Archive

Backpacking

Firefox seems to be having a slight fit at the number of pictures in this post and keeps crashing. Perhaps a hint I went a little overboard with the photos? I still need to add maps, but I’ll do that when my browser decides to stop giving up the ghost.

The plan was simple. Walk over the Lairig Ghru and down to the Currour bothy. Sleep. Get up and walk the ridge of mountains to the west. At least it seemed simple at 11pm at night after a few beers.

At 10am the next morning the seven of us were standing by the bus ready to head off. It had snowed again in the night, bringing the snow level up to ‘quite deep’. It also looked like it was going to snow some more.

As we set off beneath leaden skies we immediately failed to find the path under the pristine white blanket covering the ground. After faffing around for 10 minutes and several cases of doubling back we just struck out across the heather in the hope of finding it later. We did, although even once we had a path our progress was still slow.

On the hill in the distance we could see the scar that was the Chalamain gap waiting for us. As we approached it the ground got more and more rocky, until for the last few hundred meters we had to creep over snow covered boulders with no real idea where the ankle breaking gaps in between were. We made it across and found a place out of the wind to eat lunch.

Soon we were all feeling cold, even when sheltered, so once more we began walking. The snow here was even deeper than lower down, now coming up to our knees a lot of the time. Progress was slow.

The snow got even deeper. Progress got slower. However it was hilarious to watch each other struggle and flail around.

The gorge blocking our way to the path over the pass was getting closer and we could see just how steep the far side was. In the end we had a sketchy descent down to the beck at the followed by an interesting ascent whereby we had to kick steps all the way up.

We had another rest before beginning our final push to the top. It turned into another punishing slog through snow that was still getting deeper, and whilst absolutely knackering, it was still great to be out in so much snow. The weather was slowly improving, adding to our spirits.

At about 3:30pm we finally crested the final rise giving us views far to the south. In five and a half hours we had managed 5 miles, with 3 and a half still to go.

A descent down a slope in waist deep snow lead up to the Pools of Dee for second lunch. By this point the cloud had lifted, giving us views of the summits. However here, and for the rest of the way to the bothy, the path would appear for 50m or so, and then disappear beneath waist deep drifts for another 100m.

I was getting hungry and fatigued, but the weather kept improving, and looking back we got a view that took the breath away.

A final push across some rough ground and a river crossing saw us to the bothy, where we all dived inside to eat and get warm. After Christmas pudding steamed in gin and whisky (I advise all of you to try this one), we all went to bed and I slept solidly until the morning. I nipped out a couple of times over the evening, and it was absolutely freezing, although by moonlight everything seemed to get more beautiful, albiet in an eeire way.

The next day started off nicely, a smattering of high cloud, but it looked to be a nice day. By the time we started walking the summit of Ben Machdui was no longer visible. As we started up the slope to the back of the bothy the weather steadily got worse. We could also now see that our planned route to the ridge was over a kilometre on the kind of terrain we’d been slogging through the previous day. Eager to avoid this we instead opted for a direct route up the Devils Point. We scrambled and kicked our way over rocks and up snow slopes, passing a couple of points I was dubious about my ability to retreat over without crampons. The weather really closed in on us to boot, with snow flurrying round us as we climbed. Surprisingly soon the gradient eased and we soon gained the summit and its welcoming shelter.

Carn Toul took hours to get to. Marching through the snow and ice in near white out conditions (all we could see was the cliff edge we walking by) combined with the cold really started to get to me a bit, and lunch was a welcome relief. It was strangely peaceful as I ate, unable to see anything but the cairn and my companions. Soon we all got cold again and so continued round the ridge.

Somewhere along here we made a navigational error (not the best thing to do in a white out) and ended up walking some way off the west side of the ridge we were following. I still don’t know how we did it. After several minutes of map reading we readjusted ourselves and luckily found the edge again.

