Sunday, 28 June 2009

Should've stuck with plan A

Well the decision was made at lunch time, the kit selection was made on the drive home from work and the sack was packed whilst running a quick bath.

All I'd been hearing of was thunder and lightening and that I don't like being up high in, especially after a nasty experience on Sgurr Eilde Mor a couple of years ago. I decided to go for a quick overnighter out on my local hills around the moors of Muirkirk.

I'm lucky, for me it's only a 40min drive max to be on the edge of some fairly remote moorland. When I got to the car park my spirits immediately sank. The hot weather we've been having has obviously been bringing the 'local yoof' out. The shelter at the car park where you can change out of wet gear etc has had most of the side panels kicked off, there was also evidence of where someone had attempted to set it on fire around the back.

As I crossed the stile I noticed there was a wee sign telling you that you were under CCTV surveillance due to people harassing the hen harriers whose numbers are dwindling. It'll be a relief around here when winter comes back and it's simply to much effort for the scum to go out and vandalise or upset these places of beauty.

The clouds were looking moody and wild as I set off on the ascent of the Cairn Table. I was beginning to wonder if plan B was the best option or if I'd have been better with plan A. No matter I was out now and enjoying myself. It was two weeks since I had been out doing anything like this at all and it had been far too long since I've been out myself with the tent somewhere.

I had no tent this time, just an unknown quantity but I was confident in it's abilities. (it's been great so far to eat lunch out of the rain under)I was looking forward to sleeping under the tarp. More fresh air, being close to nature and all that.

As I neared the summit of Cairn Table the mist was getting thicker all the time. Eventually I could see the welcome shape of the memorial Cairn looming out of the mist at me.

It felt like a different place in the damp cloud today. I've been up here a lot before in all kinds of conditions but today had a kind of eerie sad feel to it. I didn't linger long, I took my next bearing and headed off to pick up the edge of the tree line that I could 'handrail' along up the side of Stony Hill where I intended to camp.

One of the things I love about being out in these places are the strange objects you sometimes find. Set on a fence post I came across this old spanner with a socket welded on with the quarter inch drive on the outside. I'm guessing it's a macgyver style fencing spanner?

I followed the tree line and the fence up into the mist which was becoming thicker and harder to see through as the light was beginning to fade. I'd have to find a spot to camp soon. As the the mist got thicker the temperature began to drop and I found myself pulling my windproof from under the MSC on the Jiri, more for the want of an extra layer than to cut the breeze.

I didn't fancy camping in a cloud, especially not with the tarp. It's not like you can shut the doors to keep it's creeping tendrils out. I was up there wandering between the peat hags, some of which are taller than me. The mist kind of sucked the noise out of the air leaving only a very penetrating dampness and ,although I feel silly for even putting it to print now, I felt slightly unnerved up there. I just didn't fancy pitching up there at all. It was miserable.

I dropped back down the slope I'd come up until I emerged from the dank fog into the gloomy twilight whilst also contouring around, still trying to maintain some height to avoid the bogs and also keeping my eyes open for a flattish bit on the side of the hill.

My thinking was...

"It's not the tent I have."

"I don't need as big an area to pitch."

"Just somewhere flat enough to lie on, a wee hollow or dip maybe."

"Dry too would help. Aye, here's a wee bit. This'll do........maybe."

I got the bivy out and lay on it.

"Aye, here'll do fine."

"there's even a wee flat rock I can sit the stove on."


I spent the next half hour or so faffing about with the tarp but the heather kept getting in my way so I shifted a wee bit here, a wee bit there. Now I know its only one sheet of fabric but it was infinitely harder to get a nice tight pitch than the Laser Comp which I can put up in my sleep now. Mind you I wouldn't attempt to pitch the Laser Comp here anyway, not enough room. Eventually though I got an acceptable pitch. The bivy was deployed, Wee Airic secured under the straps and the sleeping bag installed. I put the stove on for a brew and sat on top of the bivy bag to sort through the rest of my kit.

The stove boiled and I sat there drinking my hot chocolate and munching my rhubarb crumble and custard thinking...

"Hmm, hot custard would've been nicer."

"Aye, this'll be guid. I'll hunker doon in the bag and read the book on my iphone till I'm sleepy."

The rain was coming on but

"Nae bother, the tarp's waterproof."

I started climbing into the bag but was immediately aware of my slipping down the hill. I shifted about a bit untwisting the sleeping bag and righting the mat but it was no good I kept sliding out the bottom of the tarp. The rain was well and truly on now and I knew I wasn't going to get any sleep here. I'd spend the whole night shimmying around trying to stay under the tarp.

I didn't want to look for another spot, this one was hard enough to find and now it was dark. Eventually I gave up and decided to pack up and walk out. I was here through choice remember, not because I have some army major yelling at me. When it stops being fun I reckon it's time to go home, so pack up is what I did. It was at this point I realised just how dark it was and switched the head torch back on. "Ahh, it's the mist that's making it hard to see." "Aye, well the walk out should be fun!"

