At the start of the year I made a quiet resolution to myself to get out for a camp at least once a month, January came and went and February was in danger of going the same way unless I got my finger out. I had been planning on going up Glen Lyon for a high camp, but the wind has been quite bad the past couple of weekends so I opted to stay low and return to Glen Feshie where I hadn’t been since November 2008. I’d had a miserable night sleep last time, but this time I was feeling better prepared. Unsure of the conditions on the ground, I’d chucked crampons and snowshoes in the car more in hope than expectation. As it turns out the snow is only on the tops at the moment, I’m still hoping for one more blizzard before Spring arrives.
The drive up the A9 was fairly hassle free, traffic was light, so cruise control was on and I just had to remain awake in order to dodge the abundance of potholes littering the carriageway. Arriving at the car park at Auchlean I watched as two mountain bikers tried to ride about 200m into the wind, before returning to their car and packing up again. The wind was ferocious and once I set off was having difficulty walking into it, I could feel my mat, strapped to the top of the pack, acting like a sail and threatening to tip me backwards. I pressed on, hoping it would be more sheltered amongst the trees in the glen. The summits must’ve been horrendous.
A short video of some of the photos from this trip.
The short moor section leading into the glen was a quagmire. I was glad to be wearing my gaiters. Once through the deer fence, the pine smell, better than any Magic Tree, remained with me until I exited the enclosure the following day. Fantastic.
Last time I was in Glen Feshie, I’d crossed onto the west of the river by the bridge at Carnachuin, the river had been higher then, and the bridge had been a bit of a death trap for a long time before the river washed it away in September 2009, crossing wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience. I knew the bridge was no more, but made a small detour as I wanted to check out the remains.
The wind was bitter at times, but my new Chocolate Fish Merino-Possum beanie stopped it dead. My new favourite bit of kit. After I’d ordered it, I tweeted that I hoped it would fit my gargantuan napper, Amanda at Chocolate Fish had seen this and offered to keep one of their last remaining double layer beanies back in case I needed it [they’re more stretchy than the single layer beanie]. I didn’t, but with service like that, I’ll be definitely be shopping at Chocolate Fish again. The hat is super toasty too, I have a couple of Extremities hats, one windproof, one not. Neither come close to being as good at the Merino-Possum beanie. Buy one!
Walking through the glen, particularly in low cloud, biting wind and intermittent rain, it seems incredibly bleak. The grey blanket cloud was quite oppressive and it was quite dark even in early afternoon. Dead or weirdly misshapen trees litter both the river and surrounding hillsides, the wood has become grey and lifeless. The colour palette of the glen is almost monochrome, with a subdued hint of green, yellows and browns. However, that’s only half the story. The glen is teeming with new growth. The forest is regenerating itself and there are massive amounts of young trees throughout. I was surprised to see lots of small birds in amongst this new growth, blue tits were flitting about from sapling to sapling, I don’t recall ever having seen blue tits out in the wild before, maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough.
I stopped in at the bothy at Ruigh-aiteachain for some lunch, there was a couple and child in having lunch also, all dressed in Berghaus and those technicolour vomit fleeces that nobody makes any more. We exchanged pleasantries, but they seemed distracted and didn’t seem particularly interested in conversation. If they were enjoying themselves, they weren’t showing it. I pressed on down the glen, following it south-east as it narrows becomes more steep-sided. Part of the path has been obliterated by a landslip. I’m not sure how long it’s been like that, but a huge chunk of hillside is missing. It’s pretty loose, but easily passable.
The glen becomes more alpine further down, the pines clinging on to the steep scree slopes. The rock walls become almost vertical in places. I carried on looking for a camp site, the wind still howling through the branches. I passed a few suitable areas, but carried on for a bit until I found a stream running down from Lochan nam Bo. I filled my Platypus and returned to one of the spots I’d previously passed. I disturbed a large raptor from it’s perch, but I only caught a glimpse as it swooped down and out of sight.
I’m always wary about pitching under trees, particularly when it was so windy and I’d passed so many twisted branches lying on the ground throughout the glen. But this tree seemed to be sheltered, with dense lower branches giving further protection from the wind and rain. It seemed sturdy enough.
In addition to my new beanie, I also had a new stove, new headtorch and new mat to test. There’s been plenty written about the Spider Express [198g], it seems everyone has bought one this winter. It was a marked improvement on my MSR Pocket Rocket, even above zero, I think it was around 3C. Inverting the canister sped up boil times considerably. When I was out with my Pocket Rocket in November it took about 15 minutes to boil, it was subzero back then though. But it’s reassuring to have confidence in your stove in winter.
I’d bought a Petzl Tikka XP2 [88g] to replace my Alpkit Gamma, which had died. It’s very bright in high power mode, but I used it most with the diffuser on, in low power mode. There’s not much else to say, it’s fairly comfy to wear, even when lying down. I may buy the rechargeable core battery at some point. I settled down to listen to some music, my new Z-lite [379g] a marked improvement on the CCF pad it replaced. I’m not sure if it’s any warmer, but it’s definitely more comfortable. Having cut off four sections to act as a back pad for my ULA CDT, I was pleased to realise the egg box shape allows the two pad sections to interlock, ensuring it stays together throughout the night, unlike my old pad, which inevitably ended up kicked out from beneath me, with me freezing on the floor of the tent.
I eventually switched off the iPod to listen to the wind tearing through the trees and seeming to circle between the two opposing faces of rock high above. Still, the Akto itself barely moved, with only the odd draught coming in under the fly. I’d decided to keep the inner half open in order to increase airflow and stave off any condensation. It worked well, in the morning, there was only a damp patch on my sleeping bag from my breath, the inner was still dry. I woke to pee during the night and saw light snow falling, there was only a light dusting at ground level in the morning, but the crags above looked heavily frosted. Conditions remained windy, with low cloud cloaking the summits.
I was needing more water in the morning so headed over to the river as I wanted to gaze up at Creag na Caillich. There are a couple of tiny trees up top, clinging on in what must be poor soil, I reckon their days are numbered. Back at the tent, I breakfasted on hot chocolate and raspberry Oat-so-Simple, which cheered me up no end. I got packed up, and considered that I don’t really see any gaps in my outdoor kit these days, there’s nothing I need. I could purchase lighter gear or replace a few items, but I can make do with what I’ve got. I’m awaiting one final piece to the puzzle, a POE Elite AC, which should hopefully allow me to get rid of my Alpkit self inflating mat, or more accurately self-deflating mat, which is massively bulky and takes up tons of room in the pack.
Back on the trail, retracing my steps back to the car, I was in a good mood. The wind was at my back and I was back at the bothy in no time. I stopped to take a few photos, four horses came wandering down the path straight up to me. A pat on the nose and they were off again, galloping away and seemingly enjoying themselves.
The overcast and somewhat dark conditions that had been prevalent started to lift. A break in the cloud gave way to blue sky, I met some brave souls coming the other way, judging by their ice axes they were heading up, rather them than me. Next time, I’d love to venture further down glen, maybe for an extended trip. Back at the car, a quick change into dry clothes and I was off, thinking about lunch at the Loch Insh Restaurant.
It was good to be in the warmth, the food was good, the music less so. Some awful celtic/drum and bass fusion, presumably made by someone who doesn’t actually like music. So bland and devoid of character, as if constructed from Bontempi presets. Still, there was fine view to round off the trip with.