From there we took a bearing across the summit plateau to Einich Cairn. It took a bit of courage to leave the security of the ridge, where we could see the cliff edge (albeit corniced in places) and walk into the whiteness. About 15 minutes later a cairn loomed up out of the sky/ground. We then aimed for a spot height in the middle of the plateau, but we were unable to find the top of a slight rise in the ground when there were no references at all. I admit at this point I started to get a bit nervous, as these were now the most ‘serious’ conditions I’d ever been. With the weather worsening and the summit on the edge of an almighty drop we weren’t entirely sure we’d be able to see, we decided discretion was the better option and bailed out to the north west down a very steep slope into Gleann Einich. From there we followed the track out to the road where we got ourselves picked up by other friends.

An epic two days in, for me, the most challenging conditions I’ve ever been walking in.

Advertisements

Date: 23/08/2011

Distance: 9.4 miles

Ascent: 2600ft

We woke with no real plan for the day apart from to end up further east by the time it came to pitch that evening. We half had it in our heads to ascend Mullach Fraoch-choire, however as we were packing, the early morning mist flowing down the glen got caught on the mountain and built up before shrouding it in cloud. It put that plan to bed.

We ambled down into Glen Affric, still not knowing what to do where we promptly bumped into the couple from two days before cycling down the glen. After a bit of a chat we set off on our way once more. Soon we were at the entrance to Gleann ne Ciche and so decided to head down it on a whim to see what the high mountains further down it looked like. Instead we got distracted by the river and found a way onto an ‘island’ in the middle. Sitting around we decided to cook lunch to avoid any midges that evening. In the process of scrabbling around on rocks trying to set up the stove I managed to crack the screen of my camera. Cursing, I inspected it to discover it wasn’t fatal and my camera would live longer yet.

The Munro’s to the south also managed to get a topping of cloud whilst we cooked, and as we were chasing views we chilled out for another hour or so before heading back to Glen Affric. We decided we’d walk up Carn a’ Choire  Ghairbh as it was only a “little mountain”, totally forgetting that 865m is a damn big hill in England.

After faffing around trying to find the start of the path up its northern flank (we finally found it after deducing a slight flattening in the side of the mountain to be a path) we set off upwards. The path wound up the side of the mountain, giving views straight up Glen Affric and to the mountains beyond.

It was tough work as the hill was bigger than anticipated and the path petered out a few hundred yards from the summit. We had to pick our way across peat bog to the very bleak and cold top. We lingered for no more than a few seconds before beginning our descent into the nameless glen to the south and took a rather direct (terrifyingly steep) route, startling a massive herd of deer below who promptly stampeded off down the glen.

Once down we realised there didn’t seem to be anywhere flat enough to pitch tents. Aware that if we failed to locate anywhere it would be a long time before we had chance to rest we all kept a sharp eye out. Luckily we soon spotted a grassy area just large enough for two tents. The next day we saw nowhere else in the glen suitable to pitch.

Midges were out in force in the shelter of the mountains and we quickly retired to our tents to eat before making occasional dives outside to admire the remoteness of our location. It truly felt as if no-one had ever been there before. This was wild camping at its height.

Date: 24/08/2011

Distance: 17.3 miles

Ascent: 1700ft

The next day we woke to high grey cloud. We picked our way slowly through some very tough terrain before picking up a track into the glen two miles from our camp spot. A very disconcerting river crossing then ensued as we crossed a slippery wooden bridge that was slightly angled to the side.

Continuing along the track we dropped down into Glen Affric along a very muddy path before joining the track in the glen.  All along this section of lochside it felt a bit like I was in the Jurassic Period. Tall pines stood around, surrounded by heather, ferns and moss.

However soon the appeal of this terrain wore off, and it turned to slight despair when I realised just how far we had to follow tracks and roads to get to Cannich that evening. It wasn’t that the distance was too great, or the scenery bad, but it just seemed rather dull after our previous experiences the past three days.

We plodded and plodded for a couple of hours before finally appearing at a car park near Dog Falls. We sat and rested by the river, before walking to admire the falls. Unfortunately they are an anti-climax as the water is hidden in a very deep gorge, but you could hear the thunder of the torrent rushing through.

A very dull road walk into Cannich then followed, and we spend much of the evening sheltering under a covered area by the village hall as the rain fell for a few hours. Under cover of darkness we then found a spot to camp in the woods by the village.

