Archive for April, 2009

April 30, 2009

A Scottish coast to coast – Evanton to Ullapool pt3

by backpackingbongos

Day 4 (22nd April) – 6.2 miles with 690m ascent

It was cold in the bothy when I woke during the night with my watch showing the temperature at 3c, it must have been pretty chilly outside.  I got up early and peered out of the condensation covered window and was relieved to see flawless blue skies.  Richard had already vacated the bothy and I found him sitting on a boulder in the middle of the river, plugged into his ipod with a cup of coffee in his hands.  What a perfect start to the day!

Damp gear from yesterday was hung outside in the sun whilst breakfast was eaten and we had a leisurely first part of the morning just enjoying the location.  I took a photo of the old bothy which stood more comfortably in the landscape than the newer tin one we had stayed in last night.

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Our packed rucksacks seemed a bit lighter this morning than they had done in the last few days, we were now wondering if we would have enough food to last rather than thinking we had brought too much!  The plan for today had been fairly elastic with the aim of getting to Coiremor bothy by the route most suitable for whatever the weather would throw at us.  The stunning blue skies and warm sunshine decided on the route for us, we would bag Seana Bhraigh.

We were soon squelching up the Abhainn a Ghlinne Bhig in really good spirits, even a peat bog that tried to remove my boot could not spoil the morning.

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From the bothy I had identified a spot where the cliffs on the north side of the valley gave way to steep grass slopes which were deeply cut by the Allt Feith na Slataich.  It looked ok from the bothy but appeared to get bigger and steeper the nearer we got to it.

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It was certainly good exercise climbing up to the 6oom contour with frequent breaks to gasp for breath and look back down the valley to the bothies.

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The scenery was getting better with each step and finally the gradient eased considerably as we reached the base of Meall Feith na Slataich and stopped to fill our water bottles and our stomachs.  The ground on the hills surrounding us was pretty rough and peat hagged as we continued with the climb.

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The climbing became easier as we gained the ridge.  We constantly had to find boulders to sit on where we could just relax and take in the view.  What would be the point of rushing a day like today?

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We were now surrounded by a panorama of peaks.  It was good to see Ben Wyvis far off in the distance guarding the way we had already walked.  Beinn Dearg was the most dominant peak and it still had some large patches of snow and cornices along its edges.

Lunch came early when we found a spot sheltered by the wind before we walked to the col between Seanna Bhraigh and Creag an Duine a spectacularly pointy and airy peak.

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The wind and the scenery literally took our breath away.  The strength of the wind blowing through the col made it difficult to stand and we were aware of the enormous cliffs a few feet away.  Impressive as the scenery was it was time to get moving.  Its strange how the wind acts because only a minute away all was calm again.  As we climbed we kept close but not too close to the edge of the cliffs to get the best of the views.  The remaining cornices were still pretty impressive.

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The summit cairn is placed only a few feet from the edge of the cliffs which drop very steeply straight down to the floor of Luchd Coire.  I could imagine that this could be a fairly dangerous place in winter when the summit is covered in snow and there is a cornice extending out into space.  No such problems today and the views in all directions were exceptional under blue skies in crystal clear air.  My eyes kept getting drawn to the Coigach and Assynt peaks which dominated the north west.  There was also a very impressive spiky looking mountain to the south east that could only have been An Teallach, a mountain that is definitely on my list.  I could also not resist getting on my stomach and peering over the cliffs to the Coire far below.

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Whilst comfortable in the bothy I had toyed with the idea of climbing Carn Ban as well as Seana Bhraigh as it did not look to far on the map.  However from here it looked miles away and the ground in between looked very rough with loads of bogs and lochans to navigate.  At least I can come back one day and walk Glenbeg to Coiremor via Carn Ban!

We descended the north east ridge which was much easier than it looked on the map, which made it look like there may be a little scrambling.  Initially the cliffs dominated the walk down until we reached a small lochan at the col.

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We continued along the ridge for a bit before starting a very steep descent into Luchd Choire where we got a good view down to Coiremor bothy next to Loch a Choire Mhor.

