Saturday 20th September
I had an excellent nights sleep again, waking up only two or three times – once for the loo (damned midges swarmed me instantly), once for a drink and once to the sound of Marcus blowing up his airbed as it appeared to have developed a slow puncture. So Marc didn’t have a very good nights sleep, which is par for the course whenever we go wild camping it seems. I get eaten alive but sleep like a baby and Marc gets Scot free of bites but generally doesn’t get a good nights sleep. I reckon I can put up with a few insect bites so long as i get a good nights sleep… This trip was only the second time I’d used my relatively new sleeping mat (Exped Synmat UL 7) and Down sleeping bag (Mountain Hardwear Ratio 32) and boy do they do the job. I’m looking forward to testing them in colder climes this coming autumn/winter.
Anyway, after breakfast and another less than early start we set off northward along Glen Feshie. The weather was as fine today as it had been yesterday with maybe a few more clouds about but still quite calm and very mild. We wandered past the bothy with barely a scant glance in its direction and continued on our way. I chanced to look at my phone and found I actually had a signal, a weak one but a signal nevertheless. So once we had stopped and filled up with a little water to carry us up the steep climb ahead i rang the wife. Despite having spoken to them the afternoon before my boy had been crying when he couldn’t get to speak to me the previous evening. Bless him. He was out at the time so I rang him on his own little mobile and spoke to him but he seemed fine. The wife was having a girls night that night and my boy was staying at friends for a birthday sleepover so i knew i had to put his mind at rest. Being away from the family even for only a few short days is hard but I love doing what I do and wouldn’t change it, other than to get him into it and bring the family along when he’s a little bigger and able to cope with it.
Ahead of us lay our hardest ascent of the whole trip, though it was on an LRT (Land Rover Track) and not over rough ground or on a poor path. The climb was 2000ft over 4km but the day was glorious and there was a little bit of a cooling breeze as we climbed to take the edge of the heat. It didn’t stop me from sweating like a pig but it helped! The lower reaches of the LRT wound through the lovely Caledonian pinewoods alongside the bubbling burn Allt Coire Chaoil, the sun gaining a stronger presence in the sky as the cloud grew more scattered.
We were passed about halfway to the top by 4 guys in a Land Rover towing a trailer bearing an 8-wheeled Argocat. Even the powerful 4×4 was moving slowly up the steep incline, clearly bearing its occupants to some shooting up on the Moine Mhor, the Great Moss plateau at the top of the track. It was a place I had been looking forward to visiting for a long time, a great open heather moorland situated mostly 3000ft above sea level.
The higher we climbed the more fantastic the views became.
As always the last part was the hardets and we reached the top of the LRT at about dinner time which was a very fortuitous and timely thing!
The breeze was a bit stronger up here and we had occasion to use our new insulated jackets for the first time, Marc in his Montane Featherlite Down jacket and me in my Rab Generator. We were both happy to don the much needed warmth over our sweaty forms whilst we sat down and ate a dinner of cheese and crackers, jelly babies and blackcurrant juice! A couple of day hikers strode past with a cheery hello. They were bound up the track for the fairly nondescript summit of the Munro (a mountain over 3000ft high) Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair. Again I wasn’t particularly drawn to gaining that summit despite it being within an easy kilometer with very little uphill. It was in the opposite direction to the Munro I truly wanted to summit: Sgor Gaoith, which means ‘The Windy Peak’ in Gaelic. I would have loved to have gained the summit of Braeriach – the third highest peak in the UK – but it appeared to be heavily shrouded in cloud (and indeed it remained so for all but 10 minutes all day) so I settled for Sgor Gaoith which had been prominent in my mind from the earliest days of planning this trip, simply because of the views down into the depths below it and something about the shape of its pinnacle.
Fed, watered and rested we removed our heavier insulation but kept our lighter outer layers on against the cool breeze and set off across the Moine Mhor. It is a truly barren, mostly featureless and beautiful space, often in the cloud and not a place to become lost without a compass, map or a clue of how to use either in poor visiblity. Despite the heavier cloud cover the peak of our destination remained visible ahead of us. The LRT made for easy going on the first few kilometers across the Great Moss. We stopped where the track forded a burn and refilled our water bottles. We left the track at a footpath heading directly toward Sgor Gaoith across the moor and left the footpath after a short while as I wanted to head directly for the overlook at the head of the valley that ran between Sgor Gaoith and Braeriach: Gleann Eanaich. Marcus was soon cursing me with ‘Elton leads us into the Bog of Doom!’ like we were in some region of Middle Earth. Well, he does bear a passing resemblance to a certain grey-bearded wizard…
The ground went from crisp mosses, lichens and grasses (with some spectacularly good pitch spots that would have been perfect if hadn’t been so early in the aftrnoon) to a largely boggy network through which we had to thread our way carefully. Again I think I was maybe feeling a little less concerned with footing on this ground in my trail runners than Marcus was and I do genuinely enjoy walking across such terrain. Guess I’m a masochist at heart! If you have read any of my other trip reports you will maybe recall that Marcus and I have crossed a number of bogs in the Peak District and Marc has a tendency to find the deepest sections in short order and spectacular fashion. Ok maybe only once or twice but… Luckily this time we crossed the bogs mostly unscathed.
