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…