Last week was a long week. A long, long week of night shifts complete with lots of broken sleep. I was feeling rough but the itch to get out to play on something pointy was strong though, and when the Com's came in to meet the guys on the Fri for lunch at Tiso's I pushed the thought of a long lie out of my head. I slung some kit in a rucksack the night before so I would be ready to go after a few snatched ZZz's in the morning.
The kit I chose was a little different from my usual "go to" stuff for a couple of reasons. My trusty old red laser comp is still missing the guy line that came away on the Arrochar meet recently and Terra-Nova still haven't found a replacement pole hood as of yet. I considered my other favourite the SL3 but decided against it as I'd been wanting to try an experiment that's been rattling around in my head for a while now. I wanted to measure how big a reduction in pack weight I could get versus my perceived comfort level but only using kit I already owned. I wouldn't be breaking any lightweight records. I've always seen the logic of lightweight kit to a point, but I value concepts like "less faff" and "more comfort" over shaving grams any day. The thing is though, you'll never get your pack weight down if you keep using the same old kit. You have to be willing to try new things...or in my case old things.
So, I broke out the tarp and decided to give it another real world test thinking, "Aye that'll be quite a few hundred grams saved there.". I couldn't really remember a real reason for not using it often? I ditched the idea of a blow up fat mat or the self inflators I have and blew the dust off an old CCF mat. I normally go for the "comfort" option here but thinking about it, I don't really remember ever being un-comfy as a scout. Was that a rose tinted memory? "Aye, we'll see...". The rest was really just a case of leaving stuff out that I normally carry but never really use. I still opted for my usual cook set though as it's just so usable. Finally, all packed, complete with water and food etc and I stood on the scales with a 7 kilo pack on. Impressive! That was a 3 kilo reduction without really trying and it never cost me a penny. Hmmm, I'd measure the success against how well I slept that night though!
Lunch (or breakfast in my case) was full of banter, and kit talk before having a quick nose around the shop. I resisted reaching for the wallet at a certain stand in particular but there'll be more on that later on... ;-) I left Glasgow behind and hit the road which, once past the roadworks at Paisley, was pretty clear. I was in no hurry and it wasn't long before I was following the directions from the walkhighlands route through Lochgoilhead looking for somewhere to park up. I'm not sure if it was laziness or just enjoying driving through the trees but I found myself following the forestry commission road right to the foot of Beinn Bheula. "Ach well, maybe a wee bit cheeky but it'll save me a few boring KM's along the road."
I quickly changed into my mountain runners and then proceeded to do everything except run up the hill. I wheezed and puffed and panted from the off. Almost immediately my top was soaked through in sweat from the effort. Damn, I was struggling in the unseasonable warmth. "Well the Doctor was right then" I thought. The day before on Thursday I'd been for my monthly Spirometry tests to see how I'm responding to the treatment for the Sarcoidosis and the news wasn't the best. Disappointingly, my lung function was a bit worse than on my last visit. I told the Doctor that I'd been up Binnein Beag recently and had felt good and strong on that trip so he's asked me to go back for another retest in a few weeks. I have also been starting to struggle with the side effects of the steroids he has me on, so over the last month or so we've been reducing my dosage. Possibly the reduction in the drugs has allowed a relapse of sorts?? Just have to wait and see.
I slogged my way up to the waterfall, trying to sort my pace out to something more manageable and sustainable. I thought about the pros and cons of the steroids I'm on. I felt guilty about allowing my running (more like slow jogging) to slip over the last week or so. I cursed my ridiculously light pack for being no help and still I couldn't stop grinning at the thought of just being out in the hills anyway. I thought about my post on the Binnein Beag trip and what I'd said about being in tune again...it seems the tune has now sort of morphed into the theme from Steptoe & Son. I'm feeling old, broken and worn out now (I turned 30 yesterday don't you know!) but like the Steptoe's horse I'm trundling on regardless.
Looking back over Lochgoilhead itself, the surrounding hills were softened by the pastelly haze. It was hot and every meter of ascent was a hard fought battle at times. I glugged through my water supply frequently as I continually stopped to point camera at stuff and have a breather. I wouldn't change it, even though I was finding it hard I was still enjoying it. I dunno if there's some sort of perverse self punishment thing mountain folk have going on or if it's just me but I keep going back for more. I love being in the mountain environment...especially when it's challenging me.
