunnet on. I looked out around 0600 to see the horizon to the East aglow, the sun was thinking about making an appearance. I’d just lie back for a bit and wait for it. I missed the sunrise due to snoozing but still, it was looking very nice indeed when I stuck my head out. Breakfast was a muesli and hot chocolate delight. It’s a stunning spot to wake up on, not so scaryat all in the daylight. I was surrounded by grand, snow streaked mountains, it was warming quickly, I had to go. My trouble is standing looking about me for these indefinite periods of time. I don’t care for the ticking of the summit, it’s the being there that’s important to me.
I was right about the next bit of ridge though, scrambly, steep, hard frozen snow with wee touches of exposure. A daytime excursion for sure. The ridge changes all the way along, from sweeping grassy hillside to sharp arete, hands in pockets to hands on rock. It pulls you onwards always, the next top looks the best, oh no the next one is, ah but looking behind maybe that last one? The distance doesn’t seem to matter as there’s constant input from the ridge and the surroundings, as you head West more scenery opens up and the perspective is constantly changing.
Sgurr an Lochain is steep though, just when you least expect it. A fine peak, the best looking one from the road. After that it was down to the spring below Sgurr Beag to refill the bottles and a wee bit of lunch in the sunshine. Final stop on the ridge was Creag nan Damh , a rugged wee bugger. I hung around for a while enjoying the views to the West, but time was marching on while mentally I was still sitting on the side of my bunk looking for my vest. The descent down Am Fraoch-choire to the road is probably best saved for the last outing on your old knees. I wouldn’t take new knees down that way, you’ll probably invalidate the warranty.
The road. It’s pish. Drivers are arseholes and can’t work their lights, steering and people walking by the roadside apparently. Tarmac makes my feet hot. And it’s a really long way from the Battle of GlenShiel (1719) to the Cluanie Inn carpark (2000hrs) on the A87. But it’s nice to have done the whole round on foot.
I really enjoyed it. The mountains were fantastic, the weather was a dream, walking the ridge at night was exhilerating, the bivvy made it a wee adventure and, the kit was good (more of that later). Never saw a soul either.
And I got a touch of the sun. Good grief.
Edit… Just remembered my emergency stop in Glen Coe when a stag wandered out onto the road and stopped. It turned to look at me and I half expected it to pull out a Magnum .44 and challenge me.