Friday 11 September 2020

A Stormy Trip to Glen Feshie and Mullach Clach a'Bhlair

With a forecast for stormy weather and plenty of work to do at home I hadn’t planned on anything but a few short local walks this week. Then I heard from Carey Davies, editor of The Great Outdoors. He was coming up to the Cairngorms for a few days’ hillwalking and camping. Yes, I said, I could come along, especially as it was to Glen Feshie, a place I’m always happy to visit whatever the weather. 

So after hastily packing a rucksack I met up with Carey at the Auchlean car park for the walk up the glen, past the bothy, and into the woods where we camped amongst a wonderful mix of ancient and new pines, a forest reborn. The evening was dry with enough of a breeze to keep the midges off. At first. Then the wind dropped and out they rushed. The air was warm and humid, just the right conditions. The breeze stirred again occasionally but kept fading away, so we were soon zipped into our tents and cooking in the porches. With a temperature inside of 17°C and clouds of steam wafting around my tent soon resembled a sauna. Better that than let the midges in! If only it had a two-way door zip so I could let some of the steam out at the top I thought.  

Soon after night fell heavy rain started and hammered down for several hours. At first, I couldn’t sleep in the hot, stuffy tent. Then the rain eased off and the temperature began to fall, a great relief. I woke at dawn to a cloudy sky and enough of a breeze to deter the midges. It was still warm. The overnight low was only 9°C and even though there was no sun the thermometer soon rose to 15°C.

Overhead the clouds raced past, rising and falling over the hills. There was a light shower and more rain seemed likely. However there were bursts of sunshine too, brightening the landscape. Above the glen rose the steep bulky eastern slopes of Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, the first Munro I’d climbed on my first camping trip after the Covid 19 lockdown was eased back in July. It had been stormy on top then. Perhaps today there’d be a view, if we could stand up in the wind. 

After another bout of rain the skies started to clear as we walked up the track to the Moine Mhor. A walker descending said ‘looks like you’ll be there at the right time’. We paused to look into the depths of Coire Garbhlach, the only distinctive and rugged corrie on this side of the Cairngorms. 

The blue sky and touches of sunshine didn’t last long. We reached Mullach Clach a’Bhlair in driving rain and a very strong cold wind. There’s no shelter on the summit, just a small cairn, and there were no views. We didn’t linger but were soon heading down the Druim nam Bo ridge. An estate worker in an ATV stopped and told us he was counting deer and had seen many in the corries to the south. We’d seen none, no wildlife at all in fact. Later though we twice had sightings of golden eagles high in the sky hanging in the wind along the edge of the glen. A raven hassled one of them but failed to drive it away. Eagles! Always exciting.

As we descended the visibility began to improve though the rain and wind didn’t lessen. This was more than a shower. Dark hillsides appeared under the clouds tearing across the sky. Waves raced across little Lochan nam Bo. A hollow provided shelter from the wind so we could finally stop and have a snack and a drink. As so often I was surprised at how dropping a few feet below a bank suddenly cut the wind. Sitting there in the heather it was hard to believe how powerful the wind was just above. 

The rain only stopped as we reached the first trees. It was much warmer down here too and we were soon stripping off layers of clothing. On the floor of the glen there was no wind at all and back at camp the midges were biting. I packed up and set off down the glen, leaving Carey to spend another night in the forest. There were two more showers before I reached the car, and two more bursts of warm sunshine. I’d lost track of how many times my waterproofs had been on and off. My shoes and socks were soaked and the pleasure of donning dry ones at the car was unreasonably satisfying.  

Despite the changeable weather, or maybe in part because of it, I’d enjoyed the trip. Having a companion, for the first time since early March, had been a key factor too. I wouldn’t have been there otherwise and if I had been here alone I certainly wouldn’t have gone up Mullach Clach a’Bhlair in that weather. Carey had never been to Glen Feshie before either and I always love introducing people to this special place.