It was fun, it was also very challenging as the fog had come in really thick now. So much so that my head torch was useless on the head. All I could see was the white light bouncing back at me obliterating my night vision. The green lamp on, held at waist height was best with the map and compass in the other hand and my trekking poles stowed. Micro Navigation was the order now, I was having to use memory of the area now as well as there are loads of paths on the ground that aren't marked on even the 1 to 25K map. The driving rain, thick fog, darkness, lack of features and generally confusing terrain made progress slow. I was confident in my nav abilities though and was actually enjoying the challenge presented to me, in fact I was relishing it.

It seemed like I was bashing through heather for a lot longer and the distances seemed to be all different in the dark. I was soaked through but not cold, I still only had a windproof on and those Haglofs Kazoo trousers but it was a warm night and I was moving continuously. Fun though it was, I was glad to be back at the car. It was only 01:30 but I felt I had been out for ages and had a great time out. I pulled on my insulated top, stuck the car seat cover down, cranked up the heater and made my way home...slowly and swerving occasionally to try and avoid squishing all the local frogs who were crossing the road.

I'd never have seen them from under my tarp!


  1. Things don't always go to plan but thats part of the fun. I think Ronald Turnbul said something along the lines of "the best plans remain in doubt to the very end". Plan B was the right choice. You learnt something more about your kit, as well as yourself and you got some real practice in night nav. There's the gold dust right there!

  2. I can fully relate to your experience! It's partly what drove me to summit camping... It's so much easier to find a good pitch higher up, I've seldom enjoyed pitches at glen level. And in the end you had an experience worth going through anyway, the walk in the dark, the frogs. You were lucky the polis weren't out on patrol or they might have picked you up for loitering with intent...

    Couple of questions: how do you set up the tarp? One trekking pole or two?

    And what was your bad experience with lightning up Sgurr Eilde Mor? I had a bad one myself on the Loch Laggan hills. Ran downhill as fast as I could when the electric storm started, truly frightening. Always wondered what it must be like getting caught in one in the middle of the night when you're pitched up on a summit. Dread to think how long it would take me to get packed. With the tent and the full kit it takes me at least half an hour to pack things up and by that time you could be fried...

    Cheers for the good yarn,

  3. Alright Dave, Aye gold dust it was indeed!

    Andy, the thought "here the pubs'll be kicking out about now" did cross my mind as I was getting closer to Muirkirk right enough.

    I pitched the tarp with 2 poles in a kind of lean to with one end closed off. It was plenty protective under there and if I was able to lie down without having to grip the heather to stop myself sliding out I'd have been fine.

    The lighteniing on Surr Eilde Mor was indeed 'brown trouser time'. I had only recently got back into this mountain going hilwalking lark again and had just picked up my shiny new Laser Comp which I was desperate to try out. The weather was horrendous, so bad infact that the rain drops were hitting me so hard I coud feel tem hitting my head through my RAB jacket hood and a merino beanie! As I was nearly topping out at Coire an Lochain the air took on a decidedly greasy feel and all of a sudden the water in my bladder tasted like tin. I stopped to look and see if there was any shit stuck on the mouthpiece when the big cloud in the Coire I was about to walk up into suddenly lit up as if somone had fired up a strobe light in there then came the rumble. I felt the pressure in my chest before I actually heard it. The thunder seemed to roll down the hill for ages. I was so close I could almost touch the thunder cloud in front of me. I must've completed possibly the worlds fastest descent of approx 400m down the side of a mountain!

  4. B*^$y hell! That was scary, that Sgurr Eilde Mor thing. We were caught on top of Creag Pitridh when the show started. The path is a wee bit steep near the very top so we had to be careful while running downhill as fast we could. We were lucky we saw the storm coming from the Easains, so by the time it got to us we were down at glen level. But we didnae experience it as close as you did. I can hardly imagine how terrifying it must have been! And as I say: the question must be: what do you do if it catches you pitched up on a summit at 3am? dig a hole and hope for the best??


  5. Ha, good lad. A retreat makes a better story!

    By the way, it's a bottle spanner. I've said too much....

  6. I'm not sure what I would do if I was caught out at 3am in it.

    I'll need to get more night time walking doone PTC*, I dont reckon I've been on a "nighthike" since I was in the scouts. Days on the WHW where I stopped after dark dont count.

  7. Nice one! not sure I could have walked about in the dark, I would have hid under the tarp 'til the sun came up.

    By the way who's Wee Airic, I thought you were out on our own? :o)

  8. It was damn good fun Angela, night walking opens up the hills in new ways. Everything takes on a new perspective in the dark.

    Oh aye, me and Airic go way back. He's not the the lightest or most efficient these days by a long shot but he's been a trustworthy companion over the years.


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