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The descent was punishing on the knees but we soon reached the floor of the coire where we could follow the stream down to the edge of the loch.  During this descent we had a keen eye on the river flowing out of the loch.  It looked very wide from here and I had read that it can often be difficult to ford.  Standing next to it it was as wide as we thought it would be but we managed to get across dryshod.

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We were soon arriving at Coiremore bothy and were more than ready to get the stoves on for a hot drink and some food.

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There are actually two bothies here joined together.  The smaller one on the right hand side is maintained by the MBA and although nice and cosy was full of old manky looking sofas.  Not sure why someone would want to bring a sofa to a bothy as it just ends up getting damp and dirty and full of mice.  A substantial part of the building was Magoo’s bothy which had been rebuilt by the RAF to remember a guy who was killed in action.  It is a homely bothy which is really well maintained and looked after.  There is even a seperate little bothy inbetween Magoo’s and the MBA one with it own wood burning stove.  The major problem was deciding where to sleep!  Richard took a bunk in Magoo’s whilst I slept in the little bothy next door.  Not often that you can have a bothy each!  Dinner was cooked on the large table inside Magoo’s and the bothy books were read cover to cover, so many interesting stories there.  As with the night before we did not bother lighting a fire as it was not really that cold.  It would be rude to use the bogwood someone had taken the trouble to collect and dry out without topping up the supplies.  We really could not be bothered to go collecting in the bogs at the end of the loch.  I spent the evening feeling sick, I had not been purifying my water during the day so it may well have been that.  I retired to my sleeping bag before it got dark, not before popping outside to check out the magnificent view of Creag an Duine towering over the Loch and bothy.

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Map of the route (click to enlarge)

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April 28, 2009

A Scottish coast to coast – Evanton to Ullapool pt2

by backpackingbongos

Day 2 (April 20th) – 6.7 miles with 520m ascent

It was a warm still and humid night and I awoke with the inner of my tent covered in condensation.  Tricky getting out of a small tent without getting an early morning shower.  Due to the number of ticks the day before I put on my gaiters to get a little protection from them.  I’m glad that I did because on a trip to the woods to answer natures call I hit a real hot spot and got a big cluster of tick nymphs on my gaiter.  Maybe 50 tiny little ticks then had to be washed off.  After breakfast it was definitely time to move!

We packed away wet tents and damp sleeping bags and headed up the valley of Abhainn Beinn nan Eun on a good track.  The landscape became progressively wilder as we went further up the valley.

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Just before an impressive set of waterfalls we came to an unlocked little shelter which would be useful in bad weather.

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Alongside the waterfalls came the first climb of the day as the track became a path and then gradually disappeared.

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As we climbed higher the weather got better and with the sun shining and a gentle breeze we decided to stop for lunch and pitch the tents for a while to let them dry out.  A spot was chosen that would be ideal for a wild camp.

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After lunch we had our first mountain of the trip to climb, Carn Loch nan Amhaichean at 697m.  We climbed up wet and boggy ground to a col just south of Gob na h-Eibheachd with great views back along the valley to Ben Wyvis.

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We then kept height and contoured above Loch nan Amhaichean to reach the south ridge of the peak.  It was then a simple climb to the summit which gave extensive views for its modest height.

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We descended to the north with views down to the loch on our right before leaving the ridge and dropping into Coire Rhainich.  The descent with heavy packs made our knees complain and when we arrived at a large grassy patch beside the river we could not resist stopping for the night.

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We had covered far less mileage than planned which would mean a longer day tomorrow.  We were happy with the spot we had chosen and cooked outside the tents with great views to snowy peaks to the south west (Fannichs?)

