Grampians - April 2011

I met up with my friend Andy on his recent flying visit to the UK for a weekend of backpacking and wild camping in the Highlands. I always enjoy trips that seem a bit improbable during the planning stages but then actually reach fruition such as our trip to Norway in 2010. I met Andy on the train from Edinburgh to Dalwhinnie on Saturday lunchtime. During his busy visit Andy had time for a full day of walking on Sunday. I had planned an extra day in the hills on Monday and had booked an extra day off work so I could travel back to the Midlands on Tuesday.

Dalwhinnie sits at the northern terminus of Loch Ericht. Although a small village, Dalwhinnie sits astride the A9 and the main railway line to Inverness. Whilst hardly a true wilderness destination, the good transport links mean it is a viable location for a quick foray into the hills. The area around Dalwhinnie isn’t necessarily the most exciting terrain but there is a collection of seven Munros within easy reach of the sleepy village. On the train from Edinburgh we finalised the route which would take us south west from the train station to climb four Munros. After a couple of wild camps and a day of walking Andy would return to Dalwhinnie and I intended to push on to tick off three other Munros to the east of the A9.

Saturday afternoon had been very warm and the slog up the ridge from the station was more tiring than I had expected. It was, however, bliss to be tramping amongst the heather. As we ascended the stifling heat was whisked away by a strong breeze from the south. We struggled to find a sheltered spot for a wild camp and eventually had to settle for a slightly marginal pitch pitch high above Loch Ericht to the north of Geal-charn. Although there was a fantastic view there were some pretty strong gusts of wind during the night. The next morning we headed south along the ridge to the summit of Geal-charn before continuing south west to the bulbous mass of A’Mharconaich followed by the somewhat unmemorable Beinn Udlamain. The final Munro of the day (and the trip) would follow shortly thereafter. After topping out on Sgairneach Mhor we sat in the afternoon sun at about 900m enjoying the fabulous view and a welcome breather.

After a short, sharp descent amongst the heather we followed a dusty track back towards the Drumochter Pass through which the A9 and the railway thunder. We found a pleasant spot next to a brisk river out of earshot of the rumble of civilisation. I had cool running water within a metre of my shelter although I was worried about sliding into the freezing water in the middle of the night as the ground wasn’t very flat (I seem incapable at the moment of finding anywhere to pitch my tarptent on the level). I’m glad my MLD Solomid has a small footprint otherwise I may have had to settle for a far more marginal pitch.

On Monday morning the weather seemed to break. The wind whipped up and clouds crowded down from the bleak-looking summits. My downcast mood complemented the weather. It began to rain. My enthusiasm for another day in the hills and a potentially soggy wild camp in the evening plummeted. By the time we reached the spot where the track we were following reached the A9, from where Andy was to head back to the station, I was ready to pass on my planned additional day of walking.

When we reached the station the weather was already starting to look better and I was disappointed already to have made the decision to bail. Having said that though the trip had been fun and I now had a ‘spare’ day off of work that I could spend at home which actually was a lovely bonus. Life has been pretty hectic recently and a day chilling out at home sometimes will trump a day in the hills.

It is rare that a trip goes completely to plan. Normally there are a whole host of external factors which dictate whether your stated goal for a trip is accomplished. These are things that happen TO you on a trip, such as bad weather, unexpected ground conditions, navigation errors, unrealistic itinerary, a new injury and many others. This trip is an example where internal factors ultimately dominated proceedings. I wasn’t well rested and I had injured my foot whilst running a week before the trip which really didn’t help. The do-it-yourself minimalist cooking approach I was trialling failed miserably and I’d also made some pretty short-sighted gear choices on this trip.