Heavy Packs, Trains, Sunshine and Snow   12 comments

Now here’s a first. Writing up a trip within a few days of completing it!

Our backpacking trip to Scotland over the Easter weekend has become a regular and much planned outing since 2009. Thanks to GM and his photos you also have the pleasure of seeing me in action over the next few posts!

This year we had a new member of the team

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

TJS is pretty experienced now in terms of his walks in Wales. However he has never been to Scotland and I’ve been promising to take him. This year seemed like a good time to move him on to the next level. He was just back from a long weekend on the Brecon Beacons Way with TBF in some wild, wet and stormy weather. They did some long days and clocked up some decent miles. However walking on marked paths and staying in hotels, B&Bs and Bunkhouses is a world away from the Scottish Highlands in a tent. The challenge was added to by the fact that Scotland was still in the grip of winter so conditions would be even more challenging. Added to that, we were out for 5 days and needing to carry extra food, extra clothes and ice axe and crampons. This made for a very heavy pack probably in excess of 50lbs for me and GM. With this in mind, where did we plan to take TJS for his first Scottish adventure? The most dense collection of high mountains in the UK in Lochaber!

The trip had the added bonus of kicking off with a train ride.

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

Our route was based on a start and finish at Corrour Station giving us a nice hour to chill out and enjoy the ride from Crianlarich. The weather in preceding few days had been appalling but today it was glorious. Blue skies and snow-capped peaks. The train ride was spectacular with the Southern Highlands looking majestic and a little daunting for TJS.

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

We arrived at Corrour and found snow lying right down at the station and on the platform. I’d expected snow but not this low down. Daunting indeed. Corrour is an amazing place to exit a train. Right in the middle of the mountains with not a metalled road for miles. As the train disappears into the distance you feel abandoned and committed. I felt daunted too!

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

We hoisted packs and set off into the mountains. Our plan was to backpack over the very isolated and fine Corbett of Leum Uilleim. Immediately we were in deep unconsolidated and untrodden snow.

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

The views were magnificent but the going tough. By the time we’d plodded up to the NE ridge at An Diollaid we were already feeling the strain.

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

I hadn’t expected either this much sunshine or snow and had neglected to bring either sunglasses or suncream. Schoolboy error. For this reason we were sunburnt and squinting for most of the day. We abandoned the sacks and walked out and back to the summit. It’s a mighty fine ridge but a very long way around Coir’ a’ Bhric Beag (and back again!) but the conditions were superb. Nothing finer than walking on snow in the Scottish Highlands under a blue sky. We told TJS just how lucky he was to have this on his first day. He seemed much happier without the burden of a heavy pack. He seemed especially pleased to catch his first view of Ben Nevis, looking mighty and magnificent in its winter garb next to Aonach Beag

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

As we climbed the views become better and better, especially fine back east toward Loch Ossian and Ben Alder

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

The snow cover was immense, huge fields of deep snow, hard going in places as you plopped through the crust from time to time. Both me and GM kept thinking how perfect the conditions were for ski touring!

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

We stopped briefly at the summit for a snack and pressed on back to collect the snacks. TJS was pleased to reach his first Scottish summit but still despite all his walking exploits he was still yet to reach a 3000 foot summit anywhere in the UK

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

The cloud was beginning to thicken but the weather was still grand and the return down the ridge was equally fine.

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

We reached the packs, scoffed some more food and headed off. We had a plan to camp near Staoineag bothy and headed off to cut the corner off cross-country.

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

The snow was thawing and crossing slushy snow-covered Scottish bog with a heavy pack was no fun. TJS was in particular finding it tough. He’s only ever backpacked in summer before, a single night with a couple of days food, lightweight sleeping bag and minimal clothing. Even though me and GM were carrying the bulk of the weight his pack was still an order of magnitude heavier than he’s ever carried before and he was clearly suffering. To be honest so were me and GM. I had a new pack (A Granite Gear Nimbus Trace if you’re interested) and even though it’s substantially lighter than my old one it doesn’t help when you fill it with heavy stuff. Still, the snow-capped mountain views kept our spirits up.

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

By the time we’d dropped down into Gleann Iolairean we were spent. It’s a soggy valley, albeit a nice one with a grand view down Loch Treig, but GM found an elevated patch of bracken that was reasonably dry. It was good enough and after re-enacting our own version of the Highland Clearances we were pitched. I’ve never enjoyed a brew as much as I did at that point!

