Tuesday, 11 August 2020

WILD CAMPING & WILDLIFE


A good weather forecast for the weekend so Karen and I set off for a wild camp up near Bod an Deamhain (The Devils Point isn't even a direct translation of the mountain). One of the few Munros in the Cairgorms area that Karen had not climbed. The usual routes folk take are either from Linn O' Dee via the Lairig Ghru, Rothermurchus voa the Lairig Ghru or a traverse over the plateau including Braeriach, Sgorr an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul. Instead we decided on a more adventurous and seldom walked way from Glenfeshie.

SATURDAY 8th AUGUST

We set out early from Achlean in beautiful Glen Feshie. At 0800 it was already hot with no breeze to speak of. Flies and midges soon fell by the wayside has we gained height on the excellent path that heads up towards Carn Ban Mor. Quite quickly you are up at 1000m on the Western Cairngorms plateau.





This high level plateau is a land of wonderful Arctic Tundra which boasts a wealth of habitats for wildlife including Dotterel, Ptarmigan, Golden Plover and Mountain Hare.  There are a few estate stalker paths which cross this high area. Once you leave the path that connects the Munros of Sgor Gaoithe to Mullach Clach a' Bhlair you can almost guarantee not to see another human being. 





This high tundra is named the Moine Mhor (Great Moss). If  you're on an Mountain Leader Course undergoing assessment its alternative name is 'The Graveyard', depending on success or failure of your navigation assessment! This is a huge chunk of high level ground dotted with small lochans and burns. No need to worry about not getting any  drinking water up here on a hot day like today.



After passing Loch na Stuirteag a big, high level traverse is required to gain the bealach  between Cairn Toul and Bod an Deamhain, our planned spot for this evening. The ground is a delight to walk on with a real sense of wildness. No paths here, no phone signal here, no roads within a few hours walking. My kind of place. We came across a pair of beautiful Ptarmigan has we walked high above the remote and spectacular Glen Geusachan.



We made good time and reached our chosen camp spot by mid afternoon. Some perfect places to pitch the tent here. Flat, beautiful short cropped vegetation. Deciding on staying well away from where most folk camp which is right on the path between the two Munros and the path running down to the Lairig Ghru. We came for wild camping and quiet camping. I had a feeling there would be other groups camping high whilst doing the Braeriach-Cairn Toul traverse. Some folk chose to stay overnight in Corrour Bothy in the Lairig Ghru but at the moment all bothies are closed due to COVID restrictions. Of course we are all allowed to camp now.



After getting  the tent up we had afternoon coffee. Sitting outside the tent at 1000m in hot sun was magic. There was a gentle breeze that came and went. Hopefully midges would stay away in the strong, hot sun and wind. After coffee and cake we headed up to the Munro summit of Bod an Deamhain. It is but a short, easy a angled walk and takes just 20 odd minutes. Superb views from the top looking across the Lairig Ghru to Ben Macdui.







Dinner at camp was spoilt by the dreaded midge. Still, it is August I guess and we were expecting the wee buggers to invade. The only way to enjoy being outside in Summer is a midge net. The most effective barrier. Although eating and drinking is a problem! Keep your expensive repellents..Especially the ones that melt plastic watch straps, scary what they must do to your skin? 



We went for a after dinner walk up to the start of the Cairn Toul ridge to get a sunset. Some cloud had built up during late afternoon so not the pinky skies hoped for, but the views were wonderful. 




It was a relief to feel the temperatures drop during the night. We woke early to clear skies and beautiful sunrise. I walked up to the Bod an Deamhain summit again to capture the sun slowly rising from the East. There were 2 folk bivvying bear the top and 6 tents down at the bealach..pleased we were camped in a beautiful, peaceful place away from the masses! All relative I guess.

SUNDAY 9th AUGUST 








A leisurely breakfast outside of the tent with no midges this morning.  That was lovely. We packed up and set off back home. Walking the same route out. Always different views and different things to see. Also Karen fancied a wee dip in one of the lochans on the Moine Mhor.





The path down from Carn Ban Mor was just beautiful. Lots of heather in bloom, in fact it looked like there was more colour than just 24 hours earlier! A fab weekend and a little wild corner of the Cairngorms discovered and enjoyed. There are lots of them in The Scottish mountains, no need for everyone to go the same places now is there? True Wild Camping this weekend, it's the only camping I know of.




MONDAY 10th AUGUST 

Another warm and pleasant day in store. I had a wander up to my usual Mountain Hare photography area in the Monadhliath. The day I don't get excited seeing the hares, or any other wildlife is the day I hang up my boots and camera. The Mountain Hare is just one of those adorable creatures that everyone loves to see.


I roamed about the usual haunts for a couple of hours before getting settled in with one lovely character who was half asleep when I spotted him. Eventually he woke up, yawning and stretching and not at all bothered about my presence.



It was also nice to still see Wheatear about up high. They looked like mature Juveniles, if that's such a thing? Still some fluffy feathers on them, they were looking beautiful in the summer sunshine. 