Map of the Route (click to enlarge)

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Day 3 (April 21st) – 12.5 miles with 440m ascent

I awoke with the sound of drizzle hitting the tent flysheet and found it difficult to get myself out of my cozy sleeping bag.  I always find it hard to get motivated in the mornings but even more so when it is raining, so it took a bit of effort to pack up wet gear and get moving.  We followed the valley down to the cottage at Strathrannoch and took the track towards Allt Coir a Chundrain which we forded without any problems.  We had planned to bag the munro Am Faochagach but the clag was down and the rain was becoming steadier so we forged ahead with the low level option.  A track ascended the hill side after the ford and climbed towards a small plantation where a path was meant to start.  This was non existent so we forged up through wet tussocks to try and find the path higher up on the shoulder of the hill.  We found a gate still standing where a fence line should have been, but no sign of the elusive path.  By now the rain was getting heavier and was joined by a strong gusty wind right in our faces.  Feeling a bit dejected we found shelter behind a large boulder where we could have some food.

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We forged on through the wet tussocks into the wind and rain where the path should have been for a couple of miles before finally dropping down to the track alongside Loch Vaich.  A quick stomp and the deserted houses of Lubachlaggan came into view with a stormy back drop of mountains.

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An ideal looking spot for lunch we descended off of the track and suddenly the skies cleared and the sun gave a welcome appearance.  Stoves on in the lee of one of the buildings and our spirits were lifted as the weather looked like it was turning for the better.

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All of a sudden the skies darkened again and bands of rain swept in obscuring the mountains so we hastily retreated into the ruined building and found one room that was almost habitable.  Lubachlaggan would make a great bothy and it looks like the room we found is still often used by people passing through even though there are no doors or windows.

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The sun was soon shining and I went outside to take some photos and walk to the shore of the loch.

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We headed north along a well maintained track and the weather played with us all the way. Ten minutes of heavy rain / hail followed by ten minutes of warn sunshine.  Taking off waterproofs would risk a soaking.

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Finally we reached the head of the glen on the shoulder of Meall a Chaorainn and we caught a glimpse into Gleann Mor.

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We felt that we had reached the heart of the mountains now, miles from civilisation.  On descending into the valley this illusion was spoilt a little bit by Deanich Lodge which looked a bit out of place in this wild glen.  We could see someone in a 4×4 get out and feed a herd of deer and some cattle before driving off back down the valley.  A burst of sunshine then lit up the glen.

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Just after crossing the river we were hit by a pretty ferocious hail storm that seemed to appear out of nowhere.  The sky went black then it hit us with strong gusty winds that took it away just as quickly as it arrived.  The track continued west up the valley and finally stopped at a weir where we got a distant glimpse of our bothy for the night.

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The ground approaching Glenbeg bothy was atrocious and no matter how long we walked the bothy seemed to get no closer to us.  The last mile seemed to go on forever as bands of rain soaked us and bogs sucked at our boots.  Cycle tracks in the peat showed that someone before us had shown real determination to get there!  Finally the speck in the distance got bigger and we could feel that we were getting somewhere.

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All that remained was a final squelch and a fairly tricky river crossing and we arrived at Glenbeg bothy.

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I always get a feeling of anticipation when approaching a bothy.  Is there anyone else there?  If so what will they be like?  Will it be trashed or full of litter?  Glenbeg was a very pleasant surprise as not only was it empty but it was pretty luxurious and in an absolutely wild and stunning location.  Strangely for such a remote location there were actually two bothies, the newer one in the foreground in the photo above and a traditional stone building shown on the left.  The old bothy was very dark and dingy with small windows set within its thick walls.  Normally I would have been more than happy to stay in it but the newer one was light, bright and comfortable.  We even got a bedroom each.

The rest of the evening was spend refueling our bodies and popping outside to be look at the grand scenery.  The bothy seemed to accentuate the remoteness of its location.  It was a full days hike to the nearest road and that would involve crossing wild and trackless hills towards Inverlael.  The last visitor in the bothy book was from a week ago and there had only been a handful of entries so far that year.

We had fingers crossed that the weather would change for the better the next day because we were going to cross Seana Bhraigh, which is reputed to be one of the remotest munros………………………….

April 26, 2009

A Scottish coast to coast – Evanton to Ullapool pt1

by backpackingbongos

Or 120,000 steps across Scotland…………………………..

