Tuesday 20 April 2021

Quiet Camp, Quiet Hills

A few days ago I walked up a long curving corrie and pitched my tent below long curving ridges. A burn rattled past over water-smoothed stones. Otherwise all was quiet and still. It was my second camp of the year and the first since the beginning of January, the day before the latest pandemic lockdown began. Oh, how I've missed the simple pleasures of camping in a wild place, cooking over a little stove, sleeping in a tent, waking to look out at stars, sitting watching the dawn bring the world back to the light. 

For this first backpacking trip in over three months I decided it was wise not to be too ambitious. I knew I'd lost some fitness and wasn't sure how my body would react to carrying a big pack. There was snow on the hills too, soft deep snow. I wanted to break myself back in with an easy trip. A short walk, a pleasant camp, a walk up some lower hills. I picked two Grahams - hills between 2000 and 2500 feet (610 and 762 metres) - that I hadn't been up before. Carn |Breac and Beinn na Feusaige lie on the edge of the Torridon hills and reputedly had great views whilst not themselves being at all distinctive. On the map the walking looked easy on wide slopes with no obstacles. On the map ......

The first morning came with a hard frost and clouds quickly obscuring the sun. The terrain was boggy and tussocky, making climbing up to the broad ridge above camp quite hard work. As I gained height more and more snow patches appeared, far more than I'd expected at this elevation. Similar hills back home in the Cairngorms were mostly snow free. High up the snow patches were soft and deep and often unavoidable. Not that the bogs between them made for much easier walking. On these little-frequented hills - unsurprisingly I saw no-one all trip - there were no paths and I weaved about trying to find the easiest line between soft snow and squelchy ground. The views however were, as promised, superb, especially those of Liathach and Beinn Eighe, white and alpine.

Peat hags made the going even worse as I approached the second summit. A herd of deer watched me and then wandered off, probably thinking that such a clumsy, lumbering thing couldn't be a threat. I love seeing deer but I was well aware that these hills shouldn't be as bare as they are and that over-grazing was the reason for that. The slopes below would be wooded with fewer deer.

A very steep descent down heather thick slopes brought me back to the corrie floor. At the tent I slumped with relief and revived myself with hot chocolate and then minestrone soup. I was asleep early. Another frosty starry night ensued but the next morning I was woken by the sun shining on my face from a cloudless sky. I lingered over a breakfast of muesli and coffee, just listening to the stream rippling and watching the hills glowing, before packing up and heading back down to the car. A tougher trip than expected but a good one. They all are.

There will be a full report on this trip including a look at the gear I used in the May issue of The Great Outdoors magazine.

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