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

The relief at dropping the sack was palpable. Despite the glorious weather the tough conditions and created a little tension that was all let go as we settled in. It had been a long day. Only 8 miles but with heavy packs, deep snow and no paths, that’s tough in my book

Lochaber 1

The weather was clearly on the turn but the views and the situation were still superb. Nothing finer than a good pitch out in the wilds with what feels like the whole of the mountains to yourself. We set about the important task of reducing the pack weights by eating the food. I’m not into the whole ultra-lightweight backpacking obsession although this trip was testing that reluctance severely. It’s only when you take the pack off, open it up, and realise that your reward for that pain and effort is food, nice food and lots of it that it makes it seen worthwhile. We ate like wild camping kings with fresh chicken and noodle stir fry followed by Jaffa Cakes and Tebay Fruit Pies (well worth a detour off the motorway for) washed down with plenty more tea and hot chocolate

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

crianlarich, west highland line, corrour, leum uilleim, an diollaid, coir a bhric beag, gleann iolairean, loch treig, backpacking, wild camping

Bellies full and with tired bodies we turned in. We weren’t hopeful on the weather and indeed it was raining before we fell asleep. On these trips though you take every day in turn and this had been a great one. We’d had a ride on the train, basked in the sunshine, climbed a summit, walked in the snow, had majestic views, found a decent campsite and were set up warm, cosy and dry in the tent. Whatever the next few days were to bring we had at least one glorious day. Scotland has a habit of kicking you up the ar5e when you think everything is going your way and the steady rain that lulled us to sleep was a reminder of that

Advertisements

12 responses to “Heavy Packs, Trains, Sunshine and Snow

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. A brilliant introduction to backpacking that 🙂

    Not sure what 50lb is in modern weights and measures but it suggests you were carrying cast iron cooking gear!

    Like

    backpackingbongos
    • It’s about 20 Kg in new money. Whatever the units it was very heavy. I was carrying most of the communal gear and an DSLR camera as well. And a huge heap of food, I like to eat a lot!

      TJS enjoyed the experience though and I was pretty proud at how he coped. The terrain wasn’t something he was used to. Scottish heather and tussocks really tax the legs

      Like

  2. Nothing like starting right in at the deep end! Wonderful photos though; so good in fact, that I now feel cold after looking at them 😀

    Like

    • Apart from a breeze on the summit it was warm that day, the sun and reflection off the snow was like being in the Alps. We were pretty sunburnt by the end. It was a pretty tough start to the tougher side of backpacking – I found it pretty hard as well 🙂

      Like

  3. Brilliant trip and photos again. That deep virgin snow is a killer though, it completely defeated us once after only 3 miles.
    Interesting report on the quantity of food, especially considering its weight with winter kit – we find the opposite, we can’t face much food at all when backpacking, which is fortuitous.

    Like

    • Hi Geoff. The conditions were pretty tough, bog and heather in the Highlands is bad enough but cover it in deep snow…….. 🙂
      Great start to the trip though. I’ve been through the lightweight crappy food phase and have long since realised its better to have a heavy pack with food you actually want to eat rather than the other way round or simply not have enough. The winter kit needs were unfortunate especially as in the end we never used it! I lightweight axe and crampons are on the list for next year just in case but our keen appetite means no compromises on the food. I still remember the low feeling of opening the food bag and realising it was Beanfeast for tea 🙂

      Like

  4. Did you have a cucumber with you? Essential backpacking fodder (although GM would have ‘dropped’ it).
    Bit of a baptism of fire there for TJS. When you told me what you intended to do I thought you were going to carry your packs right over Leum Ulleim, and I thought you were crazy! Your actual route makes lot more sense. Fabulous stuff!
    TJS must be fitter than the proverbial butcher’s dog now, after all that walking.

    Like

    beatingthebounds
    • We forgot the snorkel as well 🙂
      The extra night and food plus the winter clothing and gear added several pounds to the sacks. It was just as well we didn’t try and haul the packs to the summit. It was a really long walk around the ridge (and back!) although a very fine one. With hindsight I’d have walked a couple of km down from Corrour and set up camp (so nice spots down by the river), done Leum Uilleim as a day walk and then moved on after that. Still it was a great day and the spot we did find to camp was ok albeit a bit grey and dreary by the time we arrived.
      By the end of the weekend TJS was outpacing me most of the time. All that outdoor activity, river crossing and mountains and he comes home and chips a bone in his finger playing catch with his mates!

      Like

      • Ouch!
        I did think, when it was too late to suggest it, that you would be better walking around, camping and then climbing the hill – but it all worked out well in the end anyway!

        Like

        beatingthebounds
        • Going over the mountain seemed logical at the time but the nice thing about a backpack is the plans can evolve as you go. It ended up being a mighty fine weekend after a few stutters in the next couple of days. Needed a weekend off to recover though 🙂

          Like

  5. Love this post – gorgeous snow photos!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: