Category Archives: pictures & trips

Monadhliath meander part 3

Day 3, Dulnain bothy no. 3 to Aviemore (16km)

Although it rained overnight, I had a good sleep. By the time I answered a call of nature, it had stopped raining. I decided that rather than have breakfast in the bothy, I would have it in the tent. I really like breakfasting in a tent. After finishing, I packed my gear and went into the bothy. Alan and Andy were having breakfast and had started a fire. Any thought of leaving early was erased by the pitter patter of rain, so we waited until the fire had nearly burnt out.

IMG_0853Eventually, there was no delaying the moment, so we donned waterproofs and out we went. While it wasn’t raining hard, it was enough to be annoying. I followed Andy on a little diversion to the bridge, while Alan took a more direct route.

IMG_0855We walked through another area of burnt juniper bushes. The breeze was light and there were a few midges about, fortunately not biting. We sauntered along, sometimes on the bluff and sometimes on the valley floor.

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After about an hour we reached the Red Bothy. The cloud was low towards Caggan, but the rain had stopped. We decided to have an early lunch before taking the Burma Road to Aviemore.

IMG_0859View from Red Bothy towards Caggan

After an hour or so, it was time to gird loins and head for Aviemore. I noted that there are plenty of places to camp should I wish to do so when I do the Challenge next month.

IMG_0861Looking back to the Red Bothy

A little way up the Burma Road we were treated to a very moody view down the Dulnain, north eastwards. Unfortunately it was difficult to capture it effectively on the iPhone.

IMG_0869Now the Burma Road stretched before us and all we had to do was to plod upwards. The Burma Road gets some bad press as a being a bit boring, but I quite enjoyed it.

IMG_0871Higher up, it became a bit drizzly and cold so I put my overtrousers back on.

IMG_0872At the top of the pass we sat down for a rest. The limitations of the camera and the poor light meant it was difficult to take any decent pictures.

IMG_0876From here, it was downhill all the way. Hurrah! Even descending a few hundred feet, it was noticeably warmer. I took a photo of the tree that, according to Alan, appears in just about ever Challenge account that covers this route.

IMG_0880It wasn’t long before we were at the bottom and back in civilisation.

IMG_0882To get to Aviemore, we had a rather grim walk along the B9152. After a bit of a trudge, we reached the youth hostel, which was our accommodation for the night. In truth, the hostel was a bit of a disappointment, particularly the room, which was a bit shabby and not very well designed.

Having been unable to get a table at the nearby pub, we went to the fish and chip shop instead and had a rather good meal. Alan rounded it off in traditional Scottish style with deep fried Mars bar. Standards have to be maintained!

IMG_0883The advantage of the youth hostel is that it is near the station, so we didn’t have to get up too early. The train journey was only notable for an altercation between a rather large elderly lady and Alan over the temperature of the carriage, when he requested that the ticket inspector turn on the air conditioning.

There was a rather nice surprise at Berwick, where gourmand Challenger, Humphrey Weightman delivered a bag of cheese, quiche and meetballs to Mr Sloman. The cheese was saved for the infamous daunder, but the quiche and meatballs were gratefully consumed.

All in all, it was very pleasant little trip and a good introduction to the delights of the Monadhliath. From the small bit that I’ve seen, it’s ideal backpacking country with a lot of good places to camp. If you’ve not been, I suggest you make an effort to see it before it’s spoilt by the proposed wind farm developments. It’s a real shame that this splendid part of the country is so under-appreciated.

Monadhliath meander part 2

Day 2, Dulnain bothy no. 1 to Dulnain bothy no. 3 (10km)

The weather overnight was ferociously windy with driving rain. In the warmth of the bothy, we were glad we had decided not to camp. While the weather eased in the early morning, it didn’t really let up until mid-morning, so we had a delayed start.

IMG_0805Leaving the bothy

The photos for the next two days were taken on my iPhone inside a waterproof case, so the quality is a bit sub-standard. In the light of the weather and the late start, we decided to have a leisurely walk down the River Dulnain to bothy no. 3. Despite the relatively short distance, it was a superb walk. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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IMG_0851Hopefully the pictures give a good impression of what it was like. We stopped for lunch at Dulnain bothy no. 2, which was the least impressive of the bothies we visited. Along the way we encountered the skeleton of a deer and bleached remains of juniper bushes. There were a number of really good places to camp (saved in the memory banks for future reference).

