Posts tagged ‘backpacking’

May 2, 2015

Stronelairg – 5 snowy days in the Monadhliath pt1

by backpackingbongos

I had spent a couple of weeks meticulously planning a route through the Monadhliath for the Easter weekend. Mileage and ascent had all been taken into account to give me some realistic TGO Challenge training. However whilst just south of Glasgow on the drive up I changed my mind. Instead of starting from Loch Killin to the east of Loch Ness I decided on the easy option of a Garva Bridge start. It cut out a large chunk of driving, however it did mean heading into the hills without much of a plan. The Monadhliath are perfectly suited to this sort of aimless wandering though. As it turned out the change of plan was a good one. The high plateau was buried under deep snow making walking slow and tough. The long days I had planned would have been almost impossible.

The reason for a visit to this underrated part of the Highlands was to see a large area of wild land before it is buried under tonnes of steel and miles of new roads. Time for a stravaig through the site of the proposed Stronelairg wind farm before it is too late.

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Map of whole route – a bit of a slackpack in the end!

There is room for several cars just before the historic Garva bridge. Strangely, although the Stronelairg wind farm has been consented SSE (the developer) have not done a great deal of thinking how they will connect it to the grid. A recent proposal is to build a large electricity substation close to this spot, right on the boundary of the Cairngorms National Park. Add this to the giant pylons for the Beauly Denny line plus new pylons to the wind farm and you have one ugly environmental fuck up.

If you ignore the towering pylons and the huge scar of the access track it is still a beautiful spot dominated by the towering snow-clad peaks of the Glenshirra Forest. Crossing the Spey I passed the last person I would see for five days. He was operating some sort of surveying equipment, no doubt a plan to build something else tall and monstrous.

I was glad to leave the industrialisation behind as I climbed alongside the Feith Talagain, the track soon becoming a narrow trod through the snow-covered heather.

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I had to continue up alongside the river for a while before I could find a suitable spot to cross dry-shod. It was then a case of putting my head down and gritting my teeth on a tough climb through soft snow. This was not made any easier by carrying a heavy winter pack. At least the scenery gave me plenty of opportunities to stop and gawp whilst I got my breath back.

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After the long drive and a slow ascent it was getting late by the time I reached the Corbett summit of Meall na h-Aisre. The air was crystal clear below a thick layer of cloud, the sun shining through in a halo of light. The snow was crisp to walk through at height, the cold wind nipping at bare skin. I looked down at the area I would be walking over the next few days. A vast high snow-covered plateau, the west coast Munro’s providing a jagged backdrop. It was sad to think that a wind farm the size of Inverness could soon be filling this wild land, the earth torn up for the many miles of access roads that will need to be built.

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I descended north into this vast bowl, keeping east of the snow-covered and invisible Loch nan Sidhean. As I got lower the snow got softer and I would often find a leg disappearing up to the knee and occasionally up to the groin. It takes a bit of effort to extricate a fully buried leg when one remains above ground and with a pack on your back. Swearing seems to be the best way of getting out. I gingerly crossed the outflow of the loch which was buried under a drift of snow, snow bridges would be a common feature of the following few days.

I began to lose hope of finding a patch of ground that was either not covered in snow or frozen so solid that pegs would not penetrate. Finally a lumpy patch the size of a Trailstar was discovered and I wasted no time in erecting my shelter, fetching water from a mostly frozen stream and diving inside to get out of the wind.

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I spent much of the night cursing the fact that I had brought the Trailstar, rather than a four season tent with a full solid inner. All started off well but after dark the wind picked up. This was initially ok as the wind was from behind and the Trailstar is bomb proof in wind, even when pitched high like I had it. The problem started when the snow began to fall. The snow came in the form of tiny sand like grains, the wind blowing it through the gap along the bottom edge. This would whip around and settle on the netting above my head, body heat melting it. I lay there dreaming of a nice cosy tent. There may be a Trailstar with Oookworks inner for sale soon.

Morning came with big fat wet flakes of snow as the temperature rose, this finally falling as rain. I had considered heading east to the headwaters of the Allt Cam nan Croc, a spot I had passed previously and which looked idyllic to camp. However with low cloud and deep soft snow the cross-country walk there would be more ordeal than pleasure. Instead I decided to head for the more sheltered confines of Glen Tarff.

