This write up's a little late (nearly a fortnight) but there's been some things and stuff going on in work and life that have kept me away from the keyboard for a while. I'm determined to write this one up before it fades though, as it was an important one for both me and the dug. Nellie dug's first wild camp!
After seeing an old hill in a new light a few weeks earlier, I decided that we'd continue in the same vein and try our luck at another summit previously missed while it hid in the murk. Having been up Beinn Maol Chaluim before I got a little complacent about the planning and just pulled the maps I'd printed in the past. Then I found myself halfway through a second bottle of plonk before finally deciding "Screw, it, I'll pack in the morning". A long lie, a meagre breakfast and realising that half your kit isn't where it's supposed to be while an excited dug gets under your feet didn't make for the most relaxed of starts to an adventure. A few hours drive later though and I could just about physically feel my muscles unwind as the tension and stress left my body at a rate directly proportional to the wonder of the scenery outside. It doesn't matter how many times I gawp out the car window at it, it always has this effect on me.
Glen Etive was busy wee haven with quite a few folks camping "informally" along the roadside. We passed a myriad of brightly coloured tents and folks fishing or just lazing about as we threaded our way deeper into the glen. I don't quite understand the attraction of this sort of camping (so close to a road) but it all looked quite pleasant without the neds and general bad press this sort of activity sometimes gets.
I parked the Landy up in the same spot as last time and set about changing footwear and sorting out my pack while the dug danced around me, champing at the bit and desperate to get going. It was getting a little late in the afternoon to be starting out, even for a wildcamp and I usually add on an extra hour or two to my times as I know I'm a little slower these day's. The weather forecast was telling me that while the tops were just clear of the clouds just now it wouldn't be the case later.
We set off at a brisk pace and immediately I found the first uphill gradient as tough physically and mentally as the last time I slogged up it. I remembered every wheeze as I forced my lungs to keep up with my legs but up it we went, slowly and steadily.
After the initial torturing of lungs and eventually legs the contour lines got a little further apart and the going got a little easier. We were still climbing and settled into a pace that allowed us to make good progress and and yet still find time to fanny about scrambling up the rocky outcrops for no reason other than that we could. We had the mountainside to ourselves, despite all the holidaymakers down below, and every step was a delight. It's hard to describe the joy gained from pushing through the effort and climbing mountains to those that just don't get it. Yes, it can be hard going at times but it's always, always worth it. Usually.
We got to the first tiny wee lochan a little below where I camped the last time and stopped for a drink and a snack. The tank was empty and I was starting to wonder if that was the real reason I had struggled earlier. There had been a little drizzle in the air that now turned into drops big enough for me to pull on my waterproof top and then I heard the familiar rumble of a Sea King starting to bounce around the hillside. I scanned the clouds above and reached for the camera but it was fairly shifting across the sky and I only just managed to get a couple of shots before it disappeared from view. I hope they were just in a hurry to get home for dinner and not responding to someone in trouble.
Fed, watered and wondering where that chopper was off to, we set off again. The rain had stopped and the terrain was getting steeper again and there was the occasional requirement
to put hands on rock as we worked our way up the shoulder to the broad
ridge just above us.
This was where it was all new to me now. I hadn't seen the views from up here before and again I was glad I saved the top of the ridge for a day that the weather would allow me to see them. The ridge is fairly wide with plenty of potential camp spots but it's still a nice shapely bugger all the way to the summit. Just shows you don't always need a knife edge for it to be breathtaking.
The snow had all but gone up there leaving just a few patches here and there on the north eastern edges. With Nellie being Nellie, she kept wanting to run out onto them (she's the same with streams/lochans etc) but I couldn't tell if there were any corniced edges left until I got closer to them myself. I knew that it was unlikely there would be anything substantial left overhanging up here with all the melt but you don't ever want to take the chance. It's the sort of mistake you might only get to make the once! As a result, the lead was almost deployed a few times while we practised walking to heel.
As we wandered our way along, the cloud base was getting lower and lower and it seemed we were racing it to the summit. We won, but only just. It had been just grazing the higher tops around us but when we arrived it felt and looked so close and blanket like that I wondered if you'd be able to see my head if I stood up for photos. Judging by the height of the tops around us that it was touching I reckon it must've been around 80-90metres above us, but nonetheless it was an eerie feeling as it gradually got closer and closer.
We wandered around for a bit peering under the grey cotton wool blanket at the views then found a wee flat spot just beneath the summit. Comfort was the top factor in site choice as I knew it wouldn't be long before the view would be obliterated. The rain started again which spurred me on to throw the tent up a little faster. I'd hoped to be able to take my time with this as I knew I'd have to coax Nellie inside with the promise of treats etc. She can be a little nervous of new things and people. The prospect of a damp dug in such a small space meant that it's quite possible I've set a new world record for speed pitching a Laser Competition. Just a pity the only witness was a curious wee Collie. Eventually though she came in beside me and we got settled in for the night.
After we both dried off and had our dinners it was actually quite cosy in there. I'd been worried the Laser Competition would be a little coffin like with the two us but she fit fine and snuggled down in the wider part of the inner by my side. The wind speed was very low which helped keep her calm I suspect. I alternated between reading and dozing until I dropped off completely. I slept right through until the pale morning light filtered through the layers of mist outside and woke me. Nellie's first overnight in the mountains had been a success. My previous imaginations of having to descend back to the Landy in the dark and fog with an unhappy dug that wouldn't settle were banished to be replaced with two content souls enjoying a lazy morning in a tiny wee red tent. Does it get any better than this?
It wasn't to last though as eventually she wanted out for a toilet stop and then after breakfast she was raring to go again. It's her routine at home though so I left her to sniff and explore around outside while I ate my own breakfast and then eventually broke camp.
Navigation required a little care in the poor visibility so we took our time picking our way through the cloud as we retraced our steps. I'm not sure exactly when I stopped following the compass bearings. I remember we kept seeing our footprints from the day before in the snow patches and I ended up just following the dug at some point. Then when we started losing height I realised that I could hear fast running water getting closer and closer? This wasn't right. I consulted the map and realised we had somehow started walking north east instead of south east at some point. I knew which slope we were on but not how far along it. We back tracked directly uphill and by keeping the banks of snow to our left we were able to easily pick up the trail again. A slightly embarrassing detour that I nearly never wrote down here but I suppose I want to remember this trip for what it was not just some glossed over and edited version. Besides, we'd never have met the ptarmigan laughing at us in the mist if we hadn't gone wrong.
Dropping down under the cloud base was was both a relief and a joy to behold. It meant I could put the map away and rely on my eyes to both navigate and to take in the beauty of the mountain environment before us, wreathed in swirling tendrils as the mist beneath us broke up.
The ground was much soggier than the previous afternoon and it was slippy underfoot in some places but that's not why I deliberately slowed my pace. Everything was so quiet and peaceful. The landscape looked fresh, lush and inviting and it was clear that it was changing slowly from winter to spring/summer in front of us.
I slowed our descent to make it last as long as possible before we got back to the road and ultimately civilisation.