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The real sadness was two huge masts for measuring wind speed. These were stark reminders of the threat of a massive wind farm at Allt Duine. If it is built, it will totally destroy the wilderness feel of the area. I’m glad that we walked down the Dulnain before this monstrosity is built. I only hope the planning permission will be turned down.

Rather than push on to the Red Bothy, we decided to camp on the flat ground outside bothy no. 3. It was a good chance for both Alan and I to play around with our Trailstars. I decided that I would take the experiment one stage further and cook in my Trailstar, while Alan and Andy went inside the bothy to cook.

When I had finished, I too went inside, to find a roaring fire from some dried juniper wood that had been stored at the back of the bothy. We had a fine bothy evening, but juniper wood burns quickly, so we turned in relatively early. By this time the wind had freshened again and it was starting to rain. Despite this, I had a good night’s sleep.

Monadhliath meander part 1

When Alan contacted me about accompanying him to the Cairngorms for a leg stretch, I lept at the chance. Andy Walker was also invited as pacemaker and jester. In the planning process, it became clear that a reasonable route in the Cairngorms was going to be difficult with the amount of snow still lying around, so our attention was shifted to the Monadhliath. This suited me, as I’d never been to the Monadhliath and I was anxious to see them for myself.

After successfully meeting at King’s Cross station, despite Alan’s radio silence, we boarded the midday train. A seven and a half hour train journey can hardly be described as enjoyable, but Andy kept us entertained. At one point he indulged in a slightly surreal conversation with the tea trolley attendant on the number of cherries in the fruit cake slices.

We arrived at Kingussie on time and walked back along the cycle track to Newtonmore where we stayed at the Newtonmore Hostel, which is now owned by the Mrs O’s of TGO Challenge fame. Solid and liquid sustenance was consumed at the Glen Hotel opposite the hostel and we repaired to bed for a reasonably early night. Despite a heavy cold, I was able to get some sleep and didn’t disturb my compatriots too much.

Day 1, Newtonmore to Dulnain bothy number one (16km)

Morning dawned grey and rather gloomy. In the common room I introduced myself to the only other person in the hostel, Rosemary, who spent her childhood very near to where I live. It’s a small world. Sue Oxley, one of the owners of the hostel came over as we were having breakfast. To complete our happy little throng, Val and Dave, who were walking with us for the day, arrived.

DSC01174View over Newtonmore

After a bit of a packing faff, we were off. Having (almost) successfully navigated our way through the back streets of Newtonmore, we were amongst the fields. The cloud was lifting and breaking, so it seemed we might get a reasonable day. Our route took us to the wood on the western side of Loch Gynack , along the northern shore of the loch, before striking north just above Pitmain Lodge.

DSC01175View towards A’ Chailleach

Easy paths and pleasant conversation made for a gentle start to our bimble. North of the Lodge, the land becomes more remote and wild, although the walking was straightforward, following a Land Rover track above the gorge of the Allt Mor.

DSC01184Alllt Mor

On crossing the Allt Mor, we branched west to a lunch hut to partake of some food, sheltered from the cold wind.

DSC01191Lunch hut

It was quite cold, even in the hut, so we didn’t hang around too long. To the east of us, over the Cairngorms, the weather seemed to be improving.

DSC01193View SE to Cairngorms

However, over the Monadliath themselves, especially to the west, the clouds were still thick and brooding.

DSC01195View W towards Am Bodach

After a minor navigational mishap, we located the track up to “Freaky Dean” (Carn an Fhreiceadain). At the south western end of the summit ridge, there’s an impressive cairn, which provided a suitable point for a posed photo.

DSC01196Cairn on  Carn an Fhreiceadain

From the cairn, it was a short march to the summit trig point. By this time the wind had picked up and it was quite cold. On the northern flank, there’s a small shelter, which Val, Andy and I bagged to get out of the wind.

DSC01199View N from Carn an Fhreiceadain

Instead of following the track, we cut westwards over easy terrain and were rewarded with a sighting of a hare, still in its white winter coat.

DSC01202Hare on Carn an Fhreiceadain

As we descended, it became warmer and the cold wind less noticeable. On regaining the Land Rover track, we were treated to some sunshine.

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Track down to the Dulnain

Despite some occasional patches of snow on the track, spikes were not needed. While most of the snow had cleared there were still some occasional spectacular banks of snow in sheltered places.