The Allt Creag Chomaich was partially frozen in many places and completely covered in snow in others. I dismissed any thoughts of attempting to cross it, instead following the east bank to the security of the new hydro road.

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I had seen the scar of this road in a previous visit but this time it was covered in snow, the surrounding landscape hidden under cloud. At least it prevented me from lurching from snow filled hag to tussock and I made reasonable progress through the eerie landscape to the new reservoir. This was also half-frozen, the wind pushing the ice floes towards the eastern shore.

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I peeked through the windows of a building near the dam, the kettle, heater, table and chairs looking very inviting. The locked and very solid metal door prevented access and I had a snack shivering in the damp and cold instead.

The route down to the headwaters of the Tarff was as tricky as it looked on the map when you added in wet snow and low cloud. I slithered about for a while before finally picking up an old stalkers path into the shelter of the glen.

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There I set up a basecamp as I decided that I would leave most of my gear the following day and head for a nearby hill. It was a damp and gloomy evening with a fine drizzle in the air. However I spent a much more comfortable night without snow filling my shelter!

The following morning I just packed some spare warm clothing, food and maps and set off down the glen on a narrow but well engineered path. It is obvious that it is now little used and it won’t be long before much of it is reclaimed by nature. Much of the snow had melted at this lower level, the burns crashing noisily down the hillside. Glen Tarff is a magnificent place, hidden and well off the beaten track of the nearby Corrieyairack Pass.

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I climbed up the steep south western slopes of Carn Chuilinn, the summit being easy to find even in the snow and mist. A simple case of keep climbing until you get to the highest point. The walk east across the plateau however was anything but easy. With low cloud and the ground covered in snow my mind would play tricks, what I thought were towering cliffs would be a few boulders close by. It was difficult to judge distances and tell where the sky ended and the ground began. It did not help that the high plateau was dotted with numerous Lochans. All of them were completely frozen and most covered in snow. I was anxious not to accidentally walk across any of them. It was a very challenging hour or so and that was with the assistance of GPS mapping on my phone!

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It was with relief that I managed to locate the outflow from Loch Carn a Chuillin, nervously crossed by a snow bridge. The river was in spate and would have been difficult to cross otherwise. Walking down back into the glen the sun put in a welcome appearance, a good omen for the following day when I would set back off across the plateau and hopefully a high level wild camp.

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April 19, 2015

Newtondale – backpacking the North York Moors

by backpackingbongos

Navigating the steep hairpin bends between Lockton and Levisham made my stomach flutter with a bit of excitement. It wasn’t the angle of the road but the fact that I thought that a new series of the League of Gentlemen was being filmed. I’m almost certain that I passed Tubbs and Edward standing by the side of the road decked out in grubby Barbour. Sadly it turned out that they were just supporters of the local hunt, which was being led by a man with the reddest face imaginable.

Levisham turned out to be a delightful village, basically a long village green backed by beautiful stone buildings with a pub at the far end. The only road in and out is the aforementioned country lane which plunges down to Levisham beck before climbing out the other side. I bet it gets cut off a lot in winter.

We took a track to the right of the pub after Reuben was saddled up and the car abandoned on the main street. We were passed by several vehicles heading into the village. Where they came from I have no idea as the track ends on rough open moor. The occupants of every single vehicle pointed at Reuben as they passed, perhaps they have never seen a Staffie wear a pair of overstuffed panniers before?

I had read somewhere that the Hole of Horcum is the Grand Canyon of Yorkshire. I have never visited the Grand Canyon before but I feel that there may have been a bit of exaggerating about the Yorkshire version. It is a very nice spot though and I was glad of the shelter it provided from the strong and cold wind. I would give it a few more extra points if the busy road to Whitby did not run along its eastern edge.

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A steep climb to the north led us up to the lip of Yorkshire’s Grand Canyon. There we were able to turn our backs on the hustle and bustle and head across the moors towards Newtondale.

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It was only my third visit to the North York Moors and I am beginning to work out the parts of it that I enjoy. The moors themselves are dreadfully dull, a flat monoculture of heather criss crossed by land rover tracks. Nothing really to invigorate the senses or lift the soul. The word sterile comes to mind. The contrast with the various dales however could not be starker. These are full of life, trees clinging to steep slopes, lush vegetation and a feeling that they are somehow wilder. Quite the opposite to many other upland areas I find.

