Whiteburn's Wanderings

One man's wanderings backpacking around Scotland plus the odd digression

Winter Ramble

I’ve been a bit remiss recently, being guilty of hopping out for a few bimbles in the Cairngorms without any postings. The latest trip turned out to be the first taste of winter & a good opportunity to check out some of my recent gear changes.

I find driving over to the ‘gorms in the very early hours in order to get a full day on the hill a pain so as usual I took off from home at lunchtime, dumped the car, walked for a couple of hours & pitched up. One of my favourite spots amongst the Caledonian pines along the Quoich Water at the foot of Beinn A’Bhuird.

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Day 2

7am, 12hrs in bed, still dark, -6C, I got the stove going (I’d tucked a 1L Nalgene of warm water in the foot of the sleeping bag at bed time avoiding a frozen bottle) & snugged back down not moving much until the first mug of coffee was consumed. Opening the valve on the Thermarest is my way of finally forcing movement but it still took a further hour to get packed & away.

I decided to head directly north up Dubh-Ghleann rather than take the ‘tourist’ path up Beinn A’Bhuird, not the wisest choice really given the conditions but I always like to try & explore the overlooked bits of the ‘gorms on my strolls.  It probably took an hour of increasingly rough going following indistinct deer trails to reach the head of the minor glen.

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A bit of a bleak place but there are the foundations of at least 3 buildings amongst the heather (not visible but to left of frame), no evidence of any cut stone so my guess they’re probably post clearance shielings rather than old estate stalking buildings.

I continued north following the deer trails up the main stream (Allt Corrie Ruairidh) towards the Moine Bhealaidh before heading directly for North Top. No cairn in the mist today, a full 360 degree panorama, with Ben Avon off to the East

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& Ben MacDui/ Cairngorm off to the West

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After a quick break nestled down behind the small cairn for protection against the wind, it felt like well below -10C, thankful that I’d loaded the Nalgene with warm water after breakfast. It was off North again down the broad ridge to Cnap Leum an Easaich.

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Here & the neighbouring Spion Rocks have some interesting granite ‘sculptures’ courtesy of the wind, rain & ice.

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Further down the ridge I picked up the line of an old stalkers path, mostly just a faint depression in the snow highlighted by the low sun but further down it was a shallow trench filled with ice & bog, leading eventually to the highest bridged crossing of the Avon (NJ 099061).

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The bridge squeaked un-unnervingly as I crossed but it felt solid enough I was definitely more inviting than wading the freezing river (I had packed some Crocs just in case & there’s a good crossing point 200m downstream).

The Faindouran Bothy was reached ½ hr later in the rapidly failing afternoon light.

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Time for a long overdue brew & to get settled down for another very long night.

 Day 3

The planning had come to a halt at the Faindouran & despite studying the map the previous evening & mulling over various options…..indecision…….what to do?…..where to head?  After a lazy breakfast I decided to stay put & go for a local ramble, I headed off West up to Dagrum then along the ridge to Creag Mhor before returning to the bothy in about 3hrs……day dreaming the whole outing I forgot to take even one photo.

Day 4

Underway around 8:30 crunching along the frozen path following the Avon upstream, a glorious morning.

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I strode past the Fords of Avon continuing my journey westward very wary of ending up knee deep in some partially frozen bog & only pausing at the outlet from Loch Avon for the photo opportunity; ice coated Loch Avon & the impressive crags beyond.

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The crossing of the icy Allt Coire Raibeirt provided an ideal opportunity for a brew stop in the sunshine which even made -3C feel positively tropical.

Loch Etchachan was reached around 3pm, the loch was frozen over & freezing fog seemed to be descending.

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I originally thought to head over Derry Cairngorm & pitch up around Derry Lodge but I’d been travelling slower than expected thanks to the snow & ice & didn’t fancy stumbling down the ridge in the dark, & possibly fog, so the Hutchison Bothy got the vote.

I was surprised how warm inside the bothy felt, even though it was only +3C inside it felt like luxury, it certainly felt warmer than the Faindouran.

Day 5

A 9am start after rolling over for ‘5mins’ post the 1st cuppa….& I’d only been in bed for 12hrs. Another day of bright blue skies & low wind…..still -5C though.

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A wonderful day for a dawdle down Glen Derry.

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I stopped off at Bob Scott’s for an early lunch before taking the FP up through Clais Fhearnaig, the lochan here was unsurprisingly frozen being in complete shade this time of year, the heather looks snowy but it was actually 4 – 5cm of hoar frost.

