Archive for November, 2009

November 14, 2009

A perfect dawn

by backpackingbongos

As I write this I should be striding across the rounded shoulders of the Howgill fells.  Once again nature has conspired against me, with forecast storms it did not look like an ideal weekend for backpacking so has been placed on the back burner.  Luckily the bad weather has coincided with a cold which means postponing sleeping out in a tent even easier!

At this time of year I look forward to those all too rare calm sunny days and frosty nights.  For me there is nothing worse than walking on a cold damp winters day to then go and spend 16 hours huddled in a tiny wind blasted tent before repeating the experience the next day.  I much prefer the crunch of frost underfoot and distant views during the day and then the freezing star filled night followed by the perfect dawn.  The long nights mean that I have had a good long sleep and am often awake as the horizon is brightening and the sky is changing colour.  You can’t beat laying snuggled in a warm sleeping bag with a cup of coffee waiting for the first rays of the sun to hit the tent and melt the frost.

On my recent Scottish trip I had a magical moment whilst on Islay, opening the bothy door to an orange horizon with the calm sea and the clouds changing colour.  A few photos were taken and I feel that I should bore you with one more!

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I am now keeping my fingers crossed that next weekend is calm and settled, if not I suppose there is the weekend after that.  I am determined to get out backpacking and experience the ‘perfect dawn’ as soon as possible.  Surely there must be one good weekend before Christmas?  I am lucky in that I don’t have too many weekend commitments, plus an understanding non hill walking partner who is more than happy to have the house to herself for a weekend!

A cancelled backpack however has given me the opportunity for a walk tomorrow nearer to home in the Peak District.  I have not visited for a while, so this afternoon will be spent with maps spread out trying to decide where to go.  Any suggestions?

November 8, 2009

Backpacking, bothying and bongoing on Jura

by backpackingbongos

For a map of the backpacking route click here.

Please pull up a comfy chair as I got carried away and this is a long post!

I arrived at Port Askaig just as the Jura ferry pulled in and let off a single car, this meaning an hours wait until it made the short trip back over to Jura.  There is not a lot to explore in port Askaig with there being just a hotel and a shop as well as the ferry terminal.  A short walk up to the Jura ferry just made me nervous as even in this sheltered position it was rocking about.  Looking across to the cloud shrouded Jura I could see the size of the waves that this small ferry would have to cross.

Before waving me on the ferryman came over and asked if I was planning on staying on Jura, if I was not he would not take me across.  The weather was worsening and he was not sure if he would be able to make it back.  I boarded the ferry with one other vehicle and was told to make sure my windows were closed to avoid a soaking from the waves.  Let me say that I was really glad that the crossing was only about five minutes because the whole experience was like a fairground ride.  The size of some of the waves were pretty alarming and the ferry pitched heavily from side to side.

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I had booked myself a single room at the Jura hotel which is located in Craighouse, the only village on Jura.  It was only early afternoon but I was glad to be able to get out of the weather and have a shower and enjoy the comfort of a proper bed for the night.  It has to be said that the hotel bar was not exactly jumping on this Tuesday night in late October!

The forecasted break in the weather arrived the next day and I was up and out of the hotel early after a good breakfast.  Craighouse looked like an idyllic place to live with its whitewashed cottages lined up facing a sheltered bay.  The climate is obviously mild here as there was the odd palm tree scattered about the village.  My aim was to drive along the only road to the point where the public road ends at the north of the Island.  The journey along the A846 was one of the best drives that I have done, single tracked for its entire journey and in roughly 20 miles I only passed three other vehicles.  The scenery becomes pretty desolate as signs of habitation are left behind and the road becomes even narrower and rougher.

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At Ardlussa the road becomes unclassified and passes through some stunning woodland which was showing off its Autumn finery.

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As I passed Lealt the road becomes unsurfaced and there is a fair bit of bumping along until finally a sign is reached marking the end of the public road.  There is a small old quarry that serves as a parking spot.

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The night in the hotel had given me time to sort and repack my rucksack so I was able to get moving as soon as I had parked up.  The start of my backpack was along a nice easy track for the first couple of miles.  This track eventually leads to the Isolated farmhouse of kinuachdrachd and Barnhill which is the cottage where George Orwell wrote 1984.

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The track passed through a landscape of tussocky moorland and low craggy hills, to my right there were great views across to the mainland.  I started to dread the moment when I would have to leave the security of the track and risk my ankles on the very rough ground!  As I reached a small wooden hut I noticed an Argocat track heading north towards the low summit of Beul Leathad, luckily in the direction I had planned to walk.  Although not a proper track the all terrain wheels had flattened the tussocks meaning that I just had to squelch through ankle deep bog.  Progress was fairly swift and I soon had a view of Scarba across the Gulf of Corryvreckan.

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The aim for today was to bag the summit of the Marilyn Cruach na Seilcheig which stands at a not very mighty 304 metres.  After crossing the boggy Gleann Dorch it was fairly easy climb up to the trig point.  I found myself stopping often to soak up the view and simply revel in the remoteness of my location.  For some reason the highest point of the hill is not the trig point but an unmarked bump about a kilometre away.  This gave awesome views along the wild and rugged west coast of the Island.

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My map showed that the descent to the coast along the north west ridge would be steep but manageable.  Either my map reading needs to improve or the OS were being less than truthful with the amount of actual crags on this descent.  It also did not help that there is some writing over the bottom crag on the map, which I had not noticed.  The start of the descent was ok and I zigged zagged down the steep grassy slopes avoiding small outcrops.  As I got lower I noticed a large herd of deer and another of goats sharing the grassy shoreline.  The deer spotted me and ran whilst the goats continued grazing.  With about 100 metres of descent left to go I came to band after band of crags.  I got down one ok to find that I was on a long grassy ledge with nowhere to go.  I found a break in the cliffs and started a very wet slithery descent with black oozing water coming up to my shins, before coming properly crag bound.  Without a pack I would simply have gone down the wet mossy rocks on my bottom, but my pack was getting in the way.  There was nothing for it but to remove it and drop it a good ten feet into an oozing bog!  I slithered and slided down getting covered in black goo to retrieve my sack from the bog.  I could see that I was now less that 30 metres above the sea and felt relieved that I had got down safely.  A bit of bracken bashing and my heart sank.  A line of completely sheer crags ran the length of the hillside and into the gorge like stream bed on either side.  There appeared to be no way out.  It was at this point that the remoteness of my location really sank in, if I was to injure myself it could be weeks or maybe months before anyone else came this way.  I started to consider climbing back up the way I had come down but that was not really that appealing.  I then noticed a goat track though the bracken leading to the cliff edge, I followed it and was relieved to see that there was a narrow slanting ledge that led down to safe ground.  I gingerly followed this down to safety noticing at the bottom that my ledge was above a slight overhand on the cliffs.  The goats scattered as I approached the rocks on the sea-shore and I removed my pack, both it and myself were covered in a layer of muck from the descent.  At least now I could relax and take in my surroundings!

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Shouldering my wet pack onto my wet back I started walking south out of the bay Bagh Uamh Mhor.  The coastline was as convoluted as the map shows with numerous ups and downs and small bands of cliffs to wind myself around.  My first destination was the little sandy beach in the next bay, Traigh na Garbh-airde.  With the light slowly beginning to fade at around 4.00pm this was a magical place, but I was aware that it would be dark in about an hour.

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Close to the beach I came to an old sea arch that was now a good 100 metres away from the sea.  From this angle it reminds me a little bit of an elephant’s head.  I had passed a similar natural arch on Islay on the way to An Cladach bothy, but the weather had been too foul to appreciate it or take a photograph.

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I sat on a rock next to the beach for a while feeling so lucky to be surrounded by such stunning remote scenery.  If it had been a warm sunny day it would have been a perfect spot for a swim, unfortunately the fading light meant that I could not linger.

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Looking at my map now, it is almost impossible to trace the exact route that I took, the ground is so convoluted.  I ended up climbing above the lines of cliffs where progress was much easier.  I constantly felt like I was being watched and whenever I looked at the horizon there would be deer or goats staring back at me.

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I reached a high point in the cliffs and there ahead of me lay Glengarrisdale bay with the bothy set back from the beach.  I stood there for a while amazed that an open bothy could be located in such a beautiful location.  I continued along the cliffs for a while before realising that I needed to find a way down to the sea.  Again goat tracks came to my aid and I found a series of ledges that wound their way down to sea level.

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The bothy was now in full sight and I walked across the beach in low light watching various deer and goats run off into the distance.  The Glengarrisdale river was running pretty high but seeing at my feet were already soaking I simply waded across feeling my boots fill with cold water.  There was no light or smoke coming from the bothy as I reached the door, I opened it and was greeted by complete darkness, light failing to penetrate through the tiny windows.  Switching on my head torch I had a look around and decided that I would sleep in the downstairs right hand room.  In the darkness the bothy was not very homely and it was a bit damp, probably due to the fact that it had not been inhabited for a couple of weeks according to the bothy book.  A fire would cheer the place up but there were only massive pieces of driftwood left by the previous visitors, it was too dark outside to go and start hunting for wood.  I had a go at hacking up some wood with a blunt axe but gave up and resigned myself to not having a fire, at least it was mild.  As I started to cook my dinner I noticed that my clothing was crawling with ticks which I must have picked up whilst passing though all that bracken.  I stripped off and shook my clothing outside before putting on a fresh set.  That evening and the following day I removed five of the little buggers that had burrowed into various parts of my anatomy.  Every time I went outside I would manage to bring in more ticks with me, the downside of having so many deer and goats.  I was glad that I was not camping outside with them!

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The morning brought a change in the weather with a strengthening wind and spots of rain.  I took a while to decide what to do with myself.  My original plan had been to walk about 8 miles down the coast and wild camp at Corpach bay.  However I knew that there were more gales and rain on the way plus I did not fancy spending a night in a potentially tick infested campsite.  I though about staying at the bothy for another night which would have been appealing if I could get a fire going.  However this and the surrounding bays were now devoid of driftwood according to the bothy book and a map on the wall.  If I stayed today I would have to cross the Island tomorrow in gale force winds and heavy rain.  I decided to head back to the van where it would be dry and comfortable.

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I decided that I would walk back via another Marilyn Ben Garrisdale which is a big complex hill with many false summits (well 380 metres is pretty big for the north of Jura!).  It looked complicated on the map but I though I would be fine as long as the mist did not descend whilst I tried to find the highest summit knoll.  I climbed boggy tussocky ground and then the steep slopes of Grianan Mhor which gave good views along the coast.  However it was evident that the weather was making a turn for the worst.  As I hit the 300 metre contour the mist came down, the wind picked up and it started to hammer it down with rain.  At least the trig point was a definite point to aim for and was easily found.  Then by compass bearings I found Loch Fada Ben Garrisdale and I knew that it would be impossible to locate the highest point of the hill.  With zero visibility I knew that there was a real risk of getting myself lost, the terrain being complex enough in good visibility.  The wind was also making walking a bit of a struggle, plus it would be dark in a couple of hours.  I have never been defeated by such a small hill before!

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I was pleased with my map and compass work, managing to contour round the hill and towards the smaller peak of Carn nan Gillean where I picked up another Argocat track.  I was fortunate in that this took me back to my van meaning that I could avoid some of the worse tussocks, there was even an old bridge to cross the Lealt burn.  I arrived back at the van wet and knackered even though the actual mileage for the day had been fairly low.  Jura is a tough place to backpack!

During the night the promised gales and heavy rain arrived meaning that the following day was a wash out.  I had a few short day walks planned just in case there was bad weather on this trip, however there is bad weather and completely miserable weather.  I decided to go home a day earlier instead.

November 5, 2009

Backpacking, bothying and bongoing on Islay

by backpackingbongos

For a map of the backpacking route click here.

This trip very nearly didn’t happen as I came within minutes of missing the ferry.  Being a fairly organised sort of person I gave myself plenty of time to drive from Nottingham to the West coast of Scotland for 5.30pm.  So much time in fact that I left the night before and got three hours of driving out of the way before parking up on the high moors near the Tan Hill Inn.  However the next day I managed to get stuck for over three hours on the M8 in Glasgow, sweating thinking of the expensive ferry I had paid for sailing without me.  I was finally spat out of the traffic Jam with two hours to cover just under 100 miles of Highland roads.  With a sigh of relief I got there with twelve minutes to spare.  Pheew!