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Snow bank on the Dulnain

At the bothy, we sheltered from the wind. Val and Dave left us to return to Newtonmore. The wind was beginning to pick up and Alan suggested that it would be better to use the bothy rather than camp. It would prove to be a wise decision.

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River Dulnain looking SW from bothy

All in all, it had been a great first day in the Monadhliath.

Moanies tweaking

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Well, we are off tomorrow. The weather forecast looks reasonable; mainly dry with the possibility of some light rain on Friday. As it’s not going to be conspicuously cold, I’ve decided to take my PHD Minimus jacket rather than the Yukon. I’m also not going to take the Downmat UL. I think my Nemo Zor should be adequate. It’s lighter and more compact.

Even with a modest amount of extra winter gear, it was a bit of a squeeze to get everything in the Mariposa. I’m wondering whether to look for a higher volume pack like the Berghaus Expedition Light 80. It’s not the weight of winter gear that’s the problem, it’s the bulk. Once you add a proper winter sleeping bag, a thicker down jacket and other bits and pieces, the bulk becomes an issue.

Unfortunately, I’ve been suffering from a cold. Hopefully, it will have cleared up by Wednesday when we have our first full day of walking.

Moanies prepping

Next Tuesday I shall be off to Scotland for my first trip of the year. I’m going with Alan Sloman and Andy Walker for a little jaunt around the Monadhliath. Originally we were going to the Cairngorms, but there’s been a lot of snow, so it was difficult to work out a route that didn’t require some serious mountaineering. This is the route that Alan gave me, but it could be subject to change, depending on circumstances.

Monadhliath April 2014It’s basically a big loop from Newtonmore to Aviemore of approximately 30 miles over three days, so we’ll be doing about ten miles a day. Enough to be serious, but not excessively arduous. For all of us, this is part of our TGO Challenge preparation, both for fitness and to try out some new gear. Today, I assembled most of my gear for packing next week.

IMG_0795I’ve decided on a new approach to assembling gear. Essentially, I’m using two plastic crates, one for clothes and one for gear. This makes it really easy to tick items off a list and have them to hand for packing.  It was much quicker than my previous method of spreading everything over the floor! Because I’ve not crushed down the gear (especially the down jacket), it’s looks a lot more than it actually is.

The weather forecast (at the moment) is for temperatures between 0-10c and reasonably dry.  Of course, that can change but it seems sensible to pack for colder conditions.

To that end, I’m taking my PHD Yukon down jacket, which is a lot warmer than the Minimus and about 150g heavier. Mine is a special edition with a waterproof shell. I’m taking some warmer Polartech leggings, which are about 100g heavier than my usual lightweight ones. My jacket will be the Paramo Vasco, but I’m also taking a hardshell (OMM Cypher smock).

On my feet, I will be using Ecco Biom Hike boots. There’s been a bit of discussion about whether to take microspikes. I’m going to take some Yaktrax as they are a lot lighter (165g vs. c.500g) and they grip well on icy paths. We are not doing anything very serious, so they should be more than capable without weighing too much.

I’m going to test the MLD Trailstar (at last). It will be interesting how the Trailstar and OookStar combo fare. I’m taking six MSR blizzard stakes, plus some Eastons and titanium pins to cover all eventualities, hence a hefty 308g for pegs.

I’ve decided to take an Exped Downmat UL rather than the Nemo Zor as it could be quite cold at night. I think the weight penalty of c.340g extra is worth it as insurance. My sleeping bag will be my trusty Alpkit Pipedream 400. I did think about the Rab Neutrino 200 SL, but I’m not certain of its warmth. I could go heavier and take my Pipedream 600, but if I’m cold I can always put on the Yukon jacket.

I’m taking one extra set of gloves and an additional hat as backup. Overall, I reckon the warmer gear is about 1kg extra. I’ve sacrificed my UL umbrella to bring the extra weight penalty down to about 800g. My overall base weight is 9.6kg. I’ve not weighed stuffsacks, so that will boost it a tad.

Food shopping has yet to be done, but I’d imagine that food and sundries will be around 3kg, making an all up weight of around 13kg at a guess. That’s not SUL, but reasonable for winter bimble. If you’re very lucky, I might publish a full gear list before I go :-)

More Trailstar photos

Putting up a Trailstar requires a bit of practice. As it was a pleasant afternoon yesterday, I  decided to have a play in the garden. Our garden is not ideal as it slopes and there’s no totally flat area.

