Photography | Scotland
I don’t remember the last time I was up and out of bed at 0530, months certainly, years probably. I don’t do mornings, which is a shame as the few times I am up early, I can’t help but agree early mornings really are the best time of day. I met David at Not Quite the Park and Ride, nearly a year on from our first trip north together. Given the weather forecast, we’d discussed staying local and just going for a cycle somewhere, but I was keen to go for a walk, having not done a great deal of it recently.
Given the previous debacle, where my feet gave up before we’d even reached our destination, I was wary of doing big miles, but in the end prevailing wind and avalanche forecasts ensured that’s exactly what we’d be doing. I’d taped up my feet in preparation and a had a new pair of boots to break in.
We arrived in Braemar shortly after 0800, I was surprised at how quickly the darkness had given way to early morning light, like somebody had flipped a switch. The transition from warm car/cold bodies wasn’t as bad as I expected, it was quite mild in the trees. Winter still hasn’t really got going yet. We ended up ditching jackets fairly quickly. Dave had set off at a pace that I hoped would drop, either that or my legs/lungs would need to up their game.
Further on, in the trees, winding our way up a sweaty climb, then out into the breeze on open hill. Jackets back on. Not pointing any elbows, but Dave was in charge of navigation (ahem), I’d been a bit surprised by our rapid height gain and sure enough we’d missed our turning. A quick map check and we traversed the heathery slopes of Clais nan Cat over and into Slugain. My knees were screaming. Ligamentitis, not good. The little detour had cost us some time, but was pleasant enough, a nice viewpoint over to north and a pretty little stream and tree that has seen better days.
We picked up the correct path. Thankfully my knee had recovered, clearly I’m out of practice. We took the high path as the glen turned north. Still mild. We sat atop a mound for some lunch overlooking our route up the glen into the heart of Bhuird and Avon. Onwards.
It was my turn to give us a bum steer, questioning Dave’s choice of the correct path, we opted for a soggy trudge off piste instead. Quoich, (not Quioch) over west, looking splendid. Dave spotted the path to our right, we picked it up almost immediately began postholing our way up the glen, postholing that would continue more or less unbroken until our return the following day. Winter is definitely in full swing up high. The glen scoured by the incessant winds we’ve had recently.
It was good to have some company in the hills, we’d picked up similar threads of conversation from the previous year. Discussed our future plans for trips north, the perils of
deathtrapping pack-rafting and political discussion; best enjoyed without 140 character limitation. Eventually a gap opened up, even with Dave breaking trail I was struggling to keep up, clearly he does this a lot more than I do.
The original plan had been to head up to the Sneck and hang a right, up onto Avon, across the plateau and down south-east to Loch Builg to camp. It became apparent fairly quickly that was looking a little bit ambitious. By the time we reached the head of the glen we were running short on daylight. We opted to pitch up and consider the options.
Warm food was in order. A quick nip of Whisky and long day saw me thinking about bed. It was barely evening. I shuffled off, feeling a bit bad we’d walked all this way and now I was ditching him for a warm sleeping bag. Warmth which was much enhanced by the addition of my new quilt. I’d somehow managed to win the JRB Sierra Stealth from Hendrik’s Advent Calendar. JRB had sprung into action and shipped the quilt over from the US, only for the usual hold ups and customs stuff to slow things down here in the UK. No worries, it arrived in time for the trip, so I was pleased to try it out. Down isn’t the conventional choice for top bag, but it made a noticeable difference to my comfort, as I found out once I woke up with it at my feet. I’ll get a bungee sorted to address that. Thanks to both Hendrik and Jacks ‘r’ Better!
Temperature took a noticeable dip overnight and we woke to something approaching a walkable crust. I could hear Dave up and about. He politely mentioned I might want come ‘outside’ and bring the camera. Bit of an understatement. I gave up trying to get my frozen boots on and just started shooting, stood on my mat. Glorious.
I don’t think these shots really do justice to that morning light. But it was a privilege to be there. We got lucky with the lightshow on our last trip too.
This being Scotland, the calm conditions and clear skies didn’t last long. The forecast was pretty clear that the summits would be inhospitable by noon. Dave wanted a crack at Beinn A’ Bhuird, but my natural aversion to risk taking referred us back to the forecast. Surprisingly, Dave had a full mobile signal and could check the latest update online. That settled it. I felt relieved Dave had arrived at the same conclusion, nobody likes a party pooper.
We settled for a walk up to the Sneck. Crampons on and slow going. I left my camera at camp, but Dave should have some nice shots from up there, so keep an eye on his blog. I look forward to seeing his photos, there should be more variety than I have here I think. Will they be broadly similar? Or like a different place altogether? What about his White Balance? I bet it’s completely different. Which is correct? Both? Neither? What if he let his camera decide? Would that be more, or less accurate? Nevermind.
The cloud comes in, the snow starts and wind picks up. Visibility drops and we’re in agreement that the summits would be a navigational exercise. Not to mention bloody cold. We return to our packs, and start the long, slow walk out. More chat, which continues to the car, Blairgowrie, Perth, Home. There’s still much to discuss as I leave Dave at Not Quite the Park and Ride. Best pick it up sooner rather than later…
Well I finally succumbed to fatbike envy and bought a Mukluk, or Muckle-uk if you prefer. I’d made a few enquiries about a 9:zero:7, but in the end went the pre-built route as I managed to find a really good price on the 2014 model.
After a false start due to Parcelforce messing about, I got my hands on it last Thursday. I spent that evening prepping the frame and took it out on Friday, Tentsmuir beach seemed like an ideal location as I could try riding on the sand and give it a run through the forest singletrack too.