The next morning we got up in the freezing dawn and got on the bus to Inverness. My first foray into the highlands was complete. The lands to the north of the border do not disappoint. Now to find the time to go back.

These past three months seem to have been swallowed by some hole in time. I’m so far behind on everything to do with this blog. Anyway, I’ve finally made some time to pen out my highlands trip from August. The plan is to do it in two parts, this being part one.

Date: 20/08/2011

Distance: 8.6 miles

Ascent: 500 feet

The train from Derby left at some silly hour in the morning (about 7am). We instantly tried to get back to sleep once boarded, which worked well for a couple of hours until a gaggle of women passed through the carriage after one station and loudly exclaimed whilst standing right next to us “Well this is a sleepy train isn’t it”. Not any more it wasn’t. They then proceeded to sit a few rows in front of us, crack open two bottles of wine, and loudly have a conversation about someone’s child. It transpired they thought rather lowly of the parents too. The whole episode pissed me off a considerable amount. Luckily we were able to escape their infuriating presence at Darlington where we changed trains. The rest of the ride north passed pretty uneventfully, we played cards, stared out at the Northumbrian coast, Forth Bridge and Scottish mountains. Inverness was reached at about 5:30pm, and the bus to Cannich caught at approximately 6pm. This particular bus journey is the scariest I’ve ever been on. The driver spent the entire journey madly gesticulating and angrily talking to himself. Coupled with the speed he was taking the roads and the ferocity of his breaking I genuinely wondered if I was going to make it to Cannich. We did get there eventually though, 12 hours after setting off from home.

And so began the nine mile walk to our camp spot for the night. The road along Glen Cannich is pleasant enough, and it was nice to pass the evening in such a way without having to think of navigation. A few midges hung in the air but they were not a problem so long as we kept moving. As evening drew in the view to the mountains opened up, giving a beautiful view to end our long day.

We finally arrived at the damn of Loch Mullardoch as darkness fell, found a suitable camp site and so stopped walking. At which point we suddenly found ourselves in a swarm of midges so dense we all panicked. I cannot really describe just how bad the next few minutes were. We scrabbled to put the tent up, pulled our bags into the porch and then dived inside.  Once out of the madness all the midges attached to our clothing decided to form their own mini swarm inside the tent. We crawled into sleeping bags, and hiding under the hood I fell asleep feeling the most miserable I have ever felt whilst backpacking.

Date: 21/08/2011

Distance: 6.5 miles

Ascent: 3700 feet

The next morning dawned bright…and still. The floor of the tent was coated in a midge paste. Thankfully that meant the inner was a place of calm. Outside we could hear a vague humming sound as the legions of winged black monsters swarmed in their thousands. Packing up was not enjoyable; I kept getting blinded as midges crawled over my eyes and every few seconds I had to run about madly hitting various parts of my body. The view east was stunning, but I only really appreciated it later that day when I had proper look at the photo I managed to snap off just before we left.

We headed south, following the Allt Fraoch-choire along a slight path. The going was tough, heathery, boggy and rocky. I was exhausted, we’d been force to skip breakfast and the previous night’s meal because of the midges, and so I was really struggling as we ascended into the mountains. After almost two hours, we reached a point where the water flowing down the mountain was clear, and so we rested for an hour, drinking, eating and enjoying the view back down to Glen Cannich.

We then made the decision that rather than take a longer, less steep route up onto the ridge; we would opt for the direct route. At first it was good going, but the gradient gradually steepened until we were at a point where one slip would result in a several hundred foot fall and probable death. The ground underfoot was pretty poor, slippery and offering little grip. Needless to say I was rather relieved when we emerged onto the eastern flank of Toll Creagach.

After another brief rest we pushed on up to the summit of Toll Creagach. The mist blew in for a while, but had cleared by the time we reached the top, giving us wonderful views to the north. By this point all concepts of completing our original route we out the window, and so we were just enjoying the day, the plan being to map out a new route over the course of that evening. Lunch was had on the summit, where we donned gloves, hats and coats. Up high the wind was strong and it felt more like autumn, a warning that the seasons were beginning to change.