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IMG_0743The cunning loop near the apex of the OookStar inner helps tension the fabric.

IMG_0745Loads of room inside!

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A foam tube (from a Sawyer mini filter) makes the front pole guy more secure and prevents the cord from cutting into the foam handle of the trekking pole.

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The rear pegging point has a different colour cord. I’ve also added a loop of orange cord on the pegging points of the OookStar inner shock cord tie out to help identification.

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I’ve added a loop of cord to the apex grosgrain loop to aid packing in high winds.

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2013: trip review

As 2013 draws to a close, I thought I’d do a quick review of my backpacking year. While it’s not been a mega year, I’ve managed to get out for five trips, two to the Lake District, two to Dartmoor and one to North Wales, totalling sixteen nights wild camping (plus five at camp sites).

Disappointingly, I missed out on the TGO Challenge. However, family health problems meant it might have been difficult to do anyway. I had intended to do a short trip to Scotland, but various obstacles meant it didn’t happen.

Lake District, March

In March, I had a lovely trip around the less frequented fells of Caldbeck and Uldale. The Northern Fells have a unique character and are well worth a visit. The weather was good for the first day, but not so good for the next couple of days. Stupidly, I left my compass behind, but survived to tell the tale. You can read a full account here.

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Dartmoor, April

My next trip was around the north moor on Dartmoor. I love pottering around Dartmoor. It may not have the grandeur of the Lakes, Snowdonia or, indeed, the Scottish Highlands, but the terrain means it’s relatively easy to wander wherever the fancy takes you.

Although the tors are relatively low in height, the moors have a feeling of space and freedom. I’ve been surprised at how few people seem to go much further than a few hundred yards beyond the car park. Once you get on to the moors proper, there’s a real feeling of loneliness and isolation, which I love.

I’ve found a number of superb places to wild camp. On this trip I discovered the Arcadia of South Teign Head, which is one of the best places I’ve camped. The walk up the East Dart onto the moor below Cut Hill is one of the finest walks I’ve done anywhere. I split the trip report into two parts: one and two.

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Carneddau, June

Another under-appreciated area that I love is the Carneddau. The crowds head to Snowdon and the Glyderau, but those seeking solitude head for the Carneddau. I had unusually fine weather for this trip and loved every minute of it.

Maeneira is another favourite camping spot and I camped there two nights but in different places. I was able to take a look at the quarry in Cwm Eigiau for the first time. Despite going over familiar ground like Llyn Cowlyd, it was still a lovely walk. Read the trip report here.

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Dartmoor, August

In August, I returned to Dartmoor, but this time I was not alone. Veteran ( ;-) ) TGO Challenger, Andy Walker accompanied me. We had a fine walk from Ivybridge to Okehampton and were blessed with generally good weather.

I had wanted to camp at Piles Copse for some time and wasn’t disappointed. The walk up Erme Head to Princetown and then Great Mis Tor was new territory for me. The walk east to Bellever Tor was notable for Andy’s encounter with “The Bog of Doom”.

From Bellever, most of the territory was familiar, but no less enjoyable for that. We were very fortunate that the only rain we had was overnight and that the walk from the East Dart to Taw Marsh was in mainly fine weather. Rounding off the trip with a visit to the cafe at Okehampton station was a fine way to end the trip.

Here’s the links to the reports: part 1, part 2, part 3.

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Lake District, September

My last trip of the year was a return to the Lake District, but with the objective of exploring some ground that I’d not been over before. Mosedale near Buttemere is a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time. I did a relatively low level walk from Braithwaite to Buttemere and then to Mosedale.

My original plan had been to walk the High Stile ridge with a possible camp at Blackbeck Tarn. However, the weather was poor, so I decided to stay low and walk back the way I’d come. I diverted to a lovely camping spot at Rigg Beck for my final wild camp of the year. You can read about it here: part 1 and part 2.

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So that was my backpacking year. It’s a shame I didn’t make it to Scotland. However, in 2014, I have the TGO Challenge to look forward to. The prospect of doing two whole weeks of backpacking in one go is exciting. Before then, I hope to do two or three trips, depending on the weather and circumstances. Hopefully, you will have a good backpacking 2014 as well.