I’m taking a little time out at the moment. This gives me the opportunity to make impromptu hill trips during the week, which is nice, but can be a little inefficient as far as ‘miles and time driving’ versus ‘time on the hills’ goes. This trip entailed about 360 miles of driving, with a good 7 hours of driving time. The forecast was looking like there would be just one decent night and following day, before it got overly windy for anything ambitious. Even if I’m only planning 1 day’s walking, an overnight in the hills turns that into ‘one day plus a half day’ in my mind, so I will immediately cast my net wider if I can get an ‘overnight’ on.
The good evening forecast got me thinking about the Alpkit tarp that I bought last year and hadn’t used yet. There is an old, roofless shooting shelter on the plateau, east of meal Gorm’s summit in the Fannaichs: prime candidate to be ‘roofed’ and made cosy with a tarp. I’d also read David Lintern’s thoughts
on winter camping, specifically the use of synthetic over down sleeping bags. My new summer weight Haflofs sleeping bag would be used over my trusty 300g Rab zipless down bag: with reasonable weather and a tarp over my head to keep the dew off, I wouldn’t even need a bivvy bag. Fool proof.Thus my ‘Fannaichs Bivvy’ plan was born.
I parked up at the bridge over the Abhainn an Torrain Duibh, near Loch Glascarnoch, at about 16:30, rather later than expected. I’m always parking up ‘rather later than expected’ when I set out on a walk, which begs the question, why was it ‘Rather later than I expected’. It just was, OK? I’m a badly organised optimist.
The lower reaches of the river are a little dreary, as was the weather, but I was excited by what lay ahead. The sun started to show itself , giving me more confidence in the ‘clear overnight’ forecast.
After I’d been going an hour, a horrible thought struck me: I hadn’t packed a sleeping mat. Oh dear. The super-duper modular sleeping bag arrangement wouldn’t be that good. I anticipated an uncomfortable night. I worked out a damage limitation plan as I walked: I would sleep on the tarp on grass or heather (using the limited insulation that provides), which I hoped would make for a bearable night. I doubted I could use the tarp for overhead shelter as well. but, hey, who wants their view of the stars blocked?
As I followed the valley up into the massif, I had a problem that is becoming too familiar to walkers now. I followed a tributary upstream and picked up a vehicle track that came from the junction of the Abhainn an Torrain Duibh and the Allt an Loch Sgeirich, which was ‘going my way’. I followed it until looked like it was heading off up the hillside to the north of the main valley, to some prime shooting spot, I assumed. I struck off towards Loch Li, making slightly laborious progress. It was annoying to later find I met the same track near the outflow of the loch; I could have just followed it. It wasn’t on my map, and neither is it on the latest OS maps on their website, so I had no way of knowing where it went. In an ideal world, these tracks wouldn’t be proliferating on our hills, spoiling the wild atmosphere, but if I am gong to come across them, I would at least like to be able to use them to ease my passage through the landscape, confident that they’re ‘going my way’. Still, it’s sad that many landowners are bulldozing tracks on the hills at will (they seldom seek planning permission), just so they can take ‘golf-cart’ shooters into the hills: heaven forbid that they get some exercise whilst out shooting.
I could see up the slopes towards my goal, now. However, as I wasn’t going to be able to use the tarp as a cabin roof and a ground sheet, getting all the way to shelter that evening seemed unnecessary, especially given the rapidly failing light (did I mention I’d set off a bit later than expected?) I looked for a likely spot on the slopes above the loch. There were no non-lumpy bits of ground to be seen, but I was moving into the snow line, so perhaps a patch of snow might be more comfortable, if rather chilly.
I found a level patch and laid my tarp, doubled over, on it, being careful not to stand on that area first, so as to keep the fairly thawy snow as even as possible. I set my Trek Mates Flameless cooker off reconstituting my Gallo cheese risotto (a good value alternative to ‘specialist’ dehydrated meals, to be found in the ‘rice’ section of may supermarkets), and enjoyed the sounds of it steaming away whilst I laid out my bags and sorted everything else out. My patch felt lumpy, and as cold as you would expect, but I’ve had uncomfortable nights out in the hills before.
The weather was still rather dull, which worried me. I listened to a podcast (the joys of modern technology), whilst snuggled down, trying to stay warm, in my sleeping bags. I got to the point where I was too sleepy to follow the glorious witterings of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s 5Live film review show, which I considered a good sign, and turned them off to settle down to my sleep. I slept fitfully, but as I said, it’s not something I’d not experienced before.
What was that sound? Rain. Sh*t. I looked at my watch: it was 03:00. It wasn’t that heavy, and I knew the bag would hold it off for a while, so I decided to wait it out, see if it was just a passing shower. Well, it was just passing, but its passage took half an hour, which is too long to lie out with no waterproof cover, so I methodically packed my stuff, ignoring the slightly damp bits of my body that had had water leaking through onto them, mostly from what was gathering on the tarp.
I headed up, aiming for the shelter, a good place for a spot of breakfast. I was setting off on my day’s walk at 03:55: not a bad achievement for a late riser like me. The sky was already looking rather promising, with the rain well passed and stars and the waning moon out. I took my time climbing up to stop me overheating from the Aldi ‘pretend Primaloft’ coat (really great and it only cost £10, half the extravagant £20 RRP) I’d worn overnight and kept on for the climb to the shelter (I’d rather be a bit warm than chilled).
I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and cup of tea (I’d brought a stove) at the shelter.
I think the rest of this account can be mostly taken care of with pictures. I’ll give you the highlights.
There were some impressive cornices on the ridge
I could now see that there was a lot of cloud in the valleys on both sides of the ridge: it wasn’t quite a ‘sea of cloud’, but it was close. This cloud did not burn off until the middle of the day, although the valleys immediately to the north and south of the Fannaichs seemed to clear more quickly than those further away.
The wind carved snow looked lovely, even if it wasn’t very firm.
Sgurr nan Clach Geala is the crowning mountain of the Fannaichs, with its impressive eastern corrie and gullies.
As seems to be the way at the moment when I’m away from the honeypots on a weekday, I had one encounter, this time with a local, retired man who was out taking advantage of the good weather.
Although it isn’t a match for Sgurr nan Clach Geala, Sgurr Mor is an impressive peak too.
I noticed that Carn na Criche has a huge north-east facing crag, above Loch a’Mhadaidh, although it is probably too vegetated to be of interest to the summer climber. It is fairly low down, but on the other hand would be in shadow all the time in the winter, so a cold spell would yield some sustained mixed climbing, although it lacks distinctive lines.
The views got less distinct into the early afternoon. It feels weird to me to be on a hill just after lunch, but to have already been out for over 8 hours. The way over Creag Dhubh Fannaich was pleasant enough, and I stayed as high as I could, to keep off the unattractive but very convenient track as long as possible. When I got lower, I found it easily and followed it all the way to the confluence. It was a shame to leave it, as the way down the valley seemed rather mundane and I just wanted to be back at my car. I also found the Allt an Loch Sgeirich surprisingly difficult to cross (I’d crossed it much further upstream on the way in).
The anti-climax of the walk out along a nothing-to-write-home-about, but also quite awkward and boggy valley didn’t do that much to dampen my spirits: this is a fairly standard experience and I usually have the ‘glow’ from my hill experience to sustain me. Thus, I was in high spirits when I got back to my car, although I still had the way-over-long-for-just-one-day’s-walking drive to get me back to Fife.