We continued west along the ridge, dropping down to a col before finally finding a path and ascending Tom a Choinich.

The wind had picked up even more and at the summit it was starting to knock us around occasionally. However just as we were about to leave for the shelter of lower altitude the best rainbow I have ever seen appeared to the north. It was a magical few minutes. We hung around until it faded before heading southeast along another ridge and then descending to camp by Allt Toll Easa. Along this section the sun came out giving wonderful views to the surrounding mountains.

In an aim to be pitched before any midges came out we finished the day well before dusk (this was our plan for every night), setting up our tents at the unusually early time of 4pm. The rest of the day was spent lazing about until the midges became a nuisance and we went to bed.

Date: 22/08/2011

Distance: 14.4 miles

Ascent: 4800 feet

Packing up was a quick affair; we wanted to be walking as soon as possible. We followed a vague path down into Glean nam Fiadh, making very fast progress south until we reached Glen Affric.

We rested where the road crosses the river, taking in the beauty of this wonderful place. As an added bonus there were very few people this far up the Glen, only one or two cars passed us as we walked west to the end of the road and then took the track to continue along Loch Affric.

A few miles further and we rested once more, fuelling up on cheese, chorizo and chocolate, before starting the long ascent to the summit of Mam Sodhail.

An hour later and we were at 900m, eating yet more chorizo and cheese before the final push up to the top. The final stretch to the summit was one of lactic acid and just as we were almost there, the mist blew in, turning our world into a sphere a few meters across.

 

Checking our watches we decided there was time to make the out and back trip to Carn Eige. Dropping down to the col between the two mountains we saw glimpses of views through ragged gaps in the cloud. All too soon we found ourselves ascending once more, but as we climbed the mist kept rising, meaning that as we summited a full panorama was revealed. We stood on that summit drinking in the views. All the time the cloud from the surrounding mountains was also lifting until we could see both the east and west coasts of Scotland from our one vantage point.

Soon enough the time came to backtrack up to Mam Sodhail once more, and after another steep ascent we arrived on the summit again, this time is a world of sunshine. Here we met a very friendly chap who we got talking to. He asked us to join him as he walked, but as we were heading in the opposite direction we declined.

 

As we walked west the weather continued to improve giving us panoramas in every direction, with views to Skye and beyond. After picking our way across a rock strewn landscape we began to descend down to a col.

 

As we neared it our hearts sank as we saw that the area we had wanted to pitch was a massive peat bog. The map had suggested we’d be camping in would be similar to the previous night, as so this was a bit of a shock.

 

Once at the col we passed back into the Glen Affric watershed and found a patch of bog that seemed fine before watching the mountains to the south light up in flame as the sun set.

Day 1

Date: 10/07/11

 Distance: 10.0 miles

 Ascent: 1100 feet

After one of the most mind numbing journeys in history we arrived at Havefordwest Station at 16:45. Having what we though was over an hour until the bus left we went to look around the sights of the town, mainly the castle. Some time we later we walked into the bus station and sat down to wait for our bus, which didn’t arrive. After some searching we found the timetable on one of the station boards. It turned out the ‘Summer 2011’ timetable I had downloaded off the bus company’s website was wrong, and the final bus had left at 17:00, not 17:55 as stated on the useless piece of paper now in my hand. What made it all the more annoying was that we would have had time to walk to the bus station and catch the bus had their website been correct. So we walked to Little Haven instead. Six miles of roads wasn’t ideal, but luckily a national cycle route runs along the road out of town, and so there was pavement for most of our walk along the more major road.

After an hour and a half or so of walking we arrived at the beach in Little Haven and sat on the rocks and cooked whilst watching the sun slowly move towards the horizon. We decided to linger a little longer, so popped into the beach front pub for a pint (I think I might be taking a leaf out of Terry’s book) to watch the evening draw in some more.

We then set off south along the coast path, the dusk distorting distances and giving quite an eerie feeling. Walking along a path surrounded by high hedgerows was quite disconcerting. The hedgerows soon disappeared and we were walking along the exposed cliff top trying to avoid plummeting to our deaths whilst watching the sky turn red and purple. The oil tankers out in the bay were lit up, adding a beauty of their own to the display.