The only problem with backpacking in Scotland is the large distances involved with getting there from Nottingham.  We did consider the train but without booking well in advance it was prohibitively expensive, we would also have to stick to set days and times.  We decided to drive up in the campervan and make more of a holiday out of the travelling, splitting the journey into two days.  This meant that our backpacking sacks would only be full of the stuff we needed for the walk and spare clothes etc for the journey could be left in the van.

We left on my birthday and stopped for the night in Thornhill, a village just outside of Stirling.  The following afternoon we arrived at the Blackrock campsite in Evanton where I was able to safely leave the van for the week.

From Evanton to the coast and back – 3.5 miles

That evening we had a quick stroll down to the coast to dip our feet into some salty water to start the walk proper, unencumbered by heavy rucksacks.  A lane leads out of the village and over the A9 where it eventually turned into a path heading for Kiltearn church.  We spent a short time looking around the ruin before heading for the trig at Balconie point.  We got our boots wet and collected some pebbles off the beach to take to the other side of Scotland.  We found another path that led back to the campsite where we sorted our gear and did some final idiot checks (there were two!).

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Map of the route (click to enlarge)

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Day 1 (April 19th) – 11.2 miles with 600m ascent

We woke up early to find that there had been a frost during the night.  The morning soon warmed as we packed up and started the walk towards the Black Rock gorge.  It was a stunning start to the backpack with not a single cloud in the sky, in fact within 10 minutes clothing had to be taken off or readjusted due to the warmth of the sun.  A lovely forest track soon descends towards the river where we could hear a low roaring that sounded like passing traffic.  A bridge took us right over the gorge.

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The gorge is 120ft at its deepest point and is so narrow that the walls almost touch in some places.  You would not want to fall in!  I had wanted to follow the river to where it exits from the loch higher up the valley but we could not find a suitable path.  We therefore climbed up to the minor road and followed it to its end at Eileanach lodge.  This turned out to be no hardship as the views along it were excellent giving us an idea of the scenery to come.

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When we reached the road end for me the walk really started, we were not to touch any more tarmac for over 50 miles.  A short stretch of forestry track soon led us to the south end of Loch Glass.

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For two city boys the scale of the landscape seemed vast and our rucksacks were really really heavy!  We had crammed six days of food and fuel into them and the weight began to take its toll as we walked alongside the loch.  We were soon scouting for a beach to rest and start eating that food.  As with every loch we came to we just had to skim some stones across its surface……………

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Shortly after lunch we were to pass the last people we would see out walking until day 6 when we were just about to approach Ullapool.  The Hills ahead were definitely empty.  After some more marching along the track Wyvis lodge suddenly appeared in all its excessive glory.

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We had a quick scout around and noticed that it even boasted an outside swimming pool over looking the loch.  I have just googled the place and it costs a whopping £4250 per week to stay there!  With the sound of a generator humming in the background we knew someone was home so we continued up the glen to look for somewhere to pitch the tents.  A short distance away and shielded by a small tree covered hill we found an ideal grassy patch.  I did my usual tick test that involved shuffling around on my hands and knees to see if anything attaches itself to me.  Nothing did so we soon had the tents up and the stoves on for a brew.

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It was a little later when I realised that I had not been too thorough when doing my tick test.  The whole area was infested with the little buggers, it was just where I had pitched my tent that seemed to be clear.  A short walk to get water or go to the loo would result in our trousers being covered in them and we had to constantly make sure we were brushing them off.  I really don’t know how some backpackers are happy using a tarp when in the Highlands.  At least in a tent you can seal them out.  When I examined myself later in my tent only one had managed to get its head stuck into my leg – I showed it no mercy!

On the upside there was not one midge to be seen and there was not even a breeze.  To wild camp in the highlands and not be plagued by them is exceptional.  Hopefully it is still too early for them and we won’t see any for the rest of the trip.

Later that evening an estate worker bounced past in his 4×4 and we were worried we would be told off for camping close to the lodge.  We waved and got a friendly wave back so all was well.  Permission to camp received!

