Monday, 19 April 2010

As the fuzzy confusion of just awakening left me...

...I slowly began to realise that I could see the orangeness of the inside of my bivy bag and therefore it must be daylight outside. With an almost sheer panic I thought I'd slept through sunrise as I frantically fumbled for the zipper pull. My head popped out and the cold morning flooded in.

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The sun was still below the horizon but the pre dawn colours had magical qualities of their own. You know it's gonna be a good gig when it's this good and the main act is still beneath stage in the dressing room!

I could hear Elaina making "Wow!" noises at the spectacle and I looked over to see Petesy hanging head first out of his tent still with earphones jammed in. I wonder what his morning soundtrack was? I shouted to Phil to make sure he wasn't missing this. He wasn't.

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As the sun gradually crept higher the weak light we bathed in grew stronger and began to awaken the pristine mountainscape around us. It wasn't long before we were all cutting about the hillside, some more dressed for the occasion than others, taking literally hundreds of photies.

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After the sun got some proper air time it was back to camp to deal with breakfast, cuppa's and the usual faffing of striking camp. A while later we reluctantly started off up the track up onto the ridge where the views opened up and began to take on an almost alpine feel. All around it was towering pointy peaks and massive glacially carved glens below and best of all there was barely a hint "civilisation" no matter which direction you looked.

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As we got up onto the ridge our destination of Surr a Mhoaraich came back into view as it had been most of the previous night. We started planning our ascent making the choice between the deep snow filled slope or by scrambling over 4 craggy pinnacles that drop straight down into the void of the coire on their north side.

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As the sun was getting very hot now and beaming straight onto the snowy slopes we decided that it would be more fun on the rock. Scrambling was an utter joy and I don't thing I've felt so much friction between Vibram and bare rock since I was on the famous Gabbro of Skye.

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We moved easily gaining height very quickly as we clambered up the grippy warm rock. Between the crags were corniced gullies that look like they could be a hazard in the depths of winter. Something to always keep in mind in these wild places.

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Clearing the mixed ground left us a short but steep slope to ascend before reaching the summit so it was time for crampons and ice axes to be deployed for probably the last time this year I sadly suspect.

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Up on the summit the vista was simply one of the best I've ever had in our Scottish hills. We could see the Ben, the Cuillin of Skye, even out as far as the Cairngorm plateau.

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Crampons off and stoves on to melt some drinking water and get cuppa's on while we took in the view. We were shortly passed by a pair of walkers who drew us dirty a look that only earned them a middle finger salute in return as they passed. "How dare we be on their summit!" admittedly though, I'm quite pleased that I can still irritate a pair of joyless twats even out here in the middle of nowhere.

As hot drinks and "summit muffins" were consumed, we all caught our breath and were joined by another couple, though this time a pleasant one who were as thrilled as we were by the whole scene. Their wee dug seemed to be pretty happy playing in the snow with that seemingly unending supply of energy that Spaniels have. If I ever get a dog that's the sort I want.

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After spending a good deal of time up there on the summit we decided to crack on and take the long route out. Nobody had the heart for a the shorter route, we just wanted to stay out and play longer... I remember being given a watch when I was a wean so that there would be no excuse for staying out far too late to play. I can also remember holding it under the running tap so it would break and then suddenly give me an excuse again...I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore!

We headed north down some snow slopes where Elaina couldn't resist having probably her last wee slide in the snow for the year before we came to a very steep concave slope with varying consistencies of snow. I started to struggle in my bendy Keens and progress became very slow for an awful lot of energy expended. Steel Kahtoola's on and I was fine cutting down across the slope. It was interesting to see I had taken the same line as Phil but where I simply let my crampon points bite in he had been edging in steps with his slightly stiffer sole. I had taken probably two thirds less steps though to cover the same ground, which got me thinking about the difference between stiffer and bendy boots in winter. With bendies you might end up wearing the crampons for much longer but the effort expended is often far less than using the boot as a tool. There are however times when having the stiffer sole to stand on can greatly reduce the fatigue in those calf muscles. It seems there's always a trade off.

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After a couple more short snow patches we hit a very steep boulder field and put the winter iron-mongery away. Slipping and scrambling we quickly got across it to the bealach where we were again relying on the friction of shoe rubber against rock as we wandered across some nicely angled slab. A tumble here would have seen you cart-wheeling all the way to the bottom of the coire and onto the massive boulders broken from the face just beneath the summit.

Across the bealach we started up through the crags and grassy ledges up onto Am Bathaich. We stopped again before the summit to filter water from a deep pool mostly of cold snowmelt. The grippy rock was back and we had our last few metres of scrambling (even when not strictly necessary)before the summit.

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From the summit it was a short wander along the broad grassy ridge then a very steep descent down grassy slopes into the cavernous glen below. To our relief, about halfway down we found a wide path that's full of constant switchbacks to the bottom.

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Once at the bottom we grabbed five minutes to catch our breath, rest our weary legs and have a wee drink of water. I was feeling the sun now and was grateful for the buff I'd been given earlier.

There was an interesting and amusing river crossing where Elaina had to remove her boots and wade across a makeshift causeway meanwhile Petesy and Phil did their best to soak each other and me. The sun began to sink lower now and the South Glen Shiel ridge did the golden thing again as we made our way along the track through the trees and following the river to the landrover track out.

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Eventually we got to the stile and our feet burned up the tarmac back to the PTC mobile. By this point I was burst and definitely glad I wasn't driving. When we found the car I was both glad and sad to dump my pack in the boot. After a rehydrating with some of Scotland's "other" national drink I climbed into the back seat.

There were still more sights to see as we stopped the car and I finally managed to get a photo of a stag that doesn't just look like a small brown rock away in the distance!

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We were all out again getting a pic of the sun dropping once again behind the hills in a blaze of colour.

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I won't mention the A82 being shut and the enormous detour we had to take to eventually find somewhere selling hot food. I luckily managed to miss most of it as I dozed on the back seat. A worn out but very happy Bigbananafeet.

6 comments:

  1. This really does look like a great trip, good to see you took your time about it too. Often I find myself too keen to get back to the car and down the road so I can do stuff following a camp, need to savour it more I reckon...

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  2. It was! In fact I'd go as far as to say it's been the best trip for a long time and the fact I was sharing it with a few mates made it even more special.

    Slowing down outdoors to really appreciate it is definitely a good motto. It's not always a race.

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  3. I aint jealous at all by the way, nope not at all.
    Stunning pics I really do need to get some time off my work and go for a wee walk with you at some point out on thos hills, instead of constantly driving past them every other day.

    Mind just a wee walk I am way off being fit for a proper trek.

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  4. Well summer is just around the corner mate, You know you're welcome.

    How about a wildcamp?

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  5. Haven't you done another two trips since this one?

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  6. Um yup, you know I have. It doesn't all go on the Blog though. I'll write stuff for here soon. The writing thing seems to work in fits and bursts for me...

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