I could see the cloud base touching the tops and I didn't fancy pitching the tarp in the mist. I was burst and feeling the lack of sleep too so opted for a lower pitch on Beinn Bhreac. It didn't take me long to get what I considered an acceptable pitch of the tarp and sorted out my bed for night. Alpkit down bag inside an old Rab Survival Zone bivvy on top of the CCF mat. I forced down a little food although my appetite had waned along with my stamina. By the time it was dark, I was amusing myself the normal way you do on a lonely summit camp with the camera and a head torch when texts started arriving. I spent the next while talking to Louise and other pals and loved ones at various locations around the globe on Facebook. Ahh the joy of the Internets!
I don't really remember drifting off but I woke around 02:30 with an unstoppable urge to nip out and "water the roses". The wind had certainly picked up somewhat and the rustly tarp was fairly rattling back and forth with the gusts. I'd estimate around 25 to 30mph. It still seemed pretty solid, although I am well used to the laser comp flapping around like a forgotten washing on the line. I must've passed out again as the next thing I knew the wind had died down and the mist rolled in. It was bright too...in that dim misty sort of way. Damn it, I'd missed the sunrise! My appetite had returned so I had last nights dinner and reflected on my nights sleep..."Seems to have been the most comfortable one in the hills I've had yet this year " and "Bonus! The tarp never fell down or blew away!". Well it seems that's a few theories out the window and my point of reference re-adjusted then!
Not so yummy part of brekkie! (By the way, this lot of pills is the reduced amount!)
Fed and watered, I wasn't long in packing up. Seems there are even more benefits to bringing less kit! I set off through the mist, following the compass and soon I found the crags of Caisteal Dubh looming out of the mist above me. It dawned on me within just a few more steps that I could see hints of blue coming through above the crags and also the mist seemed to be thinning. Could it be!!?
Spurred on in my excitement I climbed the last 100 or so meters with far greater ease than I would have done the previous evening. I think having a had a decent sleep and a meal and the fact I knew what lay above made all the difference. I enjoyed the scramble up that last steep pull to the summit and when I stopped to gather my breath and take in the view I was stunned. First inversion of the year and I had it all to myself...except for those I shared it with on Facebook!
I lingered on the top for ages just watching the cloud moving and swirling around in the breeze, the view ever changing. Occassionally Carnach Mor behind me was being enveloped in a misty shroud and then slowly fading back to solidity as the white tendrils bubbled and crept away. The top of the pool of mist never far away. I'll never understand people who don't understand my love of the hills.
I didn't want to be late home so eventually I tore myself away. It's only a short weekend when I'm on nights and I wanted to spend some of it with Louise. It's only fair after all. Cutting along the top to Creag Sgoilte and descending back down through the mist was an utter joy. My mood was great and the swirling mist only served to add to atmosphere.
I knew what was coming next but it didn't stop the eerie feeling in the pit of my stomach as I came across fragments of the Grumman Martlet that crashed there on 13/12/40. I wonder what happened that night? Was it the weather, a navigation error or a mechanical failure? I'm not sure but I was very much aware that I was walking in and around a grave or memorial to somone who served their country. I suddenly felt like paying my respects and I touched my brow, my previous excitement gone.
Slowly still following the compass, as I had no visual reference, I picked my way across the Glas Choire towards the outflow of Lochan nan Cnaimh. I wandered upstream to the Lochan itself hoping to catch a glimpse of Cruach nam Miseag. It looks like such an interesting and lumpy hill. It wasn't to be, though I resolved to be back up here again.
Following the stream downhill it takes you into the forest where the route description states "Care is needed in descending as the path has eroded in places; take care especially
when the stream is in spate.". All I will say if you decide to do this route (and you should) is really make sure you do take care as that path is possibly one of the worst descents from a hill I've ever taken yet. Several times I thought I was going into that stream! Not helped by the fact I also missed the firebreak (probably due to watching my feet too much) and ended up following the stream all the way back to Daphne.
The drive home was a joy, the toasted panini we had in the cafe was a joy as were the several pints of "Cairngorm Mountain Blue" we washed it down with in our local. In fact my whole weekend was a joy.