I had a late start, having slept until nine and breakfasted until the back of ten. Looking outside, I could see clear blue sky and fresh snow; too good an opportunity to pass up. I decided on the Ochils from Glendevon, the roads were still a bit dodgy this morning, so rather than travel up to Rothiemurchus to camp, as I’d been planning, I decided to stay local, especially with diesel hitting £1.30+ per litre since new year.
I’d been into this picnic area in Glendevon mid-week, we’d had our first really clear night since xmas and Margaret and I travelled here to play with her new telescope, the views of the Milky Way were superb, although the lack of light pollution made star hopping more difficult for novices like ourselves, my attempts to find Andromeda proved futile, despite knowing roughly where to look.
I got the Redfeater’s strapped on and started out of the car park, I’d only reached the far end before bumping into another snowshoer [-ist?, who knows] returning to his car. He too, was giving his snowshoes their first test on the trail. A pair of TSLs, which he seemed happy with. Turns out his wife is a bit of an astronomer, so he shared a few good dark sky sites before we parted company. I was eager to get going, having been further delayed just outside Powmill, whilst a panel van was hoisted off a dry stane dyke and out of a field. According to the attending police officer the poor driver’s SatNav had taken him off the motorway and along the twisty snowy back roads of Perthshire. He was heading for Yorkshire.
I’ve walked this route a fair few times, up past the reservoir along the forestry roads, then through the trees onto open hillside. Every single time, I underestimate how far the summit is. But it was a glorious winter day, so I wasn’t complaining. The snowshoes are excellent, but take a little bit of getting used to. A crampon style gait is fine, but once or twice off-camber snow/ice sent one snowshoe into the path of the other, resulting in a bit of an stumble until I untangled myself.
Grip was generally good from the built in crampon, no problems on the ascent save a couple of times in deep powder where I didn’t lift enough before trying to move on, resulting in a ‘submarining’ action, where the front of the snowshoe fails to make the surface and plunges into the powder sending your body weight forward. I ended up on my knees once, but it was operator error.
The Ochils were looking fantastic in the snow, although on reaching the summit of Innerdownie Hill, realised windfarm construction, right in the heart of the range, had been completed. I fear, Councillor Eddie Carrick [Lab.], decisions of this magnitude are way beyond your payscale. The effect of this development means the wildness of the Ochils is diminished for generations to come, at least until they’re enlightened enough to rip the turbines out and restore the landscape to it’s former glory. Which, by the way, I think the developer should be required to set aside money, in trust, for.
I suspect many of you will already be aware of Alan Sloman’s call to arms, regarding Dunmaglass windfarm in the Monadhliath, if not, I suggest you check out his site and support his efforts to put a protest together. I still say we should egg Jim Mather, who approved the bastard thing, and the building of overhead powerlines though the Cairngorm National Park. Seriously, why bother with National Parks if you can just fling fucking pylons up through them unhindered?
Aaaanyway, back to the walk. I was delighted to see the summit cairn come into view as I’d been getting hungry. I munched through a John West tuna thingy and a Babybel of dubious origin. It can’t have been that cold, my Platypus was unfrozen, although stepping out from behind the cairn confirmed the wind chill was severe!
Extra gloves, insulation, balaclava and buff were all pulled from the pack and helped a bit, but the only solution to the bitter cold was to keep moving. I took a few more photos from the summit, strapped the snowshoes back on and headed off down the hill. I was reluctant to go, the light was just starting to get good!
For winter days like this, I don’t think Rab Vapour-Rise can be beat. Paramo might be superior should the weather turn to sleet. I was wearing my Rab VR trousers, and was never too warm nor too cold on the legs. I did overheat a bit up top on the ascent. My Marmot Midweight baselayer, Montane featherlite and Paramo Velez Adventure Light getting a wee bit damp, as even with snowshoes, it was tough going. I’ve no concerns with how quickly the ensemble dried out though.
I should probably mention my new Fizan Compact Poles at this point. These were a gift from my sister, I’d added the snow baskets from Margaret’s Alpkit poles, whilst I wait for my Fizan snow baskets being delivered. I was really pleased with them. What can I say, they did as you would expect, were lightweight and didn’t bend or break on the one or two occasions where I stumbled and put more of my weight on them then I’d ideally like. The locking mechanism didn’t freeze either, although, as I said, it wasn’t cold enough to freeze my Platypus, so we’ll see how they fare over time.
I was a wee bit sad to be leaving the hills behind, especially when the conditions were so good. I’ve started back at the gym this week, and my arms/shoulders were suffering today, particularly with the poles, so the promise of a hot bath, home made pizza and a Red MacGregor were just as enticing.
Descending with the snowshoes on was fine, each step had a short, predicable slide before the crampon gripped. But even on steep-ish sections, this did not concern me. If anything challenges these snowshoes, I’d say it’s layers of off-camber snow hidden under the top powder layer, I expect that’s where the design of the MSRs come into their own, with their more aggressive toothed frame. But for my money, these are great value for the occasional snowshoer, on rolling Scottish hills.