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Saturday, 26 April 2014

Easter in Drumochter (14)

Eventually I was down to the nicely sheep-cropped grass of the loch shore. I sat and took my boots off, and ate my lunch; then I changed socks, put my walking sandals on, and followed the shore track to Dalnaspidal Lodge.

The idea had been to cross the A9 at Dalnaspidal Lodge, ascend Fuar Mhonadh and A' Bhrudheanach Bheag (the fifth Munro of the expedition - bringing my tally for the year up to that for the whole of 2013 with just the single expedition), then continue over A' Bhuidheanach Mhor, down the northern ridge, up to hill 902 and down the quarry track and so back into Dalwhinnie. However, the idea had also been to take my lunch at Dalnaspidal Lodge. I was two hours behind schedule, and the descent over such steep and difficult ground had taken a lot out of me. So I decided to leave the fifth Munro for another occasion, and follow the cycleway back to Dalwhinnie. I had done enough for this expedition. It had been a good one, and I was happy with what I had achieved.

I crossed the railway line and turned onto the cycleway, taking note of the fact that it is possible to pass under the A9 here on a concrete ledge incorporated into the bridge over the Allt Coire Mhic-sith. The cycleway is pleasant walking, using the surface of the old road for much of the way; but it offers no shade to protect you from the blazing sun, and no opportunities to refill water bottles.

I had walked about 4 kilometres of the cycleway, past the Sow of Atholl and the Boar of Badenoch, and still had about 8 kilometres to go when a car pulled up and offered me a lift. This wasn't the Challenge, and my expedition was effectively done. I was just walking back to base, a necessary trudge which added nothing to the expedition. I had no need to walk that final 8 kilometres. So I accepted, and jumped in. The driver was from Dalwhinnie. He had assumed that I was returning to a car at Balsporran Cottages; but on learning that I was not, he was more than happy to take me all the way back to Dalwhinnie.

And so ended a very enjoyable Easter expedition. I drove up to Newtonmore again that evening to bid farewell (until Montrose in May) to Ali, and on Easter Monday I drove back to Bedfordshire.

Easter in Drumochter (13)

The descent was steep, and I was glad of my "security on steep ground" training as I picked my way carefully down, looking for good descent lines and deer tracks. It was slow, careful, tense stuff. Initially the slopes were convex, and trying to spot the parts of the slope that would be safest in descent later on was not easy. At one point I startled a herd of 50 or so deer, who were not expecting me to descend from above. When they looked up and spotted me, they all took to their heels. Perhaps the hairiest moment was crossing the deep defile of a little stream (from which I took this photograph showing the views of Loch Garry which I had from high on my hillside); but once I was across, the slope I had to cross took on a concave aspect, which meant I was able to see and plan my route for the entire remaining descent.

Easter in Drumochter (12)

Just before the summit cairn, I met another snow field. This one, however, was level and posed no hazard, so I did not bother with the snow spikes as I made my way to the snowed-in summit cairn of Sgairneach Mor, my first Munro of the day and fourth of the expedition. I then retreated to the grass and sat in the sun for a bit, before descending south and continuing on to Meallan Buidhe. As I descended I saw a pair of ptarmigan ... but as is their way, they defied photography!

At first it looked as though there would be a snow-free route through the col and onto the north east ridge of Meallan Buidhe; but I encountered some snow in the dead ground that had to be crossed. It was relatively flat, however, and posed no problem; and once I was safely across there was no more snow to be dealt with.

Meallan Buidhe is a pleasant enough little hill. Too low to be a Munro and insufficient renascent to be a Corbett, with a rounded grassy top where I sat and sunned myself for a while before starting the descent over Ceann Gorm to Dalnaspidal Lodge.

Or at least ... that was the plan. However, after crossing one, none-too-difficult snowfield I came to another, much larger, much more menacing snowfield which wrapped its way round to the north facing slopes and which I was NOT prepared to attempt to cross, spikes or no spikes. To cross that was winter walking; and I lacked the skills or the equipment to attempt it. And so I was left with only one alternative: to attempt an oblique descent of the steep slopes above Loch Garry. Not ideal ... but necessary.

