Posts tagged ‘Ticks’

May 12, 2009

Backpacking is not always fun – tales of woe

by backpackingbongos

I really enjoy reading other peoples backpacking blogs but have become a little bit concerned recently about the amount of fun everyone seems to be having.

Backpacking is great but for some reason or other I sometimes find myself in a situation where I wonder to myself, “why do I do this for fun?”  Often the answer comes ten minutes later when the rain stops and the mist clears to reveal a majestic mountain landscape.  There are also many times when the rain does not stop, the mist gets thicker and I get to the edge of the map just as the wind picks up.  Why is the mountain I’m climbing always on the edge of the map?

Those uncomfortable days are all part of backpacking in the UK, but sometimes things can get really tricky……………………..

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In June 2005 I did a backpack from Aviemore to Blair Atholl via the Feshie and the Tarf, a great wild route.  On the fourth morning I left the high bleak valley of Tarf Water and climbed to the summit of Carn a Chlamain.  The weather was really close and although the clouds were off of the tops visibility was pretty poor on the summit.  Most of the surrounding hills were lost in the murk and the temperature was uncomfortably warm even at this height.  The plan was to descend west off of the hill and climb Beinn Mheadhonach on the other side of Gleann Mhairc, however upon reaching the valley floor I was totally knackered.  After some deliberation I thought about collecting water and going for a high level camp on the summit and calling it a day.  Walking up the valley a little way I came to a perfect grassy knoll above the river that screamed ‘pitch a tent on me’, being of weak will I gave in and pitched my tent.  A decision that may have saved my life.

I spent the afternoon and early evening lazing around reading and eating, generally enjoying my isolated position.  The camp was spoilt slightly by the large numbers of adult ticks, there was obviously a reason why the grass was so cropped in a large area of rough ground.  Every time I Leant out of the tent to pick up a pan etc one would attach itself to my arm.  A big downside to camping in the highlands in the summer.

As evening turned to night the air became ever more humid and it was a little uncomfortable in the tent.  The hill tops started to mist over and in the far far distance I could hear a small rumble of thunder.  On top of my sleeping bag I soon nodded off to sleep.  It was dark when I woke up to the first bang of thunder.  The storm was some way off as I counted the time between the sky lighting up and the thunder clap.  Each minute it got nearer and nearer, then suddenly the heavens opened.  With the exception of being in India at the tail end of the monsoon I have never experienced rain like it.  It sounded like it would rip the tent apart.  Suddenly the storm was upon me.  There were instantaneous flashes of lightening and claps of thunder and I could feel my teeth tingle.  Poking my head out of my tent I realised that I was in the storm cloud which lit up as another burst of thunder broke.  Panicking I pulled on my clothes, but now what?, what good would running into the darkness do me?  The only thing I could think of doing was throw my walking pole as far away from my tent as I could.  I sat a nervous wreck as the storm raged around me, smoking roll up after roll up trying to fight the impulse to run.  Slowly but surely the storm drifted away to the north.

Relieved I got back undressed and lay back down hoping to catch some sleep before getting an early start.  My stomach tightened as in the distance I heard distant thunder.  Lightening flashes and claps of thunder yet again got closer and closer until they were again directly overhead.  The hillside was cascading with rivulets of water and I was a nervous wreck again!

This scenario was played out all night, one storm would move off only to be replaced by another one less than an hour later.  By early morning the small stream which luckily I was a few metres above was a black raging torrent.  I packed my tent and legged it down to Blair Atholl.  The vilage had lost all of its power due to the storms.  When buying a paper the shop keeper said that it was the worst thunder storm he could remember, he said they were fairly rare up there on that scale.  The local paper was reporting people being rescued by sudden rising flood waters on campsites and general chaos.  I spoke to a bloke in the campsite later on who had been wild camping that night in one of the high coires of Beinn a Ghlo, he really thought that at one point he was going to be fried alive.  He too had been ready to flee his tent but realised that a descent in the dark could be just as dangerous as the storm.

I used to love thunderstorms but now get really nervous when I hear thunder.  When wild camping in the summer I am not as keen as I used to be to camp on the summits unless there is an easy escape route in the dark.  Thankfully I did not camp on the summit of Beinn Mheadhonach!

More tales of woe to come!

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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