Saturday, 26 April 2014
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.