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It felt surprisingly chilly wandering down the Glen Quoich back to the car, -5C. The car even had specks of hoar frost growing on the dash board; the end of a surprisingly pleasant trip with usually benign weather.

One of the objectives of the trip was to assess some winter kit changes so here’s how it went.

Carry:

I’ve found my MLD Exodus Full Suspension pack a bit on the small size for winter, needing precise packing & with 3 – 4 days’ food it was also pushing the comfort limit on the weight, ~13kg. The Exped Thunder 70 seems to have been a good choice eating up my winter kit & 6 days’ food with room to spare (comprehensive review from Sectionhiker).

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The harness proved easy to adjust & made carrying the 14 – 15 kg load (gross) surprisingly comfortable. My max winter load out would probably only be around 17kg (ice axe, shovel & snow shoes added) & I’m confident the pack will carry that OK, though the old legs may grumble, & still well below the packs 24kg rating. The Thunder 70 weighs in at ~1.6kg, twice as heavy as the Exodos FS but not as heavy as some large volume packs & for carrying heavy loads I reckon it’s a reasonable compromise to make.

The Thunder does have a few features I could live without; the side/ front entry is probably an un-necessary complication, & added weight, but it does provide easy access to stuff buried down in the pack e.g. down jacket; I may learn to like the feature. The side/ front entry does limit the size of the front pocket making it too narrow for a snow shovel but I sure I’ll work out something.

I do like the lid, well ample volume for ski goggles, maps, headlamp, etc.  & being fully floating will secure the snow shoes across the top well.

For me the only other criticism would be the belt pockets, too small, I like to carry snacks, e-lite, spare 18650 cell, gloves & buff where they are easily accessible; hence I added some MYO pockets (similar Tread-lite pockets are available)

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Sleep:

I found my Exped Synmat 7UL ‘12hr’comfortable but with an R value of 3.3 I felt it under  rated for winter & I usually supplemented it with a ½ length CCF mat underneath to give a combined R value of 4+. An early X-mas present has been the Thermarest Neoair Xtherm with an R value of 5.7; comfortable & the difference in insulation is really noticeable whilst being the same weight & bulk as the Exped.

The other small change is the Naturehike inflatable pillow replacing the Exped UL one, 30g heavier but for me 12hr comfort comes first & it was very cheap from AliExpress ($9).

Lighting:

The main headlamp got changed to the Zebralight H600W last winter & it continues to perform very well.  For the tent I’ve found the Tread-lite LED tent light pretty good for low level tent illumination.

On this trip I checked out using a LED fairy light string both in the Duomid & in the bothy; it provided excellent lighting in the Duomid but it’s a bit low powered for the bothy (it would be easy to take 2 or 3 on a bothy trip & a lot lighter than candles). The units aren’t particularly robust but at ~£1 (excl cells) they could be regarded as disposable & only weigh in at 12g (incl 2 * CR2032 cells), I’ve ordered more as spares.

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5 comments on “Winter Ramble

  1. Kirsten
    November 24, 2016

    A lovely trip, Paul, round some of my favourite spots. Thanks for sharing, and for your comments on kit. You’ve sourced some interesting items.

  2. Mole J
    November 25, 2016

    Great stuff Paul.some great vistas.
    I like the look of your ‘pole mitts’ are they DIY? My thumbs often suffer in winter when using poles even with gloves or mitts on .
    Also, how much fuel do you take/use for such a trip please.
    Cheers

    • Paul Atkinson
      November 25, 2016

      They’re the Pacerpole over mitts (pogies), 4mm wetsuit material, & absolutely brilliant. I didn’t wear gloves once during the trip & the hands were always toasty & like you I can suffer from cold thumbs. Probably not ideally tailored for ‘normal’ poles though but I haven’t seen anyone else making them for trekking poles.
      I used about 320ml of ethanol (80ml/ day & I took 500ml), plenty of hot drinks but no snow melting though; my practise in winter is to double my normal summer fuel carry, I’d rather come back with spare than run out.

  3. Mole J
    November 25, 2016

    Thanks for the reply. I have looked up the pogies. Good idea. I don’t use Pacers ( tried but didn’t get on). I have found this: http://www.yamamountaingear.com/pogies-rain. Inspired by the 2 designs, looks possible to knock something up which would be useful for normal poles.
    80ml is good in winter. I generally use 60ml/day for 3 season use as I often make tea or coffee for lunch too.

    • Paul Atkinson
      November 25, 2016

      I like the use of neoprene on the Pacerpole pogies as they have ‘structure’, they hold their shape so easy to get the hand in & out

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This entry was posted on November 24, 2016 by in Trip Reports and tagged , , .
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