Day 3 – 18.5 kilometres with 340 metres ascent
I don’t think that it is very often that you have to drag yourself out of a shelter in the morning because it is too hot, especially whilst located at 830 metres in April. After another sub-zero night that is exactly what I had to do. OK so I had lazed around in my sleeping bag until gone 9.00am and the sun was getting high in the sky. You have to relax and take things easy when exploring wild areas on your own. So I dragged out a groundsheet to sit on whilst I drank coffee and ate noodles. The air was particularly cool and fresh without the Trailstar to keep it at bay. I have to say that I felt rather smug and pleased with myself as I made another coffee and had a lie-down on a blanket of soft springy moss.
It did not take long to pack and I was soon on my way up the Northern flanks of Geal Charn. This gave a great view of the way I had walked the day before, across big empty hills.
With a high starting point I was at the summit cairn in no time at all. Even with a late start I had it all to myself. On such a clear day the views were superb. When conditions are like this you realise just how small Scotland is. I got the impression that I could see a fair chunk of it. The western hills on the other side of the Great Glen looked large, clear and snowy. The bulk of Ben Nevis looked close enough to touch, whilst the Cairngorms loomed close by. However my eye kept on being drawn to the high brown plateau nearest to me. This was the hidden heart of the Monadhliath, which after a snack I set off to explore.
A line of fence posts led across easy ground towards Loch na Lairige, snow patches still firm after a frosty night.
The area around the Loch itself was a maze of peat hags, groughs and hidden gurgling streams under the turf. It took a while to navigate but still much tamer than my local stomping ground of Kinder Scout and Bleaklow. I was still cautious not to disappear up to my waist in a bog however as help was a long way away.
The going got easier once I reached the outflow of the loch and followed it downstream. One of the secrets of the Monadhliath are its watercourses. These are usually (but not always) pleasant grassy linear routes through the heather and bog. A way to make easy progress and find good places to camp. This one was no different with easy banks to follow. Large patches of snow were still covering the stream at some points, fragile snow bridges waiting to catch the unwary.
The feeling of wildness was lost when I reached the Chalybeate Spring, the start of a vehicle track. It was not visible down by the stream so I sat for a while and had lunch in the warm sunshine. The track is part of the Hydro scheme, a new addition to the landscape. I followed it south before taking a branch that contoured high along the hillside visiting several concrete weirs. To be fair to the developers they have at least made an effort with regards to landscaping, I have seen much worse in the hills. Vegetation is already claiming the surrounding scars. I would still prefer it not to be there though and there may be much worse to come for this wild and lonely area. The tall narrow spires of the wind monitoring masts stood like watchful invaders ready to claim their prize.
The hard surface of the track was not kind on my feet in the heat as I followed it to its terminus at the Allt Cam Ban. I crossed a well hidden footbridge below the weir and took to boggy ground as I followed the stream upwards. My intention had been to continue along the north bank but I changed my mind and climbed to the 801 metre summit which is unnamed on the 1:50k map. Here I sat by the cairn and removed my boots and socks to let my feet steam. I was totally lost in my thoughts when there was suddenly a smiling figure coming towards me. It totally startled me to be honest as it was the last place I expected to see anyone. The thought was mutual as the chap who came and joined me really did not expect to see anyone on a unremarkable hill in such a remote area. A pleasant half hour was spent chatting with a fellow backpacker and lover of lonely places. He was spending a few days in the Monadhliath ticking off all the SIMS. I can’t remember the criteria but there are about 15 million such hills in Scotland. He had done most of them.
As we parted ways he headed towards Burrach Mor at a cracking pace whilst I descended into a high level bowl where the Allt Cam Ban meets the Allt Cam nan Croc. My earlier companion had already pitched for the night next to the river, I could just about make out his tent below. A splendidly wild and remote spot.
I dropped down close to where he was pitched and followed the stream for a bit. A green strip led easily though rough ground over the shoulder of Burrach Mor into the rocky headwaters of Coire an t-Sreatha. The going then became tough and unpleasant for a while, the late hour and a spot of fatigue not helping matters.
I was relieved to see the roof of the Eskin bothy below me, hopeful that the place would be fit for habitation. Upon closer inspection is was a ruin, fit only for the desperate to spend a night inside. At best it is a handy brew spot for when the weather is bad. The bothy sat at the top of one of the largest cornices that I have ever seen, a huge crevasse showing that gravity would soon release it. I took a circuitous route down to the valley floor, marvelling at a twenty-foot high snow bank dripping away like a dying glacier.
From up above the ground looked like it would be perfect for pitching. However on closer inspection the close-cropped grass was wet and spongy, the snow only recently melted. It took a while to find a relatively dry spot. I quickly got the Trailstar up as I was extremely hungry and felt the need for a long lie-down. Although I was pitched on a valley bottom I was still located at 650 metres, my lowest altitude for many miles.