Sorry guys, this one is a long day……
I woke in the morning to the sound of the wind which I could feel rushing in over my sleeping bag. It wasn’t cold, but enough to keep on waking me from my doze, so in the end I just lay there listening. I’ll never tire of that sound and despite trying to record it on my phone it’s nothing like the real thing.
The derelict dwelling at Loch Vaich in all its ramshackle glory!
I could have stayed there all day but Paul had suddenly shot up and headed down to the bothy to make tea. Today had the potential to be quite a long one so reluctantly I packed up and went in search of the elusive brew. We perused the map whilst eating breakfast of muesli (for me) and protein shake (for Paul) and decided that if the weather still looked OK we would commit to Seana Bhraigh. Annoyingly the morning felt a bit rushed once we were up and I was starting to see the effect of our lack of available days to play around with.
The clothes were almost dry from the night before – if not a little smoky, and the remaining damp items were hung from the outsides of our packs as we headed off towards Deanich Lodge.
Looking back to the buildings it dawned on me just what a great spot it was and that we had land access laws in Scotland to thank for such a low, hassle free camp. I think it was that point where it really occurred to me how England and Wales could really learn from Scotland.
The pack wasn’t sitting pretty today as we thundered up the easy track towards Deanich Lodge. I’d packed my first aid/hygiene bag and clothes bag right in the centre of the back pad and it was pushing on my back. The bag’s comfort depends very much on how you pack to avoid this happening but its easily corrected and as we stopped to adjust shoes etc I quickly re-arranged my sacks…….er drybags I mean, into better positions.
Weeks earlier, when sat planning the trip, I had imagined that by now I would have a few foot issues or maybe the dreaded knee injury, but so far so good. Sometimes, pounding along tracks can take its toll on tired feet but each day we set off my feet felt very comfortable. I wondered if I would be saying the same tomorrow morning!
We rounded a curve in the track and the Lodge came into view. It looks incredible in its setting between Gleann Mor and Gleann Beag and I can imagine staying here gives a real sense of remoteness. We continued on to meet the bridge at Abhainn a Glinne Bhig and the sun was beginning to make shy appearances further west along the glen and we were hopeful of a dry, if not breezy day on the tops.
We stopped at the bridge for a few minutes to take photos and check the map. Back at the tent we had decided our route up from the glen would be chosen once we’d gotten a visual on the severity of the various ascent options! We didn’t have a plan at this point and considered the track up alongside the waterfall before settling on the decision to press on up Gleann Beag and take lunch at Loch Sruban Mora.
We left the bridge (and Paul’s new caterpillar friend) with thoughts of food on our minds and having deep and meaningfuls about what chocolate snacks we’d have and when. I was clearly very distracted by this and I failed to spot the large adder basking to the left of the track. Paul reached out to alert me but I spotted it and froze dead still. It seemed surprised but not enough to move until we started fumbling about looking for our cameras. As it uncoiled it began to show a bit more interest and so much so I held my pole out for protection - to which it slithered away into the heather. We both just looked at each other shocked and I for one couldn’t believe how big it was! This was a photo we weren’t going to miss and we both took up positions ever closer to get some shots, and I’m sure it was just wandering what the hell we were doing! This was the first snake I’d seen in the wild and I was thoroughly impressed to see one this large and just sitting there on a Land Rover track! A real highlight of the day.
Needless to say the next few hundred metres passed very quickly as we relived the moment. In no time at all we left the track before the weir and headed north on the path weaving alongside the falls of Loch a Sruban Mora. Somebody had bravely taken some horses up the same path and in parts this would have been butt clenchingly tight! It’s likely these were the Garron ponies from Deanich Lodge still used to retrieve stags during stalking season.
By now it was warming up and the wind was welcome as we pressed on up the increasingly steep path. After all of the easy tracks so far it felt like a never-ending climb. Layers were removed and I found I’d drank a litre a water in only a few hours. The timing wasn’t bad though as we reached the slight plateau before the lock and the views opened out.
The sun was breaking through some of the thicker areas of cloud, though the wind was quite a feature up here so we looked for shelter to eat lunch.
The fine banquet for today’s feast was roast vegetable couscous with Peperami and despite its humble status as an accompaniment back home in the big smoke (no, not London, Coventry!), today it made for good eating!
To add to the days delights, I managed to get a signal in a very narrow ‘corridor’ on the hill and called in to Charl. Even after this relatively short time is was unashamedly good to hear her voice.
I went and filled the platypus and we consulted the map for an idea of how we might tackle the impressive Seana Bhraigh. From here, its not the best approach but we’d committed to ascending early to the loch and now we’d pay the price! There would be no reward for our eagerness and having hit the cairn on Carn Loch a Sruban Mora we encountered nothing but tough, boggy terrain, regularly dropping 20-30 metres only to climb it again only half a kilometre later.