I was shattered as I drove onto the ferry, so found a reclining seat out of the way where I could read and close my eyes for a couple of hours.  It was a pretty rough crossing, which meant that I ended up with my eyes closed for most of the journey trying to pretend that I wasn’t swaying from side to side.  I just about managed not to be sick!  The bad weather diverted the ferry to the north of Islay at Port Askaig rather than Port Ellen.  This meant more driving for me when the ferry docked as I had to drive right across the Island.

The road from Port Ellen passed a couple of distilleries with familiar names, Laphroaig and Ardbeg before becoming single tracked as it wound its way through low wooded hills.  In the darkness with heavy rain and gale force winds I felt pretty disoriented, this was heightened when rounding a corner there were two large stags standing in the middle of the road!  At the end of the road I found a parking spot and went to sleep with the wind rocking the van pretty violently, my last thought being whether it was possible for the van to be blown over!

I awoke to more wet and windy weather and that uninspiring grey half light.  I opened the door to see that I was in a cracking spot only metres from the sea overlooking Claggain bay.  I knew that the weather was going to be bad all day before brightening up tomorrow so decided to reverse my planned backpacking route.  Today I would walk along the coast and then return to the van tomorrow over the hills.

My prepacked rucksack was soon on my back and as I got to the gate that marked the end of the public road I spotted this sign.

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With a smile on my face I continued along the track before making a bit of a cock up!  My track ended at a farm before my map shows it turning into a path.  Not sure if it was a right of way and not wanting to walk through the farmyard I took a narrow path on my left with the assumption that it would join up with it further up the hillside.  Well it did not and I spent a good half hour cursing as my boots filled with water as I crossed waterlogged ground and waist high vegetation before finally wading an overflowing stream to get to the original path!  The firm piece of ground that I had been seeking too turned into a right muddy mess as I slithered a couple of miles down into Proaig bay.  I was soon on easy ground and I could spot Proaig bothy through the gloom ahead, already I was in need of a bit of shelter as I was soaked.

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Alas this bothy has seen much better days and the door nearly fell off its hinges as I pushed it open.  A rock had been thrown through one of its windows and this hole gave easy passage to pigeons who had covered every surface with their droppings.  I had my lunch whilst the wind tried to remove the corrugated iron roof which was also being pounded by the rain.  The bothy itself was pretty uninviting but there was plenty of cropped grass outside that would make a great campsite.  Not today however as I was headed to spend the night in An Cladach bothy a few miles up the coast.  Standing in the way is the cliffs and hills surrounding McArthurs head which were really not appealing in todays weather.  As I started the climb the rain stopped for a few minutes and I managed to get a photo of Proaig bay.

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I climbed to the small summit of Beinn na Caillich Beag above the lighthouse before contouring into a sheltered corrie above the cliffs.  My map showed that I needed to ascend to above the 200m contour to avoid a steep looking gully that cuts into the hillside.  I suddenly found myself exposed to the full force of a gale.  I was now on a well defined ridge but the strength of the wind made it almost impossible to move.  During the stronger gusts I had to crouch and brace myself.  I was terrified of being lifted off my feet and I was aware of sea cliffs to my right, if I was blown over there was nothing to hold onto.  With this wind was driving rain that managed to seep through the side zip of my paramo leading to a stream of water down my left side.  It was with relief that I reached the relative shelter of the beach and further along An Cladach bothy.

Not only did An Cladach provide me with shelter to remove my dripping clothes it was also one of the loveliest bothies that I have ever visited.  A tiny one roomed building only 20 feet from the sea with views along the bay towards the headland I had just descended.

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Outside hung brightly coloured buoys whilst the bright interior is exceptionally homely with a fire place, bunk beds and shelves of books and magazines, kites and fishing rods.  I was grateful for a pair of old sandals as I could get my wet boots off, all my clothing was soaked and I was glad for the spare set I had brought with me.  A local guy had left bags of coal and logs that he had brought on his boat, so I soon had a fire going to dry everything off.  A splendid afternoon and evening was spent shuffling around the bothy and popping outside to soak up the view now that it had stopped raining.  At one point as dusk was falling I surprised three deer that were standing less than ten feet from the door, I stood watching them as they watched me before they bounded off along the beach.