I enjoyed the walk down into Newtondale immensely.

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The North York Moors Railway runs its way through the dale, although the trains had not started running this early in the spring. All was quiet with not a soul to be seen in this reasonably isolated valley.

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After following a forestry track north for a while we struck directly up steep slopes once past the plantation. I’m glad that the bracken was still brown and crunchy underfoot. In summer our chosen route would be simply impossible. You would also probably end up covered head to toe in ticks.

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A squelch across the flat moors and an idyllic spot was found next to the infant Blawath Beck. It was flat, dry and covered in springy moss. Although early I did not hesitate in getting the Trailstar up, I’m someone who does not pass by a good pitch. Reuben seemed happy with the chosen spot, as soon as his panniers were removed he was pulling his best breakdancing moves.

It was a pleasant evening chilling out with my kindle, listening to the first snipe of the year drumming somewhere overhead.

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Despite a night camped next to a stream there was zero condensation when I woke up. The sun had finally come out and the air was alive with the sound of bird song. It was tempting to have a lazy morning enjoying camp but I’m sure that wild camping in the North York Moors is probably frowned upon.

The pastures around Wardle Green contrast nicely with the austere moors and regimented conifer plantations. The old farm is surrounded by Scotts Pine and broadleaf trees. An oasis buzzing with life on an early spring morning.

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A bridleway and forestry track led us to high above Newtondale, a fine path leading along the edge of Killing Nab Scar. It’s probably one of the finest paths in the country as it winds its way high above the dale giving splendid views down into the valley. It was a shame that a haze had built up.

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A bench had been handily placed in which to enjoy a rest in the sun and drink in the view. All morning I had heard the buzz of trail bikes somewhere in the forest. All of a sudden half a dozen came tearing down the path I had just walked. I had to hold Reuben tight as they passed in front of the bench, inches from us. In my head I challenged them, waving my fist until they saw the error of their ways. In reality I just sat there glumly and nodded my head as they passed.

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A steep path took us down into the valley and then past Newtondale Halt. Climbing once more up the steep southern slopes there was a section that involved the use of steps built into a rock face.

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Although not marked on the map there is a narrow trod that continues on past Yewtree Scar and all the way to Skelton Tower. Another grand promenade, equaling the path earlier along Killing Nab Scar.

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Skelton Tower occupies a spot close to the steep drop into the valley, feeling much higher than 170 metres. It provided a place to sit out of the wind and rest before the final mile or so back to the car.

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I think I am going to have to make more of an effort to visit the North York Moors. They are a much quieter alternative to the Peak District with not much further to travel.

January 31, 2015

Thundersnow and a freezing night on the Derwent Moors

by backpackingbongos

It had meant to be a sociable weekend camping on the high moors in the Peak District. However a threat of snow had folk dropping out at the last minute. My rucksack was already packed so I headed off anyway. I erred on the side of caution and took the Bongo with its 4WD, also somewhere to sleep if turned out to be snowmageddon.

The ground was decidedly snow free when I pulled the Bongo into the car park at Langsett. I was lucky to get a space as this popular spot was almost full, even on a raw winters day. The path along the north shore of the reservoir was busy and I ended up walking its length chatting to a local guy who regularly does the circuit. Although he has a health condition it has not diminished his love for his local hills and he tries to get out for a couple of hours as much as possible. We soon parted company and I continued to the west, parallel with the busy A616 and its constant growl of traffic.

A track led me south onto the moors, brown and foreboding with patches of snow remaining. The sky was grey and overcast adding to the bleakness. I passed the cabin at Upper Hordron and descended into Hordron Clough, a sheepfold providing a sheltered spot for a late lunch.

The plan had been to cross the moors to the south and head for a wild camp up on Bleaklow. Suddenly there was a rumbling noise which at first I though was a low flying aircraft, this was soon repeated much louder and I realised it was thunder. This is my biggest fear in the hills, having been caught out in exposed places in the past during some violent thunder storms. I beat a hasty retreat back down to the valley just as I was engulfed in a furious snow shower. Within minutes everything was white and the black clouds above continued to grumble their displeasure. The shower disappeared as quickly as it had arrived and I started climbing again, only to see black clouds once again gathering to the west. Sod it I thought, there was no way I was going onto the moors if there was a further risk of a thunderstorm.