I’d been looking forward to the views from the head of Gleann Eanaich and from the ascent up toward Sgor Gaoith’s summit and I wasn’t disappointed. The breeze was fairly strong now and despite the brooding clouds we had only a few minor showers. There were distant promising patches of sunshine on the landscape and occasionally passing over us. We were in our element. The ascent was fairly straightforward with a good number of stoppages to simply take in the views. In places the path came fairly close to some huge drops (over 1000ft in places) so concentraion was required.
The mountain was living up to its name ‘The Windy Peak’, sending clouds scudding over within reach and around us as we reached the summit and the highest point of the mountain disappeared for only the second time since we’d first sighted it! Typical. We lingered long enough to congratulate ourselves and take a few photos (I think Marc tried to ring his mum with mixed success if I recall correctly), before we set off down into the dip in the ridge between Sgor Gaoith and its lesser top of Sgoran Dubh Mor. We donned waterproofs as the rain got steadily heavier but we could see sunshine in the distance from where the clouds were rolling toward us. Sure enough the skies brightened as we reached level ground in the dip between the two peaks and I spotted several promising looking spots to pitch up. Marcus was a bit less certain but I talked him around. It was about 530pm and I was getting hungry. Besides which it was a really good spot, with fantastic views and I had high hopes of waking up to a fantastic sunrise and maybe even a cloud inversion. More importantly THERE WERE ABSOLUTELY NO FLAMING BITING LITTLE B*£^$RDS ANYWHERE TO BE SEEN!
I didn’t waste any time and quickly drew out the TrailStar and pitched her taut and low within several minutes, before Marcus could escalate his misgivings to open rebellion. His main concerns were with the ShangriLa 3 at that altitude in such an exposed spot and its ability to cope with what might get thrown at it, but the forecast wasn’t that bad and its a proven shelter in fairly bad conditions. I was more confident of it than he was and let it show by being brusque and confident. Plus I was buzzing at the setting!
Marc’s lack of confidence showed in the initial pitch of his tent (though he blamed it on the conditions), so I lent a hand. That’s when things went slightly wrong… I was tensioning one of the inner tie-out points when the whole tie-out ripped free of the shelter in my hands. Now I’m no superman so I’m guessing there was a fault or a weakness in the construction. That thought didn’t make me feel any less guilty or Marcus feel any more settled about the situation. In the end though the shelters were set and we dived into our respective abodes – after a few photos – to cook up some food and warm up.
It was at this point I began to have a few misgiving of my own about my own shelter. The Trailstar is one of the most – if not THE most – wind and weather proof lightweight shelters available on the market. It has a large footprint with a very large amount of space for one person and weighs in at a little over 600g without pegs – you don’t use tent poles, you use your walking poles to hold it up which is one of the reasons i like it so much. However… it doesn’t have a lot of headroom and of all that space only a small portion is usable whilst sitting upright and that’s if you have it pitched high enough; if the weather is bad enough you have to pitch it low which makes the usable space even smaller. I considered this on top of the fact that I absolutely had to obtain an inner for the Trailstar after the midge episodes and was slowly coming to the conclusion that despite my short and mostly happy dalliance with the shelter I was going to have seriously look for an alternative.
After tea I wandered off to find a decent signal to ring my family and found one within a hundred yards of the tents, which was just as well as the cloud had descended upon the mountain and I couldn’t see further than twenty or thirty feet in front of my face. The family were fine – the wife was all set for her girly night in and Josh was happily playing at his friends house for the sleepover party.The wife did drop a bit of a bombshell though. She and Josh were missing me that badly that she didn’t think she could bear me being away for the TGO Challenge next May. To be fair I was missing them like mad too and the TGO is 2wks from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland. You walk the whole way unsupported living out of your rucksack and mostly wild camping the whole way. I was going to apply on my return home but it didn’t look as though i would be now. Aww well I’d just have to have 1 or 2 more shorter multi-day trips in between now and September next year when the application for the 2016 Event would be available. That would hopefully help to prepare my family and myself for being apart for longer.
By the time I returned to the tents I was pretty chilly and was looking forward to a hot drink to warm myself up. Marc was finished with his meal so I quickly boiled up some water for a hot chocolate, grabbed the last 200ml or so of Jamesons and carefully dived into the ShangriLa with him for a couple of hours to wile away the evening with some music and drinking.