Easter in Drumochter (11)

I picked my way safely round the patchy snow fields on the lower south-west facing slopes of Sgairneach Mhor, and then made good progress across the rounded, turfy top until I reached this snow field (pictured) on the upper slopes of the north-facing corrie just short of the summit. To reach the summit cairn I was going to need to cross it. So out came the snow spikes again.

I doubt that the angle of the snow field was sufficient for there to be any real danger of a glissade - but I do not have the winter experience necessary to be confident of my judgment in such things, so I was not going to take any chances. I watched the aspect of the slope carefully, and took a slightly circuitous route designed to ensure that any glissade would end up on the easy grassy slopes, rather than taking me into the ever-steepening slopes of that corrie. I crossed the snow field without incident, and soon I was removing my spikes and striding across the turf towards the summit cairn.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Easter in Drumochter (10)

It was a little after 4 when I pitched my tent. Too early for supper ... but I had been walking for 8 hours now, and I really had little appetite for doing anything like making a light ascent of the fourth Munro - Sgairneach Mhor. That was on tomorrow's schedule, and it could wait until tomorrow. I decided to have a nap instead ... but somehow I never woke, and I never did have my supper. But I did sleep very well.

I woke up on Easter Sunday to find that I was surrounded by a quite spectacular inversion. The valleys were full of cloud; but my camp site was above it all. I took a few photos (of which this is the best), ate some breakfast, then struck camp and prepared for a further day's Munro-bagging.

Easter in Drumochter (9)

Beinn Udlamain has an impressive summit cairn / shelter, and I settled down here to enjoy the sun on my face for a while. The air was still, and save for the occasional croaking, rasping call of a ptarmigan it was completely silent. This, for me, is what Scotland is truly about.

After a while, I roused myself and headed off down the south ridge into Carn Ic Loumhaidh. There was a lot of snow in the valley bottom, but there was also some good, flat, dry turf which offered an ideal pitch for my wild camp.

Easter in Drumochter (8)

From the summit of A' Mharconaich I headed south west to Bruach nan-Iomairean, and then followed the ridge round the Fraoch choire and up to the summit of Beinn Udlamainn - my third Munro of the day, and the highest point of the entire expedition. The north east facing slopes overlooking the Fraoch choire still exhibited a fairly impressive cornice; but the route between the two tops was clear of snow and was an easy and comfortable traverse.

Easter in Drumochter (7)

At the summit of A'Mharconaich (my second Munro of the expedition ... and of 2014) I found this rather moving little memorial. I have no idea what, if any, connection he had with this particular mountain ... and to be honest, I am not sure it really matters if he had any at all. It's just touching that it's there.

Easter in Drumochter (6)

My companions were in a hurry, as they had to get back to their car. I was planning on a wild camp in the mountains, so I had all the time in the world. I thought it was lunchtime, whereas they didn't. So we went our separate ways.

After enjoying a leisurely lunch, I started my ascent of A' Mharconaich. This was complicated by a fairly extensive, if not particularly aggressive snow field. I had invested in some emergency snow spikes, and I thought it would be an idea to put them on to cross this snow field. They probably weren't actually necessary ... but I felt a lot better for having them. Once I was across this snow field, however, the top was clear of snow all the way to the summit.

Easter in Drumochter (5)

Geal Charn was my first Munro of the expedition ... and of 2014. At 917 metres it is only just a Munro: but 4 metres over is 4 metres over, right? There is a summit cairn, and there is a shelter just beyond it. I spent a while resting at the shelter, and then I took a few photographs such as this one, looking across Loch Ericht to Ben Alder. After a while I was joined by a young couple with a dog, and we descended the south ridge together to the head of Coire Fhar, before attempting the ascent of A'Mharconaich.

Easter in Drumochter (4)

The summit of Creagan Mor was soon reached ... but the snow on Geal Charn in the left background gave cause for concern. I had planned to follow the ridge line round Coire Beul an Sporain ... but as I headed south west from the summit of Creagan Mor it became all too obvious that the snow fields would make this route problematic. Instead, therefore, I dropped south and forded the Allt Beul an Sporain (taking the opportunity to refill my water bottles) then made my way up onto the north east ridge of Geal Charn. There is a Munroists' path on this ridge, coming up from Balsporran Cottages, and I met another walker on this path. We walked in company for a while; but I was holding him back and he had a big schedule for the day. His pace was faster than mine, and as I tried to stay with him I began to feel the effects of the old asthmatic complaint. So I sat and rested a while, and told him to press on. He said he'd check when he reached the summit, and if I hadn't moved he'd come back to check on me - which was very sweet of him. But I didn't want him to worry, so as soon as I was fit to continue I stood and made sure I was very visible as I continued with my ascent at my own pace.