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In the end I decided to pitch on a nice flat grassy patch next to the stream. It was early but I was well placed to get onto the hills the following morning, where hopefully the promised sunshine would make an appearance.

Th next heavy shower arrived as I was pitching, the wind picking up and making the task more difficult than it should have been. It was with relief that I could brush myself free of snow and climb into the Wickiup and put on a brew. It was barely past 3.00pm but I was happy to have a lazy afternoon and it was unlikely that anyone would pass me just an hour or so before sunset.

The snow continued to fall for most of the night and I had to frequently bash the sides of my shelter to encourage it to slide off. At one point I even had to go out and remove some of the snow that had accumulated around the bottom of the Wickiup. With the inner taking up the whole of the shelter and with no porch I managed to bring in snow with me. Despite the cold I was snug inside and with good mobile reception I could watch the traffic reports, the busy road not that far away closing due to the conditions.

After a long sleep I was keen to get up before dawn, the world clear, windless and frozen solid. Stars still shone in the sky and the eastern horizon had a smudge of yellow. I enjoyed the crunch of virgin snow under my boots as I wandered round with a cup of coffee in hand. It was gone 9.00am by the time the sun reached camp, only warming me psychologically, the air remaining far below freezing. It was tough going taking down the Wickiup, the snow and frost nipping at my bare fingers as I wrestled with a frozen flysheet.

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The stream was a black streak in the white snow but easily forded. I followed a faint track past some grouse butts before striking up across heather covered snow. The heather was knee-deep with a few inches of snow on top, not the easiest of walking.

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Once on the plateau the ground was wind blasted, miles of white hills ran to the horizon towards the west. If I ignored the steady drone of traffic on the Woodhead pass I could have been on a remote hilltop in the Highlands. There were even a string of wind turbines nearby to give it that Scottish authenticity.

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I wanted to pay the Crow Stones a visit, they were not very far away but I underestimated the toughness of the ground around Stainery Clough. I’m sure that the snow did not help as I attempted to cross various deep peat groughs.

The Crow stones however were worth the effort. They are located in a remote spot close to the head of the river Derwent, the huge bulk of Bleaklow beyond, Kinder Scout on the horizon. A welcome spot in which to get out of the wind and boil some water for a brew on my stove. One of the benefits of backpacking is having the kit to make a hot drink.

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Weather was building again in the west as I packed up and headed towards the trig point on Outer Edge. It overtook me as I picked a way through the rocks, snow and mist blotting out the sun.

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Visibility was seriously reduced on Outer Edge and it was a bleak crossing to get to the security of the Cut Gate path. I passed a couple of groups of runners, rather them than me with so little kit on such a day. A quick chat with a National Park Ranger on the summit of the pass before putting my head down and yomping back to the Bongo.

Luckily once down at valley level the snow had melted, no issues in getting home. A short and sweet route but it’s amazing how a few inches of snow transform the familiar into something much bigger and wilder.

December 17, 2014

A backpackers best friend – my first published article

by backpackingbongos

I am very pleased to have had an article published in a proper bona-fide outdoor magazine. It is about the pleasures of backpacking with a dog and is set in the winter hills of Mid-Wales. It’s in the Jan / Feb 2015 edition of Outdoor Enthusiast which is available to read online for free via the link below.

http://www.oe-mag.co.uk/oemag/imag/oejanuaryfebruary2015/

Reuben panniers spotting something

November 9, 2014

Backpacking the Kentmere and Longsleddale watersheds

by backpackingbongos

It was time for one of my infrequent backpacking trips to the Lake District. Time to put on my best smile and practice saying hello every ten minutes before visiting one of the busiest mountain areas of the UK.

It was late afternoon when I pulled into the small car park next to the community hall in Longsleddale, an isolated valley in the south-eastern Lakes. There was initially a bit of confusion as I could not find the pay and display machine into which to pour a weeks worth of wages. Instead there was a box asking for a donation of £2 a day to go towards the upkeep of the hall and public toilets, even I can’t find fault with that.

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(click to increase map size)

 

Day 1 – 9 Kilometres with 350 metres ascent

It was warm for September, unpleasantly warm as I walked north along the lane with Reuben. I was actually worried that it may be a bit much for him as usually at the start of a walk he is very enthusiastic and pulling at the lead. That afternoon he was simply trotting alongside with his tongue hanging out like a half-formed slice of spam.