 



Friday, 7 August 2020

SNOW TUNNELS

 

High pressure system over much of Scotland today bringing warmer temperature and clear skies. A good day to head over the Cairngorm plateau and the wilder parts of the hills. I was keen to check out the big remaining snow patch on the Feithe Buidhe slabs. It's also, of course, a great walk to the finest place in the Cairngorm mountains. The telephoto camera goes along, as always.
To make the day even better and to keep away from the busy, crowded trails I headed into Coire an t-Sneachda and up onto the Fiacaill Ridge. Saw one person. Plenty of folk chattering away up the Goat Track but I was in amongst the boulder fields to check out and wildlife, especially Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare. No Ptarmigan but a lovely solitary Hare who shot of up below the Fiacaill Buttress and towards the plateau. Also spotted two Ring Ouzel.

There were a few folk on the Fiacail but by the time I had gained the ridge they were way ahead and I had the place to myself. It's always a fun route, scrambling along here. There's also a small buttress before the main ridgeline which is good fun too, so had a play on that.
There was a wonderful wee breeze on the plateau but still warm for just a T-shirt. Glad not to be down South were temperatures in the low o mid 30's! No thank you. 20's plenty. Across the plateau and from now on I was definitely off paths and almost guaranteed to see no one. In these times were the hills are becoming quite busy you can very easily 'escape' everyone if desired. The sure fire way of doing this is to go on any pathless route or mountain. 
I made my way across beautiful terrain to that most wonderful of views, the Loch A'an basin. The huge snow patch sits on the Feithe Buidhe slabs and only very slowly melts in the warm sun. There is at least 3 metres depth of snow. This area gets constant snow falling and blowing onto it through the winter months. As I picked my way down the wet granite slabs and mossy ground I reminisced about our first snowfalls here back in October and November last year, a while ago now! I weaved a route through the broken slabs. A beautiful place with Mossy Saxifrage, liverworts and mosses. If you know the area well it's easy, if not then you need to be careful as there are some steeper sections and big enough drops to easily have a slip and do yourself harm.
 I
It was great to see the huge mass of snow has got a couple of tunnels formed now. They are big enough fhat the entrance into them is simple with just a small ducking of your head. One of them goes in to around 20metres in length and comes  out at the top. At the moment! This blog is NOT a guide to going into a snow tunnel! Common sense and awareness are key factors here, plus many years of mountain sense, skills and judgment. 
 

The 'Snow Tunnels' are formed by trickling water underneath the snowpack which gradually warms the rock below and the snow above. These form readily in this area because of the smooth granite slabs. As the gap gets bigger warmer air can get inside and the process accelerates forming sometimes huge tunnels. I chatted to a snowboarder poking about for a run or two on the snowfields, the second and only other person I met today. After playing about and photographing these brilliant natural sculptures I wandered across to the upper reaches of the Garbh Uisge Mor in search of a spot for lunch. Loads of wonderful, wild and remote places hereabouts with spectacular views. You can't go wrong wherever you decide to sit.  

 After a bite to eat I walked up beside the waterfall on big, easy angled slabs, wonderful. This leads up to the top of the Shelterstoe Crag and Carn Etchachan, wonderful viewpoints. Especailly photogenic is the big Grade I winter Gully, Pinnacle Gully. Its name given to the needle of rock near the top of the gully. If so inclined you can climb it, the Inn Pinn of the Cairngorms!





I walked further up to the source of the Garbh Uisge Mor and Garbh Uige Beag burns. Definitely not a place you'll see anyone, unless it's a group on an ML training or assessment course getting to grips with micro navigation in complex terrain! I was hoping to spot some Ptarmigan up here but not to be. What I did see was just wonderful though. Lots of Snow Bunting about in this location. I came across an adult male and his fledging. He was busy finding food and feeding up the youngster. The Bunting feed on small insects and flies. Fascinating watching them. Even though I was only about 3 metres away they were not at all disturbed or bothered. Food was the priority! I spent about an hour before tearing myself away as dinner beckoned for me!





The adult Male Snow Bunting is a beautiful white plumage in Spring when he looks his best and sings constantly. He is just starting to transform into the Autumn/Winter colours now so not looking quite has smart, but cute as anything. It's been a great year for Snow Bunting. good numbers I have observed in my days out on the plateau. Great to photograph these lovely birds. I never 'bait' any bird with boxes of Trill or seeds for my photographs. Keep it natural and learn your field craft for wildlife photography and you'll soon get some good images.
Heading back across the plateau the wind had picked up a fair bit and some clouds had rolled in across the tops. Strathspey was still blue skies and sunshine. I had a great blast on the bike from Coire Cas to the house. After all the wonderful fresh mountain ai it was a bit of a shock to the senses to get strong whiffs of burning wood, burning cooking fat and barbecues past Glenmore and Loch Morlich. The Cairngorms National Park and many other areas in The Highlands have loads and loads of beautiful places to visit. I know where I would go. Or maybe these folk love the smells of the city? Keep it clean folks. I live here. More importantly the many species of wildlife live here.