Easter in Drumochter (3)

Before long, I reached the little unnamed lochan on Meall a' Bhuirich, with Creagan Mor beyond it. There was a snow field on the northern flank, but the summit itself looked clear.

Easter in Drumochter (2)

As I climbed, I was able to look back over the pine woods of the Drochaid a' Bhacain to Dalwhinnie with its distillery, and the distant mountains beyond ...

Easter in Drumochter (1)

So Easter came, and on Good Friday I jumped in my MG and buzzed up to Dalwhinnie, where I had booked myself a bunk in the Dalwhinnie Bunkhouse. They weren't serving dinners, so once I was installed in my room I drove up to Newtonmore and looked in on Ali Ogden at the hostel, and she kindly allowed me to borrow their kitchen to cook myself steak, egg and mushrooms which I had bought in the Co-op.

Saturday morning, I started off bright and early with my full Challenge expedition pack on my back. I had weighed it before setting off, and was pleased to find that I am making significant progress. It came in at about 14 kilos ... although that is with a bit less food than I shall be carrying on the Challenge.

I crossed the railway at the level crossing and made my way to the end of Loch Ericht. There was still plenty of snow on Ben Alder ... as the photo shows. However, I wasn't heading for Ben Alder. Instead, I crossed the dam and made my way through the woods, before turning South up the open hillside.

Another Bedfordshire walk (3)

One of the most prominent, albeit man-made features in this part of Bedfordshire is the Cardington airship hangars. They can be seen for miles around, and you can use them as a convenient navigation reference point. But be prepared, when you first encounter them in real life, to be completely bamboozled when you try to estimate how far away they are. Because they are HUGE. I mean really, truly and monumentally huge. So far removed from anything you have experienced that your eye and brain just cannot compute the perspective; and you will end up thinking they're about half a mile away when in truth the distance is more like five miles. I'm not joking!

This is where, between the wars, the British airship industry briefly flourished; and these sheds are where the prototype British rigid airships R100 and R101 were built, in order to challenge the German zeppelins' stranglehold on the long-range lighter-than-air travel market. The whole endeavor ended in tears when the R101 crashed in France on her maiden trip to India, with considerable loss of life; and the loss of the Graf Zeppelin in an accident in America a few years later eventually put an end to the airship era. But the sheds survive. And we just love 'em, even though they're totally useless. That's Bedfordshire for you.

Another Bedfordshire walk (2)

Now many people, I know, think of Bedfordshire as a boring county: nothing but the A1 and M1, East Coast main line railway and West Coast main line railway, with lots of holes in the ground where they dug out the clay to make the bricks to build London (which they're gradually filling with all the household waste from the houses built with the bricks from the clay they dug out of those same holes in the ground) and a low-cost budget airport stuffed into the bottom left-hand corner for good measure. And if all you ever do is pass through it on your way to somewhere else, I can see how you might come to such a view of this lovely little county of ours.

If, on the other hand, you actually spend some time here, and take the trouble to get to know the agricultural hinterland of Bedfordshire, another picture emerges. It's rich, high-grade soil, meaning we get a lot of cereal growing, of course. But there's plenty else to be seen, too ... and there are many little surprises, such as this avenue planted along one of the rights of way just West of the A1.

Another Bedfordshire walk (1)

Well, I obviously needed to do a bit more walking, so on 23 March I set out for another stroll through mid-Bedfordshire. Nothing too strenuous. Sandy to Elstow this time. And this time I took the camera.

I didn't want to follow the old railway line ... that's a bit boring. So I went down to the river Ivel (pictured), then followed the John Bunyan Trail for a bit into the heart of mid-Bedfordshire, before branching off through the back of Cotton End and Herrings Green to Wilstead, and the bridleway to Medbury.