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My bladder interrupted a long cosy sleep just before dawn and as I opened the bothy door I was greeted with this magical view.

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A couple more hours sleep were called for so I curled back up in my sleeping bag, I drifted off again with the sound of a stag roaring on the hillside.  The sun was shining when I finally got up and it was like a summers day outside, amazing that the weather can change so much in a few hours.  The sea was as flat as glass and I spent a good hour or so drinking coffee, eating breakfast and just enjoying my morning environment.

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It suddenly dawned on me that I needed to get a move on if I was to get back to the van before it got dark so I reluctantly packed up, swept up the bothy and started a bracken bashing exercise as I climbed the ridge of Beinn Breac.  I was glad that the bracken was dead because in summer it would be over my head here, however I still got tangled up in the stuff.  I had a long sit down on Beinn Bhreac and took in the views west across Islay.

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The dominant view however was across to Jura, I had to admit that it was whetting my appetite for the visit in a couple of days time.  I could not believe that I could sit in the sun in a t-shirt at the end of October (the weather on the rest of the trip made me pay for that!)

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I spent the next few hours climbing the Marilyns of Sgorr nam Faoileann 429 metres, Glas Bheinn 472 metres and Beinn Bheigier 491 metres.  A superbly satisfying day in the hills which displayed the characteristics of much higher mountains.  The going was tough with large descents and reascents between each peak.  These hills would be difficult to navigate across in thick mist as some of their spurs and ridges were pretty complex.  I did not meet a single person all day.

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As I reached the final summit the light was quickly fading and I had to get a move on as I did not want to still be on the hills in the dark.  The summits although rough had short cropped vegetation, once I dropped below 200 metres I started to encounter tussocks from hell.  By the time I reached the van I was all tussocked out!

Unfortunately the following day the rain and gales returned and I could not face walking in such horrible weather.  I spent hours sitting and reading before getting bored and going for a drive.  I drove to the visitor centre at Loch Gruinart had a quick look around before finally deciding to catch the ferry across to Jura.

November 2, 2009

Buffalo jacket giveaway

by backpackingbongos

Last night I was having a clear out of gear that I no longer use.  I found hidden in the depths of my cupboard a Buffalo jacket (I think that it goes under the name of a Buffalo 6 shirt).  I only wore it a couple of times but never got on with it and it was soon forgotten about, so it is as good as new.  Buffalo probably was the original soft shell garment and is made from pile and pertex.  It is designed to replace base, mid and possibly outer layer if it is not raining too hard.  Rather than me whittling on just check out their website here.

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It is size 42 inch chest and is in an inoffensive blue and black.  If you suffer from cold ‘bits’ in the winter it even has a fold down front and back that can be buckled together!

If you want it just leave the answer to the following question as a comment.  Closest answer wins and I will contact the winner by email after the closing date which is 1st December.  I will post to anywhere in the world but outside the UK it will go surface mail which can take some time!

‘How many Munro’s have I climbed?’ (basically pick a number between 0 and 283!)

November 1, 2009

PHD Hispar 500 sleeping bag received

by backpackingbongos

When I got back yesterday I had two packages waiting for me.  One was a bottle of MSR packsoap from Hendrik over at Hiking in Finland, thanks for that Hendrik.  The other was my PHD sleeping bag that I ordered roughly a month ago.  After I had my first bath after several days in the wilds I was soon in it testing it for size and comfort.  It fits my 6 foot frame pretty much exactly and gives a nice snug fit without being too restrictive.  What really impressed me was the amount it lofts, the 900 down appears to really do its job.  Once out of its bag it grows and grows and grows!  It’s amazing that such a light bag can be so fat.  I was sad enough to weigh it with it coming in at 935 grammes with stuff sack, pretty light for a -15 c rated bag with a water resistant shell.  I can be an outdoor shop customer from hell inspecting every seam and stitch of everything I buy (usually being pretty unimpressed by the poor construction of kit these days and often finding fault).  However so far I have not found even so much as a loose thread.  Lets hope that this is a down bag where the down actually stays inside the bag rather than making my tent look like I have been fighting poultry!

I now can’t wait to get out backpacking on a really cold night, a review will be forthcoming when it has been used in anger.

Hispar 500 sleeping bag