About an hour after setting off from Little Haven we started to look for somewhere to camp. Originally we’d planned to camp in an old Iron Age fort, thinking it would flat inside the remains of the earthen walls. However our hopes were dashed as it wasn’t flat enough to camp. In fact, we’d yet to see anywhere at all where we could pitch up for the night. Luckily, about 300 yards from the fort we found a gently sloping path of deep grass and pitched there. We sat around outside for a while, watching the last of the light die and trying to figure out what the source of some howling could be. Eventually some memory sparked in my mind, and I remembered that seals howl, which matched up with the direction of the sound, they were coming from Stack Rocks, about half a mile off shore. With that puzzle solved we retired for the night.

Day 2

Date: 11/07/11

 Distance: 13.0 miles

 Ascent: 2200 feet

The next day was an early start, we didn’t fancy being caught sleeping by the Coast Path, and so we scrambled out the tent to an amazing dawn. The sun hadn’t yet risen above the hill to our east, and so it was bloody freezing. The skies were clear and just a couple of hundred yards to the south of us mist was flowing down a field and off the cliff into the sea. It was a very special moment as we were the only people to witness this spectacle.

By 6:30 we were on the move, which was good, because I was shivering uncontrollably by this point. I’d skimped on clothing in an attempt to save a few more grams due to the fine forecast and so didn’t have enough layers. The route finding was obvious, and so we enjoyed the views as we passed through St Brides (the hamlet which gives its name to the whole bay) and then the spectacular cliffs and beaches around Musselwick Sands. It was still quite early in the morning by the time we reached Martins Haven where we saw a squad of the Bomb Disposal unit donning wetsuits and breathing apparatus. I suspect an unexploded shell had been found from the firing range to the south.

We relaxed by the Coastguard outpost for the best part of an hour, before starting off to walk the second half of the day’s route. After a lacklustre section of cliff we emerged overlooking Marloes Sands, which is a stunning couple of miles of coastline. We caught it at around low tide, and so the whole beach was exposed.

The cliff walking then degraded in quality once again, whilst this section wasn’t bad, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the rest of the walk, and so we got our heads down for the last few miles. A quick skirt of an airfield took us down to Westdale Bay, before a short but steep climb took us back up to the cliffs. Surprisingly soon we caught sight of the lighthouse at St Ann’s Head, which then spent a while not getting any closer. Rounding the headland our home for the next few nights, West Blockhouse, came into sight. After the last half mile or so we arrived, to discover no-one else was there. So we walked down the nearby beach to chill out, whereby I feel asleep and burnt a strip across my stomach where my t-shirt rode up when I lay down, much to everyone’s amusement later that day.

I spent the next few days on the opposite kilter from a backpacking lifestyle, eating massive amounts, drinking too much beer and doing nothing but relaxing in beautiful weather. Bliss.

Date: 15/04/11

Distance: 14.0 miles

Ascent: 2316 feet

We awoke to a beautiful day. The air was tinged with early morning mist, giving a magical effect my camera just couldn’t capture. We ate and packed away with one eye always on our surroundings, absorbing the feeling of our privileged views and position.

We left at about 8am, seeking out a track that would take us down to the Cutthroat Bridge. From there we ascended up to Derwent Edge, following a wide path. With no-one else about we walked this section in silence, taking in our surroundings. To the south there were hints of an inversion down in the Hope Valley. Once up on the edge we headed up to the Wheel Stones where we stopped for another hour of bouldering there and on White Tor.

By the time we decided to head on once more it was gone 10am, but surprisingly only one other person was in sight, and he was traipsing across the moor to the east. Just before we reached Back Tor we took a path west, down and onto Little Howden Moor (the closest thing to a proper name I can find for this section of moorland). We then joined a track which took us down to the Ladybower via Pike Low. A short stint along the road lead us to Derwent Dam, and a convenient lunch spot.

Our route then took us up through the tracks and paths of Lockerbrook Coppice, which makes up part of the plantations on the banks of the Upper Derwent reservoirs. We emerged at Lockerbrook Farm, and took a track that would lead us down onto the Snake Road.