In short, we had made an error. However, the honourable men that we are, we made the most of it and messed around stone hopping across the boggiest sections we could find, taunting them to swallow us whole! Paul committed to a particular route around a tricky section but I’d spotted a more obvious route. Paul being the stubborn grown up he is wasn’t turning back and spent some considerable time working up the courage for a ‘leap of faith’ across a large gloopy bog. I was
hoping certain it would end in disaster so cheered him along whilst reaching for the camera. Backing up he ran and leapt like a…….man with a heavy pack I suppose, and landed whilst skidding heel deep on the outer perimeter. This video will make it on the blog soon enough and my only regret is not zooming in!
The boggy, rocky ground was taking its toll and my feet were beginning to roll inside my Inov-8s. I could feel a hot spot coming and as I stopped by the wee lochan to apply Compeed we spotted a stag and his harem on the opposite ridge around the 780m point. We were worried we’d ruined the day for some stalkers but nobody shot at us as the beasts made haste across the shoulder - so we assumed we’d got away with it! An adder, a stag and three does in one day is quite a treat for us city boys.
I’d caught the hot spot just in time and we carried on ever upwards over the bogs and tussocks and this stretch had really tired us out. It was starting to feel as though we would never reach Seana Bhraigh just as she came into view (is it a she – who knows?).
The wind was pretty strong all the way along the ridge and so much so that neither of us felt that comfortable when the other got to close to the edge! We followed the track until the rocky scree and then just made a final push to the top. The cloud rolled in really low just as we reached the summit shelter, spoiling the potential for a great view.
We sat in the shelter a while waiting for the wind to push the cloud over but it was cold and felt as though we’d never get that elusive photo from the summit. I wolfed some Jelly Babies as my stomach grumbled at being empty yet again. We had worked pretty hard to to get there and we were chuffed to be in the final leg of the day. As we messed around suddenly the cloud cleared enough to reveal a stunning view down into Glen Achall to the north west and Strath Mulzie to the north in the early evening sun. It was worth the cold windswept wait at the shelter.
Our spirits were lifted immediately and we both strode off in various direction is pursuit of the best photo! The wind was still so strong I had to lie down to steady myself to take the shot of Loch Luchd Choire in the basin below. I’ll relive these few moments again and again.
We suddenly realised we’d spent far too long taking photos and snacking on the summit and we’d miss a beautiful evening at camp if we weren’t careful. We picked our route down Creag nan Gobhar which was far easier than it looked on the map. The view just continued to glow and impress as we descended into the valley.
Suddenly we both stopped dead as the mating call from a stag echoed around the awesome basin created by the two towering beasts above.
Once again, I was out of water, whereas Paul had clearly been absorbing his fluids through the bogs or something! For some reason Paul drinks the most pathetic amount of water when walking and I never know how he does it. We picked our way down the steep rocky hillside as I joked that his wee must be like syrup!
We wanted to camp by the lodge if possible and to do that we had to cross the outlet of the loch. So we tried to work out the least boggiest approach from our vantage point.
We stopped at the stream to fill the platypus for the evening meal and pondered our options of crossing the river. It was wider than we were expecting and it looked at one stage that we might have to resort to the dreaded crocs! Paul being Paul he wasn’t going to be beaten and set off rock hopping across the river. This was all well and good until the next available rock was just out of reach. I wondered off to look for another option further downstream but as I glanced back I caught sight of Paul making what looked to be an impossible leap! The problem wasn’t just the distance, it was the balance required on the landing that made this difficult. Not to be beaten however, I turned back to go for it too! As I got closer the gap looked wider and it wasn’t filling me with much confidence. I put the pole into the black water to attempt to vault the gap but it almost disappeared before hitting the bottom! It was my turn for the leap of faith which luckily for me remained a dry affair. Its those little adventures that will stay with me from that day.
The cloud formations were incredible from the glen and we spent our time walking up to the bothy with heads pointing skywards most of the way.
Another characteristic of the glen was the speed at which the light seemed to fade. As we rounded the final corner to the bothy the wind whipped across the loch and we caught a whiff of smoke. Our hearts sank as the warning that the bothy was closed for stalking season was correct. We hadn’t planned on using the bothy but the idea was we would pitch using the bothy as a shelter form the ever present gusts of wind and nip on in to eat by the fire etc. Whoever was in there had a roaring fire going and it gave off an deep red flicker through the window. We pondered for longer than we should have about whether to go and knock and ask permission and finally decided to just press on and find another camp spot. We didn’t want to annoy paying guests of a stalking party.
In the 15 minutes it had taken us to cross the river and reach the bothy it was dark and we were tired. We walked on down the track looking for the closest place to camp but by the light of our head torches this wasn’t as easy we’d planned! No problem -out with the map and we soon picked a spot around a kilometre further on where the track meets the river once again. This turned out to be almost perfect and we set about getting the tent up and getting some food on with gusto. It was a great spot and we just lay around the tent eating and drinking hot chocolate and tea with gay abandon. It had been an amazing day and we’d covered quite some distance and taken in so many different landscapes to boot. Best of all it hadn’t rained and we’d got some reasonable photos too.
It was a beautifully clear and cold night with the milky way clearly visible form the tent door. The Ipod went on once again until I dropped off with hopes a great sunrise the following morning….