I have to say, I don’t think I’ll be riding much sand on it, it’s hard work and not especially exciting. I can imagine it might be nice on a summer’s day or on the odd occasion when the mood takes me. A bit of experimentation with tyre pressure revealed the true nature of fatbiking – a supremely comfortable ride, bumpy forest trails smoothed out for a magic carpet ride. Having never actually ridden a fatbike before, this was a revelation, but even more surprising is how easy it is to pedal. Even with ridiculously heavy and aggressive Nate tyres, I find it no more difficult to pedal than my other bikes. In fact, off-road, I think it might be easier, or maybe just less fatiguing – in spite of the factory fitted saddle – designed by someone with a square arse I think.
Yesterday and today have been spent riding my usual trails, where I know every bump and root. I have to say fatbikes on forest singletrack are glorious! The Mukluk handles well, I’m not sure how the 2014 geometry changes have affected the ride exactly, but it feels good to me. I need some slightly wider bars with decent rise, so I can eliminate at least half of the stem spacers. The BB7 brakes, once adjusted correctly, work well. Good one finger braking, even at 98kg, although I think I’ll stick a larger rotor up front to keep me out of trouble.
I probably haven’t yet found optimal tyre pressures, I don’t know what I’m running as my pump seems to have accuracy issues. But like my other bikes, I’m running more pressure at the rear, with the front ‘quite squidgy’.
Picking the bike up is best avoided. On the bathroom scales it weighs 34.6lb/15.6kg. Dropping that by around 1.5kg is easily achievable, 1kg through sticking some Hüsker Dü 120s on – not exactly cheap though. In truth, I don’t really notice the weight when pedalling, only when lifting it over fallen trees or onto the car.
I’m not sure if/when I’ll get a chance to ride some snow, I was riding around in my base layer this week. In December! Double digit temperatures are crap at this time of year. Frankly I’d settle for a heavy frost at the moment.
You’re probably wondering why you follow this blog. It’s been months since I posted anything noteworthy. I think my last decent trip report was back in May! So what’s been going on? Well, I’m not sure TBH. There was a virus of unknown origin that took me out the game for the best part of a month, closely followed up with a head cold, courtesy of Margaret and the nice students of Edinburgh University. There was some decorating and that’s about it I think.
You’ll have noticed I don’t walk much anywhere these days. Since I started riding my bike again a couple of years back I’ve felt the benefit of much improved fitness and weight loss, which I was never able to achieve by walking. I’ve recently started riding with some workmates which has brought on my fitness after my summer of malaise and I’m feeling all the better for it, not to mention it makes cold/wet winter riding a bit more tolerable if you have someone to share it with.
So anyway, since May there have in fact been three failed attempts at bikepacking, adventure touring or whatever you want to call it, ‘bike riding’ will suffice. The first was a southern Cairgorm Loop starting and finishing at Blair Atholl, taking in Glen Bruar, the Minigaig Pass, Feshie, Geldie and Tilt. Some folk do it in a day, but I’d intended to camp in Glen Feshie somewhere. I thought it’d be a good follow up to my Tyndrum to Taynuilt trip. Unfortunately, I decided to do it on one of the hottest days of the year and wasn’t really enjoying myself, I cut it short and returned home.
Next up I planned a similar route, but this time starting at Braemar taking in Rothiemurchus, Glenmore and and returning to Braemar via Lairig an Laoigh and Glen Derry. This time, I barely got past White Bridge before a rear shifter failure put an end to proceedings. What a waste of petrol.
This past weekend I thought another attempt at the Blair Atholl route might be worth go as the weather was looking favourable. The drive up the A9 was surprisingly swift and everyone was well behaved for a change. I’d made some enquiries about the snowline, although the bulk of the miles were through the glens, the minigaig was likely to be under snow. I was hoping it would be a dusting given it’s a bit lower than the ski resorts. Well, I expect you’ve noticed the photos by now…
I’m not going to say it was impassable, the snow was only a few inches, but it wasn’t ridable, not by me anyhow. I could just about pedal when the gradient eased off and I mashed my way from heathery outcrop to heathery outcrop. Despite the exertion, I was getting cold. My toes were frozen in my SPDs. Another 8km and 150m ascent to go and less than two hours of daylight left. I really didn’t fancy a long night on the hill, I’d packed relatively light in hope of four walls and a fire at Ruigh-aiteachain bothy.
Jacket on, I turned tail and pedaled off the hill, easy going when gravity assists. Back in the glen, still frozen, I had some food, decided I may as well stick my dry socks on and instantly felt better. I’d been feeling good during the pedal out, but now I could give it some beans on the way back to the car, no need to take it easy. The ride back down glen was swift. The whole day I’d been thinking how great my Race King on the rear wheel was. Fast rolling, yet somehow grippy and really comfortable, even at moderate pressures. Probably not best suited to a rider of my weight though, as I managed to puncture the sidewall on…a puddle. I dunno, I’m as confused now as I was then. Of course, I assumed that the Stan’s sealant would seal up the hole, I set the bike puncture side down, so the sealant could work.
My feet were too cold for this shit. Spare inner tube out the framebag and Stan’s fluid all over my rim (fnar). I reinflated and cracked on down Glen Banvie, unintentionally two wheel drifting on the wet leaves at one point. Back at the car a I consoled myself in the certainty that my next bike packing trip can’t possibly go wrong. I reckon I’ve got some unfinished business with the Minigaig in spring. In the meantime, I’ll be sticking to the glens.
So there you have it, no decent trip reports, no decent photos due to leaving my big camera at home. Some lessons learned, possibly, about planning and preparation. Time will tell.