We crossed the road and immediately began another ascent up through woodland. Once at the top we had a brief rest and then dropped down into Jaggers Clough. We then went on a tour of the Edale Booths, taking in Nether Booth, Ollerbrook Booth and Grindsbrook Booth for the final stint of our trip before crashing out in the Nags Head for an hour or so.

Date: 14/04/11

Distance: 20.2 miles

Ascent: 3796 feet

We hopped on the Transpeak to Bakewell at Derby Bus Station for a measly £2.05. An hour later we stood in Bakewell town centre, and after a brief fumbling of packs were off for our night on the moors. I had some new kit to try out, my new Scarpa SL’s, Osprey Exos and some Exped Dry Bags (I’ve never used dry bags before, and it was interesting to see their many limitations, but more on all that technical stuff soon).

Our route took us over Bakewell Golf Course and then up through woods until we emerged on Carlton Pastures. Views were rather limited as there was a dense haze in the sky, but the weather was clement enough, with the sun out it would have been roasting! We covered the easy terrain quickly, and passed through Endensor and the Chatsworth Esate without pause before slogging our way up to the hunting tower.

After a brief pause we set off once more, this time in the direction of Dobb Edge. After following tracks through the woods and into some fields we lost the path and ended up on the wrong side of a fence. A flurry of activity later and we were back on track. It was only a short distance down to the Robin Hood Inn and en route we debated whether or not to go in for a pint, we decided not to, and opted instead for lunch on Birchin Edge and a bit of bouldering on the Three Ships. Up high there was a wind blowing, and so I found myself putting my fleece over my base layer to keep out the worst of it whilst I ate.

We then continued on our traverse of the edges, crossing the perpetually boggy area to the north of Birchen, before walking along the road to the Curbar Gap. Once there we headed along Curbar and Froggart Edges, giving their ever fantastic vistas, although it remained hazy. All too soon we found ourselves at the A625. We crossed and headed into Hay Wood and the weaving mass of paths it entails. After opting to stick to the high ground whenever we could, we eventually ended up at Oaks Wood and then followed what we thought was a footpath cutting the corner of a field, but it suddenly petered out. We crossed anyway, ending deposited in the Longshaw Estate.

After walking across the corner of the estate we crossed Burbage Brook and ascended up onto Over Owler Tor. We then decided to accompany Will, who was only with us for the day, down into Hathersage (good friends as we are). We took the opportunity to refill bottles and after another snack we headed back up onto high ground once more, arriving at Stanage at about 18:30, and bar the odd climber the place was unusually deserted.

Now tired, and craving a hot meal we picked up the pace for the last mile or so, keeping an eye out for a good place to spend the night down on Moscar Moor. I quickly spotted one, and we dropped down to investigate. It turned out to be a fantastic pitch, as flat as could be hoped for, and on cropped, stone free grass. We sat around, watching the sky darken, before turning in at around 10pm.

Date: 12/06/2010

Distance: 15.4 miles

Ascent: 1950 feet


We woke at 6am, packing up as fast as we could. We were walking by 6:20, in a beautiful and clear morning.

Dropping down to the young River Derwent if felt good to be up so early and out before everyone else. Once at the river we stopped, planning to eat a large breakfast of porridge and to refill water, only to find I’d somehow got the matches wet. No breakfast us. The walk along the Upper Derwent Valley was a pleasant one, and we made good speed, soon arriving at our turning to head up to Howden Edge. Height was gained quickly and we stopped on the summit of Margery Hill to eat a breakfast of sorts (our lunch).

We set off once more, down to southern end of Howden Edge before cutting east across the moor, to join up with the path that would lead to Back Tor. Most of the hares and pheasants in Derbyshire seemed to be on that mile stretch of moor and we were given several shocks when the locals finally made a break for it, sometimes when we were just about to step on them.

We met the path soon after out final encounter with the wildlife and turned south once more, heading along the paved path to meet and then follow Derwent Edge down to Whinstone Lee Tor. There we dropped down to the road, which we followed to the Ladybower’s Dam. This was duly crossed and we followed the fields to Bamford, before getting on the train back home.