We were very contented with life as we retired to our tents that evening after a great first day.

Map of the route (click to enlarge)

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April 16, 2009

Off into the wild………..

by backpackingbongos

Well the time has finally come.

My rucksack is now packed for my Northern Highland coast to coast walk.  It is the heaviest it has been for years as I will be self sufficient for 6 days on the crossing.  All that food and fuel has meant it weighs a mighty 16kg and I have not even put my water bottle in yet!

Really looking forward to crossing and sleeping in some of the remotest areas that Scotland has to offer.

See you on the other side…………………..

April 10, 2009

The big trip 04/05 – India part 2

by backpackingbongos

My travel tales continue………………….

Ladakh – 27th September 2004

Hello everyone once again from Dehli!

We flew to Leh in Ladakh what now seems like years ago. An amazing flight over the Himalayas, a little cloudy but stunning views of snow capped peaks and glaciers.

We stepped off of the plane into cristal clear air and the most amazing deep blue sky. The airport in Leh was a breeze and emerged to the most relaxed place yet in India. No touts etc waiting for us at the airport!

We felt very strange on the first day due to the altitude which was at 3500 metres. Very spaced out and sleeping was a bit scary – felt like we were going to suffocate. But after 3 days we were up and running (slowly). Always felt like walking in treacle.

Leh town is set in the most amazing mountain scenery with huge rocky peaks and a Gompa and fort perched over the market place. Things were winding down as we arrived. Nice and warm in the sun which was so strong that we still burnt with factor 30 – we now feel like prunes!

Some one managed to get their way and a four day trek was booked at the end of the first week. Spitok to Stok via the Stok La pass which stands at 4820 Metres (about 15,800 feet in old money). $30US each got us a guide/cook, 3 ponies and a ponyman plus all food and transport. Our guide was a local Tibetan man called Tashi whilst ponyman (only ever known as ponyman) was a Tibetan chap in his sixties with a face that could sell post cards.

Because it is India and the power could fail at any moment – will sent part two!

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Ladakh Pt2 – 27th September 2004
This email and pictures have already been posted here.
Ladakh Pt3 – 28th September 2004
Hello again!

We got back from our Trek in the mountains and then spent a week getting cabin fever whilst James decided to spend a long time in bed ill. This meant that unfortunately we missed the opportunity for lunch at Tashi’s house in the Tibetan settlement. We saw him most days though whilst he waited for work at the local cafe – he then went and got sick (horse poo water?). He was a very happy man when we donated our sleeping bags when we left.

Leh towards the end of our trip began to get very very quiet. The temperature began to fall and the leaves turned yellow. We did manage a weekend away in Alchi (on the Srinigar road). A very scary road trip through the mountains on the bus with huge drops to the river below. Stayed in isolation due to all tourists having buggered off home. Lovely monastary built in 1020 AD – very old Thankas and Mandalas and Monk.

Prior to our trek we went for a day trip to Thikse gompa perched impressively on a hill side (like a little Potala). Slogged up the hill only to find that we had picked the day in the year that it is closed! Monks gone on a picnic! Ho hum.

Old flaky skin and James decided that Ladakh began to become ‘Same same but different’ and left a few days early to come back to smelly Dehli. We popped to the zoo today to buy train tickets for our next 3 journeys. Off to Agra tomorrow to see the Taj. Today went to Pizza Hut for a treat and shopped for pants (you need something to soak up the moisture). It’s only James who needs new pants! (Corrinas penny).

Our plan is to travel slowly to Mumbai in the next few weeks via Agra, Gwallior, Orcha, Khajuraho, Sanchi, Bhopal, Pachmari then either Mandu or Ajanta. Then Mumbai and then BEACHES!!!!! Yes BEACHES!!!!! till BORED!!!!!! yes.

Anyway packing to do, 6.00am posh train tomorrow from the zoo.

Photos hopefully in next email.

Let us know whats going on in UK and stuff.

Dont complain that its too hot cos thats our job.

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