The plan for the day had been to climb onto Yoke and wild camp next to Rainsborrow Tarn, however my heart was not in for a big walk that afternoon. I decided that I would sit in the shade and examine the map for a camp spot that would not involve much effort to get to. It turns out that the bridleway that leads from Ullthwaite is not a good place for a sweaty backpacker and his hound to rest. The first mountain biker nearly ran over my leg whilst the second missed poor Reuben by inches, the third swept up a rock that just missed my head. At least I had got myself out of the way of the fourth and fifth. Bloody backpackers getting in the way eh?

I settled on a rare low-level wild camp, although I made sure that I was out of sight of any buildings and paths. The air was incredibly still and humid, perfect for the last few of the seasons midges. My shelter was dripping with condensation even before it got dark and it was a rather sweaty night where I had my sleeping bag unzipped. A fine misty drizzle fell after dark.

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Day 2 – 14.5 kilometres with 1040 metres ascent

It was grey, overcast and uninspiring when I woke up, even the lower fells were hidden under a thick duvet of clouds. I did my favourite backpacking thing which involves turning over and going back to sleep for a few hours. When I had eventually finished making brews, having breakfast and packing it was gone midday. Slackpacking at its finest.

I picked a totally rubbish way up Sour Howes that involved tussocks, deep rushes and bogs. Once at the top I could not decide which of the numerous lumps and bumps was the true summit. I therefore visited all of them, from each one the others looked to be higher. It was then a case of following the ridge round to Sallows which was just beginning to lose its cap of cloud. It was along the way that for the first time Reuben met another Staffy on the hill, it was having a great time bounding along with a couple of fell runners.

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The cloud suddenly dissipated on the ascent of Yoke, melting away to reveal extensive views under a soft light. The rollercoaster of a route north over Ill Bell and Froswick was a delight, only spoilt by the overly manicured path that in places is more suited to a city park.

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I was surprised to have the hills to myself, perhaps people had been put off by the low cloud. After a late start and unhurried walk I was reaping the rewards by being on the hills during the late afternoon, the sun working its way towards the horizon. The fells were taking on a purple hue, shafts of sunlight occasionally piercing the broken clouds.

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I enjoyed the high level contour round the head of Kentmere, working a way round to drop down to the Nan Bield Pass on a narrow path. Harter Fell was the last hill of the day and I fancied camping on its summit. However the wind was too strong and the ground parched, the upper reaches of the stream had dried up a long time ago.

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We descended down into Wren Gill, locating a reasonably flat spot on a spur above the watercourse. It was dark by the time I had pitched the Wickiup and collected water. The shorter days of early Autumn had nearly caught me out.

 

Day three – 17.5 kilometres with 450 metres ascent

The night was cold and clear, stars filling the sky when I poked my head out in the middle of the night. It was even colder at dawn and my shelter was dripping with condensation. I watched the shadows gradually recede and waited for the warm sun to reach us before getting out of my sleeping bag. The sky was a deep blue without a cloud to be seen.

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Being released from the confines of the shelter into warm sunshine made Reuben a very happy dog.

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It was a tiring contour around steep slopes to get to the summit of Adam Seat before descending to Gatescarth Pass. Haweswater gave a good backdrop, leading the eye out of the Lake District and towards the North Pennines.

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I originally had grand plans to go and bag Selside, a Nuttall that still eludes me. However after the short afternoon walk on the first day I was now too far behind schedule. Instead I headed south towards the car, taking in the summit of Tarn Crag with its distinctive stone pillar.

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There then followed a grand walk south over the silent and empty fells that form the eastern boundary of Longsleddale. I met one couple and saw another in the distance that hot and sunny Sunday afternoon. It felt like we were in the Howgills rather than the Lake District. The various ups and downs felt much more than the map suggested, not helped by the lack of running water. I had to drop down on one occasion to ensure that both Reuben and I remained hydrated.

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The last hill of the day was Whiteside Pike, guarded from the north by a drystone wall with no gate or stile. I eventually found a tumble-down section, probably in that state due to there being no gate or stile to help access.

The summit is marked by a tall and precarious looking cairn that is much more sturdy than it appears. It was a good spot to rest before descending back to the road and the long slog back to the car.

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